The Spanish Inquisition

The Spanish Inquisition is poorly understood by Catholics. Protestants who prostylitize Catholics are very quick to play the Inquisistion card in order to show how mean and evil the Catholic faith is. We poor Catholics just sit on the receiving end, not aware of the true story of the Inquisistion. More often we are presented with the outright falsehoods perpetrated by authors like Dave Hunt who wrote... "In his History of the Inquisition, Canon Llorente, who was the Secretary to the Inquisition in Madrid from 1790-92 and had access to the archives of all the tribunals, estimated that in Spain alone the number of condemned exceeded 3 million, with about 300,000 burned at the stake." (Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast, page 79, also 242) Really, 3 million? Now today that is not a big number, but three million is still pretty hefty. That is 3,000,000. The Medieval source book claims that the population for Spain in 1450 was a total of 7 million. Now adjusting for births and deaths over the next 100 years a rational man could expect that the population of Spain might climb another million on the outside. Which would mean that the Inquisition put to death almost half of the population of Spain!

Then there are some who think of the Spanish Inquisition as it was portrayed by Monte Python,

While this is silly, it too does not bear any resemblance to the actual Inquisition and reality. I have added therefore an excerpt from a more rational article by Kenneth Schreiber which appeared this week in the Contrarians Review.

15 September 2008--By Kenneth Schreiber

The Spanish Inquisition is the most misunderstood aspect of history by secular historians. Perhaps no other series of historical events has been as much maligned and assaulted as the history of the Inquisition. If you doubt this assessment just conjure up your immediate psychological response to the following question: Which has proven more lethal the Spanish Inquisition or the American Court System?

If your initial response to this question is to claim that this an absurd comparison and your mind conjures up a mental image of dark, priest-ridden monasteries where intellectuals and minorities were converted by the swords of the Spanish Inquisition and sold into slavery by the willing accomplices of the Church – the Conquistadors, then first, your understanding of history is not very strong and you are better off not having an opinion. Second, you have been indoctrinated by a one-sided secular view of history.

The reason for this understanding is that the Spanish Inquisition as it is understood today in high school classrooms is understood through the lens of contemporary/secular views of right and wrong. To paraphrase John Paul II in Memory and Reconciliation1 – although it is important to issue an apology for historical instances where the systemic corruption of Church is not compatible with its theology, it also important to understand those historical instances through the view of theology and the historical context in which they took place. In this article we will apply exactly these criteria to make an apologetical understanding of the events that shaped the formation and the prosecution of the Spanish Inquisition. Lastly, we will draw a conclusion about the implications of this methodology for the study of history.

To understand the story of the Spanish Inquisition, we need to understand the Catholic conception of law. In the Catholic view there are two categories of law: Law of Nature and Law of Man.2 Laws of Nature are things that are inherent or organic and apply to all people. Laws of Man are laws made at man’s discretion to create order. The laws of man can be further broken down into Laws of the Church and Laws of the State.3 This follows the concept of the separate jurisdictions of auctoritas and potestas that Pope Gelasius I first introduced in 496 AD4 and then later theologians expanded upon. The Church or jurisdiction of auctoritas determines the “What?” and “Why?” of a given issue. The State or jurisdiction of potestas determines the “How?” of a given issue.

For example, let us take the issue of poverty. Poverty is neither inherent in nature nor unnatural. Therefore, since poverty is not governed by Natural Law, it falls under the jurisdiction of the Laws of Man to solve or not to solve. Auctoritas (the Church), will define poverty (the question of “what is poverty?”)5 and define if poverty should exist (the question of “why poverty?”). The Church differentiates between physical poverty and spiritual poverty and assigns the alleviation of physical poverty to potestas (the State). Potestas, then is responsible for alleviating poverty (the question of “how alleviate poverty?”) The State (with our participation) must decide if we should alleviate poverty through free market policies, voluntary social initiatives, or socialism. Then our policy experts in our political and economic systems must evaluate methods that would best alleviate (not perpetuate) poverty in relation to other laws.

Therefore, in the Catholic understanding of Law, if the State tried to coerce the Church into defining poverty or the existence of poverty – it imposes its view on the Church and the decision is not valid. Likewise, if the Church tried to coerce the State into implementing certain economic policies (like the Liberation Theologians did), then the state has a responsibility to resist this imposition because the Church may define the parameters through which the State operates, but may not assume secular power.

Now that we have broken down the Catholic conception of the Law as it relates to the separation of Church and State. One issue that will be self-evident in this investigation is the degree to which the Spanish Monarchy usurped the authority of the Church. You will notice that the State coerced the Church into appointing key figures in opposition to the interests of the Church and that the State coerced the Church into implementing secular policies. State, effectually, imposed on the Church the answers: “why?” and “what?” in the Inquisition and simultaneously coerced the Church into implementing policies for the State. Obviously, according to the Catholic conception of Law, the State was not qualified and thus should never have taken either of these actions which have negatively impacted both the Church and the populous. Finally, the story of Spanish Inquisition is the story of the State exercising unnatural influence on the Church, thus causing the Church to make prudential judgments6 that would ensure its long-term survival rather than acting within its proper legal jurisdiction.

Thanks and a tip of the beret to John F. Triolo, editor of the Contrarians review.

For commentaries on Dave Hunt see Dave Hunt and the Spanish Inquisition

For a Catholic Counterpoint go here...

de Brantigny


John F. Triolo said...

thanks for noting our little journal again. We aim to please (well, not everybody).

de Brantigny said...

I blog for me. It is my trip if someone wants to come along so well and god if not fare-thee-well.
Thanks for the good articles.