After all, images of religious oppression, gruesome torture, and burning heretics fit perfectly with the world’s preconceived idea that Church history is one long trail of violence, intolerance, and ignorance.
In The Real Story of the Inquisition, Catholic historian Steve Weidenkopf digs into the wealth of historical data to show that, far from being a 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
Along the way he debunks common Inquisition myths invented during the Reformation and perpetuated to this day by any group with a grievance against the Church.
We asked Prof. Weidenkopf what he thought about the good and the bad that came out of the Inquisition.
Q. Are there some valid complaints that can be brought against the Church regarding the Inquisition?
A. It is extremely difficult for modern-day people, raised and rooted in the relatively recent notion of religious freedom, to understand the mentality that led the Church to first appoint inquisitors and then establish Inquisitions. But, in the words of Walter Cardinal Brandmüller [president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences), “Such a phenomenon 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.” Heresy was a threat to the state as well as to the Church. In fact, history illustrates the fruit of heresy is bitter and bloody violence. Perhaps the only valid complaint modern people can bring against the Inquisition is the acceptance and use of torture, but even that complaint must be moderated by historical fact. Torture was a common practice in the secular courts of Christendom, and initially its use was not allowed in the Inquisition. The practice was not authorized until 1252, or twenty years after Pope Gregory IX first appointed inquisitors for southern France. Torture did not have to be utilized, and many inquisitors disliked using it (in fact, it was used in only 2 percent of cases in the Spanish Inquisition). The use of torture was strictly governed by a number of protocols designed to protect the defendant. It was always applied by the secular arm, never by the clergy. It was utilized as a means to elicit the truth, never as a means of punishment, and could be used only once. The image of millions of heretics sadistically tortured by evil Dominicans is a product of Protestant and Enlightenment propaganda and has no basis in historical fact.
Q. On the flip side of the last question, what good came out of the Inquisition?
A. The concern of inquisitors was always the salvation of the accused heretic. Sometimes people embraced heretical teachings unknowingly, and the Inquisition provided an opportunity to inform them of their error and present a chance for conversion and repentance. The vast majority of those who went before the inquisitors repented, performed penance, and were reconciled to the Church. The Inquisition helped to ensure uniformity of faith and religious peace, especially in Spain. Unlike the rest of Europe in the sixteenth century, Spain did not produce a native heresy, and Protestantism did not take root. While other major European countries witnessed nasty and bloody wars of religion, Spain remained free from that turmoil.
Don’t let these lies pass without an answer: Listen to The Real Story of the Inquisition from Catholic Answers Press and learn to set the record straight.
Enter coupon code MYTH at checkout and save 25 percent.
Also Available by Steve Weidenkopf:
Why Buy from Catholic Answers?
By purchasing directly from us, you support the ministry as a whole, including our ability to produce new products and pursue apostolic projects. You are also buying from a name you can trust. All the products we carry are reviewed by our apologists to ensure they are faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Your purchases help make all of this possible.Thank you for your patronage!