Last week I talked about a doctrinal issue: the deuterocanonical books. This week I’m switching it up and writing about a more social issue with the Catholic Church. When people hear that I’m Catholic or, as it was last year, that I was considering joining the Church, sometimes they’ll say to me, “Well what about the Crusades and the Inquisition?” Now often doctrinal stuff is mixed in, but I’m isolating the historical critiques; today I’m focusing on the Inquisition.
Let’s first assume that this “tragedy” and the horrifying portrayals of brutality and greed are true. This is a short video that I think accurately and humorously portrays the history we’ve all been taught.
This horror would NOT stop me from joining the institution from which it stemmed and derived it’s authority. Here’s why.
Implicit in the objections concerning joining the Church because of a scandal is a premise that if an organization has a bad enough stain on its history, it is unjoinable. So the full syllogism would look something like this:
Mp. If an organization has a bad enough stain on its history, it is unjoinable. mp. The Inquisition (bad enough implicit) is a stain on the Catholic Church. QED. The Catholic Church is unjoinable.
From what I can remember, this is a valid categorical syllogism which means I have to prove one of the premises wrong. I will prove BOTH wrong.
But as I already said, we’re going to assume the horror of the Inquisition is true, so I will refute the first premise.
I think I’ve said this in one of my previous posts, but we should never throw something out based on it’s abuse. Firstly to all Protestants using this argument against the Catholic Church, I would urge you to examine the hate your branch is spreading through the Westboro Baptists. It’s shameful. But of course I don’t hold their sins against you, that would be illogical. So in the same way, don’t hold this “infamous” period of torture and murder against the Church because of the Spaniards or Torquemada.
Secondly to any defenders of the 2nd Amendment (like myself,) consider this. The 2nd Amendment was instituted so that civilians could defend themselves against a tyrannical government. Since then many have abused that ideal, with many tragedies of mass shootings, most recently in Orlando. Why would you continue to support such an amendment that has enabled the death of many innocents? Because you, like me, believe that it’s there for a wholly justified reason. The Catholic Church, heck religion in general, has been abused just like this American right has been. Don’t use a double standard if you support the 2nd Amendment.
Third. A couple years ago I got to visit Turkey. While there I met some very nice Muslim people. This doesn’t mean that I don’t worry about the radical Muslims, who by my Turkish Muslim friends’ opinion, abuse their religion. The point is that we all should learn to differentiate and see the proper use of a religion, or even an institution, in contrast with its abuse before we throw it out the window.
I believe that adequately denies the first premise, which states the claim that the Catholic Church is unjoinable because of the Inquisition.
The problem is, if I were to end here, I would leave you thinking the Inquisition was a stain on the Church’s history. It wasn’t.
Becoming Catholic required a good deal of reading as you can imagine. Amazon picked up on that somehow (Oh, Amazon…) so it recommended a book for me to read. I found the title quite interesting and I highly recommend it to anyone. It’s by a Protestant religious historian at Baylor University named Rodney Stark. The title is Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History. At first I thought, “Ok, some zealous Catholic wrote a book to make the Catholic Church look impeccable.” To my surprise, he’s a good-hearted Protestant writing for the sake of accurate history, which makes his account so much more credible in my mind. He has many chapters concerning Anti-Catholic charges, such as The Inquisition, The Crusades, The Dark Ages, Galileo and the suppression of science, anti-Semitism, and the Protestant work ethic just to name a few. What I’ve read is fascinating and backed up by lots of research. I don’t cite things on this blog, but you can go read this book if you doubt what I’m about to say.
The brutal portrait of the Inquisition is false. False. But where do we get that picture to begin with? Among other things, Poe gives us his nightmarish portrayal in The Pit and the Pendulum (1842) also in the Brothers Karamazou (1880) by Dostoyevsky. According to Microsoft’s Encarta, Torquemada executed thousands; The Encyclopedia of Religious Freedom says 10,000, and Edmund Paris says in addition to that, another 125,000 died in his prisons or by torture. Simon Whitechapel would say that those executed by the fire at the stake were 100,000, but David Hunt would put the count at 300,000 with a total of three million being condemned.
If the varying statistics of the kill count are not enough to raise a red flag about the credibility of these numbers, it would surprise few that many of these estimations stem from stories spread during the religious wars of Europe. Many of these numbers were propagated with malice and negative propaganda. Even in 2003, Simon Whitechapel starts his book on the atrocities of the Inquisition, “I should make one thing clear from the start, I despise the Catholic Church.” These biased, and wide ranging, statistics cannot be reliable and skew the narrative of the Inquisition.
Only in recent years have the archives of the Inquisition been explored and the very detailed accounts of its actions brought to light. Stark sums them up and says, “Turning to the fully recorded period, of the 44,674 cases, only 826 people were executed, which amounts to 1.8 percent of those brought to trial. All told, then, during the entire period 1480 through 1700, only about ten deaths per year were meted out by the Inquisition all across Spain,…” 10 deaths per year. 826 executed total. This stands not only in precise detail, but in contrast to the vague estimations of Anti-Catholic historians of tens or hundreds of thousands killed. But to compare with other contemporary courts, the Inquisition is quite mild. Stark continues, “Then, during the subsequent century (1530 to 1630) the English averaged 750 hangings a year, many of them for minor thefts. In contrast, the few who were sentenced to death by the Spanish Inquisition usually were repeat offenders who would not repent.” Indeed the fatality count of the entire Inquisition pales in contrast to the total of 750,000 executed in England over a span of 100 years.
But the Inquisition (and subsequently, the Catholic Church) is not only slandered by lies of it execution rates, its torture and prisons methods are characteristic of any defaming opinion. Again to place it in context, Stark tells us this, “All the courts of Europe used torture, but the Inquisition did so far less than other courts. For one thing, Church law limited torture to one session lasting no more than fifteen minutes, and there could be no danger to life or limb. Nor could blood be shed!” It should make sense that the Catholic Church, who was the first government of sorts to abolish slavery, would have these humanitarian laws in place. Moreover, the frequency in which the Inquisition used torture should be noted. Thanks to the opening of these Inquisition archives, Stark recounts Thomas Madden’s findings, “Based on these data, Thomas Madden has estimated that the Inquisitors resorted to torture in only about 2 percent of all the cases that came before them.” Also the prisons that have lived in infamy are also a lie. Stark quotes Madden again when he says, “Moreover, it is widely agreed that prisons operated by the Inquisition were by far the most comfortable and humane in Europe— instances have been reported of ‘criminals in Spain purposely blaspheming so as to be transferred to the Inquisition’s prisons.’” Thus the fatality rate, as well as the brutality of its methods, are mere fictional notions in our understanding of the Catholic Church’s history.
There is so much more in Stark’s book that has blown my mind and I highly encourage you read it.
The false narrative I was taught doesn’t surprise me. America was founded predominately by Protestants. In the early days, Catholics were often scathingly called “papists” and were thought to represent communism. The fact that an out-of-context, false, and biased account of the Inquisition worked its way into the popular understanding of history is completely understandable. In the same spirit we hear of the horrible reign of Bloody Mary in England (who killed around 300 religious dissentors, WAY LESS than what I was taught), but we hear nothing of Calvin’s persecution of Anabaptists and Catholics alike in Geneva.
I’m well over 1000 words at this point, sorry, but I hope you found this intriguing. Please keep asking your questions, I enjoy them and that’s what I’m here for. Peace be with you!