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inquisition

The "judgment of God"

In order to convict people of different faiths, the church used the so-called "judgment of God" in the early Middle Ages. At this time, divine judgment is the only way to convict a suspect of the crime if he is not caught in the act and the guilt is obvious.

There are many variants of God's judgments. A suspected murderer, for example, is led to the corpse - if the wounds start to bleed again, this is considered evidence of his guilt. Suspects have to touch red-hot iron - if they are not seriously injured, they are considered innocent. The duel between two nobles decides on guilt or innocence - in the belief that God will give victory to whoever is right.

The judge holds back in the proceedings. He pays attention to formally correct conduct of the accused and the accused, but does not conduct his own investigations. At the beginning of the 13th century the Church forbade clerics from participating in such trials and demonstrations.

But there is still no general legal norm in dealing with heretics (blasphemers / heretics). And so a new process, the "Inquisitio", is gradually created. "Inquisitio" means "exploration".

The inquisitors are prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges at the same time, they "investigate", they are authorized to initiate an ex officio trial and to interrogate witnesses without the indictment of a third party.

As cruel as they are, the "Inquisitio" is a step forward in terms of its proceedings, because it gives the accused at least a small chance of defense and replaces the divine judgments and similar irrational proceedings. This procedure is urgently needed because the emergence of large groups of heretics threatens the existence of the church.

The first heretic groups

In the 12th century AD, the Catholic Church lost its credibility among the population. The churchmen of Rome are more preoccupied with accumulating riches than with ecclesiastical teaching and the salvation of their believers.

At the same time, people's living conditions are poor: there is a lot of hunger and great need. Life is a vale of misery for believers, they seek support in piety and all their hope is directed towards a good life after death.

But who can guarantee them the salvation of their souls? More and more people are turning away from the Catholic Church, which lives sinfully in luxury.

At this time a new church movement emerged in the south of France and in northern Italy, founded by the Cathars, the "pure" as they call themselves, and the Waldensians. In contrast to the Catholic church people, they live in poverty.

For them material things are the work of the devil, they preach the message of the gospel and are convinced that only through asceticism can the soul be saved. The Cathars found their own dioceses and set up their own bishops. Disappointed by the church princes in Rome, more and more devout Christians join them.

The result is an opposing church that is not only a thorn in the side of the Pope, but also threatens the political balance of power in the south of France. The followers of the "pure", which also includes princes, also reject the oath on the king. Never in its history has the Catholic Church been so existentially threatened by heretics, deviants of their faith.

Completely unsettled in dealing with the heretics, Pope Innocent III persuades. the French king in 1209 on a crusade against the Cathars. The crusade ends 20 years later and it degenerates more and more into a campaign of conquest against the counts of the south and leads to an expansion of power for the French king. But this does not solve the problem of heresy. The heresy continues.

The beginning of the inquisition

The Church is faced with the task of finding a way to systematically track down and combat heretics. Originally, the bishops were responsible for combating heretics. But you are overwhelmed or not even interested in solving the problem. Therefore specially trained emissaries of the Pope should take responsibility.

Pope Innocent III Already at the beginning of the 13th century the order of the Dominicans and Franciscans assigned an important task in the fight against heresy.

The mendicant orders, which - unlike the other orders - do not spend their whole life praying and working behind monastery walls, have a completely different closeness to the people. They travel across the country as traveling preachers, preaching the true gospel and in this way are supposed to take the wind out of the sails of the heretics.

Pope Gregory IX it is then who in 1231 appointed Dominicans and Franciscans as "inquisitors" and charged them with the persecution of the heretics. That is the birth of the Inquisition. Rome gives the Inquisitor a power of attorney that applies to one or more dioceses.

In very stubborn cases, Pope Innocent IV. 1252 allows the use of torture, following the example of state law. After consulting with the assessors, the inquisitor comes to a judgment. Since the church itself is not allowed to enforce judgments, it is dependent on the support of worldly power.

The promise of Frederick II to support the Pope in the persecution of heretics is a crucial prerequisite for the success of the Inquisition.

The crackdown on heretics

With the Inquisition, the Catholic Church now has the opportunity to take systematic action against heretics across Europe. The inquisitor moves from town to town and lets all citizens line up on the market square.

After the heretic sermon, he sends her home with orders to report heretics to him within a certain period of time or to report themselves. In this case the heretic gets away with a lighter sentence. Denunciation and self-disclosure are successful instruments of the Inquisition, but they also create the problem of abuse.

The defendants then have to answer in court. The defense options are limited because the names of the witnesses are withheld from them so that they are not subjected to reprisals from the accused or his family.

In the case of particularly persistent heretics, the inquisitor allows torture to be used. If the actual or alleged guilt is then established, the judgment is announced publicly at a mass, which in the worst case means burning at the stake.

But there are far fewer people at the stake than is widely believed. One of the most famous inquisitors of the Middle Ages, Bernard Gui, sentenced only 42 heretics to death at the stake in 930 trials. He sentenced 307 defendants to imprisonment, 139 were acquitted, and the rest got away with lighter sentences such as carrying penitential crosses or pilgrimages.

The Inquisition is mainly active in France, Italy and Spain, but is also raging in Germany. Here Konrad von Marburg stands out as a cruel inquisitor. He is slain in the summer of 1233.

In the middle of the 14th century, the importance of the medieval inquisition declined. The heretic movements have been smashed, this problem of the church has been solved. But soon the Inquisition is faced with new tasks.

The "Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition"

The Reformation, the invention of printing and the spread of new scientific ideas put the Catholic Church under pressure again.

In 1542 Pope Paul III founded the "Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition" in Rome. The individual inquisitor, who has been in charge until now, disappears from now on in a bureaucratic apparatus: the "Holy Office", as this authority is also called. It consists of around a dozen cardinals whose task is to keep the faith pure.

With the invention of printing, heretical ideas can spread at lightning speed. As a result, the authority tries to control the book market. Books are checked and censored, and an index of all banned books is published on a regular basis. Anyone who owns or reads a forbidden book can expect excommunication.

And this does not only apply to Reformation literature: the emergence of new scientific ideas in particular leads to a hard confrontation with church dogma. The most prominent victim is Galileo Galilei. Not only that he sees the Copernican worldview as a fact: He also portrays the Pope as a fool and, as a relapsed heretic, has to answer twice before the Inquisition. He is sentenced to life imprisonment, which is later downgraded to house arrest.

Giordano Bruno is even worse off. The former Dominican monk is publicly burned in the Campo dei Fiori in Rome for claiming that Jesus is not the Son of God and that the universe is infinite.

With the Enlightenment in the 18th century, however, the control of scientific ideas finally came to an end. The Inquisition is now focused on keeping order within the Church. Their influence in Europe is also shrinking because the secular powers are withdrawing the means of power from the church.

But the Inquisition is also becoming milder itself. In 1761 and 1782 there were the last death sentences in Rome and Seville, respectively. In 1917 the Pope hands over the management of the authority to a cardinal, in 1965 the "Holy Office" is finally dissolved and the indexing of books is abolished.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as successor

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith takes the place of the "Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition". She still watches over the unity of faith. However, it can only take effective action against employees and clergy of the Church. The most effective punishment that can be imposed is disqualification from practicing a profession.

The future Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for many years. He withdrew, for example, the theologians Hans Küng and Leonardo Boff the license to teach. Küng had doubted the Pope's infallibility and criticized the ban on abortion.

A change of heart in the Catholic Church becomes apparent at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), where the Catholic Church professes freedom of religion and conscience.

In 1998 the Vatican opens the archives of the Roman Inquisition. Thousands of acts of the inquisition from many centuries now bring much knowledge about a dark chapter of the Catholic Church.

On the first Sunday of Lent in 2000, Pope John Paul II became the first Pope to publicly admit errors and misconduct of the Catholic Church. He says the church has sometimes allowed methods of intolerance - by which he means the persecution of people of different faiths, forced conversion, torture and the inquisition.