Religious Toleration History and Facts - Church Corruption, Heresy and Reform

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Corruption in the Church 1600

In the 1600's, the Catholic Church had become a powerful monopoly with wealth and land comparable to the most powerful European Nations. Power and wealth bred corruption and the government sanctioned the corruption for a cut of the profits. This marriage of Church and State was arranged to stop sedition therefore eliminating all threats to the religious monopoly. One religion under one nation would be indivisible. Religion dominated the lives of the people therefore the Church attempted to control how people thought. Tyranny reigned and it was justified by religion. However, tyranny could not stifle independent thought totally. On the contrary, tyranny fueled independent thought and in the process inspired the movement towards religious liberty.

Heresy and the Inquisition

The Catholic Church had become a powerful and wealthy religious monopoly in Europe by the 1600's. This monopoly was upheld by instituting religious doctrine that was impressed on the people as being the truth. To doubt any Catholic doctrine was not acceptable. To voice any doubt of Catholic doctrine was heresy. An Inquisition was established by the Catholic Church to combat heresy. The Inquisition actively sought out heretics resulting in a reign of terror. The Church viewed heresy as a sin against the Church. Any sin against the Church was a crime against the State punishable by torture and death by burning. This as an all out effort by both the Church and State to suppress independent thought and enforce conformity. Moreover, the prevailing view among society was that State sanctioned religion insured a bond between society and government maintaining order and stability. Allowing more than one religion would threaten established society. (7:1)

During the 1600's, the wealth and the power of the Catholic Church was established from religious conformity. It was mandatory to attend Mass thus clergy were always employed. A steady income derived from the populace in which the Bible mandated a percentage of income to God (Church). This income was called tithes and was collected without any incidence. Many people seeking salvation willed their lands to the Church making the Catholic Church one of the largest landholders. There was money to be made from selling religious relics. Forgiveness of sins cold be obtained for a fee. The Church and State shared confiscated property of condemned heretics and their families. It was even common practice to accuse the dead of heresy, exhume the body and burn it. Thereby, allowing the State to confiscate the property belonging to the family of the dead heretic. (7:2). Religion had developed into a lucrative business. As Voltaire argued, .Clergyman is a generic title under which is designated any Christian who consecrates himself to the service of God, and feels himself to live without working at the expense of the rascals who work to live..

The Rise of Independent Thought

The invention of the printing press and the spread of literacy encouraged the rise of independent thought. The printing press made independent though easier and safer to share. Seditious pamphlets could be quickly disposed of if the need arose and pamphlets could be printed and distributed in multitudes. With the rise of independent thought, people began to question the authority of the church and in doing so became more aware of the corruption within the Church. The Protestant Reformation began as a protest to this corruption. The Catholic Church responded with increased persecution. The idea was to control the populace with fear. Instead, this tyranny instigated rebellion. Mass executions resulted. Retaliations resulted in massacres. Catholics burned Protestants. Protestants burned Catholics. Protestants burned Protestants. Both Catholics and Protestants burned Jews and Quakers. Religious wars developed. After which a country's faith was determined by the faith of its ruler who used tyranny to maintain the established religion. 'secular rulers in England, France, Germany and others regularly burned heretics on their own without any Inquisitorial help. Protestant sovereigns in England ordered capital punishment for Catholics. And in John Calvin's Geneva, that great haven for Protestantism, Catholicism, adultery, blasphemy, idolatry, and witchcraft were all punishable by death (and 58 people were executed during Calvin's reign on such charges). (7:1). Protestants were just as oppressive as their Catholic counterparts.

The Scientific Revolution was another contributor to independent thought and consequently religious liberty. Scientific discoveries contradicted Biblical test inflaming both Catholic and Protestant Churches. Giordano Bruno was an Italian philosopher and scientist who's writings questioned religious doctrine using reason and logic. Worse yet, Bruno's books were published in the vernacular making his ideas available to those that could read. (4:5). The Inquisition tried Bruno for heresy. As a result of the trial, Bruno was burned at the stake and his books placed on the Catholic Index of Forbidden Books. Both Catholic and Protestant Churches sought to extinguish the seeds of sedition (reason and logic). John Calvin had Michael Servetus burned at the stake. Servetus was on the verge of mapping the circulation of the blood. However, he was burnt because he wrote a book contradicting the Christian theology of Trinity with reason and logic (4:2) All notions of the universe and the world were controlled by religion during prior to and during the 1600's. Challenging these ideas was the same as questioning religious authority and proving controversial ideas true was the same as exposing the fallibility of religion.

Religious Refugees

The Puritan revolution in England began as a resistance movement to tyranny demanding religious liberty. However, the victorious Puritans established their own tyranny and refused to grant religious liberty to others. Thousands fled England and Ireland seeking religious liberty. These refugees who came to America did not learn the lesion of toleration and did not grant others religious liberty This seemed to have been a common malady (2:157). The persecuted became the persecutor. Among the religious groups singled out for persecution was the Quakers. In New England, those caught practicing the Quaker faith were whipped, tarred and/or hanged (5:6). William Rogers spoke out against religious intolerance and was banned from the colony. .The blood of so many hundred thousand souls of Protestants and Papists, spilt in the wars of present and former ages, for their respective consciences, is not required nor accepted by Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace.. Williams established Colonial Rhode Island on the principle of separation of Church and State. 6:11).

The Rise of Religious Toleration

The passion for religious intolerance among the common people was slowly being exhausted. People grew weary from the senseless killing. More and more people were willing to live and let live. However government policies were reluctant to change. Over the next hundred years of religious intolerance many more dared to speak out against the tyranny putting them at mortal risk. Of those who dared to speak their conscience, William Penn, Voltaire, John Locke and Thomas Jefferson contributed the most gains for religious liberty.

William Penn started the Pennsylvania Colony that was based on religious toleration. He was a Quaker. It was a crime in itself to be Quaker but Penn went even further by challenging the English laws restricting religious liberty. Penn blatantly questioned the Anglican doctrine of Trinity and was quickly imprisoned in the Tower of London for doing so. From his cell in the Tower, Penn wrote pamphlets defining the primary fundamentals of Quakerism (5:3). These pamphlets were circulated among the Quaker underground. Penn had become quite a celebrity among the people due to his defiance. Charles II, who was King at that time, was anxious to get rid of the bothersome Quakers. After his release from prison, Penn petitioned and secured a charter from the King to start an American colony. The colony was called Pennsylvania. Penn called the colony his holy experiment. because the government of the Pennsylvania colony (indoctrinated by Penn) provided for the protection of private property, trial by jury, religious liberty, and free press (5:5). These policies created a relative safe haven for the individual, which attracted many European immigrants to Pennsylvania. By the time to the American Revolution, Pennsylvania was one of the largest colonies in America (5:7). Voltaire offered lavish praise when he said, .William Penn might, with reason, boast of having brought down upon earth the Golden Age, which in all probability, never had any real existence but in his dominions. (5:1).

Thanks to the lifelong struggles of men such as Rogers, Penn, Voltaire, John Locke and Jefferson religious toleration is ingrained into American Society. Moreover, the United States Bill of Rights protects religious liberty guaranteeing all liberties to future generations of Americans. Religious liberty together with other natural rights was added to the Constitution to prevent tyranny. All natural rights, religious and otherwise depend on each other for survival. Religious liberty could not exist if freedom of speech was denied. If the right to bear arms was denied then all liberties would be in danger.

The Catholic Church was at one time the most powerful institution in Europe. This power corrupted the State and Church. To maintain power, order and stability it was thought necessary to enforce one and only one religion. However, uniformity of religion does not bring order and stability of society as it was once thought. To enforce uniformity of religion and maintain control the Catholic Church along with the State ruthlessly killed dissenters. The result was Tyranny because religion is of the conscience and cannot be controlled by outside forces. Tyranny stimulated independent thought, which led to resistance. In the end, religious liberty emerged triumphant.