The Inquisition was the Catholic tribunal's way of exposing and punishing
religious unorthodoxy. When Christianity became the state religion &
church of the Roman Empire, the new religion extended the intolerance to
heretics and those deemed contrary to the Catholic faith as the Roman's
did to Christianity prior to its acceptance. By 430 A.D., the civil code
was ordering the death sentence for heretics, although such laws were not
rigorously enforced until many centuries later. The procedure of the Inquisition's
investigation of heresy was repeated in later trials for witchcraft, which
came under the jurisdiction of the Inquisition when sorcery was deemed
The Inquisitorial method,
which developed slowly, is summarized here:
1. The accused was presumed
guilty until he proved his innocence. This was adopted by the Inquisition
from Roman Imperial Law.
2. Suspicion, denunciation
or gossip was a sufficient indication of guilt to hail a person before
3. To justify the activities
of the Inquisition, the offense, whatever it might have been, was correlated
with heresy. For example, one who committed murder would be tried as a
heretic and the crime would be heresy.
4. The defendant could not
confront the witness, and the accusations were often times not known by
5. Witnesses disallowed in
other offenses were encouraged to testify in trials of heresy. Such individuals
were: convicted perjurers, persons without civil rights, very young children
and excommunicates (including condemned heretics). If a hostile witness
retracted his testimony, he was charged with perjury but the testimony
would still stand. However, if the retraction was less favorable to the
accused, the judge could accept the hostile
witnesses' second testimony.
6. No witness was allowed
to testify on behalf of the accused; nor was his previous good reputation
as a citizen or Christian taken into account.
7. The accused was permitted
no council, since the lawyer would thereby be guilty of defending heresy.
8. The judges were inquisitors.
9. The judges were encouraged
to manipulate the accused into confessing. Mind games, tricks and traps
were all employed for this purpose.
10. Although technically allowed
only as a last resort, in practice tortured was regularly used and could
be inflicted upon any witness.
11. Legally, torture could
not be repeated, but it could be, and was legally continued until the accused
confessed whatever was demanded of him. Three sessions of torture were
usual. The Instructio pro Formandis Processibus in Causis Strigum (1623)
was widely circulated by the inquisition and revealed that over the preceding
two centuries, its judges had employed torture, even prescribing death,
without careful scrutiny of the
12. Having confessed under
torture, the accused, in sight of the torture chamber, had to repeat his
confession "freely and spontaneously without the pressure of force
or fear". Thus, he was considered, and the court records so stated, to
have admitted his guilt without torture.
13. Every accused individual
had to supply names or invent names of accomplices or those whom he suspected
of heresy. In many cases, while the accused was under torture, the judges
would "suggest" the names of "heretics" to the accused, and the accused
would agree that the named were heretics, hoping that the torture would
14. Generally, no appeal was
15. The property of the accused
was confiscated by the Inquisition. All popes praised this practice as
one of the strongest weapons against in the fight against heresy.
As a result of
the above methods, and as all surviving records show, once accused, the
chances of escaping death were nil.
of the Inquisition in the history of Europe is summarized by the nineteenth-century
Roman Catholic historian, Lord Acton:
"The principle of the Inquisition
is murderous...liberalism swept away that appalling edifice of intolerance,
tyranny, cruelty, which believers in Christ built up to perpetuate their
belief. There is much to deduct from the praise of the Church in
protecting marriage, abolishing slavery and human sacrifice, preventing
war and helping the poor. No deduction can be made from her evil-doing
toward unbelievers, heretics, savages, and witches. Here her responsibility
is more undivided: her initiative and achievement complete."