A Study in the Inquisition

A Study in the Inquisition

by Clinton D. Hamilton
via The Preceptor, Vol. 1, No. 4, Feb. 1952
via The Preceptor, Vol. 1, No. 5. Mar. 1952.

A lemon growing on the limb of an oak tree is not in harmony with the biological law that everything brings forth after its kind. Upon seeing this or something similar, one knows tht it is only by external force that it takes place, as it is not inherent in the tree itself. The very nature of an oak tree makes the idea of production of a lemon inherently ridiculous. Within the field of religion one sees fruits contrary to the revelation which should be the source of all beliefs and practices. One must be careful not to judge what is inherent in the revelation by what has been artificially or forcefully attached to it.

The Bible must be the Standard by which we judge ourselves. The New Testament revelation is final (Jude 3) and must be observed without alteration (I Corinthians 4:6; II John 9; II Timothy 3:16,17). Express statements, necessary inferences and general principles in God's Word must not be betrayed by doctrines contrary to its nature. Though it may be claimed that these doctrines are inherent, in reality they are not; but are "lemons" on "oaks." Such a monstrosity is the Inquisition promoted and used by those whom the Catholics call "Illustrous" popes.

The conscience is biblically a matter of individual concern. It cannot forcefully be subjugated to the conscience of an organization or institution without violating God's teaching. The Bible clearly teaches this: Men are permitted to hold their own peculiar beliefs, but we should warn them that God will punish them at the judgment. The very nature of the weapons to be used and the battle to be waged by Christians are contrary to the idea of coercing a person to obedience. A proper perspective of the Inquisition may be gained by a consideration of the Bible teaching concerning treatment of heretics versus their treatment under the Inquisition.

Bible Teaching On Treatment Of Heretics

Evils prevailing in the church during the apostolic era and the sameness of human nature teach that errors will creep into the church. The combating of error is a vital problem; the Bible does not leave us without a solution. God's purpose and revelation then should be considered now. Our conduct must be according to the apostolic pattern. It is evident that physical force was not employed. The battle's being spiritual necessitated spiritual not carnal weapons. The New Testament reveals how the problem is to be solved:


If a brother has been offended by another, he should by admonition endeavor to regain the offender. If this effort fails, he should take one or two more brethren with him to see the offender (Matthew 18:15-17). Paul states, "A factious man after a first and second admonition refuse" (Titus 3:10). The erring or disobedient brother must be admonished (I Thessalonians 5:14). After proper rebukes and admonitions have been made but are not attended by a reformation in the offender, other action should be taken.

Withdrawal Of Fellowship

The final step in dealing with the erring is withdrawal of fellowship. An impenitent sinner is withdrawn from that the church may be saved from contamination and that the sinner may be brought to repentance (I Corinthians 5:5,7,13). Paul further states, "Holding faith and a good conscience; which some having thrust from them made shipwreck concerning the faith: of whom is Hymeneaus and Alexander; whom I delivered unto Satan, that they might be taught not to blaspheme" (I Timothy 1:19,20). A withdrawal of the fellowship of the righteous from the unrighteous is God's plan to reform the sinner. This is a spiritual weapon; it is not carnal force. A person withdrawn from must not be considered an "enemy" but be admonished as a "brother" (II Thessalonians 3:6,14,15). No forced confession, no stripe of physical harm, no torture procedure or similar device is even remotely seen in the Bible teaching. There is no such practice inherent in the New Testament. Any other practice than admonition and withdrawal of fellowship is not Biblical.

The Inquisition And Heretics

Let us consider the Catholic teaching on the Inquisition. The term is defined in the Catholic Encyclopedia as "a special ecclesiastical institution for combating or suppressing heresy. Its characteristic mark seem to be the bestowal on special judges of judicial powers in matters of faith, and this by supreme ecclesiastical authority, not temporal or for individual cases, but as a universal and permanent office" (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 8, pg. 26).

The following statement is rather significant. "Moderns experience difficulty in understanding this institution, because they have, to no small extent, lost sight of two facts. On the one hand they have ceased to grasp religious belief as something objective, as the gift of God, and therefore outside the realm of free private judgment; on the other hand they no longer see in the Church a society perfect and sovereign, based substantially on a pure and authentic Revelation, whose first and most important duty must naturally be to retain unsullied this original deposit of truth" (op. cit.). Both of the reasons ascribed in the immediately preceding quotation need to be examined. No wonder "moderns" experience difficulty in understanding the Inquisition if we are to regard "religious belief as something objective, as the gift of God, and therefore outside the realm of free private judgment." The following Scriptural reasons prove that accepting or rejecting a belief is a matter of "free private judgment." The truths presented by inspired men were for the purpose of inducing men to believe (John 20:30,31). Those who reject the testimonies are lost (Mark 16:16). Men are free either to accept or to reject the truth. After becoming obedient to the truth, it is still within their "free private judgment" as to whether they continue in it. God deals with them according to their actions. The decision in either event is left to the individual. It is therefore no wonder that Bible students find it impossible to accept the Inquisition. Concerning the Church's being "a society perfect and soverign, based substantially on a pure and authentic Revelation, whose first and most important duty must naturally be to retain unsullied this original deposit of faith," the following should be noted. The original deposit of truth given by the inspired writers is the only truth to be defended and kept in religious matters. The means by which this is to be done were pointed out above. There is not biblical basis for the use of carnal weapons in preventing heretical practises or beliefs from spreading among men. If by the Church's being "sovereign" Catholics mean that she can act with physical coercion, then the Bible teaching is nullified.

Origin Of Inquisition

The statement is made that "the Inquisition as a distinct ecclesiastical tribunal is of much later origin than that of the Church." "Historically it is a phase in the growth of ecclesiasticl legislation, whose distinctive traits can be fully understood by a careful study of the conditions amid which it grew up" (op. cit.). These quotations substantiate the contention made above that the Inquisition was not the original practice and is therefore a fruit contrary to the original revelation and practice of the New Testament Church. In order that we may see this point more clearly, and that the Inquisition as an institution forcefully subjugating a man's conscience may be demonstrated, the following historical points are presented:

  1. The New Testament Practice: See above for this.
  2. Early Christian Teachings: The Catholic Encyclopedia article on the "Inquisition" states that "Christians of the first three centuries" assumed no other position than that disfellowshipping apart from physical force should be practiced (op. cit.). I am using Catholic statements to prove their own inconsistency. While it is true that the Church Fathers are not to be considered as authority in religion, their testimony is valuable in that the Catholic Church claims them as authority. I now direct your attention to some of their statements:
  3. Irenaeus: (120-202) states that heretics are to be avoided and gives Titus 3:10 as proof (Ante Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, Book III, Chapter 3, pg. 416; Book V, Chapter 20, pgs. 547, 548. Eerdman's).

    Tertullian: (155-222) said that the acceptance of religion is a matter of free will and not of compulsion (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 8, pg. 26).

    Origen: (185-254) said, "One must distinguish between the law which the Jews received from Moses and that given to the Christians by Jesus; the former was binding on the Jews, the latter on the Christians. Jewish Christians, if sincere, could no longer conform to al of the Mosaic Law; hence they were no longer at liberty to kill violators of the Christian law" (op. cit.).

    Cyprian Of Carthage: (200-258) stated that "religion being now spiritual, its sanctions take on the same character, and excommunication replaces the death of the body" (op. cit.).

    Lactantius: (260-340) said, "Religion being a matter of the will, it cannot be forced on anyone; in this matter it is better to employ words than blows. Of what use is cruelty? What has the rock to do with piety? Surely there is no connection between truth and violence, between justice and cruelty...It is true that nothing is so important as religion, but by dying for it, not by killing others; by longsuffering not be violence; by faith, not by crime. If you attempt to defend religion with bloodshed and torture, what you do is not defence, but desecration and insult: For nothing is so intrinsically a matter of free will as religion" (op. cit.).

  4. The Catholic Encyclopedia States: -- "the Christian teachers of the first three centuries insisted, as was natural for them, on complete religious liberty; furthermore, they not only urged the principle that religion could nto be forced on others -- a principle always adhered to by the Church in her dealings with the unbaptized -- but, when comparing the Mosaic Law and the Christian religion, they taught that the latter was content with a spiritual punishment of heretics (i.e. with excommunication), while Judaism necessarily proceeded against its dissidents with torture and death" (op. cit.).
  5. Hilary Of Poitiers: (?-368) "protested vigorously against any use of force in the province of religion, whether for the spread of Christianity or for the preservation of the Faith" (op. cit.).
  6. The Early Christians According To The Catholic Encyclopedia: "repeatedly urged that in this respect (use of force) the severe decrees of the Old Testament were abrogated by the mild and gentle laws of Christ" (op. cit.).

These statements state the case before Christianity became the state religion. At this point certain observations are in order.

  1. The Catholic Church claims to be apostolic in its doctrines and practices. But she admits that the Inquisition, one of her institutions during the Middle Ages, had no sanction in the New Testament (op. cit.).
  2. Though the Catholic Church claims to base some of its teachings upon the early Church Fathers, in the case of the Inquisition she violates their express teachings.
  3. The whole tenor of teaching during the first three centuries was opposed to the idea of the Inquisition.
  4. The very use of physical force in matters of religion diametrically opposed the genius of the Christian religion (Luke 6:27-38; Matthew 5:21-26; John 18:36).

At this point I call attention to a change in the thinking of the state and the Church concerning heretics after Constantine's conversion. His successors came to believe that the imperial authority had as a primary function the protection of religion. Accordingly in 407 A.D. a law was passed against the Donatists. The law asserts that these heretics should be punished as transgressors against the dignity of the emporer in civil affairs. The death penalty was meted out in certain instances (op. cit.). Augustine opposed the use of force against Manichaeans. He taught that they should be gained by private and public acts of submission (ibid. 27).

The Donatists appealed to the state but were disappointed in its action and complained. Optatus of Mileve answered them: "But, say you, the State cannot punish in the name of God. Yet was it not in the name of God that Moses and Phineas consigned to death the worshippers of the golden calf and those who despised the true religion?" (op. cit.). This is a case of a Catholic bishop approving the intervention of the state in matters of religion and defending its right to inflict punishment on heretics. One sees that his views are contrary to early Christian writers.

The Catholic Encyclopedia Sums Up The Ecclesiastical Idea Of The First Five Centuries As Follows

  1. "the Church should for no cause shed blood (St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Leo I, and others);
  2. other teachers, however, like Optatus of Milene and Priscillian, believed tht the State could pronounce the death-penalty on heretics in case the public welfare demanded it;
  3. the majority held that the death-penalty for heresy, when civilly criminal, was irreconcilable with the spirit of Christianity. St. Augustine said 'we wish them the triumph of (ecclesiastical) discipline, not the death penalties that they deserve'" (op. cit.).

In 447 Leo the Great said "though the Church was content with a spiritual sentence on the part of its bishops and was averse to the shedding of blood, nevertheless it was aided by the imperial severity, inasmuch as the fear of corporal punishment drove the guilty to seek a spiritual remedy" (op. cit.). I propose to trace further the development of the ideas that culminated in the use of force against heretics.

I dealt with the nature of New Testament discipline, the definition of the term "Iniquisition" and the teachings of the church writers up to the sixth century. The general teaching and practice were contrary to that embodied in the Inquisition, but there were a few exceptions. Optatus of Mileve, Priscillian and Leo the Great approved or looked favorably upon corporal punishment of heretics. The purpose of the following is to place responsibility for the establishment of the Inquisition and to show its historical development by a consideration of the actions of popes and decrees of councils.

Responsibility For Establishment Of The Inquisition

The Catholic Encyclopedia article on the "Inquisition" states that up to 447 A.D. "the more influential ecclesiastical authorities declared that the death penalty was contrary to the spirit of the Gospel, and themselves opposed its execution. For centuries this was the ecclesiastical attitude both in theory and in practice." This statement together with the teachings of the early church fathers presented in our previous articles show beyond doubt that the institution of the Inquisition with its use of force against heretics is a relatively late development in church discipline. The feeling of the Church "for centuries" does nothing to ease the charge against the use of force by the Inquisition but on the other hand intensifies it. The two attitudes concerning the use of force are as far apart as the two poles. The New Testament law condemns the Inquisition. Conscience under the Inquisition is subjugated by force or there is a vigorous attempt to subjugate it.

Philip Schaff says: "it has been argued in extenuation of the Church that she stopped with the decree of excommunicaiton and the sentence of life-long imprisonment and did not pronounce the sentence of death. And the old maxim is quoted as true of her in all times, that the Church abhors blood --
ecclesia non sitit sanguinem. The argument is based upon a pure technicality. The Church, after sitting in judgment turned the heretics over to the civil authorities, knowing full well that, as night follows day, the sentence of death would follow her sentence of excommunication. Yea, the Church, through popes and synodal decrees, again and again threatened, with her disfavor and spiritual punishments, princes and municipalities for not punishing heresy" (History of the Christian Church, Vol. 5, p. 516). That we may see this to be true the following actions of the Church (Catholic Church) are presented:

The Council of Rheims, 1157 A.D. called upon the government to render a sentence of life imprisonment to the Cathariheretics. A.S. Turberville states that this same council seems to approve the death penalty (The Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. 6, p. 715)

The Synod of Tours, 1163 A.D. told Catholics to have nothing to do with the Albigensian heretics either in matters of commerce or in their protection. It was the duty of the civil government to confiscate his property and imprison the heretic (Schaff, Ibid. p. 519).

The Third Lateran Council, 1179 A.D. instructed that punishment be administered to all those who defended heretics. Princes were given permission to make slaves of heretics. A gesture to encourage heretic' punishment was made by the council by ordering a reduction of two years in penance for those who bore arms against them (Idem.).

The Council of Verona, 1184 A.D. afforded the occasion for Pope Lucius III and Emperor Frederick Barbarossa mutually to agree to stamp out heresy. The emperor vowed to enforce rigidly the laws against heretics. The pope then gave the decree of the council which provided that bishops should visit all sections of their dioceses for the purpose of bringing all suspected heretics to trial. If any person was found guilty, he was to be turned over to the secular arm for punishment. Bound by an oath, the civil authorities were to support the Church in its fight against heresy or be deprived of their "dig-nities." Any city that refused to punish offenders was to be alienated from other cities and lose its episcopal seat if such it possessed. (Idem.). The essential feature of the Inquisition searching for heretics, was thus established by decree of the council of Verona.

Pope Innocent III (pope from 1198 to 1216) was most vehement in his actions toward offenders in the Church. Schaff states, "In one letter after another, he struck at it (heresy) and commended military armaments for its destruction." (Ibid. 520). Innocent, in a letter to the magistrates of Viterbo, said that heresy was just as bad as treason and the force of his argument is that heresy should have as its just punishment, death (The Cambridge Medieval Histore, Vol 6, p. 716).

In the Councils of Avignon, 1209 A.D. and Montpetlier, the same systems as was set up by the Council of Verona, 1184, was recommended.

The Fourth Lateran Council, 1215 A.D. gave expression to Innocent's views. It declared that princes had to swear to defend the Church or forfeit their lands. The indulgence granted to the Crusaders to Palestine was also to be granted to those who would aid in finding out heretics. All who in any wise associated with heretics should be deprived of their inheritances. Diligently the bishops were to detect heretics within their sees; the dilatory bishops would be deprived of their dioceses. These decrees were observed for more than one hundred years. Two popes, Innocent IV and Alexander IV, issued over one hundred bulls directed in harmony with the council's decrees against heretics (Schaff, Ibid.).

Responsibility For The Establishment Of The Inquisition

The Synod Of Toulouse, 1229 A.D.

Provided that bishops should appoint a layman and priest to hunt heretics in houses. Offenders were not to be punished until they had them tried in the bishop's court. The heretic's home should be destroyed. If a prince's land should have heretics on it, the prince should be punished even if he were ignorant of the heretics' whereabouts. Every man and woman above the ages of 14 and 12 respectively were required to testify against heretics. Unless a person presented himself at confessional at least once a year he ran the risk of being considered as a heretic (ibid. pp. 520,521). The machinery for putting the Inquisition under episcopal control was completed by this council.

Innocent IV

In The Bull "ad exstirpanda," 1252 A.D. said, "When those judged guilty of heresy have been given up to the civil power by the bishop or his representative, or the Inquisition, the podesta or chief magistrate of the city shall take them at once, and shall within five days at the most, execute the laws made against them" (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol 8, pg. 34). Alexander IV (1254 - 1292), Clement IV (1265 - 1268), Nicholas IV (1288 - 1292), Boniface VIII (1294 - 1303) and other popes either renewed or reenforced the above Bull (Idem.).

Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274)

Thomas Aquinas is called the "Angelic Doctor" by Catholics and his teachings form the foundation of the greater part of Catholic doctrine. He defended severe treatment of heretics by saying that heresy was worse than the issuance of counterfeit coin and should be punished with death. John 15 is used to show Christ taught such in that unfruitful branches were to be plucked and burned (The Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. 6, p. 725) The Catholic Encyclopedia substantiates this about Thomas and his own Summa contains this teaching. It was not his conviction that force should be used in bringing people into the Church but he believed once they were converted and fell away they should be compelled to obey even by violent measures (Schaff, Ibid., 675).

The Catholic Encyclopedia attempts to vindicate the Catholic Church by pointing to the spirit of the age and by saying the Church did not administer the death penalty. The Encyclopedia declares that for centuries "the principal teachers of the Church refused to accept stern measures against of the kings and they shrank particularly from such stern measures against heresy as torture and capital punishment, both of which they deemed inconsistent with the spirit of Christianity." But, in the Middle Ages, the Catholic Faith became alone dominant, and the welfare of the Commonwealth came to be closely bound up with cause of religious unity. King Peter of Aragon, therefore, but voiced the universal conviction when he said: "The enemies of the Cross of Christ and violators of the Christian Law are likewise our enemies and the enemies of our kingdom, and ought therefore to be dealt with as such" ... "The repersentatives of the Church were also children of their own time, and in their conflict with heresy accepted the help that their age freely offered them, and indeed often forced upon them. Theologians and canonists, the highest and the saintliest, stood by the code of their day, and sought to explain and to justify it" (Ibid. p. 35).

The Catholic Encyclopedia further observes: "In forming an estimate of the Inquisition, it is necessary to distinguish clearly between principles and historical fact on the one hand, and on the other those exaggerations or rhetorical descriptions which reveal bias and an obvious determination to injure Catholicism, rather than to encourage the spirit of tolerance and further its exercise. It is also essential to note that the Inquisition, in its establishment and procedure, pertained unto the sphere of belief, but to that of discipline. The dogmatic teaching of the Church is in no way affected by the question as to whether the Inquisition was justified in its scope, or wise in its methods, or extreme in its practice. The Church established by Christ, as a perfect society, is empowered to make laws and inflict penalties for their violation. Heresy not only violates her law but strikes at her very life, unity of belief; and from the beginning the heretic had incurred all penalties of the ecclesiastical courts. When Christianity became the religion of the Empire, and still more when the peoples of Northern Europe became Christian nations, the close alliance of Church and State made unity of faith essential not only to the ecclesiastical organization, but also to civil society. Heresy, in consequence, was a crime which secular rulers were bound in duty to punish. It was regarded as worse than any other crime, even that of high treason; it was for society in those times what we call anarchy. Hence the severity with which heretics were treated by the secular power long before the Inquisition was established" (Ibid. p. 36).

A.S. Turberville's statement in the Cambridge Medieval History, which follows, is most pertinent in view of the foregoing quotation. "In handing over the impenitent and the relapsed to the secular arm, the Inquisition invariably made use of a formula praying that the death or mutilation of the prisoner might be avoided. This adjuration was invariably disregarded, and the Church knew that it always would be. The formula freed the Church from the irregularity of being responsible for the shedding of blood; but moral responsibility is not so easily evaded. The secular authority certainly had seldom any qualms about putting the heretic to death" (Vol. 6, p. 724).

Inescaple Conclusions

  1. The Catholic Church has not renounced the popes mentioned above who fostered physical severities against heretics and thus can not evade responsibility.
  2. She can not evade the fact that she would approve of such conduct under similar conditions were they present today.
  3. The Catholic Encyclopedia article clearly avows that the church was perfectly just and right in inflicting the punishments of the Inquisition. If she could do it then, what about now?
  4. Is not the compulsion used in inflicting physical harm contrary to the New Testament teachings and the early teachings of the Church too? We see how far the Catholic Church apostatized from the truth of the New Testament.

The Inquisition -- Its Methods And Procedures

Previously we studied the Inquisition from the standpoints of its general principles and its development. The inconsistency between the Inquisition and the New Testament system was noted together with its abuse of conscience. It is the purpose of this article to state the methods and procedures of the Inquisition together with their connection wtith conscience.

It was Gregory IX who set up the Inquisition on a permanent and well organized basis. In April 1233 he issued a Bull to the bishops of southern France which provided that preaching friars (Dominicans) should relieve the bishops by dealing with the heretics in France and surrounding provinces. The bishops were ordered to treat these friars well, afford them aid and counsel that they might effectively discharge the duties of their office (Ross, A History Of Medieval Civilization In Europe, p. 503). He directed a Bull to the Dominicans by which he gave them the power to prosecute without appeal both laymen and clerks. They could call in the aid of the secular arm when they deemed it necessary. This freed the officers of the Inquisition from other controls and put them under papal jurisdiction. This practice became the established rule. By 1233 the Inquisition had grown to be a tremendously powerful weapon in the hand of the pope which he could and did wield against the unorthodox.

Types Of Heretics

Heretics were classified as to types as follows: (a) affirmative, those who openly espoused error; (b) negative, those who denied being erroneous or who lied about it; (c) perfected, those who not only held erroneous views, but patterned their lives accordingly; (d) imperfect, those who held unorthodox views but did not model their lives in harmony with them (A.S. Tuberville in Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. 6, p. 721). In addition to these people were also classified as to:

Suspicion Of Heresy

Those suspected of heresy were denominated thus: (a) lightly suspect, those who saluted a heretic or listened to one even a single time; (b) vehemently, those who listened two or three times to a heretic; (c) violently, those who were often auditors of heretics (Idem.). With the above classifications before us we know who had to appear before the Inquisitor and his court. To the operation of this court we now turn our attention.

Inquisitorial Procedure

Period Of Grace

An inquisitor upon coming into a territory to ferret out heretics would declare or announce a "period of grace" during which time a person could confess any heretical beliefs. Kind treatment was promised to those who thus voluntarily surrendered themselves. All those who refused to confess were to be denounced by the faithful. After the expiration of the "period of grace," the inquisitor began his work of locating heretics by investig-ating those sections of the town or district which seemed most likely to be the homes of heretics from information received during the "period of grace" (Idem.).


Those accused of heresy were brought before the inquisitor and his court for questioning either by the inquisitor or his vicar. Should the accused deny the indictment, it became his obligation to explain away the charges against him. Up to the time of Boniface VIII (pope 1294-1303) the accused did not know who the witnesses against him were but he had to prove they were his mortal enemies! In the Bull "Ut commissi vobis officii", Boniface VIII declared that the witnesses against the accused were to be named to him (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 8, p. 31). The regulations provided that before a person was indicted there should be at least two witnesses against him. The testimony of a condemned heretic, murderer or other infamous person was not accepted until Alexander IV declared in 1216 such evidence to be valid in cases involving heresy. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on the "Inquisition" observes, "This modification seems to have been defended on the ground that the heretical conventicals took place secretly, and were shrouded in great obscurity, so that reliable information could be obtained from none but themselves" (Idem.). Witnesses and the accused were not brought face to face and all proceedings of the inquisitional court were secret.

It was not the custom for witnesses to appear in behalf of the accused as this would leave them open to the charge of suspicion of heresy or at least be suspected of being lenient toward it. The accused for the same reason could rarely secure legal help and thus had to make answer to the charges himself. Innocent III in his Bull "Si adversus vos" denied legal help to heretics in these words: "We strictly prohibit you, lawyers and notaries, from assisting in any way, but council or support, all heretics and such as believe in them, adhere to them, render any assistance or defend them in any way" (Idem.).

There were present at these trials the bishop of the diocese in which the trial was being held, the inquisitor, the notary and councillors. It was the duty of the notary to keep an accurate, detailed record of all the proceedings. Many such records were taken to other districts or even to other countries to be used against other heretics should the record contain any information about them. The councillors were a "consultant jury" who acted in and advisory capacity in passing upon the guilt or innocence of the person or persons being tried. There was also an inquisitor's vicar or lieutenant who sometimes acted as a deputy and helped in the examination of the witnesses. The inquisitor was attended by a socius on his journeys. A group of body-guards for the inquisitor, known as the familiars, visited prisons for the inquisitor, were his special agents and acted as his spies on occasions (Tuberville, Ibid., p. 720).

In each neighborhood there was a group of person known as testes synodals or synodal witnesses who made inquiry concerning heretics in their vicinity. They, of course, reported their findings to the proper authorities for appropriate action.


David of Augsburg relates four different methods used in gaining confessions: (1) Arouse the fear of death by making the accused realize that the stake would be his if he refused to confess his heresy. (2) Put before the heretic the idea of being closely confined in a prison with the possibility of also being deprived of some food. (3) Have tried men visit the accused and by friendly persuasion urge him to confess freely and voluntarily. (4) Torture the accused to extract a confession. (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 8, p. 31).

Torture As A Method

If questioning did not produce a confession, torture was to be employed. It was first sanctioned by the Lateran Council, 1215, and was ordered or authorized by Innocent IV in his Bull "Ad exstirpanda," May 15, 1252. This was confirmed by Alexander IV, Nov. 3, 1265. However, the torture was not to deprive one of a limb or jeopardize his life (ibid. p. 32). At first it was the duty of the civil power to attend to the matter of torture, but this cause many inconveniences to the inquisitor and his court. It was much more convenient for the inquisitor to have access to the accused during the torture period and to provide for this on April 27, 1260, Alexander IV authorized inquisitors to absolve one another from such canonical irregularities. They could also engage in the torturing. The permission granted by Alexander IV was renewed by Urban IV on August 2, 1262 (ibid.). A person was to be tortured only once, but this was circumvented by torturing him each time any new evidence was presented. It also became the custom to say that the torture administered on different days was but a continuation of the torture first administered and hence they tortured only "once." A confession thus extracted was to be repeated a few days later and was labeled as "freely given."

Beating and strapping in the rack were used as torture. The putting of a person in a rack to be drawn and twisted until he writhed in pain was a most successful method in extracting the desired confession. A confession made under those circumstances was later to be "freely made" in order to put it into the heretic's record.

After the confession was made the sentence was to be issued. If convicted of heresy, the Bull "ad existerpanda," 1252, issued by Innocent IV directed that the person be turned over to the secular government for punishment. It was known to the pope that Frederick II had in his Constitution of 1224 decreed that all heretics should be put to death by fire (ibid., p. 34). The conviction of a heretic was an occasion of solemnity and once the sentences were passed the case was closed.

Inquisitional Methods And Conscience

Previously I gave the scriptural teaching concerning conscience. It must not be abused by the individual and must not be subjugated to external authority or coercion. The use of force in compelling obedience is contrary to New Testament principles and also to the teaching of early "Church Fathers" whom the Catholic Church honors highly. We have examined the origin, development and methods of the Inquisition. On the basis of our examination the following conclusions are presented:

  1. The Inquisition is foreign to New Testament doctrine and practice and is therefore unscriptural.
  2. If the Church has a right to establish the Inquisition in the realm of discipline as Catholics assert (see article, "Inquisition", in The Catholic Encyclopedia), then she has a right to establish something contrary to Scriptural doctrine and practice.
  3. Catholics claim that the dogmatic teaching of the Church is in no way affected by the Inquisition. This cannot be sustained because a fundamental part of Catholic teaching is the New Testament; it, by both doctrine and approved practice, condemns the Inquisition as to its scope and practice.
  4. Torture and other means of physical coercion are contrary to the very nature of conscience as they motivate people by something other than conviction.
  5. A confession made and a life lived under duress such as that prevalent under inquisitionial practice are undeniable evidence that an individual's conscience is subjugated to an institution or to an authority contrary to one's sincere beliefs. The conscience is not bearing witness with one's self but rather with the institution or authority.
  6. How could one have a "conscience void of offense" and be coerced to make statements or live contrary to his convictions?
  7. Many weapons used by the Inquisition were definitely carnal. the Bible states, "For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh" (II Corinthians 10:4). Jesus said, "Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Matthew 26:52). Again, "My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: and now is my kingdom not from hence" (John 18:36).

Action of the Inquisition and of secular rulers under the guidance of the Catholic Church in which carnal force was used declare unmistakably to the world that the Church that claims to be the only true, immutable, universal, primitive, and apostolic church stands condemned by the only true, immutable, universal, primitive, and apostolic system of faith -- the New Testament.