History of the Catholic Church - J. MacCaffrey




The Great Movements of the Middle Ages

The success of the policy of Gregory VII. and the freedom which it secured for the Church gave a new impetus to religion and learning. Just as the ignorance and vice of the dark ages serve to show the results of the enslavement of the Church, so too, the religious and intellectual revival of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries bears splendid testimony to her educative and civilizing influence if only she were free to pursue her mission. Prominent amongst the great movements of the middle ages were the Crusades, the establishment of new religious orders and Scholasticism. The heresies that arose and the machinery employed for their extinction, namely, the Inquisition, also deserve consideration.



The Crusades


The Crusades were undertaken, not for the sake of acquiring new territory, but rather to rescue Jerusalem from the hands of the Turks, and to ensure the safety of the pilgrims who journeyed to the Holy Land. In these days, when the faith of many has grown cold, people fail to realise the wave of indignation that swept over Europe when it was learned that the very places that had been sanctified by the presence of Christ, even the Holy Sepulchre in which His dead body was laid to rest, were being desecrated by the unbelievers, and that the poor pilgrims who visited those shrines, so dear to the Christian world, were exposed to insult and persecution. If men are willing to die to save their national flag from dishonour, why should it be thought strange that Christian Europe should be prepared to pour out its blood in defence of the tomb of its Redeemer?

From the position the Popes held in Europe at the time it was only to be expected that they should take a leading place in such a movement. And a splendid lead they gave to the princes of Christendom. From Urban II. (1088–89) to Calixtus III. (1455–58), who, though an old man tottering to the grave, volunteered to lead the crusade in person, they left no stone unturned to make the Crusades a success. Nor did they seek from them any personal gain or profit. With such immense forces at their disposal never once did they attempt to employ them against their opponents, even when they were obliged to seek safety in flight from their capital. The Popes, indeed, hoped that the Crusades might serve to bring about a reunion of the eastern schismatics with the Church. It was the Christians of the east who were most exposed to danger, and the Popes believed that the spectacle of western Europe rallying to their defence and support would induce them, out of feelings of gratitude, to suppress their national prejudices and to unite themselves once more with the centre of Christian unity.

The first crusade owes its origin to the attacks made upon the Christians by the Seljuk Turks who had conquered Palestine. Pilgrims returning from the east, notably Peter the Hermit, spread through Europe the news of the Turkish desecrations, and Urban II. convoked two councils, one at Piacenza, and one at Clermont (1095). On the conclusion of the Popes address to the clergy and laymen assembled at Clermont they rose up and pledged themselves to a man to undertake a crusade. The crusade started about the year 1097 and had for its leaders Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lorraine, Baldwin, Count of Flanders, Robert, Duke of Normandy, Raymond, Count of Toulouse and Bohemund of Tarentum. On the march to Jerusalem they founded two Latin Kingdoms, one at Edessa, the other at Antioch. With their numbers greatly reduced by war and plague they advanced and captured Jerusalem on Friday, the 15th July, 1099. Godfrey of Bouillon was appointed king of Jerusalem, but, unwilling to wear a royal crown where his Saviour wore a crown of thorns, he contented himself with the title of Protector of the Holy Sepulchre.

The news that Edessa had fallen gave rise to the Second Crusade (11471149), which was preached by St. Bernard. Its leaders were Conrad III., Emperor of Germany, and Louis VII. of France, but for one reason or another it proved to be a complete failure. The capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187 roused Christian Europe to make another great effort to break the Turkish domination in Palestine. Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, Philip Augustus of France and Richard Coeur-de-Lion of England volunteered to lead their forces to the rescue. Had they been as united and skillful as they were enthusiastic there could have been little doubt about their success, but unfortunately Frederick died shortly after his arrival in the east. Richard quarrelled with the Duke of Austria and Philip Augustus of France, both of whom returned. The departure of the French and the Germans so diminished the Christian forces that Richard could not hope for success, and he was obliged to make the best terms he could with the Sultan: On his journey through Europe he was captured by the Duke of Austria, and was held a prisoner until a large ransom had been paid for his liberation.

The Fourth Crusade (12024) allowed itself to be diverted from its main purpose, and was induced to take sides in the struggle between rival claimants for the throne of Constantinople. In the end, disgusted with both claimants, the crusaders determined to put them aside and to establish a Latin kingdom in Constantinople. This action only served to embitter the feelings of the Greeks and to make reunion more difficult, if not impossible. The Fifth Crusade (1218–20) was organized by Honorius III. and directed its efforts to the conquest of Egypt, but its sole result was the capture of Damietta. The Sixth Crusade was that organized by Frederick II. while he was actually excommunicated (1228). The last two crusades were led in person by Louis IX., the saintly king of France. He, too, marched on Egypt, took Damietta, and defeated the Mahomedans at the battle of Mansurah (1249), but his brother having pursued a section of the enemy too far, Louis was taken prisoner and was liberated only on the payment of a large ransom. Not disheartened by this defeat the king determined to make one last effort. He set out in 1270, but his fleet having been driven out of its course by contrary winds, he landed on the coast of Tunis where he was stricken down by the plague and died.

The crusades were to a great extent a failure, owing mainly to the want of organisation, the want of union between the Christian princes of Europe, and the contempt shown by the crusaders for the national character and customs of the eastern races. They failed to secure Jerusalem against the Turks, and they failed to bring about a reunion between the east and the west; but they delayed for a long time the great invasion with which Europe was threatened, and they taught the Turks to fear a conflict with the Christians whom they regarded before the struggle as cowardly weaklings. By bringing the west into contact with the civilisation and learning of the east they exercised an enormous influence on the intellectual life of Europe; while the necessity for building fleets to transport the Crusaders to the Holy Land and to maintain them in the field served to give a new impetus to trade and commerce, and to lay the foundations of the future commercial greatness of the Italian maritime cities.



The Religious Orders


The new Religious Orders may be divided into four classes, the Orders of Mercy whose special work was the care of the sick and the rescue of the prisoners captured by the Saracens, the Military Orders who were established mainly to fight in defence of the Holy Land and for the protection of the pilgrims, the Contemplative Orders who aimed principally at the sanctification of their members, and the Mendicant Orders who were distinguished from the others by the fact that they owned no property and were entirely dependent upon the alms of the faithful.

Of the Orders of Mercy the best known were the Anthonists, founded towards the end of the eleventh century for the care of patients stricken with leprosy; the Trinitarians, founded by St. John Matha and St. Felix of Valois for the redemption of captives taken by the Saracens, and the Order of the Blessed Virgin of Ransom, established in 1218 by Peter of Nolasco and Raymond of Penafort for a similar object.

The Military Orders were peculiar to the Middle Ages, and owe their organisation to the crusading and religious spirit of the time. The three great Military Orders were the Knights of St. John, the Knights Templars and the Teutonic Knights. The Knights of St. John were devoted at first to the care of the pilgrims visiting the Holy Land, but about 1118 a body of rules was drawn up for them according to which they were to fight in defence of the Holy Land. They were divided into knights, chaplains and lay brothers. After the fall of Acre (1291) they retired to Rhodes which they held for two centuries against the Turks, and on the capture of Rhodes in 1523, Charles V. bestowed upon them the island of Malta, from which they were driven by Napoleon.

The Knights Templars, so called because their house was built on the site of the temple of Jerusalem, secured the approval of the Pope at the council of Troyes, 1128. They were divided into knights, chaplains and brothers; and wore a white cloak adorned with a red Maltese cross. During the time of the Crusades they rendered great service to the Christian armies, and on the fall of Acre they retired to the estates which they held in the different countries of Europe.

More than once grave charges had been made against the Templars, even while in the east, and sometimes not without cause; but when they returned to Europe some of the rulers, more especially Philip the Fair of France, nervous about the existence of such a strong military body in their kingdoms and greedy for the riches which the Templars were supposed to possess, resolved upon their suppression. On the accession of Clement V. (1305), Philip the Fair laid before him a list of the grievances against the Order, but the Grand Master of the Templars promptly demanded a trial. This did not suit the policy of the king of France, and without consulting the Pope he ordered the arrest on one night of all the Templars in his kingdom (1307). The Pope protested energetically against such an act of violence, but in the end, moved by the confessions of guilt which some of the Templars were supposed to have made, he ordered that the members of the body throughout Europe should be brought to trial. During the course of the trial very damaging admissions were made by certain members of the Order in France, but in the other countries very little, if anything, was proved against them. Finally a general council assembled at Vienne in 1311 to decide the fate of the Order. At the council the majority of the bishops did not consider that the evidence was sufficient to warrant a verdict of guilty, but on account of the scandals that had been admitted and the widespread opposition to the Order, it was thought that the existence of the Templars as a body could not further the progress of religion, and that as a disciplinary measure they should be suppressed and their property handed over to the Knights of St. John.

The Teutonic Knights were a body formed at first for the care of German soldiers and pilgrims in the Holy Land, but later on they added to these duties the work of fighting against the Turks. They, too, retired to Europe towards the end of the thirteenth century, took possession of the lands assigned to them in Prussia, and acquired additional territory by the wars which they carried on against their pagan neighbours. At the time of the Reformation their Grand Master, Albert of Brandenburg, anxious to secure help against the Poles, passed over to the Lutheran camp, and converted the territories of the Teutonic Knights in east Prussia into a hereditary kingdom to be held by himself and his heirs.

Of the Contemplative Orders the two principal ones were the Carthusians and the Cistercians. The Carthusians were founded by Bruno, a priest of Cologne, who fled to La Chartreuse (Carthusium), a lonely spot near Grenoble, where he founded a new religious body (1084) and drew up for the guidance of his followers a most severe rule. This rule prescribed perpetual silence, complete abstinence from flesh meat, prayer and labour. The Carthusians were the strictest order in the Church, and in spite of many variations of fortune they clung persistently throughout the ages to the spirit of their founder.

The Cistercians were founded at Citeaux (1098) by Robert of Molesme, but the Order made little progress until it was joined by St. Bernard and his companions in the year 1113. Some time later St. Bernard founded a monastery at Clairvaux which soon became the leading monastery in Europe. No man of his time exercised such an enormous influence on ecclesiastical affairs as the founder of Clairvaux. He took a leading part in putting an end to the schism which disturbed the peace of the Church during the lifetime of Pope Innocent II.; to his preaching and his miracles was due the organisation of the Second Crusade, and in him Abelard and the false teachers of the age experienced their most powerful opponent. The renown of Clairvaux spread throughout Europe, and from Clairvaux, Cistercians went forth to found communities in the leading countries of the Continent. The relations between St. Bernard and his great Irish contemporary, St. Malachi, were very close. St. Malachi stayed at Clairvaux on his first journey to Rome, and it was at Clairvaux, on his second journey to Rome, that, surrounded by St. Bernard and his monks, he breathed his last. St. Bernard preached the funeral panegyric over his remains, and later on wrote the valuable life of St. Malachi. From Clairvaux the Cistercians came to Ireland to found the first house in the country at Mellifonf (1142).

The wealth of the Church, which arose from endowments granted by rulers and from donations given to it by the faithful, began to excite the jealousy of the enemies of religion and to furnish a weapon of attack to the heretics. Fortunately Providence inspired men like St. Francis and St. Dominic to establish new orders, the members of which should be the poorest of the poor. They were to own no property themselves, and were to rely entirely for their living on the generosity of those among whom they laboured.

St. Francis, the founder of the Franciscans, was born at Assisi (1182), and when he grew up to man's estate, having renounced his inheritance, he went forth from his father's house to devote himself to the service of the poor. Disciples soon gathered around him, attracted by the fame of his sanctity, and the church of St. Mary of the Angels (the Portiuncula), repaired by the labours of St. Francis, became the head house. The rule drawn up by St. Francis, was approved by Innocent III and afterwards by Honorius III. (1223), and large numbers hastened to join the order. St. Francis went to preach to the Saracens, and shortly after his return to Europe he received the Stigmata as a token of divine favour. The saint died in 1224 and a short time after his death Franciscan communities were established in nearly every country in Europe. Very soon disputes broke out among his followers about the interpretation of the rule of poverty, which disputes destroyed the peace of the Order for centuries. Ireland can never forget the debt which it owes to the Franciscan Friars who throughout the penal days did so much to keep alive both religion and nationality. The earliest Franciscan communities founded in Ireland were at Youghal, Kilkenny, Dublin, Multifernan, Cork, Drogheda and Waterford.

St. Dominic, the founder of the Dominicians, was a Spaniard born in 1170. Some time after his ordination, while travelling through the south of France, he was touched by the sad condition of the country, ravaged as it then was by the Albigensian heresy, and he determined to devote himself to preaching and to the instruction of the people. In this campaign he is said to have advocated warmly the devotion of the Rosary. Some volunteers hastened to his assistance, and in 1215 he secured from Honorius III. the approval of the rule which he had drawn up for his followers. The Order spread rapidly, and especially in the work of preaching and of education the followers of St. Dominic have conferred immense service upon the Church. The principal houses of the Order in Ireland were at Dublin, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Waterford, Athenry and Galway.

St. Berthold, a monk of Calabria, was the founder of the Carmelites in 1156 or, as others say, merely the reformer of an Order which can trace its descent from a community established on Mount Carmel by the prophet Elias. The rule was approved by Honorius III. (1124). It is said that the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Simon Stock, an English Carmelite, and presented him with a scapular, promising at the same time her most powerful intercession to those who would wear it, and that this promise was approved and confirmed in the Sabbatine Bull issued by John XXII. The principal houses of the Order in Ireland were at Dublin, Ardee, Drogheda, Galway, Kildare and Thurles.



Scholasticism


Scholasticism is a general term applied to the great intellectual revival which began in the twelfth century, and which manifested itself principally in the domain of Theology and Philosophy. The scholastics did not attempt to add anything to divine revelation or to teach new doctrines, but only to furnish a rational basis for Christianity by showing the harmony which exists between faith and reason, and also to reduce the doctrines contained in the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers to an orderly and definite system. The sources which they utilized were the Scriptures, the writings of the Fathers, the philosophical works of Aristotle, and the conclusions of natural science, in so far as they were known in their own time. In the exposition of their doctrines they relied more upon logical method than their predecessors had been accustomed to do.

Several causes conspired to make the movement possible, the principal of which were, the general revival which manifested itself in the Church once she had escaped from the bondage of state control, the introduction of the genuine works of Aristotle into western Europe, the establishment of religious orders and the rise of universities. These latter institutions of learning were but a development of the middle age schools; and generally owed their origin to the presence of some great teacher whose fame in some particular branch of learning attracted crowds of scholars. At first such establishments did not profess to cover the whole field of knowledge. Salerno, for example, was distinguished for medicine, Bologna for law, and Paris for theology. Later on the idea of grouping together in the one centre all branches of learning sprang up, and most of the universities had the faculties of theology, medicine, law, and arts. The whole university formed a corporate body endowed with many privileges both by Popes and rulers, and most of the Middle Age universities were established by Papal charter. The most famous of the early universities were Paris, Bologna, and Oxford.

The leading men in the early stage of the scholastic movement (twelfth century) were Anselm, the distinguished archbishop of Canterbury, Abelard whose restless spirit of enquiry, even if at times it led him astray, served to stir up his contemporaries to renewed activity, Richard and Hugh of St. Victor, and Peter Lombard, archbishop of Paris.

In the second stage of the movement the most distinguished leaders were Albert the Great and his pupil St. Thomas Aquinas, both Dominicans; St. Bonaventure, Roger Bacon and John Duns Scotus, all of them Franciscans. St. Thomas (1227–74), called Aquinas from the place of his birth, stands out prominently as the leading figure in the scholastic movement. Against the wishes of his relatives he fled as a youth to the Dominicans, and had the good fortune to have as his teacher one of the ablest philosophers of the time, Albert the Great. St. Thomas taught with distinction at Paris, Rome and Naples whither crowds of students flocked to hear him from all parts of the world. Drawing his inspiration from the Scriptures, the Fathers, the philosophy of Aristotle, and the natural sciences, to the latter of which his master, Albert the Great, had given great attention, and relying for help upon the divine illumination, for which he prayed so earnestly, St. Thomas succeeded in constructing a rational defence of the Christian religion, so complete and so harmonious, that the leading principles laid down by him must serve as a guide for all subsequent defenders of Christianity. His system is contained principally in his best known works, the Summa Contra Gentiles  and the Summa Theologica. As a testimony of the approval of the Pope the highest ecclesiastical honours were offered to St. Thomas, but he refused them all preferring to live and die, a simple son of St. Dominic. It was while he was on his way to the second council of Lyons (1274) whither he had been summoned by Gregory IX. that he was called to his reward.

The Franciscans have great reason to pride themselves on the labours of their General, St. Bonaventure (1221–1274), who, like their holy founder, was one of the most lovable of men and whose works have always been cherished by the Church; of Roger Bacon (1214–92), an Englishman, who, though at times too bold and too advanced, showed his keen appreciation of the right principle of philosophical method by strongly inculcating the necessity for testing the conclusions of philosophy by the results of natural science; and of John Duns Scotus, an Irishman, educated at Oxford who in the keenness of his intellect and his devotion to truth, was hardly inferior to St. Thomas, but whose constructive powers were by no means so highly developed as his critical capacity. He is famous especially for his defence of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

In the fourteenth century Scholasticism began to lose its hold in the universities and to make way for other branches of study. This was due, partly to the fact that its greatest exponents having covered the whole field of philosophy and theology left very little for their successors to do except to quibble about trifles, and partly also to the great change which was then taking place in the whole outlook of the world. Scholars grew tired of viewing everything from a theological standpoint, and turned with eagerness from the barren discussions of the, later scholastics to the study of the classics and of the natural sciences. Instead of being united, as in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, scholars were divided into two camps, one party distrustful of the new learning, the other showing their contempt for the old system, and as a consequence religion was bound to suffer in the universities. Had there been a St. Thomas at the time or had the methods of St. Thomas been followed by his successors, the danger of a conflict between faith and science might never have arisen.



Heresies of the Middle Ages


The heresies of the Middle Ages were due, firstly, to the spirit of restless enquiry, which led some individuals to advance too rapidly and to occupy positions from which pride prevented them from retreating, secondly, to the intermingling of the western Christians in the time of the crusades with the heretics, schismatics and unbelievers of the east, and thirdly, to the excessive wealth of the Church, which excited the spleen of its critics and strengthened them in their demand for a return to the poverty and simplicity of apostolic times.

The greatest of these heresies were the Waldensian and Albigensian heresies. The Waldensians derived their name from Peter Waldo, a merchant of Lyons, who in grief for the death of a friend, determined to distribute his wealth in charity and to devote himself to the instruction of the poor. He gathered around him a number of followers, and sent them out two by two to preach in the country districts around Lyons (1170). Being laymen they were prohibited by the archbishop of Lyons from preaching, but they appealed from the archbishop to the Pope (1179). Alexander III. praised very highly their zeal but recommended them not to interfere with the duties of the clergy. They paid no attention to this advice and were excommunicated at the council of Verona (1184). Various efforts were made at later times to reconcile them with the Church but without success. Some of the Waldensians fled to Bohemia where they joined the Hussites, some of them amalgamated with the Protestants at the time of the Reformation, and some of them maintain themselves as an independent body in Italy till the present day.

The Albigensian heresy derived its name from Albigeois, a district in southern France, where it secured a very firm foothold. It was a revival of the Manichaean heresy of the early centuries, as is shown by its teaching on, the existence of two principles, one the source of all good, the other the source of all evil. The Albigensians denied the Catholic doctrines of the Incarnation and Redemption, condemned marriage and were opposed to the authority of the state. They had a regular hierarchy, resembling closely that of the Catholic Church, and relied upon one Sacrament, the Consolamentum, for sanctification.

Such a body, so dangerous alike to Church and State, so well organized and so anxious to secure recruits in France, Germany and Italy, required careful attention. During the pontificate of Innocent III. (11981216) St. Dominic preached in southern France with great success, but some of the most extreme partisans of the heresy murdered one of the papal legates sent to help in the work of their conversion. This act, in which Raymond, Count of Toulouse, was supposed to have had a hand, excited great indignation, and it was determined to send a crusade to suppress the heresy. The valiant Simon de Montfort led the crusaders, and succeeded in capturing Beziers the great centre of the Albigensian party. The provinces that were conquered were handed over to the leader of the crusade, but the war broke out once more; Simon De Montfort was killed; and in the end, owing to the intervention of the king of France, peace was made on condition that the Count of Toulouse should cede portion of his property to the king, defend the Catholic Church and establish a university to combat the heretics in his dominions.

John Wycliffe (1324–84), the founder of the Wycliffite heresy, was ordained a priest at Oxford and was appointed warden of one of the Oxford halls, from which he was removed by ecclesiastical authority. Annoyed by this removal he turned against his religious superiors, and threw himself into the camp of those who were opposing the Pope and the Church. The great social unrest then making itself felt in England gave him a splendid opportunity of creating trouble. In the disputes between Edward III. and the Pope, regarding the payment of the annual tribute promised by king John to the Holy See, Wycliffe took the side of the king, and was one of the commissioners sent to represent the king at the conference which took place at Bruges. From this conference he returned more embittered than ever against the Pope. His preaching having been brought under the notice of the authorities, the bishop of London summoned him to defend himself, but the influence of powerful patrons like John of Gaunt prevented his condemnation.

It was only in 1381, when he had gone too far in his teaching about Transubstantiation and when it was seen that his teaching was likely to stir up rebellion, that he was banished from Oxford. He took up residence at his parish at Lutterworth, where he died 1384. In his sermons and published works he contended that some men were predestined to punishment, others to salvation, that the Church was not a visible society as it consisted only of those predestined to glory, that the Pope had no divine authority, that the Bible was the sole rule of faith, that Transubstantiation should be rejected, that confession was not necessary for the forgiveness of sins, that the doctrine of purgatory was only a pure invention, and that any person guilty of mortal sin was incapable of holding property or of exercising any authority in Church or State.

In his own lifetime Wycliffe had brought together a body of followers whom he sent out as "poor. Priests" to preach to the people. Their preaching and poverty made a great impression, and the teaching of Wycliffe on ownership was only too acceptable to the lower classes then seething with discontent. Inspired largely by his doctrines they rose in rebellion and attacked both the Church and the nobles. Various efforts were made to suppress the Lollards, as the followers of Wycliffe were called, and in 1401 a statute was passed prescribing the punishment of burning for those who refused to abandon this heresy. By means of these severe measures the Wycliffite heresy was crushed, but not before it had made a deep impression on England and prepared the country in some way for the teaching of the Reformation.

From England the doctrines of Wycliffe were imported into Bohemia by John Huss, who by playing upon the national feelings of his countrymen, then bitterly opposed to the Germans, acquired great popularity and succeeded in securing strong support for his false doctrines. The archbishop of Prague forbade him to preach and this prohibition was confirmed by the Pope, but Huss refused to obey and appealed from the Pope to a general council. When the council of Constance met in 1414 Huss went to it and was allowed to explain his opinions, but on his refusal to abandon his heresy he was handed over to the civil authorities and condemned to death. His followers, embittered by his death, carried on a terrible war which disturbed the peace of Bohemia during the fifteenth century, and which secured support for Luther when he began his campaign against the Pope.



The Inquisition


The Inquisition is the name given to the tribunals established during the middle ages for the detection and suppression of heresy. From the very beginning the Catholic Church, claiming to be the sole custodian and exponent of divine revelation, took measures to prevent the spread of false doctrines by punishing those who put them forward, but in the circumstances of the times such punishments could be only of a spiritual character. Later on, when Church and State were united, and when so many of the heretics adopted violent measures against those who refused to accept their teaching, they were opposed by force, and in the year 383 the Emperor Maximus put some of the prominent Priscillian leaders to death. It is interesting to note that though nearly all the great Fathers of the Church were in favour of compulsion, yet men like St. Martin of Tours, St. Augustine and St. Ambrose objected to the death penalty for heresy. In the Roman code of civil law heretics were treated as disturbers of the public peace, and were to be punished by exclusion from office, loss of the privileges of citizenship, or by exile.

In the later middle ages the union between Church and State was so exceedingly intimate, that rebellion against the Church was also regarded as rebellion against the State. Such a view is not so strange as it might seem at first sight if it be remembered, on the one hand, that in these days practically the whole of Europe was Catholic and that to separate oneself from the Catholic Church at that time was to create disunion and disorder in the State, and on the other hand, that nearly all the heretics of that time as, for example, the Albigensians, inculcated doctrines subversive not merely of the Church but also of society and of constituted authority.

Many of the councils held during the twelfth century permitted the use of force against heretics where other means of persuasion failed, and ordered that the bishops should set up courts in their dioceses for the detection and punishment of heretics. Later on the Inquisition courts were placed in charge of the Dominicans. These courts had merely to try the question of the guilt or innocence of the accused. If a person who was found guilty refused to abandon his heresy he was handed over for punishment to the civil authorities. In judging the Inquisition courts, it is well to bear in mind that the warring sects that disturb the unity of the Christian world at present were then unknown, and that the Catholic Church, claiming to be the authoritative teacher of divine revelation, was bound to protect herself against those who tried to spread false doctrines amongst her children. If the State finds it necessary even to-day to prohibit the publication of rebellious or anarchical opinions and to inflict the severest penalties on those who attempt to stir up disorder among its citizens, and if all right-minded men give their approval to such a policy, why should it be thought so strange that the Catholic Church should endeavour to suppress heretical views and to punish heretical teachers?

Again, too, it should be remembered that in the middle ages the union between Church and State was very close, that the civil constitutions of most of the countries of Europe were based entirely upon Catholic principles, and that therefore every person who began to teach publicly heretical doctrines was thereby a disturber of the public peace, a rebel and a fomenter of disorder. The State itself could not undertake the work of judging what was heresy or what was not, as that belonged entirely to the Church, but once the Church decided that a person was guilty of heresy the civil authorities stepped in to inflict the punishment prescribed for such crimes by the civil law of the kingdom. It would be well, too, if critics would remember that though the Inquisition courts were cruel according to modern notions, they were much less cruel than the civil courts of England, Germany or France, and that the Protestant nations also had their Inquisition courts as, for example, the Star Chamber and the High Commission Court in England even though, according to Protestant principles, every man should be allowed to select his religion for himself. If the Catholic Church were severe she was at least logical, for she claimed divine authority in her preaching, but the same cannot be said for the oppressive measures adopted by the sects which claimed neither authority nor infallibility.

When, however, charges are made against the Inquisition, people have in their minds as a rule, not the Roman, but the Spanish Inquisition. Owing to the presence in Spain of a large number of Jews and Saracens many of whom pretended to be Catholics in order to escape punishment, the people clamoured for the introduction of the Inquisition, a step which was only too agreeable to Ferdinand and Isabella, who saw in such a measure a means of strengthening their own power. Ferdinand and Isabella petitioned the Pope to allow the establishment of a special Inquisition for Spain, and in 1478 Sixtus IV. acceded to their request. The Inquisition lasted in Spain till 1820 when it was finally abolished. It should be borne in mind that the Spanish Inquisition, although established by ecclesiastical authority and manned as a rule by ecclesiastics, was more a political weapon than a religious tribunal, and was controlled almost entirely by royal authority. Indeed, more than once the Popes endeavoured to moderate the severity of the Spanish Inquisition, but their representations produced little effect. It was employed by the rulers of Spain to strengthen their own position and to crush their opponents and not infrequently, especially in the closing years of its existence, it was used even against the Church itself. Nor should it be forgotten that most of the charges levelled against the Spanish Inquisition are made on the authority of Llorente, a traitor to his Church and to his country, and a most unscrupulous writer, some of whose statements can be proved to be false, others of them to be gross exaggerations.