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Spanish Inquisition

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DefinitionA tribunal to enforce Catholic orthodoxy in Spain. Created in 1478 by the decree of Pope Sixtus IV, the tribunal assumed greater importance in 1492 when King Ferdinand III and Queen Isabella mandated that Spanish Jews and Muslims convert to Catholicism or leave the country. This resulted in many nominal Catholics, known as conversos. The converts (mostly Jewish) were questioned and persecuted. The first murder of a converso occurred in 1481 when six Jews were burned at the stake. After 1530, Protestants were also subject to the inquisition. The last “heretic” of the Inquisition was condemned to the flames in 1826.

The inquisitorial tribunal proceeded as follows:

  • Declaration of the Edict of Grace – a period of time when the “heretic” could confess with minimal consequences. After 1500 there was no longer a grace period – forced confessions were known as “Edicts of Faith”
  • Denunciation and the use of anonymous informants to bring charges against the “heretic”
  • Examination, detention, and confiscation of property
  • The trial, which included detailed, written documentation of the charges and the testimony
  • Torturing the accused in an effort to obtain confessions and to discover other “heretics”
  • Sentencing, after which the accused was released to the secular authority for burning at the stake
  • The auto de fé – the public ceremony where the sentence was formally executed during a solemn mass
  • Execution by burning – it was thought that this was a benefit to the heretic as a graphic representation of eternity in hell – that they might repent amidst the flames

Discussion: Pope Benedict XVI recently condemned the use of force for religious purposes. Of course, this statement is in direct contradiction to the official proclamations of medieval popes that encouraged wars to benefit the papacy. The pope even had his own army. Many millions have been persecuted and murdered under the papacy.

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