he Inquisition has been around for hundreds of years. In the early days heresy was seen as treason as it could undermine the stability of a nation. The state could take harsh action against heretics. The Roman Catholic Church tried to persuade heretics to convert to Catholicism to save their soul. As heresy must not be allowed to spread as it destroys souls. The Church could hand out punishment like a pilgrimage, to wear a cross or imprisonment. When no result could be obtained, the heretics would be handed over to the state. Although the Church often asked for mercy, the state ignored it as often as they considered the heretics as dangerous to the state. It is important to note that the Church prefers to try to use words and not (capital) punishment as it was not allowed to do so, and forced confessions did not count.
What is a heretic:
A person who holds controversial opinions, especially one who publicly dissents from the officially accepted dogma of the Roman Catholic Church.
The first known prosecution of a heretic is around 385AD. The Spanish heretic Priscillianus and six of his followers are put to death. At the time this is so unusual that the responsible bishops are discharged. About 62 years later in 447 Pope Leo I declared the act valid.
After the demise of the Roman Empire in Western Europe, heresy prosecution disappears for a while. Until 1022 when in Orleans, France 13 heretics where send to the stake.
Various popes do announce that those who stray from Catholicism are doomed as heretic and have to be prosecuted by the worldly courts. Leo IX does do so during the synod of Reims in 1049. Callixtus II during the Synod of Toulouse, France, at 8 July 1119. Innocentius II during the synod of Lateran in 1139 and Eugenius III during the synod of Reims in 1148.
As said, not all heretics were able to convert and some get away with a prison sentence. Some did die at the stake. However the Church would do their utmost to save heretics from the death. For example in 1145 in Liege, Belgium, a few heretics were about to be killed by a local mob and only with a lot of trouble the clergy kept them safe.
During the Synod of Tours, France on 11 May 1163, Pope Alexander III declared that the clergy had to make sure that the heretics remained safe. The heretics have to be imprisoned, and will lose all their possessions. Everybody who doesn’t agree with this decree will be seen as heretic as well.
On 4 November 1184, during the Synod of Verona, Italy, Pope Lucius III announced a list of heresies to the bishops and told them to make sure whether people accused of heresy were indeed guilty as charged. The bishops had to make sure that the accused received a fair trial using the Roman laws of evidence. Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, who was present here, approved the decree.The heresy list contained the following:
The accused, who would repent and confess, and denounce their mistakes publicly, could return to the Church when they would do so during their arrest. This goes for clergymen, the general public and all who have named a heretic, when they cannot prove their innocence before a bishop. When found guilty the worldly courts will execute the punishment. Repeated offenders will automatically be punished by the worldly courts.
On 22 November 1220, during the coronation of Frederick II as Holy Roman Emperor, he announced a law against the heretics similar in line with the various previous decrees by the Church. And even though here the new emperor works together with the Papacy to combat heresy, often he has also been in combat with them. Frederick II got excommunicated four times and was even branded as a heretic himself.
A short while later, on 25 June 1231, Pope Gregory IX started with the Papal Inquisition by issuing a law to set up a tribunal court to try heretics and to punish them. The Dominican Order was appointed to conduct the Inquisition. They targeted mainly Waldensians and Cathars, as both movements continued to threaten the authority of the Catholic Church. In the next year, on 8 February 1232 he issues a bull ‘Ille humani generis’ in which he instructed the Dominican prior of Regensburg to form an Inquisitional tribunal.
In addition to the trials, Pope Innocent IV issued a bull named ‘Ad Extirpanda’ on 15 May 1252 that allowed for torture to obtain a confession. Mutilation however was forbidden, however Pope Alexander IV in 1256, decreed that inquisitors could clear each of wrong doing.
In 1311 Pope Clement V announced a number of rules for Inquisitors as the Church had received complaints about the Inquisitors as they would have abused their powers.
The following years saw many groups targeted, like the Beguines, Beghards, Brethren of the Free Spirit, Lollards, Hussites.
On 1 March 1420 Pope Martin V issued a bull named ‘Omnium Plasmatoris Domini’ which called for a crusade against the followers of Jan Hus, John Wycliffe, and other heretics. It initiates the Hussite Wars (1420-1434). Jan Hus himself was burned at the stake in 1415.
Around 1450 Johannes Gutenberg invited the printing press in Europe. Given this invention, on 4 May 1515 Pope Leo X forbids any printing without the Churches consent. Besides the benefits, it also enables the heretics to spread their misgivings quickly.
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