The Inquisition: Historical Context is Everything
Often a discussion with a non-Catholic about the Church comes to a grinding halt when the non-Catholic brings up the evil carried out by the Catholic Church during the Inquisition (there were actually several inquisitions, some of which were instigated by civil, not Church authority, but I digress)
To fully understand the Inquisition and the Church's role in meting out punishment for heresy, one must understand the events in their historical context. It is truly unfair to judge the Catholic Church for its actions during the inquisitions without first looking at the contemporary history in which they occurred.
"Do remember that we are not dealing here with modern day Western nations where there was a clear separation between church and state. Religion was inseparable from politics. Church and state were mingled and both rulers and the common man felt that a common religion was absolutely critical to the maintenance of order. In the sixteenth century heresy was a common charge and heresy of the magnitude expressed by many heretics was almost always punishable by death. It may be helpful to draw people’s attention to the Old Testament where God not only approved of, but commanded, the destruction of entire nations. Surely this would seem atrocious to modern readers, and surely God would no longer command it today, yet at the time it happened it was common practice. The times change. We see evidence of this as well in the New and Old Testaments where believers owned slaves, another practice we would consider abominable and unfitting for Christians.
Paul Henry, a notable historian, writes: The Church's conduct was not determined by personal feeling; it was the consequence of a struggle which these heretics had carried on for years against tendencies to a corruption of doctrine which threatened the Church with ruin. Every age must be judged according to its prevailing laws; and the Catholic Church cannot be fairly accused of any greater offense than that with which we may be charged for punishing certain crimes with death.” The Catholic Church was right to take action. The horrid inevitability was that in this time and place heresy was a civil offense and one punishable by death."
I believe this is a fairer way to see the role of the Catholic Church in the Inquisition. Wouldn't you agree?
Even more interesting is that the above comments were actually by a blogger who was attempting to justify Calvin's behavior for having his old friend Dr. Servetus executed on his arrival to Geneva. I just took out Calvin's name and inserted Catholic Church and replaced Servetus with the word these heretics or many heretics in the above essay. We see that, indeed, historical context is a useful tool to better understand the events of the past that are often used to paint the Church in a negative light.