Beyond the Myth of The Inquisition: Ours Is the Golden Age

Author: Brian Van Hove, S.J.

Beyond the Myth of The Inquisition: Ours Is The Golden Age    

Brian Van Hove, S.J.

Long did old-fashioned English Protestants and other anti-Catholics put their attention upon words such as "jesuitical,"  "popish," "jansenistic," and "inquisitorial" in their polemics.  But possibly the most odious, and the most successfully  repromoted, is the idea of the hated Inquisition as the cruel tool  of the Catholic Church to crush its enemies. By this means,  especially for English-speakers, Catholic Spain was portrayed as  the arch-enemy of all Protestantism. In the United States,  whether it be the vulgarized Chick comics, or the sophisticated  Ivy League intellectuals in 1960 who feared the Kennedy campaign,  the Inquisition is generally assumed to be the Roman part of the  triad denounced by clergyman Samuel Dickinson Burchard1 in 1884 in  the famed expression "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion." American  Know-Nothings and John Foxe's Book of Martyrs constantly  reprinted, or even the purveyors of the post-1968 sexual  revolution or abortion-on-demand today, bring up the ghost of the  Inquisition to suit their diverse purposes. But what do they know  of its history? Are they aware the Inquisition was never  primarily an anti-Protestant body, and that Philip II of Spain  never had a consistently anti-Protestant foreign policy? Is it  clear that most countries had their own equivalent structure for  judging heresy, with no need to import anything similar from  Spain, whether the would-be importer were Catholic or Protestant?  How many remember that anti-Spanish feeling ran high in Italy  where the Spanish Inquisition was ridiculed — and where Italian  Catholics scorned the idea of racial purity? "It is one of the  features of inquisitorial history that its practitioners have  consistently failed to compare the Spanish Inquisition to  comparable courts elsewhere in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century  Europe."2

 Distinctions are still often not made between the Roman (and  purely ecclesiastical) Inquisition, and the Spanish secular- ecclesiastical "dual" Inquisition whose famous administrator was  the Dominican Tomás de Torquemada. His career as Grand Inquisitor  (sole control was never his — he shared it with other "heads")  ended with his death in 1498, well before the advent of Luther and  Calvin. Most often with no elucidating context, the Inquisition  is assumed to be a weapon of the Catholic Church against all  heretics, in whatever age, even though its somewhat mild  ecclesiastical form was originally set up after 1232 to deal with  the Cathars or Albigensians in late medieval France.3 Or, it is  seen as the sole reason for the downfall of Spain itself in later  centuries.

 But setting up a tribunal was nothing new, and the majority of  dioceses had courts authorized by the bishops to judge a variety  of cases and subjects according to canon law. Heresy was only one  field of their inquiry; an "inquisition" was just a more  particularized juridical entity akin to what we might call the  office of "special prosecutor" today.4 For the most part no other  judicial system existed other than the ecclesiastical, and it took  centuries for the European secular state to emerge with its own  totally separate system of law enforcement and justice. As a  matter of fact, many inquisitors were laymen trained in law, and  denunciations were routinely made by ordinary citizens, not  special spies. The gothic image of the "mad monks" whose  espionage network extended everywhere goes against the abundant  authentic documentation we have available.5 The Inquisition was  never as efficient as it would have liked to be, and as the  decades wore on it became a sclerotic bureaucracy like any  bureaucracy. It had always depended upon being itinerant, and  when this ceased or was slowed down, even greater inefficiency  ensued.

 As to the severity of the Inquisition, the following is  informative for the contemporary reader:

 The proportionately small number of executions is an effective  argument against the legend of a bloodthirsty tribunal. Nothing,  certainly, can efface the horror of the first twenty holocaust  years. Nor can occasional outbursts of savagery, such as overtook  the Chuetas in the late seventeenth century, be minimized. But it  is clear that for most of its existence the Inquisition was far  from being a juggernaut of death either in intention or in  capability. The figures given above for punishments in Valencia  and Galicia suggest an execution rate of well under 2 per cent of  the accused. It has been estimated that in the nineteen tribunals  analysed above, the execution rate over the period 1540-1700 was  1.83 per cent for relaxations in person and 1.65 per cent for  relaxations in effigy. If this is anywhere near the truth, it  would seem that during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries  less than three people a year were executed by the Inquisition in  the whole of the Spanish monarchy from Sicily to Peru — possibly a  lower rate than in any provincial court of justice. A comparison,  indeed, of secular courts and the Inquisition can only be in favor  of the latter as far as rigour is concerned. In 1573, for  instance, the corregidor of Plascencia handed over to the Holy  Office in Llerena a Morisco condemned by his jurisdiction to be  hanged and quartered for allegedly smashing an image of the  Virgin, but the Inquisition found the case unproven and set him  free. It must be remembered, of course, that although the death  rate was low it was also heavily weighted against people of Jewish  and Moorish origin. The relative frequency of burnings in the  earlier years disappeared in the eighteenth century, and in the  twenty-nine years of the reigns of Charles III and Charles IV only  four people were burnt.6

 The Spanish institution of the Holy Office of the Inquisition,  modelled after the original French,7 was intended to have been a  more temporally limited politico-national project to deal with the  problem of the "conversos" ("New Christians"). Some of them were  indeed only feigning Christianity, sometimes because they had  never been taught much about it, or because they belonged to  "underground" communities that were scattered around the  peninsula. It was the case in pre-Counter Reformation Spain that  many rural and mountainous areas of the country were only  superficially Christianized anyway, and gross ignorance was the  norm for clergy and people. The judaizers tended to live in the  cities, though, as did the Jews generally. The "false Christians"  stirred up a dissent which alarmed the upholders of civic order,  when church and state in an integral society were legally and  psychologically inseparable. The Inquisition just sharpened old  ethnic tensions, and did not invent them. They had long existed,  despite "convivencia."8

 Muslims and Jews did not fall under the jurisdiction of the  Inquisition because they were not baptized. On the other hand:

 All properly baptized persons, being ipso facto Christians and  members of the Catholic Church, came under the jurisdiction of the  Inquisition. Foreign heretics, therefore, appeared from time to  time in autos held in Spain. The burning of Protestants at  Seville in the mid-1500s shows a gradual increase in the number of  foreigners seized, a natural phenomenon in an international  seaport.9

 The partly hidden issue was in effect racial, not doctrinal at  all, because the Old Christian elite sometimes felt outdone by the  New Christian elite. This whole topic was called limpieza de sangre (purity of blood). The notion of honor (more akin to what  we might call "pride") was also a cultural one, and honor went  along with the lineage of being an Old Christian. Racialism grew,  and Old Christians developed more and more anxiety about their own  race. "Anti-semitism obviously existed, but the discriminatory  statutes of limpieza did not begin to gather force until after  the statute of Toledo in 1547."10 It became a question of  national security. The dark side of this racialism only served to  weaken Spain, and by the seventeenth century considerable  opposition had grown to the cult of limpieza.

 By the end of the fifteenth century, however, there were actually  "new conversos" and "old conversos," too, who further complicated  this issue in Spanish society. Conversos were well-placed in Rome  to lobby the papacy in their favor, and the practice on occasion  worked out well for them. Popes regularly were in conflict with  Spanish monarchs over these and other issues.

 After the original crisis, more significantly, it just happened  that the Inquisition outlived its purpose and lingered on.11 Some  have always insisted that at any time the Catholic Church could  re-activate this institution which they allege rests on torture  and the extraction of confessions by coercion, among other ugly  features.12 Honest students of history regard this assertion as  mere propaganda. Note the following secular source. Reginald  Trevor Davies, author of The Golden Century of Spain, writes the  following in his article in volume 21 of the Encyclopaedia  Britannica:

 The Spanish church was wealthy and powerful because the people  were intensely religious and because it was largely a national  institution in which no foreigner might hold office and in which  the crown was supreme (papal power having been reduced almost to  the vanishing point). It was, consequently, a fact of serious  political importance that during the anarchy of Henry IV's reign  (1454-1475) the Jews gained great power and influence. They might  compel _ sometimes by means of their usury — their debtors to  renounce the Christian religion; and Marranos (baptized Jews)  often preserved their old religious faith in secret. At the same  time the power of the Moriscos (baptized Moors) had increased, and  they were reviving ancient heresies such as the half-forgotten  Manichaeism. The Catholic kings consequently consulted Pope  Sixtus IV, who thereupon issued a bull (Nov. 1, 1478) authorizing  them to choose two or three inquisitors notable for their virtue  and learning, to whom he granted jurisdiction. The bull was put  into force by a royal cedula (decree) issued in Medina del Campo  (Sept. 17, 1480) ordering the establishment of the Holy Office in  Castile.13

 The original crisis was a real one. We can only regret that the  "inquisitors notable for their virtue and learning" were not as  often found to do the work as was originally intended by pope and  king. If anything, inquisitors and their lesser employees  ("familiars") were more prone to pettiness, laziness, and greed,  than to cruelty. Of these, greed was dominant.

 Church historians have been slow to study seriously this matter of  the Inquisition. "Church history generally lagged behind other  kinds of historical research, and confessional feelings still ran  sufficiently high as to make the history of inquisitions a  difficult and disputed topic."14 Fortunately, all this has  changed in our time, and three whose work is perhaps most helpful  to us are not Catholics at all. Only one of them is a "church  historian" properly speaking.

 Let us next look at the remarks of Owen Chadwick, and then  continue with a more detailed presentation of the work of Henry  Kamen,15 and Edward Peters,16 both already cited. No one could  accuse any of these respected academics, the first two of them  British, of any denominational pro-Catholic bias. Yet they show  the Inquisition in a different light from that of the exaggerated  misrepresentations the Spanish themselves call The Black Legend  (La Leyenda Negra).17

 Chadwick simply says that no primary documentation on the Spanish  Inquisition was concretely in hand until the time of Llorente  early in the nineteenth century. Kamen goes beyond. After paying  respects to Llorente, Fidel Fita who did original research in the  1890s, and Henry Charles Lea whose four-volume history was  published between 1906 and 1908 and is still considered  indispensable, he goes on to insist that even this type of  research into the primary sources outside their proper context can  be and is misleading, "rather as if one were to attempt a history  of the police without knowing much about the society, the laws or  the institutions within which the police work."18 Again he puts  it nicely for us:

 The discovery of the riches of inquisitorial documentation, and  its exploitation first by Llorente and then by Henry Charles Lea,  has helped to restore the balance of information but has also  created new dangers. Scholars are in danger of studying the  Inquisition in isolation from all the other dimensions of State  and society, as though the tribunal were somehow a self- explanatory phenomenon: as a result old misconceptions are being  reinforced and the Inquisition is once again being assumed to have  played a central role in religion, politics, culture and the  economy.19

 Thus both the primary sources and an adequate interpretation of  them are required if we are to get beyond The Black Legend.  Peters, assuming all of the above, tries to help us understand how  the myth of the Inquisition has been so successfully recycled  and revived by various interest groups down through history and in  our own time.

 Llorente himself held high office in the Inquisition during his  own day, and he was one of the few afrancesados or collaborators  with the occupying French during the Napoleonic-era in Spain.20  This is Chadwick's summary of his career:

 The most interesting of the afrancesado clergy was Juan Antonio  Llorente (1756-1823). A canon of Calahorra, the French Revolution  found him Secretary General of the Inquisition in Madrid, as a  result of which the reforming grand inquisitor gave him important  materials for a history of the Inquisition. In the events of 1808  he accepted King Joseph Bonaparte and entered Madrid in his train.  As one of the few Spanish churchmen to be serviceable, he was now  heaped with honours and responsible work, especially the  dissolution of the monasteries and the administration of  confiscated goods, as well as the custody of the archives of the  Inquisition. He used the time to gather materials for his  history. Naturally he must retreat with the French and spend ten  years in exile until the Spanish government gave him a reprieve.  In 1817-1818 he published at Paris in four volumes his Critical  History of the Spanish Inquisition, which scandalized many  Spaniards and finally gave the Spanish Inquisition the blasted  reputation which it kept. The History was instantly put upon  the Index of prohibited books. The account was not impartial  history. But it was the only account hitherto by anyone who had  access to authentic documents and therefore held the field as  indispensable. In the perspective of Church history, and the  reputation of Spanish Catholicism for bigotry and fanaticism,  Llorente's book was the most weighty single outcome of the little afrancesado movement among Churchmen.21

 Very few Spanish clergy betrayed their country, so Llorente was  the exception. But this is not what made him famous. It was his  possession of the documentation on the Inquisition that earned him  a reputation and thus made him important for us. He held the  evidence. And his biased presentation held sway for lack of any  countervailing influence.

 British historian Henry Arthur Francis Kamen has no apparent  reason to defend the record of the Spanish Inquisition. He got  his M.A. (Oxon.) in 1965, the same year he published his Spanish  Inquisition. He specializes in Spanish history. Twenty years  later he published another updated study on the Inquisition in the  early modern period called Inquisition and Society in Spain.22

 Among the first things Kamen brings to our attention is that  Llorente himself was astonished at the lack of any opposition to  the Inquisition in Spain itself.23 This fact from the  documentation can be interpreted variously, of course — were  people just too afraid to speak out? But two additional facts are  also necessary to consider.

 The first is that the civil variety of the Inquisition was a court  alien to the older and more tolerant Spanish traditions and was  introduced only in time of crisis. It was long unpopular in  Aragon, for example, where local feudal freedoms from royal absolutism ("fueros") resented its presence. Castilian  inquisitors were also resented in Catalonia and elsewhere outside  Castile, precisely because they were outsiders.24 But people can  put up with just about anything when threatened with a crisis  situation, and so the "early" Inquisition was tolerated, as were  "later" ones when special crises obtained.

 Secondly, as noted above, it was supposed to be a temporary  measure against judaizer-heretics who were then mainly the  "converso" party of Jews (only later were ex-Muslims the object of  the Inquisition) forced in 1391 and thereafter to be baptized or  face exile or death.25 After the breakdown of the spirit of  "convivencia," the Old Christians actually feared for their blood  lines, and so after 1480 tolerated the Inquisition at times more  for the sake of "ethnic cleansing" than religious orthodoxy.26  All of this may be against our standards today, but it does have a  precise understanding in Spanish social history. Here is what  Kamen says of their tolerance:

 What did Spaniards themselves think of the Inquisition? There can  be no doubt that the people as a whole gave their ready support to  its existence. The tribunal was, after all, not a despotic body  imposed on them tyrannically, but a logical expression of the  social prejudices prevalent in their midst. It was created to  deal with a problem of heresy, and as long as the problem was  deemed to exist people seemed to accept it. The Inquisition was  probably no more loved or hated than the police are in our time:  in a society where there was no other general policing body,  people took their grievances to it and exploited it to pay off  personal scores. By the same token, it was on the receiving end  of frequent hostility and resentment; but at every moment the  inquisitors were convinced that the people were with them, and  with good reason.27

 Was Spain a closed or an open society? Kamen goes on to say these  astonishing things:

 The image of Spain as a nation sunk in intellectual torpor and  religious superstition, all of it due to the Inquisition, is one  that Menendez Pelayo was right to controvert. Spain was in  reality one of the freest nations in Europe, with active political  institutions at all levels. Remarkably free discussion of  political affairs was tolerated, and public controversy occurred  on a scale paralleled in few other countries.28

 Let us not forget, either, that the works of Galileo were never  put on the Spanish Index of Forbidden Books!

 Anti-semitism after 1480 in Spain was local, and the monarchy  continued, at least for a while,29 to be the traditional defender  of the Jews, both those who remained Jews by religion and the  "converso" communities. Kamen even points out that "converso"  financing was partially responsible for outfitting the ships  Columbus used to discover the New World.30 Many rich or famous  "conversos" were never troubled by the Inquisition. Others lived  abroad to avoid it, such as Juan Luis Vives. The pattern is an  uneven one. It was widely held that almost the whole of the  nobility had Jewish blood. By the seventeenth century, the  limpieza statutes had actually closed some government and  academic posts to the nobility, but by reason of blood, opened  them to common people!

 An outdated Catholic publication (1931) states that the last  victim of the Inquisition in Spain was a schoolmaster hanged in  1826. Some limpieza statutes lingered for a few more decades  into the nineteenth century. We should note that the thoroughly  enfeebled institution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries  is hardly comparable to the one functioning under Ferdinand and  Isabella at the close of the fifteenth century.31 "In rounded  terms, it is likely that over three-quarters of all those who  perished under the Inquisition in the three centuries of its  existence, did so in the first twenty years."32 This synthetic  summary is the reasoned fruit of Henry Kamen's painstaking  analysis:

 The Inquisition was not the imposition of a sinister tyranny on an  unwilling people. It was an institution brought into being by a  particular socio-religious situation, impelled and inspired by a  decisively Old Christian ideology, and controlled by men whose  outlook reflected the mentality of the mass of Spaniards. The  dissenters were a few intellectuals, and others whose blood alone  was sufficient to put them outside the pale of the new society  being erected on a basis of triumphant and militant  conservatism.33

 This new society is the "conflict society" referred to above, the  one gradually replacing the older medieval "convivencia." The  Inquisition must be understood in the broader terms of Spanish  social history and the development of its institutions. The lack  of perspective of earlier English Protestant propagandists or even  modern Jewish apologists is insufficient, for it often had less to  do with religion taken for itself than with politics and  fratricidal rivalries. The papacy tried at times, and sometimes  failed, to mitigate the effect of the Spanish Inquisition.34  Economics, too, played its part, especially when we recall that  the inquisitors, forever in search of revenue, were usually paid  out of their confiscations, not by a salary meted out by the crown  from other sources or taxation.35 Until the themes of the  evolution of Spanish "conflict society," "closed society," and  "conservative xenophobia society," are explored fully, and the  Inquisition is not excised from the whole to be looked at in  distorted isolation — and Kamen insists the work has just begun —  we will not have an adequate appreciation of the phenomenon of the  Inquisition. The word "appreciation" is operative, because it is  a departure from the stereotype of The Black Legend. This is no  mere revisionism, either. What can increasingly be understood and  appreciated by specialists of Spanish history must be popularized  to prevent it from becoming one of those "best kept secrets" of  Church history or even world history.

 While Henry Kamen is the type of historian who "tells the story"  so the record can be clarified, Edward Peters is more concerned  with The Black Legend aspect of the Spanish Inquisition. One of  the reasons for the legend is the secrecy of the Inquisition when  it came to procedures:

 Judicially, the courts of the Inquisition were no worse and no  better than the secular courts of the day. Faults existing in the  procedure of the Holy Office would be no less evident in the royal  courts where reforms were instituted by the famous Cortes of  Toledo in 1480. The distinguishing feature of the Inquisition —  its absolute secrecy — was the one which made it more open to  abuses than any public tribunal. This secrecy was not, it seems,  originally a part of the inquisitorial framework, and early  records refer to public trials and a public prison rather than a  secret one. But by the beginning of the sixteenth century secrecy  became the general rule and was enforced in all the business of  the tribunal. Even the various Instructions of the Inquisition,  although set down in print, were for restricted circulation only  and not for the public eye. What this necessarily involved was  general public ignorance of the methods and procedure of the  Inquisition — an ignorance which in its earlier period helped the  tribunal by creating reverential fear in the minds of evildoers,  but which in its later period led to the rise of fear and hatred  based on a highly imaginative idea of how the tribunal worked.  The Inquisition was therefore largely to blame for the unfounded  slanders cast upon it in the eighteenth century or before. The  natural outcome of this enforced ignorance is shown by the debates  of the Cortes of Cadiz in 1813, on the projected decree to abolish  the Inquisition. If the defenders of the tribunal relied on the  argument of a mystical and mythical unity given to Spain by the  Inquisition, its detractors relied almost completely on legendary  misapprehensions about the entire structure and function of the  institution.36

 We see from this that the Inquisition, in a later age, was its own  worst enemy and that it opened itself to misunderstanding  precisely on grounds of procedure which had been secret, often to  protect the witnesses who had come forward. For example, a  sufficient number of them had been assassinated to warrant their  protection, so thought the tribunals.

 Edward Peters employs terminology which is useful for us in making  distinctions:

 When I use the term inquisition (lower case), I address the  function of institutions that were so called, as historical  research has described them. When I use the term Inquisition  (upper case) I always refer in shorthand to a particularly  constituted, specific institution (such as the Spanish Inquisition  or the Venetian Inquisition). When I use the term The  Inquisition, I am referring in one form or another to an image,  legend, or myth, usually in polemic. These decisions will not  satisfy everyone, but they at least make an honest attempt to  remove some of the dangerous presuppositions that often creep into  even the most evenhanded attempts at historical neutrality.37

 For our purposes here, Peters' treatment of "an image, legend, or  myth, usually in polemic" is what interests us.

 The construction of The Inquisition, according to Peters, begins  with the need of the Protestant Reformers to fill in the gap of  Church history from the time of the early martyrs in the Roman  empire up to their own time in the sixteenth century. What had  happened during all those intervening centuries when the Roman  Church held sway? Luther and others posited a "hidden church"  that was indeed a continuity from the ancient Christians,  especially the martyrs, through those persecuted by the medieval  inquisitions, and up to the Protestant martyrs of his own day.  The Inquisition was the instrument of their martyrdom. Later,  the historian Flaccius Illyricus developed this further:

 Protestant Church history and martyrology were first fully  developed in the work of Matthias Flaccius Illyricus (1520-1575),  the greatest Protestant historical scholar in the sixteenth  century. In 1556 Flaccius published his Catalogue of Witnesses  to the Truth, in which the "hidden" Church of Luther and the  early Calvin took on visibility and specificity, turning the  Catholic attack on its head by claiming medieval heretics, not as  "heretics of old," but precisely as continuing witnesses to the  apostolicity and authenticity of the hidden church from the fourth  century to the sixteenth.38

 A new Protestant vision of Church history had emerged and became  codified. The Cathars/Albigensians, Waldensians, Hussites, and  others were reinterpreted in the light of the theory of the  "hidden" church of the pure Word. And it was The Inquisition  which persecuted the "hidden" church in every age, even, as noted  above, potentially in our own.

 Definite elements went into the construction of The Black Legend.  The hatred of the pope, the anti-cult of St. Dominic, the Spanish  king, and the inquisitorial tribunals all coalesced into a  martyrological whole.

 For both Catholics and Protestants the Revolt of the Netherlands  in the sixteenth century provided a useful political rallying  point for anti-Spanish feeling translated into the anti- Inquisitorial symbol. The Low Countries could see in the foreign  emperor the source of their deprivation of liberty, and the  literary supports especially in this region of much publication  and traditionally free presses helped immensely.

 Highly influential was the work of Antonio del Corro (writing  under the pseudonym "Reginaldus Gonsalvius Montanus") A Discovery  and Plaine Declaration of Sundry Subtill Practices of the Holy  Inquisition of Spain which appeared in Latin in Heidelberg in  1567. Within a year it was translated into Dutch, English,  French, and German.39 For reasons which varied, the audiences of  those language regions enthusiastically welcomed the ideas of  Montanus.

 More than one major forgery also helped the legend's growth:

 Along with Les subtils moyens, Montanus, and the Augsburg  Petition, several forged accounts of the Spanish Inquisition's  alleged machinations for the destruction of the Netherlands also  circulated in the 1570s. Some of them, added to Adam  Henricpetri's history of the revolt of the Netherlands, were also  translated into English in A Tragicall Historie of the Troubles  and Civile Warres of the Lowe Countries in 1583. One forgery,  composed shortly after 1570, purported to be a decree of the  Spanish Inquisition dated 16 February, 1568 and confirmed by  Philip II. . . . The determination of this decree as a forgery was  not made until the beginning of the twentieth century, and the  forgery survived unquestioned in the work of all major historians  of the Dutch Revolt and of the history and character of the  Inquisition.40

 Finally, only one more document need be mentioned, and, according  to Peters, it synthesized forty years of anti-Inquisition  propaganda. It is the Apologie published by William of Orange.  It completes the "portrait" of Montanus, and lays stress upon the  Spanish Inquisition as the enemy of all political liberty, thus  validating the Dutch Revolt. The Spanish king was merely the dupe  of the Inquisition, and so legitimacy was not itself directly  attacked in the political realm. Needless to say the Apologie,  written by a French Huguenot, found wide audiences in France,  England, and even Germany.41

 There were other writings produced by this barrage of propaganda,  but it is enough here to say that the materials printed between  1548 and 1581 themselves became the sources for the later  historians, including Gerhard Brandt's History. Peters adds:

 Many people who found it difficult to agree with each other on  many issues found it easy to agree upon The Inquisition. By the  beginning of the seventeenth century, they had invented a new and  potent idea of the western imagination.42

 It was not until the time of Llorente that hard reliance upon the  primary sources was assured, and then with his furious bias which  earned the Spanish exile some notoriety. The mood of the  Enlightenment and the French Revolution would hardly have produced  someone whose goal was to rehabilitate the Inquisition!  Undoubtedly fame was more important for him than the impartial  truth, because contemporary scholars credit Henry Charles Lea  (1825-1909) with far more fairness.43 And as Chadwick also said  above, Llorente himself interpreted those documents in a way that  "gave the Spanish Inquisition the blasted reputation which it  kept." But this is not quite the case, as we have seen. The pre- existing mythology was reinforced by Llorente on a different  basis, the evidence of the primary sources. Llorente did not  invent the mythology, but he did his part to help it continue.

 The Enlightenment made use of The Inquisition mostly to contrast  it with its own program of reason and reform. The myth had long  passed into art and literature, in many ways more impressive and  moving than the polemical writings of the time of the Dutch Revolt  and the Protestant historians. Even traditionalist writers in the  nineteenth century such as Dostoyevski delved into the Black  Legend by giving us a portrait of The Grand Inquisitor.

 Catholics were not exempt from contact with the myth, either, and  Peters refers to a "White Legend":

 If Paramo may be said to have created a Catholic "White Legend" of  The Inquisition intended to offset the Protestant and anti- Spanish "Black Legends," then certainly not all Catholic  historians of the inquisitions participated in the White Legend.  In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, other Catholic  historians tended to align themselves with the methods of  historians of other confessions, or of no confessions at all,  although the Paramo strand remained obvious in the most  conservative and ideological of Catholic historians through the  nineteenth and into the twentieth century. In Catholicism itself,  myth survived along with the beginnings of history.44

 And again:

 From Acton's day to our own, however, most Catholic and non- Catholic historians have tended to use identical historical  methodology and to have ceased to approach the history of  inquisitions from the perspective of Black or White legends.  Although there have been several exceptions to this generalization  on both sides of the confessional line, the historical  achievements of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries have  made a return to the myths, among professional historians of any  creed at least, virtually impossible.45

 With the publication of Henry Charles Lea's A History of the  Inquisition of the Middle Ages in 1887, "the golden age" of  inquisition history was barely opened. We are now enjoying it  more fully, and it is still in its early stages. Sources and  methods have been improved, confessional bickering has been  bypassed, and legends have been set aside. But in the popular  imagination, the old myth lingers, in Europe as well as in  America. Until the work of Chadwick, Kamen, Peters, Henningsen,  and their associates is made more widely known, we will not be  able to appreciate that ours is such a "golden age."46 As Albert  Shannon hopes, the fruit of Inquisition studies should not remain  the possession of the specialists.47


 1 Burchard (1812-1891) was speaking for a deputation of clergy  calling upon James G. Blaine, the Republican Presidential  candidate, New York.

 2 Edward Peters, Inquisition (Berkeley: University of  California Press, 1989), 87.

 3 Before this papal inquisition, jurisdiction over heretics  belonged exclusively to the bishops. A well known work using the  papal registers which documents this newer system and interprets  it according to the "Annales" School is Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's  Montaillou: village occitan de 1294 a 1324 (Paris: Gallimard,  1975). An English translation was done by Barbara Bray,  Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error (New York: George  Braziller, 1978). Montaillou was the last village which actively  supported the Cathar heresy. Furthermore: ". . . the Spanish  Inquisition is one of the few early modern institutions about  whose organization and procedure an enormous amount of  documentation is available. In part the Inquisition, like any  judicial court, needed paperwork in order to survive: the  struggle to establish precedents and to keep written evidence of  privileges forced officials to record everything." See Henry  Kamen, Inquisition and Society in Spain in the sixteenth and  seventeenth centuries (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,  1985), 169. The papal inquisition itself may be said to date from  1184 when Pope Lucius III issued the decretal Ad abolendam,  which confirmed an agreement of 1177. See Peters, ibid., 47. The  limited scope and non-universality of the inquisition can be  summarized in these words: "Thus the Spanish Inquisition must be  considered essentially as an incident in the history of  Christianity in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Spain and  understood in those terms. Erected in the late fifteenth century,  it lasted for three hundred and fifty years, and its history is  the history of an early modern European religious and judicial  institution whose purpose was to preserve Spanish Catholicism by  visibly and publicly reasserting the religious orthodoxy of  Spanish society." Ibid., 101-102.

 4 For the legal history and the roots of inquisitio in Roman  law, see Peters, ibid., 11-17.

 5 Kamen, 142-143. See for example The Inquisition in Early  Modern Europe: Studies on Sources and Methods, ed. Gustav  Henningsen and John Tedeschi with Charles Amiel (Dekalb: Northern  Illinois University Press, 1986). The enormous quantity of the  material and the work to be done is evident.

 6 Ibid., 189. "The best estimate is that around 3000 death  sentences were carried out in Spain by Inquisitorial verdict  between 1550 and 1800, a far smaller number than that in  comparable secular courts." Peters, ibid., 87.

 7 See Kamen, 24; 136-137. The medieval Inquisition was under the  jurisdiction of the pope, while authorization for the new Spanish  Inquisition was mediated through the pope to the king who  therefore exercised his jurisdiction as he saw fit. In one place,  Kamen affirms that the Inquisition's authority was never defined,  and that it was "dual," both ecclesiastical and civil in Spain:  "The truth is that the Inquisition itself always refused to define  its own jurisdiction clearly, since that would have been to set  clear limits to its power." Ibid., 240.

 8 In Spanish history this referred to the pluralistic and  harmonious coexistence of the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic  communities in the Middle Ages. Gradually, Spain moved away from  harmony to a "conflict society."

 9 Ibid., 216. If anything, the Inquisition was highly  "legalistic" and it abided by the precise boundaries provided by  church and civil law.

 10 Ibid., 219. Kamen tells us that even after the Inquisition had  ceased to exist there was a legacy of anti-semitism — "anti- semitism with neither Jews nor crypto-Jews" — in the nineteenth  and into the twentieth centuries. See ibid., 235-237.

 11 In 1495 there were sixteen tribunals, but by 1507 only seven  were left, so much had the judaizing threat decreased. The  appearance of Protestantism outside Spain had stirred Charles V to  be on guard lest it invade the Spanish peninsula. This gave the  Inquisition a new target and a new focus — to root out  Erasmianism, Lutheranism, and any other Protestant tendencies.  The expulsion of the Mariscos, 1609-1614, was not the decision of  the Inquisition. See ibid., 113. ". . . it may be more  informative to divide the activity of the tribunal into five main  phases: i) the period of intense anti-converso persecution after  1480; ii) the relatively quiet early sixteenth century; iii) the  great period of activity against Protestants and Moriscos, 1560- 1614; iv) the seventeenth century, when most of those tried were  neither of Jewish nor of Moorish origin; v) the eighteenth  century, when heresy was no longer a problem. Ibid., 184.  Despite this, there were two other "waves" of anti-judaizing  persecution, one in the mid-to-late seventeenth century (conversos  of Portuguese origin) and one in the 1720s. Ibid., 219-237. Also  see Peters, ibid., 88.

 12 It may not console too many, but those condemned to the auto-de-fé (death by burning at the stake) could renounce their errors  and receive a lighter sentence. It is also possible there were  dissimulators who did what they had to do in order to live. Those  who begged for mercy, and had their confession accepted, were  pardoned with a light penance if it was the first offense  (relapsed heretics were not pardoned easily). Ibid., 75. Also,  an "edict of grace" was read in church in the early years, and it  was followed by a "period of grace" of usually thirty or forty  days. Those who turned in both themselves and their accomplices  were pardoned. Self-denunciation under such benign terms was  common. Ibid., 161-162. For prison conditions and the subject of  torture, see ibid., 171-177, and Peters, ibid., 92-93. The  Inquisition actually compares quite favorably with secular penal  institutions in Spains and elsewhere in Europe. What about  burnings? "The central features of the auto were the procession,  the mass, the sermon at the mass and the reconciliation of  sinners. It would be wrong to suppose, as is commonly done, that  the burnings were the centrepiece. Burnings may have been a  spectacular component of many autos but they were the least  necessary part of the proceedings and scores of autos took place  without a single faggot being set alight. The phrase auto-de-fé  conjures up visions of flames and fanaticism in the mind of the  average Protestant reader. A literal translation of the phrase  would bring us nearer to the essential truth." Ibid., 194. "The  public sentencing of convicted heretics came to be known as the  auto-de-fé, the 'act of faith'." Peters, ibid., 85. In other  words, auto pageantry (remember how much Spaniards like  bullfights!) was designed to instruct, impress, and inspire the  crowds in the direction of religious orthodoxy. This was a form  of popular education, in other words.

 13 See Encyclopaedia Britannica, art. "Spain," vol. 21 (London:  William Benton, Publisher, 1960), 121-122.

 14 See Peters, ibid., 287.

 15 He advises to look beyond his own writing on the subject, too.  Other works he recommends include Emil van der Vekene's list of  source material in Bibliotheca Bibliographica Historiae Sanctae  Inquisitiationis (2 vols., Vaduz 1982-1983), and Angel Alcalá  (ed.) Inquisición española y mentalidad inquisitorial  (Barcelona, 1984). This work brings together all the proceedings  of a symposium on the Spanish Inquisition held at Brooklyn  College, New York, in 1983. Probably the most complete research  tool came out after Kamen published, however. It is The  Inquisition in Early Modern Europe: Studies on Sources and  Methods, ed. Gustav Henningsen, etal. (Dekalb: Northern Illinois  University Press, 1986).

 16 His valuable Inquisition came out after Kamen had published.  In his bibliographical essay Peters lists Kamen's history just  after the work of Henry Charles Lea.

 17 "The juridical base of the Inquisition's first auto-de-fé  against Protestantism was the Tridentine decrees on justification  of 1547. Philip himself was in the royal gallery at the great  auto-de-fé at Valladolid on October 8, 1559, which meant that  these decrees had been confirmed by fire. Whereas Charles had  done what he could to obstruct the decrees, Philip would be one of  their most vocal exponents. More than orthodoxy was now involved:  the honor of the Inquisition was concerned as well as that of the  Catholic King himself. Spain was now irrevocably committed to the  Council of Trent. This is by no means to suggest that the  grotesque portrait of Philip of the black legend has not been  properly discredited. He enjoyed no particular monopoly on  intolerance." Donald Nugent, Ecumenism in the Age of the  Reformation: The Coloquy of Poissy (Cambridge: Harvard  University Press, 1974), 41.

 18 Kamen, Preface viii.

 19 Ibid., 259. Kamen concludes that the Inquisition was actually  a marginal phenomenon in the evolution of Spain, and that it  touched the lives of relatively few ordinary Spaniards.

 20 Chadwick says: "At the time the Spanish resistance called them  simply by the name traitors. History gave them the name  afrancesados, the Frenchified. . . ." See Owen Chadwick, The  Popes and European Revolution (Oxford: The Clarendon Press,  1981), 530.

 21 Ibid., 530-531. See also Peters, ibid., 278-287.

 22 See note 3 above.

 23 Kamen, 44.

 24 Ibid., 243.

 25 Kamen says: "The deliberate stimulation of a feeling of crisis  (aggravated by converso plots, by the murder of Arbues, by the  episode of the La Guardia infant), and the universal response to  the great twelve-year-long crusade against Granada pressurized  public authorities to conform and stilled the protests of  individuals. Because the Inquisition was a crisis instrument, it  may be that Ferdinand never intended it to be permanent (no steps,  for example, were taken to give it a regular income). This  certainly was the feeling of the Toledo writer who commented in  1538 that 'if the Catholic kings were still alive, they would have  reformed it twenty years ago, given the change in conditions'.  The unprecedented activities of the Holy Office were deemed to be  acceptable only as an emergency measure, until the crisis had  passed." Ibid., 46. Possibly many of the converso heretics had  never been properly catechized, and this explains the continued  existence of judaizing practices. Some prominent Spaniards called  for evangelization, not Inquisition. Ibid., 46-47.

 26 We learn this about what the Inquisition really discovered:  "In the early years of the Inquisition, considerable evidence came  to light not simply of judaizing but also of messianism on one  hand and irreligious scepticism on the other; many conversos,  indeed, were ironically condemned for beliefs that orthodox  Judaism would have regarded as heretical, such as denying the  immortality of the soul. Dissent among the conversos did not,  therefore, necessarily imply any drift towards Judaism. There was  nothing remotely Jewish about the beliefs of the alumbrados: the  root influence was Franciscan spirituality, the environment was  the comfortable patronage afforded by Old Christian nobility."  Kamen, 67-68.

 27 Ibid., 256. There is also evidence that some of the most  sophisticated people of Spain condemned the Inquisition and its  practices. See ibid., 47-49.

 28 Ibid., 99.

 29 Since the expulsion of the Jews and Moors was not the business  of the Inquisition, we will not treat of it here. The monarchy  did approve, but the circumstances are complex.

 30 Columbus himself may have descended from "converso" stock. See  ibid., 21.

 31 See The Catholic Encyclopaedic Dictionary, entry  "Inquisition, the Spanish," second edition revised, ed. Donald  Attwater (London: Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1951; first  published 1931), 256. Kamen says the Inquisition was suppressed  in 1820 (ibid., 235) and again finally suppressed in 1834 (ibid.,  250). "From 1808 to 1834, the Inquisition had virtually ceased to  function, its existence chiefly a symbol of Spanish resistance to  any reform — whether externally imposed or internally directed —  that seemed to stray too far from Spanish ideas. Its victims had  long since disappeared, its powers of censorship had been greatly  curtailed, and its use as a political device had long since ceased  to be needed. It became in itself an auto-de-fé— a ritual  institution whose existence had come to symbolize the civil  Christian life of the Spanish people. Few had any notion of its  history or any knowledge of its actual operation." Peters, ibid.,  104.

 32 See Kamen, 42. And on the matter of terror: "Because the  holocaust years of the late fifteenth century were by no means  typical of the atmosphere during the remaining three centuries of  inquisitorial history, any emphasis on the fear induced by the  tribunal must take account of the fact that over long periods  there was no fear in the sense of universal anxiety." Ibid., 164.

 33 Ibid., 61.

 34 For example, "In 1546 the pope intervened and decreed that for  a minimum period of ten years the Inquisition should not  confiscate any property from the Moriscos." Ibid., 105.

 35 This is how the system worked: "There were certainly no  financial problems in the first years. Because the Inquisition,  despite its ecclesiastical appearance, was an exclusively royal  tribunal, all revenue from confiscations and fines went directly  to the crown, which in turn paid out for the salaries and expenses  of the inquisitors; under the Catholic Kings, the Holy Office was  totally subject to the crown for finance. As late as 1540 the  Suprema reported that orders for salaries of inquisitors in the  crown of Aragon were always signed by the king and not by the  Inquisitor General. The crown, however, helped itself to so much  inquisitorial income that very soon it had to find extra money for  salaries, and Ferdinand therefore turned to the Church." Ibid.,  149. This led to an abuse that might have been predicted: "The  dangers of this situation were certainly in the mind of the  anonymous converso of Toledo who in 1538 directed a memorial to  Charles V: 'Your Majesty should above all provide that the  expenses of the Holy Office do not come from the property of the  condemned, because it is a repugnant thing if inquisitors cannot  eat unless they burn.' Unfortunately, this is exactly what the  inquisitors of Llerena were forced to do." Ibid., 150.

 36 Ibid., 168-169. Even prisoners upon leaving were bound to  secrecy: "On finally leaving the gaol they were obliged to take  an oath not to reveal anything they had seen or experienced in the  cells: small wonder if this absolute secrecy gave rise to the  most blood-curdling legends about what went on inside." Ibid.,  173.

 37 Peters, ibid., 7.

 38 Ibid., 128.

 39 Ibid., 133.

 40 Ibid., 152.

 41 Ibid., 153.

 42 Ibid., 154.

 43 Philip van Limborch's History of the Inquisition of 1697 was  also a pioneering work of care and fairness, beyond polemic, but  he did not have access to the same primary sources as did Lea.  See ibid., 275. For the opposite assessment of Lea's fairness,  and especially a criticism of his competence, see Albert C.  Shannon, The Medieval Inquisition (Collegeville: Michael  Glazier/The Liturgical Press, 1991) esp. Appendix II, 152-156.

 44 Ibid., 271-272.

 45 Ibid., 273-274.

 46 See ibid., 288. In the French-speaking world, the work of  Henri Maisonneuve should also be mentioned. See Etudes sur les  origines de l'inquisition (Paris, 1960), and "Le droit romain et  la doctrine inquisitoriale," Etudes d'histoire du droit  canonique, dediees a Gabriel Le Bras (Paris, 1965).

 47 Shannon, ibid., Foreword, xii.

Taken from:
Faith and Reason © 1992
Winter 1992

To subscribe:
Christendom Press,
2101 Shenandoah Shores Road,
Ft. Royal, VA 22630
Tel: 703-636-2900
Fax: 703-636-1655.