Karl Heinrich Leopold Deschner (born on May 23, 1924, in Bamberg, Germany), is a German researcher and writer who has achieved public attention in Europe for his thorough and critical treatment of Christianity (and Catholicism in particular) as expressed in articles and books (that have appeared thus far in Spanish, Italian, Polish and his native German), culminating in his magum opus The Criminal History of Christianity (Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums, Rowohlt Verlag GmbH, Reinbek) which is planned in 10 volumes, of which 9 have been published so far.
Hans Kung (bestselling Catholic theologian) speaking about Deschner:
During the time of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) the Catholic Church enjoyed a generally high public standing. At the beginning of the third millennium after Christ, however, it is being attacked more than ever in some quarters. Granted, Rome has recently been asking for forgiveness for the monstrous errors and atrocities of the past—but in the meantime, the present-day church administration and Inquisition are producing still more victims. Scarcely any of the great institutions in our democratic age deal in such a despicable way with critics and those of other views in their own ranks, nor does any discriminate so much against women—by prohibiting contraceptives, the marriage of priests, and the ordination of women. None polarizes society and politics worldwide to such a degree by rigid positions in matters of abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia, positions always invested with an aura of infallibility, as if they were the will of God himself. In view of the apparent inability on the part of the Catholic Church to correct and reform itself, it is not understandable that at the beginning of the third Christian millennium the more or less benevolent indifference widely shown to the church around fifty years ago has turned into hatred, indeed, public hostility? Antagonistic church historians and critics are of the opinion that in the churchʼs two-thousand-year history no organic process maturing [of doctrines and dogmas] can be detected, but rather something more like a criminal history. A once-Catholic author, Karlheinz Deschner, has devoted his life and so far six [now nine, with a tenth on the way] volumes to such a history. In it he describes every possible form of criminality in the churchʼs foreign policy and in policies relating to trade, finance, and education; in the dissemination of ignorance and superstition; in the unscrupulous exploitation of sexual morality, marriage laws, and penal justice… and so on, for hundreds [now 8,000] pages.*
*Though Drescherʼs works have translated into several European languages only a few paragraphs have thus far been translated into English (see below)—but if one is interested in present-day religion-related abuses and crimes, click here.
Synopsis Of Christianityʼs Criminal History, Volume 7, 13th and 14th Centuries by Karlheinz Deschner:
“The Middle Ages,” noted Nietzsche, “is the era of the greatest passions.” How these passions expressed themselves in the 13th and 14th Centuries is related by Karlheinz Deschner in the newest volume of his Christianityʼs Criminal History.
At the beginning of this epoch stood Emperor Henry VI, who claimed for himself dominium mundi, world rule—with or without the blessing of the Pope. At the end stood Emperor Charles IV, who ruled the Holy Roman Empire until 1378. The most powerful ecclesiastical opponent of this imperium was Pope Gregory IX (1227 to 1241), who demanded from the emperor his right to crusades and who managed internal security by means of the Inquisition.
Events of this period: the decisive power struggle between emperor and papacy, the fall of the Hohenstauffen and the end of papal universal domination, the papal bull “Unam Sanctam,” the Mongol Invasion, the Sicilian Vesper, the “Babylonian Captivity” of the popes in exile in Avignon, increasingly devastating anti-Jewish pogroms, crusades in every direction, among them that of Frederick II, the Crusades of Louis I the Holy to Egypt and Tunis, the Crusades of Christians against Christians, against the Albigensians, the Stedinger, the grotesque Childrenʼs Crusade, the destruction of the Templars, the destruction of the Pastorells, the notorious terrorist regime of the German Order, the extermination of the “heathen” in the Northeast of Europe, the suppression of the Balts, the Prussians — and not least the totalitarian Inquisition meant to suppress every stirring of intellectual freedom.
Deschnerʼs meticulous, irrefutable presentation of evidence from eye witnesses who were previously silenced or distorted reveals the very Christian Middle Ages as the high water mark of ruthless power politics involving both secular thrones and the Holy See.
Excerpts From Christianityʼs Criminal History, Volume 7, 13th and 14th Centuries by Karlheinz Deschner:
In the course of sacred history punishments became more and more severe and salutary. The Councils of Reims in 1157 and Oxford in 1160 had imposed facial branding on heretics. Even Innocent III threatened the Albigenses at first “only” with banishment and confiscation. But thereafter capital punishment became more and more frequent with various forms of execution appearing. In Cologne, Nuremberg and Regensburg “heretics” were occasionally drowned, in Würzburg beheaded, but death by fire became the rule for such an offense.
Death by fire, usually on a holiday, became a demonstration of the Churchʼs virtual omnipotence, as a grandiose ritual sacrifice, more popular than any other religious holiday. This human sacrifice was given a Portuguese name, autodafé, which in Latin is actus fidei. It was “an act of faith,” unquestionably the most ardent in the history of religion. Special couriers spread the invitation, the condemned were led forth before crowds of onlookers, special prices were paid for window seats, and every good Catholic who could bring forth wood for the fire was certain of a welcome absolution. This splendid opportunity has been denied the Catholic world since the 19th Century, for the last autodafé was probably celebrated in Mexico in 1815 (the first in 1481 in Seville).
Spiritual and worldly princes participated. The Grand Inquisitor handed over the condemned to the civil authorities following high mass and a sermon in a public square or house of God, not without expressing his heartfelt wish that the “life and limbs” of these people might be spared. The condemned were brought to the place of execution, usually wearing a foolʼs cap to symbolize their mindless perversity, clothed in bright yellow sackcloth and covered with the most outrageous images of the Devil, so that even the most dimwitted Catholic might easily recognize the spiritual father of these miscreants. These bystanders would often express their brotherly love in the usual fashion: by beating the condemned with canes, pinching them with glowing tongs and sometimes chopping off their right hands. In order to spare the delicate sensibilities of Godʼs people, the “heretics” were often gagged to muffle their screams, so that nothing could be heard but the almost cozy crackling of the flames and the chanting of the priests. And while the victims, depending on wind direction, either suffocated or slowly roasted to death, the assembled Christian community, nobility, common people and clergy, all sang: “Almighty God, we praise Thee.”
The courts of the Inquisition were the noblest courts of the Church and shielded from every profane influence. They were deemed immune to corruption; they usually adorned themselves with the attributes “holy” and “most holy.” For the filthier something is, the more it must be verbally rid of filth, embellished, ennobled, elevated to glory and majesty.
Official Church proclamations glorified the Inquisition, as did popes such as Innocent IV and Clemens IV in their papal bulls of March 23, 1254 and February 26, 1266. The inquisitors themselves were placed in an illustrious line of descent stretching back to an entire gallery of glorious Old Testament gangsters, with Saul, e.g., with David (I, 85 ff.!), Joshua (I, 83 f.) and others. But even Jesus, John the Baptist and Peter were numbered in the inquisitorial pedigree. Indeed, God Himself, the expeller of Adam and Eve from Paradise, was viewed as nothing less than the first “inquisitor.” These murdering thugs were in any case agents of the pope. Their derived their plenipotentiary authority everywhere and at all times from him alone.
Prisons of the Inquisitions, Places of Unspeakable Cruelty
The courts of the Inquisition were opened by an invocation to the Holy Spirit [whom, it is promised to believers in the NT, “will lead you unto all truth”].
Prayer also preceded the pronouncement of judgment.
The verdict, however, even in cases of extreme doubt, was not subject to appeal to secular courts, which functioned merely as an executive tool of the Church courts, whose sentences they were to carry out “blindly” (coeca obedientia) and “with closed eyes” (oculis clausis).
Numerous papal bulls sharply admonished the princes to damn well do their duty. Not only the doges of Venice were finally obliged by their oath of office to burn heretics. Otto IV of the Welf dynasty promised “effective support” in the eradication of “evil heresies” as much as his opponent, Frederick II of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, who in fact went further and demanded of all his subordinates, consuls, and rectors that “they in their respective lands make every effort to exterminate everyone designated by the Church as a heretic.” This obligation was confirmed by a public oath, under penalty of deposition and loss of their lands. These oaths proved to be effective.
The popes did everything in their power to ensure that the demands and orders of the inquisitors be quickly obeyed, that the inquisitors themselves be granted armed escort, and especially that the inquisitorial decrees be incorporated into the secular law codes. Innocent IV wrote in his bull “Cum adversus haereticam” of May 28, 1252:
“As the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick has pass certain laws against the heretical evil, by which laws the spread of this plague might be hindered, and as we desire that these laws be observed for the strengthening of the faith and the salvation of the faithful, so we order the beloved sons who are in authority to incorporate these laws, whose exact wording is attached, into their statues, and to proceed against the heretics with great zeal. Therefore we order you [the inquisitors], when these authorities fulfill our orders carelessly, to force them to compliance by means of excommunication and interdiction … We utterly curse those who have fallen from the Catholic faith, we pursue them with punishment, we rob them of their fortunes, deny them succession and revoke any and all their rights.”
The usual punishment for “heretics” was incarceration, often for life. In a partially preserved register of sentences of the Inquisition in Toulouse from the years 1246 to 1248, of 149 prisoners six were serving 10 years, 16 an indeterminate time based on the discretion of the Church, and 127 were serving life terms.
The prisons of the Inquisition were places of unimaginable cruelty, dark and confined by papal prescription, usually without any light or ventilation but full of filth and stench. The clergy filled these places to the point that Gregory IX ordered the building of more and promised generous indulgences to Christians who would contribute to their construction. Sentences served in these hellholes were far worse than any quick death by fire at the stake. Men and women often languished for years without being sentenced or acquitted. A man by the name of Wilhelm Salavert was first interrogated on February 24, 1300 and finally sentenced on September 30, 1319, after 19 years of uninterrupted misery. A woman in Toulouse was “reprieved to bearing the Cross” after lying in the local prisons for 33 years.
(from Karlheinz Deschnerʼs Christianityʼs Criminal History, Volume 7, p. 260 ff.)
Torture, the Most Compelling Instrument of Christian Brotherly Love
Of the three types of Inquisitorial conviction—purification, recantation, torture—“torture is the most suitable. Because heresy is difficult to prove, the judge of the Inquisition should be inclined toward the use of torture: ad torturam judex debet esse promptior.” (Antonius Diana, Consultant to the Sicilian Inquisition)
Augustine, both saint and doctor of the Church and the archetype of all medieval “heretic”-hunters, had already allowed torture against the Donatists, defending it as a trifle when compared to the agonies of hell. He called it a “cure,” an “emendatio.”
Bishop Anselm of Lucca among others in the 11th Century further developed Augustineʼs “heresy” argumentation. Expelled by his own clergy in 1080, he had a quite correct understanding of Augustine: proceeding against evil is not persecution but an expression of love. And Bishop Bonizo of Sutri, blinded and maimed by his own Christians in 1089, called for “combating” schismatics and worse dissenters “with all vigor and weapons.” He did not hesitate to attribute to Augustine the view “that all those are blessed who persecute for the sake of righteousness.”
This most compelling instrument of Christian brotherly love was already being employed north of the Alps during the Carolingian period but did not being to flourish until the 13th Century when Innocent IV, in his bull “Ad exstirpanda” of 1252, called for the use of torture and its canonical regulation in the fight against “heretics” in northern Italy. This policy expanded to include all of Italy in 1256 and was confirmed in the following years by Popes Alexander IV and Clemens IV.
In 1261 Urban IV allowed inquisitors, under whose robust manner of opinion research delinquents might expire, to mutually absolve one another. It was after all not permitted to torture to death a person being questioned. In such a case the inquisitor would face excommunication, from which he could be immediately freed, however, by a priest of the Inquisition uttering the formula: “Ego te absolvo.”
(from Karlheinz Deschnerʼs Christianityʼs Criminal History, Volume 7, p. 266ff)
REVIEWS of Deschnerʼs “Christianityʼs Criminal History”:
“How a religion of love became a religion of worldly power—provocative, discomforting, richly detailed: Karlheinz Deschnerʼs ambitious Christianityʼs Criminal History”—Prof. Ludger Lütkehaus, Badische Zeitung, 29.11.1988
“A shocking panorama of fraud and deceit, blood and murder under the sign of the Cross … The author recounts conscientiously, even in pedantic detail, the multitude of clerical, Christian crimes dating back to the earliest days of the Church. He demolishes with crushing blows monumental figures such as the great Constantine … The venerable doctors of the Church such as Athanasius, Ambrose, and Augustine lose their halos entirely… . Of course there is another side to the story… But that does not negate Deschnerʼs account. He brings to light what has been diligently suppressed, falsified, and played down through two Christian millennia.”—Heinz Schönfeldt, «Mannheimer Morgen»
“Deschner doesnʼt believe in wounding blows. He goes for the throat … And what is the result? A mammoth project. The crowing completion of a lifelong altercation: Christianityʼs Criminal History.”—Dietmar Bittrich, «Hamburger Abendblatt»
“A standard work based on a thorough study of the sources… The absolutely breathtaking descriptions, whose factual content are irrefutable, present a single, massive indictment of Christianity and show to what astonishing degree the gospel of love and mercy preached by Jesus was betrayed again and again. A book which will challenge and shake those above all who cherish a heartfelt commitment to the message of the Gospel.”—Lieselotte von Eltz-Hoffmann, «Salzburger Nachrichten»
“Deschner is not a modern Don Quixote, nor a Michael Kohlhaas. He is a modern proponent of the Enlightenment who still believes in the power of reason. He does not perceive the necessity of a new myth to replace a demystified Christianity no longer able to offer salvation. This fact distinguishes him from some modern critics of the Church who still feel allegiance to some interpretation of primitive Christianity. Deschner is without compromise in this regard.”—Rolf Gawrich, «Frankfurter Rundschau»
“Christianityʼs Criminal History is the name of this work which has now expanded to two volumes and which will eventually encompass a few more volumes as an opus maximum: in its projected entirety probably the most comprehensive critical history of Christianity ever. The title is intended in its absolute, literal sense. Deschner is set on laying forth an uncompromising account of Christianityʼs ‘history of crime.’ The spine title, formulated perhaps out of publication considerations, expresses extenuating circumstances which the book itself does not offer. And ‘Christianityʼs Criminal History’ is also to be understood in the sense of criminal detection, proof and exposure of the crime and the culprits. The halo which has customarily surrounded said criminal history is relentlessly attacked by Deschner as a monstrous hypocrisy.
The monumental figures of sacred history are in fact toppled right and left: the church doctors, the dogmatic patriarchs, the early popes, the “most” Christian emperors: Ambrose, Augustine, Athanasius, Basil, Clemens, Eusebius, Jerome, Irenaeus, Lactantius… A litany of saints of blessed memory becomes an unholy litany of scoundrels one would prefer to forget. Volume 1 is already in its fifth printing and covers the time from Old Testament origins to the death of Saint Augustine. Volume 2 deals with that period from the Catholic “children emperors” to the extermination of the Arian Vandals and Ostrogoths under Justinian I. What these two books reveal is a blood-drenched trail as remote as one can imagine from a message of love and mercy, not a story of salvation but a monstrous catastrophe. In this context, the expression “Christian persecutions” acquires a painfully ironic twist: out of the victims arise the oppressors.
Marshalling arguments against this awful compilation of factual evidence will be difficult. It may be that Deschner in cases of doubt always decides against the accused. As a whole, however, this massive study, whose origins date back to the 1950s, is painstakingly thorough and researched with a scholarly diligence without equal. The first two volumes contain almost 2,000 secondary titles, 130 pages of footnotes and annotations, in addition to a user-friendly, detailed index, all of which makes this compendium of crime a fatally effective reference work. This impressive apparatus also conveys a simple message: the author knows that in spite of all the recognition heʼs received — in 1988 he received the Arno-Schmidt-Prize for his uncompromising literary production — he is not going to be easily, at any rate not voluntarily believed.”—Prof Dr. Ludger Lütkehaus, «Freiburger Universitätsblätter» herausgegeben im Auftrag des Rektors der Albert-LudwigsUniversität Freiburg
“Deschnerʼs Christianityʼs Criminal History should not be absent from any serious scholarly library. It is a standard work, an organon including all the major themes, a necessary corrective of great value belonging on the shelf next to the works of Augustine, the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas and the Lexica für Theologie und Kirche of our own day.“—Helmut Häußler, Freigeistige Aktion, Hannover
“I am reminded of 18th Century proponents of the Enlightenment such as the Frenchmen Pierre Bayle, Claude Helvetius, and Voltaire or the German poet Heinrich Heine. Now the 20th Century also has its book, Deschnerʼs Christianityʼs Criminal History.… Thanks to Deschnerʼs back-breaking research, the suspicion that Christianity has skeletons in its closet becomes an absolutely certainty. Widely known facts are beginning to replace mere suspicions, and what we learn about reality exceeds even the products of our fantasy.”—Prof. Dr. theol. Horst Herrmann, Der Spiegel
“The Criminal History is a massive work, a lifeʼs work, perhaps the centuryʼs work. So brilliant is the analysis and captivating the style, bold, cutting, skilful, never looking back or down; independent, creative greatness at work.”—Volker A. Zahn, Kölner Illustrierte
“Deschnerʼs Criminal History not just fills a huge gap. It is THE standard work of alternative church history. With his stupendous, comprehensive grasp of detail, the author of this work of the century makes a pressing, existential issue out of the lives and views of those who have defied the Church through the centuries.”—Prof. Dr. theol. Hubertus Mynarek
Quotations from Drescher:
My skepticism keeps me from becoming a fanatic, which is something no faith has ever achieved.
“I would rather err with the majority than in my own way,” so thought St. Augustine. I am just the opposite.
The superstition that a belief based on faith is different from a superstition is the greatest superstition of all.
SNIPPETS from Drescher, cited in someone elseʼs article on the web:
“The Churchʼs efforts of putting an end to the common practice of plundering shipwrecked sailors in the Middle Ages, didnʼt include Arabs or other infidels. The Church didnʼt see any wrong in sending non-Christian prisoners of war into slavery. In the 17th century the Scottish clergy teached that one under no circumstances whatsoever should give food or shelter to a hungry human being if he didnʼt have an orthodox Christian faith (Deschner).
The ninth commandment of not bearing false witness seems to be a tough one for God himself since he tells lies via his own prophets (1 Kings 22:23, 2.Chr. 18:22. Jer. 4:10, 20:7 Ezek 14:9) and deceives(2.Thess 2:11-12). St Paul also admits using lies and deception to spread the word of God (Rom 3:7, 1.Cor 1:19-23). The biblical texts also forge the very word of God (Jer. 8:8). Jehovah also admits this in Ezek 20,25 “Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live.” Even the noble Church Father Origen thinks it should be allowed to lie and deceive to save souls. According to Origen Godʼs love justifies him using lies. Church father John Chrysostom (Golden mouth) thought lies were necessary for saving the soul (Deschner Karlheinz, 1972: ”Abermals krähte der Hahn” Stuttgart, p. 30). Bishop and Church historian Euseb of Cæsarea (ca 265-430 AD) claimed openly that the Church should use deception and fraud if it was in the interest of the Church. The founder of the Jesuit order, Ignatius Loyola, wrote in the 16 th century ”We should always be open for what seems white to us, in reality is black if the leaders of the Church should decide so.”
Additional Books by Deschner
Why I Left the Church (1970)—a book of testimonies from people who left the fold. With contributions by G. von Frankenberg, K. Port, R. Mächler, J. Bjorneboe, F. Vester, G. Zwerenz, K. Harpprecht, W. Baranowsky, O.F. Gmelin, W. Beutin, H. Wollschläger, J. Kahl
Memento! (1999)—A Little Lesson About the “Great Act of Atonement” of the Pope in the Holy Year 2000. In the Holy Year 2000 the Pope asked forgiveness for his organization in a “great act of atonement” from all the millions of victims of crimes committed in the name of Christ through the centuries. Deschner helps the Holy Father search his conscience. Every line of this deeply disturbing litany of crimes cries out “Remember!” - “Memento!”