Faith/Spirituality Forum: Inquisitions
Inquisitions QUESTION from Jack Madenhaur on February 3, 2003 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?
How could the church deny equal guilt with the Spanish government, when the guilt and/or innocense was determined by members of the church?
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on February 9, 2003 Dear Mr. Madenhaur:
Well, I an happy to see that you give a more accurate figure on the number of executions. Some people, like some fundamentalist TV evangelists give utterly stupid figures like 20,000,000.
Before addressing the Spanish Inquisition specifically, let me first discuss the Inquisition, in general.
The Inquisition, which is still active today by the way in the form of the Sacred Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith, is about confronting charges of heresy or other crimes of the faith and attempting to bring that person to repentance.
We recently witnessed this motive in the case of Bishop Morino who married a woman in a ceremony with the Moonies. The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Inquisition Office) informed the Bishop that he would be excommunicated unless he had the marriage annuled and returned to the Church. The Bishop, faced with this penalty, repented. That is the ultimate desire and goal of the Church when she excommunicates a person. This has ALWAYS been the goal.
The Church has a responsibility to protect its members against those persons who would contaminate them with heretical notions or other heterodoxy. Thus, the examination of those charged must be brought forward for the sake of the faithful.
The unfortunate fact of the Middle Ages was that when the Church found a person guilty of heresy, the state, independent of the Church, considered the heretic to be a threat to the State. The Church has nothing to do with this. Such an evaluation was the personal decision of the State authorities.
During the Middle Ages there were more than 150 crimes in which the death penalty was applied. This was the norm for the period and had nothing to do with the Church. The State applied the death penalty against some who were considered heretics.
But you have to understand that in many cases, the people who were found guilty of heresy by the Church were ALSO a threat to the State independently of their heresy. The State, oftentimes, just used the heresy angle as a excuse to rid themselves of those they considered undesirable or a threat to the order of the State.
Because the State may take a convicted heretic and execute him cannot be charged against the Church. The Church has the moral obligation placed upon her by Christ Himself to protect the faithful against heretics.
The Church fulfilled that responsibility before and after the Middle Ages. There is no substantive difference in the Church's concern about heretics. It was merely a matter of the historical times that the State used heresy as reason to execute some people.
With that said, the question arises, Were their clerics who improperly conducted their investigations or conspired with State officials to have someone executed?
The answer to that is Yes. There were individual bishops and priests who did violate the Church's directives on how to do investigations and who did sin by conspiracy with the State.
The most famous example was Joan of Arc. The bishop and the Inquisitor priest conspired with the English to have Joan put to death. The declaration that she was a heretic was not proper and was made for politically reasons.
This was the sin of the individual bishop and priest in question, NOT of the Church herself. These clerics VIOLATED Church teaching. The Church cannot be held accountible when its members sin any more than we can be held accountible because one of our cousins or brothers robbed a bank.
Now to the issue of the Spanish Inquisition.
Originally the Spanish Inquisition was approved by the Pope, but it soon became obvious that the King and Queen of Spain werew abusing this for political reasons. Thus, the Pope, at the time, rescinded his approval and condemned the Spanish Inquisition.
Those bishops and priest who participated in the Spanish Inquisition after this condemnation were sinning and not acting on behalf of the Church.
Here are some articles on the Inquisition:
Encyclopedia on the Inquisition
Also books like Christ the King, Lord of History by Anne Carroll and Triumph by H.W. Crocker III give an accurate testiment of the Inquisition period.
Back to Index Page