medieval Inquisitions

“Why do myths persist despite the exsistance of authentic scholarship that refutes them? because avowed enemies of the church find them useful in discrediting the church and limiting its influence in the world.”
-Steve Weidenkopf The real Story of Catholic History Catholic Answers press 2017

“many vicious distortions and lies had entered the historical cannon with the seal of distinguished scholarly approval, so long as they reflect badly on the catholic church.”
-Rodney Stark Bearing False Witness Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History Tempelton Press 2016

Short History

“Great historical myths die hard....writers continue to spread traditional myths....even though they are fully aware of the new findings. They do so because they are determined to show that religion, and especially Christianity, is a dreadful curse upon humanity.”
-Rodney Stark Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History

Started in 1184- bishops were sent to determine heretics in their area from the Pope. These were to be done before secular law dealt with heretics [who would burn them at the stake] as the secular law was not accurate to determine true faith. Between the years of 1200-1400 inquisitors would move from one place to another, later they would be set up in big cities and heretics would be brought to them. In 1231 a major Heresy in the south of France that rejected Jesus divinity and humanity but instead thought him a phantom that did not die on the cross, and that the purpose of life was to free ourselves from bodies and the highest form of worship was suicide. The church reacted. First the church held councils and condemned the heresy but it continued to spread rapid. An earlier Pope had sent missionaries to teach/preach and worked with secular rulers for help. Later a secular leader kills a papal legate and the pope calls a crusade to destroy the Heresy in reaction.

Worldview and why Heresy is bad

In that time period they had different worldviews than we do today. Religion was everything at that time and all society was built around it. Anything done to disrupt belief also disrupts the entire way of life. Christianity was united at the time in the catholic faith. Heresy was seen as an active threat that sought to convert the faithful. It was seen as a threat to the soul. Violence follows heresy by dividing communities it was seen as a danger to souls but also to the social order since it often led to violent rebellions. Secular leaders felt heresy a threat to their authority, it was a capital crime in secular law.

For why heresy was taken so serious at the time read here

Purpose of the Inquisitions

The inquisitions were formed to combat secular and church persecution of heretics. Persecution lessened under the inquisitions. The Secular governments of the time offered no rights to the heretics and the penalty was capital punishment to be burned at stake. Mobs at times lynched heretics without trials.

"In France, in 1430, the Inquisition was established by the authority of the Pope, as an orderly and judicial means of dealing with what was regarded as a terrible social and religious evil. Maycock writes: "In the thirteenth century the secular arm, as a rule, needed no encouragement in the vigorous prosecution of heresy. And, so far as the burning of heretics was concerned, the Inquisition was a damping factor rather than a driving force."Undoubtedly Vacandard is right when he says, 'Taking all in all, the Inquisition in its operation developed a real progress in the treatment of criminals; for it not only put an end to the vengeance of the mob, but it diminished considerably the number of others condemned to death.'

The Churches main goal was to save the soul of the heretic and to protect the unity of the church and society. They wanted conversion and not the death of the heretic. Inquisitors were sent to show the heretic why they were wrong and convert them. If the inquisitors failed in there job the heretic was handed over to the state to be killed. The Church was interested in saving the soul from eternal punishment. Inquisitions effected only post baptism Catholics who had fallen from a major doctrine. A list of procedures for papal inquisitors was used to determine if a heretics were in the faith. it did not effect Jews/Muslims. Inquisitors must be men of good faith and good morals and have theological training.

How They Operated

Inquisitors come to a area and announce they are their and give a grace period of 30-40 days. They also would teach/preach the faith. They give an area where a heretic can come to confess and be brought back into the church. After the grace period is over evidence is gathered to bring a heretic to court where they would be tried. The defendant could gather evidence [and witnesses] and everything said by the defendant was recorded and written down. If they are found guilty, the inquisitors would try and show the heretic why they are wrong and why their soul is in danger, and try to bring them back.


Torture was originally not allowed. Yet it was allowed extensive in secular courts to bring about confession. Later when it was used it was optional and most inquisitors did not chose to use it. The most famous inquisitor Bernard Gui said not to use it as it was not effective. It was regulated and inquisitors themselves could not use torture. They brought in secular ruler to do so under church regulated guidelines with the intent to get a confession or the truth, not a punishment. It only could be used once after all other options were used up. A confession made by a supposed heretic in torture would be given a day of rest, than asked again if their confession was genuine.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

2298 In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.


Punishments for heretics that confesses and asked forgiveness were penance, fasting, wear special cloths [yellow with cross for period of time] give alms or go on pilgrimage [crusade]

If the Heretic Refuses

And the inquisitors cannot help, they give heretic over to the state. Death penalty from the state often was to burn at the stake. The catholic church never killed anyone, it was against cannon law to do so, they handed them over to the state. most cases did not end in death of heretic.

1227-1277 in fance 5,000 executed 100 a year
Bernard Gui 16 years 930 judgments 42 given to state or less than 5%

Spanish Inquisitions


“Historians of the inquisitions have reveled that in contrast with the secular courts across Europe, the Spanish inquisition was a constant force for justice, restraint, due process, and enlightenment”
-Rodney Stark Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History

“Really politics, the crown of Spain wanted to consolidate power in the south were the people were a threat to Spain's power.”
-Steve Weidenkopf The real story of the inquisitions teacher of church history at the notre dame graduate school of Christendom collage

At the time of the Spanish inquisitions there were Christians/Jews/Muslims all living in same land in southern Spain. There were still Muslim armies in southern Spain fighting against the Spanish crown. Many Muslim and Jews converted to Catholicism. Many catholic citizens were worried that false converts would help Muslim armies invade cities and open the gates to the cities and give information to Muslims armies. In 1478 the Spanish government asked, and was granted by pope, to instill inquisitions because of rumors of false converts. The Inquisitors were used in part, to protect true Jewish and Muslim converts in Spain from mob violence. The inquisitions had support from the people of Spain at the time, it was centered in cities, it did not effect outside the city and it was overall far less powerful and influncial than previously believed. Added that the witch hunts in Spain were

“Rendered comparative harmless...due to the wisdom and firmness of the inquisition.”
-Historian Henry Lea

"From the special problems with which Spain was confronted, and from the policy of the rulers, the Spanish Inquisitors were civil functionaries more than Church officials. "A fair way of putting the case is perhaps this" (says Eliza Atkins Stone, a Protestant writer): "The machinery of the Spanish Inquisition was mainly ecclesiastical; the Vatican had more or less voice in its management, but on the lever was always not the Papal, but the Royal hand." This much is beyond question: It began its career under the definite censure of the Holy See, and the latter, perturbed at its severity, constantly urged clemency. "

Spanish Inquisitions Details

Inquisitors had to be men well trained in theology and morally upright. Used only on baptized christian under royal not papal control. The pope once sent letters to try and stop the crimes done by the crown during Spanish inquisitions. The Inquisitors would set up area and preach/teach for a grace period of 30-40 days for heretics to confess and be forgiven. Than the trial with evidence presented. If enough evidence was found to bring them to trial, the defendant was placed in jail, [a church jail much better conditions than secular] and the defendant's were allowed advocates [lawyer] and allowed to give a list of people who hated them that might lie to get you in trouble who would not be allowed to testify against the charged.


“All the courts of Europe used torture, but the inquisition did so far less than other courts”
-Rodney Stark Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History

Torture in secular courts was used regularity. In the inquisitions it was rarely used. Overall torture was used in less than 2% of cases. it could only be used once, it was recorded, a bishop, witnesses, and doctors must all be present. It was limited to 15 minutes. If a confession is made they were given a day rest then re-asked. Torture was done by the secular courts not ecclesiastical.

“Inquisitors themselves were skeptical of the efficacy and validity of torture as a method.”
-Helen Rawlings The Spanish Inquisition Oxford Blackwell 2006


Were usually a fine or prison [often house arrest or monastery house] sometimes the guilty had to wear a yellow shirt with a cross, sometimes flogging was used as a punishment. In Spain Prisoners of secular courts would on purpose commit an offense to be transferred to inquisition prisons as they were better provided for.

If They Wont Confess and are Guilty

“The death sentence was handed down and carried out by the state. The church itself never executed any heretics.”
--Steve Weidenkopf The real Story of Catholic History Catholic Answers press 2017

The charged were than handed over to the state and often burned on stake. Church law forbid danger to life or limb nor could they shed blood. Most all cases did not end in secular death penalty.

"Fewer than 2% of total tried received the death penalty. During the 16th and 17th century fewer than three persons a year were but to death from Sicily to puru,a lower rate than any court in Spain or Europe, secular courts had higher rate of death penalty."
-The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision Paperbackby Henry Kamen

"less than three people per year were sentenced to death by the Inquisition throughout the Spanish Empire, which ranged from Spain to Sicily and Peru. Secular historians given access to the Vatican’s archives in 1998 discovered that of the 44,674 individuals tried between 1540 and 1700, only 804 were recorded as being relictus culiae saeculari. The 763-page report indicates that only 1 percent of the 125,000 trials recorded over the entire inquisition ultimately resulted in execution by the secular authority, which means that throughout its infamous 345-year history, the dread Spanish Inquisition was less than one-fourteenth as deadly on an annual basis as children’s bicycles. for the history and what led up to the Inquisitions.

1480-1530 At the height of Spanish inquisitions 2,000 were executed or 40 a year. From 1480-1700 they averaged 10 deaths a year in Spain. Over 350 years the entire time of the events, 4,000 in Spain were executed [some estimated as low as 3,000 across all of Europe see stark]. 95% of Spanish citizens never saw or encountered and inquisitor in their life.

"taking into account all the tribunals of spain up till 1530, it is unlikely that more than 2,000 people were executed"
-The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision Paperbackby Henry Kamen


Spain had religious peace and unity in society. There were many religious wars in Europe at the time and Spain was free from them.

"A renowned historian here presents a new view of the notorious Spanish Inquisition, arguing that there was less terror, bigotry, and persecution associated with it than has been previously believed. Based on thirty years of research, the book will revolutionize further study in the field."
The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision Henery Kamen Yale University Press; 1997

Total deaths from inquisitions in all of history

slight less than 10,000.
done by church 0
done by state 10,000

compared with the atheistic french revolution that persecuted Catholics over 3 years death totals

Guillotined, 17,000; shot at Toulon, 2000; drowned at Mantes, men, women, and children, 4,800. Then there were the murders by the mob about 10,000 were killed without trial in the province of Anjou alone.

Compare with the 6,832 members of the Catholic clergy murdered in the Spanish Republican Red Terror of 1936 is more than twice the number of the victims of 345 years of inquisition.

From 1530-1630 the secular court of England averaged 750 hangings a year for offenses as light as minor theft.

"Even adjusting for changes in population size, atheist regimes are responsible for 100 times more death in one century than Christian rulers inflicted over five centuries.As for the Inquisition, much of the modern stereotype was largely made up by Spain’s political enemies, and later by anti-Christians. The Inquisition only had authority over professing Christians, and the Inquisition trials were often fairer and more lenient than their secular counterparts. Often the only penalty given was some sort of penance such as fasting. Over a period of 350 years, historians such as Henry Kamen estimate only between 1,500 and 4,000 people were executed for heresy."

During the French Atheistic revolution the government Drowned, killed thousands of priests, nuns and bishops. Nuns were killed naked thrown into a common grave. Took church property. Closed monasteries and convents while dissolving religious orders. Took away their money through tithes. Confiscated valubels.

Did away with church holidays, names of streets, towns etc. Could not have public displayed of crosses and outdoor worship was outlawed [separation of church and state] No visible statues or church bells could not be rung.

Only supported the “state” clergy who were the ones that did what the state wanted and gutted Christianity. Criminalized non state clergy. The death penalty to any who harbored non state priest [Jews in ww2] Priest could not wear Priestley cloths or nuns and bishops. Tombstones were smashed that were crosses. No building could be purchased for “religious” purposes. Cults replaced Christianity. The cult of reason worshiped a statue of the godess of reason and they met in the cathedral of notre damn.

Lenin came into power he executed priest, bishops, nuns and monks by the thousands. Closed monasteries and convents and imprisoned or shut up in labor camps and mental hospitals. In 19922 their was a concentration camp for clergy on an island in the white sea and they were executed by firing squad. 200,000 in all were killed for their faith. Throughout Russia they were crucified, mutilated, castrated, frozen alive, buried alive, burned, thrown into burning tar, scalped, strangled, drowned, and given communion with melting lead. Estimated that as many as 20 million in all were killed for their religion in Russia. Same kinds of things to a lesser extent happened in Spain during the civil war.