John asked:

I’ve got a question about Saint Thomas More. I understand he was responsible for executing heretics.

Brendan McGuire replied:

"I think we have to be careful about assigning Thomas Moore too much responsibility in the execution of heretics. Technically speaking the king bore personal responsibility for the administration of capital punishment in Tudor, England.

I think on the other hand I think it’s absolutely correct to say Thomas Moore would not have had a problem with the execution of heretics ... Nor would Luther, nor would have Calvin, nor would have anyone in the sixteenth century. The execution of heretics was simply the administration of the law in the sixteenth century. What we have to remember is that heresy was a crime punished by the state. It was a capital crime going back to the [Justinian ?] code. We also have to remember what a heretic was ... not someone who simply held an erroneous opinion on a religious subject. A heretic was somebody who contumaciously refused to subscribe to something after it had been presented to them again and again by the Church and by the king. And to contumaciously refuse to subscribe to the basis of royal authority, or the basis of state authority was to make oneself effectively a rebel. To be a heretic was to be a rebel against the state, to be a rebel against the civil order and against royal authority.

The Church did everything it could to prevent people from being executed from heresy, in the medieval and early modern periods. Everything from persuasion to even in the Spanish Inquisition to coming up with the first insanity defenses in the history of western jurisprudence. When there were crazy people claiming to be Jesus or saying crazy things. The Spanish Inquisition actually came up with a category for that which had never been the case in jurisprudence before."


Catholic Answers, "Church History" (San Diego: Catholic Answers, 2013)

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Show air date: September 23, 2013

Name of show: Church History

Guest comments by: Brendan McGuire

Question appeared in show: 20:07

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