The quotations on the facing page present two opposing viewpoints, both by Catholics. Only one is right. We learn the truth from John's vision and from history. The woman astride the beast is "drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus" (Revelation 17:6). It is a horrible picture, but one which history fully authenticates for Rome alone and no other city.
Every citizen in the empire was required to be a Roman Catholic. Failure to give wholehearted allegiance to the pope was considered treason against the state punishable by death. Here was the basis for slaughtering millions. As Islam would be a few centuries later, a paganized Christianity was imposed upon the entire populace of Europe under the threat of torture and death.
Thus Roman Catholicism became "the most persecuting faith the world has ever seen. .. [commanding] the throne to impose the Christian [Catholic] religion on all its subjects. Innocent III murdered far more Christians in one afternoon ... than any Roman emperor did in his entire reign."4 Will Durant writes candidly:
Compared with the persecution of heresy in Europe from 1227 to 1492, the persecution of Christians by Romans in the first three centuries alter k-nrtst was a mild and humane procedure.
Making every allowance required by an historian and permitted to a Christian, we must rank the Inquisition, along with the wars and persecutions of our time, as among the darkest blots on the record of mankind, revealing a ferocity unknown in any beast.5
Of course not all dissenters openly proclaimed their disloyalty to Rome. There were secret heretics who had to be sought out diligently. The method devised was the Inquisition, in the opinion of Egyptian author Rollo Ahmed, "the most pitiless and ferocious institution the world has ever known" in its destruction of lives, property, morals, and human rights. Lord Acton, a Catholic, called the Inquisition "murderous" and declared that the popes "were not only murderers in the great style, but they made murder a legal basis of the Christian Church and the condition of salvation."6
No Absolution for Rome
Roman Catholic apologists deceitfully try to absolve their Church of any responsibility in the actual burnings of heretics. They claim that the Inquisition was the work of the state. On the contrary, "The binding force of the laws against heretics lay not in the authority of secular princes, but in the sovereign dominion of life and death over all Christians claimed by the Popes as God's representatives on earth, as Innocent III expressly states it."7
The penalties were executed by the civil authorities, but only as the secular arm of the Church. Innocent III commanded the archbishop of Auch in Gascony: "We give you a strict command that, by whatever means you can, you destroy all these heresies ... you may cause the princes and people to suppress them with the sword." The pope offered "a plenary indulgence to the king and nobles of France for aid in suppressing the Catharist heresy. To Philip Augustus, in return for such aid, the pope offered the lands of all who should fail to join in a crusade against the Albigensians."8
Comte Le Maistre, in his letters written in 1815 to justify the Spanish Inquisition, states that it existed "by virtue of the bull of the sovereign pontiff" and that the Grand Inquisitor "is always either an archbishop or bishop."9 If the authorities refused to execute the condemned, they would themselves be brought before the Tribunal and consigned to the flames.
It was the popes themselves who invented the Inquisition and saw that it was carried out. "Gregory IX, in 1233, handed over the office [of the Inquisition] in permanence to the Dominicans, but always to be exercised in the name, and by the authority of, the Pope."10 As already noted, "Of eighty popes in a line from the thirteenth century on not one of them disapproved of the theology and apparatus of the Inquisition. On the contrary, one after another added his own cruel touches to the workings of this deadly machine."11 We are not quoting Protestants or even ex-Catholics, but Catholic historians. Listen to the leading nineteenth-century Catholic professor of Church history:
Through the influence of Gratian ... and unwearied activity of the Popes and their legates since 1183, the view of the Church had been ... [that] every departure from the teaching of the Church, and every important opposition to any ecclesiastical ordinances, must be punished with death, and the most cruel of deaths, by fire....
Innocent III declared the mere refusal to swear, and the opinion that oaths were unlawful, a heresy worthy of death, and directed that whoever differed in any respect from the common way of life of the multitude should be treated as a heretic.
Both the initiation and carrying out of this new principle must be ascribed to the Popes alone.... It was the Popes who compelled bishops and priests to condemn the heterodox to torture, confiscation of their goods, imprisonment, and death, and to enforce the execution of this sentence on the civil authorities, under pain of excommunication.
From 1200 to 1500 the long series of Papal ordinances on the Inquisition, ever increasing in severity and cruelty, and their whole policy towards heresy, runs on without a break. It is a rigidly consistent system of legislation; every Pope confirms and improves upon the devices of his predecessor. All is directed to the one end, of completely uprooting every difference of belief... .
It was only the absolute dictation of the Popes, and the notion of their infallibility in all questions of Evangelical morality, that made the Christian world ... [accept] the Inquisition, which contradicted the simplest principles of Christian justice and love to our neighbor, and would have been rejected with universal horror in the ancient Church.12
Far from being its originators, civil authorities often tried to resist the Inquisition, but they could not. Forced to carry out the sentence, executioners sometimes "strangled the condemned before lighting the flames."13 Such acts of deficient mercy were, unfortunately, the rare exception. A few compassionate voices were raised within the Church: "St. Bernard pointed out that Christ had expressly forbidden the line of conduct afterwards prescribed by the Popes, and that it could only multiply hypocrites and confirm and increase the hatred of mankind against a bloodthirsty and persecuting Church and clergy."14 But most clergy agreed with the popes.
We often learn of secular resistance from papal decrees overruling it. Will Durant informs us that in 1521 Leo X issued the bull Honestis which "ordered the excommunication of any officials, and the suspension of religious services in any community, that refused to execute, without examination or revision, the sentences of the inquisitors."15 Consider Clement V's rebuke of King Edward II:
We hear that you forbid torture as contrary to the laws of your land. But no state law can override [the Church's] canon law, our law. Therefore I command you at once to submit those men to torture.16
Pope Urban II (1088-99), inspirer of the first Crusade, decreed that all heretics were to be tortured and killed. That became a dogma of the Church. Acclaimed as the 'angelic doctor,' even St. Thomas Aquinas taught that non-Catholics, or heretics, could, after a second warning, be legitimately killed. His exact words are: "they have merited to be excluded from the earth by death."17
Pope Martin V (1417-31) commanded the King of Poland in 1429 to exterminate the Hussites (sympathizers with the martyred Jan Hus), who had fought back and had routed the pope's
army. The following from the pope's letter to the king reinforces what we know of the evil of papal totalitarianism and tells us why popes hated the Hussites and other independent Christians and wanted them destroyed:
Know that the interests of the Holy See, and those of your crown, make it a duty to exterminate the Hussites. Remember that these impious persons dare proclaim principles of equality; they maintain that all Christians are brethren, and that God has not given to privileged men the right of ruling the nations; they hold that Christ came on earth to abolish slavery; they call the people to liberty, that is to the annihilation of kings and priests.
While there is still time, then, turn your forces against Bohemia; burn, massacre, make deserts everywhere, for nothing could be more agreeable to God, or more useful to the cause of kings, than the extermination of the Hussites.18
The popes themselves were the authority behind the Inquisitions. They wielded the power of life and death even over emperors. Had any pope opposed the Inquisition, he could have stopped it during his papacy at least. Where do we read that the popes thundered anathemas against the secular authorities who imposed so many and such gruesome deaths upon their victims? Never! Civil magistrates would have desisted from these loathsome murders in order to save their own souls, but papal orders to stop the Inquisitions never came.
On the contrary, the Roman pontiffs, who originated and directed the Inquisitions, threatened excommunication against any who failed to carry out the inquisitors' decrees. Today's Catholic apologists deny the facts of history and accuse those who present the truth of being "unscholarly." D. Antonio Gavin, a Catholic priest and eyewitness to the Spanish Inquisition, tells us:
The Roman Catholics believe there is a Purgatory, and that the souls suffer more pains in it than in Hell: But I think that the Inquisition is the only Purgatory on earth, and the holy Fathers [priests/popes] are the judges and executioners in it. The reader may form a dreadful idea of the barbarity of that tribunal by what I have already said, but I am sure it never will come up to what it is in reality, for it passeth all understanding…..19
The Dogmas Remain Today
Had Rome ever confessed the evil of her ferocious slaughter of millions of those whom she called heretics, and had she renounced the centuries of plunder and murder and wiped those doctrines from her books, then we could forget that horror. That she has not done so, however, requires us to face, no matter how unpleasant, the facts of history. Far from expressing shame for the execution of heretics, a popular American Catholic weekly in 1938 declared:
Heresy is an awful crime against God, and those who start a heresy are more guilty than they who are traitors to the civil government. If the state has a right to punish treason with death, the principle is the same that concedes to the spiritual authority [Roman Catholic Church] the power of life and death over the archtraitor [heretic].20
Infallibility can never admit it was wrong. As John Fox reminds us in his Book of Martyrs, "A Church which pretends to be infallible will always seek the destruction of those who dissent from it.... "21 De Rosa points out that Pope John Paul II -
knows the church was responsible for persecuting Jews, for the Inquisition, for slaughtering heretics by the thousand, for reintroducing torture into Europe as hart of the judicial process. But he has to be careful. The doctrines responsible for those terrible things still underpin his position.22
Disobedience to the pope became the epitome of heresy. Those guilty of it immediately lost any normal human rights and were summarily put to death. Consider Urban VIII's 1627 Bull In Coena Domini. Gregory XI had first brought it out in 1372, and Gregory XII reconfirmed it in 1411, as did Pius V in 1568 (who said it was to remain an eternal law in Christendom). Each pope added new touches until it was well-nigh impossible for an admitted non-Catholic to exist in Europe, much as it will be worldwide under Antichrist for any who do not submit totally to him. The bull "excommunicates and curses all heretics and schismatics as well as all who favor or defend them, [including] all princes and magistrates.... "23
This bull is still in force today. Nor could it be otherwise, with the ex cathedra pronouncements of four infallible popes behind it. The absolutism remains even though Rome is not presently able to enforce it so blatantly. The Code of Canon Law, Canon 333, par 3, declares: "There is neither appeal nor recourse against a decision or decree of the Roman Pontiff." Vatican II, of course, says the same.
The woman rides the beast, holding the reins! Incredible, but it happened. Heresy in the Church's eyes was treated as treason against the crown. The Church sought out the heretics, found them guilty, and handed them to the civil authorities for execution. As its secular arm, the state did the Church's bidding in the execution of heretics, the confiscation of their property, and the enforcement of the Church's decrees against them and their heirs.
The Use of Torture
Remember, it is not that the woman's hands are red with blood but that she is drunk with the blood of the martyrs. H condition depicts a Church that not only kills but tortures pitiful victims for days and even weeks. The inquisitors seem to be drugged into insensibility until their normal sense horror and sympathy had been numbed. Indeed. to be able impose the most extreme torture without a twinge of conscience or compassionate thought became a mark of holiness and fidelity to the Church.
Try to imagine being suddenly arrested in the middle of the night and taken to an unknown location kept secret from family and friends. You are not told the charges against you or the identity of your accusers, who remain unknown and thus immune from any examination to discover whether they are telling the truth. Whatever the accusation, it is accepted as fact and you are guilty without trial. The only "trial" will be by the most ingeniously painful torture that continues until you confess to that unnamed crime or heresy of which you have been accused. Imagine the torment of dislocated joints, torn and seared flesh, internal injuries, broken bones on the rack and other devices, mended by doctors so they could be torn asunder again by fresh torture. Eventually you would confess to anything to end the torment, but no matter what you confess it never fits the secret accusation, so the torture continues until at last you expire from the unbearable trauma.
Such was the fate of millions. These were real people: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters-all with hopes and dreams, with passions and feelings, and many with a faith that could not be broken by torture or fire. Remember that this terror, this evil of such proportions that it is unimaginable today, was carried on for centuries in the name of Christ by the command of those who claimed to be the vicars of Christ. They are still honored with that title by this Church, which has never admitted that the Inquisitions were wrong. She has not repented or apologized, and she dares to pose even today as the supreme teacher and example of morals and truth. Remember also that the doctrines which supported the Inquisitions remain in force within the Roman Catholic Church even at the present time.
With the use of torture, there was no limit to what the accused would confess. At least one poor creature said he would admit having killed God if his inquisitors would stop torturing him. Women accused of being witches confessed, under torture, to having had sex with Satan and even to having borne him children, children who remained invisible and were thus all the greater menace to Catholics. Pope Innocent VIII made such hysterical nonsense official Catholic dogma in his 1484 Bull, Summis desiderantes affectibus:
Men and women straying from the Catholic faith have abandoned themselves to devils, incubi and succubi [male and female demonic sexual partners], and by their incantations, spells, conjurations ... have slain infants yet in the mother's womb, as also the offspring of cattle, have blasted the produce of the earth .... 24
Torture was considered to be essential because the church felt duty-bound to identify from the lips of the victims themselves any deviance from sound doctrine. Presumably, the more excruciating the torture, the more likely that the truth could be wrung from reluctant lips. The inquisitors were determined that it was "better for a hundred innocent people to die than for one heretic to go free." This horrendous doctrine was maintained under every pope for the next three centuries. Durant suggests:
The inquisitors appear to have sincerely believed that, torture was a favor to a defendant already accounted guilty, since it might earn him, by confession, a slights penalty than otherwise; even if he should, after confession, be condemned to death, he could enjoy priestly absolution to save him from hell.25
Another author, Gerard Dufour, quotes a 1552 book by Simancas stating that "the inquisitors should be more inclined to the use of torture than regular judges because the crime of heresy is concealed and very difficult to prove." The openly stated purpose of torture was "to cause the most intense pain to the prisoner. And for that the inquisitors exchanged recipes [techniques]." Other authorities of that time are quoted to the effect that torture was not expected to rescue the accused from his heresy, but its main purpose was to terrorize the masses,26 which in fact it did.
Catholic apologists are quick to say that Pope Sixtus IV attempted to stop the Inquisition. That is not true. He issued a bull in 1482 declaring that the inquisitors in Aragon, Spain, seemed more interested in getting wealthy than defending the faith and accusing them of imprisoning, torturing, and burning faithful Catholics on the basis of false accusations from their enemies or slaves. He decreed that a representative of the local bishop must always be present, that the accused must know-the names of the accusers, and that appeals to the Holy See ought to be allowed.
This bull, however, was only for Aragon, and when King Ferdinand defied it Sixtus backed off and five months later suspended it. In the meantime he was taking money for granting dispensations and absolutions (which the inquisitors never honored) from the sentences of the Inquisition in Aragon. Nor did he give any refunds. If the pope had been seriously concerned for justice rather than money, he would have forced the king to comply and have made the bull effective everywhere instead of only in Aragon.27
The Modus Operandi
When the inquisitors swept into a town an "Edict of Faith" was issued requiring everyone to reveal any heresy of which they had knowledge. Those who concealed a heretic came under the curse of the Church and the inquisitors' wrath. Informants would approach the inquisitors' lodgings under cover of night and were rewarded for information. No one arrested was ever acquitted.
"Heretics" were committed to the flames because the popes believed that the Bible forbade Christians to shed blood. The victims of the Inquisition exceeded by hundreds of thousands the number of Christians and Jews who had suffered under pagan Roman emperors.
The Inquisition, established and repeatedly blessed by the popes, was an open assault upon truth and justice and basic human rights. It was the perfect setup for bigots, villains, enemies, and crazies with overworked imaginations to seek revenge, rid themselves of a rival, or gain personal satisfaction of having become important to the Church. De Rosa writes:
Whenever one of the Papal States fell to the armies of the new Italy and the prisons were opened, the prisoners' conditions were said to be indescribable….for more than six centuries without a break, the papacy was the sworn enemy of elementary justice.28
The property of heretics was confiscated and divided between the inquisitors and the popes. That the corpse of Pope Formosus had been twice disinterred, condemned, and excommunicated set a pattern. In 680 the Sixth General Council decreed that even dead heretics should be tried and condemned. Corpses that had lain in the grave for decades were dug up, tried, and found guilty. At that point the past assets of the deceased were confiscated, causing heirs to lose everything, including, in many cases, all civil rights.
Roman Catholic apologists pass off the Inquisitions as a necessity at the time to keep the Church doctrinally pure. They suggest that any excesses were the work of overly patriotic Spaniards who were concerned that many "converted" Moors and Jews were not really loyal to the Church. Seemingly forgotten is the "barbaric cruelty of the pious priestly inquisitors in Italy, France, Germany, the Low Countries, England and the Scandinavian lands." Besides the Spanish Inquisition there were the Roman and Medieval Inquisitions as well. Emmet McLoughlin, who spent years researching relevant historical records in the New World, writes:
There were no Moors and few Jews in Peru, where I saw the Hall of the Inquisition, the dungeons of imprisonment, and the gorgeously carved door with ... an opening made at mouth height so that the witness could testify against the accused heretic without being seen or identified .... 29
As an eyewitness in the early eighteenth century in Spain. Gavin tells us, "This tribunal is composed of three Inquisitors, who are absolute judges ... from their judgment there is nc appeal.... The first Inquisitor is a divine, the second a casuist, and the third a civilian; the first and second are always Priests.... The third sometimes is not a Priest.... The Inquisitors have a despotic power to command every living soul; and no excuse is to be given, nor contradiction to be made, to their orders. . . . "30
The Pilgrim Church
Catholic apologists admit that the Church "made some mistakes," but insist that Rome couldn't be the whore in Revelation 17. Why? Because Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18), and Roman Catholicism was the Church. Even many evangelicals are deceived by this argument.
The truth is that Roman Catholicism did not represent Christ and was not His Church. For at least a thousand years before the Reformation the true church was composed of multitudes of simple Christians who were not part of the Roman system. That such believers existed, refused to be called "Catholics," and worshiped independently of the Roman hierarchy is history. It is a fact that they were pursued to imprisonment and death since at least the end of the fourth century. Among the evidence in ancient records stands the "Edict of the Emperors Gratian, Valentinian II, and Theodosius I" of February 27, 380, which established Roman Catholicism as the state religion. In part it said:
We order those who follow this doctrine to receive the title of Catholic Christians, but others we judge to be mad and raving and worthy of incurring the disgrace of heretical teaching, nor are their assemblies to receive the name of churches. They are to be punished not only by Divine retribution but also by our own measures, which we have decided in accordance with Divine inspiration.31
These non-Catholic Christians had, out of conscience before God and in obedience to His Word, separated themselves from what they sincerely called even in that day "the whore of Babylon." Concerning them, Bishop Alvaro Palayo, an official of the Curia in Avignon, wrote grudgingly: "Considering the Papal Court has filled the whole Church with simony, and the consequent corruption of religion, it is natural enough the heretics should call the Church the whore."32 E. H. Broadbent calls these Bible-believing Christians The Pilgrim Church in his book of that name:
In the Alpine valleys of Piedmont there had been for centuries congregations of believers calling themselves brethren, who came later to be widely known as Waldenses, or Vaudois.... In the South of France ... the congregations of believers who met apart from the Catholic Church were numerous and increasing. They are often called Albigenses [and] had intimate connections with the brethren-whether called Waldenses, Poor Men of Lyons, Bogomils, or otherwise-in the surrounding countries, where churches spread among the various peoples.
In 1209 [Pope Innocent III] proclaimed a crusade against [them]. Indulgences, such as had been given to the [Holy Land] Crusaders ... were now offered to all who would take part in the easier work of destroying the most fruitful provinces of France. This, and the prospect of booty and license of every kind, attracted hundreds of thousands of men. Under the presidence of high clerical dignitaries and led by Simon de Montfort, a military leader of great ability ... the most beautiful and cultivated part of Europe at that time was ravaged ....33
These simple believers were burned at the stake or slain with the sword (and most of their records were destroyed) when their towns and villages were razed by papal armies. Catholic apologists falsely accuse them of heresies and abominable practices which they denied. The accounts we have of their trials reveal that they held beliefs similar to evangelicals of today. Though some of the worst tales are told about the Cathari, one can only agree with their beliefs as described by Durant:
[They] denied that the [Roman Catholic] Church was the Church of Christ; [declared that] St. Peter had never come to Rome, had never founded the papacy; [and that] the popes were successors to the emperors, not to the apostles. [They taught that] Christ had no place to lay His head, but the pope lived in a palace; Christ was propertyless and penniless, but Christian prelates were rich; surely ... these lordly archbishops and bishops, these worldly priests, these fat monks, were the Pharisees of old returned to life! The Roman Church, they were sure, was the Whore of Babylon, the clergy were a Synagogue of Satan, the pope was Antichrist. They denounced the preachers of crusades as murderers ... laughed at indulgences and relics ... they called the churches "dens of thieves" and Catholic priests seemed to them "traitors, liars, and hypocrites."34
Nineteenth-century Roman Catholic author du Pin writes: "The pope [Innocent III] and the prelates were of opinion that it was lawful to make use of force, to see whether those who were not reclaimed out of a sense of their salvation might be so by the fear of punishments, and even of temporal death." Almost everyone knows that crusades were organized of tens of thousands of knights and foot soldiers to retake Jerusalem from the Muslims. Very few have ever heard that similar crusades involving huge armies were fought against Christians who could not in good conscience submit to Rome. Yet such was the case, beginning with Pope Innocent III.35
A major crime of these Christians was believing in freedom of conscience and worship-biblical concepts which the popes hated, for such beliefs would put Rome out of business. Though no exact figures are available, the slaughter of these Christians by the popes probably ran into the millions during the thousand years before the Reformation. In the city of Beziers alone about 60,000 men, women, and children were wiped out in one crusade.36 Innocent III considered the annihilation of these particular heretics the crowning achievement of his papacy! Broadbent writes:
When the town of Beziers was summoned to surrender, the Catholic inhabitants joined with the Dissenters in refusing.... The town was taken, and of the tens of thousands who had taken refuge there, none were spared [alive].37
In spite of periodic massacres, groups of independent Christians were growing in numbers long before Martin Luther was born. They would seemingly be wiped out in one area only to be found in another. As Ulric Zwingli would later state in 1522 in a letter to his brothers, who were fearful that he would be burned at the stake:
O, my beloved brethren, the gospel derives from the blood of Christ this wondrous property, that the fierce persecutions, far from arresting its progress, do b hasten its triumph!38
Rome could not allow independence from her iron grip. Thus the French Vaudois incurred the wrath of Pope Innocent VIII (1484-92) "for daring to maintain their own religion in preference to that of Rome." In 1487 the pope raised a crusade against them in which he promised "the remission of all sins to everyone who should slay a heretic,"39 and ordered any bishop removed who neglected to purge his diocese from heretics. No wonder these Christians thought of the popes as Antichrists, for what they suffered was far worse than Roman emperors meted out to the early church and seemed so much like the persecution under Antichrist prophesied in Revelation 13.
In 1838 George Stanley Faber wrote An Inquiry into the History and Theology of the Ancient Valdenses and Albigenses. Nearly 200 years earlier, in 1648, Samuel Morland had published his History of the Evangelical Churches of Piedmont (an area in France populated by the Albigenses and other "heretics"). The investigation of both of these authors drew on a number of other works going back into the thirteenth century. From written and public testimony at their trials, it is quite clear that the Vaudois, Albigenses, Waldenses, and other similar groups were heretics to Rome only. In fact, their beliefs were much like those of the Reformers, of whom they were, in a sense, the forerunners. Martin Luther acknowledged his debt to them when he wrote:
We are not the first to declare the papacy to be the, kingdom of Antichrist, since for many years before us so many and such great men (whose number is large any whose memory is eternal) have undertaken to express the same thing so clearly and plainly.40
One of the worst heresies in Rome's eyes was to reject infant baptism. That ritual supposedly removed the stain of original sin, made the infant a child of God and member of the Church, and started the process of salvation, which consisted in obeying Rome's ordinances and participating in her sacraments.
Those who managed to find a copy of the Bible (which Rome did her best to keep from the people) discovered that it contradicted Rome's doctrines. Salvation came not through baptism but by faith in Christ. Baptism was for those who believed in Him as their personal savior. No infant was capable of such understanding and faith.
Those who believed the gospel they found in the Bible wanted to be baptized as believers. The Dutch Catholic priest Menno Simons relates his own confusion before he became a Christian:
On March 20, 1531, a certain tailor by the name of Sicke Freerks Snijder was executed in [Leeuwarden] for the strange reason that he had been baptized a second time. "It sounded strange in my ears," says Menno, "that a second baptism was spoken of."
It seemed still more strange when Menno learned that Freerks was a pious, God-fearing man, who did not believe the Scriptures taught that infants should be baptized but rather that baptism should be administered only to adults upon confession of a personal faith.41
Many of the growing numbers of Protestants, such as Lutherans, continued to baptize infants and do so today-one of several elements of Roman Catholicism from which many Reformers were unable to shake free. Thus Protestants, too, began to persecute and in some cases even to execute those who had been baptized a second time. These "heretics" came to be known as Anabaptists.
The Catholic Inquisition in Holland, where most of the Anabaptists were, burned tens of thousands at the stake for espousing the baptism of adults who had come to personal faith in Christ. Those who gave the heretics help or shelter shared their fate. The largest group of Anabaptists followed the teachings of Menno Simons and became known as Mennonites. Menno writes:
[About 1539] a very pious and God-fearing mat Tjard Reynders, was apprehended in the place where sojourned for the reason that he had received me, homeless man, out of compassion and love, into h house, although in secret.... he was, after a free confession of his faith [in Christ alone], broken on the wheel and executed as a valiant soldier of Christ, according t the example of his Lord, although he had the testimony, even of his enemies, that he was an unblamable and pious man.42
The stories of the martyrs who, because they placed their faith in Christ alone and were devoted to Him, were tortured and slain, many in the flames, present a picture which in its pathos and tragedy is almost unbelievable. We learn both of the terror they faced bravely at the hands of those who claimed to be serving Christ, and of their faith, from letters they wrote while awaiting execution. Consider this brief excerpt from a letter that Hans Van Munstdorp wrote to his wife when they were both in prison at Antwerp:
An affectionate greeting to you, my beloved wife, whom I love from the heart ... and must now forsake for the truth [for] which we must count all things loss and love Him above all.... my mind is still unwaveringly fixed to adhere to the eternal truth. [I hope] by the grace of the Lord that this is also the purpose of your mind, which I would be rejoiced to hear. I herewith exhort you my beloved lamb, with the apostle: "As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith, and suffer yourself not to be moved from your purpose.... "43
On September 19, 1573, after her husband's death and after she had in prison given birth, Janneken Munstdorp wrote a farewell letter to her baby daughter. It was a lengthy exhortation to live for Christ, filled with Scripture references and teachings from God's Word to guide her child as she grew up. This brief excerpt from that letter reveals a young mother's and martyr's love and faith:
The true love of God and wisdom of the Father strengthen you in virtue, my dearest child.... I commend you to the Almighty, great and terrible God, who only is wise, that He will keep you and let you grow up in His fear... you who are yet so young and whom I must leave here in this wicked, evil, perverse world. Since ... you are here deprived of father and mother, I will commend you to the Lord; let Him do with you according to His holy will....
My dear lamb, I who am imprisoned ... can help you in no other way; I had to leave your father for the Lord's sake.... [W]e were apprehended. .. [and] they took him from me.... And now that I have ... borne you under my heart with great sorrow for nine months, and given birth to you here in prison, in great pain, they have taken you from me....
Since I am now delivered up to death, and must leave you here alone, I must through these lines cause you to remember that when you have attained your understanding you endeavor to fear God and examine why and for whose name we both died; and be not ashamed ... of us; it is the way which the prophets and the apostles went, and the narrow way which leads into eternal life....44
Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that these martyrs have been forgotten. Or, worse yet, their faithfulness to Christ in torture and death is being mocked today by evangelical leaders who say that the truths for which they gave their lives are not important. They died to bring the gospel to lost souls because Rome's gospel was sending multitudes to eternal judgment. But even though Rome's gospel has not changed, many evangelical leaders today are saying that Catholics who follow Rome are saved, and they are now looking upon the Roman Catholic Church (a Church that burned people at the stake for giving out the Scriptures!) as a partner in evangelizing the world for Christ. The martyrs must weep in heaven-not for themselves but for the lost-if Christ allows them to know of this uncaring betrayal of the faith for which they died.
The Inquisition Today
The Medieval Inquisition had flourished for centuries when Pope Paul III, in 1542, gave it permanent status as the first of Rome's Sacred Congregations, the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Inquisition. Known more recently as the Holy Office, its name was changed in 1967 to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith-quite appropriate inasmuch as the public burnings were known as autos-da-fe or acts of faith. The persecution, torture, and killing of heretics has never been repudiated by the Roman Catholic Church and has continued into modern times, as we shall see.
Rome is faced with a clear choice: Either her zealous torture and slaughter of so many innocent victims is something to be proud of or it is something to be ashamed of. Of course, Rome will neither repent of its sins nor give up its claim to infallibility. Therefore it is not surprising that the Office of the Inquisition still occupies the Palace of the Inquisition adjacent to the Vatican, though under its new name, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Its current Grand Inquisitor, who reports directly to the pope, is the former Archbishop of Munich, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, whom Time has called "the world's most powerful cardinal [and] the Catholic Church's chief enforcer of dogma. . . .”45 That enforcement may be brutally direct or dealt with a gloved hand through another person, as was the case in late 1993 in the muzzling of Fr. Joseph Breen by Nashville's Bishop Edward Kmiec. In a letter to the nation's bishops, Breen, pointing to "the vast difference between what is said in Rome and what actually happens" pleaded for "optional celibacy." He was forced to sign a pledge "that he will not speak to media ... [and] not criticize what bishops do."46
While it no longer immolates its victims, the Congregation still attempts to maintain the Vatican's cultlike control over the thinking of its clergy and Church members. For example, on June 9, 1993, Ratzinger published "Instructions ... in Promoting the Doctrine of the Faith." The document demands that "prior permission is required ... for what is written by clerics and members of religious institutes for newspapers, magazines or periodicals which are accustomed to attack openly the Catholic religion or good morals. The instruction also warns Catholic publishing houses to conform to church law. And bishops are obliged to prevent the sale and display in their churches of publications on religion and morals that lack church approval…..47 It is the Index of Forbidden Books again!
The Roman Catholic Church has been the greatest persecutor of both Jews and Christians the world has ever seen, and has martyred far more Christians than even pagan Rome or Islam. She has been exceeded only by Mao and Stalin, but they hardly claimed to be acting in Christ's name. Catholic Rome has no rival among religious institutions in qualifying as the woman who is "drunk with the blood of the saints and the martyrs of Jesus."
Yet John Paul II, in his recent treatise, Veritatis Splendor, has the audacity to speak of Catholic saints "who bore witness to and defended moral truth even to the point of enduring martrydom...."48 What of the millions whom his Church massacred because their moral conscience and understanding of God's Word did not coincide with Rome's! The silence from the Vatican concerning its infamous and innumerable crimes against God and humanity is deafening. Even worse is the hypocrisy that allows this murderous woman to pose as the great teacher and exemplar of obedience to Christ.
"'Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10).' Thus John Paul II began today's [October 10, 1993] solemn mass in honor of the beatification of 11 [Catholic] martyrs of the Spanish Civil War and two Italian religious."49 So reported the influential Catholic magazine Inside the Vatican. As always, while Catholic martyrs are lauded, there is no admission of and no apology for the millions of Christians and Jews who have been martyred by the Roman Catholic Church. The hypocrisy is monumental.