The Roman Inquisition on the Stage of Italy, C. 1590-1640

The Roman Inquisition on the Stage of Italy, C. 1590-1640

The Roman Inquisition on the Stage of Italy, C. 1590-1640

The Roman Inquisition on the Stage of Italy, C. 1590-1640

Synopsis

From the moment of its founding in 1542, the Roman Inquisition acted as a political machine. Although inquisitors in earlier centuries had operated somewhat independently of papal authority, the gradual bureaucratization of the Roman Inquisition permitted the popes increasing license to establish and exercise direct control over local tribunals, though with varying degrees of success. In particular, Pope Urban VIII's aggressive drive to establish papal control through the agency of the Inquisition played out differently among the Italian states, whose local inquisitions varied in number and secular power. Rome's efforts to bring the Venetians to heel largely failed in spite of the interdict of 1606, and Venice maintained lay control of most religious matters. Although Florence and Naples resisted papal intrusions into their jurisdictions, on the other hand, they were eventually brought to answer directly to Rome--due in no small part to Urban VIII's subversions of the law.

Thomas F. Mayer provides a richly detailed account of the ways the Roman Inquisition operated to serve the papacy's long-standing political aims in Naples, Venice, and Florence. Drawing on the Inquisition's own records, diplomatic correspondence, local documents, newsletters, and other sources, Mayer sheds new light on papal interdicts and high-profile court cases that signaled significant shifts in inquisitorial authority for each Italian state. Alongside his earlier volume, The Roman Inquisition: A Papal Bureaucracy and Its Laws in the Age of Galileo, this masterful study extends and develops our understanding of the Inquisition as a political and legal institution.

Excerpt

Heresy-hunting probably always had a political dimension. It only intensified once the popes took an increasingly active role beginning in the twelfth century. Lucius III’s pivotal decretal Ad abolendam (1184), sometimes mistakenly taken as the or at least a foundational document of the papal inquisition, called on imperial authorities to assist in the search for heretics, and may have been issued with Emperor Frederick I’s tacit support. It also dictated a mode of investigation containing some of the elements of the new technique of inquisitio. Although originally intended for the investigation of abuses committed by the higher clergy, when Innocent iii began to systematize it in the early thirteenth century, he did so in a similarly political context. He certainly made the attack on heresy a political question when, for example, early in his reign he aimed another key document in the development of papal efforts to suppress heresy, Vergentis in senium, at the commune of Viterbo at a time when he was struggling to bring it under papal obedience. By applying imperial law to heresy, the decretal made heretics’ property forfeit. Innocent was also responsible for one of the most notorious political heresy-hunts, the Albigensian crusade.

Neither politicizing heresy nor creating a new means of seeking it out automatically entailed the creation of an institution designed to pursue it, an inquisition. Instead, thirteenth-century inquisitors often worked in quasiindependent fashion without papal authorization. the popes responded with intense efforts to bring inquisitors under their authority, quickly taking an interest in this remarkably useful tool and putting it to work, especially against forms of heresy that would eventually develop into witchcraft. Thus in the mid-thirteenth century Gregory ix deputed Conrad of Marburg as his personal agent against a group of “Luciferians” in the vicinity of Cologne. But even Gregory enjoyed only indifferent success in controlling local inquisitors and his efforts did not create any kind of institution, certainly not a Roman Inquisition. It was not until the late fifteenth century that even local . . .

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