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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition

The term Inquisition can apply to any one of several institutions charged with trying and convicting heretics (or other offenders against canon law) within the justice-system of the Catholic Church. It may also refer to:[1]

  1. an ecclesiastical tribunal
  2. the institution of the Catholic Church for combating or suppressing heresy
  3. a number of historical expurgation movements against heresy (orchestrated by some groups/individuals within the Catholic Church or within a Catholic state)
  4. the trial of an individual accused of heresy.


Inquisition tribunals and institutions

Before the 12th century, the Catholic Church already suppressed what it saw as heresy, usually through a system of ecclesiastical proscription or imprisonment, but usually without using torture[2] and seldom resorting to executions.[3] - this form of punishment had many ecclesiastical opponents, although some non-secular countries punished heresy with the death penalty.[4][5]

In the 12th century, to counter the spread of Catharism, prosecution of heretics became more frequent. The Church charged councils composed of bishops and archbishops with establishing inquisitions (see Episcopal Inquisition).

In the 13th century, Pope Gregory IX (reigned 1227–1241) assigned the duty of carrying out inquisitions to the Dominican Order. Inquisitors acted in the name of the Pope and with his full authority. They used inquisitorial procedures, a legal practice common at that time. They judged heresy alone, using the local authorities to establish a tribunal and to prosecute heretics. After the end of the twelfth century, a Grand Inquisitor headed each Inquisition. Inquisitions in this form persisted in parts of the world until the 19th century.[6]

By the start of the 16th century the Roman Catholic Church had reached an apparently dominant position as the established religious authority in western and central Europe, dominating a faith-landscape in which Judaism, Waldensianism, Hussitism, Lollardry and the finally-conquered Muslims of al-Andalus hardly figured in terms of numbers or of influence. When the institutions of the church felt themselves threatened by what they perceived as the heresy, and then schism of the Protestant Reformation, they reacted. Paul III (Pope from 1534 to 1549) established a system of tribunals, administered by the "Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition", and staffed by cardinals and other Church officials. This system would later become known as the Roman Inquisition.

In 1908 Saint Pope Pius X renamed the organisation: it became the "Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office". This in its turn became the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith[7] in 1965, which name continues to this day.

Functional role

In practice, the Inquisition would not itself pronounce sentence, but handed over convicted heretics to secular authorities.[8]


A 1578 handbook for inquisitors spelled out the purpose of inquisitorial penalties: ... quoniam punitio non refertur primo & per se in correctionem & bonum eius qui punitur, sed in bonum publicum ut alij terreantur, & a malis committendis avocentur. [Translation from the Latin: "... for punishment does not take place primarily and per se for the correction and good of the person punished, but for the public good in order that others may become terrified and weaned away from the evils they would commit."][9]

Inquisition movements

Emblem of the Inquisition.

Historians distinguish four different manifestations of the Inquisition:

  1. the Medieval Inquisition (1184–1230s)
  2. the Spanish Inquisition (1478–1834)
  3. the Portuguese Inquisition (1536–1821)
  4. the Roman Inquisition (1542 – c. 1860 )

Because of its objective — combating heresy — the Inquisition had jurisdiction only over baptised members of the Church (which, however, encompassed the vast majority of the population in Catholic countries). Secular courts could still try non-Christians for blasphemy. (Most witch trials went through secular courts.)

Different areas faced different situations with regard to heresies and suspicion of heresies. Most of Medieval Western and Central Europe had a long-standing veneer of Catholic standardisation over traditional non-Christian practices, with intermittent localised occurrences of different ideas (such as Catharism or Platonism) and periodic anti-Semitic/anti-Judaic activity. Exceptionally, Portugal and Spain in the late Middle Ages consisted largely of multicultural territories fairly recently re-conquered from the Islamic states of Al-Andalus control, and the new Christian authorities could not assume that all their subjects would suddenly become and remain orthodox Catholics. So the Inquisition in Iberia, in the lands of the Reconquista counties and kingdoms like Portugal, Leon, Castile and Aragon, had a special socio-political basis as well as more conventional religious motives. With the Protestant Reformation, Catholic authorities became much more ready to suspect heresy in any new ideas,[10] including those of Renaissance humanism, [11] previously strongly supported by many at the top of the Church hierarchy. The extirpation of heretics became a much broader and more complex enterprise, complicated by the politics of territorial Protestant powers, especially in northern Europe. The Catholic Church could no longer exercise direct influence in the politics and justice-systems of lands which officially adopted Protestantism. Thus war (the French Wars of Religion, the Thirty Years War), massacre (the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre) and the educational[12] and propaganda work[13] of the Counter-Reformation came to play relatively larger roles in these circumstances, and the judicial approach to heresy represented by the Inquisition became relatively less important overall.[citation needed] Inquisition tribunals only functioned in Catholic territories, but secular law in both Catholic and Protestant countries could address the criminal offences of heresy and witchcraft.


Medieval Inquisition

Historians use the term "Medieval Inquisition" to describe the various inquisitions that started around 1184, including the Episcopal Inquisition (1184–1230s) and later the Papal Inquisition (1230s). These inquisitions responded to large popular movements throughout Europe considered apostate or heretical to Christianity, in particular the Cathars in southern France and the Waldensians in both southern France and northern Italy. Other Inquisitions followed after these first inquisition movements.

Legal basis for some inquisitorial activity came from Pope Innocent IV's papal bull Ad exstirpanda of 1252, which authorized and regulated the use of torture in investigating heresy.

Spanish Inquisition

Representation of an auto de fé, (around 1495).[14]
Many artistic representations depict torture and burning at the stake as occurring during the auto de fé.

King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile set up the Spanish Inquisition in 1478. In contrast to the previous inquisitions, it operated completely under royal authority, though staffed by secular clergy and orders, and independently of the Holy See. It operated in Spain and in all Spanish colonies and territories, which included the Canary Islands, the Spanish Netherlands, the Kingdom of Naples, and all Spanish possessions in North, Central, and South America. It targeted primarily converts from Judaism (Conversos and Marranos) and from Islam (Moriscos or secret Moors) — both groups still resided in Spain after the end of the Islamic control of Spain — who came under suspicion of either continuing to adhere to their old religion or of having fallen back into it. Somewhat later the Spanish Inquisition took an interest in Protestants of virtually any sect, notably in the Spanish Netherlands. In the Spanish possessions of the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples in southern Italy, which formed part of the Spanish Crown's hereditary possessions, it also targeted Greek Orthodox Christians. The Spanish Inquisition, tied to the authority of the Spanish Crown, also examined political cases.

In the Americas, King Philip II set up two tribunals (each formally titled Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición), one in Peru and the other in Mexico. The Mexican office administered the Audiencias of Guatemala (Guatemala, Chiapas, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica), Nueva Galicia (northern and western Mexico), Mexico (central and southeastern Mexico), and the Philippines. The Peruvian Inquisition, based in Lima, administered all the Spanish territories in South America and Panama. From 1610 a new Inquisition seat established in Cartagena (Colombia) administered much of the Spanish Caribbean in addition to Panama and northern South America.

The Inquisition continued to function in North America until the Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821). In South America Simón Bolívar abolished the Inquisition; in Spain itself the institution survived until 1834.

Portuguese Inquisition

Copper engraving intitled "Die Inquisition in Portugall", by Jean David Zunner from the work Description de L'Univers, Contenant les Differents Systemes de Monde, Les Cartes Generales & Particulieres de la Geographie Ancienne & Moderne by Alain Manesson Mallet, Frankfurt, 1685.

The Portuguese Inquisition formally started in Portugal in 1536 at the request of the King of Portugal, João III. Manuel I had asked Pope Leo X for the installation of the Inquisition in 1515, but only after his death (1521) did Pope Paul III acquiesce. However, many place the actual beginning of the Portuguese Inquisition during the year of 1497, when the civil authorities expelled many Jews from Portugal and forcibly converted others to Catholicism. The Portuguese Inquisition principally targeted the Sephardic Jews, whom the state forced to convert to Christianity. Spain had expelled its Sephardic population in 1492 (see Alhambra decree); after 1492 many of these Spanish Jews left Spain for Portugal but eventually became targeted there as well.

The Portuguese Inquisition came under the authority of the King. At its head stood a Grand Inquisitor, or General Inquisitor, named by the Pope but selected by the Crown, and always from within the royal family. The Grand Inquisitor would later nominate other inquisitors. In Portugal, Cardinal Henry served as the first Grand Inquisitor: he would later become King Henry of Portugal. Courts of the Inquisition operated in Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra, and Évora.

The Portuguese Inquisition held its first auto-da-fé (the Portuguese equivalent of the Spanish auto de fé) in Portugal in 1540. It concentrated its efforts on rooting out converts from other faiths (overwhelmingly Judaism) who did not adhere to the observances of Catholic orthodoxy; the Portuguese inquisitors mostly targeted the Jewish "New Christians," conversos, or marranos.

The Portuguese Inquisition expanded its scope of operations from Portugal to Portugal's colonial possessions, including Brazil, Cape Verde, and Goa, where it continued as a religious court, investigating and trying cases of breaches of the tenets of orthodox Roman Catholicism until 1821.

King João III (reigned 1521–1557) extended the activity of the courts to cover book-censorship, divination, witchcraft and bigamy Originally oriented for a religious action, the Inquisition had an influence in almost every aspect of Portuguese society: politically, culturally and socially.

The Goa Inquisition, another inquisition rife with antisemitism and anti-Hinduism and which mostly targeted Jews and Hindus, started in Goa in 1560. Aleixo Dias Falcão and Francisco Marques set it up in the palace of the Sabaio Adil Khan.

According to Henry Charles Lea[15] between 1540 and 1794 tribunals in Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra and Évora resulted in the burning of 1,175 persons, the burning of another 633 in effigy, and the penancing of 29,590. But documentation of fifteen out of 689[16] Autos-da-fé has disappeared, so these numbers may slightly understate the activity.

The "General Extraordinary and Constituent Courts of the Portuguese Nation" abolished the Portuguese inquisition in 1821.

Roman Inquisition

In 1542, Pope Paul III established the Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition as a permanent congregation staffed with cardinals and other officials. It had the tasks of maintaining and defending the integrity of the faith and of examining and proscribing errors and false doctrines;[17] it thus became the supervisory body of local Inquisitions. Arguably the most famous case tried by the Roman Inquisition involved Galileo Galilei in 1633. Following the French invasion of 1798, the new authorities sent 3,000 chests containing over 100,000 Inquisition documents to France from Rome.[citation needed] After the restoration of the Pope as the ruler of the Papal States after 1814, Roman Inquisition activity continued until the mid-19th century, notably in the well-publicised Mortara Affair (1858–1870).

In 1908 the name of the Congregation became "The Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office", which in 1965 further changed to "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith", as retained to the present day. The Pope appoints a cardinal to preside over the Congregation, which usually includes ten other cardinals, as well as a prelate and two assistants, all chosen from the Dominican Order. The Holy Office also has an international group of consultants, experienced scholars in theology and canon law, who advise it on specific questions.[citation needed]

The reputation(s) of the Inquisition(s)

In the medieval context, the methods and practices of the Inquisition reflected common judicial procedure at the time.[citation needed]

With the sharpening of debate and of conflict between the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-reformation, Protestant societies came to see/use the Inquisition as a terrifying "Other" trope,[18] while staunch Catholics regarded the Holy Office as a necessary bulwark against the spread of reprehensible heresies.[citation needed] Some of the fictional works mentioned below reflect the popular reputation of the Inquisition as much as its historicity.

Derivative works

The Inquisitions appear in many cultural works. Some include:

See also

Documents and works

Notable inquisitors

Notable cases involving the Inquisition



  1. ^ Medieval Sourcebook: Inquisition - Introduction
  2. ^ Lea, Henry Charles. "Chapter VII. The Inquisition Founded". A History of the Inquisition In The Middle Ages. 1. Retrieved 2009-11-26. "The judicial use of torture was as yet happily unknown [...]" 
  3. ^ Blötzer, J. (1910). "Inquisition". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 2009-11-26. "... in this period the more influential ecclesiastical authorities declared that the death penalty was contrary to the spirit of the Gospel, and themselves opposed its execution. For centuries this was the ecclesiastical attitude both in theory and in practice. Thus, in keeping with the civil law, some Manichæans were executed at Ravenna in 556. On the other hand. Elipandus of Toledo and Felix of Urgel, the chiefs of Adoptionism and Predestinationism, were condemned by councils, but were otherwise left unmolested. We may note, however, that the monk Gothescalch, after the condemnation of his false doctrine that Christ had not died for all mankind, was by the Synods of Mainz in 848 and Quiercy in 849 sentenced to flogging and imprisonment, punishments then common in monasteries for various infractions of the rule". 
  4. ^ Blötzer, J. (1910). "Inquisition". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 2009-11-26. "[...] the occasional executions of heretics during this period must be ascribed partly to the arbitrary action of individual rulers, partly to the fanatic outbreaks of the overzealous populace, and in no wise to ecclesiastical law or the ecclesiastical authorities.". 
  5. ^ Lea, Henry Charles. "Chapter VII. The Inquisition Founded". A History of the Inquisition In The Middle Ages. 1. Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Profile
  8. ^ Lea, Henry Charles. "Chapter VII. The Inquisition Founded". A History of the Inquisition In The Middle Ages. 1. Retrieved 2009-10-07. "Obstinate heretics, refusing to abjure and return to the Church with due penance, and those who after abjuration relapsed, were to be abandoned to the secular arm for fitting punishment." 
  9. ^ Directorium Inquisitorum, edition of 1578, Book 3, page 137, column 1. Online in the Cornell University Collection. Retrieved: 2008-05-16.
  10. ^ Stokes, Adrian Durham (2002) [1955]. Michelangelo: a study in the nature of art. Routledge classics (2 ed.). Routledge. p. 39. ISBN 9780415267656. Retrieved 2009-11-26. "Ludovico is so immediately settled in heaven by the poet that some commentators have divined that Michelangel is voicing heresy, that is to say, the denial of purgatory." 
  11. ^ Erasmus, the arch-Humanist of the Rennaissance, came under suspicion of heresy, see Olney, Warren (2009). Desiderius Erasmus; Paper Read Before the Berkeley Club, March 18, 1920.. BiblioBazaar. p. 15. ISBN 9781113405036. Retrieved 2009-11-26. "Thomas More, in an elaborate defense of his friend, written to a cleric who accused Erasmus of heresy, seems to admit that Erasmus was probably the author of Julius." 
  12. ^ Vidmar, John C. (2005). The Catholic Church Through the Ages. New York: Paulist Press. p. 241. ISBN 9780809142347. 
  13. ^ Soergel, Philip M. (1993). Wondrous in His Saints: Counter Reformation Propaganda in Bavaria. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 239. ISBN 0520080475. 
  14. ^ Page of the painting at Prado Museum.
  15. ^ Henry Charles Lea, A History of the Inquisition of Spain, vol. 3, Book 8.
  16. ^ António José Saraiva, Herman Prins Salomon, I. S. D. Sassoon, The Marrano Factory: The Portuguese Inquistion and Its New Christians 1536–1765, 2001, p. 102
  17. ^ The Galileo Project | Christianity | The Inquisition
  18. ^ Compare Haydon, Colin (1993). Anti-Catholicism in eighteenth-century England, c. 1714-80: a political and social study. Studies in imperialism. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 6. ISBN 0719028590. Retrieved 2010-02-28. "The popular fear of Popery focused on the persecution of heretics by the Catholics. It was generally assumed that, whenever it was in their power, Papists would extirpate heresy by force, seeing it as a religious duty. History seemed to show this all too clearly. [...] The Inquisition had suppressed, and continued to check, religious dissent in Spain. Papists, and most of all,the Pope, delighted in the slaughter of heretics. 'I most firmly believed when I was as boy', William Cobbett [born 1763], coming originally from rural Surrey, recalled, 'that the Pope was a prodigious woman, dressed in a dreadful robe, which had been made red by being dipped in the blood of Protestants'." 


  • Foxe, John (1997) [1563] Chadwick, Harold J. ed. The new Foxe's book of martyrs / John Foxe ; rewritten and updated by Harold J. Chadwick Bridge-Logos ISBN 0-88270-672-1 
  • Edward Burman, The Inquisition: The Hammer of Heresy (Sutton Publishers, 2004) ISBN 0-7509-3722-X
    • A new edition of a book first published in 1984, a general history based on the main primary sources.
  • Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision. (Yale University Press, 1999). ISBN 0-300-07880-3
    • This revised edition of his 1965 original contributes to the understanding of the Spanish Inquisition in its local context.
  • Edward M. Peters, Inquisition. (University of California Press, 1989). ISBN 0-520-06630-8
    • A brief, balanced inquiry, with an especially good section on the 'Myth of the Inquisition' (see The Inquisition Myth). This work has particular value because much of the history of the Inquisition available in English originated in the 19th century from Protestants interested in documenting the dangers of Catholicism or from Catholic apologists presenting the Inquisition as an entirely reasonable judicial body without flaws.
  • Cecil & Irene Roth, A history of the Marranos, Sepher-Hermon Press, 1974.
  • William Thomas Walsh, Characters of the Inquisition (TAN Books and Publishers, Inc, 1940/97). ISBN 0-89555-326-0
  • Parker, Geoffrey (1982). "Some Recent Work on the Inquisition in Spain and Italy". Journal of Modern History 54 (3). 
  • Ludovico a Paramo, De Origine et Progressu Sanctae Inquisitionis (1598).
  • E. N Adler, Autos de fe and the Jew (1908).
  • J. Baker, History of the Inquisition (1736).
  • R. Cappa, La Inquisicion Espanola (1888).
  • Genaro Garcia, Autos de fe de la Inquisicion de Mexico (1910).
  • F. Garau, La Fee Triunfante (1691-reprinted 1931).
  • Given, James B Inquisition and Medieval Society New York, Cornell University Press, 2001
  • Henry Charles Lea, A History of the Inquisition of Spain (4 volumes), (New York and London, 1906–1907).
  • Juan Antonio Llorente, Historia Critica de la Inquisicion de Espana
  • J. Marchant, A Review of the Bloody Tribunal (1770).
  • J.M. Marin, Procedimientos de la Inquisicion (2 volumes), (1886).
  • Antonio Puigblanch, La Inquisición sin máscara (Cádiz, 1811–1813). [The Inquisition Unmasked (London, 1816)]
  • V. Vignau, Catalogo... de la Inquisicion de Toledo (1903).
  • W.T. Walsh, Isabella of Spain (1931).
  • Simon Whitechapel, Flesh Inferno: Atrocities of Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition (Creation Books, 2003). ISBN 1-84068-105-5
    • "A good example of how uncritical acceptance of disjointed historical data helps inform contemporary notions of the black legend"
  • Paz y Mellia, Antonio (1914) (in in Spanish). Catalogo Abreviado de Papeles de Inquisicion. Madrid: Tip. de la Revista de arch., bibl. y museos. 
  • Sir Alexandr G. Cardew, A Short History of the Inquisition (1933).
  • Warren H. Carroll, Isabel: the Catholic Queen Front Royal, Virginia, 1991 (Christendom Press)
  • G. G. Coulton, The Inquisition (1929).
  • Ramon de Vilana Perlas, La Verdadera Practica Apostolica de el S. Tribunal de la Inquisicion (1735).
  • A. Herculano, Historia da Origem e Estabelecimento da Inquisicao em Portugal (English translation, 1926).
  • M. Jouve, Torquemada (1935).
  • A.L. Maycock, The Inquisition (1926).
  • H. Nickerson, The Inquisition (1932).
  • H.B. Piazza, A Short and True Account of the Inquisition and its Proceeding (1722).
  • L. Tanon, Histoire des Tribunaux de l'Inquisition (1893).
  • Twiss, Miranda (2002) The Most Evil Men And Women In History Michael O'Mara Books Ltd ISBN 978-1854794888 
  • Emile van der Vekene: Bibliotheca bibliographica historiae sanctae inquisitionis. Bibliographisches Verzeichnis des gedruckten Schrifttums zur Geschichte und Literatur der Inquisition. Vol. 1–3. Topos-Verlag, Vaduz 1982–1992, ISBN 3-289-00272-1, ISBN 3-289-00578-X (7110 titles on the subject "Inquisition")
  • Emile van der Vekene: La Inquisición en grabados originales. Exposición realizada con fondos de la colección Emile van der Vekene de la Universidad San Pablo-CEU, Aranjuez, 4-26 de Mayo de 2005, Madrid: Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, 2005. ISBN 84-96144-86-0

Online works

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also inquisition



Proper noun

Wikipedia has an article on:



  1. a tribunal of the Roman Catholic Church set up to investigate and suppress heresy
  2. (by extension) a harsh or rigorous interrogation that violates the rights of an individual

Derived terms


German Wikipedia has an article on:

Wikipedia de



Inquisition f. (genitive Inquisition, plural Inquisitionen)

  1. Inquisition

Simple English

File:Tribunal de la Inquisició
This painting is how Francisco de Goya y Lucientes imagined the Inquisition. It was drawn from 1812 to 1819

The Inquisition is the name for a number of judgments. The Catholic Church did most of them, for heresy. In the Middle Ages, heresy was common. There were also special people to judge these heresies. The usual punishment for those who were found guilty was death. There were several movements, and waves of inquisition.

The word Inquisition comes from Latin quaerere. That means to to turn, to ask a question.


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