On the Jesus of the inquisitions

Christine Caldwell Ames considers medieval interpretations of the Bible.



Christine Caldwell Ames considers medieval interpretations of the Bible.


Medieval inquisitors and ecclesiastics who support inquisition, they do selectively read texts. But by the same token, those texts are there in the New Testament. And one of (I would say again) the biggest misconceptions about medieval Christianity and the medieval inquisition is that medieval inquisitors had a model of Christ, a model of the New Testament, that was solely pacific. That is, if we read the New Testament, Christ is a peaceful figure. Absolutely. But we also have instances in the New Testament of violence, of punishment of wrongdoers. And certainly we see this in the Old Testament. 

And I think what we see is, medieval inquisitors and again ecclesiastics who shape a Christ who is a persecutor, but do so with a great deal of thought – thinking, again, not only about the scriptural texts and the model of the New Testament, the diversity of the Christ that we see in the New Testament – but also, something to keep in mind is that they also have a lively sense that God still speaks to people. Say, through miracle, something that medievals love and are fascinated by, and then talk and think about all the time.

And so we do see this wonderful tension between a Christ who to some extent is present in the New Testament – to some extent – but then can be sort of shaped and reworked and re-looked at by inquisitors who look around at what they perceive of as heresy and say, what is the Christ-like response to this? And so we see again remarkable evolution of Christ that I don’t think in some ways is dissimilar to what people consistently do over the centuries with the figure of Christ. It’s a reading of the New Testament, again, based upon context.