DAILY CATHOLIC     FRI-SAT-SUN     September 18-20, 1998     vol. 9, no. 183

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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          VATICAN (CWNews.com) -- As the Vatican prepares to host a conference on the Inquisition, the Italian historian Rino Cammilleri gave his own thoughts on the subject in an interview broadcast on Vatican Radio yesterday. The interview coincided with the 500th anniversary of the death of the Spanish Dominican Tomas de Torquemada.

          Cammilleri said that the world's perception of the Inquisition has been exaggerated, since the number of those who were executed has been grossly inflated by anti-Catholic propaganda. He also pointed out that the Spanish Inquisition had saved that country from the witchcraft scares which plagued the rest of Europe in that era.

          "At the time, at the dawn of modernity, when almost all of northern Europe-- and particularly Protestant Europe-- was hunting witches, that phenomenon was non-existent in Spain," Cammilleri noted. He pointed out that the Dominicans who ran the Inquisition, with their thorough training in scholastic theology, did not believe the claims of those who said they had been harmed by witches.

          As for the "Black Legend" which characterized the Spanish Inquisition as a "death machine," the historian observed that Protestant groups rebelling against the Spanish regime of that day took pains to exaggerate the effects.

          The Spanish Inquisition was undertaken at a time when the country faced the real threat of civil war, Cammilleri continued. Having recently unified the nation, the Catholic rulers were confronted with two powerful minority groups, Muslims and Jews, whose loyalty to the regime was questionable. Since converts to Catholicism were considered reliable subjects, the regime called upon the Church to investigate false conversions, thus giving rise to the Spanish Inquisition.

          The role of Tomas de Torquemada in the Inquisition was also discussed in the Vatican Radio interview. Torquemada, the personal confessor to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, was asked to reorganize the Inquisition in 1483. He would later be presented to history-- as in Verdi's opera Don Carlos-- as a bloody executioner. But in fact he was a man of modest habits, scrupulously fair to the process of the Inquisition.

          When a Vatican Radio interviewer questioned whether it was possible to reconcile Torquemada's use of force with the message of the Gospel, the Jesuit historian Mario Fois intervened. It is an anachronism, he said, to speak of "freedom of belief" during that era; at the time, prior to the Enlightenment, it was taken for granted that Catholics would adhere to the teachings of the Church. Heretics were prosecuted, therefore, because they endangered the salvation of souls. Father Fois emphasized that "the conception of ecclesial and social community" was totally different in that era. "We must understand that the mentality and the social sensibility were completely different from our own," he said.

Articles provided through Catholic World News Service.
CWN is not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provides this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

September 18-20, 1998       volume 9, no. 183


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