This article is also available in PowerPoint format here.
One of the re-occurring accusations against Christianity is that Christians are responsible for: "The Inquisition!"
Frequently, while trying to love one’s neighbour and share the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, Christians receive some tirade against "The Church" and "The Inquisition!" The Inquisition is used as some kind of general-purpose club with which to bludgeon Evangelical Christians.
On one occasion while I was being interviewed on a national secular radio programme, on the publication of my book: Biblical Principles for Africa, the first caller attacked me and my new book over something that the book doesn't even deal with - she claimed that Christians were responsible for “the Inquisition” which “burned thousands of witches!”
The Anti-Christian Inquisition
When I finally had the chance to respond to this emotional outburst, I had to point out that a vast majority burned at the stake by the Spanish Inquisition were not witches at all, but Protestant believers. Should one study the court records of the inquisitors it becomes very clear that the inquisitors were by no means Christians at all. They would vindictively condemn to death Christians who believed in, who translated, or who taught, the Holy Scriptures. Often the inquisitors contemptuously tossed the victim’s Bible into the fire to be burned with the martyr.
Anyone who has read FoxesBook of Martyrs, or similar historical records of the cruel persecutions endured by the Waldensians, the Huguenots and other Protestant reformers, will know that the Inquisition was anti-Christian. The Inquisition occurred at a time of blatant corruption, when priesthoods, bishoprics and even papal seats were bought and sold. There were many ungodly men dominating all levels of leadership in the medieval Roman church. Far from the Inquisition being Christians persecuting non-Christians, the reality is that it was the very opposite. The Inquisition was an anti-Christian persecution of Protestant believers.
The Judas Factor
The church has never been perfect. Even amongst the twelve Apostles there was a Judas Iscariot who betrayed Christ. Yet it would not be fair to make Judas a representative of the twelve Apostles! The total record of the church needs to be examined, and the good far outweighs the bad. Besides of which the Christian Faith is centred in Christ, not in Christians.
When someone brings up the question of evil perpetrated in God’s Name, we need to first examine whether the people involved were true Christians or not. Our Lord Jesus Christ made it abundantly clear: "Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your Name, cast out demons in Your Name and done many wonders in Your Name, and then I will declare to them, I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" Matthew 7: 21-23
Our Lord Jesus Christ made it clear that some people are truly part of His Church, the elect are all those who are regenerated by His Holy Spirit. However, not all of those in the larger, visible church are members of the true, invisible Church of Christ. The Lord warned that there would be weeds among the wheat and goats amongst His sheep. Many who claim to be Christians are not Christians at all.
The Historical Facts
When people bring up the Inquisition we need to ask them what they actually know about the Inquisition? Seldom has the individual done any research on the matter at all. The Spanish Inquisition began in the year AD1233. This is almost three hundred years before the Protestant Reformation. So, Protestants had no part in the Inquisition except as victims. Bible-believing, Evangelical Protestants were often on the receiving end of the Inquisition, tortured and killed for their beliefs. This included tens of thousands of Waldensian Christians tortured and murdered in the most brutal ways and the Lollards of England, the field workers of the Reformation, who were mercilessly persecuted. The English Reformer, William Tyndale, was burned at the stake in Belgium for the crime of having translated the Bible into the English language.
Protestants were burned at the stake as "heretics" in Spain, Italy, France, England and Scotland. Yet the Dutch Protestants suffered even worse persecutions at the hands of the Catholic Inquisition. Under King Phillip II of Spain, more than 18,000 Protestants were executed in the Netherlands. In an attempt to force them to confess to "heresy", both men and women were mercilessly tortured.
At that time, Spain was the most powerful country in the world. Holland was occupied by Spain. In 1566 Phillip II issued a proclamation demanding that all his subjects, accept the decrees made by the Council of Trent. Early in 1567, to crush the flourishing Protestant Faith in Holland, Phillip sent in the Duke of Alva, who unleashed a reign of terror upon the Dutch Protestants. In 1568 the Inquisition condemned all three million inhabitants of the Netherlands to death as "heretics".
Under the courageous leadership of William Prince of Orange, the Dutch Protestants rose up in resistance against the oppression of Catholic Spain. Prince William the Silent and his brave Dutch resistance fighters became the inspiration of Protestants world wide, particularly in England.
After the Council of Valencia placed the Bible on The Index of Forbidden Books, in 1229, the papacy viciously persecuted the Waldensians. The hostility of the inquisitors to the Bible is clearly seen in their pronouncements such as in the condemnation of English Bible translator, Professor John Wycliffe of Oxford University: "Pestilent and most wretched John Wycliffe, of damnable memory ... crowned his wickedness by translating the Scriptures into the mother tongue!"
Similarly, the Inquisition condemned the Professor of Prague University, John Hus to be burned alive, for his Reformation works.
Foxes Book of Martyrs records the condemnation of prominent Protestant preacher, Reformer and Bible translator, John Rogers, who was burned at the stake, January 1555. Asked by the inquisitor to recant his beliefs, Rogers replied that what he had preached from the pulpit he would seal now with his blood.
"Then thou art an heretic!" exclaimed the inquisitor.
"That shall be known on the Day of Judgement," replied Rogers.
"Well, I will never pray for you", said his judge.
"I will pray for you", responded Rogers. As he walked to the stake in Smithfield, Rogers sang the Psalms.
On one day in 1519 seven men and women in Coventry were burned alive by the Inquisition for the crime of teaching their children: The Lords Prayer, The Ten Commandments and The Apostles Creed - in English!
At his trial, Bishop Ridley was urged to reject his Protestant Faith. His reply: "As for the doctrine which I have taught, my conscience assureth me that it is sound and according to God's Word ... in confirmation thereof I seal the same with my blood."
Blaming the Victims
Anyone attempting to blame Christians for the Inquisition is obviously ignorant of the historical record. It is an utter distortion to blame the victims for the tortures and murders, which were inflicted upon them. So, the next time non-Christians attempt to blame believers for the Inquisition, point out to them that in reality the Inquisition was an anti-Christian persecution of Protestant believers.
"Woe to those who call evil good; and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness..." Isaiah 5:20
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74
Cape Town , South Africa
Tel: (021) 689-4480
Fax: (021) 685-5884