The Spanish Inquisition in context

It is difficult for us to understand the Spanish Inquisition because we are so used to the separation of church and state in modern times. During the time in which the Inquisition in Spain was most active (1480-1600s), however, heresy was considered a crime similar to political treason because the monarchies of Europe and the Catholic Church were so closely linked, and according to Roman Law torture could be used to extract confessions of guilt in cases of capital crimes. While forced conversions, torture, and the executions that took place during the Spanish Inquisition can never be excused, it is necessary to understand what was going on in Spain and in the Mediterranean at this time in history to see it in context and to distinguish the truth from the lies that have been told for 500 hundred years about this period of Spain’s history.

Contrary to what many believe, the Spanish Inquisition did not target Protestants or people who had been Jewish or Muslim from birth. Rather, it was concerned with the issue of heresy and apostasy in Spain. According to the Catechism, “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith.” (CCC 2089) In the 1300s there were many Jews in Spain who had converted to Catholicism, called “conversos,” who were believed to have committed apostasy by returning to the practice of Judaism. James Michener points this out in his book Iberia:

“So far as I was able to ascertain, no Jew was ever executed by the Inquisition. If a man under investigation could say simply, ‘Yes, I’m a Jew and have never been otherwise,’ his gold and silver were confiscated and he was banished from Spain, but he was in no way subject to the Inquisition and certainly he was never burned. The Jews who did suffer, and in the thousands, were those who had at one time been baptized as Catholics, had been legal Catholics and had committed apostasy by reverting to Jewish practices. These were rooted out with great severity, but when they were burned, it was as Catholics, not as Jews.”(1) Continue reading


Additional reading

News category: Features.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,