Here is a quote from one Russian Orthodox priest:

"The number of witches burned by Luther is way greater then the number of those burnt by any (Catholic) Inquisition within one hundred years. The number of sectarians killed by John Calvin - he was burning them at the stake - is way greater than those killed by any (Catholic) Inquisition"

Is that true that Luther and Calvin were killing people? I did some research and the best I could find was the burning of Michael Servetus in Calvinist Geneva. However, when you go into details you get that it was not as much Calvin's decision as it was the city council's. And I couldn't find anything similar with regard to Luther.

  • 6
    This is answerable, but it would seem to require a lot of research. Research made especially difficult by all the propaganda created over the centuries. I'm also struck that you seem to be focused on two people specifically on the Protestant side vs. the centuries-long Inquisition (of which there were several.) Perhaps the question could be more usefully framed?
    – Mark Olson
    Jan 17, 2023 at 1:41
  • 3
  • 2
    Might be helpful to point out in which way exactly Luther is supposed to have burned any witches. Is there a special reason that there is so.much weight given to the inquisition and witches burnt by secular authorities in catholic regions are ignored (e.g. de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katharina_Henot) ?
    – Jan
    Jan 17, 2023 at 7:06
  • 1
    The link already flagged for your attention history.stackexchange.com/questions/43815/… shows some of the complexity involved in enquiring into such matters. A much more researched question might garner considered replies, such as those given in that previous History question.
    – Anne
    Jan 17, 2023 at 12:45
  • 2
    Yes, it started there in Christianity SE and I suggested asking here. Some reasons: 1- It's an historical question, so better suited for expertise here. 2- Balancing the merits of important people in some denominations is hard in a site like Christianity SE where people have strong beliefs around these people. 3- The answers in Christianity SE show that the question doesn't have a simple answer. However I agree that the question can be improved, but an answer about the frame would be also useful.
    – Pere
    Jan 17, 2023 at 19:45

2 Answers 2


I think you’ve answered your own question (in your closing paragraph). The claim made in that random quote from a Russian Orthodox priest does not establish a fact. And no, I will not be watching that video in the hope of finding anything to validate the claim being made.

Historians generally distinguish the Inquisitions based on four different time frames and areas that they took place in. These are the Medieval or Episcopal Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition, the Portuguese Inquisition, and the Roman Inquisition.

The first of the Inquisitions is known as the Medieval or Episcopal Inquisition and refers to the various tribunals that started around 1184. It includes the Episcopal Inquisition (1184-1230) and the Papal Inquisition (1230), which arose in response to large popular movements in Europe that were considered to be heretical by the Roman Catholic Church... During the Spanish Inquisition alone, as many as 2,000 people were burned at the stake within one decade after the Inquisition began.

The next major Inquisition period is known as the Spanish Inquisition. It was set up by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain in 1478 with the approval of Pope Sixtus IV... Later on, with the spread of Protestantism into Spain, the Inquisition would also begin to persecute Protestants who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church... Over the course of its history, the Spanish Inquisition tried more than 341,000 people, of whom about 32,000 were executed.

The last period is known as the Roman Inquisition, and it was established in 1542 when Pope Paul III established the Holy Office as the final court of appeals in all trials of heresy. This group was made up of cardinals and other officials whose task was to maintain and defend the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. This group played an important role in the Counter-Reformation, and it was also this body that condemned Galileo for “grave suspicion of heresy” and banned all of his works in 1633 for teaching that the earth and other planets orbited the sun. In 1965, Pope Paul VI reorganized the Holy Office and renamed it as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and it remains in effect today. Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/inquisitions.html

Here in the U.K. King Henry VIII (ruled from 1509 to 1547) was responsible for persecuting Catholics, mainly by looting then burning down monasteries. Queen Mary I then persecuted Protestants in an attempt to restore Catholicism. Then Queen Elizabeth I persecuted Catholics. Most bloodshed came later because King Charles I tried to introduce reforms that would restore papal practices. This resulted in various civil wars and the execution of King Charles I. These were not Inquisitions and neither Martin Luther (died 1546) nor John Calvin (died 1564) can be held responsible for the political schemes of those various rulers.

Is that true that Luther and Calvin were responsible for the deaths of more humans than during the four Catholic Inquisitions? NO.

  • 1
    @justCal - Got Questions Ministry is Christian, Protestant, evangelical, theologically conservative, and non-denominational. More here: gotquestions.org/about.html
    – Lesley
    Jan 17, 2023 at 17:26
  • 5
    @YokedSinger8062 - The simple reason why I have not given any statistics for deaths caused by Luther and Calvin (indirectly) and Protestant churches (in general) is because I am unable to find any. And that's not for the lack of trying. If anybody can find statistics on deaths directly attributed to post-Reformation Protestant churches in Europe I will up-vote the answer.
    – Lesley
    Jan 17, 2023 at 17:34
  • 1
    The monks were pensioned off, on very good terms, and/or found jobs as parish clergy. Hardly amounts to persecution.
    – davidlol
    Jan 18, 2023 at 3:27
  • 1
    You omitted mentioning the ratio of executions for witchcraft by Catholics to those by Lutherans and Calvinists. I believe that both Luther and Calvin "threw out the baby and kept the bathwater" when it came to accepting and rejecting Catholic theology, keeping the worst part of Catholic theology, witch hunting. I'm certain that thre are claims about that ratio of witch killing somehwere.
    – MAGolding
    Jan 18, 2023 at 3:54
  • 1
    @MAGolding "You omitted mentioning the ratio of executions for witchcraft by Catholics to those by Lutherans and Calvinists" But that is not really what was asked, is it?
    – Jan
    Jan 18, 2023 at 9:17

I am certain that answering the question accurately would be rather complicated.

Catholics and Protestants executed more people for religious reasons than merely those they considered heretics.

There were also witchcraft execution.

I can't think very highly of Luther and Calvin as theologians since they seem to have kept the Catholic theological justifications for witchcraft trials.

There is a saying about "throwing out the baby with the bathwater", meaning to get rid of something very valuable while discarding trash. And by retaining belief in witchcraft and the need to eradicate it Luther and Calvin seem to have thrown out the baby of Catholic theology and kept the bathwater of Catholic theology.

Thus finding the ratio of Catholic to Lutheran and Calvinist witchcraft executions would seem to be necessary to answer the question properly.

Added 01-21-2023.

The word witch, like many words, has many meanings. And by witches I mean the type of witches imagined by the evil inquisitor Heinrich Kramer in his book the Malleus Maleficarum (1486) to provide theological justification for trying, convicting, executing, and confiscating the property of, any person a witch hunter chose to, thus terrorizing everyone with the threat of arbitrary witchcraft persecutions.

And since introducing theological innovations is considered wrong, Luther and Calvin had plenty of excuse to reject Kramer's recent innovation, the claim that there was a widespread witch conspiracy to destroy Christianity and that the most extreme measures were necessary to combat the witch conspiracy.

The persecution of witches in Germany took place largely at the cusp to the Late Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period, between 1560 and 1630.

How precisely prosecution was enacted depended on the legal perceptions of the individual feudal lord, and not on their denomination. For instance, witch trials were largely prevented in Electoral Palatinate.

Not only did Martin Luther share the common superstitions of his age, believing in the widespread use of sorcery and black magic, he also perceived the devil to be an active force.

"His view of witches was defined by his theology. He saw witches – like gypsies, Turks and Jews, who were usually mentioned in one breath – as accomplices of Satan in his ultimate battle against Christ." (Heinz Schilling, "Reformation und Luthers Hexenbild", in: Luther und die Hexen, exhibition catalogue, Rothenburg 2017, p. 209)

Luther's aggressive approach toward witches intensifies from the late 1530s. But his attitudes do vacillate. Occasionally he demands that they be burned at the stake, while other times he insists on their admonition and conversion. Luther's thoughts and writings reflect the evolving view of his times, thus remaining ambiguous.


John Calvin seems to have believed in witchcraft and in punishing it.

While John Calvin (1509-1564) strongly condemned witches, witch trials were uncommon in Geneva in practice. While 150 witch trials took place in Geneva between the reformation and 1681, the witch hunt peaked already with this trial in 1571, and all witch trials after it was smaller; the last executions were those of Rolette Revilliod (1626) and Michée Chauderon (1652), but most witch trials after 1571 ended in banishments. 1


John Calvin and the other reformers (as well as Catholics in middle Europe) believed that they should not permit the practice of witchcraft, in accord with their understanding of passages such as Exodus 22:18 and Leviticus 20:27. Calvin comments on these passages under his analysis of the first of the Ten Commandments, which he understands to condemn the practice of other religions. Of witchcraft in particular, he says, "God would condemn to capital punishment all augurs, and magicians, and consulters with familiar spirits, and necromancers and followers of magic arts, as well as enchanters. And… God declares that He 'will set His face against all, that shall turn after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards,' so as to cut them off from His people; and then commands that they should be destroyed by stoning." Following this understanding of the Old Testament law, in 1545 twenty-three people were burned to death under charges of practicing witchcraft and attempting to spread the plague over a three–year period.


Probably the most zealous man among all of these people was French reformator John Calvin. Before his arrival to the Geneve, local witch-trials always resulted in relatively mild punishments, such as financial penalties or expulsion from the city. In the years 1495 – 1531, less than one dozen of witches were executed burned at the stake in Geneve. However, after John Calvin had arrived, more than 500 people convicted of witchcraft were executed during a period of only two years. In contrast with other city councillors, he strictly insisted on burning all people even accused of witchcraft.


So John Calvin was clearly in favor of witcraft trials and punishing alleged witches with penalties up to and including death a the stake.

So Martin Luther and John Calvin could have accused the Catholic church of recently making a major theological innovation by more or less accepting the Malleus Malificarum.

They could have demanded that the Catholic church condemn the Malleus Malificarum and derivative works and condemn belief in the witchcraft conspiracy.

They could have declared that belief in witchcraft was false, and a heresy, as the Catholic church had often done in the past.

They could have forbidden their followers from conducting witchcraft trials with all their possibilities for abuse and tyranny.

But instead they expressed their belief that witchraft was real and a danger to Christianity, and that witches should be tried and punished, including punishment by death.

Thus like many Catholic theologians of the era, they were tricked by Heinrich Kramer and his followers into believing that witchcraft trails were necessary. And that belief seems to me to have been the absolute worst part of Catholic theology at that time and the one most necessary to be rejected by Catholics and Protestants.

None of the other Catholic beliefs which Luther and Calvin thought about and decided whether to accept or reject were as evil and disastrous as belief in witchcraft. Thus it can be said that Martin Luther and John Calvin threw away the baby of Catholic theology and kept the bathwater.

And they share responsibility with their followers in the era of witchcraft trials for all the torture, punishment, and death inflicted by Lutherans and by Calvinists on people accused of witchcraft.

Since Luther and Calvin also kept the Catholic belief in the punishment of heretics, they share with their followers the responsibility and guilt for all the persons their Lutheran and Calvinist followers executed as heretics.

Thus it would be possible to research Catholic and Protestant executions for witchcraft and for heresy during a selected time period to compare numbers. Thus it should be possible to judge whether Luther and Calvin were responsible for more deaths than the Catholic Inquisition during a specified time period. And it might be possible to compare the number of Catholic ordered executions per year per 100 thousand persons ruled to Protestant ordered executions per year per 100 thousand persons ruled to compare the execution rate.

Of course various incarnations of the Catholic Inquisition started at various times, some centuries before Luther and Calvin were born, giving an unfair head start to the Inquisition.

And if the question asks how many executions that two individuals, Luther and Calvin, directly ordered or gave their approval to compared to executions ordered by the institutional Inquisition with many members, that also gives an unfair advantage to the Inquisition.

The wording of the title and of the body of the question is not very precise.

  • "(they) seem to have thrown out the baby of Catholic theology and kept the bathwater of Catholic theology" - Sounds kind of self-contradictory to me. What is baby and what is bathwater here? Are they the same thing?!
    – brilliant
    Jan 18, 2023 at 5:38
  • 2
    @MAGolding - Luther and Calvin were responsible for witchcraft executions? Could you please give a reliable source/link to support that?
    – Lesley
    Jan 18, 2023 at 8:17
  • 1
    Do note that witchcraft is alive and growing. Witches, warlocks and many other pagan practitioners who use spells and incantations to 'harness' unseen spiritual powers for their purposes are now open about this (to a degree, not entirely, of course, or the public would be horrified). They present as "white witches" who do good, and the public thinks there's no harm in them. But they exist and are growing in numbers and influence, with no fear of retribution from any religious quarter now. Check the Celtic page christianheritageedinburgh.org.uk/2018/12/07/…
    – Anne
    Jan 18, 2023 at 10:46
  • @Anne The word witch, like many words, has many meanings. And by witches I meant the type of witches imagined by the evil inquisitor Heinrich Kramer in his book the Malleus Maleficarum (1486) to provide theological justification for trying, convicting, executing, and confiscating the property of, any person a witch hunter chose to, thus terrorizing everyone with the threat of arbitrary witchcraft persecutions.
    – MAGolding
    Jan 21, 2023 at 18:50
  • Yes, what you say in your comment to me is true, and such things are abhorrent to all who love Christ as their Lord and Saviour. I'm aware of the way meanings of words change, as my comment to you shows. Political evil was at back of those dark days, though political naivety now seems to blind many to on-going spiritual darkness that presents as 'white' witchcraft.
    – Anne
    Jan 21, 2023 at 19:03

This site is temporarily in read-only mode and not accepting new answers.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .