AskDefine | Define inquisition

Dictionary Definition



1 a former tribunal of the Roman Catholic Church (1232-1820) created to discover and suppress heresy
2 a severe interrogation (often violating the rights or privacy of individuals)

User Contributed Dictionary

see Inquisition




  1. an investigation or inquiry into the truth of some matter
  2. an inquest
  3. a questioning

Extensive Definition

The word Inquisition (with a capitalized I) occurs in broad use in reference to the judgment of heresy by the Roman Catholic Church. It can mean an ecclesiastical tribunal or the institution of the Roman Catholic Church for combating or suppressing heresy; a number of historical expurgation movements against heresy (orchestrated by the Roman Catholic Church); or the trial of an individual accused of heresy.

Inquisition tribunals and institutions

Before the twelfth century, the Catholic Church gradually suppressed heresy, usually through a system of ecclesiastical proscription and imprisonment. Although many states allowed the Church to use the death penalty, initially it was not frequently imposed, as this form of punishment had many ecclesiastical opponents.
In the 12th century, in order to counter the spread of Catharism, prosecutions against heresy became more frequent. The Church charged councils composed of bishops and archbishops with establishing inquisitions. (see Episcopal Inquisition)
In the 13th century, the pope assigned the duty of carrying out inquisitions to the Dominican Order. Inquisitors acted in the name of the Pope and with his full authority. They used inquisitorial procedures, a common law practice at the time. They judged heresy alone, using the local authorities to establish a tribunal and to prosecute heretics. After the end of the fifteenth century, a Grand Inquisitor headed each Inquisition. Inquisition in this way persisted until the 19th century.
In the 16th century, Pope Paul III established a system of tribunals, ruled by the "Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition", and staffed by cardinals and other Church officials. This system would later become known as the Roman Inquisition. In 1908 Saint Pope Pius X renamed the organisation: it became the "Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office". This in its turn became the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1965, which name continues to this day.


A 1578 handbook for inquisitors spelled out the purpose of inquisitorial penalties: ... quoniam punitio non refertur primo & per se in correctionem & bonum eius qui punitur, sed in bonum publicum ut alij terreantur, & a malis committendis avocentur. [Translation from the Latin: "... for punishment does not take place primarily and per se for the correction and good of the person punished, but for the public good in order that others may become terrified and weaned away from the evils they would commit."]

Historic Inquisition movements

Historians distinguish between four different manifestations of the Inquisition: the Medieval Inquisition (1184- ), the Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834), the Portuguese Inquisition (1536-1821) and the Roman Inquisition (1542- ).
Because of its objective — combating heresy — the Inquisition had jurisdiction only over baptized members of the Church (which, however, encompassed the vast majority of the population in Catholic countries). Secular courts could still try non-Christians for blasphemy. Most of the witch trials went through secular courts.

Medieval Inquisition

Historians use the term 'Medieval Inquisition" to describe the various inquisitions that started around 1184, including the Episcopal Inquisition (1184-1230s) and later the Papal Inquisition (1230s). These inquisitions comprised the legal response to large popular movements throughout Europe considered apostate or heretical to Christianity, in particular the Cathars and Waldensians in southern France and northern Italy. Other Inquisitions followed after these first inquisition movements.

Spanish Inquisition

King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile set up the Spanish Inquisition in 1478 with the approval of Pope Sixtus IV. In contrast to the previous inquisitions, it operated completely under royal authority, though staffed by secular clergy and orders, and independently of the Holy See. It targeted primarily converts from Judaism (Maranos or secret Jews) and from Islam (Moriscos or secret Moors) — both formed large groups still residing in Spain after the end of the Moorish control of Spain — who came under suspicion of either continuing to adhere to their old religion (often after having converted under duress) or of having fallen back into it. Somewhat later the Spanish Inquisition took an interest in Protestants of virtually any sect. In the Spanish possessions of the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples in southern Italy, which formed part of the Spanish Crown's hereditary possessions, it also targeted Greek Orthodox Christians. After the intensity of religious disputes waned in the 17th century, the Spanish Inquisition developed more and more into a secret police force working against internal threats to the state.
The Spanish Inquisition would subsequently operate in certain Spanish colonies: see for example the Peruvian Inquisition and the Mexican Inquisition. The Spanish Inquisition also operated in the Philippines, Guatemala, New Granada, and the Canary Islands. It continued to function in the Americas until the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821). In South America Bolívar abolished the Inquisition; in Spain survived until 1834.

Portuguese Inquisition

The Portuguese Inquisition formally started in Portugal in 1536 at the request of the King of Portugal, João III. Manuel I had asked for the installation of the Inquisition in 1515, but only after his death did the pope acquiesce. However, many place the actual beginning of the Portuguese Inquisition during the year of 1497, when many Jews were expelled from Portugal and others were forcibly converted to Catholicism. The major target of the Portuguese Inquisition were mainly the Sephardic Jews that had been expelled from Spain in 1492 (see Alhambra decree); after 1492 many of these Spanish Jews left Spain for Portugal but were eventually targeted there as well.
The Inquisition came under the authority of the King. It was headed by a Grand Inquisitor, or General Inquisitor, named by the Pope but selected by the king, and always from within the royal family. The Grand Inquisitor would later nominate other inquisitors. In Portugal, the first Grand Inquisitor was Cardinal Henry, who would later become King. There were Courts of the Inquisition in Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra, and Évora.
The Portuguese Inquisition held its first auto da fé in Portugal in 1540. It concentrated its efforts on rooting out converts from other faiths (overwhelmingly Judaism) who did not adhere to the strictures of Catholic orthodoxy; the Portuguese inquisitors mostly targeted the Jewish "New Christians," "conversos," or "marranos."
The Portuguese Inquisition expanded its scope of operations from Portugal to Portugal's colonial possessions, including Brazil, Cape Verde, and Goa, where it continued as a religious court, investigating and trying cases of breaches of the tenets of orthodox Roman Catholicism until 1821.
João III extended the activity of the courts to cover book-censorship, divination, witchcraft and bigamy. Book-censorship proved to have a strong influence in Portuguese cultural evolution, keeping the country uninformed and culturally backward. Originally oriented for a religious action, the Inquisition had an influence in almost every aspect of Portuguese society: politically, culturally and socially.
The Goa Inquisition, another inquisition rife with antisemitism and anti-Hinduism that mostly targeted Jews and Hindus, started in Goa in 1560. Aleixo Dias Falcão and Francisco Marques set it up in the palace of the Sabaio Adil Khan.
According to Henry Charles Lea between 1540 and 1794 tribunals in Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra and Évora burned 1,175 persons, another 633 were burned in effigy and 29,590 were penanced, but documentation of at least fifteen Autos-da-fé between 1580-1640 - the period of the Iberian Union - disappeared, so the real numbers must be higher.
The "General Extraordinary and Constituent Courts of the Portuguese Nation" abolished the Portuguese inquisition in 1821.

Roman Inquisition

In 1542, Pope Paul III established the Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition as a permanent congregation staffed with cardinals and other officials. It had the tasks of maintaining and defending the integrity of the faith and of examining and proscribing errors and false doctrines; it thus became the supervisory body of local Inquisitions. Arguably the most famous case tried by the Roman Inquisition was that of Galileo Galilei in 1633. Because of Rome's power over the Papal States, Roman Inquisition activity continued until the mid-1800s.
In 1908 the name of the Congregation became "The Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office", which in 1965 was further changed to "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith", as retained to the present day. The Congregation is presided by a cardinal appointed by the Pope, and usually includes ten other cardinals, as well as a prelate and two assistants all chosen from the Dominican Order. The Holy Office also has an international group of consultants, experienced scholars of theology and canon law, who advise it on specific questions.

Recent investigations into the Inquisition

In 2000 Pope John Paul II called for an "Inquisition Symposium", and opened the Vatican to 30 external historians. Their findings discounted many previous beliefs. It emerged that more women accused of witchcraft died in the Protestant countries than under the Inquisition. For example, the Inquisition burned 59 women in Spain, 36 in Italy and 4 in Portugal, while in Europe civil justice put to trial close to 100,000 women; 50,000 of them were burned, 25,000 in Germany, during the 16th century by the followers of Martin Luther.

Derivative works

The Inquisitions appear in many cultural works. Some include:

See also

Notable inquisitors

Notable cases involving the Inquisition



  • :Foxe's Book of Martyrs by John Foxe (Bridge-Logos Publishers) ISBN 0-88270-672-1
  • Edward Burman, The Inquisition: The Hammer of Heresy (Sutton Publishers, 2004) ISBN 0-7509-3722-X
    • A new edition of a book first published in 1984, a good, well-written and objective general history based on the main primary sources.
  • Edward M. Peters, Inquisition. (University of California Press, 1989). ISBN 0-520-06630-8
    • A brief, balanced inquiry, with an especially good section on the 'Myth of the Inquisition' (see The Inquisition Myth). This is particularly valuable because much of the history available in English of the Inquisition was written in the 19th century by Protestants interested in documenting the dangers of Catholicism or Catholic apologists demonstrating that the Inquisition had been an entirely reasonable judicial body without flaws.
  • Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision. (Yale University Press, 1999). ISBN 0-300-07880-3
    • This revised edition of his 1965 original contributes to the understanding of the Spanish Inquisition in its local context.
  • Cecil & Irene Roth, A history of the Marranos, Sepher-Hermon Press, 1974.
  • Simon Whitechapel, Flesh Inferno: Atrocities of Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition (Creation Books, 2003). ISBN 1-84068-105-5
    • "A good example of how uncritical acceptance of disjointed historical data helps inform contemporary notions of the black legend"
  • William Thomas Walsh, Characters of the Inquisition (TAN Books and Publishers, Inc, 1940/97). ISBN 0-89555-326-0
  • Parker, Geoffrey “Some Recent Work on the Inquisition in Spain and Italy” Journal of Modern History 54:3 1982
  • Given, James B Inquisition and Medieval Society New York, Cornell University Press, 2001
  • Henry Charles Lea, A History of the Inquisition of Spain (4 volumes), (New York and London, 1906–1907).
  • Antonio Puigblanch, La Inquisición sin máscara (Cádiz, 1811-1813). [The Inquisition Unmasked (London, 1816)]
  • Juan Antonio Llorente, “Historia Critica de la Inquisicion de Espana”
  • W.T. Walsh, “Isabella of Spain,” (1931).
  • Genaro Garcia, “Autos de fe de la Inquisicion de Mexico,” (1910).
  • F. Garau, “La Fee Triunfante,” (1691-reprinted 1931).
  • V. Vignau, “Catalogo... de la Inquisicion de Toledo,” (1903).
  • J. Baker, “History of the Inquisition,” (1736).
  • J. Marchant, “A Review of the Bloody Tribunal,” (1770).
  • E. N Adler, “Autos de fe and the Jew,” (1908).
  • Ludovico a Paramo, “De Origine et Progressu Sanctae Inquisitionis,” (1598).
  • J.M. Marin, “Procedimientos de la Inquisicion” (2 volumes), (1886).
  • R. Cappa, “La Inquisicion Espanola,” (1888).
  • A. Paz y Mellia, “Catalogo Abreviado de Papeles de Inquisicion,” (1914).
  • M. Jouve, “Torquemada,” (1935).
  • Sir Alexandr G. Cardew, “A Short History of the Inquisition,” (1933).
  • G. G. Coulton, “The Inquisition,” (1929).
  • Ramon de Vilana Perlas, “La Verdadera Practica Apostolica de el S. Tribunal de la Inquisicion,” (1735).
  • H.B. Piazza, “A Short and True Account of the Inquisition and its Proceeding,” (1722).
  • A.L. Maycock, “The Inquisition,” (1926).
  • H. Nickerson, “The Inquisition,” (1932).
  • L. Tanon, “Histoire des Tribunaux de l’Inquisition,” (1893).
  • A. Herculano, “Historia da Origem e Estabelecimento da Inquisicao em Portugal,” (English translation, 1926).
  • Miranda Twiss, The Most Evil Men And Women In History (Michael O'Mara Books Ltd., 2002).
  • Warren H. Carroll, "Isabel: the Catholic Queen" Front Royal, Virginia, 1991 (Christendom Press)
  • Emile van der Vekene: Bibliotheca bibliographica historiae sanctae inquisitionis. Bibliographisches Verzeichnis des gedruckten Schrifttums zur Geschichte und Literatur der Inquisition. Vol. 1 - 3. Topos-Verlag, Vaduz 1982-1992, ISBN 3-289-00272-1, ISBN 3-289-00578-X (7110 titres sur le thème de l'Inquisition)
  • Emile van der Vekene: La Inquisición en grabados originales. Exposición realizada con fondos de la colección Emile van der Vekene de la Universidad San Pablo-CEU, Aranjuez, 4-26 de Mayo de 2005, Madrid: Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, 2005. ISBN 84-96144-86-0

Online works

External links

inquisition in Afrikaans: Inkwisisie
inquisition in Arabic: محاكم التفتيش
inquisition in Bosnian: Inkvizicija
inquisition in Bulgarian: Светата инквизиция
inquisition in Catalan: Inquisició
inquisition in Czech: Inkvizice
inquisition in Danish: Inkvisition
inquisition in German: Inquisition
inquisition in Estonian: Inkvisitsioon
inquisition in Spanish: Inquisición
inquisition in Esperanto: Inkvizicio
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inquisition in French: Inquisition
inquisition in Galician: Inquisición
inquisition in Korean: 종교재판
inquisition in Croatian: Inkvizicija
inquisition in Indonesian: Inkuisisi
inquisition in Italian: Inquisizione
inquisition in Hebrew: אינקוויזיציה
inquisition in Lithuanian: Inkvizicija
inquisition in Hungarian: Inkvizíció
inquisition in Dutch: Inquisitie
inquisition in Japanese: 異端審問
inquisition in Norwegian: Inkvisisjonen
inquisition in Occitan (post 1500): Inquisicion
inquisition in Polish: Inkwizycja
inquisition in Portuguese: Inquisição
inquisition in Romanian: Inchiziţie
inquisition in Russian: Святая инквизиция
inquisition in Albanian: Inkuizicioni
inquisition in Slovak: Inkvizícia
inquisition in Slovenian: Inkvizicija
inquisition in Serbian: Инквизиција
inquisition in Finnish: Inkvisitio
inquisition in Swedish: Inkvisitionen
inquisition in Turkish: Engizisyon
inquisition in Ukrainian: Інквізиція
inquisition in Chinese: 異端裁判所

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Areopagus, analysis, assize, board, change of venue, council, court-martial, cross-examination, cross-interrogation, cross-questioning, curia, delving, direct examination, examination, forum, grilling, hearing, inquest, inquirendo, inquiring, inquiring mind, inquiry, investigation, judicatory, judicature, judiciary, jury trial, mistrial, police interrogation, probe, probing, quest, redirect examination, research, the Inquisition, the grill, third-degree, trial, trial by jury, tribunal
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