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Church History Forum: Inquisition

by Catherine Frakas 06 Nov 2001

Inquisition QUESTION from Manuel Perez on June 19, 2002 I've heard that an approximate total of 40 million people were burned at the stake as heretics,in the different inquisitions,especially the notorious Spanish Inquisition.Some Catholic historians have said that the number of those who were burned at the stake doesn't exceed 2,000 persons.What seems to be a realistic number? The above figures seem ridiculous.
Thank You & God bless!
ANSWER by Q & A Staff on June 25, 2002 Dear Manuel,
the actual number is in fact about two thousand. This figure is cited (with reference) on page 237 of Patrick Madrid's book Pope Fiction (Basilica Press, 1999) in the chapter on Pope Sixtus and the Inquisition. The same chapter also includes a quote from Edward Burman, a non-Catholic critic of the Inquisition, which reports that the (Spanish ) Inquisition was

>blockquote> certainly no worse than contemporary secular courts in other countries...The record [of large numbers slaughtered] is biased by 17th and 18th century works [which] ...inspired a legend of violence and torture far worse than the reality of the Inquisition. (Edward Burman, The Inquisition, Hammer of Heresy, Dorset Press (1992), page 150; quoted in Madrid op.cit , p. 236.)
I will cite from one of my earlier answers, to give a little background on this subject:
In centuries past, religious rebellion amounted to civil revolution, and those who incited religious uprising were in fact terrorists and revolutionaries. The reason for this was as follows: before the Protestant revolt in the 16th century, the whole of Europe was Catholic. Not only that, but the social order was such that the various states of Europe identified themselves with the Catholic faith. Hence any attack by heresy on the Catholic faith was perceived as an attack on the State and even on society itself. This point is crucial. The whole idea of the inquisition was a means of protection for both Church and State against the threat of heresy (and hence social revolution).
The reasoning for the institution of the Spanish Inquisition in 1478 was to root out the false „conversos“, i.e. those who had converted to the Catholic faith from Judaism or Islam but who had not done so genuinely, and continued in secret to practise their old religion. Spain at the time had many such false conversos (tens of thousands, in fact), and they represented a threat to the security of the state. Why? Because Spain, like the whole of Europe, was under threat from Muslim invasion., and had been at war with the Muslims for over 700 years; hence any Muslims who went undetected in Spanish society and gained positions of power, these people represented a very real threat to the possible invasion of Spain by Muslim forces (please remember this was a wartime situation, and security was a paramount issue). The Pope was an overseer and could not control everything that was happening in what was, at the end of the day, an affair of the State; in fact, in one case the pope reprimanded two Dominicans, Miguel de Morillo and Juan de San Martin, for abuse of their powers. In total, there were something like 2000 executions in the Spanish Inquisition, and these were done by the civil authorities, the ecclesiastical tribunal having no part in the executions, but merely in determining if the charges were true or not. (There is one celebrated anti-Catholic source which claims 50 millionwere executed by the Inquisition, but of course this is a ludicrous figure; they would have had to execute all the Catholics in Europe, and more, to get to that figure!)
Thanks, Manuel,
God bless,
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