Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

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Inquisition, The.

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

In its present form it is an organization, officially styled the Congregation of the Holy Office or the Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, which was established in 1542 by Pope Paul III: a Pope who had secured promotion in the Church because his sister was the mistress of Pope Alexander VI and who was himself the acknowledged father of four children. The word means "searching out" (heretics), and the machinery for doing this was gradually developed during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, so that the establishment of the Inquisition cannot be fixed at any particular date. Contrary to the belief even of most Catholics, the "Holy Office" has not been abolished, but is to-day one of the "congregations" (of cardinals and assistants) which constitute the Roman curia. In Church theory it merely awaits the return of the world to piety and virtue to resume its grisly functions. More serious is the falsification of its historical work and procedure which Catholic writers are now permitted to introduce into encyclopaedias and other works of reference. The last distinguished Catholic historian in England, Lord Acton, pronounced it "murderous" and "an abomination," and said that before he could accept this "weapon of the Papacy" a man "must have made terms with murder" (Letters to Mary Gladstone, 1913, p. 147): Now, while the Catholic "X" is permitted to tamper seriously with the article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, to which the inquirer would turn for a wholly impartial account, entrusts its article to Canon Vacandard, the arch-sophist in these matters of modern Catholic literature. Those who are unwilling to recognize the extent of this penetration of Catholic untruth into modern literature may ponder this summary characterization (prefixed to a long article) of the Inquisition by Vacandard in our most scholarly and most respected Encyclopaedia: "From the twelfth century onward the repression of heresy was the great business of Church and State. The distress caused, particularly in the north of Italy and the south of France, by the Cathari or Manichaeans, whose doctrine wrought destruction to society as well as to faith, appalled the leaders of Christianity. On several occasions, in various places, people and rulers at first sought justice in summary conviction and execution; culprits were either outlawed or put to death. The Church for a long time opposed these rigorous measures. ... The death-penalty was never included in any system of repression." It would be difficult to compress more historical untruth in so few lines. We have seen in the article on the Albigensians how absurd it is to describe their beliefs and those of the Cathari as anti-social, and that the north of Italy and the south of France were, on the contrary, the most enlightened and incomparably the most prosperous regions of Europe. Neither there nor elsewhere did the secular authorities, though bribed with a large share of the wealth of victims of the Inquisition, proceed against heretics without pressure from the Church, which usually had to threaten them with dire penalties. That the Church ever opposed proceedings against heretics and did not urge the death-penalty, which is still emphatically claimed in its Canon Law to-day [see Death-Penalty on Heretics], is an amazingly bold untruth, as we shall see.
      It is shown in various articles [Christianity; Paganism; Toleration; etc.] that the Church began within twenty years of its own liberation from persecution to press for the suppression by force of all its rivals, and long before the end of the fourth century secured the death-sentence (and other laws) against them. Pope Leo I vigorously sought out heretics and insisted on the execution of them in the fifth century. These were chiefly Manichaeans, whose ascetic conduct, Jerome says, shamed Christians, and whose ideas had an extra-ordinary tenacity. They spread so much in the Greek world, as the corruption of Christianity deepened, that in the ninth century 100,000 of them were executed and 200,000 deported to Europe. Their name at this time, Bogomils (the Slav for "Friends of God"), shows that they were not Satanists, but Christian puritans, and it was their ideas which spread over Europe, won large bodies of adherents in every country, and culminated in the appearance of the Albigensians and the Cathari. From the beginning of the eleventh century we read of the burning of heretics in batches - at Orleans a group included thirteen canons and priests - and the spurring of the zeal of reluctant civic rulers by Popes and Councils. We have scores of these threats to "peoples and princes" by Popes during four centuries, although in 1179 Alexander ill bribed them by allotting them a large share in the property confiscated. Few civic authorities ever moved, even after this, without clerical pressure. It was exactly this clerical pressure and the "inquisition" (ordered by Lucius III in 1184) which the Church demanded that were disturbing the social order. But the heresy grew with extraordinary rapidity, peaceful "missions" totally failed, and the truculent Innocent III launched decree after decree demanding search (inquisitio) and the death-penalty and had hundreds of thousands massacred. Innocent's words urging the death-penalty - if traitors to the State must die, how much more traitors to God - are actually quoted by Vacandard himself; and he admits that Frederic II cited them in framing his law against heretics under stem Papal pressure. It was one of the conditions of the Pope's coronation of him. Gregory IX in turn demanded an "inquisition" and executions at Rome, where heresy was rampant, as a condition of peace with the Romans, who had exiled him. In 1231 Gregory had a "tribunal of inquisition" set up in Rome, and it condemned and handed over to the secular arm (which was subject to the Popes) for execution a number of priests and citizens. Catholic writers repeatedly say that the Roman Inquisition never condemned heretics to death, yet these facts are given in the contemporary Chronicle of Richard of San Germano (in Muratori's Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, VII, 1026) and even in the official life of Gregory. The Catholic historian Pastor further adds that when Leo XIII professed to throw open the Secret Archives of the Vatican to scholars, and he asked for the records of the Roman Inquisition, he learned that they had been removed. It was because local prelates, as well as rulers, refused to carry out the "search" that Gregory entrusted it to the new Dominican friars, and they spread a ghastly net over Europe. One monk, elegantly called Robert le Bougre, boasted that he had 180 burned in one small French town (Prof. C. H. Haskins, Robert le Bougre and the Beginnings of the Inquisition in France, 1909). Thousands - long after the Albigensian Massacre - were burned in France in a few years.
      The Spanish Inquisition is the only branch of the organization about which we have complete and definite statistics. Llorente, its General Secretary and an important ecclesiastic at the time of the French Revolution, abandoned the Church when the French came to Spain, and used the Archives of the Inquisition to write an exhaustive history of it (Historia critica de la Inquisicion de España, 10 vols., 1822). He gave the number of victims as 341,042, while hundreds of thousands of Jews and Moors were driven abroad or done to death. The Inquisition was one of the chief factors in the cultural and economic fall of Spain, the rapidity of which has no parallel in history apart from devastating wars; yet Catholic apologists blandly affirm that it was in the social interest that the Church persecuted heretics. While this remarkable disintegration of Spain is the chief fact of its history from 1550 to 1650, the apologists - carefully omitting to mention that he was a Canon of Toledo Cathedral and a Knight of the Caroline Order - describe Llorente as an unscrupulous and negligible sceptic whose figure they reduce by careful research to 4,000. As Vacandard admits that, "according to the most conservative estimate, Torquemada sent to the stake about 2,000 heretics in twelve years," the absurdity of this is at once apparent yet English and American Catholic writers continue to say that "leading authorities" like Hefele and Gams - they omit to mention that these are Catholic priests - have proved it. Equally monstrous is the Catholic claim that the Spanish Inquisition was political, and that Rome actually protested against its severity. This statement is so crude that when Bishop Hefele's Life of Cardinal Ximenos (1860) was translated into English, Canon Dalton refuted it in the Preface. The same Gregory IX who set up the Roman Inquisition set up the Spanish (1232), but the people and most of the rulers, even most of the bishops, resented it, and it did little until the monks persuaded the fanatical Isabella to restore it. Spain was now rich, and Rome made repeated efforts to get control of the Inquisition and its spoils, but the Spaniards, including the Spanish Church, refused. See Sabatini's Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition (1913) and, especially, Lea's monumental history.
      The procedure of the Inquisition is just as falsely described by Catholic writers and is very seriously misrepresented in G. B. Shaw's Saint Joan. The Jesuit writer on it in the Catholic Encyclopaedia passes the high-water mark of apologetic audacity when he says: "The Inquisition marks a substantial advance on the contemporary administration of justice and therefore in the general civilization of mankind." Canon Vacandard (Ency. Relig. and Ethics) quotes another Jesuit writing that the Inquisition was "a sublime spectacle of social perfection" (Civilt´ Cattolica, 1853), and adds on his own account that it "conformed to a very high ideal of social justice" - strange contrast to the verdict of the really learned and conscientious Catholic historian Lord Acton. But Vacandard had previously written a book (The Inquisition, Engl. trans., 1908) in which he admitted (p. 135) that "the criminal procedure of the Inquisition is markedly inferior to the criminal procedure of the Middle Ages" [see Law for the debasement of that], just as he had said that Gregory IX "did his utmost to enforce everywhere the death-penalty for heretics" (p. 132); and he then wrote in our most respected encyclopaedia that "the death-penalty was never included in any system of repression."
      The procedure is fully described by Lea, who is, on the main points, supported by Prof. Turberville. The Inquisitors arriving at a town invited denunciation of heretics, and a few weeks later sat with a jury of picked local men to try the denounced. Neither the jury nor the accused heard the names of or ever saw the accusers, and the opportunity for vengeance and spite can be imagined. Vacandard admits that if two witnesses - and, unlike civil law, the Inquisitors admitted the testimony of women, children, slaves, and convicted criminals - agreed in denouncing a man his fate was sealed. If he confessed that he was a heretic and named "accomplices" he was punished comparatively lightly. Large numbers of innocent folk thus accused themselves and others to escape torture and death; the accused could bring no witnesses and hire no lawyer. If he did not confess, he was taken to the torture-room, with its rack, strappado, scourges, thumb-screws, charcoal braziers, etc. (See Sabatini.) "On the whole the Inquisition was most humanely conducted," says the Jesuit (on whom G. B. Shaw must have relied) in the Catholic Encyclopaedia. Vacandard admits that "the Church is responsible for having introduced torture into the proceedings of the Inquisition." Savonarola was tortured seven times, the witches of Arras forty times; thirty-six knights-Templars at Paris, and twenty-five at Sens, died under torture, and so on. Clement V benignly ruled that torture must be used only once: so the Inquisitors used to "continue" the one torture on the following and subsequent days. If a man still refused to admit the charge, he was handed over to the secular arm for execution or (if he now confessed) possibly for imprisonment for life. In either case his property was confiscated and shared between the secular authorities, the bishop, the accusers, the Inquisitors, and the Papacy. This is not the least repulsive aspect of the Inquisition. Dead and buried men, if rich, were dug up and charged. "The Inquisition was invented to rob the rich," a Catholic historian says; and Vacandard quotes the Inquisitor Eymeric lamenting: "There are no more rich here, so that princes, not seeing much money in prospect, will not put themselves to any expense." England never allowed Rome to set up the Inquisition, but had its own laws against heresy and blasphemy. [See also Witchcraft.] Witches were heretics, and, when these are added, estimates of the number of victims in six centuries rise as high as 10,000,000. H. C. Lea's History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages (3 vols., 1888) and History of the Inquisition of Spain (1906) are the classic authorities. Sir A. Cardew's Short History of the inquisition (1933) is a superficial and undiscriminating gleaning from Lea. Prof. S. Turberville's Mediaeval Heresy and the Inquisition (1920) is the best small work, but a solid popular work with an exposure of modern Catholic untruth is very desirable.


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