Tuesday 11 January 2022

The Inquisition What Really Happened - Fernando Cervantes - CTS Concise Histories

The Inquisition: 
What really happened?
Fernando Cervantes
Fernando Cervantes
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781860823794
eISBN 9781784692780
CTS Booklet H504

This is one of nine volumes written or edited by Fernando Cervantes, but I believe it is the only one available from the Catholic Truth Society. I have read a few of the other volumes in the CTS Concise Histories series and considered them great little volumes. I can easily state the same about this booklet. Over the last few years I have read over 250 books and booklets from the Catholic Truth Society, and I have nearly that many on my want to read list. This is another great resource from the CTS. The description of this volume is:

“The Inquisition has become a byword for persecution and intolerance, and is often given as a reason for distrusting the Catholic Church. This booklet looks at what led up to this most controversial chapter in the Church's history, what really happened during it, and what changes of perspective led to Pope John Paul's famous apology in 1997.”

And the chapters in the book are:

     Changes in Attitude
     John Paul II’s ‘Apology’
The Background
      “Political Augustinianism”
     Responding to Heresy
     Heresy as Treason
The Medieval Inquisition
     An unbalanced picture
The Spanish Inquisition
     Religion in the medieval Spanish Kingdoms
     Jews and Conversos
     Violence against Conversos
     Expulsion of Jews
      “To convert or to depart”
     Muslims and Moriscos
     Tolerance towards Moriscos
     A harder line
     Expulsion of Moriscos
     The Alumbrados
     Suppression of Protestantism
     Auto de Fé
     Upholding the Truth

The book was first published in 2006 and the eBook Edition released in 2017. It is not a long volume, coming in at under 75 pages. But those pages are chock full. The introduction begins with these words:

“The Inquisition is undoubtedly one of the most readily available excuses for distrusting the Catholic Church. The very word inquisitio - first developed in the twelfth century as a legal term to describe a supervisory authority that investigated and judged suspected heretics - has become almost synonymous with obscurantist bigotry, intolerance, and cruelty.”

Not exactly what you would expect in a book by a Catholic and for Catholics. But this volume does not start with the Inquisition directly. It starts with Vatican Council II, and the statements from popes since that council. It uses the framework of looking back and recognizing past issues, mistakes and abuses. The section on John Paul II’s Apology concludes with these words:

“The question is therefore more complex than it appears at first sight, and it is clear that it cannot be adequately addressed without some knowledge of the historical circumstances that led to the various justifications of religious violence in the history of the Church. More than ever, it would seem, there is a clear need to separate fact from fiction in the history of these movements. It is the purpose of this booklet to attempt to give some historical context to this delicate topic with specific reference to the history of the Inquisition.”

From there it jumps back all the way to Augustine’s though on forced conversions. The book is a very academic work. And to be honest not necessarily an easy read. I do however believe it is an important read. The beginning of the conclusion states:

“After this brief historical survey, it would be impossible to deny that the Church has at various stages in her history been directly implicated in religious violence and persecution, and that the history of the Inquisition provides ample evidence of this. On the other hand, it is also clear that the widely accepted image of the Inquisition as an unacceptable instrument of power, bent on the maintenance and propagation of ignorance, superstition and obscurantism through the indiscriminate use of cruelty and torture, is not merely misleading but fundamentally mistaken. As we have seen, more often than not, the Inquisition compares quite favourably with other mechanisms of justice and social control, not least some that are still used nowadays in ostensibly secular, and even liberal and democratic states. Would even the worst Inquisitors, we might legitimately ask ourselves, have tolerated the indiscriminate imprisonment of suspects of terrorism in Guantánamo by the government of the United States?”

And it then contrasts that with:

“The real challenge for Christians in the current intellectual climate, therefore, is precisely this need to defend and uphold the truth. For there is a widespread and very persuasive opinion, one which emerged with particular force in the various critical media reactions to Pope John Paul II’s initiative, that a firm belief in the truth can constitute an affront on tolerance, peace and mutual respect. The fundamental value of the modern world seems to be freedom. Therefore, anything that conflicts with freedom, or that threatens to restrict it in any way, is immediately stigmatised as a relic of archaic prohibitions and “taboos” that the modern world has superseded.”

This book is an important read. And it is part of a great series. The CTS has published many excellent volumes, and I encourage you to give this one a read, in part to sweep away misconceptions, in part to have a clearer view, and ultimately to grow in truth. Another valuable read from the Catholic Truth Society.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

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