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On the mind of the inquisitor

Summary

Christine Caldwell Ames considers the aim of medieval inquisitions.

Summary

Christine Caldwell Ames considers the aim of medieval inquisitions.

Transcript

I think one of the biggest misconceptions about medieval inquisitions is the mentality of the inquisitors themselves. And I would argue that what we see among most inquisitors – certainly not all of them, but most of them – is a deep pastoral concern. A pastoral concern that fundamentally says, it is the priest’s mission to guide the sinner to confession and repentance. And what we especially see in, say, the first century of medieval inquisitions in Europe, is we see close correspondence between the work of the inquisitor – the mentality of the inquisitor, the way he writes and talks about his work – correspondence with how priests are writing about confession, how they are writing generally about pastoral care, that is, tending the sinner, tending the individual Christian.

It is the case that as we move on, as we go through the centuries, we do see inquisitors who perhaps are more interested in what we might call naked power, who aren’t so focused on this pastoral mission of taking the errant heretic and bringing him or her back to the fold. But this is absolutely something that is present at the beginning of medieval inquisitions. And it’s remarkable because what it means is that we see, say, in the kind of conversations that an inquisitor has with someone sitting before him, we see a genuine conversation. We see a dialogue that is an interrogation that is intended to have the sinner, the heretic, change his or her mind.

And certainly one of … again, I think the biggest misconceptions about medieval inquisitions is that it could not only be so dialogic – that is, it could not only be a conversation – but that it did have this particular aim. The aim of medieval inquisitions was to return heretics to the fold, it was not to expel them from the community.