Not the Spanish Inquisition!

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There are few events in  history more misunderstood and misrepresented than the Spanish Inquisition. The numbers of people supposedly killed by “the Catholic Church” grows every year…50 million, 95 million. Never mind that the number killed is larger than the population of Europe at the time, just pull out a number–the bigger it is the more people are likely to believe the Black Legend. Here’s a good article by a reputable historian which briefly explains the historical context for the Inquisition and in particular the reason the Spanish Inquisition is so reviled. This brief article  and this longer article give more background and explain the relationship between the Spanish state and the Catholic Church. The best way to learn the facts about the Spanish Inquisition is to take time to watch the BBC documentary posted here. You can watch all five parts on YouTube.

I should say that I’m not whitewashing the Inquisition. That one person endured any form of torture or was killed by overzealous Catholics is terrible. However, facts are facts. Those who want to know the truth and understand the Spanish Inquisition and how it compares to other things going on in Europe at the same time should watch this BBC documentary. BTW–Lest I be accused of bias–all my links are to non-Catholic sources.

  • http://catholiceconomist.wordpress.com Buster Adams

    As a Catholic and a person of Spanish blood I find this interesting when I’m confronted with it. Mostly because I had semi-decent history teachers (until my senior year in college) and it just baffles me to hear such tripe and lies. All I can says is, “Documentation please.”

    When they ask why, I have to point to when looking at analytical historical accounts (versus sensational history books…the ones you find on the New York Best Seller list) in peer reviewed journals/articles their accusations are unsubstantiated and usually lies.

    The problem comes in when they find out that I’m Catholic, because it just devolves into why I think the world is 6000 years ago and why I hate sex.

  • dean steinlage

    Not Spanish, but I get; believes the world is 6000years old, hates sex and has to have as many children as physically possible. Still not sure how those last 2 fit together but…

    • Oregon Catholic

      As sacrificial sex?

  • mike cliffson

    Dean steinlag:
    You’ve come to mock: you reveal ignorance, prejudice, and bigotry: would dare say anything like that to a black? So why say it to a latin?
    You actually want to know about the Spanish inquisition? Come here to Spain before it burns. Unlike ANYWHERE else our archives are complete and intact , case by case, statement by statement, folio by folio, area by area, year by year- and practically noone comes to study them.Nice area, nightlife like nowhere else , good food.we should be snowed under withthesismakers from everystateside university.
    It couldn’t be that Protestants and liberals prefer to believe what they’re told rather than giving their lying eyes the chance . Perish the thought. The spirit that got America to the moon will take her to Mars next isnt it?

    • asshur

      Sadly, the archives of the “Suprema” are not complete (the French and Llorente -its unfaithful last secretary- are to blame for this), and IIRC part of the local tribunal records are also missing; but anyhow it is still the probably best preserved archive for ANY judicial instance in the modern world.
      One of the problems is (beyond the fact that we spaniards seem not to like working in archives) for the scholary point of view Inquisition as a problem is no more and there is really a consensus view (the one our host has presented in this entry). OTOH they are, well used, and incredible source for everything related to everyday life in Modern Spain …

      • mike cliffson

        I bow to superior knowledge and go look for sackcloth and ashes! I should remember things ‘ve changed since 1970 when I was single and in touch wi’ the world of scholarship, I know that’s no excuse.
        Still we still got better n more comple Inquisition archives than anybody!
        Don’t cancel your tickets folks !Come to Spain just the same , for the rest!

  • http://www.SwanseaAcupuncture.net Dr. Eric

    No one expects The Spanish Inquisition!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tym0MObFpTI

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  • fellis34@yahoo.com

    Thank you so much for the links. They are very helpful…so much to understand and to help others understand. God bless, Father.

  • Joe

    The first link is dead Father, but other than that, good articles.

    • abb3w

      A mirror/archive of the first link can be found via Archive.org, here. The link appears to work only from Google searches. Another (unauthorized reprint) copy of the article can be found here.

  • Everett

    Conservative Catholics have a marked propensity to play “let’s pretend” with their history. No, we don’t know the exact numbers of those who suffered in the inquisitions, but if it there just ten, it would be too many. I know of Catholics who justify the inquisitions as necessary to rid the church of heresy. These same Catholics demand freedom of religion and conscience which the church has historically denied to others when it had the power to do so. How can anyone with the love of God and the Spirit of truth in them , in any way , minimize or trivialize persecuting, torturing, and burning men and women because they would not violate their conscience and submit to a teaching they considered wrong. And yet I’ve never heard a Catholic express any shame for the horrors of the inquisitions. What was the response of the church when the pedophile scandal broke? It was denial and blame the “anti-Catholic ” media. You may be sure the day is coming when the official position will be “What scandal? Oh, that was all hyperbole. It wasn’t that bad.”

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Why don’t you just watch the BBC documentary? It wasn’t made by Catholics and my post didn’t whitewash the Inquisition. You never heard a Catholic express shame for the Inquisition? Aren’t you listening? What about the formal apology made by Pope John Paul II in the year 2000? Furthermore, no one is minimizing the Inquisition. We do, however, insist on fairness and facts. No one should minimize the Inquisition, but neither should people maximize it. Go ahead and watch the BBC documentary why don’t you?

      • abb3w

        Sigh. As an atheist, I consider it sad when another atheist isn’t willing to give the Church it’s accurate due. That leaves plenty enough room to criticize.

      • Everett

        I suggest you read volume 6 of Philip Schaff’s “History of the Christian Church.” beginning at page 635. You may also want to read volume 3 of Warren Carroll’s “History of Christiandom.” Carroll was a very conservative Catholic historian and, at times, a blatent Catholic propagandist. He states the Inquistion is the “black plague” of the church, and it’s almost impossible to give it an honest assessment. However, he’s surprisingly honest, at times, about just how horrible the Inquistion was; he doesn’t play “let’s pretend” and seems genuinely ashamed, as a Catholic,the church could actually do that. You say that John Paul II apologized for the Inquistion in 2000. Why did it take 500 years for a Roman bishop to apologize for something that vile? He also apologized for the pedophile scandal. Are we supposed to believe that the coverup went on for decades of his pontificate, and he knew nothing about it?

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          Have you watched the BBC documentary on the Spanish Inquisition I recommended? Schaff, of course, is not only out of date, but as a Protestant historian, not only did not have the latest research, but was biased. I’m surprised you quoted Carroll since he is actually on record as defending the Inquisition. Part of understanding history is to understand the context and time period in which things happened and the subsequent flow of history. The Catholic Church didn’t apologize for the inquisition because it was only the Black Legend propaganda which exaggerated the Inquisition in the popular mind so no one responded to that. Only in relatively recent times did anyone have the idea that people should apologize for bad things in the past. One of the things I noted at the time when John Paul made his historic apology for the sins of Catholics during those times was that nobody from the Church of England or the Queen of England apologized for the persecution of Catholics in England for the a good 300 years.

          • Everett

            You can’t trust Schaff because he’s Protestant and,therefore, biased, but you do trust the BBC Protestants because they said what you wanted to hear. Is that biased? Schaff may be out of date by your reckoning, but I trust him for integrity and accuracy more than any modern liberal Protestant scholar. Carroll is on record defending the Inquistion? Apparently, I have a reading disability; that’s not what I read. No one from the Church of England apologized for the persecution of Catholics; maybe someone would if the Church of Rome would apologize for the three hundred Catholic Mary Tudor had burned at the stake in the last three years of her reign for the sin of Protestanism.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            Have you viewed the BBC documentary? It is totally un-biased and simply gives the facts. As I have said, we don’t mind being sorry for the Inquisition, but we will only be sorry for what really happened–not the Black Legend version of what happened.

            In fact, the Pope’s apology in 2000 included sins of violence committed by Catholics during the Reformation period i.e. the executions under Mary Tudor.

          • Everett

            Where could I get a copy of the pope’s apologies for the sins of violence? And how do you know the BBC documentary is “totally un-biased and simply gives facts?” Liberal Protestants have a tendency to play nice with the Catholic Church. I would trust a liberal Catholic far more than a liberal Protestant.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            Just watch the documentary and make up your own mind. Go to the Vatican website to search for the Pope’s apologies. One apology was a public act or repentance on Ash Wednesday March 2000. Another specific one was a speech to Lutherans in the Czech Republic in May 1995.

          • Oregon Catholic

            Shame on you Fr. L. You just sent that poor guy off into the 9 circles of hell that is the vatican website. I can’t find anything on there.

        • asshur

          I’d suggest you revise your bibliography. Might sound harsh but nothing that predates H.C. Lea’s work (1907) is of any value. Take a look at the bibliography at the Wikipedia article (not that bad in itself). The first books (under the somewhat idiot “Revisionist books” -it only makes sense re Lea-) are a good selection of modern scholarship (i do warmly recommend Monter’s. It purposes to be a regional study, but its simply amazing; Kamen’s is a bit old (first edited around 1980), by a then marxist scholar, but a comprehensive survey. Parker is one of the best hispanists of today)

          • Everett

            asshur,
            I read the Wikipedia article; most of the details I had gotten from Schaff and Carroll. I will do more research, but increasingly I feel the whole truth is unknowable. I have a profound distrust for modern scholarship; I know what it’s done to Scripture. I have a more profound distrust for the Catholic Church. One Catholic scholar I’ve read said the church has a history of institutional lying. Another Catholic scholar said that because of the structures of deceit in the church, it’s almost impossible for the Vatican to be honest about anything.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            The BBC documentary is not the Vatican speaking. The whole thing is done by professional historians using primary documentary evidence–the actual records from the Spanish Inquisition itself.

          • asshur

            Everett.
            I posted somewhere in this thread a link to the REAL unedited, raw archives of the Inquisition. For what I saw, there is still very few material online (if any), just the indices, but the idea is that everything will be progressively be on-line (if money doesn’t dry up). Then you will be able to judge by yourself about modern scholarship regarding the Inquisition …

  • Julie

    I think we have the right to defend the church against lies and exaggerated claims. No one is pretending the Inquisition never happened. It was shameful. As were the sex scandals. Horrible. But to use these events as springboards for lies and persecution is wrong.

    • abb3w

      Actually, Lynda’s comment in the last thread somewhat resembles such denial, referring to the accounts only as “propagandist myths and lies”, and giving no acknowledgement of the existence of a kernel of truth: that over the course of a couple centuries, on the order of a few thousand people were executed, and more tortured.
      The events certainly aren’t grounds for lying or persecution…. except in so far as truthful criticism might be painted as “persecution” by those being criticized.

    • Everett

      Julie,
      Who has persecuted the Catholic Church because of the Inquistion?

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        Intentional lies and anti-Catholic propaganda are a form of persecution. Check out the Black Legend.

        • Everett

          If intentional lies are a form of persecution, then the hierarchy of which you are a member is guilty of persecuting the victims of your pedophile priests. The media has also been persecuted by your church. Don’t you people get tired of hiding behind “anti-Catholic”. That was the first and protracted response of the church when the sex scandal broke. Anyone who critisizes the Catholic Church, to a conservative Catholic, is automatically anti-Catholic and, therefore, dismissed. Moreover, there would not have been a Black Legend if there not had been an Inquisition.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            Simply untrue assertions. Study the history of the Black Legend and you will see that it was intentional anti-Spanish propaganda which exaggerated the Inquisition for political purposes. We are happy to accept fair criticism of the Catholic faith, but insist that it be factual, fair and balanced–just as anyone would expect fair treatment.

          • Everett

            We are to believe that all the other Protestants got it wrong for hundreds of years, and these gnostic, liberal Protestants the BBC found who have warm, fuzzy things to say about the Catholic Church and mitigate the horrors of the Inquistion got it right. After the pedaphile scandal coverup and the Church’s response to the exposure, where do you get the nerve to say,”We are happy to accept fair criticism of the Catholic faith.”

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            I have lived in England for 25 years and I can assure you that the BBC very rarely say anything “warm and fuzzy” about the Catholic Church. This is why the documentary is all the more remarkable. I will say nothing more on this topic: If you want the truth, watch this documentary, do some research and by all means criticize the Catholic Church if you wish to, but do so with a bit of knowledge behind you. Otherwise you will continue to embarrass yourself in this public forum.


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