Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition - Rafael Sabatini - ebook

In an endeavour to trace the Inquisition to its source it is not necessary to go as far back into antiquity as went Paramo; nor yet is it possible to agree with him that God Himself was the first inquisitor, that the first "Act of Faith" was executed upon Adam and Eve, and that their expulsion from Eden is a proper precedent for the confiscation of the property of heretics.

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Rafael Sabatini


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IN AN ENDEAVOUR TO TRACE the Inquisition to its source it is not necessary to go as far back into antiquity as went Paramo; nor yet is it possible to agree with him that God Himself was the first inquisitor, that the first “Act of Faith” was executed upon Adam and Eve, and that their expulsion from Eden is a proper precedent for the confiscation of the property of heretics.*

[* Paramo, “De Origine et Progressu Sanctae Inquisitionis,” p. 588.]

Nevertheless, it is necessary to go very far back indeed; for it is in the very dawn of Christianity that the beginnings of this organization are to be discovered.

There is no more lamentable lesson to be culled from history than that contained in her inability to furnish a single instance of a religion accepted with unquestioning sincerity and fervour which did not, out of those very qualities, beget intolerance. It would seem that only when a faith has been diluted by certain general elements of doubt, that only when a certain degree of indifference has crept into the observance of a prevailing cult, does it become possible for the members of that cult to bear themselves complacently towards the members of another. Until this comes to pass, intolerance is the very breath of religion, and—when the power is present—this intolerance never fails to express itself in persecution.

Deplorable as this is in all religions, in none is it so utterly anomalous as in Christianity, which is established upon tenets of charity, patience, and forbearance, and which has for cardinal guidance its Founder’s sublime admonition—"Love one another!”

From the earliest days of its history, persecution has unfailingly signalized the spread of Christianity, until to the thoughtful observer Christianity must afford the grimmest, the saddest—indeed, the most tragic—of all the paradoxes that go to make up the history of civilized man.

Its benign gospel of love has been thundered forth in malign hatred; its divine lesson of patience and forbearance has been taught in murderous impatience and bloodthirsty intolerance; its mild tenets of mercy and compassion have been ferociously expounded with fire and sword and rack; its precepts of humility have been inculcated with a pride and arrogance as harsh as any that the world has known.

It is impossible to deny that at almost any time in the history of Christianity the enlightened pagan of the second century would have been justified of his stinging gibe—"Behold how these Christians love one another!”

It may even be said of the earliest Christians that it was largely through their own intolerance of the opinions and beliefs of others that they brought upon themselves the persecutions to which through three centuries they were intermittently subjected. Certain it is that they were the first to disturb the toleration which in polytheistic Rome was accorded to all religions. They might have pursued their cult unmolested so long as they accorded the same liberty to others. But by the vehemence with which they denounced false all creeds but their own, they offended the zealous worshippers of other gods, and so disturbed the peace of the community; by denying obedience to the state in which they dwelt, by refusing to bear arms for the Empire on the plea of “Nolo militare; militia mea est ad Dominum!” they provoked the resentment of the law. When driven, by the beginnings of persecution, to assemble and celebrate their rites in secret, this very secrecy became the cause of further and sharper proceedings against them. Their mysteriousness evoked suspicion, and surmise sprang up to explain it. Very soon there was levelled against them the charge from which hardly any cult that celebrates in secret has been exempt. It was put abroad that they practised abominations, and that they engaged in the ritual murder of infants. Public opinion, ever credulous where evil is the subject, was still further inflamed against them, and fresh and greater disorders were the result. Thus they came to be denounced for atheism, insubordination, and subversion of public order.

The severity dealt out to them by a state hitherto indifferent—through the agnosticism prevalent in the ruling classes—to the religious opinions of its citizens, was dictated by the desire to suppress an element that had become socially perturbative, rather than by any vindictiveness or intolerance towards this new cult out of Syria.

Under Claudius we see the Nazarenes expelled from Rome as disturbers of the public peace; under Nero and Domitian we see them, denounced as hostes publici, suffering their first great persecution. But that persecution on purely religious grounds was repugnant to the Roman is shown by the conduct of Nerva, who forbade delations and oppressions on the score of belief, and recalled the Christians who had been banished. His successor, the just and wise Trajan, provoked perhaps by the fierce insurrection of the Jews which occurred in his reign, moved against the Nazarenes at first, but later on afforded them complete toleration. Similarly were they unmolested by the accomplished Adrian, who, indeed, so far approved of their creed as to have notions of including Christ in the Roman Pantheon; and they were left in peace by his successor Antoninus, notwithstanding that the last was so attached to the faith of his country and to the service of the gods as to have earned for himself the surname of Pius.

With the accession of the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius, who was rendered hostile to the new doctrine not only by his own stoical convictions, but also because politically he viewed the Christians with disfavour, came the next great persecution; and persecution was their portion thereafter for some sixty years, under four reigns, until the accession of Alexander Severus in the third decade of the third century of the Christian era.

Alexander’s mother, Julia Mannea, is believed to have been instructed in the new doctrine by Origen, the Alexandrian, although her conversion to Christianity and her ideas upon it do not appear to be greatly in advance of those of Adrian, for she is said to have included an image of Christ in the group of beneficent deities set up in her lararium.*

[* Possibly the images of the Saviour prevalent in the third century may have contributed to the apparent fitness of this. For at this epoch—and for some three hundred years after—these images embodied the Greek ideas of divinity; they represented Christ as a youth of superb grace and beauty, and they appear largely to have been founded upon the conceptions of Orpheus. Indeed, in one representation which has survived, we see Him as a beardless adolescent, seated upon a mountain, grasping an instrument with whose music he has charmed the wild beasts assembled below. Another picture in the catacombs (included in the illustrations of Didron’s “Iconographie Chrétienne"), representing Him as the Good Shepherd, depicts a vigorous youth, beardless and with short hair, in a tunic descending to the knees; His left hand supporting a lamb which is placed across His shoulders, His right holding a shepherd’s pipe.

That such pictures were not accepted as portraits by the fathers, but merely as idealistic representations, is clear from the disputes which arose in the second century (and were still alive in the eighteenth) on the subject of Christ’s personal appearance. St. Justin argued that to render His sacrifice more touching He must have put on the most abject of human shapes; and St. Cyril, also holding this view, uncompromisingly pronounced Him “the ugliest of the sons of men.” But others, imbued with the old Greek notions that beauty was in itself a mark of divinity, protested: “If He is not beautiful, then He is not God.”

St. Augustine formally states that no knowledge existed in his day (the fourth century) of the features of either the Saviour or His Mother: “Nam et ipsius Dominicse facies carnis, innumerabilium cogitationum diversitate vatiatur et fingitur, quae tamen una erat, quaecumque erat...Neque enim novimus faciem Virginis Mariae. Nee novimus omnino, nee credimus” ("De Trinitate,” lib. viii. cap. 4).

It is clear, therefore, that the two miraculous portraits were not known in St. Augustine’s time—i.e. the Veronica, or the Holy Face (which is preserved at St. Peter’s, Rome), and another portrait of similar origin, which it was alleged Christ had, Himself, impressed upon a cloth and sent to Abgarus, Prince of Edessa (as related by St. John of Damascus, in the eighth century). To preserve it, Abgarus glued the cloth upon wood, and thus it came later to Constantinople and thence to Rome, where it is still believed to be treasured in the Church of St. Sylvester in Capite.

These portraits, and still more a letter purporting to have been written to the Roman Senate by Lentulus (who was pro-consul in Judea before Herod) and believed to have been forged to combat the generally repugnant theory that Christ was ugly and deformed ("sine decore et specie “), supply the materials for the representations with which we are to-day familiar. That letter contained the following description:

“At this time there appeared a man who is still living and who is gifted with great power. His name is Jesus Christ. His disciples call him the Son of God; others consider him a mighty prophet...He is tall of stature and his countenance is severe and full of power, so that to look upon him is to love and to fear him. The hair of his head is of the colour of wine; as far as the roots of the ears it is dull and straight, but from the ears to the shoulders it is curled and glossy; from the shoulders it falls over the back, divided into two parts, after the manner of the Nazarenes. His brow is pure and level; his countenance is without blemish and delicately tinted; his expression is gentle and gracious; his nose and mouth are of perfect beauty; his beard is copious, of the colour of his hair, and forked. His eyes are blue and extremely bright. His face is of marvellous grace and majesty. None has ever seen him laugh, but rather weeping. Erect of body, he has long, straight hands and beautiful arms. In speech he is grave and weighty, and sparing of words. He is the most beautiful of the sons of men (Pulcherrimus vultu inter homines satos).”

It is clear, however, that there was no knowledge either of this description or of the miraculous portraits mentioned as late as the fourth and fifth centuries, during which Christ continued to be represented as the lithe, beardless adolescent. And it is no doubt by these representations that Michelangelo was inspired to present Christ in “The Last Judgment” in a manner so unusual and startling to modern eyes.

Similarly there were no portraits of the Virgin Mary, and it is fairly established that none came into existence until after the Council of Ephesus, and that some seven pictures attributed to St. Luke—four of which are in Rome—are the work of an eleventh-century Florentine painter named Luca.

Whilst on the subject it may be added that the crucifix, as the emblem of Christianity, was not introduced until the seventh century, when it was established by the Quinisexte Council at Constantinople. Its nature rendered its earlier adoption dangerous, if not impossible; since—as the familiar Roman gallows—it was liable to provoke the scorn and derision of the people.

For further information on this subject see Emeric-David, “Histoire de la Peinture,” A. N. Didron, “Iconographie Chrétienne,” and Marangoni, “Istoria della Capella di Sancta Sanctorum."]

For twenty years the Christians now knew peace and enjoyed the fullest liberty. Upon that followed a period of severe oppression, initiated by Decius, continued by Valerian and Aurelian, and reaching something of a climax under Diocletian, in the dawn of the fourth century, when the Christians endured the cruellest and most ferocious of all these persecutions. But the end of their sufferings was at hand, and with the accession of Constantine in 312 a new era began for Christianity. Constantine, upheld by the Christians as their saviour, in admitting the inevitable predominance which the new religion had obtained in rather less than three hundred years, was compelled to recognize the rights of its votaries not only to existence but to authority.

Legends surround the history of this emperor. The most popular relates how, when he was marching against Maxentius, his rival for the throne, desponding in the consciousness of his own inferior force, there appeared at sunset a fiery cross in the heavens with the inscriptionEN TOTTO NIKA—IN THIS SIGN YOU CONQUER. And it is claimed that as a consequence of this portent, whose injunction he obeyed, he sought instruction in Christianity, was baptized and made public avowal of that faith. Others maintain that he was reared in Christianity by his mother, St. Helena—she who made an expedition to the Holy Land to recover the true cross, and who is said to have built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem; whilst others still assert that Constantine did not receive baptism until at the point of death, and that throughout his life, whilst undoubtedly favouring Christians, he continued in the pagan religion in which he had been educated by his father.

The truth probably lies midway. During the early years of his reign Constantine not only pursued a middle course, according religious liberty to all sects, but, himself, whilst leaning strongly towards Christianity, retained his imperial dignity of High-priest of the polytheistic Roman cult, and the title “Pontifex Maximus,” which later—together with so much else of pagan origin—was appropriated by the Christians and bestowed upon their chief bishop. But in 313-14 he refused to celebrate the ludi seculares, and in 330 he issued an edict forbidding temple-worship, whilst the Christian Council of Nicaea, in 325, was held undoubtedly under his auspices.

From the very moment that the new religion found itself recognized and invested not only with civil rights but actually with power, from the very moment that the Christian could rear his head and go openly and unafraid abroad, from that very moment do we find him engaging in persecutions against the votaries of other cults—against pagan, Jew, and heretic. For although Christianity was but in the beginning of the fourth century of its existence, not only had it spread irresistibly and mightily in spite of the repressive measures against it, but it was already beginning to know dismemberment and divisions in its own body. Indeed, it has been computed that the number of schisms in the fourth century amounted to no less than ninety.

Of these the most famous is that of Arius, a priest of Alexandria, who denied that Christ was God Incarnate, accounting Him no more than divinely inspired, the first and the highest of the sons of men. Although already denounced by the Synod that met at Alexandria in 321, so great had been the spread of this doctrine that the Oecumenical Council of Niceea was convoked especially to deal with it. It was then condemned as heretical, and the Articles of Faith were defined and set down in the Nicene Creed, which is recited to this day.

Other famous heresies were the Manichsean, the Gnostic, the Adamite, the Severist, and the Donatist; and to these were soon to be added, amongst others, the Pelagian and the Priscilliantist.

Perhaps the Manichaeans’ chief claim to celebrity lies in the fact that the great St. Augustine of Tagaste, when he abandoned the disorders of his youth, entered Christianity through this sect, which professed a form of it vitiated by Sun-worship and Buddhism.

The other heresies—with the exception of the Pelagian—were, in the main, equally fantastic. The Gnostic heresy, with its many subdivisions, was made up of mysticism and magic, and founded upon Zoroastrian notions of dualism, of the two powers of good and evil, light and darkness. To the power of evil it attributed all creation save man, whose soul was accounted of divine substance. The Adamites claimed to be in the state of original innocency of Adam before the fall; they demanded purity in their followers, rejected marriage, which they urged could never have come into existence but for sin, and they expelled from their Church all sinners against their tenets, even as Adam and Eve had been expelled from Eden. The Severists denied the resurrection of the flesh, would not accept the acts of the apostles, and carried purity to fantastic lengths. The Soldiers of Florinus denied the Last Judgment, and held it as an undeniable truth that the resurrection of the flesh lay entirely in reproduction.

The Pelagians were the followers of Pelagius, a British monk who settled in Rome towards the year 400, and his heresy at least was founded upon rational grounds. He denied the doctrine of original sin, maintained that every human being was born in a state of innocency, and that his perseverance in virtue depended upon himself. He found numerous followers, and for twenty years the conflict raged between Pelagians and the Church, until Pope Zosimus declared against them and banished Pelagius from Rome.

From Constantine onwards Christianity steadily maintains her ascendancy, and her earliest assertion of her power is to bare the sword of persecution, oblivious of the lofty protests against it which she, herself, had uttered, the broad and noble advocacy of tolerance which she had urged in the days of her own affliction. We find Optatus urging the massacre of the Donatists—who claimed that theirs was the true Church—and Constantine threatening with the stake any Jew who should affront a Christian and any Christian who should become a Jew. We find him demolishing the churches of the Arians and Donatists, banishing their priests and forbidding under pain of death the propagation of their doctrines.

The power of Christianity suffered one slight check thereafter, under the tolerant rule of Julian the Apostate, who reopened the pagan temples and restored the cult of the old gods; but it rose again to be finally and firmly established under Theodosius in 380.

Now we see the pagan temples not only closed, but razed to the ground, the images broken and swept away, their worship, and even private sacrifice, forbidden under pain of death. From Libanius we may gather something of the desolation which this spread among the pagan peasant-folk. Residing at a distance from the great centres where doctrines were being expounded, they found themselves bereft of the old gods and without knowledge of the new. Their plight is a far more pathetic one than that of the Arians, Manichseans, Donatists, and all other heretics against whom there was a similar enactment.

It is now, at this early date, that for the first time we come across the title “Inquisitor of the Faith,” in the first law* promulgated to render death the penalty of heresy. It is now that we find the great Augustine of Tagaste—the mightiest genius that the Church has brought forth—denouncing religious liberty with the question, “Quid est enim pejor, mors animae quam libertas erroris?"** and strenuously urging the death of heretics on the ground that it is a merciful measure, since it must result in the saving of others from the damnation consequent upon their being led into error. Similarly he applauded those decrees of death against any one pursuing the polytheism that but a few generations earlier had been the official religion of the Roman Empire.

[* IX. of the Theodosian Code.]

[** Epist. clxvi.]

It was Augustine—of whom it has been truly said that “no man since the days of the Apostles has infused into the Church a larger measure of his spirit"—in his enormous fervour, and with the overwhelming arguments inspired by his stupendous intellect, who laid down the principles that governed persecution, and were cited in justification of it for nearly 1,500 years after his day. “He was,” says Lecky, “the most staunch and enthusiastic defender of all those doctrines that grow out of the habits of mind that lead to persecution."*

[* “History of Rationalism in Europe,” vol. ii. p. 8.]

So far, however much persecution may have been inspired by the Church, its actual execution had rested entirely and solely with the civil authorities; and this aloofness, indeed, is urged upon the clergy by St. Augustine. But already before the close of the fourth century we find ecclesiastics themselves directly engaged in causing the death of heretics.

Priscillian, a Spanish theologian, was led by St. Paul’s “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?” to seek to render himself by purity a worthy dwelling. He preached from that text a doctrine of stern asceticism, and forbade the marriage of the clergy. This at the time was optional,* and by proclaiming it to be Christ’s law he laid himself open to a charge of heresy. He was accused of magic and licentiousness, excommunicated in 380 and burnt alive, together with several of his companions, by order of two Christian bishops. He has been described as the first martyr burnt by a Spanish Inquisition.**

[* The decretal of Siricius, five years after the execution of Priscillian, strictly enjoined celibacy on all in holy orders above the rank of a subdeacon, and dissolved all marriages of the clergy existing at the time. Leo the Great, in the middle of the fifth century, further extended the rule so as to include the sub-deacons hitherto excepted. This was largely the cause of the split that occurred between the Greek and Latin Churches.]

[** See E. C. H. Bahut, “Priscillian et le Priscilliantisme."]

It must be added that the deed excited the profoundest indignation on the part of the clergy against those bishops who had been responsible for it, and St. Martin of Tours hotly denounced the act. But this indignation was not provoked by the fact that men had suffered death for heresy, but by the circumstance that ecclesiastics had procured the execution. For it was part of the pure teaching of the early Church that under no circumstances—not as judge, soldier, or executioner—should a Christian render himself the instrument of the death of a fellow-creature; and it was partly through their rigid obedience to this precept that the Christians had first drawn attention to themselves and aroused the resentment of the Roman government, as we have seen. Now, whilst at no time after the Church’s accession to power was this teaching observed with any degree of strictness, yet there were limits to the extent to which it might be neglected, and that limit, it was considered, had been exceeded by those prelates responsible for the death of the Priscilliantists.

The point, apparently trivial at present, has been insisted upon here, in view of the important and curious part which it was destined to play in the procedure of the Inquisition.

The Church had now come to identify herself with the State. She had strengthened her organizations; she had permeated the State with her influences, until it may almost be said that the State had lost its capacity for independent existence, and had become her instrument. The civil laws were based upon her spiritual laws; the standard of morality was founded upon her doctrines; the development of the arts—of painting, sculpture, literature, and music—became such as was best adapted for her service, and, cramped thereby into confines far too narrow, was partly arrested for a time; sciences and crafts were stimulated only by her needs and curbed by her principles; the very recreation of the people was governed by her spirit.

And yet, whilst influencing the State in its every ramification so profoundly that State and Church appeared welded into one disintegrable whole, she kept herself independent, unfettered, and autonomous. So that when that great Empire of the West upon which she had seemed to lean was laid in ruins by the invading barbarians, she continued upright, unshaken by that tremendous cataclysm. She remained to conquer the barbarian far more subtly and completely than he had conquered. Her conquest lay in bringing him to look upon her as the natural inheritor of fallen Rome. Soon she entered upon that splendid heritage, claiming for her own the world-supremacy that Rome had boasted, and assuming dominion over the new nations that were building upon the ruins of the shattered empire.



FOR SOME SEVEN CENTURIES AFTER the fall of the Roman Empire persecutions for heresy were very rare and very slight. This, however, cannot be attributed to mercy. Although some of the old heresies survived, yet they were so sapped of their vitality that they were no longer openly flaunted in defiance of the mother-Church, but were practised in such obscurity as, in the main, to escape observation.

Fresh schisms, on the other hand, do not appear to have sprung up during that spell. Largely this would be due to the clear formulation of the Catholic theology by the various oecumenical councils held in the years that followed upon the Christian emancipation, and by the intellectual breadth of these doctrines, which were entirely adequate and all-sufficient to the intellectual capacity of the time. But this state of things could only have endured at the cost of arresting man’s intellectual progress. A certain restraint and curb undoubtedly was exerted, but definitely to check the imaginative and reasoning faculties of man has never been within the power of any creed, and never can be. It was in vain that the Church sought to coerce thought and to stifle the learning that struck at her very foundations and discovered the error of the cosmic and historical conceptions upon which her theology was based; in vain that she entrenched herself within her doctrines, and adhered rigidly to the form she had adopted.

Upon this uncompromising rigidity of the Catholic Church much censure has been poured. The present aim is a cold survey of certain features of history, and in such a task all polemical matters should be avoided. Yet it may be permissible to say a word here to elucidate rather than to defend an attitude that has been unduly abused.

It is admitted that the unyielding policy of the Church was one that militated seriously against intellectual evolution, and on that account it is to be deplored. But let the unbiased mind consider for a moment the alternative. The admission of error is the commencement of disruption. Where one error is admitted, a thread is drawn from a weft whose threads are interdependent for the stability of the whole. Who has yielded once has set up a precedent that will be urged against him to make him yield again, and yet again, until he shall have yielded all, and, having nothing left, must suffer an imperceptible effacement.

When all is considered, there is an indisputable dignity in the attitude of a Church which, claiming that what she teaches rests not upon human knowledge but upon divine inspiration, refuses to cede one jot of her doctrines to man’s discoveries; holding—and incontestably, so long as the premise is admitted—that however certain may appear the truths which human subtlety has disclosed, however false may appear the doctrines to which she owes her being, it still remains that the former are human and the latter divine of origin. Between the two she proudly holds that there is no disputing; that error possible to man is impossible to divinity; that man’s perception of error in the divine tenets of the Church is no more than the manifestation of his own liability to err.

The Church of Rome realized that either she must be entirely, or entirely cease to be. And it is matter for unprejudiced consideration whether the spectacle of her immobility is not more dignified than would have been that of her yielding up her divinities one by one to the expanding humanities, and thus gradually undergoing a course of dismemberment which must in the end remove her last claim to existence. In the attitude she assumed she remained the absolute mistress of her votaries; had she departed from it she must have become their abject servant.

Dr. Rule invites his readers to notice attentively that “no Church but that of Rome ever had an Inquisition."* But he neglects to carry the consideration to its logical conclusion, and to add that in no Christian Church but that of Rome could an Inquisition be possible. For it would be impossible to offend heretically against any Church that accommodates itself to new habits of thought in a measure as these occur, and gives way step by step before the onslaught of learning.**

[* “History of the Inquisition,” vol. i. p. 14.]

[** And yet Dr. Rule’s statement is perilously akin to a truth untruly told, for the persecuting spirit, which is the impugnable quality of the Holy Office, has been present in other churches than that of Rome—vide the Elizabethan persecution of all who were not members of the Anglican Church.]

The Church of Rome presented her immutable formularies, her unchangeable doctrines to the world. “This,” she announced, “is my teaching. By this I hold. This you must accept without reservations, in its entirety, or you are no child of mine.”

With that there could be no cavil. Had she but added the admission of man’s liberty to accept or reject her teaching, had she but left man free to confess or not her doctrines as his conscience and intelligence directed, all would have been well. Unfortunately she accounted it her duty to go further; she used coercion and compulsion to such an extent that she imbued her children with the spirit of the eighteenth century Jacobin, exclaiming, “Be my brother, or I kill you!”

Unable by intellectual means to stem the intellectual secession from her ranks, she had recourse to physical measures, and revived the fiercely coercive methods of the first centuries.

A serious heretical outbreak had been occurring in Southern France. There, it would seem, all the schisms that had disturbed the Church since her foundation were gathered together—Arians, Manichaeans, and Gnostics—to which were added certain more recent sects, such as the Cathars, the Waldenses, and the Boni Homines, or Good People.

These new-comers deserve a word of explanation.

The Cathars, like the Gnostics, were dualists; indeed, their creed was little more than a development of Gnosticism. They believed that the earth was the only hell or purgatory, that it was given over to the power of the devil, and that human bodies were no more than the prisons of the angel spirits that fell with Lucifer. In heaven their celestial bodies still awaited them, but they could not resume these until they had worked out their expiation. To accomplish this a man must die reconciled with God; failing that, another earthly existence awaited him in the body of man or beast, according to his deserts. It will be seen that, saving for abundant Christian elements introduced into this faith, it was little more than a revival of metempsychosis, the oldest and most fascinating of intelligent beliefs.

The Waldenses, or Vaudois, with whom were allied the Good People, were the earliest Protestants, as we understand the term. They claimed for every man the right to interpret the Bible and to celebrate the sacraments of the Church without the need of being in holy orders. Further, they denied that the Roman Church was the Church of Christ.

These sects were known collectively as the Albigenses, so called because the Council of Lombers, convoked to pronounce their condemnation, had been held in the Diocese of Albi in 1165.

Pope Innocent III made an attempt to convert them; with this aim in view he sent two monks, Peter de Castelnau and one Rodolfe, to restore order amongst them and induce them to return to submission. But when they murdered one of his legates the Holy Father had recourse to those other less legitimate measures of combating liberty of conscience. He ordered the King of France, the nobles and clergy of the kingdom, to assume the crusader’s cross, and to proceed to the extirpation of the Albigensian heretics, whom he described as a worse danger to Christendom than the Saracens; and he armed them for the fray with the same spiritual weapons that John VIII had bestowed upon those who went to war in Palestine in the ninth century. Upon all who might die in the service of the Church he pronounced a plenary indulgence.

It is not the present aim to follow the history of the horrible strife that ensued—the massacres, pillages, burnings that took place in the course of the war between the Albigenses under Raymond of Toulouse and the Crusaders under Simon de Montfort. For over twenty years did that war drag on, and in the course of it the original grounds of the quarrel were forgotten; it passed into a struggle for supremacy between North and South, and thus, properly speaking, out of the history of the Inquisition.*

[* See C. Douais, “Les Hérétiques du Midi au XIII Siècle."]

Now, for all that the title “Inquisitor of the Faith” was first bestowed by the Theodosian Code, and for all that persecutions against heretics and others had been afoot since an even earlier date than that of Theodosius, Innocent III is to be considered the founder of the Holy Inquisition as an integral part of the Church. For it is under his jurisdiction that the faculty of persecuting heretics, which hitherto had belonged entirely to the secular arm, is now conferred upon the clergy. He dispatched two Cistercian monks as inquisitors into France and Spain, to engage in the work of extirpating heretics; and he strictly enjoined all princes, nobles and prelates to afford every assistance to these emissaries, and to further them in every way in the work they were sent to do.*

[* Eymericus, “Directorium Inquisitorum,” p. 58.]

Himself, personally, Pope Innocent directed his attention to the Paterini—a sect which rebelled against the celibacy imposed upon the clergy—who were gaining ground in Italy. He invoked the secular arm to assist him in their apprehension, imprisonment, and banishment, in seizing their possessions, which were confiscated, and in razing their houses to the ground.

In 1209 he assembled a council at Avignon, under the presidency of his legates, wherein by his directions it was ordained that every bishop should select such of his subjects, counts, castellans, and knights as might seem to him proper, and swear them to undertake the extermination of all excommunicated heretics.

“And to the end that the bishop may be the better enabled to purge his diocese of heretical pravity, let him swear one priest and two, three or more laymen of good repute in every parish to report to the bishop himself, and to the governors of cities or to the lords and bailiffs of places, the existence of any heretics or abettors of heresy wherever found, to the end that these may be’ punished according to the canonical and legal dispensations, in all cases suffering forfeiture of property. And should the said governors and others be negligent or reluctant in the execution of this divine service, let their persons be severally excommunicated, and their territories placed under the interdict of the Church."*

[* Concilium Avenionense, a.d. 1209.]

In the year 1215 Pope Innocent held a further council at the Lateran in which he extended the field of ecclesiastical activity in persecution. He issued an injunction to all rulers, “as they desired to be esteemed faithful, to swear a public oath that they would labour zealously to exterminate from their dominions all those who were denounced as heretics by the Church."*

[* Eymericus, “Directorium Inquisitorum,” p. 60.]

This injunction was backed by a bull which menaced with excommunication and forfeiture of jurisdiction any prince who should fail to extirpate heretics from his dominions—so that at one stroke the Pope asserted his power to an extent that denied liberty of conscience to people and independence to princes.

And meanwhile every heretic against the Holy Catholic and Orthodox Faith, as accepted by the fathers assembled in the Church of St. John, was excommunicate, and there followed these provisions:

“When condemned, the secular powers, or their representatives, being present, they shall be delivered to these for punishment, the clerics being previously degraded from their orders. The property of laymen shall be confiscated; that of clerics bestowed upon their churches. Persons marked with suspicion only shall, unless they can clear themselves, be smitten with the sword of anathema, and shunned by all. If they persist for a year in excommunication, they shall be condemned as heretics.

“Secular powers must be moved or led, or at need compelled by ecclesiastical censure, to make public oath for the defence of the faith, as they themselves desire to be esteemed faithful, undertaking to labour with all their power to extirpate from their dominions those whom the Church shall denounce as heretics."*

[* “Concilium Lateranense IV,” A.D. 1215.]

The excommunication that was to wait upon disobedience was no empty threat, nor yet was it concerned alone with the spiritual part of man. The Pope’s anathema imposed the same penalties upon those against whom it was launched as the Druid’s curse had imposed of old.*

[See Caesar, “De Bello Gallico,” p 13. libca vi.]

Persons under the ban of the Church might hold no office, nor claim any of the ordinary rights of citizenship, or, indeed, of existence. In sickness or distress none might show them charity under pain of incurring the same curse, nor after death should their bodies be given Christian burial.

By these provisions and injunctions the Inquisition may be said to have entered upon the second stage of its evolution, and to have assumed a strictly ecclesiastical character—in short, to be canonically established.

It was Pope Innocent III who placed in the hands of the Church this terrible weapon of persecution, and who, by the awful severity of his own attitude towards liberty of conscience, of thought, and of expression, afforded to fanaticism and religious intolerance an example that was to be their merciless guide through centuries to come.



“IF THOU WILT BE PERFECT, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow Me.”

The contrast between the condition thus enjoined by the Founder of Christianity and the worldly position occupied by His Vicar on earth was now fast approaching the climax which was to become absolute with the era of the Renaissance.

From the simple folk foregathering in Rome in the middle of the first century to discuss and to guide one another in the practice of the new doctrine of love and humility, conveyed by word of mouth from the East, in all its pristine simplicity, unburdened as yet by theological complexities, unfettered by formularies, it is a far cry indeed to the proud curial Christians of the Rome of Pope Innocent III.

The successor of Peter, the poor fisherman of Galilee, was enthroned with a splendour outrivalling that of any other earthly potentate. Temporally he was lord of considerable dominions; spiritually he claimed empire over the entire Christian world, and maintained his supremacy with the thunderbolts of anathema which he had forged himself. His glittering court was thronged with rustling, scarlet prelates, with patricians in cloth of gold and silver, captains in steel, mincing fops and stately senators. He was arrayed in garments woven of the very finest fleece, crowned with the triple diadem of white peacock feathers within three flaming circlets of precious stones. On his coronation kings served him upon the knee at table; throughout his reign princes and patricians were his lackeys.

From the steps of the Lateran on the day of his accession he would fling a handful of money to the Roman crowd, exclaiming: “Gold and silver are not for me. What I have I give to thee.”

Yet his riches were vast, their sources almost inexhaustible. The luxury in which he lived and moved was the most sumptuous that wealth could command and art and artifice produce.

Nor was this ecclesiastical magnificence confined to Rome and the Papal Court. Gradually it had come to permeate the entire body clerical until it had affected even the monastic orders. From the simplicity of their beginnings these orders had developed into baronial institutions. The fathers presided in noble abbeys over wide tracts of arable and vineyard which they owned and cultivated, and over rural districts and parishes, which they governed and taxed as feudal lords rather than served as priests.

So arrogant and aristocratic was become the spirit of a clergy whose mission was to preach the sublimest and most ideal of democratic doctrines, that the Church seemed no longer within the reach of plebeian and peasant-folk. It was fast becoming an institution of patricians for patricians.

How long this state of things might have endured, what results might have attended its endurance, it were perhaps idle to speculate. That a change was wrought, that provision was made for the lowly and the poor, is due to the advent of two men as similar in much as in much else they were dissimilar. They met in Rome at the foot of the pontifical throne.

Either might have been the founder of a religion had he not found already in the world an ideal religion which he could serve. Both were men born into easy circumstances of life; one, Francesco Bernardone, was the son of a wealthy merchant of Assisi; the other, Domingo de Guzman, of Calahorra, was a nobleman of Spain.

To-day the Church includes them in her Calendar as St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic. They are the resplendent twain whom Dante beheld together in his “Paradise”:

“L’ un fu tutto serafico in ardore,

L’ altro per sapienza in terra fue

Di cherubica luce un splendore."*

[* “Paradiso,” C. xi. v. 37-39.]

St. Francis—through the sweetness and tenderness that emanated from his poetic, mystic nature, the most lovable of all the saints—came from his native Assisi to implore the Father of Fathers to permit him to band together into an order the barefoot companions he had already gained, to the end that they should practise Christ’s injunction of poverty and self-abnegation, and minister to the afflicted.

St. Dominic—and our concern is more with him—had been chosen for his eloquence and learning to accompany the Bishop of Osma upon an inquisitorial journey into Southern France. There he had witnessed the fierce carnage that was toward. He had preached to the heretics at Toulouse, and the burning, passionate eloquence of his oratory had made converts of many of those who were prepared to resist the cruel arguments of fire and steel.

In the ardour of his zeal he had flung aside his rank and the ease and dignity it afforded him. Like St. Francis he went barefoot, embracing poverty and self-denial; yet, less mystical, less tender, entirely practical where the propagation of the Faith was concerned, he had exulted in the bloody victories that Simon de Montfort had won over the heretical Albigenses.

Yet, if he gloried in the end achieved—conceiving it the supremest of all human ends—he must have been touched with regret for the means employed.

He has been termed a fierce and cruel zealot. But ferocity and cruelty do not go hand in hand with such lowly humility as undoubtedly was his. And the very object of his mission to Rome permits, if it does not point to, a very different conclusion. He went deploring the bloodshed he had witnessed, however greatly he may have prized the fruits of it. Inspired by the success that had attended his oratory, he aimed at providing other and gentler means by which in the first instance to seek the attainment of the same ends. He went to implore Pope Innocent’s leave to found an order of preachers who in poverty and lowliness should go abroad to win back to the Roman fold the sheep that had strayed into heretical pastures.

Pope Innocent considered the simultaneous requests of both these men—requests which, springing from the same passionate fervour in both, yet came by different, if similar, channels to a sort of unity in the end.

He perceived the services which such men as these might render to the Church, endowed as they were with the magnetic power of creating followings, of inflaming hearts, and replenishing the flickering lamp of public zeal.

He detected no heresy, no irony, in the cult of pauperdom which they would go forth to preach under the sanction and charter of the luxurious, aristocratic, curial court.

But there existed another obstacle to his granting them their prayers. So numerous already were the monastic orders that a Council of the Lateran had decreed that no more should be created. Favouring these petitioners, however, he was applying himself to the surmounting of the difficulty when death took him.

Thus the burden of solving this problem was thrust upon his successor, Honorius III. And it is said that the new pope was spurred to discover a solution by a dream—which has been made the subject of a fresco by Bennozzo Gozzoli—in which he beheld this saintly pair supporting with their hands the tottering Lateran.

Since he could not establish them and their followers as monastic fathers, he had recourse to creating brotherhoods for them. These brotherhoods he affiliated to the order of St. Augustine, the Dominicans as friars-preachers (fratres predicatores) and the Franciscans as friars-minors (fratres minores).

Thus were launched these two mendicant orders, which by the enormous following they were so soon to win, were destined to become one of the greatest means of power of the Roman Church.

In the lifetime of their founders the fundamental laws of poverty were observed in all their intended purity. But soon thereafter, being men under their rough habits, and susceptible to the ambition that is man’s, upon the acquisition of power followed the acquisition of wealth. Their founders had accomplished a renascence of the original spirit of Christianity. But soon this began to undergo modification, and to respond to worldly influences, until the history of the friars-mendicant repeats and mirrors the history of Christianity itself In a measure as they spread through Christendom, so they acquired convents, lands, and property as they went. The personal poverty of each brother remained, it is true; they still went abroad barefoot and coarsely garbed, “without staffs or bag, or bread, or money,” as their rule decreed. Individually they kept the vow of privation; but considered collectively their poverty “remained outside the convent gate,” as Gregorovius says, echoing what Dante had said before him.*

“Ma il suo peculio di nuova vivanda

E’ fatto ghiotto si, ch’ esser non puote

Che per diversi salti non si spanda;

“E quanto le sue pecore remote

E vagabonde più da esso vanno,

Più tornano all’ ovil di latte vote.”

—DANTE, “Paradiso,” C. xi. v. 124-9.

For the service of the Church the friars-mendicant became a splendid army, and an army, moreover, whose maintenance made no draught upon the pontifical treasury, since, by virtue of their mendicancy, the orders were entirely self-supporting. And whilst both orders, magnificently organized, grew extremely powerful, the Dominicans became formidable through their control of that Inquisition whose early stirrings had inspired St. Dominic to his task.

His aim had been to found a preaching order whose special mission should be the overthrow of heresy wherever found. The brethren were to combat it, employing their eloquence on the one hand to induce the heretic to abjure his error, on the other to inflame the faithful against him, so that terror should accomplish what might not be possible to persuasion.

It may be that this mission which they had made specially their own, as their founder ordained, peculiarly fitted the Dominicans to assume the government of an ecclesiastical establishment whose aim was identical. It was this order of St. Dominic that was to erect the grim edifice of the Holy Office, and to develop and assume entire control of the terrible machinery of the Inquisition. Their persuasion was to be the ghastly persuasion of the rack; their eloquence was to be the burning eloquence of the tongues of material flame that should lick their agonizing victims out of existence. And all for the love of Christ!

Although it might be difficult to show—as has been attempted—that Domingo de Guzman himself was actually the first ordained Inquisitor, nevertheless as early as 1224, within three years of his death, the Inquisition in Italy and elsewhere was already entirely in the hands of the Dominicans. This is shown by a constitution promulgated at Padua in February of that year by the Emperor Frederic II. It contains the following announcement;

The Order of St. Dominic 43

“Be it known to all that we have received under our special protection the preaching friars of the order of preachers, sent into our Empire on business of the Faith against heretics, and likewise all who may lend them assistance—as much in going as in abiding and returning—save such as are already prescribed; and it is our wish that all should give them favour and assistance; wherefore we order our subjects to receive benignly any of the said friars whenever and wherever they may arrive, keeping them secure from the enmity of heretics, assisting them in every way to accomplish their ministry regarding the business of the Faith...And we do not doubt that you will render homage to God and our Empire by collaborating with the said friars to deliver our Empire from the new and unusual infamy of heretical pravity.*”

[* Limborch, “Historia Inquisitionis,” lib. i. cap. 12.]

The constitution decreed that heretics when so condemned by the Church and delivered over to the secular arm should be condignly punished; that if any, through the fear of death, should desire to return to the faith, he should receive the penance that might be imposed canonically and be imprisoned for life; that if in any part of the Empire heretics should be discovered by the inquisitors or by other zealous Catholics, the civil powers should be under the obligation of effecting their arrest at the request of the said inquisitors or other Catholics, and of holding them in safe custody until excommunicated by the Church, when they should be burnt; that the same punishment should be suffered by fautores—i.e. those guilty of concealing or defending heretics; that fugitives be sought for, and that converts from the same heresy be employed to discover them.

Odious as was this last enactment, there was yet worse contained in the Emperor’s constitution. It was decreed that “the sin of lèse-Majesté divine being, as it is, greater than that of lèse-Majesté humaine, and God being the avenger of the sins of the fathers on the children, to the end that these may not imitate the sins of those, the descendants of heretics to the second generation shall be deemed incapable of honours or of holding any public office—excepting the innocent children who shall denounce the iniquity of their fathers."*

[* Limborch, “Historia Inquisitionis,” lib. i, cap. 12.]

The barbarous provision here given in italics calls for no comment.

Within four years of issuing that harsh proclamation against all rebels from the sway of Rome, Frederic himself, in rebellion against the pontiff’s temporal sway, was to feel the lash of excommunication. But with that we have no concern. After his reconciliation with the Pope he renewed the constitution of 1224, adding a provision concerning blasphemers, who, in common with heretics of whatever sect, should suffer death by fire; yet if the bishops should desire to save any such, this could only be done subject to the offender’s being deprived of his tongue, so that never again should he blaspheme God.

In the year 1227 Ugolino Conti, who had been a friend of Dominic and of Francis, ascended the papal throne under the style of Gregory IX.

It was this pontiff who, carrying forward the work that had been undertaken in that direction by Innocent III, gave the Inquisition a stable form. He definitely placed the control of it in the hands of the Dominican friars, giving them, where necessary, the assistance of the Franciscans. But the participation of the latter in the business of that terrible tribunal is so slight as to be insignificant.

Gregory’s bull, given in “Raynaldus,"* is one of excommunication against all heretics.

[* 1231, N. 14, 16-17.]

Further, it ordains that all condemned by the

Church shall be delivered to the secular arm for punishment, all clerics so delivered being first degraded from their orders; that should any wish to abjure his heresy and return to the Church, penance shall be imposed upon him, and he shall suffer perpetual imprisonment. Abettors, concealers, and defenders of heretics are similarly excommunicated; and if any such shall neglect to procure absolution within one year, he shall be accounted infamous, and shall be neither eligible for any public office nor the elector of any other, nor act as witness, testator, inheritor, nor have power to seek justice when wronged. If a judge, no proceedings shall be laid before him, and his sentences, where passed, shall be null and void; if an advocate, he shall not have faculty to plead; if a notary, his deeds shall be void; if a cleric, he shall be deposed from his office and benefices.

Similarly, the ban of excommunication shall fall upon those who hold traffic with any who are excommunicated, and they shall further be punished with other penalties.

Those who are under suspicion of heresy, unless they see to it that they overcome the suspicion either by canonical purgation or otherwise according to the quality of the person and the motives for the suspicion, shall be excommunicated, and if they do not give condign satisfaction within one year, they shall be deemed heretics. Their claims or appeals shall not then be admitted, nor shall judges, advocates, or notaries exercise their functions in favour of them; priests shall refuse to administer the sacraments to them and to admit their alms or oblations, and so shall the Templars and Hospitallers and other regular orders, under pain of loss of office, from which naught can save them but a mandate from the Holy See.

Should any give Christian burial to one who has died under excommunication, he shall himself incur excommunication, from which he shall not be delivered until with his own hands he shall have exhumed the corpse, and so disposed that the place may never again be used for sepulture.

Should any know of the existence of heretics or of any who practise secret conventicles or whose ways of living are uncommon, they are bound under pain of excommunication to divulge the same to their confessor or other by whom they believe it will come to the knowledge of their prelate.

Children of heretics and of the abettors or concealers of heretics shall be deprived until the second generation of holding any public office or benefice.

To the provisions of this bull, additions were made by the civil governor of Rome, as representing the secular arm whose concern it would be to inflict the punishments regarding which the Church refrained from being explicit—confining herself to the promise that they should be “condign.”

He provided that: those arrested should be detained in prison until condemned by the Church, when, after eight days, they should be punished.

Their property should be confiscated, one-third going to the delator, one-third to the judge who should pronounce sentence, and one-third to repair the walls of Rome, or otherwise as might be considered.

The dwellings of heretics or of any who should consciously have entertained heretics should be razed to the ground.

If any man should have knowledge of the existence of heretics and fail to denounce them he should be fined the sum of 20 livres. Should he lack the means to pay, he was to be banished until he could find them.

Abettors and concealers of heretics should for the first offence suffer confiscation of one-third of their property, to be applied to keeping the walls of Rome in repair. If the offence were repeated, then they should be banished for ever.

All who were elected senators must swear before taking office that they would observe all laws against heretics; and were any to refuse this oath his acts as senator would be null and void and none should be obliged to follow or obey him, whilst those who might have sworn obedience to him were absolved of their oath. Should a senator accept this oath but afterwards refuse or neglect to respect its terms, he must incur the penalties of perjury, suffer a fine of 200 silver marks, to be applied to the repairing of the walls, and become ineligible for any public office.

Two years later—in 1233—at a Council held at Beziers, the papal legate, Gaultier of Tournai, elaborated these canons by the following provisions:

“All magistrates, nobles, vassals, and others shall diligently seek to discover, apprehend, and punish heretics wherever found. Every parish in which a heretic is discovered shall pay as a penalty for having harboured him one silver mark to the person who shall have discovered him. All houses in which heretics may have preached shall be demolished and the property confiscated, and fire shall be set to all caves and other hiding-places where heretics are alleged to be concealed. AH the property of heretics shall be confiscated, and their children shall inherit nothing. Their abettors, concealers, or defenders shall be dealt with in the same manner. Any persons suspected of heresy must make public profession of faith upon oath, under pain of suffering as heretics; they shall be compelled to attend divine service on every feast-day, and all who are reconciled