Sunday, November 8, 2020

Review of Inquisition by Edward Peters

This review is written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = History

Elaborate Description

The purpose of this book is to untangle the process of inquisition, from the institutional Inquisition, from the myth of Inquisition. Inquisition started as a procedural form of questioning that finds those who deviate from the Roman Church’s view on faith. The institutional Inquisition operated differently in different times and places with different affects and consequences. The myth of Inquisition universalized the Inquisition as a singular and very powerful authority whose purpose was to, as Peters claims, thwart religious truth, intellectual freedom, and political liberty. Peters shows how these different facets of inquisitorial functions shaped history.

The initial acts of an inquisition were part of Roman law, it was the need to search for evidence to support charges against the defendant. Over time the structure of inquisition changed, with the state being given the responsibility of obtaining the evidence for criminal cases. As the responsibility to interrogate accused and witnesses expanded, torture was permissible in some cases.

Starting with St. Paul, the Christian community was to emphasize solidarity of belief, homogeneity, and uniformity of practice in order to prevent divisiveness. Those who willfully chose a different teaching and actions which appeared to divide communities where considered heretics. Heresy was a casual as it was applied within debates to express a difference of opinion, express heterodox beliefs. The debates shaped not only the structure of authority, but attitudes towards other faiths. Heterodoxy was seen as a weakness of human nature, and a major concern was the influence of heterodox thought. Before Christianity gained civil authority, its actions were themselves considered illegal, so could not litigate against heterodoxy. During those early times, coercion was not seen as a legitimate response. Normal response was to persuade or exclude individuals who were in disagreement with the Church.

As more communities became evangelical, there were varied Christian practices. Christian travelers were scandalized as other Christian communities seemed not to be behaving very Christian. During the third century, the Christian community became centralized as networks of communities kept in regular communication. Now the communities would act together rather than individually as the leaders were empowered to speak for the whole community. Community leaders would agree on the texts and rules to be applied as well as collective condemnation of heterodox doctrines. This was considered the ‘common opinion of the Church’.

Before the fifth century, at Peters points out, heterodox teachers and followers were able to function in public within Christian communities. Councils and public debates had representation from the different theological ideologies who were able to argue their position clearly and loudly. The new laws authorized the persecution of heresy as a criminal offence by civil authorizes. Heterodoxy was not a crime against an individual, it was a crime against ecclesiastical community, and then against an empire. Heresy became tantamount to treason. The moralization of coercion and persecution was that they were meant to correct errors out of charity rather than to avenge wrong.

Kings and public authorities were obligated to seek out heterodox beliefs and clerical abuses. In the late twelfth century, lay authorities were forced to work with higher clergy in heresy investigations and bring full sanction of local secular law against the accused. Lay authorities which refused cooperation were removed from their office and excommunicated. In France, many heretics and lords were removed and replaced with those who supported Church’s spiritual obligations.

Before the twelfth century, the process of inquisition was used for a varied set of investigation. The office of Inquisitor was brought out of the failure of ecclesiastical and leaders to persuade dissenters via teaching and sermons. Coercion was a permissible tool for inquisitors. Inquisitorial procedures were improved investigational procedures. During the twelfth century, heretics concealed their activities and became harder to identify. As the local ecclesiastical authority was ineffective at driving out and determining heresy, it prompted the creation of a specialized office of investigation. As Peters points out, what made the Inquisition formidable was increased severity and comprehensiveness of punishments, perceived dangers of heresy, increased cooperation between ecclesiastical and lay authorities, and well-trained specialists under the authority of the Popes. The formalized office of Inquisitor of Heretical Depravity was born.

The process of inquisition required a period of grace, a time when voluntary confessions would be accepted without judicial consequences. Compiling a list of suspects for interrogation from confessions and denunciations. Rules of evidence required proof. Proof was considered enough when there were two eyewitnesses, catching the criminal in the act, or confession. Charges which did not have the proof required were dismissed unless there were enough partial proofs to seek more evidence such as a confession. Torture was then permitted to obtain confessions. To validate confessions during torture, the confession needed to be repeated the following day without torture. Inquisitors needed to distinguish between genuine and apparent repentance, envious or hostile accusation against others. Enemies of the accused were not permitted to be witnesses. Although the inquisitors followed a centralized guideline, there was no singular office for the Inquisition. Inquisitors were trained examine mind and soul which had the tendency of leading to leniency over harshness, as there were fewer death sentences via Inquisition than secular courts.

Over time, what defines heresy was changed. From the initial casual expression of a difference in opinion, to a strict term condemning a person. Essence of heresy was a willful erroneous choice in doctrine and contumacy. A heretic was someone who would not accept superior wisdom and legitimate authority, and whose opinion was validated by followers. Heresy then began to encompass divergent religious orders, witchcraft and magic, which were all subject to persuasion and coercion. For those relented their heretical ways and who accepted the Church where initially allowed remain within the communities and obtain jobs which they were previously barred from. Overtime, the conversions were considered invalid by the people who professed that they were false Christians.

During the sixteenth century, there were many Reformers who had obtained state protection. A revolt in Netherlands united Protestants and regional Catholics against Spain. The myth of the Inquisition was created as a symbol of all religious persecution. Due to the myth of the Inquisition, most European states developed policies of religious and civil toleration. The myth’s theme is a collection of unfavorable images such as ethnic criticism, exaggerated cultural facets, and out of context events. Although the myth is a misleading description of the Inquisition, audiences believed the worst due to a base of accuracy. Within the myth, victims of the Inquisition are always innocent, officials were deceitful, and the procedures were irrational. The Inquisition appeared as a singular institution whose purpose was to subvert political liberties.

This book does a wonderful job at expressing the differences between the process of inquisition, the intuition of Inquisition, and the Myth of the Inquisition. Expressing the undercurrents of European life under Christian rule. The problem is that sometimes, the book is difficult to read, besides the technicalities of events and situations. The time references sometimes go back and forth, which make it difficult to understand the transitions that were occurring. The book has major parts on the initial inquisitions and the late Spanish Inquisition, but much less in-between, as if that history is more homogeneous in events. The process of inquisition is provided in more abstract and general terms which would benefit from more examples about various types of procedures.

The Myth of Inquisition gave the world a fear, and provided with in humble responses. Toleration, diversity of interests, and competition have become the favored arguments, as they are opposed to the myth. The persecutions epitomized in the myth have become common in art and media to project an antithesis with the themes reoccurring in political arguments.

Book Details

Edition ISBN:  9780029249802
Pages to read:   315
Publication:     1988
1st Edition:      1988
Format:            Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          5
Overall           4