From- THE CHURCHMAN'S HUMAN QUEST
MARCH-APRIL 1996 pages 9-10
THE LEGACY OF THE SPANISH INQUISITION
By RAYMOND K. DEHAINAUT
NO OTHER BOOK, to my knowledge, has done such a thorough job of documenting the centuries of vacillation between tolerance and intolerance toward the Jews and Moors in Spain than The End of Days: A story of Tolerance, Tyranny and the Expulsion of the Jews From Spain. By Erna Paris. Prometheus Books. $29.95. This vacillation finally resulted in the triumph of intolerance, the expulsion of the Jews, and the establishment of the infamous Spanish Inquisition by Queen Isabella, just before sending Columbus off on his historic voyage.
The horrors of the Spanish Inquisition, following the bloody papal inquisition against the Albigensians, have been well documented. During his fifteen-year term, the first Grand Inquisitor, Tomas de Torquemada [whose surname in Spanish means "twist and burn"] burned 8,800 men and women at the stake, burned 6,500 in effigy, tortured thousands and imprisoned 90,000 for life. Most of these victims were arrested and tortured into confessing to heresy because they were conversos [Jews who had converted to Catholicism] or descendants of conversos. Ironically, Torquemada himself was a descendant of conversos along with King Ferdinand II who enthusiastically joined his Queen Isabella in approving and backing the activities of the Holy Office of the Inquisition.
This book has greatly increased my understanding of the mentality of the Spanish conquistadores following in the wake of Columbus and the vestiges of the Inquisition that I encountered during my doctoral research into Latin American history.
The Inquisition, was in part, the Roman Catholic hierarchy's reaction against the tolerance and liberating thought of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and 16th Century humanism. One of the main functions of the Holy Office, after it was established in Lima, Peru, was to send its representatives to all the main ports to search all the incoming ships coming from Europe and confiscate all of the "subversive" books by English free thinkers, Encyclopediaists, or writings coming out of the American or French Revolutions.
Many of the forbidden books were smuggled into Argentina and Greater Colombia by a few anti-clerical liberals who later were instrumental in organizing the Liberal parties which subsequently became the major parties opposing the Roman Catholic-backed Conservative parties throughout Latin America.
In the beginning of the colonial period, there was little dissension in the colonies, since to protest was to invite investigations by local inquisitors, and even those of high rank were reluctant to challenge their power. The author, in referring to Latin America, observes that "Curbing real or potential resistance was a perennial priority for the Holy Office."
In her book, Paris points out that the first Jews probably arrived in Spain with Roman legions in 70 C.E. after the fall of the Second Temple. They lived in peace with the Romans and others until the Visigoth invasion of Spain in 409. These Arian Christians were extremely intolerant: their leaders eventually converted to Roman Catholicism and then declared "that only Catholics can live in Spain." It is interesting to note that a brutal era of pogroms and Jewish suffering was brought to an end and that a spirit of religious toleration arrived in Spain with the invasion of the Moors in 711 C.E. The caliphs realized that they needed the skills and contributions of both Jews and Christians. It was after the Roman Catholic Reconquest of Spain in the name of El Cid, that the Catholic hierarchy and nobility under its control became progressively committed to the exclusion of minorities with the exception of one or two more tolerant kings of Castile who had been influenced by the Renaissance.
It was eventually the presence of fanatic French crusaders and flagellants that opened the way for a last "internal" crusade against conversos, Jews and Moors. The most insidious and hypocritical concept used against the conversos was the popular belief that the only true and acceptable Catholics were those of sangre limpia, or clean blood uncontaminated by un-clean Jewish blood. The Catholic mobs intimidated the nobility by crying out for "limpieza," or the cleansing of Spanish Catholicism, which eventually culminated in the horrors of the inquisition led by many who possessed converso blood themselves as mentioned above.
Ironically, it was this irrational Spanish obsession with sangre limpia [pure blood], that became one of the factors leading to the loss of its colonies in America. The soldiers arriving with Columbus, Cortez and Pizarro to gain lands, social position, wealth and power in the New World did not foresee that the doctrine of sangre limpa would eventually be used against them and their heirs, especially if they were mestizos born of Indian women. Those men of Spanish descendency, who aspired to leadership positions in the lands that they had gained through many hardships, were known as Creoles, but the cleanliness of their blood was suspect back in Spain and they were denied top leadership positions.
The growing hostility that the Creoles felt toward the peninsulares, or Spanish-born administrators who were granted the better positions in society, held the chief offices and received the best salaries from both the State and the Church, is considered by many historians to have been the primary cause of independence. The wealthy Creole, in, particular, resented being relegated to a lower rung on the social ladder in the land of his birth. By the end of the eighteenth century, this resentment of the intrusion and dominance of the "pure blooded" peninsulares was universal.
It was for the same reason that the lower clergy also supported the Revolution against Spain. The higher ecclesiastics remained loyal to the Crown because they were Spanish. They had better positions and their salaries were generally much higher than those of the Creole clergy. The Creole clergy were pleased that it was not the intention of the revolutionary leaders to alter the Church's place in Latin American society, as it had become the largest land owner owning or controlling 50% of all the arable land. Spain lost its control over its colonies, but the Latin American Church, remaining loyal to the pope, through the patronato real, maintained its dominance over education and even the political situation in most countries. It joined the large landed aristocracy in backing the Conservative parties and fought tooth and nail to keep progressive urban-centered and anticlerical politics and Protestantism at bay. Intolerant Church leaders in Latin America soon began to repeat the old Spanish argument that the culture of their countries is Roman Catholic, leaving little or no room for the presence of minority groups. The biggest battle they are still waging today is their battle against "the invasion of foreign sects and ideas."
[IOW- the RC battle against real Christians jp]
It is evident that I have a particular interest in the legacy of the Inquisition mentality in Latin America. The author of this book focuses most of her attention on the continuing legacy in Europe. She is quick to identify the parallels between the mentality of fifteenth-century totalitarian Spain and the totalitarian regimes of modern Europe. The similarities with the Nazi monolith are striking: a tyranny supported by the religious establishment, espousing a strong nationalism, pogroms, the racial exclusion of Jews, or presumed Jews, identifying them with special clothing and colored symbols, and then a "final solution."
The main lesson I learned from this book is that the progressive and humanistic concepts of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, critical thought, liberty, equality and tolerance have been gaining ground historically and in many parts of the world, but they are still being threatened by the feudal mentality that gave rise to the Inquisition. This consists of a distrust of Jews and Moors which has been deeply imbedded in the fabric of Western culture, whether it be in Europe, South America or North America. This can be seen cropping up continually in the renewed activities of the KKK and Skinheads, the bombing of synagogues in Argentina or in the more subtle blaming of Muslims for all acts of terrorism around the world, and the attempts of the "Right to Life Movement" to impose its values on the rest of society, killing those who disagree.
The author reminds us that the inquisition mentality increases in strength when we fail to speak out against it. She points out that the king of Castile, left without support, was unable to protect "his" Jews in Seville, and pogroms erupted all over the country. And similarly in post World War I Germany, unquestioned attacks against Jews and communists fostered even bolder attacks. The Inquisition mentality will continue to crop up and do its damage to humanity as long as we allow ourselves "to neither 'see,' react to, nor feel personally connected to the degradation of the Other," according to our author.
Toward the end of her book, the author, mentions the remarkable statement made by Pope John Paul II in anticipation of the forthcoming two-thousand year anniversary of Christianity when he wrote that he has an obligation to express a "profound regret" for the weakness of members of the Church who have practiced "intolerance and even the use of violence in the service of truth." As one considers the statistics on the thousands who were tortured and burned and imprisoned for life, assuming that the pope is well aware of them, this appears to be the understatement of the year. One could also raise questions about the nature of the truth that was being "served" by this intolerance and brutal violence.
No one would argue that Roman Catholicism is presently burning and torturing those who do not conform to its dogmas, but who can deny the legacies of the Spanish Inquisition that humankind has inherited or its presence and activities all around us in more subtle forms.
Dr. DeHainaut has been recently Educational Missionary of the United Methodist Church in Barahona Dominican Republic. He is now teaching International Studies at the University of South Florida, Tampa. He is Associate Editor of The Human Quest.