The Inquisition was first established chiefly against the Jews.
Continuing Spanish Inquisition Established,
our selection from European Civilization: Protestantism and Catholicity Compared in Their Effects on the Civilization of Europe by James Balmes published in 1850. The selection is presented in 3 installments, each one 5 minutes long.
Previously in Spanish Inquisition Established.
As to the Spanish Inquisition, which was only an extension of that which was established in other countries, we must divide it, with respect to its duration, into three great periods. We omit the time of its existence in the kingdom of Aragon, before its introduction into Castile. The first of these comprehends the time when the Inquisition was principally directed against the relapsed Jews and Moors, from the day of its installation under the Catholic sovereigns till the middle of the reign of Charles V. The second extends from the time when it began to concentrate its efforts to prevent the introduction of Protestantism into Spain until that danger entirely ceased; that is, from the middle of the reign of Charles V till the coming of the Bourbons. The third and last period is that when the Inquisition was limited to repress infamous crimes and exclude the philosophy of Voltaire; this period was continued until its abolition, in the beginning of the nineteenth century.
It is clear that, the institution being successively modified according to circumstances at these different epochs — although it always remained fundamentally the same — the commencement and termination of each of these three periods which we have pointed out cannot be precisely marked; nevertheless, these three periods really existed in its history, and present us with very different characters.
Everyone knows the peculiar circumstances in which the Inquisition was established in the time of the Catholic sovereigns; yet it is worthy of remark that the bull of establishment was solicited by Queen Isabella; that is, by one of the most distinguished sovereigns in our history — by that Queen who still, after three centuries, preserves the respect and admiration of all Spaniards. Isabella, far from opposing the will of the people in this measure, only realized the national wish. The Inquisition was established chiefly against the Jews. Before the Inquisition published its first edict, dated Seville, in 1481, the Cortes of Toledo, in 1480, had adopted severe measures on the subject. To prevent the injury which the intercourse between Jews and Christians might occasion to the Catholic faith, the cortes had ordered that unbaptized Israelites should be obliged to wear a distinctive mark, dwell in separate quarters, called juiveries, and return there before night. Ancient regulations against them were renewed; the professions of doctor, surgeon, shopkeeper, barber, and tavern-keeper were forbidden them. Intolerance was, therefore, popular at that time. If the Inquisition be justified in the eyes of friends to monarchy, by conformity with the will of kings, it has an equal claim to be so in the eyes of lovers of democracy.
No doubt the heart is grieved at reading the excessive severities exercised at that time against the Jews; but must there not have been very grave causes to provoke such excesses? The danger which the Spanish monarchy, not yet well established, would have incurred if the Jews, then very powerful on account of their riches and their alliances with the most influential families, had been allowed to act without restraint, has been pointed out as one of the most important of these causes. It was greatly to be feared that they would league with the Moors against the Christians. The respective positions of the three nations rendered this league natural; this is the reason why it was looked upon as necessary to break a power which was capable of compromising anew the independence of the Christians. It is necessary also to observe that at the time when the Inquisition was established the war of eight hundred years against the Moors was not yet finished. The Inquisition was projected before 1474; it was established in 1480, and the conquest of Granada did not take place till 1492. Thus it was founded at the time when the obstinate struggle was about to be decided; it was yet to be known whether the Christians would remain masters of the whole peninsula or whether the Moors should retain possession of one of the most fertile and beautiful provinces; whether these enemies, shut up in Granada, should preserve a position excellent for their communication with Africa, and a means for all the attempts which, at a later period, the Crescent might be disposed to make against us. Now, the power of the Crescent was very great, as was clearly shown by its enterprises against the rest of Europe in the next century. In such emergencies, after ages of fighting, and at the moment which was to decide the victory forever, have combatants ever been known to conduct themselves with moderation and mildness?
It cannot be denied that the system of repression pursued in Spain, with respect to the Jews and the Moors, was inspired, in great measure, by the instinct of self-preservation: we can easily believe that the Catholic princes had this motive before them when they decided on asking for the establishment of the Inquisition in their dominions. The danger was not imaginary; it was perfectly real. In order to form an idea of the turn which things might have taken if some precaution had not been adopted, it is enough to recollect the insurrections of the last Moors in later times.
Yet it would be wrong, in this affair, to attribute all to the policy of royalty; and it is necessary here to avoid exalting too much the foresight and designs of men; for my part, I am inclined to think that Ferdinand and Isabella naturally followed the generality of the nation, in whose eyes the Jews were odious when they persevered in their creed, and suspected when they embraced the Christian religion. Two causes contributed to this hatred and animadversion: first, the excited state of religious feeling then general in all Europe, and especially in Spain; second, the conduct by which the Jews had drawn upon themselves the public indignation.
The necessity of restraining the cupidity of the Jews, for the sake of the independence of the Christians, was of ancient date in Spain: the old assemblies of Toledo had attempted it. In the following centuries the evil reached its height; a great part of the riches of the peninsula had passed into the hands of the Jews, and almost all the Christians found themselves their debtors. Thence the hatred of the people against the Jews; thence the frequent troubles which agitated some towns of the peninsula; thence the tumults which more than once were fatal to the Jews, and in which their blood flowed in abundance. It was difficult for a people accustomed for ages to set themselves free by force of arms to resign themselves peacefully and tranquilly to the lot prepared for them by the artifices and exactions of a strange race, whose name, moreover, bore the recollection of a terrible malediction.
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