The Inquisition came into existence through the actions of Pope Innocent III at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 and formally endorsed by Pope Gregory IX in 1233 creating the Dominicans and then the Franciscan's as Inquisitors. In 1260 a Papal Bull redirected their allegiance from their Orders to the Pope.
Inquisitors of all countries and ages followed the same body of canon law, gave the same punishments and used the same torture and devoted themselves to the same mission - the arrest, torture and execution of any man, woman or child they regarded as a heretic who excited their anxieties or greed. Middle Age manuals and handbooks, were still being used six centuries later.
Henry Lea, a major authority on the Inquisition in summing up the verdict of history, states that “Fanatic zeal, arbitrary cruelty and insatiable cupidity rivaled each other in building up a system unspeakably atrocious. It was a standing mockery of justice - perhaps the most iniquitous that the arbitrary cruelty of man has ever devised.” (pp60,97)
‘Heresy’ comes from the Greek word for ‘choice’, so being a heretic is not from being accused of a crime but from having thoughts not allowed by the the church. This procedure was later described by George Orwell in his novel 1984 where he describes ‘thought crime’as being guarded against by the ‘Thought Police’. As the dogma of the Church was still being developed it was impossible to know what was and was not allowed. Jonathan Kirsch in ‘The Grand Inquisitors Manual’ pp9 gives examples of why arrests were made. It was hoped that heretics would see the falsity of their opinion and return to the Roman Catholic Church.
Many believed they did not punish anyone but were helping others to correct their errors and return them to God’s embrace. Others believed they could benefit from confiscating Jewish assets. Their handbook described someone who managed to escape from an Inquisitorial prison as ‘one who insanely led to reject the salutary medicine offered for his care’ while the truly repentant Christian was likened to ‘a patient who took his medicine by performing without protest all the penances that had been prescribed by the good doctors of the Inquisition.’ If they were found guilty or refused they were passed to civil authorities as they had also violated civil law. The penalty included burning at the stake.
The Spanish Inquisition was authorized by Pope Sixtus IV in 1478 at the request of King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella. Sixtus also agreed its independence. It was permanently suppressed by decree on July 15, 1834. The Portuguese Inquisition was authorised in 1536 and abolished in 1821. The Roman Inquisition in the Papal States was from 1542. its last arrest was made in 1858 of a six year old Jewish boy called Edgar Mortaro. in Bologna The Inquisition had lasted for about 600 years