Skip to comments.The Inquisition: Facts and Fictions
Posted on 09/05/2001 10:01:36 PM PDT by Brian Kopp DPM
History and Myth: The Inquisition
by Robert P. Lockwood
Let us pray that each one of us, looking to the Lord Jesus, meek and humble of heart, will recognize that even men of the church, in the name of faith and morals, have sometimes used methods not in keeping with the Gospel in the solemn duty of defending the truth. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Jubilee Request for Forgiveness, March 12, 2000
The Inquisition resulted in the torture and murder of millions of Christians whose only crime was a rejection of Catholic heresy and a commitment to follow the Bible as their sole authority for faith and practice. John Paul II has not confessed the Inquisition; he has failed to label his fellow popes the murderers they were. Jerry Kaifetz
Among the many difficulties in addressing the issue of anti-Catholicism are the cultural assumptions, historical canards and conventional wisdom that fuel the prejudice. Many Americans, Catholics as well as non-Catholics, have an understanding of history, as well as a way of thinking, that carries the baggage of post-Reformation propaganda or 19th century Enlightenment prejudices. Myths created in anti-Catholic passions have become part of the cultural corpus and accepted as undeniable truths.1We all know, for example, that the astronomer Galileo was tortured and imprisoned for years by the inquisition. He then recanted his scientific theory on the rotation of the earth around the sun, but bravely muttered aloud as he left the trial chamber, Eppur si muove! (And yet it does move). The historical reality, however, is that Galileo was never tortured, lived in comfort at the Florentine embassy during his trial, and the defiant quote was a legend created nearly 125 years after his death.2
Common to these myths are an invented history meant to portray Catholicism as the enemy of free thought, an alien presence in a democratic society, and as a perverse form of medieval superstition that survives on the ignorance of believers and the Churchs own violent will to power. Just as these myths served a purpose in the Reformation and were perpetuated in the 18th century Enlightenment and the 19th century world of progress and scientism, they serve a purpose in todays secularist climate. Though developed in a war of propaganda between Catholicism and the dissenting churches of the 16th century, the theological trappings of the myths have been stripped away in many cases. They are now simply historical assumptions used to undermine and dismiss Church positions, particularly in the public arena, without the necessity of analyzing or addressing those positions. They are common rhetorical tools useful because they are universally understood and accepted.
In our own time we are seeing the creation of such a myth in allegations of silence and collaboration with the Nazis of Pope Pius XII during World War II. Though the allegations contradict clear historical evidence, they are becoming conventional wisdom regurgitated by columnists and commentaries with no need for substantiation.3 Of the many historical myths about Catholics and Catholicism, however, perhaps the most pervasive are those centered on the inquisition in general and the Spanish Inquisition in particular. From the 16th through the early 20th Century, the legend of the Inquisition grew larger than its history. This legend of the inquisition persists today in the imagination, well after its debunking by historians.
A good summation of that legend as it persists today was in the May 20, 2000 edition of The Times, a regional newspaper in Northwest Indiana and suburban Chicago. Written by Jerry Kaifetz, the owner of a chemical manufacturing company with a doctorate from Bethany Theological Seminary in Alabama, it is a response to the papal Jubilee Request for Forgiveness in March 2000. Kaifetz wrote: The pope has not confessed the bloody and horrible 600-years inquisition against humble Bible-believers, which was instigated by Pope Innocent III (1198-1213). Some of the devices and inventions used to torture the heresy out of those rejecting the Catholic Churchs authority included The Iron Maiden, Hanging Cages, The Judas Cradle, Skinning the Cat, The Head Crusher, The Heretics Fork, The Barrel Pillory, The Rack, The Knee Splitter, The Breast Ripper, and other devices too numerous to mention or too heinous to describe in any detail. The inquisitor was commissioned directly by the pope and acted directly on his behalf. The trials were held in secret and the inquisitor acted as judge, jury and prosecutor. The accused was never represented. The Inquisition resulted in the torture and murder of millions of Christians whose only crime was a rejection of Catholic heresy and a commitment to follow the Bible as their sole authority for faith and practice. John Paul II has not confessed the Inquisition; he has failed to label his fellow popes the murderers they were.4
Kaifetz, writing on the cusp of the New Millenium, neatly summarizes the falsehoods, exaggerations and myths of the inquisition established in the religious wars of the 16th Century. While he approaches the inquisition from the perspective of a more traditional form of religious anti-Catholicism, the image he presents would be shared by many today, including some Catholics.
What, in fact, were inquisitions? Generally defined, inquisitions were ecclesial investigations, meaning that investigations were conducted either directly by, or under the auspices of, the Church. The investigations were undertaken at certain times in certain regions under the authority of the local bishop and his designates, or under the auspices of papal-appointed legates, or representatives from Religious Orders delegated the task from the papacy. The purpose of the investigations was peculiar to the local circumstance. They usually involved a judicial process aimed to obtain the confession and reconciliation with the Church of those who held heretical views or engaged in activities contrary to Church teaching and belief. The goal was to secure a persons repentance, and to maintain the unity of the Church. These investigations were conducted with the cooperation and involvement of the temporal authorities. If these investigations resulted in finding serious doctrinal heresy and an unwillingness to abjure from heresy, it was the responsibility of the secular authorities to undertake punishment. The uniqueness of the inquisitions was that the Church conducted the investigations, and that the Church worked closely with civil authorities. In Protestant states after the Reformation, the distinct role of the religious congregation did not necessarily exist, and the investigation, trial and punishment of dissenters were primarily the responsibility of the state.
The common assumptions about the inquisition the myths of the inquisition are neatly summarized in the Kaifetz opinion piece, and could be outlined as follows:
· The inquisition was a single, unified court system directly responsible to the pope and controlled solely by the papacy.
· The inquisition existed throughout Europe for nearly 700 years, founded in the 12th century and continued to the early 19th century. Prior to the Reformation, it focused on a secret and hidden church, similar to that of the Reformation churches.
· The inquisition was primarily aimed at the early Protestant reformers of the 16th century and the Spanish Inquisition alone killed and tortured hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Protestant reformers.
· Vicious and unique tortures were routinely used, particularly in the Spanish Inquisition.
· The Spanish Inquisition existed independent of Spanish royal authority and existed solely as an arm of the Church, as did all other inquisitions.
· The inquisition was a means for the Church to exercise its authority over science.
· Persecution of religious dissent was unique to the inquisition and to the Catholic Church in Europe.
These assumptions about the inquisition and how it operated are part of the cultural baggage of Western civilization. They are far more myth than history. Yet, it would be very wrong to whitewash the inquisition, or to attempt to explain away its historicity. In the words of the papal apology, Catholics should understand that there were events in the past where men of the church, in the name of faith and morals, have sometimes used methods not in keeping with the Gospel in the solemn duty of defending the truth. The inquisition existed and it remains an unsettling part of Catholic history. However, the caricature of the inquisition that most of us have come to know and that is often utilized in anti-Catholic polemics has little to do with the reality of the inquisition.
In its simplest summary, the Church after the death of the Apostles had a faith that united scattered congregations: that Christ was the Son of God, that He would return to establish his Kingdom on earth, and that all who believed in him would at the Last Judgment be rewarded with eternal bliss.5 However, very soon the Christian community needed to give better definition to its beliefs as conflicts and disputes arose. From very early (as noted in Scripture6) the Christian community was forced to confront how to deal with those people who persisted in teachings contrary to the Apostolic Faith. For the most part, the early Church settled on admonishment, avoidance and, if a person persisted in error, expulsion from the community. This also led the early Church to an increased understanding of the universal authority of the See of St. Peter at Rome as the defender of the deposit of the faith. As the Christian faith grew throughout the Roman Empire and Church authorities settled controversies over essential teachings, statements of faith were developed. These Creeds (statements of fundamental beliefs) came in response to various teachings that were seen by Christian leaders as fundamentally erroneous.
With the victory of Constantine in the second decade of the Fourth Century, followed by the conversion of most of the Roman Empire by the end of the century, Christianity became the faith of the Empire. While this ended the age of martyrdom under intermittent Roman persecution, it created its own difficulties. Most prominent was the relationship of the Church particularly Church authority to the Christian emperors. It was a problem that, in certain respects, would plague Church relationships with government until the dramatic changes of the late nineteenth century and early 20th centuries. Government wanted to control the Church within its borders, seeing the faith as inextricably linked to societal stability, identity, and as foundational to royal power. At the same time, the Church wanted to be seen as separate and above this City of Man, while also seeing in the secular arm the means to assure orthodox belief.
It was a troubled period of confusing and at times obscure doctrinal controversies after the legalization of Christianity and as the faith became the official religion of the Roman Empire by the end of the Fourth Century. Roman imperial power would insert itself into doctrinal controversies, at times with the support of Church leadership, at other times with the Church standing in opposition. With the disastrous effect of doctrinal heresies on both Church and social unity, however, there was a growing consensus that use of the secular arm was necessary, with even St. Augustine arguing in favor of it.7 With Christian emperors occupying the imperial throne, heretical views came to be seen as not only a violation of Christian unity, but as an act of treason against the State. This is essential to an understanding of how heresy came to be viewed, particularly in Western civilization. It was not a matter of arbitrary enforcement of ecclesial discipline, or doctrinal conformity. Heresy was seen as an evil that threatened the unity of the community, as well as threatening the salvation of souls. Heresy was not merely an individual act it was an attack on the state itself. This would become an ingrained part of European thinking, inherited by royal authority and the Church ecclesiastical leadership, as well as by the 16th Century Protestant reformers.8 It was during this early period that both canon and civil law were developed dealing with heresy that would become the sources for addressing religious dissent in the Second Millenium.
After the breakdown of Roman imperial authority in the Fifth Century, heresy, perhaps a luxury of wealth and leisure, lessened within the more vital concern of the evangelization of non-Roman Western Europe. While theological disputes rose from the Sixth through the 10th Century, the Church struggled to establish independence from the interference of the Eastern em
Sorry, Monty Python flashback. *g*
Many Americans could not tell you what years the Nixon administration spanned and a recent Vice President of our nation could not identify a bust of Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin. This writer assumes too much.
You're probably correct. Just look at the idiotic bigots posting to this thread.
Hell, I'd love to have been a heretic. Like a visit to Club Med.
(Secret lodge handshake of the Illuminati.)
Kinda like posting it here?
Nice to see you read the piece (doubtful) and now have a grasp of history (clearly not).
Even after reading the truth, you still spout lies. God have mercy on your soul.
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