The Inquisition

Charles Spurgeon:

Execution of the Rev. James Guthrie, Edinburgh 1661THE union of the church with the state renders persecution possible; and hitherto churches have not been slow to avail themselves of the secular arm that they might confound all dissent with arguments which come home to the bone and the flesh. All churches, when they lose the spirit of Christ, are very prone to persecute; but a horrible pre-eminence must be awarded to the scarlet harlot of the seven hills, for no church on earth except that of Rome has had a separate institution for hunting out and destroying heretics. Whether it may be traced to want of will or want of inclination on the part of other establishments, it is certain that the Popish Antichrist alone has been able to drink of the overflowing blood-cup filled by familiars and tormentors. Long pampered by the state, she came to be its lord and tyrant, using fire and sword, prison and rack, to work her accursed will. The Inquisition was the masterpiece of infernal craft and malice, and its deeds were far more worthy of fiends than men. If the church of Rome could at this moment change its Ethiopian skin for ever, lay aside its leopard’s spots, and become a pure community, ten thousand years of immaculate holiness and self-denying philanthropy could not avail to blot out the remembrance of the enormous crimes with which the Inquisition has loaded it. There is a deep and indelible sentence of damnation written upon the apostate church by avenging justice for its more than infernal cruelties, and the curse is registered in heaven; nor can any pretences to present liberality reverse the condemnation which outraged humanity has pronounced against it; its infamy is engraved in the rock for ever. Centuries of the most liberal policy would not convince mankind that Popery had become tolerant at heart; she wallowed so greedily in oppression, torture, and murder in her palmy days, that the foam of human gore hangs around her wolfish hugs, and men will not believe her to be a gentle lamb, let her bleat as she may. Against her common humanity is up in arms as much as evangelical religion. Her confessional is as dangerous to the mere moralist as to the Christian; her inquisition would be as ruinous to mercantile prosperity as to spiritual activity. Men of all religions and of no religion should deprecate the growth of a system which rendered the Inquisition possible; while followers of Jesus, for their own sake as well as for their Lord’s, should oppose it with all their might.
 Rome made the worst possible use of the weapon which the state gave her, but the radical evil was the state’s entering into alliance with the church, and lending its power to fulfill her purposes. Had true church principles prevailed, the crimes which make us shudder would have been impossible. Disarm and disestablish every sect, and leave each religion to its own moral and spiritual power, and no inquisition can be dreamed of; but put forward the doctrine that a state should propagate or maintain religion, and you have uncaged the lion; no one knows how much he may rend and devour. Modern Romanists would, many of them, lament the cruelties of former ages, but they ought to see that these were but the ripe fruits of their system when plentifully irrigated with royal favor, and planted in a soil rank with ignorance and superstition; a principle which, among Protestants with far less scope, has nevertheless produced most horrible results. Anglican churchmen who persist in upholding church and state, if they will but carefully think the matter over, will see that the Inquisition is but a grosser exposition of their principles; it is not the outgrowth of either one creed or another, but the result of a paternal government protecting its espoused faith with all its power. The argument that a state ought to have a religion, and support it by national funds, when like a medlar fully ripe and rotten, lands us at Smithfield’s stakes or the Lollard’s Tower. Whether Papists or so-called Protestants hold it, its results are the same in substance though not in measure. Rome has made a diabolical use of it, but no priests are to be trusted, even Protestants can persecute if they have the opportunity. Principles do not stop short at a hard and fast line, though their practice may be compelled to do so; and it is clear to every thinking man that, although state-churchmen would shrink from setting up an inquisition, the full development of their views would logically require it: the path of prudence is to return to the true principle, and leave the kingdom of Christ to be as at the first, not of this world. The same spirit which blazed up at an auto-da-fé smoulders in an imprisonment for church-rates, and the same principle which in its manhood dyed the Netherlands with blood in order to thrust in the Papacy, is that which thrusts in the Irish church upon an unwilling people. We Protestants who are really so, must fight zealously against the essential Popery which would lead us to use the secular arm in spiritual matters, and would tempt us to employ compulsion where everything to be acceptable must be voluntary. We must insist upon it that no shade of coercion or degree of patronage shall be exercised towards any religion; all must be fully tolerated, nay, more, all protected in their natural liberty, and all secured an absolute equality before the law. To act as Rome has acted is to unprotestantise ourselves. To deny Roman Catholics the fullest civil and religious equality is to degrade ourselves to their level by handling their weapons. Faction suggests reprisals, and fear demands precautions, and none can wonder, for the Papistical party is cunning and bigoted to the last degree; but Christianity scorns to sin in order to avenge a wrong, or avert an evil. If we treat our antagonists as they treated our fathers, we cannot convert them, for they have already perverted us. A people boasting of their Protestantism as the English do, should be ashamed to support Popery in the Anglican establishment, or to bow before the dogma of union between church and state, which is the essence of Antichrist and the germ of persecution: an injustice to man, and an impertinence to God. The inmost soul of Protestantism is the responsibility of the conscience to God alone, the spiritual nature of true religion, and the freedom of faith from the rule of earthly lords. State-churchism is antichristian, and always ripens into oppression and tyranny wherever opportunity is given it. “NO POPERY” is our cry, and therefore laying the ax at the root of the system, we demand the abolition of every union between church and state, and the disallowance of every form of interference on the part of Caesar with things which belong alone to God.
 We have been led to these remarks through reading a most thrilling work by Dr. W. H. Rule, a solid volume of sober history, written without the slightest tinge of sensationalism, and yet more stirring by far than any romance. Dr. Rule has, by this book, contributed to the standard library of Christendom—every one should read it, and see what state-religion leads to when it has nothing to hinder it. Truly in the case of the Romish church it makes one loathe the very name of Romanist, and shake himself, lest the plague of intolerance should by any means linger in his own garments. To Rome it seems to be essential to rend and devour. “‘Blessed Father,’ said Baronius to Paul V., ‘the ministry of Peter is twofold—to feed and to kill.’ For the Lord said to him, ‘Feed my sheep;’ and he also heard a voice from heaven, saying, ‘Kill and eat.’ To feed sheep is to take care of obedient, faithful Christians, who in meekness, humility, and piety, show themselves to be sheep and lambs. But when he has no longer to do with sheep and lambs, but with lions, and other wild, refractory, and troublesome beasts, Peter is commanded to kill them; that is to say, to attack, fight, and slaughter them, until there be none such left.'” This notion of killing (eating is another matter)—has been fully carried out by the Papacy, as our long rolls of martyrology can prove. It is the duty of all Protestants to be well read in our martyr annals, that our detestation of Popery and all that leads to intolerance may be renewed and confirmed.
 Dr. Rule commences with a paragraph which shows that persecution commenced as soon as ever the church was affiliated with the state. “The first imperial patron of Christians, Constantine the Great, cannot be fairly described as a persecutor, but rather as benevolent and liberal; yet, educated in heathenism, he thought it quite right to employ repressive measures for the extinction of idolatry, measures which the Pagans complained of as unjust, but could not regard as cruel in comparison with the ancient hostilities waged against each other by the votaries of hostile gods. Constantine, as a matter of course, discouraged freedom of utterance, where such freedom seemed inexpedient, and denied liberty of worship to idolaters and heretics. His edicts, or constitutions, became part of the civil law of Christian Europe. No fewer than seventy-two such laws, made by Constantine and his successors, against controversialists and heretics, with many more against Jews, Samaritans, and Pagans, may be found in the Theodosian Code, and show how diversities of religious opinion were to be prevented, and the teachers crushed. Confiscation, banishment, death, were the penalties to be inflicted for breach of what Romanists are pleased to call ‘Catholic unity.'” Every reader of this paragraph who is not an anti-state churchman should carefully note it, and meditate within himself as to what the fact here stated most surely indicates.
 The powers of the Inquisition when in its palmy days were very extensive. A Romish writer says, “The tribunal claims right of jurisdiction over the following persons:—All heretics without exception. All who blaspheme God and the saints. They who utter words of blasphemy when extremely drunk are not to be condemned at once, but watched. If half drunk, they are entirely guilty. They who speak blasphemously or heretically in their sleep are to be watched; for it is likely that their lips betrayed the heresy that was lurking in their hearts. All who speak jestingly of sacred things. Wizards and fortune-tellers. Worshippers of the devil: and it seems that while the Inquisition was in its glory, when the Reformation had scarcely dawned, or where its light had scarcely penetrated, people were known to offer sacrifices to the evil one, kneel down to him, sing hymns to him, observe ‘chastity’ and fast in honor of him, illuminate and cense his images, insert names of devils in the litanies of saints, and ask them to intercede with God. Such was the condition of many who had known no other church but that of Rome. All who harbor, or show kindness to heretics, being themselves orthodox; very near relatives, however, having slight indulgence allowed them, in some cases, if the inquisitors please. All who look ill on an inquisitor—those ugly looks being indications of heresy, and injurious to the holy office. Persons in civil office who hinder the inquisition and its agents, or who refuse to help them, or allow an accused person to conceal himself or to escape. Any one who gives food to a heretic, unless he be actually dying of hunger: for in this case it is allowable to feed him, that he may live to take his trial, and, haply, to be converted. Experienced inquisitors could detect a heretic by a characteristic unsightliness about the eyes and nostrils.”
 The terrible burnings of the faithful witnesses of the Lord at the autos-da-fé of the Inquisition are painted to the life by our author, so that one shudders to read the description. “At Lisbon, the place of execution was at the water-side. For each person to be burnt, whether dead or alive, a thick stake, or spar, was erected, not less than twelve feet above ground; and within about eighteen inches of the top there was a thick cross-piece, to serve for a seat, and to receive the tops of two ladders. Between those ladders, which were for the use of two Jesuits, there was one for the condemned person, whom they compelled to mount, sit on the transverse piece, and there be chained fast. The Jesuits then went up, delivered a hasty exhortation to repentance, and, that failing, declared that they left him to the devil, who was waiting to receive his soul. On perceiving this, the mob shouted, ‘Let the dog’s beard be trimmed;’ that is to say, let his face be scorched. This was done by tying pieces of furze to the end of a long pole, and holding the flaming bush to his face, until it was burnt black. The disfiguration of countenance, and his cries for ‘mercy for the love of God,’ furnished great part of the amusement for the crowd, who, if he had been suffering death in a less barbarous way for any criminal offense, would have manifested every appearance of compassion. When ‘the beard’ was trimmed, they lit the heap of furze at the foot of the stake, and, if there were was no wind, the flame would envelop the seat, and begin to burn their legs; but, as there generally is a breeze on the banks of the Tagus, it seldom reached so high. If there was no wind, he would be dead in an half an hour; but the victim generally retained entire consciousness for an hour and a-half, or two hours, in dire torment, which the spectators witnessed with such delight as could never be produced by any other spectacle. In short, the burning, or rather roasting to death, was so contrived that the sufferer should be exposed to every spectator, and that his cries from that elevation should be distinctly audible all round.” Occasionally a poor wretch would recant, and indeed every cunning device was used to induce such recantation. One of their own order coolly says, “And while fulfilling its office, a few upright men, zealous for the faith, may go to the criminal, and exhort him to return to the Catholic faith, and renounce his errors. And if, after the sentence is passed, and he is given over to the secular court, while they are taking him away to be burnt, or when he is tied to the stake, or when he feels the fire, he say that he is willing to turn and repent, and abjure his heresy, I should think that he might in mercy be received as a heretic penitent, and immured for life, according to some passages in the Decretals” (which are cited), “although I imagine this would not be found very justifiable, nor is great faith to be placed in conversions of this sort. Indeed, such an occurrence did take place in Barcelona, where three heretics impenitent, but not relapsed, were delivered to the secular arm, and when one of them, a priest, had the fire lit round him, and was already half burnt on one side, he begged to be taken out, and promised to abjure and repent. He was taken out, abjured. But whether we did right or not, I cannot say. One thing I know, that fourteen years afterwards he was accused, and found to have persisted in his heresy all the time, and infected many. He then refused to be converted, and, as one impenitent and relapsed, was again delivered to the secular arm, and consumed in fire.”
 Frequently, a refinement of cruelty was displayed which unassisted mortals could hardly have thought of, the direct suggestion of Satan is evident in many a passage in the Inquisitorial history. Incarnate fiends trod those bloodstained halls. “Gaspar de Santa Cruz escaped to Toulouse, where he died, and was buried, after his effigy had been burnt in Zaragoza. In this city lived a son of his, who, as in duty bound, had helped him to make good his retreat. This son was detained as an impeder of the holy office, arrested, brought out at an act of faith, made to read a condemnation of his deceased father, and then sent to the inquisitor at Toulouse, who took him to his father’s grave, and compelled him to dig up the corpse, and burn it with his own hands. Whether the inquisitors were most barbarous, or the young man most vile, it may be difficult to say.”
 We trust, for the sake of our common nature, that there is some mistake in the description which Gavazzi gives of the Roman Inquisitorial edifice, when laid bare during the short-lived Roman republic. He says, “So short was the time that it remained open to the public, so great the crowd of persons that pressed to catch a sight of it, and so intense the horror inspired by that accursed place, that I could not obtain a more exact and particular impression.
 “I found no instruments of torture, for they were destroyed at the first French invasion, and because such instruments were not used afterwards by the modern Inquisition. I did, however, find in one of the prisons of the second court a furnace, and the remains of a woman’s dress. I shall never be able to believe that that furnace was used for the living, it not being in such a place, or of such a kind, as to be of service to them. Every thing, on the contrary, combines to persuade me that it was made use of for horrible deaths, and to consume the remains of victims of inquisitorial executions. Another object of horror I found between the great hall of judgment and the luxurious apartment of the chief jailer, the Dominican friar who presides over this diabolical establishment. This was a deep tray, a shaft opening into the vaults under the Inquisition. As soon as the so-called criminal had confessed his offense, the second keeper, who is always a Dominican friar, sent him to the father commissary to receive a relaxation of his punishment. With hope of pardon, the confessed culprit would go towards the apartment of the holy inquisitor; but in the act of setting foot at its entrance, the trap opened, and the world of the living heard no more of him. I examined some of the earth found in the pit below this trap; it was a compost of common earth, rottenness, ashes, and human hair, fetid to the smell, and horrible to the sight and thought of the beholder.
 “But where popular fury reached its highest pitch was in the vaults of St. Pius V. I am anxious that you should note well that this Pope was canonized by the Roman Church especially for his zeal against heretics. I will now describe to you the manner how, and the place where, those vicars of Jesus Christ handled the living members of Jesus Christ, and show you how they proceeded for their healing. You descend into the vaults by very narrow stairs. A narrow corridor leads you to the several cells, which, for smallness and for stench, are a hundred times more horrible then the dens of lions and tigers in the Coliseum.
 “Wandering in this labyrinth of most fearful prisons, which may be called ‘graves for the living,’ I came to a cell full of skeletons without skulls, buried in lime. The skulls, detached from the bodies, had been collected in a hamper by the first visitors. Whose were these skeletons? And why were they buried in that place and in that manner?
 “The following is a most probable opinion, if it be not rather the history of a fact:—The condemned were immersed in a bath of slaked lime, gradually filled up to their necks. The lime, by little and little, enclosed the sufferers, or walled them up all alive. The torment was extreme, but slow. As the lime rose higher and higher, the respiration of the victims became more painful, because more difficult. So that what with the suffocation of the smoke, and the anguish of a compressed breathing they died in a manner most horrible and desperate. Some time after their death, the heads would naturally separate from the bodies, and roll away into the hollows left by the shrinking of the lime. Any other explanation of the fact that may be attempted will be found improbable and unnatural.”
 The modes by which confessions were extracted by the inquisitors, it would be difficult to condemn too severely. Take a specimen:—A wife of a physician was accused with her three unmarried daughters. “One of these daughters was imprisoned first, but made no disclosure. The inquisitor then tried a novel and horrible method. He had her brought into the audience-chamber, sent his subordinates out of the room, and professed that he had fallen in love with her—that he was resolved to save her life. Day after day he repeated the declaration, and at length persuaded the poor girl that he was indeed her lover. He then told her that, although she knew it not, her mother and sisters were accused of heresy by many witnesses, and that, for the love he bore to her, he desired to save them; but that, in order to effect his object, he must be fully informed of their case, under secrecy, that he might so proceed as to save them all from death. She fell into the snare, and told him all. His point was gained. Their conversation ended. The very next day he called her to another audience, and made her declare, judicially, what she had revealed to him in the assumed character lover. That was enough. The mother and her daughters were sent together to the flames. And the fiend saw his victims burnt.” Shall not God be avenged on such a people as this?
 Our author has not condescended to defile his pages with details of the lasciviousness of the holy fathers of the sacred office, otherwise he might have told a tale of the kind which blanches raven locks, and makes men’s flesh creep on their bones. Pandemonium was Paradise itself compared with the Inquisition. He does not even dwell upon the horrible cruelties enacted more than is barely sufficient for his purpose, but the whole history is nevertheless harrowing to the last degree.
 Even while these wretches crushed their victims, they evidently feared their testimony, and found it needful to check their holy witnessing. The gag, in its most cruel form was always ready. One instance we must not omit:—”Dr. Michael Geddes, when a prisoner was brought out who had been several years shut up in a dungeon where clear daylight never penetrated, saw the poor man raise his eyes towards the sun, and heard him exclaim in rapture, as if overwhelmed with majesty of the object, ‘How can people that behold that glorious body worship any other being than Him that created it?’ Instantly the gag was thrust into his mouth, and the Jesuits who attended him to the Terreiro de Paco were not troubled with any more of his reflections.”
 Which shall we wonder at most, the endurance of the faithful or the cruelty of their tormentors? Is it not proven beyond all dispute that there is no limit to the enormities which men will commit when they are once persuaded that they are keepers of other men’s consciences? To spread religion by any means, and to crush heresy by all means is the practical inference from the doctrine that one man may control another’s religion. Given the duty of a state to foster some one form of faith, and by the sure inductions of our nature slowly but certainly persecution will occur. To prevent for ever the possibility of Papists roasting Protestants, Anglicans hanging Romish priests, and Puritans flogging Quakers, let every form of state-churchism be utterly abolished, and the remembrance of the long curse which it has cast upon the world be blotted out for ever.


Image info: Guthrie, minister at Stirling, was the second man (after the Duke of Argyll) to be executed for opposing Charles II’s reintroduction of episcopacy after the Restoration of 1660. He is reported to have lifted the handkerchief from his face and shouted to the crowd, “The covenants, the covenants, shall yet be Scotland’s reviving!”. (Guthrie was executed at the mercat cross in Edinburgh’s High Street. Artistic licence has been used in depicting the execution as having taken place in the Grassmarket which became the main place of execution for Covenanters in the 1680s.)


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