A History of The Inquisition of The Middle Ages; vol. 2by Henry Charles Lea
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THE Inquisition was organized for the eradication of heresy and the enforcement of uniformity of belief. We shall have occasion to see hereafter how elastic became the definition of heresy, and we have seen how far afield its extinction led the operations of the Holy Office but, to the last, the suppression of unorthodox belief remained the ostensible object of its existence.
It is not easy at the present day, for those accustomed to universal toleration, to realize the importance attached by statesmen in the past to unity of belief, or the popular abhorrence for any deviation from the standard of dogma. These convictions were part of the mental and moral fibre of the community and were the outcome of the assiduous teachings of the Church for centuries, until it was classed with the primal truths that it was the highest duty of the sovereign to crush out dissidence at whatever cost, and that hatred of the heretic was enjoined on every Christian by both divine and human law. The heretic was a venomous reptile, spreading contagion with his very breath and the safety of the land required his extermination as a source of pestilence.
In the earlier periods of the Inquisition, moreover, when the hierarchy was filled with New Christians of doubtful orthodoxy, it was essential to know that the sacraments necessary to salvation were not vitiated by the apostasy of the ministrant, for his intention is indispensable to their validity. No man could tell how many priests there were like Andrés González, parish priest of San Martín de Talavera, who, on his trial at Toledo, in 1486, confessed that for fourteen years he had secretly been a Jew, that he had no intention when he celebrated mass, nor had he granted absolution to the penitents confessing to him. There was also a classical story, widely circulated, of Fray Garcia de Zapata, prior of the Geronimite monastery of Toledo, who, when elevating the Host, used to say “Get up, little Peter, and let the people look at you” and who always turned his back on the penitent to whom he pretended to grant absolution.
CONDITIONS OF JURISDICTION
The merciless zeal of the Holy Office might gradually relieve the people of this danger, but it intensified by its methods the unreasoning abhorrence of heresy. The honest cavalier Oviedo, about the middle of the sixteenth century, merely phrases the current opinion of the time when he says that all possible punishments prescribed by the canons and admitted by the laws should be visited on the persons and property of heretics; they eat the bread of the good, they render the land infamous, by their conversation they lead souls to perdition and, with their marriages and kinships, they corrupt the blood of good houses. As time wore on this increased rather than diminished. Galceran Albanell, Archbishop of Granada, who had been tutor of Philip IV, wrote to his former pupil April 12, 1621, to express his horror at learning that the English ambassador had been allowed to have divine service performed in his house, after the rites of his sect. The king should not allow it; it is the greatest of sins and unless it is remedied we shall all perish. It is an accursed reason to allege that that accursed king permits the Spanish ambassador to have mass celebrated in London. The English ambassador should be dismissed and the English king can send away the Spanish ambassador; if the Council of State interferes, let Philip show them the way of God. The Licenciado de Angulo should have a bishopric because he resigned his office as fiscal of the Council rather than affix his name to a paper in which the English king was styled Defender of the Faith and Albanell declares his readiness to resign his own see in Angulo’s favor. To a population sedulously trained in such sentiments the awful ceremonies of the auto de fe were a triumph of the faith, of which they felt proud, and they were filled with pious exultation when the flames of the brasero consumed the bodies of heretics who passed through temporal to eternal fire. It was a vindication of the honor of God, and it is necessary to understand and bear in mind this temper when considering the performance by the Inquisition of its allotted task.
The jurisdiction of the Holy Office over heresy was confined to the baptized, for baptism is a condition precedent to heresy; the unbaptized are outside of the Church and it has no spiritual authority over them. In the auto de fe of 1623, at Valladolid, a woman taken out to be relaxed for Judaism, declared that she was not baptized, whereupon the proceedings respecting her were stopped and she was remanded for investigation. Although baptism can be validly administered by a heretic, yet in the trial of foreign Protestants, minute inquiry was made as to the details of their baptism in their sects, so as to be assured that they were truly baptized;
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