History of the Inquisition

In no age of Christianity has the Church had any doubt that in her hands, and only in hers, was the deposit of the true faith and religion placed by Jesus Christ, and that, as it is her duty to teach this to all nations, so she is bound by all practicable and lawful means to restrain the malice or madness of those who would corrupt the message or resist the teacher. Some have maintained that no means of coercion are lawful for her to use but those which are used in the internal forum [FORUM INTERNUM] and derive their sanction from anticipated suffering in the next world. The power of the Church, according to Fleury, is "purely spiritual," and he held with Marsilius that the Pope could employ no coactive punishment of any kind unless the emperor i.e. the civil power gave him leave. From such a view it logically follows that St. Paul ought to have asked the permission of Sergius Paulus before striking Elymas the sorcerer with blindness! The overwhelming majority of the canonists take the opposite view namely, that the Church can and ought to visit with fitting punishment the heretic and the revolter; and since the publication of the numerous encyclical letters and allocutions of the late Pope treating of the relations between Church and State, and the inherent rights of the former, the view of Fleury can no longer be held by any Catholic.

For many ages after the conversion of Constantine it was easier for the Church to repress heresy by invoking the secular arm than by organising tribunals of her own for the purpose. Reference to ecclesiastical history and the codes of Justinian and Theodosius shows that the emperors generally held as decided views on the pestilent nature of heresy, and the necessity of extirpating it in the germ before it reached its hideous maturity, as the Popes themselves. They were willing to repress it; they took from the Church the definition of what it was; and they had old established tribunals armed with all the terrors of the law. The bishops, as a rule, had but to notify the appearance of heretics to the lay power, and the latter hastened to make inquiry, and, if necessary, to repress and punish. But in the thirteenth century a new race of temporal rulers rose to power. The emperor Frederic II. perhaps had no Christian faith at all; John of England meditated, sooner than yield to the Pope openly to apostatise to Islam; and Philip Augustus was refractory towards the Church in various ways. The Church was as clear as ever upon the necessity of repressing heretics, but the weapon secular sovereignty which she had hitherto employed for the purpose, seemed to be breaking in her hands. The time was come when she was to forge a weapon of her own; to establish a tribunal the incorruptness and fidelity of which she could trust; which, in the task of detecting and punishing those who misled their brethren, should employ all the minor forms of penal repression, while still remitting to the secular arm the case of obstinate and incorrigible offenders. Thus arose the Inquisition. St. Dominic is said by some to have first proposed the erection of such a tribunal to Innocent III., and to have been appointed by him the first inquisitor. Other writers trace the origin of the tribunal to a synod held at Toulouse by Gregory IX. in 1229 after the Albigensian crusade which ordered that in every parish a priest and several respectable laymen should be appointed to search out heretics and bring them before the bishops. The task of dealing with the culprits was difficult and invidious, and the bishops ere long made over their responsibility in the matter to the Dominican order. Gregory IX. appointed none but Dominican inquisitors; Innocent IV. nominated Franciscans also, and Clement VII. sent as inquisitor into Portugal a friar of the order of Minims. But the majority of the inquisitors employed have always been Dominicans, and the commissary of the Holy Office at Rome belongs ex officio to this order.

The Congregation of Cardinals of the Holy Inquisition was first erected by Paul III. (1542), and remodelled by Sixtus V. about forty years later.

"It is composed of twelve cardinals; of a commissary . . . . who discharges the functions of a judge ordinary; of a counsellor or assessor, who is one of the presidents of the Curia; of consultors, selected by the Pope himself from among the most learned theologians and canonists; qualificators, who gave their opinions on questions submitted to them; an advocate charged with the defence of persons accused; and other subordinate officials. The principal sittings of the congregation are held under the immediate presidency of the Pope. This supreme court of inquisition proceeds against any who are deleted to it, and in former times used to hear appeals from the sentences of similar courts elsewhere, and to depute inquisitors to proceed to any place where they might appear to be needed. The duties and powers of inquisitors are minutely laid down in the canon law, it being always assumed that the civil power will favor, or can be compelled to favor their proceedings. Thus it is laid down that they "have power to constrain all magistrates, even secular magistrates, to cause the statute against heretics to be observed," and to require them swear to do so; also that they can "compel all magistrates and judges to their sentences, and these must obey on pain of excommunication " also that inquisitors in causes of heresy "can use the secular arm," and that "all temporal rulers are bound to obey inquisitors in causes of faith." No such state of things as that here assumed now exists in any part of Europe; nowhere does the State assist the Church in putting down heresy; it is therefore superfluous to describe regulations controlling a jurisdiction which has lost the medium in which it could work and live.

The canon law also assumes that all bishops, being themselves inquisitors ex vi termini into the purity of the faith in their respective dioceses. will cooperate with the official inquisitors. Each may inquire separately, but the sentence ought to proceed from both; if they disagree, reference must be made to Rome. The proceedings taken against the Lollard followers of Wyclif by Archbishops Arundel and Chicheley between 1382 and 1428 illustrate both the points noticed above: That the civil power in prereformation times was wont to give vigorous aid to the bishops in extirpating heresy; That the bishops themselves could and did exercise stringent inquisitorial powers apart from the appointment of special inquisitors.

It does not appear that Papal inquisitors were ever commissioned, eo nomine, in England. In France the Inquisition was established in pursuance of the decrees of the synod of Toulouse (1229) already referred to. Its tribunals were converted into State courts by Philip the Fair, who made use of them to condemn and ruin the Templars. In this condition they remained till the Reformation. In 1538 the Grand Inquisitor, Louis de Rochette, was convicted of Calvinism and burnt; soon afterwards the powers of these courts were transferred to the parliaments, and finally to the bishops (1560). In Germany, Conrad of Marburg, a man of a harsh and inflexible temper, the confessor of St. Elizabeth, attempted to establish an inquisition in the thirteenth century; he was assassinated, and the tribunal never gained a footing in the country. [On the Spanish Inquisition, see the next article.]

The Spanish Inquisition Explained.

IT was founded by Ferdinand and Isabella at Seville in 1481, the first judges of the tribunal being two Dominicans. The clergy and many of the laity of the Castilian kingdom had for some time pressed the adoption of some such measure in order to check the profanations and frauds which the sham conversion to Christianity of a large number of Jews and Moors had occasioned. Even the episcopal thrones of Spain are said to have been not always preserved from the intrusion of these audacious hypocrites. Torquemada, another Dominican, appointed in 1483, was Grand Inquisitor for fifteen years. Under him three new tribunals of the Holy Office were erected, at Cordova, Jaen, and Villa Real; afterwards a fifth was added at Toledo. These tribunals were always popular with the lower orders and the clergy in Spain, but terrible in the eyes of the nobles and the rich middle class, who believed that they were often used by the government as engines of political repression in order to diminish their influence. Ranke calls the Spanish Inquisition "a royal tribunal, furnished with spiritual weapons." In 1492 an edict was issued for the banishment from Spain of all Jews refusing to embrace Christianity, chiefly on account of their alleged incorrigible obstinacy in persisting in the attempt to convert Christians to their own faith and instruct them in their rites. About a hundred thousand went into banishment, and an equal or greater number are supposed to have remained in Spain, where their merely nominal Christianity and secret addiction to their ancestral doctrines and usages gave employment to the Inquisition for centuries.

The history of the Spanish Inquisition was written by Llorente, who was secretary to the tribunal of Madrid from 1790 to 1792. Hence he has been supposed to have possessed great opportunities for obtaining exact information; and his statement, that during its existence of 330 years the Spanish Inquisition condemned 30,000 persons to death, has been quoted with credulous horror in every corner of the civilized world. Dr. Hefele, now bishop of Rottenburg, has examined with great care and ability the worth of the above statement, and the question of the credit due to Llorente. First, there is the general fact of the greater relative severity of penal justice in all countries alike, till within quite recent times. The Carolina, or penal code in force under Charles V., condemned coiners to the flames, and burglars to the gallows. Burying alive and other barbarous punishments were sanctioned by it, none of which were allowed by the Inquisition. In England, in the sixteenth century, persons refusing to plead could be, and were, pressed to death The last witch burned in Europe was sentenced in the canton Glarus by a Protestant tribunal as late as 1785. Secondly, Llorente omits to draw attention to the fact that the Spanish kings obliged the Inquisition to try and sentence persons charged with many other crimes besides heresy e.g. with polygamy, seduction, unnatural crime, smuggling, witchcraft, sorcery, imposture, personation, etc. A large proportion of criminals of this kind would, down to the present century, have been sentenced to death on conviction in any secular tribunal in Europe. Thirdly, Llorente does not pretend to base the above statement as to the number executed by the Inquisition on written documents, but on calculations of his own making, in some of which he can be proved to be inexpert and inexact. Fourthly, Hefele gives a list of palpable misstatements and exaggerations which he has detected in Llorente's volumes. Fifthly, the man's career, when closely examined, does not invite confidence. At the end of the last century he was a liberal ecclesiastic, imbued with French ideas, and on intimate terms with Freemasons. In 1806, at the instigation of Godoy, he wrote a book against the fueros, or ancient privileges, of the Basque provinces. He accepted employment from the usurping government of Joseph Bonaparte. Banished from Spain on the fall of Joseph, he escaped to Paris, and published his "History of the Inquisition" in 1814 He next translated the abominable novel, "Faublas," into Spanish; and, being exiled from France in 1822 died at Madrid the next year.

"The celebrated AutosdaFe (i. e. Acts of the confession of the faith)," says Mohler, "were as a rule bloodless. But few inquisitorial processes terminated with the death of the accused." The auto, speaking generally, was a form of reconciling culprits to the Church. Nevertheless, the severities practiced by the tribunals were such that Rome frequently interfered. The Spanish Inquisition was abolished in 1813.

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