18 September 2014

CONFERENCE: "The Roman Inquisition in Malta and Elsewhere" (Malta, 18-20 September 2014)

WHAT: The Roman Inquisition in Malta and Elsewhere, Conference

WHERE: Inquisitor's Palace, Vittoriosa, Malta

WHEN: 18- 20 September 2014

All information here

The Conference has managed to attract 28 among the leading academics on the Roman Inquisition. Discussed themes will include:

The impact of the Council of Trent

The Tridentine spirit was not only directed against the enemies and external threats to the faith – notably the Christian Protestant heretics – but its zeal and fervour acted as an integrating force in the Catholic world at large. It also provided a much needed energy and incentive. Nevertheless the Tridentine spirit did much more. It subordinated all aspects of life and government, in varying degrees, to an overarching ideology. Thus Tridentine culture was an attempt to integrate and guide the various strands of life – political, cultural, economic, and social – to impose order on society, by all means available.The Roman Inquisition came to serve as a tool to introduce Tridentine principles. The tribunal soon took upon itself to communicate the ‘truth’, fight ignorance and heresy in order to convert all the social strata of the population to the Church doctrine as expressed by the Council of Trent. By convincing the people to act as good Catholics, the Inquisitors acted as ‘missionaries’ as they emphasized the need to teach the basics of Catholic Reformation thought through the pastoral work. The fear of God which resulted out of this intensive activity was designed to lead the faithful to a general confession and the receiving of Holy Communion. Essentially therefore Tridentine Catholicism gave the faithful a sense of security by surrounding them with the protective sacraments, and Church dogma to lead a more intensive Christian life. Consequently, it gave the sacraments a new depth and a more meaningful presence in the life of the faithful. 

The Roman Inquisition and Social Control

Technically the Roman Inquisition had been established to hunt down Protestants. But it also represented a serious attempt at the internal renewal of the Catholic Church. With their missionary zeal the inquisitors aimed to activate Catholic life and replace ‘popular religion’ with the official religion as defined by the Church.The inquisitors deployed a vast array of weapons in the exercise of their office. They made use of documentary evidence, which constituted a form of perpetual and unfailing memory. They were also dependent upon ordinary men and women, even if people were reluctant to be their brothers’ keepers. In fact most of the denunciations were self-reports.’Heretics’ were subject to close interrogation and if the inquisitor suspected they were hiding the truth they were made to endure torture. The sentence was issued only after the most meticulous investigations. Those found guilty were sentenced to imprisonment, flogging or other form of shaming, to serve as an example to the other members of the Christian community. But the inquisitors’ aim was the conversion of the ‘heretic’ so that ‘in the mistiness of the night … the soul’s spiritual peace remains undisturbed.’

Organizational procedure of the Roman Inquisition setup

In catholic countries where the Roman Inquisition was established , the Inquisitors were chosen by the Holy Office, sometimes they were of young age, they wielded great power including that of putting unrepentant heretics to torture, they had their prisons, they were above the local bishop , (whose office often lasted until the very end of his life). They enforced the obligation of secrecy on those who were called to the Tribunal. Their archives were also secret.The Inquisitors remained in office in a country until they were recalled by Rome to another office. Sometimes their service in a country could last for only a few years. Many inquisitors after a period of years were promoted to very high Offices in the Church. Not all the Inquisitors were in Holy Orders, most of them however were either priests or bishops. Occasionally, as in the case of Fabio Chigi, later pope Alexander VII, they were ordained as bishops in the country where they exercised their mission, in this particular case in Malta.Their staff however mainly consisted of locals who often remained in office for many years. The Inquisitors had a number of patentees who enjoyed several privileges often to the detriment of the civil authorities.The Inquisitors kept continuous correspondence with Rome, informing them of the local situation in their respective country. They often kept copies of their correspondence with Rome. Very often they received guidance from Rome, at times they were praised and encouraged, at other times they were reprimanded. The sentences against heretics were given by Rome.In the cases of repentant heretics or in the many cases of self-accusing persons, the Inquisitors did not report to Rome, and the punishment they inflicted was very mild and often consisted of prayers and obligation of confession.

The Archives of the Roman Inquisition

On 22 January 1998 the Archives of the Sacred Congregation of Faith, formerly the Sant” Uffizio or the Roman Inquisition, were open to bona fide researchers and scholars. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation, has great merits in this achievement. He was anxious to have the premises available and the staff trained in archival studies as quickly as possible once the decision was taken. He also credited a 1979 letter by atheist Carlo Ginzburg as being instrumental to expedite the much requested opening which till then had been limited to very few scholars. Since then considerable progress has been achieved to facilitate research in these archives, directed by Mgr Alejandro Cifres Gimenes.The existing material is however only a fragment of the material that was formerly contained in these archives. Apart from the fact that most documentation predating 1559 was burnt following the death of Pope Pius IV, it happened that following the transfer of the whole archives by order of Napoleon to Paris, Mgr Marino Marini, entrusted with the return of these archives to Rome, between 1815 and 1817 ordered that most of the material, for lack of funds, was to be burned or sold as scrap paper. Some volumes concerning the Inquisition in Malta have found their way in Dublin. A lot of Inquisitorial material remains extant in other countries, particularly the Archiepiscopal archives in Udine and in Florence, the State Archives in Venice and Modena and the Archivio di Stato in Naples. The Archives of the Roman Inquisition in Malta, now located in Mdina with the Cathedral Archives constitute a special case. These are practically intact, the lacunae being extremely limited. They include the criminal proceedings (in the religious context), the Correspondence with the Roman Congregations, the Memorie, the Civil Acts. They consist of Orginal Documents, registers and numerous repertories. Besides, the Inquisitor in Malta assumed other roles as Apostolic delegate (relating to the Segreteria di Stato) and as referendario of the Tribunal of the Fabrica. Two of the Inquisitors in Malta later became Popes (Alexander VII and Innocent XII), many others became Cardinals. These archives, open for scholarly research since 1968, that is 30 years before those of the Holy Office, throw considerable light not only on Church History but also on the social history of Malta and the whole Mediterranean area, as during the reign of the Knights of Malta(1530-1798) foreigners from many countries visited or lived in Malta

The Inquisitor in Malta as Apostolic Delegate and Commissioner of the Reverenda Fabrica di San Pietro

The early phase of the establishment of the Roman Inquisition on the island, during which the Bishop of Malta also fulfilled the role of Inquisitor (1561-1575), gave way to the appointment of individuals to fulfill the dual role of Inquisitor and Apostolic Delegate (1575-1798). The exercise of the latter function, effectively acting as the Holy See’s representative and watchdog on the island seems to have been unique to Malta and was indeed the result of the particular socio-political reality prevailing in Hospitaller Malta, where the Head of a catholic Order also wielded secular power on the inhabitants and where jurisdictional conflict with the local ecclesiastical establishment had reached crisis point by the second half of the sixteenth century.It was in his effectively political role that the Inquisitor of Malta came into almost constant conflict with the Hospitallers and albeit to a lesser extent, with the local diocesan setup. The Inquisitor kept the Holy See’s Secretariat of State constantly informed about developments on the island which could in any way have any implications upon the Order’s internal or external affairs. A key issue revolved around those Maltese, some of whom came from the most powerful families on the island, who sought patentee status within the Inquisitorial establishment. The rising sovereign claims of successive Grand Masters during the 18th century resulted in such conflict reaching a climax. The exploration of the Inquisitor’s political role and especially the issues which generally gave rise to conflict is an area which requires further study.
As Commissioner of the Reverenda Fabrica the Inquisitor in Malta was responsible for the funds collected for the construction and embellishment of St Peter’s basilica in Rome. Such funds were however at times utilized for purely local requirements, including renovation works on the Inquisitorial palace itself and the provision of aid to the local population in times of acute crisis. This is another aspect which merits more academic attention.

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