The Real Inquisition -Investigating the popular myth. --By Thomas F. Madden
When the sins of the Catholic Church are recited (as they so often are) the Inquisition figures prominently. People with no interest in European history know full well that it was led by brutal and fanatical churchmen who tortured, maimed, and killed those who dared question the authority of the Church. The word “Inquisition” is part of our modern vocabulary, describing both an institution and a period of time. Having one of your hearings referred to as an “Inquisition” is not a compliment for most senators.
But in recent years the Inquisition has been subject to greater investigation. In preparation for the Jubilee in 2000, Pope John Paul II wanted to find out just what happened during the time of the Inquisition’s (the institution’s) existence. In 1998 the Vatican opened the archives of the Holy Office (the modern successor to the Inquisition) to a team of 30 scholars from around the world. Now at last the scholars have made their report, an 800-page tome that was unveiled at a press conference in Rome on Tuesday. Its most startling conclusion is that the Inquisition was not so bad after all. Torture was rare and only about 1 percent of those brought before the Spanish Inquisition were actually executed. As one headline read “Vatican Downsizes Inquisition.”
The amazed gasps and cynical sneers that have greeted this report are just further evidence of the lamentable gulf that exists between professional historians and the general public. The truth is that, although this report makes use of previously unavailable material, it merely echoes what numerous scholars have previously learned from other European archives. Among the best recent books on the subject are Edward Peters’s Inquisition (1988) and Henry Kamen’s The Spanish Inquisition (1997), but there are others. Simply put, historians have long known that the popular view of the Inquisition is a myth. So what is the truth?
To understand the Inquisition we have to remember that the Middle Ages were, well, medieval. We should not expect people in the past to view the world and their place in it the way we do today. (You try living through the Black Death and see how it changes your attitude.) For people who lived during those times, religion was not something one did just at church. It was science, philosophy, politics, identity, and hope for salvation. It was not a personal preference but an abiding and universal truth. Heresy, then, struck at the heart of that truth. It doomed the heretic, endangered those near him, and tore apart the fabric of community.
The Inquisition was not born out of desire to crush diversity or oppress people; it was rather an attempt to stop unjust executions. Yes, you read that correctly. Heresy was a crime against the state. Roman law in the Code of Justinian made it a capital offense. Rulers, whose authority was believed to come from God, had no patience for heretics. Neither did common people, who saw them as dangerous outsiders who would bring down divine wrath. When someone was accused of heresy in the early Middle Ages, they were brought to the local lord for judgment, just as if they had stolen a pig or damaged shrubbery (really, it was a serious crime in England). Yet in contrast to those crimes, it was not so easy to discern whether the accused was really a heretic. For starters, one needed some basic theological training–something most medieval lords sorely lacked. The result is that uncounted thousands across Europe were executed by secular authorities without fair trials or a competent assessment of the validity of the charge.
The Catholic Church’s response to this problem was the Inquisition, first instituted by Pope Lucius III in 1184. It was born out of a need to provide fair trials for accused heretics using laws of evidence and presided over by knowledgeable judges. From the perspective of secular authorities, heretics were traitors to God and the king and therefore deserved death. From the perspective of the Church, however, heretics were lost sheep who had strayed from the flock. As shepherds, the pope and bishops had a duty to bring them back into the fold, just as the Good Shepherd had commanded them. So, while medieval secular leaders were trying to safeguard their kingdoms, the Church was trying to save souls. The Inquisition provided a means for heretics to escape death and return to the community.
As this new report confirms, most people accused of heresy by the Inquisition were either acquitted or their sentences suspended. Those found guilty of grave error were allowed to confess their sin, do penance, and be restored to the Body of Christ. The underlying assumption of the Inquisition was that, like lost sheep, heretics had simply strayed. If, however, an inquisitor determined that a particular sheep had purposely left the flock, there was nothing more that could be done. Unrepentant or obstinate heretics were excommunicated and given over to secular authorities. Despite popular myth, the Inquisition did not burn heretics. It was the secular authorities that held heresy to be a capital offense, not the Church. The simple fact is that the medieval Inquisition saved uncounted thousands of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people who would otherwise have been roasted by secular lords or mob rule.
During the 13th century the Inquisition became much more formalized in its methods and practices. Highly trained Dominicans answerable to the Pope took over the institution, creating courts that represented the best legal practices in Europe. As royal authority grew during the 14th century and beyond, control over the Inquisition slipped out of papal hands and into those of kings. Instead of one Inquisition there were now many. Despite the prospect of abuse, monarchs like those in Spain and France generally did their best to make certain that their inquisitions remained both efficient and merciful. During the 16th century, when the witch craze swept Europe, it was those areas with the best-developed inquisitions that stopped the hysteria in its tracks. In Spain and Italy, trained inquisitors investigated charges of witches’ sabbaths and baby roasting and found them to be baseless. Elsewhere, particularly in Germany, secular or religious courts burned witches by the thousands.
Compared to other medieval secular courts, the Inquisition was positively enlightened. Why then are people in general and the press in particular so surprised to discover that the Inquisition did not barbecue people by the millions? First of all, when most people think of the Inquisition today what they are really thinking of is the Spanish Inquisition. No, not even that is correct. They are thinking of the myth of the Spanish Inquisition. Amazingly, before 1530 the Spanish Inquisition was widely hailed as the best run, most humane court in Europe. There are actually records of convicts in Spain purposely blaspheming so that they could be transferred to the prisons of the Spanish Inquisition. After 1530, however, the Spanish Inquisition began to turn its attention to the new heresy of Lutheranism. It was the Protestant Reformation and the rivalries it spawned that would give birth to the myth.
By the mid 16th century, Spain was the wealthiest and most powerful country in Europe. Europe’s Protestant areas, including the Netherlands, northern Germany, and England, may not have been as militarily mighty, but they did have a potent new weapon: the printing press. Although the Spanish defeated Protestants on the battlefield, they would lose the propaganda war. These were the years when the famous “Black Legend” of Spain was forged. Innumerable books and pamphlets poured from northern presses accusing the Spanish Empire of inhuman depravity and horrible atrocities in the New World. Opulent Spain was cast as a place of darkness, ignorance, and evil.
Protestant propaganda that took aim at the Spanish Inquisition drew liberally from the Black Legend. But it had other sources as well. From the beginning of the Reformation, Protestants had difficulty explaining the 15-century gap between Christ’s institution of His Church and the founding of the Protestant churches. Catholics naturally pointed out this problem, accusing Protestants of having created a new church separate from that of Christ. Protestants countered that their church was the one created by Christ, but that it had been forced underground by the Catholic Church. Thus, just as the Roman Empire had persecuted Christians, so its successor, the Roman Catholic Church, continued to persecute them throughout the Middle Ages. Inconveniently, there were no Protestants in the Middle Ages, yet Protestant authors found them there anyway in the guise of various medieval heretics. In this light, the medieval Inquisition was nothing more than an attempt to crush the hidden, true church. The Spanish Inquisition, still active and extremely efficient at keeping Protestants out of Spain, was for Protestant writers merely the latest version of this persecution. Mix liberally with the Black Legend and you have everything you need to produce tract after tract about the hideous and cruel Spanish Inquisition. And so they did.
In time, Spain’s empire would fade away. Wealth and power shifted to the north, in particular to France and England. By the late 17th century new ideas of religious tolerance were bubbling across the coffeehouses and salons of Europe. Inquisitions, both Catholic and Protestant, withered. The Spanish stubbornly held on to theirs, and for that they were ridiculed. French philosophes like Voltaire saw in Spain a model of the Middle Ages: weak, barbaric, superstitious. The Spanish Inquisition, already established as a bloodthirsty tool of religious persecution, was derided by Enlightenment thinkers as a brutal weapon of intolerance and ignorance. A new, fictional Spanish Inquisition had been constructed, designed by the enemies of Spain and the Catholic Church.
Now a bit more of the real Inquisition has come back into view. The question remains, will anyone take notice?
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, like blood in the water, has conservative sharks circling for a kill. In a nation that touts separation of religion and government, religious-based arguments command this battle. Lurking beneath anti-gay forays, you inevitably find religion and, above all, the Bible.
We now face religious jingoism, the imposition of personal beliefs on the whole pluralistic society. Worse still, these beliefs are irrational, just a fiction of blind conviction. Nowhere does the Bible actually oppose homosexuality.
These two paragraphs perfectly depict how many see any Christian opposition to homosexuality or gay marriage. We are undercover (or not!) theocrats trying to impose our personal preferences on the rest of the country. But the charge of legislating our morality is not as simple as it sounds. For starters, the government legislates plenty of morality already—morality about killing, stealing, polluting and a thousand other things we’ve decided are bad for society or just plain wrong. Moreover, the arguments being made in favor of gay marriage are fundamentally about morality. That’s why you hear words like justice, love, and equality. Most gay marriage advocates are making their case based on moral categories, if not religious and biblical.
What’s more, the pro-gay marriage side would like to see the state reject a conjugal view of marriage in favor of a new, heretofore unknown, definition of marriage. And in insisting upon the state’s involvement, they want this new definition to be imposed on all. We may not all have to like gay marriage, but the government will tell us what marriage means whether we like it or not.
In the past 60 years, we have learned more about sex, by far, than in preceding millennia. Is it likely that an ancient people, who thought the male was the basic biological model and the world flat, understood homosexuality as we do today? Could they have even addressed the questions about homosexuality that we grapple with today? Of course not.
Here we have an example of progressive prejudice, the kind that assumes we have little to learn from the benighted masses who lived long ago. Whether they thought the world was flat has nothing to do with whether ancient people can teach us anything about sexuality. Such a tidbit is thrown in, it seems to me, as a rhetorical cue that these people were as dumb as doorknobs and can’t be trusted. More importantly, Helminiak distances himself from an orthodox understanding of biblical inspiration. Instead of approaching the Scriptures as the word of God, his first step is to position the Bible as a book by ancient people who don’t know all the things we know.
Hard evidence supports this commonsensical expectation. Taken on its own terms, read in the original languages, placed back into its historical context, the Bible is ho-hum on homosexuality, unless – as with heterosexuality – injustice and abuse are involved.
That, in fact, was the case among the Sodomites (Genesis 19), whose experience is frequently cited by modern anti-gay critics. The Sodomites wanted to rape the visitors whom Lot, the one just man in the city, welcomed in hospitality for the night.
The Bible itself is lucid on the sin of Sodom: pride, lack of concern for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48-49); hatred of strangers and cruelty to guests (Wisdom 19:13); arrogance (Sirach/Ecclesiaticus 16:8); evildoing, injustice, oppression of the widow and orphan (Isaiah 1:17); adultery (in those days, the use of another man’s property), and lying (Jeremiah 23:12).
But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom. That intended gang rape only expressed the greater sin, condemned in the Bible from cover to cover: hatred, injustice, cruelty, lack of concern for others. Hence, Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31); and “By this will they know you are my disciples” (John 13:35).
How inverted these values have become! In the name of Jesus, evangelicals and Catholic bishops make sex the Christian litmus test and are willing to sacrifice the social safety net in return.
There is really only one argument in the foregoing paragraphs: the sin of Sodom was about social injustice not about sexual immorality. No doubt, there were many other sins involved, as Helminiak rightly observes. But there is no reason to think homosexuality per se wasn’t also to blame for Sodom’s judgment. For example, Jude 7 states that Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire.” Even the NRSV, translation of choice for the mainline (and the version Helminiak seems to be using), says “pursued unnatural lust.” Clearly, the sins of Sodom lived in infamy not simply because of violent aggression or the lack of hospitality, but because men pursued sex with other men.
The longest biblical passage on male-male sex is Romans 1:26-27: “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.”
The Greek term para physin has been translated unnatural; it should read atypical or unusual. In the technical sense, yes, the Stoic philosophers did use para physin to mean unnatural, but this term also had a widespread popular meaning. It is this latter meaning that informs Paul’s writing. It carries no ethical condemnation.
Compare the passage on male-male sex to Romans 11:24. There, Paul applies the term para physin to God. God grafted the Gentiles into the Jewish people, a wild branch into a cultivated vine. Not your standard practice! An unusual thing to do — atypical, nothing more. The anti-gay “unnatural” hullabaloo rests on a mistranslation.
Besides, Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable (1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor — for preaching Christ. Clearly, these words merely indicate social disrepute, not truly unethical behavior.
This line of reasoning is also common among revisionists. There is little to say in its favor, however, and Helminiak’s argument—that para physin “carries no ethical condemnation”–is particularly weak.
1) He makes the rudimentary error of forgetting that words have a semantic range of meaning. Just because Paul used “against nature” or “dishonorable” in non-ethical settings (sort of), doesn’t mean those words and phrases cannot carry ethical weight in another context. It’s like suggesting that if FDR once said “this soup is terrible” and later said “what the Nazis are doing is terrible” that he couldn’t possibly mean anything more than “what the Nazis did was kind of strange and not my personal preference.”
2) The context in Romans 1 tells us how to understand para physin. Paul has already explained how the unrighteous suppress the truth about God seen in nature and how they exchange the glory of the immortal God for images of created things. In both cases Paul contends that people believe a lie which prevents them from seeing things as they really are (1:25). Then in the very next verse he singles out homosexuality as “contrary to nature.” He is not thinking merely of things that are unusual, but of acts that violate the divine design and the ways things ought to be. For Paul, the biological complementarity of the male-female union is the obvious order of things. A male-male or female-female sexual pairing violates the anatomical and procreative design inherent in the one flesh union of a man and a woman. That Jewish writers of the period used comparable expressions to describe same-sex intercourse only confirms that this is what Paul meant by the construction.
3) Even more obviously, we know Paul considered same-sex intercourse an ethical violation, and not simply something uncommon, because of what he says in the very next sentence. Helminiak conveniently cuts off Paul’s thought halfway through verse 27. Notice what Paul goes on to say: “Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (NRSV). When you read the whole verse, Helminiak’s “non-ethical” argument becomes implausible. Paul thought homosexuality not just unusual, but wrong, a sinful error deserving of a “due penalty.”
In this passage Paul is referring to the ancient Jewish Law: Leviticus 18:22, the “abomination” of a man’s lying with another man. Paul sees male-male sex as an impurity, a taboo, uncleanness — in other words, “abomination.” Introducing this discussion in 1:24, he says so outright: “God gave them up … to impurity.”
But Jesus taught lucidly that Jewish requirements for purity — varied cultural traditions — do not matter before God. What matters is purity of heart.
“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles,” reads Matthew 15. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
Or again, Jesus taught, “Everyone who looks at a women with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus rejected the purity requirements of the Jewish Law.
In calling it unclean, Paul was not condemning male-male sex. He had terms to express condemnation. Before and after his section on sex, he used truly condemnatory terms: godless, evil, wicked or unjust, not to be done. But he never used ethical terms around that issue of sex.
Helminiak’s argument seems to be: Paul said homosexuality was an impurity; Jesus set people free from the purity requirements of the Jewish law; therefore, homosexuality is not wrong. This reasoning is so specious that it’s hard to know where to begin. Jesus did recalibrate the purity laws, but Mark 7:19 makes clear that the episode in question was about declaring all foods clean. Jesus was not saying for a second that anything previously called “unclean” or “impure” was now no big deal. Helminiak again connects words in a facile manner, suggesting that because Jesus fulfilled certain aspects of the ceremonial code, now anything described with the language of impurity cannot be condemned. Nine times in his epistles Paul references “impurity” and it is always in the context of vice and immorality (Rom. 1:24; 6:19; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 4:19; 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 2:3; 4:7). Besides all this, Jesus explicitly lists “sexual immorality” (in the passage Helminiak quotes) as one of the things that defiles a person. The Greek word is porneia which refers to “unlawful sexual intercourse” (BDAG), especially, for the Jew, anything condemned by the Law of Moses.
It is simply not true that Paul, or Jesus for that matter, never considered homosexuality an ethical matter. To cite just one more example: in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 Paul uses a rare Greek word, arsenokoites, which is a compound from two words found in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Paul thought the prohibition against homosexuality in the Old Testament was still relevant and the sin was still serious.
As for marriage, again, the Bible is more liberal than we hear today. The Jewish patriarchs had many wives and concubines. David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master were probably lovers.
The Bible’s Song of Songs is a paean to romantic love with no mention of children or a married couple. Jesus never mentioned same-sex behaviors, although he did heal the “servant” — pais, a Greek term for male lover — of the Roman Centurion.
These are wild assertions without any corroborating evidence. Whatever one thinks of Leviticus 18 and 20 for today, it’s obvious that the Torah considered homosexual activity an abomination. It’s absurd to think that any ancient Israelite would have any celebrated David or Jonathan or Ruth or Naomi or Daniel if they were homosexual. It is the worst kind of special pleading and reader response to conclude against all exegetical, theological, and historical evidence that any of these Old Testament heroes were gay.
Likewise, there is no evidence to suggest that the centurion’s servant was his lover. The leading New Testament lexicon (BDAG) gives three definitions of pais: a young person, one’s own offspring, one who is in total obedience to another. If the word somehow means “male lover” in the Gospels, we need evidence greater than Helminiak’s bald assertion.
Paul discouraged marriage because he believed the world would soon end. Still, he encouraged people with sexual needs to marry, and he never linked sex and procreation.
Were God-given reason to prevail, rather than knee-jerk religion, we would not be having a heated debate over gay marriage. “Liberty and justice for all,” marvel at the diversity of creation, welcome for one another: these, alas, are true biblical values.
The link between sex and procreation did not have to be articulated by Paul because it was already assumed. God’s design from the beginning had been one man and one woman coming together as one flesh. This design is reaffirmed throughout Scripture, not least of all by Jesus (Matt. 19:4-6) and by Paul (Eph. 5:31). An important aspect of this union is the potential blessing of children. The prophet Malachi made clear that procreation is one of the aims of marriage when he said about a husband and wife, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring” (Mal. 2:15).
None of this proves the case against gay marriage as a government injunction (though that case can be made as well). What careful attention to the Bible does show is that the revisionists do not have a Scriptural leg to stand on. From the first chapter of the Bible to the Law of Moses to the New Testament, there is no hint that homosexuality is acceptable behavior for God’s people and every indication that it is a serious sin.
This is why I appreciate the candor of honest pro-gay advocates like Luke Timothy Johnson:
The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says…I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality-namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.Of course, I disagree with Johnson’s approach to the authority of Scripture and his liberal deference to experience. But I commend him for acknowledging what should be plain: the Bible really really calls homosexuality a sin. A sin that can be forgiven in Christ like a million other sins, and a sin that can be fought against by the power of the Holy Spirit, but still a sin. That’s what the Bible says. And as the CNN article demonstrates, it takes a lot of contorted creativity to make it say something else.
Posted by sh at 1:48 PM
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
I have plenty of differences with Walter Brueggemann, but his sermon on Psalm 100 is very rich [“Psalm 100,” Interpretation 39 (1985): 65-69]. The following quote makes a profound point about praise and has helped me see more of the importance of praise.
To praise is to reject alternative loyalties and false definitions of reality. Praise is relentlessly polemical. As this God is affirmed, in the same act other gods are dismissed as irrelevant and denied any legitimacy. As Israel acknowledges to whom it belongs, it also asserts to whom it does not belong. The ones dismissed may be variously the gods of Egyptian enslavement, the gods of Canaanite manipulation, the gods of Babylonian imperialism—all these are now declared null and void. (66)To lift up the one true God is to cast down all would be gods. We fight idolatry in our hearts with praise. And, when thanklessness creeps in, beware. There is an idol lurking. Unleash the cannons of praise!
But Brueggemann is really making a point about corporate, cultural claims more than internal personal issues. When we praise Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are saying that all others, put forward as gods throughout the world, are nothing. This is strikingly countercultural in a pluralistic age. Praise is surprisingly subversive in a relativistic age. Praise then lays the groundwork for evangelism. Let us hold fast and advance by being people marked by hearty praise of our God and Savior.
Posted by sh at 7:34 AM
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
The doctrine of election really troubled me when I first began to wrestle with it.
It seemed unfair. It seemed like those who weren’t chosen were doomed from the start. That they never really had a chance. This illustration changed my whole view of the doctrine.
“After giving a brief survey of these doctrines of sovereign grace, I asked for questions from the class. One lady, in particular, was quite troubled. She said, ‘This is the most awful thing I ever heard! You make it sound as if God is intentionally turning away men and women who would be saved, receiving only the elect’ I answered her in this vein: ‘You misunderstand the situation. You’re visualizing that God is standing at the door of heaven, and men are thronging to get in the door, and God is saying to various ones, ‘Yes, you may come, but not you, and you, but you, etc.’ The situation is hardly this. Rather, God stands at the door of heaven with His arms outstretched, inviting all to come. Yet all men without exception are running in the opposite direction toward hell as hard as they can go. So God, in election, graciously reaches out and stops this one, and that one, and this one over here, and that one over there, and effectually draws them to Himself by changing their hearts, making them willing to come. Election keeps no one out of heaven who would otherwise have been there, but it keeps a whole multitude of sinners out of hell who otherwise would have been there. Were it not for election, heaven would be an empty place, and hell would be bursting at the seams. That kind of response, grounded as I believe that it is in Scriptural truth, does put a different complexion on things, doesn’t it? If you perish in hell, blame yourself, as it is entirely your fault. But if you should make it to heaven, credit God, for that is entirely His work! To Him alone belong all praise and glory, for salvation is all of grace, from start to finish.” –Mark Webb
Election keeps no one out of heaven, but guarantees that those God has chosen will be there. Election is meant to be a comfort and encouragement to believers. Never are unbelievers encouraged to try do discover if they are elect. The message for unbelievers is you are all are invited. Come one, come all. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!
If you know Jesus, praise him for rescuing you from your headlong rush toward hell. If you don’t know him, turn to him today. He awaits you with open arms.
Posted by sh at 8:01 AM