Anyone know of an objective tally for number killed by Inquisition

Christian apologists are now arguing that the Catholic Inquisition killed only a few thousand individuals.  Does anyone know of a more objective analysis of the number that perished at the hands of Inquisitors over the centuries?

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I'm more disturbed about the mentality that it was "only" a few thousand individuals.

It depends on what you count. If you throw in the Albigensian Crusade, it would be much higher (that was tens of thousands by itself, I think).

 

I am curious about whether you could even get the Catholic Church to say that the various people burned as heretics, witches etc. are not rotting in Hell. Isn't that what they think, now? Sorry we killed them, but they are all in Hell anyway, so it does not matter.

Not sure.. but they probably werent expecting it..

 

Sorry.. gallows humour.

 

Seriously though I am not sure what these sort of discussions acheive.

 

Throughout the history of mankind atrocities have happened. Cro-Magnan man pushed the Neanderthals into extinction, the ancients Greeks destroyed Troy. Over tiem we had the Romans, the Mongols, the Nazi's, Pol Pot... need I go on?

 

All these where mankind showing its worse side. That the Inquisition was such an act masquerading as religion make it now bad or worse than the others.

 

I think we should put aside the us and them mentality many people seem to have on here. If we all accepted that Theist are not gunna be disuaded by logical arguments then we can jsut ignore them when they try to save the atheist's.

 

Thanks

Great post.

 

Value judgements about history are pretty much useless. To admonish the 14th Century Church for not practicing our values of religious freedom is as absurd as blaming the Romans for not following the Geneve conventions. Of course they didn't follow our values; how could they?

 

It doesn't accomplish anything, and it takes away from our objectivity. That's why I tend to avoid it.

I agree with Martin Butler on this. By the way, I am not a big fan of "raw" numbers throughout history. It really doesn't matter how many... but what percentage of the population. If you are comparing over thousands of years with huge fluctuations in population that is really the comparison to make. Like the way the plague killed something like 25% of the population of Europe - Now that IS something!

Eric,

 

"Does anyone know of a more objective analysis of the number that perished at the hands of Inquisitors over the centuries?"

 

I find it interesting how you just assumed that the number was not objective because it conflicts with your preconceptions. What your Christian apologist (I'm assuming this is D'Souza talking) says is correct.

Get hold of a copy of Bernard Hamilton's The Medieval Inquisition for the earlier period and Edward Peters Inquisition for the later period and the Spanish Inquisition. Peters is particularly good on the use of torture and its evolution but his later chapters on how the myths of the Inquisition arose and the popularity various lurid (and kinky) images of the Inquisition more recent centuries is a good antidote to the amateurish and biased crap you'll find online.

Modern scholarship places the deaths tolls of the Catholic inquisition at about 2,000 to 6,000; the error bars of course being because our source material is not complete.

 

However, the argument, while technically correct, is also deceptive. "The Catholic Inquisition" is a very specific phrase and refers to the judicial practice whereby Catholic Church officials identified which people in a given community were actually heretics and then judged which of them were deserving civil punishment. Most were simply given penances of varying degrees of severity and only a few were handed to the secular arm.

But of course, if the argument is (as it is with D'Souza) "The Inquisition only killed a few thousands people so the reign of the Church wasn't that bad" then that ignores that the death tolls by the Inquisition do not include crusades (like the Albigensian Crusade), lynch mobs, and of course the people that were imprisoned at the hands of the Church.

 

So it's quite deceptive. But the claim itself is correct.

Matt,

I understand your concern about the charges and countercharges of past crimes, but I have to disagree with you about reminding religionists of their past history, which is usually greatly suppressed in our culture today.  When I see the rapid growth of gun ownership in the religious southern and western USA, armed Christian militias and influential and powerful organizations of fundamentalist US congressmen like The Family, who worship violence, I don’t think that religionists have entirely renounced the use of violence today against their foes (like us) .  I think that reminding them of the savagery that religious doctrine can lead to is an appropriate response against its reoccurrence.

With respect to the actual numbers killed by religionists over the centuries, I admit that I don’t have the facts however D’Souza has invented much about religion and science, religion and democracy, and religion and slavery so I assumed that he was inventing here also.  According to Bertrand Russell’s 1935 book “Religion and Science” it was estimated that in Germany alone, between 1450 and 1550, a hundred thousand witches were put to death, mostly by burning (p. 95).  He also describes the most blood curdling torture of a Dr. Fian (pp 95-6) in Scotland by inquisitors of James I for the simple “crime” of denying that a storm was caused by witches.

I don't blame you for being skeptical of D'Souza. That guy is a snivelling douchebag. I've already pointed out why his argument is dishonest.

 

As for Russell... well if you noticed, the dates on these scholarly works that I link to are all quite recent (1980's forward). Modern historical analysis has only really begun debunking many Enlightenment myths about 50 years ago, and understandably it takes even longer before it gets down to the general public.

So I can't say with certainty where Russell is getting his data from, but I do know that another educator of science and rationality, Carl Sagan (whose books aren't much more recent than Russell) frequently let himself get fooled by historical myths and urban legends (the things "we all know" about the Middle Ages). Carl Sagan was a great educator of science, but as it happens his skepticism with regards to history was pretty lousy. I suspect the same is true for Russell (and he's probably not to blame because the scholarship in his day was quite poor concerning these issues).

 

For instance, you refer to witch burnings. I will certainly grant that witch burnings took many lives, but the most recent studies on witch burnings don't go over a death toll of 100,000 from 1450 to 1750 for Europe and North America combined. Most estimates for those parameters are around the 40,000-60,000 mark.

And it's once again a question of who to attribute this to. The heyday of the inquisition was the Middle Ages, and in that age (contrary to popular perception) it was ironically believing in witchcraft that was seen as heresy. It was only in the 16th and 17th Century that we see ideas towards magic shifting, and it's at this point that the witch crazes start, largely in Protestant countries (Germany, the American colonies).

 

I've never heard about the Dr. Fian story before, but as far as I can tell it traces back to the 1841 (!!!) book "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by the journalist Charles Mackay, who is also responsible for some of the other myths about the witch crazes. So I feel quite confident in dismissing that as a classical 19th century horror story about the evil Middle Ages, just as all those "torture devices" you might have seen in Medieval dungeons are largely 19th century hoaxes.

 

Interestingly, much of the torture used by the Inquisition consisted of forms of water-boarding and suspending upside-down from the ceiling; both practices that the US government used in Guantanoma and insisted as being only "interrogation". Funy how things don't change.

Glad we agree on D'Souza - he is a snide menace.  Re: the 40-60,000 witch burnings I've seen estimates ranging from 40,000-300,000.  In either case however these greatly exceed the 2,000-6,000 inquisition victims and support a very widespread savagery prompted by religious doctrine. 

 

As for Dr. Fian and torture in the Middle Ages, I guess I have to disagree again.  I have not checked the veracity of the account of Russell as you have.  But the actual instruments and the depiction of torture for that age have survived (Impaler, Judas Cradle, Coffin Torture, the Rack, The Breast Ripper, The Pear of Anguish,  Breaking Wheel, Saw Torture, Head Crusher, Knee Splitter).  Therefore I am more inclined to trust Russell's account even if it was recorded in an 1841 book.  I also suspect, but cannot prove, that much of the evidence for these acts was destroyed to prevent subsequent discovery.  I have also read that the religious inquisitors used to have the "secular" officials actually carry out most of the torture and executions so the church could not be held accountable for them. 

Eric,

 

"Re: the 40-60,000 witch burnings I've seen estimates ranging from 40,000-300,000."

 

I see all kinds of estimates, but I only pay attention to those that are scholary supported. Levack's "The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe" is one of the more exhaustive works on the subject and he comes up with a final number of 60k, which is considered on the high end of estimations. Others have multiplied his number further to account for the nature of our sources and come up with 100k as an upper limit (Levack and others argue that the nature of our sources was already accounted for in the 60k). Regardless, most estimates are around the 50k and 100k is often regarded as the upper limit.

 

"In either case however these greatly exceed the 2,000-6,000 inquisition victims and support a very widespread savagery prompted by religious doctrine. "

 

No argument there. It just isn't the Catholic inquisition specifically.

 

"But the actual instruments and the depiction of torture for that age have survived (Impaler, Judas Cradle, Coffin Torture, the Rack, The Breast Ripper, The Pear of Anguish,  Breaking Wheel, Saw Torture, Head Crusher, Knee Splitter)."

 

Half of those are demonstrably made up in the 19th Century (like the Judas Cradle, Pear, Coffin Torture or 'the Iron Maiden'), and for the other half there's absolutely no evidence that they were actually used in the Middle Ages. That said there's no question that torture was used in judicial processes of the time (the Wheel being one which we actually do know was used). But I'd much rather have been in the torture chamber of the Inquisition than most of the 'secular' torture chambers: the torture methods the (Medieval) Inquisition used were as I said: usually water-boarding and inverse suspension.

 

"I also suspect, but cannot prove, that much of the evidence for these acts was destroyed to prevent subsequent discovery." 

 

If they tried to destroy the evidence they seem to have done a very poor job of it. We have shelves and shelves and shelves and shelves of detailed inquisitorial investigations. And the investigations were so rigorous that these documents are actually some of our best data on how people in the Middle Ages lived.

You're confusing modern attitudes with their values. They were proud of combatting heresy. They shouted it from the roof-tops, performed public executions, made detailed reports for other inquisitors to learn from.

They weren't exactly ashamed of this.

 

"I have also read that the religious inquisitors used to have the "secular" officials actually carry out most of the torture and executions so the church could not be held accountable for them."

 

That's true. But again, it wasn't because they didn't want to be held accountable (once again, they were proud to be doing this). Those found guilty were given to the local courts because that's what the rules were. Local rulers asked for an Inquisition to be performed in their regions (or alternatively, the Pope asked to do so), inquisitioners were appointed and performed the investigations, and then they were handed off to the local rulers for executions. But this is very much calculated into our death tolls, if that's what you're worried about.

Matt,

 

>>You’ve obviously done a lot of impressive research on this subject. But the results seem to let the religionists off a little too easily so I’ve inserted a number of critical questions below. 

 

"But the actual instruments and the depiction of torture for that age have survived (Impaler, Judas Cradle, Coffin Torture, the Rack, The Breast Ripper, The Pear of Anguish,  Breaking Wheel, Saw Torture, Head Crusher, Knee Splitter)."

 

Half of those are demonstrably made up in the 19th Century (like the Judas Cradle, Pear, Coffin Torture or 'the Iron Maiden'), and for the other half there's absolutely no evidence that they were actually used in the Middle Ages. 

 

>>So I take it no one has found any Middle Age depictions like woodcarvings of their use during this period.  As for the other half for which you say there’s absolutely no evidence for their use during this period, were they ever used, and, if so, where, when and by whom?  Were these then total fabrications with no basis in fact or were they ever employed anywhere? 

 

That said there's no question that torture was used in judicial processes of the time (the Wheel being one which we actually do know was used). But I'd much rather have been in the torture chamber of the Inquisition than most of the 'secular' torture chambers: the torture methods the (Medieval) Inquisition used were as I said: usually water-boarding and inverse suspension.

 

>>According to the Jewish Virtual Library, 2011,(American Israeli Cooperative Enterprise) in Spain from 1481 to the late 1700s an estimated 31,912 heretics were burned at the stake which seems to be at odds with this point.   

 

"I also suspect, but cannot prove, that much of the evidence for these acts was destroyed to prevent subsequent discovery." 

 

If they tried to destroy the evidence they seem to have done a very poor job of it. We have shelves and shelves and shelves and shelves of detailed inquisitorial investigations.

 

>>May I ask, where are these shelves located?

 

And the investigations were so rigorous that these documents are actually some of our best data on how people in the Middle Ages lived.

 

You're confusing modern attitudes with their values. They were proud of combatting heresy. They shouted it from the roof-tops, performed public executions, made detailed reports for other inquisitors to learn from.

They weren't exactly ashamed of this.

 

>>I find that somewhat difficult to accept because, I don’t think it’s possible for most of us to completely suppress our revulsion when watching someone being tortured. Even the Nazis went to lengths to hide what was really happening in the extermination camps from the rest of the world.  

So couldn’t religionists who came later when the laws re cruel and unusual punishment began to be passed during the Enlightenment have destroyed the worst of the evidence in the next centuries? And also weren’t these the very real tortures that gave rise to those laws?  Religionists do have a long history of forging and revision, e.g, the gospels.

 

>>I have also read that tortures without execution were generally conducted in dungeons rather than in public. 

 

"I have also read that the religious inquisitors used to have the "secular" officials actually carry out most of the torture and executions so the church could not be held accountable for them."

 

That's true. But again, it wasn't because they didn't want to be held accountable (once again, they were proud to be doing this). Those found guilty were given to the local courts because that's what the rules were.

 

>>Were these rules decreed by religionists or “secularists?”

 

Local rulers asked for an Inquisition to be performed in their regions (or alternatively, the Pope asked to do so), inquisitioners were appointed and performed the investigations, and then they were handed off to the local rulers for executions. But this is very much calculated into our death tolls, if that's what you're worried about.

 

>>This gives the impression that it frequently wasn’t the religionists themselves that were initiating inquisitions but rather the local rulers.  It’s not clearwhy a local “secular” ruler would be more motivated than a religionist to do this.

 

 

 

"You’ve obviously done a lot of impressive research on this subject. But the results seem to let the religionists off a little too easily so I’ve inserted a number of critical questions below."

 

Sure, ask away.

By the way, I don't see this as "letting religionists (whatever the fuck a religionist is supposed to be) off easy" because I really don't have that much time for the argument "Religion did bad things in the past ergo religion is bad."

All kinds of people did bad things in the past. Sometimes religion was the cause, sometimes it was not. Sometimes religion was the catalyst, sometimes it wasn't. Sometimes religion was a positive factor, sometimes it wasn't.

I don't see what that is supposed to teach us. 

 

"So I take it no one has found any Middle Age depictions like woodcarvings of their use during this period.  As for the other half for which you say there’s absolutely no evidence for their use during this period, were they ever used, and, if so, where, when and by whom?  Were these then total fabrications with no basis in fact or were they ever employed anywhere?"

 

Nope, with most of these devices we get the first reference to them in the 18-19th Century.

By whom were they made up? By and large, romanticists and people with various agendas. In the 18th and 19th Century people had a very strong sense that certain periods they liked should be romanticised (like the Renaissance, the Greeks, the Romans) and other eras were to be demonized. They felt very strongly that those eras had been "good", and their own era had been "good", so everything in between (that's why they called it the MIDDLE Ages, as if it was completely unimportant) must've been bad. Very often this was accompanied with some moralizing stories (many of this was done by Protestants or at least in a Protestant environment, so there's a very strong sense with historians like Gibbon, that anything the Catholic Church did must've been bad)

 

The consequence of all this -since these guys didn't particularly care for objective analysis and never let something as pesky as "facts" get in the way of some kind of "lesson"- is that we have lots and lots of cartoonish myths about all these time periods, many of which persist to this day.

That's why we think of the Romans as eminently rational and science-endearing fellows and of the Middle Ages as a filthy theocracy. Do these ideas have any basis in fact? For the most part, no. Which is why much of historical scholarship over the last few decades has been dismissing these myths and finding out what actually happened.

 

"I find that somewhat difficult to accept because, I don’t think it’s possible for most of us to completely suppress our revulsion when watching someone being tortured. Even the Nazis went to lengths to hide what was really happening in the extermination camps from the rest of the world."

 

I realise that the Nazi analogy seems obvious, but it's simply flawed. The Nazis lived in the modern day and age, and they knew that genocide and the extermination of entire groups of people would be unacceptable even to their own population. That's why they went through such great pains to hide it.

With the Inquisition, this doesn't work. They were living in a time where just about everyone agreed that combatting heresy was a noble thing to do, and so they didn't hide their actions: inquisitions were announced publicly, performed in broad daylight and recorded in detail, the executions happened publicly, the numbers were often bragged about in letters and documents, etcetera... These aren't the actions of people trying to hide anything.

 

"So couldn’t religionists who came later when the laws re cruel and unusual punishment began to be passed during the Enlightenment have destroyed the worst of the evidence in the next centuries?"

 

There's still plenty of cruelty and insanity in the inquisitorial records that we have now. So if their job was to make the Church look better, they certainly did an absolutely abysmal job.

Seriously though, I think it's obvious to anyone that these "what-if's" are completely baseless. We can't simply posit a "what if they actually really were much crueler than we think, but then they very selectively destroyed all that particular evidence while leaving the rest unscratched IN A GIANT CONSPIRACY!!" and expect to be taken seriously. Historical analysis doesn't work like that.

Could this have happened? Sure. Everything could have happened.

 

"I have also read that tortures without execution were generally conducted in dungeons rather than in public."

 

That sounds reasonable but I don't really know.

 

"Were these rules decreed by religionists or “secularists?”"

 

The rules of how the Inquisition operated (which included that those found guilty should be given to the secular authorities for punishment) were decided by the Church, obviously. 

 

"This gives the impression that it frequently wasn’t the religionists themselves that were initiating inquisitions but rather the local rulers. It’s not clearwhy a local “secular” ruler would be more motivated than a religionist to do this."

 

The local rulers were religious so I don't know where this distinction is coming from. 

The point here is -and this is something that's hard for modern people to grasp- we have grown accustomed to this idea that religion is a private affair. But that is a recent perspective; for hundreds of years, the religious beliefs of your neighbour were very much your business. This goes all the way back to the Romans (and even sooner): if you don't honour the Gods, then that might incur the Gods wrath, so it's in everyone's interest that nobody upsets the Gods. This is why the Roman Empire savagely persecuted Christians, druids and other cults: doing something the Gods don't like is a liability for everyone.

 

The Middle Ages were the same way. In these communities, religion was not about you personally, it was a communal affairs. So the business of combatting heresy wasn't something that needed to be enforced: people happily did so out of their own religious convinctions. In fact one of the reasons the Inquisition was set up was that when people thought that there were heretics in town, they often set up lynch mobs (sometimes encouraged by the local priest, but they were perfectly capable of doing so on their own) and tried to find out who the heretics were on their own (which was of course really friggin' sloppy).

The Church set up the process of an inquisition for this reason: whenever there were reports about heresy (reported by whomever; the local bishop, the local abbot, the local ruler, but also -and in fact often- Johny and Mary on the street), an inquisitional process was set up and inquisitioners were named, so they could conduct this kind of investigation seriously.

 

Strange as it may seem to us, pursuing this irrational quest against heresy was taken very seriously and very rationally. Using the principles of Roman right, witnesses were cross-interrogated, motives were assessed, the accused could write out a list of names of his known enemies (and if the person who insisted on an inquisition was among these names, the charges were dropped). It all went quite rigorously, and it is no coincidence that the way Inquisitions were performed became a template for later judicial traditions, and ultimately, our own.

 

But of course now we use it for serious matters rather than defending Bronze-Age beliefs ;)

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