Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Church United in Itself: Hernando De Talavera and the Religious Culture of Fifteenth-Century Castile

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Church United in Itself: Hernando De Talavera and the Religious Culture of Fifteenth-Century Castile

Article excerpt

On November 20, 1506, Pope Julius II issued a papal bull regarding accusations of heresy that had been brought against the Archbishop of Granada, Hernando de Talavera. In the bull, Julius praised his "venerable brother," extolling Talavera's faith and his dedication to the Church:

. . . he has always carried Christ our Redeemer in his heart, to such an extent that through Him and the Catholic faith, he has not only renounced himself according to the Gospel, but also, through his observance of the Catholic religion, he has taught us the whole of its doctrine. He has expressed this through his blameless life, as much in word as in deed, so admirably that because of him, a large number of unbelievers have been converted to the faith of Christ by his life and his teachings, and none of these [new] Christians have since reneged, but have remained constant. . . }

Despite his exemplary life, the seventy-eight-year-old Talavera had been arrested by officials of the Holy Office of the Spanish Inquisition the previous year; however, as an archbishop of the Church, the matter necessitated judgment before the papal courts. Pope Julius discounted the charges, calling them the work of "jealous" men, who, "returning evil for good" were attempting to "stain . . . [Talavera's] holy and incorruptible life with false testimony and slander, accusing him, under the guise of piety, of heresy and apostasy."2 Unable to prove any of the malicious accusations against Talavera, they instead "imprisoned his own sister, already quite elderly, and his nephews and servants . . . [and] although they are Christians, they have been tortured with such diverse torments . . . such that no one, no matter how strong they are, could resist confessing the crimes of which they were accused."3

Julius' bull ensured the release of Talavera's household from the jail cells of the Inquisition, and in April of 1507, he himself was acquitted of all charges of heresy. However, the letter acquitting him arrived too late; after walking bareheaded and barefooted through the streets of Granada in the Ascension Day processions, Talavera caught a violent fever, to which he succumbed on May 14, 1507.

The details surrounding the latter years of this prominent fifteenthcentury Castilian churchman are well known.4 Talaveran historiography generally dismisses his encounter with the Inquisition in a manner similar to Julius' summation of the case: as the work of those envious of the man, his office, and his close relationship with Isabel I of Castile and Fernando II of Aragon. Similarly, historians have assumed that the Inquisition's interest in Talavera stemmed from a frustration with his lenient policies towards the Muslims of Granada after he took up his position as its first archbishop following that city's conquest by the armies of Castile and Aragon in 1492.5 While both of these concerns may have informed the case against Talavera, there is also no doubt that he opposed the Inquisition from the outset, believing that it would ultimately be divisive and only serve to foster both religious and social disruption. In a time of increased social mobility and religious variance, Talavera believed that the Church should be the ultimate authority over all aspects of life, civic as well as religious-and the Inquisition, Talavera thought, undermined that authority. It was not toleration that informed Talavera's position; he was an orthodox man, who was instead reacting to the climate of "fear and denunciation" that was a by-product of the Inquisition's activities.6 His writings throughout his life demonstrate a keen awareness of the shifting political and religious milieu of his era, and offer a glimpse as to what it may have been to live through this time of turbulent uncertainty.

Talavera was not the only one to advocate for conversion through persuasion rather than by force, nor was he the only one with misgivings about the efficacy of the Inquisition. Court secretary and chronicler, Fernando del Pulgar, criticized the Inquisition in a letter to the then Archbishop of Seville, Pedro González de Mendoza, stating that inquisitors "will not make such good Christians with their fire as [others] will with water. …

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