Catholics Hunting Heretics

Augustine lived from 354 to 430 A.D.  He had a vision of an ideal society, with the Roman Catholic Church at its center, governing all aspects of human life.  His ideal society required conformity in belief and practice.  Augustine taught that it was right and necessary for the Catholic Church to make this happen, even if it meant coercing people to comply.  This laid the theological foundation for persecuting “heretics” and for the Inquisition.  [Note 1]

For over a thousand years, the Roman Catholic Church hunted down “heretics” and killed them.    Some of these “heretics” were people with strange beliefs.  However, as we shall see later, many of them were Bible-believing Christians. Jesus predicted that true Christians would be persecuted and killed.  He told His disciples, “Yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” (John 16:2) For the Roman Catholic Church, “heresy” means to “obstinately” doubt or deny any official Catholic doctrine.  This definition is given in Canon 751 of the “Code of Canon Law,”  which is the body of laws used to govern the Catholic Church.  (You can read the law online.) [Note 2]

Doctrines which have often been disputed include the authority of the Pope, purgatory, indulgences, the veneration of Mary and the saints, and transubstantiation (the doctrine that the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ are literally and fully present in every fragment of consecrated bread and every drop of consecrated wine). Some Catholic doctrines seem to conflict with the plain meaning of Scripture.  As a result, people who read the Bible for themselves are likely to doubt or dispute those doctrines.  One way of solving that problem is to prevent laymen from reading the Bible.

The Catholic Church took that approach for hundreds of years. Starting about 1080, there were many incidents where scholars wanted to translate the Bible into the language of the common people, but it was forbidden by the Pope, Church councils, or individual bishops.  [Note 3] William Tyndale was burned as a “heretic” because he translated the Bible into English.  [Note 4]  People were burned as “heretics” for owning or reading his translation. (This is online.) [Note 5]

For centuries, Christians were forbidden to possess the Scriptures in any language, including Latin.  Reading the Bible was considered to be proof that someone was a heretic.  Men and women were burned at the stake for reading the Bible in Latin. [Note 6] With the Protestant Reformation, the Bible was translated into English, German, and other languages.  With the invention of the printing press, Bibles became so plentiful that they could no longer be suppressed.  That is why people like us, who are not Latin scholars, are able to read the Bible today.


Catholics Hunting Heretics

Who were some of the Christian “heretics” who were persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church?  I would like you to meet the Waldensians.  (They are also known as the Waldenses and the Vaudois.)  When “heretics” were hunted, their writings were confiscated and burned, so it is often difficult to know what they really taught. [Note 7]  However, we do know what the Waldensians taught.  Their writings survived.   In some ways, the Waldensians were similar to the Franciscans.  Both groups taught the value of poverty and simplicity.  They both had poor, humble, itinerant preachers, who were barefoot and wore humble peasant clothing. [Note 8]  As we shall see, the Pope examined the Waldensians and found no heresy in them. However, another Pope reversed that decision. Who were these courageous men and women who endured centuries of persecution for their faith?


One of the most famous Waldensians was Peter Waldo (1140-1218), a wealthy merchant of Lyons, France.  He asked a priest how to live like Jesus Christ. The priest quoted the words of Jesus to the rich young ruler, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give it to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (Matthew 19:21) Waldo made financial provision for his family, gave the rest of his money to the poor, memorized Scripture, and began preaching.  Some scholars believe that Peter Waldo was the founder of the Waldensians.  However, there is strong evidence that the Waldensians began long before Peter was born, and that Peter was given the surname Waldo because of his association with them. (You can read about the Waldensians online.)  [Note 9]

The Waldensians travelled in pairs, preaching the Gospel.  They were humble people who believed in “apostolic poverty”.  They were barefoot, owning nothing, and they shared all things in common.  Their teaching was orthodox, but they were considered to be a threat because they set standards which made many members of the Catholic clergy look bad by comparison. [Note 10] The humility and voluntary poverty of the Waldensians were a striking contrast to the pride and luxury of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.

A prime example of this was Pope Innocent III.  He reigned from 1198 to 1216, which was during Waldo’s lifetime.  Innocent wore clothes covered with gold and jewels.  He made kings and cardinals kiss his foot. (This is online.) [Note 11]

He said that the Pope is below God but higher than the rest of mankind.  [Note 12] Another example is Pope Boniface VIII, who reigned from 1294 to 1303.  He said that he was Caesar, the Roman Emperor.  His crown was covered with over 200 costly jewels (rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and large pearls).  [Note 13] Boniface declared that nobody could be saved unless he or she was subject to the Pope.  (You can read his encyclical online.) [Note 14]

Waldo’s beliefs were founded on the Bible, especially the Gospels.  He believed that there was no need to interpret the Bible because it spoke clearly for itself. All that was needed was to make the whole of Scripture available to the people.  Waldo was French, so he commissioned two priests to translate the Bible into French, starting with the Gospels.  As soon as the first Gospel (Matthew) had been translated, Waldo applied it to his life and began preaching it to the people. [Note 15] In 1179, Pope Alexander III found no evidence of heresy among the Waldensians.  However, because they were laymen, he forbid them to preach unless they were requested to do so by a bishop.

The Archbishop of Lyons ordered Waldo to stop preaching.  Waldo quoted Acts 5:29, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”  Waldo kept on preaching, and the Archbishop excommunicated him.  Then, in 1184, Pope Lucius III excommunicated Waldo and his followers. [Note 16] In 1211, more than eighty Waldensians were burned at the stake for “heresy”.  This was followed by centuries of persecution. (This is online.) [Note 17]

Because they were persecuted, the Waldensians went underground and spread to other countries, especially Italy, Switzerland, and Austria. The magnitude of their persecution is shown by the fact that in one year, in Italy alone, nine thousand Waldensians were killed and another twelve thousand were put into prison, where most of them died.  In spite of this, somehow the itinerant Waldensian preachers were able to maintain links throughout Europe. [Note 18] The Waldensians survived until the sixteenth century.  Then they joined the Protestant Reformation.  In 1848, the Italian government granted them emancipation.  Finally they were free from persecution (except for a brief period when Mussolini persecuted them during World War II).  There are still Waldensian churches today. (Information is online.)  [Note 19]


One of the things which was used to try to suppress the Waldensians and other “heretics” was the Inquisition.  It began in 1180, four years before Waldo and the Waldensians were excommunicated by the Pope. From 1180 to 1230, the Catholic Church enacted legislation (Canon Law) against heresy.  It created a permanent tribunal, staffed by Dominican friars, which became known as the Inquisition. The Inquisition used procedures which were banned in regular secular courts.  It used anonymous informers.  People were allowed to accuse their personal enemies. When men and women were accused of heresy, they were not allowed to know who their accusers were or what crime they were accused of.  They were not allowed to have anybody defend them.

The Inquisitors used torture to get accused people to “confess”. Once a person was accused, some kind of punishment was inevitable.  If secular officials were reluctant to punish the victims, then they were accused of heresy, which meant that they became victims of the system. [Note 20] If enough witnesses testified a person was guilty, then he or she was presumed to be guilty.  At that point the accused person had to choose between confessing and renouncing his or her “errors” or else being burned.  If people confessed, then they would be sentenced, which often meant life imprisonment.  However, they would be spared being burned at the stake. [Note 21]

If people wanted to confess, they had a problem.  How do you confess to the correct crime if you don’t know what you have been accused of?  If you are unable to confess because you don’t know the charges, then how do you get the torture to stop?  Under those circumstances, it is not surprising that people sometimes went insane.  In 1808, Napoleon conquered Spain.  His troops discovered a monastery with torture chambers which were full of prisoners, many of whom had gone insane. [Note 22]

When secular rulers resisted the harsh methods of the Inquisition, popes pressured them by excommunicating the rulers and placing their subjects under interdict.  (Interdict means that most sacraments were not allowed and Christian burial was not allowed.)  (See the chapter “Spiritual Coercion”.)  For example, King Edward II protested that torture was contrary to English law.  Pope Clement V told the king that the law of the Roman Catholic Church was higher than the law of England.  The Pope commanded the king to torture people. (Information about coercing secular rulers is online.) [Note 23]

The Pope gave orders to the King of England, and the King obeyed.  The nation of England took a giant step backwards and started torturing people again.   The Inquisition was financed by confiscating the property of people who were condemned.  It had to get people convicted in order to get the money that it needed for its operations.  This was a strong motive for using torture to make people “confess”.  [Note 24]   Even the grave was no protection from having property be confiscated.  Corpses were dug up, and dead men and women were convicted of heresy.  This allowed the Inquisitors to take the property of the heirs of the dead “heretics”.  [Note 25]

Sometimes people were convicted of heresy for reasons which are difficult to understand.  In 1766, a French nobleman failed to take his hat off when a religious procession was going through the streets.  It was raining at the time.  That young man paid a heavy price for wanting to keep his head dry.  He was convicted of blasphemy.  He was sentenced to unusually severe torture.  His hands were cut off.  His tongue was ripped out with pincers.  Then he was burned alive. [Note 26]   The Inquisition published an Index of prohibited books.  Catholics were threatened with damnation if they read one of these books.  The Index included all Protestant Bibles and all books written by Protestant Reformers.  The list of forbidden books was kept current until Pope Paul VI abolished the Index in 1959. [Note 27]  

In the eighteenth century, the Inquisition became less active due to lack of funds.  Its last execution was in the early nineteenth century (1826). [Note 28]   The Office of the Inquisition still exists.  It is located in the Vatican.  In 1965 its name was  changed to “The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”.  It is headed by Cardinal Ratzinger. (This is online.) [Note 29]


Roman Catholics refer to Orthodox Christians as “schismatics” because of the “Great Schism” when the Orthodox Church decided that it would no longer accept the authority of the Roman Catholic Pope.  Members of the Orthodox Church are sometimes referred to as “the Greeks” because Greek was the language spoken in Constantinople at that time.  Similarly, some authors refer to members of the Roman Catholic Church as “the Latins” because Latin was spoken in Rome.  (The language of ancient Rome is still spoken in modern Catholic Rome.  Latin is the official language of the Vatican.)

In 1204, Roman Catholic Crusaders conquered Constantinople.  This city was the center of the Orthodox Church, the location of its ruler (the Patriarch) and its greatest cathedral (Hagia Sophia).  It was the Orthodox Church’s equivalent of the Vatican, the Pope’s palace, and Saint Peter’s Basilica.   Catholic Crusaders killed the men, plundered the city, and set many buildings on fire.  They raped and murdered matrons, girls, and Orthodox nuns.  They vandalized tombs of Orthodox emperors.  They placed a well known prostitute on the seat of the Patriarch.  She disgraced it by singing obscene songs and dancing lewd dances.  The Crusaders desecrated the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia.

They threw consecrated bread and wine on the ground and trampled them underfoot.  Relics of saints were kept in the Cathedral, carefully preserved in ornate reliquaries (special containers for relics).  The Crusaders broke open the reliquaries and desecrated the relics.  They smashed the altar. They plundered the Cathedral, taking icons, religious objects, and pieces of the altar. (You can read about this online.)  [Note 30]


There was a wide variety of Christian “heretics”.  On the one hand, there were the Waldensians, who were simple, humble people who were just trying to live according to Biblical principles.  But when told not to preach, they continued preaching.   On the other hand, there were people like Wycliffe who said things which made the Pope angry.  Wycliffe started out as a Catholic Reformer and eventually wound up becoming a Protestant.  He taught that the government of England should remove morally corrupt churchmen and confiscate their property.  He said that the Pope is the Antichrist.

Wycliffe’s followers (the Lollards) were severely persecuted. (Information is online.) [Note 31]   Did Jesus and his Disciples kill people for saying offensive things?  They could have. Elijah called down fire on people.  The Bible says,   “And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?  But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” (Luke 9:54-55)

There is a story about a man who asked a woman, “Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?”  She said, “Well, for a million dollars, I guess maybe I would.”  Then he said, “Would you sleep with me for five dollars?”  She replied, “What kind of woman do you think I am?”  And he answered, “We’ve already established that.  Now we’re haggling price.”   A million dollars is a strong enticement.

For the Pope to be publicly accused of being the Antichrist is a strong provocation.  But no matter how great the enticement or the provocation, some things are just plain wrong.   Killing “heretics” because of their religious convictions was never justifiable.  If  a “heretic” resisted, then the Inquisition required the local authorities to kill the person, thus murdering the person’s body.  If a “heretic” complied and acted against his or her conscience, then the Inquisition murdered the person’s soul. [Note 32]

Copy of 2 books referenced :-

The Waldensian Dissent by Audisio


A_Woman_Rides_The_Beast_The_Roman_Catholic_Church_And_The_Last_Days by Dave_Hunt

References Notes

1. Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity” (New York: Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, 1995), pages 112-119.   Paul Johnson is a Catholic and a prominent historian. Bruce Shelley, “Church History in Plain Language,” Updated 2nd Edition (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), page 128.

2. “Code of Canon Law,” Latin-English Edition, New English Translation (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1989), page 247, Canon 751.  The 1983 Code of Canon Law was translated into English in 1988.  It is available online.  The following links go to the Index of the book, which has links to the laws. Canon 751 is near the beginning of Book III.

According to Canon 751, “heresy” applies to people who have been baptized.  However, most Catholics are baptized as infants, when they have no say in the matter.  Also, the law does not say that it only applies to baptized Catholics, so it could be interpreted to apply to people who have been baptized as Protestants.  During the Protestant Reformation, people who had been born and raised Protestant were killed as “heretics”.  For centuries, the Waldensians and other Bible-believing Christians (who were never baptized as Catholics) were persecuted as “heretics”.  In Spain, Jews and Muslims (unbaptized people) were persecuted as “heretics”.

3. Paul Johnson, page 273.

4. “Tyndale, William” in the “World Book Encyclopedia 2000” (on CD-rom). Articles about William Tyndale

5. If you want to get a feel for the times, then read the book “God’s Outlaw” by Brian H. Edwards (England: Evangelical Press, 1976, 1999).

6. Paul Johnson, pages 254-255; 273.

7. Paul Johnson, pages 119-120.

8. Gabriel Audisio (translated by Claire Davison), “The Waldensian Dissent: Persecution and Survival” (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pages 11-12.   “Francis, Saint” and “Francis, Saint, Conversion” in

9. Bruce Shelley, pages 207-208. Dr. Bill Jackson, “Waldenses”.  Dr. Jackson combines excellent scholarship with touching portraits of heroic people.

10. Paul Johnson, page 251.

11. Clifford Pereira, “Glimpses of Church History, 1200 – 1300 CE” [A.D.]

12. Bruce Shelley, page 185.

13. Bruce Shelley, page 215. 14. Pope Boniface VIII, “Unam Sanctam,” November 18, 1302.  See the very last sentence.

15. Gabriel Audisio, “The Waldensian Dissent: Persecution and Survival,” page 11.

16. Bruce Shelley, pages 206-209.

17. “Waldenses” in J. McCabe, “The Waldensians”.

18. Gabriel Audisio, summary from the back cover of the book.   J. McCabe, “The Waldensians”.

19. Gabriel Audisio, pages 189-190.   “Waldenses” in   J. McCabe, “The Waldensians”.   Dr. Bill Jackson, “Waldenses”.

20. Paul Johnson, pages 253-255.  Bruce Shelley, pages 211-212.

21. “Bruce Shelley, page 231.

22. Peter de Rosa, “Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy,” (Dublin, Ireland: Poolbeg Press, 1988, 2000), pages 166-172.

23. Dave Hunt, “A Woman Rides the Beast” (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1994), page 246.   Fourth Lateran Council: Canon 3 on Heresy.  This instructs the Catholic hierarchy to coerce secular rulers who fail to cooperate with the Inquisition.   Articles describing what was done during the Inquisition.

24. Paul Johnson, page 308.

25. Dave Hunt, page 253.

26. Paul Johnson, page 353.

27. Bruce Shelley, page 274.

28. Paul Johnson, page 308.

29. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Office of the Inquisition).  This article is on the Vatican’s website.  [Click on “Profile”.] The Vatican website is slow and it doesn’t always come up.  You can also find information about the change of name of the Office of the Inquisition at the following sites:

30. The conquest and pillaging of Constantinople (the Fourth Crusade) The Effects of the Fourth Crusade

31. Bruce Shelley, pages 225-231. “Lolladry” in

32. Paul Johnson, page 318.


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