Torture and the Inquisition

I want to clarify my doubts about the Inquisition and torture once and for all. I have heard that the Holy Office only allowed for 3 kinds of torture methods to be used, and only in certain circumstances. Can any one offer any links to reliable sources which talk about this subject?

Keep in mind a couple of things. The Inquisition wasn’t doctrine. It was a matter of discipline. The torture was also conducted by representatives of the secular government. Back in those days, almost everything that was declared persecutable by the Church was also considered a secular crime by the government. The Church and the government for most of Europe was **very **closely aligned.

With regard to the Inquisition itself, the notion for it really started in the Old Testament. See Numbers 25, where God instructs Moses to judge those suspected of heresy and stone to death those found guilty.

With regard to the Inquisition, for someone to be executed, they had to be found guilty twice. And anyone charged could provide the court with a list of “enemies,” none of whom the prosecutor could call as a witness against the accused. Things were indeed harsh back in those days, and by our standards they did many wrong things. Historical context is helpful to understand it all.

You might want to listen to the audio series on Catholic History at the following link, which covers a good overview of the Inquisition nicely:

You want to read books like Kamen’s The Spanish Inquisition, and other proper histories. Generally torture was confined to serious cases and non-bloody methods - the main one being Strappando, where a person was hoisted off the ground by his arms tied behind his back.

Much about the inquisition has been massively exaggerated by propagandists over four centuries.
The Crusades by Thomas Madden says “Modern research suggests that the Inquisition’s popular reputation for harshness derives largely from Protestant (specifically Dutch and English) propaganda, In fact the Inquisition, which still exists, was probably the most humane and merciful tribumal in medieval Europe.”

Here is a passage on the medieval inquisition from notable Historian Christopher Tyerman’s book “God’s War, a History of the Crusades.”

"…the inquisition did not become the sinister bureaucratic institution of repression of legend. … The object of each Inquisition was, as its name suggested, to discover who were heretics and to eradicate disbelief by persuasion and reconciliation. Although the accused were prevented from knowing the identities of witnesses, they were permitted to mount a defence. Torture was rare and unsophisticated. Reason, not terror, was the inquisitors weapon. A university was founded at Toulouse in 1229 to underpin the ideological basis of the Catholic mission. The combination of new pastoral methods; effective, professional preaching; the dissemination of systematic moral theology of the schools; and the simplicity and directness of the friars who largely conducted the Inquisition combated Catharism at every level, intelectual, parochial and personal. The punishments reflected the purpose of evangelism. The vast majority of those found guilty of heresy received non-custodial penances. Contumacious or obstinate offenders could expect prison. Only a tiny minority of convicted heretics were handed to the secular authorities to be burned at the stake. One calculation from hundreds of penalties imposed in mid-thirteenth century Languedoc estimated that death sentences made up 1%, imprisonment 10 - 11%; the rest lesser penalties, including the compulsory wearing of a cross to denote a former heretic.

To my mind, the most difficult thing about the Inquisition is that they never told you why they were torturing you.

They knew that torture victims often say whatever the torturer wants to hear just to stop the torture. To avoid this danger, the accused person was never told what the accusations against him or her were. They were tortured without knowing why.

The Wikipedia article on the Spanish inquisition seems like a good introduction to it.

By the way, did you know that the largest inquisition outside of Spain was in Lima, Peru, at the time a Spanish colony. In Lima, just to the side of the Congress building is a Museum of the Inquisition where one can see the examination rooms as well as the prison cells, the instruments of torture, and drawings of the autos de fe in Lima’s Plaza de Armas.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, it was permitted by the Popes to use torture that did not imperil life or limb and that it be used only to extract confessions or to extract useful information perhaps about the whereabouts of other heretics or about the heresy itself. It also could only be used once as a last resort when guilt is already presumed and the clerics could not themselves participate in the torture, certain laymen did that perhaps they were representatives of the monarchy. I’m not aware of any decree that outlined the specific kinds of torture that were permitted, however. It was a broad restriction and permission. I guess it was left up to the lay officials to decide with the approval of the bishop to decide the methods that complied with the general rule. Perhaps this Catholic Encyclopedia article would be of help to you.

This cannot be said to be a definitive doctrine pronounced by the Popes. This falls under both discipline and politics. Discipline because it involves a provisional and temporal process for the determination of heresy by fallible subordinate tribunals and political because it was done only to satisfy the demands of political leaders at the time who sought to impose the old Roman Laws.

The most important thing people need to remember is that the Inquisitions (there were more than one) took place for primarily political reasons, not so much religious and the Church didn’t carry them out and oversee them. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain and the King of France did.

That I’m aware of, but when I generally bring this fact up, people don’t seem to give it much importance. I guess when you want to be prejudiced, facts don’t matter…

Rubbish. The Spanish Inquisition was somewhat independant (although according to Henry Kamen, it always took its cue from the Vatican), but the ‘Holy’ Inquisition was carried out by Catholics appointed by the Church to root out heretics (initially the Waldensians and Cathars, but soon everyone else as well). The inquisitors went after anyone who was accused of any heresy against the Church, even if there was no evidence. No-one was spared, and torture, imprisonment, the confiscation of property, and ultimately death at the stake was common.

As for the OP, the early forms of torture used were: the ordeal of water, the ordeal of fire, the pulley torture (the strappado), the wheel, the rack, and the stivaletto.

According to Edward Burman in The Inquisition: The Hammer of Heresy:

Torture is the aspect of the inquisitorial procedure that has caused apologists the most difficulty, and there is ample evidence that the use of torture was as widespread and frequent in the medieval Inquisition as in the more notorious Spanish Inquisition.

It is in the last resort difficult to disagree with (Henry Charles) Lea’s observation that the ‘whole system of the inquisition was such as to render the resort to torture inevitable’ (page 65)

Excusing the Catholic Inquisition’s torture methods by saying they were more humane than those of the secular authorities’ is a bit like apologizing for Stalin by saying he wasn’t as bad as Hitler.

To be correct, I think you have to say “started for primarily political reasons”.

The Moslems had overrun much of the Iberian peninsula. Ferdinand and Isabella had finally reconquered and unified Spain. Many people who were formerly Moslems remained, however, claiming they had converted to Catholicism. Like the Japanese residents in the U.S. during WWII, they were considered a internal danger to the new kingdom. The Inquisition was established to try and root out those who remained secretly Moslem. It spread from there to testing converts from Judaism, secret Protestants, homosexuals, witches, etc.

To say “the Church didn’t carry them out” is not really fair either. The religious orders, particularly the Dominicans, played a major role. (Disclaimer: the Franciscans also played a role.) The best you can say is that when the heretic (or non-converted convert or “witch” or whatever) was “relaxed” to secular arm, the actual execution (usually burning at the stake in a public auto de fe) was carried out by secular authorities.

My bad. Ignore this.

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