Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

The Spanish Inquisition

Most everything most people think they know about the Spanish Inquisition is wrong. When most people hear the words "Spanish Inquisition," they think of merciless torture, unspeakable acts of violence, women being burned at the stake for being too independent, Jews being persecuted, and numbers like "millions" of people perishing under the cruelty of the medieeeeeevil Catholic Church. Or maybe they think about Edgar Allan Poe's otherwise wonderful (and terrifying!) "The Pit and the Pendulum," made into a movie starring the fantabulous Vincent Price, or of Monty Python sketches.

But almost all of what people think about the Spanish Inquisition is simply not true at all, which raises the question, "How did these lies become so widespread and accepted?"

The answer to that is very interesting and demonstrates the incredible power of propaganda. But let's start at the beginning, shall we? Let's start with a basic History of the Spanish Inquisition -- what it was, why it was called for, etc.

The Whys of the Spanish Inquisition

It's the late 15th century, and Spain under King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I has a problem. 770 years earlier, Muslims had warred their way all through the Middle East, parts of Africa, the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean areas), and into Europe. It is these Muslim-instigated wars that were the causes of the Crusades, which were defensive and just wars on the part of Christendom. For hundreds of years, ever since Muslims conquered the various kingdoms of Spain in A.D. 770, Christians had been fighting back.

The battles to take back Spanish land stolen by the Muslim invaders -- the "Reconquista" -- blessedly ended in 1492, with the Christians emerging victorious.

Against this backdrop, Spain had another problem: growing animosity between Jews and Christians. The reasons for this animosity weren't religious in nature, at least not directly; they were due, in great part, to usury, which Jews practiced against Christians (but not other Jews), financially empowering themselves while leaving Christians bankrupt. Jewish communities were also "stand-offish" and treated Christians with contempt, mocking their religious processions, etc.

Before going further, it must be understood that after the Temple fell in the first century, practitioners of the religion of the Old Testament went one of two ways: they either embraced the New Covenant, which is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, and became Christians, or they followed the Pharisees who rejected Christ. The religion of the Pharisees was an already-corrupted religion at the time of Christ, as the Gospels indicate, and it changed radically over the years, becoming a system of beliefs based not chiefly on the Old Testament, but on the Talmud, a collection of rabbinical writings gathered together and written down by the Pharisees around A.D. 200. The priestly authority of the Old Testament passed on to Catholic priests who offer to God the "once and for all times" Sacrifice of Calvary; post-Temple Judaism has no priests, Pharisaic rabbis became its leaders, and the Talmud became its most revered text.

Sadly, the Talmud and other Jewish "sacred" writings are very explicitly anti-Christ, and teach a view of the world that sees only Jews as humans to whom has been given a "divine spark" while non-Jews have the souls of brute beasts. Whenever you hear, for example, that Judaism teaches something like "whoever saves the life of a single man saves the entire world," you must replace "man" with "Jewish person" in order to understand how Jews who are educated in their religion understand the passage.

Please note: Of course, there are many religious Jews who reject such ideas, but they do so in spite of what their religion classically teaches. And, of course, there are many Jews who are simply ignorant about what orthodox post-Temple Judaism teaches, or who reject religion altogether. It is the same with Islam: there are good-willed Muslims who possess great natural virtue and who practice their religion in a manner Mohammad would disapprove of and that the Qur'an and hadith wouldn't condone. These "good Muslims" are, in fact, "bad Muslims" in terms of their orthodoxy to the religion they profess. In other words, the behaviors of naturally virtuous Muslims and Jews are inversely proportional to the extent to which they accept the tenets of their proclaimed faiths. It is the opposite case with traditional Christianity. There are Christians who know their religion, its History, its doctrines, and if those doctrines are embraced and practiced, virtue will be evident. There are also, though, those who call themselves "Christians" but who reject basic Christian teachings. And, of course, all Christians are sinners and are prone to concupiscence, that failure not being a matter of "hypocrisy," but of being weak (it's only hypocritical if a Christian judges another's soul for engaging in the same sins he does, or if he truly doesn't believe Christianity's moral teachings but professes them anyway). All of this is just human nature. But the three great "religions of the Book" have their founders, dogmas, doctrines, teachings, authorities, and History, and they're there for all to see, as are the fruits of those who practice those religions in an orthodox manner.

Now, Jews rose to prominence in Spain, gaining powerful civic positions. That this power derived from the financial influence gotten through the usury that impoverished Christians understandably caused resentment. And then there's the manner in which religious Jews perceive the "goyim," or non-Jews. You can come to an understanding about Jewish attitudes toward Christians, about how Christians were treated by Jews in power, by reading "A Quo Primum," an Encyclical given by Pope Benedict XIV in 1751. The same social phenomena that the Pope wrote about in 1751 were happening in 15th century Spain as well -- and typically happened all throughout Christendom wherever Jews and Christians lived together, ever since the Gospel era. You can read about what is happening yet today in a little town in Iowa after a large group of Jews moved there to open a meat-processing plant. A fascinating book that describes the culture clash that ensued --  "Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America" -- inadvertently demonstrates one of the main causes of "anti-semitism."

In any case, it was this sort of problem, and not religion in se, that was the root cause of the expulsions of Jews from countries all over the then known world, throughout History. Jews have been expelled from Assyria, Babylon, Greece, pagan Rome, Venice, England, France, various provinces of Germany, the Netherlands, Russia --- one hundred and nine places in all. Contrary to how these these expulsions are spoken of in classrooms and in the mainstream media today, they didn't happen because of some irrational "virus" of antisemitism, and, quite obviously -- given that Jews were expelled from Assyria, Babylon, ancient, pagan Greece and pagan Rome -- they weren't because of the teachings of the Christian Faith; they were a direct result of how the Jewish people treated their host populations and, perhaps most importantly, because of how they engaged in usury, thereby gaining power, and then using that power to harm the people and the cultures of the places in which they lived. This happened in Catholic Europe as well. It is these things, and not religion, that were also the root of periodic mob violence against Jews throughout European History -- violence which the Church spoke strongly against.

Even worse than all that, in Spain at that time, many Jews feigned conversion to Catholicism, rising up through the hierarchy and gaining prominence. These false converts, known as "conversos" or, very disparagingly, as "marranos," preached heresy from the pulpits of Catholic churches. They were "Judaizing," subverting the Faith from within. The Spanish monarchs' Edict of Expulsion says about the Judaizers that they were trying
to steal faithful Christians from our holy Catholic faith and to separate them from it, and to draw them to themselves and subvert them to their own wicked belief and conviction, instructing them in the ceremonies and observances of their law, holding meetings at which they read and teach that which people must hold and believe according to their law, achieving that the Christians and their children be circumcised, and giving them books from which they may read their prayers and declaring to them the fasts that they must keep, and joining with them to read and teach them the history of their law, indicating to them the festivals before they occur, advising them of what in them they are to hold and observe, carrying to them and giving to them from their houses unleavened bread and meats ritually slaughtered, instructing them about the things from which they must refrain, as much in eating as in other things in order to observe their law, and persuading them as much as they can to hold and observe the law of Moses, convincing them that there is no other law or truth except for that one.
Now, before you might start thinking, "so what if they were Judaizing! Freedom, man!", consider that deceit was involved in the above (pretense of having converted, lying about what the Church teaches, etc.), and that the medieval worldview was very different from that of modern secular societies. Christendom's "cities of man" attempted to shape their laws so they reflected the "city of God," and religion was what held societies together and informed their ideas of the True, Good, and Beautiful. The divine hierarchy above was mimicked below. Christians weren't forced to live "schizophrenic," dual lives, with their public selves coming off as secular, and their religious selves kept hidden away at home, in private, as they're forced to now. Israel today acts in a manner similar to that of Catholic Europe, protecting its identity as an overtly Jewish nation -- and it's considered "antisemitic" to point out the double standards that allow Israel to incorporate religion into its identity while European nations aren't "allowed" to without being called "theocratic," "fascist," "racist," and what not. Israel's "Law of Return," for example, does not apply to non-Jews or to persons of Jewish descent who have converted to another faith, and though evangelizing isn't technically illegal (though a law has been proposed to make it so), you can and may very well be hauled in to a police station and threatened with arrest if you engage in it. Further, according to the U.S. State Department, proselytism has been used as a "reason to deny student, work, and religious visa extensions, as well as to deny permanent residency petitions." Orthodox rabbis have total control over marriages, divorces, and funerals in Israel -- whether the people marrying, divorcing, or in need of burial are religious or not. I could go on and on about how Israel acts to preserve its identity as a Jewish country even as Christian nations are denied that same sort of "privilege." Christians who fight for the ability to protect their own cultures in their own lands, who fight to be able to pass their cultures on to their children as Jews do in Israel, are accused of being "on the wrong side of history," at best, for even thinking such a thought, most often by Jewish groups such as the ADL.

Anyway, in Spain at that time were also Muslims,
known as "Moriscos," who feigned conversion. And, of course, too, there were many genuine converts from post-Temple Judaism and Islam. St. Teresa of Avila, for example, was the granddaughter of a converso.

Now, there was another big problem, too: from the beginning of the Islamic onslaughts, Jews had also been cooperating with Muslims in their attempt to conquer Spain. The Spanish Historian and Orientalist Pascual de Gayangos y Arce put it very simply by saying that "the Jews opened the gates of the city to the Moslems." Given what most people think about the state of Jewish-Muslim relations today, that might sound surprising, but in that time, before the rise of Zionism which has been the source of grave injustices against the Christian and Muslim Palestinian people -- murder, being forced from the lands their families had lived on for thousands of years, etc. -- Muslims and Jews got along very well. They thrived together in lands conquered by Muslims, especially in North Africa. Post-Temple Judaism teaches utter contempt for Jesus Christ, treating the worship of Him as "idolatry," and Islam sees Jesus as a mere Prophet, thereby escaping the "idolatry" charge. Muslims and Jews became allies, with Jews seeing Islam as a force to wipe out their greatest perceived enemy: the Christians (just as many religious Jews and Jewish leaders do today). On pages 207-8 of the first volume of Henry Coppee's "History of the Conquest of Spain by the Arab-Moors" says about the Jews of Spain,

What rendered them dangerous to the Gothic Christians gave them new value in the eyes of the Arab-Moors, who were making ready to invade the Peninsula. These disaffected and confederate Jews formed a band of intelligent and useful auxiliaries in the scheme of the Moslem conquest. The martial sounds of the Moslem hosts made pleasant music in their ears. National allegiance had they none... ...[A]nd thus the readers of later Spanish history will find that, in troublous times, they often, like soldiers of fortune, changed sides, and not unfrequently held the balance of power through the influence of their unity and wealth.
So, to understand the situation Spain was in, imagine that your country were being invaded by a group that wanted for you to live under their laws, to usurp your culture, and to treat you as a second-class citizen, imposing taxes on you, demanding that you comply with all this or be beheaded. This group has already warred its way through country after country, ruthlessly raping and slaughtering your spiritual brothers and sisters by the hundreds of thousands, and are now warring their way into yours. In your midst is another group that is cooperating with that first group, going behind the backs of your fellow citizens in order to subvert your society and hand it over to the invaders. This second group is powerful, having obtained its power through riches acquired by impoverishing your people. Their religion teaches them to hate you, but some pose as members of your own people, falsely adopting your religion publicly while secretly practicing a different religion at home. To top all that off, they gain ecclesiastical power in your Church and preach heresy from its pulpits. How would you feel about that second group? What would you want your country to do in order to fight them and restore a social order that honors your own culture and your own religion in your own land? And as you answer, keep in mind that in the medieval world, religion wasn't merely a private affair as it's treated today; it was the glue that preserved social order, the "stuff" that shaped how one saw world and from which secular law derived its vision of the True, Good, and the Beautiful, just as post-Temple Judaism works in Israel today.

What the Spanish monarchs did was expel that second group from its borders and, instead on kicking out anyone who was Hebrew, call for an Inquisition in order to determine who among the conversos were truly converted to the Christian Faith, and who were the poseurs, subverting the religion they claimed to profess, and subverting the nation itself. It was only by some sort of an inquisition that true converts from Judaism could be kept safe while the false converts could be dealt with as the traitors they were -- traitors not to the Church, which they were as well, but to Spanish society and the Spanish people, which the king and queen had the duty to protect. That last is what the Spanish Inquisition was about, what it was for.

The Hows and Whats of the Spanish Inquisition

To weed out the false from the true converts, an inquisition was asked for, by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, of Pope Sixtus IV, who granted their request, issuing a bull in 1478 that allowed for a small tribunal to proceed. In 1480, that tribunal began. But things quickly went crazy. Many of the conversos gloated about being "blood relatives" of Jesus Christ (Who, in reality, also has many non-Jewish ancestors as well, such as: Tamar, a Gentile Canaanite prostitute; Rahab, another Gentile prostitute; Ruth, a Moabite; Bathsheba, who may have been Gentile, etc.). And they still had plenty of wealth to flaunt. Many saw themselves as superior to the "Old Christians" and, of course, many weren't truly converted at all. Further, the tribunal came to be used, by both "Old Christians" and conversos, as a weapon against enemies, a means to seek revenge and settle old scores. So accusations based on personal conflicts flew, so many that the small tribunal in place couldn't handle them all.Queen Isabella II of Castile and King Ferdinand I

Pope Sixtus IV responded to all this by ordering that Bishops be put in charge to make sure things proceeded in an orderly way and so that the rights of the accused were honored. But King Ferdinand rejected that plan, and made Tomás de Torquemada the inquistor-general, a move the Pope eventually approved.

But the manner in which the inquisitions were conducted were, at that time, in no way up to the Church's standards of fairness and justice. Spain's Bishops and the Pope himself pleaded for an end to trials that could include hearsay, in which the accused had no lawyers to represent them, etc., but their pleas went unheeded for fifteen years.

After that period of time, though, Torquemada was succeeded by Archbishop Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros, who thoroughly reformed how the inquisitions' proceedings went. Gone was the admission of hearsay. The accused were given legal representation. The Spanish Inquisition became known for the fairness with which it operated, so much so that some people would actually commit blasphemy so that they'd be tried by the Inquisition rather than by other courts of the day.

Know, too, that the Inquisition only had jurisdiction over self-proclaimed Christians, not Jews or Muslims or anyone else. So many lies are told about this! For example, the website, in an article about the Kol Nidre prayer which religious Jews pray on Yom Kippur, says this:
This prayer has often been held up by anti-Semites as proof that Jews are untrustworthy (we do not keep our vows), and for this reason the Reform movement removed it from the liturgy for a while. In fact, the reverse is true: we make this prayer because we take vows so seriously that we consider ourselves bound even if we make the vows under duress or in times of stress when we are not thinking straight. This prayer gave comfort to those who were converted to Christianity by torture in various inquisitions, yet felt unable to break their vow to follow Christianity. In recognition of this history, the Reform movement restored this prayer to its liturgy.
This is a lie. A straight-out lie. In fact, there are three lies told in just these sixteen words "This prayer gave comfort to those who were converted to Christianity by torture in various inquisitions." The lies are: 1) that the Inquisition had jurisdiction over self-admitted Jews, 2) the intimation that torture was used extensively and in order to "force conversions," and 3) that forced conversion happened in the first place. These sorts of assertions are very commonly heard, however. (It's also not true that the Kol Nidre is prayed for the reasons stated, either, but that matter is beyond the scope of this page.1)

Anyway, back to the story: During the 350-year long Spanish Inquisition, those found guilty of treason were put to death, just as they are in the United States and in Israel today. The execution rate was similar to that of modern day Texas, with a total of between 3,000 and 5,000 people having received the death sentence over the three and a half centuries it lasted -- a rate of 8.57 to 14.2 per year. Ironically, given the way so many people have been propagandized to think about the Catholic Church, while these measured trials were going on in Spain, the great frenzied and hysterical witch hunts were happening in Protestant lands, resulting in the slaughter of around 150,000 people.

Sadly, as with other courts of the day (and, incredibly, as in modern America and Israel), torture was used, but extremely rarely; it was used "only" in 2% of the cases and "only" for a maximum of fifteen minutes. Further, a person could only be subjected to such means only twice and no more
-- a much more humane approach to the use of torture than the American and Israeli governments have today, by the way. There were no such things as "Iron Maidens," those casket-shaped objects in the form of a woman, lined inside with spikes that would, when the "casket's" door was closed, pierce the unfortunate ordered inside. That is a 19th century invention and had nothing whatsoever to do with the Spanish Inquisition. Nonetheless, the popular imagination is filled with images such as the following --


-- but the reality is that such things are so often wrongly associated with the Spanish Inquisition due to Protestant and anti-Spain propaganda that became known as "The Black Legend."

The Black Legend

After the expulsion of the Jews, Spain entered into a great "golden age." The year of their expulsion, 1492, was the same year that Columbus discovered the New World, bringing untold riches to the old one. The arts flourished, with Diego Velázquez, El Greco, Francisco de Zurbarán, and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo exhibiting their brilliance in paint while Miguel de Cervantes and Lope de Vega wrote classics of literature. Musically, there were Tomás Luis de Victoria, Francisco Guerrero, and Alonso Lobo, and some of Spain's most beautiful buildings were built then as well, including the Palace of Charles V, El Escorial, Madrid's Plaza Mayor, and the cathedrals of Granada and Valladolid.

All of this made England very nervous.

Now, England became Protestant when King Henry VIII, wanting a male heir and possessing a wandering eye, went against the Church and divorced his wife, Queen Isabella's daughter, Catherine of Aragon. He had his heart set on Anne Boleyn and married her. This breach with the Church was catastrophic and ended in the misery and martyrdom of English Catholics who remained faithful to Christ's Church. Priests were driven underground, and Catholics had to practice their religion secretly (for a fascinating account of life during these times, see Eamon Duffy's "The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580"). The Church's properties were seized, Her parishes plundered. There was a brief reprieve for Catholics when Mary I, unfairly remembered as "Bloody Mary," the Catholic daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, took the throne. She did have Protestant blood on her hands, mind you, but her half-sister, Elizabeth I, came to have much more Catholic blood on hers. Those with the most power write History, however, so it is the Catholic Mary who got the word "Bloody" attached to her name (and who has a tasty cocktail named for her).

Mary I reigned for only five years and was succeeded by Henry VIII's and Anne Boleyn's daughter, Queen Elizabeth I. It was under Elizabeth's reign that England became an empire as Spain had, establishing colonies in the New World. And it was at this time that the Protestant anti-Catholic, anti-Spain propaganda that later became known as "The Black Legend," was loosed upon the world.

After Elizabeth came James I. And then Charles I. And then England blew up, erupting into a series of three Civil Wars led by the odious Oliver Cromwell, who led his "Roundhead" Parliamentarians against the "Cavaliers," those loyal to the Catholic-friendly King Charles I and his Catholic wife. King Charles made peace with Spain and France, ending the Thirty Years War, and tried to unify the country religiously by attempting to bring about a more sacramental, "high liturgy" faith. But he acted much of the time without consulting his Parliament, enraging them in the process. Because of this, Charles was executed by the Roundhead faction, with some believing that his executioner was Cromwell himself.

Cromwell then allowed Jews to re-enter England, after their having been expelled by King Edward I in A.D. 1290 for the same old reasons (usury, anti-Christianism, etc.). He was approached by a Dutch Jew, Menasseh Ben Israel, who implored him to allow Jews to re-enter the country, and, so, "the resettlement" proceeded. Thereafter, the English, Jewish, and Dutch-run trans-Atlantic slave trade arose, and Jews helped to quash the Jacobite attempt to restore the rightful, Catholic monarchy. Within 150 years, the Rothschilds had set up their banking system in England, and soon engaged in fractional reserve banking, all leading eventually, later, to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank which plague our economies today.

Financially supported by Jewish merchants, most especially by Antonio Fernandez Carvajal of London, Cromwell wreaked havoc, invading Ireland and slaughtering Catholics there, soldier and civilian alike, deporting over 50,000 Irish Catholic men, women, and children to forced labor in the New World as indentured servants (i.e., slaves in all but name), and instigating a famine that resulted in the deaths of a third to half of Ireland's population.   

The hatred of Catholicism and
of rival Spain on the part of the elites brought forth an outpouring of literature filled with lies and exaggerations. Among the most influential of this sort of writing was "Foxe's Book of Martyrs," formally titled "Acts and Monuments," and written by John Foxe. Published in 1563, this book was filled with gruesome depictions of innocent Protestants being "martyred" by the Catholic Church. Ugliness filled page after page after page of this book, whose writer was described by the Encyclopedia Brittanica as being guilty of "wilful falsification of evidence." Foxe even had the gall to use the early Catholic martyrs as examples of those martyred for Protestantism. The book was read from in Protestant "churches," alongside Sacred Scripture, and was used by Cromwell to incite his soldiers to rage.

The myth of the Spanish Inquisition was born. And it endures. Please watch this video of a BBC-made documentary to learn just how most of what most people think they know about the Spanish Inquisition is nothing but propaganda.


1 The Kol Nidre is at least 1200 years old. See Spector, Johanna, The Kol Nidre - At Least 1200 Years Old, Journal of Synagogue Music, vol. 38 (Fall 2008), page 156, citing a Cairo Geniza letter by Palto Gaon (fl. 857) "that Kol Nidre was recited by popular demand in the Geonic Academy at the Babylonian city of Pumbadita long before the practice was introduced to the larger and better-known Academy at Sura." See also the entry "Kol Nidre" at the Jewish Encyclopedia which affirms that the Kol Nidre was around at least as early as the "Geonic period," which lasted from A.D. 589 to 1038:

Defense of Catholicism