One Quick Way to Silence Christians: Say, “Remember the Spanish Inquisition.” Your Response?

A while back, Australian-American billionaire Rupert Murdoch said that all Muslims need to be held responsible for jihadist attacks against the West.  This comment quickly prompted J. K. Rowling, who claims to a Christian by virtue of her birth in England, to offer this sarcastic apology: “The Spanish Inquisition was my fault.”  

Oh yes, the Spanish Inquisition! Many years ago, a graduate student visiting my church—while attending Church History class—asked, “During the Spanish Inquisition, did not the church force its beliefs on the Jews and Muslims, and if they did not believe, were they not killed?"  Okay, consider this blog as a primer for those who think they know Spanish Inquisition but really don’t. 

First, know that the Inquisition was a special court established by the papacy in 1229 to try people accused of heresy, i.e., teaching that went against Catholic belief and doctrine.  

The following is the gist of what I said to the visitor and would say to Rowling:

I, as a Protestant (i.e., spiritual offspring of the Reformation—1517), am just as appalled by the Inquisition in Spain as any descendants of the Jews or Muslims who were harmed by it.  
After the staunchly Catholic Isabella and Ferdinand launched the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 against the Jews and Islamic Moors, many of whom had superficially converted to the Catholic faith to avoid being persecuted, the attention was turned to persons suspected of Protestantism.  

Called the “Counter-Reformation,” the Catholics throughout Europe were eager to overthrow Protestantism.  While the Spanish Inquisition refers to what occurred in Spain, an untold number of inquisitions happened in other parts of Europe in which Protestants were questioned about their beliefs often under torture and threats.  And those who would not conform to the requirements of the Pope and Catholic Church were treated unmercifully.  Some perished at the stake; others were buried alive while still others were strangled.  

So then, who suffered the most at the hands of the Catholics?  Regarding the fatalities suffered by the Jews and Muslims in Spain,  the eminent Yale historian Kenneth Latourette writes, “The majority of the condemned were not burned but were heavily fined and were subjected to humiliating penance” (1975:658).  This pales in comparison to the level of cruelty suffered by Protestants throughout Europe by the inquisitors tied to Spain.  For instance, it is believed that during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, also the king of Spain and the grandson of Isabella and Ferdinand, “more than 5,000 suffered death on a charge of heresy” (Houghton 1980:140).   Phillip II, after succeeding his father Charles V to the throne, in his attempt to align the Netherlands to the pope by rooting out the Protestants, brought in Spaniard Inquisitor Duke of Alva to “inaugurate[] a reign of terror.  Between 1567 and 1573 he executed about ten thousand people” (Cairns 1980:350).  Another notable terror against the Protestants (a.k.a., Huguenots) occurred in France in what is known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572) in which, under the Catholic Queen Catherine de’ Medici, between 10,000-15,000 Huguenots were killed.   No wonder that “in time the phrase [Inquisition] became a byword, particularly in Protestant areas, for cruelty and obscurantism'" (Encarta 1994).

After recounting all this, I said to the visitor:  “I concur with your indignation at the Spanish Inquisition that was totally inexcusable.  However, it is historically inaccurate and unfair that the Protestants are accused of using the Inquisition in general and the Spanish Inquisition in particular to harm the Jews and Muslims of that era when they were the main victims.  Having said all this, I, as a spiritual descendant of the Protestants who suffered at the hands of the Catholics, forgive them because I have been forgiven by Christ.”

I would also say to Rowling, “Ma’am, as part of the Anglican faith who parted from the Catholic faith under Henry VIII (1491-1547), you do not need to bear the guilt of the Spanish Inquisition.  

Also, no one is born as a Christian; instead, we are all born as people separated from God because of sin, a concept that has long been forgotten by cultural elite such as yourself.  Whether we recognize sin or not, its consequence remains the same: separation, death, and finally, hell.  But, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might’ (2 Cor. 5:21) have ‘eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom. 6:23).”