“If the heretics had never started with the violence, then even if they had used all the ways they had ways they could to lure the people by preaching, even if they had thereby done what Luther does now and Mohammed did before – bring into vogue opinions pleasing to the people, giving them licence for licentiousness – yet if they had left violence alone, good Christian people would perhaps all the way up to this day have used less violence towards them than they do now. And yet heresy well deserves to be punished as severely as any other sin, since there is no sin that more offends God. However, as long as they refrained from violence, there was little violence done to them. And certainly though God is able against all persecution to preserve and increase his faith among the people, as he did in the beginning, for all the persecution inflicted by the pagans and the Jews, that is still no reason to expect Christian princes to allow the Catholic Christian people to be oppressed by Turks or by heretics worse than Turks.”
“By my soul,” said your friend [More’s interlocutor], “I wish that all the world were in agreement to take all violence and compulsion away on all sides, Christian and heathen, and that no one were constrained to believe but as they could be induced to by grace, wisdom, and good works, and then those that would go to God, go on God’s name, and those that will go to the devil, the devil go with them.”
“Actually” said I, “if it were that way, I yet would little doubt that the good seed being sown among the people would as well come up and be able to save itself as the cockle, and that God would always be stronger than the devil. But yet heretics and heathens are two different cases. For in the case that the Turks, Saracens and pagans were to allow the Christian faith to be peacefully preached among them, and that we Christians should therefore likewise allow all their religions to be preached among us, and violence be taken away by assent on both the sides, I doubt not at all that the Christian faith would much more increase than decline. And albeit that we would find among us those who would for the licentious liberty of those religions draw to the devil, yet so also would we find among them, I have no doubt, many a thousand that would be happy to leave that bestial pleasure and come to the Christian faith, as in the beginning there did come to Christianity from among the pagans, who lived as hedonistically as the Turks do now. But since violence is used on their side, and Christianity not there allowed to be preached and accepted, those who would now allow that religion to be preached and taught among Christians, and not punish and destroy the doers of that preaching and teaching, are plainly enemies of Christ, since they would be willing to let Christ lose his worship in many souls on this side without anyone being won from the other side to take their place.
“But, now, if violence were withdrawn on that side, then this way that you speak of might perhaps, between Christendom and Turkey or pagans, if the world gave its ascent to it and could hold to it, be no bad way. For since we should nothing so much regard as the honour of God and the spreading of the Christian faith and the winning of people’s souls to heaven, we would seem to be dishonouring God if we feared that his faith preached among others equally without disturbance would not be able to prosper. And believing that it would be, we would impair the profit if we were to refuse the condition, when there are many more to be won to Christ on that side than to be lost to him on this side.
“But as for the heretics arising among ourselves and springing from ourselves, they are in no way to be tolerated, but are to be supressed and overcome at the outset. For by any pact with them, Christendom has nothing to gain. For as many as we allow to fall to them we loose from Christ. And from all of them we could not win to Christ one the more, even if we won them all home again, because they were our own before. And yet, as I said, for all that, from the beginning they were never by any temporal punishment of their bodies at all harshly treated until they began to be violent themselves.
“We read that in the time of Saint Augustine, the great theologian of the Church, the heretics in Africa called the Donatists resorted to force and violence, robbing, beating, torturing and killing those whom they seized from the true Christian flock, as the Lutherans have done in Germany. For putting a stop to which , that holy man St Augustine, who had for a long time with great patience borne and endured their malice, only writing and preaching in refutation of their errors, and not only had done them no temporal harm but also had hindered and opposed others would have done it, did yet at last, for the peace of good people, both permit and exhort Count Boniface and others to supress them with force and threaten them with corporeal punishment.
“… For here you shall understand that it is not the clergy who endeavour to have them punished by death. It may well be, since we are all human beings and not angels, that some of them may sometimes have too hot a head, or an injudicious zeal, or perhaps, an irascible and cruel heart, by which they may offend God in the very same deed by which they would otherwise gain great merit. But certainly what the Church law on this calls for is good, reasonable, compassionate, and charitable, and in no way desirous of the death of anyone. For after a first offense the culprit can recant, repudiate by oath all heresies, do such penance for his offense as the bishop assigns him, and in that way be graciously taken back into the favour and graces of Christ’s Church. But if afterward he is caught committing the same crime again, then he is put out of the Christian flock by excommunication. And because, his being such, his mingling with Christians would be dangerous, the Church shuns him and the clergy give notice of this to the secular authorities – not exhorting the king, or anyone else either, to kill or punish him, but in the presence of the civil representative, the ecclesiastical official not delivers him but leaves him to the secular authorities, and forsakes him as one excommunicated and removed from the Christian flock. And though the Church will not lightly or hastily take him back, yet at the time of his death, upon his request, with indications of repentance, he is absolved and taken back.”