Origin and History of Catholicism [Part II]

[EDITOR’S NOTE: To read Part I of this article, click HERE]


A new church was born, a church completely different from the church established by Christ. While the church of Christ was born in Jerusalem (Acts 1:12; 2:1; etc.), this church was born in Rome. While the church of Christ was born with spiritual power (Acts 2:2-4), this church was born with political and military power. While the church of Christ was born under the authority of only one divine Head (Colossians 1:18), this church was born under the authority of one human head—the pope. This new church soon invaded the Earth with its new doctrines.

However, an unexpected threat for this kind of Christianity was quickly approaching from the East: Islam. With Muhammad as its leader, the religion of Islam originated in A.D. 622 and spread aggressively. Less than 25 years from the beginning of the “Hegira” (i.e., Muhammad’s flight from Mecca), the followers of Muhammad had taken control of Egypt, Palestine, Persia, and Syria (Mattox, 1961, p. 173). With its thirst for conquest, this religion threatened to convert the whole world to its beliefs. Soon the threat to Catholicism became increasingly obvious. Many Catholics in conquered nations had converted to Islam out of fear; the advancement of this doctrine over Roman influence and its official religion seemed inevitable. The Roman religion, and the unity of the nation that depended on it, would collapse soon if something were not done quickly. Thus the conflicts between Catholics and Muslims gave rise to the infamous Crusades.

The Crusades (from 1096 until 1270) were military expeditions that started out as a fulfillment of a “solemn vow” to regain the “holy places” in Palestine from the hands of the Muslims. In November 1095, Pope Urban II encouraged the masses to fight together against the Islamic Seljuk Turks who invaded the Byzantine Empire and subjected Greek, Syrian, and Armenian Catholics. He also wanted to extend his political and religious power. To encourage Catholics to involve themselves in a bloody war in the “name of God,” the pope offered forgiveness of sins, care for the lands belonging to crusaders, and the prospect of plunder (see Hitchens and Roupp, 2001, p. 186).

Although multitudes of people answered the call to join the Crusades, they failed to accomplish the initial goal of recovering the Holy Lands. After many years of fighting and much loss of life, the Holy Lands were still in Muslim hands. Nevertheless, the Crusades improved the relationship between Catholic nations and stopped the advancement of the Turks in Europe.

Shortly after the Crusades, new ideologies, which Catholicism considered heresies, threatened the Catholic Church. Multitudes of people, led by relentless religious leaders, executed those considered to be heretics without judicial process. The need for judicial regulation concerning heresy, the Catholic concern about the growth of new revolutionary ideas, and the desire to increase the power of the Catholic Church, gave rise to another wave of bloodshed paradoxically known in history as the “Holy” Inquisition.

The Inquisition is described generally as the judicial institution created in the Middle Ages to deal with the enemies of the state religion (i.e., Catholicism). There were three types of inquisitions.

  1. The Episcopal Inquisition was established by Pope Lucius III in 1184. It was overseen and administered by local bishops. Once the orthodox doctrines were established, any deviation from them was investigated and studied by the bishop of the respective diocese. If the “crime” was confirmed, it was punished, primarily by canonic penances (see Chami, 1999a).
  2. The Pontifical Inquisition was created by Pope Gregory IX in 1231 (see Schmandt, 1988, 10:277). This type of inquisition was entrusted to the Dominican order which answered only to the pontiff. It was introduced in France in 1233, in Aragon in 1238, and in Italy in 1254 (Mattox, 1961, pp. 214-215). The inquisitors would go to the place of the alleged heresy, and with the help of the authorities, ask the heretics to present themselves voluntarily before the tribunal. The public also was encouraged to report heretics; anyone could accuse anyone else of heresy. The accused was forced to confess his “heresy” without an opportunity to confront his accusers or defend himself. A long imprisonment awaited the “heretic” who denied the charges. His imprisonment would be interrupted by numerous torture sessions until he confessed his “heresy.” If he continued to refuse to confess, he was turned over to the civil authorities who administered the death penalty to the “obstinate heretic.”
  3. The Spanish Inquisition is considered the most dreadful of all. It began in 1478 with the approval of Pope Sixtus IV, and it lasted until 1834 (see “Inquisition,” 1997, 6:328). This tribunal was different from the Pontifical Inquisition because the inquisitor was appointed by the king rather than the pope, so the inquisitor became a servant of the state rather than the church (see Chami, 1999b). Some of the principal reasons for this inquisition were:

    • The Jewish “threat”—In the 14th and 15th centuries, Europe was ravaged by grave economic crises. Many plagues and epidemics contributed to this situation. Because of their strict hygiene practices, the Jews in Europe survived these epidemics and plagues. While Europeans fell into despair and poverty, most Jews retained their economic status. This situation produced many protests against the Jews and increased the political and religious avarice for, and confiscation of, Jewish wealth. Forced to give up their economic activities, and being pressured by fanatical priests, many Jews converted to the Catholic religion at the beginning of the 15th century. Many Catholics became jealous of the continued financial progress and social position of these Jews and accused them of artificial, insincere conversion (see Domínguez, n.d.).
    • The need for unity in the kingdom—Spain was united politically under the “Catholic Rulers,” Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, but there still were different religious ideologies in the country. Hoping to unify their country religiously, the rulers asked the pope for permission to “purify” their kingdom of non-Catholic ideologies by means of the Inquisition (see Chami, 1999b).

These were some reasons for the cruel Spanish Inquisition. In time, this brutal tribunal dedicated itself to the persecution of Muslims, alleged witches, and supporters of Protestantism.

Though prior inquisitions were cruel, the Spanish Inquisition was devised to terrify even the vilest criminal. Its instruments of torture were even more innovative and inhumane than those of earlier times. Torture treatments included, but were not limited to (1) dislocation of the joints of the body; (2) mutilation of vaginal, anal, and oral interior cavities; (3) removal of tongues, nipples, ears, noses, genitals, and intestines; (4) breaking of legs, arms, toes, and fingers; (5) flattening of knuckles, nails, and heads; (6) sawing of bodies in half; (7) perforation of skin and bones; (8) tearing of skin from the face, abdomen, back, extremities, and sinuses; and (9) stretching of body extremities (see Rodriguez, 2007).

Although Catholicism may want to deny its past, history speaks loudly concerning the atrocities committed in the name of the Catholic faith. Catholicism may try to hide behind the injustices committed by other religious groups to cover its own disgrace, but the truth is that Catholic methodology was the inspiration for the bloody canvas of other religious “artists.” There is no doubt that the Crusades and Inquisitions played a major role in the development and growth of the Catholic Church in a world that did not want to conform to this kind of religion.


In the past, the Catholic Church used violent methods to destroy opposition to its teachings and practices. Today, without the torture, tribunals, and slaughter, Catholicism seems passive toward the growth of other religions.

The beginning of the 16th century added new fuel to the fire of the Inquisition. Ninety-five reasons for this were nailed to the door of the Catholic Church building in Wittenberg, Germany. Who was responsible? One man: Martin Luther. Although some men before him had attempted to ignite the fire of reformation (e.g., John Wycliffe, John Hus, et al.), the Reformation movement was ineffective until Luther.

Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, Saxony, Germany in 1483. He was the son of a poor miner and paid for his studies at the University of Erfurt with alms he collected. In 1505, he became more interested in the salvation of his soul and the search for spiritual peace thanthe study of law. He entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt where he became a devout, but spiritually troubled, monk. By 1508, Luther had come to the conclusion that some teachings and organization of the Catholic Church were completely different from those of the New Testament. The immorality of the clergy in Rome, irreverence toward the sacraments by their own defenders, and the avarice of those who collected indulgences and other penalties set Martin Luther on a collision course with the Catholic Church. In 1517, his 95 theses disturbed the Catholic world to the point that, by 1520, the pope drew up a bull calling for Luther to recant his teachings or be excommunicated.However, he did not succumb to this threat, and continued to spread his teachings (see Mattox, 1961, pp. 243-261; Pelikan, 1988, 12:531-533). Others, such as Huldreich Zwingli (1484-1531) in Switzerland and John Calvin (1509-1564) in France and Geneva, Switzerland, also contributed greatly to the Reformation and the development of Protestant religions.

Various conditions helped the progress of the Reformation in the 16th century. (1) The Renaissance—This cultural movement stimulated intellectual freedom and awakened enthusiastic study of the Scriptures in Europe. Many people began to realize the difference between Catholicism and New Testament Christianity. (2) Corruption of the hierarchy in the Catholic Church—Money bought rights and privileges, and immorality ruled the day, even among the Catholic clergy. Inconsistency between faith and practice became notorious. (3) Secular sovereigns’ support of opposition to Catholic hierarchy—By this time, the Catholic Church owned a third of the land of Western Europe. Kings and rulers were eager to possess this land, as well as other properties that the church had taken for itself. (4) The advent of the printing press—Luther and others used the printing press to spread their ideas and the Scriptures throughout Germany and other countries (see Mattox, 1961, pp. 239-246). By 1542, Protestantism was spreading to many places and was even penetrating Italy with its doctrines. Because of his fear of this new ideological rebellion, Pope Paul III incited the public and church leaders to return to the harsh levels of the Inquisition. In spite of this, Protestantism flourished.

The Catholic Church had encountered a great enemy that seemingly lacked the faintest intention of yielding. However, the “Holy Office” of the Inquisition continued work during the subsequent centuries and expanded to the colonies of Spain in the New World. The tribunal of the Inquisition had jurisdiction over other tribunals organized in Latin American colonies. In these colonies, the Inquisition did not reach the same disgraceful level it did in Europe since natives merely were beginning to learn the Catholic religion and did not yet understand every Catholic dogma. But the poor example of “kindness” shown in conquered nations could not erase the inherent cruelty of the “holy” tribunal.

In 1808, Joseph Bonaparte (brother of Napoleon) signed a decree terminating the “Holy Office,” but it was not until 1834 that the final edict of its abolition was published (see O’Malley, 2001; “Inquisition,” 1997, 6:328). Having its political, military, and social arm broken, the only thing left for the Catholic Church was to “follow the herd” and accept what seemed to be the end of its dictatorship.

In sharp contrast to its past, the Catholic Church has become progressively more tolerant of other religions in spite of its public, verbal opposition. This tolerance has led to a mixture of Catholicism with evangelical religions, such as Lutheranism, Pentecostalism, etc., resulting in serious repercussions for Catholicism worldwide. This situation clearly shows that this kind of religion is based not on the Bible, but on religious preferences. No one can say with certainty what the Catholic Church will become or accept in the future, but history vividly illuminates its past beliefs and practices.


Chami, Pablo A. (1999a), “Origin of the Inquisition” [“Origen de la Inquisición”], [On-line], URL:

Chami, Pablo A. (1999b), “The Spanish Inquisition” [“La Inquisición en España”], [On-line], URL:

Domínguez, Antonio O. (no date), “The Jewish Problem” [“El Problema Judío”], [On-line], URL: judio.htm.

Hitchens, Marilynn and Heidi Roupp (2001), How to Prepare for SAT: World History (Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series).

“Inquisition” (1997), The New Encyclopædia Britannica (London: Encyclopædia Britannica).

Mattox, F.W. (1961), The Eternal Kingdom (Delight, AR: Gospel Light).

O’Malley, John W (2001), “Inquisition,” Encarta Encyclopedia 2002 (Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation).

Pelikan, Jaroslav (1988), “Luther, Martin,” The World Book Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: World Book).

Rodriguez, Ana (2007), “Inquisition: Torture Instruments, ‘a Cultural Shock’ for the Audience” [“Inquisición: Instrumentos de Tortura, ‘Sacudida Cultural’ para el Espectador”], La Jornada, March 9, [On-line], URL: ;article=a04n1cul.

Schmandt, Raymond H. (1988), The World Book Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: World Book).


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