Press Conference Interventions on

Press Conference Interventions on L'Inquisizione: 15 June


[15 June 2004]

Card. Etchegaray: Setting the tone

My intervention will be very brief: for my part, it is merely a matter of setting the tone for this press conference. And this tone is not difficult to establish since it will suffice to refer to Tertio Millennio Adveniente, which recalls the Inquisition as a "painful chapter of history to which the sons and daughters of the Church must return with a spirit of repentance" (n. 35).

This is what John Paul II did during the Great Jubilee, prepared by the International Symposium and whose proceedings we have received at last, published thanks to the ceaseless, scrupulous care of Dr Agostino Borromeo, who has acted as its helmsman, so to speak, under the patronage of the Vatican Library and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran.

A tribute has thus been paid to a historical truth to which the Church is not afraid to submit her past. Minds are constantly obsessed with the memory of the Inquisition and its image as a myth of intolerance and violence that welled up from the depths of Christianity.

I take this opportunity to recall here the extraordinary work done by the Historical-Theological Commission of the Jubilee, co-presided by Cardinal Cottier and Archbishop Fisichella. In addition to its Jubilee publications, let us not forget an additional two important colloquiums: on "The roots of anti-Semitism in the Christian context", and the other on "The implementation of the Second Vatican Council".

May the light of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 continue to enlighten and guide us!

Cardinal Tauran: The link between the Inquisition and the Vatican Library

The book presented today is n. 417 in the series Studi e Testi published by the Vatican Apostolic Library. Three years ago, this prestigious collection celebrated its centenary. Like all the publications in this series, the Proceedings obtained flying colours in a rigorous examination by an Editorial Commission and were accepted for their scientific value and also for their timeliness, in a certain way revitalized on the eve of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

The Vatican Library was therefore involved in the project exclusively as editor. Nevertheless, taking into account the closeness of this project to the historically involved places and institutions and its "bookish" nature, so to speak, as well as the link that this word instantly evokes, it might be possible to investigate some connection between the Inquisition and the Library. This is neither the place nor the time for an exhaustive reply. Research under way can briefly be said to refer to a twofold connection, the patrimony of books and of persons.

Down the ages, there have been transfers of documentary material little known to the academic world between the two institutions, a two-way exchange and always at the explicit wishes of the Pontiff.

In 1559, for example, there was a delivery of "five great sacks of books, prohibited by the custodians of the Apostolic Library, to the Holy Office of the Most Holy Inquisition of Rome". More than three centuries later, a part of those books, together with others, many of which are "bibliographical rarities", will be moved back to the Vatican Library.

In 1934, about 1,200 works selected from among the 2,000 of the Library of the Holy Office were also brought to the Vatican Library. This time they were not prohibited works: at least ideally, these works represented the canonical, theological and juridical references of the work carried out by the Father Inquisitors; in other words, they constituted their library.

The link between the Inquisition and the Vatican Library may have been even deeper: sometimes the eminent prelates also had roles of responsibility and thus defined the policy of both institutions.

Today, however, like the identification of the library material transferred from the Holy Office to the Vatican Library, this topic too is still the object of research by the scientific staff of the Vatican Library and will in due course be made available to the public.

I would also like to express on behalf of the Prefect of the Vatican Library and all its collaborators, as well as of the scholars who consult it, my pleasure at having taken part in this project, even though as no more than a useful appendage.

Cardinal Cottier: Scandal vs. witness

At the beginning of its activity, in thinking about the task that lay in store for it, the Historical-Theological Commission of the Committee for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 immediately grasped the importance of nn. 33-36 of the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (1994).

We read: "Hence, it is appropriate that, as the second millennium of Christianity draws to a close, the Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children, recalling all those times in history when they departed from the spirit of Christ and his Gospel and, instead of offering to the world the witness of a life inspired by the values of faith, indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counter-witness and scandal" (n. 33).

Although the Church is holy through her incorporation into Christ, she never tires of doing penance; she always recognizes her sinful children as her own, before God and before mankind. In this regard Lumen Gentium affirms: "The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal" (Lumen Gentium, n. 8).

Because of its newness and daring, this message made so strong an impact that some people felt daunted. It demanded theological examination.

What does this paradox mean: A holy Church that clasps sinners to her bosom? What is the meaning of the Gospel witness as a dimension of Christian life and of the antithetical conduct of counter-witness and scandal?

To answer these questions, therefore, it seems appropriate to ask ourselves what constitutes true scandal and where is it found. The field of investigation that thinkers are invited to delve into is vast. It is included in the context of what the Holy Father calls the "purification of memory", since historical memory, that is, the image we form of the past, is not exempt from distortions and prejudices.

It goes without saying that a request for forgiveness must concern true and objectively recognized events. We do not ask forgiveness for the several images proffered to public opinion that are mythical rather than real.

It is not for nothing that the Commission was called "Historical-Theological". The contributions of historians were, in fact, indispensable.

A first Symposium treated the Roots of Anti-Judaism in the Christian Milieu (1997). On a serious historical basis, it constituted an examination of conscience and reflection by theologians with a view to a theology of Israel. The Proceedings were published in 2000.

The book we are presenting today contains the Proceedings of the Second International Symposium on the Inquisition, held at the Vatican from 29-31 October 1998.

It was essentially a colloquium between historians, chosen by virtue of their scientific competence and taking into account the international character of the participation.

A scientific committee composed of Professors Guy Bedouelle, O.P., Agostino Borromeo and Jean-Pierre Dedieu selected those to be invited.

Prof. Agostino Borromeo, whom I thank, has been involved in the publication of the Proceedings. We all regret that this book is coming out so late. A rumour had it that its publication was impeded by someone's opposition. I would like to deny this absolutely. The delay has been due to a series of health problems.

I am particularly grateful to the Vatican Apostolic Library, represented by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, Librarian of His Holiness, and to Fr Farina, the Prefect, for having published these Proceedings in the prestigious series Studi e Testi.

I also thank all the participants in the Symposium and all who have contributed to its success, especially Mrs Pierette Rombis, who has been a precious collaborator in the preparation of the Symposium and has ensured that everything proceeded smoothly.

Lastly, the fact that the Holy Father sent his Message that was read at the opening of the session is one more proof of the interest he is taking in this initiative and of its importance, which he recognizes.

Indeed, the Symposium is in continuity with the preparations for that important moment, the Liturgical Celebration for the Day of Pardon [which was held] on 12 March 2000.

Professor Borromeo: Completeness, excellence guide Symposium

The book on the Inquisition that is being officially presented to the press today contains reports and statements read at the International Symposium which took place at the Vatican from 29 to 31 October 1998. This is not the place for even a summary analysis of the work. Yet, in order to understand its structure and content, it may be worthwhile recalling the criteria that inspired the planning and realization of the Symposium.

To conceive of the programme for a Symposium dedicated to considering all aspects of the Inquisition was no small undertaking. The term "Inquisition", as is well known, normally denotes a complex of ecclesiastical tribunals whose heads, expressly delegated by the Pope, were invested with the power to judge a specific crime: heresy.

The institution did not come into being fully developed. During the Pontificate of Gregory IX (1227-1241), special commissioners (inquisitores) began their activity; they were delegated by the Apostolic See with the duty to combat heresy in certain regions.

The development of the activities of these first inquisitors and the increase in their number led to the birth of an ecclesiastical institution. As, time gradually passed, the Papacy endowed this institution with its own organization, bureaucracy and norms (especially with regard to the procedure for trials), which gave the Inquisition its special features. Like all human institutions, it was destined to develop apace with the times and places.

In the 13th and 14th centuries it was especially active in combating the medieval heretical movements (especially the Cathari and the Waldensians), and in the 15th century it declined.

But later, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the institution forcefully resumed its activities; new tribunals were founded on the Iberian Peninsula (their activities focused mainly on pseudo converts from Judaism and Islam) and the Roman Holy Office was established, conceived initially as an instrument to fight the spread of Protestantism. The tribunals ended by being suppressed between the second half of the 18th century and the first decades of the 19th: in Italy, under the impulse of enlightened ideas and the programmes for ecclesiastical reform promoted by various principles, and on the Iberian Peninsula, due to the effect of the affirmation of a liberal ideology. The Spanish tribunal was the last to disappear: it was abolished in 1834.

The Roman Congregation of the Holy Office survived until the radical reform of Paul VI in 1965, who changed its name to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as it is known today.

In organizing the Symposium, the current Cardinal Georges Cottier presided over the Scientific Committee that adhered to two fundamental principles:

1. to embrace the whole history of the institution, from its origins to its abolition, seeking to identify the most important topics;

2. to identify the most distinguished international scholars in order to invite them as official relators and experts to enliven the discussions with their interventions.

With regard to the first point, the programme began with the events that led to the creation of the Inquisition in the 13th century, concerned mainly by the spread of heresy (France and Italy in particular) and its procedures.

In treating the modern history of the institution, the reports were divided instead into two categories: mostly geographical (Spain and Portugal, with their respective colonial empires; Italy, with particular reference to the Roman Congregation of the Holy Office; Holland and England) and those mostly thematic (the suppression of Judaism and Islam, Protestantism and the phenomenon of witchcraft; the fight against the circulation of prohibited books, both literary and scientific, and of Bibles in the vernacular; the historical context in which the tribunals were abolished and the historiography of the institution). The programme began and ended with theological considerations in order to fit the problems treated into a broader context.

With regard to the second point (the choice of relators), the Scientific Committee relied on a single criterion: the fame enjoyed by the scholar invited as an indisputable specialist on the specific topic to be addressed. In cases where it was possible to choose from several names with equal conditions, the Committee abided by the criterion of internationality. In fact, scholars taking part in the Symposium as relators or as experts came from Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Malta, England, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, the Czech Republic, the United States and Canada.

The book given to the press is in any case fuller than the initial programme had foreseen, because at the end of the Symposium the Scientific Committee invited the experts who had taken part in the discussion to present a written text of their interventions. Some of them accepted the invitation; their texts have been interspersed with the official reports with which, because of the topic treated, they had an affinity.

At a strictly cultural level, the Proceedings of the Symposium are intended to be a reference work for studies on the Inquisition: in the first place, because of the scientific rigour of the reports, free from any residue of the polemic or anxious apology that marks most of the older historiography; secondly, because of the amount of data provided, which has made it possible to review certain common presumptions that are fairly widespread among non-specialists (the recourse to torture and condemnation to death were not as frequent as has long been believed); thirdly, because there are grounds for hope given the size of the volume that its publication will spark a new intellectual debate on the topic and act as an incentive for further research.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
23 June 2004, page 4

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