Monday, December 15, 2008

A Guide to the Inquisition

Inquisition! The mere word sounds like an instrument of torture, something pointy and sharp, perhaps red-hot as well. Something you don’t want near your flesh at any cost! Modern Witches frequently mention the role of “The Inquisition” in reference to “The Burning Times”, but what exactly was the Inquisition? There never actually was a single monolithic entity called “The Inquisition” that persecuted religious dissenters from Europe to the New World. In fact what we think of as the [single] Inquisition really consisted of three separate offices: the Medieval Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition and the Roman Inquisition. Most people associate the word “Inquisition” with either the Spanish Inquisition or with the Roman Inquisition which tried Galileo. Both these Inquisitions were creations of the early modern period, but evolved from the Medieval Inquisition, founded by Pope Gregory IX in the 13th century, which was a very different organisation from the Inquisitions of the 16th century. And lest you think that this is all just history, religious Inquisition is still with us! In the 1960s Pope Paul VI changed the name to the “Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”.

Background to the Medieval Inquisition
After 313 CE the Pagan Roman emperors formally decided to tolerate Christians. In 337 CE the emperor Constantine became a Christian himself. Over the succeeding centuries Christianity gained in power, eventually becoming so powerful it was able to compel everyone within all tiers of society to embrace Christianity. It was this secular power and influence - along with Christianity’s monotheistic inability to tolerate other religious beliefs and expressions, unlike the previous centuries of inclusive Pagan Polytheism that had preceded it – that combined into a situation where religious belief could be enforced. This is how such a thing an Inquisition into people’s religious affiliations was ever able to be conducted. The Christian Church asserted that its particular position on matters of religious belief and expression was the orthodox one, whereas any other position was heterodox. (“Orthodox” means “to believe rightly” and its opposite is “heterodox”). As orthodox Christian doctrine slowly took on its formal shape it became the consensus ecclesiae the common opinion of the Church. If you did not conform to the orthodox view of the Church, you were a heretic.

“Heresy” comes from the Greek word hairesis and means “choice” or “thing chosen”. Technically, a heretic was a member of the Church who persisted in holding on to beliefs that he or she had been told repeatedly by a cleric, priest or bishop, where wrong and contrary to the Church’s established teachings. From the Church’s angle, a heretic was “anyone who, after receiving baptism, while remaining nominally Christian, pertinaciously denies or doubts any of the truths which must be believed with Divine and Catholic faith”. The term heretic can be distinguished from “infidel” - one who is not Christian at all, or “apostate” - one who abandons Christianity. Heretics were members of the Christian Church who thought wrongly. Jews or Pagans – who by definition were not Christians - were not initially classified as heretics.

Early Heresy
One of the earliest heresies was Gnosticism, an early esoteric religious movement that flourished during the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE and presented a major challenge to orthodox Christianity. “Gnosticism” comes from the Greek word gnosis which means “revealed knowledge”. To its adherents Gnosticism promised a secret knowledge of the divine realm. Most Gnostics were actually Christians, but their beliefs diverged sharply from the majority of Christians in the early Church, thus they were heretics. Gnostics believed that sparks or seeds of the Divine Being fell from the transcendent realm into the material universe and were imprisoned inside human bodies. Re-awakened by knowledge (gnosis), the divine element in humanity would return to its proper home in the transcendent spiritual realm. The Gnostic creation myth explained that from the original unknowable God, a series of lesser divinities were generated by emanation. The last of these, Sophia or wisdom, conceived a desire to know the unknowable Supreme Being. Out of this illegitimate desire was produced a deformed evil God or Demiurge who created the universe. The divine sparks that dwell in humanity fell, or were sent, into this universe in order to redeem humanity. The Gnostics believed that the god of the Old Testament – Yahweh - was evil as he wanted to keep humanity immersed in ignorance and the material words and punish their attempts to acquire knowledge. It was in this light that the myth of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, the flood, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah were understood.

Another early heresy was Manichaeism. Founded by the Persian sage Mani (216 - 276 CE), Manichaeism was a combination of earlier religious traditions including Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity. Manichaeism proposed an extreme dualism between good and evil, its fundamental belief was that the cosmos was a battleground between God (Light) and the Devil (Darkness). God created Spirit, the Devil created Matter and entrapped human souls within it. Originally the two realms of Light and Darkness were entirely separate but in a primal catastrophe the realm of Darkness invaded the realm of Light and the two became mixed and engaged in perpetual struggle. Eventually all fragments of Divine Light would be redeemed, the world destroyed, and Light and Darkness would be eternally separated. Manicheans believed that the human body was material and therefore evil, and that the soul is spiritual, a fragment of the divine light, and must be redeemed from its imprisonment in the body and the world. The path of redemption was thought to be via a succession of divine messengers that included Buddha and Jesus, and ended with Mani.

Medieval Heresy
In the 1140s a new heresy called Bogomilism expanded out from Bulgaria. This later became known as Catharism. “Cathar” comes from the Greek work katharos meaning “pure” and the Cathars were characterised by a rigid adherence to asceticism and, like the Gnostics and Manicheans, by a dualistic theology based on the idea that the universe was made up of two conflicting worlds: the spiritual and the material world. The more extreme Cathars believed in two gods, one Lord of Spirit and the other Lord of Matter - the latter being equated with the Devil. Unlike orthodox Christianity which saw the Devil as inferior to God, Cathars saw them as equally powerful. The Cathars rejected much Christian doctrine, for example, instead of baptism as an initiatory rite they had a consolamentum which was achieved by a “Perfect” (or Perfecti) laying hands upon a believer. Consolamentum was only administered to fully instructed adults, or to the dying. Perfecti were extremely virtuous and spiritual members of the Cathars and had to break all ties with the world, renounce property, sexual activities, and all social ties. They abstained from eating meat, milk eggs and cheese, had an aversion to telling lies, swearing oaths or killing living beings. Not all Cathars were Perfecti but even for the lay members heterosexual sex was condemned - so that no more bodies would be encased in flesh via conception. This may have led to the origin of the word “bugger” referring to anal sex (a well known ancient form of contraception). Bugger is believed to derive from the French bougre, derived from Bulgaria, the home of the Bogomils or original Cathars. Cathar doctrine dismissed concepts such as Hell: either one was redeemed by accepting their message and receiving the consolamentum, or one was reincarnated in another body human or animal for another life of suffering and testing. What really annoyed the orthodox Church was that Cathars taught that it was a counterfeit Church founded by the Devil to delude people with false hopes of salvation. The Church ensured that the Cathars were wiped out by the mid 1300s.

The strongest and most enduring heresy of the Middle Ages was Waldensianism. The Waldensians were members of a Christian sect that grew out of a movement that opposed the established Church. Founded in 1173 by a wealthy French merchant, Peter Waldo of Lyon, who had undergone a conversion experience and decided that his comfortable existence was incompatible with the Gospels, he subsequently gave up his wealth and went out to preach. By 1176 Waldo had accumulated a group of followers who were known as “The Poor Men of Lyon”. He went to Rome and appealed to the Pope, Alexander III, for the Waldensians to be legitimated as an order and although the Pope approved of their lifestyle, he refused to sanction them. Waldo become bitter and more radical, preaching that people should dispense with the orthodox clergy, that each person had a direct conduit to the divine, could perform their own sacraments and preach. Waldo was excommunicated in 1182 and died in obscurity in 1205. The Waldensians survived as an underground movement for centuries, eventually being legalised in Italy in 1848, and currently have members in Italy, South America, Argentina and Uruguay. In the USA they merged with the Protestant Church.

Medieval Inquisition
By 1184 the Church had become increasingly intolerant of competing faiths and Pope Lucius III issued the decretal Ad Abolendum - the founding charter of the Inquisition. This condemned the “insolence” of heretics and their attempts to promote falsehood. In 1231 Pope Gregory IX issued the letter Ille Humanis Gerenis linking the spread of heresy directly to the malice of “Satan” and declaring that the Church must respond to this catastrophe. The Medieval Inquisition was specifically organised to deal with heresy. It was made up of members of the Dominican and Franciscan orders, both of which were vowed to poverty and therefore thought to be impervious to corruption and bribes. The aim of the Inquisition was to convince heretics to return to the Christian faith - it was not designed to specifically to kill people. Torture was certainly used however, although this was nothing new as secular courts used torture as well. Medieval rules of evidence recognised only full proofs and partial proofs. The only full proofs were the testimony of two eyewitnesses, catching the criminal in the act, or confession. All other evidence was only considered partial proof. The law required full proofs to convict and torture was a way of getting a confession, therefore a full proof. A confession made under torture had to be freely repeated again the next day without torture or it was considered invalid. Torture was not considered a punishment, it was done before sentencing. Actual punishments included public shame, branding with a hot iron, imprisonment, confiscation of property, mutilation, withdrawal of the right to testify in court and exile. The death penalty was reserved for relapsed or unrepentant heretics. Seeing as the Inquisition was the Church, it could not actually kill people so candidates for the death penalty were normally handed over to the secular arm to be punished at which time they ceased to be under the jurisdiction of the Inquisition. Pope Innocent IV’s Bull, Ad Extirpanda issued in 1252 proclaimed “When those adjudged guilty of heresy have been given up to the civil power by the bishop or his representative or the Inquisition, the chief magistrate of the city shall take them at once, and shall within five days at the most, execute the laws made against them”. The death penalty was usually burning at the stake. (All in the name of “correct” Christianity! One really has to wonder, what would Jesus think?).

Medieval Witchcraft
Originally the Medieval Inquisition was not concerned with perusing Witches at all - civil authorities did a good enough job persecuting Witchcraft. Although the statutes of the Cistercian monastic order in 1240 stated that “the crime of sorcery is a kind of heretical depravity”, in 1264 Pope Alexander IV specifically forbade the Inquisition to pursue Witches unless the cases specifically savored of heresy: “The Inquisitors, deputed to investigate heresy, must not intrude into investigations of divination or sorcery without knowledge of manifest heresy involved.” Manifest heresy meant “praying at the altars of idols, offering sacrifices, consulting with demons to elicit responses from them.” The Church of the 1200s did not consider Witches to be members of a rival religion. By 1398 however, the theology faculty of he University of Paris determined that acts of sorcery (which they believed were accomplished by means of a tacit or explicit pact with the Devil) were to be considered heretical. In the 14th and 15th centuries Popes such as John XXII and Eugenius IV acted vigorously against magic and drew Witchcraft and heresy more closely together. Once magic was associated with heresy it was able to be persecuted by the Inquisition. In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued the decree, Summis desiderantes affectibus specifically condemning Witchcraft as heresy.

Inquisition falls into secular hands
Although the Medieval Inquisition delegated to secular authorities the task of putting convicted heretics to death, it always remained in control of the proceedings. In the 14th and 15th centuries however, it lost this power. The national monarchs of various countries gained control over the Church and papacy. The brutal framing and suppression of the Knights Templar in 1312 by French King, Phillip IV (r. 1285 - 1314), and the farcical trial of Joan of Arc in 1430 - 1431 indicated that the Inquisition had fallen from religious into secular hands, paving the way for the Spanish Inquisition.

The Spanish Inquisition
Medieval Spain ruled a large number of non-Christians such as Muslims and Jews. These populations were frequently the targets of Christian anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic attitudes and were periodically subject to large scale attempts at conversion. On the whole however, the three religions tended to live peacefully together. A series of economic catastrophes starting with the Black Plague (1348) increased widespread resentment against and scape-goating of Jews. Older kinds of tolerance gave way to the increasing power, wealth and world view of the higher aristocracy which perceived itself as a kind of Christian military nobility, superior to Muslims and Jews, and by the end of the century there were large urban revolts where the Jews were slaughtered en masse. Converso Jews (those who had bowed to the pressure to be converted to Christianity) were accused of not being real Christians and by 1472 a vast tide of anti-Semitism swept across Spain eventually culminating in all Jews being expelled in 1492. The Jews’ presence was believed to pollute Spain and ethnic Spaniards became more conscious of themselves as “Old Christians”, the possessors of limpieza de sangre (purity of the blood).

In 1478 King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain requested a Papal Bull establishing an Inquisition which they received on 1st November from Pope Sixtus IV. The Spanish Inquisition originally focused on Conversos (Christianised Jews), Marranos (converted Muslims) and Moriscos (Moors from North Africa) who were all suspected of not really being sincere in their Christianity. Instead of being tied to one of the mendicant orders, bishops or the pope like the Medieval Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition was beholden to the crown. Called La Suprema, the Inquisition became a governmental department along with the council of state and council of finance and was headed by the notorious Tomas Torquemada (1420 - 1498) the Inquisitor-General. The Spanish Inquisition concentrated on Judaising activities during two major period from 1481 - 1530 and again from 1650 - 1720.

The Spanish Inquisition took it upon themselves to defend Christianity from all perceived attacks. Between 1530 and 1650 it concentrated on routine Christian religious offences. As well as Conversos, the Inquisition also dealt with Erasmian Humanism - a form of pietism expressed by the Illuminists - and after the Reformation they pursued Protestantism. With the explosion of printing they focused on censoring books. The first Index of Prohibited Books in Spain was issued in 1547 and again in 1551. The Inquisition also focused on internal supervision of the Catholic clergy as well as the problem of “incorrect religious beliefs” amongst lay Catholics. Even some notable Catholics who at the time were considered too radical - Saint Theresa of Avila (1515 - 1582) and Ignatius of Loyola (1449 - 1556), were pursued by the Inquisition! It also focused on Witchcraft.

As in other courts, the Spanish Inquisition used torture. Torture was carried out by the public executioner in the presence of an Inquisitor, a representative of the local bishop and often a doctor. The three most common methods used were the garrucha, similar to the strappado or pulley-torture where the arms were tide behind their back and then hoisted up by a rope attached to a pulley, the victim was then repeatedly dropped down which wrenched their shoulder joints; the toca which was the ordeal by water, pouring copious amounts of water into the prisoner’s mouth and then beating their stomach, and the potro which was a form of the rack. At the end of hearing all the cases the Inquisition would organise an Auto-de-fe (act of faith) which was an enormous public spectacle where the sentences of the guilty were read out and applied.

Processions of the penitents, public prayers and sermons occurred. Although there was the slim chance of dismissal of the charges or acquittal, the majority of the cases resulted in reconciliation with the Church which technically freed the accused but which marked them for life because forever after they had to wear a distinctive garment, the sanbenito, which marked the person for life as a heretic. Upon their death the garment was hung in the church with their name on it reminding their neighbours and descendents of their shame and penitence. Other sentences included having to go on pilgrimages, confiscation of goods, imprisonment, exile, scourging and service in the galleys. Like the Medieval Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition was not permitted to sentence anyone to death and consequently unrepentant or relapsed heretics were “relaxed to the secular arm” which meant that they were burned at the stake. The Spanish Inquisition was finally suppressed on July 15th 1834.

The Roman Inquisition
In 1542 Pope Paul III issued the Bull Licet ab initio, which began the Roman Inquisition, because as he was disturbed by the success of the Protestant Reformation and growth of heretical movements in Italy. This inquisition was restricted to Italy because the northern secular rulers were determined to do their own heresy hunting. Although a kind of revival or continuation of the Medieval Inquisition with the example of the Spanish Inquisition before it, the Roman Inquisition was different from its Medieval predecessor. It had the power to charge anyone - regardless of rank or status - with heresy. Unlike Spain however, the Roman Inquisition did not particularly deal with Jewish Conversos, its chief target being Protestantism. Once the Protestant problem seemed under control the Roman Inquisition turned its focus on internal ecclesiastical discipline and to offences such as “the problem of popular religion, superstition and false beliefs”. From shortly before 1600 the cases tried by the Italian inquisitions changed from those concerning Protestantism to magic. Nearly forty per cent of all Italian trials dealt with “superstitious magic”. There was even a special guide book, printed in 1625, for Inquisitors concerning magic called the Instructio pro formandis processibus in causis strigum sortilegiorum et maleficorum (The Instructions for conducting trial procedure in the case of witches, sorcerers, and injurious magicians).

In general the procedure followed by the Roman inquisition was similar to that developed by medieval inquisitors. Unlike the Spanish Inquisition however, the Roman inquisitors conducted their sentencing in private. Among the famous victims of the Roman Inquisition were Giordano Bruno (1564 - 1600), an ex-Dominican with an interest in natural magic who was burned at the stake, and Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642) the great Italian astronomer and physicist who was found guilty of heresy because of his support of the Copernican system. The Roman Inquisition also focused on censorship of books. In 1542 a list of books were prohibited because of doctrinal content or attacks on the Church and in 1559 a more ambitious Index appeared, the Index Auctorum et Liborum Prohibitorum (The Index of Prohibited Books and Authors). This was expanded in 1564 and again in 1758. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V renamed the Inquisition “The Congregation of the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition” or “Holy Office”, one of the fifteen secretariats that the papal government was divided into by his administrative reforms.

The Inquisition Today
Eventually Roman Catholicism lost exclusive control over religious thought and practice. The Protestants was too numerous and strong to be eradiated by the Inquisition, and the Enlightenment and the increase of secular royal power made the Church’s monopoly on personal conscience redundant. By the 18th century it had virtually no power or influence outside the papal states. The chief occupation of its members in the 1700’s was the investigation and censuring of cases of clerical immorality and the censoring of printed books. The last heretic was executed in France in 1766. In 1908 Pope Pius X changed the Inquisitions’ name to the “Congregation of the Holy Office”. In 1965 Pope Paul VI changed the name again to “The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” and the Index of prohibited books was abolished in 1966.

These days the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is primarily an advisory body to the Pope and although it still makes judgments on heresy cases, it cannot not use force. It meets weekly in Rome and is presided over by the Pope if highly significant maters are to be discussed. Pope John Paul II said on June 28, 1988 that “the duty proper to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world: for this reason everything which in any way touches such matter falls within its competence.” The current Pope, Benedict XVI in his previous guise as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, came to papal office directly from his role as the head of the Congregation. According to the 2002 Annuario Pontificio or “Pontifical Yearbook”, Congregation work is divided into four distinct sections: the doctrinal office, the disciplinary office, the matrimonial office and that for priests. The congregation “in conformity with its raison d’être, promotes in a collegial fashion encounters and initiatives to spread sound doctrine and defend those points of Christian tradition which seem in danger because of new and unacceptable doctrines”.


Livia Indica said...

Hmm, I've read a lot about this sort of thing over the years but I'm not sure I knew that the various inquisitions had no authority to execute people. Very interesting.

Caroline Tully said...

There have been very vastly different reactions to this article ranging from disgust (which I was surprised about) to praise. Here are some of the references someone was complaining about not being there. It's not an academic article, so there are no footnotes.

Further Reading.

'Inquisition' by Edward Peters. University of California Press. 1988.

'Dissent and Order in the Middle Ages' by Jeffrey Burton Russell. Twayne Publishers. 1992.

'Witchcraft in the Middle Ages' by Jeffrey Burton Russell. Cornell University Press. 1972.

'Europe’s Inner demons' by Norman Cohn. Pimlico. 1975, 1993.

'Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith'

Chas S. Clifton said...

Don't forget that the Spanish Inquisition came all the way to New Mexico in the early 16th century.

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