Truth About The Spanish Inquisition

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Truth About The Spanish Inquisition

Post#1 » Sun Apr 23, 2006 11:36 pm

Date: Mon, 17 May 1999 20:42:16 -0400
From: Catholic Dispatch <>

Truth About The Spanish Inquisition

Here is a short portion taken from David Goldstein's 1943 book, "LETTERS Hebrew-Catholic to Mr. Isaacs". It is valuable not only because it clears up the many lies that have been formed over the years regarding the Spanish Inquisition and the Church, but also because the author himself is of Jewish extraction, having converted to Catholicism; in 1955 he was named a "Knight of St. Gregory" for his apologetic works by Pope Pius XII.

Catholics should no more feel ashamed when they hear of the "Spanish Inquisition" than when they hear of the convening of an historical General Council, or even the denial of St. Peter. The former being beneficial and necessary for the Church, the latter being an abuse that cannot be attributed to the Church Herself. Let us spread the truth about the Spanish Inquisition so as to counteract the libelous things being spread about the Church to the public by means of school books and the Mass Media.

A student of prejudices once said,

"The mind is like a sheet of white paper in this, that the impressions it receives oftenest and retains longest, are the black ones."

The truth of this observation is never more apparent than when considering the Jews and the Spanish Inquisition. If the teachings of the Old Testament were dinned into the minds and hearts of Jews as continually as is this historic calamity, the rabbis would not have to bemoan the lack of interest in religion on the part of children of Jewish parentage as they did lately at their Atlantic City Conference. Jewish book after book, weekly and monthly publication after weekly and monthly publication, so incessantly harp upon the Spanish Inquisition that it has become a Jewish "persecution complex," as Maurice Fueurlich said in the "Forum" (Sept., 1937). In writing on "Children of a Martyr Race," this writer says, that "the Spanish Inquisition has been dinned into my consciousness so deeply that it became a basic element in my emotional life."

The Jewish version of the Spanish Inquisition, which took place four hundred and fifty years ago, is the source from which has emanated much Jewish fear of the Catholic Church, and much hostility towards Jews who enter her communion. This is true even among rabbis who seek a union of forces with Catholic priests against the injustices of our time that afflict the Jews. They hold that as long as Christianity is divided; as long as Catholics are in the minority there is no fear. But should the Catholic Church ever become the only Christian Church, as she was during the middle ages, then beware of the Auto-da-Fe (Act of Faith), a solemn religious ceremony that the uninformed and the misleaders hold to have been a place of torture and burning at the stake.

Those in Jewry who speak or write about the Spanish Inquisition, with minor exceptions, have received their knowledge of it from prejudicial sources, or from persons whose data concerning it were taken from poisoned sources of information. That accounts for your prodding me, as have many others, with the query:

"How can you join a church that inflicted the cruelties practiced upon your own people during the Spanish Inquisition?"

Your query could be dismissed with the simple declaration that my journey to the baptismal font of the Catholic Church was conditioned upon my belief in her principles, and not upon agreement with everything done by Catholics during the Spanish Inquisition, or any other intense historic period. But the import of your query, considering that the Spanish Inquisition is a bugbear that closes the Jewish mind to things Catholic, prompts me to deal with the subject at length, and without any equivocation.

Properly to understand this question, it is necessary to bear in mind the fact that an inquisition is a court of inquiry; that all societies, including your Masonic lodge, have temporary or permanent trial courts, under different names, to examine members charged with violating their principles. If adjudged guilty, such members are punished, though not by "having their throats cut across, their tongues torn out by the root, and their bodies buried in the sands of the sea," as you "solemnly swore" to permit your lodge to do when you became a Master Mason, in the event that you revealed its secrets. If secular societies may legitimately institute such courts, and impose sentences, then why has not the Catholic Church a greater reason for the institution of an inquisitorial court, considering that to violate her sacred principles is to violate the principles God taught man through Moses and His Son Jesus, the Messiah?

To properly understand this question, it is necessary to bear in mind the fact that the Inquisition was instituted in Spain for persons who professed to be Catholics and not for practicing Jews. It was to unearth, and to bring to penance, not merely heretics, as many Jews believe, but also bigamists, adulterers, blasphemers, and other violators of the principles of the Church to which they, as baptized men and women, were obligated to be true. George E. Sokolsky, publicist, of New York City, says in "We Jews,"

"The task of the Inquisition was not to Persecute Jews but to cleanse the Church of unorthodoxy. The Inquisition was not concerned with infidels outside the Church but with heretics within it" (N.Y., 1935, p. 53).

The Spanish Inquisition was instituted to weed out those baptized Jews and Moslems who pretended to be sincere Catholics, while they secretly adhered to the practices of Judaism and Mohammedanism, which is a most serious sacrilegious offense. They were also enemies of the State, which was Christian in principle and carried the Cross in battle against the Crescent. As further evidence, consider what Dr. Salo Wittmayer Baron, one of America's foremost Jewish historians, has to say about this matter. I quote from "A Social and Religious History of the Jews" (N.Y., 1937, VOL 2 p. 58) -

"It appears to be a fact as well as a theory that Jews who never ceased professing Judaism were, on the whole, left undisturbed. - In the fourteen years of the activity of the Spanish Inquisition, from its establishment in 1478 to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, we hear of only one persecution directed against a Jewish community, where the Jewry of Huesca was accused in 1489 of having admitted conversos (pseudo-converts from Judaism to Christianity) to the Jewish fold. It was precisely the inability of the inquisitorial courts to check Jewish influence on the conversos that served as a decisive argument for the Catholic monarchs in banishing Jews from Spain......

Properly to understand this question, it is necessary to bear in mind the fact that Spain was at war for more than a half dozen centuries against the Mohammedans with whom the Jews were lined up against the Spaniards. It was a battle of the Cross against the Crescent. This is vouched for by Graetz's "History of the Jews," the "Jewish Encyclopedia," the "Encyclopedia of Jewish Knowledge," "Vallentine's Jewish Encyclopedia," and other authorities of foremost standing in Jewry. The two last named say,

"The Spanish Jews welcomed, it is even said that they invited, the Arab invasion. Under the Caliphate (Mohammedan ruler) of the West, with its capital at Cordova, their members (the Jews) grew and they attained great influence in the State" (Dr. Cecil Roth, in Vallentine's J.E., p. 612).

"It is admitted that the African Jews aided the Arabs in the capture of Cordova, Malaga, Granada, Seville, and Toledo and these cities were placed under Jewish control by the conquerors" (Ency. J. Knowledge, p. 531).

Properly to understand this question, it is necessary to bear in mind the fact that as far as the abuses of the Inquisition are concerned, the Catholic Church is no more responsible for them than she is for the Spanish bull fights which she condemned. Those abuses were committed, with a few exceptions, by the civil power, and they were condemned by Popes Leo X, Paul III, Paul IV, and Sixtus IV who reigned during that period of history. That is very likely news to you, as it is to most Jews, who have been "fed up" with stories of the Auto-da-Fe that are as far from being true as are the stories about Jews slaughtering Christian children to use their blood for ritual purposes.

Properly to understand this question, it is necessary to bear in mind the fact that the popes were the protectors of the Jews, and not their enemies. Rome was a haven of refuge for the persecuted Jews when the Eternal City was ruled by the popes, to which many of the Jews driven out of Spain migrated. You need not take my word regarding the friendliness of the popes, as it is confirmed by Dr. Cecil Roth of London, Jewry's leading present-day historian on the middle ages. He said a few years ago, while addressing the Zionist Forum in Buffalo, N.Y.

"Only in Rome has the colony of Jews continued its existence since before the beginning of the Christian era, because of all the dynasties of Europe, the Papacy not only refused to persecute the Jews of Rome and Italy, but throughout the ages popes were protectors of the Jews.

"Some Jews have the feeling that the Papacy has a policy of persecuting Jews. But you must remember that English history is definitely anti-Catholic' and your views of Catholicism may have been colored by English history. We Jews who have suffered so much from prejudices, should rid our minds of prejudices and learn the facts. The truth is that the popes and the Catholic Church from the earliest days of the Church were never responsible for physical persecution of Jews and only Rome, among the capitals of the world, is free from having been a place of Jewish tragedy. For this we Jews must have gratitude" (Feb. 25th, 1927).

Properly to understand this question, it is necessary to bear in mind the fact that many, many centuries before the Catholic Church came into existence the Jewish Church put to death violators of the Mosaic Law, for infractions of that Law which were not as serious as the offenses of which Jews were guilty in Spain. This was done by the priests of Jewry, whereas the extreme penalties during the days of the Spanish inquisition were imposed by the state, as heresy was considered to be a crime in those days. That abuses took place at times on the part of the inquisitors is not denied. The Catholic Church, while divinely protected from error in defining matters of faith and morals, does not claim to be immune from acts of abuse of power on the part of some of her children, even in high places. Such an abuse on the part of officials of the Church caused Pope Leo X to excommunicate the Catholic tribunal at Toledo, and to have the witnesses who appeared before its inquisitorial trial arrested for perjury. This was during Spanish Inquisition days. But such an abuse of power was rare, as the spirit of charity dominated those historic inquiries regarding heresy. Persons called before the inquisitors who repented were released after promising to mend their ways and to do the penances enjoined, such as fasting, wearing a special penitential garb for a time, and imprisonment, which very often was in the houses of the penitents themselves. Torturing and burning were no part of the solemn religious ceremony called the Auto-da-Fe, where the penitents abjured their errors and made public recantation, by making an Act of Faith.

To properly understand this question, it is necessary to bear in mind the fact that extreme punishments meted out during the middle ages, such as burning at the stake, which you and I abhor, were common throughout the world at that time. They did not originate during the middle ages, having been the law before the Christian era. Such punishment did not shock the people then any more than the people of our country are shocked at the present time by the lethal chambers, hanging, lining men up against the wall before firing squads, and electrocution, penalties imposed for kidnaping and sometimes burglary, as well as for murder and treason, Please do not conclude from this that the people in former times were less merciful than we are. Such punishments were meted out more often, and for lesser offenses, in Protestant England (the source from whence most anti-Catholic history emanated) than in Catholic Spain. As evidence, I recommend reading "The Protestant Reformation," by William Cobbett, a Protestant historian.

Properly to understand this question, it is necessary to bear in mind the fact that Jewry inflicted the same sort of severe punishments long before the Christian era, when blasphemy was rightly considered to be a major offense, being directed against Almighty God. It is for that offense, falsely charged, that the Sanhedrin, under the direction of the high priests, declared Jesus to be worthy of death, for claiming to be the Messiah. In answering the inquiry, "What are the types of capital punishment according to Jewish law?" the "Oracle," a Jewish publication, replied,

"According to the Jewish law there are four kinds of execution, stoning, burning, the sword and strangling. Death by strangling is not in the scriptures, but the rabbis interpreted that wherever death is mentioned without specific mode, strangling is generally meant" (Carl Alpert, Boston. 1935, p. 77).

Such capital punishments were inflicted in Jewry not only for blasphemy, but for Sabbath-breaking, witchcraft, idolatry, refusal to submit to the decrees of the priests or judge, and for a dozen other offenses, as well as murder.

Properly to understand this question, it is necessary to bear in mind the fact that the Catholic Church can no more be judged by the abuses of the Spanish Inquisition, which ended in the deportation of about 160,000 Jews (including many who were not guilty of offenses against the Church or the State), than Judaism can be judged by the persecution of the people of Edom, descendants of Esau. Jewish minds have been poisoned against the Catholic Church through stories about the Inquisition; whereas it is most difficult to find Catholics who have even heard the story of Jewish persecution of the Idumeans. I quote it from "The History of the Jews," by Graetz, though the same thing can be found in the life of Josephus, the Jewish Encyclopedia, and many other authoritative Jewish publications,

"After the victory over the Samaritans, Hyrcanus marched against the Idumeans, laid siege to their two fortresses, and after having demolished them, gave the Idumeans the choice between acceptance of Judaism, and exile.... For the first time Judaism, in the person of its head, John Hyrcanus (high priest), practiced intolerance against other faiths, but it soon found out with deep pain how highly injurious it is to allow religious zeal for the preservation of the faith to degenerate into the desire to effect violent conversion of others...."

These forced conversions of the people of Edom did bring a painful experience upon Jewry from which it never recovered. It robbed Jewry of more than Esau (of whom the Idumeans are descendants) robbed his brother Jacob. It gave Jewry the Herods (Idumeans) who ruthlessly ended the Judaean Maccabean dynasty and its Hasmonaean high priestly family; the Herods who "appointed the high priests (including Caiaphas and Annas) - and took over the government of the Jews," as Josephus says, and finally lined up with Titus in the siege of Jerusalem.

After all that has been said, the fact remains that the Spanish Inquisition was a much to be regretted calamity; it was necessitated by the conditions of the time, and it cannot be rightly understood by the conditions of our time. Our "third degree," drastic though it is, cannot be compared to the in. human methods in the world during inquisition times, and for many centuries before the Christian era. Deportation, which climaxed the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, is always to be deplored irrespective of the cause of it or whom it afflicts. It was resorted to because, as Dr. Baron the Jewish historian said, "the inquisitorial courts could not check the Jewish influence on the conversos," the fake converts from the Synagogue to the Church, "who," the Encyclopedia of Jewish Knowledge says, "were the direct cause of the inquisition" (p. 331).

Whatever may be said about the abuses of the Spanish Inquisition, which are to be deplored, the following two simple facts ought to remove from Jewish minds that historic obstacle to an open-minded examination of the teachings of the Catholic Church. First, the Catholic Church has as legitimate a right to weed out pseudo converts from Judaism as the priests and Sanhedrin in Jewry had to bring to book the members of their Church who violated the Mosaic Law. The Catholic Church had a much sounder right to do so than had the descendants of the deported Spanish Jews to excommunicated Spinoza and other pantheistic Jews from the Synagogue in Amsterdam, finally driving them out of Holland. Heinrich Graetz says,

"The Amsterdam rabbis introduced the innovation of bringing religious opinions and convictions before their judgment seat, of constituting themselves a sort of inquisitional tribunal, and instituting autos-da-fe which, even if bloodless, were not less painful to the sufferers" ("History of the Jews," Vol. 4, p. 684).

Secondly, if our country may rightly put men through the "third degree"; into concentration camps and prisons; deport them, as well as line them up before firing squads, for sabotage, espionage, "fifth column" activities and other treasonable acts during our short wars; then was the Spanish Government doubly warranted in so doing, considering that she was at war for centuries.

To come back once more to your query, if "what is good for the goose is good for the gander"; if I should not have become a Catholic on account of the injustices perpetrated upon the Jews by the Catholics of Spain, then ought you to refuse to remain a Jew on account of the injustices of the Jews in Edom. Such logic, which follows from the sentiment expressed in your query, is strongly against yourself, because the abuses of the Spanish Inquisition were committed by the State; whereas the forced circumcision of the Idumeans was the work of official Jewry.

...I called to see Mr. C... F.....

His understanding of Judaism, like that of most Americanized Jews, was limited to knowing that Jews are circumcised, barmitzvah, keep the Saturday Sabbath, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, refrain from eating pork, & etc. When it came to principles that are Jewish, he was so lacking in knowledge of them that it was necessary to talk Judaism to him, for without that knowledge it is impossible to understand that Judaism in its fullness is Christianity. Ah, he did know of the Spanish Inquisition. He wanted to know if "the Catholic Church still holds non-Catholics to be heretics, as she did the Jews and Moslems in Spanish Inquisition days." This was not a surprise, because of all things related to the Catholic Church during the twenty centuries of her existence, the Spanish Inquisition is foremost in the minds of Jews. Considering that my conversation with your friend came right after I had written to you about the Spanish Inquisition, a word regarding heresy and heretics will add to your understanding of the subject, as I hope my outline of it last night enlightened Mr. C... F.....

It is commonplace for non-Catholics to assume that the Jews in Spain were all held to be guilty of heresy; that both Jews and Protestants are considered by Catholics to be heretics. This is a false notion, based upon failure to realize that heresy charges by the Catholic Church are brought against Catholics, and not against persons who openly profess to be Jews, Moslems, or Protestants, though they may believe in some things that are heretical....

The Maranos were tried, and rightly found guilty of heresy. They were under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church through baptism, hence their public declaration that they were Catholics, while they were secretly following Jewish practices, was heretical. It was their action that caused the Inquisition to be instituted in Spain in 1480, which lasted until 1492....

Heresy is a sin. It is so declared in Jewish as well as Christian law. St. Paul enumerates heresies among "works of the flesh" (Gal. 5:20). A Catholic who denies one or more of the teachings of Christ is held by the Church to be a heretic. The Catholic Church teaches with absolute authority in matters of faith and morals, hence she is obligated to declare, as did St. Paul,

"Even if an angel from heaven should preach a gospel to you other than that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema" (Gal. 1:8).

This applies to the denial of a single basic Christian teaching, for to deny one of God's teachings is to deny God. Hence a Catholic who proclaims belief in only nine of the Ten Commandments, for instance, is a heretic, as the denial of one of the Commandments is a denial of God, its Author. The same thing applies to every article in the Apostles Creed, and other teachings of the Church.

Heresy, properly understood, is worse than murder. Murder robs man of his physical life, which at best is limited to a short term of years; whereas heresy robs man of his spiritual inheritance; it murders the soul, with the result that the heretic is deprived of an eternity of happiness, in the event of dying unrepentant.

Trial and punishment for Heresy is of Jewish and not of Catholic origin, its objective being to keep pure in hearts the teachings of God; and to safeguard the attainment of eternal life. Look under "Heresy and Heretics" in "Vallentine's Jewish Encyclopedia" for an understanding of the Orthodox Jewish concept of the subject. This is what you will find,

"The term 'heretic' in connection with Judaism may conveniently be applied to any one who does not accept the two Torahs-the Written and Oral-in which Jewish teaching is contained. Apart from the idolaters of ancient times, the Talmud knows four main kinds of such heretics, which however, it is not always careful to distinguish: (1) the Cutheans or Samaritans, who accepted only the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua as inspired, and rejected the rest of the Scriptures; (2) the Sadducees and Boethusians, who rejected the Oral Law; (3) the MINIM - Judaeo-Christians (that is converts from the Synagogue to the Church) and Gnostics-who desired to supplement the TORAH Of Moses with some other TORAH Of superior authority; (4) the APIKORSIM, who denied the divine origin of the TORAH. The Karaite heresy, which appeared later, was essentially the same as that of the Sadducees" (p. 279).

Charges of heresy are not so frequent among non-Catholics today as they were in the religious past, on account of religious indifference, and theological incoherence. In our country, in which about one-third of the Jews of the world reside, a man may believe anything or nothing and be designated by sons of Israel as a Jew. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise could stand up in his "Free Synagogue," in Carnegie Hall, and shout out,

"I do not believe that the Ten Commandments were given by God on tablets of stone and handed to Moses on Mount Sinai. If that be heresy, then banish me from the Synagogue."

This sensational statement obtained the desired front page in the public press throughout the country. Of course, no one can be charged with heresy in a Synagogue that is "Free" from dogma, and from control of any one but the Rabbi himself. Heresy assumes an authoritatively defined belief and practice, such as obtains in the Catholic Church. Hence I asked at the time, "Who has any right to try Rabbi Wise for heresy, in a pulpit where he may speak on any thing he desires, in any manner that suits him personally? The Rabbi was only making a 'stageplay' when he challenged any one to try him for denying the Mosaic miracle." The so-called Jew of Jews, Einstein, went a step further. He denied belief in a personal God, while speaking in a Jewish Theological Seminary. Was he tried for heresy? Not at all. He would very likely have been, and rightly so, were he a member of an Orthodox Synagogue.

I told in my last letter of Spinoza, whose denial of belief in a personal God caused him to be excommunicated by the sons of Jews who were deported from Spain and Portugal on account of the heretical conduct of the Maranos. Spinoza was banished from Amsterdam, and to avoid assassination, after "a fanatic made an attempt on his life with a knife," he left his native city where the "curses had been pronounced upon him" by the rabbis in their leading Synagogue. Gabriel da Costa, is another leading Jew whose tragic life and treatment by these Amsterdam Jews, on account of his heretical teachings, was most dramatic. It inspired Gutzkow's tragedy, "Uriel Acosta"; and Zangwill's "Dreamers of the Ghetto." His denial of the immortality of the soul was rightly called a heresy. The Rabbis caused him to be arrested in Amsterdam, fined 300 guilders, and his "heterodox book to be publicly burned." Let the Encyclopedia of Jewish Knowledge say a further word about him:

"He fled to Hamburg, but soon returned to Amsterdam, and in 1633 became, in his own words, 'an ape among the apes' offering his submission to the Synagogue. Formalist he could not be, and his contrariness resulted in his being made subject to the 'great ban.' For seven years he lived silent and solitary, boycotted even by his relatives. Then he yielded, made confession of error and suffered the ignominy of a public scourging and 39 stripes. He went home, wrote an impassioned sketch of his own life, 'A Specimen of Human Existence,' and shot himself" (p. II).

That the charges against Spinoza and da Costa were warranted, no one can rightly deny, for the Jews of Amsterdam had a definite doctrinal code which they had a right to uphold, as did the Church and the State in Spain. Yet these Rabbis, who belonged to the Amsterdam community that was started by the Maranos (the pretended-to-be-Catholics), who cursed the Catholic Church and Spain for the deportation of their forbears, deemed it legitimate to curse, scourge, excommunicate, and drive from Amsterdam those of their fellow-Israelites who were guilty of heresy. To these Iberian descendents a Dutch Auto-da-Fe was perfectly legitimate, but not one in Spain or Portugal, where the welfare of the State as well as the Church was at stake.

I carried a four page leaflet with me on my visit to the Copley Plaza Hotel, that was being distributed on the streets of Boston, called "Sucker Bait." It told of "Rumors-Lies-Deceits" being circulated by agents of Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. It called upon citizens to report such "fifth columnists" to the Massachusetts Committee of Public Safety. I asked Mr. C... F...., and I ask you, Mr. Isaacs, if it is proper during the present World War, as we three believe it is, to report such "whisperers," who are trying to "Divide and Conquer"; to have them placed into concentration camps if found guilty, then why was it not perfectly legitimate to punish heretics in Spain who pretended to be Catholics in order to undermine the State as well as the Church? Remember that the Maranos were the fifth columnists of the fifteenth century.

Other chapters from David Goldstein's book can be found at the Catholic Dispatch web site [below].

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A New Look At the Spanish Inquisition

Post#2 » Sun Apr 23, 2006 11:39 pm

A New Look At the Spanish Inquisition
by Edward O'Brien

We're all familiar with the popular idea of the Spanish Inquisition, which for centuries
has been depicted as a monstrous tyranny imposed upon Spain by sinister Church and
state officials. Bent on wiping out heresy, the Inquisition, we were told, arbitrarily
arrested innocent Spaniards accused of heresy and browbeat them during endless and
unjust interrogations, often torturing the accused to secure meaningless confessions.
The condemned were then sent to vile prisons, there to await death by burning at the
stake. Some fundamentalists have claimed that millions died in this fashion.

Bigoted, ignorant, and fanatical Dominican friars are shown zealously directing this
cruel and dark page of Spanish history. What Protestant or Catholic child has not heard
of the fearful, macabre horrors of the dungeons of the Inquisition? Men of great
imaginative genius such as Edgar Poe have written of inquisitorial terrors as though
they were worse than the Gestapo's. I remember being appalled by the powerful prose
of Poe's <The Pit and the Pendulum>.

Historians have known for some time that the popular view of the Spanish Inquisition
is only part of the "Black Legend"-that body of writings which, since the 16th century,
has vilified both Spain and its Catholic faith. In the 16th century, Catholic Spain was the
great continental power. Her Protestant enemies were jealous of Spain and many
resorted to lies to help bring down Spanish power and control. Spaniards were
described by Northern Europeans as dark, cruel, greedy, treacherous, ignorant, and
narrow. The Inquisition was fiercely attacked with gross exaggeration. Thus, a
combination of political rivalry, contempt for the Catholic faith, and anti-Spanish
racism created a distorted image of the Inquisition.

Now, however, new and startling information is beginning to blow away the dark
cobwebs of lies and myths-that racist distortion of the Spanish national character and
and Hispanic culture. On June 9th, 1995, the BBC documentary, <The Myth of the
Spanish Inquisition> was aired on <Ancient Mysteries>. TV often trashes the Church,
but not this time. Spanish scholars using computerized searches through the actual
records left by the officers of the Inquisition are showing that the Inquisition had
neither the power nor the desire to put Spain under its control.

Historians interviewed on the program claimed that four out of five Spaniards in the
16th century lived in the countryside, far from the cities where the Inquisition operated.
Transportation was primitive by our standards. The inquisitors had to journey to the
country to question people about heresy. But the roads were bad in winter, while the
summers were fearfully hot. The inquisitors, citified university lawyers, were often
reluctant to make the journey. Furthermore, the Spanish countryman was unversed in
matters of sophisticated theology: He was concerned with physical survival. Heresy
was not likely to arise. And the parish priest of a village, informed that inquisitors were
finally making a visitation, would tell his flock not to make any accusations against
anyone, to say as little as possible, and the inquisitors would go away. Such details are
not the stuff of macabre legends, but they ring true. In fact, the whole tone of the BBC
presentation was cool, crisp, factual, low-key, and convincingly modern.

A most important point made by the Spanish scholars is that the inquisitional courts of
the Church were both more just and more lenient than civil courts and religious courts
elsewhere in Europe at the time. Prisoners in Spanish secular courts, knowing this
would sometimes blaspheme in order to be sent to the courts of the Inquisition where
conditions were better.

Modern Spanish scholars point out that other nations have worse records than Spain in
dealing with heretics. English Catholics suffered horribly under Protestant regimes.
American historian William T. Walsh writes: "In Britain, 30,000 went to the stake for
witchcraft; in Protestant Germany, the figure was 100,000" (<Isabella of Spain>, p. 275).
In Scotland, too, alleged witches were cruelly put to death. Karl Keating quotes from
the <Catholic Encyclopedia>: "It is well-known that belief in the justice of punishing
heresy with death was so common among the 16th-century Reformers-Luther, Zwingli,
Calvin, and their adherents-that we may say their toleration began where their power
ended" (C.E., s.v., "Inquisition," 8:35). Such facts are embarrassing to lovers of the Black

Two books useful for Catholics who want to learn about the real Inquisition of history
are <Characters of the Inquisition> by William T. Walsh, and <Catholicism and
Fundamentalism> by Karl Keating. Both authors are Catholic but neither whitewashes
the Spanish Inquisition. There <were> abuses: instances of cruelty, persecution, and
personal vengeance. It would be strange if there were no abuses in a human institution
that lasted so long. The BBC documentary says torture was used, but it could not last
more than 15 minutes and could never be used twice on the same person. Walsh says
that for torture to be used, a doctor had to be present, and at his command it had to be
stopped. And there were other safeguards.

In any case, no Catholic should ever whitewash the Inquisition. We must honestly
acknowledge that three Popes-Sixtus IV, Innocent VIII, and Alexander VI-tried to
moderate the undue severity of the early Spanish Inquisition. We must also face this
question: Why should anyone ever be put in prison or put to death for believing
heresy? That is not the way of the Gospel, nor the path of reason. Walsh pointedly says
that no Catholic today wants a return to the Inquisition. Nor do we want cover-ups of
the past, for as Leo XIII said, "The Church has no need of any man's lie."

We do serve God in truth and so we should know the full truth about the Inquisition
and refute the preposterous myths made up by enemies of the Church.

For example, Fray Tomas de Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor whose very name is
now a symbol of ruthless cruelty, actually checked the excessive zeal of the earlier
inquisitors in many ways, including the limiting and mitigating of torture. Walsh
thinks that torture under Torquemada was no worse than that used by American police
in the 1930s. Also, under Torquemada's entire tenure as Grand Inquisitor (1483-1498),
100,000 prisoners passed before his various tribunals throughout Spain. Of this number,
less than 2% were executed. In Barcelona, from 1488 to 1498, "one prisoner out of 20
was put to death" (23 executions). Torquemada is not the monster of the Black Legend;
still, he was responsible for, as an estimation, between 1,000 and 1,500 deaths. And by
burning, the common method for those times.

For those who want to be able to defend the Church on this matter, there is much
additional information. For example, Keating points out that there were three
Inquisitions: the medieval, begun in 1184, which died out as the Catharist heresy
waned; the Roman, begun in 1542, which was "the least active and the most benign."
And the Spanish, which he says had "the worst record." The Roman tribunal tried
Galileo, who was not tortured but put under house arrest and later died in his own
bed, after enjoying a papal pension!

The Inquisition never operated in England, Scandinavia, northern Europe, or eastern
Europe. l have never heard of it being in Ireland or Scotland. This is significant, for
though the medieval Catholic Church flourished in these areas, the Inquisition didn't
exist there. Catholic medievalism is not synonymous with courts of orthodoxy. Finally,
Keating reminds us that the Inquisition does not prove the Church to be false, but only
that there are some misguided people within her courtyards.

The relationship of the Inquisition to art is now a troubling matter, after the new
research which the BBC revealed. For example, in Dostoyevski's famous novel <The
Brothers Karamazou>, his imaginary Grand Inquisitor is a sinister horror who is master
of Spain and who intends to put Christ to death after He returns to 16th-century Spain.
Dostoyevski's Grand Inquisitor is a phantom, a creature of delusion, spawned in
ignorance. How can one believe in the Russian novelist's scenario? Can great art be
built on lies? Torquemada was not master of Spain and would not murder Christ. And
what of Poe's tale of the condemned man in <The Pit and the Pendulum?> Since the
setting and the plot are wildly false, what is left? But because of the power of art, these
writings will continue to haunt the imagination and work against the truth. They will
remain as literary thorns in the side of the Church. l doubt if people will discard so
handy a weapon as the Inquisition with which to beat Catholics over the head.

This article was taken from the February 15, 1996 issue of "The Wanderer," 201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107, 612-224-5733. Subscription Price: $35.00 per year; six months $20.00.


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