Category Archives: The Inquisition

Dec 30 – Meet the Inquisitor: Bernard Gui, OP (1261-1331), Bishop of Tui, Bishop of Lodève, Chief Inquisitor of Toulouse, France

Portrait of Bernard Gui c.1261-1331, Bishop of Lodeve and inquisitor of the Dominican Order. Engraving, 19th century. (Photo by: Leemage/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Perhaps the most famous of all medieval inquisitors, and certainly one of the most important and influential, Bernard Gui (1261-1331) is best known for his monumental inquisitor’s handbook, Practica inquisitionis heretice pravitatis (The Practice of the Inquisition of Heretical Depravity), written around 1324. In case you have an Inquisitorial (Inquisitional?) trial coming up, you can still pick up a copy at Amazon. (pssst…the have EVERYTHING!)

Although he never described anything like the full stereotype of witchcraft as it would appear in later centuries, he did include in this work several sections dealing with learned demonic magic, or necromancy, as well as more evidently popular forms of sorcery. The Practica inquisitionis became one of the most widely read of all medieval inquisitorial manuals, second only to the later Directorium inquisitorum (Directory of Inquisitors) of the Catalan inquisitor Nicolas Eymeric. Gui’s descriptions of sorcery thus seem very important, particularly in terms of shaping later clerical, and especially inquisitorial, thought on this subject.

Bernard Gui, or Bernard Guidoni was born in 1261 in Royères, France, and is one of the more well known Dominican inquisitors.

At the age of 19, Bernard entered the Order of Preachers and was made the prior of Albi ten years later. In 1306, he was sent to Avignon where he performed administrative service and served on two papal diplomatic missions. Bernard wrote a number of historical and theological works, which are more indicative of his primary historical significance as an administrator and historian rather than as an inquisitor. However, he is popularly known for his treatise on heresy, Practica Inquisitionis Heretice Pravitatis or “Conduct of the Inquisition into Heretical Wickedness” which contains instructions on the duties and rights of the inquisitor and how to approach the questioning of Manicheans, the Waldensians, the False Apostles, and the Beguines. Bernard was made bishop of Lodève, France in 1324, were he was noted for his energetic and skillful management. He died on December 30th 1331.

Modern scholars tend to view Bernard positively, as he reconciled many more people to the Church than he condemned. However, he does rank as one of the more zealous of inquisitors because Bernard viewed the inquisition as a kind of debate competition where the heretic is trying to conceal and hide his heresy, while the inquisitor is attempting to convince the audience that the heretic is merely putting on a show, trying to distract from their errors. This led to Bernard emphasizing the performative aspects of the inquisitor’s actions in an effort to win the hearts and minds of the audience (and hence the local community) so that they would stay loyal to the truth faith.

Gui oversaw trials which led to over 900 guilty verdicts in fifteen years of office. People convicted of heresy during the time of the Inquisition were turned over to the secular arm (nobles and city leaders) for punishment. The Church was not allowed to shed blood, but the rack and pear were not considered blood spilling. Out of all those convicted during examination by Gui, 42 were executed.

Between 1307 and 1323, at the behest of Pope Clement V and Pope John XXII, Gui served as the chief inquisitor of Toulouse. He also assisted the inquisitors of Carcassone, Geoffrey of Ablis and his successor Beaune, and the bishop of Pamiers, Jacques Fournier (later Pope Benedict XII). Gui’s inquisitorial work took place in the Languedoc, a region that remained a “stronghold of heresy”, in particular Catharism, despite the church’s repeated efforts in the area throughout the thirteenth century (such as the Albigensian Crusade of 1209–1229).

In this capacity Gui travelled the region, meeting with local clergy and officials, publicly preaching about the danger of heretical teachings, and inviting those guilty of heretical sins to voluntarily confess in exchange for light penance. He then interrogated those who had been accused of heretical activity by penitents but failed to come forward voluntarily, with the secular authorities enlisted to apprehend and, if necessary, torture the accused. (A papal bull of 1252 permitted torture in cases in which there were “enough partial proofs to indicate that a full proof—a confession—was likely, and no other full proofs were available”, although “a confession made after or under torture had to be freely repeated the next day without torture or it would have been considered invalid”.)

The inquisitor would then hold a ‘general sermon’ (sermo generalis), assembling the local populace and publicly declaring the names of those judged guilty of the sin of heresy and their concomitant penances. Typical penalties included fasting, scourging, pilgrimage, the confiscation of property, or the wearing of large yellow crosses (with “the arms of the crosses [to be] two-and-a-half fingers in breadth, two-and-a-half palms in height, and two palms in width”) on the front and back of outer clothing. As canon law prohibited the clergy from spilling blood, those who refused to repent or who had relapsed into heresy were handed over to the secular authorities for punishment, typically execution by burning at the stake.

During his tenure Gui held eleven such ‘general sermons’ in the cathedral of St Stephen in Toulouse and the cemetery of St John the Martyr in Pamiers, at which he judged 627 individuals guilty of heresy. A further nine individuals were also judged guilty at smaller events. In total, the tribunals headed by Gui convicted 636 individuals of 940 counts of heresy. Recent research has determined that no more than 45 of the individuals convicted by Gui (approximately 7% of the total) were executed, while 307 were imprisoned, 143 ordered to wear crosses, and nine sent on compulsory pilgrimages. The Inquisition kept excellent records. It was required to.

-illustrations from a copy of Gui’s Arbor genealogiae regum francorum produced in the 1330s, showing the Carolingian kings Lothair and Louis V

-by Steve Weidenkopf

“The Frenchman Bernard Guidonis (usually shortened to Gui) was born twenty years after the death of Pope Gregory IX (r. 1227-1241), but that pontificate shaped the course of Bernard’s life. In 1231, Gregory IX promulgated the bull Ille humani generis, wherein he established the procedures for papally appointed clergy as inquisitors charged with preserving orthodox Catholic beliefs and teachings throughout Christendom.

Not much is known about Bernard’s early life, but he enters the story of the Church in the late thirteenth century, when, as a young man, he joined St. Dominic’s Order of Preachers. After profession of his final vows, Bernard continued his studies and became a teacher for fifteen years. The order recognized Bernard’s brilliance and his humble and patient demeanor and sent him to the Dominican house in the town of Albi in 1306 as a lecturer in theology.

-14th-century illustration of Gui receiving a blessing from Pope John XXII

Although it had been more than seventy-five years since the end of the bloody Albigensian Crusade, called by Pope Innocent III to eradicate the heresy of the Cathars (or Albigensians)—who taught a form of Gnosticism, wherein material things are evil and spiritual things are good—erroneous teachings still held sway in the region. What was needed was an inquisition—and for there to be an inquisition, there had to be dedicated inquisitors.

Appointment as a papal inquisitor required candidates to be at least forty years old, trained in theology, and notable for a virtuous life. The inquisitor was expected to protect the unity and security of the Church and society from the poison of heresy. As a matter of charity, the inquisitor worked to save the jeopardized soul of the heretic and to reconcile the errant to the Church.

Bernard met all these criteria. So he was appointed an inquisitor, and he spent the next several decades prosecuting heretics, including Albigensians, the False Apostles, the Fraticelli, and the Waldensians.

Bernard wrote about his dealings with the Waldensians, named for Peter Waldo of Lyons, a merchant who, in 1170, decided to sell his goods, give to the poor, and abandon his family. His message attracted followers, and those who joined him began calling themselves the Humiliati or the Poor Men of Lyons. The archbishop of Lyons prohibited their preaching, but to no avail. The Waldensians taught contempt for Church authority, denied the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, forbade the taking of oaths, and argued against the death penalty as criminal punishment.

In his book The Waldensian Heretics, Bernard provided insight for his fellow inquisitor, derived from personal experience, on how to handle these crafty disruptors. Bernard illustrated how difficult it was to interrogate Waldensians because of “the deception and duplicity with which they answer questions.” He provided an example of an interrogation with a heretic: “When he is asked if he knows why he has been arrested, he answers very sweetly and with a smile, ‘My Lord, I should be glad to learn the reason from you.’ Asked about the faith which he holds and believes, he answers, ‘I believe everything that a good Christian ought to believe.’ Questioned as to whom he considers a good Christian, he replies, ‘He who believes as Holy Church teaches him to believe.’ When he is asked what he means by ‘Holy Church,’ he answers, ‘My lord, that which you say and believe is the Holy Church.’ If you say to him, ‘I believe that the Holy Church is the Roman Church, over which the lord pope rules; and under him, the prelates,’ he replies, ‘I believe it.’ Meaning that he believes that you believe it.”

Bernard’s extensive career and experience with different heretical groups, coupled with his scholarly nature, led him to write a manual for inquisitors known as the Practica. Divided into five parts, the Practica was a handbook containing procedures for the arrest of suspects of heresy, sample inquisitorial edicts and decrees, examples of sentences, a treatise on the duty of inquisitors, a collection of papal documents concerning heresy and inquisitors, and descriptions of various heretics and how to recognize them. In describing the ideal inquisitor, Bernard stressed piety and humility as key attributes. He believed also that an inquisitor should be zealous for the Faith and the salvation of souls, in control of his emotions, unyielding, free from malice and anger, not motivated by cruelty or revenge, wary of laziness and gullibility, and imbued with a spirit of compassion. Moreover, Bernard emphasized that each inquisitorial case must be considered on its own merits and by its own unique circumstances and characteristics. No two investigations were alike.

During his decades-long and impressive inquisitorial career, Bernard passed 930 judgments in heresy cases, an average of fifty-four per year or a little more than one a week. Most of his cases resulted in imprisonment or penitential sentences, with only forty-two obstinate heretics remanded to the secular authority for capital punishment. The resolute Bernard illustrated that the focus of the medieval inquisitors was the salvation of the souls of those who embraced false teachings through a patient and charitable investigation. He embodied the attributes of the perfect inquisitor, with justice and mercy at the forefront. Bernard did not seek appointment as an inquisitor, but he accepted the position with humility and strove diligently to protect the faithful from dangerous heretical teachings that threatened their eternal salvation.

Although known mostly for his career as an inquisitor, Bernard was also a historian and author of works on the liturgy and the lives of the saints. Pope John XXII (r. 1316–1334) made Bernard a bishop. He spent the remainder of his days focused on the pastoral care of the people of God entrusted to him.  and he went to his eternal reward.”

He died in his episcopal residence at Lauroux castle on 30 December 1331, and following his funeral in Lodève Cathedral his body was transported to Limoges to be buried in the church of the Dominican monastery. However, his tomb was looted during the late-sixteenth-century Wars of Religion.

Love & truth,

Lies, Damned Lies, & anti-Catholic history…

Dr. Rodney Stark, PhD

Dr. Rodney Stark has written nearly 40 books on a wide range of topics, including a number of recent books on the history of Christianity, monotheism, Christianity in China, and the roots of modernity. This included the above book, Bearing False Witness, (Templeton Press, 2016), a bestseller on, addresses ten prevalent myths about the history of the Catholic Church history. After beginning as a newspaper reporter and spending time in the Army, Stark received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, where he held appointments as a research sociologist at the Survey Research Center and at the Center for the Study of Law and Society. He later was Professor of Sociology and of Comparative Religion at the University of Washington; he has been at Baylor University since 2004. Stark is past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, and he has won a number of national and international awards for distinguished scholarship. Raised as a Lutheran, he has identified himself as an agnostic but has, more recently, called himself an “independent Christian”.

-by Casey Chalk

“Ten years ago I was an AP European History teacher at a school in rural central Virginia. At the time I was a very sincere Reformed Protestant, and although I wanted to maintain academic objectivity in the classroom, I was still quite eager to teach the unit on the Protestant Reformation. We began with the status of the Catholic Church at the turn of the 16th century and its luxuriant and this-worldly Renaissance popes. One of the readings I distributed to my students was that of Johann Burchard’s account of the “Banquet of Chestnuts,” a particularly lurid account of papal sexual excesses supposedly involving former Cardinal Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI. As I expected, the students were stunned to hear of churchmen involved in such devilish activities. Of course, they agreed, a religious reformation would be necessary to clean up this muck.

Except this account is found in only one source, was rejected as fallacious by many contemporary writers, and, as one Vatican researcher has noted, does not fit with what we know of the character of Alexander VI.1 And yet the reading — and other similar implicitly anti-Catholic information — appeared in a school textbook that has been assigned to thousands of American students. Indeed, misinformation regarding the history of the Catholic Church abounds across both popular and scholarly literature and media. This long-standing bias in opposition to Catholicism is what Baylor historian Rodney Stark seeks to illuminate in his work, Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History. This post will first evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Stark’s project, and then discuss a few of the anti-Catholic historical myths discussed by Stark.

Stark’s Aims

Readers will likely find the author’s background of particular interest: Dr. Stark is codirector of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University and honorary professor of Peking University in Beijing. A practicing Lutheran, he is also the author of the best-selling The Rise of Christianity. That a respected Lutheran historian would invest the energy to write what amounts to an apologetic against fraudulent anti-Catholic historical accounts — in the defense of history, he asserts — provides added justification to take this study seriously2 Stark explains:

“…In the course of writing several other books on medieval history as well as on early Christianity, I kept encountering serious distortions rooted in obvious anti-Catholicism — the authors often explicitly addressed their hatred of the Church.3”

Moreover, Stark frequently observed that these distortions, and often the “most malignant contributions to anti-Catholic history,” were attributable to “alienated Catholics,” including “seminary dropouts, former priests, or ex-nuns.”4 Those defecting from a particular group are usually treated with some degree of suspicion; yet in the case of anti-Catholic invective made by lapsed Catholics, it is “widely regarded as thereby of special reliability!”5 Moreover, this misinformation persists in spite of extensive historical research invalidating it. This paradigm exists, Stark argues, because these falsehoods are “mutually reinforcing” and so deeply intrinsic to the West’s common culture.

Indeed, our culture is so littered with references to erroneous slurs against the Catholic Church, having so powerfully entered our common lexicon, it would be difficult to evict them. Take the Spanish Inquisition, a topic Stark spends an entire chapter evaluating. That phrase, whatever its actual connection to a historical event, is commonly cited as a case of Catholic bigotry and particularly demonstrative of anti-Semitism. 6  The Crusades are likewise popularly viewed as an example of religious intolerance and European colonialism.7  Or consider the “Protestant Work Ethic,” that phrase coined by Max Weber to explain the rise of wealthy, capitalist societies in Northern Europe and the United States — and often contrasted with those “lazy” Southern European Catholic countries.8 All of these, and many more, Stark takes to task in this heavily-researched, well-documented examination of anti-Catholic bigotry underlying much of modern Western conceptions of history. Indeed, the book relies on hundreds of primary and secondary sources, with Stark’s most valued sources included in a text box found in every chapter highlighting those historians he views as most authoritative in studying the historical record, so that interested readers can examine the evidence for themselves.

Yet even with these strengths, Stark’s enterprise fails to answer a question fundamental to his own objectives: what, ultimately, determines our knowledge of the past? Are primary sources or the subsequent evaluations of historians and scholars more important? For example, early in the book, Stark notes:

“Sometimes I have done basic research needed to overturn one of these spurious anti-Catholic claims, and in those cases I document my findings so fully that anyone can check them. But, in most instances, I am simply reporting the prevailing view among qualified experts.”

This approach is evident in his very first chapter on supposed Catholic anti-Semitism. Here Stark notes that such esteemed scholars as Rosemary Ruether, Jules Isaac, and Robert T. Osborn have all charged the Church with responsibility for originating anti-Semitism. However, he then goes on to cite scholars such as Peter Schäfer (whom he notes has “impeccable credentials”), Israeli scholar Nachum T. Gidal, and Leon Poliakov (“one of the most respected contemporary historians of anti-Semitism”), whose combined research Stark cites to demonstrate the inaccuracy of the former historians’ anti-Semitic accusations. To his credit, Stark provides extensive examples of the latter academics’ research that make a strong case for the refutation of claims of an alleged intrinsic anti-Semitism in Catholic belief and practice. Furthermore, Stark does routinely note that some scholars are to be trusted and others distrusted because one set of academics rely on better evidence, or their evaluations make better sense of that data. Yet if we wind up evaluating the evidence rather than the scholars’ opinions, it seems largely irrelevant if the scholars are respected or not.

Presumably, Stark is citing historians and their credentials to prove to readers that his arguments have the backing of serious professional historians with less of an explicit bias than say, amateur, patently pro-Catholic writers. Nevertheless, respected scholars can be wrong, and amateur scholars can be right, or vice versa. Either way, evidence, not academic pedigree, needs to be the ultimate criteria upon which historical analysis rests. Indeed, the “prevailing view among qualified experts” may be false, as Stark himself demonstrates wherever he notes that earlier consensus among historians was biased and inaccurate. Moreover, if we rely on the majority opinion of scholars as the determinant for historical truth, Stark’s foundational argument that anti-Catholic historical narratives are untrue may be “disproved” by a future generation of scholars that picks them up once again.

All the same, as noted above, Stark rarely leaves the reader with only a “trust the experts” exhortation, instead consistently allowing the raw historical data to speak for itself, which in many cases does indeed validate the current historical consensus. Indeed, it is fair to presume that Stark believes primary sources to be the bedrock of the historical method, and that his citing of the expertise of secondary sources is only to support, and not ground his arguments.

False Suppositions of the Inquisition

The Spanish Inquisition is one of the perennial favorites of anti-Catholic rhetoric. As Stark notes, the usual narrative goes something like this: for several centuries beginning in the late 1400s, the Spanish monarchy, in collusion with Church authorities, engaged in a dramatic witch-hunt of investigations, tortures, and executions to rid the country of all manner of dissidents — Jews and Muslims pretending to be Christians, but also “Protestants, witches, homosexuals, and other doctrinal and moral offenders.”9 Those leading the Inquisition supposedly engaged in “weekly mass burnings all across Spain.”10 A number of contemporary and later historical accounts — including those by Edgar Allen Poe and Fyodor Dostoyevsky — have enumerated the seemingly inexhaustible horrors dispensed on the Church’s many enemies, putting the number killed at the hands of the Inquisition at anywhere from 31,000 to 3 million! Stark evaluates these narratives and death counts:

“The standard account of the Spanish Inquisition is mostly a pack of lies, invented and spread by English and Dutch propagandists in the sixteenth century during their wars with Spain and repeated ever after by the malicious or misled historians eager to sustain “an image of Spain as a nation of fanatical bigots”…. [However], the new historians of the Inquisition have revealed that, in contrast with the secular courts all across Europe, the Spanish Inquisition was a consistent force for justice, restraint, due process, and enlightenment.”11

These more recent historians have discovered these revelations by examining the complete archives of Aragon and Castille’s Inquisitions, which together amount to the totality of the Spanish Inquisition. I will discuss several of the most common accusations levelled against the Catholic Inquisition, including its supposedly egregiously violent character, its alleged brutal use of torture, and its persecution of witches and Jews. When stacked against the historical evidence, and when evaluated in its historical context, what emerges is not a Catholic Church operating as the sine qua non of late Medieval and early Modern repression and violence, but a “consistent force for justice, restraint, due process, and enlightenment.”12

Let’s first examine the amount of violence conducted with the blessing of the Inquisition. During the 220-year period that marks the entire length of the Inquisition, Stark claims that about 2,200 people were executed,which amounts to about ten deaths per year.13 This number, drawn from the historical records of Aragon and Castile, is significantly lower than the numbers given by many contemporary authorities, including Microsoft’s Encarta, the Encyclopedia of Religious Freedom, or historians Simon Whitechapel and Sam Hunt, all of whom put the number at tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions! These popular accounts of the Inquisition give the impression that the Inquisition was the preeminent exemplar of religious persecution in this historical period. However, to take but one historically contemporaneous example, English king Henry VIII had many more thousands of religious dissidents executed during his reign. This comparison is not in any way to excuse the Inquisition for its complicity in these executions, but to refute any assertions that the Inquisition was either historically unique in its activities, or even the worst offender.14 This is because in the broader historical context of the Medieval and early Modern period, pertinacious heresy was viewed as a threat not just to religious unity, but to public order more broadly, which is why Catholic and Protestant rulers alike were eager to stamp out religious dissidents.

In common parlance, the term “Inquisition” is often associated with torture. One 19th century Protestant account of the Inquisition claimed that not even Satan could contrive a “more horrible” means of “torture and “blood” than those employed by Spanish inquisitors15  It is indeed a historical fact that the Inquisition applied torture to suspected dissidents. Yet according to Stark, in an era when torture was a ubiquitous form of punishment across the known world, the Church was a uniquely moderating force on its application. According to the dictates of Church law, torture was limited to a single session lasting no more than fifteen minutes, no danger to life or limb could be conducted, and no blood exacted.

Moreover, torture was rarely used, as inquisitors were skeptical of its efficacy and validity. Such restrictions did not exist in historically contemporary secular courts. Furthermore, the Inquisition performed torture at a comparatively infrequent rate when compared to those same secular courts: Thomas Madden, a prominent Medieval historian at St. Louis University, estimates that torture occurred in only about 2 percent of cases brought before the Inquisition. Moreover, Inquisition prisons were far more humane than their secular counterparts, as is evidenced by reports that criminals in Spain were known to purposefully blaspheme that they might be transferred to Inquisition-run prisons.16  Again, any comparison to secular practices of torture or imprisonment is not to excuse the Church for encouraging (or allowing) torture, but to demonstrate that the common perception of Church officials eagerly bent on exacting pain from suspected religious dissidents does not square with the historical data.

Moving on to witchcraft: was the Spanish Inquisition also a misogynist program implemented to target so-called witches, demonstrating the ignorance and malevolence of Catholic religious leaders? Hardly. The Inquisition endorsed barely any of the sixty-thousand witches executions estimated to have been performed across Europe during this time period. The Spanish Catholics were, once again, a moderating force against these pogroms, who based their judgments not on the ridiculous caricatures displayed in the familiar Monty Python skit, but on hard evidence. The Catholic authorities oftentimes intervened to prevent mobs and local authorities from lynching suspected witches. Even when the Inquisition did investigate alleged witches, the primary goal of the Inquisition was to achieve repentance on the part of religious dissenters, not brutalize or “make an example” of them, which explains why the few who were executed on such charges had typically already been convicted several times.17

Finally, what of the allegations that Catholic Spain forcibly converted the Iberian Peninsula’s Jewish population? For starters, Stark notes that for more than a millennia, there were more Jews in Spain than the rest of medieval Europe combined. This would hardly have been possible if the Jews were under constant persecution by the Catholic majority. Indeed, historians have found that whenever Jewish communities have harmonious relations with the majority religious community, they often convert in large numbers. This is exactly what we see in Catholic Spain. Beginning in the fourteenth century, tens of thousands of Jews were voluntarily baptized — conversions so sincere that within a few generations many of the prominent Catholics in Spain, to include senior hierarchy, were from converso families. However, the significant number of Jewish converts led to strife between “old” and “new” Christians, with many Spanish Jews accusing conversos of being “crypto-Jews.” The Spanish Inquisition sought — once again — to arrest such passions, but failed to prevent the kingdom’s ultimate expulsion of all Jews in 1492.18

As we examine the history of the Inquisition (vice its caricatures), what materializes is a Catholic Church that is largely unrecognizable from its common depictions in popular, contemporary media (or even most textbooks!). Indeed, in many cases Church authorities in the Iberian Peninsula were those most vocal in their attempts to restrain mob impulses and violence against religious dissidents.

Catholic Church v. Science, Redux Part…I’ve Lost Track

Another common complaint against the Church is its supposed long history of antagonism towards scientific learning and exploration. Be it papal injunctions against vaccinations, the Church’s hostility toward scientific theories deemed contrary to Catholic teaching, or recent Catholic disquiet about transhumanism, many critics view the Church as fundamentally opposed to scientific inquiry and progress. Yet such an accusation bears little resemblance to the historical record. Indeed, as Stark observes, most prominent leaders in the so-called “Scientific Revolution” were men of peculiar religious devotion, and a significant number were Catholic laymen or clergy.

For starters, it is worth addressing the “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” perception of Medieval intellectualism, which even one current US presidential candidate has publicly cited. Those who reference this particular scholastic question frequently do so to demonstrate a supposed Medieval Catholic obsession with irrelevant minutiae, rather than philosophic or scientific questions that would benefit humanity. This paradigm, so the story goes, is what Luther, the Protestant Reformation, and the subsequent Scientific Revolution sought to overthrow. Yet the scholastics were the ones who founded many of Europe’s most famous universities, and conceptualized and instructed the very experimental method that led to what we know today as Western empirical science. Certainly much of the scholastic’s interest lay in theology, yet even here many scholars, including the respected R.W. Southern, have proposed that it was scholastics’ very religious belief in a rational, human nature and an intelligible universe that created the foundation for the scientific discipline. This is in contrast to the Islamic world, where natural philosophy was viewed with deep suspicion and never gained ground with leading Muslim religious thinkers of the time. The universities established by the scholastic movement were thoroughly Medieval institutions (some already in place by the early twelfth century), yet, contra the typical narrative, they “esteemed innovation,” appropriated empirical methods, and employed some of the earliest examples of human dissection.19

The Scientific Revolution then is not so much a rejection of the Medieval enterprise, but in many ways its fulfillment. Stark’s survey of a number of early influences on the scientific method demonstrates the deep unity between piety and scientific innovation: Robert Grosseteste, Albert Magnus, Roger Bacon, William of Ockham, Nicole d’Oresme, Nicholas of Cusa, and Nicolaus Copernicus were all men of varying degrees of religious faith. Copernicus is often presented as a prime example of a true “free thinker” suffering under the burden of Church antipathy towards science, who represents the beginning of that supposedly necessary break with the dark, religiously-dominant Medieval way of thinking. Yet, as Stark notes, “everything in Copernicus’s famous book, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, is wrong, other than the placement of the sun in the center.” Rather, Copernicus contributed an important, yet small step towards modern scientific knowledge that built upon the work of many Catholic scientists who preceded him.20

The story of Galileo has likewise been dramatized and propagandized far out of proportion.21  Stark argues: “what got Galileo in trouble with the Church were not his scientific convictions nearly as much as his arrogant duplicity.”  An abbreviated version of this sordid tale can be summed up as follows: Galileo’s troubles resulted not so much from his free-thinking scientific rigor, but from purposefully antagonizing Pope Urban VIII, a man with whom he had previously developed a strong relationship. The pope, under increased pressure from Protestant Reformers and their charge that the Catholic Church was not faithful to Scripture, asked Galileo to include a prefatory statement in his book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems noting the limitations of science as an intellectual discipline. Galileo’s treatise instead openly mocked the pope. The grand irony is that much of Galileo’s research was incorrect, a reality commensurate with his reputation for claiming “false credit for inventions made by others… and to have conducted empirical research he probably did not really perform.” Even in the ruckus that followed this controversy, the pope sought to protect Galileo from extensive punishment.22 So much for Copernicus and Galileo.

Finally, and perhaps most innovatively, Stark performs a mathematical evaluation of the most well-known figures in the Scientific Revolution (52 people in all) and their diverse levels of piety. The numbers speak for themselves: 25% of these individuals were members of the clergy, including nine Catholics. Sixty percent were explicitly devout in their Protestant or Catholic beliefs; another 38% conventionally devout (meaning no evidence of skepticism, but no obvious signs of piety). Half of the individuals were Catholic, the other half Protestant. Only one of the 52 surveyed can be legitimately identified as a skeptic: the Englishman Edmund Halley, who was denied a professorship of Oxford because of his “atheism.”23  Stark, who is not alone in recognizing the ubiquitous faith of these foundational scientific thinkers, ultimately argues that science developed uniquely in medieval Europe precisely because such an enterprise was deemed “possible and desirable.” He cites English philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead, who assessed that “faith in the possibility of science…[is] derivative from medieval theology.”24


I have examined only two of the ten topics Stark addresses in this review of the historical data regarding a number of contentious issues pertaining to Catholic history. Readers will likely find all the chapters worthy of attention, including those on anti-Semitism (think “Hitler’s Pope”), the Dark Ages (did the Church seek to limit intellectual development?), slavery (how complicit was the Church in New World chattel slavery?), and Protestant Modernity (Weber’s “Protestant work ethic” thesis mentioned above). Stark has done the Catholic Church a great service in presenting a thorough dismantling of many anti-Catholic narratives, as well as offering analysis as to how and why this happened (the answer, in Stark’s review of the history of historians, is overt anti-Catholic bigotry). Even those outside the parameters of the Catholic Church should welcome this study, as it enables us to move beyond the usual sniping characteristic of so many church history debates, and pursue a more thorough, historically faithful ecumenical dialogue.”

2. Stark, Rodney. Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2016), 7.
3. Stark, 5.
4. Stark, 3.
5. Stark, 4.
6. See the 23 August Washington Post opinion “So you’re a Jew and you’re starting college? Prepare for anti-Zionism.”
7. See the 1 August New York Times opinion “How Religion Can Lead to Violence.”
8. See the 29 August 2013 opinion in Slate, “Is the Protestant Work Ethic Real?”
9. Stark, 117.
10. Stark, 121.
11. Stark, 119.
12. Stark, 119.
13. Other recent historical estimates have offered similar numbers, including Garcia Carcel, who puts the number at approximately 3,000.
14. Stark, 121-122.
15. Stark, 122.
16. Stark, 122-123.
17. Stark, 123-126.
18. Stark, 128-133. The expulsion of the Jews in order to further the program of a united Spain may have been more a factor of the emergence of the modern notion of sovereignty than about Catholicism. Moreover, the Spanish Inquisition was different from other inquisitions (contemporary and previous) in that the Spanish Crown managed to bring it under unprecedented direct control of the crown. The infamous Tomas de Torquemada, for example, was placed as head over the combined Castille-Aragon inquisition directly by Ferdinand in 1483. Pope Sixtus IV had protested the previous year at the inquisition’s lack of due process in Aragon. This direct, temporal control indicates that the Spanish inquisition was just as much an instrument of the nation-state as it was of the Church. See C. C. Pecknold, Christianity & Politics: A Brief Guide to the History (Cascade, 2010), 75; and Edward Peters, Inquisition (University of California, 1988), 85-86.
19. Stark, 141-144.
20. Stark, 151. David Hart makes a similar, more detailed judgment on Copernicus in his book Atheist Delusions.
21. See, for examples, these articles from the Washington Post and The New York Times:;
22. Stark, 163-165.
23. Stark, 153-157.
24. Stark, 159.

Love & unity, Jn 17:21

Facts: The Inquisition


-by Matthew B. Rose

“As members of a 2,000 year old church, we often find ourselves apologizing for mistakes of the past. For example, how often do we find ourselves apologizing for the Inquisition? Don’t worry, we want to say, we’re not like that anymore. We see the inquisitors as awkward uncles at family reunions; we distance ourselves from them. We accept the story told to us by those who do not always have the Church’s best interest in mind. When confronted with accusations about the Inquisition, we acquiesce. We do so out of fear, embarrassed because we do not know our own history. Yet fear flees in the light of truth. We as Catholics should examine the truth behind the Inquisition, and in doing so, come to appreciate what men of old did to preserve truth.

In order to do this, we need to get something straight. The Inquisition was not created in order to persecute heretics. Rather, it was meant to protect the rights of people accused of heresy. In the pre-modern era, heresy was seen as not just an offense against God, but as an act of treason against the state.  (Ed. Kings were crowned, typically by prelates of the Church.  A king was seen as having divine approbation simply for the fact of being the legitimate heir.  In tradition, there is a wedding of temporal and spiritual authority, from Constantine on down.  The separation of church from state is the first radical break with this temporal tradition.) For this reason, the state executed heretics, not the Church. The Church’s role was to carry out the investigation with the aim of protecting the innocent. This process of investigation was called the Inquisition.

The Inquisition was essentially a theological court. There were three main inquisitions: the Medieval Inquisition (against the Albigensian heresy), the Spanish Inquisition (formed in the late 1400s) and the Roman Inquisition (later the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith). We will focus on the Medieval and Spanish Inquisitions, the ones more readily associated with the term “Inquisition.”

Most anti-Inquisition writers have three major objections to the Inquisition: A) Inquisitors frequently tortured the accused to obtain false confessions; B) The Inquisition provided the opportunity for personal vendettas; C) The Inquisition was responsible for the death of millions of victims. Since all three attack the Church’s mark of Holiness, they must be addressed with charity and gravity.

Objection A: Torture was frequently used to elicit confessions

This first objection is perhaps the most widely held objection against the Inquisition. Movies, TV shows, and popular historical works suggest that the inquisitors tortured the accused to obtain false confessions, and then used these confessions to execute the prisoners. However, the historical record shows that this was not the case. Though torture was allowed during the Inquisition, it was rarely used. Strict rules accompanied the provision allowing torture. The torture could not threaten the accused’s life, nor could it leave a permanent mark (nor, according to some sources, cause the suspect to bleed). The inquisitors did not actually inflict the torture; civil authorities did, with the inquisitors there to make sure that the civil authorities did not harm the suspect. Once a suspect indicated his desire to confess, all tortures ceased. The confession was written down as the suspect gave it, and would be read back to him within twenty-four hours. If the suspect agreed to the confession, he signed it, and the trial ended. If he did not agree with the confession, or reverted and refused to recant his teachings, he could not be tortured again.

Torture was a last resort, when there was overwhelming evidence that an unconfessed suspect was guilty. An authentic confession was necessary for any verdict.

Objection B: The Inquisition was largely a tool for personal vendettas

Another claim that anti-Inquisition proponents make is that even if the tortures were few and far between, human corruption, being what it is, allowed the Inquisition to be a tool of revenge and personal vendettas. It makes sense that this would be the case, since we see such corruption in most human institutions. Examining the historical record, however, shows that not only was that not the case, but that the Inquisition procedures were established to avoid such abuses.

As inquisitors collected reports of local heresies, they also collected information about the heretics, including lists of the heretics’ enemies and other untrustworthy sources, usually provided by the accused. If any of those enemies testified against the accused, the evidence was dismissed as unreliable. Two reliable witnesses were required to proceed with the trial; lack of evidence dismissed many cases in these early stages. If the trial did proceed and the suspect was convicted of heresy, he had the right to appeal to the pope for a retrial. All of these provisions protected the suspect from abuse by inquisitors during the trial. If an inquisitor showed signs of abusing his position, he faced immediate dismissal. The Church did not tolerate such abuse.

Objection C: There were millions of victims of the Inquisition

Even if there were no other sinister motives, the high body count, millions of people, should be enough to warrant condemning the Inquisition. Reports of such high numbers are frequently tossed about in popular historical narratives. However, as with the previous two objections, the claims against the Inquisition are not based in history. Executions did occur, as noted above, by the civil authorities; however, they were shockingly rare, particularly in light of the number of executions performed for other reasons in Europe. Bernard Gui, the most famous grand inquisitor of the Medieval Inquisition, presided over 930 heresy cases during his seventeen years as grand inquisitor (1306-1323); of those 930 cases, only forty-two ended with executions, about 5% of his cases. Torquemada, the notorious grand inquisitor during the early Spanish Inquisition, had an even lower record: only 1% of the heretics were executed. The body count of the Inquisition is greatly, even slanderously, exaggerated.

Because we are living in a secular society, we often find people who try to undermine the Church. If someone tries to do this by invoking the dark specter of the Inquisition, we should approach with charity and understanding, while remaining ready to set the record straight so that, once shown the historical record, our listener might be open to the truths of Faith and come to the fullness of life in Christ. That is, after all, the ultimate goal of any sort of apologetics, and was also the ultimate goal of the Inquisition.”

Love, and never ignoring heresy,

The Spanish Inquisition


-by Steve Weidenkopf

“So with all that, about the Medieval inquisitors, let’s jump forward on that timeline as I mentioned to now the 15th Century where you have the creation of these institutional tribunals like I mentioned to you, the most famous one being the Spanish Inquisition.

Now the Spanish Inquisition is a bit unique in history. The reason why it came about was because of a unique situation in Spain at the time. Spain was a unique place in Christendom, because you had the three major faiths of the world all present, all living together in Spain at the time. You had Christians, you have Jews, and you have Muslims, right, so unlike any other place throughout Christendom. And so this created a unique and interesting situation for the Spanish people as whole.

And the Inquisition was called to really address a special situation in Spain. And this situation was the situation that’s known as the conversos, or people who were known as conversos. And what these people were, these were people, these conversos, were people who had converted from Judaism or from Islam to being Catholic. So they were converts to the faith, but they were converts from Judaism and Islam.

Now most conversos, most of those who converted from those backgrounds, those conversions were authentic. There were a few conversions that were false, and there were some who converted who still maintained their Jewish and their Islamic kind of cultural traditions and cultural heritage. So many, especially Jews, who became conversos would still live together in the community. And there might be Jews who were with people who were still practicing Jews, but then also Jews who had converted to the Catholic faith living together in the same community. Many of these conversos still practiced kosher, so they didn’t eat certain foods. They maintained certain parts of their cultural heritage and tradition.

And so what grew up in Spain then, is you had these what became known as Old Christians, began to look at these people who had been Catholic and lived in Spain for generations and generations, they began to look at these New Catholics, these conversos with kind of a suspicious eye. Many of them were upset at the success of many of these conversos. Some of them kind of worked their way up through the Church as well as through society in Spain, and so they became really jealous of their success. And so theories and rumors began, conspiracy theories began to be spread about the conversos that they were still secret Jews. You know, that they were still secret Muslims. And how could we trust them, they’re really traitors.

This was before the completion of the Reconquista, or the deliverance of Spain from Muslim forces, didn’t happen until 1492. But for 20 years here you’re still dealing with a situation where there are Muslim armies and Muslim groups predominantly in the south of Spain, and so these Old Christians could say, “Well, these conversos could open the gates of the city to an Islamic army to come in and kills us. And how do we know that they’re actually Catholic?” That kind of thing.

Now, this is, you know, these rumors are just that, they were rumors and they were conspiracy theories. They’re not based on any kind of historical accuracy whatsoever. But we all know how rumors work, right, and how scapegoats and how people begin to point to other minority groups. We’ve seen that throughout our history, throughout human history, especially in the most recent last Century, the 20th Century. So this kind of got out of control, rumors and conspiracy theories.

So ultimately what happened was the Crown, King Fernando and Queen Isabella, asked the Pope to grant them authority to establish an Inquisition to investigate the situation of these conversos. And that’s exactly what happened. So Pope Sixtus IV in 1478 grants that authority, the Crown then has authority now to establish an Inquisition in Spain, an institutional tribunal that had the job of investigating this converso situation. And so they did that.

Now one thing is to look at this in more detail you see that really the reason why the Spanish Inquisition was created was through politics, when you look more deeply at this. The Crown wanted to consolidate their power, especially in the south of Spain. When you look at where the Spanish Inquisition was really established, it was in the south of Spain, especially in the cities, in the urban areas, areas that were not completely under the Crown’s control. So a lot of this was generated by politics.

There was also concern, they began to believe these conspiracy theories about whether or not these conversos were, to use modern parlance, a national security risk. Now, were these people really a threat to our national security? Well we really need to figure that out. So it was again more focused on that than on really the faith, although that was an element of it.

Now again, the Spanish Inquisition, just like the Medieval inquisitors, only had jurisdiction over those who had been baptized, right? So practicing Jews, practicing Muslims had nothing to fear from the Spanish Inquisition. It was only those who had been baptized. Conversos, any others. Any baptized person was liable to be brought before the Inquisition if they were suspected of being a heretic.

So how this was organized was, again, this was under royal and not Papal control. As you go through the history of the Spanish Inquisition, there’s actually – even in the early parts of it, there were some abuses that began to be shown to light. This got back to Pope Sixtus IX, some irregularities in how the Inquisition was handling itself and handling cases. He sent a letter; Pope Sixtus did, to the Spanish authorities to try to combat that abuse. King Fernando got wind of that and was very upset, sent a letter back to the Pope, which was really a rebuke to the Pope, saying, “What are you doing? You gave me authority to hold this Inquisition in Spain. This is my country, this is my area, this is my territory, I have control of it, not you.”

Very different situation from what we experience with the Church today in terms of things, right? But that’s the way it was then. So it was really a royal organ, not necessarily an organ of the Church at all. There was an organization to it, there was a Council of six members appointed by the King. This Council was presided over by the Inquisitor General, and then what happened was the Inquisitor General then would establish institutional tribunals in certain cities throughout Spain. As I mentioned, most of these were in the south of Spain.

And they were governed; the procedures were governed by a set of rules very similar to those that the Papal inquisitors also utilized. The first set of these procedures was issued in 1484 by the infamous Tomás de Torquemada, who was one of the first Inquisitor Generals of the Spanish Inquisition.

So how they operated was very similar to how the Medieval inquisitors, as I mentioned, operated. These inquisitors would come into a town, they’d establish the Inquisition, they would then preach at Sunday mass or at a special feast day. “We are here, here’s the faith, if you know of anyone, or if you yourself have embraced heresies, come and tell us.” They do the same things, they’d issue an edict of grace or a period of grace for anywhere from 30 to 40 days where you could voluntarily come and confess. You would receive a light penance if you did so. If you came during this period of grace, your goods, your property, would not be confiscated. If you didn’t do that and you were brought before the tribunal later, the Inquisition later, your goods, your property were confiscated.

So after the period of grace, then there was a period of denunciations where people could come and say, you know, “I saw Farmer Joe going to this meeting with other people, he’s engaging in heretical activity, I just know it.” They would come and give testimony before the inquisitors; they would then try to gather evidence to see if this was correct.

So the system of justice at the time, both secular and Church, relied on the collaboration of the community. That’s one thing to keep in mind, is that the Spanish Inquisition was actually – it was not an unpopular thing. Were there critics of it in Spain at the time? Yes. But was there like a huge revolt against it or were the people upset with it? No, they weren’t at all. And in fact, it wouldn’t have existed for as long as it did if there was support from the people and also obviously support from the Crown.

So now the accused would come before the inquisitors, who would assess the evidence of whether or not someone was suspected of heresy. If there was enough evidence, either material evidence or verbal evidence to believe someone was a heretic, then you would be brought before the tribunal and an arrest warrant was actually issued for you, you would be arrested, brought before the tribunal, your goods confiscated for the length of the trial, and you would be placed in jail. And you were actually placed in an ecclesiastical jail, a church jail.

And what’s interesting is that Church jails at this time were much better than any secular jail. And we actually have accounts, this is somewhat humorous, but you actually have accounts of people who are accused of secular crimes being in a secular jail actually blaspheming in the secular jail so that they would be considered a heretic and moved to an ecclesiastical jail because the conditions were so much better in the Church jail. So the Church actually took care of people much better, in a better way than those in the secular world did as well.

So as I mentioned, the goods of the accused were confiscated and inventoried. If you were found innocent or if you confessed, then your goods were given back. If you were convicted, if you were obstinate in your heresy and you were remanded to the State, then your goods were confiscated by the Inquisition.

Now, what’s different from the Spanish Inquisition and the Medieval inquisitors was that you were actually allowed, the accused were allowed an advocate. So kind of like a lawyer, somebody to advocate for your side, someone who could call witnesses, someone who could disavow witnesses who came before the Inquisition.

You were also afforded the opportunity to provide a list of people who hated you, who maybe owed you money or who had some kind of bias against you. You could give that list to the inquisitors and then they would check off that list with anybody who would come and give testimony against you and they would immediately just reject that testimony, because obviously you had either a dog in the fight, you had some animus against the accused and so they wanted to make sure that this was really, you know, a good legal system and something that was based on authentic legal principle.

So again, you could call favorable witnesses, you could disable hostile witnesses, you could present extenuating circumstances, “Yes, I said this blasphemous thing, but I was drunk at the time so I was not within my complete wits, it was not of my free will.” “Okay, fine.” You could plead insanity, you could say I was young and I was just young and stupid, I didn’t know what I was saying. I didn’t understand the faith, I was dumb. And all these things were admissible, and the inquisitors would look at it and if found to be true then you either would receive a form of penance or you’d be let go.

Now in terms of torture in the Spanish Inquisition, this is very similar to the Medieval inquisitors, very, very similar. Again, it was rarely used. Just like in the Medieval period of time it was used only once. It’s estimated by one historian that it was only used in about 2 percent of the cases. Right, so 98 percent of the time, 98 percent of the cases, torture was never, ever used. Again, this is a complete contrast to that myth that the Inquisition was all about torture and killing millions of people.

Again, it was used much less frequently than in secular courts. Torture was a staple part of the secular judicial system in 15th Century Spain, but not so in the Spanish Inquisition. It was limited to only 15 minutes in duration, and all torture sessions were carefully recorded. Inquisitors, representatives of the Bishop and a secretary were all required to be there. So there were multiple people there, it was not just one person and the accused or the inquisitors and the accused, there were other witnesses present as well.

Also, doctors were required to be there, because the intent was not to maim or kill or permanently hurt someone, it was, again, it was a form of physical punishment to elicit a confession, not used as a form of punishment. Again, same thing like the Medieval inquisitors, if you confessed under torture, they waited a day and the day after you had to then repeat that confession to make sure that it was valid and legitimate.

Now, once you have gone through the process, you’ve had this hearing, evidence has been collected against you, you’ve been given the opportunity multiple times to repent. Let’s say you did repent, or maybe you didn’t and you’re obstinate in your heresy, then the inquisitors would pass a sentence. And in some cases this was issued privately, but also in the Spanish Inquisition you had something unique called the auto-da-fé, which is just a Latin term which means an act of faith, right, the act of faith.

And so you would go into the public area, usually the public main square of the town, the inquisitors would process all of those who had been accused of heresy into the town and then their sentences would be publicly read, so everyone knew what, you know, Farmer Joe received, what kind of sentence he received from the Inquisition.

Now, some of the verdicts that were possible, is you could be acquitted. Not enough evidence presented to say that you actually were heretic, fine, you’re acquitted and let go. If you confessed and you repented, then you were given a form of penance, right, just like the Medieval inquisitors. In some cases you were called to wear what was known as a sambenito, or an actual garment. It was yellow in color that either one or two diagonal crosses on it and you had to wear that any time you went outside your house. You didn’t have to wear it inside. But any time you went outside the house you had to wear this. You had to wear it for either a certain period of time or through the rest of your life, it depended on your particular case.

Other cases, other punishments where you were given a fine, a monetary fine, you could be banished from the region, just from the towns, sent someplace else. You could also be sent to prison. Now, when we think of prison we think of highly guarded, efficient prison systems like we have in our country and other places. But in this case it wasn’t the situation. There wasn’t really an effective and well-established penal system or correctional facilities.

So what they did instead was, even if you were given like a lifetime imprisonment, that usually only amounted to about ten years. In most of the cases, prison was spent either in your own house, so you were under house arrest, or you were sent to a monastery, had to spend time at a monastery, or you were sent to a hospital. There was really no well-established correctional facilities where you whiled away your time for your life or for ten or so years. It was rarely ever in an actual jail, it was in those other situations.

Also, you could be physically punished as well. In some cases that was flogging. Now again, if you were a obstinate heretic, and you refused after multiple opportunities to confess, then you were remanded to the State just as in the Medieval period of time, and then the State, the punishment for heresy in the secular world was death. And so, most of those who had been remanded to the State were executed by being burned at the stake.

Now what are some numbers here for the Spanish Inquisition? Remember again, it was against Canon law for the Church to execute anyone, so she did not do the execution, the inquisitors handed over, remanded the person to the State, they performed the execution. And so some numbers here. At the height of the Spanish Inquisition, from 1480 to 1530, the height of the period of time when the Inquisition was really active in Spain, it’s estimated that there were 2000 individuals who were remanded to the State and executed. Two thousand, all right, this is a far cry from the millions that most people think or that the myths have perpetuated.

So that equates to, if you do the math, about 40 people a year. In other places, in other times, you look at the 350 years of the entire Inquisition; this Inquisition of Spain lasted for a long period of time, for about 350 years. Of the whole time of the Inquisition, about 4000 people in Spain were executed as a whole. Again, far cry from the millions that most people think, or again, most critics of the Church will cite or will say.

Now, what’s interesting is if you compare the Spanish Inquisition to what also is going on during the time of its existence in other places in Europe, mostly Protestant countries, although not solely. But you had this witch craze going on, especially in the 17th Century, in the 1600s. You had witches being burned at the stake. One historian has estimated 60,000 women, mostly women, there were some men, who were burned at the stake for being witches, mostly in Protestant countries.

What’s interesting is if you look at the history of the Spanish Inquisition and also the Inquisition in the Italian city-states at the time, there was really no cases of burning of witches. The reason for that is because once it was known in Spain, for example, that somebody was accused of being a witch, the inquisitors went and investigated and they said, “There’s no witchcraft here, this person’s just delusional, suffering from some mental issues, but not a heretic and not a witch, not a threat to anybody, we don’t need to do anything.”

Same thing in the Italian city states in Rome and other places. Very little, if any, persecution of witches in those areas. But in Protestant countries, Germany and areas of France, and other places, high, high level of persecution of witches. So it’s very interesting to make that kind of distinction.

So again, one assessment from an historian, it’s clear that for most of its existence, the Inquisition was far from being a juggernaut of death, either in intention or in capability. It had an execution rate of well under 2 percent of the accused. Again, 98 percent of the cases did not result in any form of death at all.

Now again, the Inquisition in Spain had support from the people. It wasn’t necessarily overly popular, but there wasn’t a huge uprising against it. In fact, it would only have occurred and lasted for as long as it did with support from the people. It lasted, as I mentioned, for a long period of time, from 1478 to basically 1834 was the final act of suppression.

Now, what did the Spanish Inquisition bring to Spain? If we look at this objectively, we see that in Spain, Spain was different than these other countries in Christendom at the time. Spain, because of the Inquisition actually, had religious peace. So when you get to that early part of the 16th Century and later, this is a period of time of the Protestant Revolution, when Christendom is breaking apart because you have Lutherans Zwingli and Calvin and others preaching this heresy, preaching different teachings from the faith and pulling people away from the Church into Protestantism.

That didn’t happen in Spain. In fact there very, very few Protestants that ever were erupted or ever came about in Spain as a whole. Also in Europe as you go along in the 17th Century, there’s religious wars. Remember after every heresy there is usually a violent period of warfare. In Europe in particular in Germany of the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th Century, horrific amount of death and destruction during that time. Spain was freed from all that, right, there was no religious war, there was no conflict, there was no horrific violence during that period of time at all, at least within Spain.

And so what’s interesting too is when you look at this, there’s very limited impact on the people of Spain as a whole. As I mentioned, the Spanish Inquisition was really rooted and centered in urban areas. So if you lived outside of the urban areas, outside of the towns, you lived in the rural areas, you had no contact at all with the Inquisition. One historian has written this, he said, “The evidence suggests that the Inquisition never built up in organizational apparatus of social control, and that its impact on the daily lives of most Spaniards was infrequent and marginal.”

Now contrast that with the myth that people have about the Spanish Inquisition that it was this all-powerful, omniscient Inquisition that controlled everything about the lives of people in Spain. It’s just not true at all.

So how do we have these myths, I mean how does this come about? And we’ll end with this. How do we come about with all of these different myths? Well, really what happens is, once you get into the – as I mentioned, the 16th Century and the rise of Protestantism, you begin to see a tax on the Church. So, different Protestant authors began to use the printing press to write books, to write tracks against the Spanish Inquisition, and to really create this propaganda against the Church. To create the myth that millions of people were being tortured and being executed for the faith. That the Inquisition really was this monolithic organization bent on controlling the minds of everyone, and that’s just not true at all.

Again, this was the creation of different Protestant authors and the enlightenment period which you get into the 17th and 18th Century in France. It also picks up and then you have your modern day critics as well, who gravitate towards these false narratives that have their origins in the 16th Century, and then they continue to maintain it. Not at all supported by historical fact whatsoever.

What’s interesting is, when the major historian of the Spanish Inquisition, a man by the name of Henry Kamen, wrote a book, originally I think it was back in the ‘70s called The Spanish Inquisition, based on the historical record at the time, what he believed, and it was very, very critical and it kind of went along with a lot of different myths and whatnot that had previously – that had come from the Protestants and other authors.

But fast-forward a few years from there in the ‘90s, he writes a revision to that book, and so now his book is called The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision. And he basically rewrote his book based on new information and new documents that he had uncovered in a new look at the whole Spanish Inquisition. And he overturned previously what he had believed, and he saw that this Inquisition was not what these false narratives present.

And this is what he wrote about the effect of the Spanish Inquisition. He said, “Indeed, the Inquisition meddled very much less than we might think. Both defenders and opponents of the Inquisition have accepted without question the image of an omniscient, omnipotent tribunal whose fingers reached into every corner of the land. For the Inquisition to have been as powerful as suggested, the 50 or so inquisitors in Spain would need to have had an extensive bureaucracy, a reliable system of informers, regular income, and the cooperation of the secular and ecclesiastical authorities. At no time did it have any of those.”

So this whole myth of this Spanish Inquisition is again just that, it’s a myth, not supported by historical fact. So whether we’re talking about the Papal inquisitors or the Spanish Inquisition, obviously we need to be armed with historical fact, we need to be able to understand the context in which these events happened in society, in Christendom and in the Church itself so that when we are approached by those in our family, our co-workers or others that come to us and say, “Hey, what about the Spanish Inquisition, what about the killing of millions of people,” we have an ability to talk to them and to engage them and provide historical fact for them so we can defend the Church.”

The Heresy of Albigensianism – Ecclesia Semper Reformanda

-please click on the image for a larger one and more detail

-by Steve Weidenkopf

“So really the beginnings of this movement, or this event, start in the latter part of the 12th Century. What happens in 1184, Pope Lucius III sends a list of heresies to Bishops throughout Christendom. And he orders them, these Bishops, to take an active role in determining the guilt of heretics. So the Pope sends a list out to all the Bishops in Christendom, saying you the Bishop must take an active role of determining the guilt of heretics within your particular diocese.

Now why that was somewhat radical or different or why that’s kind of the beginning of this movement of the Inquisition is because before that time, really the Church relied on secular rulers to be the ones who combated heresy in their regions. It wasn’t necessarily something the Church had an active role in, it was something that they just looked towards the secular lord.

Because think about it, this is a time of feudalism. There’s no real nation-states, as we understand them. There’s no police force, there’s no standing army, that kind of thing. Really the police, the army was the lord and those who were aligned to him through vassalage and the feudal system. So it was the lord’s job to protect and to govern and to police the area. But the Church soon realized this became a problem here as we moved towards the end of the 12th Century, as I’ll tell you in a minute why.

But it became a problem because you had secular rulers trying to determine whether someone was guilty of heresy. The secular ruler had no training in theology, was not a theologian, had no real understanding of whether or not what the person was saying to him was contrary to the faith or not.

So the Pope realized this and said, “We need to put a stop to that, let’s actually start to institute something.” So at least in the beginning, Lucius III said, “Okay, Bishops, it’s your responsibility to discern whether someone is guilty of heresy in your area, in your diocese or not.” Later on, in 1231, Pope Gregory IX will come along and he will formally institute procedures for what are known as the medieval inquisitors, or we can call them Papal inquisitors during this period of time. And these Papal inquisitors were charged with determining orthodox belief, whether someone was embracing heresy and whether one was a heretic or not.

And he stipulated the qualifications that these Papally appointed inquisitors had to have. They had to be over the age of 40, they had to be trained in the arts of theology and law, and they had to be distinguished in their personal life by a life of good morals, insight and respectability. And they also needed to have a basic understanding, a good understating rather, as I mentioned, of theology and Canon Law. So he places qualifications on who now can judge whether someone has actually embraced heresy or not.

So in this 13th Century and leading up until about the 15th Century, what’s important to realize is that there is no such thing as the “Inquisition” as an institution in Christendom, okay. From the 13th Century to the 15th Century, you don’t have any institutional tribunals.

What you have instead are these Papally appointed inquisitors, who would go around – they were itinerant, so they went around to different regions, and they would just kind of set up shop in a town or a major village, and they’d be there for a period of time and they would ascertain whether or not there was heresy and then they’d move on to some other place. There was no institutional Inquisition, that comes much later in the 15th Century and we’ll talk about that in more detail.

So on the timeline, as I mentioned, the 15th-16th Century through the 19th Century, we have the creation of these institutional tribunals who were usually set up in cities. They were permanent in these different cities; they were staffed and manned by trained inquisitors. And then heretics were brought to those areas, or it was centered in an urban area and it was in that city where the inquisitors worked.

And some of the more famous ones of these Inquisitions, these actual tribunals, institutional tribunals were the one in Portugal, there was one in Rome, one in Venice, some of the major Italian city-states, and then the most famous one is the Spanish Inquisition. We’ll talk more about that in detail. So the Spanish Inquisition was an institutional tribunal set up here in the 15th Century. Different, but similar in some ways, as I’ll tell you, to these medieval inquisitors that operated in the 13th Century.

Now all of these institutional tribunals that I mentioned in Portugal, in Spain, in Venice and other Italian city-states, they all are abolished by the time we get to the 19th Century. It was only one that remains and that’s the one in Rome, the Roman Inquisition. and it was known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition until the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in 1966.

The name of that office was changed to Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. So it’s an office that still exists today in the Vatican. The previous kind of more famous well-known prefect, or head of the congregation, was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Benedict XVI.

So that office still exists and it still is charged, among other things, with looking at the doctrine of faith and maintaining orthodoxy throughout the Church, looking at theological writings and determining whether they are or are not orthodox or heterodox. So that’s kind of the brief timeline of these Papally appointed inquisitors and then what’s known as the Inquisitions.

So now what happens here? We saw that in 1231, Gregory IX institutes the procedures for these Papally appointed inquisitors. Why does that happen? Why Gregory IX, and the 13th Century? What is going on historically which brings that to the front?

And what’s going on is there’s a major heresy that erupts in the south of France during this time, and it’s called the Albigensian Heresy or sometimes known as Catharism, or the Cathar heresy.   (Ed. Ultimately, following Cathar dualism, inspires the “Perfecti” to starve themselves to death, so ideas have consequences, and sometimes deadly ones:  Fascism, Communism, Breathariansim, etc.  What are the consequences of American ideology?  Discuss.)

And so Catharism ravaged, it was going all throughout the south of France and it was very, very pernicious, it spread widely and I’ll tell you why in a minute here.   It was simple, and deadly/destructive.  And so, the church had to react, had to do something to prevent this spread of this heresy from wiping out society.

Now I mentioned it’s Albigensian or Catharism, Cathar actually comes from the Greek Katharos, which means clean or pure. Because those who practiced the higher end of Catharism believed that they were clean and pure and perfect in all that they were doing and how they lived and in the doctrine that they taught and that they believed.

It appears, in France, at the end of the early part of the 11th Century, it actually comes over, migrates from the east from Byzantium or the Byzantine Empire. It first kind of centered in Bulgaria and Macedonia, those areas and then it transfers over into the southern part of France. And it becomes especially numerous; it grows really around the town of Albi, in the south of France. This is where we get the word, Albigensian, from that town. The town Albi is about 45 miles east of Toulouse, so that’s the major city in the south of France.

Now it spreads for a lot of different reasons, but some of the major reasons why Catharism and Albigensian become such a huge problem is because of its rapid spread. And it spreads primarily because of the state of the clergy in the south of France. The clergy in the south of France at this time were not good, to put it succinctly.

Catholic Priests did not live their vocations. Many of them were corrupt, worldly, concerned more with riches and power and mistresses and other things. One historian has remarked that pretty much every priest in certain major areas of southern France had a mistress at this time. So it was a very bad situation for the Church as a whole. Many priests were functionally illiterate. Most of them or many of them barely knew Latin; they knew just enough Latin to say the mass, that’s it. It was a really sorry state of affairs.

And a lot of that was brought about because of the Bishops living in the south of France at the time. These were men who engaged in ecclesiastical abuses of such things as absenteeism. Meaning the bishop didn’t actually reside in his diocese, he lived someplace else. There was nepotism that was rampant in church offices in that area as well. There was also what’s called pluralism, and pluralism is basically one man being the Bishop of many different dioceses. So you could imagine if you’re the Bishop of diocese X and diocese Y, you can’t live in two places at once, so then that leads to the ecclesiastical abuses I mentioned earlier of absenteeism.

There is no Bishop, resident Bishop in this area. So things were really, really, really difficult. So difficult that Pope Innocent III, at one point remarked this about the bishops in the south of France. He said, “They were blind men, dumb dogs who could no longer bark. Men who will do anything for money. They say the good is bad and the bad is good. They turn light into darkness and darkness into light, sweet to bitter and bitter to sweet. They do not fear God nor respect man. They give Church offices to illiterate boys whose behavior is often scandalous.” And that’s the Pope writing about his own episcopacy here in the south of France. Things were really, really bad.

So it’s a ripe opportunity and a ripe environment for heresy to take root and to spread. Because one of the reasons why it spread so much was that some of the members of the Cathari I’ll talk about in a moment, called the Perfecti, they lived outwardly, very moral lives or what seemed to be very moral lives.

They seemed like they were people of charity, people of virtue and so, you know, your unsuspecting peasants can see these two examples. They see a Perfecti or somebody who’s a member of the Albigensian heresy living a virtuous life and they see their parish priest running around with a mistress, corrupt and worldly and their Bishop not even in their own diocese. And you could see why they might be attracted to one over the other because virtue, holiness attracts. So if you’re not living a holy life, then people will not be attracted to that at all.

So what is it that these Albigensians and the Cathari believed? They had some very, very interesting beliefs. They were really Gnostic in origin and what Gnosticism is, Gnosticism was of heresy in the early Church, the Church that was early on in her existence that had to do with basically this understanding of – that Gnostics had a view of the world that was dualist.  (Ed. Dualism denies Creation is good and calls God and Scripture liars, Gen 1:31, that is why dualism, or whatever it calls itself du jour, is a heresy.  Mt 7:16)

Meaning that they believed there was material properties to the world and there were spiritual properties to the world, which do exist. But they believed that the spiritual things were good and were created and made by a good God, but all the material things of the world were created by a bad God.

So you’re spirit, your soul in this Gnostic Cathari belief is a good thing, is good. But our bodies are bad, so anything that our body does is also bad. This is what the Cathari and the Gnostics believed. Then Gnosticism morphs later on in Church history into what’s called Manicheanism, something that even Saint Augustine himself was member of for a period of time before his conversion. And then it morphs later on from Gnosticism to Manicheanism to here, to Albigensianism.

So one thing when study the history of heresies throughout the Church, they never really kind of ever go away, they just morph into something different or something new. (Ed. “There are no new heresies”, so the saying goes.)  And even in our own day in age, we’re still dealing with certain teachings or certain groups that have these kind of Gnostic or dualistic tendencies, the spirit is good, matter is bad.

A few years ago, I think it was in 1998 or around there, the late ‘90s, there was a group called Heaven’s Gate, in California. They made news all throughout the world because they all committed suicide, the members of this community committed suicide en masse one night because their belief was that there was this comet coming and that the comet was real. But then behind the comet was some space ship and that what they needed to do was at a certain moment, a period of time, they had to kill themselves to free their good souls from their body to meet up with the space ship so they could go on to whatever paradise or heaven that they believed in.

So that’s Gnosticism, pure and simple. It’s Manicheanism, it’s Albigensianism again, it just continues to morph itself. So there’s nothing new that the Church has dealt with, she’s dealt with these things in the past.

So matter is bad, spirit is good, so if you turn to Jesus then, what are the Albigensians and Cathari think about Jesus? Well, they didn’t believe that He was God and they didn’t believe He was man either.

They believed that he was this phantom-like creature, some kind of spirit, pure spirit type of creature, not God Himself but definitely not inhabiting – He didn’t have a physical body, He was just a phantom or a spirit. So because of that, because He didn’t have a real body then they also believed and taught that He didn’t really suffer on the cross. There was no reason for Him to bodily suffer on the cross because He didn’t have a body in the first place.

They rejected, obviously, the Eucharist. How could a spiritual being, like Jesus, as they believed, kind of come to be in this material properties of bread and wine, although transubstantiated, but how could that happen, we don’t understand that, that’s not real. So anything that smacks of matter was bad for the Albigensians, anything that’s spiritual is good. They also believed that during His life what Jesus taught was a spiritual perfection and a spiritual release. That life was really – the purpose of life was to be free of our bodies, it was to grow deeper in our souls, grow deeper in our spirits so we could free ourselves from these horrible, evil bodies. And that’s what Jesus taught; this is what the Albigensians believed.

Jesus taught that, but after his ascension into heaven the Church then was founded and the Church garbled his message, the Church changed Jesus’ message. And we still deal with people that believe that kind of stuff today. Church changes his message and so it’s these Cathari, these Albigensians that have his authentic message. And so join us and we will give the original message of Jesus. Don’t believe what the Church is telling you, that’s biased, that’s created, that’s self-constructed. Come to us and we will give you the real liberated teachings of Jesus.

They actually believed that the Church was the creation of Satan, you know, fallen bad angel. Saint Dominic was one who actually went through the south of France and actually was given the idea by the Holy Spirit to found is order, the Order of Preachers, while he was in the south of France and fighting the Albigensian heretics really. But he came across an Albigensian who said this about the Church, he said, this Albigensian said, “The Roman Church is the Devil’s Church and her doctrines are those of demons. She is the Babylon whom Saint John called the mother of fornication and abomination. Drunk with the blood of saints and martyrs. Neither Christ, nor the apostles has established the existing order of the mass.”

So if you’re Saint Dominic, right, and you run into somebody who teaches this or believes this, obviously this is a problem for the Church. You can immediately say this is a significant issue. Not only was their teaching a problem for the Church, but what made them even more pernicious and more of a threat was the fact that the Albigensians established themselves as kind of a counter-church to the Catholic Church. They organized themselves hierarchically, so they actually had dioceses and they had Bishops along with two assistants who were the head of these kind of Albigensians diocese throughout the south of France.

So they set up again like this mirror kind of counter-church. “Come to us, we’re the true Church, the Catholic Church is this creation of Satan.” So it’s obviously a significant issue. They also had Deacons, which assisted the community and then they had what they called their priests or what I refered to before as these Perfecti, these people who took a special solemn oath to live lives really devoid of any kind of material attachment.

The Perfecti, these priests of the Albigensian Church, would participate in extreme fasting. They would not eat any form of meat, for example, either. If they were married they would abstain from marital relations because in their mind what comes from the marital act is potentially new life and that would be bad, because you would be taking a good soul and you’d be entrapping it into this bad material human body.  (Ed.  Life is bad?  Preventing birth?  Nazis said, “Unworthy of life!”  Hmmm.  Seems I’ve heard these before?  Methinks.)

So they practiced celibacy, but they also practiced other forms of sexual activity, which does not result in possible procreation. (Ed. Albigensians considered procreation was considered worse than fornication or adultery.) I won’t get into details, but that’s what they believed in. And they also believed in practice, The Perfecti, that suicide was their highest form of worship.

So I mentioned to you this Heaven’s Gate group, what they were doing, again, was nothing new, that happened before. The Perfecti eventually would kill themselves in order to free their good soul form their bad body, which you would think would not be a nice and good and effective tool for recruitment, nor would the lack of sex. But they did grow nonetheless from virtue, so virtue attracts.  (Ed. I would substitute the term “radical commitment” instead of virtue here, something to believe in, something to live or die for, I would however caution to be extremely discriminating in what you adhere towards.  ISIS recruits, so does Evil.) If you’re living a virtuous life, it’s a holy life or should be, then that will attract people to you and it did in this form as well.

Now most Cathari and most Albigensians were what we call believers. So they weren’t members of the Perfecti, they didn’t participate in the pact, the suicide worship or the extreme fasting or the extreme celibacy or other sexual activity, they were just believers. These who participated in the liturgy that the Albigensians had and were focused on helping the community, but didn’t follow the higher teachings. So how did the Church respond to this Albigensians heresy? We’ve kind of gone through what a significant threat to was to the Church and to society as a whole, so how did the Church respond?

Well initially, the Church responds through a series of local councils. So, Bishops in the area getting together and addressing this heresy. So at the council of Toulouse in 1119, the heresy was condemned, the Council of Tours in 1163 was also condemned. You had the great Saint Bernard came to the area and he preached in 1154 as well, trying to bring people back to the faith and to reject Albigensianism. But by the latter part of the 12th Century, the heresy was very widespread, was extremely widespread and very popular and so something different, something more aggressive had to occur.

And that’s where we get Pope Innocent III, probably one of the greatest Popes in medieval history, comes to the pontificate and he realizes that this is a serious issue in the south of France, we need to address it. So for four years, from 1203 to 1207, he sends a series of missionaries to the south of France again, to preach, to teach the authentic faith and to try to bring the Albigensians back, just like Saint Bernard before that.

He also reformed the Church. I mentioned to you earlier how one of the reasons why the heresy spread so much was because of the state of the clergy, the corrupt and worldly Bishops and absent Bishops. And so, he reformed the Church by deposing seven Bishops, putting in new, different men, more men who lived their vocation more appropriately.

And so he tried to work also with the local ruler, the major ruler, secular ruler in the area, Raymond of Toulouse, and tried to work with him to get him to try to step up his combat the heresy as well.

Eventually though, Raymond kind of pushed back on that. Some historians believe that his wife was actually a member of the Albigensians, might have been a Perfecti herself, so Raymond didn’t really engage in combating the heresy as much and he just kind of let it spread.

So eventually he got into trouble with the Papal legate that Pope Innocent III had sent down to talk with him, and eventually it was believed on the orders of Raymond of Toulouse that this Papal legate was murdered after a meeting. They had a meeting and the legate leaves and then the next morning he’s killed. So this really obviously upsets Innocent, and so Innocent decides to do something more radical and instead he calls a Crusade.

And this is the time of the Crusading movement, the height of the Crusading movement really. Pope Innocent the Third called more Crusades than any other Pope in the history of the Church. And so he calls a Crusade here at the south of France to try to eradicate the Albigensian heresy. And it’s a 20-year war, from 1209 to 1229, and it’s a bloody, bloody civil war, really. And I wish we had time to get into the details of the Albigensian Crusade, but I don’t. So just know that it was a very bloody civil war, it was a difficult time, and ultimately the end of the civil war was brought about through a political situation, solutions from the King of France, and it didn’t end the heresy.

When the whole purpose of the Crusade was to root out the heresy, but at the end of it, the end of these 20 years, it still was around, it still was pretty well spread and popular and so there was something else that needed to be done. So what else needed to be done was what I mentioned to you earlier, was Gregory the Ninth steps in and he establishes the procedures for those Medieval inquisitors, those Papally appointed inquisitors to go to the south of France and to deal with the situation. And so that’s what happens.

Now, before I get into telling you what goes on here in the south of France, what the Papal inquisitors and the procedures that they went though and how they tried to root out heresy, we have to take a step back and just answer the question, why is heresy bad? I mean, many of us living in the 21st Century here in the United States, you know, the land of religious freedom, religious liberty and religious toleration, and we think, well okay, so somebody believes differently than we do, why is that a bad thing? Why is this an issue? Why is the Church spending so much energy and resources on trying to deal with this and combat this?”

The Inquisition – Noble Institution?


-by Pedro Berruguete, “Saint Dominic Presides over the Auto da Fe (Act of Faith), c. 1495.

Tolerance is NOT believing everything is true, nor equally true.  Only a fool would be that simple-minded.  Denial is not a river in Egypt.

The perpetual union, up until recently, of Church and State, is ancient, going all the way back to the god-king pharoahs of Egypt.  It is this union which led to heresy, pagan or Christian, being viewed as treason, as a crime, against the State, against society as a whole.

In The Real Story of the Inquisition, Steve Weidenkopf digs into the wealth of historical data to show that, far from being a cruel reign of terror, the Inquisition was actually a noble institution that:

  • Aimed principally at the repentance and reconciliation of wayward Catholics
  • Used well-regulated procedures and temperate punishments
  • Protected the accused from harsher treatment by the state
  • Fostered both religious and national unity

-by Steve Weidenkopf

“So let’s go through some of the myths of the Inquisition. These are some of the things that people automatically think of, these false scenarios that they have in their mind whenever they hear the word the Inquisition, and we’re going to refute those as we go along tonight.

  1.  All right, so the first myth of the Inquisition is that it was a tool used by the Church to control the minds of medieval people. All right, that’s one of the major myths.
  2. The second myth is that Inquisition destroyed religious and intellectual freedom and political liberty throughout Europe.
  3. The third myth is that it tortured and killed millions of people.

Invariably, you talk about the Inquisition with someone, one of these three or all three of these myths will be presented.  They’ll talk with you and they’ll say this, “Well, what about the torturing and the killing of millions and millions of people? How could the Church sanction that? What was going on there?” What was the reality of the Inquisition?

Well, the reality was there was never any single, all powerful, horrific tribunal that controlled the minds of medieval people. I’ll go through this in more detail and you’ll see there was never any kind of omniscient, omnipotent, powerful tribunal attacking everything and everyone and trying to limit political freedom and religious thought throughout Christendom.

Why the Inquisition – why was it started, why did it come about?

(Ed. after the fall of the western Roman Empire, there was no legal system in the western Mediterranean and European worlds.  The Church had survived, along with its judicial system, canon law.  It was to these courts the people turned for justice and adjudication of wrongs.  In some places, the Church was the ONLY form of established government and semblance of protector available, the bishop the only executive or leader to be had.  Exacting records were kept and these records are recently being compiled, analyzed, and studied in a modern way.)

Well, it was formed to combat popular and secular persecution of heretics. As we’ll see, the Inquisition actually was formed to help the Church talk to heretics and try to convert them and bring them back to the faith. There was a lot of secular persecution among either the regular people or among secular lords against heretics. They were not afforded any kind of system of justice. They weren’t afforded any opportunity to recant, and so the Church had to step in to actually prevent violence against heretics, originally.

And then also, the reality too is that the Inquisition was formed and what they desired was the conversion of heretics, not their death. It was actually seen as an inquisitor actually failed in his job if the heretic was remanded to the state and then executed. Because the job of the inquisitor was to illustrate to the heretic his heresy, his error and to bring him back into the Church – he or she. And so if you weren’t able to do that as an inquisitor and you had to remand the heretic over to the secular authorities and they killed the heretic, then you had failed, really, in your job. So it was not a good thing.

There’s really a two-fold purpose to the Inquisition. One was to save the souls, save souls, save the souls of the heretic. That was the primary reason for why the medieval inquisitors and later on the Inquisitions existed, was an act of charity by the Church to illustrate to those who had embraced heresy that look, you have turned from the authentic faith, you’ve turned from real faith, and now were going to explain the true faith to you and give you an opportunity to repent, to convert and come back to the faith. So it was conversion of souls, it was concern for souls, was really the major purpose.

And the second purpose was to protect the unity of the Church and society. Now this is, I think, one of the most difficult things for people in the modern world, especially Americans, to understand about this historical event of the Inquisition, of why this happened.

Because for us, we’ve grown up in a society where religious toleration is the norm, where if someone differs from us in religion, that’s okay. We, as Catholics, have an obligation to evangelize, we have an obligation to catechize. We have an obligation to dialogue with those of our faith, right, who are Christian but maybe not Catholic. We have an obligation to dialogue with those who are not of the Christian faith, I mean, Muslims and Jews, and what have you.

So we dialogue, but it’s not from the point of we all need to be one or united in our religious faith. That world view that we have was completely foreign to those who lived during this period of time. So to really understand the Inquisition, we have to go deeper into their mindset to understand their world view, which is very different from ours.

A good quote to kind of help illustrate that is from the historian Thomas Madden, he writes, “For medieval people, religion was not something one just did at Church; it was their science, their philosophy, their politics, their identity and their hope of a salvation. Heresy then, struck at the heart of that truth. It doomed the heretic, endangered those near him and tore apart the fabric of society.” (Ed. avoid Presentism)

So for medieval people, a heretic really was one who – and I’ll talk more about this later – was a threat, not only to themselves for the state of their soul, but also was a threat to the larger society and to the community and to Christendom as a whole. Again, something much different than how we see a religion and how we see the faith today. But it’s important for us, if we’re going to understand this, to understand that historical context. And a good way to understand this from is a quote from Cardinal Walter Brandmuller, who is the President Emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, and he writes this about how we have to try to understand events like the Inquisition. He says. “The Inquisition, such a historical phenomena can be fathomed only when we look at it within the framework of its historical context, and do not try to measure yesterday by today’s standards.” So another way to look at this is the Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc who wrote about we should avoid reading backwards into history. Meaning, taking how we view things, how we see things, how our society is structured and applying all of that to previous historical events. It’s really kind of passing judgment on those who lived before us, unfairly.  (Ed. for a more local example, judge, truly judge, your grandparents by today’s standards, today’s standards being the authentic, irrefutable Truth!!!!  “Boy, were they NUTS is the only conclusion you can come to!  Or, are we?  I trust you take the point.)

Now obviously there are certain things we can look at, analyze, judge and say this was wrong, this was right, obviously. But in order to do that, we must at least first have an authentic understanding of their world view and, again, of their historical context. What was it that they were living through? Why was this important to them? Answer those kinds of questions so that we have a better understanding of it. So before we get into some more details of refuting these myths that I mentioned to you earlier, let me take just a brief kind of timeline of this historical event of the Inquisition.

What was this event? What are we actually talking about here?

See Albigensianism

Why is Heresey bad?

  1. A threat to society and the Church, the body politic.

Well there’s many different reasons for why people in the Middle Ages believed that heresy was bad. One, was that for them heresy was a threat to their society and a threat to the Church. It was a threat to the unity that they all lived in terms of their faith. And that’s not to say that everybody was Catholic during this period of time. And you know there’s a heresy right here in the south of France, so obviously not. You also have Jews and Muslims and what not throughout Christendom, but for the most part we can say that Christendom in the medieval world was united, at least generally speaking, in the faith, in the Catholic faith.

2.  Disunity

So anything that came in to reject that or change that or set up a counter Church to that, was a threat, right, to the unity of the Church and the unity of society. And these people were very, very focused on being united. On having a united Church and a united faith. So heresy was something that obviously threatened that. And it wasn’t just a passive threat. In their minds it was an active threat. You know, the heretic seeks to change the beliefs of other people, seeks to change the belief of the community, seeks to get rid of even the Church. And that’s a threat, and that’s something that needs to be addressed.

3.  A threat to the soul.

Another reason why heresy is important is because it’s not only a threat to society and to the Church, but it’s also a threat to the soul. Not only the soul of the heretic, his soul or her soul is threatened by embracing this false teaching, but also they embrace that teaching, they teach others the false teaching, you know, they live lives that seemingly are virtuous and people then join their movement, then they’re taking other souls away from the faith as well. All right, and this was a significant issue for people in the Middle Ages.

For your soul to be threatened was a very significant endeavor, right. I mean it should be for us today too. We should not do anything that would place our soul in danger. So if it’s true for us, it was true for them as well. Embracing heresy placed your soul in danger and that was a significant theological issue and a pastoral issue as well.

4.  Invites violence.

Another reason why heresy is bad and was strenuously combated by people in the Middle Ages is because of the violence. Really when you look at the history of heresy throughout the whole of all Church history, you see that what follows a heresy is usually periods of active and pernicious violence. Because it destabilized – or it threatened to destabilize the community, so there was a reaction to that and usually it was a violent reaction.

Sometimes it was a violent reaction by secular authorities, other times there were groups of heretics that actually took up arms themselves. So this was a significant problem for all these different reasons. In the secular world, the secular view of things, secular rulers believe that heretics were revolting against their authority. The secular rulers were Catholic, they were aligned at least in part to the Church, and so to come along and be a heretic or preach something different threatened their authority.

So from the minds of a secular ruler, a heretic really was one who was committing treason. And so in their minds, heresy was a treasonous offense, it’s a capital crime, and that the punishment for capital crime in the secular world was death.

So the key thing to understand here about heresy in the Middle Ages is that heresy was not only a Church crime, but it was also a secular crime. That’s a very important distinction to keep in mind when we talk about the procedures and the death penalty and all these other things that come in later on and we talk about the Papal inquisitors and the Inquisition itself. Heresy is not only a church crime, but it’s also a secular crime in this time period. So that’s why it’s very, very significant.

Secular rulers have the goal of safeguarding their realm, as I mentioned to you earlier, they’re the police force, they’re the army, they’re all these things. A threat to their society, a threat to their authority is something that needs to be addressed, all right?

 Cura Animarum

For the Church, heresy is bad because again, it threatens the soul of the individuals, it threatens the soul of others in the communities, in the church, and so it must be addressed as well. The Church is primarily concerned with saving the souls of the heretic, whereas the secular world is more concerned with punishing the heretic. Another key distinction. Church is more concerned with saving the soul of the heretic, the secular realm is more concerned with punishing the heretic, okay. We’ll talk more about that as we go along.

Now, it was the duty of everyone in Christendom at this time to combat heresy, as I have mentioned. The Church really kind of looked initially towards secular rulers to do that. Some did that well, others didn’t. And in many cases failure to fight heresy was as bad or worse than actually embracing the heresy itself, all right. So this was the world view, this was the context in which these people lived.

 Papal Inquisitors

So with all that in mind, let’s look at these Papally appointed inquisitors, these Medieval inquisitors, that Pope Gregory IX established. Now it’s important to note that their jurisdiction, what they were appointed to do was to go and to seek out heresy, and to bring the heretic back into the bosom of the Church. And what is heresy, right? Heresy is a post-baptismal denial of the basic doctrine of the faith.

So an inquisitor is only concerned with those who have been baptized and who now are following some false teaching. Which means an inquisitor is not concerned with Jews, practicing Jews, not concerned with practicing Muslims. That’s one of the major myths of the Inquisition, is people think that the Inquisition or the Papal inquisitors were all out to get practicing Jews and Muslims and anybody who wasn’t a Christian. Completely not true. That’s historically false. They were only concerned and only had jurisdiction, they had legal jurisdiction only over those who were baptized who had fallen away from the faith. Very, very important.

Edict of Grace

So what they would do, is these inquisitors, these Medieval inquisitors would come into an area, they’d have their commission from the Pope, they’d go to these areas, they’d set up their shop, so to speak, and they would announce the fact that they are here. They would preach, they would preach the faith, they would preach the authentic faith and then they would issue what was known as a period of grace, or an edict of grace.

And this was in the medieval period of time it was anywhere from 15 to 40 days where you could come voluntarily confess to the inquisitors that you had embraced heresy or you had participated in a heretical act, and they would give you some form of penance. You say, “I’m sorry,” you repent; they would welcome you back into the Church and give you some form of penance. All right, that was during this period of grace. You could voluntarily confess.

After the period of grace, what was then done was the procedure was to open the accusations to anyone in the community. All right, so if you believe you saw Farmer Joe, your neighbor down the street, going into a meeting with known Cathari or know Albigensians, you could then go to the inquisitors and say, “Hey, I saw Farmer Joe going to this meeting with a whole bunch of other well-known Albigensians, you should probably investigate him.”

So it was opened up to accusations from others. They would gather evidence. If there was seemingly enough evidence to desire the inquisitors to actually go forth with a hearing, they would do so. A trial would commence, they’d be brought before the inquisitors. Everything that you said and everything that they asked you, all your responses were carefully written down.

That’s one of the interesting things of this – kind of ironic, really. When there’s so much misunderstanding about the Inquisition and these inquisitors, that there is so much, despite the fact that there was so much documentation from them. We have many, many, many written records, detailed written records, of what they actually did, what they said, what the punishment was, why they gave that punishment, all these things. Completely well, well recorded.

So everything was written down, and throughout the process the accused was given an opportunity to convert, to confess their heresy and to come back to the Church. Witnesses were called, could be or could not be called, asked, “Did you see Farmer Joe?” Going, “Yes, I saw.” “Well how do you know it was a,” you know, they go through the whole list. Then the accused also was allowed to call his own witnesses, right, to kind of verify his story. “I’m not an Albigensian, this is why, I have so-and-so who can vouch for me.” And so they would go on and on like this.

Again, the whole point of this, of these inquisitors, was to try to bring to an understanding of the accused that you have embraced heresy, this is a threat to your soul, and out of charity we want you to come back. We want you to renounce this heresy and to return to the church. And if you do so we’ll give you a penance.


Now, a lot of times when it comes up, as we mentioned earlier, in terms of the myths of the Inquisition is, what about torture? Right, we had this kind of vision, this narrative in our mind of, you know, torture was being used throughout these sessions and what not.

Now, it’s interesting when you look at the historical record, is that torture wasn’t authorized to be used by inquisitors until 1252. So 20 years from Gregory IX establishing these procedures, torture wasn’t allowed to be used. But 20 years in, finally it was allowed to be used.

Now, why was it allowed to be used, or why was it even part of the legal framework? Well, because that was – torture was used extensively in the secular courts of the day. So torture was something that was used to elicit confessions and even as a form of punishment in the secular world and so it was something then that the Church also then embraced. And we’ll talk more about torture, especially as we get along to the Spanish Inquisition.

Now, what’s interesting about torture in ecclesiastical courts is that it could be used or could not be used. It wasn’t something that had to be used, it was an option given to the inquisitors. Many of them did not like to use it at all. The most famous inquisitor, Bernard Gui, who wrote an actual manual on how to be an inquisitor, how to ask the certain question or what questions to ask different heretics, he recommended not using it. He said it wasn’t effective at all; it shouldn’t be used at all. And he didn’t use it much himself.

If the inquisitor elected to use torture, he had to follow a certain number of protocols and procedures. It was well regulated, it wasn’t just, okay, you’re gonna be taken in the back and do whatever I want to you. There were certain things that the inquisitor could and could not do.

What’s interesting is that the torture itself was never applied by a cleric. (Ed. clerics could not draw blood, even so much that when surgery was required in monasteries, laymen were brought into the monastery to do the surgery.)  So the inquisitor himself could not torture the accused. Instead the secular world, the secular arm was brought in and they applied the torture. So that’s one interesting point.

The torturer in ecclesiastical courts was always used to elicit a confession, was always used to derive the truth. It was never used as a form of punishment. Most people when they think of torture and the Inquisition they immediately think, oh they’re just, you know, punishing these people for believing something different. Not true. It was always used as a means to elicit a confession, never as a means solely for punishment.

Also, it was interesting; it was allowed to be used only once. If an inquisitor went to the torture route, he could only use it one time, that’s it. It wasn’t something that was repeated often, only one time.

And it was supposed to be used after every other method had already been tried. What’s also interesting is that if the accused confessed under torture, “Yes, I’m a heretic, yes, I believe these things,” then the torture was stopped and then they were given a day to rest and then the day after the torture the inquisitors would come to them and ask them to repeat their confession. Because it was believed and it was understood that confession under torture could be false, right. So you had to freely offer the confession again outside of torture just to be sure that it was authentic.


All right, so what could be some punishments for those who were brought before the inquisitors, they were tried, it was determined they were heretics; let’s say the ones who confessed and converted and came back to the faith, what kind of penances were they given?

Well, some could be fasting. One form of penance was fasting. You were ordered to fast for a certain number of days, for a certain period of time. And in some cases you had to wear a special clothing, like a yellow cross on your garment, again for a certain period time or for maybe a long period of time.

If you were wealthy, if you’re a wealthy individual, then you could be instructed to give money to build a church. You could be instructed to give alms for the poor. Or you could also be told that you needed to go on a pilgrimage, right, or go participate in a Crusade. Again, this is a period of time of great pilgrimages and great Crusades as well. So those were different forms of penances that people could be given for confession, “Yes, I’m a heretic,” and then being brought back to the faith.

Because, again, heresy, if you engage in heresy, right, that is ecclesiastical or a church crime, right, it is sinful if you’re baptized Christian, to kind of repudiate the teachings of the faith and believe in something false. And so if you confessed that, then there’s a penance given, right, so that you can reconcile yourself to God and to the Church.


Now, if you were obstinate in your heresy, if you refused the many opportunities provided to you by the inquisitors to recant, to confess, and just remained obstinate, “Yes, I believe this Albigensian heresy, I believe these teachings, I’m a Perfecti, I’m never going to change, I don’t believe you, it’s a false Church, it’s created by Satan,” all these things. Then eventually there comes a point in time during the course where the inquisitors said, “Well, we can no longer help you. We’ve tried; we’ve asked these questions, we’ve tried to show you the error of your ways. We’ve tried; we’ve given you multiple opportunities for a conversion. It’s not working, we can’t do anything.”

 Remanded to the custody of the State

So then what they would do is they would remand the heretic to the State. So they would say, “We can no longer help this individual, we give you over to the State.” And the State would then ascertain, okay, this person is guilty of heresy, and again as I mentioned to you earlier, remember that heresy was not only a church crime, but also a secular crime in this time period. And so if you were convicted in a secular court, or by the secular authorities of being a heretic, the punishment for that was death. It was a capital punishment.

So then the secular authorities would take the heretic and then execute them in some manner, usually by burning at the stake. So it’s a historical fact to say authentically that the Church never, ever, ever executed anyone for heresy. In fact, it was against Canon law for the death penalty to be used. The death penalty could not be used in Canon law at all.

So what happens is again, as I mentioned, they remanded the heretic to the State. Now did the Church know that by remanded the heretic to the State that he or she would be executed? Yes. They did know that. Because, again, heresy was a secular crime. So but the Church worked diligently, inquisitors did, to try to ensure that didn’t happen. I mentioned earlier that an inquisitor who had his accused heretic remanded to the State had failed in their job, right, because they did not confess, they did not come back to the Church.

 Quantitative analysis

So let’s look at some numbers. I mean, people think that millions upon millions of people, we have this vision in our heads, this false narrative, that millions of people were killed throughout Europe during this period of time by the Papal inquisitors and later by the Spanish Inquisition. What are some real authentic numbers? Well, in the south of France, over a 50-year period of time from 1227 to 1277, there were 5000 Cathari, or 5000 Albigensians who were executed by secular authorities. About 100 people a year. You do the math, right?

So it’s not to diminish their executions, but we need to know these historical facts to be able to combat what people are saying about what went on during this period of time. “There were millions of people,” it’s not millions of people. Several thousands. It doesn’t diminish their death, obviously, but again, we need to know the authentic numbers.

I mentioned to you Bernard Gui who was one of the most famous inquisitors of the time. He was the inquisitor of Toulouse in the south of France here for a 16-year period of time in the early part of the 14th Century. Over the course of his time as inquisitor of Toulouse, he passed 930 judgments against heretics, accused heretics. Of those 930, 42 were remanded to the State. Or about a little less than 5 percent.

So, historical record shows that overwhelmingly the vast majority of those who came before the Papal inquisitors, and we’ll see later the Spanish Inquisition, were not remanded to the State. They were not, they were penanced, the inquisitors were able to bring these people back to the faith and to the Church. And so it was a very – actually it was a very just and very humane way, really, to engage in this discussion of whether or not someone was a heretic. And we’ll talk more about that in just a minute.

The Spanish Inquisition


Jul 6 – Jan Hus, (1369-1415), Heretic, “John the Baptist of the Reformation”


-from Anderson, C. Colt, Ph.D.. The Great Catholic Reformers: From Gregory the Great to Dorothy Day (Kindle Locations 1808-1816,1937-2040). Kindle Edition.

“Wearing a paper crown painted with three horrible devils about to greedily tear a soul to pieces and inscribed with the words, “This is a heresiarch,” the rector of the University of Prague was led to the stake on July 6, 1415. During his time as rector, Jan Hus had spearheaded the Czech reform movement. As he was stripped of his clothes and chained, Hus reportedly said, “The Lord Jesus Christ, my Redeemer and Savior, was bound by a harder and heavier chain. And I, a miserable wretch, am not ashamed to bear being bound by this one.”‘ After they had piled the wood up to his chin and lit the fire, Hus proclaimed that he had always been a faithful Catholic adhering to Scripture and Tradition. As we shall see, his claims of innocence were certain evidence of his guilt under the peculiar logic employed by the Inquisition.

Having affirmed his faithfulness, Hus began to sing, “Christ, you are the Son of the living God, have mercy on us; Christ, you are the Son of God, have mercy on me…” until the flames blew into his face. Peter of Mladonovice, an eyewitness to the event and a supporter of Hus, reported that Hus continued to move his lips in prayer though he could produce no sound. After the fire died down, the soldiers broke his bones and found his heart, which had not been fully consumed. They skewered his heart with a spit, rebuilt the fire, and reduced Hus’s heart and bones to ash….

Hus had all the charm and tact of an outraged goose. Since Hus means goose in Czech, his enemies made sport of him as the “Bohemian Goose.” Regardless of his lack of political acumen, Hus was a good theologian who was deeply committed to reform on a local level. He was not the type of man who would try to solve an international crisis like the Great Schism, though he did consider the implications of schism in his more academic writings.

Hus was five years old when the Great Schism began. He decided early on to pursue a clerical career because it afforded him an opportunity to escape poverty, which was a motivation that he was ashamed of later in life. The clerical establishment in Prague was already undergoing reform prior to the Great Schism. The struggles between the reformers and their opponents were formative for the young cleric.

Emperor Charles IV (1316-78), who was also king of the Bohemians, brought reformers to Prague to address the deplorable conditions in the 1360s. Charles had studied under Pierre Roger, who became Pope Clement VI (1342-52). He was a pious and knowledgeable ruler who cared about the spiritual lives of his subjects. Conrad Waldhauser, a famous Augustinian Canon, was recruited to clean up the situation. Waldhauser started a preaching campaign that brought the people back to Masses and he insisted on the moral reform of the people and the clergy. Almost immediately the Dominicans brought charges against the reformer for exposing the faults of the clergy among other things, but Waldhauser was able to clear himself in Rome.

What were the conditions in Bohemia at the time? Most of the priests who held the best offices were Germans. The Czech clergy, who were systemically excluded from the better schools, largely held rural benefices and tended to have substandard educations. Many Czech priests were keeping concubines, had problems with alcohol, and were using their positions to extort and swindle people out of their property. Prostitution, alcoholism, gambling, and violence were major problems facing the people of Bohemia.

The reformers began a series of initiatives to turn things around. More Czechs like Jan Hits were afforded an opportunity to study at the University of Prague. There was an effort to see to it that the Czech clergy would receive some of the better positions in the Prague diocese. As one might imagine, the policy embittered the German clergy in Bohemia. Finally, there were innovations in the liturgy that helped to spark a religious revival in Bohemia. The clergy began to preach in the language of the people, to incorporate folk songs that people could sing into the liturgy, and to provide people with vernacular Bibles. Special chapels, like the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, were set up for vernacular preaching.

One of Charles’s last acts was to see to it that he had a reformer, Jan of Jenstejn, installed as archbishop of Prague. Archbishop Jan (1378-96) ordained Hus. When Hus was twenty, Archbishop Jan came into conflict with the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Wenceslas IV (r. 1378-1419), who was Charles IV’s son. Unlike his father, Wenceslas was neither pious nor particularly knowledgeable. Wenceslas became emperor and king of Bohemia at the age of seventeen. His reputation was that of a vain and impulsive playboy. He was so disliked that there was an attempt to assassinate him in 1393. This was also the period when he decided to wage war on Archbishop Jan.

When one of Wenceslas’s administrators was excommunicated by Archbishop Jan in 1393, the emperor retaliated by dividing the archdiocese from a territory that was going to have both a new monastery and bishopric. By claiming these benefices, Wenceslas could sell them to the highest bidder and keep the money for himself; but the archbishop refused to recognize the legitimacy of the move and installed a new prior in the monastery before the emperor could act. Wenceslas was furious and had four principal officials of the archdiocese tortured in response. One official died from the torture.

Shocked by the audacity of Wenceslas, Archbishop Jan appealed to the Roman pope, Boniface IX (1389-1404). Boniface refused to hear the charges against the emperor. The Roman pope was afraid that he might drive the emperor to change his allegiance to the Avignon pope by disciplining him. Disillusioned by the pope’s refusal to protect the clergy of Bohemia from a tyrant, Archbishop Jan resigned his office in protest in 1396, which was the same year that Hus received his MA degree. Archbishop Zbynek, who succeeded Jan of Jenstejn, was much less scrupulous from the outset. He scandalized his clergy by buying his office.

The reformers had challenges within the University of Prague as well. The university was dominated by the German faculty. The Germans were solidly in the philosophical camp of nominalism, so the Bohemians chose to adhere to a strict realist philosophy. Due to the moral rigorism and realist commitments of the Bohemian clergy, they came to appreciate the works of the English reformer John Wyclif (1324-84). As the works of Wyclif came under attack, the Czechs found themselves defending his writings against the German theologians. Wyclif had gained symbolic value for the Czech reformers, and Hus can be seen as trying to salvage as much as he could from the English theologian as part of his polemics with the anti-reformers. This was, to say the least, something of a strategic and rhetorical blunder.

Before the controversy over Wyclif broke out, Hus grew famous as a fiery preacher. By 1402 he had been named as the rector and preacher of the Bethlehem Chapel, which was seen as the center of the reform movement. He preached some three thousand sermons in the course of his career. One of the favorite themes in his early sermons was that only faith formed in love, or faith expressed in works of charity, is saving faith.’ In 1405 and again in 1407, Hus was invited to preach to the clergy. On both occasions he emphasized the duties of the clergy and denounced clerical impurity.28 While he used very strong language on these occasions, he was not denouncing the clergy to the laity. Even so, his enemies remembered these sermons and used them against him.

Since 1403 the German masters at the university had been attacking the Czech masters by charging them with the heresy of Wyclifism, which was a vague accusation because it associated the Czech clergy with a series of disparate statements extracted from the writings of John Wyclif. The charges presented against the reformers did not have much effect initially. One reason was that the teachings of Wyclif had not ever been condemned by a council. Twenty-four of Wyclif’s propositions had been condemned by a synod in London in 1382, but this does not mean that he had the status of a heretic. It was common for a theologian to have some points that were seen as erroneous and still be seen as a valuable source on other issues. When the German masters at the University of Prague expanded the suspect propositions to forty-five, it still only represented forty-five statements out of volumes of work.

The anti-reformers at the university focused the debate on eucharistic theology. Hus’s opponents knew that Wyclif’s denial of the doctrine of transubstantiation was in clear opposition to defined doctrine. The German masters wove several propositions important to the Czech reform movement into a list that included Wyclif’s most clearly heretical statements. The strategy worked. Though Hus would eventually defend only five of Wyclif’s articles as having an orthodox meaning, his opponents were able to convince people that he had denied transubstantiation. Events in 1408 pushed this dispute out of the university and onto the stage of international affairs.

After several years of efforts, the German masters at the University of Prague had convinced the Roman pope, Gregory XII (1406-15), that there were problems with heresy in Bohemia. King Wenceslas, who had been deposed as emperor in 1400, was anxious to satisfy Gregory XII that he had purged the land of any heresy. Under pressure from the king, Archbishop Zbynek decided to move against the reformers. Hus was incensed and began to preach more publicly about heresy, simony, and the moral faults of the unreformed clergy. By September 1409, a group of clergy led by the German Dominicans charged Hus with making severe and critical statements about simony and the lives of the clergy. Hus easily defended himself and wrote a treatise explaining why it is permissible to speak charitably against the vices of the clergy, De arguendo clero pro concione.

After the Council of Pisa elected Pope Alexander V in June 1409, the archbishop was under increasing pressure to withdraw his obedience from Pope Gregory XII. When Alexander V started proceedings against Zbynek, the archbishop crumbled and switched his allegiance. As a concession, Archbishop Zbynek managed to obtain a bull from Alexander in December that condemned the forty-five articles and that forbade all preaching outside of diocesan and monastic churches. This last provision was aimed at Hus and the Bethlehem Chapel. Hus defied the bull and continued to preach. Alexander V died before he could act against Hus.

Once again, international affairs would intrude upon the work of the Czech reformers. After King Ladislas of Naples drove the Pisan Pope John XXIII out of Rome in 1411, Pope John XXIII issued a bull authorizing the sale of indulgences to support a crusade against Ladislas. The bull stated:

And also by apostolic authority granted me, I absolve you from all sins, if you are truly contrite and confess them to God and me. If you cannot personally take up the project [of joining the crusade], but wish to bring a contribution according to your ability in compliance with my and the commissioner’s terms in defense and aid of the above-named project I grant and concede you the fullest remission of all your sins, including punishment and guilt.

In order to bring in the support of secular rulers who were already wavering in their commitments to the Pisan papacy, John XXIII also had a provision that would give them a percentage of the revenues.

When Hus decided to oppose the bull authorizing the sale of indulgences, he must have suspected he would alienate his last powerful supporter, King Wenceslas. Hus’s zeal impelled him to throw caution to the wind and to publicly oppose the bull. He preached against the indulgences and held public disputations. Hus argued that it was improper for Christians to give money for the purpose of killing other Christians and that the pope and the clergy should not be fighting with the material sword or engaging in warfare. He also opposed the way the bull seemed to imply that no repentance was necessary for forgiveness. His critiques were perfectly orthodox on these points.

Wenceslas was furious and enlisted the aid of Hus’s opponents at the University of Prague to draft a series of articles that forbade preaching against the indulgences. Hus defended his opposition to the indulgences by citing the provision in canon law that whatever is contrary to the law of Christ is heretical and should not be obeyed.32 In a letter written in May 1412, Hus explained his actions:

‘As to my not obeying the wrong commands of my superiors, while offering no resistance to power which is of the Lord God, that I have been taught by the scriptures, and above all by the word and deed of the apostles who, against the will of the chief priests preached our Lord Jesus Christ’ saying that “we ought to obey God rather than rather than people.’

Like Gerson, Hus cited Acts 5:29 to show that the commands of superiors must be subjected to God’s law as expressed in scripture. To save the people of Prague from an impending papal interdict, which would have suspended all sacramental ministry as long as the people supported Hus, he voluntarily went into exile.

While Hus was in exile from Prague, he began to write a small tract called The Six Errors. He said he wanted it to be a shield for the people from the errors that the unreformed clergy were teaching in order to deny any accountability for their crimes. Some of the clergy were arguing that since a priest creates God’s body at the Eucharist, then a priest is the Father of God. As such, even a priest in mortal sin, which would include actions like simony or murder, cannot be called a servant of the devil. The antireformers used the eucharistic service of the priesthood to claim that the worst priest is better than the most virtuous member of the laity. According to Hus, these insane priests went so far as to exalt themselves over the Virgin Mary because she only bore Christ once whereas they create God repeatedly during the Masses they celebrate.

The second error had to do with the teaching that one must believe or have faith in Mary, the saints, and the pope. Hus argued that one must only believe in God and in what has been revealed in scriptures. The focus of his argument was on the claim that people had to believe in the pope. After discussing the high devotion that is due to Mary, he explained that we do not have faith in Mary. If we do not have faith in Mary, he reasoned, then it does not seem appropriate to have faith in the pope. Hus pointed to two scriptural passages to justify his position. The first was Peter’s denial of Christ (Matt 26:69-75), which was both apostasy and perjury; and the second was Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to identify themselves as belonging to Jesus Christ rather than to Peter, Paul, or Apollos (1 Cor 1:11-17). The first example proved that Peter can be wrong and the second demonstrated we should only believe in Christ. To shore up his argument, Hus cited statements from both the Venerable Bede and Augustine to demonstrate his continuity with the church’s tradition.”

The third, fourth, and fifth errors all had to do with the authority of the clergy. The third error was that a priest forgives sins by his own will rather than acting as a minister proclaiming God’s forgiveness. This teaching would mean that a priest would have almost absolute power over his people’s eternal salvation as a matter of his own whims. The fourth error naturally flows from the third: One should always obey his or her ecclesiastical superiors. Hus responded by teaching the Czech people that they must evaluate the commands of their clergy in light of the teaching of the scriptures, which Hus used in a sense that would include traditional materials like Augustine or creeds. If a command violates the teaching of scripture, he advised people to disobey. The claim that the church can excommunicate people for any reason the authorities might give was the fifth error. Hus argued that the church could only excommunicate people for mortal sin.

The sixth error was at the heart of the various problems in the Bohemian clergy. Hus claimed that priests and bishops were preaching that they could legitimately buy and sell offices in the church. Others justified the idea that ecclesiastical offices could be granted or received for political purposes. Hus argued that the only reason for anyone to be admitted into holy orders was to serve the common good .  In each case, he cited scriptural authorities and traditional theologians like Augustine and Gregory the Great. To provide a permanent shield against these errors for the laity, Hus inscribed The Six Errors in Czech on the walls of the Bethlehem Chapel.

The Six Errors represents the heart of Hus’s reform agenda. He was retrieving a reform theme that runs through the writings of Gregory the Great, Peter Damian, and Pope Gregory VII: The clergy are accountable to their neighbors as well as to God. The test was whether or not the clergy were following the law of Christ and serving the common good. Gerson’s reform agenda was fundamentally similar to Hus’s, but Hus was teaching laypeople to be discerning when it came to the lives and demands of the clergy. Hus’s denial that the clergy are more a part of the church than the laity, his rejection of the claim that priests and bishops should be regarded as holy simply because of their offices, his argument that tithes should be freewill offerings, and his defense of the idea that civil authorities may legitimately deprive bishops and priests of their possessions certainly set men like Jean Gerson against him.”

Other aspects of Hus’s theology were even more provocative for Gerson’s ecclesiastical colleagues. For example, they were offended by his argument that the church should not put heretics to death because Christ did not execute people. Instead, Hus advocated following the rule laid down in Matthew 18:15-17, which advised shunning those who sin against the community as publicans or Gentiles. He also cited the examples of Augustine and the fathers who willingly entered into discourse with heretics and schismatics in order to persuade them to reconcile themselves to the church. Gerson’s colleagues at the Council of Constance were also more than a little upset to find that Hus had compared the guilt of the clergymen who turned innocent people over to the secular arm for execution to the guilt of the priests, scribes, and Pharisees who turned Christ over to Pilate.”

In the end, the council members were not moved by Hus’s arguments, and the trial of Jan Hus was a foregone conclusion from the outset. Hus found himself inextricably caught in the peculiarities of inquisitorial logic. Even so, he could have saved himself but refused to do so. By all accounts, the council members were hoping Hus would recant so that they would not have to execute him. Perhaps Hus was naive, but he failed to see that the bishops and lower clergy were not willing to reform their behavior. The problems associated with the bishops and lower clergy, including their accountability to the laity, would only begin to be addressed after the cataclysmic events of the Protestant Reformation. The focus at Constance was resolving the Great Schism and preventing new schisms in the future, and anyone who stood in the way would be sacrificed for restoring unity.”



“Fire & Sword: Crusade & Inquisition” -Matthew Arnold



“There is probably no institution in the history of man more unjustly maligned than the Catholic Church-and no more powerful rhetorical device than the distortion of the facts regarding the Crusades, Inquisitions and the Protestant Reformation. Opponents of the Church demand to know, “How can the Catholic Church be the true Church when she tortured and killed Jews, Muslims and even other Christians in the Inquisition?” “How can a truly Christian Church be responsible for bloody religious wars, when Christ said, ‘Turn the other cheek’?” “How can this Church, with the blood of millions on her hands dare to condemn ‘a woman’s right to choose’?”

Myths and Misconceptions
In the fascinating new three CD series, Fire and Sword: Crusade, Inquisition, Reformation, Catholic convert and EWTN Radio personality Matt Arnold pits the common accusations about these historical events against the findings of modern scholarship and what he uncovers will amaze you! In this informative presentation, he reveals that those who have a stake in keeping the myths and misconceptions alive are actively obscuring the best scholarship from both religious and secular historians.

Fire and Sword begins with an introduction to many virtually unknown facts about the Middle Ages, and exposes the common misconceptions about the period. Through the works of many leading medieval scholars Matt demonstrates that, “If we judge the past by its fruits, we’ll soon discover that the Middle Ages weren’t so dark (and Catholics not so barbaric!) as so-called history suggests.”

Holy War
In the presentation on the Crusades, you’ll discover the true motives and methods of the Christian Crusaders and the nature of their struggle with Islam. Following the example of the best current scholarship, modern medievalists going directly to primary sources for their research. They’ve discovered that Protestant and secular bias has rejected out-of-hand, the well-documented motives of the Crusaders in favor of a projection of their own anti-Catholicism. Surprisingly, the supply of written records from the Middle Ages is both large and largely ignored. Even many Catholics will be surprised by what they contain!

Catholic Kryptonite
In Fire and Sword, Matt Arnold describes the Inquisition as “Catholic Kryptonite” because many times, just when a Catholic apologist begins to make headway on issues like the papacy or the Real Presence, the specter of the Inquisition is invoked to destroy his credibility. This series will offer you the crucial facts to put this topic in its rightful perspective and even show how the process of Catholic inquisition was often more just and lenient than other contemporary forms of justice.

Finally, CD three takes a revealing look at the dark side of the Protestant Reformation. Far from an indulgence in “comparative atrocities,” this presentation uncovers undeniable facts of history, often in the words of the reformers themselves, to expose the real motives behind the 16th century movement to abandon centuries of Christian Tradition.

Powerful Reminder
You’ll have your eyes opened to new perspectives and, perhaps most importantly, you’ll more readily understand why certain forces (even within the Catholic Church herself) are so fervently dedicated to keeping the old myths alive. Fire and Sword: Crusade, Inquisition, Reformation explodes the many myths surrounding these crucial episodes in Salvation History and will positively empower you to better defend the Church that Christ established.

Questions Answered:
What was the real motive behind the Crusades?
Did Catholic Inquisitors really kill millions of innocent people?
Why did the Reformation happen?
Was the medieval Church corrupt?
Are the Crusades responsible for modern Muslim resentment of the West?
Why should the Middle Ages rightly be called the “Age of Faith?”
What does modern scholarship say about the Crusades and Inquisitions?
Why did some reformers consider reason an enemy of faith?