Catholic Resources on the Internet

xxxx Home ButtonBack ButtonEmail CommentDonate xxxx

Medieval Torture and the Spanish Inquisition are the stuff of an Englishman’s nightmares

Anti-Catholicism is in our blood

Catholic - 2The problem with discussing Catholicism with many native English-speakers is that they come to the table loaded down with so much baggage.  They have been formed by 400 years of anti-Catholic propaganda.  Consequently, their negative view of the Catholic religion is in the national subconscious, it is in our blood.  If a man actually believes at the level of his sub-conscious that a rosebush is a man-eating tiger, then he will jump and break out in a sweat of fear when he passes a rosebush regardless of the fact that at the level of conscious thought he knows that this is absurd.

Catholic Inquisition

One can illustrate the point that we are making by invoking the Inquisition.  The very word will conjure up nightmare visions of some poor Protestant being racked for the good of his soul, while a sadistic hooded monk looks on gloating.  The fact is that the word “Inquisition” simply means “Inquiry”.  And there have been scores of inquisitions throughout the Church’s history.  When the popes ruled half of Italy, it was the name given to the Church’s legal system.  This was so benign in comparison with the secular legal systems of the time that in the areas where there was dual jurisdiction, accused would seek to be tried by the Inquisition as opposed to the secular courts.

The Spanish Inquisition (1478 to 1808) is the one people usually mean when they talk about the Inquisition.  This Inquisition had the misfortune to be operating at a time when the Spanish were our mortal enemies.  To understand the Spanish inquisition one should look at France in 1945.  At the end of the last war, members of the French resistance and those who, now the occupation was over, claimed to have been active members of the French resistance, were handing out summary justice without trial to people accused of having been quislings and collaborators.  Charles De Gaulle, the post-war President of the Provisional Government of France, cracked down hard on this lawlessness and ensured that if any Frenchman were to be punished for collaborating with the occupying power it should be after a fair trial and a proper legal process.

The Spanish Queen, Isabelle, and her consort, Ferdinand, were in a not dissimilar situation.  They had just ended 700 years of occupation of their country by the Moors.  In the civil unrest following the war, the Spanish crown began the Inquisition hoping that religious unity would foster political unity.  By the standards of the time, the Inquisition was very enlightened.  One may also point out that while the Church was heavily implicated in the Spanish Inquisition, it was a secular not a Church inquiry.

Most of the penalties handed down were spiritual, rather than physical.  Its severest sentences were reserved for people who bore false witness against others.  As for torture, in an age when the secular powers (including England) used torture routinely, the Inquisition was restricted by its rules to using it rarely and in very limited circumstances.  And as for persecuting Protestants, not one Protestant was ever arrested by the Inquisition, let alone tried - for one very simple reason, the Inquisition regarded non-Catholics as outside its jurisdiction.

Its judicial procedures were far ahead of their time.  Such things as the need for witnesses, the rights of the accused to question and challenge their accusers and the right of appeal where all laid down.  Inquisitors did not have to be clerics, but they did have to be qualified lawyers.  As for the death penalty, it has been notoriously difficult to reach a consensus on the numbers involved, but the highest number supported by serious historians is in the order of 3000 to 5000 over the entire 330 years of its operation. 

While we may all readily agree that 3000 to 5000 was 3000 to 5000 too many, it pales into insignificance in comparison to the 150,000 documented witch-burnings in Protestant Britain, Germany and New England over the same period, where often a mere accusation was enough to send one to the stake.  The Spanish  were spared this carnage by the judicial standards of the Inquisition and its absolute requirement for hard evidence.

Queen Mary -v- Queen Elizabeth I

The Protestant journalist and reformer, William Cobbett (1763-1835),Catholic - 3 describing the Tudor deception, stated that, “for every drop of blood (Catholic) Mary shed, (Protestant) Elizabeth shed a pint.”  Yet we are conditioned to refer to Mary as “Bloody Mary” and to Elizabeth as “Good Queen Bess”, and while the former sends our blood cold, the latter evokes feeling of national pride in a great monarch.

Raphael Holisend, the Protestant historian, wrote that although Henry VIII executed 72,000 Catholics, Elizabeth I killed more than the Spanish and Roman Inquisitions combined did in 300 years!  Further,  Elizabeth’s warrants frequently dispensed with a trial and proceeded straight to hanging and disemboweling; the penalty for merely being a faithful Catholic priest.

The Enlightenment and the French Revolution

The Rationalists behind the French Revolution, in the two years, 1792-1794, managed to slaughter over 40,000 (At least 8 time as many as the Spanish Inquisition managed in 330 years).  Many were executed for merely refusing to abandon their Catholic Faith.  The Committee of Public Safety under Robespierre, on the 10th June 1794, pushed through a law abolishing the right of the accused to a trial.  It was actually argued at the time by Robespierre’s mouthpiece, Georges Couthon, that the right to a trial was no more than a prejudice left over from France’s (Catholic) past.

Nevertheless, our anti-Catholic conditioning has “taught” us to believe that the French Revolution was on balance a good and enlightened thing, notwithstanding the fact that its nearest modern equivalent would have been the Hutus massacre of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in April 1994.

During the Age of Enlightenment, championed by Voltaire and later the French Revolution, people were commonly executed by “breaking on the wheel”.  A method of execution which very slowly reduced its victims limbs to pulped flesh with shards of bone sticking through.  In our enlightened age of course that sort of bloody end is strictly reserved by secularists for unborn children whose only crime being inconveniencing the secular gods of unbridled licentiousness by daring to be conceived.

Modern History

It is also interesting to compare the effect that the word “inquisition” has on the soul of the average Englishman with his relatively bland reaction to the following list of facts: 7,000,000 murdered (without trial) by the Nazis (self-confessed pagans); 17,000,000 murdered by Stalin (a militant atheist); a number only exceeded by the Chinese communist (more militant atheists); the 9000 unarmed priests and nuns murdered by the Bolsheviks (more militant atheists) in a few months in Spain (a slaughter which sparked the Spanish civil war); and one could add the 1,000,000 (a number that would have been nearer 2,000,000 had it not been for the courageous sanctions-busting activities of Irish Catholic missionaries) Biafran babies and young children, who, in less than two years, where starved to death to serve the oil policies of Harold Wilson’s government of secular humanists.

There is a good deal of secularist propaganda to the effect that religion is at the root of all the strife in the world.  The facts, as opposed to the propaganda, are very simple.  Wars fought by, or on behalf of, the Church (such as the Crusades) have killed about 4,500,000 people over the last 2000 years.  Secular humanist, militant atheist and Nazis (i.e. pagans) have accounted for something nearer 200,000,000 in the last 80 years!  This means that you are at least a 1000 times more likely to be slaughtered by a militant atheist in the service of his ideology than by a Catholic in the service of his.


You may wonder why when writing about the Catholic religion we have devoted a whole essay to what is very much a side issue.  Well it is important for English speaking people, if they are to explore the faith of the Church in an open and objective way, honestly to face up to the fact that they are coming to the table loaded down with cultural baggage.  Further, unless they have the intellectual insight and courage consciously to divest themselves of some of this accumulated baggage, they are wasting their time.

Many English Catholics also carry some of this baggage, especially the young.  Its result is a reduced sense of self-worth, a sort of cultural low self-esteem.  It is unavoidable, for anti-Catholicism is in the air we breathe and we take it in with our mother’s milk.  It is simply that after 400 years of inculturation we no longer notice that we are doing so.

You may protest that England is no longer a Protestant, but a secular humanist country.  However, secular humanism is the daughter of Protestantism (albeit the illegitimate daughter) - it is the antithesis of Catholicism and one of the key ideologies behind the systematic murder of countless millions, born and unborn, in our time.


Catholic Unattached Directory
Donate online
Lectures on Catholic Faith
Say Good-bye to Acne
Bunies as children's pets

Copyright: Cathud 2012 - Medieval torture and the Spanish Inquisition