The Inquisition has probably left a greater impression on the European psyche than any other institution of the Church. The fact that Americans on the whole are less hostile to Christianity than Europeans is to be attributed to the fact that they have escaped its horrors. The Holy Inquisition was founded by Pope Gregory IX in 1232 in response to wild reports from the clergy that there was an epidemic of witches and heretics. The honour of holding trials was a monopoly of the Dominicans who have always dominated the Inquisition and its successors like the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In 1239, Gregory sent the Dominican Robert de Bougre to Champagne in France to investigate a bishop by name Moranis accused of heresy. De Rosa tells us: "In one week Father Robert had put the whole town on trial. On 29 May, he sent 180 people, including the bishop to the stake." (p. 226)
It was an appropriately unholy beginning for the Holy Inquisition. In 1252 Pope Innocent IV permitted the use of torture in the trials by Inquisition. This was no more than extending official recognition to an already widespread practice. For something like the next five hundred years, trials by Inquisition probably consumed more of the Church's resources and attention than any of its other activities. But it was also highly profitable, for it could now be used for blackmail. In addition, a victim's worldly possessions were invariably confiscated by the Church.
The Inquisition is the unique institution of its kind in world history. While
Christianity and Islam - and Nazism and Communism later - have all sought to punish dissent and unorthodox views, the Inquisition went much further. It sought to detect and root out heresy before it was expressed - in the mind itself. It forced its victims through torture to confess to all sorts of 'crimes' even before they were committed or even conceived. It was thought control pure and simple. Even Stalinist Russia did not go so far. The procedure to be followed in the trials by Inquisition was summed up in one of the Church's own publications known as Libro Negro, the' Black Book'; it was more popularly known as the Book of the Dead. Signed by the Grand Inquisitor himself, it said:
Either the person confesses and he is proved guilty from his own confession, or he does not confess and is equally guilty on the evidence of witnesses. If a person confesses to the whole of what he is accused of, he is unquestionably guilty of the whole; but if he confesses only a part, he ought still to be regarded as guilty of the whole, since what he has confessed proves him to be capable of guilt as to the other points of the accusation...
Bodily torture has ever been found the most salutary and efficient means of leading to spiritual repentance. Therefore, the choice of the most benefiting mode of torture is left to the Judge of the Inquisition... [Sic: benefiting whom? Emphasis added.]
If, notwithstanding all the means employed, the unfortunate wretch still denies his guilt, he is to be considered as a victim of the devil: and, as such, deserves no compassion from the servants of God, nor the pity and indulgence of the Holy Mother Church: he is a son of perdition. Let him perish among the damned. (de Rosa, p. 228)
In these trials, to be accused was to be condemned, there is no record of anyone being acquitted.66
The headquarters of the Inquisition is a large yet curiously unprepossessing building within sight of St Peter's in Rome. Its official name is Casa Santa - Saintly House - better known as the Palace of Inquisition. It is still very much in operation under its new name of 'Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith' under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Munich - that man of gloom and doom whom we have already met. Tourists and visitors are rarely informed of its existence and few ever get to see it despite the enormous impact it has made on European and world history. One who did visit the Casa Santa was the brilliant French novelist Emile Zola, who, in his novel Rome written more than a hundred years ago has left us this evocative portrait of the Saintly House (noted by de Rosa, pp. 193-4):
It is in a solitary silent district, which the footfall of pedestrians or the rumble of wheels but seldom disturbs. The sun alone lives there, in sheets of light which spread slowly over the small, white paving. You divine the vicinity of the basilica, for there is the smell of incense, a cloistral quiescence as of the slumber of the centuries. And at one
66 This method of trial - of 'guilty until proven innocent' - has left its mark on the judicial systems of Mexico and other Latin American countries. These are precisely the states that were ruled by the Catholic empires of Spain and Portugal with their formidable record during the Inquisition. This has been very handy for military dictators like Peron of Argentina, Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, the Duvaliers of Haiti (Mother Teresa's friends) and others of the stripe. Canada and the US on the other hand inherited their legal systems from England where the Inquisition did not take hold - thanks to Henry VIII and his break with Rome.
corner the Palace of the Holy Office rises up with heavy, disquieting bareness, only a single row of windows piercing its lofty, yellow front.
The Inquisition was by no means limited to Rome, for the Popes carried it with them wherever they went. In Avignon, in southern France where the papacy had its residence for an extended period in the Middle Ages, the papal residence contained an elaborate facility for torturing victims. In building it, no pains had been spared in making the place as comfortable as possible - comfortable for the Inquisitors that is, not the victims. Peter de Rosa gives us the following chilling description:
...poignant testimony was given by a devout English Catholic 140 years ago. Robert Richard Madden paid a visit to Avignon with a friend. He left his impression in his book Galileo and the Inquisition. He was shaken to find how much of the great palace of the Popes was taken up with the courts, cells and dungeons of the Inquisition.
He saw the torture chamber with its acoustical device of irregular walls for absorbing the screams of the victims. He stood in the judgement hall where the prisoners had stood and noted above his head 'several circular apertures in the ceiling, about five or six inches in diameter, communicating with an upper chamber, where the prosecutors, it is said, and those who took down in writing the proceedings and answers of the prisoners, were stationed, unseen by him, and yet by whom, every word he uttered was recorded'.
It struck Madden as wicked that someone on trial for his life was not allowed to see either the prosecutor or the hostile witnesses, nor to be told what he was accused of...
Madden passed to the most appalling place in Avignon, where alleged heretics were burned. By means of a narrow passage, he entered a vast circular chamber, 'exactly like the furnace of a glass house or a chimney', shaped like a funnel. It was about two hundred feet high with rings and bars to which prisoners were chained. They had to put on sulphur shirts to make them burn better. The blackness of the walls testified to how many men and women had suffered in that terrible place. (de Rosa, pp. 249 - 50)
One begins to understand what Hitler meant when he told the Bishop of Osnabruch - "I am only doing what the Church has done for fifteen hundred years, only more effectively. "
In perhaps the greatest irony of all, victims were pitilessly tortured for questioning the Church doctrine: Ecclesia non novit sanguinem - The Church has never shed blood!
From all this it is clear that the self-styled 'Princes of the Church' who presided over the trials by Inquisition must have been among the most sadistic men that ever lived. For a present-day comparison and a relatively mild comparison - we may look to the mullahs of Bangladesh and Pakistan who seem to delight in administering sixty, eighty or a hundred lashes to teenage girls by accusing them of imaginary crimes against which there is no defense. There is something about fanaticism in the name of God that brings out the most sadistic impulses.
It would be a serious error to think of the Inquisition as a Medieval aberration that was rendered irrelevant by the progress of civilization. When Napoleon conquered Spain in 1808, some of his soldiers and officers found hundreds of naked victims huddled in torture chambers in a monastery in Madrid, even though the monks had at first denied their existence. Battle-hardened soldiers of the French Army, used to war and bloodshed, could not stomach the sight of so many cells, dungeons and instruments of torture. They freed the victims and blew up the monastery with gunpowder.
The Spanish Inquisition at its height was presided over by Tomas de Torquemada - a Dominican priest - a man whose name is still synonymous with the horrors of the Inquisition. Between 1483 and 1498 he was responsible for the sentencing of over 114,000 victims of which 10,220 were burned. Most of the rest received life sentences and died miserably in prison. Speaking of Torquemada, Prescott, the famous historian of the Spanish Empire wrote:67
This man [Torquemada] ... was one of that class with whom zeal passes for religion and who testify their zeal by a fiery persecution of those whose creed differs from their own: who compensate for their abstinence from sensual indulgence, by giving scope to those deadlier vices of the heart, pride, bigotry, and intolerance, which are no less opposed to virtue, and are far more extensively mischievous to society.
The Inquisition was finally suppressed in Spain only in 1813. It is not widely known that the Inquisition made its way to India and other parts of Asia under the Portuguese Jesuits.68 The Portuguese ruled the enclave of Goa on the west coast of India from 1510 to 1962 when they were finally driven out by the Indian army. The first demand for the Inquisition in India was made by St Francis Xavier in 1545; it came into existence in 1560. For more than two centuries, until it was abolished in 1812, the Holy Office of Goa had the responsibility for rooting out heresy not only in India (where it failed) but in all the Portuguese possessions in the east.
The Jesuit historian Father Francisco de Souza tells us that the goal of the Inquisition in India was to destroy Hinduism and also persecute the Indian Jews who had lived peaceably with the Hindus for several centuries. Filippo Sassetti, a Venetian merchant living in Goa tells us that the Goa Inquisition assumed particularly virulent form after 1565 when the great Vijayanagar Empire was defeated by a confederacy of Deccan Sultanates. Francois Pyrad, a Frenchman who lived in Goa from 1608 to 1610 tells us that the number of victims persecuted was very large. The authority of the Inquisitors who were deputed by the Pope exceeded that of the Portuguese Viceroy and the Archbishop. J.C. Barreto Miranda, a Goanese historian, wrote of the Inquisition:
The cruelties which in the name of the religion of peace and love which this tribunal practised in Europe, were carried to even greater excesses in India, where the Inquisitors, surrounded by luxuries which could stand comparison with the regal magnificence of the great potentates of Asia, saw with pride the Archbishop as well as the viceroy submitted to their power. Every word of theirs was a sentence of death and at their slightest nod were moved to terror the vast
67 William H. Prescott, History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella the Catholic of Spain, vol. I. London, 1838. pp. 361-62.
68 I have based my account on the book The Goa Inquisition by Anant K. Priolkar, New Delhi, Voice of India, 1991. The Portuguese took care to destroy most of the records of the Inquisition when it was abolished in 1812. There are several accounts by foreigners, the best known of which is probably Relations de l'lnquisition de Goa by the Frenchman Charles Dellon first published in 1684. This and other accounts have been reproduced by Priolkar. There have been several unsuccessful attempts by some Goanese Christian scholars - though not Europeans - to discredit these reports and whitewash the Portuguese record. The so-called 'records' used to discredit them have been shown to be themselves forged.
populations spread over the Asiatic regions, whose lives fluctuated in their hands, and who, on the most frivolous pretext could be clapped for all time in the deepest dungeon or strangled or offered as food for the flames of the pyre. (Priolkar, p. 30)
The Portuguese Inquisition was abolished in 1812, and the Spanish in 1813. It continued however in Italy. Pope Pius VII, after his release from imprisonment by Napoleon, reintroduced the Sacred Inquisition in 1814; by then Waterloo had removed the threat of Napoleon and his liberalising reforms. As late as 1829, anyone in the Papal States in possession of a book banned by the Church was treated as a heretic. Under both domestic and international pressure Pius forbade the use of torture in trials by Inquisition only in 1816. But the practice continued for many years. As late as 1856, Pope Pius IX signed an edict permitting 'excommunication, confiscation, banishment, imprisonment for life, as well as secret executions...' (de Rosa, p. 244)
Even this was not the end. In 1864, Pius IX issued his famous Syllabus Errorum condemning eighty 'principal errors of our age', reviving the Inquisition in all but name. These 'errors' included science, liberty, freedom of thought, freedom of conscience and of opinion, tolerance - in short, everything that we hold sacred - all denounced as heresies. The Syllabus went on to become perhaps the most important document of the First Vatican (1869-70). Freedom of thought and tolerance - the greatest enemies of dogmatism - were simply not to be tolerated. The Inquisition and its modern successors were and are meant to root out all traces of them.
It is not my intention here to catalogue all the grisly details of the Inquisition, but one statistic slands out. Matilda Joslyn Gage tells us in her book Women, Church and State (New York: Arno Press, 1972):
It is computed from historical records that nine millions of persons were put to death for witchcraft [i n Europe) after 1484, or during the period of three hundred years, and this estimate does not include the vast number who were sacrificed in the preceding centuries upon the same accusation.
Assuming conservatively a similar figure for the ten centuries or so of Christianity previous to 1484, we arrive at a truly staggering figure of not far short of twenty million! - And this for witchcraft alone, and also not counting the enormous numbers of men, women and children that were consigned to the flames and the sword by the Jesuits and the 'Christian' soldiers in the Americas. It is worth taking a brief look at this blood-soaked chapter in human history - probably the most destructive chapter in the history of the world.
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