Saturday, May 18, 2013

Beyond the Myth of The Inquisition VII

This new society is the “conflict society” referred to above, the one gradually replacing the older medieval “convivencia.” The Inquisition must be understood in the broader terms of Spanish social history and the development of its institutions. The lack of perspective of earlier English Protestant propagandists or even modern Jewish apologists is insufficient, for it often had less to do with religion taken for itself than with politics and fratricidal rivalries. The papacy tried at times, and sometimes failed, to mitigate the effect of the Spanish Inquisition. Economics, too, played its part, especially when we recall that the inquisitors, forever in search of revenue, were usually paid out of their confiscations, not by a salary meted out by the crown from other sources or taxation. Until the themes of the evolution of Spanish “conflict society,” “closed society,” and “conservative xenophobia society,” are explored fully, and the Inquisition is not excised from the whole to be looked at in distorted isolation — and Kamen insists the work has just begun — we will not have an adequate appreciation of the phenomenon of the Inquisition. The word “appreciation” is operative, because it is a departure from the stereotype of The Black Legend. This is no mere revisionism, either. What can increasingly be understood and appreciated by specialists of Spanish history must be popularized to prevent it from becoming one of those “best kept secrets” of Church history or even world history.
While Henry Kamen is the type of historian who “tells the story” so the record can be clarified, Edward Peters is more concerned with The Black Legend aspect of the Spanish Inquisition. One of the reasons for the legend is the secrecy of the Inquisition when it came to procedures:
Judicially, the courts of the Inquisition were no worse and no better than the secular courts of the day. Faults existing in the procedure of the Holy Office would be no less evident in the royal courts where reforms were instituted by the famous Cortes of Toledo in 1480. The distinguishing feature of the Inquisition — its absolute secrecy — was the one which made it more open to abuses than any public tribunal. This secrecy was not, it seems, originally a part of the inquisitorial framework, and early records refer to public trials and a public prison rather than a secret one. But by the beginning of the sixteenth century secrecy became the general rule and was enforced in all the business of the tribunal. Even the various Instructions of the Inquisition, although set down in print, were for restricted circulation only and not for the public eye. What this necessarily involved was general public ignorance of the methods and procedure of the Inquisition — an ignorance which in its earlier period helped the tribunal by creating reverential fear in the minds of evildoers, but which in its later period led to the rise of fear and hatred based on a highly imaginative idea of how the tribunal worked. The Inquisition was therefore largely to blame for the unfounded slanders cast upon it in the eighteenth century or before. The natural outcome of this enforced ignorance is shown by the debates of the Cortes of Cadiz in 1813, on the projected decree to abolish the Inquisition. If the defenders of the tribunal relied on the argument of a mystical and mythical unity given to Spain by the Inquisition, its detractors relied almost completely on legendary misapprehensions about the entire structure and function of the institution.
 We see from this that the Inquisition, in a later age, was its own worst enemy and that it opened itself to misunderstanding precisely on grounds of procedure which had been secret, often to protect the witnesses who had come forward. For example, a sufficient number of them had been assassinated to warrant their protection, so thought the tribunals.
Edward Peters employs terminology which is useful for us in making distinctions: When I use the term inquisition (lower case), I address the function of institutions that were so called, as historical research has described them. When I use the term Inquisition (upper case) I always refer in shorthand to a particularly constituted, specific institution (such as the Spanish Inquisition or the Venetian Inquisition). When I use the term The Inquisition, I am referring in one form or another to an image, legend, or myth, usually in polemic. These decisions will not satisfy everyone, but they at least make an honest attempt to remove some of the dangerous presuppositions that often creep into even the most evenhanded attempts at historical neutrality.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Beyond the Myth of The Inquisition VI

British historian Henry Arthur Francis Kamen has no apparent reason to defend the record of the Spanish Inquisition. He got his M.A. (Oxon.) in 1965, the same year he published his Spanish Inquisition. He specializes in Spanish history. Twenty years later he published another updated study on the Inquisition in the early modern period called Inquisition and Society in Spain.  Among the first things Kamen brings to our attention is that Llorente himself was astonished at the lack of any opposition to the Inquisition in Spain itself. This fact from the documentation can be interpreted variously, of course — were people just too afraid to speak out? But two additional facts are also necessary to consider. The first is that the civil variety of the Inquisition was a court alien to the older and more tolerant Spanish traditions and was introduced only in time of crisis. It was long unpopular in Aragon, for example, where local feudal freedoms from royal absolutism (“fueros”) resented its presence. Castilian inquisitors were also resented in Catalonia and elsewhere outside Castile, precisely because they were outsiders. But people can put up with just about anything when threatened with a crisis situation, and so the “early” Inquisition was tolerated, as were “later” ones when special crises obtained. Secondly, as noted above, it was supposed to be a temporary measure against judaizer-heretics who were then mainly the “converso” party of Jews (only later were ex-Muslims the object of the Inquisition) forced in 1391 and thereafter to be baptized or face exile or death. After the breakdown of the spirit of “convivencia,” the Old Christians actually feared for their blood lines, and so after 1480 tolerated the Inquisition at times more for the sake of “ethnic cleansing” than religious orthodoxy. All of this may be against our standards today, but it does have a precise understanding in Spanish social history. Here is what Kamen says of their tolerance. What did Spaniards themselves think of the Inquisition? There can be no doubt that the people as a whole gave their ready support to its existence. The tribunal was, after all, not a despotic body imposed on them tyrannically, but a logical expression of the social prejudices prevalent in their midst. It was created to deal with a problem of heresy, and as long as the problem was deemed to exist people seemed to accept it. The Inquisition was probably no more loved or hated than the police are in our time: in a society where there was no other general policing body, people took their grievances to it and exploited it to pay off personal scores. By the same token, it was on the receiving end of frequent hostility and resentment; but at every moment the inquisitors were convinced that the people were with them, and with good reason. Was Spain a closed or an open society? Kamen goes on to say these astonishing things. The image of Spain as a nation sunk in intellectual torpor and religious superstition, all of it due to the Inquisition, is one that Menendez Pelayo was right to controvert. Spain was in reality one of the freest nations in Europe, with active political institutions at all levels. Remarkably free discussion of political affairs was tolerated, and public controversy occurred on a scale paralleled in few other countries.
Let us not forget, either, that the works of Galileo were never put on the Spanish Index of Forbidden Books!
Anti-semitism after 1480 in Spain was local, and the monarchy continued, at least for a while, to be the traditional defender of the Jews, both those who remained Jews by religion and the “converso” communities. Kamen even points out that “converso” financing was partially responsible for outfitting the ships Columbus used to discover the New World. Many rich or famous “conversos” were never troubled by the Inquisition. Others lived abroad to avoid it, such as Juan Luis Vives. The pattern is an uneven one. It was widely held that almost the whole of the nobility had Jewish blood. By the seventeenth century, the limpieza statutes had actually closed some government and academic posts to the nobility, but by reason of blood, opened them to common people! An outdated Catholic publication (1931) states that the last victim of the Inquisition in Spain was a schoolmaster hanged in 1826. Some limpieza statutes lingered for a few more decades into the nineteenth century. We should note that the thoroughly enfeebled institution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is hardly comparable to the one functioning under Ferdinand and Isabella at the close of the fifteenth century. “In rounded terms, it is likely that over three-quarters of all those who perished under the Inquisition in the three centuries of its existence, did so in the first twenty years.” This synthetic summary is the reasoned fruit of Henry Kamen’s painstaking analysis: The Inquisition was not the imposition of a sinister tyranny on an unwilling people. It was an institution brought into being by a particular socio-religious situation, impelled and inspired by a decisively Old Christian ideology, and controlled by men whose outlook reflected the mentality of the mass of Spaniards. The dissenters were a few intellectuals, and others whose blood alone was sufficient to put them outside the pale of the new society being erected on a basis of triumphant and militant conservatism.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Beyond the Myth of The Inquisition V

The discovery of the riches of inquisitorial documentation, and its exploitation first by Llorente and then by Henry Charles Lea, has helped to restore the balance of information but has also created new dangers. Scholars are in danger of studying the Inquisition in isolation from all the other dimensions of State and society, as though the tribunal were somehow a self-explanatory phenomenon: as a result old misconceptions are being reinforced and the Inquisition is once again being assumed to have played a central role in religion, politics, culture and the economy. Thus both the primary sources and an adequate interpretation of them are required if we are to get beyond The Black Legend. Peters, assuming all of the above, tries to help us understand how the myth of the Inquisition has been so successfully recycled and revived by various interest groups down through history and in our own time. Llorente himself held high office in the Inquisition during his own day, and he was one of the few afrancesados or collaborators with the occupying French during the Napoleonic-era in Spain. This is Chadwick’s summary of his career: The most interesting of the afrancesados clergy was Juan Antonio Llorente (1756-1823). A canon of Calahorra, the French Revolution found him Secretary General of the Inquisition in Madrid, as a result of which the reforming grand inquisitor gave him important materials for a history of the Inquisition. In the events of 1808 he accepted King Joseph Bonaparte and entered Madrid in his train. As one of the few Spanish churchmen to be serviceable, he was now heaped with honours and responsible work, especially the dissolution of the monasteries and the administration of confiscated goods, as well as the custody of the archives of the Inquisition. He used the time to gather materials for his history. Naturally he must retreat with the French and spend ten years in exile until the Spanish government gave him a reprieve. In 1817-1818 he published at Paris in four volumes his Critical History of the Spanish Inquisition , which scandalized many Spaniards and finally gave the Spanish Inquisition the blasted reputation which it kept. The History was instantly put upon the Index of prohibited books. The account was not impartial history. But it was the only account hitherto by anyone who had access to authentic documents and therefore held the field as indispensable. In the perspective of Church history, and the reputation of Spanish Catholicism for bigotry and fanaticism, Llorente’s book was the most weighty single outcome of the little afrancesado movement among Churchmen. Very few Spanish clergy betrayed their country, so Llorente was the exception. But this is not what made him famous. It was his possession of the documentation on the Inquisition that earned him a reputation and thus made him important for us. He held the evidence. And his biased presentation held sway for lack of any countervailing influence.