“We are Forerunners. Guardians of all that exists. The roots of the Galaxy have grown deep under our careful tending. Where there is life, the wisdom of our countless generations has saturated the soil. Our strength is a luminous sun, towards which all intelligence blossoms… And the impervious shelter, beneath which it has prospered.”

Uncomfortable truths, Pt. 4: The Not-So-Terrible Inquisition

by | Jul 6, 2019 | Christianity, Uncategorized | 0 comments

This is the last post in a series about various untold truths concerning the three Abrahammic faiths – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. I had original planned this out to be a trilogy of posts, but it didn’t work out that way because I got sidetracked a bit on one or two subjects.

At any rate, this post concerns a topic that I’ve been itching to address for some time, about the Spanish Inquisition.

Every critic of Christianity, ever, has always used specific episodes within the history of Christendom to claim that the True Faith is violent, intolerant, bigoted, and responsible for untold amounts of human suffering throughout the past two thousand years.

Endless amounts of literature – much of it puerile nonsense, and some of it actual serious scholarly research (if quite biased) – has been written since the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment concerning the role that Christians played in persecuting those that they disagreed with.

There are number of such episodes. Hillaire Belloc – a faithful Catholic – wrote of the five great heresies that rocked the Christian faith: Arianism, Mohammedanism, Catharism, Protestantism, and modernism. Belloc’s conclusion was that modernity presented the greatest challenge ever to face the Christian faith; I disagree and believe that is it Islam, but it is a very tough choice given the dangers posed by both great heresies.

However, it was the Cathar, or Albigensian, heresy that most critics of Christianity focus on, because it resulted in the founding of one of the most feared and reviled institutions in all of human history:

The Spanish Inquisition.

Even today, well over 150 years after the Spanish Inquisition was finally disbanded, the very word “Inquisition” inspires fear, horror, and dread. And that is because legends of the brutality and repression of the Inquisitors has worked its way into popular legend over the centuries since. The red cloaks and gold crosses of the Inquisition were seen as harbingers of death and doom for those who dared to question the power and authority of the Church, and its priests and bishops were considered to wield a power approaching that of the Pope himself.

Stories and tales abound of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people being horribly tortured, cruelly maimed, and burned to death in the name of the Christian faith and its God. Lurid tales of sexual perversion among the Inquisitors are accepted as unquestionable fact by modern audiences. Even one of the greatest modern literary geniuses, Umberto Eco, made an Inquisitor a major villain in his novel, The Name of the Rose.

So how much of the story about the Inquisition is true, and how much is embellished nonsense?

Turns out that if you do any serious digging, you will quickly realise that almost everything you know on the subject is completely and totally wrong.

First and foremost, there was not merely a single Inquisition. There were several of them. And they were not originally a Christian invention.

The very first Inquisition was NOT the Spanish Inquisition. The Spanish version was established in 1478 by King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile. That Inquisition was established in order to check whether recent Muslim and Jewish converts to the True Faith were genuine in their beliefs. If they were not, then the Spanish Inquisition had the power to compel them to recant their heresies, confess their crimes, and if necessary expel them from Spanish lands. Those found to be genuinely opposed to the True Faith were put to death for their crimes – and, in fact, as a general rule their acts truly were criminal ones.

The true first Inquisition came about as a result of the Albigensian heresy in France, in the 12th Century. And if you actually understand anything about Catharism and the sheer madness of the beliefs of the Cathars, then you will come to understand in fairly short order exactly why an Inquisition was necessary.

The Cathars were, quite frankly, batshit insane. Their belief system basically took its cues from the Gnostic heresies, which said that Christ Jesus was merely a man, not God made flesh. As if that were not controversial enough, the Cathars then blended that idea with Manichaean ideas about matter and spirit. The result was a “faith”, if you can call it that, which claimed that the God of the Old Testament – which Christians acknowledge as the Lord and Father of Jesus Christ – in in fact the ultimate representative of evil:

According to radical Catharism, human souls are angels who served the good God but were tempted by Satan to experience earthly pleasures which they could not resist. The original bodies and spirits of these angels remained in heaven, but their souls fell into physical bodies. Reincarnation works until humans recognize their heavenly origin and purify themselves by the use of asceticism. Once cleansed of impurities they are accepted back in the heavenly world.

In every possible way, this is a direct refutation of the Christian faith, and a severe and terrible attack upon both the Kingship of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and of His Father in Heaven.

And when you look at what the Cathars actually got up to, you will realise that they were, at best, extremely misguided, and, at worst, genuinely evil and dangerous.

Here is a description of the truly deadly consequences of the Cathar heresy – one that you will not find in anti-Inquisition accounts:

Catharists refused to take oaths, which back then meant opposing government authority. Marriage was considered sinful while secret fornication was permitted. Even suicide was encouraged. These were not faithful bands of “Bible Christians” or a hidden “remnant” of true believers trying to avoid the evil institutional Church.

And that bit about secret fornication, by the way, is in spite of the fact that the Cathar belief system encouraged abstinence and purity – yet discouraged marriage. Because they viewed matter as sinful and broken, child-birth was considered an evil, and procreation a sin – but fornication was totally just fine for their practitioners.

From any rational point of view, their entire belief system was bugshit nuts. (They did extol vegetarianism as a virtue, so perhaps the lack of meat protein caused their brains to become a bit scrambled…)

It was from the results of that brutal and bloody rebellion, and its subsequent suppression, in southern France that the first Inquisition came about, by Papal decree, in the 13th Century. It existed for the purpose of rooting out and destroying heresies against the Faith, of the sort that posed a true threat, the way that the Albigensians did.

And, by the way, the notion of an “Inquisition” is not a Christian one. It actually comes from Islam.

During the supposed (and completely mythical) “Golden Age” of Islamic Al-Andalus, the Moorish rulers of Spain actually did establish inquisitorial commissions to check up on the faith of recent converts to Islam from the dhimmi classes.

If you know anything about the dhimmi, you know that life under Islamic rule was really harsh. Dhimmi had basically no rights and could be mistreated, abused, and taken as slaves almost at will by the supposedly “superior” Moors and any recent converts – or, as Islam calls them, reverts – to Islam. They were taxed harshly and routinely subjected to humiliating ritualistic auto-da-fe where they would have to grovel and prostrate themselves before their Islamic overlords.

It should come as no surprise, then, that many dhimmi decided that life as a Jew or a Christian in an Islamic-controlled country was simply unbearable, and converted to Islam instead.

But, the faith that has sustained a man’s family through multiple generations is very hard to shake. And many of those same converts would secretly practice their ancient ways and traditions. When knowledge of these secret practices became widespread among the ruling classes of Al-Andalus, naturally their first response was to root out and brutally suppress any such heresies.

So the first Inquisitions were not a Christian invention, they were an Islamic one.

But that is only the starting point of the centuries of misinformation to which we have been subjected. There is far more, and much worse.

For example, it has long been argued by misinformed useful idiots that the Inquisition was extremely harsh and usually prescribed death for heretics – and, if you fell into the clutches of the Inquisition, you were likely to be tortured quite brutally and extensively. It is routinely claimed that the Inquisition – people who make these claims are usually very sloppy about which Inquisition they mean – killed tens of millions of people, and that the Church sentenced those heretics to death.

But this is not even remotely supported by the evidence.

In fact, the Church sentenced absolutely no one to death. The Church Inquisition, created by Papal Bull in response to the Cathar heresy, did not condemn people to death. The Spanish Inquisition was a secular arm of the monarchy of Spain and did not answer to the Church itself.

And in fact, the Spanish Inquisition’s job was to check whether recent converts within the recently reconquered Spanish mainland were genuine in their beliefs. These conversos, as they were called, were investigated, put on trial, and given what was for the time a remarkably fair hearing:

Although the days of having court-appointed lawyers and access to one’s accusers were a long way off, at one time the Spanish Inquisition was widely hailed as the best run, most humane court in Europe. There are records of people committing blasphemy in secular courts so they could have their case would fall under the Inquisition’s jurisdiction. Further, the Inquisition was the first to pronounce Europe’s witch hunt a delusion and prohibited anyone from being tried or burnt for witchcraft (the number of witches killed by the inquisition was less than 100 out of over 125,000 trials).

When the Inquisition found someone guilty of heresy, most of the sentences were not unfair—many simply required the performance of some penitential good works. Heretics were unrepentant threats to the state—not confused, simple folk (in fact, the Inquisition had little impact on the vast majority of people because it simply did not exist in many rural areas). Finally, while verdicts of guilty or not-guilty fell to the inquisitors, the use of violent punishments was up to the secular authorities.

As for those people who were tortured or killed, their numbers are far, far below the butcher’s bill that is routinely, and incorrectly, attributed to the Church.

I have seen truly absurd and fantastical estimates of that death toll – some of them far exceed the entire population of Europe at the time of the Inquisition. I note with some amusement that it would take an impressively determined Inquisitor indeed to kill off the entire population of a given town or region, and then his own retinue, and then himself, in pursuit of his duty, which was not even sanctioned by the Church itself.

The actual number of those tortured or killed was, in fact, quite tiny:

No one knows exactly how many people perished because of the Inquisition, but it is thought to be between 3,000 and 5,000 people during the 350 years of its existence. Some writers quote figures so wildly impossible it is amazing they have any purchase at all.
Six years later, a symposium commissioned to study the Inquisition released its findings: the total number of accused heretics put to death during the Spanish Inquisition comprised 0.1 percent of the more than 40,000 who were tried. In some cases the Inquisition saved heretics from secular authorities.

Less than 5,000 killed in 350 years by secular authorities, NOT by the Church. How’s that a surprise, eh?

By contrast, the death toll of Hindus from the Mughal occupation of India, which lasted from 1526 to 1857 – so about the same length of time as the Spanish Inquisition – has never been definitively established, but it is thought to run north of 80 MILLION. The Muslim occupiers of India were so brutal that stories are still told to this day about how the Nizams and shahs of the time were known to pile skulls of Hindu villagers into pyramids as a warning to others.

This needs to be understood very carefully and clearly, so I’ll re-emphasise the point:

The Church never sentenced anyone to death. Those who did die during the Inquisition – the Church Inquisition – were found guilty by Inquisitors, but their actual punishments were left in the hands of secular authorities. And there were likely fewer people killed in the entire 350-year history of the Inquisition than died in the 9/11 attacks.

But then, what about torture and auto-da-fe and all of the other horrible things that the Inquisition supposedly did?

Again – most of it is myth.

There were no Inquisitorial torture chambers. Torture was permitted and used – but Inquisitors were remarkably careful and fair in its application. In fact, the Inquisition used an early form of waterboarding to simulate drowning and force confessions – but this was only permitted for utterly unrepentant heretics who insisted on blaspheming against the Lord and the Church.

It is at this point that the anti-Christian is reduced to that tired old canard, the trial and persecution of Galileo, as “evidence” that the Church was intolerant, brutal, and utterly opposed to enlightenment and progress.

This is such arrant nonsense as to be almost unworthy of comment, but I’ll do so briefly anyway.

Galileo was not condemned to death by the Church. He was not kept under house arrest as a punishment. He was not an innocent scientist seeking only to understand the Universe.

In fact, Galileo played an active role in his own downfall.

Galileo was specifically commissioned by his friend, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine – who later became His Holiness the Pope Bl. Urban VIII – to investigate whether the Copernican theory of heliocentrism, which is to say that the Earth and other heavenly bodies revolve around the Sun, was correct and true.

This is the real story of Galileo’s life. As you will see, he was very largely responsible for his own persecution because he was vain, arrogant, and downright stupid in many ways:

In Galileo’s day, the predominant view in astronomy was a model first espoused by Aristotle and developed by Claudius Ptolemy in which the sun and planets revolved around the earth. The Ptolemic system had been the reigning paradigm for over 1400 years when a Polish Canon named Nicholas Copernicus published his seminal work, On the Revolution of the Celestial Orbs.

Now Copernicus’ heliocentric theory wasn’t exactly new nor was it based on purely empirical observation. While it had a huge impact on the history of science, his theory was more of a revival of Pythagorean mysticism than of a new paradigm. Like many great discoveries, he merely took an old idea and gave it a new spin.

Although Copernicus’ fellow churchmen encouraged him to publish his work, he delayed the publication of On the Revolution for several years for fear of being mocked by the scientific community. At the time, the academy belonged to Aristotelians who weren’t about to let such nonsense slip through the “peer review” process.

Then came Galileo, the prototypical Renaissance man a brilliant scientist, mathematician, and musician. But while he as intelligent, charming, and witty, the Italian was also argumentative, mocking, and vain. He was, as we would say, complex. When his fellow astronomer Johann Kepler wrote to tell him that he had converted to Copernicus’ theory, Galileo shot back that he had too — and had been so for years (though all evidence shows that it wasn’t true). His ego wouldn’t allow him to be upstaged by men who weren’t as smart as he was. And for Galileo, that included just about everybody.

In 1610, Galileo used his telescope to make some surprising discoveries that disputed Aristotelian cosmology. Though his findings didn’t exactly overthrow the reigning view of the day, they were warmly received by the Vatican and by Pope Paul V. Rather than continuing his scientific studies and building on his theories, though, Galileo began a campaign to discredit the Aristotelian view of astronomy. (His efforts would be akin to a modern biologist trying to dethrone Darwin.) Galileo knew he was right and wanted to ensure that everyone else knew that the Aristotelians were wrong.

In his efforts to cram Copernicanism down the throats of his fellow scientists, Galileo managed only to squander the goodwill he had established within the Church. He was attempting to force them to accept a theory that, at the time, was still unproven. The Church graciously offered to consider Copernicanism a reasonable hypothesis, albeit a superior one to the Ptolemaic system, until further proof could be gathered. Galileo, however, never came up with more evidence to support the theory. Instead, he continued to pick fights with his fellow scientists even though many of his conclusions were being proven wrong (i.e., that the planets orbit the sun in perfect circles).

Galileo’s primary mistake was to move the fight out of the realm of science and into the field of biblical interpretation. In a fit of hubris, he wrote theLetter to Castelli in order to explain how his theory was not incompatible with proper biblical exegesis. With the Protestant Reformation still fresh on their minds, the Church authorities were in no mood to put up with another troublemaker trying to interpret Scripture on his own.

But, to their credit, they didn’t overreact. The Letter to Castelli was twice presented to the Inquisition as an example of the astronomer’s heresy and twice the charges were dismissed. Galileo, however, wasn’t satisfied and continued his efforts to force the Church to concede that the Copernican system was an issue of irrefutable truth.

In 1615, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine politely presented Galileo with an option: Put up or Shut up. Since there was no proof that the earth revolved around the sun, there was no reason for Galileo to go around trying to change the accepted reading of Holy Scripture. But if he had proof, the Church was willing to reconsider their position. Galileo’s response was to produce his theory that the ocean tides were caused by the earth’s rotation. The idea was not only scientifically inaccurate but so silly it was even rejected by his supporters.

Fed up with being dismissed, Galileo returned to Rome to bring his case before the Pope. The Pontiff, however, merely passed it along to the Holy Office who issued the opinion that the Copernican doctrine is “foolish and absurd, philosophically and formally heretical inasmuch as it expressly contradicts the doctrine of Holy Scripture in many passages . . . ” The verdict was quickly overruled by other Cardinals in the Church.

Galileo wasn’t about to let up, though, and to everyone’s exasperation, pressed the issue yet again. The Holy Office politely but firmly told him to shut up about the whole Copernican thing and forbid him from espousing the unproven theory. This, of course, was more than he was willing to do.

When his friend took over the Papal throne, Galileo thought he would finally find a sympathetic ear. He discussed the issue with Pope Urban VIII, a man knowledgeable in matters of math and science, and tried to use his theory of the tides to convince him of the validity of his theory. Pope Urban was unconvinced and even gave an answer (though not a sound one) that refuted the notion.

Galileo then wrote A Dialogue About the Two Chief World Systems in which he would present the views of both Copernicus and Ptolemy. Three characters would be involved: Salviati, the Copernican; Sagredo, the undecided; and Simplicio, the Ptolemian (the name Simplicio implying “simple-minded”). And here is where we find our hero making his biggest blunder: he took the words that Pope Urban had used to refute his theory of the tides and put them in the mouths of Simplicio.

The Pope was not amused.

I mean, how much of a moron do you have to be to squander the goodwill and support of His Holiness?!?!?! Especially by basically calling him a moron in public?

Galileo was placed under house arrest by the Catholic Church to save his life from hardline Jesuits and Inquisitors who wanted him put to death for being a colossal pain in the ass who was slinging around unproven theories and insisting that they were true, without providing evidence.

And his house arrest wasn’t exactly akin to being a guest at San Quentin, either. He was housed in a very nice apartment, with a valet to attend to all of his personal needs, overlooking the Vatican gardens.

He actually died peacefully in a very pleasant house in Florence, attended to by his daughter, at the age of 77.

In summary, no matter where you look, the entire history of the Inquisition – whether the secular Spanish Inquisition that prosecuted, not persecuted, Jewish and Muslim conversos in post-Reconquista Spain, or the religious Inquisition that operated under the orders and authority of the Pope – is in error, as we commonly understand it, anyway.

The reality is that the Inquisition was remarkably forward-thinking, careful, evidence-driven, and humane.

It is well past time that these ridiculous attacks against the True Faith were put to rest. As is almost always the case, the reality is that human progress as we know it today simply would not exist without Christianity – which simply goes to prove, once again, through yet another avenue, that modern civilisation as we know it would not exist without Christianity, and that the Gospel of Christ must by logical deduction be true.

Subscribe to Didactic Mind

* indicates required
Email Format

Recent Thoughts

If you enjoyed this article, please:

  • Visit the Support page and check out the ways to support my work through purchases and affiliate links;
  • Email me and connect directly;
  • Share this article via social media;


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Didactic Mind Archives

Didactic Mind by Category

%d bloggers like this: