What was the purpose of having heretics burned after the Inquisition?


#1

This is a dispute I had with someone I know.

He said that the point of putting people to death was to save the heretic’s soul. Only by burning the heretic could he be cleansed of his heresy and prevented from any other sin that could deny salvation. Thus, the death sentence was carried out for the good of the condemned.

I disagree, saying that the death sentence was carried out with the intent of protecting the community from the dangers of heresy. I specifically pointed out the writings of St. Thomas Aquinis on this topic. Principally his comparison of heretics to murderers, with heretics being far more dangerous to the community. And as murderers are put to death to protect the community, so too should heretics. I also pointed out that “fire” does not cleanse your sins, that is for the sacrament of reconciliation. Further, heretics were burned by secular authorities, not in a religous ceremony that promised salvation. Finally, heretics were often excommunicated and denied a Christian burial, which would certainly not be in keeping with his theory.

So who is right? Were heretics burned for their own good, with the process ensuring salvation?


#2

[quote=Dorsey2]So who is right? Were heretics burned for their own good, with the process ensuring salvation?
[/quote]

I’ve read (forget where) that buring them gave them a preview of the fires of Hell and the hope was that it would motivate them to repent before they died.


#3

[quote=Genesis315]I’ve read (forget where) that buring them gave them a preview of the fires of Hell and the hope was that it would motivate them to repent before they died.
[/quote]

There is actually a bit of historical context that may be missing. Before the Church became involved, many secular governments had a penalty of death for heresy, which they interpreted on their own. By tradition (likely going back to pagan days), burning at the stake was the most common punishment, though this was by no means universal.

When the Church became involved with the Inquisition, people to be put to death were simply turned over to secular authorities who could do as they pleased. Some actually didn’t even have the heretics put to death. Eventually the Holy Roman Emperor (I forget which one) proscribed that all heretics should be burned. The Pope at the time thought this was a good idea and way to standardize the treatment of heretics, and simply copied the Holy Roman Emporer’s pronouncement and sent it out to all Catholic lands telling them he thought they should do the same.

That is how burning at the stake emerged as the common punishment.

Anyway, my question was as much about why heretics were killed (for their own good or not) than the method of execution.


#4

Expanding on the previous post, the reason kings considered heresy a capital crime was that they believed themselves to be ruling by “divine right”, and anyone who denied the state’s preferred religion was therefore questioning the authority of the king, and guilty of treason.

The Inquisition did not put people to death: its mission was to determine whether an accused person was actually guilty of heresy or not. If they were found not guilty (and a great many were so found) they were released. If they were found guilty of heresy, they were given a set amount of time (months, I think) in which to repent. If they proved obstinate in their heresy, then they were turned over to the secular government. Those governments then punished the heretic as they saw fit, which as I say generally involved the death penalty.

Of course we can see today that the Church should not have involved itself in this religious persecution. And yet, had the Church not set up its Inquisition to determine who really was a heretic and who was falsely accused, there might well have been a lot more people burned for heresy by the ignorant governments of the time. The Inquisition was considered an enlightened and praiseworthy institution by many of the freethinkers of the time – I remember that Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote) had good things to say about it.


#5

Hey, here’s link to an article about a BBC (not known for their kindness to Catholicism) Documentary from the mid-1990s:

ewtn.com/library/homelibr/spaninq.htm

I am trying to justify everything that happened in the Inquisition, but the whole topic has been blown out of proportion as indicated from new studies of actual documents from the Courts of Inquisition. Were mistakes made, yes, but as mentioned, the Inquisitors actually did not do the burning themselves but left the punishment in the hands of secular authorities. Could more have been done at the time, I leave the judgement to God’s capable balance or Mercy adn Justice. Thanks and God Bless.


#6

I haven’t heard that the Pope ever decreed burning to be the appropriate punishment. It may be true, but I’d like to see a reference. As far as I know, burning was a secular idea, although certainly accepted by the Church as appropriate. (In other words, there’s a difference between decreeing something and accepting it.) I recently read that even as late as Innocent III’s day the normal punishment for heresy was imprisonment and confiscation of property rather than death. I’m not sure about that, since I believe there were heretics burned under King John of England (which would have been about the same time–I think John outlived Innocent but they definitely overlapped).

Edwin


#7

There is a lot of good info above. I would just like to add that there is a traditional line of thought to burning that originates with Judaism. The word used for hell by the Jews was “Gehenna.” (Sheol more closely fits purgatory.)

Gehenna was the name of the valley of Ennom s/w of Jerusalem. It was a place of sin and idolatry and was later made a place to cast out one’s trash and burn it there.

So, if one is an unrepentent heretic, the proper treatment of such a person is to cast them outside of the “city of believers” as trash and burn them.

Thal59


#8

[quote=Dorsey2]Principally his comparison of heretics to murderers, with heretics being far more dangerous to the community
[/quote]

The witch hunts of those days , for that is really what they became, became less selective as the use of uncontrolled power was not opposed. There was no one who would dare ask how come? This is a characteristic of rampant genocide, the populace learns to remain low key, and those who have the misfortune to be next in the torture arena were not successful in that respect or were those of strong personalities and conviction. Politically the Church had an ally willing to turn a blind eye in the governments of the day, so controls normally in place by laws were nowhere to be found to the dismay of the lay community.

(I place in this category of victims the Brothers and Sisters of the monastaries and cloistered clergy who really were elected by methods lacking scrutiny. Some of these unqualified and uneducated were initiated on recommendation only.)

It is difficult to pass justice in favor of institutions in an environment lacking checks and balances. These conditions should make their case suspect.

It is likely some utterances that came within the lay community did indeed fall into the herecy category, but it is doubtful the unlearned of those days could even grasp the seriousness or significance of what they say. It is more probable they fell into the category of the benign sententia pia and the opinio tolerata of today. But this was missed by the theologians, who must have felt a threat to their carefully thought out conclusions.

The murders categorized as herecy makes the point, and I feel was principally to enlarge the sphere of potential victims to the flames. They would have no problem tieing St. Paul to the stake has he met the criteria. No doubt if there were not enough of these, sins of other categories would have also been re-classified as apppropriate.

I have no doubt some of these dispatchers have found some stakes of long burn duration of their own in the afterlife.

Andy


#9

[quote=Contarini]I haven’t heard that the Pope ever decreed burning to be the appropriate punishment. It may be true, but I’d like to see a reference. As far as I know, burning was a secular idea, although certainly accepted by the Church as appropriate. (In other words, there’s a difference between decreeing something and accepting it.) I recently read that even as late as Innocent III’s day the normal punishment for heresy was imprisonment and confiscation of property rather than death. I’m not sure about that, since I believe there were heretics burned under King John of England (which would have been about the same time–I think John outlived Innocent but they definitely overlapped).

Edwin
[/quote]

You are actually incorrect, though I don’t have a reference handy. I’m not sure of the start date of the Inquisition, but I believe it was around the time of Innocent III (it may have even started with him). This does not mean heretics weren’t persecuted before that date, they certainly were. The launching of the Inquisition was just the centralization of trials for heresy, and the assuming of that role by the Church.

Initially burning at the stake wasn’t recommended by the Church, the Church was entirely silent on what secular authorities should do with heretics. I believe the year was about 1250 when the Church sent out a recommendation that all heretics should be burned (it actually recommended that all heretics should be dealt with as the HRE dictated, and he dictated heretics should be burned).


#10

I’m going to bump this just in case someone else has some feedback.


#11

So they wouldn’t do it again? :whistle:


#12

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