Vol. 5, Chapter X (Cont’d) – The Inquisition. Its Mode of Procedure and Penalties


The Inquisition was called the Holy Office — sanctum officium — from the praiseworthy work it was regarded as being engaged in. Its chief officials, the Inquisitors, were exempted by Alexander IV., 1259, and Urban IV., 1262, from all ecclesiastical jurisdiction, whether bishops, archbishops, or papal legates, except the jurisdiction of the Apostolic see, and from all interference by the secular power. They also enjoyed the right to excommunicate, lay the interdict, and to absolve their agents for acts of violence. The methods of procedure offend against all our modern ideas of civil justice. The testimony of wives and children was valid or required and also of persons known to be criminals. Suspicion and public rumor were sufficient grounds of complaint, seizure, and formal proceedings, a principle clearly stated by the council of Toulouse, 1229, in its eighteenth canon, and recognized by the state. The Sicilian Constitutions of 1231, ordered that heretics be diligently hunted out and, when there “was only the slightest suspicion of guilt,” they were to be taken before the bishop. The intention, as opposed to the outward commission, was made a sufficient ground of accusation. The Inquisitor might at the same time be police, prosecutor, and judge.

It is due to Innocent III. to say that he did not invent the inquisitorial mode of procedure, but drew it from the practice already in vogue in the state.

A party, not answering a citation within a year, was declared a heretic even when no proofs were advanced. Likewise, one who harbored a heretic forty days after a warning was served was treated as a heretic. At the trials, the utmost secrecy was observed and names of the accusers were not divulged. In commending this measure of secrecy, Paramo declared that the example was set by God himself in carrying out the first inquisition, in the garden of Eden, to defeat the subtlety of Satan who otherwise might have communicated with Adam and Eve.

Penitent heretics, if there was any doubt of their sincerity, were obliged to change their places of abode and, according to the synod of Toulouse, if they belonged to the Perfect, had to do so in all cases. The penances imposed were fines, which were allowed by papal decree as early as 1237 and 1245, pilgrimages, and wearing of two crosses on the left and right side of the body called the poena confusibilis.

The pilgrimage to Jerusalem was forbidden by a synod of Narbonne, 1243, which referred to a recent papal deliverance prohibiting it, that the sacred places might be protected against the infection of heresy. Young women were often excused from wearing the crosses, as it might interfere with their prospects of marriage. According to French law, pregnant women condemned to death, were not executed till after the birth of the child.

Local synods in Southern France ordered heretics and their defenders excommunicated every Sunday and that sentence should be pronounced amidst the ringing of bells and with candles extinguished. And as a protection against heresy, the bells were to be rung every evening.

Imprisonment for life was ordered by Gregory IX., 1229, for all induced to return to the faith through fear of punishment. The prisons in France were composed of small cells. The expenditures for their erection and enlargement were shared by the bishop and the Inquisitors. French synods spoke of the number sentenced to life-imprisonment as so great that hardly stones enough could be found for the prison buildings. The secular authorities destroyed the heretic’s domicile, confiscated his goods, and pronounced the death penalty.

The rules for the division of confiscated property differed in different localities. In Venice, after prolonged negotiations with the pope, it was decided that they should pass to the state. In the rest of Italy they became, in equal parts, the property of the state, the Inquisition, and the curia; and in Southern France, of the state, the Inquisitors, and the bishop. Provision was made for the expenses of the Inquisition out of the spoils of confiscated property. The temptation to plunder became a fruitful ground for spying out alleged heretics. Once accused, they were all but helpless. Synods encouraged arrests by offering a fixed reward to diligent spies.

Not satisfied with seeing the death penalty executed upon the living, the Inquisition made war upon the dead, and exhumed the bodies of those found to have died in heresy and burned them. This relentless barbarity reminds us of the words, perhaps improperly ascribed to Charles V. who, standing at Luther’s grave, is reported to have refused to touch the Reformer’s bones, saying, “I war with the living, not with the dead.” The council of Verona, 1184, ordered relapsed heretics to be turned over forthwith to the secular authorities.

In the period before 1480 the Inquisition claimed most of its victims in Southern France. Douais has given us a list of seventeen Inquisitors-general who served from 1229 to 1329. The sentences pronounced by Bernard de Caux, called the Hammer of the Heretics, 1244-1248 give the names of hundreds who were adjudged to the loss of goods or perpetual imprisonment, or both.

During the administration of Bernard Guy, as inquisitor of Toulouse, 1306-1323, forty-two persons were burnt to death, sixty-nine bodies were exhumed and burnt, three hundred and seven were imprisoned, and one hundred and forty-three were condemned to wear crosses. A single instance may suffice of a day’s doings by the Inquisition. On May 12, 1234, six young men, twelve men, and eleven women were burnt at Toulouse.

In the other parts of France, the Inquisition was not so vigorously prosecuted. It included, as we have seen, the order of the Templars. In 1253 the Dominican provincial of Paris was made the supreme Inquisitor. Among the more grim Inquisitors of France was the Dominican Robert le Petit, known as Le Bougre from his having been a Patarene. Gregory IX. appointed him inquisitor-general, 1233, and declared God had “given him such special grace that every hunter feared his horn.” The French king gave him his special aid and a royal bodyguard to attend him. He had hundreds of victims in Western Burgundy and the adjoining regions. In one term of two or three months, he burnt fifty of both sexes. At Cambrai he burnt twenty, at Douai ten. His last deed was to burn at Mt. Aimé in 1239, twenty-seven, or according to another account more than one hundred and eighty — “a holocaust very great and pleasing to God” as the old chronicler put it. In 1239 he was himself consigned to perpetual imprisonment for his misdeeds.

In the Spanish kingdom of Aragon, the number of heretics does not seem to have been large. In 1232 the archbishop of Tarragona was ordered by Gregory IX. to proceed against heretics in conjunction with the Dominicans. One of the most famous of all Inquisitors, the Spanish Dominican, Eymericus, was appointed Inquisitor-general 1357, was deposed 1360, and reappointed 1366. He died in exile. His Directorium inquisitorum, written 1376, is the most famous treatise on the mode of treating heresy. Heretics, in his judgment, were justly offered the alternative of submission or the stake. The small number of the victims under the earlier Inquisition in Spain was fully made up in the series of holocausts begun under Ferdinand in 1480.

In Northern and Central Italy, the Inquisition was fully developed, the first papal commissioners being the bishops of Brescia and Modena, 1224. The cases of heresy in Southern Italy were few and isolated. In Rome, the first pyres were lighted in 1231, in front of St. Maria Maggiore. From that year on, and at the demand of Gregory IX., the Roman senator took an oath to execute heretics within eight days of their conviction by the ecclesiastical court. The houses sheltering them were to be pulled down. The sentence condemning heretics was read by the Inquisitor on the steps of the Capitol in the presence of the senator. At a later period the special order of San Giovanni Decollato — John, the Beheaded — was formed in Rome, whose members accompanied the condemned to the place of death.

In Germany, the Inquisition did not take full hold till the crusade against witchcraft was started. The Dominicans were formally appointed to take charge of the business in 1248. Of sixty-three papal Inquisitors, known by name, ten were Franciscans, two Augustinians, one of the order of Coelestin, and the rest Dominicans. The laws of Frederick II. were renewed or elaborated by Rudolf, 1292, and other emperors, and the laws of the Church by many provincial councils. The bishops of Treves, Mainz, and Cologne interfered at times with the persecution of the Beghards and Beguines, and appealed, as against the papal Inquisitors, to their rights, as recognized in the papal bulls of 1259 and 1320. After the murder of Konrad of Marburg, Gregory IX. called upon them in vain to prosecute heretics with vigor. In fact the Germans again and again showed their resentment and put Inquisitors to death.

The centres of heresy in Germany were Strassburg, as early as 1212, Cologne, and Erfurt. The number of victims is said to have been very large and at least five hundred can be accounted for definitely in reported burnings. Banishment, hanging, and drowning were other forms of punishment practised. In 1368 the Inquisitor, Walter Kerlinger, banished two hundred families from Erfurt alone. The prisons to which the condemned were consigned were wretched places, the abode of filth, vermin, and snakes.

As Torquemada stands out as the incorporation of all that is inhuman in the Spanish Inquisition, so in the German does Konrad of Marburg.

This Dominican ecclesiastic, whom Gregory IX. called the “Lord’s watch-dog,” first came into prominence at the court of Louis IV. of Thuringia on the Wartburg, the old castle which was the scene of the contests of the Minnesingers, and was destined to be made famous by Luther’s confinement after the diet of Worms, 1521. Konrad became confessor of Louis’ wife, the young and saintly Elizabeth. The daughter of King Andreas II. of Hungary, she was married to the Landgrave of Thuringia in 1221, at the age of fourteen. At his death at Brindisi, on his way to the Holy Land, in 1227, she came more completely under the power of Konrad. Scarcely any scene in Christian history exhibits such wanton and pitiless cruelty to a spiritual ward as he displayed to the tender woman who yielded him obedience. From the Wartburg, where she was adored for her charities and good works, she removed to Marburg. There Konrad subjected her to daily castigations and menial services, deprived her gradually of all her maids of honor, and separated her from her three children. On one occasion when she visited a convent of nuns at Oldenburg, a thing which was against their rigid rule, Konrad made Elizabeth and her attendant lie prostrate and receive a severe scourging from friar Gerhard while he himself looked on and repeated the Miserere. This, the most honored woman of medieval Germany, died of her castigations in 1231. Four years later she was canonized, and the St. Elizabeth church was begun which still stands to her memory in Marburg.

The year of Elizabeth’s death, Gregory IX. invested Konrad with a general inquisitorial authority and right to appoint his own assistants and call upon the secular power for aid. Luciferans, so called, and other heretics were freely burned. It was Konrad’s custom to burn the offenders the very day their sentences were pronounced. A reign of terror broke out wherever he went. He was murdered in 1233, on his way back to Marburg from the diet of Mainz. After his death Gregory declared him to be a man of consummate virtue, a herald of the Christian faith. Konrad was buried at the side of Elizabeth, but the papal inquisition in Germany did not recover for many a year from the blow given to it by his merciless hardness of heart. And so, as the Annals of Worms remarked, “Germany was freed from the abominable and unheard-of tribunal of that man.”

In the Lowlands, Antwerp, Brussels, and other cities were lively centres of heresy and afforded a fine opportunity for the Inquisitor. The lists of the accused and of those executed in the flames and by other means include Waldenses, Beguines, Beghards, Apostolicals, Lollards, and other sectaries. Their sufferings have been given a splendid memorial in the volumes of Fredericq. Holland’s baptism of blood on a grand scale was reserved for the days of Philip II. and the Duke of Alva in the sixteenth century.

In England, the methods of the Inquisition never had any foothold. When the papal agents arrived to prosecute the Templars, King Edward forbade the use of torture as contrary to the common law of the realm. The flogging of the Publicani, who are said to have made a single English convert, has already been referred to. In 1222 a deacon, who had turned Jew, was hanged. The parliamentary act for burning heretics, passed in 1401, was directed against the followers of Wyclif and the Lollards. It was not till the days of Henry VIII. that the period of prosecutions and burnings in England for heresy fully began.