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Friday, November 2, 2007

Catholics: Spanish Inquisition was a myth

I suspect that many Catholics will be put off by what I am about to write. I assure you that I mean no disrespect to your religious beliefs. But those beliefs should not require falsification of history. Imagine your own consternation, if the British government were to decree that Henry VIII did not persecute Catholics?

Accordingly, you can imagine my dismay and amazement when I found that, according to a Catholic Web site, the Spanish Inquisition never took place. It was a myth. We are led to believe that Baruch de Espinoza and his friends were never forced to either convert to Catholicism or flee first Spain and then Portugal. The entire civilization of Iberian Jews, as well as that of Iberian Muslims was not destroyed. The Inquisition is a myth.

Denial of genocide and similar misdeeds is all the vogue. By rewriting history, various institutions and governments can clear their names. After all, what is important in history is what people believe happened, right? Nazi supporters and the Iranian government deny the Holocaust, the Turks are trying to wipe out the Armenian genocide. Each inconvenient or unpleasant episode in its turn is due to be effaced.

Along with the Holocaust Myth, we now have the Myth of the Spanish Inquisition. In an article that hypes the upcoming rerun of a BBC/A&E documentary about the Inquisition, Catholic Net Web site announces:

The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition

by Ellen Rice

The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition," a 1994 BBC/A&E production, will re-air on the History Channel this December 3 at 10 p.m. It is a definite must-see for anyone who wishes to know how historians now evaluate the Spanish Inquisition since the opening of an investigation into the Inquisition's
archives. The special includes commentary from historians whose studies verify that the tale of the darkest hour of the Church was greatly fabricated.

In its brief sixty-minute presentation, "The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition" provides only an overview of the origins and debunking of the myths of torture and genocide. The documentary definitely succeeds in leaving the viewer hungry to know more. The long-held beliefs of the audience are sufficiently weakened by the testimony of experts and the expose of the making of the myth.

The Inquisition had a secular character, although the crime was heresy. Inquisitors did not have to be clerics, but they did have to be lawyers. The investigation was rule-based and carefully kept in check. And most significantly, historians have declared fraudulent a supposed Inquisition document claiming the genocide of millions of heretics.

What is documented is that 3000 to 5000 people died during the Inquisition's 350 year history.

*** END QUOTE ***

Who might these experts be, who give "testimony" (as if they were eye-witnesses) that erases the history of Spanish Jewry in 60 minutes? There was no genocide! The tortures of the inquisition were a myth!

The words "Jew" or "Muslim" are hardly mentioned anywhere in the entire article. Marranos are a myth invented by wicked Jews. In the article, there is a brief allusion to the "problem" that sparked the Inquisition, in the Catholic version of history:

Afraid that laws commanding the exile or conversion of Jews were
thwarted by conversos, i.e. synagogue-going "Catholics," Ferdinand and Isabella commissioned an investigation or Inquisition.

Ostensibly because of this fear of "synagogue-going Catholics," we are told that they killed 5,000 people. What hurts perhaps more than anything else is that we are informed that: "The investigation was rule-based and carefully kept in check."

This is how the rules were applied: "We caught you eating Matzot and not eating pork, Don Diego, so we have to burn you at the stake unless you promise not to do so again." Unfortunately, it is not a joke by any means. People were murdered for those reasons. It was not synagogue - going Catholics whom the Church executed, so much as Jews who refrained from eating pork or from eating leavened bread on Passover.

The Church also punished other "infringements." The rule-based justice of the church was not so infallible, for the Holy Inquisitors and their informants invented many "facts," and the mythical tortures of the inquisition extracted all-too-real confessions from the victims, as they were literally torn to pieces alive by the ingenious inventions of medieval mechanics.

For example, in the year 1491, the Inquisition prosecuted a number of Jews for the supposed murder of one Christopher of Toledo, a Christian child whose blood was supposedly used to bake Matzoth. Jews "confessed" to this non-existent crime. We can imagine what turtures were used to extract these confessions. Nobody could ever find this Christopher of Toledo, because of course, he never existed. Nonetheless, he became a Saint of the Catholic Church. Along with Christopher, a number of inquisitors, who did exist, were also awarded sainthood for their role in the "mythical" inquisition.

Nor can it truthfully be claimed that the Spanish Inquisition acted independently of the Catholic Church. Ferdinand and Isabella commissioned the Inquisition, but they had the blessing of the Pope. For on November 1, 1478, Pope Sixtus IV issued the Bull Exigit sincere devotionis. This authorized the Catholic kings to appoint inquisitors in Castile in order to expunge heresy. Specifically, it pointed out that Jews who had been baptized had secretly reverted to the Jewish "superstition." For mere trifles like murdering people, Catholics could confess and be absolved, no matter how many times they "reverted." Eating Matzot on Passover or keeping the Sabbath was a different matter. It could not be tolerated. A second offence and a third offence would would the perpetrator in the gravest peril.

As for how "historians" evaluate the Inquisition, that must depend on which historians are doing the evaluation. There are certainly fashions in historical interpretation, but they must not obscure the truth. A popular history of the Inquisition was written after the documentary in question was produced. It is "Dogs of God," by James Reston Jr. It takes a much less sympathetic view of the Spanish Inquisition than does Ms. Rice or the documentary in question and its supposedly expert historians, as reported by Ms. Rice.

But regardless of fashions in historical interpretation, the horrors of the Inquisition were not a "myth," but a fact.

If there is a heaven and a hell and a last judgement, what will the Catholic Church say for itself on that day?

"We only killed 5,000 people."

"We killed them in justice, based on rule-based judgement. They had reverted to the superstition of Judaism."

Surely, if there is a last judgement, this argument will go over well in that court, which would also have rule - based judgement. Remember, Ellen Rice, that Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew. He kept the Passover. He said,

For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law.

He also said,

If Jesus Christ had been in Spain, would he not have been burnt at the stake by the "mythical" Inquisition?

Ami Isseroff

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Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


  • "...the Turks are trying to wipe out the Armenian genocide..." - they have surely chosen a novel way to do it by inviting recently all scholars, including the Armenian ones, to roam freely in Turkish archives. But the Armenians demanded that first the Turks admit the guilt of genocide - which the Turks, strangely enough, declined to do.
    Ami, your case against the Inquisition advocates is only harmed by bringing the Armenian issue in.

    Misha SHAULI,
    Kfar Sava

    By Blogger Misha, At November 3, 2007 8:27:00 PM GMT+00:00  

  • This is an inaccurate post, but it raises some points that need to be discussed in fairness. This article, which I wrote twelve years ago, was a narrative review of a History Channel special, not a religious claim about the Spanish Inquisition. It is absurd to extrapolate from this one article that Catholics claim the Spanish Inquisition never took place. Your issue should be with the History Channel, not with the Catholic Church or Ellen Rice.

    Catholics generally do not deny the murder of Jews throughout the history of Christendom. It was despicable and Jesus would have condemned it. Pope John Paul II specifically condemned and apologized for all of these murders. I believe the last lines of my review specifically said that whatever the death toll was in the Spanish Inquisition, no deaths should have taken place at all.

    Many Christians who were later declared Catholic saints, such as Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila, were also victims of the Spanish Inquisition. It was a despicable, controlling institution. Nonetheless, I believe it is fair, if a reputable network such as the History Channel airs a program on an historical event such as the Inquisition, to write a narrative review without being tarred as a wacko who is accused of denying the existence of the Spanish Inquisition.

    I regret the misunderstanding that has taken place. I do not deny the existence of the Inquisition, or its targeting of Jews. Your quarrel is with the History Channel; it is not with me.

    I stand with the Jewish people against the recent lies that allege that the Holocaust never took place. Never again may such a persecution take place.

    Ellen M. Rice

    By Blogger Ellen Rice, At December 9, 2007 3:23:00 AM GMT+00:00  

  • Dear Ellen Rice,
    Thank you for your remarks and for your concern. What a pity that it was not shown in that article!

    Your 12 year old review was posted without a date, at a Catholic Web site. It is therefore the opinion of that group and presumably your opinion, and as it is still there as far as I know, you and the organization are responsible for it. The history channel didn't write the review. You did. The only misunderstanding is that I did not realize that the article was 12 years old until long after I had written my article.

    You, and not the History channel wrote the review, and you, and not the history channel chose the title of that review, "The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition."

    When the History channel makes a documentary, it may have entertainment or educational value. If it was not accurate, then you should have made it clear that it was incorrect. I do not believe I saw that documentary, but I dimly recall something about it. Your article made a clear statement on behalf of the organization, that a group of Catholics is unrepentant about the Inquisition and denies that it ever happened. There is no other interpretation of that title. Whatever that documentary claimed, and I doubt that they claimed what you wrote, you certainly are in a postion to have known the truth. You can't use the documentary as an excuse. As a statement about interfaith relations, it could politely be described as appalling and inexcusable. If you don't want to assume responsibility for its contents, get it off the Web.

    If you believed that the inquisition is all that you say in your comment, then how could have written that review? Why didn't you write the truth in that review? The history channel produces all manner of rubbish for whatever reasons might please them. If they had made a movie showing that Stalin or Hitler was a jolly good fellow, and someone wrote an approving review of it, and it was posted at the Web site of the organization, then that opinion is the responsibility of the organization and of the author, and not just of the History channel. If the USSR had produced a movie showing that the Pope eats babies, and I wrote a favorable review of it, then it would surely be my responsibility and not just that of the Soviet state movie studios. My quarrel is with you, as you wrote that review, and with the organization that posted that review and made the claim that the Inquisition was "not all that bad."

    The Catholic Church declared that the fictitious lad who was a "victim" of the blood libel is a saint I believe. Likewise some of the Inquisitors were declared saints. Not only those of the Spanish inquisition, but those who murdered Protestants as well. The Singing Nuns popularizing St. Dominic, did they not? He was the instigator of the original inquisition. "Dominique, notre Pere, combattit les Albigeois"
    - Dominic our father combatted the Albigensian heresy. And we know how he did it.

    If what I wrote is innacurate, where are the Jews of Spain? Weren't they all murdered or expelled or forced to convert? It was all a myth?

    When a religious group posts an article, it is a statement of their position. It is much more than a documentary. As long as the article is there, you and the group that posted it are responsible for it.

    Unfortunately, there was no way to leave a comment at that Web site or to contact responsible people there. Presumably you know how to do it and could get that article off the Web or change it at any time.

    Ami Isseroff

    By Blogger News Service, At December 24, 2007 2:18:00 AM GMT+00:00  

  • You seem to be so sure and convinced about what you know about the Inquisition. Would you mind sharing the documentary bases of your knowledge about this? In 2004, 30 scholars who studied records of the inquisition declared that much of the gruesome tales told about the inquiries were false. Other scholarly investigation into the records from other parts of Europe and even Mexico also showed that previous accounts of the inquisition were grossly untrue. Could you produce equally scholarly proof that what you claim about the inquisition has basis in fact? Thank you.

    By Blogger Cenon Bibe Jr., At February 4, 2009 3:05:00 PM GMT+00:00  

  • Mr Bibe,
    I am not sure what your point is or what you are defending. It is a fact that the entire Arab and Jewish population of Spain was wiped out, either by conversion or expulsion, and that backsliders were punished by death. Usually it was a horrible death preceded by torture and effected by being burned alive. Thousands of such murders are recorded by the inquisition itself, and the Museums show the instruments of torture that were used on this people, who were guilty of absolutely nothing whatever. The remainder of the Jews and Arabs had either converted or fled from both Spain and Portugal.

    As a result of the inquisition, there were no Jews or Muslims in Spain again until the modern era.

    About 2000 former Jews (they were actually Christians - think about it) in one brief period alone were burned at the stake. Would you like that done to you? Do you condone this policy? Do you think this crime should be whitewashed?

    At least 40,000 by lowest estimates were expelled and sold their property for a pittance. Another 40,000 converted. The numbers of Muslims forced to convert, exterminated or expelled is not known, but it must have been larger. A recent study however, estimates that 20% of Spaniards have Jewish genes and 10% have Arab genes.

    All those who were murdered as backsliders had their property stolen by the church or the state. Genocide was committed on a vast scale. Some references may be found here: (and in references from that article) and in James Reston Jr's Dogs of God - and its references and bibliography - and of course in many other places. Henry Kamen's book is somewhat of a a whitewash and minimization of the Inquisition, but even Kamen didn't claim it didn't happen!

    The greedy officials of the Catholic Church and the Spanish state stole vast amounts of Jewish and Arab property and have never bothered to offer restitution in any way.

    Muslims surely must have found it ironic that the Pope recently lectured them on the subject of compulsion in religion.

    The Inquisition was at work in France as well, where it quite efficiently destroyed the Albigensians. The inquisition in France was led by a "saint" - St. Dominic - who is also lauded in modern times in a popular song by the Singing Nuns - remember them? "Dominique il combatit les albigeuse"

    It is grotesque and depraved that anyone tries to minimize or whitewash this insane and senseless crime, which should be burned into the memory of humanity forever.

    Suppose that even one person had been burnt alive at the stake instead of thousands. Suppose that only one person had been pulled to pieces ("relaxed") in a torture machine. Could that be justified as the teachings of an institution that claims to be moral?

    By Blogger News Service, At February 14, 2009 3:19:00 PM GMT+00:00  

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