Monday, January 15, 2007

The only Thing Worse than being Talked about is not being Talked about

A couple of weeks ago, my name came up on an Internet Infidels discussion thread. Several correspondents kindly alerted me to the matter, but I decided to stay out of the debate as I boycotted IIDB some time ago. As usual, I was accused of doing things like 'justifying the inquisition', which I have never done. Clearly, trying to put it into historical context and get at the facts over the Black Legend is too much for those for whom the inquisition is a precious myth. One post, by a certain Dr Rick, does need a reply.

Rick, whoever he is, is untroubled by the need to refer to historical sources for most of his allegations. Words like 'vast', 'just a fraction', 'tens of thousands' and 'huge numbers' slip from his keyboard unencumbered by data. His main source is Juan Antonio Llorente who was indeed once secretary to the Inquisition in Madrid and had full access to the archives. What Rick declines to tell us is that when he wrote his history, Llorente was a collaborator with the French Bonapatist regime occupying Spain. After Napoleon was defeated, Llorente had to go into exile in France and it was there that his history was written. Consequently, he is not in any way an objective source. Rather his history must be read as vindication of his own treasonous conduct.

Dr Rick also gives us some details on torture. Ordeal by fire was, of course, banned by the church in 1215 (or at least, the clergy were forbidden to take part). As for the pear, I have actually seen one of these in a collection of other surgical instruments in Athens. It is true that medieval medical equipment can be quite scary to look at, so the person who misidentified the 'pear' as a torture implement can be forgiven. It was been renamed the "Pope's pear" on the internet where Dr Rick undoubtedly got his information. The Spanish Inquisition did use torture, most frequently in the sixteenth century. Sometimes, it was used in 10% of cases (Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, 1997, p 187) which is a high proportion. It is shocking that the church did not issue a blanket ban until 1816, which was considerably after it had stopped being used in practice (Llorente says it was dropped before his day).

The Inquisition is not something I would ever try to justify. Torture and execution are both abhorrent. That does not mean that we can use it as cheap propaganda or fail to study it in its proper historical context. The Church has apologised for this blot on its past and now that all the records are open to scholars we can hopefully fully understand what happened. Those who simply want to use it for black propaganda, like Dr Rick, do not help with this process.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

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