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The Medieval period of the church was a time of growth and new understanding of the Christian faith. However this new birth of understanding did have disadvantages. Catholicism moved from focusing on God to helping to cleanse a nation of people. Inquisitions were used during the decline of the Roman Empire until the Spanish Inquisition's decline in the early 1800s. Both civil and church authorities can run an inquisition in order to root out non-believers from a nation or religion. The Spanish Inquisition was one of the most deadly inquisitions in history.
The Spanish Inquisition was used for both political and religious reasons. Spain is a nation-state that was born out of religious struggle between numerous different belief systems including Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism and Judaism. Following the Crusades and the Reconquest of Spain by the Christian Spaniards the leaders of Spain needed a way to unify the country into a strong nation. Ferdinand and Isabella chose Catholicism to unite Spain and in 1478 asked permission of the pope to begin the Spanish Inquisition to purify the people of Spain. They began by driving out Jews, Protestants and other non-believers.1
In 1483 Tomas de Torquemada became the inquisitor-general for most of Spain. He was responsible for establishing the rules of inquisitorial procedure and creating branches of the Inquisition in various cities. He remained the leader of the Spanish Inquisition for fifteen years and is believed to be responsible for the execution of around 2,000 Spaniards. The Catholic Church and the Pope attempted to intervene in the bloody Spanish Inquisition but were unable to wrench the extremely useful political tool from the hands of the Spanish rulers.2
The Inquisition was run procedurally by the inquisitor-general who established local tribunals of the Inquisition. Accused heretics were identified by the general population and brought before the tribunal. The were given a chance to confess their heresy against the Catholic Church and were also encouraged to indict other heretics. If they admitted their wrongs and turned in other aggressors against the church they were either released or sentenced to a prison penalty.
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1 Eliade, Mircea, Ed. The Encyclopedia of Religion. (MacMillan Publishing Co; 1990).
2 The New Encyclopedia Britannica. (Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc; 1994).