Recently, I watched an episode of The Secret Files of the Inquisition. I was struck by the parallels going on in the US today.
During the 16th century, sixty years after Martin Luther nailed his concerns to the door of a church, a majority of the people of Europe were moving away from the Catholic faith and toward Protestantism. Faced with a loss of souls, a loss of revenue and a loss of territory, the Roman Inquisition began. The goal? The suppression of religious freedom and the rejoining, as had been the case for centuries, of Church and State with the Church in the lead position.
The acceptable view was that the earth was the center of the universe, Rome was the center of the earth and the Pope was the leader, appointed by God, of Rome.
Studying medicine was heresy because to dissect the body was to question God’s creation.
Worshiping in one’s own language was heresy because to do so encouraged the asking of theological questions which was tantamount to questioning God.
Rome turned its eyes toward the universities because they were places where free thought was encouraged.
A student at the University of Padua had converted to the Lutheran view. His name was Antonio Algerio. After his trial and imprisonment, in 1455, a monk was sent to urge him to recant his views. If he recanted, he would be strangled before his body was burned. He refused. A new form of execution had been devised and Antonio was the first to experience it: he was boiled alive in a cauldron of oil, tar and turpentine. He survived for fifteen minutes.
At about this same time, the Church cast its eyes toward the Jews.
For over 1000 years, twenty-three Popes had tolerated and protected the Jews. They were respected for their skills and were recognized as boons to local economies.
Pope Paul IV wrote a bull that overturned all that. For the next 300 years the Jews were placed in ghettos. They were locked in every night and suffered more and more repression. They were not allowed to own any book except the Torah [the Christians' Old Testament]. All other Hebrew books were burned. Finally the logical conclusion began being carried out: the choice to either convert or face torture and execution. Often, even after conversion, either true or false, the individual was executed simply because he or she was of Jewish ancestry.
In 1559, Pope Paul IV died. Immediately after his death, the people of Rome erupted into the streets, freed the prisoners of the Inquisition of Rome and toppled the statue of Paul IV to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea where it remained for almost 500 years.
His legacy, however, lived on. Books continued to be banned and torture and executions continued. Most of the presses in Venice were closed. Finally, the entire city of Venice was excommunicated. The list of banned books remained in effect thus suppressing furtherance of knowledge.
Oh, and something that came as a shock to me: the Inquisition lasted until late in the 19th century -- in fact the final bit [the forbidden reading list] was finally repealed in 1966 by Pope Paul VI.
And, within the last decade, in 1998-- Pope John Paul II apologized for the Inquisition and the harm it caused. Though I disagreed with much he did, when I heard about that my respect for the man rose about 2000 percent. That action took courage.
Today, however, the parallels with the Inquisition period of history are stunning. People in power are leading us into another Inquisition. They torture and kill those who disagree with their views. They do so for many of the same reasons Pope Paul IV created his reign of terror.
In the 16th century, there were some mitigating circumstances. The Renaissance was just beginning. The majority of people still lived lives filled with superstitions left over from medieval times. Some people were still emerging from feudal times when they had been told what to do and what they were allowed to believe by their earthly lords as well as by the Church.
Only the educated few understood that the earth was not flat and stable and that the sun did not move around the earth. Everyone believed that God created every animal in its final form. The sciences we know today did not exist. And they did not have previous Inquisitions to serve as warnings as to what the authorities, when granted total power over the populace, are capable of doing to the people.
We do not have those excuses for what we are allowing to happen to us.