Legal Precedents in Church History

Moved by the mouthwatering prospect of a British Heresy Trial, I realised that the Church has, down the ages, experienced times when things that people have said about other people have led to some extraordinary trials and outcomes.

Here are a few of the famous ones...

The Case of St Stephen Vs Some Jewish Priests

St Stephen, famed proto-martyr of the Church, honoured by the whole Church reportedly said some defamatory things about some Jewish priests of his time. Here is what he said.

"You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him - you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it!"

The Libertines (not to be confused with the band of Pete Doherty and Carl Barat) were greatly affronted by Stephen's words, knowing that his words may have damaged their public reputations and replied, more or less in unison, "We'll see you in court, mate!" The court was established within about 20 seconds and the verdict of 'guilty' was reached just 10 seconds later. In the case of St Stephen Vs Some Jewish Priests, then, it is hard to see who was the victor, since although Stephen was sentenced to immediate death by stoning, his face became as an angel and having forgiven those who he had libelled and defamed, saw Christ welcoming him into Eternal Glory.

St Anthony of Padua Vs Some Heretics and then Some Fishes

The Little Flowers of Assisi (1476), a Church-recognised document on St Francis and the Early Franciscans cites a case between St Anthony of Padua and some 'heretics'. According to the document...

'St Anthony being at one time at Rimini, where there were a great number of heretics, and wishing to lead them by the light of faith into the way of truth, preached to them for several days, and reasoned with them on the faith of Christ and on the Holy Scriptures. They not only resisted his words, but were hardened and obstinate, refusing to listen to him.'

They cited that because of St Anthony's words that their public reputations had been damaged and replied, "We'll see you in court, mate! You'll be hearing from our solicitors in the morning!" At least one of them wrote for a Rimini publication on matters pertaining to the Catholic Faith entitled 'The Rimini Times'.

The case, however, was thrown out of court by the judge relatively quickly when these heretics heard that St Anthony, realising that his words were lost on the heretics began to preach to some nearby fishes. The Little Flowers of Assisi continues...

At last St Anthony, inspired by God, went down to the sea-shore, where the river runs into the sea, and having placed himself on a bank between the river and the sea, he began to speak to the fishes as if the Lord had sent him to preach to them, and said: "Listen to the word of God, O ye fishes of the sea and of the river, seeing that the faithless heretics refuse to do so."

And so preach to the fishes he did. One of them was affronted, claiming that he had been libelled and said, "You'll be hearing from my solicitor in the morning! This matter is now in the hands of my legal advisors!" Extraordinarily, however, the rest of the fish, more less in unison told that fish to "Shut up! We're listening!" Anthony continued to preach and the document reports that...

'At these words the fish began to open their mouths, and bow their heads, endeavouring as much as was in their power to express their reverence and show forth their praise.'

According to the document...

St Anthony, seeing the reverence of the fish towards their Creator, rejoiced greatly in spirit, and said with a loud voice: "Blessed be the eternal God; for the fishes of the sea honour him more than men without faith, and animals without reason listen to his word with greater attention than sinful heretics." 

And so the giant Saint of the Church eluded the justice of the civil authorities and was never again threatened with legal action by either man or indeed fish.

Our Lord Jesus Christ Vs 'The World, the Pharisees, the Devil, the People, Sin and Death'

Having upset the religious authorities of His time, Our Lord Jesus Christ was slain unjustly upon a Cross. His only 'crime' was that of being the Innocent and Holy Son of God and for proclaiming His Love for poor sinners and His desire to reconcile all men and women to the Eternal Father.

"We'll see you in Court!" cried the Pharisees and indeed the sinners of the whole World called out for his blood and my, did we get it. The trial of Our Lord Jesus Christ was the most extraordinary trial in the story of the human race. Our Lord Jesus Christ was put to death by Crucifixion following some of the most unprofessional judicial proceedings in the history of the World. Cited by judicial historians as another example in which human justice failed abysmally, the Devil, the World, Death and the sins of the World obtained but a phyrric victory, since Christ conquered sin, the Devil and death, ransomed sinners with His Blood and obtained for sinners pardon and the Hope of Eternal Life.


Mike said…
You might also include St Paul. (See the Acts of the Apostles, especially chapters 21 to 26.)

Regarding my comments on a different post that the climate alarmists keep on changing the term they use so that they can be ever more “convincing”, see

Apparently we have got past “global warming” and “climate change”. We now have “climate disruption”.