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Heresy is defined by the Roman Catholic Church as "the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith" (Code of Canon Law, Canon 751). A person is in formal heresy when four elements are present:

  1. the person in question must have had a valid Christian baptism

  2. the person claims to still be a Christian

  3. the person publicly and obstinately denies or positively doubts a truth that the Catholic Church regards as revealed by God (through the Scriptures or Sacred tradition)

  4. the disbelief must be morally culpable, that is, there must be a refusal to accept what is known to be a doctrinal imperative.

The Catholic Church also states categorically that the burning of an heretic is not against the will of the Spirit and that the faithful are forbidden to read, assert, preach, praise, print, publish, or defend the idea that it is against the will of the Spirit. see here

Here it has been asked where in the New Testament a Roman Catholic would go to find support that burning an heretic is not against the will of the Spirit.

This question asks if any theologian from any denomination has ever made a substantial case from the New Testament that burning heretics is against the will of the Spirit. I am not asking after arguments regarding capital punishment in general.

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  • The question as phrased is off-topic because it effectively cannot be answered without falling into doctrinal disputes between denominations. You can ask what is the Biblical basis for capital punishment for heresy being against the spirit or you can ask what is the biblical basis for capital punishment not being against the spirit, but you cannot ask is there a biblical basis
    – eques
    May 27, 2023 at 15:09
  • What the Catholic Church states categorically is that the proposition "That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit" is EITHER heretical OR simply false OR just "offensive to pious ears or seductive of simple minds". And the point is: the last censure is time-dependent! Just as denying the historical factuality of a Flood that wiped out all terrestrial animals, including humans, except those in an ark, or of an Exodus from Egypt of 600,000 adult men + women & children, was "offensive to pious ears or seductive of simple minds" 100 years ago but not now (at least not to many ears).
    – Johannes
    Jun 4, 2023 at 20:24
  • @Johannes Has the Catholic Church stated which one of the heretics was righteously burned so that individuals don't have to try to pick one from the long, long list? Jun 4, 2023 at 20:36
  • @MikeBorden I withdraw my statement that "the condemned proposition can be legitimally understood in any of 3 senses" in a previous comment. The understanding in any of 3 senses would be legitimal if there was no previous magisterial pronouncement on the matter that provided context, but there is one: canon 3 of Lateran IV Ecumenical Council which commanded that all secular authorities should take an oath "to exterminate in the territories subject to their jurisdiction ALL heretics pointed out by the Church" (universos haereticos).
    – Johannes
    Jun 5, 2023 at 15:20

2 Answers 2

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If instructions regarding how to deal with those who teach heresy are given in the Bible, and if those instructions do not mention burning or execution of any form, would that suffice to answer this question?

John on False Teachers

For example, here is one such instruction:

10If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: 11For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. (2 John 1:10-11, KJV)

NOTE: That term "God speed" is a poor translation. It really means something more like giving respect or a greeting of some form.

John writes that those who teach the wrong doctrine should not be accepted into one's home, or even honored at all by a supportive salutation. But John says nothing of any execution or burning.

Paul on Heretics

Paul agrees with John.

A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; (Titus 3:10, KJV)

The message is consistent--we are to reject heretics with their heresies. No mention is made at all of any actions to be taken beyond this.

Punishments for Witchcraft

Now, there is one category of belief system which does, biblically, incur the punishment of death. Because of this, the contrast with heretics, for whom no such law is given, is the more noticeable.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. (Exodus 22:18, KJV)

A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them. (Leviticus 20:27, KJV)

Note also that the punishment was to be death by stoning, not by burning.

Conclusion

Burning heretics is never condoned in scripture, much less commanded. Inasmuch as the will of the Spirit is communicated through scripture, it is safe to conclude that it is not the Spirit's will that such should be burned.

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  • Please edit to include Catholic sources supporting your answer
    – Kris
    May 27, 2023 at 14:20
  • @User14 The asker has asked for the Catholic perspective in a separate question, which is linked in this question. This question specified "This question asks if anyone from any denomination...."
    – Biblasia
    May 27, 2023 at 14:58
  • My bad. Can you provide official source material from any specific denomination supporting your answer?
    – Kris
    May 27, 2023 at 15:07
  • Hmm... I hardly think "it is safe to conclude". There's a big leap from "God doesn't mention X" to "God opposes X".
    – workerjoe
    May 29, 2023 at 1:38
  • @workerjoe Isn't it an equally big leap from "God doesn't mention X" to "God is not opposed to X"? Tying a living human being to a pole and setting them on fire should have some positive support from the words of our Savior, don't you think, rather than arguing from the Old Covenant or the silence (at best) of the New? May 31, 2023 at 12:34
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This article makes a case against burning heretics based, in part, on the words, actions, and general demeanor of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Gospels:

It seems bizarre to me that there are radical Christians who think heretics should be burned at the stake when Jesus emphasized mercy and love for his enemies. He released the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), implored Peter to drop his sword (Matthew 26:52), and most prominently, said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:43-44). It seems an unthinkable response for the radical to say that they are loving someone, by burning them alive. Further, Jesus specifically altered a command for violent punishment in the Law. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.” (Matthew 5:38-39). Should heretics be burned at the stake? It seems that the aura and the spirit of these commands combats this radical inclination.

The author goes on to imagine what a world would look like in which heretics were ferreted out of society, captured, and put to death:

If Christians did begin to establish a system in which heretics were burned at the stake, the question is what the world would look like. What would the church look like? If a heretic is being burned at the stake, certainly, his work would also be disposed of (for the same reason that the man is burned alive). So then, what is heresy? How do we identify it, and if someone is practicing heresy, how do we determine who it is? We would have to establish an investigative unit that is finely tuned to hunt out the heretics and their work. They would be licensed to venture into the property of the alleged heretic and conduct a thorough investigation of their writing to ensure that there was nothing heretic lingering about. If it was found, the heretic would be subsequently arrested. They would be told to repent or die. The reader might realize that this would not be the first time that a religious organization has conceived of limiting the freedom of speech through violence. Just thinking of what the world would look like, given that limitation, we are stricken instantly with the acknowledgement that this would look a lot like ISIS and the Inquisition. Of course, these are non-sustainable models of society. Should heretics be burned at the stake? Of course not. That is social regression. That is barbarism.

Balthasar Hubmaier (l. 1480-1528) was a Catholic theologian who converted to the Protestant Anabaptist sect in 1525. His "Concerning Heretics and Those Who Burn Them" (1524) was a plea for religious tolerance written prior to his conversion to a sect persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants who dismissed the piece as heretical.

Here are some interesting bits from an article in worldhistory.org written about Hubmaier's work in which he argues against the practice of killing heretics by every denomination of the Church. The full text of his short work is at the end of the article linked above:

Although Hubmaier wrote the work as a Catholic, it was adopted by the Anabaptists to denounce the practice of both Catholic and Protestant tribunals of charging the unorthodox with heresy and sentencing them to death. The Church had been executing 'heretics' for centuries by this time and, once the Protestant sects established themselves, they retained this practice. Although Catholics and Protestants could not seem to agree on anything else, they found common ground in persecuting the 'other', and their common enemy after 1525 became the Anabaptist sect, which rejected the tenets of both and, except for some radical leaders, advocated pacifism.

Once again the central point of condemnation for the burning of heretics is the contradiction of Jesus' words and model of behavior. He goes farther, however, and labels such activity within and by the church as the work of Satan:

Once Hubmaier became an Anabaptist, his work – like that of all Anabaptists – was condemned as heretical even though he regularly cites the Bible throughout in support of his claims. His central argument is simply that the practice of burning people alive as heretics is unbiblical as it contradicts the words and example of Jesus Christ and so is actually evil and the work of Satan. Hubmaier's piece was widely circulated after publication as he had been a popular Catholic preacher, but after his conversion, he fell out of favor except among Anabaptists. Hubmaier and his wife, Elizabeth (née Hügline) would eventually be executed for heresy in 1528, but his works were preserved by the Anabaptists, who continue to flourish under various names in the present day.

It appears as though the best case to be made from the New Testament against the church sentencing heretics to death is the Lord Jesus Christ himself; both His words and His example. He was condemned to death through religious/political zeal by the dominant "church" of the day and the sentence was carried out by the dominant government of the day. There is not one iota of commendation in the New Testament for either of the parties responsible for Jesus' death.

Every human element, motive, and activity involved in putting the Christ to death is labeled as evil. Evil men, evil motives, and evil activity. That God is able to turn that which is intended for evil unto good commends not us but God. Nowhere does this same Christ recommend putting our religious enemies to death (indeed the opposite is true). Since the Spirit of God cannot be at odds with the Son of God it is impossible for the burning of heretics to be anything other than against the will of the Spirit since it is against the Son.

To condemn and put a person to death as a heretic simply and only because they are labeled as heretics is evil, ungodly activity and against the command and example of the Lord of all. To favor such activity or to ascribe God's commendation to it is equally evil and is, itself, heretical; opposing both God and His Gospel. Killing people who don't believe the same as us is not Christian behavior nor is condemning to death a religious duty.

So that my final paragraphs do not appear as a solitary opinion, here are some of Hubmaier's words on the subject in summary and closing:

Hence it follows that the inquisitors are the greatest heretics of all, since, against the doctrine and example of Christ, they condemn heretics to fire, and before the time of harvest root up the wheat with the tares. For Christ did not come to butcher, destroy, and burn, but that those that live might live more abundantly. If these only knew of what spirit they ought to be, they would not so shamelessly pervert God’s Word, nor so often cry, “To the fire, to the fire!” The secular power rightly and properly puts to death the criminals who injure the bodies of the defenseless (Rom. 13:3,4). But he who is God’s cannot injure anyone, unless he first deserts the gospel.

Hence to burn heretics is in appearance to profess Christ (Titus 1:10,11), but in reality to deny him, and to be more monstrous than Jehoiakim, the King of Judah (Jer. 36:23). Now it is clear to everyone, even the blind, that a law to burn heretics is an invention of the devil. “Truth is immortal.”

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    The latter part of your answer (At least the last paragraph or so) seems at best your own commentary and bordering on a tirade. It would behoove you to back up most of that with Scripture or quotes from theologians of note or historical evidence. For one, the claim "to put to death as a heretic simply and only because they are labeled as a heretic is evil, ungodly..." is a claim that is almost guaranteed to be supported by actual evidence (namely, that no one was put to death simply for being labeled a heretic but because they actually were a unrepentant heretic engaged in spreading heresy.
    – eques
    May 31, 2023 at 20:09
  • @eques If you can show me where Jesus or the Apostles recommended anything even approaching the murdering of unrepentant heretics who were engaged in spreading heresy, like the judaisers concerning whom the entire book of Galatians was written, or like the Pharisees who nullified the commands of God through their traditions (Mark 7:6-13), I will remove the last paragraph. Jun 1, 2023 at 12:52
  • False dichotomy. My point is not that you can't advance an argument that the burning of heretics if against the Spirit. Go ahead. My point is rather that you go too far and passing your own opinion off as a conclusion and furthermore continue to show a lack of understanding in the topic given how you continue to conflate murder and capital punishment.
    – eques
    Jun 1, 2023 at 13:19
  • @eques I have taken your advice and added a close to my answer from an expert source. TY Jun 2, 2023 at 11:58
  • If you want to actually argue the premise that burning heretics is against the spirit one would need to make a solid argument that a) capital punishment is in general immoral or b) that heresy is not a capital offense. All this amounts to is a vague comparison to Christ's crucifixion, saying nothing about the actual moral question of heresy.
    – eques
    Jun 2, 2023 at 13:27

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