If we focus only on Roman Catholic persecution of Christians without admitting that most reformation leaders did unspeakable things to their enemies, it is dishonest. As soon as the Reformers had the power to persecute they did! Tit for tat. Furthermore, the Reformers went after non-Catholic “heretics” and killed them with gusto!
Reformers said that Christians had the right to read and interpret the Bible without help from Roman Catholic priests and there was a fundamental right to disagree with the Church; however, as soon as Reformers had the freedom to disagree with Catholic doctrine the Reformers then exercised power to persecute others for disagreeing with Reformation doctrine!
It is astounding that “principled” Christian leaders would perpetrate horrible crimes against Roman Catholics and even non-Catholics but one must remember that they were living in turbulent times and the battle was hot. Also remember that they were all too human as they had a huge reservoir of anger they had carried around for a lifetime against Catholic leaders. But, of course, that is no justification.
According to Catholic historian Janssen, the Lutheran towns of Lubeck, Bremen, Hamburg, Luneburg, Stralsund, Rostock and Wismar all voted to hang Anabaptists and flog and banish Catholics and Zwinglians from their homelands.
Luther said of Roman Catholic leaders, “If I had all the Franciscan friars in one house, I would set fire to it … To the fire with them!”
Luther said of Roman Catholic leaders, “If I had all the Franciscan friars in one house, I would set fire to it … To the fire with them!” It is impossible to understand how any educated Christian leader could take such a position even when one understands the environment in which they lived.
Luther (who in 1518 taught baptism by immersion) taught that dissenters (those who disagreed with him) should be banished and said that ‘The peasants (involved in the Peasants’ War) would not listen; they would not let anyone tell them anything; their ears must be unbuttoned with bullets, till their heads jump off their shoulders. … On the obstinate, hardened, blinded peasants, let no one have mercy, but let everyone, as he is able, hew, stab, slay, lay about him as though among mad dogs, … . so that peace and safety may be maintained….” Note that he was speaking of German peasants! While Luther was not the cause of the Peasants’ War, he did contribute to it by his unwise, unnecessary, and unchristian statements.
Luther was even more vicious toward the Jews. He said, “First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honour of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians….” He went on to suggest that Jewish homes be destroyed and they be forced to live in barns like gypsies. Furthermore, he recommended that their religious books be taken from them and their rabbis be forbidden to teach “on pain of loss of life and limb.” Evidently, the anti-Semitic charge against Luther is not anti-Lutheran propaganda.
Protestant nations prohibited Roman Catholic Church services and compelled citizens to attend the newly formed state church. In Scotland it was forbidden to say Mass or to be present at Mass, with the punishment of death for the third offence.
James Gruet was arrested for writing on one of Calvin’s tracts the words, “all rubbish,” and was put on the rack twice a day for a month. He was beheaded on July 26, 1547.
The Spanish Reformer Servetus had dared to criticize Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and Calvin declared: “If he comes here and I have any authority, I will never let him leave the place alive.” As a writer I can sympathize with Calvin about criticism of his book but I have never thought of murder! Well….
Servetus , an anti-Trinitarian, had disagreed with Calvin via correspondence and when he visited Geneva on August 13, 1553, he went to hear Calvin preach. Calvin saw him in church and had him arrested. Calvin drew up forty charges against him including Servetus’ opposition to infant baptism and his attack upon the preaching of Calvin. On August 20, 1553, Calvin wrote: “I hope that Servetus will be condemned to death” and in October the Geneva Council ordered that he be burned alive the next day. “Heretics” were hanged then burned in Zurich, Basil, and Geneva for disagreeing with Calvin’s teachings. During the first five years of Calvin’s rule in the small town of Geneva, 13 people were hanged, 10 were decapitated, and 35 were burned to death. A citizen could go to prison for smiling during a baptismal service or sleeping during a church service! Those early Protestants really played rough!
Heinrich Bullinger was considered by Will Durant as the Most Tolerant of the Intolerant yet he agreed with Calvin’s killing of Servetus as did many Reformers. Earlier, Zwingli held that, in case of need, the massacre of bishops and priests was a work commanded by God!
The St. Gall (Switzerland) city council decreed on March 26, 1530, that: “All who adhere to or favor the false sect of the Baptists, and who attend hedge-meetings, shall suffer the most severe punishments. Baptist leaders, their followers, and protectors shall be drowned without mercy. Those, however, who assist them, or fail to report or to arrest them shall be punished otherwise on body and goods as injurious and faithless subjects.” The Protestants hated Baptists because Baptists did not recognize infant baptism, insisting that all who were “baptized” as infants must trust in Christ and follow Him in genuine baptism.
In England, Henry VIII was head of the Church of England (that Henry formed after his break from Rome) and doctrinal disagreements now became high treason to be punished by disembowelment while still alive, hanging, and quartering. In the end, even failing to denounce anyone else who criticized these things became treason.
On March 10, 1528, in Vienna, Balthasar Hubmaier was burned at the stake, and his courageous wife was drowned eight days later.
Those who left England and Europe to find religious freedom were guilty of imposing their own convictions upon others, even non-believers! Virginia had established the Anglican Church (Church of England) and forbade Quakers and Baptists to assemble, and to “rub salt into open sores,” Virginia citizens were forced to pay the salaries of Anglican preachers!
The Puritans demanded freedom for themselves in England but in America they greatly restricted freedom of religion. They tried to outdo what they had endured. In Massachusetts, Baptists and Quakers were often whipped, jailed, and had property confiscated. Everyone had to obey oppressive laws, even sinners. I reported in my book, Pilgrims, Puritans and Patriots, that there was to be no walking in the streets and fields on Sunday, and church attendance was required of all. Those who did not go to church were fined and dragged there. Yes, it was extreme and without Bible support but it did keep people off the streets—and it surly helped the church attendance!
Forbidden activities such as cards, dice, bowling, shuffleboard, coasting on the ice, swimming, smoking, and mixed dancing were all illegal. One of their leading pastors suggested that while mixed dancing was illegal, it was really “lascivious” dancing that was bad.
The incredible phenomenon of professing Christians torturing, jailing, and killing professing Christians is almost unknown by most Americans but we all know how Muslims kill Muslims and non-Muslims and we are horrified as they behead their enemies, castrate them and stuff their organs inside the mouths of the victims. All right, we should be horrified and repulsed at such barbarity but remember professing Christians did that and worse to their “enemies” i.e., those who disagreed with them!
The fact proves how difficult it is to be consistent in one’s beliefs. Whatever the circumstances, whatever the time in history, whatever the cost, whatever anyone says, Christians should always be Christian: emulating Jesus Christ is every area of life. Had the Popes, priests, prelates, preachers, politicians, and potentates treated everyone else the way they would like to be treated, the horrors of “Christians” persecuting “Christians” would never have taken place. So sad.
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Dear Don, This is all indeed sad. But we … all we, like sheep, have gone astray … every one of us … to his own way … But the LORD have laid upon CHRIST the iniquity of us all … may God have mercy on us too, and God prevent such “Christians” from ever walking among us here in America, or wherever people believe in the one true God … Amen. It’s against the “American way” to be so vindictive, in any case ; history should not teach us “that man fails to learn from history”; let us treasure our First Amendment while yet we have it. Take care. God bless all! Sincerely, Scott Harrington in northwestern Pennsylvania