Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

who were partners of his heresy, or whom he knew or suspected to be heretics. If he confessed, and denounced his accomplices, relatives or friends, he was “reconciled” with the Church, and had to suffer only the humiliating penalties prescribed by the canon law. If further examination proved necessary, it was continued by various methods. Bernardus Guidonis enumerates Use of torture. many ways of obtaining confessions, sometimes by means of moral subterfuges, but sometimes also by a process of weakening the physical strength. And as a last expedient torture was resorted to. The Church was originally opposed to torture, and the canon law did not admit confessions extorted by that means; but by the bull Ad extirpanda (1252) Innocent IV. approved its use for the discovery of heresy, and Urban IV. confirmed this usage, which had its origin in secular legislation (cf. the Veronese Code of 1228, and Sicilian Constitution of Frederick II. in 1231). In 1312 excessive cruelty had to be suppressed by the council of Vienna. Canonically the torture could only be applied once, but it might be “continued.” The next step was the torture of witnesses, a practice which was left to the discretion of the inquisitors. Moreover, all confessions or depositions extorted in the torture-chamber had subsequently to be “freely” confirmed. The confession was always considered as voluntary. The procedure was of course not litigious; any lawyer defending the accused would have been held guilty of heresy. The inquiry might last a long time, for it was interrupted or resumed according to the discretion of the judges, who disposed matters so as to obtain as many confessions or denunciations as possible. After the different phases of the examination, the accused were divided into two categories: (1) those who had confessed and abjured, (2) those who had not confessed and were consequently convicted of heresy. There was a third class, by no means the least numerous, namely, those who having previously confessed and abjured had relapsed into error. Next came the moment of the sentence: “there was never any case of an acquittal pure and simple” (H. C. Lea). The formula for full and complete acquittal given by Bernardus Guidonis in his Practica, should, he says, never or very rarely be employed. The sentences were solemnly pronounced on a Sunday, in a church or public place, Punishments. in the presence of the inquisitors, their auxiliaries, the bishops, the secular magistrates and the people. This was the sermo generalis (see Auto da fé). The accused who had confessed were reconciled, and the penalties were then pronounced; these were, in order of severity, penances, fasting, prayers, pilgrimages (Palestine, St James of Compostella, Canterbury, &c.), public scourging, the compulsory wearing on the breast or back of crosses of yellow felt sewn on to the clothes or sometimes of tongues of red, letters, &c. These were the poenae confusibiles (humiliating). The inquisitors eventually acquired the right of inflicting fines at discretion. In 1244 and 1251 Innocent IV. reproved them for their exactions. All these minor penalties could be commuted for payments in money in the same way as absolution from the crusader’s vow, and the council of Vienna tried to put an end to these extortions. Beyond these minor penalties came the severer ones of imprisonment for a period of time, perpetual imprisonment and imprisonment of various degrees of severity (murus largus, murus strictus vel strictissimus). The murus strictus consisted in the deepest dungeon, with single or double fetters, and “the bread and water of affliction”; but the severity of the prison régime varied very much. The murus largus, especially for a rich prisoner, amounted to a fairly mild imprisonment, but the mortality among those confined in the murus strictus became so high that Clement V. ordered an inquiry to be made into the prison régime in Languedoc, in spite of Bernard Guy’s protest against the investigation as likely to diminish the prestige of the inquisitors. After the sentences had been pronounced, the obstinate heretics and renegades were for the last time called upon to submit and to confess and abjure. If they consented, they were received as penitents, and condemned on the spot to perpetual imprisonment; if they did not consent, they were handed over to the secular arm. When the heretic was handed over to the secular arm, the agents of the secular power were recommended to punish him debita animadversione, and the form of recommending him “Handing over to the secular arm.” to mercy was gone through. But, as M. Vacandard says, “If the secular judges had thought fit to take this formula literally, they would soon have been brought back to a recognition of the true state of affairs by excommunication.” In effect, handing over to the secular arm was equivalent to a sentence of death, and of death by fire. The Dominican Jacob Sprenger, provincial of his order in Germany (1494) and inquisitor, does not hesitate to speak of the victims quas incinerari fecimus (“whom we [the inquisitors] caused to be burnt to ashes”). But we must accept the conclusions of H. C. Lea and Vacandard that comparatively few people suffered at the stake in the medieval Inquisition. Between 1308 and 1323, Bernard Guy, who cannot be accused of inactivity, only handed over to the secular arm 42 persons, out of 930 who were convicted of heresy.

From the point of view of jurisprudence of the Inquisition, the confiscation of the condemned man’s property by the ecclesiastical and secular powers is only the accompaniment Punishment by confiscation of goods. to the more severe penalties of perpetual imprisonment or death; but from the point of view of its economic history the importance of the confiscation is supreme. The practice originated in the Roman law, and all secular princes had already, in their own interest, recognized it as lawful (Frederick Barbarossa, Decree of Verona; Louis VIII., ordinances of 1226, 1229; Louis IX., ordinance of 1234; Raymond VII. of Toulouse, &c.). In the kingdom of France there was a special official, the procureur des encours (confiscation in the matter of heresy), whose duty it was to collect the personal property of the heretics, and to incorporate their landed estates in the royal domain; in Languedoc crying Abuse of the system. abuses arose, especially under the reign of Alphonse of Poitiers. Soon the papacy managed to gain a share of the spoils, even outside the states of the Church, as is shown by the bulls ad extirpanda of Innocent IV. and Alexander IV., and henceforward the inquisitors had, in varying proportions, a direct interest in these spoliations. In Spain this division only applied to the property of the clergy and vassals of the Church, but in France, Italy and Germany, the property of all those convicted of heresy was shared between the lay and ecclesiastical authorities. Venice alone decided that all the receipts of the Holy Office should be handed over in full to the state. Clement V., in his attempted reform and regularization of inquisitorial procedure, endeavoured to reduce the confiscations to a fairly reasonable minimum, and in 1337-1338 a series of papal inquiries was held into this financial aspect of the matter. The Assize of Clarendon, the Constitutions of Frederick II. (1232) and of Count Raymond of Toulouse (1234) had also come to a joint decision with the councils on this question. King Charles V. of France prevailed upon the papacy to abolish this regulation (1378). Confiscation was, indeed, most profitable to the secular princes, and there is no doubt that the hope of considerable gain was what induced many Economic and political importance of the system. princes to uphold the inquisitorial administration, especially in the days of the decay of faith. The resistance of the south of France to the Capetian monarchs was to a large extent broken owing to the decimation of the bourgeoisie by the Inquisition and their impoverishment by the extortions of the encours. The same was the case in certain of the Italian republics; while in districts such as the north of France, where heretics were both poor and few and far between, the Inquisition did not easily take root, nor did it prove very profitable. These confiscations, the importance of which in the political and economic history of the middle ages was first shown fully by H. C. Lea, were a constant source of uncertainty in transactions of all kinds; there was, for instance, always a risk in entering into a contract in a place where the existence of heretics was suspected, since any contract entered into with a heretic was void in itself. Nor was there any more security in the transmission of inheritances for posthumous trials were frequent;