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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Holy Smoke

This post is in response to a comment on an earlier post questioning the role of the Inquisition vis-à-vis the Jews.

The Church has never permitted the use of violence as a means of conversion to the Faith. The Crusades were not aimed at the forced conversion of anyone. They were aimed at recovering Christian territories conquered by Muslim powers (who did indeed intend to forcibly convert their inhabitants to Islam or at least subject them to civil penalties for failing to do so). They were conducted in response to the danger of Constantinople falling into the hands of the Islamic powers. Many of the re-conquered territories still had majority Christian populations.

The Church has permitted the application of civil penalties, including execution, to persons who pervert or abandon (these are actually the same thing) the Faith and then propagate their errors. St Thomas justifies this practice in the Summa
In his bull against Luther, Leo X condemned the proposition " 33. That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit. "
The purpose of the Inquisition was to determine whether a given individual accused of this had truly apostatised or fallen into formal heresy or whether they were simply misunderstood or confused. If they really were formal heretics the Inquisition sought to convert them. If they converted they were subjected to the normal penitential discipline of the Church. If they were obstinate or relapsed then they were handed over to the civil power for the heresy to be punished as a civil offence. The civil offence of heresy was created by the Emperor Theodosius

"It is our desire that all the various nation which are subject to our clemency and moderation, should continue to the profession of that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been preserved by faithful tradition and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe in the one diety of the father, Son and Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that the shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of divine condemnation an the second the punishment of our authority, in accordance with what the will of heaven shall decide to inflict. " Theodosian Code XVI.1.2

In 407 it was established that heretics "offend against the sacred majesty of the emperor" and that accordingly heresy was treason, for which the penalty was burning at the stake. Torture was used (in the first instance by secular officials attached to the Inquisition) to obtain information not conversion. This was in line with the practice of secular law enforcement at the time. It was extremely unfortunate and I assume falls within the scope of John Paul II's apology for the uses of violence in the defence of the truth. No doubt he was also averting to the sinful manner in which the Crusaders conducted themselves in the prosecution of their just defence of Christendom.

The Church has also considered it acceptable in principle to prohibit idolatry by law. Even a secular state could do this as the wickedness of idolatry is demonstrable to the natural light. None of these penalties apply to the Jews as they have not been baptised and worship the One True God. The Spanish Inquisition which was something of a loose cannon, as it was under royal rather than papal jurisdiction, has an ugly record of going after Christian Jews or their descendents who converted out of fear of popular violence and were suspected of secretly continuing to observe the old law. It is important to emphasise a) that the Spanish Inquisition was in an irregular situation in regard to the Holy See and that b) the whole problem resulted from a gravely immoral act(s) of forced conversion which the Church has always repudiated.