The Spanish Inquisition
What was the Spanish Inquisition? The Spanish Inquisition persecuted and discriminated against minorities in the Iberia Peninsula who opposed to the practice and ideologies of the Catholic Church. Between 1480 to 1834, the Spanish Inquisition was placed under the authority of the royal power in Spain; the Inquisition was created in order to resolve the particular problem presented by the presence of thousands of converted Jews in the Iberian Peninsula. At the same time, the inquisition extended its authority to other minorities and become implanted in other geographical regions. This “institution” operated and was expanded to other territories under the crown of Castile—the Canaries and the territories ruled by viceroys in New Spain
and Peru (24, 25).
Joseph Pérez not only described the Spanish Inquisition
by summarizing the contents of this “regime,” but also his main thesis and interpretation are based on criticizing the origins of anti-Semitism, how the Spanish Inquisition “defended the Catholic faith
” against Jews, Muslims, Protestantism, and witchcraft. Also, Pérez continues his thesis and interpretations when he argued against the trials and organization of “the Holy Office”—the Inquisition. Finally, Pérez reinforced his main thesis by arguing and comparing the Spanish Inquisition with modern regimes, such as Nazi Germany and Communist regimes that used similar procedures of “torture” and “persecution” to those who opposed Nazism and Communism ideologies. Therefore, Pérez’s interpretation and explanation not only make sense, but they are well presented.
To initiate, Pérez’s thesis began by introducing the creation of the “anti-Semitism” against Jews; as well as discrimination against Muslims who opposed to the Catholic doctrine during the beginnings the Spanish Inquisition. First, Pérez criticized and analyzed the procedures and manipulations that the Inquisitions imposed to Jews and Muslims to convert them to Catholicism; these procedures and manipulations that Pérez criticized were the oppression to converted these two groups to Catholicism or expel them out from Spain if they remained their faith—many chose the exile (35). Also, Pérez admired the resistance that the majority of Jews had to preserve their faith in “secret” and maintained loyal to their faith even though they faced persecution, discrimination, oppression, and expulsion during the Inquisition (51).
Then, Pérez continued to develop his thesis and interpretation by arguing that the Inquisition expanded their injustices by applying their policies not only to Jews and Muslims, but also to against Protestants, Illuminists, and witchcrafts. Pérez, argued that the Inquisition justified their atrocities against Protestants and Illuminist because they were introducing new ideologies that were against the Catholic Church. Pérez, described these injustices that the Inquisition committed by criticizing the different methods of persecutions and executions on Protestants and Illuminist; these methods were also imposed to those who practiced witchcraft during the Inquisition. However, these examples that Pérez described was to reinforce his interpretation that the Inquisition was concerned with what people believed, not what they did; with faith, not with behavior (85). In other words, Pérez interpretation on the injustices and the procedures that the Inquisition committed were base on “autos de fe”—defending the Catholic faith, and there were not base on how the Inquisition’s victims behaved.
Subsequently, Pérez emphasized in his thesis and interpretations by continuing to criticizing the organization of “the Holy Office”—the Spanish Inquisition—as an ecclesiastical court placed under the authority of the State; but most important, Pérez’s criticism are based on how corrupted the Inquisition was in terms of the finances and privileges. Pérez mentioned some cases in which the Inquisitors took advantages of their “administrative positions” to get some of their victims’ wealth (109). Also, Pérez interpreted and affirmed that the Inquisition’s trials were corrupt because in some cases charges against clerics were quite different and the Inquisition showed far greater indulgence: the penalties for soliciting priests, for instance, were extremely discreet (170). Overall, the trials and the administrative apparatus of the Holy Office are analyzed by Pérez’s thesis as “infamous procedures against humanity” (192).
At the same time, Pérez expanded his thesis and interpretation when he concluded that the Spanish Inquisition had in some ways constituted an anticipation of modern totalitarianism. Pérez argued the following comparison:
In Nazi Germany and in the Communist regimes, to be considered a good citizen it was not enough to pay one’s taxes and obey the country’s laws; it was also necessary to adhere to the dominant ideology, on pain of being regarded as suspect. Similarly, in the Spain of the Ancient Regime—the Spanish Inquisition, it was inadvisable to stray from Catholic doctrine. A good Spaniard obviously had to be a good Catholic; woe betides anyone who forgot that! (Pérez, 222)
Then, Pérez continued his interpretation by comparing the Spanish Inquisition to the Soviet secret police known as the GPU (an earlier form of the NKVD, which later became the KGB. Consequently, Pérez compared the anti-Semitism that the Spanish Inquisition and the Nazi Germany had on Jews. Moreover, Pérez compared and contrasted the atrocities that the Waffen-SS and the Spanish Inquisition made against Jews and other opponents of these two regimes; he even compared the inquisitors with Heinrich Himmler head of the Schutzstaffel (SS) who coordinated the killing of millions of Jews and many prisoners of war (225).
To conclude, even though most of the Joseph Pérez’s book summarized the main events the Spanish Inquisition performed against Jews, Muslims, Protestants and those who opposed to Catholicism in Spain and the territories that were governed by the Spanish Crown, Pérez’s interpretation on the Spanish Inquisition is very simple; he make very clear his thoughts against this regime. He criticized and analyzed the anti-Semitism against Jews. Also, Pérez criticized how the Inquisition condemned Muslims, Protestants, and those who practiced witchcraft.
Furthermore, it seems that Pérez holds a strong opposition on how the Holy Office tortured their victims in trials. Then, his conclusion is very interesting because he wanted to compare the Inquisition with modern totalitarianism, such as Nazi Germany and Communist regimes that used similar procedures of “torture” and “persecution” to those who opposed Nazism and Communism ideologies. Although Pérez gave few examples on how the Inquisition was similar with these two regimes, he gave specific examples on how these regimes were similar in terms of torture, persecution, and oppression against their victims. Overall, Joseph Pérez was clear, organized and his presentation make sense because the evidences that he presented did not contradicts his interpretation on how the Spanish Inquisition imposed not only Catholicism, but also how the Inquisition imposed discrimination, cruelty, and terror.
Pérez, Joseph. The Spanish Inquisition A History. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2005.