The Inquisition -ANNE W. CARROLL
The Spanish Inquisition and the social/historical context in which it took place is explained in this excerpt from Christ the King: Lord of History.
Ferdinand and Isabel unite Spain
The first challenge facing Ferdinand and Isabel was a Portuguese attack as Alfonso the Fat brought his armies across the border. Henry had let the military deteriorate to such a degree that Ferdinand and Isabel had nothing with which to counter the threat. Isabel rode throughout the kingdom, raising money and recruiting soldiers. Ferdinand trained the army she had created for him. Alfonso was defeated, and the borders of Castile were safe.
Then the king and queen had to re-establish order within Castile. Isabel and Ferdinand were popular with the townspeople, the lower nobility (those who had not gained much power), the Church and the peasant farmers. The common people and the poor loved them and supported them during the civil wars. Before long, the opposition to their reign was defeated, and Isabel and Ferdinand were firmly in charge of the government.
But much remained to he done to make Spain fully prosperous and peaceful once again. Because of the anarchy of Henry's reign, crime was frequent and justice infrequent Isabel and Ferdinand traveled from place to place throughout the kingdom, setting up their court and listening to the grievances of everyone. From the windy mountains in the north, through the barren central plain, to the fertile valleys and olive groves of the south, Ferdinand and Isabel judged controversies and handed down just and wise decisions. They established local police forces called the Santa Hermandad (Holy Brotherhood) to deal with the bandits, and appointed competent local government officials to preserve order. Ferdinand and Isabel reduced crime and violence, rid the government of corruption, and raised the country's moral standards, which had been abysmally low under Henry.
One incident which occurred during this time will illustrate the kind of ruler Isabel was. Isabel was resting in Tordesillas, when she received frightening news from Segovia: revolt had broken out and her baby daughter Isabel, with only a few loyal friends, was besieged in a tower of the Alcazar (royal palace), Isabel ordered horses saddled immediately, and with only three friends, rode all night to reach Segovia. When she arrived, the bishop came out of the city gate to welcome her. But he told her that she should leave her friends outside the wall because they were not popular with the leaders of the rebellion. Said Isabel: Tell those citizens of Segovia that I am Queen of Castile, and this city is mine, for the king my father left it to me; and to enter what is mine I do not need any laws or conditions that they may lay down for me.” Then, with her friends but with no soldiers or any guard she rode into the city. She rode to the Alcazar and asked that all the people of the town who had grievances should come to her. They told her that the rebellion had started because of dissatisfaction with the mayor of the city. She listened carefully, said that she would remove him from office while she investigated the matter, and guaranteed that she would be personally responsible to see that they were well-governed. They shouted “Viva La Reina” ”Long live the Queen!” The rebels surrendered, she entered the castle and embraced her daughter, then rode in triumph through the city.
With Spain firmly united behind them, Isabel and Ferdinand turned toward the enemy in the south: the Moslems in Granada, always threatening Christian Spain, making frequent raids to burn homes and carry off captives to be sold into slavery. Isabel had a vision of Spain as a leading power in Europe, advancing the cause of Christ, but her vision could not come true until all of Spain was once again in Christian hands. So in 1481, Isabel and Ferdinand launched the last phase of the Reconquista.
Because of the mountainous terrain in the south of Spain, the conquest had to proceed slowly, by besieging and capturing one stronghold after another. Cavalry troops were virtually useless and all depended on artillery and infantry. The people fought with the fervor of Crusades and the war, after all, was a Crusade, a defense of Christendom against the Moslems. At times the cause seemed hopeless at one point Isabel pawned her jewels to raise money for the war.
At last on January 2, 1492, Boabdil the last Moslem ruler in Spain surrendered to Isabel and Ferdinand. At the highest point in the great Moorish city of Granada, the silver cross of the Crusade was erected, along with the flag of St. James. The soldiers knelt in the dust to give thanks, and with them knelt Ferdinand and Isabel, their son and daughters. Then the pennants of the King and Queen were raised, while the army shouted “Castile! for the invincible monarchs, Don Fernando and Dona Isabel!”
One other task within Spain faced Isabel. During the years of turmoil, the Church had become weak and corrupt. Isabel was a fervent Catholic, putting the cause of Christ first in all she did. Furthermore, she knew that Spain's unity as a nation depended upon a strong Church Spain might as well not exist if it were not Catholic through and through. She set about reforming the Church, raising the educational and moral standards of the clergy. Many abuses were halted, including the practice of selling indulgences, which would cause much grief in the rest of Europe.
One of the most serious problems the Church faced was the number of Jews and Moors who had been baptized Catholics and risen to high positions in the government and the Church without really believing in Christian doctrine. These false Conversos and Moriscos (converted Jews and Moors) were a threat to the Church and to Spain, and a way had to be found of determining who was a true Christian and loyal Spaniard and who was a traitor. Isabel knew that not all the Conversos and Moriscos were enemies her own confessor was a Converso as was the husband of her best friend. But to protect the innocent, the guilty had to be found.
The method Isabel chose was the Inquisition: a court which would examine evidence and judge whether a person was a faithful Christian or an enemy of Church and country. At the beginning of the Inquisition, there were many abuses some innocent people suffered and torture was used frequently. At this point the Pope stepped in and appointed new Inquisitors, with the Grand Inquisitor (head of the Inquisition) being a Dominican monk named Tomas de Torquemada. Torquemada reformed the procedure of the Inquisition to ensure that justice would he done. He made its procedures more lenient and improved conditions in the prisons. He personally examined appeals from the accused and gave money to help the families of those on trial.
The actions of the Inquisitors are often criticized, usually as a means of attacking Spain by those who resent the strong Catholic character of the country. One criticism is that the Inquisition used torture. It did, though less so under Torquemada than before him. Torture is wrong, and the Church has since condemned any use of torture. But at the time, all governments routinely used torture as a means of extracting confessions. Though the fact that a sin is routinely committed does not justify it, the Inquisitors were most probably acting in good faith, and they should not be singled out as unusually evil.
A second attack is that the Inquisition's judgments led to the execution of the guilty. People in modern times consider it wrong to execute people for not truly believing in the religion they professed, but that is not in fact why they were executed. Those found guilty were traitors to the state and to the Church, and treason has almost always been recognized as a crime justifying capital punishment. Furthermore, those found guilty were always given a chance to repent. Only if they refused to repent or if they relapsed into their crimes after promising repentance were they executed. Finally, only 2,000 were executed, a small percentage of the 100,000 put on trial.
A final charge is that the method of execution, burning at the stake, was unusually barbaric. But the 16th century was a brutal time. In England capital punishment consisted of being hanged, cut down while still alive, disembowelled, and then cut into four pieces (hanged, drawn and quartered); in France, it was to be boiled alive. Again, Spain should not be singled out for condemnation.
The Inquisition, in fact, though not perfect, was a more just court than most. Often, people charged with regular crimes would pretend to be heretics so that they could be transferred to the custody of the Inquisition, whose prisoners were better treated.
Looking at the Inquisition historically, we see that it avoided more deaths than it caused. Because Spain was united religiously as well as politically, it did not suffer the religious wars which came when Protestantism began in other countries. Furthermore, a few years later other parts of Europe went through a witchcraft hysteria, when many people were executed as witches on only the flimsiest of evidence, or no evidence at all (30,000 in England, 100,000 in Germany). In Spain, the Inquisition investigated charges of witchcraft and found them baseless, thus saving many innocent people from death.
All the efforts of Ferdinand and lsabel ending civil war, restoring order and justice, completing the Reconquista, reforming the Church brought peace and prosperity to Spain. The latter years of their reign and the years immediately following are known as Spain's Golden Age, when art, literature, culture and science reached a high point. During the 16th century, Spain was the intellectual capital of the world, with scholars coming from all over Europe to study there.
Out of Spain's optimism, joy and excitement came the explorations and discoveries which were to open up our own hemisphere and bring about the settlement of a whole new world.
Carroll, Anne W. “The Inquisition.” In Christ the King: Lord of History. 207-211. Rockford Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers Inc., 1994.
Reprinted by permission of the author.
Anne W. Carroll was the founder and director of Seton School in Manassas, Virginia for many years where she still lives with her husband, Warren H. Carroll, noted Catholic historian and founder of Christendom College. She has spent the past twenty-five years developing and teaching an authentically Catholic curriculum at the junior and senior high school levels and is the author of Christ the King: Lord of History, and Christ and the Americas. Anne Carroll is on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Educator's Resource Center.
Copyright © 1994 Tan
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