You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Heaven or Heresy: A History of the Inquisition

Heaven or Heresy: A History of the Inquisition is a Modern Scholar lecture course on the Inquisition. Professor Thomas F. Madden starts with the history of the early church and its development in the Roman empire. The Christian church based its authority on the Apostles, and defined its rules based on Roman law.

The Inquisition was created in medieval times to combat heresy, beliefs that are not inline with Catholic teachings. Several early heresies threatened to split the church. There were secular inquisitions as well as Catholic inquisitions, because heresy was not only a threat to a church but treason against the secular authorities. The Roman inquisition would come in and weed out heretics, using legal procedures based on Roman law. It was often lenient, letting convicted heretics go if they repented. Yet locals were glad to have the inquisition come to town, since heretics were a threat to the souls of others as well as their own.

The Spanish Inquisition came into being when the Spanish authorities wanted to get rid of the "Jewish problem". Many Jews had been converted to Christianity, but these Conversos were often persecuted as secret Jews. Many people were burned at the stake, and many others fled to more amenable locations.

The Reformation was an break in the church that was an extreme heresy. Pretty soon, with different sects appearing all across Europe, the view of different religious beliefs as heretical died away. The inquisition faded away.

I took two main points from the course. The first is the nature of an organization that defines itself based on belief. When dogma is central to membership, the organization must be vigilant about maintaining a unified set of beliefs. Any different beliefs are a threat to the existence of the organization. The other point is the mixing of religious and secular authority. Once the power of the state is involved with affairs of conscience, freedom is curtailed.

I thought the professor was a little sympathetic to the inquisition, but he made some good points. The inquisitions were based on specific procedures and Roman law. The secular inquisitions were often worse than the church based ones. It was enlightening to learn about the history of the early church. The most interesting part was learning about the different heresies and how the church dealt with them. And he shows how the cultural myths about the inquisition are an exaggeration of the truth. Still, it wasn't something I would have wanted to live through first hand. B+


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