The Inquisition is nowadays regarded as one of the most oppressive religious movements in history. Even though the Catholic Church of today had a hard time admitting the existence of such a terrifying ecclesiastic tribunal (some Catholic authorities are still denying the Inquisition really existed), many people agree that they their confession provided little information about the religious oppression.
Essentially, the more you read about the practices of the Inquisitors and their fight against heresy throughout Europe, the more questions pop out in your head. Let’s present the top ten recursive legitimate questions to which modern society demands answers regarding the Inquisition.
1. What does the term “Inquisition” refer to?
Even though most people think that the Inquisition referred to a single unitary institution, the truth is that it constituted a gathering of the independent tribunals, mostly local. Most of these tribunals were not conducting trials under the authority of the Papacy until much later on, when the Pope implemented a nominal control service. Nonetheless, the rules governing the local tribunals were always in accordance with the laws, culture and political powers of the region.
2. Why was the Inquisition banning books?
During the Middle Ages, the Inquisition was censoring books and pamphlets, most of which shared divergent opinions from the views of the Catholic Church. The Index of Forbidden Books promulgated by the Vatican engulfed numerous valorous manuscripts and additional books were added to it on a constant basis. Even though it was finally abolished in 1966, it is necessary to mention that the current Pope manifested some concerned regarding the bad teachings and seductions present in popular book series Harry Potter. On a side note this view is shared by the Islamist religious leaders.
3. How long did the Inquisition operate in Europe?
Considering that the official implementation of the Inquisition is recorded in the 11th century and the Spanish Inquisition was abolished around the 19th century, the persecution and enforcement of the Catholic religion lasted for approximately 700 years. However, this is just for the section of the Inquisition dealing with the Judaic religion; the Roman Inquisition, meaning the one fighting against the Reformation, ended in the 20th century.
4. How many people were tortured and executed by the Inquisition?
Numerous atheists, humanist and agnostics today strongly believe that the only one entity capable of revealing the real number of the victims who fell prey to the barbaric practices of the Inquisition is the Catholic Church. In spite of the fact that most inquisitors were excellent record-keepers, it appears that most documentations regarding the trials, condemnations and punishments vanished into thin air. On a side note, the few papers remaining from those ages indicate that most of the executions and tortures were carried out in the first 50 years.
5. Did the Inquisition have anything to do with the late modernization of Spain?
At the point of the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition, the Spanish Empire was just as modern as it French and English counterparts. However, once the Inquisition started expelling Jews (many of them highly trained professionals) from Spain and enforced censorships on intellectual inquiries of all kinds, the Empire’s modernization decelerated considerably.
6. Were witches an invention of the Inquisition?
Ironically, the witch hunts were rather rare in the regions of Europe where the Inquisition reigned supreme, namely Spain and Italy. The vast majority of the witch trials were actually held in France, Germany and Scotland. In addition, it is necessary to mention the fact that in Spain and Italy the Inquisition was more indulgent compared to secular authorities and rarely imposed the death penalty on the accused in the absence of hard evidence. However, the record for the biggest witch hunt in Europe is held by the Spanish Inquisition that accused 1,500 women of witchcraft; the good news is that they were eventually released, not all before being tortured.
7. Why is torture perceived as practically synonymous to the Inquisition?
Torture was used as a principal means of extracting confessions from the accused and was not very distinct from the punishment imposed by the secular system of the Medieval Ages. Once the Catholic Church included torture in the practices of the inquisitors, there was no way back, regardless of how much they tried to regulate it. Essentially, this situation is rather ironic given the fact that you are trying to reduce the physical punishment once you established that coercion is fine to begin with. However, it is important to note that compared to local authorities that would normally condemn a person to death for bestiality for example, the inquisitor and the church tribunals would most likely send the person on a pilgrimage or imprison him, in the worst case scenario.
8. Why were the heretics burned at the stake?
With the abolishment of the crucifixion around the 4th century, a new means of torture had to take its place and that method, considered more humane by many people of the time, was burning the condemned at the stake. This type of death sentence was only given for acts that were considered abominable heresies or in cases of treachery. Nonetheless, in the eventuality that the accused confessed his crime after the punishment was cast, then he would be granted a milder death sentence, namely hanging.
9. Why were the Inquisitors so obsessed with getting confessions?
Even though the inquisitors are portrayed as blood hungry monsters in the popular media today, it is necessary to highlight the fact that their desire to extract confessions was perceived by them as nothing more than the fulfillment of their pastoral duty. In Medieval times, a confession from the accused was also a means of liberation from sins for the inquisitors. At the same time, a confession back then was valued as direct evidence and nobody could be convicted of anything, irrespective of the amount of circumstantial evidence.
10. Was it possible to get acquitted once accused by the Inquisition?
While many people, most of them encouraged by the unjustifiable silence of the current Pope and the Vatican, imagine that once you were accused by an inquisitor your fate was sealed, the truth is that it was possible to appeal to religious tribunals and succeed in obtaining a full clearing of all the charges. While not many people were actually acquitted and appeals were almost impossible to get, historic records show that in some cases, the charges were dismissed.