« PreviousContinue »
THE AMERICAN CATHOLIC
VOL. XIII.-JULY, 1888.-No. 51.
THE LATEST HISTORIAN OF THE INQUISITION.
A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages. By Henry Charles Lea,
author of “ An Historical Sketch of Sacerdotal Celibacy,” “Superstition and Force," “Studies in Church History.” In three vol
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1888.
HIS work, just issued from the press, is professedly an original
and important contribution to the history of a stirring age of the world. A few natural and even necessary questions must be asked of it by all who would seek truth from its pages. These questions must be answered mainly from the historian's own words. It is not, indeed, the man personally, but the writer's value as a teacher of history, that is concerned.
First, has he sought the truth himself-impartially—or is he an offensive partisan likely to surprise the good faith of his reader?
Then, has he had ready to his hand the necessary sources from which to form his judgment, and does his method of writing draw from these sources evidence that will allow the reader to check off the judgments proposed to his assent?
Finally, is the historian competent to deal with the material he has gathered, and to place it before the student?
It is clear that an answer to such questions cannot be expected from the current criticism of newspapers and periodicals which,
when not inspired by the publishers of the work, will too often mistake bulk for fulness, or, as it has been put, “the stolid for the solid."
There is double need of questioning when the period of history is bound up with controversies still living and drawing minds violently to contrary sides. The history of the Middle Ages -and more than all else of the Inquisition of the Middle Agesis a strong case in point. Three hundred years ago the Homilies of the Anglican Church declared those ages part of a “diabolical millennium.” A leading Catholic convert from the Anglicanism of our own day has popularized them under the name of “Ages of Faith,” seeing in them, far from any diabolical action, only the realization of Christ's beatitudes on earth. There is surely sufficient latitude between these extremes to warrant caution in accepting the work of any historian on a period so largely in dispute.
In a late number of this REVIEW we attempted to go over the whole history of the Inquisition as it has been treated in antiCatholic controversy during the last three hundred years. We thought ourselves justified in styling this treatment an “odious my. thology.” We still think so after reading the volumes of Mr. Leamore pretentious than any which have yet appeared on this subject. We are far from ranking him at once in the number of the mythologists; but we find in his pages the most exact fulfilment of certain reasons, given by us at the close of our previous study, why a Catholic, or, indeed, any lover of historic truth, cannot hope to find a satisfactory treatment of the subject from the average nonCatholic historian. These reasons are in direct connection with the questions spoken of above. We now purpose applying them as tests of historic truth to these three first volumes of Mr. Lea. We may then wait securely for the other volumes he promises us on the Spanish and later Inquisition.
The reasons we gave are “ that the [historian] in question is not at all likely to possess the necessary training in theological terms and canon law to understand the very documentary evidence in his hands." Then there is "the strange ignorance, almost sure to be found, of the piety and higher influence of religion in the age whose history is in question.” Thirdly, “so rare is an entire absence of prejudice that the facts themselves, known only in part as they are, will regularly take on a color not their own, but due to the jaundiced eye of the observer.” “Besides all this,” we added, “the essential elements of the ecclesiastical problem will regularly be missed.” We ventured to conclude that “another of the immediate and most general results reached by the Catholic
Kenelm H. Digby, Mores Catholici, or Ages of Faith.
student who has carefully gone over this ground is a well-founded distrust of much pretentious historical research.”
I. Mr. Lea has foreseen from the start the difficulty of his work. In his preface he calls it “a history treating of a subject which has called forth the fiercest passions of man, arousing alternately his highest and basest impulses." He even anticipates a close examination. “I beg the reader to believe that the views presented have not been hastily formed, but that they are the outcome of a conscientious survey of all the original sources accessible to me.” “I have sought to present an impartial account of the institution as it existed during the earlier period.” He seems specially to disclaim any fellowship with those historians who have used the Inquisition as a convenient weapon of attack on the Roman Catholic Church of the present day. “The Inquisition was not an organization arbitrarily devised and imposed upon the judicial system of Christendom by the ambition or fanaticism of the Church. It was rather a natural-one may almost say an inevitable-evolution of the forces at work in the thirteenth century, and no one can rightly appreciate the process of its development and the results of its activity without a somewhat minute consideration of the factors controlling the minds and souls of men during the ages which laid the foundation of modern civilization. To accomplish this it has been necessary to pass in review nearly all the spiritual and intellectual movements of the Middle Ages, and to glance at the con. dition of society in certain of its phases.” This is almost enough to disarm the incautious. If faithfully carried out it would go far toward answering the question concerning the sufficiency of the historical material in the writer's hands, quite apart from the publisher's assurance that " for fifteen years he has been collecting material for it-material which has grown enormously through the well-directed researches of recent scholars, and which has not hitherto been co-ordinated and utilized for such purpose.”
Besides, Mr. Lea claims special competence from his examination of the jurisprudence of the period, “ which presents without disguise its aspirations and the means regarded as best adapted for their realization." Finally, though he maintains that “no serious historical work is worth the writing or the reading unless it conveys a moral," yet he promises that the moral shall “develop itself in the mind of the reader without being obtruded upon him." 1
Unfortunately, we Catholics have a long and grievous experience of morals thus left to develop themselves in the minds of readers.
I Vol. i., Preface.