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
    Anybody can claim anything on Youtube (as in that link you provide) but hard statistics, with names, dates and numbers need to be presented both for Catholic and Protestant executions to get a balanced answer. Yes, it was the Geneva city council decision to kill Servetus but Catholicism would plead they did not execute anyone - it was the secular government authorities that "did it". Another example of making claims. We need evidence and to know where the buck stops. Can you improve your question with balanced sources?
    – Anne
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 14:53
  • 3
    Regardless of the actual numbers, Protestants engaged in the same misguided actions. I believe a focus on who killed more too easily morphs into believing the lesser was not equally bad. If all have sinned and lack the glory of God, both are equally wrong. Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 15:37
  • 1
    I don't think the claim is meant to mean Luther personally, but his followers down the ages (such as Salem). The issue is also made less clear because Catholic inquisitions very rarely burned witches. Inquisitions weren't about finding witches, but about heretics. Witches were usually burned by secular authorities. Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 16:24
  • 2
    @DJClayworth - "I don't think the claim is meant to mean Luther personally..." - It DOES mean Luther personally, as well as Calvin. That's why I was rather surprised by that claim and came here to ask this question. He talks there about personalities of Luther and Calvin and about how cruel they were during their lives. Besides, he takes only "any one hundred years of time" of inquisition, that is, to make a proportional comparison between the inquisition and the lifetime of Luther and Calvin.
    – brilliant
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 22:53
  • 2
    I suggest asking at History.StackExchange, where expertise is more in the line of producing a well sourced answers to historical questions. People there not being committed believers of one side or the other may help to get and objective answer.
    – Pere
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 0:49

1 Answer 1


It is likely that the number of executions was significantly lower than that of the inquisition.

Estimates of the number of executions carried out by the Inquisition range from several thousand to tens of thousands. However, it is important to note that the inquisition's focus was mainly on rooting out heretics and apostates, not on executing people. Many people arrested by the inquisition were not executed, but rather were subjected to penances, fines, imprisonment, or public humiliations.

However, it is difficult to compare this to the number of people executed during the time of the Protestant Reformation, as the execution of individuals accused of witchcraft and heresy was not limited to the followers of Luther and Calvin, and occurred in many parts of Europe.

It is important to note that both Protestant and Catholic authorities were responsible for the persecution and execution of individuals accused of witchcraft and heresy.

The inquisition's involvement in witch-hunting varied by region and over time, with the most intense hunts occurring in the 14th to 17th centuries, particularly in Germany and Italy.

The region of Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Netherlands had high numbers of executions because they were a big part of the Holy Roman Empire in between the 15th and 17th century. The Catholic Church played a central role in these witch hunts through its promotion of the belief in witchcraft, investigations and trials. The Church taught that witchcraft was a form of heresy, and that it was a serious crime that needed to be punished.

The Church also played a central role in promoting the idea of the witches' Sabbath, a supposed gathering of witches and demons, which was used to justify the persecution of those accused of witchcraft.


  • "Witchcraft and Magic in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Europe" edited by Geoffrey Scarre
  • "The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe" by Brian Levack

The number of those persecuted and executed for witchcraft and heresy during the time of the Protestant Reformation is not well-documented, and estimates vary widely.

The exact number of executions may never be known as records were not always kept, or have been lost or destroyed over time. Historians estimate for the inquisition thousands to several hundred thousands, spanning several decades in between 13-19th century. The Protestant Reformation spanning the 16th century is estimated in thousands, and few historians put it in the ten thousand.

The average historian would agree the inquisition as a group of institutions by the Catholic Church would have generally higher estimates, due to the timespan, and sheer size of the campaigns.


  • "The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity" edited by John McManners

  • "The Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval England" edited by Nigel Saul

  • "Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650" by Carlos M. N. Eire

  • "A World Made by Hand: A Simple Path from the Preindustrial Age" by J.R. McNeill

  • "The Reformation: A History" by Diarmaid MacCulloch

  • 3
    "It is likely ..." How do you know this? Was it lower per year? Or per year and per capita? What are the range of estimates by serious historians?
    – Only True God
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 22:29
  • 4
    Which Inquisition? There were three during the time period of interest (Spanish, Portuguese, and Roman) with very different focuses and numbers of executions. (Notably, the number of people executed by the Spanish Inquisition for witchcraft is in the low double digits at most.)
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 23:35
  • 1
    Sure, no problem. Added multiple books stating estimates about one of them or both, by academic historians.
    – Timmetje
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 10:31
  • 3
    The sentence "It is also important to note that the inquisition and the persecution of witches were not exclusively Catholic phenomena, but also happened in many Protestant countries" would be more accurate if you reversed the words 'Catholic' and 'Protestant', since around 95% of the witch trials happened in the latter.
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 11:47
  • 1
    @Rekesoft - "since around 95% of the witch trials happened in the latter" - Can you provide some sources for this claim?
    – brilliant
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 12:39

You must log in to answer this question.

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