The Inquisition

   The Inquisition is a name given usually to an organization in Spain for the detection and suppression of heresy. It is known also as the "Holy Office." It was established in 1480. in the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, at Seville. At the beginning we may believe readily a sincere desire to weed out error and to win persons back from a wrong belief lay at the foundation. It seems equally certain that the lust of power and the desire to bring rivals to the dust actuated those in control. Two names in power, Tomas of Torquemada and Ximenes, are associated forever with a reputation for cruelty. The inquisitors were usually Dominican monks. Our knowledge of the inquisition is derived chiefly from Jesuit writers. It was aimed primarily at the Jews and Moors. Many of these were wealthy. Their property afforded a rich booty, which throws an additional suspicion on the sincerity of the inquisitors. During the first year of operation a local histo­rian certifies that 298 victims were burned in Seville alone, and that no less than 2,000 were burned in the archbishopric. The Holy Office had no respect for persons. The wealthy Jew, the Moor, the peasant, the merchant, the priest, even a cardinal, were haled before the inquisitors.

   Queen Isabella, though a zealous church-woman, had a tender heart. "In the love of Christ and his Maid Mother," said she, "I have caused great misery and have depopulated towns and districts, provinces and kingdoms." In the reign of Charles V, her grandson, and his son, Philip II, the Holy Office extended its inquiries into the Netherlands. Many suffered also in Italy and Sicily. 30,000 executions took place in Spain alone. Although the in­quisition fell off little by little as more modern ideas prevailed, it was not suppressed in Italy and Spain until the time of Napoleon. In fact a Jew was burned and a Quaker was hanged in Spain as late as 1826. In magnitude and ferocity the inquisition is unparalleled in the annals of history. An official burning of a heretic was known as an auto-de-fé, or an act of faith. In order to escape passing a partisan judgment, however, we have only to remember that atrocities very similar in character were perpetrated on a small scale in Puritan New England.