God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World

God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World

3.9 11
by Cullen Murphy

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“The Inquisition is a dark mark in the history of the Catholic Church. But it was not the first inquisition nor the last, as Cullen Murphy shows in this far-ranging, informed, and (dare one say?) witty account of its reach down to our own time, in worldly affairs more than ecclesiastical ones.” — Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, former editor, …  See more details below


“The Inquisition is a dark mark in the history of the Catholic Church. But it was not the first inquisition nor the last, as Cullen Murphy shows in this far-ranging, informed, and (dare one say?) witty account of its reach down to our own time, in worldly affairs more than ecclesiastical ones.” — Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, former editor, Commonweal

The Inquisition conducted its last execution in 1826 — the victim was a Spanish schoolmaster convicted of heresy. But as Cullen Murphy shows in this provocative new work, not only did its offices survive into the twentieth century, in the modern world its spirit is more influential than ever.

God’s Jury
encompasses the diverse stories of the Knights Templar, Torquemada, Galileo, and Graham Greene. Established by the Catholic Church in 1231, the Inquisition continued in one form or another for almost seven hundred years. Though associated with the persecution of heretics and Jews — and with burning at the stake — its targets were more numerous and its techniques more ambitious. The Inquisition pioneered surveillance and censorship and “scientific” interrogation. As time went on, its methods and mindset spread far beyond the Church to become tools of secular persecution. Traveling from freshly opened Vatican archives to the detention camps of Guantánamo to the filing cabinets of the Third Reich, Murphy traces the Inquisition and its legacy.

With the combination of vivid immediacy and learned analysis that characterized his acclaimed Are We Rome?, Murphy puts a human face on a familiar but little-known piece of our past, and argues that only by understanding the Inquisition can we hope to explain the making of the present.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1998, the Vatican opened the Archivio della Congregazione per Dottrina della Fede, the Inquisition archive, thereby unveiling to the world the secrets of censorship and persecution that the Catholic Church had hidden since the Middle Ages. Journalist Murphy (The Word According to Eve) visits the archives several times and in his typically compelling style leads readers on a journey through the many inquisitions conducted by the Church over time, from the Spanish Inquisition to the Roman Inquisition of the 16th century. Murphy convincingly demonstrates that while the inquisitions most often are associated with the Church, they arise anytime an organization, state, or institution possesses and uses tools—such as censorship and torture—to stoke and manage suspicion, intolerance, and hatred of the other. Inquisitions require a system of law that can be administered with uniformity, the power to conduct interrogations and extract information, a bureaucracy with a large staff of individuals to administer it, a capacity to restrict the communications of others, and a source of power to ensure enforcement. Murphy powerfully shows that the impulse to inquisition can quietly take root in any system—civil or religious—that orders our lives. (Jan. 17)
Kirkus Reviews
A roving Vanity Fair journalist takes a swaggering stab at the Inquisition. There were many Inquisitions--also lowercased--and inquiring author Murphy (Are We Rome?: The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America, 2007, etc.) traces the tentacles of the righteous persecution of "heretical depravity" up to the present, when the fallout from 9/11 especially reawakened the urge for surveillance, censorship, torture and a general "us versus them" mentality. The author first explores the three institutions that bore the name: the Medieval Inquisition, put into effect in 1231 by Pope Gregory IX in order to quash the heretical Cathars in southern France; the Spanish Inquisition, launched by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1478; and the Roman Inquisition, taken up with relish under Pope Paul III, in 1542, and intended to stop the dissemination of heretical thought and print. While the persecution of the Cathars lasted only a century and was completely successful ("Have you ever met a Cathar?"), the Spanish Inquisition perfected the art of torture under Tomás de Torquemada, culminating in the expulsion of the Jews and Muslims from Spain and the spread of global inquisition to the Americas. The Roman Inquisition had to stem the flood of Reformation ideas pouring out of the new printing presses, resulting in a massive buildup of archives that have only been opened to visiting scholars since 1998. The Holy Office would be the relentless persecutor of scientists and free thinkers, from Galileo to Graham Greene. Murphy visits the modern incarnation of the Vatican's inquisition, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from 1981 onward, which decrees on matters of cloning, same-sex marriage, etc. Entertaining, lively chronicle of the Inquisition, touching on a wide variety of issues across the centuries.
Edward Peters
Cullen Murphy has an unusual talent for dealing in surprising ways with historical comparisons of past and present in lucid and lively prose. He writes intelligent history because he reads and understands current historical research and applies its results consistently…This is very high-end, appealing and thought-provoking popular history. It does its historical duty by making us look at several aspects of the past from an unconventional and surprising perspective. It does its public duty by making us consider our own world as the outcome, at least in some respects, of a process of modernization that needs to be understood and regarded more critically.
—The Washington Post
Patricia Cohen
Mr. Murphy wants to demonstrate how the mind-set and machinery of the Inquisition are inescapable products of the modern world that later surfaced in Stalin's Russia, Argentina's military junta and 21st-century America, where harsh interrogation tactics and unlimited detention were used at Guantánamo Bay…Mr. Murphy…is such a witty writer…offering a compact and breezy history of the Roman Catholic Church's bloody crusade with an incisive critique of America's post-9/11 security apparatus.
—The New York Times
From the Publisher
"When virtue arms itself—beware! Lucid, scholarly, elegantly told, God's Jury is as gripping as it is important." —James Carroll

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

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The Paper Trail

No one goes in and nothing comes out.
—a Vatican archivist, 1877

Theology, sir, is a fortress; no crack in a fortress may be accounted small.
—Reverend Hale, The Crucible, 1953

The Palace

On a hot fall day in Rome not long ago, I crossed the vast expanse of St. Peter’s Square, paused momentarily in the shade beneath a curving flank of Bernini’s colonnade, and continued a little way beyond to a Swiss Guard standing impassively at a wrought-iron gate, the Porta Cavalleggeri. He examined my credentials, handed them back, and saluted smartly. I hadn’t expected the grand gesture, and almost returned the salute instinctively, but then realized it was intended for a cardinal waddling into the Vatican from behind me.
  Just inside the gate, at Piazza del Sant’Uffizio 11, stands a Renaissance palazzo with the ruddy ocher-and-cream complexion of so many buildings in the city. This is the headquarters of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose job, in the words of the Apostolic Constitution, Pastor bonus, promulgated in 1988 by Pope John Paul II, is “to promote and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals throughout the Catholic world.” Pastor bonus goes on: “For this reason, everything which in any way touches such matter falls within its competence.” It is an expansive charge. The CDF is one of nine Vatican congregations that together make up the administrative apparatus of the Holy See, but it dominates all the others. Every significant document or decision emanating from anywhere inside the Vatican must get a sign-off from the CDF.
  The Congregation also generates plenty of rulings of its own. The Vatican’s pronouncements during the past decade in opposition to cloning and same-sex marriage originated in the CDF. So did the directive ordering Catholic parishes not to give the names of past or present congregants to the Genealogical Society of Utah, a move that reflects the Vatican’s “grave reservations” about the Mormon practice of posthumous baptism. The declaration Dominus Jesus, issued in 2000, which reiterated that the Catholic Church is the only true church of Christ and the only assured means of salvation, is a CDF document. Because the Congregation is responsible for clerical discipline, its actions—and inactions—are central to the pedophilia scandals that have shaken the Catholic Church. For more than two decades, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was headed by Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who during his long reign as prefect was known as the enforcer and sometimes as the Panzerkardinal—bane of liberals, scourge of dissidents, and bulwark of orthodoxy narrowly construed. The Congregation has been around for a very long time, although until the Second Vatican Council it was called something else: the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office. From the lips of old Vatican hands and Church functionaries everywhere, one still hears shorthand references to “the Holy Office,” much as one hears “Whitehall,” “Foggy Bottom,” or “the Kremlin.”
  But before the Congregation became the Holy Office, it went by yet another name: as late as 1908, it was known as the Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition. Lenny Bruce once joked that there was only one “the Church.” The Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition was the headquarters of the Inquisition—the centuries-long effort by the Church to deal with its perceived enemies, within and without, by whatever means necessary, including the most brutal ones available. For understandable reasons, no one at the Vatican these days refers to the Congregation as “the Inquisition” except ironically. The members of the papal curia are famously tone-deaf when it comes to public relations—these are men who in recent years have invited a Holocaust-denying bishop to return to the Church, have tried to persuade Africans that the use of condoms will make the AIDS crisis worse, and have told the indigenous peoples of Latin America that their religious beliefs are “a step backward”—but even the curia came to appreciate that the term had outlived its usefulness, although it took a few centuries.
  It’s easy to change a name, not so easy to engage in genetic engineering (which the Church would not encourage in any case). The CDF grew organically out of the Inquisition, and the modern office cannot escape the imprint. Ratzinger, when he was still a cardinal, was sometimes referred to as the grand inquisitor. New York’s John Cardinal O’Connor once introduced the visiting Ratzinger that way from a pulpit in Manhattan—a not entirely successful way to break the ice. The epithet may have originated in “the fevered minds of some progressive Catholics,” as a Ratzinger fan site on the Web explains, but it became widespread nonetheless. (In response to a Frequently Asked Question, the same site offers: “Good grief. No, Virginia, Cardinal Ratzinger was not a Nazi.”)
  The palazzo that today houses the Congregation was originally built to lodge the Inquisition when the papacy, in 1542, amid the onslaught of Protestantism and other forms of heresy, decided that the Church’s intermittent and far-flung inquisitorial investigations, which had commenced during the Middle Ages, needed to be brought under some sort of centralized control—a spiritual Department of Homeland Security, as it were. Pope Paul III considered this task so urgent that for several years construction on the basilica of St. Peter’s was suspended and the laborers diverted, so that work could be completed on the palace of the Inquisition. At one time the palazzo held not only clerical offices but also prison cells. Giordano Bruno, the philosopher and cosmologist, was confined for a period in this building, before being burned at the stake in Rome’s Campo dei Fiori, in 1600.
  When I first set foot in the palazzo, a decade ago, it was somewhat shabby and ramshackle, like so much of Rome and, indeed, like more of the Vatican than one might imagine. Vespas tilted against kickstands in the courtyard. In a hallway beyond the green palazzo door, a hand-lettered sign pointed the way to an espresso machine. A telephone on the wall dated to the 1950s. But the Congregation has a Web site now, and e-mail, and a message from Piazza del Sant’Uffizio 11 can still fray nerves in theology departments and diocesan chanceries around the world.
  The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith inherited more than the Inquisition’s institutional DNA and its place on the organizational charts. It also inherited much of the paper trail. The bulk of the Vatican’s records are part of the so-called Archivio Segreto, and for the most part are stored in a vast underground bunker below a former observatory. (Segreto, though translated as “secret,” carries the connotation “private” or “personal” rather than “classified.”) But the Vatican’s holdings are so great—the indexes alone fill 35,000 volumes—that many records must be squirreled away elsewhere. The Inquisition records are kept mainly in the Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio itself, and for four and a half centuries—up until 1998—that archive was closed to outsiders.
  At the time of my first visit, the Inquisition archive—officially, the Archivio della Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede—spilled from room to room and floor to floor in the palazzo’s western wing, filling about twenty rooms in all. It was under twenty-four-hour papal surveillance, watched over by a marble bust of Pius XII, a stern and enigmatic pontiff and now a candidate for sainthood, despite his troubling record in the face of the Holocaust. Pius was assisted in his surveillance by the sixteenth-century cardinal-inquisitor and papal censor Robert Bellarmine, whose portrait dominated a nearby wall, larger in oil than he was in life. The walls of the Archivio, where visible, were covered in threadbare red brocade. Paint flaked off the furniture. The rooms were bathed in a soft yellow light. A spiral staircase connected upper and lower levels. Dark bookshelves stood in tight rows, sagging under thick bundles of documents. Many were tied up with string in vellum wrappers, like so much laundry. Others were bound as books. The spines displayed Latin notations in an elegant antique hand. Some indicated subject matter: “De Spiritismo,” “De Hypnotismo,” “De Magnetismo Animale.” Most were something else entirely. They contained the records of individual cases and also the minutes of the Inquisition’s thrice-weekly meetings (on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, at 10:00 a.m.) going back half a millennium.
  The cataloguing is by modern standards haphazard, even chaotic, reflecting centuries of handling and the peculiar organizational psychology of the Holy See. As one scholar has noted, the Vatican archives were arranged in a way that made sense for the curia, not for the convenience of modern historians. Pull down a bundle and you may stumble on internal deliberations over the censorship of René Descartes. Pull down another and you may discover some Renaissance cardinal-inquisitor’s personal papers: the original handwritten records of all his investigations, chronologically arranged; a bureaucratic autobiography—he was proud of what he had achieved—with reflective comments scrawled in the margins; and here and there a small black cross indicating that a sentence had been duly carried out. Pull down a third bundle and you may find an account of a routine meeting, the sudden insertion here and there of several black dots by the notary indicating that the inquisitors went into executive session and the notary was dismissed from the room—a more reliable procedure than the modern practice, employed by intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, of “redacting” a sensitive document with heavy black bars. No court order or Freedom of Information Act can unlock what the black dots conceal.
  The atmosphere in the reading room is one of warmth and stillness. Hints of slowly crumbling leather hang in the air. A few scholars sit at tables. No one talks: silentio is the explicit rule. Espresso must be left outside. Smoking is prohibited. The physical experience is that afforded by any ancient library, enfolding and reassuring—which serves only to heighten a sense of psychic disconnection. When the Archivio was first opened, a Vatican official, Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, expressed the hope that it might contain “some pleasant surprises.” But the record preserved on the millions of pages in these rooms is mainly grim: a record of lives disrupted and sometimes summarily put to an end; of ideas called into question and then suppressed; of voices silenced, temporarily or forever; of blind bureaucratic inertia harnessed to moral certainty and to earthly and spiritual power. It is a record of actions taken in the name of religion, though the implications go beyond religion.
  Any archive is a repository of what some sliver of civilization has wrought, for good or ill. This one is no exception. The Archivio may owe its existence to the Inquisition, but it helps explain the world that exists today. In our imaginations, we offhandedly associate the term “inquisition” with the term “Dark Ages.” But consider what an inquisition—any inquisition—really is: a set of disciplinary procedures targeting specific groups, codified in law, organized systematically, enforced by surveillance, exemplified by severity, sustained over time, backed by institutional power, and justified by a vision of the one true path. Considered that way, the Inquisition is more accurately viewed not as a relic but as a harbinger.

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"When virtue arms itself—-beware! Lucid, scholarly, elegantly told, God's Jury is as gripping as it is important." —-James Carroll

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God's Jury 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
-traveler- More than 1 year ago
Humor is not something I would have expected from a book about inquisitions, but Murphy frequently manages it. The book is well researched, well written and highly readable. Murphy compares inquistions of the past with our current state of affairs. The players have changed, but the tactics remain. For anyone interested in the history of Christianity or human history, this is a must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just finished reading an extraordinary book called God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the making of the Modern World. The Inquisition was established by the church in 1231 and lasted in some form or another for about 700 years. Its purpose was to identify and destroy heresy, free thinking, and any thoughts that challenged the authority of the church. Its targets were Jews, Muslims, homosexuals, scientists and anyone else who disagreed with their version of truth. The most common sentence carried out was burning at the stake, but multiple other forms of torture we used including the rack, water boarding, and placing bricks on a person’s chest until they confessed to whatever they were accused of. A key factor in the making of an inquisition is a belief in the certainty that one is absolutely right. Galileo was called before the Inquisition for proposing the crazy idea that the earth revolves around the sun. Since the church started with the conclusion that the earth is the center of the universe, any evidence contrary to this was obviously heresy. The author did an excellent job of tying the motives and the tactics of the Inquisition to modern day events. The idea of “Moral Certainty” is a very dangerous phenomenon, then and now. From the book “Inquisitions invite one group – national, religious, political, corporate, - to sit in judgment of members of another: to think of themselves, in a sense, as God’s jury. …. the impulse arises from a vision of ultimate good, a conviction of ultimate truth, and some certainty about a desired place – and about whom to blame for the obstacles in the way.” Fortunately, for all of us, the Enlightenment period came along, led by free thinkers such as John Locke who put forward ideas that human beings do not and cannot know for sure which truths are “true”, and attempting to compel beliefs leads to trouble. The printing press started the beginning of the end of the official Inquisition. The guardians of the truth as determined by the church could not keep up with the volume and the accessibility of ideas being perpetuated. This is analogous to the internet today. In my opinion, the take away message from God’s Jury, is to use extreme caution when someone claims to have moral certainty regarding truth. Be on the lookout for a pattern of logic that starts with a conclusion as to what is true and proceeds to judge the evidence by if, and how, it supports the conclusion. The lessons of the book apply directly to issues of our time, separation of church and state, individual freedom, the Patriot Act, the war on terrorism, Guantanamo Bay, censorship of the internet, decisions by school boards on school book curriculum, etc. The Inquisition set back the progress in the human condition by 500 years by imposing an ‘us versus them’ view of the world. Let’s not let that happen again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Inquisition is a subject I have been long interested in, and this book makes it very understandable, altho it is not a book you would sit down and read like a novel. It takes some reflection, and time to absorb the enormity of the situation. The religious, political, sociological and psychological aspects are nicely woven together with historical perspective which gives the reader a real feel for the subject. I haven't finished reading it yet, but glad it is on my NOOK so I can read a chapter every few days when I have time to give it some real thought.
Gofair More than 1 year ago
Cullen Murphy does a pretty good job in showing the flow of history and how the "inquisition" has lived on into modern times. Murphy spreads the idea over a timeline that is easily digestible for the reader to understand. I would have liked to see more on each part of the inquisition (Medieval, Spanish, and Roman) and how it pertained to the modern tactics that are being utilized throughout the world. In addition, possibly a bit more about each of the periods for which the inquisition was based.
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brings the Patriot Act into perspective - shows the deadly righteousness of factions who are convinced tha they are right and need to stamp out wrongs. Frightening that we will not be able to undo the Patriot Act either.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Murphy is not a historian and this book reflects poor scholarship. It is replete with many half truths and some just plain untruths which are not recognizable to one without an in depth knowldge of this era. There is also a great deal of thinly veiled bias in this book.