ESTIMATES OF THE NUMBER KILLED BY THE PAPACY IN THE MIDDLE AGES AND LATER
by UNC Professor David A. Plaisted Ph.D.
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.
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