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The Inquisition - History of England
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The Inquisition

inquisition

Enemies of the Roman Catholic Church and the Enforcing Arm of the Catholic Church

Introduction

The word Inquisition is normally associated with something terrible which happened in Spain in the late Middle Ages (c.1500) under the authority of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Indeed this is correct and describes the Spanish Inquisition but the origins of the Inquisition go back much further to around 1200 when the Pope in Rome (Innocent 3rd) set up an organisation to get rid of a reformist Christian movement, the Cathars of southern France. Since that time the Inquisition has been the office in the Vatican which has enforced the dogma of the church on its faithful or unfaithful flock. In the Middle Ages and even up to the time of Napoleon, that is only 200 years ago, this took the form of torture and murder, the latter by burning alive (Burning at the stake). Latterly, that is in more civilised times the punishment for transgression is excommunication (removal from the Catholic Church) which for some devout Catholics would be a fate worse than death. The Inquisition office is also responsible for censorship which mainly takes the form of producing a huge and ever growing list of forbidden books.


Although the Cathars reached England before they were exterminated, the Inquisition did not, even though John Wycliffe gave them enough reason to. The Inquisition supported the Catholic anti Reformation movement but they were too busy in Germany to bother about England. The Inquisition has been likened to a combination of Hitler’s Gestapo and SS. The fact that the present head (year 2000) is a German called Cardinal Ratzinger is presumably a non sequitor.  

The Inquisition

1000 years ago

This story starts at the time when the Catholic Church although well established and already wealthy, was going through a period of threatening actions from powerful reformers and different ideologies.

  • 1054 The Christian Church splits in two. The church in Constantinople splits from the Church in Rome significantly cutting the huge income coming to the wealthy Pope.
  • 1095 The Crusades. With the Muslims threatening the territories under the rule of the Eastern Roman Empire head quartered in Constantinople, which included the holy city of Jerusalem. The Roman ruler of Byzantium, supported by the Patriarch of the newly formed Christian Orthodox church sent a messenger to the Pope in Rome asking for military reinforcements. The Pope surprisingly (bearing in mind he had just been snubbed by Constantinople) responded with the Crusades. Recruiting Crusaders was not too difficult because the rewards for taking part were attractive to out of work Knights, prisoners and labourers who were immediately pardoned for all their past and future sins, their financial debts and could keep any bounty stolen en-route. Many a Crusader was set up for life with riches, land, slaves and often a harem of wives. Indeed at the recruiting centre, which was the town of Clermont in Southern France, Crusaders were being offered a quick route to heaven in return for killing a few Muslims. (Clearly frighteningly similar to rewards for Muslims of today who take part in a Jihad.) (Crusaders took the opportunity to hone their fighting skills on any group they came across en-route who were not Christians. Many settlements of unsuspecting Jews were decimated during these times particularly in Germany.) The next three Crusades were in 1147, 1189 and 1202.
  • 1206: The next threat to the wealth and domination of the Catholic Church came not from the Muslims in the Middle East but from a fundamentalist religious movement, the Cathars of France. Indeed the origins of this creed came from the Bogomils in Bulgaria which is nearby Constantinople via the Black Sea and would have been ruled by the Byzantines and come under the teachings of the Christian Orthodox Church at this time. Cathars and Bogomils believed in the fundamental teachings of early Christians without believing that Jesus was the Messiah or the son of God. 
The Cathars came to France at a time when the Catholic Church was at a morally low ebb. In some places Mass had not been taken for 30 years. Priests lived like Nobles many having a harem of mistresses. The Pope himself described his own priests as “worse than beasts wallowing in their own dung”. On the other hand Cathars did not “bully, extort, traffic in guilt, emotionally blackmail, tyrannise or terrorise with threats of eternal damnation or demand payment or bribes at every opportunity”. Catholics fled to the Cathars in droves which had an immediate and serious effect on the churches income.
  • 1208-1218. Pope Innocent 3rd wrote to the king of France, stating that the Cathars were worse than the Muslim Infidel and that he should organise a crusade against the Cathars. All those taking part would receive the same benefits as Crusaders to the Middle East Holy Land so long as they signed up for 40 days. A military commander emerged called Baron Simon de Montfort supported by the fanatical Papal Legate, Arnald Amaury, Abbot of Citeaux. With a Crusade of some 15,000 men it took about 10 years to exterminate some 15,000 men women and children from the Cathars (and Jews who got caught up in the massacre.) During this period the Spanish King of Aragon came in on the side of the Cathars but was defeated and when Simon de Montfort was killed at Toulouse the King of France himself took on the role of Crusade commander. At the end those Cathars who survived disappeared into Lombardy, present day northern Italy and Catalonia, Barcelona, north east Spain.

Notes

  1. The territory influenced by the Cathars covered much of present day Southern France. Part of this land was being ruled by the Norman Kings of England and a part further east, away from the coast, by another King, Louis 9th of a much smaller France.
  2. The Baron leading this Crusade, as mentioned above was Simon de Montfort. He was also at the same time the senior Baron in England reporting to English Henry 3rd.
  3. Henry 3rd lost much of his “French” land back to Louis at this time. Remember: Henry 2nd 1154-89 ruled in England, Wales, the east coast of Ireland including Dublin and the whole of the west part of present day France, that is from Normandy south to the Spanish boarders on the west side of Paris and Orleans. King Richard 1189-99 spent too much time crusading in the Middle East to look after this huge territory. King John 1199-1216 lost more land through bad relationships with the Barons in France. He was forced into signing the Magna Carta by the Barons in England. Henry 3rd 1216-72 was certainly not the character to get back any of these lands in France where many of the French barons preferred the French King Louis 9th. Around the time Simon de Montfort led the Crusade against the Cathars in southern France he also led the English Barons (many were also Norman French) in a small civil war against King Henry 3rd to persuade him to adopt the principles of government laid out in the Magna Carta. Henry was actually imprisoned for a short time.
  4. The Cathars movement did indeed come to England. This was not known until about 40 years ago when a man redecorating his 1000 year old house in Piccotts End in the Hertfordshire Chilterns (35 miles north of London) came across a perfectly preserved wall painting of Cathar origin. It is presumed they used this house HQ while visiting the friendly English Monks in their Monastery in Ashridge Forest. (Burnt down by Henry 8th 300 years later)

The Creation of the Inquisition Office

Just before the commencement of the above Crusade, a certain Spanish priest (from Aragon) called Dominic came across the Cathars in France on his way back from Rome and was horrified. With his travelling companion, his local bishop, he devised a scheme to counter the Cathars which was to have a sinister future. The Cathars were noted for being well read and having a logical and persuasive manner. The local Catholic priests were just the opposite, being mainly unread and resorting to extortion and moral blackmail. Dominic in conjunction with the local French Bishops set up a team of travelling Christian preachers who were trained in the scriptures and trained in the method of verbal delivery. The also mimicked the Cathars in wearing the simplest clothes very often woven from horse hair and no shoes. The results were excellent and he soon teamed up with Simon de Montfort, the two quickly getting a reputation for ruthless effectiveness. 
Many applauded his clandestine methods of seeking out information, trial without jury, and burning at the stake for those found guilty of being a Cathar or “heretic”. He was given three houses in Toulouse for his headquarters one of which still stands. 20 Similar operational HQ were quickly set up as far afield as Paris, Bologna and various towns in Spain.

Dominic died in 1221 but the Dominican movement was by then firmly established and was supported by the next Pope Gregory 9th who was a friend of Dominic and who fashioned the Dominican movement as the official intelligence gathering and Heretic extermination arm of the Catholic Church. The Inquisition office was now official. The many hundreds of simply dressed but well trained itinerant friars were ideally suited to this task and operated in a horrifyingly similar way to Stalin’s secret police or the Nazi Gestapo and SS of 60 years ago.

750 years ago
The story moves on to one of the most infamous early Dominican Inquisitors, one Bernard Gui. He was entrusted by the Pope to pacify northern Italy which was suffering a bout of Heresy. He personally eliminated some 636 Heretics between 1308 and 1322. More importantly he is noted for producing the first manual for Inquisitors, the “Practice of Inquisition”. Completed around 1324. Copies of this manuscript survive today.

The next 200 years c.1250- 1450 saw the creation of many new religious groups in Europe particularly covering the areas across the whole of the south from Bosnia through Italy and southern France and into northern Spain. The founding members were generally responding to the endemic corruption in the Catholic Church particularly the amassing of huge wealth, through moral blackmail and the sale of Indulgencies. All these new pious groups were labelled as Heretics by the Church and summarily burnt at the stake by officers of the Inquisition who were generally Dominican Friars. Other names for Dominicans were Black Friars or Friar Preachers. Not all Dominicans must be labelled as Gestapo, one Friar Thomas Aquinas also known as Doctor Angelicus is a respected theologian and philosopher even to day.

The Extermination of the Knights Templar

King Philippe 4th of France 1268-1314
His son in law King Edward 2nd of England. 1285-1327
C.1120. The Knights Templars or “Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Jerusalem” were created by a group of devout French Knights at the same time c.1120 as the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, or Hospitallers, both with the objective of protecting the Crusaders as they approached Jerusalem. After the fall of Jerusalem 1187 both were forced to retreat to nearby Acre and then to Cyprus. Cyprus was too small for both of these freelance military groupings and the Templars looked to Southern France as a better HQ. This was both a threat and opportunity for King Philippe as he had just expelled all his financial sources from France, namely the Jews, and now eyed the huge wealth of the Templars amassed during the Crusades and said to be of the same magnitude as the Catholic Church itself, as a suitable financial alternative. The threat was the Templars themselves who were not only wealthy but also had commandeered many ships providing them with the biggest navy in the Mediterranean at the time. How to deal with the Templars?

King Philippe was no wimp himself and had already got rid of one Pope and installed his own puppet Pope in Rome. He then went further to hijack the whole of the Vatican and install them in Avignon in southern France. With the Vatican came the leaders of the Inquisition Office. Philippe persuaded the Pope to declare all Templars heretics which gave the King unofficial control of the Inquisition office whose clandestine duty was to rid the territory of Heretics. Step by step, Gestapo style the Inquisition in the guise of Dominican Monks routed out the leaders of the Templars and burnt them at the stake.

In England although the Inquisition did not operate the Templars did. Philippe asked his son-in-law Edward 2nd to copy his grisly actions in England which would have involved clandestine information gathering, torture of suspects to gain confessions and death by burning at the stake. Good for Edward, he refused at first but later bowed to the might of the French King. However “surprisingly” very few Templars were found, no torture was allowed and the friendly jailors allowed most to escape. Most were absorbed into the Monasteries both in England and Scotland and given a pension for life.

It is interesting to note that even at this early time the English judicial system was way ahead of the French which still followed ancient Roman law. The English had trial by Jury while the French still had trial by a single Judge.

The Fransiscan Order
Not all friars were Gestapo bullies. St Francis from Assisi close by Florence in present day Italy founded (in 1209) a movement which was based on returning to the religion preached by Jesus who acquired no wealth and extolled the virtues of giving to the poor and living without wealth. Some 100 years after his death the Monks were finding it increasingly hard to live as their founder preached and many began the gather wealth like the rest of the Catholic Church. This caused a serious split in the ranks with horrific results. The wealthy ones were well accepted by the Pope but those who returned to the simple monastic life of giving all their wealth away to those in need were deemed heretics and were summarily dealt with by the Inquisition Office.

The Franciscans and the Dominicans had a 100 years “war” with each other over a theological issue as follows: The issue was over which parts of Jesus body ascended to heaven and which didn’t. A thinking Franciscan monk pointed out that Jesus shed much blood on the ground at the time of his crucifixion and surely the spilt blood would have remained on earth! The Dominicans said that all parts of Jesus would have gone to heaven to which the Franciscan replied “would this have included his foreskin?!”(remember Jesus was a Jew). The Pope finally had to intervene and told the warring monks not to discuss the subject again and that it would be finally determined by the Vatican. 

The Spanish Inquisition

500 Years Ago

The Spanish Inquisition, (1478) which is the best known of these hideous acts, was indeed a mirror image of its medieval predecessor with two notable exceptions.

  • The Roman Catholic Church initially had nothing to do with it. The perpetrators were the King and Queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella. After some months of ethnic cleansing, the Pope sanctioned the action but from time to time complained of its excessive brutality. The royals took no notice and continued unabated.
  • The “heretics” being burnt at the stake were not pious preachers like the Cathars but Spanish Jews who had been living peacefully and happily in a Spain ruled by the Islamic Moors for much of their 700 years of rule. Later in 1542, the Spanish were sanctioned by Pope Paul 3rd and also turned on Protestant Christians both in Spain and their Spanish Netherlands.

Anti Semitism in Spain
Indeed Jews had been targets for ethnic cleansing by the Catholics in the north of Spain since 1350 and to survive many had converted or pretended to convert to Catholicism. Many of these so called Conversos had achieved high government office, because of the better education they got within the Jewish community. Both King Ferdinand and separately before they were married Queen Isabella had Conversos as advisors on financial and state affairs. Many of these Conversos were eliminated at the time of the Inquisition. It is salutary to note that when Ferdinand and Isabella financed Columbus’ trip west which enabled him to discover the “new land” America, Columbus who some say was a Jew, had Jewish navigation charts and a Jewish interpreter and they found a country where Jewish persecution has never really existed. The Inquisition office never gained roots in North America but was certainly very active in Spanish and Portuguese South America.

Shooting themselves in the foot.
It has been said after 1492 that when Spain expelled all the Muslim Moors (originally from North Africa) they lost all their best sources of science, art, and sensuality and when they exterminated the Jews they lost all their intelligencia and perhaps have never recovered to their former greatness.

The Inquisition in Spain lasted a further 200 years until 1740 when the English Navy, by then all powerful, took Gibraltar as a naval base from which to rid the Mediterranean Sea of the Muslim Ottomans. The hideous acts of the Spanish now leaked out to the rest of the world particularly when the Spanish ceded Gibraltar to the British on the basis that they would not allow Jews to settle. Incover fact the British took no notice and Gibraltar soon housed a thriving Jewish community. It took Napoleon to finally rid Spain of The Inquisition when he conquered the land (1808) and forbade anti Semitism. When English General, the Duke of Wellington retook Spain from the French in 1834 he reinstalled a Spanish King, Ferdinand 7th, but on the proviso that Jews were no longer to be victimised.

The Last 500 years

The Catholic Church which had dominated Europe for so many years by religious blackmail and ethnic/religious cleansing, from 1500 onwards had to overcome or try to suppress the effects from the following.

  • The Reformation
  • The Printing press
  • The French revolution
  • The Freemasons
  • Scientific and archaeological discoveries.

The Reformation
This divided Europe in two, with the Northern Territories breaking away from what they saw as a corrupt Roman Catholic Church to the new, back to basic faith of the German Luther and his followers called Protestantism. The effect was dramatic and bloody but less so in England and especially Ireland which escaped the prolonged wars which followed the conversion. (The English could never convert the Irish to Protestantism). The Catholic Church had lost the might of the Inquisition office as they had nothing too onerous to do for 100 years or so. (Except in Spain where it was run by the royal family.)

Up to this time, the Inquisition had been successful mainly through weeding out religious leaders one by one and exterminating them. The new threat was too large to be dealt with in the same way by the remaining Inquisition thugs who had over the past 200 years or so mainly had to deal with a few unsuspecting members of the weaker sex who they had branded as Witches. The Catholic Church felt a new grouping of intellectuals trained as Catholic evangelists should be formed. These were called Jesuits or as Pope Paul 3rd preferred, the Company of Jesus. The movement was started by a Spaniard Ignatius Loyola (c.1491-1556) who was much influenced by the ruthless efficiency of the Spanish Inquisitors. The Catholic Church used the Jesuits combined with the Inquisitors to spearhead the anti Reformation movement. However nothing this formidable team did could stop the rapid spread of the Anti Catholics other than in Catholic strongholds like Italy, where for some 25 years they turned the locals into cowering wrecks. Indeed some Universities in Central Italy closed during this period.

The 30 years war 1618- 1648
This war between the Protestants and Catholics of Europe was inevitable and was triggered finally in the small eastern European country of Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) where the powerful noblemen wanted a Protestant King. Ferdinand 2nd of Spain as both King of the most powerful country in Europe at the time and Holy Roman Emperor sent an army into Bohemia and trounced the army of the Protestant nobles. Initially there was no response from the Protestants of Northern Europe but then fearful that the powerful Spanish armies might succeed in turning the whole of Europe back to Catholicism the Protestants reacted and the conflict was to last 30 years.

The Danes, Swedes and Dutch were the main supporters of Protestantism. The English sent an army but it never entered battle as they died from the plague en-route. The result was finally settled when to the surprise of all Catholics the French, “The Darling of the Catholic Church” joined in on the side of the Protestants. Their motive was not religious but military as they saw and took the opportunity to beat the all powerful Spanish (who were then ruled by the Habsburgs) and become the most powerful country in Europe. From this moment on, the French who had been lead into the war against the Spanish Catholics by none other than their own powerful Catholic Cardinal Richelieu, were thence forth no longer subservient to Rome and all the hideous things that went with the Catholic Inquisition office but were totally and uniquely loyal to their own “Sun King”, Louis 14th.

The Printing Press and censorship by the Catholic Church.
Together with the Reformation printing provided huge problems for the Vatican who had up to this time ruled by keeping their flock ignorant of anything which indicated there might be an alternative theology. Both printing and the Reformation date from the 15th Century and were accompanied by a huge increase in literacy across Europe. The Catholic Church responded by creating a department of the Inquisition Office now called the Holy Office to produce a list of books and other reading material which was forbidden to Catholics. This state of affairs lasted certainly until 50 years ago when for example, for students in Chicago University were unable to obtain so called forbidden books from the University Library.

200 years ago

The French Revolution
For 150 years after the end of the 30 years war, France was ruled jointly by the Royal Family and the Catholic Church in France. Indeed France was split into three groups or “Estates”. The first being the Royal Family and the Nobility, the second the Catholic Church and the third was everybody else. The only group that paid taxes were everybody else. The ruling Estates were not good at managing the economy and the harvests were poor and France had the most fertile land in Europe. Finally the common man rebelled, hence the French Revolution. Both Royalty and the Church were attacked.

The demise of the Royal family is well known. (King Louis 16th and Queen Marie Antoinette put to death by guillotine in what is now called Place de la Concorde). The attack by the people on their Catholic Church is not. At the end of the Revolution 1793/4 17,000 priests and 35,000 nuns had been murdered and all Church Land and wealth had been snatched by the people. Napoleon who rose from the ashes of the Revolution went on to Rome and continued this attack on the Church by imprisoning the Pope, took the Vatican archives back to Paris and dismantled the Holy Roman Empire. Further he finally removed the Catholic Knights of St John of Jerusalem from their fortress in Malta.

The Freemasons
Prior to the creation of additional European faiths following the Reformation (c.1500) the Catholic Church had always been available as a convenient forum to settle disputes between rival Kings. Afterwards it was unlikely that a Protestant King would travel to Rome to seek an adjudication. By about 1750 an alternative international forum had developed and that was the Freemason Lodges. The movement stated in England probably 500 years earlier where stone masons, that is the skilled craftsmen who combined the skills of sculptors, architects and building management and were therefore important to the Kings and Church alike, developed a non religious forum for exchanging information on new building methods. Because of the relationship between the builders of Castles and Churches and their clients, the Monarchs and the Bishops, membership eventually embraced all three. Discussion was strictly secular and remained secret.

The first Lodge outside the British Isles was founded by Englishman Charles Radclyffe, Earl of Derwentwater, in Paris in 1726. Lodges then rapidly spread across Europe and into North America. Viz: Prague 1726 followed by Vienna both Habsburg centres, then Italy 1733. The last to be established in Europe being in the one of the most active centres for the Inquisition, Spain and Portugal. Famous members were: Fredrick the Great of Prussia, The husband of Maria Theresa von Habsburg, (Francois of Lorraine) so the lodges were rapidly spread through Habsburg territories which held of course the seat of the Catholic Holy Roman Empire. (In the US both Benjamin Franklin and George Washington were Freemasons as were Voltaire in France and in England the King Georges, Swift Boswell and Hogarth) No wonder the Church in Rome began to see the threat from the Masons. The difference between the two was huge. Whereas the Catholics resisted change, embraced censorship and generally looked backwards, the Freemasons now had all the important people in Europe within their orbit, were not religious and were all embracing, that is they had members from all churches and generally looked ahead for the benefit of trade, science and technology. 

The Catholic Church reacted as only they knew how. 
On 28th April 1738 Pope Clement 3rd declared all Freemasons heretics and irrespective of their position they should be captured, tortured until they confessed and then killed. Murders occurred across Europe from Germany to Spain and Portugal where in the latter two countries the Inquisition Office was still intact. Notwithstanding this the Lodges expanded and began to recruit more and more from the Catholic Church including their clergy. Catholic actions against the Masons only stopped with the general cleansing of Church activities by Napoleon.

The Catholic Church continues to censor Scientific and Archaeological discoveries.
After the Reformation and the invention of the printing press the Catholic Church became active in the suppression of new thinking in Science, Human rights, and History. Here are two well known examples one from 500 years ago and one from today.

  • Astronomy - The Bible as interpreted by the ancient theologians implies that the earth is the centre of the Universe, all of which revolves around the Earth. Italian inventor of powerful reflecting telescopes diligently used his new toy to accurately plot the movement of the sun and the stars and soon proved that there was no doubt that the opposite was the case, the Earth was orbiting the Sun. Now everybody knows his name as Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). The maths to go with the observations was relatively trivial but the Church chose to suppress this discovery and to only finally apologise in 1992, over 300 years after his death. Poor Galileo was arrested by the Inquisition office and spent the last few years of his famous life in a Vatican prison.
  • Dead Sea Scrolls - One of the best recent examples of how the Catholic Church deals with new discoveries has to be their treatment of the Dead Sea Scrolls which were found in a cave overlooking the Dead Sea in 1947. Up to this time the theology surrounding Jesus was developed from writings dating 70 years after his death. Mere mortals in the form of Catholic Theologians have been developing dogma based on this second hand information ever since. Whereas the discovery of tablets and scrolls which appeared to date from precisely the period surrounding the birth of Christianity were greeted by the world at large as very exciting not so by the Vatican. Fortunately for the Catholics they had a dig in the area and were in a position to hide the scrolls and monopolise the translations. The message from the Holy Office was that they were not important. This was not changed until 1990 when photographs of the scrolls were leaked out and can now be studied in such places as the Huntington Library in California or in such books as the “The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered” published in 1992. (The Dead Sea Scrolls were created by a Jewish hermit sect, called the Qumran, living in caves by the Dead Sea and theologians have been able to confirm the accuracy of most of the translations and information in the Old Testament. Probably more interesting to Jews than Christians and contain nothing for the Catholic Church to be frightened of.) 

The Future
In October 1962 the most liberal Pope for hundreds of years John 23rd inaugurated the Second Vatican Council to study how the Catholic Church was to deal with the new scientific world we now live in. The changes have not been sufficient to stop a huge and continuing drop in Church membership, many worried about Church rules on: Male only priests who are forbidden to marry and Contraception even though the Church accepts the population of the world is growing too fast. In Ireland where the Church still dominates, the drop in Church membership is most noticeable. Perhaps the only solution for Catholics is to do as the Romans do, or in this case the whole of Italy who take no notice at all of any rules particularly emanating from those in high authority like the Church or the E.C. This is manifest by their birth rate which is the lowest in Europe.

As for the Inquisition or Holy Office or to use its current name, The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, it still exists but thank goodness those who criticise it now live to tell the tail. For example in 1997 the Priest and Harvard graduate Dr Paul Collins wrote:
“The Holy Office may have changed its name, but the ideology underpinning it has survived. It has certainly not changed its methods. It still accepts anonymous accusations, hardly ever deals directly with the person accused, demands retractions and imposes silences and continues to employ third rate theologians as its assessors. This body has no place in the contemporary Church. It is irreformable and therefore should be abolished.”


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