Was Inquisition a wrong way to keep the Christian community pure?

Ive been researching about inquisition that were followed in the early times, the use was to “fight against heretics”.

In1252 Pope Innocent IV sanctioned the use of torture[9] and also granted dispensation for the inquisitors to be present during its application.

Such as Physchological torture,physucal torture,humiliation etc…

As Christ said "shed no blood’’,why did the Church follow this??
This is breaking God’s law, i would like some thought about this.


You’re judging what happened then by modern standards. The Inquisition was actually much “nicer” to prisoners than standard jails, etc. In fact, many people in regular jails would blaspheme in order to be sent to the Inquisition jails, where they got much better treatment and food.

In order to be executed by the Inquisition, one had to be found guilty, not once, but twice. And one could name a list of people whom they knew were enemies, and the Inquisition would disqualify them as witnesses against them. We don’t even have that in this country! The Inquisition trials were, if anything, fair. Some Moslems and Jews “converted” to Catholicism in Spain for personal gain, either monetary or social, but remained practicing their original faith.

The notion of the Inquisition was actually started by God. See the Book of Numbers, chapter 25. Some of the Jews became heretics, and God commanded to have them killed after a fair trial.

You can learn more about the Spanish Inquisition by listening to a lesson here: alabamacatholicresources.com/Downloads/Church_History_1325-1650AD.mp3

It is always a mistake to take historical events and try to apply our current standards to them the infamous “out of context”. This is true of the inquisition, the crusades and many other historical events that have shaped our civilization.
Has there been abuses and excesses??? Of course! Any event where humans are the participants we will find such.
Has it changed any? even today we see this. Have we come along in reducing them, yes I hope so, but we have not eliminated them.

Also note there was English/Protestant propaganda exaggerating/distorting/fabricating lies about the Catholic Church (ex. google the “Black Legend”). Further perpetuated in the public mindset by those Monty Python skits. :ouch: Lots of revisionist history out there (in the illegitimate, falsifying sense).

This is also correct in a way…the Inquisition was a check against heresy, and preventing schism…when heresy goes to far, we have a divided Church…imagine if every church in Christendom today was in unity :frowning:

Also, as severe as the Inquisition may have been, it’s not like they killed over 40 million unborn babies over the span of nearly 40 years…“historical events out of context” indeed…

I think the posters above have answered these questions quite well, but here’s a brief rundown of a few other points:

  • In those days, there was no separation of Church and State in Western Christendom. The Church had spiritual power, and an offense against the Church was viewed seriously; it could also seriously disturb the public order. Read up on the antics of the “Cathars”, for example.

  • Strictly speaking, the Church did not force anyone to die; people were given several chances to repent, and even if they didn’t, the death sentence and torture were not necessarily forthcoming. Sometimes a public penance was all that was imposed.

  • The Church did not execute anyone; it was the “temporal” government that did so. In many cases, as an earlier poster pointed out, their sentences were lighter than would have ordinarily been the case.

  • Even secular historians (such as Toby Green) concede that a lot of the wilder claims about the Inquisition were a “Black Legend”, that gained ground mainly because of anti-Catholic (aka Protestant, and specifically Calvinist) propaganda. What went wrong in Spain was an accident of geopolitics, Spanish identity and bigotry, and in fact the Church tried hard to temper whatever excesses did take place.

  • Standards of conduct vary with time and place. In the Old Testament, capital sentences for adultery and animal sacrifices were part of Near Eastern culture, and God had to work with sinful human beings as they are; He cannot “coerce” them into being “clones” of Our Lord. This remains the case even to this very day.

As other posters have noted, the standards of the time were very different. Scholars have noted that the Inquisition courts were very humane when compared with secular courts of the day. It should be noted that there were strict regulations in place for the use of torture in Inquisition courts - whether these were followed or not is another matter…but shedding blood or inflicting any sort of permanent physical harm was forbidden by the Church when employing torture in Church courts.

According to Jewish law, to inflict the death penalty is almost impossible. Two eyewitnesses must have seen the perpetrator about to commit the crime and warned him of the potential penalty. The murderer must verbally answer that he chooses to proceed anyway. Twenty-three, rather than the usual three judges, must sit on the rabbinical court, among other requirements; circumstantial evidence is never allowed in a Jewish court hearing a capital case, and a person cannot testify against themselves.

Similarly, a court that executed once in 70 years was referred to as a bloody court. As such, the death penalty was effectively legislated out of existence.

That’s how severe Jewish law takes the death penalty.

From a Jewish perspective on the Inquisition, you can start here:



By the way, the “Professor B. Netanyahu” (The Origins of the Inquisition) mentioned is the Prime Minister of Israel’s father, Ben-Zion Netanyahu, a historian.

That’s very interesting, thanks for sharing! I knew the “two eyewitnesses” bit, of course, but I wasn’t aware that it was applied so strictly in practice.

There’s also the fact that Jewish law made allowances for involuntary or accidental deaths (what we would call “manslaughter” today), and provided “cities of refuge” for such an offender, which would have been otherwise unthinkable in those days.

I think it’s safe to say that the “humanizing” of ancient (pagan) laws is largely, if not entirely, due to the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Hello nida and welcome to the forums. To what source does the referenced footnote [9] apply please?

I agree.

The OP did a cut and paste from Wikipedia without crediting the source. The reference is a footnote in the wiki article. According to the article, that bit of cut and paste came from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

A good start would be the book Characters of the Inquisition by William Thomas Walsh.

Thanks my friend.

nida - if you look up the citation and read the entire section, you can see what some of the other posters were saying about judging in 1200’s morality with an 2012 mindset:
Curiously enough, torture was not regarded as a mode of punishment, but purely as a means of eliciting the truth. It was not of ecclesiastical origin, and was long prohibited in the ecclesiastical courts. Nor was it originally an important factor in the inquisitional procedure, being unauthorized until twenty years after the Inquisition had begun. It was first authorized by Innocent IV in his Bull “Ad exstirpanda” of 15 May, 1252, which was confirmed by Alexander IV on 30 November, 1259, and by Clement IV on 3 November, 1265. The limit placed upon torture was citra membri diminutionem et mortis periculum — i.e, it was not to cause the loss of life or limb or imperil life. Torture was to applied only once, and not then unless the accused were uncertain in his statements, and seemed already virtually convicted by manifold and weighty proofs. In general, this violent testimony (quaestio) was to be deferred as long as possible, and recourse to it was permitted in only when all other expedients were exhausted. Conscientious and sensible judges quite properly attached no great importance to confessions extracted by torture. After long experience Eymeric declared: Quaestiones sunt fallaces et inefficaces — i.e the torture is deceptive and ineffectual.

As I read the above, I tried to imagine a cleric in the 13th century kneeling before the altar and beseeching God to guide his thoughts so that he might formulate a reasonable and just policy for the use of torture that would be pleasing to God.

Most here seem quick to point out that we cannot judge past Church actions by today’s standards without realizing or acknowledging that the Church today almost certainly would not – under any circumstances whatsoever – condone the use of ecclesiastical torture for any reason. That’s not just a matter of a slight difference of opinion; that’s a complete repudiation of their own past practices.

Some well-informed posts here. Just one thing I’d like to add.

There is one vital thing that the contemporary mindset has difficulty grasping, and that is, as one poster pointed out, the union between Church and State. This applied to all religions of that time. Political institutions were expected to uphold and follow the religious convictions of their subjects. If the populace was Catholic, their government had to uphold Catholicism, if Moslem, then Islam, if Protestant, then Protestantism. Everyone took this for granted. The notion of a neutral, secular state in which different religions could exist side-by-side with equal social privileges simply did not exist.

The implications of promoting a faith in a region of a different religion were immediately obvious - religious civil war. The nearest modern equivalent would be Marxist guerillas. They have a set of convictions about society and politics, and they take it for granted that they must impose those convictions on everyone else if they can, by force if necessary. Everyone in the pre-Revolutionary era thought in the same way. And this is exactly what happened when any heterodox movement gathered enough followers to build an army. The results were disastrous, like the Thirty Years War in the Holy Roman Empire which resulted in the death of up to half the population in some areas.

The Inquisition was created to stop this from happening. An individual was not forbidden to belong to a non-Catholic religion, but a non-Catholic could not propagate his religion or hold any influential social position. It was not pleasant for the non-Catholics in a country like Spain, but the alternative was unthinkable.

Like any institution the Inquisition was abused, but I think it was a preferable alternative to a world in which the State does not have to take religion into account, and is free to create such things as the Gulag, the Holocaust, the Cultural Revolution, the World War. In the past these horrors would have been unimaginable.

I think this sums it up all very precisely. Great work! :thumbsup:

To add a postscript: I also think a lot of the “anti-Inquisition” sentiment comes from an unwillingness to face the horrors of our own age. Looking back at something from the past, especially something we don’t understand and about which a lot of nonsense has been written, can help us whitewash our own times - especially grave evils such as abortion, child abuse, Communist purges and global wars. This is something we must guard against whenever someone raises the Inquisition flag (and its little brother, the Galileo flag.) :smiley:

The Inquisition and those other horrors all seem to have had one thing in common – they were all attempts to establish a completely homogenous society by force. I’m not comforted much from the fact that one happened to be a religious project. Diversity can be a messy proposition, but maybe that’s the price to be paid for free choice.

Was the inquisition the wrong way to keep Christian community pure? Well, I don’t like the wording of the object of the question (“keep Christina community pure”. But I can’t come up with a better one, so I will live with it. I am just not for sure this is the right way to phrase the goal of the inquisition.

“Wrong way”?
There are two parts to this: was it effective? And was the evil averted by the inquistion greater than any evils of the tools of the inquistion? (the main evil of the tool would be capital pubishment, as many other tools of the inquistion were not evil at all but quite just).

I can’t answer for sure the second question.
But the first seems to be a resounding yes. Let’s not even look at it from the standpoint of spiritual benefits to the population of keeping their religion pure. Lets look at it from a standpoint of avoiding greater tragedy of violence.

The inquisition was mainly implemented in Spain. Spain was never torn by large scale religious disputes and violence in its society until after the inquisition was abolished. This is rather unique in Europe.

Even though other European countries employed captial punishment as punishment for heresy; they did not avoid large scale inter-religious conflict and violence. The Irish wars of the late 16th century by Elizabeth or the 30 years wars in central Europe were particularly devestating to the population at large. And it should be noted that other countries (England and Calvin come to mind) used a more unhumane form of capital punishment than burning at the stake after death by garroting (the most common form used in Spain for heritics in the first century of the inquisition). So it likely was not only the threat of death in Spain that kept the religious disputes in check, but more probably the judifical techniques of the Inquisition itself that made just as much of a difference (which were unsurpassed for fairness and just treatment of the accused prior to conviction up until that time).

Germany is the best example of what happened in Europe. It is often thought that Charles V’s “Peace at Augsburg” was an early model of how to deal with religious conflict inside a country. But it did no good, the 30 years war in the 17th century was the most destructive war in European history until WWI.

You have the French example. Religious conflict happened over and over again in that country, always with very bloody and violent results.

This did NOT happen in Spain. So, only looking at the avoidance of large scale bloodshed by the population as the result, the Inquistion seems to have been a resounding success.

However, it is still fair to call into question if the “ends justified the means” with respect to the use of an capital punishment (and an objectively inhumane form of capital punishment regardless of the historical circumstances). On this part of the analysis, it is harder to arrive at an objective answer. But it seems to me the answer would be yes, it was the wrong way to keep a Christian community pure. I say this, because it appears to me, by contrasting enforcement of religious homogeneity throughout various countries at the time; the Spanish Inquisition stands out as being most effective and yet it only varied in means from other countries in its judicial procedures. So it seems objectively speaking, that the judicial means of the Inquisition coupled with a more humane punishment (perhaps loss of property and banishment) would have been just as effective.

So my answer to your overall question is “yes”:it was the wrong way to keep the Christian community pure. But it was effective and the Spanish were much closer to “getting it right” than ever being given credit for (even by apologists of the inquistion).

Note: before anyone responds with the legal seperation of the punishment by the state from the judicial inquisition itself, I am well aware of that. But an honest analysis of the question must combine the two facets into one. The end result from a societal standpoint was the combination of the two.

Not quite. The inquisition was set up to preserve an ***already ***homogenous society that would not become a pluristic one by allowing heterodox opinions to have free public reign, but would simply be ripped apart, as happened in Germany. One needs to keep in mind that this was an era with a very different mindset.

The actual setting up of the homogenous society was done by evangelisation.

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