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There are few events and institutions in western European history that are so universally condemned as “The Inquisition.” But as students of history who have lived through the intellectual and political tyranny of National Socialism, Communism, McCarthyism and Political Correctness, perhaps it would be a more worthwhile endeavor to investigate the causes and consequences of medieval Europe’s first attempt at ideological conformity than to simply condemn it and move on.
By thinking about “The Inquisition” solely through the lens of modern values and sensibilities, we run the risk of greatly misunderstanding the motives and results of the Inquisitions. In this course we will examine the Inquisitions within their own historical context, and try to understand the social, religious, legal, and political milieus within which they arose. As much as possible, we will try to explain the Inquisitions in terms of the prevailing cultural mores of the time, as opposed to holding them up to the standards of our age, and to separate solid fact from lurid fiction in describing the Inquisitions.
1. The Cathars and the Waldensians.
After five centuries free of major heresy, the Roman Church found itself confronted by new religious forces. The Cathars were an import from the east. The Waldensians (the Poor Men of Lyons) were a native lay reform movement, once praised by the Church, but now radicalized and at odds with the Church. One thing was certain: the Church had no idea how to deal with heresy.
2. Dominicans, Franciscans, Politics and Finances.
After the failure of the bishops’ inquisitions, the Popes used two new monastic orders, the Dominicans and Franciscans, to combat heresy. But secular rulers quickly learned that they could use the inquisitions to destroy their political enemies and confiscate their wealth, while churchmen used the inquisitions to exterminate pesky “poverty movements.”
3. Witches and the Inquisitions.
The Inquisition has been accused of spawning the witch hunts of medieval Europe. The truth is, however, that the inquisitions were rather late-comers to the “witch craze” of the Middle Ages. And ironically, it was the Spanish Inquisition that helped defuse the witch hunting mania that swept the continent.
6 lectures on DVD
BIBLIOGRAPHY of works cited in the “Inquisitions” lectures.
4. The Spanish Inquisition.
The Inquisitions in Spain were infamous for the expulsion of the Jews (1492) and the Moriscos (1609). But much mythology and many factual errors surround these expulsions. What is little studied is the role of the Inquisition in the forging of modern Spain.
5. The Italian Inquisition and the Renaissance.
The revival of the inquisitions in Renaissance Italy was primarily to combat “the German heresy,” Protestantism. But the inquisitors rapidly moved on to other targets: the Benandanti (witch-hunters) and “indecent” art. Michelangelo and Veronese found their works scrutinized by the inquisition.
6. The Trials of Joan of Arc and Galileo Galilei.
Two of the Inquisitions’ most infamous trials are those of Joan of Arc and Galileo. But our understanding of both trials is clouded by legend and misrepresentation. This lecture is an examination of the Inquisitions’ real role in the trials.
"A History of the Inquisitions”
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