Christian Church History
(Top Posts - History - 022001)

From a 1989 speech by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.:

"As a historian, I confess to a certain amusement
when I hear the Judeo-Christian tradition praised as
the source of our present-day concern for human
rights; that is, for the valuable idea that all individuals
everywhere are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit
of happiness on this earth.

In fact, the great religious ages were notable for their
indifference to human rights in the contemporary
sense. They were notorious not only for acquiescence
in poverty, inequality, exploitation, and oppression,
but also for enthusiastic justifications of slavery,
persecution, abandonment of small children, torture,
and genocide.

During most of the history of the West . . . religion
enshrined and vindicated hierarchy, authority, and
inequality, and had no compunction about murdering
heretics and blasphemers. Until the end of the 18th
century, torture was normal investigative procedure
in the Catholic church as well as in most European
States . . .

Human rights is not a religious idea. It is a secular
idea, the product of the last four centuries of Western
history . . .

It was the age of equality that brought about the
disappearance of such religious appurtenances
as the auto-da-fe and burning at the stake, the
abolition of torture and of public executions, the
emancipation of the slaves . . . The basic human
rights documents -- the American Declaration of
Independence and the French Declaration of the
Rights of Man -- were written by political, not by
religious, leaders."

- end excerpt -

- - -

Dark Ages

"The early medieval period of western European history.

Specifically, the term refers to the time (476-800) when
there was no Roman (or Holy Roman) emperor in the
West; or, more generally, to the period between about
500 and 1000, which was marked by frequent warfare
and a virtual disappearance of urban life.

It is now rarely used by historians because of the value
judgment it implies. Though sometimes taken to derive
its meaning from the fact that little was then known
about the period, the term's more usual and pejorative
sense is of a period of intellectual darkness and
barbarity. See Middle Ages."

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- - -

Middle Ages


"The period in European history from the collapse of
Roman civilization in the 5th century AD to the period
of the Renaissance (variously interpreted as beginning
in the 13th, 14th, or 15th century, depending on the
region of Europe and on other factors).

The term and its conventional meaning were introduced
by Italian humanists with invidious intent; the humanists
were engaged in a revival of classical learning and culture,
and the notion of a thousand-year period of darkness
and ignorance separating them from the ancient Greek
and Roman world served to highlight the humanists'
own work and ideals.

In a sense, the humanists invented the Middle Ages in
order to distinguish themselves from it. The Middle
Ages nonetheless provided the foundation for the
transformations of the humanists' own Renaissance. ...

- end excerpt -


Dark Ages

New Light on Witchcraft

The Horrors of the Inquisition

Medieval Art and the Church

The Moorish Civilization in Spain

The Renaissance: A European Awakening

The Reformation and Protestant Reaction

The Truth About Galileo and Medieval Science

- - - - - - - - -

Interview With an Atheist - David Mills (author
of Science Shams and Bible Bloopers)


Interviewer: Do you believe that religion encourages moral

Mills: To the extent that a religion strives to promote ethical
conduct, I support those efforts wholeheartedly. But too often,
religions define morality in terms of whether a person belongs
to the "correct" religion, rather than in terms of whether an
individual treats others fairly and compassionately. Protestant
Fundamentalists believe, moreover, that non-Christians are
necessarily ethically inferior to Christians. Such "thinking"
leads inevitably to bigotry, prejudice, and Holy War.

The bloody history of Christianity would lead any objective
person to conclude that religion -- and the Christian religion
in particular -- have been a moral abomination to mankind.
The Crusades, the Inquisition, the witch burnings, the tor-
ture of "infidels" were all carried out in the name of the
Christian God.

While it is unfair to hold Christianity responsible for perver-
sions of its teachings, it is nonetheless indisputable that,
historically, more people have been slaughtered in the
name of the Christian religion than for any reason con-
nected to atheism.

For 1500 years, the Christian Church systematically oper-
ated torture chambers throughout Europe. Torture was the
rule, not the exception. Next to the Bible, the most influ-
ential and venerated book in Christian history was the
Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches), which was
a step-by-step tutorial in how to torture "witches" and

Each year, the Christian Church in Europe tortured to death
tens of thousands of people, including children as young as
two years of age. The only restriction was that the instru-
ments of torment had to be blessed by a priest before their
initial use.

Most Americans think of witch burning as having occurred
only during a brief period in Colonial New England. The fact
is, however, that witch burning ended in Colonial America
after a gruesome 1500-year reign of terror throughout Europe.

Today, the average Christian goes to church every week or
so -- shakes hands with a few Christian friends and says
"God bless you" -- listens to a gentle sermon and a few quiet
hymns -- then goes home feeling the "peace of God" in his
heart. Because the Christian Church now conducts itself in
a relatively civilized manner, a false perception is created
that religion has always been a tranquil force for good. That
is not the case.

Aside from the wholesale extermination of "witches," the
Christian Church fought bitterly throughout its history -- and
is still fighting today -- to impede scientific progress.

Galileo, remember, was nearly put to death by the Church
for constructing his telescope and discovering the moons
of Jupiter. For centuries, moreover, the Church forbade the
dissection of a human cadaver, calling it "a desecration of
the temple of the Holy Ghost."

Medical research was thereby stalled for almost a thousand
years. It is no coincidence, therefore, that Christianity's
longest period of sustained growth and influence occurred
during what historians refer to as The Dark Ages.

I'm genuinely afraid that, unless we start teaching some
real science in our miserable public schools, we may find
that 21st-century America suffers an intellectual climate
resembling that of the Dark Ages. We tend to believe that,
once knowledge has been acquired and technology devel-
oped by man, the future will only build upon these past

But history argues forcefully against such an optimistic
assumption. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians, for
example, made amazing scientific discoveries and wrote
detailed scientific analyses that the Christian Church
destroyed and suppressed for centuries.

A mob of religious zealots deliberately burned the greatest
library of the ancient world, at Alexandria, Egypt. And
it was not until Renaissance scholars emancipated Europe
from religious shackles that these scientific principles were
rediscovered 1500 years later.

Fifteen-hundred years of progress were therefore stifled
by the Christian Church. Were it not for religious perse-
cution and oppression of science, mankind might have
landed on the moon in the year 650. Cancer may have
been eradicated forever by the year 800. And heart
disease may, today, be unknown. But Christianity put
into deep hibernation Greek and Egyptian scientific
gains of the past.

Historically, the Church fought venomously against
each new scientific advance. But after fruitlessly criti-
cizing each new scientific achievement, the Church
soon flip-flopped its position and embraced the new
discovery as a "gift from God to mankind."

The Catholic hierarchy even opposed the invention of
the printing press because copies of Scripture could
be easily mass produced and placed in the hands of
those who might misinterpret or criticize "God's Word."
Before the printing press, Scripture had been read and
deciphered only by Catholic priests.

The Church angrily denounced the introduction of medi-
cines, antibiotics, anesthesia, surgery, blood transfusions,
birth control, transplants, in vitro fertilization, and most
forms of pain killers. Supposedly, these scientific tools
interfered with nature and were therefore against God's will.

Today, the Church is fighting cloning technology and
genetic engineering. But when cloning laboratories provide
an unlimited supply of transplant tissue for dying children,
and when genetic engineering cures all forms of cancer,
Church leaders will once again forget their initial opposition
and hail these achievements as evidence of God's love for

Today, science is prevailing, but throughout most of
recorded history, religion strangled scientific inquiry and
often tortured and executed those who advocated the
scientific method.

Unless we drastically improve our educational system,
it is not inconceivable that scientific ignorance will once
again become so ubiquitous that ultra-conservative
Fundamentalists seize control of our government and
resurrect book burning and witch burning.

Five-hundred years from now, the hot topic of debate
in scientific circles may be whether the Earth is round
or flat. This frightening scenario is not likely, but it is
far from impossible.

- end excerpt -

- - -

From -The Dark Side of Christian History-, by
Helen Ellerbe, published by Morningstar and Lark:
"By prohibiting and burning any other writings, the
Catholic Church eventually gave the impression that
this Bible and its four canonized Gospels represented
the only original Christian view. And yet, as late as 450,
Theodore of Cyrrhus said that there were at least 200
different gospels circulating in his own diocese. Even
the Catholic Encyclopedia now admits that the 'idea
of a complete and clear-cut canon of the New Testa-
ment existing from the beginning... has no foundation
in history'." ...

There has been no more organized effort by a religion to
control people and contain their spirituality than the
Christian Inquisition. ... Pope Innocent III declared
"that anyone who attempted to construe a personal
view of God which conflicted with Church dogma
must be burned without pity." ...

The Church turned to its own canon law to authenticate
an agency which could enforce adherence to Church
authority. In 1231 Pope Gregory IX established the
Inquisition as a separate tribunal, independent of bishops
and prelates. Its administrators, the inquisitors, were to
be answerable only to the Pope. ...

The names of accusing witnesses were kept secret. One's
only recourse was an appeal to the Pope in Rome which
was so futile as to be farcical. The friar Bernard Deliceux
declared: "...that if St. Peter and St. Paul were accused of
'adoring' heretics and were prosecuted after the fashion
of the Inquisition, there would be no defense for them." ...

By far the cruelest aspect of the inquisitional system was
the means by which confessions were wrought: the torture
chamber. Torture remained a legal option for the Church
from 1252 when it was sanctioned by Pope Innocent IV
until 1917 when the new Codex Juris Canonici was put
into effect. ...

Thus, with license granted by the Pope himself, inquisitors
were free to explore the depths of horror and cruelty.
Dressed as black-robed fiends with black cowls over
their heads, inquisitors extracted confessions from nearly
anyone. The Inquisition invented every conceivable device
to inflict pain by slowly dismembering and dislocating the
body. Many of these devices were inscribed with the motto
"Glory be only to God."

The rack, the hoist and water tortures were the most common.
Victims were rubbed with lard or grease and slowly roasted
alive. Ovens built to kill people, made infamous in twentieth
century Nazi Germany, were first used by the Christian
Inquisition in Eastern Europe. Victims were thrown into a
pit full of snakes and buried alive.

One particularly gruesome torture involved turning a large
dish full of mice upside down on the victim's naked stomach.
A fire was then lit on top of the dish causing the mice to panic
and burrow into the stomach. Should a victim withstand such
pain without confessing, he or she would be burned alive at
the stake, often in mass public burnings called auto-da-fe. ...

The Inquisition often targeted members of other religions
as severely as it did heretics. The Inquisition now lent its
authority to the long-standing Christian persecution of Jews.
Particularly during the Christian Holy Week of the Passion,
Christians frequently rioted against Jews or refused to sell
them food in hopes of starving them.

At the beginning of the 13th century, Pope Innocent III
required Jews to wear distinctive clothing. In 1391 Arch-
deacon of Seville launched a "Holy War against the Jews."


It was the 300 year period of witch-hunting from the fif-
teenth to the eighteenth century, what R.H. Robbins called
"the shocking nightmare, the foulest crime and deepest
shame of western civilization", that ensured the European
abandonment of the belief in magic.


The 2nd century St. Clement of Alexandria wrote: Every
woman should be filled with shame by the thought that
she is a woman."


The 13th century St. Thomas Aquinas suggested that God
had made a mistake in creating woman: "nothing [deficient]
or defective should have been produced in the first esta-
blishment of things; so woman ought not to have been
produced then."


As the Bible's Apocrypha states, "Of woman came the
beginning of sin and thanks to her, we must all die."


The Inquisitors who wrote the Malleus Maleficarum, "The
Hammer of the Witches," explained that women are more
likely to become witches than men: 'Because the female
sex is more concerned with things of the flesh than men;'
because being formed from a man's rib, they are 'only
imperfect animals' and 'crooked' whereas man belongs
to a privileged sex from whose midst Christ emerged.


The witch hunts also demonstrated great fear of female
sexuality. The book that served as the manual for under-
standing and persecuting witchcraft, the Malleus Male-
ficarum, describes how witches were known to "collect
male organs in great numbers, as many as twenty or
thirty members together, and put them in a bird's nest..."


Pope John XXII formalized the persecution of witchcraft
in 1320 when he authorized the Inquisition to prosecute
sorcery. Thereafter papal bulls and declarations grew
increasingly vehement in their condemnation of witchcraft
and of all those who "made a pact with hell."

In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued the bull Summis desid-
erantes authorizing two inquisitors, Kramer and Springer,
to systemize the persecution of witches. Two years later
their manual, Malleus Maleficarum, was published with 14
editions following between 1487-1520 and at least 16
editions between 1574-1669.

A papal bull in 1488 called upon the nations of Europe to
rescue the Church of Christ which was "imperiled by the
arts of Satan."

The papacy and the Inquisition had successfully trans-
formed the witch from a phenomenon whose existence
the Church had previously rigorously denied into a phen-
omenon that was deemed very real, very frightening, the
antithesis of Christianity, and absolutely deserving of

It was now heresy not to believe in the existence of

As the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum noted, "A
belief that there are such things as witches is so essential
a part of Catholic faith that obstinately to maintain the
opposite opinion savors heresy." Passages in the Bible
such as "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" were cited
to justify the persecution of witches. ...

The process of formally persecuting witches followed
the harshest inquisitional procedure. Once accused of
witchcraft, it was virtually impossible to escape convic-
tion. After cross-examination, the victim's body was
examined for the witch's mark. The historian Walter
Nigg described the process:

"...she was stripped naked and the executioner shaved
off all her body hair in order to see in the hidden places
of the body the sign which the devil imprinted on his

Warts, freckles, and birthmarks were considered certain
tokens of amorous relations with Satan. Should a woman
show no sign of a witch's mark, guilt could still be esta-
blished by methods such as sticking needles in the
accused's eyes. In such a case, guilt was confirmed if
the inquisitor could find an insensitive spot during the


Unless the witch died during the torture, she was taken
to the stake. Since many of the burnings took place in
public squares, inquisitors prevented the victims from
talking to the crowds by using wooden gags or cutting
their tongue out.

- end excerpt -

- - -

I do think the Roman Catholic religion is a disease
of the mind which has a particular epidemiology
similar to that of a virus... Religion is a terrific meme.
That's right. But that doesn't make it true and I care
about what's true. Smallpox virus is a terrific virus.
It does its job magnificently well. That doesn't mean
that it's a good thing. It doesn't mean that I don't
want to see it stamped out.

-Richard Dawkins

- - -

"Although Catholics and Protestants were mortal
enemies during most of the Reformation, they
united to kill certain Christians for the crime of
double baptism (Anabaptists) . . . Surviving
fragments of the Anabaptist movement eventually
became the modern Mennonites, Amish, and

-James A. Haught (Holy Horrors)

- - -

"In Italy, the Inquisition was condemning people to
death until the end of the eighteenth century, and
inquisitional torture was not abolished in the Catholic
Church until 1816. The last bastion of support for
the reality of witchcraft and the necessity of punish-
ment has been the Christian churches."

-Carl Sagan, "The Demon-Haunted World"

- - -
"Vatican expresses sorrow over Holocaust, defends
wartime pope: March 16, 1998 - The Vatican on Monday
made a landmark and long-awaited declaration on the
Holocaust, urging Roman Catholics to repent for past
errors but absolving wartime Pope Pius XII of charges
that he turned a blind eye to the Nazis' attempt to exterm-
inate the Jews. Critics of the church's action of that period
say Pope Pius XII failed to intervene to try to stop the
persecution of Jews."

- - -

From "Holy Horrors", by James A. Haught:

Excerpt from a chapter entitled "The Reformation":

"Corruption in the medieval Catholic hierarchy was infamous.

Pope John XII openly had love affairs, gave church treasure
to a mistress, castrated one opponent, blinded another, and
donned armor to lead an army.

Benedict IX sold the papacy to a successor for 1,500 pounds
of gold.

Urban VI tortured and murdered his cardinals.

Innocent VIII proudly acknowledged his illegitimate
children and loaded them with church riches.

Pope Boniface VII, whose name is omitted from official
church listings, murdered two rival popes in the 10th

Sergius III likewise killed two rivals for the papal throne.

Benedict V dishonored a young girl and fled with the
Vatican treasury.

Clement VI sported with mistresses on ermine bed-linens.

Boniface VIII sent troops to kill every resident of Palestrina
and raze the city.

Clement VII, while a papal legate, similarly ordered the
slaughter of Cesena's 8,000 people, including the children.

A previous Pope John XXIII (not the reformer of the 1950s)
was deposed by a council in 1414--and Edward Gibbon
dryly recorded in -The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire-:
'The most serious charges were suppressed; the Vicar of
Christ was accused only of piracy, murder, rape, sodomy,
and incest.'

Alexander VI bought the papacy by bribing cardinals to
elect him--then hosted sex orgies attended by his illegitimate
children, Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. ..."

- end excerpt -