A Consideration of the Medieval Inquisition and the Insufficiencies of Structuralist and Poststructuralist Religious Theory

It is difficult to separate the word “inquisition” from the connotations given it by decades of misdirection and pop culture references. The word has become strongly tied to images of torture, fiery executions, and unjust legal proceedings. Even the satire of the Monty Python troupe, which highlights the confusion and sometimes chaotic proceedings of the Inquisition, serves to confuse matters further. ((There are instances where the comedy of Monty Python has a decent amount of relevance to scholarship—for instance, its treatment of the mythology of King Arthur in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail contains a great deal of the actual mythos of what surrounds Arthur—but the Spanish Inquisition skit is not one of these.)) For most, the Spanish Inquisition is the only inquisition remembered, but even this period in history misrepresents the dealings of the Roman Catholic Church in regards to the Inquisition; after all, the Spanish Inquisition was enacted and directed by the monarchy of Spain, not the Holy See (Roth, 72)!

Regardless, over a period of more than fifteen hundred years, the Church sought to combat heresy through a variety of methods. In addition, its shift in response over the centuries from leniency to outright war is mirrored in the approximately two hundred years of the Medieval Inquisition. This period of history saw the full gamut of Papal response to heresy, and subsequently can serve as a cross-section for examination of orthodox doctrine and dealings. The stance of the Roman Catholic Church held that its truth was the only truth, mutually exclusive to all other religious beliefs and superior to conflicting philosophical consideration. Beliefs or opinions contrary to orthodox religion, defined as heresies, were a threat to the Church in many ways. Heresies had the potential to divert believers, reduce donations, undermine control over areas and territories, and to the mind of the orthodox Catholic, threatened to destroy the bastion of good and cast the world into darkness and evil. Despite that, most heresies went largely unaddressed by the Church until the eleventh century, owing primarily to their insignificance and lack of threat to Catholicism (Deanesly, 215).

The rise of Catharism in Southern France was too great to ignore, however, prompting the Holy See to appoint inquisitors to discover from whence the heresies came, what it was the heretics believed, and to convince the unorthodox to return to the Catholic Church (Arnold, 21). In spite of the conceptualization of the Inquisition that rests at the forefronts of our mind today, its aim was simple: first, to understand why people would turn from the truth of the Church and what it was that diverted them, and second, to persuade heretics to return to the body of believers. In addition, it also served to decrease the violence of the time and instill justice where mob rule had been substituted (Shannon, 67).

The motivations and stages of the Medieval Inquisition are complex and difficult to unravel, where faith and practicality were often at tension. To gain a clearer understanding of this time, we will first review the history of the Medieval Inquisition, beginning with the rise of Catharism, the initiation of the Inquisition, the Albigensian Crusade, and the restructuring of the Inquisition. Second, by applying structuralist theory we can gain an understanding for the spiritual motivations of the pope and the other actors during the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries, both their internal and external stimuli. Third, we will consider the insufficiencies of structuralist theory in understanding the Medieval Inquisition and turn our attention to poststructuralism with a consideration of extra-theological factors and pressures. Last, we will assess the weaknesses of poststructuralist theory and examine the complementary nature of these two methods. Continue reading

Maybe church has become too inviting

Bear with me, I’m just thinking out loud here.

Though I am generally a rational person, there are many instances in which I rely on my experience and feelings/intuition. If you were to classify my personality, it would fall into the stylized category of INTJ, or Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judging, and the description(s) is fairly accurate: I think things through a great deal, but I also trust myself and am pretty self-confident. Part of this intuition, particularly in the realm of theology, comes from the spiritual gift of discernment that God has given me, by which I can discern both the correctness of a teaching and the difference between spirits. In very brief laymen’s terms, I can tell the difference between something from God, something from humanity, and something from Satan.

I can likewise see and interact with angels and devils, though occurrences are rare. And whether it’s due to my past experience or my ineptness, I tend to meet devils with far more regularity than I encounter angels. ((As an interesting sidenote, I generally find devils to be alone and angels to be in crowds, though there are always exceptions. Not sure why this is, though I could hazard some guesses.)) I recently encountered a devil in a rather unexpected place, however: a traditional, Sunday morning church service.

The sermon that morning happened to be on spiritual warfare, a subject not often preached, and I was surprised to sense the devil in the congregation. They aren’t, as you might imagine, visible to the naked eye, but this one was quite bold. It was clearly present in the sanctuary with no fear of remonstration or attack, subtly working its ways among the attendants. As the minister stated that many people in the congregation probably didn’t even believe in devils despite the stories of them in the Bible, I heard it whispering to people, strengthening their disbelief. “Devils, pah… we don’t hold with that nonsense. I’ve never seen one, and neither has anyone else. If there’s a Devil, it’s Man and War, etc. It’s all just metaphor. We don’t have to deal with that anymore.”

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters that the greatest victory of Satan was convincing people that he doesn’t exist.

The worst part was when I confronted the devil, asking what it was doing there.

“I was invited,” it replied with a sardonic grin. The truly frustrating part is that this is the second time I’ve received this response in a church setting from a devil.

At any rate, it made me wonder if our Protestant churches haven’t become too inviting. In our bid to be seeker sensitive, to welcome everyone regardless of creed, and to ask relatively few questions or make any demands of parishioners, we often invite in those we would do better to keep outside. I’m not saying we should bar our doors from unbelievers, the poor, or most any individual–since this sort of argument has been used to rationalize blocking all sorts of people from church in the past, I want to make it clear that I advocate no such policy–but I wonder if we aren’t harming ourselves with our open-door policies.

I don’t have a clear solution, but my thoughts as inspired by this experience are as follows: maybe the Catholic Church had some decent reasons for requiring everyone to subscribe to the same core beliefs, to go through classes and professions of faith, and to undergo some testing before being admitted to the church; for excluding people from certain practices at the church before undertaking the sarcraments and such; and maybe our (by which I mean mainstream Protestants) disbelief and avoidance of all things spiritual, including the giftings of God and spiritual warfare, are leaving us vulnerable to Satan. If I had gone to the senior pastor of that church and shared my concern about devils being present in the sanctuary, I am fairly confident he would have been very kind, accepting, and patronizing. He might have let me consecrate the building. I doubt he would have really believed or done anything himself about the matter.

It is the flock that is hurt by this, so I feel like we should be doing a better job to protect them. We, by which I mean mainstream Protestantism as I have encountered it, are not doing a good job training our parishioners for spiritual warfare, and I certainly haven’t seen the leadership of the Protestant churches training themselves to protect the parishioners on their behalf. I don’t know where the Catholic Church stands on this sort of thing anymore, but I operate under the assumption that they’re more active about it than Protestant churches as a general rule.

I’m not about to become Catholic, but I again find myself thinking: they’ve been around for many centuries longer than Protestant churches, so maybe we should be taking some lessons from them on some matters? ((In addition, I’ve been learning some things about Judaism and their interpretations of the Hebrew Bible that answer a lot of questions Protestants ask, yet for some reasons these teachings haven’t made their way into Sunday morning sermons.)) I don’t know where the line should be drawn, or how, but I think we should at least be more aware that there’s a friggin’ war going on. If you duck your head in the sand, all you do is provide an easy, non-moving target.

The Power of Confession

One of the criticisms of the Roman Catholic Church from many Protestants is the necessity of the priestly figure. Protestants tend to feel that, due to passages like Matthew 27:51-53, the rift between man and God has been bridged by Jesus. Therefore, we no longer need an intercessor, but can approach God ourselves. Protestants are, I feel, correct in this statement, but then the logical thought process breaks down. We assume that the only reason for confession is for God to forgive us, and fail to even consider whether there might be other purposes for the practice.

I heard a story once of a girl who regularly confessed her sins to a friend of hers. She did not do so because she wanted the friend to pray and ask God to forgive her sins, but rather because she needed to see that a person, a close friend in this case, could forgive her. And if this friend could forgive her, God, who is so much greater, surely would forgive her as well.

Just like a funeral is not for the sake of the one who died, but to give those who loved that person a chance to mourn and gain closure–it is for the attendees rather than the deceased–so too is confession to our benefit. God commands us to confess our sins, but we sometimes get too wrapped up in the surface-level meaning of the command. Yes, we should confess to God our sins and ask for His forgiveness, but there’s more to it than just gaining forgiveness.

Confessing forces us to be vulnerable, to admit a mistake rather than glossing it over, to confront ourselves and, in some cases, to discover that our failings aren’t as bad as we thought they were. When we feel most unforgivable is when we so desperately need a time of confession, for it frees us from that fear. To confess reminds us that Jesus hears and forgives, and that we are free indeed.

Tomorrow, I will expand a bit on why we should ask forgiveness from a God who has already forgiven us.