Estimates of the Number Killed by the Papacy in the Middle Ages and later

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Estimates of the Number Killed by the Papacy in the Middle Ages and later

David A. Plaisted

© 2006

Estimates of the Number Killed by the Papacy in the Middle Ages and later 1

Chapter 0. Introduction 2

Chapter 1. Examples of figures concerning the number killed 3

Chapter 2. The plausibility of massive persecution 12

CHAPTER 3. The 50 Million Figure 19

Chapter 4. The Spanish Inquisition 44


Chapter 5. Alethia’s estimate 50

Chapter 6. An estimate based on population growth 59

Chapter 7. Indirect evidence of persecution 63

Chapter 8. Cloistered convents 66

Chapter 9. Wars 74

Chapter 10. Conclusion 76



Chapter 0. Introduction

For two or three centuries, many Protestants have given figures concerning the total number of people killed directly or indirectly by the Papacy during the Middle Ages. The numbers given include 50 million, 68 million, 100 million, 120 million, and 150 million. Roman Catholics typically give much smaller numbers. Frequently the figures are stated without any information about where they came from or how they were computed. The purpose of this note is to describe where some of these figures come from and to comment on their reliability. Surely nearly all Roman Catholics as well as Protestants disapprove of past religious persecutions, so this discussion should not reflect negatively on current members of the Roman Catholic Church. However, events in Nazi Germany show how easily persecution can revive, so it is necessary to be on guard against it and maintain an awareness of its history. Of course, many other groups besides the Papacy have persecuted. And all of us, without Christ, have the roots of sin in ourselves. The reason the Papacy stands out is that it has ruled for such a long period of time over such a large area, exercised so much power, and claimed divine prerogatives for its persecutions. The magnitude of the persecutions is important for the following reason: One can excuse a few thousand cases as exceptional, but millions and millions of victims can only be the result of a systematic policy, thereby showing the harmful results of church-state unions.

In this study I have attempted, with some success, to penetrate the veil of obscurity that surrounds the Middle Ages in order to determine the true history of this period.

In order to consider this subject, it is necessary to recall many unpleasant events. The dreadful totals, computations, and examples that follow, one after another, are not for the faint hearted. These atrocities should convince us not so much of the evils of a particular religious system as of the depravity of the sinful human heart, and lead us to turn to Christ for repentance and salvation that we might have new hearts and be cleansed from sin.

Chapter 1. Examples of figures concerning the number killed

Here are some of the places where figures about religious persecutions are given. Dowling in his History of Romanism says
"From the birth of Popery in 606 to the present time, it is estimated by careful and credible historians, that more than fifty millions of the human family, have been slaughtered for the crime of heresy by popish persecutors, an average of more than forty thousand religious murders for every year of the existence of popery."
-- "History of Romanism," pp. 541, 542. New York: 1871.
Commenting on this quote, a fundamental Baptist web site says the following:
For example, it has been estimated by careful and reputed historians of the Catholic Inquisition that 50 million people were slaughtered for the crime of "heresy" by Roman persecutors between the A.D. 606 and the middle of the 19th century.

This is the number cited by John Dowling, who published the classic "History of Romanism" in 1847 (book VIII, chapter 1, footnote 1). Only seven years after its first printing, it could be said of Dowling’s book, "it has already obtained a circulation much more extensive than any other large volume ever published in America, upon the subject of which it treats; or perhaps in England, with the exception of Fox’s Book of Martyrs." Clark’s Martyrology counts the number of Waldensian martyrs during the first half of the 13th century in France alone at two million. From A.D. 1160-1560 the Waldensians which dwelt in the Italian Alps were visited with 36 different fierce persecutions that spared neither age nor sex (Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists, "Post-Apostolic Times - The Waldensians," 1890). They were almost completely destroyed as a people and most of their literary record was erased from the face of the earth. From the year 1540 to 1570 "it is proved by national authentic testimony, that nearly one million of Protestants were publicly put to death in various countries in Europe, besides all those who were privately destroyed, and of whom no human record exists" (J.P. Callender, Illustrations of Popery, 1838, p. 400). Catholic historian Vergerius admits gleefully that during the Pontificate of Pope Paul IV (1555-1559) "the Inquisition alone, by tortures, starvation, or the fire, murdered more than 150,000 Protestants." These are only small samples of the brutality which was poured out upon "dissident" Christians by the Roman Catholic Church during the Inquisition.

Concerning the figure of two million killed, Bourne writes
Bertrand, the Papal Legate, wrote a letter to Pope Honorius, desiring to be recalled from the croisade against the primitive witnesses and contenders for the faith. In that authentic document, he stated, that within fifteen years, 300,000 of those crossed soldiers had become victims to their own fanatical and blind fury. Their unrelenting and insatiable thirst for Christian and human blood spared none within the reach of their impetuous despotism and unrestricted usurpations. On the river Garonne, a conflict occurred between the croisaders, with their ecclesiastical leaders, the Prelates of Thoulouse and Comminges; who solemnly promised to all their vassals the full pardon of sin, and the possession of heaven immediately, if they were slain in the battle. The Spanish monarch and his confederates acknowledged that they must have lost 400,000 men, in that tremendous conflict, and immediately after it-but the Papists boasted, that including the women and children, they had massacred more than two millions of the human family, in that solitary croisade against the southwest part of France.
-- Bourne, George, The American Textbook of Popery, Griffith & Simon, Philadelphia, 1846, pp. 402-403.
In only one crusade, two million Albigenses were killed. How many must there have been altogether, and how many millions more must have been killed during the entire Middle Ages! Another source writes
The Catholic crusade against the Albigenses in Southern France (from 1209-1229), under Popes Innocent III., Honorius III. and Gregory IX., was one of the bloodiest tragedies in human history. … The number of Albigenses that perished in the twenty years’ war is estimated at from one to two millions.
-- Cushing B. Hassell, History of the Church of God, Chapter XIV.
W. E. H. Lecky says:

"That the Church of Rome has shed more innocent blood than any other institution that has ever existed among mankind, will be questioned by no Protestant who has a competent knowledge of history. The memorials, indeed, of many of her persecutions are now so scanty, that it is impossible to form a complete conception of the multitude of her victims, and it is quite certain that no power of imagination can adequately realize their sufferings." -- "History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe," Vol. II, p. 32. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1910.

The following quotation is from The Glorious Reformation by S. S. SCHMUCKER, D. D., Discourse in Commemoration of the Glorious Reformation of the Sixteenth Century; delivered before the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of West Pennsylvania, by the Rev. S. S. Schmucker, D.D., Professor of Theology in the Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. Published by Gould and Newman. 1838.
Need I speak to you of the thirty years’ war in Germany, which was mainly instigated by the Jesuits, in order to deprive the Protestants of the right of free religious worship, secured to them by the treaty of Augsburg? Or of the Irish rebellion, of the inhuman butchery of about fifteen millions of Indians in South America, Mexico and Cuba, by the Spanish papists? In short, it is calculated by authentic historians, that papal Rome has shed the blood of sixty-eight millions of the human race in order to establish her unfounded claims to religious dominion (citing Dr. Brownlee’s “Popery an enemy to civil liberty”, p. 105).
Estimates range up to 7 to 12 million for the number who died in the thirty years’ war, and higher:
This was the century of the last religious wars in “Christendom,” the Thirty Years’ War in Germany, fomented by the Jesuits, reducing the people to cannibalism, and the population of Bohemia from 4,000,000 to 780,000, and of Germany from 20,000,000 to 7,000,000, and making Southern Germany almost a desert, ...
-- Cushing B. Hassell, History of the Church of God, Chapter XVII.
Concerning the Irish rebellion, John Temple's True Impartial History of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, written in 1644, puts the number of victims at 300,000, but other estimates are much smaller. Some estimates are larger:
In addition to the Jesuit or Catholic atrocities of this century already enumerated with some particulars, they massacred 400 Protestants at Grossoto, in Lombardy, July 19th, 1620; are said to have destroyed 400,000 Protestants in Ireland, in 1641, by outright murder, and cold, and hunger, and drowning; …
-- Cushing B. Hassell, History of the Church of God, Chapter XVII.
In fact, the population of Ireland is estimated to have decreased from 2 million in 1640 to 1.7 million in 1672, according to R.F. Foster, Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (1988). However, this could have resulted from British reprisals to some extent and from emigration, forced or voluntary. The population should have increased by about 200,000 during this period, assuming a 30 percent growth rate per century. This implies that 500,000 people in excess of normal either died or left Ireland during this time, and is consistent with 300,000 or more Protestants being killed in 1641.

The figure of 68 million appeared in Schmucker’s talk in 1838, in Brownlee’s book of 1836, and also in a book “Plea for the West” by Lyman Beecher (Cincinnati, Truman and Smith, 1835), pp. 130-131:

And let me ask again, whether the Catholic religion, in its union with the state, has proved itself so unambitious, meek, and unaspiring so feeble, and easy to be entreated, as to justify-a proud, contempt of its avowed purpose and systematic movements to secure an ascendancy in this nation? It is accidental that in alliance with despotic governments, it has swayed a sceptre of iron, for ten centuries over nearly one-third of; the population of, the globe, and by a death of violence is estimated to have swept from 'the' earth about sixty-eight millions of its inhabitants, and holds now in darkness and bondage nearly half the civilized world?
The exact quote of Brownlee referenced above is as follows:
In one word, the church of Rome has spent immense treasures and shed, in murder, the blood of sixty eight millions and five hundred thousand of the human race, to establish before the astonished and disgusted world, her fixed determination to annihilate every claim set up by the human family to liberty, and the right of unbounded freedom of conscience.
-- Popery an enemy to civil liberty, 1836, pp. 104-105.
Also, in another work Brownlee states
Papal Rome has shed the blood of fifty millions of Christians in Europe!
-- The Roman Catholic Religion viewed in the light of Prophecy and History, New York, Charles K. Moore, 1843, page 60.
And later in the same work,
The best writers enumerate fifty millions of Christians destroyed by fire, and the sword, and the inquisition; and fifteen millions of natives of the American continent and islands; and three millions of Moors in Europe, and one million and a half of Jews. Now, here are sixty-nine millions and five hundred thousands of human beings, murdered by “the woman of the Roman hills, who was drunk with the blood of the saints.” And this horrid list does not include those of her own subjects, who fell in the crusades in Asia, and in her wars against European Christians, and in South America!
-- page 97.
These quotations make it clear that the figure of 50 million refers only to Christians in Europe, and does not include Christians killed elsewhere. It is also clear that Brownlee is taking these figures not from just one person, but from at least two, “the best writers,” and ignoring others that he feels are less qualified. Many others must have been convinced of the reputation of these individuals as well, judging from the frequency with which the figure of 50 million is quoted.

Brownlee further comments on the number killed by the Papacy in another work as follows:

When Laguedoc was invaded by these monsters, one hundred thousand Albigensees fell in one day! See Bruys vol. iii. 139.
-- page 346
There perished under pope Julian 200,000 Christians: and by the French massacre, on a moderate calculation, in 3 months, 100,000. Of the Waldenses there perished 150,000; of the Albigenses, 150,000. There perished by the Jesuits in 30 years only 900,000. The Duke of Alva destroyed by the common hangman alone, 36,000 persons; the amount murdered by him is set down by Grotius at 100,000! There perished by the fire, and tortures of the Inquisition in Spain, Italy, and France 150,000. … In the Irish massacres there perished 150,000 Protestants!

To sum up the whole, the Roman Catholic church has caused the ruin, and destruction of a million and a half of Moors in Spain; nearly two millions of Jews South America in Europe. In Mexico, and , including the islands of Cuba and St. Domingo, fifteen millions of Indians, in 40 years, fell victims to popery. And in Europe, and the East Indies, and in America, 50 millions of Protestants, at least, have been murdered by it!

Thus the church of Rome stands before the world, “the woman in scarlet, on the scarlet colored Beast.” A church claiming to be Christian, drenched in the blood of sixty-eight millions, and five hundred thousand human beings!
-- W. C. Brownlee, Letters in the Roman Catholic controversy, 1834, pp. 347-348.
Brownlee apparently revised the 69 million figure downwards to 68 million. So the figure of 68 million has several sources in the early 1800’s. The source for some of Brownlee’s figures appears in the following quotation:
These forced baptisms, and the consequent claims which the pope set up over “his slaves,” caused the death of one million five hundred thousand Moors, and on the most moderate calculation, that of two millions of Jews! See Dr. M. Geddes’s Tracts on Popery, vol. i.
-- W. C. Brownlee, Popery the Enemy of Civil and Religious Liberty, J. S. Taylor, New York, 1836, p. 88.
The work of Michael Geddes referred to may have been Miscellaneous Tracts …, 3rd ed., London, 1730, 3 volumes. In 1678 Geddes went to Lisbon, and returned to England in 1688. During his stay in Lisbon, he collected many documents concerning Spanish and Portuguese history, and in 1714 published his “Tracts on Divers Subjects” in three volumes, a translation of the most interesting documents he obtained. In 1715 a posthumous volume of tracts against the Roman Catholic Church appeared. In addition to those killed, many were exiled:
It has been calculated that, from the time of the conquest of Granada until 1609, three millions of Arabs were exiled from Spanish soil; and never have the plains of Valencia, Murcia and Granada recovered the flourishing aspect that they wore when cultivated by their former masters. The decree of 1609 was as fatal to Spain as the revocation of the Edict of Nantes was to France nearly a hundred years later.
-- Williams, Henry Smith, The Historian’s History of the World, vol. 8, p. 259.
In 1492, persecution was begun against the Jews, of whom 500,000 were expelled from Spain and their wealth confiscated. In seventy years the population of Spain was reduced from 10,000,000 to 6,000,000 by the banishment of Jews, Moors and Morescoes (“Christianized” Moors), the most wealthy and intelligent of the inhabitants of that country.
-- Cushing B. Hassell, History of the Church of God, Chapter XV.
In fact, the population of Spain had at one time been twenty million higher:
It is estimated that the total population in the middle of the tenth century was about thirty millions: a phenomenal increase of population, betokening of itself a very high degree of civilization. A population normally, with fair sanitation and hygienic conditions, doubles in a quarter of a century. It will tell you in a word what the Moors had done, and what the Spaniards afterwards undid, if you reflect that this Spanish population, which was thirty millions in the tenth century, is now only twenty- two millions. The figure of thirty millions in the tenth century is an extraordinary tribute to the science and wisdom of the Moors. England, for instance, had then a population of about two or three million people.
-- Joseph McCabe, The Story of Religious Controversy, Chapter XXV.
This suggests that the Christian reconquest of Spain cost this country alone over 20 million lives. This loss could not have resulted from the Plague, because the loss from the Plague was recovered by 1500.

The figure of 68 million appears again in a later work:

Alexander Campbell, well known religions leader of the nineteenth century, stated in debate with John B. Purcell, Bishop of Cincinnati, in 1837 that the records of historians and martyrologists show that it may be reasonable to estimate that from fifty to sixty-eight millions of human beings died, suffered torture, lost their possessions, or were otherwise devoured by the Roman Catholic Church during the awful years of the Inquisition. Bishop Purcell made little effort to refute these figures. (Citing A Debate on the Roman Catholic Religion, Christian Publishing Co., 1837, p. 327.)

Walter M. Montano, a former Catholic priest, asserts in his book, Behind the Purple Curtain that it has been estimated that fifty million people died for their faith during the twelve hundred years of the Dark Ages. (Citing Walter M. Montano, Behind the Purple Curtain, Cowman Publications, 1950, page 91.)

-- The Shadow of Rome, by John B. Wilder; Zondervan Publishing Co., 1960, page 87.

Campbell may be referring to the martyrology of Samuel Clarke, written in 1651. Perhaps this figure of 68 million came from Brownlee or somewhere else, possibly the writings of Llorente or Clark’s Martyrology, cited above.

Such figures sometimes appear in recent books, such as Wilder’s, but in general, all the figures about the number killed by the Papacy go back many years and have reputable sources. It is interesting that Campbell implies that the figure of 68 million includes many who were not killed, but just persecuted, while the three earlier references, including Brownlee, state that this number were killed. Campbell may have taken the earlier figure and misread it as including those who were persecuted but not killed. Here are more quotations about the number killed by the Papacy:
For professing faith contrary to the teachings of the Church of Rome, history records the martyrdom of more then one hundred million people. A million Waldenses and Albigenses [Swiss and French Protestants] perished during a crusade proclaimed by Pope Innocent III in 1208. Beginning from the establishment of the Jesuits in 1540 to 1580, nine hundred thousand were destroyed. One hundred and fifty thousand perished by the Inquisition in thirty years. Within the space of thirty-eight years after the edict of Charles V against the Protestants, fifty thousand persons were hanged, beheaded, or burned alive for heresy. Eighteen thousand more perished during the administration of the Duke of Alva in five and a half years.
-- Brief Bible Readings, p. 16.
This great antichristian power robbed the church of its gospel light and plunged the world into the Dark Ages. It put to death and thus took away the lives of from fifty to one hundred millions of the saints of the Most High.
-- Bunch, Taylor, The Book of Daniel, 1950, p. 170.
One thousand years covers the crest of the persecutions when from 50,000,000 to 150,000,000 martyrs died of the sword, at the stake, in dungeons, and of starvation because of the confiscation of their earthly possessions.
-- Bunch, Taylor, The Book of Daniel, 1950, p. 185.
In like manner the blood of a hundred million martyrs cries for justice to the One who says, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay saith the Lord.” Rom 12:19.
-- Bunch, Taylor, Studies in the Revelation, 1933?, p. 105.
Let us keep a sense of proportion. The record of Christianity from the days when it first obtained the power to persecute is one of the most ghastly in history. The total number of Manichaeans, Arians, Priscillianists, Paulicians, Bogomiles, Cathari, Waldensians, Albigensians, witches, Lollards, Hussites, Jews and Protestants killed because of their rebellion against Rome clearly runs to many millions; and beyond these actual executions or massacres is the enormously larger number of those who were tortured, imprisoned, or beggared. I am concerned rather with the positive historical aspect of this. In almost every century a large part of the race has endeavored to reject the Christian religion, and, if in those centuries there had been the same freedom as we enjoy, Roman Catholicism would, in spite of the universal ignorance, have shrunk long ago into a sect. The religious history of Europe has never yet been written.
-- The Story Of Religious Controversy Chapter XXIII by Joseph McCabe (an atheist) who lived from 1867 to 1955.
'The church,' says [Martin] Luther, has never burned a heretic.' . . I reply that this argument proves not the opinion, but the ignorance or impudence of Luther. Since almost infinite" numbers were either burned or otherwise killed,' Luther either did not know it, and was therefore ignorant, or if he was not ignorant, he is convicted of impudence and falsehood, —for that heretics were often burned by the [Catholic] Church may be proved from many examples.
-- Robert Bellarmine, Disputationes de Controversiis, Tom. ii, Lib. III, cap. XXII, “Objections Answered,” 1682 edition. (Bellarmine was a Roman Catholic.)
Some have computed, that, from the year 1518 to1548, fifteen million of Protestants have perished by war and the Inquisition. This may be overcharged, but certainly the number of them in these thirty years, as well as since is almost incredible. To these we may add innumerable martyrs, in ancient, middle, and late ages, in Bohemia, Germany, Holland, France, England, Ireland, and many other parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia.

(from the commentary on the book of Revelation in Wesley’s “Explanatory Notes on the New Testament,” fifth edition, 1788), in which the comments on the book of Revelation are translated from the work of the German scholar John Bengel, and Wesley stated that he did not necessarily defend all of Bengel’s statements.)

Writing about the Jesuits, Lord states
They are accused of securing the revocation of the Edict of Nantes,-- one of the greatest crimes in the history of modern times, which led to the expulsion of four hundred thousand Protestants from France, and the execution of four hundred thousand more.
-- John Lord, Beacon Lights of History, volume VI, p. 325.
Some estimate that a million or even two million Huguenots fled France as a result, and a million and half converted, willingly or otherwise, to Catholicism. In fact, even before the Edict of Nantes, the Huguenot wars took place in France, and many perished as well:
Some two millions of lives had perished since the breaking out of the civil wars.
-- James A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism, Vol. 2, Book 17, Chapter 19.
One estimate (Mariejol) is as high as four million. In 1660 there were about 1,200,000 Huguenots (Protestants) in France, according to one source. In 1562, 10 to 20 percent of France’s population of 16 million were Huguenots. At one point, the (Catholic) Cardinal of Sainte-croix estimated that more than half of the French population were Huguenots. It is estimated that more than one million Huguenots were slain trying to escape or became slaves in the galleys of the King of France.

A final figure:

Mede has calculated from good authorities “that in the war with the Albigenses and Waldenses there perished of these people, in France alone, 1,000,000.”
-- Christ and Antichrist, by Samuel J. Cassels, 1846, page 257.
And many similar figures could be given.

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