The Inquisitors of the Papal Inquisition

The Dominicans

St Dominic was born Domingo de Guzman at Calaruega, Castile, in 1170. He eventually became an Augustinian canon, and adopted a life of poverty. Dominic believed that the way to bring heretics back into the fold of the Roman Church was “by zealous preaching, by apostolic humility, by austerity, by holiness.” (Durant, “Age of Faith”, p. 803) By one of those strange twists of historical fate, Dominic ended up preaching in the Languedoc area of France in 1205 – 4 years before the beginning of the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars in the same region.

In 1217, Pope Honorius III, impressed by the efforts of Dominic to convert heretics through his zealous preaching, licensed the creation of the “Order of Preachers”, also known as the Black Friars (because they wore white robes with black capes), and the “dogs of the Lord” (Domini canes). Later, they would be known primarily as Dominicans. At the time of Dominic’s death in 1221, there were 60 Dominican monasteries. By 1237, there were over 300.

In 1233, the Dominicans were given the task of running the courts of the Inquisition, a task which they took to with great ferocity and effectiveness for the next several hundred years.

So should St. Dominic (so canonized in 1233) be considered the first Inquisitor? Could the man about whom the bouncy hit song Dominique was written in the 1960s have been the founder of the Inquisition? Dominic was dead more than a decade before the Pope appointed the Dominicans as inquisitors. And there is no known record of Dominic being involved in the burning of any heretics. However, his followers later referred to him as Persecutor haereticorum. Either way, Dominic is certainly responsible for founding the order which would later form the foundation of both the Papal and Spanish Inquisitions.

The Franciscans

The second group of mendicant friars that made up the backbone of the inquisitorial courts was the Franciscans. The Franciscans were founded by St. Francis of Assisi (1181 – 1226), the son of a wealthy merchant. In 1206, Francis gave up his wealth and embraced a life of poverty and service to the poor. He founded the Franciscan order in 1209/10.

The story of Francis sounds eerily similar to that of Peter Waldo, so why was one canonized (Francis, in 1228), and the other excommunicated (Waldo, in 1184)? Francis, while embracing the life of a mendicant friar, always accepted the authority of the Church. Francis died in 1226, several years before Gregory IX pressed his order into service as inquisitors.

Other famous inquisitors of the Papal Inquisition

Bernard Gui –-- Bernard Gui served as the inquisitor of Toulouse for 17 years, until 1324. He is often given “credit” for destroying the remnants of French Catharism. During his reign as inquisitor, he condemned 930 heretics, 45 to death (Durant, “Age of Faith”, p. 783). He is famous for writing a handbook for Inquisitors in c. 1323 Practica inquisitionis haereticae pravitatis. In his handbook, he names the “worst” heretics, including the Cathars, Waldensians, Beghards, Jews, witches, and clairvoyants. A somewhat fictionalized account of the exploits of Bernard Gui is to be found in the excellent book (and resulting movie) Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Robert the Bulgar, a.k.a. as Robert the Dominican –Robert was a converted Cathar, and rulled as the Inquisitor of northeast France c. 1233. He was noted for preferring public confrontations with heretics instead of the normal use of a secret trial. In 1239, he convicted 183 Cathars at Mont-Aime, all of whom were burned at one execution. He was eventually removed from his office by the pope, and imprisoned by his order.

Conrad of Marburg (Germany) – Conrad of Marburg was the head inquisitor of Germany, beginning in 1227. Generally consider insane, he encouraged mob activity in the rounding up of heretics. He is remembered for his belief that there were large, organized groups of devil-worshippers in Germany. He believed that the devil appeared in the form of a cat – sentencing the poor feline to be forever viewed as a tool of sorcerers! He was eventually forced to resign after charging a powerful nobleman with heresy. Friends of his victims murdered him in 1233.

Peter of Verona was a Dominican monk who started the Inquisition in Italy. He founded a religious society (La Compagnia della Fede) that fought against Cathars in street battles in 1245. He was assassinated in Milan in 1252, and canonized one year later as St. Peter Martyr.