The word inquisition is bandied about as people use it to discuss persecution of one sort or another. However, the Inquisition as a historical event still has ramifications today.
God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World by Cullen Murphy traces the history of the Inquisition. The Roman Catholic Church started the process because they did not want the spread of heresy, a belief that differed from established church teaching. It lasted for 700 years with church archives only now available for scholars to sift through miles of documents.
The Church began its crackdown on heretics in 13th century France against a group known as the Cathars. This group held a dualist view of God and rose up primarily in southern France. The orders of Dominicans were sent by the Pope to wipe out the Cathars in what is known as the Albigensian Crusade. The brute force and punishment became known as the Inquisition, the first of many through the years. This method of terror and punishment left no remnant of Catharism.
The next phase of the Inquisition moved to Spain in the 15th century as Ferdinand and Isabella, the monarchs, worked to either convert or expel Jews and Muslims. Many sought refuge in Catholicism but practiced their “real” faith in secret. Many left Spain rather than convert. Countless others lost their lives. From Spain the process repeated itself in Portugal which at first had accepted Jews and Muslims from Spain.
With the exploration and settlement of the New World, and to a lesser extent of Africa and Asia, the Inquisition went worldwide. Santa Fe, New Mexico, even saw executions as the Church sought supremacy over any territory with European settlement. Brazil, Goa, India, Angola, Congo, and Mozambique also had experiences with the Inquisition.
In the late 15th-early-16th centuries the printing press unsettled Rome. Ideas coming from Martin Luther that ignited the Protestant Reformation were a threat to the Church. The Index of Forbidden Books arose in an attempt to keep them from being read. This kept material from being published or books hidden from view for years. With the vast amount of books published the task became untenable. Galileo and Giordano Bruno were two notables who ran up against the Roman Inquisition. As recently as the 20th century Graham Greene and Pierre Teihard de Chardin also faced censorship by the Church for their writings. The Index of Forbidden Books continued as part of Church tradition until the 1960s.
In his gripping history, Murphy looks at the long-term consequences of the Inquisition for which the Church has never apologized. Governments such as the United States and the Soviet Union have used similar tactics of the Inquisition. The attempt to stamp out heresy leading to 700 years of misunderstanding, terror, and death has left an impact that is still present in the 21st century.
About the Author
Judy Klammis a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.