Listers, most believe that the “Spanish Inquisition” was a dark and embarrassing era within the Catholic Church. The rhetoric is well known: thousands were imprisoned, non-Catholics were tortured, and a “convert-or-die” travesty swept over much of Europe. However, what if the Church’s three primary inquisitions – the Medieval, the Spanish, and the Roman – were created to harbor people from injustice, to grant the accused individuals more rights and legal representation than in secular courts, or to secure the concept of “due process,” which became a precursor to English law and eventually the American Constitution? Moreover, what if history shows that the common misperception of the Church’s Inquisitions are based on vulgar protestant propaganda wars? All these questions and more are addressed and answered in a well-documented fashion by the following sources.
1. The Inquisitions
Michael Voris & RealCatholicTV
Along with characteristic RealCatholicTV trappings, Michael Voris delivers a well articulated and cited explanation of the Catholic Inquisitions. The video is an excellent introduction, and the following points on this list are sources to which Voris had recourse. The lecture explains the history and context of the inquisitions, presents statistics that wipe away the Protestant propaganda froth, shows where the inquisitions aided the Western world and were they went awry, and most importantly shows how such a deeply entrenched misunderstanding of the Inquisitions was brought about by Protestant propaganda wars.
The final talking points to “walk away with” as stated by the video:
1. Local Courts:
There were many local inquisitions that tried baptized Catholics – not non-Catholics, Jews, or Muslims – for heresies against the Church.
2. Structure of Courts:
The Church introduced a legal system which provided the accused with more rights and legal representation than the secular courts; this affected the trajectory of Western law, influencing the English Common Law and eventually the American court system.
3. National Security:
Regarding the (in)famous “Spanish Inquisition,” the Spanish monarchy used it to secure their nation against the ever-aggressive Muslim invaders. Like the protestant countries of England and Germany, the monarchy saw religion as the primary stabilizing agent within the state.
2. The Truth About the Spanish Inquisition
Thomas F. Madden, Crisis Magazine
The article Dr. Madden penned is frequently mentioned in Voris’ video and provides the Catholic faithful with several apologetic points that contextualize the Spanish Inquisition within history and the greater legal court system of Europe.
The Inquisition Granted Order and Legal Representation:
The medieval Inquisition began in 1184 when Pope Lucius III sent a list of heresies to Europe’s bishops and commanded them to take an active role in determining whether those accused of heresy were, in fact, guilty. Rather than relying on secular courts, local lords, or just mobs, bishops were to see to it that accused heretics in their dioceses were examined by knowledgeable churchmen using Roman laws of evidence. In other words, they were to “inquire” — thus, the term “inquisition.”
The Inquisition Gave “Due Process,” Which Was Not the Norm:
Most people accused of heresy by the medieval Inquisition were either acquitted or their sentence suspended. Those found guilty of grave error were allowed to confess their sin, do penance, and be restored to the Body of Christ. The underlying assumption of the Inquisition was that, like lost sheep, heretics had simply strayed. If, however, an inquisitor determined that a particular sheep had purposely departed out of hostility to the flock, there was nothing more that could be done. Unrepentant or obstinate heretics were excommunicated and given over to the secular authorities.
Despite popular myth, the Church did not burn heretics. It was the secular authorities that held heresy to be a capital offense. The simple fact is that the medieval Inquisition saved uncounted thousands of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people who would otherwise have been roasted by secular lords or mob rule.
The Inquisition & Torture:
Like all courts in Europe, the Spanish Inquisition used torture. But it did so much less often than other courts. Modern researchers have discovered that the Spanish Inquisition applied torture in only 2 percent of its cases. Each instance of torture was limited to a maximum of 15 minutes. In only 1 percent of the cases was torture applied twice and never for a third time.
The “Black Legend” – The Protestant Propaganda War:
Although the Spanish defeated Protestants on the battlefield, they would lose the propaganda war. These were the years when the famous “Black Legend” of Spain was forged. Innumerable books and pamphlets poured from northern presses accusing the Spanish Empire of inhuman depravity and horrible atrocities in the New World. Opulent Spain was cast as a place of darkness, ignorance, and evil. Although modern scholars have long ago discarded the Black Legend, it still remains very much alive today. Quick: Think of a good conquistador.
The Enlightenment’s Ridicule & Propaganda:
The Spanish people loved their Inquisition. That is why it lasted for so long. It stood guard against error and heresy, protecting the faith of Spain and ensuring the favor of God. But the world was changing. In time, Spain’s empire faded away. Wealth and power shifted to the north, in particular to France and England. By the late 17th century, new ideas of religious tolerance were bubbling across the coffeehouses and salons of Europe. Inquisitions, both Catholic and Protestant, withered. The Spanish stubbornly held on to theirs, and for that, they were ridiculed. French philosophers like Voltaire saw in Spain a model of the Middle Ages: weak, barbaric, superstitious. The Spanish Inquisition, already established as a bloodthirsty tool of religious persecution, was derided by Enlightenment thinkers as a brutal weapon of intolerance and ignorance. A new, fictional Spanish Inquisition had been constructed, designed by the enemies of Spain and the Catholic Church.
Source: Crisis Magazine, “The Truth About the Spanish Inquisition.”
3. “The Inquisition” – to Evangelicals
David McDonald, Catholic Bridge: Intro to the Catholic Church for Evangelicals
For those who are unfamiliar, the Catholic Bridge is an excellent resource for articles explaining – in a manner that Evangelicals can understand - Catholic dogmas and more controversial historical events within the Catholic Church . The site is loaded with well documented explanations of the faith and should be a frequent resource for those looking to better share their faith with protestants.
The Catholic Bridge article on the inquisitions is exhaustive and presents several arguments from various angles. It should be stated that McDonald’s desire to reach out to evangelicals makes him quick to admit “wrongdoings” within Catholic history, even if those act do have more complicated and controversial apologetics. In essence, he picks his battles when dealing with protestants.
**A word of caution, the article – imprudently and unnecessarily – does contain a picture of an aborted baby.
What Is an Inquisition?
An “Inquisition” is a legal inquiry. Historically there were three major Catholic Inquisitions. The Medieval Inquisition started around 1184 in response to the appearance of popular heretical movements throughout Europe, in particular Catharism and Waldensians in southern France and northern Italy. In 1478 Pope Sixtus IV reluctantly authorized the Spanish Inquisition under pressure from King Ferdinand of Aragon. Initially it investigated charges against Jewish and Muslim converts to Christianity of secretly practicing their former religions. It acted under the control of the kings of Spain. The early excesses of the Spanish Inquisition were condemned by Popes Sixtus IV, Leo X, Paul III and Paul IV. The Roman Inquisition began in 1542 when Pope Paul III established the Holy Office as the final court of appeal in trials of heresy and served as an important part of the Counter-Reformation. It was tightly controlled by strict procedural rules but was made infamous by the trial of Galileo.
Source: “The Inquisition,” Catholic Bridge
4. “The Inquisition”
A straightforward and informative look at the Inquisitions, what they were formed to do, and what their actions and influence was within history.
Introduction: The Inquisition
By this term is usually meant a special ecclesiastical institution for combating or suppressing heresy. Its characteristic mark seems to be the bestowal on special judges of judicial powers in matters of faith, and this by supreme ecclesiastical authority, not temporal or for individual cases, but as a universal and permanent office. Moderns experience difficulty in understanding this institution, because they have, to no small extent, lost sight of two facts.
On the one hand they have ceased to grasp religious belief as something objective, as the gift of God, and therefore outside the realm of free private judgment; on the other they no longer see in the Church a society perfect and sovereign, based substantially on a pure and authentic Revelation, whose first most important duty must naturally be to retain unsullied this original deposit of faith. Before the religious revolution of the sixteenth century these views were still common to all Christians; that orthodoxy should be maintained at any cost seemed self-evident.
However, while the positive suppression of heresy by ecclesiastical and civil authority in Christian society is as old as the Church, the Inquisition as a distinct ecclesiastical tribunal is of much later origin. Historically it is a phase in the growth of ecclesiastical legislation, whose distinctive traits can be fully understood only by a careful study of the conditions amid which it grew up.
Source: “The Inquisition,” Catholic Encyclopedia.
Listers, be proud of Holy Mother Church. Christ’s Church has been around for over two thousand years and will endure until the end of time; however, with longevity comes controversy, human errors, and lies. No doubt that our children’s children will be defending Pope Pius XII from the myth of “Hitler’s Pope,” even though history has already exonerated him and lauded his courage.