When did executing heretics become immoral?


The situation with Vatican City is completely different from the Papal States. Italy did not exist as a single country until the late 19th century. Up until that time, central Italy was the Papal States with its own laws and government which was dominated by clerics. The population in 1846 was 3 million people. The Papal States was an actual state, not a papal consolation prize.

Plus, no one claims that Vatican City is burning heretics. We’re talking about the Church’s role in execution of heretics in the past and why they did not do more to end the practice especially in places where the Church was the secular authority.


Exactly! This excuse of “its the people and not the Catholic Church” can only go that far. Here is an exact example but it is still argued as being the state.

COME ON PEOPLE. In this instance the Church was the state. Who are you fooling? Or do you say the Church should not have temporal power? As is still a very interesting part in history when Papal Infalibility was declared. (Google it for those interested). A very very untersting part of history when checking the Papal states.

One comes to a time when all these excuses just don’t add up.


Interesting theory, very possible :slight_smile:


“The Church” is not the people. The Church is the mystical Body of Christ, with members on earth, in purgatory, and in Heaven. The people are the “clergy and laity” - aka the “Church Militant.”

The Clergy and laity (Church Militant) made mistakes in the past and will continue to make mistakes in the future. But the Church Penitent and the Church Triumphant do not make mistakes.


I don’t see the justification for that. It seems to be worse than some torture methods, such as waterboarding.


Which Protestant clergyman supported execution for the crime of heresy?


Both Calvin and Martin Luther for a start. Both Catholic and Protestant countries executed heretics. Queen Elizabeth I of England executed Catholics.


I can say that Protestants who supported, ordered, and enabled the execution of heretics were wrong. I just find it odd that some posters on this forum are so intent on arguing that the Catholic Church was not wrong as well because they only sentenced people for heresy and the secular authorities actually did the killing (even though in some cases those secular authorities were also the ecclesiastical authorities).


…consider too that His introduction to the world was: ‘the Lamb of God;’ and we have a window into His inner workings Revealed in Hebrews:

5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith: Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldest not: but a body thou hast fitted to me: 6 Holocausts for sin did not please thee. 7 Then said I: Behold I come: in the head of the book it is written of me: that I should do thy will, O God. 8 In saying before, Sacrifices, and oblations, and holocausts for sin thou wouldest not, neither are they pleasing to thee, which are offered according to the law. 9 Then said I: Behold, I come to do thy will, O God: he taketh away the first, that he may establish that which followeth. 10 In the which will, we are sanctified by the oblation of the body of Jesus Christ once. (Hebrews 5)

Jesus, the human side of Him, was quite aware of His impending Sacrifice as He both ignored and evaded threats and situations that would both accelerate and preclude the event; further, He was quite aware of this outcome as He would time and again state: “my Hour is not yet come.”

Further, consider also Jesus cognition about man’s frailties and rejection of God:

Luke 18:8b However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

Maran atha!



From 1215 at the council of Florence, the Church reiterates in an ecumenical council pronouncement on the “extermination” of heretics, https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/lateran4.asp canon 3, (exterminate) comes from the Latin exterminare, http://archives.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wordz.pl?keyword=exterminare which means to “drive out” (ex- out of + terminous- boundary). In Latin it does nor mean to destroy or kill, but to drive out of the territory. The official language of the Church is Latin. The Church does not change on this issue of capital punishment. Even pope Francis today is speaking out against capital punishment and there being no good reason for it…

That said,

Please read canon 3 in its entirety to see the position of the Church on dealing with heretics . Keep also in mind this is an ecumenical council. As in It’s encompassing the entire Church world wide…

Note secular government being mentioned as one entity vs the Church another entity in canon 3. This is the year 1215, and the Church reiterates her position world wide on heretics


Henry VIII, king, who also made himself king and ruler of the Church of England. He personally ordered the execution of MANY


Are you saying the Catholic Church has always been against the death penalty and that the Papal States did not practice the death penalty? Wikipedia has an entire List of people executed in the Papal States.


That’s not what @steve-b is saying. He’ saying that Papal States was not the Church.

The Church has always taught that the Death Penalty was a prudential judgment that States were allowed to use. Today, the Church is moving away from it because we have modern prisons and criminal justice science.

And if you look, an overwhelming number of those executions were of murders.

But again, the Papal States were not the Church. It was a Theocracy run by clergy with the head of state being the Pope, but they were no the Church. The business of the Papal States was no the business of the Church.


I used the council of Florence and that date 1215, as a tip off.
. Florence is a papal state. So this was getting straight to your points about “papal states” and the pope’s sovereignty
. Florence was an ecumenical council. i.e. it applies to the world wide Church, not just part of the Church
. What did canon 3 say? The word “exterminate” was used, and explained using the translation of the word from the Latin language link. It doesn’t mean to execute.
. Did Wiki explain that ? Nope!
. Would someone come away with the wrong interpretation of exterminate, without explanation? Yep!
. Were papal states exempt from canon 3? Nope! It’s an ecumenical council.

As for Wiki, as a resource, I’m not a fan of anything with the name “Wiki” in it. The reason for that is “Wiki’s” disclaimer. Ever read it at the bottom of every Wiki page? I refer you to the bottom of the link you gave.
Disclaimers https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:General_disclaimer

[edit] is next to almost every paragraph. Anybody can edit a passage. Who is held responsible for accuracy? No one.

I’ll just say this. The pope is the sovereign leader of the Catholic Church.

Do Catholics always do what the pope teaches? Nope!
Do some Catholics go rogue? Yep!
Is that okay? Nope!

Whose fault is it when people go rogue? The pope? The Church?

When the heresy of Protestantism came about in the 16th century, and all it’s divisions that came from that beginning, how did the Church deal with Martin Luther? Put a death sentence on him? Nope!

After working with him for over a year, he was excommunicated. http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Leo10/l10decet.htm

As far as I know he died in his bed of natural causes.


Steve, they do not want truth or reason… they want the Catholic Church to be held accountable for all that goes wrong, period.

Maran atha!



St John Paul II apologized for the Church’s historic involvement with violence. The Church certainly was complicit. That being said, I agree with other posters that it is important, if we are to understand the mindset of the times, that it was always civil authority that carried out executions.


My only point is that in the Papal States, the Church was the civil authority. The Pope was the monarch. The civil courts operated under papal authority. Therefore, one cannot simply use the excuse that civil authority carried out executions because, in the Papal States at least, the Church possessed civil authority.

I have no desire to bash the Catholic Church for everything. I just grow tedious of the attempts to exonerate past Catholic authorities because “they only turned convicted heretics over to the civil authorities. They never actually killed any heretics.” That’s not a sterling defense as Church authorities were not ignorant as to what would happen to these people, even if they were not actually handing down the sentence. Considering the moral and cultural influence the Catholic Church possessed at the time, it could have done a lot more to ensure that heretics and alleged heretics did not end up executed merely for their beliefs.

That’s not a criticism of the Catholic Church. Just an acknowledgement that the Catholic Church both shaped and was shaped by the time period.

No, just pointing out that in some places the Church was a civil authority and thus bears responsibility for executing heretics.

Of course, one should never read anything without verifying its sources, which is what Wikipedia plainly tells everyone to do. Articles with lots of citations are the best, because then you know where the editors are getting their information from. Some Wikipedia articles are really well researched and written with many in-text citations provided. Others, not so much.


Well, God has never been okay with it. Remember that He stopped the stoning of the woman committing adultery ( I know it’s not heresy, but still. He clearly doesn’t like it). This is why Pope St. John Paul II held a mass to apologize to the world for these things. Our Mother church is run by men. Men who make mistakes sometimes, but one thing is certain, God never wanted those executions.


Point being,

Wiki states in its disclaimers, it doesn’t stand behind anything it writes. When one does an internet search, what usually comes up 1st as a resource answer? Wiki…

And because the average searcher on the internet takes the 1st 1 or 2 top results as their answer, and Wiki might be the 1st 4 results, Wiki is their search result answer.

A source that stands behind nothing it writes.



I understand holding the Church accountable.

It is the depth to which arguments/stances go.

There’s no reason, explanation or fact that can be presented to appease the “quest-hunt.”

How were things handled differently by others during those times?

The Church was the voice of reason in the carnage that was the world.

Yes, some of her members abused the privilege and power that the Church enjoyed; still, the Church was the one organism that constantly sought to improve conditions by both holding her members at fault and procuring that society moved towards the development that we now enjoy.

While the Church maintained records and conducted trails, others simply razed their opposition into inexistence.

This is the argument that is not accepted.

Even today we have states and religious groups exploiting every possible venue to raze their opposition out of existence, yet, these “truth seekers” (as the blind, mute, deaf feminists) do not seek a response/change from today’s agents–ignoring the millions suffering today while seeking “justice” for the few that died in the past. What is the difference? Only the target.

If Islam were to cover the world and despots as N. Korea’s present dictator were to flourish, I suspect that these “seekers” would quickly turn against the extinct Church and blame her for not eradicating the culture of hatred and death that these would release onto the world.

It is not a balanced quest for Truth and Justice.

Maran atha!


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