The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
Get the Book!

The Spanish Inquisition

The Spanish Inquisition was an independent state tribunal modelled after the medieval institution. It was formally announced by Pope Sixtus IV (1414-1484) in a papal bull in 1478. This inquisition was controlled by King Ferdinand (1452-1516) and Queen Isabella (1451-1504). The original intention of the Spanish inquisition was to hunt out relapsed converts from Islam and Judaism. To carry out the task, Ferdinand and Isabella appointed a Dominican monk, Tomas de Torquemada (c1420-1498) as the Inquisitor General. [1]

With Torquemada appointed, the Spanish Inquisition began to operate in 1480. To this monk, an act of faith (auto de fe) was the public burning of heretics and their books. In the first few years of this inquisition and in Castile alone, around two thousand people were burned at public autos de fe. Within twelve years, at least thirteen thousand people had been executed by the Inquisition. The total number of people who died at the stake over five centuries- the Spanish Inquisition was only suppressed in 1834- was difficult the say with certainty. The historian Llorente, who had free access to the archives of the Spanish Inquisition said that in Spain alone more than thirty one thousand people died at the stake and another two hundred and ninety thousand condemned to other forms of punishments. [2]

The methods of the Spanish Inquisition, like all forms of Christian religious trials, were the negation of every principle of justice known to man. The inquisition, like the pope, acquired an aura of infallibility. Anyone accused must somehow be guilty and the method of trial reflected that belief. Anonymous accusations, even by idiots and criminals, were allowed. False informers were never punished. The accused is, for all purposes, condemned before the trial began. [3] All this coupled with the fact that the accused were normally tortured until they confessed, means that it was very seldom that anyone could escape the inquisition unscathed. [4] No age group was spared the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition. Records showed that women as old as ninety and girls as young as thirteen were either tortured or burnt. [5]

Torquemada's hatred of relapsed Jews was exceeded only by his hostility to the unconverted ones. He badly wanted to expel all Jews from Spain. The Jews, however, not being Christians were outside the jurisdiction of the inquisition. So he used his power of persuasion to convince Queen Isabella to banish them. A traditional tale on this was that the Jews offered thirty thousand ducats to the Queen to let them remain in Spain. When Torquemada found out about this, he confronted the Queen with a crucifix and exclaimed: "Judas sold his God for thirty pieces of silver - you are about to sell him for thirty thousand!" Whatever the case may be as to the historical authenticity of this tradition, the fact was that in 1492 Jews were finally forced to leave Spain. They were given the choice of converting to Christianity or to leave the country within three months. About one hundred and fifty thousand Jews chose exile. Many of them died on the voyage out of Spain; thousands were captured by pirates and sold to slavery; thousands more died of starvation, disease and drowning. [6]

It should never be forgotten that the target of the inquisition as much to destroy books and new ideas as it was to burn heretics. In Salamanca, for example, near the end of the fifteenth century, more than sixteen thousand books were burned in a single auto de fe. The Spanish Inquisition also had its own Index of Prohibited Books. It was first published in 1551 and continuously updated to keep up with the growth in writings branded heretical. Apart from the appalling loss of innocent lives, the other main effect of the inquisition was to stripped the country of any intellectual diversity. As one contemporary Spanish in exile put it: "Our country is a land of ... barbarism; down there one cannot produce any culture without being suspected of heresy, error and Judaism. Thus silence was imposed on the learned." For the next few centuries, while the rest of Europe was slowly awakened by the influence the Enlightenment, Spain was to remain stagnant. [7]

Back to the top

References

1.Benet, Readers Encyclopedia: p482
Summerscale, Penguin Encyclopedia: p311
2.Knight, Honest to Man: p86
Robertson, History of Christianity: p176
3.Ibid: p176
4.Armstrong, Holy War: p459
5.Johnson, History of Christianity: p308
6.Knight, Honest to Man: p88-89
7.Johnson, History of Christianity: p307
Robertson, History of Christianity: p17672 Knight, Humanist Anthology: p113-114

Back to the top


[Home] [The Central Thesis] [Christianity] [The Bible] [Jesus] [Paul] [God] [History] [Pascal's Wager] [Bibliography] [Links]
© Paul N. Tobin 2000

For comments and queries, e-mail Paul Tobin