The Inquisition - A Critical and Historical Study of the Coercive Power of the Church
by E. Vacandard
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[1] Douais, Documents, vol. i, p. xxv, n. 3.

[2] Regesta, no. 18390.

[3] Eymeric, Directorium, 3a pars, p. 481.

Torture was not to be employed until the judge had been convinced that gentle means were of no avail.[1] Even in the torture chamber, while the prisoner was being stripped of his garments and was being bound, the Inquisitor kept urging him to confess his guilt. On his refusal, the vexatio began with slight tortures. If these proved ineffectual, others were applied with gradually increased severity; at the very beginning, the victim was shown all the various instruments of torture, in order that the mere sight of them might terrify him into yielding.[2]

[1] A grave suspicion against the prisoner was required before he could be tortured.

[2] Eymeric, Directorium, 3a pars, p. 481, col. 1.

The Inquisitors realized so well that such forced confessions were valueless, that they required the prisoner to confirm them after he had left the torture chamber. The torture was not to exceed a half hour. "Usually," writes Lea, "the procedure appears to be that the torture was continued until the accuser signified his readiness to confess, when he was unbound and carried into another room where his confession was made. If, however, the confession was extracted during the torture, it was read over subsequently to the prisoner, and he was asked if it were true.... In any case, the record was carefully made that the confession was free and spontaneous, without the pressure of force or fear."[1]

[1] Lea, op. cit., vol. i. p. 427.

"It is a noteworthy fact, however, that in the fragmentary documents of inquisitorial proceedings which have reached us, the references to torture are singularly few.... In the six hundred and thirty-six sentences borne upon the register of Toulouse from 1309 to 1323, the only allusion to torture is in the recital of the case of Calvarie, but there are numerous instances in which the information wrung from the convicts who had no hope of escape, could scarce have been procured in any other manner. Bernard Gui, who conducted the Inquisition of Toulouse during this period, has too emphatically expressed his sense of the utility of torture on both principals and witnesses for us to doubt his readiness in its employment."[1]

[1] Lea, op. cit., p. 424.

Besides, the investigation which Clement V ordered into the iniquities of the Inquisition of Carcassonne, proves clearly that the accused were frequently subjected to torture.[1] That we rarely find reference to torture in the records of the Inquisition need not surprise us. For in the beginning, torture was inflicted by civil executioners outside of the tribunal of the Inquisition; and even later on, when the Inquisitors were allowed to take part in it, it was considered merely a means of making the prisoner declare his willingness to confess afterwards. A confession made under torture had no force in law; the second confession only was considered valid. That is why it alone, as a rule, is recorded.

[1] Clement V required the consent of the Inquisitor and the local Bishop before a heretic could be tortured, vel tormentis exponere illis. Decretal Multorum querela, in Eymeric, Directorium, 2a pars, p. 112.

But if the sufferings of the victims of the Inquisition were not deemed worthy of mention in the records, they were none the less real and severe. Imprudent or heartless judges were guilty of grave abuses in the use of torture. Rome, which had authorized it, at last intervened, not, we regret to say, to prohibit it altogether, but at least to reform the abuses which had been called to her attention. One reform of Clement V ordered the Inquisition never to use torture without the Bishop's consent, if he could be reached within eight days.[1]

[1] Decretal, Multorum querela.

"Bernard Gui emphatically remonstrated against this, as seriously crippling the efficiency of the Inquisition, and proposed to substitute for it the meaningless phrase that torture should only be used with mature and careful deliberation, but his suggestion was not heeded, and the Clementine regulations remained the law of the Church."[1]

[1] Lea, op. cit., vol. i, p. 424; Bernard Gui, Practica, ed. Douais, 4a pars, p. 188.

The code of the Inquisition was now practically complete, for succeeding Popes made no change of any importance. The data before us prove that the Church forgot her early traditions of toleration, and borrowed from the Roman jurisprudence, revived by the legists, laws and practices which remind one of the cruelty of ancient paganism. But once this criminal code was adopted, she endeavored to mitigate the cruelty with which it was enforced. If this preoccupation is not always visible—and it is not in her condemnation of obdurate heretics—we must at least give her the credit of insisting that torture "should never imperil life or injure limb:" Cogere citra membri diminutionem et mortis periculum.

We will now ask how the theologians and canonists interpreted this legislation, and how the tribunals of the Inquisition enforced it.


THE gravity of the crime of heresy was early recognized in the Church. Gratian discussed this question in a special chapter of his Decretum.[1] Innocent III, Guala, the Dominican, and the Emperor Frederic II, as we have seen, looked upon heresy as treason against Almighty God, i.e., the most dreadful of crimes.

[1] Causa xxii, q. vii, cap. 16.

The theologians, and even the civil authorities, did not concern themselves much with the evil effects of heresy upon the social order, but viewed it rather as an offense against God. Thus they made no distinction between those teachings which entailed injury on the family and on society, and those which merely denied certain revealed truths. Innocent III, in his constitution of September 23, 1207, legislated particularly against the Patarins, but he took care to point out that no heretic, no matter what the nature of his error might be, should be allowed to escape the full penalty of the law.[1] Frederic II spoke in similar terms in his Constitutions of 1220, 1224, and 1232. This was the current teaching throughout the Middle Ages.

[1] Ep. x, 130.

But it is important to know what men then understood by the word heresy. We can ascertain this from the theologians and canonists, especially from St. Raymond of Pennafort and St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Raymond gives four meanings to the word heretic, but from the standpoint of the canon law he says: "A heretic is one who denies the faith."[1] St. Thomas Aquinas is more accurate. He declares that no one is truly a heretic unless he obstinately maintains his error, even after it has been pointed out to him by ecclesiastical authority. This is the teaching of St. Augustine.[2]

[1] S. Raymundi, Summa, lib. i, cap. De Haereticis, sect. i, Roman Edition, 1603, p. 39.

[2] Summa, IIa, IIae, quaest. xi, Conclusio; cf. ibid., ad 3um, quotations from St. Augustine.

But by degrees the word, taken at first in a strict sense, acquired a broader meaning. St. Raymond includes schism in the notion of heresy. "The only difference between these two crimes," he writes, "is the difference between genus and species;" every schism ends in heresy. And relying on the authority of St. Jerome, the rigorous canonist goes so far as to declare that schism is even a greater crime than heresy. He proves this by the fact that Core, Dathan, and Abiron,[1] who seceded from the chosen people, were punished by the most terrible of punishments. "From the enormity of the punishment, must we not argue the enormity of the crime?" St. Raymond therefore declares that the same punishment must be inflicted upon the heretic and the schismatic.[2]

[1] Num. xvi. 31-33.

[2] Loc. cit., lib. i, cap. De Schismaticis, pp. 45-47

"The authors of the treatises on the Inquisition," writes Tanon, "classed as heretics all those who favored heresy, and all excommunicates who did not submit to the Church within a certain period. They declared that a man excommunicated for any cause whatever, who did not seek absolution within a year, incurred by this act of rebellion a light suspicion of heresy; that he could then be cited before the Inquisitor to answer not only for the crime which had caused his excommunication, but also for his orthodoxy. If he did not answer this second summons, he was at once considered excommunicated for heresy, and if he remained under this second excommunication for a year, he was liable to be condemned as a real heretic. The light suspicion caused by his first excommunication became in turn a vehement and then a violent suspicion which, together with his continued contumacy, constituted a full proof of heresy."[1]

[1] Tanon, op. cit., pp. 235, 236.

The theologians insisted greatly upon respect for ecclesiastical and especially Papal authority. Everything that tended to lessen this authority seemed to them a practical denial of the faith. The canonist Henry of Susa (Hostiensis + 1271), went so far as to say that "whoever contradicted or refused to accept the decretals of the Popes was a heretic."[1] Such disobedience was looked upon as a culpable disregard of the rights of the papacy, and consequently a form of heresy.

[1] In Baluze-Mansi, Miscellanea, vol. ii. p. 275.

Superstition was also classed under the heading of heresy. The canonist Zanchino Ugolini tells us that he was present at the condemnation of an immoral priest, who was punished by the Inquisitors not for his licentiousness, but because he said Mass every day in a state of sin, and urged in excuse that he considered himself pardoned by the mere fact of putting on the sacred vestments.[1]

[1] Tractat. de Haeret., cap. ii.

The Jews, as such, were never regarded as heretics. But the usury they so widely practiced evidenced an unorthodox doctrine on thievery, which made them liable to be suspected of heresy. Indeed, we find several Popes upbraiding them "for maintaining that usury is not a sin." Some Christians also fell into the same error, and thereby became subject to the Inquisition. Pope Martin V, in his bull of November 6, 1419., authorizes the Inquisitors to prosecute these usurers.[1]

[1] Bull Inter caetera, sent to the Inquisitor Pons Feugeyron.

Sorcery and magic were also put on a par with heresy. Pope Alexander IV had decided that divination and sorcery did not fall under the jurisdiction of the Inquisition, unless there was manifest heresy involved.[1] But casuists were not wanting to prove that heresy was involved in such cases. The belief in the witches' nightly rides through the air, led by Diana or Herodias of Palestine, was very widespread in the Middle Ages, and was held by some as late as the fifteenth century. The question whether the devil could carry off men and women was warmly debated by the theologians of the time. "A case adduced by Albertus Magnus, in a disputation on the subject before the Bishop of Paris, and recorded by Thomas of Cantimpre, in which the daughter of the Count of Schwalenberg was regularly carried away every night for several hours, gave immense satisfaction to the adherents of the new doctrine, and eventually an ample store of more modern instances was accumulated to confirm Satan in his enlarged privileges."[2] Satan, it seems, imprinted upon his clients an indelible mark, the stigma diabolicum.

[1] Bull of December 9, 1257.

[2] Lea, op. cit., vol. iii, p. 497.

"In 1458, the Inquisitor Nicholas Jaquerius remarked reasonably enough that even if the affair was an illusion, it was none the less heretical, as the followers of Diana and Herodias were necessarily heretics in their waking hours."[1]

[1] Lea, op. cit., pp. 497, 498.

About 1250, the Inquisitor Bernard of Como taught categorically that the phenomena of witchcraft, especially the attendance at the witches' Sabbath, were not fanciful but real: "This is proved," he says, "from the fact that the Popes permitted witches to be burned at the stake; they would not have countenanced this, if these persons were not real heretics, and their crimes only imaginary, for the Church only punishes proved crimes."[1] Witchcraft was, therefore, amenable to the tribunals of the lnquisition.[2]

[1] Lucerna Inquisitorium, Romae, 1584, p. 144.

[2] In a letter to one of the cardinals of the Holy Office, dated 1643, witchcraft is classed with heresy. Douais, Documents, vol. i, p. ccliv. In practice, the heretical tendency of witchcraft was hard to determine. Each judge, therefore, as a rule, pronounced sentence according to his own judgment.

While the casuists thus increased the number of crimes which the Inquisition could prosecute, on the other hand, they shortened the judicial procedure then in vogue.

Following the Roman law, the Inquisition at first recognized three forms of action in criminal cases—accusatio, denuntiatio, and inquisitio. In the accusatio, the accuser formally inscribed himself as able to prove his accusation; if he failed to do so, he had to undergo the penalty which the prisoner would have incurred (poena talionis).[1] "From the very beginning, he was placed in the same position as the one he accused, even to the extent of sharing his imprisonment."[2] The denuntiatio did not in any way bind the accuser; he merely handed in his testimony, and then ceased prosecuting the case; the judge at once proceeded to take action against the accused. In the inquisitio, there was no one either to accuse or denounce the criminal; the judge cited the suspected criminal before him and proceeded to try him. This was the most common method of procedure; from it the Inquisition received its name.[3]

[1] Tanon, op. cit., p. 260, n. 4.

[2] Tancrede, Ordo judiciorum, lib. ii.

[3] On these three forms of action, cf. Eymeric, Directorium, 3a pars, p. 413 et seq.

The Inquisitorial procedure was therefore inspired by the Roman law. But in practice the accusatio, which gave the prisoner a chance to meet the charges against him, was soon abandoned. In fact the Inquisitors were always most anxious to set it aside. Urban IV enacted a decree, July 28, 1262, whereby they were allowed to proceed simpliciter et de plano, absque advocatorum strepitu et figura.[1] Bernard Gui insisted on this in his Practica.[2] Eymeric advised his associates, when an accuser appeared before them who was perfectly willing to accept the poena talionis in case of failure, to urge the imprudent man to withdraw his demand. For he argued that the accusatio might prove harmful to himself, and besides give too much room for trickery.[3] In other words, the Inquisitors wished to be perfectly untrammeled in their action.

[1] Bull Prae cunctis of July 28, 1262.

[2] Practica, 4a pars. ed. Douais, p. 192.

[3] Directorium, p. 414. col. 1.

The secrecy of the Inquisition's procedure was one of the chief causes of complaint.

But the Inquisition, dreadful as it was, did not lack defenders. Some of their arguments were most extravagant and far-fetched. "Paramo, in the quaint pedantry with which he ingeniously proves that God was the first Inquisitor, and the condemnation of Adam and Eve the first model of the Inquisitorial process, triumphantly points out that he judges them in secret, thus setting the example which the Inquisition is bound to follow, and avoiding the subtleties which the criminals would have raised in their defence, especially at the suggestion of the crafty serpent. That he called no witnesses is explained by the confession of the accused, and ample legal authority is cited to show that these confessions were sufficient to justify the conviction and punishment."[1]

[1] Lea, op. cit., vol. i, p. 406.

. . . . . . . .

The subtlety of the casuists had full play when they came to discuss the torture of the prisoner who absolutely refused to confess. According to law, the torture could be inflicted but once, but this regulation was easily evaded. For it was lawful to subject the prisoner to all the various kinds of torture in succession; and if additional evidence were discovered, the torture could be repeated. When they desired, therefore, to repeat the torture, even after an interval of some days, they evaded the law by calling it technically not a "repetition" but a "continuance of the first torture:" Ad continuandum tormenta, non ad iterandum, as Eymeric styles it.[1] This quibbling of course gave full scope to the cruelty and the indiscreet zeal of the Inquisitors.

[1] Eymeric, Directorium, 3a pars, p. 481, col. 2.

But a new difficulty soon arose. Confessions extorted under torture, had, as we have seen, no legal value. Eymeric himself admitted that the results obtained in this way were very unreliable, and that the Inquisitors should realise this fact.

If, on leaving the torture chamber, the prisoner reiterated his confession, the case was at once decided. But suppose, on the contrary, that the confession extorted under torture was afterwards retracted, what was to be done? The Inquisitors did not agree upon this point. Some of them, like Eymeric, held that in this case the prisoner was entitled to his freedom. Others, like the author of the Sacro Arsenale, held that "the torture should be repeated, in order that the prisoner might be forced to reiterate his first confession which had evidently compromised him." This seems to have been the traditional practice of the Italian tribunals.

But the casuists did not stop here. They discovered "that Clement V had only spoken of torture in general, and had not specifically alluded to witnesses, whence they concluded that one of the most shocking abuses of the system, the torture of witnesses, was left to the sole discretion of the Inquisitor, and this became the accepted rule. It only required an additional step to show that after the accused had been convicted by evidence or had confessed as to himself, he became a witness as to the guilt of his friends, and thus could be arbitrarily (?) tortured to betray them."[1]

[1] Lea, op. cit., vol. i, p. 425.

As a matter of course, the canonists and the theologians approved the severest penalties inflicted by the Inquisition. St. Raymond of Pennafort, however, who was one of the most favored counselors of Gregory IX, still upheld the criminal code of Innocent III. The severest penalties he defended were the excommunication of heretics and schismatics, their banishment and the confiscation of their property.[1] His Summa was undoubtedly completed when the Dccretal of Gregory IX appeared, authorizing the Inquisitors to enforce the cruel laws of Frederic II.

[1] Lea writes (op. cit., vol. i, p. 229, note) "Saint Raymond of Pennafort, the compiler of the decretals of Gregory I, who was the highest authority in his generation, lays it down as a principle of ecclesiastical law that the heretic is to be coerced by excommunication and confiscation, and if they fail, by the extreme exercise of the secular power. The man who was doubtful in faith was to be held a heretic, and so also was the schismatic who, while believing all the articles of religion, refused the obedience due to the Roman Church. All alike were to be forced into the Roman fold, and the fate of Core, Dathan and Abiron was invoked for the destruction of the obstinate." (Summa, lib. i. tit. v, 2, 4, 8; tit. vi, i.) This is a travesty of the mind, and words of Saint Raymond. He merely called attention to the lot of Core, Dathan and Abiron to show what a great crime schism was. He never asserted that heretics or schismatics, even when obdurate, ought to be "destroyed." Summa, lib. i, cap. De Haereticis and De Schismaticis.

But St. Thomas, who wrote at a time when the Inquisition was in full operation, felt called upon to defend the infliction of the death penalty upon heretics and the relapsed. His words deserve careful consideration. He begins by answering the objections that might be brought from the Scriptures and the Fathers against his thesis. The first of these is the well-known passage of St. Matthew, in which our Saviour forbids the servants of the householder to gather up the cockle before the harvest time, lest they root up the wheat with it.[1] St. John Chrysostom, he says, "argues from this text that it is wrong to put heretics to death."[2] But according to St. Augustine the words of the Saviour: "Let the cockle grow until the harvest," are explained at once by what follows: "lest perhaps gathering up the cockle, you root up the wheat also with it." When there is no danger of uprooting the wheat and no danger of schism, violent measures may be used:" Cum metus iste non subest ... non dormiat severitas disciplinae."[3] We doubt very much whether such reasoning would have satisfied St. John Chrysostom, St. Theodore the Studite, or Bishop Wazo, who understood the Saviour's prohibition in a literal and an absolute sense.

[1] Matt. xiii. 28-30.

[2] In Matthaeum, Homil. xlvi.

[3] Augustine, Contra epistol. Parmeniani, lib. iii. cap. ii.

But this passage does not reveal the whole mind of the Angelic doctor. It is more evident in his exegesis of Ezechiel xviii. 32, Nolo mortem peccatoris. "Assuredly," he writes, "none of us desires the death of a single heretic. But remember that the house of David could not obtain peace until Absalom was killed in the war he waged against his father. In like manner, the Catholic Church saves some of her children by the death of others, and consoles her sorrowing heart by reflecting that she is acting for the general good."[1]

[1] St. Thomas, Summa, loc. cit., ad. 4m.

If we are not mistaken, St. Thomas is here trying to prove, on the authority of St. Augustine, that it is sometimes lawful to put heretics to death.

But it is only by garbling and distorting the context that St. Thomas makes the Bishop of Hippo advocate the very penalty which, as a matter of fact, he always denounced most strongly. In the passage quoted, St. Augustine was speaking of the benefit that ensues to the Church from the suicide of heretics, but he had no idea whatever of maintaining that the Church had the right to put to death her rebellious children.[1] St. Thomas misses the point entirely, and gives his readers a false idea of the teaching of St. Augustine.

[1] Ep. clxxxv, ad Bonifacium, no. 32.

Thinking, however, that he has satisfactorily answered all the objections against his thesis, he states it as follows: "Heretics who persist in their error after a second admonition ought not only to be excommunicated, but also abandoned to the secular arm to be put to death. For, he argues, it is much more wicked to corrupt the faith on which depends the life of the soul, than to debase the coinage which provides merely for temporal life; wherefore, if coiners and other malefactors are justly doomed to death, much more may heretics be justly slain once they are convicted. If, therefore, they persist in their error after two admonitions, the Church despairs of their conversion, and excommunicates them to ensure the salvation of others whom they might corrupt; she then abandons them to the secular arm that they may be put to death."[1]

[1] Summa, IIa IIae, quaest. xi, art. 3.

St. Thomas in this passage makes a mere comparison serve as an argument. He does not seem to realize that if his reasoning were valid, the Church could go a great deal further, and have the death penalty inflicted in many other cases.

The fate of the relapsed heretic had varied from Lucius III to Alexander IV. The bull Ad Abolendam decreed that converted heretics who relapsed into heresy were to be abandoned to the secular arm without trial.[1] But at the time this Decretal was published, the Animadversio debita of the State entailed no severer penalty than banishment and confiscation. When this term, already fearful enough, came to mean the death penalty, the Inquisitors did not know whether to follow the ancient custom or to adopt the new interpretation. For a long time they followed the traditional custom. Bernard of Caux, who was undoubtedly a zealous Inquisitor, is a case in point. In his register of sentences from 1244 to 1248, we meet with sixty cases of relapse, not one of whom was punished by a penalty severer than imprisonment. But a little later on the strict interpretation of the Animadversio debita began to prevail. In St. Thomas's time it meant the death penalty; and we find him citing the bull Ad Abolendam[2] as his authority for the infliction of the death penalty upon the relapsed, penitent or impenitent, in ignorance of the fact that this document originally had a totally different interpretation.

[1] Decretals, in cap. ix, De haereticis, lib. v, tit. vii.

[2] Summa, IIa IIae, quaest. ix, art. 4: Sed contra.

His reasoning therefore rests on a false supposition. He advocates the death penalty for the relapsed in the name of Christian charity. For, he argues, charity has for its object the spiritual and temporal welfare of one's neighbor. His spiritual welfare is the salvation of his soul; his temporal welfare is life, and temporal advantages, such as riches, dignities, and the like. These temporal advantages are subordinate to the spiritual, and charity must prevent their endangering the eternal salvation of their possessor. Charity, therefore, to himself and to others, prompts us to deprive him of these temporal goods, if he makes a bad use of them. For if we allowed the relapsed heretic to live, we would undoubtedly endanger the salvation of others, either because he would corrupt the faithful whom he met, or because his escape from punishment would lead others to believe they could deny the faith with impunity. The inconstancy of the relapsed is, therefore, a sufficient reason why the Church, although she receives him to penance for his soul's salvation, refuses to free him from the death penalty.

Such reasoning is not very convincing. Why would not the life imprisonment of the heretic safeguard the faithful as well as his death? Will you answer that this penalty is too trivial to prevent the faithful from falling into heresy? If that be so, why not at once condemn all heretics to death, even when repentant? That would terrorize the wavering ones all the more. But St. Thomas evidently was not thinking of the logical consequences of his reasoning. His one aim was to defend the criminal code in vogue at the time. That is his only excuse. For we must admit that rarely has his reasoning been so faulty and so weak as in his thesis upon the coercive power of the Church, and the punishment of heresy.

. . . . . . . .

St. Thomas defended the death penalty without indicating how it was to be inflicted. The commentators who followed him were more definite. The Animadversio debita, says Henry of Susa (Hostiensis + 1271), in his commentary on the bull Ad Abolendam, is the penalty of the stake (ignis crematio). He defends this interpretation by quoting the words of Christ: "If any one abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him and cast him into the fire, and he burneth."[1] Jean d'Andre (+ 1348), whose commentary carried equal weight with Henry of Susa's throughout the Middle Ages, quotes the same text as authority for sending heretics to the stake.[2] According to this peculiar exegesis, the law and custom of the day merely sanctioned the law of Christ. To regard our Saviour as the precursor or rather the author of the criminal code of the Inquisition evidences, one must admit, a very peculiar temper of mind.

[1] John, xv, 6; Hostiensis, on the decretal Ad Abolendum, cap. xi, in Eymeric, Directorium inquisitorum, 2a pars, pp. 149, 150.

[2] On the decretal Ad Abolendum, cap. xiv, in Eymeric, ibid., pp. 170, 171.

. . . . . . . .

The next step was to free the Church from all responsibility in the infliction of the death penalty—truly an extremely difficult undertaking.

St. Thomas held, with many other theologians, that heretics condemned by the Inquisition should be abandoned to the secular arm, judicio saeculari. But he went further, and declared it the duty of the State to put such criminals to death.[1] The State, therefore, was to carry out this sentence at least indirectly in the name of the Church.

[1]Summa, IIa, IIae, quaest. xi, art. 3.

A contemporary of St. Thomas thus meets this difficulty: "The Pope does not execute any one," he says, "or order him to be put to death; heretics are executed by the law which the Pope tolerates; they practically cause their own death by committing crimes which merit death."[1] The heretic who received this answer to his objections must surely have found it very far-fetched. He could easily have replied that the Pope "not only allowed heretics to be put to death, but ordered this done under penalty of excommunication." And by this very fact he incurred all the odium of the death penalty.

[1] Disputatio inter catholicum et Paterinum haereticum, cap. xii, in Martene, Thesaurus Anecdotorum, vol. v. col. 1741.

The casuists of the Inquisition, however, came to the rescue, and tried to defend the Church by another subterfuge. They denounced in so many words the death penalty and other similar punishments, while at the same time they insisted upon the State's enforcing them. The formula by which they dismissed an impenitent or a relapsed heretic was thus worded: "We dismiss you from our ecclesiastical forum, and abandon you to the secular arm. But we strongly beseech the secular court to mitigate its sentence in such a way as to avoid bloodshed or danger of death."[1] We regret to state, however, that the civil judges were not supposed to take these words literally. If they were at all inclined to do so, they would have been quickly called to a sense of their duty by being excommunicated. The clause inserted by the canonists was a mere legal fiction, which did not change matters a particle.

[1] Eymeric, Directorium Inquisitorum, 3a pars, p. 515, col. 2.

It is hard to understand why such a formula was used at all. Probably it was first used in other criminal cases in which abandonment to the secular arm did not imply the death penalty, and the Inquisition kept using it merely out of respect to tradition. It seemed to palliate the too flagrant contradiction which existed between ecclesiastical justice and the teaching of Christ, and it gave at least an external homage to the teaching of St. Augustine, and the first Fathers of the Church. Moreover, as it furnished a specious means of evading by the merest form of prohibition against clerics taking part in sentences involving the effusion of blood and death, aud the irregularity resulting therefrom, the Inquisitors used it to reassure their conscience.

Finally, however, some Inquisitors, realizing the emptiness of this formula, dispensed with it altogether, and boldly assumed the full responsibility for their sentences. They deemed the role of the State so unimportant in the execration of heretics, that they did not even mention it. The Inquisition is the real judge; it lights the fires. "All whom we cause to be burned," says the famous Dominican Sprenger in his Malleus Maleficarum.[1] Although not intended as an accurate statement of fact,[2] it indicates pretty well the current idea regarding the share of the ecclesiastical tribunals in the punishment of heretics.

[1] Malleus maleficarum maleficas et earum haeresim framea conterens, auct. Jacobo Sprengero, Lugduni, 1660, pars ii, quaest. i, cap. ii, p. 108, col. 2.

[2] We must interpret in the same sense the decree of the Council of Constance pronouncing the penalty of the stake against the followers of John Huss, John Wyclif and Jerome of Prague. Session xxiv, no. 23, Harduin, Concilia, vol. viii, col. 896 et seq. The Council here indicates only the usual punishment for the relapsed, without really decreeing it.

. . . . . . . .

It is evident that the theologians and canonists were simply apologists for the Inquisition, and interpreters of its laws. As a rule, they tried, like St. Raymond Pennafort and St. Thomas, to defend the decrees of the Popes. We cannot say that they succeeded in their task. Some by their untimely zeal rather compromised the cause they endeavored to defend. Others, going counter to the canon law, drew conclusions from it that the Popes never dreamed of, and in this way made the procedure of the Inquisition, already severe enough, still more severe, especially in the use of torture.


We do not intend to relate every detail of the Inquisition's action. A brief outline, a sort of bird's-eye view, will suffice.

Its field, although very extensive, did not comprise the whole of Christendom, nor even all the Latin countries. The Scandinavian kingdoms escaped it almost entirely; England experienced it only once in the case of the Templars; Castile and Portugal knew nothing of it before the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella. It was almost unknown in France—at least as an established institution—except in the South, in what was called the county of Toulouse, and later on in Languedoc.

The Inquisition was in full operation in Aragon. The Cathari, it seems, were wont to travel frequently from Languedoc to Lombardy, so that upper Italy had from an early period its contingent of Inquisitors. Frederic II had it established in the two Sicilies and in many cities of Italy and Germany. Honorius IV (1285-1287) introduced it into Sardinia.[1] Its activity in Flanders and Bohemia in the fifteenth century was very considerable. These were the chief centers of its operations.

[1] Potthast, no. 22307; Registres d'Honorius IV, published by Maurice Prou, 1888, no. 163.

Some of the Inquisitors had an exalted idea of their office. We recall the ideal portrait of the perfect Inquisitor drawn by Bernard Gui and Eymeric. But, by an inevitable law of history, the reality never comes up to the ideal.

We know the names of many Inquisitors, monks and bishops.[1] There are some whose memory is beyond reproach; in fact the Church honors them as saints, because they died for the faith.[2]

[1] Mgr. Douais, Documents, vol. 1, pp. cxxix-ccix.

[2] V.g., Peter of Verona, assassinated by heretics in 1252.

But others fulfilled the duties of their office in a spirit of hatred and impatience, contrary both to natural justice and to Christian charity. Who can help denouncing, for instance, the outrageous conduct of Conrad of Marburg. Contemporary writers tell us that when heretics appeared before his tribunal, he granted them no delay, but at once required them to answer yes or no to the accusations against them. If they confessed their guilt, they were granted their lives, and thrown into prison; if they refused to confess, they were at once condemned and sent to the stake. Such summary justice strongly resembles injustice.

But Robert the Dominican, known as Robert the Bougre, for he was a converted Patarin, surpassed even Conrad in cruelty. Among the exploits of this Inquisitor, special mention must be made of the executions at Montwimer in Champagne. The Bishop, Moranis, had allowed a large community of heretics to grow up about him. Robert determined to punish the town severely. In one week he managed to try all his prisoners. On May 29, 1239, about one hundred and eighty of them, with their bishop, were sent to the stake. Such summary proceedings caused complaints to be sent to Rome against this cruel Inquisitor. He was accused of confounding in his blind fanaticism the innocent with the guilty, and of working upon simple souls so as to increase the number of his victims. An investigation proved that these complaints were well founded. In fact, it revealed such outrages that Robert the Bougre was at first suspended from his office, and finally condemned to perpetual imprisonment.[1]

[1] Aubri des Trois Fontaines, ad ann. 1239, Mon. Germ., SS., vol. xxiii, 944, 945.

Other acts of the Inquisition were no less odious. In 1280 the Consuls of Carcassonne complained to the Pope, the King of France, and the episcopal vicars of the diocese of the cruelty and injustice of Jean Galand in the use of torture. He had inscribed on the walls of the Inquisition these words: dominculas ad torquendum et cruciandum homines diversis generibus tormentorum. Some prisoners had been tortured on the rack, and most of them were so cruelly treated that they lost the use of their arms and legs, ad became altogether helpless. Some even died in great agony of their torments. The complaint continues in this tone, and mentions five or six times the great cruelty of the tortures inflicted.

Philip the Fair, who was noble-hearted occasionally, addressed a letter May 13, 1291, to the seneschal of Carcassonne in which he denounced the Inquisitors for their cruel torturing of innocent men, whereby the living and the dead were fraudulently convicted; and among other abuses he mentions particularly "tortures newly invented." Another letter of his (1301) addressed to Foulques de Saint-Georges, contained a similar denunciation.

In a bull intended for Cardinals Taillefer de la Chappelle and Berenger de Fredol, March 13, 1306, Clement V mentions the complaints of the citizens of Carcassonne, Albi, and Cordes, regarding the cruelty practiced in the prisons of the Inquisition. Several of these unfortunates "were so weakened by the rigors of their imprisonment, the lack of food, and the severity of their tortures (sevitia tormentorum), that they died."

The facts in Savonarola's case are very hard to determine. The official account of his interrogatory declares that he was subjected to three and a half tratti di fune. This was a form of torture known as the strappado. The Signoria, in answer to the reproaches of Alexander VI at their tardiness, declared that they had to deal with a man of great endurance; that they had assiduously tortured him for many days with slender results.[1] Burchard, the papal prothonotary, states that he was put to the torture seven times. It made very little difference whether these tortures were inflicted per modum continuationis or per modum iterationis, as the casuist of the Inquisition put it. At any rate, it was a crying abuse.[2]

[1] Villari, La storia di Girolamo Savonarola, Firenze, 1887, vol. ii, p. 197.

[2] H. Lucas, Fra Girolamo Savonarola, a Biographical Study. London, Sands, 1905.

We may learn something of the brutality of the Inquisitors from the remorse felt by one of them. He had inflicted the torture of the burning coals upon a sorceress. The unfortunate woman died soon afterwards in prison as a result of her torments. The Inquisitor, knowing he had caused her death, wrote John XXII for dispensation from the irregularity he had thereby incurred.

But the greatest excesses of the Inquisition were due to the political schemes of sovereigns. Such instances were by no means rare. Hardly had the Inquisition been established, when Frederic II tried to use it for political purposes. He was anxious to put the prosecution for heresy in the hands of his royal officers, rather than in the hands of the bishops and the monks. When, therefore, in 1233, he boasted in a letter to Gregory IX that he had put to death a great number of heretics in his kingdom, the Pope answered that he was not at all deceived by this pretended zeal. He knew full well that the Emperor wished simply to get rid of his personal enemies, and that he had put to death many who were not heretics at all.

The personal interests of Philip the Fair were chiefly responsible for the trial and condemnation of the Templars. Clement V himself and the ecclesiastical judges were both unfortunately guilty of truckling in the whole affair. But their unjust condemnation was due chiefly to the king's desire to confiscate their great possessions.[1]

[1] The tribunals of the Inquisition were perhaps never more cruel than in the case of the Templars. At Paris, according to the testimony of Ponsard de Gisiac, thirty-six Templars perished under torture. At Sens, Jacques de Saciac said that twenty-five had died of torment and suffering. (Lea, op. cit., vol. iii, p. 262.) The Grand Master, Jacques Molay, owed his life to the vigor of his constitution. Confessions extorted by such means were altogether valueless. Despite all his efforts, Philip the Fair never succeeded in obtaining a formal condemnation of the Order.

Joan of Arc was also a victim demanded by the political interests of the day. If the Bishop of Beauvais, Pierre Cauchon, had not been such a bitter English partisan, it is very probable that the tribunal over which he presided would not have brought in the verdict of guilty, which sent her to the stake;[1] she would never have been considered a heretic at all, much less a relapsed one.

[1] The greatest crime of the trial was the substitution, in the documents, of a different form of abjuration from the one Joan read near the church of Saint-Ouen.

It would be easy to cite many instances of the same kind, especially in Spain. If there was any place in the world where the State interfered unjustly in the trials of the Inquisition, it was in the kingdom of Ferdinand and Isabella, the kingdom of Philip II.[1]

[1] The complaints of various Popes prove this. Cf. Hefele, Le Carinal Ximenes, Paris, 1857, pp. 265-274. Langlois, L'Inquisition d'apres les travaux recents, Paris, 1902, pp. 89-141; Bernaldez, Historia de los Reyes: Cronicas de los reyes de Castilla, Fernandez y Isabel, Madrid, 1878; Rodrigo, Historia verdadera de la Inquisicion, 3 vol., Madrid, 1876-1877.

From all that has been said, we must not infer that the tribunals of the Inquisition were always guilty of cruelty and injustice; we ought simply to conclude that too frequently they were. Even one case of brutality and injustice deserves perpetual odium.

. . . . . . . .

The severest penalties the Inquisition could inflict (apart from the minor penalties of pilgrimages, weariltg the crosses, etc.), were imprisonment, abandonment to the secular arm, and confiscation of property.

"Imprisonment, according to the theory of the Inquisition, was not a punishment, but a means by which the penitent could obtain, on the bread of tribulation and the water of affliction, pardon from God for his sins, while at the same time he was closely supervised to see that he persevered in the right path, and was segregated from the rest of the flock, thus removing all danger of infection."[1]

[1] Lea, op. cit., vol. i, p. 484.

Heretics who confessed their errors during the time of grace were imprisoned only for a short time; those who confessed under torture or under threat of death were imprisoned for life; this was the usual punishment for the relapsed during most of the thirteenth century. It was the only penalty that Bernard of Caux (1244-1248) inflicted upon them.

"There were two kinds of imprisonment," writes Lea, "the milder or murus largus, and the harsher, known as murus strictus, or durus, or arctus. All were on bread and water, and the confinement, according to rule, was solitary, each penitent in a separate cell, with no access allowed to him, to prevent his being corrupted, or corrupting others; but this could not be strictly enforced, and about 1306 Geoffroi d'Ablis stigmatizes as an abuse the visits of clergy and the laity of both sexes, permitted to prisoners."[1]

[1] Lea, op. cit., vol. i, p. 486, 487.

As far back as 1282, Jean Galand had forbidden the jailer of the prison of Carcassonne to eat or take recreation with the prisoners, or to allow them to take recreation, or to keep servants.

Husband and wife, however, were allowed access to each other if either or both were imprisoned; and late in the fourteenth century Eymeric declared that zealous Catholics might be admitted to visit prisoners, but not women and simple folk who might be perverted, for converted prisoners, he added, were very liable to relapse, and to infect others, and usually died at the stake.[1]

[1] Eymeric, Directorium, p. 507.

"In the milder form, or murus largus, the prisoners apparently were, if well behaved, allowed to take exercise in the corridors, where sometimes they had opportunities of converse with each other, and with the outside world. This privilege was ordered to be given to the aged and infirm by the cardinals who investigated the prison of Carcassonne, and took measures to alleviate its rigors. In the harsher confinement, or murus strictus, the prisoner was thrust into the smallest, darkest, and most noisome of cells, with chains on his feet,—in some cases chained to the wall. This penance was inflicted on those whose offences had been conspicuous, or who had perjured themselves by making incomplete confessions, the matter being wholly at the discretion of the Inquisitor. I have met with one case, in 1328, of aggravated false-witness, condemned to the murus strictissimus, with chains on both hands and feet. When the culprits were members of a religious order, to avoid scandal, the proceedings were usually held in private, and the imprisonment would be ordered to take place in a convent of their own order. As these buildings, however, were unprovided with cells for the punishment of offenders, this was probably of no great advantage to the victim. In the case of Jeanne, widow of B. de la Tour, a nun of Lespinasse, in 1216, who had committed acts of both Catharan and Waldensian heresy, and had prevaricated in her confession, the sentence was confinement in a separate cell in her own convent, where no one was to enter or see her, her food being pushed in through an opening left for the purpose—in fact, the living tomb known as the in pace."[1]

[1] Lea, op. cit., vol. i. p. 487.

In these wretched prisons the diet was most meager. But "while the penance prescribed was a diet of bread and water, the Inquisition, with unwonted kindness, did not object to its prisoners receiving from their friends contributions of food, wine, money, and garments, and among its documents are such frequent allusions to this that it may be regarded as an established custom."[1]

[1] Lea, op. cit., vol. i, p. 491.

The number of prisoners, even with a life sentence, was rather considerable. The collections of sentences that we possess give us precise information on this point.

We have, for instance, the register of Bernard of Caux, the Inquisitor of Toulouse for the years 1244-1246. Out of fifty-two of his sentences, twenty-seven heretics were sentenced to life imprisonment. We must not forget also that several of them contain condemnations of many individuals; the second, for instance, condemned thirty-three persons, twelve of whom were to be imprisoned for life; the fourth condemned eighteen persons to life imprisonment. On the other hand, the register does not record one case of abandonment to the secular arm, even for relapse into heresy.[1]

[1] Douais, Documents, vol. 1, pp. cclx-cclxi; vol. ii. pp. i-89.

Bernard must be considered a severe Inquisitor. The register of the notary of Carcassonne, published by Mgr. Douais, contains for the years 1249-1255 two hundred and seventy-eight articles. But imprisonment very rarely figured among the penances inflicted. The usual penalty was enforced service in the Holy Land, passagium, transitus ultramarinus.[1]

[1] Douais, Documents, vol. 1, pp. cclxvii-cclxxxiv; vol. ii. pp. 115, 243.

Bernard Gui, Inquisitor at Toulouse for seventeen years (1308-1325), was called upon to condemn nine hundred and thirty heretics, of whom two were guilty of false witness, eighty-nine were dead, and forty were fugitives. In the eighteen Sermones or Autos-da-fe in which he rendered the sentences we possess today, he condemned three hundred and seven to prison, i.e., about one-third of all the heretics brought before his tribunal.[1]

[1] Douais, Documents, vol. 1, pp. ccv, cf. Appendix B. Note that the register records 930 condemnations. Cf. Lea, op. cit., vol. i, p. 550.

The tribunal of the Inquisition of Pamiers in the Sermones of 1318-1324, held ninety-eight heresy trials. The records declare that two were acquitted; and say nothing of the penalty inflicted upon twenty-one others who were tried. The most common penalty was life imprisonment. In the Sermo of March 8, thirteen heretics were sentenced to prison, eight of whom were set at liberty on July 4, 1322; these latter were condemned to wear single or double crosses. Six out of ten, tried on August 2, 1321, were sentenced for life to the German prison. On June 19, 1323, six out of ten tried were condemned to prison (murus strictus); on August 12, 1324, ten out of eleven tried were condemned for life to the strict prison: ad strictum muri Carcassonne inquisitionis carcerem in vinculis ferreis ac in pane et aqua. We gather from these statistics that the Inquisition of Pamiers inflicted the penalty of life imprisonment as often as, if not more than, the Inquisition of Toulouse.

We have seen above that the penalty of imprisonment was sometimes mitigated and even commuted. Life imprisonment was sometimes commuted into temporary imprisonment, and both into pilgrimages or wearing the cross. Twenty, imprisoned by the Inquisition of Pamiers, were set at liberty on condition that they wore the cross. This clemency was not peculiar to the Inquisition of Pamiers. In 1328, by a single sentence, twenty-three prisoners of Carcassonne were set at liberty, and other slight penances substituted.

In Bernard Gui's register of sentences we read of one hundred and nineteen cases of release from prison with the obligation to wear the cross, and, of this number, fifty-one were subsequently released from even the minor penalty. Prisoners were sometimes set at liberty on account of sickness, e.g., women with child, or to provide for their families.

"In 1246 we find Bernard dc Caux, in sentencing Bernard Sabbatier, a relapsed heretic, to perpetual imprisonment, adding that as the culprit's father is a good Catholic, and old and sick, the son may remain with him, and support him as long as he lives, meanwhile wearing the crosses."[1]

[1] Lea, op. cit., vol. i, 486.

Assuredly this penalty of imprisonment was terrible, but while we may denounce some Inquisitors for having made its suffering more intense out of malice or indifference, we must also admit that others sometimes mitigated its severity.

. . . . . . . .

The condemnation of obstinate heretics, and later on, of the relapsed, permitted no exercise of clemency. How many heretics were abandoned to the secular arm, and thus sent to the stake, is impossible to determine. However, we have some interesting statistics of the more important tribunals on this point. The portion of the register of Bernard de Caux which relates to impenitent heretics has been lost, but we have the sentences of the Inquisition of Pamiers (1318-1324), and of Toulouse (1308-1323). In nine Sermones or Autos-da-fe[1] of the tribunal of Pamiers, condemning sixty-four persons, only five heretics were abandoned to the secular arm.

[1] The Sermo generalis after which the sentences were solemnly pronounced by the Inquisitors was called in Spain auto-da-fe.

Bernard Gui presided over eighteen autos-da-fe, and condemned nine hundred and thirty heretics; and yet he abandoned only forty-two to the secular arm.[1] These Inquisitors were far more lenient than Robert the Bougre. Taking all in all, the Inquisition in its operation denoted a real progress in the treatment of criminals; for it not only put an end to the summary vengeance of the mob, but it diminished considerably the number of those sentenced to death.[2]

[1] Cf. the sentences of Bernard Gui in Douais, Documents, vol. i, p. ccv, and Appendix B.

[2] Even while the Inquisition was in full operation, the heretics who managed to escape the ecclesiastical tribunals had no reason to congratulate themselves. For we read that Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse in 1248, caused eighty heretics to be burned at Berlaiges, near Agen, after they had confessed in his presence, without giving them the opportunity of recanting.

We notice at Pamiers that only one out of thirteen, while at Toulouse but one in twenty-two, was sentenced to death. Although terrible enough, these figures are far different from the exaggerated statistics imagined by the fertile brains of ignorant controversialists.[1]

[1] Of course we do not here refer to honest historians like Langlois who estimates that one heretic out of every ten was abandoned to the secular arm (op. cit., p. 106). Dom Brial erroneously states in his preface to vol. xix of the Recueil des Historiens des Gautes (p. xxiii) that Bernard Gui burned 637 heretics. This figure represented the number of heretics then known to be condemned, but only 40 of these were abandoned to the secular arm. The exact number is 42 out of 930. Cf. Douais, Documents, vol. i, p. ccv, and Appendix B.

It is true that many writers are haunted by the cruelty of the Spanish or German tribunals which sent to the stake a great number of victims, i.e., conversos and witches.

From the very beginning, the Spanish Inquisition acted with the utmost severity. "Twelve hundred conversos, penitents, obdurate and relapsed heretics were present at the auto-da-fe in Toledo, March, 1487; and, according to the most conservative estimate, Torquemada sent to the stake about two thousand heretics"[1] in twelve years.

[1] Langlois, L'Inquisition d'apres des tableaux recents, 1902, pp. 105, 106. This number, without being certain, is asserted by contemporaries, Pulga and Marinco Siculo. Cf. Hefele, Le Cardinal Ximenes, Paris, 1856, pp. 290, 291. Another contemporary, Bernaldes, speaks of over 700 burned from 1481-1488; cf. Gams, Kirchengeschichte von Spanien, vol. iii, 2, p. 69.

"During this same period," says a contemporary historian, "fifteen thousand heretics did penance, and were reconciled to the Church."[1] That makes a total of seventeen thousand trials. We can thus understand how Torquemada, although grossly calumniated, came to be identified with this period, during which so many thousands of conversos appeared before the Spanish tribunals.

[1] Pulgar, in Hefele, op. cit., p. 291.

The zeal of the Inquisitors seemed to abate after a time.[1] Perhaps they thought it better to keep the Jews and the Mussulmans in the Church by kindness. But kindness failed just as force had failed. After one hundred years, the number of obdurate conversos was as great as ever. Several ardent advocates of force advised the authorities to send them all to the stake. But the State determined to drive the Moriscos from Spain, as it had banished the Jews in 1492. Accordingly in September, 1609, a law was passed decreeing the banishment, under penalty of death, of all Moriscos, men, women, and children. Five hundred thousand persons, about one sixteenth of the postulation were thus banished from Spain, and forced to seek refuge on the coasts of Barbary. "Behold," writes Brother Bleda, "the most glorious event in Spain since the times of the Apostles; religious unity is now secured; an era of prosperity is certainly about to dawn."[2] This era of prosperity so proudly announced by the Dominican zealot never came. This extreme measure, which pleased him so greatly, in reality weakened Spain, by depriving her of hundreds of thousands of her subjects.

[1] "The Inquisition of Valencia condemned one hundred and twelve conversos in 1538 (of whom fourteen were sent to the stake); at the auto-da-fe of Seville, September 24, 1559, three were burned, and eight were reconciled and sentenced to life imprisonment; on June 6, 1585, the Inquisitors of Saragossa in their account to Philip II speak of having reconciled sixty-three, and of having sent five to the stake." Langlois, op. cit., p. 106.

[2] Cf. Bleda, Defensio fidei in causa neophytorum sive Moriscorum regni Valentini totiusque Hispaniae,, Valencia, 1610.

The witchcraft fever which spread over Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries stimulated to an extraordinary degree the zeal of the Inquisitors. The bull of Innocent VIII, Summis Desiderantes, December 5, 1484, made matters worse. The Pope admitted that men and women could have immoral relations with demon, and that sorcerers by their magical incantations could injure the harvests, the vineyards, the orchards and the fields.[1]

[1] Bullarium, vol. v, p. 296 and seq., and Pegna's Bullarium in Eymeric, Directorium Inquisit., p. 83.

He also complained of the folly of those ecclesiastics and laymen who opposed the Inquisition in its prosecution of heretical sorcerers, and concluded by conferring additional powers upon the Dominican Inquisitors, Institoris and Sprenger, the author of the famous Malleus Maleficarum.

Innocent VIII assuredly had no intention of committing the Church to a belief in the phenomena he mentioned in his bull, but his personal opinion did leave an influence upon the canonists and Inquisitors of his day; this is clear from the trials for witchcraft held during this period.[1] It is impossible to estimate the number of sorcerers condemned. Louis of Paramo triumphantly declared that in a century and a half the Holy Office sent to the stake over thirty thousand.[2] Of course we must take such round numbers with a grain of salt, as they always are greatly exaggerated. But the fact remains that the condemnations for sorcery were so numerous as to stagger belief. The Papacy itself recognized the injustice of its agents. For in 1637 instructions were issued stigmatizing the conduct of the Inquisitors on account of their arbitrary and unjust prosecution of sorcerers; they were accused of extorting from them by cruel tortures confessions that were valueless, and of abandoning them to the secular arm without sufficient cause.[1]

[1] Pignatelli, Consultationes novissimae canonicae, Venetiis, 2 in fol., vol. i, p. 505, Consultatio 123.

. . . . . . . .

Confiscation, though not so severe a penalty as the stake, bore very heavily upon the victims of the Inquisition. The Roman laws classed the crime of heresy with treason, and visited it with a principal penalty, death, and a secondary penalty, confiscation. They decreed that all heretics, without exception, forfeited their property the very day they wavered in the faith. Actual confiscation of goods did not take place in the case of those penitents who had deserved no severer punishment than temporary imrisonment. Bernard Gui answered those who objected to this ruling, by showing that, as a matter of fact, there was no real pecuniary loss involved. For, he argued: "Secondary penances are inflicted only upon those heretics who denounce their accomplices. But, by this denunciation, they ensure this discovery and arrest of the guilty ones, who, without their aid, would have escaped punishment; the goods of these heretics are at once confiscated, which is certainly a positive gain."[1] Actual confiscation took place in the case of all obdurate and relapsed heretics abandoned to the secular arm, with all penitents condemned to perpetual imprisonment, and with all suspects who had managed to escape the Inquisition, either by flight or by death. The heretic who died peacefully in bed before the Inquisition could lay hands upon him was considered contumacious, and treated as such; his remains were exhumed, and his property confiscated. This last fact accounts for the incredible frequency of prosecutions against the dead. Of the six hundred and thirty-six cases tried by Bernard Gui, eighty-eight were posthumous. As a general rule, the confiscation of the heretic's property, which so frequently resulted from the trials of the Inquisition, had a great deal to do with the interest they aroused. We do not say that the Holy Office systematically increased the number of its condemnations merely to increase its pecuniary profits. But abuses of this kind were inevitable. We know they existed, because the Popes denounced them strongly, although they were too rare to deserve more than a passing mention. But would the ecclesiastical and lay princes who, in varying proportions, shared with the Holy Office in these confiscations, and who in some countries appropriated them all, have accorded to the Inquisition that continual good-will and help which was the condition of its prosperity, without what Lea calls "the stimulant of pillage?" We may very well doubt it.... That is why, in point of fact, their zeal for the faith languished whenever pecuniary gain was not forthcoming. "In our days," writes the Inquisitor Eymeric rather gloomily, "there are no more rich heretics, so that princes, not seeing much money in prospect, will not put themselves to any expense; it is a pity that so salutary an institution as ours should be so uncertain of its future."[2]

[1] Practica,m 3 pars, p. 185.

[2] Langlois, op. cit., pp. 75-78.

Most historians have said little or nothing about the money side of the Inquisition. Lea was the first to give it the attention it deserved. He writes "In addition to the misery inflicted by these wholesale confiscations on the thousands of innocent and helpless women and children thus stripped of everything, it would be almost impossible to exaggerate the evil which they entailed upon all classes in the business of daily life."[1] There was indeed very little security in business, for the contracts of a hidden heretic were essentially null and void, and could be rescinded as soon as his guilt was discovered, either during his lifetime or after his death. In view of such a penal code, we can understand why Lea should write: "While the horrors of the crowded dungeon can scarce be exaggerated, yet more effective for evil and more widely exasperating was the sleepless watchfulness which was ever on the alert to plunder the rich and to wrench from the poor the hard-earned gains on which a family depended for support."[2]

[1] Lea, op. cit., p. 522.

[2] Lea, op. cit., p. 480.

. . . . . . . .

This summary of the acts of the Inquisition is at best but a brief and very imperfect outline. But a more complete study would not afford us any deeper insight into its operation.

Human passions are responsible for the many abuses of the Inquisition. The civil power in heresy trials was far from being partial to the accused. On the contrary, it would seem that the more pressure the State brought to bear upon the ecclesiastical tribunals, the more arbitrary their procedure became.

We do not deny that the zeal of the Inquisitors was at times excessive, especially in the use of torture. But some of their cruelty may be explained by their sincere desire for the salvation of the heretic. They regarded the confession of the suspects as the beginning of their conversion. They therefore believed any means used for that purpose justified. They thought that an Inquisitor had done something praiseworthy, when, even at the cost of cruel torments, he freed a heretic from his heresy. He was sorry indeed to be obliged to use force; but that was not altogether his fault, but the fault of the laws which he had to enforce.

Most men regard the auto-da-fe as the worst horror of the Inquisition. It is hardly ever pictured without burning flames and ferocious looking executioners. But an auto-da-fe did not necessarily call for either stake or executioner. It was simply a solemn "Sermon," which the heretics about to be condemned had to attend.[1] The death penalty was not always inflicted at these solemnities, which were intended to impress the imagination of the people. Seven out of eighteen autos-da-fe presided over by the famous Inquisitor, Bernard Gui, decreed no severer penalty than imprisonment.

[1] On these "Sermons," cf. Tanon, op. cit., pp. 425-431.

We have seen, moreover, that in many places, even in Spain, at a certain period, the number of heretics condemned to death was rather small. Even Lea, whom no one can accuse of any great partiality for the Church is forced to state: "The stake consumed comparatively few victims."[1]

[1] Op. cit., vol. i, p. 480.

In fact, imprisonment and confiscation were as a rule the severest penalties inflicted.


SUCH was the development for over one thousand years (200-1300) of the theory of Catholic writers on the coercive power of the Church in the treatment of heresy. It began with the principle of absolute toleration; it ended with the stake.

During the era of the persecutions, the Church, who was suffering herself from pagan intolerance, merely excommunicated heretics, and tried to win them back to the orthodox faith by the kindness and the force of argument. But when the emperors became Christians, they, in memory of the days when they were "Pontifices maximi," at once endeavored to regulate worship and doctrine, at least externally. Unfortunately, certain sects, hated like the Manicheans, or revolutionary in character like the Donatists, prompted the enactment of cruel laws for their suppression. St. Optatus approved these measures, and Pope St. Leo had not the courage to disavow them. Still, most of the early Fathers, St. John Chrysostom, St. Martin, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and many others,[1] protested strongly in the name of Christian charity against the infliction of the death penalty upon heretics. St. Augustine, who formed the mind of his age, at first favored the theory of absolute toleration. But afterwards, perceiving that certain good results followed from what he called "a salutary fear," he modified his views. He then maintained that the State could and ought to punish by fine, confiscation, or even exile, her rebellious children, in order to make them repent. This may be called his theory of moderate persecution.

[1] Lea (op. cit., vol. i, pp. 214, 215) says that St. Jerome was an advocate of force. "Rigor in fact," argues St. Jerome, "is the most genuine mercy, since temporal punishment may avert eternal perdition." Here St. Jerome merely says that God punishes in time that he may no punish in eternity. But he by no means "argues" that this punishment should be in the hands of either Church or State. Commentar., in Naum, i, 9, P. L., vol. xxv, col. 1238.

The revival of the Manichean heresy in the eleventh century took the Christian princes and people by surprise, unaccustomed as they were to the legislation of the first Christian emperors. Still the heretics did not fare any better on that account. For the people rose up against them, and burned them at the stake. The Bishops and the Fathers of the Church at once protested against this lynching of heretics. Some, like Wazo of Liege, represented the party of absolute toleration, while others, under the leadership of St. Bernard, advocated the theory of St. Augustine. Soon after, churchmen began to decree the penalty of imprisonment for heresy—a penalty unknown to the Roman law, and regarded in the beginning more as a penance than a legal punishment. It originated in the cloister, gradually made its way into the tribunals of the Bishop, and finally into the tribunals of the State.

Canon law, helped greatly by the revival of the imperial code, introduced in the twelfth century definite laws for the suppression, of heresy. This regime lasted from 1150 till 1215, from Gratian to Innocent III. Heresy, the greatest sin against God, was classed with treason, and visited with the same penalty. The penalty was banishment with all its consequences; i.e., the destruction of the houses of heretics, and the confiscation of their property. Still, because of the horror which the Church had always professed for the effusion of blood, she did not as yet inflict the death penalty which the State decreed for treason. Innocent III did not wish to go beyond the limits set by St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Bernard.

But later Popes and princes went further. They began by decreeing death as a secondary penalty, in case heretics rebelled against the law of banishment. But when the Emperor Frederic had revived the legislation of his Christian predecessors of the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries,[1] and had made the popular custom of burning heretics a law of the empire, the Papacy could not resist the current of his example. The Popes at once ordered the new legislation vigorously enforced everywhere, especially in Lombardy. This was simply the logical carrying out of the comparison made by Innocent III between heresy and treason, and was due chiefly to two Popes: Gregory IX who established the Inquisition under the Dominicans and the Franciscans, and Innocent IV who authorized the Inquisitors to use torture.

[1] Cf. the law of Arcadius of 395 (Cod. Theodos., xvi, v. 28).

The theologians and casuists soon began to defend the procedure of the Inquisition. They seemed absolutely unaffected, in theory at least, by the most cruel torments. With them the preservation of the orthodox faith was paramount, and superior to all sentiment. In the name of Christian charity, St. Thomas, the great light of the thirteenth century, taught that relapsed heretics, even when repentant, ought to be put to death without mercy.

How are we to explain this development of the doctrine of the Church on the suppression of heresy, and granting that a plausible explanation may be given, how are we to justify it?

. . . . . . . .

Intolerance is natural to man. If, as a matter of fact, men are not always intolerant in practice, it is only because they are prevented by conditions born of reason and wisdom. Respect for the opinion of others supposes a temper of mind which takes years to acquire. It is a questions whether the average man is capable of it. Intolerance regarding religious doctrines especially, with the cruelty that usually accompanies it, has practically been the law of history. From this viewpoint, the temper of mind of the mediaeval Christians differed little from that of the pagans of the empire. A Roman of the second or third century considered blasphemy against the gods a crime that deserved the greatest torments; a Christian of the eleventh century felt the same toward the apostates and enemies of the Catholic faith. This is clearly seen from the treatment accorded the first Manicheans who came from Bulgaria, and gained some adherents at Orleans, Montwimer, Soissons, Liege, and Goslar. At once there was a popular uprising against them, which evidenced what may be called the instinctive intolerance of the people. The civil authorities of the day shared this hatred, and proved it either by sending heretics to the stake themselves, or allowing the people to do so. As Lea has said "The practice of burning the heretic alive was thus not the creation of positive law, but arose generally and spontaneously, and its adoption by the legislator was only the recognition of a popular custom."[1] Besides, the sovereign could not brook riotous men who disturbed the established order of his dominions. He was well aware that public tranquillity depended chiefly upon religious principles, which ensured that moral unity desired by every ruler. Pagan antiquity had dreamed of this unity, and its philosophers, interpreting its mind, showed themselves just as intolerant as the theologians of the Middle Ages.

[1] Lea, op. cit., vol. i, p. 222.

"Plato," writes Gaston Boissier, "in his ideal Republic, denies toleration to the impious, i.e., to those who did not accept the State religion. Even if they remained quiet and peaceful, and carried on no propaganda, they seemed to him dangerous by the bad example they gave. He condemned them to be shut up in a house where they might learn wisdom (sophronisteria)—by this pleasant euphemism he meant a prison—and for five years they were to listen to a discourse every day. The impious who caused disturbance and tried to corrupt others were to be imprisoned for life in a terrible dungeon, and after death were to be denied burial."[1] Apart from the stake, was not this the Inquisition to the life? In countries where religion and patriotism went hand in hand, we can readily conceive this intolerance. Sovereigns were naturally inclined to believe that those who interfered with the public worship unsettled the State, and their conviction became all the stronger when the State received from heaven a sort of special investiture. This was the case with the Christian empire. Constantine, towards the end of his career, thought himself ordained by God, "a bishop in externals,"[1] and his successors strove to keep intact the deposit of faith. "The first care of the imperial majesty," said one of them, "is to protect the true religion, for with its worship is connected the prosperity of human undertakings."[2] Thus some of their laws were passed in view of strengthening the canon law. They mounted guard about the Church, with sword in hand, ready to use it in her defence.

[1] Eusebius, Vita Constantini, lib. iv, cap. xxiv.

[2] Theodosius II, Novellae, tit. iii (438).

The Middle Ages inherited these views. Religious unity was then attained throughout Europe. Any attempt to break it was an attack at once upon the Church and the Empire. "The enemies of the Cross of Christ and those who deny the Christian faith," says Pedro II, of Aragon, "are also our enemies, and the public enemies of our kingdom; they must be treated as such."[1] It was in virtue of the same principle that Frederic II punished heretics as criminals according to the common law; ut crimina publica. He speaks of the "Ecclesiastical peace" as of old the emperors spoke of the "Roman peace." As Emperor, he considered it his duty "to preserve and to maintain it," and woe betide the one who dared disturb it. Feeling himself invested with both human and divine authority, he enacted the severest laws possible against heresy. What therefore might have remained merely a threatening theory became a terrible reality. The laws of 1224, 1231, 1238, and 1239 prove that both princes and people considered the stake a fitting penalty for heresy.

[3] Law of 1197, in De Marca, Marca Hispanica, col. 1384.

It would leave been very surprising if the Church, menaced as she was by an ever-increasing flood of heresy, had not accepted the State's eager offer of protection. She had always professed a horror for bloodshed. But as long as she was not acting directly, and the State undertook to shed in its own name the blood of wicked men, she began to consider solely the benefits that would accrue to her from the enforcement of the civil laws. Besides, by classing heresy with treason, she herself had laid down the premises of the State's logical conclusion, the death penalty. The Church, therefore, could hardly call in question the justice of the imperial laws, without in a measure going against the principles she herself had advocated.

Church and State, therefore, continually influenced one the other. The theology upheld by the Church reacted on the State and caused it to adopt violent measures, while the State in turn compelled the Church to approve its use of force, although such an attitude was opposed to the spirit of early Christianity.

The theologians and the canonists put the finishing touches to the situation. Influenced by what was happening around them, their one aim was to defend the laws of their day. This is clearly seen, if we compare the Summa of St. Raymond of Pennafort with the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas. When St. Raymond wrote his work, the Church still followed the criminal code of Popes Lucius III and Innocent III; she had as yet no notion of inflicting the death penalty for heresy. But in St. Thomas's time, the Inquisition had been enforcing for some years the draconian laws of Frederic II. The Angelic Doctor, therefore, made no attempt to defend the obsolete code of Innocent III, but endeavored to show that the imperial laws, then authorized by the Church, were conformable to the strictest justice. His one argument was to make comparisons, more or less happy, between heresy and crimes against the common law.

At a period when no one considered a doctrine solidly proved unless authorities could be quoted in its support, these comparisons were not enough. So the theologians taxed their ingenuity to find quotations, not from the Fathers, which would have been difficult, but from the Scriptures, which seemed favorable to the ideas then in vogue. St. Optatus had tried to do this as early as the fifth century,[1] despite the antecedent protests of Origen, Cyprian, Lactantius and Hilary. Following his example, the churchmen of the Middle Ages reminded their hearers that according to the Sacred Scriptures, "Jehovah was a God delighting in the extermination of his enemies." They read how Saul, the chosen king of Israel, had been divinely punished for sparing Agag of Amalek; how the prophet Samuel had hewn him to pieces; how the wholesale slaughter of the unbelieving Canaanites had been ruthlessly commanded and enforced; how Elijah had been commended for slaying four hundred and fifty priests of Baal; and they could not conceive how mercy to those who rejected the true faith could be aught but disobedience to God. Had not Almighty God said, "If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy daughter or thy wife, that is in thy bosom, or thy friend, whom thou lovest as thy own soul, would persuade thee secretly, saying: 'Let us go and serve strange gods, which thou knowest not, nor thy fathers' ... consent not to him, hear him not, neither let thy eye spare him to pity or conceal him, but thou shalt presently put him to death. Let thy hand be first upon him, and afterwards the hands of all the people."[2]

[1] De Schismate Donatistarum, p. iii, cap. vii.

[2] Deut. xiii. 6-9; cf. xvii. 1-6.

Such a teaching might appear, at first sight; hard to reconcile with the law of gentleness which Jesus preached to the world. But the theologians quoted Christ's words: "Do not think that I am come to destroy the law; I am not come to destroy but to fulfill,"[1] and other texts of the Gospels to prove the perfect agreement between the Old and the New Law in the matter of penalties. They even went so far as to assert that St. John[2] spoke of the penalty of fire to be inflicted upon heretics.

[1] Matt. v. 17.

[2] John xv. 6.

This strange method of exegesis was not peculiar to the founders and the defenders of the tribunals of the Inquisition. England, which knew nothing of the Inquisition, save for the trial of the Templars, was just as cruel to heretics as Gregory IX or Frederic II.

"The statute of May 25, 1382, directs the king to issue to his sheriffs commissions to arrest Wyclif's traveling preachers, and aiders and abettors of heresy, and hold them till they justify themselves selon reson et la ley de seinte esglise. After the burning of Sawtre by a royal warrant confirmed by Parliament in 1400, the statute 'de haereticis comburendis' for the first time inflicted in England the death penalty as a settled punishment for heresy.... It forbade the dissemination of heretical opinions and books, empowered the bishops to seize all offenders and hold them in prison until they should purge themselves or abjure, and ordered the bishops to proceed against them within three months after arrest. For minor offences, the bishops were empowered to imprison during pleasure and fine at discretion, the fine inuring to the royal exchequer. For obstinate heresy or relapse, involving under the canon law abandonment to the secular arm, the bishops and their commissioners were the sole judges, and on their delivery of such convicts, the sheriff of the county, or the mayor and bailiffs of the nearest town, were obliged to burn them before the people on an eminence. Henry V followed this up, and the statute of 1414 established throughout the kingdom a sort of mixed secular and ecclesiastical Inquisition for which the English system of grand inquests gave special facilities. Under this legislation, burning for heresy became a not unfamiliar sight for English eyes, and Lollardy was readily suppressed. In 1533, Henry VIII repealed the statute of 1400, while retaining those of 1382 and 1414, and also the penalty of burning alive for contumacious heresy and relapse, and the dangerous admixture of politics and religion rendered the stake a favorite instrument of statecraft. One of the earliest measures of the reign of Edward VI was the repeal of this law, as well as those of 1382 and 1414, together with all the atrocious legislation of the Six Articles. With the reaction under Philip and Mary, came a revival of the sharp laws against heresy. Scarce had the Spanish marriage been concluded when an obedient Parliament re-enacted the legislation of 1382, 1400, and 1414, which afforded ample machinery for the numerous burnings which followed. The earliest act of the first Parliament of Elizabeth was the repeal of the legislation of Philip and Mary, and of the old statutes which it had revived; but the writ de haeretico comburendo had become an integral part of English law, and survived, until the desire of Charles II for Catholic toleration caused him, in 1676, to procure its abrogation, and the restraint of the ecclesiastical courts in cases of atheism, blasphemy, heresy, and schism, and other damnable doctrines and opinions 'to the ecclesiastical remedies of excommunication, deprivations, degradation, and other ecclesiastical censures, not extending to death."[1]

[1] Lea, op. cit., vol. i. pp. 352-354.

These ideas of intolerance were so fixed in the public mind at the close of the Middle Ages, that even those who protested against the procedure of the Inquisition thought that in principle it was just. Farel wrote to Calvin, September 8, 1533: "Some people do not wish us to prosecute heretics. But because the Pope condemns the faithful (i.e., the Huguenots) for the crime of heresy, and because unjust judges punish the innocent, it is absurd to conclude that we must not put heretics to death, in order to strengthen the faithful. I myself have often said that I was ready to suffer death, if I ever taught anything contrary to sound doctrine, and that I would deserve the most frightful torments, if I tried to rob any one of the true faith in Christ. I cannot, therefore, lay down a different law to others."[1]

[1] OEuvres completes de Calvin, Brunswick, 1863-1909, vol. xiv, p. 612.

Calvin held the same views. His inquisitorial spirit was manifest in his bitter prosecution and condemnation of the Spaniard Michael Servetus.[1] When any one found fault with him he answered: "The executioners of the Pope taught that their foolish inventions were doctrines of Christ, and were excessively cruel, while I have always judged heretics in all kindness and in the fear of God; I merely put to death a confessed heretic."[2] Michael Servetus assuredly did not gain much by the substitution of Calvin for the Inquisition.

[1] Servetus was condemned October 26, 1553, to be burned alive, and was executed the next day. As early as 1545, Calvin had written: "If he (Servetus) comes to Geneva, I will never allow him to depart alive, as long as I have authority in this city: Vivum exire numquam patiar. OEuvres completes, vol. xii, p. 283." Calvin, however, wished the death penalty of fire to be commuted into some other kind of death.

[2] To justify this execution, Calvin published his Defensio orthodoxae fidei de sacra Trinitate, contra prodigiosos errores Michaelis Serveti Hispani, ubi ostenditur haereticos jure gladii coercendos esse, Geneva, 1554.

Bullinger of Zurich, speaking of the death of Servetus, thus wrote Lelius Socinus: "If, Lelius, you cannot now admit the right of a magistrate to punish heretics, you will undoubtedly admit it some day. St. Augustine himself at first deemed it wicked to use violence towards heretics, and tried to win them back by the mere word of God. But finally, learning wisdom by experience, he began to use force with good effect. In the beginning the Lutherans did not believe that heretics ought to be punished; but after the excesses of the Anabaptists, they declared that the magistrate ought not merely to reprimand the unruly, but to punish them severely as an example to thousands."

Theodore of Beza, who had seen several of his co-religionists burned in France for their faith, likewise wrote in 1554, in Calvinistic Geneva: "What crime can be greater or more heinous than heresy, which sets at nought the word of God and all ecclesiastic discipline? Christian magistrates, do your duty to God, Who has put the sword into your hands for the honor of His majesty; strike valiantly these monsters in the guise of men." Theodore of Beza considered the error of those who demanded freedom of conscience "worse than the tyranny of the Pope. It is better to have a tyrant, no matter how cruel he may be, than to let everyone do as he pleases." He maintained that the sword of the civil authority should punish not only heretics, but also those who wished heresy to go unpunished.[1] In brief, before the Renaissance there were very few who taught with Huss[2] that a heretics ought not to be abandoned to the secular arm to be put to death.[3]

[1] De haereticis a civili magistratu puniendis, Geneva, 1554; translated into French by Colladon in 1559.

[2] In his treatise De Ecclesia. This was the eighteenth article of the heresies attributed to him.

[3] In general, the Protestant leaders of the day were glad of the execution of Servetus. Melancthon wrote to Bullinger: "I am astonished that some persons denounce the severity that was so justly used in that case." Among those who did denounce it was Nicolas Zurkinden of Berne. Cf. his letter in the OEuvres completes de Calvin, vol. xv, p. 19. Sebastien Castellio published in March, 1554, his Traite des heretiques, a savoir s'il faut les persecuter, the oldest and one of the most eloquent pamphlets against intolerance. Cf. F. Buisson, op. cit., ch. xi. This is the pamphlet that Theodore of Beza tried to refute. Castellio then attacked Calvin directly in a new work, Contra libellum Calvini in quo ostendere conatur haereticos jure gladii coercendos esse, which was not published until 1612, in Holland.

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