For several centuries throughout the Middle Ages, several inquisitions were initiated by the Catholic Church in union with the state in several countries in Europe. The purpose of the inquisitions was to locate, punish and prevent many heresies that were causing disturbances among society. The most well-known inquisitions took place in three countries; France, Italy, and Spain and did not take place in other countries. While the Inquisitions were intended to better society, in many cases they lead to abuses which has lead to controversy and speculation about the Catholic Church by some. Below we quickly summarize the three Inquisitions in France, Italy, and Spain and then present some conclusions.
Started by Pope Gregory IX, this inquisition was called particularly to fight the Albigensian heresies in Southern France and to uphold the truth for secular and ecclesiastical justice. This inquisition was known to eventually become cruel and unreasonable and was eventually abolished.
Italy (Rome) (1542)
The Roman Inquisition was started by Pope Paul III for the whole world to safeguard faith and morals. This Inquisition was noted to be more lenient than the other two Inquisitions.
Spain (1400’s – 1700’s)
This inquisition was started by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and empowered by Pope Sixtus IV. This Inquisition was erected to proceed against Judaism, crypto-Jews and other apostates whose secret activities were dangerous to church and state. It was also extended to the Christian Moors who were in danger of apostasy at the time and was also used to defend against the uprise of Protestantism. Defending against polygamy, bigamy, perjury, forgery, shamming revelations and masquerading as priests were some of the primary goals of this inquisition. This inquisition was known to become the most cruel and unjust of the three and was very influenced by civil power and often in defiance of the Holy See.
Abuses of the Inquisitions
There is no doubt that the abuses that took place during the Inquisitions were absolutely wrong. However there are several points which must also be considered.
First, it is a well-known fact that many cruelties and unjust punishments were a general character of medieval times. For example, consider some of these cruelties unrelated to the inquisitions during medieval times:
800 executions/year in England (not related to the inquisitions)
30,000 burned for witchcraft in England
100,000 burned for witchcraft in Germany
Click Protestant Errors for the rest of the short article.
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