In dealing with heretics the church had two objectives: first, the conversion of the heretic and, second, the protection of Christian society. Heresy eventually drove the Roman Catholic church to her most serious internal conflict: How can the church employ violence to safeguard a peaceful society? The church deliberately accepted a line of action impossible to reconcile with the eternal kingdom toward which she aspired. She created the Inquisition, not only to execute heretics, but to subject them to deliberate, prolonged torture.

The earliest form of the Inquisition appeared in 1184 when Pope Lucius III required bishops to "inquire" into the beliefs of their subjects. In short, they held an "inquiry" or inquest. Heresy or harboring a heretic brought immediate excommunication. The spread of the Waldenses and Albigenses, however, called for stricter measures. In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council, under Innocent III’s leadership, provided for the state’s punishment of heretics, the confiscation of their property, excommunication for those unwilling to move against the heretic, and complete forgiveness of sins for those cooperating.

In 1220 the pope took the Inquisition from the hands of the bishops and turned it over to the newly formed Dominicans and nine years later the Synod of Toulouse systematized inquistorial policies, leaving the alleged heretic with virtually no rights. The inquisitor was subject to no law, only to the pope. He was prosecutor and judge. The "trial" was secret and the accused had to prove his innocence without the benefit of counsel or knowledge of his accusers or the charges brought against him.

The final, significant step came in 1252. Pope Innocent IV authorized torture as a means of getting information and confessions from accused heretics.

Canon law forbade a cleric from shedding blood, so if he found the unfortunate person guilty of heresy he turned him over to civil authorities, usually for burning at the stake. The rule of the Inquisition was simple. If sufficient witnesses testified to the guilt of the accused, then he had to confess and renounce the errors or be burned. The reward for confession was life imprisonment, instead of the stake. Failing confession, one faced a fiery death on a column of burning wood.

[tags]Albigenses, BlogRodent, Canon, church-history, ChurchRodent, Dominicans, Fourth-Lateran-Council, history, Innocent-III, Inquisition, Waldenses[/tags]


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  1. Pingback: Inquisition - The Sacred Weblog of the Universal Inquisition

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