The Inquisition Reexamined

"Even if an angel from heaven should preach a gospel to you other than that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema" — Gal. 1:8

by Carey J. Winters.


Octrober has become an interesting time in postConciliar Catholicism. Last Halloween, a Vatican symposium addressed the issue of ‘anti-Judaism’ throughout the centuries in Catholic environments. This year, yet another ‘unprecedented symposium’ was held – this one to review the Inquisition. "The problem of the Inquisition belongs to a tormented phase of Church history, upon which I have invited Christians to reflect with sincerity," the pope said. He also stated that the Inquisition’s actions require a moral evaluation by Church leaders today.

The Oct. 29-31 symposium, sponsored by the Central Committee of the Great Jubilee, is expected to form a basis for a "mea culpa" pronouncement by Pope John Paul II on Ash Wednesday in the year 2000. Dominican Father Georges Cottier, the papal theologian who helped organize the symposium, said the Church’s examination of conscience was part of what the pope has called a "purification of memory," which will allow the Church to admit past mistakes and face the new millennium freed from the burden of what Cottier termed "paralyzing spiritual trauma." Cottier said the "heart of the theme" was the pope’s call for acknowledgment of intolerance in the Church’s own history, "and even the use of violence in the service of truth."

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who heads a Vatican planning committee for the millennial jubilee, opened the meeting by announcing that the Church "is not afraid of submitting its own past to the judgment of historians." According to Catholic News Service correspondent John Thavis, "The symposium’s sponsors highlighted the fact that participants were chosen with no regard to nationality, religion or ideological orientation." ("Vatican meeting on Inquisition examines dark chapter of Church"). Etchegaray urged the avoidance of "revisionist understatements" which would attempt to absolve the Church from the guilt of the Inquisition.

According to an Oct. 23 CNS release, "To many Catholics and non-Catholics, the Inquisition represents the worst side of the Church’s activities over the last millennium. The methods employed by heretic-hunting tribunals, which included secret informers, summary trials, torture and burning at the stake, have long symbolized the height of religious intolerance."

Tolerance for error has, of course, become a chief postConciliar virtue. Last year, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger called the excesses of the Inquisition a "sin" and said it was right that the Church ask forgiveness. "The Church must always be tolerant. Therefore, we ask the Lord’s forgiveness for these facts, and ask that we not fall into these errors again," Ratzinger said (CNS, Oct. 22,1998)



James Hitchcock notes that "The image of the Inquisition needs no elaboration. According to traditional views, it was a kangaroo court operated by possibly psychotic fanatics with a taste for blood, who tortured innocent people to obtain false confessions, then sent them off to be burnt at the stake.

"Even that stereotype has always contained an unresolved ambiguity — were the defendants innocent of the charges against them, hence victims of malign hysteria, or were they heroes of free thought, hence in a legal sense guilty as charged? Depending on their purposes, those who write about the Inquisition emphasize either one or the other, although the two are obviously contradictory" ("The Inquisition," Catholic Dossier, Nov./Dec. 1996).


Literary contributions to the myth

Marvin R. O’Connell cites several of the best known literary works which have helped to form the public perception of the Inquisition’s nature ("The Spanish Inquisition: Fact Versus Fiction," Catholic Dossier, Nov./Dec. 1996).


Edgar Allen Poe: "Even while I breathed there came to my nostrils the breath of the vapor of heating iron. A suffocating odor pervaded the prison. A deeper glow settled each moment in the eyes that glared at my agonies. A richer tint of crimson diffused itself over the pictured horrors of blood. There could be no doubt of the design of my tormentors. Oh, most unrelenting! Oh, most demoniac of men! ‘Death,’ I said, ‘any death but that of the pit.’" Poe’s "The Pit and the Pendulum" continues for some 20 pages in this vein – and the story remains the most familiar literary indictment of the wickedness of the Spanish Inquisition.


Dostoyevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov, imagines the Grand Inquisitor, with "his withered face and sunken eyes," in confrontation with Jesus on the streets of Seville, where a Savior has just restored to life a dead child. "The Inquisitor sees everything; he sees them set the coffin down at Jesus’s feet, sees the child rise up, and his face darkens. He knits his thick grey brows, and his eyes gleam with a sinister light. He holds out his finger and bids the guards arrest Jesus. And such is his power, so completely are the people cowed into submission and trembling obedience to him, that the crowd immediately makes way for the guards, and in the midst of a deathlike silence they lay hands on Jesus and take Him to the Inquisitor who says: ‘Tomorrow I shall condemn thee and burn thee at the stake as the worst of heretics.’" in Ralph McInerny’s view, "Dostoyevsky obviously takes the Inquisition to be the kind of aberration that is logically entailed by the errors of the Catholic Church" ("Remote Motes and Present Beams," Catholic Dossier, Nov./Dec. 1996).

Bernard Gui in the film version of The Name of the Rose was an obvious fanatic, and Umberto Eco was not much fairer in the novel. Even Professor Henry Higgins, in My Fair Lady, sings that he would "prefer a new edition/Of the Spanish Inquisition" to matrimony – and the well-conditioned audience knew precisely how strong his aversion must have been.


The Facts of the Matter

*Spanish Background: "The Longest War"

In the 8th century, Muslim conquerors subdued half of the Iberian peninsula. "After Toledo, Tariq’s forces moved north, systematically attacking the principal settlements, killing many Goths as they went along. In many towns, the Jews opened the gates before the Moorish armies in a new state... [IN Seville] as in so many other towns... the Jews, resentful of their treatment under the Goths, flung open the main gaits of the city, welcoming their new overlords..." (1) (Wilfredo-Tomas Cornellas Y Suarez, "The Longest War," The Angelus, Sept., 1995).

"The remnants of the Visigothic government assembled in the city of Meridia, the most sacred city of the Goths, where the kings of Spain took their oaths of coronation and were consecrated. On the 30th of June, Meridia fell. Every able-bodied man was put to the sword, all Churches without exception were plundered and burned, and the rest of the population were enslaved. The most handsome youths and most beautiful maidens were sent as trophies to Damascus, there to adorn the Sultan’s harems and seraglios" ("The Longest War").

The Muslim conquest of the Iberian peninsula was accomplished in a scant ten years. It took nearly eight centuries and 3,000 battles for the Catholic reconquest. By 1492, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon occupied the Spanish throne, and the reconquest was complete except for the Moorish stronghold of Granada.

During the two preceding centuries, however, the Muslim empire had emerged as a true world power. (Constantinople had fallen to the Turks 27 years before, and the Hagia Sophia Cathedral there, the greatest in all Christendom, had been converted into a mosque.) Mohammed the Conqueror had just launched an attack on Southern Italy, successfully storming the Italian city of Otranto. Warren Carrol describes the ensuing events: "22,000 of Otranto’s people fell into Tuurkish hands. Twelve thousand were killed, many after refusing offers to spare their lives if they converted to Islam; the rest were sold into slavery. The Archbishop of Otranto stood fast at the altar of his Cathedral; the Turks sawed him in two, along with deliberately killing every cleric in the city....


"The storming of Otranto and the ensuing massacre was a warning to all Christendom of the danger that had arisen because of the Turkish conquests. Turkish ships and men could go anywhere in the Mediterranean, seize any port and wreak similar devastation. Though they had not yet reached Spain, it would be very easy for them to do so, for the Muslim-ruled land of Granada in the South had two major Mediterranean ports... which they could use" (Isabel of Spain: The Catholic Queen, p. 137). Furthermore, the ‘Barbary states’ – now Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia – formed part of the Turk’s vast imperial system, and it was a mere 16 miles across the Straits of Gibraltar from the Barbary coast to Spain.

Much of the reconquered Spain, at that juncture, was composed of a population with religious and racial ties to Muslim North Africa. Carroll explains that "any Castillian or Aragonese part could become an Otranto. And there were tens of thousands in Spain, outside Granada, who might well rise to greet invading, slaughtering Turks as liberators: the false conversos....

"Conversion of Muslims or Jews in Spain to Christianity, at least for the preceding century, had often been stimulated by ambition and greed – only Christians were allowed to hold high public office, and obviously only they could hold positions in the Church, which was very influential.... Most of the baptisms of theconversos were not force; it was their motives that were suspect. There is convincing, indeed overwhelming evidence — which even most critical modern historians have acknowledged – that tens of thousands of falseconversos, who did not believe in the Christianity they professed and by all indications never had believed in it, continued to live secretly by the teachings and rites of their former religion. Many had risen high in society, and even in the Church; some were priests who mocked the Mass as they said it..." (Isabel of Spain, p. 138).Marranos, or falsely converted Jews, made astounding inroads in Catholic society. From 1391 onward, some 300,000 crypto-Jews, outwardly Catholic but secretly practicing their old rites, entered religious orders as monks and nuns. They entered the priesthood, and rose rapidly in its ranks, some to the level of bishop. Members of the Church but not adherents of the faith, they subverted Christianity from within its structuer (cf. de Poncins, Judaism and the Vatican, p. 116ff).

Carroll points out that every false convert in Spain was a potential traitor... "very possibly inclined to opening the gates to the likes of the Turkish mass killers of Otranto... By the same token, every converso – and there were now millions of them, including Hernando de Talavera, Isabel’s saintly confessor.... — was open to suspicion of infidelity and treason, his reputation and career forever in jeopardy of a false accusation to this effect. The danger was greatest in the South, particularly in Sevilla, the most populous city in Spain, not reconquered until 1250, where at least half of the population had been non-Christian....

"On November 1, 1478, at the request of the Bishop of Osma, Pope Sixtus IV issued a bull authorizing Isabel and Fernando to set up an Inquisition in Spain, if they thought it necessary. At that time, they did not think it necessary. It was probably the catastrophe at Otranto that changed their minds" (Isabel of Spain, pp. 138-139).


*Origins of the Inquisition

Fr. John Laux explains that "Until the year 1231 the duty of detecting and repressing heresy had devolved upon the bishops.... The Council of Toulouse (1229) established a special ecclesiastical tribunal known as the Inquisition (Lat. Inquisitio, an inquiry)... In 1231 Pope Gregory IX appointed a number of Papal Inquisitors (Inquisitores haereticae pravitatis), mostly Dominicans and Franciscans, for the various countries of Europe" (Church History). In southern France and northern Italy, the neo-Manichaean doctrines of the Cathari were viewed as subversive of the State as well as the Church, so Church and State cooperated in the venture. The Inquisitor established the juridical facts in each case; the government exacted punishment from those deemed to be unyielding heretics.

"The Inquisition was thus regularly established; but in the course of time more or less important changes were made in its mode of procedure. Pope Gregory IX was opposed to torture, but Innocent IV approved its use for the discovery of heresy, and Urban IV confirmed this usage, which like the death penalty for heresy, had its origin in the Roman Law. Although intended for the whole of Christendom it was only in the Latin countries that the Papal Inquisition was permanently active.

"The Inquisitors at first traveled from place to place. On arriving in a district they addressed its inhabitants, called upon them to confess if they were heretics, or to denounce those whom they knew to be heretics. A ‘time of grace’ was opened, during which those who freely confessed were dispensed from all penalties, or only given a secret and very light penance; while those whose heresy had been openly manifested were exempted from the penalties of death and perpetual imprisonment. But this time could not exceed one month. After that began the Inquisition properly so called." Denunciations were received, the accused brought before the Inquisitors, and witnesses examined. The sentences were solemnly pronounced on a Sunday, in a church or public place. This was known as the sermo generalist (in Spain Auto-da-fe – ‘act of faith’). Those who had confessed were reconciled and various penances imposed, such as fasting, prayers, pilgrimages, public scourging; the obstinate heretics and the renegades were for the last time called upon to submit, to confess, and to abjure. If they consented, they were condemned to perpetual imprisonment; if they did not consent, they were handed over to the secular arm, which was equivalent to sentence of death by fire. The number of those delivered over to the secular power has been grossly exaggerated. Even H. C. Lea in hisHistory of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages – a bitter Protestant account – admits that comparatively few people suffered at the stake in the Middle Ages, probably not more than three or four per cent of those convicted of heresy" (Church History)


* The Spanish Inquisition

the Spanish Inquisition, according to Fr. Laux, was composed of "mixed tribunals, with the civil element predominating, and their excesses cannot be charged to the Church. The Spanish Inquisition... was intended primarily for the Mohammedan converts to Catholicism, in the old Arab kingdoms, who were suspected of wishing to return to their old religion, and for disguised Jews, many of whom had succeeded in becoming priests and even bishops. The tribunal, once established, also directed its activity against murder, immorality, smuggling, usury, and other offenses. The king appointed the Grand Inquisitor and the other official, and also signed the decrees; and the penalties were inflicted in his name" (Church History).

Carroll writes that "the Inquisitorial tribunals were generally very fair; many Spaniards preferred to have their cases heard before them rather than other courts. Those questioned were not allowed to face their accusers, because of the danger of blood feuds and revenge-seeking if their identity were known; but no one could be confined even briefly without the prior testimony of three witnesses against him, and the first thing that was done when a man was called before the Inquisition was to ask him to make a list of all his personal enemies, whose testimony was immediately thrown out. No anonymous testimony or denunciation was permitted. The accused had a defense attorney, often two, although they were assigned by the Inquisition.

"The Inquisition was a Church court, because by Catholic belief only the Church has the right to decide whether a man is or is not a Christian; therefore it did not execute the death penalty in its own authority, but turned the most guilty over to the state for the punishment reserved for heretics and traitors. These two crimes were regarded similarly, though heresy was deemed even worse, as treason against God" (Isabel of Spain, pp. 140-141).

The vast majority of those questioned by the Spanish Inquisition were completely cleared – including St. Teresa of Avila and St. Ignatius of Loyola. For those cleared, the Inquisition provided a shield against calumny. Another 15,000 were found guilty of false profession of Christianity, but were reconciled with the Church through the Auto-da-fe (act of faith) – a public confession. Most of those burned at the stake had been convicted twice.


*The Truth about Torquemada

Carroll notes that the Spanish Inquisition’s "initial abuses were eliminated following the appointment of Tomas de Torquemada as Inquisitor-General for Castile in 1483... [He] was a just and devout man and a careful administrator, who took his responsibilities to the accused as well as the accusers very seriously, and seems to have been the architect of most of the procedures that kept the Inquisitorial tribunals fair and almost universally respected... There is evidence that torture was rarely used by the Inquisition during Torquemada’s years as Inquisitor-General" (Isabel of Spain, pp. 140, 143).

Born in 1420, Tomas de Torquemada was a nephew of the celebrated theologian and cardinal, Juan de Torquemada. In his early youth he entered the Dominican monastery at Valladolid, and later was appointed prior of the Monastery of Santa Cruz at Segovia, an office which he held for twenty-two years. Isabel chose him as her confessor while at Segovia, and when she succeeded to the throne of Castile in 1474 he became one of her most trusted councilors, but he refused all high ecclesiastical appointments, preferring to remain simply a friar. According to Elizabeth Dilling, "one must learn from Jewish authorities that Torquemada himself... was Jew" (The Plot Against Christianity, p. 94).

Torquemada urged Ferdinand and Isabel to compel all the Jews either to convert or to leave Spain. The Jews offered the pay the Spanish government 30,000 ducats if left unmolested. Tradition has it that when Ferdinand was tempted to accept their offer, Torquemada appeared before him, bearing a crucifix, exclaiming: "Judas Iscariot sold Christ for 30 pieces of silver; Your Highness is about to sell him for 30,000 ducats. Here He is; take Him and sell Him." Leaving the crucifix on the table he left the room.

Sebastian de Olmedo, a contemporary Spanish chronicler, called Torquemada "the hammer of heretics, the light of Spain, the savior of his country, the honor of his order" (Chronicon magistrorum generalium Ordinis Praedicatorum, fol. 80-81).


The ‘Black Legend’

Debunking the myth

According to James Hitchcock, "The modern historiography of the Inquisition, most of it by non-Catholic historians, has resulted in a careful, relatively precise, and on the whole rather moderate image of the institution, some of the most important works being: Edward Peters, Inquisition; Paul F. Grendler, The Roman Inquisition and the Venetian Press; John Tedeshi, The Prosecution of Heresy; and Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition. Some of their conclusions are:

The Inquisitors tended to be professional legists and bureaucrats who adhered closely to rules and procedures rather than to whatever personal feelings they may have had on the subject.

Those rules and procedures were not in themselves unjust. They required that evidence be presented, allowed the accused to defend themselves, and discarded dubious evidence.

Thus in most cases the verdict was a "just" one in that it seemed to follow from the evidence.

a number of cases were dismissed, or the proceedings terminated at some point, when the Inquisitors became convinced that the evidence was not reliable.

Torture was only used in a small minority of cases and was allowed only when there was strong evidence that the defendant was lying. In some instances (for example, Carlo Ginzburg’s study of the Italian district of Friulia) there is no evidence of the use of torture at all.

Only a small percentage of those convicted were executed — at most two to three percent in a given region. Many more were sentenced to life in prison, but this was often commuted after a few years. The most common punishment was some form of public penance.

"The dreaded Spanish Inquisition in particular has been grossly exaggerated. It did not persecute millions of people, as is often claimed, but approximately 44,000 between 1540 and 1700, of whom less than two per cent were executed."

Brian Van Hove, SJ, explains that the Inquisition was a court system, and "jurists kept good records, clean records, and abundant records. Curialists write neatly. Scribes are taught to be legible. We can study the Inquisitions (and we should really use the plural) because of this legal dimension. Along with the juridical aspect of the Inquisition is the intrinsic nature of juridicism: the authors... time and time again speak of how fair the system was, of how many people were released because of technicalities, or how the law was not abused because it was the law, and of how many opportunities the accused had of avoiding further prosecution. It was not an unfair system, given the times" ("A New Industry: The Inquisition," Catholic Dossier, Nov./Dec. 1996).

Ellen Rice reviewed The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition, a 60 minute, 1994 BBC/A&E production. She notes that "The special includes commentary from historians whose studies verify that the tale of the darkest hour of the Church was greatly fabricated... The Inquisition had a secular character, although the crime was heresy. Inquisitors did not have to be clerics, but they did have to be lawyers. The investigation was rule-based and carefully kept in check. And most significantly, historians have declared fraudulent a supposed Inquisition document claiming the genocide of millions of heretics.

"What is documented is that 3,000 to 5,000 people died during the Inquisition’s 350 year history. Also documented are the ‘Acts of Faith,’ public sentencings of heretics in town squares. But the grand myth of thought control by sinister fiends has been debunked by the archival evidence. The Inquisitors enjoyed a powerful position in the towns, but it was one constantly jostled by other power brokers. In the outlying areas, they were understaffed – in those days it was nearly impossible for 1 or 2 Inquisitors to cover the thousand-mile territories allotted to each team. In the outlying areas no one cared and no one spoke to them. As the program documents, the 3,000 to 5,000 documented executions of the Inquisition pale in comparison to the 150,000 documented witch burnings elsewhere in Europe over the same centuries.

"One facet of the Black Legend that evaporates under scrutiny in this film is the rumor that Phillip II, son of Charles V, killed his son Don Carlos on the advisement of the aging blind Grand Inquisitor. But without a shred of evidence, the legend of Don Carlos has been enshrined in a glorious opera by Verdi" ("The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition," Catholic Dossier, Nov./Dec. 1996).


Protestant Origins of the Myth

Van Hove confirms that "Much of what the world thought about the Spanish Inquisition came from Protestant propaganda in the Low Countries during the interminable war there in the seventeenth century... Dutch and English Protestants hesitated to attack the King of Spain directly, because they themselves had kings in an era when monarchies were less and less stable. Charles I lost his head, and Cromwell represented a sizable anti-monarchist point of view. But it was ‘safe’ to attack Spain’s religion, and you could get at the religion through the institution which supposedly promoted or represented it. Dutch Calvinists spared no effort, aided by their German and English allies, in painting a picture of the religion of Rome in the most negative of terms. The Black Legend was the result of Protestant propaganda, according to [Edward] Peters and other historians" ("A New Industry: The Inquisition," Catholic Dossier, Nov./Dec. 1996).

"The ‘Black Legend’ did not arise in 1480," Rice explains "It began almost 100 years later, and exactly one year after the Protestant defeat of the Battle of Muhlberg at the hands of Ferdinand’s grandson, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. In 1567 a fierce propaganda campaign began with the publication of a Protestant leaflet penned by a supposed Inquisition victim named Montanus. This character (Protestant of course) painted Spaniards as barbarians who ravished women and sodomized young boys. The propagandists soon created ‘hooded fiends’ who tortured their victims in horrible devices like the knife-filled Iron Maiden (which never was used in Spain). The BBC/A7E special plainly states a reason for the war of words: the Protestants fought with words because they could not win on the battlefield."

There was a certain hypocrisy involved in the perpetuation of the Legend. Fr. Laux notes that "In Protestant as well as in Catholic countries heretics were imprisoned, tortured, and put to death by fire or otherwise. It was not until 1677 that the death penalty against heretics was removed from the statute books in England. Phillip of Spain considered heresy to be no less dangerous to the state than Elizabeth of England considered Catholicism to be; and Phillip’s prisons, were no more unsavory and noisome than the English prisons of the time. Luther, Melanchton, Calvin, and Theodore of Beza explicitly approved of capital punishment for obstinate heretics. Calvin even wrote a special work in defense of the principle that ‘Heretics are to be coerced by the sword,’ after he had burned Michael Servetus at the stake."


Ongoing Usefulness of the myth

Hitchcock maintains that "The reason why accurate information about the Inquisition fails to penetrate the popular mind is not such a mystery after all. Numerous people have a vested interest in keeping the traditional image alive, and unhappily some of them are Catholics. Those who resent the Church’s claim to moral authority use as their most effective weapon the allegation of hypocrisy – how can this Church which has the blood of millions on its hands dare to condemn abortion? For some Catholics the good news that the Inquisition was not as bad as they thought is really bad news, and they refuse to hear it. Post-conciliar Catholicism has spawned in many people a permanent attitude of obsequiousness before the secular world, and they know no other stance except that of continuous apology. Their view of the present Church requires them to believe that the Church of the past centuries was really a nightmare from which we are finally waking up" ("The Inquisition," Catholic Dossier).


The Jews and the Inquisition

Ritual Murder Convictions

Carroll writes that "Isabel had protected the Jews of Castile to the best of her ability, as a long series of decrees and letters from 1483 to 1489 clearly attests. But the investigations of the Inquisition since its establishment in 1480 had uncovered numerous examples of professed jews inducing and pressuring conversos to abandon their Christian faith and return to Judaism; and one particular investigation, begun in December 1490 and concluded eleven months later with five spectacular executions at Avila had raised popular hostility to Jews to fever heat.

"Three of those executed at Avila November 16, 1491 were conversos, but the other two were professed Jews charged with collaborating with and encouraging them in crucifying a four-year-old Christian boy (later known as the Holy Child of La Guardia). The boy’s heart was then said to have been cut out and used with two stolen consecrated Hosts in a ritual of black magic against the Christians. Before the executions, two independent judicial panels had reviewed and confirmed the Inquisition’s findings... Though no extant source makes any explicit connection between this case and the action of Isabel and Fernando four months later expelling all Jews from Spain, there is strong reason to expect that it was a precipitating factor in that decision, which was certainly recommended by the Inquisition ... public anger, particularly after the Inquisition’s revelation of the case of the Holy Child of La Guardia, was so great that it might be impossible to keep it under control and protect innocent Jews" (Isabel of Spain, pp. 207-208).

Respected historian William Thomas Walsh offered additional details in that case. He wrote in Isabella of Spain (1931) that on October 17th, 1490, a Jew name Yuce confessed to having been present at the crucifixion of a boy called Christopher at La Guardia near Toledo. He made this confession without the "aid" of any torture. On July 19th, 1491, Yuce was promised immunity from punishment – and he described the crucifixion and named his accomplices. On October 25th of that year, a jury of seven scholars who occupied Chairs at Salamanca University examined the case and were unanimous in finding Yuce guilty. After this point Yuce did undergo torture – applied so that he would reveal the reason for the use of crucifixion rather than some other method. No "leading" questions were employed in the examination. The case later went before a second jury of five learned men of Avila, who considered the evidence concerning Yuce’s accomplices, who had been arrested and under examination; they unanimously declared them guilty.

The twelve jurists who condemned the Jews in the ritual murder case of La Guardia were:

Maestre Fray Juan de Santispiritus, Professor of Hebrew, Salamanca University;

Maestre Fray Diego de Bretonia, Professor of Scripture;

Fray Antonio de la Pena, Prior;

Dr. Anton Rodriguez Carnejo, Professor of Canon Law;

Dr. Diego de Burgos, Professor of Civil Law;

Dr. Juan de Covillas, Professor of Canon Law;

Fray Sebastian de Hueta;

Licentiate Alvaro de Sant Estevan, Queen Isabel’s corregidor for Avila;

Ruy Garcia Manso, Bishop Talavera’s provisor;

Fray Rodrigo Bela, head of the Franciscan Monastery, Avila;

Dr. Tristan, Canon of Avila;

Juna de Saint Estevan

Exhaustive efforts have been made to clear the Jews of the murder charges posthumously. The Jewish Encyclopedia (1903, Vol. III, p. 262) noted that "Modern historians even deny that a child had disappeared at all." In response to such efforts, Walsh asked: "Must we assume that they (the two learned juries) were all murderous fanatics, willing to sacrifice innocent men, and that Dr. Leob, Dr. Lea, and on the Catholic side the somewhat too credulous Abbe Vacandard were better qualified to weigh the evidence after the lapse of four centuries? ... The historian, far from being obliged to make wholesale vindication of all Jews accused of murder, is free, in fact, bound to consider each individual case upon its merit" (Isabella of Spain, p. 464). In Walsh’s view, this case of ritual murder was "one of the chief factors, if not the decisive one, in the decision of Fernando and Isabel" for the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (p. 441). The complete record of testimony of the trial of one of the accused has been available since it was published in 1887 in the Bulletin of the Royal Academy at Madrid (Vol. XI, pp. 7-160), from the original manuscript.

The murdered boy was canonized as St. Christopher on the authority of Pope Pius VII, on 24th November, 1805.

Bernard Lazare, a jew "without any religious convictions," wrote what he himself described as "an impartial study of the history and sociology of the Jews," calling his book L’Antisemitisme. In the 1934 edition, he addressed charges of Jewish ritual murder: "To this general belief are added the suspicions, often justified, against the Jews addicted to magical practices. Actually, in the Middle Ages, the Jew was considered by people as the magician par excellence; one finds many formula of exorcism in the Talmud, and the Talmudic and Cabbalistic demonology is now very complicated. Now one knows the position that blood always occupies in the operations of sorcery. In Chaldean magic it had a very great importance... Now, it is very probable, even certain, that Jewish magicians must have sacrifice children; hence the origin of the legend of ritual sacrifice" (L’Antisemitisme, Vol. II, p. 215). German scholar Dr. Erich Bischoff finds authorization for Ritual Murder in the Thikunne Zohar (Edition Berdiwetsch), a book of cabalistic theosophy. The passage reads: "Furthermore, there is a commandment pertaining to the killing of strangers, who are like beasts. This killing has to be done in a lawful method. Those who do not ascribe themselves to the Jewish religious law must be offered up as sacrifices to the High God."

The La Guardia case did not exist in isolation; there had been earlier convictions of ritual murder. In 1468 in Sepulveda, another Christian child had been crucified. The Bishop of Segovia, Jean d’Avila, himself a converted Jew, investigated the crime, and ordered the guilty parties to Segovia, where they were executed.


Expulsion of the Jews

The Alhambra Decree of 1492 ordered the expulsion from Spain of all unconverted Jews. The main reason cited was the ongoing activity of professed Jews in urging converts and their descendants to leave Catholicism and return to Judaism. "We are informed by the Inquisition and others," the sovereigns stated, "that the great harm done to the Christians persists, and it continues because of the conversations and communications that they have with the Jews, such Jews trying by whatever manner to subvert our holy Catholic faith and trying to draw faithful Christians away from their beliefs." According to Carroll, "the contemporary historian Bernaldez estimates that 35,000 Jewish households – 170,000 people – left Spain because of this decree. More than half of them went to Portugal, where King John II allowed them to stay no more than 8 months..."


A Spirited Defense

Converted Jew David Goldstein mounted a spirited defense of the Spanish INQUISITION in his 1943 book,LETTERS Hebrew-Catholic to Mr. Isaacs. "Jewish book after book, weekly and monthly publication after weekly and monthly publication, so incessantly harp upon the Spanish Inquisition that it has become a Jewish ‘persecution complex,’" he wrote. "It is necessary to bear in mind the fact that an Inquisition is a court of inquiry; that all societies, including your Masonic lodge, have temporary and permanent trial courts, under different names, to examine members charged with violating their principles. If adjudged guilty, such members are punished, though not by ‘having their throats cut across, their tongues torn out by the root, and their bodies buried in the sands of the sea,’ as you ‘solemnly swore’ to permit your lodge to do when you became a Master Mason, in the event that you revealed its secrets. If secular societies may legitimately institute such courts, and impose sentences, then why has not the Catholic Church a greater reason for the institution of an Inquisitorial court, considering that to violate her sacred principles is to violate the principles God taught man through Moses and His Son Jesus, the Messiah?"

"George E. Sokolsky, publicist, of New York City, says in We Jews, ‘The task of the Inquisition was not to Persecute Jews but to cleanse the Church of unorthodoxy. The Inquisition was not concerned with infidels outside the Church but with heretics within it’ (N.Y., 1935, p. 53). The Spanish Inquisition was instituted to weed out those baptized jews and Moslems who pretended to be sincere Catholics, while they secretly adhered to the practices of Judaism and Mohammedanism, which is a most serious sacrilegious offense. They were also enemies of the State, which was Christian in principle and carried the Cross in battle against the Crescent. As further evidence, consider what Dr. Salo Wittmayer Baron, one of America’s foremost Jewish historians, has to say about this matter. I quote from A Social and Religious History of the Jews (N.Y., 1937, VOL 2 p. 58): ‘It appears to be a fact as well as a theory that Jews who never ceased professing Judaism were, on the whole, left undisturbed. In the fourteen years of the activity of the Spanish Inquisition, from its establishment in 1478 to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, we hear of only one persecution directed against a Jewish community, where the Jewry of Huesca was accused in 1489 of having admittedconversos (pseudo-converts from Judaism to Christianity) to the Jewish fold. It was precisely the inability of the Inquisitorial courts to check Jewish influence on the conversos that served as a decisive argument for the Catholic monarchs in banishing Jews from Spain...’

"Many, many centuries before the Catholic Church came into existence the Jewish church put to death violators of the Mosaic Law, for infractions of that Law which were not as serious as the offenses of which Jews were guilty in Spain. This was done by the priests of Jewry, whereas the extreme penalties during the days of the Spanish Inquisition were imposed by the state, as heresy was considered to be a crime in those days. That abuses took place at times on the part of the Inquisitors is not denied. The Catholic Church, while divinely protected from error in defining matters of faith and morals, does not claim to be immune from acts of abuse of power on the part of some of her children, even in high places. Such an abuse on the part of officials of the Church caused Pope Leo X to excommunicated the Catholic tribunal at Toledo, and to have the witnesses who appeared before its Inquisitorial trial arrested for perjury. This was during Spanish Inquisition days. But such an abuse of power was rare, as the spirit of charity dominated those historic inquiries regarding heresy. Persons called before the Inquisitors who repented were released after promising to mend their ways and to do the penances...

"... Jewry inflicted the same sort of sever punishments long before the Christian era, when blasphemy was rightly considered to be a major offense, being directed against Almighty God. It is for that offense, falsely charged, that the Sanhedrin, under the direction of the high priests, declared Jesus to be worthy of death, for claiming to be the Messiah. ...Such capital punishments were inflicted in Jewry not only for blasphemy, but for Sabbath-breaking, witchcraft, idolatry, refusal to submit to the decrees of the priests or judge, and for a dozen other offenses, as well as murder.

".... Deportation, which climaxed the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, is always to be deplored irrespective of the cause of it or whom it afflicts. It was resorted to because, as Dr. Baron the Jewish historian said, ‘The Inquisitorial courts could not check the Jewish influence on the conversos," the fake converts from the Synagogue to the Church, "who," the Encyclopedia of Jewish Knowledge says, "were the direct cause of the Inquisition" (p. 331).

"The Catholic Church has as legitimate a right to weed out pseudo converts from Judaism as the priests and Sanhedrin in Jewry had to bring to book the members of their Church who violated the Mosaic Law. The Catholic Church had a much sounder right to do so than had the descendants of the deported Spanish Jews to excommunicated Spinoza and other pantheistic Jews from the Synagogue in Amdsterdam, finally driving them out of Holland.... That the charges against Spinoza and da Costa were warranted, no one can rightly deny, for the Jews of Amsterdam had a definite doctrinal code which they had a right to uphold, as did the Church and the State in Spain. Yet these Rabbis, who belonged to the Amsterdam community that was started by the Marranos (the pretended-to-be-Catholics), who cursed the Catholic Church and Spain for the deportation of their forbears, deemed it legitimate to curse, scourge, excommunicate, and drive from Amsterdam those of their fellow-Israelites who were guilty of heresy. To these Iberian descendants a Dutch Auto-da-fe was perfectly legitimate, but not one in Spain or Portugal, where the welfare of the State as well as the Church was at stake.

"... The Marranos were tried, and rightly found guilty of heresy. They were under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church through baptism, hence their public declaration that they were Catholics, while they were secretly following Jewish practices, was heretical. It was their action that caused the Inquisition to be instituted in Spain... heresy is a sin. It is so declared in Jewish as well as Christian law... Heresy, properly understood, is worse than murder. Murder robs man of his physical life, which at best is limited to a short term of years; whereas heresy robs man of his spiritual inheritance; it murders the soul, with the result that the heretic is deprived of an eternity of happiness, in the event of dying unrepentant..." (Catholic Dispatch,


One Current Example

Jews continue to harp on the Spanish Inquisition. Benzion Netanyahu, father of Israel’s Prime Minister, published in 1995 a 1384 page tome on the Inquisition – The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain. Some reviewers found the work overly reliant on 19th century sources. Netanyahu’s thesis is that the Inquisition was a tool of racist conspiracy against the Jews.


In Conclusion

Carroll concludes that "as part of her essential task of unifying Spain and bringing it justice and peace and good order, [Isabel] found the Spanish Inquisition. The Black Legend that later grew up about it has brought much unjustified reproach upon her for that action. In fact the Inquisition, as she established it, was very much needed in Spain. Despite occasional abuses – some sever – it remained for centuries the most popular and most trusted tribunal in the country, sparing it the horrors of civil war and revolution, and much private revenge and calumny based on ethnic prejudice...

"[Isabel’s] contemporaries uniformly and repeatedly testified to her extraordinary virtues, as have most historians since. Even those who vehemently disagree with some of her policies as a Queen... cannot deny her spotless moral integrity, her total commitment to the Catholic faith and its moral teachings, the harmony of her life with her belie, and the justice and benevolence of her rule in general" (Isabel of Spain, pp. 357, 359).

The problem is that Isabel’s decision making is to be reevaluated in an age where heresy is considered a joke, rather than a crime. Isabel could not have foreseen that, as a ruler of a specifically Catholic country, she would be considered blameworthy by a postConciliar generation whose idea of Church/State relations has been shaped by the heterodox though of John Courtney Murray. No doubt the reevaluation of the Inquisition will be done in the light of Dignitatis Humae – a document the orthodox Isabel would have found utterly incomprehensible.

We live in the bloodiest century the world has known. 20th century totalitarian regimes have engaged in mass slaughter unrivaled in any other period. On a single day in March, 1940, Stalin ordered the summary execution of 25,700 Poles. Poland’s intelligentsia lies buried in mass graves in the Katyn forest – people, mostly Catholic, whose only crime was that they were army officers, or former officers, or policemen, or priests, or professionals, or landowners. If there is a need for apologies as we enter the new millennium, we need not focus on 3,000+ (often twice-) convicted heretics executed over a period of 350 years. We could begin instead by begging pardon for the Church’s 30-year silence on the atrocities inflicted on subject populations by Communism.



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1. This is confirmed in detail by the convert David Goldstein, in his 1943 book, LETTERS Hebrew-Catholic to Mr. Isaacs.""It is necessary to bear in mind," he wrote, "the fact that Spain was at war for more than a half dozen centuries against the Mohammedans with whom the Jews were lined up against the Spaniards. It was a battle of the Cross against the Crescent. This is vouched for by Graetz’s History of the Jews, the Jewish Encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia of Jewish Knowledge, Vallentine’s Jewish Encyclopedia, and other authorities of the foremost standing in Jewry. The two last named say:

"‘The Spanish Jews welcomed, it is even said that they invited, the Arab invasion. Under the Caliphate of the West, with its capital at Cordova, their numbers [the Jews] grew and they attained great influence in the State’ (Dr. Cecil Roth, in Vallentine’s Jewish Encyclopedia, p. 612)

"‘It is admitted that the African Jews aided the Arabs in the capture of Cordova, Malaga, Granada, Seville, and Toledo and these cities were placed under Jewish control by the conquerors’ (Encyclopedia of Jewish Knowledge, p. 531")