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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 Catholic Church. It may also reference:

  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 tortureand seldom resorting to executions. - this form of punishment had many ecclesiastical opponents, although some non-secular countries punished heresy with the death penalty.

In the 12th century, in order 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. Inquisition in this way persisted until the 19th century.

From obscure beginnings in the 1st century AD, the Roman Catholic Church had become by the early 16th century the predominant religious power in western and central Europe, dominating a faith-landscape in which Judaism, Waldensianism, Hussitism, Lollardry and the finally-conquered Muslims of al-Andalusmarker hardly figured in terms of numbers or of influence. Then, when the institutional Church felt itself threatened by what it perceived as the schism of the Protestant Reformation, it 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 Faithin 1965, which name continues .

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


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."]

Inquisition movements

Coat of arms 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-Andalusmarker control, and the new Christian authorities could not assume that all their subjects would suddenly become and remain orthodox Catholics. So the Inquisition in Iberiamarker, 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 Catholic authorities suspecting heresies in the rise of Protestantism and in the ideas of the Renaissance,,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 Protestant lands. Thus war (the French Wars of Religion, the Thirty Years War), massacre (the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre) and the educationaland propaganda workof the Counter-Reformation came to play relatively larger roles in these circumstances, and the judicial approach to heresy represented by the Inquisition became less important overall.

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

[[Image:Pedro Berruguete - Saint Dominic Presiding over an Auto-da-fe (1475).jpg|right|thumb|225px|Representation of an auto de fé, (around 1495).
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 with the approval of Pope Sixtus IV. 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 Islandsmarker, 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 Spainmarker — 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 Guatemalamarker (Guatemala, Chiapas, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica), Nueva Galicia (northern and western Mexico), Mexico (central and southeastern Mexico), and the Philippinesmarker. 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 Portugalmarker 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 Lisbonmarker, Portomarker, 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 Brazilmarker, Cape Verdemarker, and Goamarker, 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 Goamarker in 1560. Aleixo Dias Falcão and Francisco Marques set it up in the palace of the Sabaio Adil Khan.

According to Henry Charles Leabetween 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 689Autos-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;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. After the restoration of the Pope as the ruler of the Papal Statesmarker 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 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.

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. consejo_de_inquisición
  3. Profile
  4. Directorium Inquisitorum, edition of 1578, Book 3, page 137, column 1. Online in the Cornell University Collection. Retrieved: 2008-05-16.
  5. Erasmus, the arch-Humanist of the Rennaissance, came under suspicion of heresy, see
  6. : Berkeley CA: University of California Press, 1993
  7. Page of the painting at Prado Museum.
  8. Henry Charles Lea, A History of the Inquisition of Spain, vol. 3, Book 8.
  9. 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
  10. The Galileo Project | Christianity | The Inquisition


  • 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
  • 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"
  • 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).
  • 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

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