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The word "inquisition" comes from the same Latin root as the verb "to inquire." The purpose of an inquisition is to ask questions and determine facts.


1184 Pope Lucius III sent a list of heresies to Europe's bishops and commanded them to take an active role in determining whether those accused of heresy were, in fact, guilty.[1]
1230 Founded by Pope Gregory IX to root out heresy.
1478 Spanish Inquisition founded by Pope Sixtus IV at the request of Ferdinand and Isabella. The Inquistion was begun with the suspicion that some conversions to Catholicism among the Jews were phony. The Inquisition only dealt with Catholics or those who claimed to be Catholic; it did not investigate Jews or Muslims. After 1482, the Spanish Inquisition was run by the state, not by the Church. Torquemada was appointed by the King, not the Pope. 2,000 "secret Jews" burned at the stake in the first 15 years.
1492 All Jews expelled from Spain.
After the reforms, the Spanish Inquisition had very few critics. Staffed by well-educated legal professionals, it was one of the most efficient and compassionate judicial bodies in Europe. No major court in Europe executed fewer people than the Spanish Inquisition. This was a time, after all, when damaging shrubs in a public garden in London carried the death penalty. Across Europe, executions were everyday events. But not so with the Spanish Inquisition. In its 350-year lifespan only about 4,000 people were put to the stake. Compare that with the witch-hunts that raged across the rest of Catholic and Protestant Europe, in which 60,000 people, mostly women, were roasted. Spain was spared this hysteria precisely because the Spanish Inquisition stopped it at the border. When the first accusations of witchcraft surfaced in northern Spain, the Inquisition sent its people to investigate. These trained legal scholars found no believable evidence for witches' Sabbaths, black magic, or baby roasting. It was also noted that those confessing to witchcraft had a curious inability to fly through keyholes. While Europeans were throwing women onto bonfires with abandon, the Spanish Inquisition slammed the door shut on this insanity. (For the record, the Roman Inquisition also kept the witch craze from infecting Italy.) ...
Like all courts in Europe, the Spanish Inquisition used torture. But it did so much less often than other courts. Modern researchers have discovered that the Spanish Inquisition applied torture in only 2 percent of its cases. Each instance of torture was limited to a maximum of 15 minutes. In only 1 percent of the cases was torture applied twice and never for a third time.
Because it was both professional and efficient, the Spanish Inquisition kept very good records. Vast archives are filled with them. These documents were kept secret, so there was no reason for scribes to do anything but accurately record every action of the Inquisition. They are a goldmine for modern historians who have plunged greedily into them. Thus far, the fruits of that research have made one thing abundantly clear – the myth of the Spanish Inquisition has nothing at all to do with the real thing. [2]
1542 Pope Paul III founded the Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition.
1908 Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition renamed the Holy Office.
1965 Holy Office renamed Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Purpose: "to guarantee the correct teaching of faith and morals."[3]

Use of Torture

The Catholicism Answer Book, p. 285.
The painful extraction of confessions only occurred after a church tribunal had enough proof and evidence tha tthe accused were in fact guilty. If they admitted or confessed their crime, they would be given a modest punishment. If they obstinately refused to admit their guilt despite witness testimony and corroborating evidence, then torture was used to get the truth out of them.
While today we would see this as cruel and inhumane, the Medieval concept was that the salvation of souls was in jeopardy. If heretics died unrepentant, they were considered damned for eternity. If they confessed and repented, they would be absolved and would save their souls from hell. ... So torture was seen as a last-resort medicinal means to get the guilty to confess and, thus, to save their souls. ...
The trial was ecclesiastical and under the direction of religious orders, but the actual capital punishment and most of the torture occurred at the hands of civil authorities under authority of the emperor, of the king, or of the local prince, baron, etc.

Torture was no longer used by the Inquisition after the Council of Trent (1545-1563).

Unbelievable numbers

The Inquisition."
As Ronald Knox put it, we should be cautious, "lest we should wander interminably in a wilderness of comparative atrocity statistics." In fact, no one knows exactly how many people perished through the various Inquisitions. We can determine for certain, though, one thing about numbers given by Fundamentalists: They are far too large. One book popular with Fundamentalists claims that 95 million people died under the Inquisition.
The figure is so grotesquely off that one immediately doubts the writer’s sanity, or at least his grasp of demographics. Not until modern times did the population of those countries where the Inquisitions existed approach 95 million.
Inquisitions did not exist in Northern Europe, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, or England, being confined mainly to southern France, Italy, Spain, and a few parts of the Holy Roman Empire. The Inquisition could not have killed that many people because those parts of Europe did not have that many people to kill! ...
In Deuteronomy 17:2–5, God said: "If there is found among you, within any of your towns which the Lord your God gives you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it; then you shall inquire diligently [note that phrase: "inquire diligently"], and if it is true and certain that such an abominable thing has been done in Israel, then you shall bring forth to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones."
Like Israel, medieval Europe was a society of Christian kingdoms that were formally consecrated to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is therefore quite understandable that these Catholics would read their Bibles and conclude that for the good of their Christian society they, like the Israelites before them, "must purge the evil from the midst of you" (Deut. 13:6, 17:7, 12). Paul repeats this principle in 1 Corinthians 5:13.


  1. "The Truth About the Spanish Inquisition."
  2. "The Truth About the Spanish Inquisition."
  3. The Catholicism Answer Book, p. 286.