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The Inquisition And Witch Hunts
The Inquisition And Witch Hunts

The Inquisition And Witch Hunts


Judge Not And Ye Shall Not Be Judged – Part Five

The Inquisition And Witch Hunts

The Moving Finger writes
And, having writ, moves on.
Not all your piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.

From ‘The Rubaiyat’
Omar Khayyam

Notre Dame cathedral was built on a small island called the Île de la Cité, in the middle of the Seine. Construction began in 1163, during the reign of King Louis VII, and was completed in 1345. This places it into the period when the Catholic church ruled supreme with the help of its long arm, the Inquisition. This powerful office was set up to root out and punish every bit of truth that emerged here and there throughout Europe and the Americas. It was declared to be heresy and mercilessly stamped out. Beginning in the 12th century and continuing for hundreds of years, the Inquisition is infamous for the severity of its tortures and in particular its persecution of Jews and Muslims. Its worst manifestation was in Spain, where it was a dominant force for more than two hundred years, resulting in some 32,000 executions.

The Inquisition has its origins in the early organised persecution of non-Catholic Christian religions in Europe. In 1184 Pope Lucius III sent bishops to southern France to track down heretics called Cathars. These efforts continued into the 14th Century. During the same period, the church also pursued the Waldensians in Germany and Northern Italy. In 1231, Pope Gregory charged the Dominican and Franciscan Orders to take over the job of tracking down heretics.

Cathars, in general, formed an anti-sacerdotal party, i.e. hostile to priests and priesthood, in opposition to the Catholic Church, protesting against what they perceived as its moral, spiritual and political corruption. They are now mainly remembered for a prolonged period of persecution by the Catholic Church who did not recognise their belief as Christian. Catharism appeared in Europe in the Languedoc region of France in the 11th century and this is when the name first appears. Languedoc-Roussillon, often called the Languedoc is a historical coastal region in southern France that extends from Provence to the Pyrenees Mountains and the border with Spain. It is now part of Occitanie. Montpellier, its regional capital is home to a well-preserved medieval quarter.

Inquisitors would arrive in a town and announce their presence, giving citizens a chance to admit to heresy. Those who confessed received a punishment ranging from a pilgrimage to a whipping. Those who were accused of heresy were forced to testify. If the heretic did not confess, torture and execution were inescapable. Heretics were not allowed to face accusers, received no counsel and were often victims of false accusations. If you did not like someone’s face, to get rid of them all you had to do is to report them as heretics.

Bernard Gui wrote the influential guidebook for Inquisitors called ‘Conduct of the Inquisition into Heretical Depravity’ in the early 14th Century. Gui himself pronounced over 600 people guilty of heresy and was featured as a character in Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose. There were countless abuses of power. Count Raymond VII of Toulouse was known for burning heretics at the stake even though they had confessed. His successor, Count Alphonese, confiscated the lands of the accused to increase his riches.

In 1307, Inquisitors were involved in the mass arrest and tortures of 15,000 Knights Templar in France, resulting in dozens of executions. Joan of Arc, burned at the stake in 1431, is the most famous victim of this wing of the Inquisition. In the late 15th Century, King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella of Spain believed corruption in the Spanish Catholic Church was caused by Jews who, to survive centuries of anti-Semitism, converted to Christianity. Known as Conversos, they were viewed with suspicion by old powerful Christian families. Conversos were blamed for a plague and accused of poisoning peoples’ water and abducting Christian boys.

Ferdinand and Isabella feared that even trusted Conversos were secretly practicing their old religion. The royal couple was also afraid of angering Christian subjects who demanded a harder line against Conversos. Christian support was crucial in an upcoming crusade against Muslims planned in Granada. Ferdinand felt an Inquisition was the best way to fund that crusade, by seizing the wealth of heretic Conversos. In 1478, under the influence of clergyman Tomas de Torquemada, the monarchs created the Tribunal of Castile to investigate heresy among Conversos. The effort focused on stronger Catholic education for Conversos, but by 1480, the Inquisition was formed.

That same year, Jews in Castile were forced into ghettos separated from Christians, and the Inquisition expanded to Seville. A mass exodus of Conversos followed. In 1481, 20,000 Conversos confessed to heresy, hoping to avoid execution. Inquisitors decreed that their penitence required them to name other heretics. By the year’s end, hundreds of Conversos were burned at the stake.

Hearing the complaints of Conversos who had fled to Rome, Pope Sextus proclaimed the Spanish Inquisition was too harsh and was wrongly accusing Conversos. In 1482 Sextus appointed a council to take command of the Inquisition. Torquemada was named Inquisitor General and established courts across Spain. Torture became systemised and routinely used to elicit confessions. Sentencing of confessed heretics was done in a public event called the Auto-da-Fe. All heretics wore a sackcloth with a single eyehole over their heads. Heretics who refused to confess were burned at the stake.

Sometimes people fought back against the Inquisition. In 1485, an Inquisitor died after being poisoned and another was stabbed to death in a church. Torquemada managed to round up the assassins and burn forty-two people in retaliation. His own downfall came when he investigated members of the clergy for heresy. Complaints to Pope Alexander VI convinced him that Torquemada needed tempering, so was forced to share leadership with four other clergymen until he died in 1498.

Diego de Deza took over as Inquisitor General, escalating the hunt for heresy within cities and rounding up scores of accused heretics, including members of the nobility and local governments. Some were able to bribe their way out of imprisonment and death, reflecting the level of corruption under de Deza. After Isabella’s death in 1504, Ferdinand promoted Cardinal Gonzalo Ximenes de Cisneros, the head of the Spanish Catholic Church, to Inquisitor General. Ximenes had previously made a mark in Granada persecuting the Islamic Moors.

As Inquisitor General, Ximenes pursued Muslims into North Africa, encouraging Ferdinand to take military action. Upon seizing African towns, the Inquisition became established there. Ximenes was dismissed in 1517 after pleas from prominent Conversos, but the Inquisition was allowed to continue. Rome invented its own version of it in 1542 when Pope Paul III created the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition to combat Protestant heresy. This Inquisition is best known for putting Galileo on trial in 1633.

Galileo Galilei, 1564-1642, was an Italian astronomer, physicist and engineer who became known as the father of observational astronomy, modern physics, the scientific method and modern science. He championed heliocentrism and Copernicanism was controversial during his lifetime. The matter was investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, which concluded that heliocentrism was foolish and absurd in philosophy and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture.

Galileo later defended his views in ‘Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems’ 1632, in which he seemed to attack Pope Urban VIII. This alienated Galileo with the Pope and the Jesuits. Both had supported him up to that point. As a result, he was tried by the Inquisition, found vehemently suspect of heresy, forced to recant and had to spend the rest of his life under house arrest. During this time he wrote ‘Two New Sciences’ in which he summarised work he had done some forty years earlier on the two sciences now called kinematics and strength of materials.

Nicolaus Copernicus, 1473-1543, was a mathematician and astronomer o the Renaissance era. He formulated a model of the Universe that placed the Sun rather than the Earth at its centre, in all likelihood independently of Aristarchus of Samos Greece, who had formulated such a model some eighteen centuries earlier

In 1545, the Spanish Index was created, a list of European books considered heretical and forbidden in Spain, based on the Roman Inquisition’s own Index Librorum Prohibitorum. In other nods to Rome’s concerns, the Spanish Inquisition focused on the rising population of Spanish Protestants in the 1550s. In 1556, Philip II ascended the Spanish throne. He had previously brought the Roman Inquisition to the Netherlands, where Lutherans were hunted down and burned at the stake.

As Spain expanded into the Americas, so did the Inquisition, established in Mexico in 1570. In 1574, Lutherans were burned at the stake there, and the Inquisition came to Peru, where Protestants were likewise tortured and burned alive.

In 1580 Spain conquered Portugal and began rounding up and slaughtering Jews who had fled Spain. Philip II also renewed hostilities against the Moors, who revolted and found themselves either killed or sold into slavery. Philip II died in 1598 and his son, Philip III, dealt with the Muslim uprising by banishing them. From 1609 to 1615, 150,000 Muslims who had converted to Catholicism were forced out of Spain.

By the mid-1600s the Inquisition and Catholic dominance had become such an oppressive fact of daily life in Spanish territories that Protestants avoided those places altogether. In 1808, Napoleon conquered Spain and ordered the Inquisition there to be abolished. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, Ferdinand VII worked to reinstate the Inquisition but was ultimately prevented by the French government, which helped Ferdinand overcome a fierce rebellion. Part of the agreement with France was to dismantle the Inquisition, which was defunct by 1834.

The last person to be executed by the Inquisition was Cayetano Ripoll, a Spanish schoolmaster hanged for heresy in 1826. The Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition still exists, though changed its name a couple of times. It is currently called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Witch-phobia and prosecutions for the alleged crime of witchcraft reached a highpoint from 1580 to 1630 during the Counter-Reformation and the European wars of religion, when an estimated 50,000 persons were burned at the stake, of which roughly eighty percent were women and most often over the age of forty.

The Reformation was a movement within Western Christianity in 16th-century Europe that posed a religious and political challenge to the Roman Catholic church – and papal authority in particular. Period: 1517 – 1648

The Counter-Reformation (Latin: Contrareformatio), also called the Catholic Reformation (Latin: Reformatio Catholica) or the Catholic Revival, was the period of Catholic resurgence that was initiated in response to the Protestant Reformation. It began with the Council of Trent (1545–1563) and largely ended with the 1781 Patent of Toleration, although smaller expulsions of Protestants continued into the 19th century.

Initiated to preserve the power, influence and material wealth enjoyed by the Catholic Church and to present a theological and material challenge to Reformation, the Counter-Reformation was a comprehensive effort composed of apologetic and polemical documents, ecclesiastical reconfiguration as decreed by the Council of Trent, a series of wars, political manoeuvring including the efforts of Imperial Diets of the Holy Roman Empire, exiling of Protestant populations, confiscation of Protestant children for Catholic institutionalised upbringing, heresy trials and the Inquisition, anti-corruption efforts, spiritual movements and the founding of new religious orders.

Such reforms included the foundation of seminaries for the proper training of priests in the spiritual life and the theological traditions of the church, the reform of religious life by returning orders to their spiritual foundations, and new spiritual movements focusing on the devotional life and a personal relationship with Christ, including the Spanish mystics and the French school of spirituality.

It also involved political activities that included the Roman Inquisition and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Protestants. One primary emphasis of the Counter-Reformation was a mission to reach parts of the world that had been colonized as predominantly Catholic and also try to reconvert areas such as Sweden and England that were at one time Catholic but became Protestant during the Reformation.

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22 May, 2019
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