Victims of the Papal Inquisition

The Cathars

The initial target of the Papal Inquisition (and the preceding Albigensian Crusade), was a group of people known as Cathars, which comes from the Greek word katharoi, meaning pure. The Cathars, especially numerous in the region of Southern France known as Languedoc, were also known as Bulgari (from the Balkan province), and Albigensians (from the French town of Albi).

Somewhat unique among most targets of the Inquisition is the fact that the Cathars really were “heretics” in the sense of having “an opinion or doctrine not in line with the accepted teaching of the church”. The Cathars were 13th century Gnostics (a 2nd century quasi-Christian group). The Cathars (and Gnostics) were dualists – they believed that there were two creator Gods – a pure God that created the heavens and things spiritual, and an Evil God that created all things physical and temporal. They generally associated the Evil God with the God of the Old Testament.

They were also docetists – they believed that Jesus was a spirit, not a flesh and blood human being. Thus, they rejected the doctrine of the death of Jesus on the cross, and His subsequent resurrection. They also seem to have adopted the views of the 4th century Presbyter of Alexandria Arius which stated that Jesus, while an exalted being, is not on the same level as the Father. (Arianism was rejected at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., and condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D.) The Cathars seem to have believed in reincarnation, as they viewed that the souls of men are trapped in evil physical bodies, and are released only after multiple iterations.

The major sacrament of the Cathars was the laying on of hands called the consolamentum, or comforting. Once a Cathar had received this sacrament, they were expected to live a life of ascetism and celibacy, rejecting worldly pleasures. Because of these strict requirements, the sacrament was often received on the deathbed. Prior to receiving the consolamentum, Cathar adherents were known as credentes, or “believers”. Upon receiving the sacrament, they were known as perfecti. The perfecti, the leaders of the Cathar Church, were the primary targets of the early Papal Inquisition.

The Cathars were also rumored to be the keepers of some great secret – some people thought that they might be the possessors of the Holy Grail, the Cup from the Last Supper.

The Cathars were, for all intents and purposes, extinct by the beginning of the 14th century (except in Bosnia, where Catharism lasted until the Turkish Conquest in 1463) – victims of a merciless crusade, and a relentless Inquisition.

The Inquisition drew up an elaborate list of “signs” by which a “Judaizer” (a relapsed Jew) could be discovered, some of which are included in the following “Edict of Faith” issued in Valencia in 1519:

“...changing into clean personal linen on Saturdays and wearing better clothes than on other days; preparing on Fridays the food for Saturdays, in stewing pans on a small fire; who do not work on Friday evenings and Saturdays as on other days; who kindle lights in clean lamps with new wicks, on Friday evenings; place clean linene on the beds and clean napkins on the table; celebrate the festival of the unleavened bread, eat unleavened bread and celery and bitter herbs...who do not wish to eat salt pork, hares, rabbits, snails, or fish that have not scales; who bathe the bodies of their dead...if any know that in any house, people congregate for the purpose of carrying on religious services, or read out of bibles in the vernacular or perform other Judaic ceremonies...” - Edict of Faith issued in Valencia in 1519 by Inquisitor Andres de Palacio (Roth, p. 77/79)

Moslems in Spain suffered a similar fate to the Jews – convert, or be exiled. Converted Moslems were known as Moriscos, and were viewed with great suspicion by the Inquisition. Moslems that did not convert were exiled from Spain – by some estimates, up to 3,000,000 Moslems left Spain between 1502 and 1615!

The Waldensians

The Waldensians were founded by Peter Waldo (or Valdes), a rich merchant of Lyons. In c. 1173, Waldo sold all he had, and began living the life of a mendicant. His theological foundation for this appears to have been Mark 10:22.

In time, others were attracted to the ascetic and spiritual lifestyle of Peter Waldo, and the “Poor Men of Lyons” were created (later to be known as the Waldensians, after their founder). Peter Waldo was also notable for having several books of the Bible translated into the vernacular (langue l’oc, or French-Provencal). Waldo studied these books carefully, and used them in his preaching.

Initially, Waldo and his followers maintained a fairly orthodox theology, but broke from the Catholic Church when they were refused permission to preach by the Archbishop of Lyons. In 1184, Pope Lucius III excommunicated the “Poor Men of Lyons”.

In time, followers of Waldo rejected many tenets of Roman Catholicism, including the priesthood, indulgences, purgatory, transubstantiation, and praying to saints. Many Waldensians became followers of Bohemian reformer John Hus (who was burned at the stake in 1415). In 1532, the Waldensians decided to integrate into the Protestant faith. William Farel, an associate of John Calvin, was instrumental in that integration.

Few groups have suffered persecution as long and as terrible as the Waldensians, who were hunted down and slaughtered by both the Inquisition and secular forces for hundreds of years. The most infamous incident of persecution against the Waldensians was the “Piedmont Easter”, when French forces massacred 1,712 Waldensian men, women, and children. Unlike most Medieval groups that were targets of the Inquisition, the Waldensians still exist today, 800 years after they were excommunicated!

The Knights Templar

The Knights Templar are, perhaps, the most famous victims of the Papal Inquisition, and an excellent example of how the Inquisition could be manipulated for personal and political gain.

The Knights Templar were founded in 1119 A.D., to protect pilgrim routes to the Holy Lands. Over time, these warrior monks became key figures in the Crusades (one source estimates that over 20,000 Knights Templar were killed in the Crusades). The Templars were notable for the fact that they answered only to the Pope, and not to any local ecclesiastical authority.

In time, the Templars established local offices (called Temples) throughout Western Christendom. Always innovative, they started what is considered by many to be the first European banking system, and it was their involvement as bankers that eventually led to their downfall. By the early 1300s, King Philip IV of France was deeply in debt to the Paris Temple. In 1307, he charged the order with heresy. Charges eventually brought against the Templars included that postulants were required to deny Christ and spit on the cross, and that the Templars worshiped a mysterious head named “Baphomet” (perhaps a mangling of “Mohammed”?) These charges were never proved, except in confessions received under torture at the hands of the Inquisition.

The Inquisition of France brought the formal charges against the Templars. This was necessary because, as previously noted, the Templars were immune from local ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The Council of Vienne in 1312 officially dissolved the order, giving most of their property to a similar order, named the Hospitallers. The final part of the saga of the Knights Templar occurred in 1314, when Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay was burned alive, after recanting of his earlier confession.

After the Templars were dissolved, the French crown received cancellation of all debts owed to the Templars, as well as much of their monetary wealth.

The Fraticelli

The Fraticelli, also known as the Spirituals, were a splinter group of the Franciscans. They believed that living a life of poverty was the way to Christian perfection. Eventually, they were accused of heresy for asserting that Christ and the Apostles had no possessions. The first Inquisition trials against the Fraticelli occurred in Marseilles in 1318, when four of them were burned at the stake. They were eventually almost totally wiped out in 1426 when the Inquisition, with the help of secular authorities, laid waste to 31 villages known to be sympathetic to them.