Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Christopher F. Black's "The Italian Inquisition"

Christopher F. Black is Honorary Research Professor of Italian History at the University of Glasgow, and author of Italian Confraternities in the Sixteenth Century; Early Modern Italy: a Social History; and Church, Religion and Society in Early Modern Italy.

In answer to my request to comment on Page 99 of his The Italian Inquisition (Yale University Press, 2009), he replied:
Page 99 starts with the end of a section on death sentences under the Roman Inquisition, which emphasises that probably the first execution under the post 1542 Roman Inquisition, of a relapsed Calvinist heretic, in 1550 was a contested verdict among inquisitors, and that executions were rarer than under the Spanish Inquisition. “Under the Roman Inquisition death sentences tended to be for repeat offenders”. Page 99 then initiates a discussion on the staffing to help Italian inquisitors, indicating they had limited personnel and financial resources, and that secular supporters – from ‘familiars’ – were few and ineffective, again in contrast to the Iberian situation. “The main tribunals in Italy were not sufficiently well staffed to achieve their overall aims: to eradicate heresy and encourage correct belief and behaviour.”

The book – the first in English to analyse the Inquisitions in early modern Italy - covers the Roman Inquisition as centralised, under the Papacy from 1542 and developed to the late eighteenth century, operating through central and northern Italy, and Malta, creating eventually about 40 local tribunals. I also cover tribunals of the Spanish Inquisition operating in Sicily and Sardinia, and indirect Roman inquisition operations in the Spanish-ruled Kingdom of Naples. The book analyses inquisitional procedure from denunciation to punishment, emphasising due legal processes, the limited and controlled use of torture, and leniency of many punishments. Re-education could be as important as punishment under Roman control; plea-bargaining could mitigate punishments. Political divisions within Italy, and claims of many bishops that they should also control matters of faith, inhibited hard-line inquisition control. The book shows how the inquisition helped overcome major theological challenges to Roman orthodoxy, whether from northern Protestants, or home-bred ‘reformers’ like the followers of Juan Vald├ęs (including Cardinal Reginald Pole, Michelangelo, and Pietro Carnesecchi burned at the stake in 1567). Thereafter the book (backed by statistical Tables), shows how the inquisitorial targets changed and expanded, including alleged practitioners of love and medicinal magic, females seen as ‘living saints’, priests sexually soliciting penitents, and people who moved – forcibly or voluntarily - between Christian affiliations, Judaism and Muslimism. A long chapter covers censorship and attempted intellectual control, its mixed effectiveness, and brings in the controversial cases of Giordano Bruno and Galileo.
Learn more about The Italian Inquisition at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue