A closer look at the Inquisition

One of the first things that come to our mind when talking about the Inquisition is that of the persecution of the Jews. Unfortunately many people In order to disprove Christianity —i.e., Jesus— use the cruelty of the Inquisition as proof of the presumed falsity of our faith. My aim in this article is twofold; first is to disprove this assumption by showing the real purpose of the Inquisition and how Christians were the first ones affected by it, and secondly, to show some unknown facts about the tragedy of the Inquisition and the divine plan behind all of this.

The first inquisitions

Contrary to popular belief, the Inquisition as a whole was not aimed at the Jews. In fact, the Inquisition had no power against non-Christians. As the full name suggests, Inquisitio Haereticae Pravitatis, or Inquiry of Heretical Perversity, was aimed at stopping the spread of new sects and doctrines that did not correspond with the Catholic Canon Law. Although Inquisitions were already in use before the 12th century it was during this time that torture was introduced (Pope Innocent IV, 1252) into the practice and more efficient institutions were created in an attempt to end the heresies.

The first groups to suffer these persecutions were the Cathars and the Waldensians. The first group was a Gnostic sect that believed in dualism and was concentrated mainly in Southern France, but also in Northern Spain, Italy, and even England. The second group, the Waldensians, which emerged in Northern Italy, were not a sect, but in fact, Christian reformers. In 1179 Pope Alexander III forbade them teaching the Bible without the authorization of the local clergy. But they disobeyed and began to teach according to their own understanding. The Inquisition almost succeeded in destroying them, but later on, they were able to find refuge in other parts of Europe where Protestant groups had gained political power.

Other Christian reformers that were also persecuted were the Hussites and the Lollards around the mid-14th century. The main leaders were the Czech Jan Hus and the English John Wycliffe. They were both forerunners of the Protestant Reformation (i).

The Spanish Inquisition

Unfortunately, in Spain, things took a different —or no so different— turn. While Europe was being divided into Catholicism and Protestantism, Spain was trying to reunify itself under one King and one religion. It was taking place the Reconquista; by 1492 all Muslim forces had been thrown out of Spain. During this time many Jews converted to Catholicism in response to the violence they were suffering under the populace; which blamed them—again—for usury. Although this was true in some respects, it was not a sufficient cause for such treatment. Even in the 1st century, Jews were wrongfully charged with such ‘crimes’.

But the safety of the Marranos or Conversos (new converts) did not last long. Many of this converts had commercial success; something that made them unpopular with some of the clergy and hierarchies. Another reason for this unpopularity is that these new converts were still practicing their old religion in secret. Torquemada, Queen Isabella´s confessor, convinced the Queen and King to appeal to Pope Sixtus VI to grant them an Inquisitorial body without papal control. This was approved and Torquemada was appointed as the Grand Inquisitor of Spain. Soon Jews not converted to Christianity were threatened by the Alhambra Decree; which gave an ultimatum: convert or leave. The reason for the decree was that Jews were ‘trying to draw faithful Christians away from their beliefs’. It is not known how many Jews left Spain; figures go from 130,000 to 800,000. The estimates for the conversos is between 50,000 to 70,000.

Some interesting facts

Now, all these happenings are things usually said or thought, but there are some other interesting facts not often told. One of this is the fact that some of the people involved in the Inquisition were actually of Jewish descent! Mainly King Ferdinand, Torquemada and Diego de Raza (Successor of Torquemada). Also, Queen Isabella is believed to be of Jewish descent. But there were also other aristocratic Jews; although not connected with the Inquisition. For example, Gabriel Sanchez (chief treasurer of Aragon) and Luis de Santangel (Ferdinand´s budget minister) were responsible for financing the Voyage of Christopher Columbus! There is even compelling evidence that Columbus was a Sephardic Jew. And it is well known that he chose some conversos to travel with him. Not to mention that the best cartographers were Jews from the Island of Mallorca.

It is also important to note the date Columbus left Spain for America: It was August 3, 1492. Just a few days after the ultimatum to the Jews, which was July 31st. This day incredibly corresponded with the 9 of Av (Tisha B-Av), the date of the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temple of Jerusalem. It seems that God was providing a future New World, a heaven, not only for Jews but also for Christians.

It is also not very well know that there were other expulsions in Europe before that of Spain. Although hard to believe the first one happened in a place where no one in the present time would think of England. The other ones to follow were were France, Germany, Italy and the Balkan peninsula. The reasons for the expulsion (ii) of the Jews in England(iii) and France were very similar to those of Spain; money. In England, usury was the main charge against them (although they were also charged with some previous manslaughter). The wars and crusades had left Europe bankrupt and so they saw a great opportunity to regain their wealth by confiscating Jewish property. This, besides religious anti-Semitism, was the main cause for their expulsion.


And so the question arises: what can we take out from all this? Well, probably many things, but my personal conclusion is that it was a great tragedy. Yes, for Jews, but even more for Christians. It is a tragedy for us because those horrible acts have left a big stain on our faith. In this modern age, for many secular and religious people, the Inquisition is nothing else than a by-product of Christianity, a hideous and absurd act of a decaying religion. And when thinking about this one has to wonder why Jesus allowed such cruelty upon himself and us. Why did He allowed to tarnish his name in such a way? Could it be that he´s writing history in such a way so as to build up suspense and tragedy for the grand finale? An end where forgiveness is given, wounds mended, and unity (between Jews and Gentiles) established?

  1. I must be pointed out that also during the Protestant Reformation many atrocities were also carried by their militants. Many Catholics were brutally killed and their Churches desecrated. Although other Christian Reformers, such as the Anabaptists, were also persecuted.

  2. Interestingly enough the dates for the expulsion of the Jews in England and France was precisely in…yes, the 9th of AV.

  3. It was also in England, and not Hitler´s Germany, that saw the first Jews wearing special badges, book burnings and destruction of Synagogues. Then France and Spain followed in the same example.