This one's for Jason.
Was the inquisition really that bad?
Honestly, we are talking about the sorting out of heretics here!
Look at what happened with the Arian Heresy. It nearly toppled Christianity. They could have used an Inquisition then.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the Inquisition was only concerned with members of the Church. It did not force people to accept Christianity. Rather its purpose was to get rid of so called “Christians” who led other Christians astray from true teachings of Christ.
The Inquisition began to combat Catharism, which forbade marriage and the propagation of the human race. One can obviously deduce the effects on society this sect would have had if it were allowed to continue!
Above all, the Inquisition wasn’t just a mindless attack on heretics. There was always a fair trial and the Inquisitors were some of the holiest men.
“It was a heavy burden of responsibility -- almost too heavy for a common mortal -- which fell upon the shoulders of an inquisitor, who was obliged, at least indirectly, to decide between life and death. The Church was bound to insist that he should possess, in a pre-eminant degree, the qualities of a good judge; that he should be animated with a glowing zeal for the Faith, the salvation of souls, and the extirpation of heresy; that amid all difficulties and dangers he should never yield to anger or passion; that he should meet hostility fearlessly, but should not court it; that he should yield to no inducement or threat, and yet not be heartless; that, when circumstances permitted, he should observe mercy in allotting penalties; that he should listen to the counsel of others, and not trust too much to his own opinion or to appearances, since often the probable is untrue, and the truth improbable. Somewhat thus did Bernard Gui (or Guldonis) and Eymeric, both of them inquisitors for years, describe the ideal inquisitor. Of such an inquisitor also was Gregory IX doubtlessly thinking when he urged Conrad of Marburg: "ut puniatur sic temeritas perversorum quod innocentiae puritas non laedatur" -- i.e., "not to punish the wicked so as to hurt the innocent". History shows us how far the inquisitors answered to this ideal. Far from being inhuman, they were, as a rule, men of spotless character and sometimes of truly admirable sanctity, and not a few of them have been canonized by the Church. There is absolutely no reason to look on the medieval ecclesiastical judge as intellectually and morally inferior to the modern judge. No one would deny that the judges of today, despite occasional harsh decisions and the errors of a, few, pursue a highly honourable profession. Similarly, the medieval inquisitors should be judged as a whole Moreover, history does not justify the hypothesis that the medieval heretics were prodigies of virtue, deserving our sympathy in advance” (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Heretics who confessed of their own free will were dealt with mercifully. It was only when the heretic swore falsely on the Gospels that harsher judgments were handed out.
There is nothing “to suggest that the accused were imprisoned during the period of inquiry. It was certainly customary to grant the accused person his freedom until the sermo generalis, were he ever so strongly inculpated through witnesses or confession; he was not yet supposed guilty, though he was compelled to promise under oath always to be ready to come before the inquisitor, and in the end to accept with good grace his sentence, whatever its tenor. The oath was assuredly a terrible weapon in the hands of the medieval judge. If the accused person kept it, the judge was favourably inclined; on the other hand, if the accused violated it, his credit grew worse. Many sects, it was known, repudiated oaths on principle; hence the violation of an oath caused the guilty party easily to incur suspicion of heresy. Besides the oath, the inquisitor might secure himself by demanding a sum of money as bail, or reliable bondsmen who would stand surety for the accused. It happened, too, that bondsmen undertook upon oath to deliver the accused "dead or alive" It was perhaps unpleasant to live under the burden of such an obligation, but, at any rate, it was more endurable than to await a final verdict in rigid confinement for months or longer.
Curiously enough torture was not regarded as a mode of punishment, but purely as a means of eliciting the truth. It was not of ecclesiastical origin, and was long prohibited in the ecclesiastical courts. Nor was it originally an important factor in the inquisitional procedure, being unauthorized until twenty years after the Inquisition had begun. It was first authorized by Innocent IV in his Bull "Ad exstirpanda" of 15 May, 1252, which was confirmed by Alexander IV on 30 November, 1259, and by Clement IV on 3 November, 1265. The limit placed upon torture was citra membri diminutionem et mortis periculum -- i.e, it was not to cause the loss of life or limb or imperil life. Torture was to applied only once, and not then unless the accused were uncertain in his statements, and seemed already virtually convicted by manifold and weighty proofs. In general, this violent testimony (quaestio) was to be deferred as long as possible, and recourse to it was permitted in only when all other expedients were exhausted. Conscientiousness and sensible judges quite properly attached no great importance to confessions extracted by torture. After long experience Eymeric declared: Quaestiones sunt fallaces et inefficaces -- i.e the torture is deceptive and ineffectual” (Catholic Encyclopedia).
“The Spanish Inquisition deserves neither the exaggerated praise nor the equally exaggerated vilification often bestowed on it. The number of victims cannot be calculated with even approximate accuracy; the much maligned autos-da-fé were in reality but a religious ceremony (actus fidei); the San Benito has its counterpart in similar garbs elsewhere; the cruelty of St. Peter Arbues, to whom not a single sentence of death can be traced with certainty, belongs to the realms of fable. However, the predominant ecclesiastical nature of the institution can hardly be doubted. The Holy See sanctioned the institution, accorded to the grand inquisitor canonical installation and therewith judicial authority concerning matters of faith, while from the grand inquisitor jurisdiction passed down to the subsidiary tribunals under his control. Joseph de Maistre introduced the thesis that the Spanish Inquisition was mostly a civil tribunal; formerly, however, theologians never questioned its ecclesiastical nature. Only thus, indeed, can one explain how the Popes always admitted appeals from it to the Holy See, called to themselves entire trials and that at any stage of the proceedings, exempted whole classes of believers from its jurisdiction, intervened in the legislation, deposed grand inquisitors, and so on“ (Catholic Encyclopedia).
In Short, the Inquisition wasn’t as bad as its critics and Hollywood make it out to be. It served its purpose and kept Christianity orthodox. Also, whenever an Inquisitor got out of line, the pope was quick to step in and put a stop to it. It is also to be noted that Catholics weren’t the only ones who advocated death for heretics.
“It is well known that belief in the justice of punishing heresy with death was so common among the sixteenth century reformers -- Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and their adherents -- that we may say their toleration began where their power ended. The Reformed theologian, Hieronymus Zanchi, declared in a lecture delivered at the University of Heidlelberg:
We do not now ask if the authorities may pronounce sentence of death upon heretics; of that there can be no doubt, and all learned and right-minded men acknowledge it. The only question is whether the authorities are bound to perform this duty“ (Catholic Encyclopedia).