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Expect the Inquisition and the Index

Plenty of officials within the Church cared more about stopping the spread of Protestantism than reconciling with them. Many such officials, Cardinal Carafa (1476-1559) being a perfect example, viewed Protestants as heretics who had strayed away from the Church and turned their backs on God.

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The Spanish Inquisition under Ferdinand and Isabella earned particular notoriety for the Church's brutal treatment of Muslims and Jews. Many non-Catholics fled the country in fear for their lives. Many who stayed behind paid with their lives. A few Jews and Muslims did convert to Catholicism, though.

For Carafa, these heretics did not deserve the chance to reconcile, they deserved punishment. Carafa and others like him urged Pope Paul III to bring back the medieval tool known as the Inquisition. Two other major inquisitions had occurred prior to Pope Paul III, one in 1231, and the other in Spain in 1478, so there were precedents for such a tool. Pope Paul III probably didn’t need too much convincing, appalled as he was by the influx of Protestant and secular ideas in his homeland of Italy. In 1542, Paul created the Congregation of the Inquisition, also known as the Holy Office and as the Roman Inquisition.

The Congregation included six cardinals, one of whom was Carafa, who became known as Inquisitors General. The primary job of the Roman Inquisition was to find heretics, especially in Italy, and deal with them.

Hunting for Heretics

The primary targets of earlier inquisitions were Jews, Muslims, witches, and the garden-variety heretics. During earlier inquisitions, there were no rabble-rousers like the Protestants or astronomers who wrote nonsense about the universe (see Chapter 11). The first two inquisitions frequently used torture to extract confessions, true or otherwise, from “heretics.” The first two inquisitions also frequently executed those found guilty of heresy.

The Roman Inquisition under Pope Paul III differed in two major ways. First, the Roman Inquisition targeted heresy related mostly to the orthodoxy of the Church.

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The courts of the Roman Inquisition used a fourteenth- century inquisition handbook called the Directorium inquisitorium as the guide for correct inquisition procedures.

In other words, the Congregation generally targeted people for academic and theological reasons. The Congregation didn’t bother with no-name individuals running around in the countryside of Italy. Second, the Roman Inquisition didn’t resort to nearly the same level of brutality. Public trials often concluded with the accused making a public recantation and then doing public penance. This way, the public saw that the Catholic Church and its teaching were true and right and even merciful. This remained true for several years, or at least while Pope Paul III was pope.

When Carafa became Pope Paul IV the Roman Inquisition took on a new personality. He stepped up the fervor with which the Congregation sought out heretics or “suspects” as he called them. He also turned the Congregation loose on the Church. Under Paul IV, bishops and even cardinals found themselves under fire. Paul IV was perhaps a little less reluctant to use force, too. It was against the Church law for the Church to execute someone, but once heretics were convicted, they could be handed over to secular authorities for execution.

Bad, Bad Books

The Roman Inquisition targeted academics and leaders of the Protestant movements, so it was no surprise that the papacy also targeted the writings of the “heretics.” As both literacy and the availability of the printed word spread quickly throughout Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, thanks to Gutenberg (see Chapter 2), Europeans read more and more tracts, pamphlets, and books.

The papacy feared that most who read the printed word couldn’t distinguish between writings that were good and those that were evil. The papacy also feared that those who could distinguish between good and evil writings would be tempted, then corrupted, by the evil writings. The papacy called for a list of the bad, bad books. Known as the Index librorum prohibitorum, the Index of Prohibited Books listed heretical or potentially heretical books which were officially outlawed by the Church in all Catholic lands. The Index also included a list of authors and printers who were banned. The Council of Trent produced a similar list called the Tridentine Index.

The Index actually banned most things currently in print at that time. As the years went by, the pope and the Congregation could and often did add books, authors, and printers to the naughty list. The list of authors banned by the Index proved to be distinguished, including such writers as Hus, Wycliffe, Zwingli, Calvin, Servetus, Luther, Coverdale, Cranmer, Machiavelli, and even Erasmus. As the centuries passed, the Church added such famous writers as Descartes, Pascal, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Locke, Mill, Hugo, Dumas, and Swift. The Church actually maintained the Index until 1966 when it was dismissed.

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In addition to all unauthorized versions of both the New Testament and the Bible, the Index banned Catholics from reading the Koran and the Talmud.

Though its efforts were varied, the Church did accomplish its goals with the Catholic Reformation, or Counter-Reformation. The Church initiated some institutional reform and reasserted certain doctrines thereby strengthening the Church and the office of the papacy. The Church, with the help of new religious orders, reinvigorated Catholicism and created a renewed sense of interest and pride in the Church and the theology of the Church. The Church also countered the spread of Protestantism and won back some of those Catholics who explored Protestantism. Thanks also to the Roman Inquisition and the Index, controversial though they may have been, the Catholic Reformation was a success for the Church. After the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, Europe stood squarely divided into two camps that would find themselves at odds for centuries to come.

The Least You Need to Know

Reformers as far back as Wycliffe and Hus called for reform in the Church. Some reformers broke ties with the Church while others remained loyal and worked for reform within the Church.

The Council of Trent reaffirmed many doctrines, such as transubstantiation, purgatory, and the authority of the papacy and Church tradition. The Church did initiate some reform in the areas of indulgences and the training of priests.

New Catholic orders, particularly the Jesuits and the Ursuline Order, played significant roles in slowing Protestantism and winning people for Catholicism.

Pope Paul III started the Roman Inquisition to find heretics and slow the spread of anti-Catholic literature, ideas, and theology.

On the whole, the Catholic Reformation successfully slowed the growth of Protestantism. Additionally, the Catholic Reformation cleaned up the Church some. Most importantly, though, the Catholic Reformation redefined Catholicism for the next four hundred years.

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