A History of the Inquisition: An Eight-Part Course with Dr. Thomas Madden

A History of the Inquisition: An Eight-Part Course with Dr. Thomas Madden


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Every society has heresies – ideas condemned by most people, yet strongly held by small minorities. In the Middle Ages, it was religious heresies that stirred up anger, resentment, and fear. For medieval Christians, heresy was an ever-present danger. It doomed the heretic to damnation and threatened the spiritual and physical health of the community. In the early Middle Ages, popular uprisings, mob persecutions, and secular courts dealt with heretics. Beginning in the twelfth century, the Catholic Church brought Roman law to bear on the problem, developing the Inquisition, which would last for centuries. Although the Inquisition produced vast storehouses of records, it remains today one of the least understood institutions of the pre-modern world.

In this course, participants will explore the history of the Inquisition through eyewitness accounts, inquisitors’ manuals, and other historical sources. The heresies that developed in medieval Europe will be brought to light, as well as the means that inquisitors employed to uncover the heretics. Participants will gain a clear understanding of the methods of the medieval Inquisition as well as its later version, the Spanish Inquisition. Finally, participants will discover how common myths of the Inquisition were developed in early modern Europe and remain vibrantly alive today.

Dr. Thomas F. Madden is a leading historian of the Middle Ages. He is the author of numerous studies and books, including the best-selling The Concise History of the Crusades, Venice: A New History, and Istanbul: City of Majesty at the Crossroads of the World. In this course he will guide participants through the events, people, and trials of the Inquisition, carefully separating fact from fantasy in this compelling story.

 

Lecture 1: Heresy in Ancient and Medieval Christianity

Heresy has been a facet of Christianity since it was first preached in the ancient Roman Empire. This lecture will explore some of the most important heresies, the people who embraced them, and those who fought against them. Participants will discover how heresy was understood in the early Middle Ages and how it was persecuted.

Lecture 2: The Birth of the Medieval Inquisition

“Inquisitio” is a precise term in Roman law and the medieval Inquisition was a product of that legal system. This lecture will describe how the medieval Church was able to transform the popular persecution of heretics into a sophisticated process of judicial review aimed at preserving the spiritual health of the community while promoting redemption for the accused.

Lecture 3: The Coming of the Friars: Centralizing the Inquisition

By 1200 episcopal inquisitions were conducted in a patchwork fashion across medieval Europe. With the growth of the mendicant orders, and especially the Dominicans, the Inquisition and its methods were centralized and deployed throughout the Christian west. This lecture will describe some of the more important inquisitors and the ways that the Inquisition shaped their orders.

Lecture 4: How the Medieval Inquisition Worked

The images that are conjured when one thinks of the Inquisition today are quite different from those held by medieval men and women. Most people welcomed the Inquisition to their communities, hoping that it would cleanse and heal them. This lecture will describe the workings of the Inquisition on the ground, exploring the public rituals, interrogations, and the role of torture.

Lecture 5: Not Expected: The Spanish Inquisition

Unlike the medieval Inquisition, the sixteenth-century Spanish Inquisition was a project initiated and maintained solely by the Spanish crown. This lecture will examine the unique circumstances in Spain’s Jewish communities that led to the creation of the Spanish Inquisition as well as its changing targets over time.

Lecture 6: Galileo and the Roman Inquisition

The Roman Inquisition was a relatively dull affair, largely concerned with the orthodoxy and right practices of Catholic clergy as well as other high-profile people in Italy. Yet, the affair of Galileo before the Roman Inquisition became famous as an emblem of the war between faith and reason. This lecture will examine the details of Galileo’s case, stripping away the myths and describing the agendas on both sides.

Lecture 7: Crafting the Myth of the Inquisition

During the Middle Ages most people put great trust in the Inquisition. During the Renaissance, the Spanish Inquisition was thought to be Europe’s most lenient and merciful court. What changed? This lecture will describe how the religious strife of the seventeenth century and the Enlightenment culture of the eighteenth century worked together to produce the myth of the Inquisition that predominates today.

Lecture 8: The Inquisition in Popular Culture

Seventeenth-century pamphlets and eighteenth-century broadsheets were transformed into modern images of the Inquisition through the lens of popular media. This lecture will survey some of the most influential of these portrayals from gothic novels to opera to stage to movies.

Thomas F Madden is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University. As an author and historical consultant, he has appeared in such venues as The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CNN, and The History Channel. He is a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Medieval Academy of America, and he is a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar.

 

How does it work?

This is an eight-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background in the history of Inquisitions, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $280 for eight lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is not suitable for children under age 16

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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