"During the course of our book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail we discussed the Inquisition. The Knights Templar were comprehensively taken apart by them and around seventy-five knights were burned to death. We later found that the modern version of the Inquisition was involved in the machinations surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls, a fact we explored in The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception.
We decided to take a look at this 700 year-old institution and try and extract the truth from behind the spin of modern revisionist historians.
The Inquisition worked to maintain the control of the Vatican over the population of Europe and its colonies in India and America but its influence ran only in those areas dominated by Roman Catholicism. The Institution was hated by many countries including England and after the Reformation, by those countries which had embraced Protestantism.
We found, while working on this book, that it was impossible to ignore the crimes of the Inquisition and treat the institution simply as an interesting facet of Christian religious history. Its greed and arrogance, its perversion of the message of the Gospels, and its will to power despite the human cost, made it an example of all that is bad about institutions – religious or political – which assume the right to control the interpretation of what they claim to be truth.
There were obvious modern aspects of this perspective, not the least being the belief of those who are convinced that blowing themselves up in buses, nightclubs, mosques or market places are serving the cause of spiritual truth. It is clear that they are serving the opposite – spiritual delusion.
We found it impossible to view the Inquisition with anything other than horror. And yet within this lay examples of the blackest humour: the passions aroused by the two-hundred-year argument over whether the blood shed by Jesus on the cross which fell to the earth below also accompanied him to heaven is but one example we reveal in the book. This caused such heated disputes that in 1464 the Pope ruled that all further discussion of this matter was forbidden!
Astonishingly, there has been a concerted attempt by certain historians to white-wash the history of the Inquisition, to make it more benign than murderous. They argue, for instance, that the number of deaths by burning was not so great but they come to this conclusion by excluding all the deaths in the first few decades of the Inquisition as initial excesses which, they assume, can be dismissed as unrepresentative.
In the writing of this book we would have none of this sophistry: the Inquisition was a deeply disturbing institution with nothing to justify its existence. We refused to accept the arguments of these modern pro-Vatican scholars. This, of course, elicited some criticism: some reviews of this book complain that we ignore the work of these modern scholars. I am not convinced that these reviewers actually read our book since we do not ignore the work of the modern scholars – a quick check of our footnotes will reveal that one chapter of our book refers to them extensively. We do not ignore their work, rather, we dismiss it as an obvious attempt at white-washing the crimes of this Vatican Institution from history.
The Inquisition was begun – at first, unofficially - in 1214 during the crusade against the mystical Cathar religion in the south of France by a Spanish monk, Dominic de Guzman. The Cathars were considered heretics for whom death was the only gift from the Church. Dominic (later Saint Dominic) founded a monastic Order, the Dominicans, which was recognised by the Pope in December 1216. They were formed to oppose the Cathars and relentlessly hunted them down and burned them at the stake – over 200 were burned in one great pyre below the castle of Montségur in 1244. Poignantly, almost 800 years later, fresh flowers are still often laid at the site in their memory. Such cultural shocks can take millennia to fade.
The Inquisition in essence developed the first intelligence agency by means of their extensive and methodical record keeping. They created an institutional memory. There is evidence of a woman being questioned by them in 1268 and then being arrested again in 1316 whereupon the records of her earlier investigation were produced.
After the breaking of the Cathar religion as a serious opposition to Vatican control the Inquisition fell into a kind of abeyance. However, in Spain, in 1478, a new version was created by the Pope and two Dominicans were appointed as its first Inquisitors. But uniquely, with this revived institution, ultimate control was not by the Vatican but by the Spanish Crown. It had not learned compassion in the interim: the first public burnings were held in 1481 and by the end of that year, in Seville alone, 288 had been burned to death.
In 1482 the Spanish Inquisition was expanded, more Inquisitors were added, among them the terrifying Tomás de Torquemada. In 1483 a council was created to rule the Inquisition; this was presided over by Torquemada. The main focus of their efforts was any remnants of Judaism for the Jews had been expelled from Spain in 1492: of those people tried by the Inquisition in Barcelona, for example, between 1488 and 1505, 99% were Jews or converted Jews who were constantly under suspicion.
The Inquisition became extremely wealthy for every time an arrest was made – usually in secret and at night - all the accused’s property was forfeited and rapidly sold. Even if the victim were later cleared this property was never returned. There is evidence of arrested men’s wives and children starving to death because the Inquisition had taken all the families’ resources.
The vast wealth obtained in this manner by the Inquisition is staggering: in Cartagena, now in Colombia, for example, between 1646 and 1649, the Inquisition obtained enough revenue through its confiscations to sustain itself for a further 327 years without needing to lift a finger. And this figure does not include the annual subsidy it received from the Spanish Crown.
There is another aspect of the Inquisition that we also investigate: the hatred and fear of women which was so brutally exposed in the witch-burning craze which swept Europe in the 15 to 17th centuries. Sadly, many Protestant religions also enthusiastically participated in this destructive hysteria.
One of the most disturbing books ever written must surely be the Malleus Maleficarum, a handbook for witch hunters written by two Dominicans in the late 15 century. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of innocent women were burned to death as a result of the advice of this book.
The Inquisition still exists. It no longer burns people – however much one might get the impression that certain members would like to have retained that right. In 1908 it changed its name to The Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office; in 1965 it had another change to The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; the present Pope was previously the head of it for twenty-four years. Presiding over it today is an American, a former archbishop of San Francisco, William Levada.
In the end our book The Inquisition tells the story of the Vatican’s official thugs who hated everyone and everything that ran counter to their own demand for control over the lives of Christians. The love, tolerance and compassion attributed to the Jewish mystic known as Jesus had been long forgotten, buried beneath the rush for wealth and power.
Such a Church which is so frightened of opposition that it has to create such a murderous division to maintain belief in its teachings is a Church which has long departed from any claim to spirituality. It is, to put it bluntly, a Church which has lost any justification for its existence."
This is a deeply disturbing book which brings to light facts that may be unknown to many people.
Its principle value to us is that it exposes the unacknowledged shadow aspect of religion, describing the evil that an institution is capable of engendering when it falls into the messianic delusion that it is the appointed agent of God’s will and stands above the laws of man.
The authors explore the pathology of this belief and tell the story of the indescribable suffering that resulted from it. More than this, they show how a carefully thought out and minutely organised policy using intimidation, sadism and fear as its tools of power offered a model of cruelty and violence as a method of ensuring conformity of belief among vast numbers of people, so creating a precedent for the behaviour of totalitarian states in the twentieth century; a precedent made more influential because it was practised by the highest religious authority.
Until the time of the Reformation, people believed in the Church absolutely and lived in fear of incurring its displeasure. They could not risk rebellion and protest against the methods it used to ensure obedience. They were in effect brain-washed by a mixture of unquestioning belief and fear into accepting behaviour that was unquestionably evil towards those the Church designated heretics or a threat to Christendom.
With the methods of the Holy Office of the Inquisition and the fear of it deeply imprinted on the European psyche it is not surprising that within barely a century of its demise as an instrument of persecution, its methods were adopted (whether consciously or unconsciously) by modern totalitarian states. As late as 1846, spying, torture by Inquisitors and repression were still being practised in the Papal States in Italy.
The terror aroused by the persecutory agents of modern states is no different from that aroused from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century by the agents of the Inquisition.
As the writers comment:
"The Inquisition rapidly developed a methodology and control that was impressively effective – so much so that one can see in it the precursor of Stalin’s secret police, of the Nazi SS and Gestapo…Here was a prototype for the kind of computerised records kept by modern police forces."
They describe how, in the reign of terror which prevailed in different parts of Europe for centuries, people were encouraged to inform on their neighbours - wives on their husbands, children on their parents - and were rewarded for this betrayal exactly as they were to be under the totalitarian regimes in Germany, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
The worst aspects of human nature – cruelty, envy, greed, hatred - were encouraged. Those who denounced their neighbour were rewarded. Those who spoke up in defence of the accused risked falling under the taint of heresy. When this persecution was at its height, no-one could be trusted.
The suffering created by this abuse of power was beyond description: destitute women and their children, outcasts of society, were left to fend for themselves when their husbands were murdered and their homes and property confiscated; children lost mothers who were burnt at the stake as witches. Thousands (mainly Jews) were expelled from countries that had been home to their families for centuries.
The Inquisition was even exported to the New World with the Spanish colonisation of Central America. We have not seen the end of the social and cultural effects of the seeds sown during these centuries by the Church: the hatred and enmity between different religious groups; the fear and repression of women; the habit of demonising others.
The facts are incontrovertible, the effect on European civilisation immeasurable.
This book raises the question of how the most obscene crimes against men and women could ever have been defended as the "internal" matter of a religious institution. How could they have been justified by the Church?
A great part of the wealth of the Office of the Inquisition during these centuries was derived from the confiscated property of those it had murdered or exiled. How was it possible for a religion which preached love, tolerance and forgiveness of enemies to practise hatred, intolerance and persecution in the name of God?
How were priests who proclaimed themselves followers of Christ able to conceive of the idea of the Inquisition and to act as the Church’s agents of repression?
There is no doubt that in choosing this path, the Church attracted to its service men who derived a perverted pleasure from the exercise of omnipotent control over others and who obeyed orders without question.
"A masterly work that gives both an overview of the Inquisition and plenty of useful details about its various aspects. Well-researched and thorough, as well as being well written. The ideas are well organised and the story is told in such a way that one can follow the thread of the argument, or of the action, whilst effortlessly learning a great deal at the same time. Thank you Michael Baigent for making available your depth of understanding of this subject!"
After the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars of south-west France in 1208, a Spanish monk - later canonized as St Dominic - took up the cudgels by establishing a kind of secret police to ferret out heresy - thus began the infamous Inquisition. Baigent and Leigh tell the whole extraordinary story, taking it on into the nineteenth century and showing how after the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility in 1870 the Vatican attempted to establish new authorities that were an intellectual equivalent of the Inquisition. The Inquisition offers a fascinating narrative account of one of the most influential and horrifying movements in the history of western Europe.