A History of the Inquisition In The Middle Ages.
By Henry Charles Lea - 1888
Chapter XIV. The Stake
Like confiscation, the death-penalty was a matter with which the Inquisition had theoretically no concern. It exhausted every effort to bring the heretic back to the bosom of the Church. If he proved obdurate, or if his conversion was evidently feigned, it could do no more. As a non-Catholic, he was no longer amenable to the spiritual jurisdiction of a Church which he did not recognize, and all that it could do was to declare him a heretic and withdraw its protection. In the earlier periods the sentence thus is simply a condemnation as a heretic, accompanied by excommunication, or it merely states that the offender is no longer considered as subject to the jurisdiction of the Church. Sometimes there is the addition that he is abandoned to secular judgment--"relaxed," according to the terrible euphemism which assumed that he was simply discharged from custody. When the formulas had become more perfected there is frequently the explanatory remark that the Church has nothing left to do to him for his demerits; and the relinquishment to the secular arm is accompanied with the significant addition "debita animadversione puniendum"--that he is to be duly punished by it. The adjuration that this punishment, in accordance with the canonical sanctions, shall not imperil life or limb, or shall not cause death or effusion of blood, does not appear in the earlier sentences, and was not universal even at a later period.
That this appeal for mercy was the merest form is admitted by Pegna, who explains that it was used only that the inquisitors might seem not to consent to the effusion of blood, and thus avoid incurring "irregularity."
Respobsibility Of The Church
The Church took good care that the nature of the request should not be misapprehended. It taught that in such cases all mercy was misplaced unless the heretic became a convert, and proved his sincerity by denouncing all his fellows. The remorseless logic of St. Thomas Aquinas rendered it self-evident that the secular power could not escape the duty of putting the heretic to death, and that it was only the exceeding kindness of the Church that led it to give the criminal two warnings before handing him over to meet his fate. The inquisitors themselves had no scruples on the subject, and condescended to no subterfuges respecting it, but always held that their condemnation of a heretic was a sentence of death. They showed this in averting the pollution of a Church by not uttering these sentences within the sacred precincts, this portion of the ceremony of an auto de fÃ© being performed in the public square.
One of their teachers in the thirteenth century, copied by Bernard Gui in the fourteenth, argues:
"The object of the Inquisition is the destruction of heresy. Heresy cannot be destroyed unless heretics are destroyed: heretics cannot be destroyed unless their defenders and fautors are destroyed, and this is effected in two ways, viz., when they are converted to the true Catholic faith, or when, on being abandoned to the secular arm, they are corporally burned."
In the next century, Fray Alonso de Spina points out that they are not to be delivered up to extermination without warning once and again, unless, indeed, their growth threatens trouble to the Church, when they are to be extirpated without delay or examination. Under these teachings the secular powers naturally recognized that in burning heretics they were only obeying the commands of the Inquisition. In a commission issued by Philippe le Bon of Burgundy, November 9, 1431, ordering his officials to render obedience to Friar Kaleyser, recently appointed Inquisitor of Lille and Cambrai, among the duties enumerated is that of inflicting due punishment on heretics "as he shall decree, and as is customary." In the accounts of the royal procureurs des encours, the cost of these executions in Languedoc was charged against the proceeds of the confiscations as part of the expenses of the Inquisition, thus showing that they were not regarded as ordinary incidents of criminal justice, to be defrayed out of the ordinary revenues, but as peculiarly connected with and dependent upon the operations of the Inquisition, of which the royal officials only acted as ministers. The Inquisitor Sprenger had no hesitation in alluding to the victims whom he caused to be burned--"quas incinerari fecimus."
In fact, how modern is the pretension that the Church was not responsible for the atrocity is apparent when, as late as the seventeenth century, the learned Cardinal Albizio, in controverting FrÃ Paolo as to the control of the Inquisition by the State in Venice, had no scruple in asserting that "the inquisitors in conducting the trials, regularly came to the sentence, and if it was one of death it was immediately and necessarily put into execution by the doge and the senate."
We have already seen that the Church was responsible for the enactment of the ferocious laws punishing heresy with death, and that she intervened authoritatively to annul any secular statutes which should interfere with the prompt and effective application of the penalties. In the same way, as we have also seen, she provided against any negligence or laxity on the part of the magistrates in executing the sentences pronounced by the inquisitors. According to the universal belief of the period, this was her plainest and highest duty, and she did not shrink from it. Boniface VIII. only recorded the current practice when he embodied in the canon law the provision whereby the secular authorities were commanded to punish duly and promptly all who were handed over to them by the inquisitors, under pain of excommunication, which became heresy if endured for a twelvemonth, and the inquisitors were rigidly instructed to proceed against all magistrates who proved recalcitrant, while they were at the same time cautioned only to speak of executing the laws without specifically mentioning the penalty, in order to avoid falling into "irregularity," though the only punishment recognized by the Church as sufficient for heresy was burning alive. Even if the ruler was excommunicated and incapable of legally performing any other function, he was not relieved from the obligation of this supreme duty, with which nothing was allowed to interfere. Indeed, authorities were found to argue that if an inquisitor were obliged to execute the sentence himself he would not thereby incur irregularity.
We are not to imagine, however, from these reduplicated commands that the secular power, as a rule, showed itself in the slightest degree disinclined to perform the duty. The teachings of the Church had made too profound an impression for any doubt in the premises to exist. As has been seen above, the laws of all the states of Europe prescribed concremation as the appropriate penalty for heresy, and even the free commonwealths of Italy recognized the Inquisition as the judge whose sentences were to be blindly executed. Raymond of Toulouse himself, in the fit of piety which preceded his death in 1249, caused eighty believers in heresy to be burned at Berlaiges, near Agen, after they had confessed in his presence, apparently without giving them the opportunity of recanting.
From the contemporary sentences of Bernard de Caux, it is probable that, had these unfortunates been tried before that ardent champion of the faith, not one of them would have been condemned to the stake as impenitent. Quite as significant was the suit brought by the Marãchal de Mirepoix against the Seneschal of Carcassonne, because the latter had invaded his right to burn for himself all his subjects condemned as heretics by the Inquisition.
In 1269 the Parlement of Paris decided the case in his favor, after which, on March 18, 1270, the seneschal acceded to his demand that the bones of seven men and three women of his territories, recently burned at Carcassonne, should be solemnly surrendered to him in recognition of his right; or, if they could not be found and identified, then, as substitutes, ten canvas bags filled with straw--a ghastly symbolic ceremony which was actually performed two days later, and a formal notarial act executed in attestation of it.
Yet, though the De Levis of Mirepoix rejoiced in the title of Marãchaux de la Foi, it is not to be assumed that this eagerness arose wholly from bloodthirsty fanaticism, for there was nothing to which the seigneur-justicier clung more jealously than to every detail of his jurisdiction. A similar dispute arose in 1309, when the Count of Foix claimed the right to burn the Catharan heresiarch, Jacques Autier, and a woman named Guillelma Cristola, condemned by Bernard Gui, because they were his subjects, but the royal officials maintained their master's privileges in the premises, and the suit thence arising was still pending in 1326. So at Narbonne, where there was a long-standing dispute between the archbishop and the viscount as to the jurisdiction, and where, in 1319, the former in conjunction with the inquisitor Jean de Beaune relaxed three heretics, he claimed for his court the right to burn them. The commune, as representing the viscount, resisted this, and the hideous quarrel was only settled by the representative of the king stepping in and performing the act. In so doing, however, he carefully specified that it was not to work prejudice to either party, while to the end the archbishop protested against the intrusion upon his rights.
If, however, from any cause, the secular authorities were reluctant to execute the death-sentence, the Church had little ceremony in putting forth its powers to coerce obedience. When, for instance, the first resistance in Toulouse had been broken down and the Holy Office had been reinstated there, the inquisitors, in 1237, condemned six men and women as heretics; but the viguier and consuls refused to receive the convicts, to confiscate their property, and "to do with them what was customary to be done with heretics"--that is, to burn them alive. Thereupon the inquisitors, after counselling with the bishop, the Abbot du Mas, the Provost of St. Ã‰tienne, and the Prior of La Daurade, proceeded to excommunicate solemnly the recalcitrant officials in the Cathedral of St. Ã‰tienne. In 1288 Nicholas IV. lamented the neglect and covert opposition with which in many places the secular authorities evaded the execution of the inquisitorial sentences, and directed that they should be punished with excommunication and deprivation of office and their communities be subjected to interdict. In 1458, at Strassburg, the Burgermeister, Hans Drachenfels, and his colleagues refused at first to burn the Hussite missionary Frederic Reiser and his servant Anna Weiler, but their resistance was overcome and they were finally forced to execute the sentence. Thirty years later, in 1486, the magistrates of Brescia objected to burning certain witches of both sexes condemned by the Inquisition, unless they should be permitted to examine the proceedings. This was held to be flat rebellion.
Civil lawyers, it is true, had endeavored to prove that the secular authorities had a right to see the papers, but the inquisitors had succeeded in having this claim rejected. Innocent VIII. promptly declared the Venetian demands to be a scandal to the faith, and he ordered the excommunication of the magistrates if within six days they did not execute the convicts, any municipal statutes to the contrary being pronounced null and void--a decision which was held to give the secular courts six days in which to carry out the sentence of condemnation. A more stubborn contest arose in 1521, when the Inquisition endeavored to purge the dioceses of both Brescia and Bergamo of the witches who still infested them. The inquisitor and episcopal ordinaries proceeded against them vigorously, but the Signiory of Venice interposed and appealed to Leo X., who appointed his nuncio at Venice to revise the trials.
The latter delegated his power to the Bishop of Justinopolis, who proceeded with the inquisitor and ordinaries to the Valcamonica of Brescia, where the so-called heretics were numerous, and condemned some of them to be relaxed to the secular arm. Still dissatisfied, the Venetian Senate ordered the Governor of Brescia not to execute the sentences or to permit them to be executed, or to pay the expenses of the proceedings, but to send the papers to Venice for revision, and to compel the Bishop of Justinopolis to appear before them, which he was obliged to do. This inflamed the papal indignation to the highest pitch. Leo X. warmly assured the inquisitor and the episcopal officials that they had full jurisdiction over the culprits, that their sentences were to be executed without revision or examination, and that they must enforce these rights with the free use of ecclesiastical censures. The spirit of the age, however, was insubordinate, and Venice had always been peculiarly so in all matters connected with the Holy Office. We shall see hereafter how the Council of Ten undauntedly held its position and asserted the superiority of its jurisdiction in a manner previously unexampled.
Coercion Of The State
In view of this unvarying policy of the Church during the three centuries under consideration, and for a century and a half later, there is a typical instance of the manner in which history is written to order, in the quiet assertion of the latest Catholic historian of the Inquisition that "the Church took no part in the corporal punishment of heretics. Those who perished miserably were only chastised for their crimes, sentenced by judges invested with the royal jurisdiction.
The record of the excesses committed by the heretics of Bulgaria, by the Gnostics and Manich˜ans, is historical, and capital punishment was only inflicted on criminals confessing to robbery, assassination, and violence. The Albigenses were treated with equal benignity;... the Catholic Church deplored all acts of vengeance, however great was the provocation given by the ferocity of those factious masses." So completely, in truth, was the Church convinced of its duty to see that all heretics were burned that, at the Council of Constance, the eighteenth article of heresy charged against John Huss was that, in his treatise de Ecclesia, he had taught that no heretic ought to be abandoned to secular judgment to be punished with death.
In his defence even Huss admitted that a heretic who could not be mildly led from error ought to suffer bodily punishment; and when a passage was read from his book in which those who deliver an unconvicted heretic to the secular arm are compared to the Scribes and Pharisees who delivered Christ to Pilate, the assembly broke out into a storm of objurgation, during which even the sturdy reformer, Cardinal Pierre d'Ailly, was heard to exclaim,
"Verily those who drew up the articles were most moderate, for his writings are much more atrocious."
The continuous teachings of the Church led its best men to regard no act as more self-evidently just than the burning of the heretic, and no heresy less defensible than a demand for toleration. Even Chancellor Gerson himself could see nothing else to be done with those who pertinaciously adhered to error, even in matters not at present explicitly articles necessary to the faith.[B] The fact is, the Church not only defined the guilt and forced its punishment, but created the crime itself. As we shall see, under Nicholas IV. and Celestine V., the strict Franciscans were pre-eminently orthodox; but when John XXII. stigmatized as heretical the belief that Christ lived in absolute poverty, he transformed them into unpardonable criminals whom the temporal officials were bound to send to the stake, under pain of being themselves treated as heretics.
There was thus a universal consensus of opinion that there was nothing to do with a heretic but to burn him. The heretic as known to the laws, both secular and ecclesiastical, was he who not only admitted his heretical belief, but defended it and refused to recant. He was obstinate and impenitent; the Church could do nothing with him, and as soon as the secular lawgivers had provided for his guilt the awful punishment of the stake, there was no hesitation in handing him over to the temporal jurisdiction to endure it. All authorities unite in this, and the annals of the Inquisition can vainly be searched for an exception. Yet this was regarded by the inquisitor as a last resort. To say nothing of the saving of a soul, a convert who would betray his friends was more useful than a roasted corpse, and, as we have seen, no effort was spared to obtain recantation. Experience had shown that such zealots were often eager for martyrdom and desired to be speedily burned, and it was no part of the inquisitor's pleasure to gratify them. He was advised that this ardor frequently gave way under time and suffering, and therefore he was told to keep the obstinate and defiant heretic chained in a dungeon for six months or a year in utter solitude, save when a dozen theologians and legists should be let in upon him to labor for his conversion, or his wife and children be admitted to work upon his heart.
It was not until all this had been tried and failed that he was to be relaxed. Even then the execution was postponed for a day to give further opportunity for recantation, which, we are told, rarely happened, for those who went thus far usually persevered to the end; but if his resolution gave way and he professed repentance, his conversion was presumed to be the work of fear rather than of grace, and he was to be strictly imprisoned for life. Even at the stake his offer to abjure ought not to be refused, though there was no absolute rule as to this, and there could be little hope of the genuineness of such conversion.
Eymerich relates a case occurring at Barcelona when three heretics were burned, and one of them, a priest, after being scorched on one side, cried out that he would recant. He was removed and abjured, but fourteen years later was found to have persisted in heresy and to have infected many others, when he was despatched without more ado.
The obstinate heretic who preferred martyrdom to apostasy was by no means the sole victim doomed to the stake. The secular lawgiver had provided this punishment for heresy, but had left to the Church its definition, and the definition was enlarged to serve as a gentle persuasive that should supplement all deficiencies in the inquisitorial process. Where testimony deemed sufficient existed, persistent denial only aggravated guilt, and the profession of orthodoxy was of no avail. If two witnesses swore to having seen a man "adore" a perfected heretic it was enough, and no declaration of readiness to subscribe to all the tenets of Rome availed him, without confession, abjuration, recantation, and acceptance of penance. Such a one was a heretic, to be pitilessly burned. It was the same with the contumacious who did not obey the summons to stand trial. Persistent refusal of the oath was likewise technical heresy, condemning the recalcitrant to the stake.
Even when there was no proof, simple suspicion became heresy if the suspect failed to purge himself with conjurators and remained so for a year. In violent suspicion, refusal to abjure worked the same result in a twelvemonth. A retracted confession was similarly regarded. In short, the stake supplied all defects. It was the ultima ratio, and although not many cases have reached us in which executions actually occurred on these grounds, there is no doubt that such provisions were of the utmost utility in practice, and that the terror which they inspired extorted many a confession, true or false, from unwilling lips.
There was another class of cases, however, which gave the inquisitors much trouble, and in which they were long in settling upon a definite and uniform course of procedure. The innumerable forced conversions wrought by the dungeon and stake filled the prisons and the land with those whose outward conformity left them at heart no less heretics than before. I have elsewhere spoken of the all-pervading police of the Holy Office and of the watchfulness exercised over the converts whose liberation at best was but a ticket-of-leave. That cases of relapse into heresy should be constant was therefore a matter of course. Even in the jails it was impossible to segregate all the prisoners, and complaints are frequent of these wolves in sheep's clothing who infected their more innocent fellow-captives. A man whose solemn conversion had once been proved fraudulent could never again be trusted. He was an incorrigible heretic whom the Church could no longer hope to win over. On him mercy was wasted, and the stake was the only resource. Yet it is creditable to the Inquisition that it was so long in reducing to practice this self-evident proposition.
As early as 1184 the Verona decree of Lucius III. provides that those who, after abjuration, relapse into the abjured heresy shall be delivered to the secular courts, without even the opportunity of being heard. The Ravenna edict of Frederic II., in 1232, prescribed death for all who, by relapse, showed that their conversion had been a pretext to escape the penalty of heresy. In 1244 the Council of Narbonne alludes to the great multitude of such cases, and, following Lucius III., orders them to be relaxed without a hearing. Yet these stern mandates were not enforced. In 1233 we find Gregory IX. contenting himself with prescribing perpetual imprisonment for such cases, which he speaks of as being already numerous. In a single sentence of February 10, 1237, the inquisitors of Toulouse condemn seventeen relapsed heretics to perpetual imprisonment. Raymond de Pennaforte, at the Council of Tarragona, in 1242, alludes to the diversity of opinion on the subject, and pronounces in favor of imprisonment; and, in 1246, the Council of Bãziers, in giving similar instructions, speaks of them as being in accordance with the apostolic mandates. Even this degree of severity was not always inflicted. In 1242 Pierre Cella only prescribes pilgrimages and crosses for such offenders, and, in a case occurring in Florence in 1245, Ruggieri Calcagni lets off the culprit with a not extravagant fine.
Relapse In Suspicion
What to do with these multitudes of false converts was evidently a question which perplexed the Church no little, and, as usual, a solution, at least for the time, was found in leaving the matter to the discretion of the inquisitors. In answer to the inquiries of the Lombard Holy Office, the Cardinal of Albano, about 1245, tells the officials to make use of such penalties as they shall deem appropriate. In 1248 Bernard de Caux asked the same question of the Archbishop of Narbonne, and was told that, according to the "apostolic mandates," those who returned to the Church a second time, humbly and obediently, might be let off with perpetual imprisonment, while those who were disobedient should be abandoned to the secular arm. Under these instructions the practice varied, though it is pleasant to be able to say that, in the vast majority of cases, the inquisitors leaned to the side of mercy. Even the ardent zeal of Bernard de Caux allowed him to use his discretion gently. In his register of sentences, from 1246 to 1248, there are sixty cases of relapse, none of which are punished more severely than by imprisonment, and in some of them the confinement is not perpetual.
The same lenity is observable in various sentences rendered during the next ten years, both by him and by other inquisitors. Yet, with one exception, the codes of instruction which date about this period assume that relapse is always to be visited with relaxation, and that the offender is to have no hearing in his defence. In the exceptional instance the compiler illustrates the uncertainty which existed by sometimes treating relapse as punishable with imprisonment and sometimes as entailing the stake. Relapse into usury, however, was let off with the lighter alternative. The fact is that in Languedoc, under the Treaty of Paris, as stated above, an oath of abjuration was administered every two years to all males over fourteen and all females over twelve, and any subsequent act of heresy was technically a relapse. This, perhaps, explains the indecision of the inquisitors of Toulouse. It was impossible to burn all such cases.
Whatever be the cause, there evidently was considerable doubt in the minds of inquisitors as to the penalty of relapse, and it must be recorded to their credit that in this they were more merciful than the current public opinion of the age. Jean de Saint-Pierre, the colleague and successor of Bernard de Caux, followed his example in always condemning the relapsed to imprisonment, and when, after Bernard's death, in 1252, Renaud de Chartres was adjoined to him, the same rule continued to be observed. Renaud found, however, to his horror, that the secular judges disregarded the sentence and mercilessly burned the unhappy victims, and that this had been going on under his predecessors. The civil authorities defended their course by arguing that in no other way could the land be purged of heresy, which was acquiring new force under the mistaken lenity of the inquisitors. FrÃ¨re Renaud felt that he could not overlook this cruelty in silence as his predecessors had done.
He therefore reported the facts to Alphonse of Poitiers, and informed him that he proposed to refer the matter to the pope, pending whose answer he would keep his prisoners secure from the brutal violence of the secular officials.
What was the papal response we can only conjecture, but it doubtless leaned rather to the rigorous zeal of Alphonse's officials than to the milder methods of FrÃ¨re Renaud, for it was about this time that Rome definitely decided for the unconditional relaxation of all who were guilty of relapsing into heresy which had once been abjured. The precise date of this I have not been able to determine. In 1254 Innocent IV. contents himself, in a very aggravated case of double relapse occurring in Milan, with ordering destruction of houses and public penance, but in 1258 relaxation for relapse is alluded to by Alexander IV. as a matter previously irrevocably settled--possibly by the very appeal of FrÃ¨re Renaud. It seems to have taken the inquisitors somewhat by surprise, and for several years they continued to trouble the Holy See with the pertinent question of how such a rule was to be reconciled with the universally received maxim that the Church never closes her bosom to her wayward children seeking to return. To this the characteristic explanation was given that the Church was not closed to them, for if they showed signs of penitence they might receive the Eucharist, even at the stake, but without escaping death. In this shape the decision was embodied in the canon law, and made a part of orthodox doctrine in the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas. The promise of the Eucharist frequently formed part of the sentence in these cases, and the victim was always accompanied to execution by holy men striving to save his soul until the last--though it is shrewdly advised that the inquisitor himself had better not exhibit his zeal in this way, as his appearance will be more likely to excite hardening than softening of the heart.
Although inquisitors continued to assume discretion in these cases and did not by any means invariably send the relapsed to the stake, still relapse became the main cause of capital punishment. Defiant heretics courting martyrdom were comparatively rare, but there were many poor souls who could not abandon conscientiously the errors which they had cherished, and who vainly hoped, after escaping once, to be able to hide their guilt more effectually.[A] All this gave a fresh importance to the question of what legally constituted relapse, and led to endless definitions and subtleties. It became necessary to determine with some precision, when the offender was refused a hearing, the exact amount of criminality in both the first and second offences, which would justify condemnation for impenitent heresy. Where guilt was ofttimes so shadowy and impalpable, this was evidently no easy matter.
There were cases in which a first trial had only developed suspicion without proof, and it seemed hard to condemn a man to death for an assumed second offence when he had not been proved guilty of the first. Hesitating to do so, the inquisitors applied to Alexander IV. to resolve their doubts, and he answered in the most positive manner. When the suspicion had been "violent" he said, it was "by a sort of legal fiction" to be held as legal proof of guilt, and the accused was to be condemned. When it was "light" he was to be punished more heavily than for a first offence, but not with the full penalty of relapse. Moreover, the evidence required to prove the second offence was of the slightest; any communication with or kindness shown to heretics sufficed. This decision was repeated by Alexander and his successors with a frequency which shows how doubtful and puzzling were the points which came up for discussion, but the rule of condemnation was finally carried into the canon law and became the unalterable policy of the Church. The authorities, except Zanghino, agree that in such cases there was no room for mercy.
Besides these enigmas there were others respecting forms of guilt which might reasonably be regarded as less deserving of the last resort. Thus relapse into fautorship gave rise to considerable divergence of views. The Council of Narbonne, in 1244, was of opinion that those guilty of this offence should be sent to the pope for absolution and the imposition of penance--a cumbrous procedure, not likely to find favor. During the middle period of the Inquisition, the authorities, including Bernard Gui, while not prescribing relaxation to the secular arm, suggest that penance be imposed sufficiently severe to inspire wholesome fear in others; while, towards the end of the fourteenth century, Eymerich holds that a relapsed fautor is to be abandoned to secular justice without a hearing. Even those defamed for heresy, if after due purgation they again incur defamation, are strictly liable to the same fate, though this was so hard a measure that Eymerich proposes that such cases should be referred to the pope.
There was another class of offenders who gave the inquisitors endless trouble, and for whom it was difficult to frame rigid and invariable rules--those who escaped from prison or omitted to fulfil the penances assigned to them. According to theory, all penitents were converts to the true faith who eagerly accepted penance as their sole hope of salvation.
To reject it subsequently was therefore an evidence that the conversion had been feigned or that the inconstant soul had reverted to its former errors, as otherwise the loving and wholesome discipline of the benignant Mother Church would not be spurned. From the beginning, therefore, these culprits were classed with the relapsed. In 1248 the Council of Valence ordered them to have the benefit of a warning, after which further persistence in disobedience rendered them liable to the full penalty of obstinate heresy; and this was sometimes provided for in the sentence itself, by a clause which warned them that any disregard of the observances enjoined would expose them to the fate of perjured and impenitent heretics. Yet as late as 1260 Alexander IV. seems at a loss what rule to prescribe in such cases, and merely talks vaguely of excommunication and reimposition of the penalties, with the assistance, if necessary, of the secular authorities. Yet about the same period Gui Foucoix pronounced in favor of the death-penalty for these offenders, arguing that the offence proved impenitent heresy; but Bernard Gui held this to be too severe, and advised leaving them to the discretion of the inquisitor--a discretion which he himself had no hesitation in exercising.
The two most frequent varieties of the offence were laying aside the yellow crosses and prison-breaking. The former was never, so far as I have seen, punished with death, though visited with penalties sufficiently sharp to serve as a deterrent. The latter, according to the later inquisitors, was capital--the escaped prisoner was a relapsed heretic, to be burned without a hearing. Some jurists argued that a failure fully to betray all heretics of whom the convert had knowledge--a pledge to do so forming a necessary part of the oath of abjuration--constituted relapse, but Bernard Gui regards this as unduly harsh. Absolute refusal to perform the penance enjoined was, of course, evidence of obstinate heresy, leading inevitably to the stake. Such cases were naturally rare, for penance was only prescribed for those who had confessed, had professed conversion, and had asked for reconciliation; but there is one on record of a woman, in the latter half of the fifteenth century, before the Inquisition of Cartagena, who was duly abandoned to the secular arm.
Notwithstanding these extensions of the death-penalty, I am convinced that the number of victims who actually perished at the stake is considerably less than has ordinarily been imagined. The deliberate burning alive of a human being, simply for difference of belief, is an atrocity so dramatic and appeals so strongly to the imagination that it has come to be regarded as the leading feature in the activity of the Inquisition. Yet, frequent as recourse to the stake undoubtedly was, it formed but a comparatively small part of the instrumentalities of repression.
Frequency Of Burning
The records of those evil days have mostly disappeared, and there is now no possibility of reconstructing their statistics, but if this could be done I have no doubt that the actual executions by fire would excite surprise by falling far short of the popular estimate. Imagination has grown inflamed at the manifold iniquities of the Holy Office, and has been ready to accept without examination exaggerations which have become habitual. No one can suspect the learned Dom Brial of prejudice or of ordinary lack of accuracy, and yet in his Preface to Vol. XXI. of the "Recueil des Historiens des Gaules" (p. xxiii.), he quotes as trustworthy an assertion that Bernard Gui, during his service as Inquisitor of Toulouse from 1308 to 1323, put to death no less than six hundred and thirty-seven heretics. Now that, as we have seen, was the total number of sentences uttered by the tribunal during those years, and of these sentences only forty were capital--in addition to sixty-seven dead heretics condemned to be exhumed and burned, for the most part because they were not alive to recant. Again, no inquisitor left behind him a more enviable record for zeal and activity in the relentless persecution of heresy than Bernard de Caux, who labored in the earlier period when the land was yet full of heresy, and heretics had not yet been cowed into submissiveness. Bernard Gui characterizes him as "a persecutor and hammer of heretics, a holy man and full of God, ... wonderful in his life, wonderful in doctrine, wonderful in extirpating heresy;" he wrought miracles while alive, and in 1281, twenty-eight years after his death, his body was found uncorrupted and perfect, except part of the nose. Such a man is not to be accused of undue tenderness towards heretics, and yet, in his register of sentences from 1246 to 1248, there is not a single case of abandonment to the secular arm, unless we may reckon as such the condemnations of contumacious absentees, who were necessarily declared to be heretics.
These, indeed, were liable to be burned by the secular justice, but, in fact, they could always save themselves by submission, and this very register affords a very striking instance in point. There was no more obnoxious heretic in Toulouse than Alaman de Roaix. He belonged to one of the noblest families in the city, and one which furnished many members to the heretic church, of which he himself was suspected of being a bishop. In 1229 the Legate Romano had condemned him and had imposed on him the penance of a crusade to the Holy Land, which he had sworn to perform and never fulfilled. In 1237 the earliest inquisitors, Guillem Arnaud and Ã‰tienne de Saint-Thibery, again took up his case, finding him unremittingly active in protecting heretics and disseminating heresy, spoiling, ransoming, wounding, and slaying priests and clerks, and this time they condemned him in absentia. He became a faydit, or proscribed man, living sword in hand and plundering the orthodox to support himself and his friends. No more aggravated case of obstinate heresy and persistent contumacy can well be imagined, and yet when he acknowledged his errors, January 16, 1248, professed conversion, and asked for penance, a score of years after his first conversion, he was only condemned to imprisonment.
In fact, as we have already seen, the earnest endeavors of the inquisitors were directed much more to obtaining conversions with confiscations and betrayal of friends than to provoking martyrdoms. An occasional burning only was required to maintain a wholesome terror in the minds of the population. With his forty cases of concremation in fifteen years, Bernard Gui managed to crush the last convulsive struggle of Catharism, to keep the Waldenses in check, and repress the zealous ardor of the Spiritual Franciscans. The really effective weapons of the Holy Office, the real curses with which it afflicted the people, can be looked for in its dungeons and its confiscations, in the humiliating penances of the saffron crosses, and in the invisible police with which it benumbed the heart and soul of every man who had once fallen into its hands.
A few words will suffice as to the repulsive subject of the execution itself. When the populace was called together to view the last agonies of the martyrs of heresy, its pious zeal was not mocked by any ill-advised devices of mercy. The culprit was not, as in the later Spanish Inquisition, strangled before the lighting of the fagots; nor had the invention of gunpowder suggested the somewhat less humane expedient of hanging a bag of that explosive around his neck to shorten his torture when the flames should reach it. He was tied living to a post set high enough over a pile of combustibles to enable the faithful to watch every act of the tragedy to its awful end. Holy men accompanied him to the last, to snatch his soul if possible from Satan; and, if he were not a relapsed, he could, as we have seen, save also his body at the last moment. Yet even in these final ministrations we see a fresh illustration of the curious inconsistency with which the Church imagined that it could shirk the responsibility of putting a human creature to death, for the friars who accompanied the victim were strictly warned not to exhort him to meet death promptly or to ascend firmly the ladder leading to the stake, or to submit cheerfully to the manipulations of the executioner, for if they did so they would be hastening his end and thus fall into "irregularity"--a tender scruple, it must be confessed, and one singularly out of place in those who had accomplished the judicial murder. For these occasions a holiday was usually selected, in order that the crowd might be larger and the lesson more effective; while, to prevent scandal, the sufferer was silenced, lest he might provoke the people to pity and sympathy.
As for minor details, we happen to have them preserved in an account by an eye-witness of the execution of John Huss at Constance, in 1415. He was made to stand upon a couple of fagots and tightly bound to a thick post with ropes, around the ankles, below the knee, above the knee, at the groin, the waist, and under the arms. A chain was also secured around the neck. Then it was observed that he faced the east, which was not fitting for a heretic, and he was shifted to the west; fagots mixed with straw were piled around him to the chin.
Then the Count Palatine Louis, who superintended the execution, approached with the Marshal of Constance, and asked him for the last time to recant. On his refusal they withdrew and clapped their hands, which was the signal for the executioners to light the pile. After it had burned away there followed the revolting process requisite to utterly destroy the half-burned body--separating it in pieces, breaking up the bones and throwing the fragments and the viscera on a fresh fire of logs. When, as in the cases of Arnaldo of Brescia, some of the Spiritual Franciscans, Huss, Savonarola, and others, it was feared that relics of the martyr would be preserved, especial care was taken, after the fire was extinguished, to gather up the ashes and cast them in a running stream.
There is something grotesquely horrible in the contrast between this crowning exhibition of human perversity and the cool business calculation of the cost of thus sending a human soul through flame to its Creator. In the accounts of Arnaud Assalit we have a statement of the expenses of burning four heretics at Carcassonne, April 24, 1323. It runs thus:
For large wood - 55 sols 6 deniers.
For vine-branches - 21 sols 3 deniers.
For straw - 2 sols 6 deniers.
For four stakes - 10 sols 9 deniers.
For ropes to tie the convicts - 4 sols 7 deniers.
For the executioner, each 20 sols 80 sols.
In all - 8 livres 14 sols 7 deniers.
or, a little more than two livres apiece.
When the heretic had eluded his tormentors by death and his body or skeleton was dug up and burned, the ceremony was necessarily less impressive, but nevertheless the most was made of it. As early as 1237 Guillem Pelisson, a contemporary, describes how at Toulouse a number of nobles and others were exhumed, when "their bones and stinking corpses" were dragged through the streets, preceded by a trumpeter proclaiming "Qui aytal fara, aytal perira"--who does so shall perish so--and at length were duly burned "in honor of God and of the blessed Mary His mother, and the blessed Dominic His servant." This formula was preserved to the end, and it was not economical from a pecuniary point of view. In Assalit's accounts we find that it cost five livres nineteen sols and six deniers, in 1323, for labor to dig up the bones of three dead heretics, a sack and cord in which to stow them, and two horses to drag them to the GrÃ¨ve, where they were burned the next day.
The agency of fire was also invoked by the Inquisition to rid the land of pestilent and heretical writings, a matter not without interest as signalizing the commencement of its activity in what subsequently became the censorship of the press. The burning of books displeasing to the authorities was a custom respectable by its antiquity. Constantine, as we have seen, demanded the surrender of all Arian works under penalty of death. In 435 Theodosius II. and Valentinian III. ordered all Nestorian books to be burned, and another law threatens punishment on all who will not deliver up Manichãan writings for the same fate. Justinian condemned the secunda editio, in which the glossators agree in recognizing the Talmud.
During the ages of barbarism which followed there was little to call forth this method of repressing the human mind, but with the revival of speculation the ancient measures were speedily again called into use. When, in 1210, the University of Paris was agitated with the heresy of Amaury, the writings of his colleague, David de Dinant, together with the Physics and Metaphysics of Aristotle, to which it was attributed, were ordered to be burned. Allusion has already been made to the burning of Romance versions of the Scriptures by Jayme I. of Aragon and to the commands of the Council of Narbonne, in 1229, against the possession of any portion of Holy Writ by laymen, as well as to the burning of William of St. Amour's book, "De periculis." Jewish books, however, and particularly the Talmud, on account of its blasphemous allusions to the Saviour and the Virgin, were the objects of special detestation, in the suppression of which the Church was unwearying.
In the middle of the twelfth century Peter the Venerable contented himself with studying the Talmud and holding up to contempt some of the wild imaginings which abound in that curious compound of the sublime and the ridiculous. His argumentative methods were not suited to the impatience of the thirteenth century, which had committed itself to sterner dealings with misbelievers, and the persecution of Jewish literature followed swiftly on that of Albigenses and Waldenses. It was started by a converted Jew named Nicholas de Rupella, who, about 1236, called the attention of Gregory IX. to the blasphemies with which the Hebrew books were filled, and especially the Talmud.
Burning Of Books
In June, 1239, Gregory issued letters to the Kings of England, France, Navarre, Aragon, Castile, and Portugal, and to the prelates in those kingdoms, ordering that on a Sabbath in the following Lent, when the Jews would be in their synagogues, all their books should be seized and delivered to the Mendicant Friars. A report of the examination which ensued in Paris has been preserved, and shows that there was no difficulty in finding in the Jewish writings abundant matter offensive to pious ears, though the Rabbis who ventured to appear in their defence endeavored to explain away the blasphemous allusions to the Christian Messiah, the Virgin, and the saints. The proceedings dragged on for years, and sentence was not finally rendered until May 13, 1248, after which Paris was edified with the spectacle of the burning of fourteen wagon-loads at one time and of six at another. Like the luz or os coccygis, which the Rabbis held to be indestructible, the Talmud could not be wiped out of existence, and, in 1255, St. Louis, in his instructions to his seneschals in the Narbonnais, again orders all copies to be burned, together with all other books containing blasphemies; while in 1267 Clement IV. (Gui Foucoix) instructed the Archbishop of Tarragona to coerce by excommunication the King of Aragon and his nobles to force the Jews to deliver up their Talmuds and other books to the inquisitors for examination, when, if they contain no blasphemies, they may be returned, but if otherwise they are to be sealed up and securely kept. Alonso the Wise of Castile was wiser, if, as reported, he caused the Talmud to be translated, in order that its errors might be exposed to the public. The passive resistance of the faithful was not to be overcome, and in 1299 Philippe le Bel felt obliged to denounce the persistent multiplication of the Talmud, and to order his judges to aid the Inquisition in its extermination. Ten years later, in 1309, we hear of three large wagon-loads of Jewish books publicly burned in Paris. How fruitless were all these efforts is seen in a formal sentence recited by Bernard Gui in the auto de fÃ© of 1319. Under the impulsion of the Inquisition the royal officials had again made diligent perquisition and had collected all the copies of the Talmud on which they could lay their hands.
Experts in the Hebrew tongue had then been employed to examine them carefully, and after mature counsel between the inquisitors and the jurists called in to assist, the books were condemned to be carried in two carts through the streets of Toulouse, while the royal officers proclaimed in loud voice that their fate was due to their blasphemies against the Lord Jesus Christ and his mother the most holy Virgin and the Christian name, after which they were to be solemnly burned. This is the only case of execution occurring during Bernard Gui's term of service as inquisitor, and, from two carts being required to accommodate the obnoxious books, it was probable the result of search continued for a considerable time.
That he deemed the matter to require constant vigilance is shown by his including in his collection of forms one which orders all priests for three Sundays to publish an injunction commanding the delivery to the Inquisition, for examination, of all Jewish books, including "Talamuz," under pain of excommunication. The warfare against this specially obnoxious work continued. In the very next year, 1320, John XXII. issued orders that all copies of it should be seized and burned. In 1409 Alexander V. paused in his denunciation of rival popes to order its destruction.
The contest is well known which arose over it at the revival of letters, with Pfefferkorn and Reuchlin as the rival champions, and not all the efforts of the humanists availed to save it from proscription. Even as late as 1554 Julius III. repeated the command to the Inquisition to burn it without mercy, and all Jews were ordered, under pain of death, to surrender all books blaspheming Christ--a provision which was embodied in the canon law and remains there to this day. The censorship of the Inquisition was not confined to Jewish errors, but its activity in this direction will be more conveniently considered hereafter.
In the Paris condemnation of 1248 the Talmud only is specified, though in the examination mention is made of the Gloss of Solomon of Troyes, and of a work which from its description would seem to be the Toldos Jeschu, or history of Jesus, which so excited the ire of the Carthusian, Ramon Marti, in his Pugio Fidei, and of all subsequent Christians (cf. Wagenseilii Tela Ignea SatanÃ¦, Altdorfi, 1681). No one can read its curious account of the career of Christ from a Jewish standpoint without wondering that a single copy of it was allowed to reach modern times.
Influence On The Church
This is not the place for us to consider the influence of the Inquisition in all its breadth, but while yet we have its procedure in view it may not be amiss to glance cursorily at some of the effects immediately resulting from its mode of dealing with those whom it tried and condemned or absolved.
On the Church the processes invented and recommended to respect by the Inquisition had a most unfortunate effect. The ordinary episcopal courts employed them in dealing with heretics, and found their arbitrary violence too efficient not to extend it over other matters coming within their jurisdiction. Thus the spiritual tribunals rapidly came to employ inquisitorial methods. Already, in 1317, Bernard Gui speaks of the use of torture being habitual in them; and in complaining of the Clementine restrictions, he asks why the bishops should be limited in applying torture to heretics, while they could employ it without limit in everything else.
Thus habituated to the harshest measures, the Church grew harder and crueller and more unchristian. The worst popes of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries could scarce have dared to shock the world with such an exhibition as that with which John XXII. glutted his hatred of Hugues Gerold, Bishop of Cahors. John was the son of an humble mechanic of Cahors, and possibly some ancient grudge may have existed between him and Hugues. Certain it is that no sooner did he mount the pontifical throne than he lost no time in assailing his enemy. May 4, 1317, the unfortunate prelate was solemnly degraded at Avignon and condemned to perpetual imprisonment. This was not enough. On a charge of conspiring against the life of the pope he was delivered to the secular arm, and in July of the same year he was partially flayed alive and then dragged to the stake and burned.
This hardening process went on until the quarrels of the loftiest prelates were conducted with a savage ferocity which would have shamed a band of buccaneers. When, in 1385, six cardinals were accused of conspiring against Urban VI. the angry pontiff had them seized as they left the consistory and thrust into an abandoned cistern in the castle of Nocera, where he was staying, so restricted in dimensions that the Cardinal di Sangro, who was tall and portly, could not stretch himself at full length. The methods taught by the inquisitors were brought into play. Subjected to hunger, cold, and vermin, the accused were plied by the creatures of the pope with promises of mercy if they would confess. This failing, torture was used on the Bishop of Aquila and a confession was procured implicating the others.
They still refused to admit their guilt, and they were tortured on successive days. All that could be obtained from the Cardinal di Sangro was the despairing self-accusation that he suffered justly in view of the evil which he had wrought on archbishops, bishops, and other prelates at Urban's command. When it came to the turn of the Cardinal of Venice, Urban intrusted the work to an ancient pirate, whom he had created Prior of the Order of St. John in Sicily, with instructions to apply the torture till he could hear the victim howl; the infliction lasted from early morning till the dinner-hour, while the pope paced the garden under the window of the torture-chamber, reading his breviary aloud that the sound of his voice might keep the executioner reminded of the instructions. The strappado and rack were applied by turns, but though the victim was old and sickly, nothing could be wrenched from him save the ejaculation, "Christ suffered for us!"
The accused were kept in their foul dungeon until Urban, besieged in Nocera by Charles of Durazzo, managed to escape and dragged them with him. In the flight the Bishop of Aquila, weakened by torture and mounted on a miserable hack, could not keep up with the party, when Urban ordered him despatched and left his corpse unburied by the wayside. The six cardinals, less fortunate, were carried by sea to Genoa, and kept in so vile a dungeon that the authorities were moved to pity and vainly begged mercy for them. Cardinal Adam Aston, an Englishman, was released on the vigorous intercession of Richard II., but the other five were never seen again. Some said that Urban had them beheaded; others that when he sailed for Sicily he carried them to sea and cast them overboard; others, again, that a trench was dug in his stable in which they were buried alive with a quantity of quicklime, to hasten the disappearance of their bodies. Urban's competitor, known as Clement VII., was no less sanguinary.
When, as Cardinal Robert of Geneva, he exercised legatine functions for Gregory XI., he led a band of Free Companions to vindicate the papal territorial claims. The terrible cold-blooded massacre of Cesena was his most conspicuous exploit, but equally characteristic of the man was his threat to the citizens of Bologna that he would wash his hands and feet in their blood. Such was the retroactive influence of the inquisitorial methods on the Church which had invented them to plague the heretic. If Bernabo and Galeazzo Visconti caused ecclesiastics to be tortured and burned to death over slow fires, they were merely improving on the lessons which the Church itself had taught.
On secular jurisprudence the example of the Inquisition worked even more deplorably. It came at a time when the old order of things was giving way to the new--when the ancient customs of the barbarians, the ordeal, the wager of law, the wer-gild, were growing obsolete in the increasing intelligence of the age, when a new system was springing into life under the revived study of the Roman law, and when the administration of justice by the local feudal lord was becoming swallowed up in the widening jurisdiction of the crown. The whole judicial system of the European monarchies was undergoing reconstruction, and the happiness of future generations depended on the character of the new institutions.
That in this reorganization the worst features of the imperial jurisprudence--the use of torture and the inquisitorial process--should be eagerly, nay, almost exclusively, adopted, should be divested of the safeguards which in Rome had restricted their abuse, should be exaggerated in all their evil tendencies, and should, for five centuries, become the prominent characteristic of the criminal jurisprudence of Europe, may safely be ascribed to the fact that they received the sanction of the Church. Thus recommended, they penetrated everywhere along with the Inquisition; while most of the nations to whom the Holy Office was unknown maintained their ancestral customs, developing into various forms of criminal practice, harsh enough, indeed, to modern eyes, but wholly divested of the more hideous atrocities which characterized the habitual investigation into crime in other regions.
Of all the curses which the Inquisition brought in its train this, perhaps, was the greatest--that, until the closing years of the eighteenth century, throughout the greater part of Europe, the inquisitorial process, as developed for the destruction of heresy, became the customary method of dealing with all who were under accusation; that the accused was treated as one having no rights, whose guilt was assumed in advance, and from whom confession was to be extorted by guile or force.
Even witnesses were treated in the same fashion; and the prisoner who acknowledged guilt under torture was tortured again to obtain information about any other evil-doers of whom he perchance might have knowledge. So, also, the crime of "suspicion" was imported from the Inquisition into ordinary practice, and the accused who could not be convicted of the crime laid to his door could be punished for being suspected of it, not with the penalty legally provided for the offence, but with some other, at the fancy and discretion of the judge. It would be impossible to compute the amount of misery and wrong, inflicted on the defenceless up to the present century, which may be directly traced to the arbitrary and unrestricted methods introduced by the Inquisition and adopted by the jurists who fashioned the criminal jurisprudence of the Continent. It was a system which might well seem the invention of demons, and was fitly characterized by Sir John Fortescue as the Road to Hell.