I recently started playing the MMO Final Fantasy 14 (I’m Daniel Bishop on the Hyperion server if you play as well). I’d heard really great things about the expansions (there was even a user comment on one of Fr. Blake Britton’s Word on Fire posts praising the story) and that they were speeding up the start of the game, so I figured I could finally sit down and try it out. While I’m still working my way to those expansions (and hopefully some interesting topics to write about), I did encounter one thing in the base game that I felt I could discuss. So today I’m going to explain what the Inquisition is.
The Inquisition as portrayed in fiction is almost universally negative. Typically they are shown as some form of legal institution (usually religious) that acts as judge/jury/executioner to weed out heresy. They almost always are portrayed as super irrational and believe that the ends of rooting out a heresy justifies the means of killing potentially innocent people. Here are a few examples in fiction. In Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn there is a section of the game that takes place in Coerthas, a mountainous region that is extremely isolationist from the rest of the world. During this section, you uncover evidence of heretics to the region’s religion, leading to an inquisitor arriving to execute the accused as soon as possible. While the people of the land accept the ruling of the Inquisitor, the main character as an outsider doesn’t and discovers evidence the accused is innocent. When presented to the Inquisitor, he still insists that the accused be executed until an attack in person proves him innocent. As you continue through the region the Inquisitor keeps telling people not to trust you making progress difficult. In the end you discover the Inquisitor was actually a heretic impostor taking advantage of people’s faith in the position to execute innocents. In the super extreme case, you have something like Warhammer 40K, where the fight against chaos is so extreme that even the chance of its existence is enough for an Inquisitor to justify burning an entire planet to the ground with everyone on it.
Last but not least, you have the famous Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch that comes about as people are getting heavily questioned and reply “I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.”
All of these examples show the Inquisition as a group of irrational zealots who care more about removing the chance of a problem than finding the truth of the matter. This view comes largely from propaganda against the church that has come up over the years, usually from Prodestant or Enlightenment thinkers in the 16th century. But you might wonder, what exactly was the Inquisition?
It may surprise you, but the Inquisition was actually the beginning of modern legal systems (inspired by the then rediscovered ancient Roman ones). Rather than the irrational hunters portrayed in the media, the Inquisitors were the equivalent of modern judges and lawyers who were there to determine the truth of some religious matter, typically determining if someone was a heretic (and consequently trying to convince them to come back to the truth). For example, the infamous Spanish Inquisition existed largely to ascertain the truth of accusations where someone was accused of faking a conversion to Catholicism for political and economic benefits (remember, this was taking place in the early 1500s, right after the end of the longest war in history between the Spanish Catholics and Muslims over the Iberian peninsula). In order to determine the truth of the matter, the Inquisition would hold trials where Inquisitors would ask questions (hence the name) to determine the truth of the matter. There were systems in place to try to make the trails as fair as possible. One example- when accused, a person was asked to present a list of enemies/people who would benefit from accusing them. That way, the testimony of those on the list would be ignored to help keep things fair. Most of the horror stories people refer to related to the Inquisition aren’t from the Inquisition itself, but from the secular powers dealing with the results of trials (in fact, the church explicitly was not allowed to execute someone as the result of a trail, punishments would be something more like excommunication). For example, in the case of the Spanish Inquisition, Muslims pretending to convert to Catholicism were considered a national security threat by Spain (due to aforementioned war) and thus were seen as traitors or rebels and pushed accordingly. Even with that fact in consideration, the amount of executions by the secular government was relatively small (about 2000 or 5% of the accused in the 200ish years of the Spanish Inquisition). As countries in Europe became secularized and the church lost its temporal power, the various local Inquisitions lost prominence. The main Inquisition in Rome, however, stuck around for internal church legal matters. It actually still exists today and operates largely in the same manner, but was renamed since the term “Inquisition” has such a negative connotation these days. Now it’s called the “Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.” In fact, Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) was the equivalent of the High Inquisitor back when Pope St. John Paul II was pope. Nowadays, it mainly looks at theologians that people feel have questionable writings and restricting their ability to teach if necessary. So in conclusion, the Inquisition was not an irrational religious organization but an early example of a fair legal system that continues to this day.
I hope this post was able to clear up some of the myths surrounding the Inquisition. There’s a lot of information and misinformation on the topic out there so it can be a bit tough to get to the truth. Most of what I wrote came from an interview with the church historian Professor Steve Weidenkopf if you want more information (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqYr3bz8sP4) so check that out if you are interested in the topic and want to explore more.
Song of the Post-
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn