In the Movie Star Trek IV, the crew of the Enterprise travels back in time to the twentieth Century, in an attempt to save a species of whale from extinction, and to thwart nuclear war. In the process, one of the officers is injured, and Dr. McCoy travels back to try to help him, because he doesn't want to "leave him in the hands of 20th century medicine".
While they're racing through the 20th century hospital to find and save their collegue, Dr. McCoy remarks that the brutality of some of the surgical equipment reminds him of the "God-d***ed Spanish Inquisition."
I wish I could say that this was the only time I've heard an act of brutality compared to the Spanish Inquisition, but this is not the case. This comparison is not as common as it once was, but it's still out there, and it begs the question, why the Spanish Inquisition?
Why not the Nazi Holocaust? After all, that really was a deliberate exercise in brutality, aimed at exterminating all who opposed the Third Reich.
But the Spanish Inquisition forced conversions under pain of death, right? Wrong.
The Spanish Inquisition is one of History's most maligned and least understood events, partially because much of what people think they know about it was written during the reformation, by Protestants who were attempting to use it to discredit the Holy See. These writers described so-called acts of brutality out of context and without all the facts.
In the Mel Brooks comedy History of World, Part I, we see the Inquisition portrayed, through musical comedy, as a mass prostelyting of Spain's Jewish population, often through torture and humiliation. About the only thing this routine has in common with the actual event, however, is that it does identify the grand Inquisitor Torquemada by name.
The Inquisition never used brutality to force conversions, because it actaully had no authority over anyone who wasn't already Catholic. It also must be clarified, that the term "Inquisition" actually refers to a Holy Office of the Church, not a particular historical era. It still exists today, under the title Congregation for Defense of the Faith. The current Holy Father actually presided over it as his final assignment as a Cardinal.
So what, then, was the purpose of the Spanish Inquisition, and what did it really do? Many things, actually.
In the late 15th century, what we now call Spain was actually two kingdoms, namely Castile and Aragon, and they were at war with the Moors, who were Moslems from North Africa (sound familiar?) Ferdinand and Isabella were fighting to prevent a Moslem takeover of Spain (still sounds familiar?).
There were Jewish and Islamic Spaniards who had converted to Catholicism purely to further their own political ambitions, with no intention of spiritually adhering to the Holy See. This was sacreligious, and, like it or not, in a Catholic Monarchy it was also an act of treason.
The Inquisition was out to save souls, and Catholics of the time understood that in addition to confession, suffering on Earth helped atone for one's sins, and could even lessen one's time in Purgatory. Today, Purgatory and Confession tend to be treated as novelty items, but God still does and will always recognize them as the roads to salvation that they are.
Any punishment handed down by the inquisition was done with spiritual preservation in mind. What gave the Inquisition the right to do this?
Actually, it wasn't a right. It was a duty. Jesus Himself told the Apostles, "If you forgive mens' sins they are forgiven them. If you hold them bound, they are held bound." And we dare not forget that the Apostles were the first Bishops. Thus, regardless of how brutal some people today may find the tactics of the Inquisition, the motivation of the office was to preserve the will of God.
On the other hand, Adolf Hitler was acting purely on his own volition, solely to pursue his twisted dream of ruling the world. He was motivated by paranoia, and a deep hatred for Jews, Gypsies, Freemasons, homosexuals, and anyone else who wasn't a perfect Aryan in step with the teachings of the Reich. Contrary to poular belief, the Nazis were seeking to eradicate all religions, including Catholicism. Hitler didn't want to preserve the will of God, he wanted to be God.
But according to Rosie O'Donnel, radical Christians can be just as dangerous as radical Moslems. Really? When was this? During the Inquisition? During the Crusades?
But wait a minute, these things happened centuries ago. Besides that, what the Crusaders did were acts of war, dsesigned to recapture the Holy Land. Daniel Pearl was beheaded on video right here in the 21st century. What modern Christian group has done something similar to that?