Confused about Inquisition(s). Please help

Please help me understand some concerns I have regarding the Inquisition. For the record, I was a Catholic. I grew up in a family where religion/spirituality did not matter. I converted at the end of high school and went through a few lapsed and return phases. I believed the Catholic Church was the true church of Christ and had a general disdain for protestantism (which led to sins related to self-righteousness and pride that I later confessed to). For approximately one year I strongly discerned Priesthood through FSSP (Latin/Tridentine mass). If someone asked me what my religion was today I would say “none”. You are welcome to reply to me with “Catholic lingo”; given my Catholic background I will understand.

I understand that people were executed by secular courts and governments and not by the Catholic Church. **Why did this even have to happen?


So what if Giordani Bruno believed and published what he did? How was he a threat to the life of others and how was his justified by the Church’s understanding of the death penalty (CCC2263-2267)? Even if he was a heretic (he had differential theological opinions, I know he wasn’t sentenced due to his scientific works) what is so wrong with that? He believed in God or gods in a way different from Catholic dogma. Isn’t it true that one cannot love God or gods (or goddesses) unles s/he is free to do so? Please help me understand this.

Why did the Church feel the need to root out heresy in the first place? If people believed in different things they could just not be Catholic, right? That’s what happens today. I’m sure (more like I hope) the Inquisition started out with good intents and then went overboard. OK, fine. We’re all human. What about now? Why isn’t the church going after lapsed Catholics or heterodox RCIA teachers ?

I am just very very confused. Why didn’t the Church then just accept that people had different opinions and if they were so off just allow them freely not be/identify as Catholic?

Were the deaths during the Inquisitions justified? Yes or no.

YES YES YES I know the standards of the Inquisition were more humane than secular courts. Please don’t use that excuse as a means to lessen the culpability of the Church.

Please help me.

I’m a Protestant so this is not a “Catholic” answer, but my guess would be that people forgot about the love of Jesus. This is very sad to think about. There were always glimmers of hope, though. St. Francis of Assisi travelled and attempted to convert a Muslim Sultan to Christ without using the sword. St. Therese of Lisieux prayed for the conversion of a condemned murderer and an excommunicated priest, and daily practiced the penance of not resisting even slight wrongs done against her. These simple, profound souls reflected the love of Christ and testified to His grace. But even John and James, the sons of Zebedee, were rebuked by Christ when they wanted to call down the wrath of God on those who rejected Christ’s message. Even those who are entrusted with the Word of Christ and His authority can sometimes go astray. That doesn’t mean the message is bunk.

I think that the tendency to want to torture/kill those with whom one disagrees was simply a reflection of the Medieval European culture that surrounded the church. That tendency did not disappear immediately at the Reformation: John Calvin burned Michael Servetus at the stake for espousing Arianism, and Martin Luther advocated for persecution and marginalization of the Jews.

First, you have to understand that 500 years ago and earlier, there was not a clear separation of Church and state as we have now. The greatest threat of the Church is those that teach heresy. They are more dangerous than murders and rapists because the danger to the soul is eternal damnation. Because the Church and state were so closely related, heresy against the Church was virtually the same threat to the state for religious as well as social and political reasons. Thus, the Church was not condemning murderers and rapists in the Inquisition, it was condemning heretics who were a threat to the souls of the people. Furthermore, it should always be clear that the Inquisition did not, as a general practice, condemn just heretical beliefs. In other words, despite what anti Catholic rhetoric claims, Jews, Muslims, atheists, and non Catholic Christians were not condemned to death for their own wrong beliefs. It was only when they attempted to proselytize their belief and thus lead people astray from the fullness of the truth of the Catholic faith. In the case of non Catholic Christians, some late Medieval, early Renaissance countries were actually somewhat tolerant of Protestant beliefs, more so than Elizabethan England was tolerant of Catholicism, where England condemned Catholics to death simply for celebrating Mass.

Looking back it all looks ugly and wrong. But as Pope Francis has said, “who are we to judge” Huh? We shouldnt condemn those who sin today, so why is ok to reach back 600 years and put the Catholic Church on trial for something that happened in a time that we cant even conceive of? Where else are you going to turn? The Protestant countries were no less cruel in their attacks on Catholic beliefs, such as in Elizabethan England. The Muslim, Chinese, Indian, kingdoms were all ruthless in the attacks on religious opponents. Perhaps the Jews are guilt free! But for people to claim they stay away from religion or Catholicism due to the Inquisition or Crusades leaves little room to move. Even the atheism has its murderous tradition in the dictatorships under communism. Thats not to say that all atheists are authoritarian genocidal people. But , then you shouldnt still be saying Catholicism is bloodthirsty religious cult either!

Suffice it to say that Looking back at the time of the Inquisition with todays values is completely misleading. Given that the Church and state were virtually one at the beginning of the Inquisition, it only makes sense that the state was also concerned with protecting the people from heresy. Why do we now consider it ok to torture and kill people for capital offenses and threats to national security? In Christianity, is not the soul more important than any threat to the body? So, it only makes sense that capital punishment and torture were acceptable in a homogeneous society during the Inquisition. The only difference now is that we are not a homogeneous society and we can control dangerous criminals with the modern corrections system. And yet even today we still struggle with torture! Yes, there were abuses in the Inquisition , but when we consider it in the context of a homogeneous Catholic culture, without the ability to control heretics in a corrections system, the Inquisition is NO more a travesty than the American justice system that has been allowing capital punishment when we have modern jails and when our legal system actually permits the murder of innocent unborn children. I dont think you want to denounce your American citizenship now do you? Then the Inquisition should really have no impact on ones Catholicism.

So is the only reason the Catholic Church no longer subjects lapsed catholics(lapsed to other religions or no religion) to trials for heresy is because the church and state are separate? It really seems like Christianity back then was like what Islam is like in some places. Religion just needs time to mature, right?

You actually used the word “justify” to refer to the necessity of maintaining a homogenous society! That disturbs me.

Yes- I know similar events took/place happen in other settings. Just like child sex abuse is not limited to the Catholic Church. So what, that doesn’t excuse that people like you actually think putting “heretics” (people with the guts to believe and think other things, o my gosh!!!gasp) on trial was once justified.

Even if the church and state was one back then, the church didn’t have to enforce religious
homogeneity. It doesn’t now, right? I have a friend who went through RCIA, considered priesthood and now is at most a Deist. He probably would be hunted down during earlier times—and that would have been justified to maintain “social order” right? Because he would be “worse than a murderer and rapist” right?

Too many times on CAF some catholics are reluctant to state flat out and clear in the sunlight how bad some actions are. All of this talk about “context”. It’s like with the sex abuse: I hear excuses about how it was the best psychological knowledge of the time to “rehabilitate”. Just admit all the coverups were a mistake.

Can you really look yourself in the mirror and say subjecting of “heretics” to trials was justified without pulling the “the church had sinners” card? And by the way, I may be a lapsed catholic but I my experience former converts such as myself no more about Catholicism than those that occasionally attend mass and believe in the immaculate conception refers to Jesus and not Mary.

I guess I am “worse than a murderer and rapist” because I am a lapsed catholic, right?

Although individual Catholics may still try to justify the inquisition, the church has already confessed its culpability in an attempt to heal those old wounds. Check out these two links, both from Pope John Paul 2:

“The greatest threat of the Church is those that teach heresy. They are more dangerous than murders and rapists because the danger to the soul is eternal damnation.”

Wow. Only religion can cause such an excuse. So someone with a new religious belief
is worse than a murderer or rapist? Really?

This is why lots of nonreligious people see certain religious people/institutions are hypocritical moral high grounds.

Instead of beginning your reply by immediately just saying the inquisition was unnecessary (in a secular sense) you start by “first you have to understand” and continue with excuses. This this common on CAF.

What do I know- I’m an apostate that once considered priesthood and still knows more about Catholicism than the average catholic who doesn’t even know what the immaculate conception is.

Yes. The point made by saying “heresy is worse than rape and murder” doesn’t lessen the horror of rape and murder. It lets you know how truly horrible heresy and teaching it is. Misleading people and dissuading them from salvation is the greatest harm one can commit.

This is why lots of nonreligious people see certain religious people/institutions are hypocritical moral high grounds.

No substance to this statement, so no use refuting it.

Instead of beginning your reply by immediately just saying the inquisition was unnecessary (in a secular sense) you start by “first you have to understand” and continue with excuses. This this common on CAF

Where are you going with this? Did you want an actual refutation of secular, anti-Church history and a Catholic apologetic point of view, or did you just want someone to tee up their point of view for you to attack?

What do I know- I’m an apostate that once considered priesthood and still knows more about Catholicism than the average catholic who doesn’t even know what the immaculate conception is.


I would rather someone commit heresy than rape and murder my wife to be honest.

I guess then it would not matter to you if your wife followed a heretic and in the process lost her salvation. If my wife were raped and murdered, dying a Christian death, I would be proud of her knowing she was in glory.

One more thing on the Inquisition. When the word Inquisition is used it is usually meant to refer to the Spanish Inquisition. Were it not for the Spanish Inquisition Europe might very well have become Moslem as did North Africa. North Africa once a hotbed of Catholicism became Islamic within one generation. The Spanish Inquisition stopped the Moslem advance by ferreting out all the Islamists that had infiltrated the government. Lots of stuff written about the Spanish Inquisition but unfortunately very little of it is true. But fortunately the Inquisition had very good record keepers and the transcripts are still available today. That is if anyone really cares about being factual. However, the truth of the matter is that being factual does not sell books nor does it get you name recognition.

To say one is worse than the other and thus heresy is deserving of death is ridiculous.

Heresy is ones on choice. If my wife decided to follow a heretic it would not be against her will. Rape and murder would be against her will and extremely harmful, and therefore in a completely different category. The OP has a right to think any justification of murder for heresy is crazy.

Thank you!!

Response to others:
The combined church/state of the time should have just allowed “heresy” to exist. It’s not that hard. Catholics join non catholic Christian churches or leave religion altogether today just like then. No Catholic here flat out just says “the church/state should not have enforced a homogenous society” instead they make excuses just like some do with the sex abuse scandal. They don’t want to admit that the church was at least during then a "big bad church " character.

The recent apology for Giordani Bruno’s death was inadequate. Sodano stated the inquisition “had the desire to serve freedom and promote the common good and did everything possible to save his life.” Well-- the collective church/state of time should have allowed people to believe I whatever they want. It was not necessary to enforce a homogenous society. What is so wrong with being presented new ideas? Why are catholics even using this forum to discuss with non catholics- might that lead you to heresy? Shouldn’t you be living in a Catholic bubble void of heresy like then?

Why be so afraid of people believing different things?
Someone would be happy if their wife was rapped and murdered because at least she wasn’t led to heresy? So what if she was presented with new ideas and believed them? Do you all believe in living in some sort of catholic bubble?

There is too much conformity in Catholicism. And the Inquisition was a means to enforce it (homogenous society).

Why should the Church allow the evil stain and lies of heresy upon itself?


The Catholic Church is only part of society. News flash. Other religions and beliefs exist. Even back then the Church did not have to influence the state to enforce homogeneity of belief.

And calling different opinions “evil stain” sounds so self righteous.

Cause… the Bible?

Titus 3:10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him

2 thess 3:14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.

15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

2 Corin 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.

4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,

6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Thank you. Although I am no longer the devout Christian (Catholic) I once was I am still remember some of these passages.

This is my point. The Catholic Church should should not have been involved in hunting for heresy. People should have been allowed to believe what they wanted. It was and is not necessary to kill them. And so often on CAF when people see the church then as the “big bad church” during the inquisitons people don’t want to admit it but rather find ways to decrease culpability or even justify the inquisitons.

  1. People who commit murder cause the loss of life of their victims. That’s bad.

  2. People who commit heresy cause the loss of eternal life of their followers. That’s worse.

  3. Eternity is much longer than this life.

  4. Therefore, heresy is worse than murder.

NOW do you understand why heretics were treated so harshly?

I hope it wasn’t for the objections that you’ve raised in this thread that you lost your faith. Some Catholics are quick to admit that they made mistakes while others wrongly justify the actions of those who came before them. If it is, I hope you reunite with Christ and know that He never taught to harm others for rejection! :slight_smile:

Luke 9:53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.

54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them? " { Some manuscripts add b as Elijah did b }

55 But he turned and rebuked them and he said, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to save them

  1. People can choose to follow heretics.

  2. People can’t choose whether they are raped and murdered.

  3. Therefore the two are not comparable.

Spoken like a true atheist. After all there is no absolute truth is there. If a new idea comes along then embrace it for it is like all the rest. Isn’t it??? But your fallacy is that no one was trying to "enforce a homogeneous society’ as you claim. On the contrary, society was diverse just as government, politics, language, customs, food and a host of others items were diverse. It was only theology that was held to be universal. Heresies could be deadly on their own. Some held to a dualism which in different forms held that the material (physical) was evil while the spiritual was good. So suicide was a noble act as it freed the spiritual soul from the evil body.

I can’t understand why atheists waste their time trying to convert christians to their system of unbelief. After all they have only this life to accomplish anything and it is a short time at best so should they not be trying to accomplish something so that maybe someone will name a bridge or a building or a highway after them. Let’s face it that is the only immortality that they can hope for.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit