Overview -

{in-kwi-zish'-uhn} The Inquisition was a medieval church court instituted to seek out and prosecute heretics. The term is applied to the institution itself, which was episcopal or papal, regional or local; to the personnel of the tribunal; and to the judicial procedure followed by the court. Notoriously harsh in its procedures, the Inquisition was defended during the Middle Ages by appeal to biblical practices and to the church father Saint AUGUSTINE, who had interpreted Luke 14:23 as endorsing the use of force against heretics.

Development and Institution -

Problems with sects like the ALBIGENSES (Cathari) and WALDENSES in the 12th century first led to the episcopal Inquisition. Often at the instigation of secular rulers, bishops were urged to investigate and deal locally with heretics, since they were seen as a threat to both the ecclesiastical and the social order. Papal documents as well as the Second, Third, and Fourth LATERAN COUNCILS (1139, 1179, 1215) prescribed imprisonment and confiscation of property as punishment for heresy and threatened to excommunicate princes who failed to punish heretics.

The papal Inquisition was formally instituted by Pope GREGORY IX in 1231. Following a law of Holy Roman Emperor FREDERICK II, enacted for Lombardy in 1224 and extended to the entire empire in 1232, Gregory ordered convicted heretics to be seized by the secular authorities and burned. Like Frederick, Gregory also mandated that heretics be sought out and tried before a church court. For this purpose, he first appointed special inquisitors (for example, Conrad of Marburg in Germany and Robert le Bougre in Burgundy) and later entrusted the task to members of the newly established DOMINICAN and FRANCISCAN orders of friars. The independent authority of the inquisitors was a frequent cause of friction with the local clergy and bishops.