No phase of ecclesiastical history has been the object of more intense scrutiny than the medieval papal Inquisition and all that it connotes. The bibliography on this subject is both extensive and impressive. Scholars have centered their attention not only on the gathering and organization of the pertinent data, but they have also, and with less success, attempted to grapple with the phenomenon of the Catholic Church’s efforts to preserve the faith of her members. Perhaps the main deterrent to such an understanding is the difficulty of grasping adequately the social milieu in which these events occurred. There is the almost insuperable temptation to judge past institutions and events in the light of twentieth-century modes of conduct and juridical practice. Aside from a consideration of the medieval Inquisition as a whole, historians have taken up individual aspects of the Inquisitorial process. One of the most controversial is that of the secrecy of the names of witnesses. As Henry Charles Lea so characteristically put it: “The crowning infamy of the inquisition in its treatment of testimony was withholding from the accused all knowledge of the names of the witnesses against him.” One wonders what this distinguished American would say of the current loyalty “trials,” in which government employees are tried not only without knowledge of the names of their accusers but without even knowing the charges alleged against them and without being allowed to be present at their own “trial”.

Albert Shannon, “The Secrecy of Witnesses in Inquisitorial Tribunals and in Contemporary Secular Criminal Trials”. Essays in Medieval Life and Thought: Presented in Honor of Austin Patterson Evans (1965)


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