Inquisitions… Thoughts for Reflection

by Ravemore

Most posts or articles in our community tend to deal with the horror of witch burnings, and I do not intend to take away from them because we should never forget the terror experienced by our fellow pagans, innocents wrongly accused, minority Christian sects, mystery schools, and others deprived of life, liberty, and personal wealth by the unstoppable machine that the various inquisitions had become. What I would like to do though is explore a little more how these entities flourished and were used. Touch upon some thoughts that might prompt others to dig a little more and post thoughts on their own  Blogs… something beyond the simple act of re-blogging. I firmly believe this is an important exercise because not only understanding what something is, but learning why it comes into existence and continues to live provides weapons to counter it in the future.

When we think about Inquisitions we often imagine small groups of fanatical inquisitors running around with sponsorship from the church and local government, perpetuating the horrible torture sessions, hangings, and burnings of heretics we look sadly upon today. This is a very simplistic way of looking at it though. The inquisitions were actually great ponderous mechanisms with many intricate cogs, gears, and wheels. They were complex bureaucracies with huge support infrastructures behind them providing logistics and funding. There are piles of records that can be looked at as a testament to the effort it took to maintain the tribunals. Monarchies, particular Spain often shaped or influenced the direction and focus of the inquisitions through financial manipulation, both in the Old World and the New. Peru keenly felt the scourge of the inquisition, and the unfortunate truth is there can be no clear reckoning of how many lives it destroyed. This is a reality I did not even consider until I began doing a little more in depth research. In fact, I was surprised there had been debate on whether a new Inquisitorial Office would be opened in the South American colony of Buenos Aires in 1636.

It would be nice to think the Inquisitions were shut down because we as human beings had begun to evolve to a higher level and were moving beyond such senseless and petty bloodshed, but the sad truth of the matter is it just boiled down to money. “Whether conducting full-fledged heresy trials or merely issuing warning edicts and indulgences, inquisitions incurred expenses and required sources of income. The question of inquisitorial finance has long interested scholars, and the extensive haciend records at the Archivo Histórico Nacional in Madrid have been subjected to preliminary surveys though much work still remains to be done.6 It is now generally agreed that while confiscations of prisoners’ goods and estates may have brought important revenues (particularly in the early days of the Spanish tribunals, and in special cases such as mass arrests of New Christian merchants in the seventeenth century), inquisitions were rarely profitable money making ventures.7 Day to day expenses could be met thanks to income from church benefices set aside for the purpose, so inquisitors had to be knowledgeable about the state of ecclesiastical resources in the regions to which they were assigned [INQ 5]. As time went on, revenues from seizures, royal grants or other sources were also regularly invested in real estate as a means of producing censo income.8 Yet spiraling personnel costs and extravagant auto de fe ceremonies ensured that many tribunals were perpetually short of cash or in debt.” (21.)

When the funds dried up, so did the inquisitions. This is the main point I want everyone to take from this post. In modern times we think something like this could never happen, but the reality is that wherever there is intolerance, religious zealotry, and large amounts of money the volatile mix is there waiting for a spark to ignite it. Imagine if the income sources had not begun drying up, if they had not been directed towards fighting new wars, or clinging to rebelling colonies… some of us might not be here now. When we see the religious right in whatever form it takes becoming vocal and more powerful… we should also be looking at the health of their bank accounts.

Rare Books & Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame, Ties to the new world, Lima Peru’s active Inquisition.