Christine Caldwell Ames explains what bothers us so much about the inquisitions today.
The notion of heresy – the notion of Christian heresy particularly – is radically at odds with modern understandings of the individual, modern understandings of toleration. It is … this is why it’s so famous, because it does seem to symbolise – and has again for a long time symbolised – a kind of unmodern, untolerant diminution of the individual. And so I certainly appreciate, to look back upon a medieval experience that did police thought, did persecute people … and this is inarguable, medieval inquisitions punished people, they tortured people, they executed people. They executed fewer people than we used to think; but that’s no excuse, they did these things. And so it is difficult to look back on that experience and try to understand it, try to see it as a seminal part of medieval Christianity, as it was, because it is so counter to what we expect of modern norms of Christianity itself.