The Christian Church was intolerant, exclusive and sanguinary from the very beginning. When, at the Council of Nicaea, it was declared the official religion of the Western Roman Empire, the prelates knew exactly what had to be done. Throughout the empire, those who didn’t want to convert to Christianity would be forced to do so, or be massacred. Not surprisingly, as it spread, the Christian Church fostered much hate, and the seeds of discord were sown far and wide.
The Church of Rome anointed Absolute Kings of Divine Right to rule over given parts of the empire. These kings not only persecuted the Jews, the ‘Christ killers’, but all those who refused to follow the Church’s liturgy, and that included the Muslims of course. For instance, the Pope would suggest the need for a crusade, and the kings and nobles fearing excommunication, or wanting to earn their passage to heaven, would be quick to raise an army, France leading the way. The first crusade was against the Muslims in 1099. After slaughtering the Muslims in Jerusalem, the French conquered Palestine and established the Kingdom of Jerusalem which lasted until the 16th century. In 1209, Pope Innocent III asked the French king to carry out a crusade against his own people, the Cathars, and it lasted from 1209 to 1229. The latter were completely annihilated down to the last ‘good man’ who was executed in 1231, more than a million in all. All this just because the peaceful Cathars refused to accept the Christian Church’s liturgy.
The Church of Rome was built on a lie, and it did everything it could to stop the spread of knowledge and science which, understandably, it perceived as a threat. That ostrich head-in-the-sand approach to knowledge was best demonstrated at the trial of Galileo in 1633. The Christian Church was impermeable to knowledge, and that’s why the Muslims prospered as they spread their learning and science throughout North Africa and Europe. As they advanced, they built great universities such as the one in Timbuktu. As early as 732, they occupied the Iberian Peninsula and had reached as far as Poitiers in France before being pushed back. But they did retain control of the Iberian Peninsula right up to 1492.
The Protestants of France, made up mainly of the entrepreneurial elite of that country, were avid seekers of knowledge and science as well. The fact that the Muslims were pushed out of the Iberian Peninsula at around the same time the Huguenots were making their presence felt in France may not be a coincidence. Regardless, Rome had to get rid of the French Protestants whose numbers were growing rapidly and who posed a real threat, especially after Calvin became their spokesperson. The Huguenots made up only 10% of the population, around two million in all, but they fought back hard against the Church of Rome. However, the atrocities endured over time at the hands of the anointed kings and noblemen of France took their toll, and as many as 800 000 Huguenots left the country, which constituted the biggest brain drain in history.
By the early part of the 16th century, the Church faced a lot of opposition throughout Europe. In 1521, Luther was excommunicated because he strongly opposed the Church with regards to its widespread use and sale of indulgences. In France, Calvin who had given a voice to the French Protestants was forced into exile in 1530. And in England, in 1538, Henry VIII personally replaced the Pope as head of the Church of England.
Luther led many Christians away from the Church of Rome, and the protest would be transformed into a world movement, but it was mainly a theological or intellectual protest. As for Henry VIII, all he had wanted was to have his marriage annulled, but when he kicked the Pope out of England, he lost the services of the financial institution that the Church represented, and he was in dire straits. In his urgent need for credit, Henry not only demolished and sold the Church assets that produced little revenue, but he was forced to use the services of the Jews. England was still very much anti-Jewish, but Jews started being tolerated for their money-lending talents, and became well established in what is today the City, in London.
However, the main opposition on the ground came from the French Protestants. France was the cornerstone of the Holy Roman Empire, and the business community not only protested against the corrupt ways of the Church, but it wanted to be free to interpret the bible as it saw fit and have France open up to the world of knowledge and science. Because Calvin was a formidable religious leader, Rome felt that it had no choice but to treat this tough group of French protesters, better known as Huguenots, with the greatest cruelty. There was much violence on both sides over the years, but when tens of thousands of Protestants were massacred on St. Bartholomew’s day in 1572, 25 000 in Paris alone, it sparked a great exodus.
In the latter part of the 16th century, enemy #1, the Jews, joined up with enemy #2, the Huguenots, in Amsterdam, and the seeds of democracy started germinating on both sides of the channel. For the better part of the 17th century, the Dutch East India Company ruled the oceans of the world.