But what of torture? It’s true that inquisitors would occasionally resort to it to extract information. But before providing specifics, perspective is again necessary. As the BBC (hardly a font of Christian piety or conservative ideological purity) stated in its 1994 documentary The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition (MSI), “During the same [Inquisition] time period in the rest of Europe, hideous physical cruelty was commonplace. In England you could be executed for damaging shrubs in public gardens. If you returned to Germany from banishment, you could have your eyes gouged out. In France, you could be disemboweled for sheep stealing.” In fact, even Enlightenment giant Thomas Jefferson, much later in history, prescribed draconian measures. As he wrote in A Bill for Proportioning Crimes and Punishments, “Whosoever shall be guilty of Rape, Polygamy, or Sodomy with man or woman shall be punished, if a man, by castration, if a woman, by cutting thro’ the cartilage of her nose a hole of one half inch diameter at the least.”

Despite this, it was perhaps in the Inquisitions that torture was used least. As Henry Kamen said when appearing in the MSI, “We find that comparing the Inquisition, merely in Spain with other tribunals, that the Inquisition used torture less than other tribunals. And if you compare the Inquisition with tribunals in other countries, we find that the Inquisition has a [very clean] record with respect to torture.”

Selwyn Duke, “The inquisition and iniquity: Burning heretics or history?” The New American (2013, Dec 23)

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