Many Christians today have forgotten their history. Books have been re-written; facts covered up and our generation is kept ignorant. We need to dig up historical facts for us to see what lies beneath the facade of Catholicism.
The Inquisition is a general term for a tribunal or “holy office” operated by the Catholic Church responsible for torturing, imprisoning and executing those who deviated from the church’s beliefs. The Inquisitions (Roman, Medieval and Spanish) were Rome’s method of suppressing any form of heresy and enforcing allegiance to the church. Remember that many of the-so called heretics were Bible believing Christians who rejected the false doctrines of Rome, looking instead to the Lord Jesus and His Word. The Inquisition was operated for several centuries by the Catholic church and covered Europe and the Americas.
Pope Innocent III (1160-1216) commanded the archbishop of Auch in Gascony: “We give you a strict command, that by whatever means you can, you destroy all these heresies…you may cause the princes and people to suppress them with the sword” (The Story of Civilization 4:773).
A Catholic historian explained: “The binding force of the laws against heretics lay not in the authority of secular princes, but in the sovereign dominion of life and death over all Christians claimed by the Popes as God’s representatives on earth, as Innocent III expressly states it” (Ignaz von Dollinger, The Pope and the Council, 195). Contrary to the claim of modern Catholic apologists, the Inquisition wasn’t the work of the state, but that of the popes of Rome who were ruling over the civil authorities.
Pope Innocent IV issued a bull “Ad Exstirpanda” in 1252 decreeing that heretics were to be “crushed like venomous snakes.” It endorsed the use of torture on them. The Catholic Encyclopedia (8:34) explains:
“The aforesaid bull ‘Ad Exstirpanda’ remained thenceforth a fundamental document of the Inquisition, renewed or reinforced by several popes. Alexander IV (1254-61), Clement IV (1265-68), Nicholas IV (1288-92), Boniface VIII (1294-1303) and others. The civil authorities, therefore, were joined by the popes, under the pain of excommunication, to execute the legal sentences that condemned the impenitent heretics to the stake.”
The Father of the Inquisition
The popes got their models for the Inquisition from Augustine of Hippo (354-430). He contended against the Donatists who believed that the church ought to be separate from the world and consist only of true Christians. But Augustine believed both Christians and non-Christians were to be in the church because the Catholic church was God’s kingdom on earth and she should use the state as her secular arm of dealing with heretics. He wrote:
“Why therefore should not the Church use force in compelling her lost sons to return?…The Lord Himself said, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in [Lk 14:23]…’ Wherefore is the power which the Church has received…the instrument by which those who are found in the highway and hedges- that is, in heresies and schisms are compelled to come in…” (quoted by E. H. Broadbent, The Pilgrim Church, 1999, 49).
To Augustine, “whoever was not found within the Church was not asked the reason, but was to be corrected and converted…” (Petilian 2:85:189). But his legacy of forced conversion and abuse of Luke 14:23 contradict his other teachings on determinism and irresistible grace. Thus, a historian observed: “The questing, sensitive youth had become the father of the inquisition.” (W.C Frend, The Rise of Christianity, 672).
Thomas Aquinas conceded, that non-Catholics, could, after a second warning should be killed because “they have merited to be excluded from the earth by death.” Rather than abolishing this evil, the popes systemized it by handing it over permanently to the Dominicans. A Catholic historian stated:
“Of eighty popes in a line from thirteenth century on not one of them disapproved of the theology and apparatus of the Inquisition. On the contrary, one after another added his cruel touches to the workings of this deadly machine” (Peter De Rosa, The Dark Side of the Papacy, 1988, 175). Note that according to the Code of Canon law, “There is neither appeal nor recourse against a decision or decree of the Roman Pontiff.” (Can 333, par 3). Once the popes had issued the binding decree, no authority could kick against it.
The Extent of the Inquisition
In 1184, the Synod of Verona made it a law for heretics to be burnt at stake. There were also direct wars against the “heretics.” In 1209, the city of Beziers was taken by men promised by the pope that they would bypass purgatory after death. Sixty thousand people perished in this crusade and blood flowed on the streets. (R. W Thompson, The Papacy and the Civil Power, 418)
In 1211, the governor of Lavaur was hanged and his wife was thrown into a well and crushed with stones. Four hundred people were burned alive. The crusaders went for Mass in the morning and afterward continued their slaughter. More than 100,000 Albigenses died in one day. The 4th Lateran Council (1215) decreed that: “Convicted heretics shall be handed over for due punishment to their secular superiors, or the latter’s agents…Catholics who assume the cross and devote themselves to the extermination of heretics shall enjoy some indulgence and privilege as those who go to the Holy Land.” (Canon 3)
In 1229, 32000 Albigenses were killed and had their properties stolen. There were also “witch trials” as reflected in Pope Innocent VIII’s bull:
“Men and women straying from the Catholic faith have abandoned themselves to devils, incubi and succubi [demonic sex partners], and by their incantations, spells, conjurations…have slain infants yet in the mother’s womb, as also the offspring of cattle, have blasted the produce of the earth…” (quoted in The Dark Side of the Papacy, 182).
An awful book, Malleus Maleficarum (Witch Hammer) full of superstitious stories and folklore about witches was later written as a guideline on how to detect and execute a suspected “witch” (e.g checking for birthmarks, warts or scars- “the Devil’s mark”- on their bodies!) Tens of thousands of people in Europe (mostly women) were fished out and executed. In 1487, Innocent VIII promised to forgive the sins of those who kill the Vaudois Christians. At Merindol, “heretic” women were pitifully raped and children slain. About 500 women were locked in a barn and set ablaze. In 1562, Pius IV sent his armies to slay men, women and children, resulting in the massacre of Orange.
After 10,000 French Protestants were massacred in Paris on “St Bartholomew’s Day” in 1572, the French king went to Mass to give thanks (to God?) for all the heretics that were slain. The papal court received the news with great rejoicing and pope Gregory XIII went to the church of St Louis to give thanks. A coin was minted by the pope to commemorate this event.
In Spain, the Inquisition “became a state instrument, almost a national institution, like bullfighting, a mystery to foreigners but popular among the natives” (Paul Johnson, History of Christianity, 1976, 255). The Spanish Inquisition also targeted tens of thousands of Jews and Moors. Emelio Martinez wrote that “In just one year, 1481, and just in Seville, the Holy Office [of the Inquisition] burned 2000 persons; the bones and effigies of another 2000…and another 16,000 were condemned to varying sentences.” (The Tablet, Nov 5, 1938).
Modern Catholic apologists dismiss these historical evidences and claim only 3,000 people died. One of them even declared that no one died! They have taken an oath of allegiance to defend their “church” at the cost of history or reason.
The idea behind the Inquistion was that people separated from the Catholic Church would be lost eternally, so it was better to torture their bodies temporarily now than lose their souls for eternity. Since heresy was concealed and difficult to prove, different techniques and methods were devised to produce the most torture and pain that would make heretics “confess”:
(a) Rack- a long table on which the accused was tied by the hands and feet, back down and stretched by the rope . This would dislocate the joints and cause great pain.
(b) Heavy pincers used to tear out fingernails or were applied red hot to sensitive body parts.
(c) Heretics were rolled back and forth over rollers with sharp knife blades and spikes.
(d) Thumbscrews were used to disarticulate fingers.
(e) “Spanish boots” were used to crush the legs and feet.
(f) The “Iron Virgin,” a hollow metal instrument, the size and figure of a woman into which heretics were placed. It had knives arranged in it such that the accused locked inside it was lacerated in its embrace. The Latin words “Glory be only to God” was inscribed on it. (Smith Homer, Man and His Gods, 1952, 286)
Many “heretics” were choked to death with mangled pieces of their own bodies or faeces. Some had molten lead poured into their ears and mouth. Some had their eyes gouged out and were forced to jump from cliffs onto long spikes from which they slowly died. Little wonder a Catholic wrote: “It would be better to be an atheist than believe in the God of the Inquisition.”
Will Durant admits: “we must rank the Inquisition, along with the wars and persecution of our time, as among the darkest blots on the record of mankind revealing a ferocity unknown in any beast” (The Story of Civilization 4:784). “These were real people” wrote Dave Hunt “all with hopes and dreams, with passions and feelings, and many with a faith that could not be broken by torture or fire. Remember that this terror, this evil of such proportions that is unimaginable today, was carried on for centuries in the name of Christ by the command of those who claimed to be vicar of Christ.” (A Woman Rides the Beast, 1994, 250)
Ridpath’s History of the Word (5:304) includes an illustration of the Inquisition in the Netherlands. Twenty-one Protestants are shown hanging from the tree, with a man on a ladder about to be hanged. During these tortures, priests would hold up crosses before the victims in case they wanted to recant.Similarly, in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, when Francis Gamba, a Protestant, was sentenced to death at Milan, a monk held out a cross to him. He said: “My mind is so full of the real merits and goodness of Christ that I want not a piece of senseless stick to put me in mind of Him.” For this statement, his tongue was bored through and was burned. (p 103)
Catholics love to cite the cruelty and intolerance exhibited by the Reformers in the persecution of Anabaptists, trials of heretics, the Thirty Years War or murder of Catholics. This is a tu quoque “you too” diversionary tactic. Its like a thief defending himself by saying “but others too are stealing.” Evil is evil and it must be denounced wherever its found.
True Christians neither deny nor justify such acts among the Reformers. They didn’t claim to be infallible like the popes. Most of them imbibed this mentality from their Catholic upbringing, particularly from Augustine, the father of the Inquisition. What is rather troubling is that neither modern Catholics nor their popes have denounced the Inquisition as contrary to the gospel of grace and the Spirit of Christ (Matthew 5:44). Some of the popes that are lauded as “great” today lived and thrived during those times, why didn’t they stop the killing machine? Why did 80 “infallible” popes endorse such grievous cruelty against humanity? What message of love and justice do they have?
Recently, Pope Francis, in a letter to the International Commission against the Death Penalty wrote that Capital punishment “does not render justice to the victims, but rather fosters vengeance…there is no humane ways of killing another person.” (Associated Press Mar 20, 2015). Could he be ignorant of his church’s history of the Inquisition and Crusades? De Rosa points out that the Papacy can’t denounce the Inquisition because “the doctrines responsible for those terrible things still underpin his position” (Dark Side, p 21). The Holy Office is now given a re-branded name: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Many Protestants today have embraced and bowed before Rome – the same Rome that millions of Believers chose to die rather than bow to. The same false gospel of Rome that the martyrs rejected is now deemed “orthodox” by respected Evangelical leaders. Rome may have hoodwinked many, but we must not forget history.