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May 19 , 2011

The History of the Inquisition of Spain - The Original Classic Edition

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Discussion of the Spanish Inquisition usually invokes emotions of disgust or anger, but also an appreciation of how precious it is to be able to pick up a book or express an opinion without fear of being either tortured or killed by government authorities. Therefore reading a book on the topic can be difficult at times, if one focuses on the brutality of the methods used and the zeal in which they were. This book introduces the reader to the reasons for it and its historical legacy.

The author summarizes the Spanish Inquisition as being 350 years of terror, which is an accurate description considering the horrific acts that were committed in this time period. These acts are delineated in detail in this book, beginning essentially with the papal bull in 1478 that was targeted towards Jewish converts to Christianity. Those Jews found guilty of reversion were promptly executed. The three dominant religions, Islam, Christianity, and Islam were of course in existence at this time, and were, according to the author, not tolerant of each other and each was convinced that it held the keys to truth. If there was tolerance to any degree, it was a de facto tolerance argues the author, i.e. suffered rather than desired. It is interesting to note that de facto tolerance is also the predominant form for these religions in the world today.

The social tensions between Jews and Christians in Spain at this time are brought out in detail in the book. On the surface these tensions even seem comical because of their absurdity. As examples of this idiocy, marriages between Jews and Christians were forbidden; Jews could charge interest on a loan to Christians, and vice versa, but never to members of the same faith; and Jews were blamed for economic recessions, and for spreading the plague. Reading of the persecutions against Jews at this time reinforces the opinion that the more economically industrious a person was the greater his danger.

In fact, envy is viewed by the author as a possible cause of the Inquisition, rather than merely from religious zealotry. Fray Luis de Leon of the University of Salamanca, who was denounced to the Inquisition by some of his own (jealous) colleagues, is given as an example of this. Other university professors were subjected to the same treatment, by those who, according to the author, wanted the university chairs of these professors. The author quotes Unamuno as stating that it was the terrible Hispanic envy born of incompetence and pettiness that was responsible for the Inquisition. Considering the typical attitudes of many in the academic community today, an environment that is typically polluted with envy, this assertion by Unamuno does not at all seem farfetched.

Science and literature suffered greatly from the Inquisition however, due in large measure to the infamous book burnings and Indexes. All of these are discussed in detail in the book, terrifying as they were. This horrible destruction of knowledge is something that along with the brutality against heretics will be etched in the minds of all those with independent minds and who have deep respect for human life. Those individuals who launched and practiced the Inquisition should never be forgiven for their savagery against Jewish people and others who differed from the entrenched dogma of the Catholic church. The Inquisition served no constructive purpose, had no moral validity, and deserves daily condemnation. Only then can we be more confident that such a series of events does not happen again.

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