Interesting Facts About the Spanish Inquisition

Modern historians have long known that the popular view of the Inquisition is a myth. The Inquisition was actually an attempt by the Catholic Church to stop unjust executions.

Heresy was a capital offense against the state. Rulers of the state, whose authority was believed to come from God, had no patience for heretics. Neither did common people, who saw heretics as dangerous outsiders who would bring down divine wrath.

When someone was accused of heresy in the early Middle Ages, they were brought to the local lord for judgment, just as if they had stolen a pig. It was not easy to discern whether the accused was really a heretic. The lord needed some basic theological training, very few did. The sad result is that uncounted thousands across Europe were executed by secular authorities without fair trials or a competent judge of the crime.

The Catholic Church’s response to this problem was the Inquisition, an attempt to provide fair trials for accused heretics using laws of evidence and presided over by knowledgeable judges.

From the perspective of secular authorities, heretics were traitors to God and the king and therefore deserved death. From the perspective of the Church, however, heretics were lost sheep who had strayed from the flock. As shepherds, the pope and bishops had a duty to bring them back into the fold, just as the Good Shepherd had commanded them. So, while medieval secular leaders were trying to safeguard their kingdoms, the Church was trying to save souls. The Inquisition provided a means for heretics to escape death and return to the community.

Most people tried for heresy by the Inquisition were either acquitted or had their sentences suspended. Those found guilty of grave error were allowed to confess their sin, do penance, and be restored to the Body of Christ. The underlying assumption of the Inquisition was that, like lost sheep, heretics had simply strayed.

If, however, an inquisitor determined that a particular sheep had purposely left the flock, there was nothing more that could be done. Unrepentant or obstinate heretics were excommunicated and given over to secular authorities. Despite popular myth, the Inquisition did not burn heretics. It was the secular authorities that held heresy to be a capital offense, not the Church. The simple fact is that the medieval Inquisition saved uncounted thousands of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people who would otherwise have been roasted by secular lords or mob rule.

Where did this myth come from? After 1530, the Inquisition began to turn its attention to the new heresy of Lutheranism. It was the Protestant Reformation and the rivalries it spawned that would give birth to the myth. Innumerable books and pamphlets poured from the printing presses of Protestant countries at war with Spain accusing the Spanish Inquisition of inhuman depravity and horrible atrocities in the New World.

For more information, see:
The Real Inquisition, By Thomas F. Madden, National Review (2004)…
Inquisition by Edward Peters (1988)
The Spanish Inquisition by Henry Kamen (1997)
The Spanish Inquisition: Fact Versus Fiction, By Marvin R. O’Connell (1996):…

As seen on Yahoo Answers. Posted by ImACatholic2.


  1. Probably the Inquisition was not the same everywhere, and of course it has become a myth. There are however good sources, and the best I have seen was the trial of Jeanne d’Arc. There are very complete records. Even an atheist would get up on his feet and applaud her courage and her answers. And she was condemned as a witch. I have not read the complete records of the trial, but I do not think that the Church helped her. And of course there was a lot of politicking.

    Next : the Bible that was such an issue for the Church and the Inquisition. If I had time, that’s what I would now try to dig up, those prohibitions. Here in Spain, where the non-recommendations lasted longest, I think I have never seen a Catholic who knew anything at all about the Bible.

  2. Everyone burned at the stake by secular authorities were all disposed of with the imprimatur of the church because there was no separation of government and religion at that time.

  3. Very Christlike. The ignorance and intolerance continues centuries later. Keep praying for the Jews and Muslims to see the light we’ll eventually comes around. If that doesn’t work, oh well. Is there a difference between Christianity and other cults? Christians are just better at it. That’s because they have been practicing longer.

    • Dear Kenneth,

      You have a perfect right to your opinion … even if it’s wrong.


  4. You cant tell me that when the Spanirds came to the Americans they weren’t unjust with the Native Americans and Southern Americans when they dragged the inquistion with them, They murdered entire tribes because of it.

  5. They also killed believers who followed the Saturday Sabbath instead of the Sunday Sabbath. What is the justice in that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Disgusting…why do people follow Catholicism? It’s mass murder with anyone that delves deep enough into its History. Leo X anyone? Lousy attempt at a cover up by the author.

    • All I see from you is innuendo. How about a few hard facts to back up your opinion?


  7. Doug, Where are your facts?? Nice try at rewriting history!! Why are you so unwilling to confront the TRUE history of The Inquisition?? I do give you credit, however, for an excellent work of Fiction. More Christians were slaughtered at the hands of The Papacy than all that were slaughtered by Rome in the first and second centuries…. Facts, facts, facts; they just keep getting in the way of your prevarication….


    • A few facts from your side, rather than mere opinions, would make your comment much more believable.


      • Doug, Here’s your first fact; prove it incorrect or refute it with YOUR facts!
        Thank you…..
        In His service,


      • I provided two links to source documents, in the original post. You provide nothing. You lose, by default.


      • More Christians were slaughtered at the hands of The Papacy than all that were slaughtered by Rome in the first […]

        Fact #1


  8. And I suppose the holocaust never happened!

    • Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, along with one million Catholics and five million others. Twelve million in total, all deemed to be undesirable and worthy of extermination by the 3rd Reich. These numbers are displayed at the visitor center at the former camp located in Dachau, just outside of Munich.

      Why would anyone suppose the Holocaust never happened?


      • jk God bless man

  9. Doug, I am a Christian and am horrified at things that have happened in the name of Christ. The PBS documentary Secret Files of the Inquisition seems to draw a far different conclusion than you. Also, I believe it was Pope Innocent IV in Papal Bull Ad Extirpanda, that said torture is the divine instrument of God.

    Denying what was does not help us. Admitting past wrongs and pointing to what needs to be does.

    The farther away from Christ people get, the worse the effects. The same was true in the Old Testament (like Judges) when the people of God got away from the Torah.

    My spiritual ancestors, the Anabaptists have extensive records of numerous brutal slayings at the hands of most religious groups of the time in the book Martyr’s Mirror. You have asked for evidence – this is volumes of it.

    • Dear Mr. Fry,

      I too am horrified at things that have happened – and continue to happen – in the name of Christ – which is why I chose to post the referenced article. There is plenty of real, authentic corruption, malfeasance and mismanagement in the church. We don’t need folklore and myth to be added to the list. PBS is not the world’s authority on religious or political truth and their shows – particularly the one you mention – are often sensationalized and biased, in many different ways – not to say there is not some truth there. As for the evidenciary value of the book, Martyr’s Mirror and/or it’s close cousin, Fox’s Book of Martyrs – absent the shared experience of the early Catholic Church – which is your true spiritual heritage – the rest is largely a tale of religious ideology and ecclesiastical civil war, consisting mostly of anti-Catholic propaganda – some of it true – most not. The real truth is that there were plenty of Catholics and Protestants doing a lot of very nasty, unchristian stuff to a lot of people, for their own particular reasons, in the name of Jesus Christ. That’s a real shame and a sin. We don’t need propaganda and mythology to make things seem worse than they already are. I suggest you do some serious, unbiased research on the origins and purposes of the two books mentioned and you’ll see what I mean. Man’s inhumanity to man is a very old story, and every side shares a portion of that guilt. None are blameless. None are holy. And that may be the very reason God permits martyrdom to occur, at all. Thank you for commenting and may God richly bless you and yours.


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