Severe punishment for religious and civil offenses was after all common to European countries from the Middle Ages up to modern times. Why single out Spain for criticism, argues Maistre, when Protestant countries exceeded the Spanish courts in the severity and harshness of their penalties? Only recently was the rack abolished in England and elsewhere. In general, sacrilege and treason were punished by fire. Unlike many Protestant tribunals Spanish inquisitors were willing to release a prisoner once he repented…The Golden Age of Spanish literature flourished when the Inquisition was in full swing, thus giving the lie to those that accused it of having a deleterious effect on artistic and intellectual life.

Protestant writers in general never cease, Maistre notes, to excoriate the Church, especially Spain, for repression and persecution of opposing religious beliefs. Yet far greater abuses took place in England and Germany, St. Bartholomew’s day notwithstanding…Queen Elizabeth and Luther perpetrated many of the atrocities of which the Inquisition was falsely accused. With all due respect for the integrity and salutary features of British law and government Maistre perceives glaring inconsistencies in the English constitution. On one hand religion is treated indifferently under the theory all honest beliefs are of equal value; yet on the other hand England does not hesitate to assail Spain for intolerance. By comparison Spanish Catholicism represents a position more intellectually respectable than that of English Protestantism. To the Spanish mind there is logically only one source of theological truth, the Catholic Church founded by Jesus Christ.

Charles M. Lombard, Introduction to Letters on the Spanish Inquisition, by Count Joseph de Maistre


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