Columnist: The Inquisition Wasn't So Bad

Roundup: Talking About History

"Oswald Spengler," the pseudonym of a columnist, in Asia Times (June 22, 2004):

For serious devotees of torture, Washington's embarrassment about Abu Ghraib paled beside the Vatican's defense last week of the Spanish Inquisition. It turns out, reported church officials at a June 15 press conference, that the Spanish Inquisition burnt at the stake less than 1% of the 125,000 accused heretics brought before it. On the strength of this statistic they qualified Pope John Paul II's previous apology for the Inquisition."A request for forgiveness can only refer to facts that are true and objectively recognized. One does not ask forgiveness for some impressions widely held by public opinion, which contain more myth than reality," said Cardinal Georges Cottier.

Catholic publicists in possession of these data have been campaigning to rescue the Inquisition's good name from the besmirchment of Protestant propaganda. Wrote Prof Thomas F Madden of St Louis University in October 2003:"The Spanish people loved their Inquisition. That is why it lasted for so long."

Silly as he sounds, Prof Madden is quite right. In fact, I have been defending the Spanish Inquisition for years, most recently in a comment on March 16, 2004 (Spain's elections show why radical Islam can win). People do nasty things not because they are negligent or bloody-minded, but rather because they cannot avoid doing them. That is why we call such things tragic. Spain's inquisitors were not the horror-movie sadists of popular myth, but sad little functionaries seeking to prevent the sort of religious war that plagued Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. Not the boorish Germans but rather the agile Latins first opened the Pandora's Box of religious reform. If we accept that Spain's Inquisition was tragic rather than arbitrary, we must - I believe - also reach the conclusion that Christianity can flourish only on the American model. Neither Catholic empire nor the Protestant nation-state could do anything except destroy itself. But this is to get ahead of the story; we have only just tugged at the loose thread.

Before it burned heretics, the Spanish Inquisition burned books. Only one leaf remains of Bonifacio Ferrer's 1478 Spanish translation of the Bible, for the Inquisition hunted down every copy printed. Bible reading, they knew led to Protestantism, and Protestantism led to religious war.

Then the Inquisition hunted down Jews, for Jews knew Hebrew, and might teach it to Protestants who then might translate the Bible (which happened in Luther's Germany). As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it, the Inquisition sought to prevent the"Judaizing of all of Spain", that is, the spread of Protestantism, and thus persuaded the Catholic monarchs to expel the Jews in 1492.

Was the Spanish Inquisition wrong? On the contrary. Religious war devastated France during the 16th century, and during the 17th century reduced the population of Germany by more than half. England's Civil War shed less blood, but left its business unfinished. Cavalier and Roundhead diehards emigrated respectively to Virginia and Massachusetts, sowing the seeds of America's devastating Civil War 200 years later (see David Hackett Fischer’s 1989 book Albion’s Seed).

Not until 1936 did the lid blow off, and Spain fought a long-delayed religious war between Catholicism and Atheism, in which the firing squad claimed more than a fifth of the estimated half-million violent deaths. The Spanish Civil War reduced a formerly martial nation to the feckless, infertile hedonists of today whose only claim to fame is the world's lowest birthrate. It was not always so.

Thanks to the Inquisition, the likes of Luther and Calvin got all the credit for the Reformation, but there is reason to believe that given a chance, the Spanish variant would have been far more intrepid. ...

With right the Vatican may defend the record of the Spanish Inquisition, but it alters not a jot or tittle of the awful sentence - oblivion - that history has passed upon European Christianity.

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Roxii ~ Hart - 6/7/2005

It seems here that you are very knowledgeable in regards to the Spanish Inquisition. I am required for an English class to have some form of contact with an expert on this topic, and I was wondering if you could posisbly provide me with aany information you may have. If it would be easier to respond to exact questions rather than such a general request, please let me know and I will come up with some. If you feel you are not capable of such a request, if you please point me in the direction fo sources you used, or some one else who could possibly help me.
Any help that you could provide would be greatly appreciated. If it is at all possible to contact me as quickly as you could, I would very much appreciate it because the paper is due this week. Thank you for taking your time to read this, and I hope to hear from you soon.