Not even Christians

Protestant anti-Catholicsoften use John Foxe's "Book of Martyrs" to prove the Catholic Church persecuted and martyredtrue Christians. This article addresses the Waldenses, the Albigensians, and others.

Summary of ideas...

  1. The Waldenseswere marginally Christian, having ideas we today reject.
  2. The Albigensianswere not Christian at all.
  3. John Foxe considered both groups as true Christians.
  4. He makes other serious errors of fact...
    • wrongly describing Catholic persecutions
    • ascribing actions of political rulers to Catholic leaders
    • a wrong opinion of Berengarius
  5. We should reject John Foxe's "Book of Martyrs"; it is historically and factually unsound.

   The New Testament Church

In this Article

Foxe's "Book of Martyrs"

The Waldenses

The Albigensians

Errors in Foxe's Account

Can Corrupt Leaders Provide Truth?

How can such a corrupt institution as the Catholic Church provide infallible truth?

Foxe's Book of Martyrs

In his "Book of Martyrs", John Foxeportrays the Catholic church as the apostate church that persecuted the "true" believers.

We come now to a period when persecution, under the guise of Christianity, committed more enormities than ever disgraced the annals of paganism. . . . The papal Church. . . vexed the Church of God and wasted it for several centuries. . . . (Chapter 4, Papal Persecutions)

I answer these questions...

Who was being persecuted and what did they believe?

The Waldenses | The Albigensians

1.    The Waldenses

Foxe portrays the Waldenses as the true reformed church. But is this accurate?

The teaching and practice of the Waldenses:

These beliefs and practices cannot honestly be called the "true New Testament, apostolic church." The Catholic church considered this group heretical because of its false teachings and its success in converting many people.

I disapprove of domineering and controlling policies and practices of the historical church and modern churches.The Protestant Reformation scored no better on this account.

Foxe portrays the Catholic church's response as follows:

Pope Alexander III. . . excommunicated Waldo and his adherents, and commanded the bishop to exterminate them, if possible, from the face of the earth; hence began the papal persecutions against the Waldenses. (Chapter 4, Persecution of the Waldenses in France)

In examining the Third Lateran Council (Third Lateran Council) we get a very different picture:

The discipline of the church should be satisfied with the judgment of the priest and should not cause the shedding of blood, yet it is helped by the laws of catholic princes so that people often seek a salutary remedy when they fear that a corporal punishment will overtake them.

In other words, the activities of the Waldenses were in violation of secular laws.

The loathsome heresy. . . has grown so strong that they no longer practise their wickedness in secret, as others do, but proclaim their error publicly and draw the simple and weak to join them, we declare that they and their defenders and those who receive them are under anathema [threat of excommunication], and we forbid under pain of anathema that anyone should keep or support them in their houses or lands or should trade with them.

This heresy was being aggressively promoted and was undermining the foundations of society.

On these and on all the faithful we enjoin. . . that they oppose this scourge with all their might and by arms protect the Christian people against them. Their goods are to be confiscated and princes free to subject them to slavery.

Notice that there is no mention of torture or execution in the pope's decree. Any bloodshed is in the context of war. The pope has merely decreed that these heretics are traitors and declares a "holy war" against them. But he leaves it to the secular rulers to manage the war.

The claim that capital punishment was used against the Waldenses is incorrect.

Alexander III at the Lateran Council of 1179. . . requested secular sovereigns to silence those disturbers of public order if necessary by force, to achieve which object they were at liberty to imprison the guilty. . . and to appropriate their possessions, According to the agreement made by Lucius III and Emperor Frederick Barbarossa at Verona (1148), the heretics of every community were to be sought out, brought before the episcopal court, excommunicated, and given up to the civil power to be suitably punished. . . . The suitable punishment. . . did not, however, as yet mean capital punishment, but the proscriptive ban, though even this, it is true, entailed exile, expropriation, destruction of the culprits dwelling, infamy, debarment from public office, and the like. The "Continuatio Zwellensis altera, ad ann. 1184." . . accurately describes the condition of heretics at this time when it says that the pope excommunicated them, and the emperor put them under the civil ban, while he confiscated their goods. . . . (Inquisition)

Foxe admits that torture and executions were not practiced by the church against the Waldenses:

The proceedings of Waldo and the reformed, occasioned the first rise of the inquisitors; for Pope Innocent III authorized certain monks as inquisitors, to inquire for, and deliver over, the reformed to the secular power. . . . The pope, finding that these cruel means had not the intended effect, sent several learned monks to preach among the Waldenses, and to endeavor to argue them out of their opinions. (Chapter 4)

Foxe admits that the punishments were limited to:

2.    The Albigensians

Foxe presents the Albigensians as "people of the reformed religion." (Chapter 4) But here's what these so-called true, New Testament, apostolic believers actually believed:

There are two Creators; viz. one of invisible things, whom they called the benevolent God, and another of visible things, whom they named the malevolent God. The New Testament they attributed to the benevolent God; but the Old Testament to the malevolent God.

They charged the author of the Old Testament with falsehood.

They affirmed also, that all the fathers of the Old Testament were damned; that John the Baptist was one of the greater demons.

They said also. . . that that Christ who was born in the visible, and terrestrial Bethlehem, and crucified in Jerusalem, was a bad man, and that Mary Magdalene was his concubine.

For the good Christ. . . never ate, nor drank, nor took upon him true flesh, nor ever was in this world, except spiritually in the body of Paul.

Denying also the Resurrection of the flesh.

Raynaldus: on the Accusations against the Albigensians

The Albigensians asserted the co-existence of two mutually opposed principles, one good, the other evil. The former is the creator of the spiritual, the latter of the material world.

The bad principle is the source of all evil; natural phenomena, either ordinary like the growth of plants, or extraordinary as earthquakes, likewise moral disorders (war), must be attributed to him. He created the human body and is the author of sin, which springs from matter and not from the spirit. The Old Testament must be either partly or entirely ascribed to him; whereas the New Testament is the revelation of the beneficent God.

The latter is the creator of human souls, which the bad principle imprisoned in material bodies after he had deceived them into leaving the kingdom of light.

This earth is a place of punishment, the only hell that exists for the human soul. Punishment, however, is not everlasting; for all souls, being Divine in nature, must eventually be liberated.

To accomplish this deliverance God sent upon earth Jesus Christ, who, although very perfect, like the Holy Ghost, is still a mere creature. The Redeemer could not take on a genuine human body, because he would thereby have come under the control of the evil principle. His body was, therefore, of celestial essence, and with it He penetrated the ear of Mary. It was only apparently that He was born from her and only apparently that He suffered.

His redemption was not operative, but solely instructive. To enjoy its benefits, one must become a member of the Church of Christ (the Albigensians). Here below, it is not the Catholic sacraments but the peculiar ceremony of the Albigensians known as the consolamentum, or "consolation," that purifies the soul from all sin and ensures its immediate return to heaven. The resurrection of the body will not take place, since by its nature all flesh is evil.

The liberation of the soul from its captivity in the body is the true end of our being. To attain this, suicide is commendable; it was customary among them in the form of the endura (starvation). The extinction of bodily life on the largest scale consistent with human existence is also a perfect aim. As generation propagates the slavery of the soul to the body, perpetual chastity should be practiced. Matrimonial intercourse is unlawful; concubinage, being of a less permanent nature, is preferable to marriage. Abandonment of his wife by the husband, or vice versa, is desirable.

Properly speaking, Albigensianism was not a Christian heresy but an extra-Christian religion.

Catholic Encyclopedia,

The important questions are:

  1. Did the Catholic church have the moral right and responsibility to declare a "holy war" against such a heretical movement as the Albigensians?
  2. If yes, was the use of the forces of war justified?
  3. Was the church responsible for the abuses that occurred during the campaign?

I disapprove of domineering and controlling policies and practices of the historical church and modern churches.The Protestant Reformation scored no better on this account.

Certainly the church has a responsibility to share the gospel message to the world. According to Foxe himself, the Albigensians movement was very successful:

They increased so prodigiously, that many cities were inhabited by persons only of their persuasion. (Chapter 4)

The immense spread of the heresy, which infected over 1000 cities or towns.

Catholic Encyclopedia

The Albigensians themselves were also involved with violent activities:

The heretics, who were plundering and devastating Albi, Toulouse, and the vicinity.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Certainly there were abuses in the campaign.

Ecclesiastical authority, after persuasion had failed, adopted a course of severe repression, which led at times to regrettable excess.

The death penalty was, indeed, inflicted too freely on the Albigensians, but it must be remembered that the penal code of the time was considerably more rigorous than ours, and the excesses were sometimes provoked.

Catholic Encyclopedia

But the pope was not the villain that he is made out to be by anti-Catholics...

The crusade now degenerated into a war of conquest, and Innocent III, in spite of his efforts, was powerless to bring the undertaking back to its original purpose.

The monstrous words: "Slay all; God will know His own," alleged to have been uttered at the capture of Bziers, by the papal legate, were never pronounced.

Catholic Encyclopedia

It should be noted that the secular rulers were the cause of abuses:

Simon. . . in 1213 he defeated Peter of Aragon at the battle of Muret. The Albigensians were now crushed, but Simon carried on the campaign as a war of conquest being appointed by the Council of Montpellier lord over all the newly-acquired territory, as Count of Toulouse and Duke of Narbonne (1215). The pope confirmed this appointment, understanding that it would effectually complete the suppression of the heresy. It is ever to be deplored that Simon stained his many great qualities by treachery, harshness, and bad faith. His severity became cruelty, and he delivered over many towns to fire and pillage, thus involving many innocent people in the common ruin.

Simon de Montfort

Errors in Foxe's Account

That Berengarius was the first in a line of reformers of the church.

Foxe's assessment of Berengarius is simply not correct. His assumption is that throughout history there was a true, New Testament, apostolic churchand he cites Berengarius as one of the first reformers after the Catholic church fell into apostasy. But Foxe's claim is simply unfounded and he has misrepresented Berengarius in his attempt to make his case.

Can Corrupt Leaders Provide Truth?

Foxe and many others highlight Catholic corruption to prove that the Protestant Reformation was necessary to bring the true gospel to the world. (Unfortunately, the Protestant Reformation developed false and unbiblical doctrines.)

Anti-CatholicProtestants typically object that Catholic teaching is untrue because of corrupt Catholic leaders. But this argument condemns Protestant teaching too...

  1. Based on the Protestant doctrine of total depravity, the smallest sin is as ugly in God's eyes as murder, adultery, or defamation.
  2. Protestant teachers are, therefore, disqualified to teach truth since they are sinners.

Summary of ideas...

  1. We must distinguish between mortal sin and venial sin.
  2. Those in mortal sin may be teaching truth, but we should not trust them.
  3. Even those living a pure, holy life may be teaching untruth.
  4. God uses humans in his plan and, therefore, must use those having flaws.
  5. In the Bible we don't see examples of God calling wicked men to be his chosen instruments

In my view, unholy leaders are not Church leaders at all! They should be rejected by Christians.

Question: How can a corrupt institution such as the historical Catholic Church provide infallible truth?(I don't believe the Catholic Church provides infallible truth in everything it proclaims, only in some things.)

The flawed assumption in this question is that God can't or won't use corrupt people as messengers of His truth. But aren't we all sinners, even after receiving salvation?

The following argument demonstrates an unintended side-effect of using this flawed assumption...

  1. God can't use sinful people [the corrupt leaders of the Catholic Church] to proclaim truth. This is the flawed assumption.
  2. But we know that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)Even after receiving salvation by faith, everyone is still a sinner.
  3. Therefore, God can't use anyone, since all have sinned. This includes...
    • Protestant theologians who define and defend Biblical doctrines, since they are all sinners.
    • The Church councils which formulated the doctrines of the Trinity and the Inerrancy of scripture, as well as defining the Canon. The members of these councils were all sinners.
    • The Apostles who wrote the scripture. They were also all sinners.

Seen from this perspective, no one qualifies to deliver God's truth. But we know that God used the Old Testament nation of Israel to deliver God's truth. In fact, this was a major mission of Israel.

They [the Jews] have been entrusted with the very words of God. (Romans 3:2)

(But we should note that only righteous leaders, teachers, and prophets were actually involved in proclaiming God's truth.)

God entrusted the scriptures to the very leaders who killed the Messiah. And we have plenty of examples of the corruption of the leaders of the nation of Israel:

"My people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock," declares the LORD. "And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed." (Isaiah 52:5)

God still considers them "my people" even though they have rejected Him.

How do we resolve this problem? The answer is to focus on the source of the messagerather on the messenger. What is the source of spiritual wisdom?

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. (1 Corinthians 2:13)

It's not human wisdom that is important, but spiritual wisdom. And spiritual wisdom comes from God. Can God use imperfect human vessels to deliver this spiritual wisdom which comes from God?

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own. (1 Corinthians 6:19)

How can a sinful body be a home of the Holy Spirit? How can a corrupt church be a home of the Holy Spirit?

Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)

Notice this passage doesn't require that the men be perfect and sinless. Even Jonah, who was prejudiced against the Assyrians, was used by God.

I should emphasize: it is not God's plan that the leaders of the Church be corrupt. When the leaders of the Church are corrupt, it grieves God and interferes with his plan.

We should distinguish between smaller weaknesses such as character flaws and gross mortal sinsuch as wholesale debauchery and other extremely sinful activities like murder and such. Church leaders who exploit the flock or don't really care in the slightest for their spiritual welfare are also in the category of Church leaders Christians should reject.Perhaps they sometimes teach truth but we should reject them anyway since they do more harm than good.

God uses people who have character flaws to deliver His message of truth. Jonah is an example:

Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city? (Jonah 4:11)

As another example of this principle consider the Presidents of the United States (for example). They can provide wise guidance and leadership even though they might be involved in many shady practices. Certainly this corruption undermines their effectiveness, but some of their leadership ability still manages to "shine through" (until they get caught). In like manner, corrupt leaders of the Church diminish their effectiveness in representing God's truth, but some of it can still "shine through."

Jesus desires that the Church be unified.This requires God's supernatural protection. We can expect God to protect his truth even though he has had to place it in the hands of imperfect, and sometimes, corrupt stewards.

I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name — the name you gave me — so that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:11)