“Burned without pity” – the fake quotation taken back to 1930!

A few weeks ago, I discussed a fake quotation attributed to Pope Innocent III:

Anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with church dogma must be burned without pity.

These kinds of “quotes” are often derived from opinions by modern writers, which someone has then turned into a quote by the object of the opinion.  And so it proved; it was a quote from Peter Tompkins, The Magic of Obelisks.

But a correspondent then pointed out that the phrase appeared earlier, in the English translation of a book by Frenchman Maurice Magre, in 1931.  The US title was “Magicians, Seers and Mystics”; the UK title “Return of the Magi”, London, 1930.

This I have now obtained, and as it is public domain, I have uploaded it to Archive.org here.  And indeed this is correct – on p.60, our “quote” appears.

Three terrible figures dominate the great Albigensian massacre. For the massacre to be possible, it was necessary that an extraordinary genius for violence, for organisation, and for hypocrisy, should take shape in three men, who were all equally devoid of pity and, possibly, equally sincere in their hatred of heresy and love of the Church.

It was Pope Innocent III who, with obstinate determination, desired and decided on the crusade. The murder of the papal legate Pierre de Castelnau was only a pretext. Historians are unanimous in gloryifing this pope. To them the great men of history are men who do something, who have a powerful will and exert it to attain an aim. It makes no difference whether the aim is sublime or abominable; it is success in attaining the aim which gives the measure of genius.

As soon as he was elected pope, in all his public utterances Innocent III began to talk of ” exterminating the impious.” It was the dominating idea of his life, and he realised it wholeheartedly. He had a deep-rooted conviction that any man who attempted to build up a personal view of God which conflicted with the dogma of the Church must be burned without pity at the stake.

Italics mine.

No reference or source is given for the claim.

The author appears to be an occultist.  A chapter is devoted to the supposed origins of Rosicrucianism, recited uncritically; another to a biography of Apollonius of Tyana, equally uncritically given.  The prose style of the author is that of a historian; the content is nonsense.

With luck, this is the final origin of this striking phrase.

“Burned without pity” – a fake quotation attributed to Pope Innocent III

While looking for some information on the Spanish Inquisition, I came across a whole slew of pages containing the following quotation (various, but here).

Pope Innocent III: “Anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with church dogma must be burned without pity.” ~Papal Bull, 1198, qtd. in Peter Tompkins, Symbols of Heresy in THE MAGIC OF OBELISKS, p.57 (New York: Harper, 1981)

Source: https://www.worldslastchance.com/end-time-prophecy/appalling-papal-proclamations-straight-from-the-harlots-mouth.html

Well, that sounds like a fun quotation.  Naturally I wondered if it was true.  And so I looked for a primary source.  On an Amazon.com discussion I found a claim that:

I can give you the papal bull of Pope Innocent III dated march 25 of 1199 and it says like this: “anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with church dogma must be burned without pity.”

However that bull seems to be Vergentis in senium, as mentioned here.   The Latin text for the bull is at IntraText here.  Using Google Translate gives a very good idea of the contents, and this is not in it.

Fortunately I then found that Tompkins, The Magic of Obelisks (1981), was at Google Books, in snippet form, and a bit of wiggling gave me the relevant part of p.57:


Once it became clear that perhaps a third of all nominal Christians were secretly practising a heretical religion, Christian persuasion was replaced by the rack, the gibbet and the stake.  Declaring that anyone who attempted to construe a personal view of God which conflicted with the dogma of the Church of Rome must be burned without pity, Pope Innocent III decided on a crusade “to exterminate the impious”, accusing the Cathars of being “lascivious sects, who, overflowing with libertine ardor, are but slaves to the pleasures of the flesh.”

This plainly is the source of the quote.  And … it is not a quote at all.  It is a summary, by Peter Tompkins, of what he believes that Innocent was saying, in some unspecified text.  Whether it is a fair summary or not I could not say; there is, as we can see, no footnote on the paragraph.  Whether the supposed verbatim quotations are in fact accurate we cannot tell, but I have my doubts about these also.

Tompkins himself was a journalist, who lived long enough to have a web page, full of crank stuff.

It’s not my purpose to look into medieval history, but at least to identify this particular quote as false.

UPDATE (6 March 17): In the comments, SuburbanBanshee draws our attention to the fact that Tompkins is actually quoting a 1931 book by Maurice Magre.  I find in Google Books snippet that the phrase appears on p.60 of “Magicians, seers and mystics” (Dutton, New York, 1932: snippet here).  It doesn’t seem to be a quote there either.

According to a bookseller, the UK publication was “The Return of the Magi”, London, 1931, translated from the French “Magiciens et illumines…”, 1930, by Reginald Merton.  The latter title has been reprinted in 2016 – I assume it has dropped out of copyright.  I have ordered a copy and we will see what it says.

UPDATE (28 March 17): I have now obtained the book and discuss it here.