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Inquisition

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By this term is usually meant a special ecclesiastical institution for combating or suppressing heresy. Its characteristic mark seems to be the bestowal on special judges of judicial powers in matters of faith, and this by supreme ecclesiastical authority, not temporal or for individual cases, but as a universal and permanent office. Moderns experience difficulty in understanding this institution, because they have, to no small extent, lost sight of two facts.

On the one hand they have ceased to grasp religious belief as something objective, as the gift of God, and therefore outside the realm of free private judgment; on the other they no longer see in the Church a society perfect and sovereign, based substantially on a pure and authentic Revelation, whose first most important duty must naturally be to retain unsullied this original deposit of faith. Before the religious revolution of the sixteenth century these views were still common to all Christians; that orthodoxy should be maintained at any cost seemed self-evident.

However, while the positive suppression of heresy by ecclesiastical and civil authority in Christian society is as old as the Church, the Inquisition as a distinct ecclesiastical tribunal is of much later origin. Historically it is a phase in the growth of ecclesiastical legislation, whose distinctive traits can be fully understood only by a careful study of the conditions amid which it grew up. Our subject may, therefore, be conveniently treated as follows:

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