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The Inquisition: The Exaggerated Crimes of Religion

Posted by FactReal on April 30, 2012

The alleged sins of Christianity (i.e., the Crusades, the Inquisition) have been vastly overblown. Atheists and anti-Christians have exaggerated the “sins” of the Church to perpetuate the myth that Christians are guilty, intolerant and backward. They want people to believe that Christianity has been detrimental to humanity.

Henry Kamen in his book The Spanish Inquisition argues that the Inquisition was not as powerful or cruel as commonly believed.

Based on thirty years of research, Kamen reveals that there was less terror, bigotry, and persecution associated with the Inquisition than has been previously reported. He reports that the Inquisition did not enjoy widespread popularity, in Spain or the rest of Europe, and that it was used as a device to scare off enemies.

In his book What’s so great about Christianity (page 206), D’Souza summarizes:

The Inquisition, Kamen points out, “only had authority over Christians.” The idea that the Inquisition targeted Jews is a fantasy. The only Jews who came under the purview of the Inquisition were Jews who had converted to Christianity. There were quite a few of these, as King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella had issued an ordinance in 1492 expelling Jews from Spain. The only way to stay was to convert. Of course, many Christians suspected that some of these conversos or “new Christians” were not Christians at all. They were Jews pretending to be Christians. Interestingly the main source of allegations against the “new Christians” came from other Jews who were angry about their fellow Jews relinquishing their Judaims. These Jews had no qualms about testifying before the Inquisition courts because as Jews they were exempt from its jurisdiction. Kamen points out that the grand inquisitor himself, Tomás de Torquemada, had known Jewish ancestry.

Inquisition trials, according to Kamen, were fairer and more lenient than their secular counterparts, not only in Spain but also across Europe. Frequently the only penalty given was some form of penance, such as fasting or what we would today call “community service.” How many people were executed for heresy by the Inquisition? Kamen estimates that it was around 2,000. Other contemporary historians make estimates of between 1,500 and 4,000. These deats are all tragic, but we must remember that they occured over a period of 350 years.

In his article The Real Inquisition, Madden explains further:

[A] team of 30 scholars from around the world…have made their report, an 800-page tome that was unveiled at a press conference in Rome [in 2004]. Its most startling conclusion is that the Inquisition was not so bad after all. Torture was rare and only about 1 percent of those brought before the Spanish Inquisition were actually executed. As one headline read “Vatican Downsizes Inquisition.” […]

Among the best recent books on the subject are Edward Peters’s Inquisition (1988) and Henry Kamen’s The Spanish Inquisition (1997), but there are others. Simply put, historians have long known that the popular view of the Inquisition is a myth. So what is the truth? […]

The Inquisition was not born out of desire to crush diversity or oppress people; it was rather an attempt to stop unjust executions. Yes, you read that correctly. Heresy was a crime against the state. Roman law in the Code of Justinian made it a capital offense. Rulers, whose authority was believed to come from God, had no patience for heretics. Neither did common people, who saw them as dangerous outsiders who would bring down divine wrath. When someone was accused of heresy in the early Middle Ages, they were brought to the local lord for judgment, just as if they had stolen a pig or damaged shrubbery (really, it was a serious crime in England). Yet in contrast to those crimes, it was not so easy to discern whether the accused was really a heretic. For starters, one needed some basic theological training–something most medieval lords sorely lacked. The result is that uncounted thousands across Europe were executed by secular authorities without fair trials or a competent assessment of the validity of the charge.

The Catholic Church’s response to this problem was the Inquisition, first instituted by Pope Lucius III in 1184. It was born out of a need to provide fair trials for accused heretics using laws of evidence and presided over by knowledgeable judges…[M]ost people accused of heresy by the Inquisition were either acquitted or their sentences suspended. Those found guilty of grave error were allowed to confess their sin, do penance, and be restored to the Body of Christ. The underlying assumption of the Inquisition was that, like lost sheep, heretics had simply strayed. If, however, an inquisitor determined that a particular sheep had purposely left the flock, there was nothing more that could be done. Unrepentant or obstinate heretics were excommunicated and given over to secular authorities. Despite popular myth, the Inquisition did not burn heretics. It was the secular authorities that held heresy to be a capital offense, not the Church. The simple fact is that the medieval Inquisition saved uncounted thousands of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people who would otherwise have been roasted by secular lords or mob rule.

…During the 16th century, when the witch craze swept Europe, it was those areas with the best-developed inquisitions that stopped the hysteria in its tracks. In Spain and Italy, trained inquisitors investigated charges of witches’ sabbaths and baby roasting and found them to be baseless. Elsewhere, particularly in Germany, secular or religious courts burned witches by the thousands.


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