Dave Hunt and the Spanish Inquisition

This article originally appeared in the FidoNet RCatholic conference in July 1998.

For a Catholic Counterpoint, see Protestant Inquisition: The English Reformation

For the question of the "Whore of Babylon" in Revelation see Rome or Jerusalem?

Subj: Dave Hunt Debunked / From: Phil Porvaznik / To: All

THE CATHOLIC BASHING CONTINUES : Dave Hunt's Wild Exaggerations of the Inquisition

"In his History of the Inquisition, Canon Llorente, who was the Secretary to the Inquisition in Madrid from 1790-92 and had access to the archives of all the tribunals, estimated that in Spain alone the number of condemned exceeded 3 million, with about 300,000 burned at the stake." (Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast, page 79, also 242)

When called on this in a recent issue of his newsletter, Hunt responds:

"I relied upon a secondary source that said Llorente cited 300,000 deaths in the Spanish Inquisition. Other sources say 30,000. The apparent discrepancy could be explained by Llorente on one occasion giving figures for Spain and on another for Europe -- or including those who, though not burned at the stake, were martyred in other ways....Instead of trying to discredit my figures, these critics ought rather to admit that the Spanish Inquisition swallowed up far more than 300,000, whether Llorente said it or not....

"They are trying to disprove that accusation, but history affirms it and I will stand by it. The truth is that there is no other institution, government, organization or entity in history that even comes close to the Roman Catholic Church's slaughter of the saints!

"The horror of the Inquisition is beyond recital. Why, then, don't the Roman Catholic apologists acknowledge that horror, confess their shame and call upon their Church to repent of its centuries of unspeakable crimes against humanity!

"Yes, we can attribute millions of deaths of true Christians to Roman Catholicism and the popes down through the centuries. No other entity in history comes close to being drunk with the blood of the saints, and that description absolutely fits the Roman Catholic Church!"

(Dave Hunt, The Berean Call newsletter, June 1998)

All right, Dave Hunt, now back to reality and the facts. You know, those facts you talked about in the introduction to your 1994 book on end-times speculation that the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon, A Woman Rides the Beast [hereafter AWRTB] (Harvest House, 1994), page 10-11

"The purpose of this book is to present vital, factual information...The vast majority of both Catholics and Protestants are ignorant of the pertinent facts. It is our hope and prayer that the following pages will help to clarify the issues and dispel the confusion."

If there are issues to be clarified and confusion to be dispelled, it certainly won't be remedied by any perusal of writings from Fundamentalist Dispensationalist author Dave Hunt, whose books seek to bash Catholicism rather than provide a factual account of anything. This is particularly true of Hunt's wild claims on the subject of the Inquisition, since Hunt relies on extremely biased and unreliable sources (e.g. Fox's Book of Martyrs, ex-priest Peter DeRosa, Canon Llorente, etc).

Note: this is not meant as a complete refutation of his comments on the "Inquisition" (e.g. AWRTB chapter 17, "Blood of the Martyrs"); for that, the book by Medieval church historian Edward Peters Inquisition (1988) does the job nicely, separating "myth" from history. Hunt's claims on the Albigenses and Waldenses(supposedly true "evangelical" Christians who were "slaughtered" by the "millions") have been thoroughly answered by Baptist historian James Edward McGoldrick and his work Baptist Successionism (1994) that refutes the "hidden church" theory.

Let's take Canon Llorente, for example, who is Hunt's source for the 300,000 figure (or 30,000, the discrepancy will be dealt with later), which Hunt admits in his newsletter he lifted from a secondary source (R.W. Thompson, The Papacy and the Civil Power [orig 1876] from AWRTB chap 6/note 17, chap 17/note 1) without checking the original work. Hardly the mark of careful research or scholarship.

While it is true Llorente was the last Secretary of the Inquisition in Madrid in the late 18th century who had access to the archives, it is readily conceded that Llorente was a biased "anti-cleric" whose "facts" and figures are quite unreliable. It would have taken Hunt a few hours in a library to discover, as 20th century scholars of the Spanish Inquisition have noted (see the mostly non-Catholic sources in the brief bibliography below, books that have been around for decades) :

"Llorente, the ex-Secretary of the Holy Office who wrote a bitterly antagonistic account of it at the beginning of the 19th century, based on manuscript material which is no longer extant, states that all told, from its foundation down to 1808, the total number of heretics burned in person in Spain alone totalled 31,912... These figures are so enormous as to seem highly suspicious." (Cecil Roth [orig 1937], page 123)

"[Llorente] came up with the incredible figures of 31,912 relaxations in person, 17,659 relaxations in effigy, and 291,450 penitents, a grand total of 341,021 victims. All the historical evidence has shown this greatly exaggerated figure to be without any foundation." (Henry Kamen [orig 1965], page 280-1)

"Llorente put the total at nearly 32,000 [burned in person], but his method of calculation is fantastic and ridiculous." (A.S. Turberville [orig 1932], page 112)

From a book of essays by leading Inquisition historians:

"There can be little doubt, however, that in light of subsequent research, even by those more or less sharing Llorente's animus towards the Holy Office, he can no longer be considered reliable...Clearly, Llorente also contributed substantially to the growing anti-clerical tradition in Spain in the 19th century." (Paul J. Hauben [1969], page 31, from chapter "Juan Antonio Llorente: A Spanish Anti-Clerical View")

Even Henry Charles Lea, the first major American Inquisition historian and no fan of the Catholic Church, says of the calculations of victims:

"There is no question that the number of these has been greatly exaggerated in popular belief, an exaggeration to which Llorente has largely contributed by his absurd method of computation...." (Lea, volume 4, page 517)

Lea calls Llorente's guess-work "reckless" and "entirely fallacious."

Before I get to what the real figures could be, what is this discrepancy between 3 million, 300,000 and 30,000? Hunt's attempt at explaining his mistake notwithstanding, we all have to admit that the all-powerful Inquisition racked up and killed far more than 300,000, right?

"Instead of trying to discredit my figures, these critics ought rather to admit that the Spanish Inquisition swallowed up far more than 300,000, whether Llorente said it or not..." (Hunt, TBC, June/98)

To heck with the facts! 300 million, 300 thousand, 3000, same thing, right?

Sorry, Mr. Hunt, I do not excuse your laziness in doing the research.

If he had checked the original work of Juan Antonio Llorente (published in English translation in 1823), he would have discovered that while the French version (translated from the Spanish) notes in its preface "three hundred thousand victims", the actual number who perished in the flames is listed as 31,912 at the end of the book, with 291,450 persons given severe penances.

The discrepancy is explained by Gabriel Lovett in his introduction in a 1966 English reprint of Llorente's book, as follows:

"Llorente's original Spanish draft may very well have mentioned over 300,000 victims without indicating that they were all actually burned; or he may have stated that over 30,000 persons had been burned at the stake. In that case the French translator of Llorente's original draft either made a mistake in rendering this particular sentence of the Spanish clergyman in the preface or simply wrote 'three hundred thousand' instead of 'thirty thousand,' and Llorente did not notice the error upon preparing the final French version for the printer. This error was corrected in the first Spanish edition of 1822...." (Gabriel Lovett, introduction to Llorente)

Regardless of the discrepancy, Dave Hunt is clearly incompetent as a researcher when he insists on defending such numbers as 300,000 or (even worse) "millions" put to death by the "Inquisition." It is estimated by modern scholars of the Spanish Inquisition, for example, that in its entire 356 year history (1478-1834), the grand total executed range from 3000-6000 persons which, though not entirely defensible either, is far lower than sensationalist writers like Dave Hunt would have us believe. Perhaps 50 percent of those who perished did so in the first 20 years of the institution, an estimated 2000 (or less) under the Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada -- though he was not the "cruel monster" as popular "Inquisition myths" portray him.

"....the Spanish Inquisition, in spite of wildly inflated estimates of the numbers of its victims, acted with considerable restraint in inflicting the death penalty, far more restraint than was demonstrated in secular tribunals elsewhere in Europe that dealt with the same kinds of offenses. The best estimate is that around 3000 death sentences were carried out in Spain by Inquisitorial verdict between 1550 and 1800, a far smaller number than that in comparable secular courts." (Peters, page 87, emphasis added)

Some data for the later periods are offered by Oxford scholar, Kamen:




RELAXATIONS (burned in person)

Ciudad Real




































(from Henry Kamen [1985], page 42)

Henry Charles Lea presents the following figures for Saragossa which "was reckoned as one of the most deadly tribunals in Spain" from the Libro Verde de Aragonthat gives us an official list of the residents of Saragossa burnt, year-by-year:





































































































(from Henry Charles Lea, volume 4, page 521)

As conclusive proof of the sloppy and biased computations of Llorente, Lea notes that in the little tribunal of the Canaries, after 1524 Llorente includes it among the tribunals by which he multiplies the number of yearly victims assigned to each. He thus comes up with the outrageous figures of 1,118 relaxations in person and 574 in effigy. However, Millares (in Historia de la Inquisicion en las Islas Canarias, III, 164-8) has printed the official list of the -quemados- during the whole career of the tribunal, and they amount in all to ELEVEN burnt in person (Lea, volume 4, page 524). So much for Llorente's accuracy.

Even more outlandish are Hunt's claims about "millions" tortured by the Inquisition. In A Woman Rides the Beast, our Fundamentalist author confirms the anti-Catholics' worst suspicions in lurid detail:

"Try to imagine being suddenly arrested in the middle of the night and taken to an unknown location kept secret from family and friends. You are not told the charges against you or the identity of your accusers, who remain unknown and thus immune from any examination to discover whether they are telling the truth. Whatever the accusation, it is accepted as fact and you are guilty without trial. The only 'trial' will be by the most ingeniously painful torture that continues until you confess to that unnamed crime or heresy of which you have been accused. Imagine the torment of dislocated joints, torn and seared flesh, internal injuries, broken bones on the rack and other devices, mended by doctors so they could be torn asunder again by fresh torture. Eventually you would confess to anything to end the torment, but no matter what you confess it never fits the secret accusation, so the torture continues until at last you expire from the unbearable trauma." (Hunt, AWRTB, page 250)

Hunt continues, "Such was the fate of MILLIONS" (emphasis his). And such nonsense from Dave Hunt's fertile imagination he would like his readers to swallow, but such is not the case. Torture was infrequently used, and there is no reference to it in the documents concerning the origins of the Inquisition, the Italian inquisitors being the first probably to make use of it (after the 1252 Bull -Ad Exstirpanda- of Innocent IV), though it was alien to the canonical tradition of the Church, and was a revival of secular Roman law. The idea of "millions" tortured and killed is pure fantasy. Edward Peters gives us a more accurate picture:

"If sufficient evidence accumulated against an accused who did not confess, the Inquisition had torture at its disposal, as had all ecclesiastical and secular courts -- except in England -- since the 13th century. Although torture as an incident of legal procedure was permitted only when sufficient circumstantial evidence existed to indicate that a confession could be obtained, inquisitorial torture appears to have been extremely conservative and infrequently used.

"There is enough inquisitorial literature on torture contained in -Instrucciones- intended only for the eyes of inquisitors, for us to conclude that the Inquisition's use of torture was well under that of all contemporary secular courts in continental Europe, and even under that of other ecclesiastical tribunals....

"In a trial before the Spanish Inquisition, the very fact that the accused had been charged and arrested at all indicated that sufficient evidence for guilt had already been accumulated on the basis of denunciations by others, the testimony of other tried heretics, evidence from neighbors or local clergy, or self-incriminating evidence from one's own household. But the aim of the Inquisition remained penitential rather than purely judicial."

(Edward Peters, page 92-93, emphasis added)

An issue of the scholarly Catholic Dossier magazine (Nov/Dec 1996), edited by Ralph McInerny, was dedicated to the history and "myths" of the Inquisition, with articles by noted Catholic historians that analyzed the work of the most recent Inquisition scholarship, including a review of a 1994 BBC/A&E documentary "The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition" which has been replayed on the History Channel.

James Hitchcock, a professor of history at St. Louis University, summarizes the conclusions of the best of modern Inquisition studies:

(1) 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.

(2) 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.

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

(4) A number of cases were dismissed, or the proceedings terminated at some point, when the inquisitors became convinced that the evidence was not reliable.

(5) 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 there is no evidence of the use of torture.

(6) Only a small percentage of those convicted were executed -- at most one or two 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.

(7) 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 percent were executed.

And so on....

I would ask anyone who has doubts about the above to check out some of the resources in the following bibliography, which present different perspectives on the Inquisition, but the basic facts remain constant.


BOOKS (by publication date, these are the ones I found in a few hours search at the University of South Florida library)

A Critical History of the Inquisition of Spain by Juan Antonio Llorente/intro Gabriel Lovett (orig 1823, 1966)

A History of the Inquisition of Spain (4 volumes) and other works by Henry Charles Lea (orig 1906, 1966)

The Inquisition from its Establishment to the Great Schism by A.L. Maycock/intro Fr. Ronald Knox (orig 1926, 1969)

History of the Origin and Establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal by Alexandre Herculano (orig 1926, 1968)

The Inquisition: A Political and Military Study of its Establishment by Hoffman Nickerson/preface Hilaire Belloc (orig 1932, 1968)

The Spanish Inquisition by A.S. Turberville (orig 1932, 1968)

The Spanish Inquisition by Cecil Roth (orig 1937, 1964)

The Spanish Inquisition by Henry Kamen (1965)

The Spanish Inquisition: Its Rise, Growth, and End (3 books in one) by Jean Plaidy (The Citadel Press, 1967)

The Spanish Inquisition edited by Paul J. Hauben, et al (John Wiley and Sons, 1969), a series of essays by different authors

The Mexican Inquisition of the Sixteenth Century by Richard E. Greenleaf (Univ of New Mexico Press, 1969)

The Roman Inquisition and the Venetian Press, 1540-1605 by Paul F. Grendler (Princeton Univ Press, 1977)

Inquisition and Society in Spain in the 16th and 17th Centuries by Henry Kamen (Indiana Univ Press, 1985) re-work of 1965 book (Note: Kamen also has a more recent 1998 book on the Spanish Inquisition)

The Spanish Inquisition and the Inquisitorial Mind edited by Angel Alcala, et al (Columbia Univ Press, 1987), a series of essays by different authors

Inquisition by Edward Peters (The Free Press/Macmillan, 1988 [Univ of CA Press, 1989])

The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain by B. Netanyahu (Random House, 1995)

The End of Days: A Story of Tolerance, Tyranny, and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain by Erna Paris (Prometheus Books, 1995)


Encyclopedia Britannica (1910) "Inquisition"

Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) "Inquisition" "Torquemada"

New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) "Inquisition"

The New Encyclopedia Britannica (1995) "Inquisition"


Catholic Dossier edited by Ralph McInerny, Nov/Dec 1996 issue on "The Inquisition" articles by Marvin R. O'Connell, James Hitchcock, and Ellen Rice reviews the 1994 BBC/A&E documentary

For a Catholic Counterpoint, see also Protestant Inquisition: The English Reformation

For the question of the "Whore of Babylon" in Revelation see Rome or Jerusalem?