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      FEW men have been so completely in tune with their age as was Thomas de Torquemada. Yet, though his name symbolizes his age, details about his life are extremely scarce. We are not even certain of his place or date of birth. We do know, however, that he grew up in Valladolid and, like his uncle (Cardinal Juan de Torquemada) he entered the Lord's service through the local Dominican monastery of San Pablo. On completion of his training in Valladolid he was sent to the Dominican house at Piedrahita, a small town near Avila.1 There,

1. Piedrahita enjoyed a momentary fame about fifty years later as the home of a visionary lady who confounded her contemporaries in the early sixteenth century. The daughter of a local peasant, she became a tertiary sister (beata) in the Dominican order in Piedrahita, taking the name of Maria de Santo Domingo. Maria was gifted with numerous revelations, in which she held celestial converse with the Blessed Virgin and the Savior. She informed her contemporaries that Christ was with her, that she was Christ, and that she was Christ's bride. For hours she would remain in an ecstatic trance, unmoving, her arms and legs rigidly extended, dissolving herself in the arms of the Deity. Though unlearned she was reputed to be the equal of the most sophisticated theologians, her supernatural lights easily compensating for her lack of schooling. Some of these theologians, however, suspected that she was inspired by the devil rather than God, and serious charges were made regarding her orthodoxy. But King Ferdinand and the episcopal hierarchy were convinced that she enjoyed a special inspiration available to very few, and their support was largely responsible for the failure of Maria's critics to bring about her downfall as a heretic.


it is said, he earned a solid reputation for the triple virtues of learning, piety and austerity. As a result, he was chosen in 1452-in his very early thirties-as prior of the monastery of Santa Cruz at Segovia. Here he apparently first came in contact with the young Princess Isabella and accepted the obligation of confessing her on a fairly regular basis. He was undoubtedly present at Isabella's coronation in Segovia in 1474 and from that date his movements are largely determined by those of his queenly penitent. In 1483 he became Spain's first Inquisitor General and how devotedly he performed his duties we shall soon see. Fifteen years later, in his late seventies, he died at the Dominican monastery of Avila, which he had founded.

      It is said that Torquemada wore a hair-shirt, refused to eat meat, wear linen garments or sleep between linen sheets or allow his sister to choose marriage over the nunnery. It is also said that he lived in palaces, that he


surrounded himself with a princely retinue of two hundred fifty armed guards on foot and ahorse, that he lived in constant fear of assassination and adorned his table with the horn of a unicorn as a sovereign remedy against poison. He is further reported to have accumulated vast wealth through property confiscations by the Inquisition and to have declined on numerous occasions the offers by his grateful queen of the archbishoprics of Seville and Toledo. Most of these assertions come from "prejudiced" historians who do not like Torquemada; except for the reports about his hair-shirt and his humility in the matter of high episcopal office, such stories are firmly rejected by his "impartial" defenders.

      Perhaps the hand of Providence has erased much of the personal record of Torquemada's life in order to save us from the distractions of academic bookkeeping. For Torquemada's importance to history lies in his role as an archetype rather than an individual. He was not a rebel jousting with popular windmills. He was not a Reformer determined to recast the universe in the mold of his personal convictions. He was not the entrepreneur of anti-Semitism. He was not even the creator of its legal instrument, the Inquisition. He was a man of recognized talent and competence who could be trusted completely to devote himself to the effective execution of a program which represented his own deepest desires as well as those of his age.

      Historians who are quick to condemn Torquemada as a unique vessel of Satan are as quickly admonished by alert defenders for their failure to understand him as a product of his times. We do, I think, have an obligation


to try to understand the circumstances and the flavor of the age which creates a man's attitudes and shapes his destiny. But we do not therefore have to condone the result, Unless we consider it a proper duty of the historian to abdicate the system of human values even about known facts. I sometimes feel that the modern friends of Torquemada-or of a John Calvin for that matter-use the fetish of objectivity as a shield to ward off criticism of the wayward actions of past party members. The process has been developed into a subtle little ritual: the attorney for the defense, in a disarmingly "reasonable" manner, "admits" that his client did indeed commit murder, and then pleads extenuating circumstances such as the "temper of the times" or, in the case of religious murder (by Christians only), certain idealistic intentions and noble goals which motivated the deed. The facts in this case compel me to confess ]">a] that I do not like Ferdinand Martinez, Vincent Ferrer, Alonso de Espina and Thomas de Torquemada, even though I might have behaved as they did were I not a product of this enlightened century, and ]">b] that I do not like the spirit of the age which made them and which they served with such obvious relish. I see no reason-not even in the expropriated name of God or Historical Objectivity-why I should excuse by a specious "neutrality" the practice of mass murder for Wrong Thinking, whether it happened only yesterday or five long centuries ago. As for Torquemada, the man himself was no worse and no better than the mass of his contemporaries, and I do not share the view of those critics who single him out as an aberration from the mythical norm of human goodness and virtue.


      The whole age was caught up in a wave of persecution and murder that even the dialectical puffing of that apologists' darling, Mr. G. K. Chesterton, cannot completely obscure.1

      As an honest interpreter and efficient administrator of the popular will, Torquemada was superb. In the fifteen years of his reign the Spanish Inquisition grew from the single tribunal at Seville to a network of two dozen Holy Offices covering the four corners of the Peninsula and everything in between. Nobody, however important, was exempt from prosecution. The court historian, Gonzalo de Santa Maria, of the illustrious Converso family of Burgos, was tried for Judaism three times and finally died in prison. Priests and friars were burned at the stake, especially in Toledo where the Geronomite monastery of La Sisla was discovered to be a hotbed of Judaism. In Cordova the treasurer of the local cathedral was accused of hiding a Communion wafer in his shoe; the wafer began to bleed and bathed his foot in crimson, thus leading to his seizure by the Inquisition. He broke down under questioning and confessed that for years he had observed Jewish religious practices and was in the habit of making scornful observations about the Savior. He was burned at the stake and presumably descended into Hell to join his mistress who had been burned a few months before him.

1. In Orthodoxy, Chesterton tosses off one of his typical contrapuntal phrases to compare the virtues of Torquemada with the vices of Emile Zola: "Torquemada tortured people physically for the sake of moral truth. Zola tortured people morally for the sake of physical truth. But in Torquemada's time there was at least a system that could to some extent make righteousness and peace kiss each other."


      Probably Torquemada's biggest game among the clergy was Pedro de Aranda, bishop of Calahorra and president of the council of Castile. Aranda, a Converso, somehow learned that Torquemada was preparing a case against him, so he fled to Rome where the Pope employed him as his ambassador to Venice and Master of the Sacred Palace. But Torquemada sent a fulsome dossier to His Holiness, highlighted by the following charges: Aranda held that the Mosaic Law was not entirely without merit; he omitted the words "Son and Holy Spirit" when reciting the "Our Father"; he ate meat on Good Friday; he questioned the value of indulgences except for the crass object of making money; he believed in Paradise but expressed doubts about Hell and Purgatory. On the Pope's order the bishop was deposed and degraded from his holy orders and thrown into the Castle of San Angelo where he died soon after.

      Torquemada directed the Inquisition with a scrupulosity that overlooked nothing. One Maria Sanchez was seized in 1485 on the strength of an accusation that went back five years. When the Holy Office was first opened at Seville, Maria apparently wondered out loud that King Ferdinand had consented to it, being a Converso himself. He was very sensitive on that score, according to Maria, and once struck the queen when she threw his origin up to him. In another case a priest of Toledo was accused of having said twenty years before, when he was a boy, that the Communion wafer was only bread and not the Body of Christ. He denied the charge, even under vigorous torture, and for those who like to remind us that not everybody was burned at the stake, we may note


that the culprit in this case was only sentenced to make public abjuration of his heresy at an Auto de Fe. A similar fate, decided on equally flimsy evidence, overtook Diego Sanchez, organist of the cathedral at Toledo. A former maid in Diego's house, on her way to the stake, made peace with her Maker by announcing that Diego had once sent oil and candles to the local synagogue. Diego denied he had ever done such a terrible thing; his accuser, he said, was a thief and a slut, who had once sworn revenge when Diego discharged her for illegal pregnancy. Diego's colleagues and neighbors testified to his spotless record of twenty five years' service in the Toledo cathedral, although one of the chaplains had some reservations about the orthodoxy of Diego's eating habits. Just in case, therefore, Diego was required to appear as a penitent and abjure his heresies in an Auto de Fe.

      To help guard against the spread of heresy Torquemada also celebrated a number of book-burning festivals, especially of Hebrew Bibles and, after the final defeat of the Moors at Granada in 1492, of Arabic books also. As for the children of heretics, who were inevitably susceptible to infection, they were considered not to be responsible for their false beliefs until they reached the ages of twelve (for girls) and fourteen (for boys). After that they were held to be adults and fully accountable to the Inquisition, although they would be accorded special mercy if they spontaneously denounced their heretical parents. The children of heretics burned at the stake or imprisoned for life were to be handed over to proper Christians who would bring them up in the True Faith, safe from the snares of evil counsellors.


      It was a capital offense to talk against the Holy Office. In 1483 an Old Christian nobleman, friend and beneficiary of the Pope himself, was burned at the stake as a "pertinacious negativist" for cursing the Inquisition. A complaining woman suffered the same fate for saying that the Inquisition was more interested in confiscating people's property than in saving their souls. Some of the prisoners freed by the Inquisition tried to save their reputations by claiming they were innocent and had only confessed to heresy under torture. Torquemada quickly put an end to this chicanery by an order in 1484 that such persons were to be considered as false converts and to be prosecuted as such, the penalty for false conversion being death at the stake.

      The Pope had a few complaints to make too.1 Early in 1482 he wrote to Ferdinand and Isabella that the Seville Inquisitors,

without observing juridical prescriptions, have detained many persons in violation of justice, punishing them by severe tortures and imputing to them, without foundation, the crime of heresy, and despoiling of their wealth those sentenced to death, in such form that a great number of them have come to the Apostolic See. fleeing from such excessive rigor and protesting their orthodoxy.

1. Nobody could question the Pope's orthodoxy or his zeal for the Faith, so the modern apologist explains away the Pope's complaints on the ground that heretical refugees from Spain deceived him with their lies about the Inquisition. The usually perceptive and well-informed pontiff in this unique instance becomes a naive Trilby to the Sephardic Svengalis who seek to obstruct the pious work of Torquemada.


      A year later the Pope complained again. The Spanish Inquisitors, he said, appear to be more interested in confiscating people's wealth than in saving their souls. As a result they are even jailing, torturing and burning at the stake a number of innocent people whose property they then confiscate. More complaints of the same nature came from Rome in succeeding years, but Torquemada early made clear his position in the matter.

      In his "Instructions" to the tribunals in 1484 he refers to the papal complaints which would prejudice the free functioning of Inquisition justice and announces that no such obstacles must be allowed to interfere with the task of protecting the True Faith against those who seek to destroy it.

      The worst skulduggery took place at home. The Conversos of Toledo, following the example of their kinsmen in Seville, concocted a plot to kill the local Inquisitors and raise a general rebellion in town, even to the point of defying the Crown. The conspiracy was discovered in the customary nick of time and the plotters were wiped out in an Auto de Fe. In Segovia, Bishop Juan Davila made no secret of his objections to the establishment of an agency of the Holy Office in his diocese. Though a Converso himself he had for years used his episcopal authority to harass Jews and burn Converso Judaizers, and he wanted neither help nor interference from the agents of Torquemada. The latter had no Inquisitorial authority over obstructive bishops so he began fattening up a dossier to be sent to Rome along with Bishop Davila. In addition to charges of aiding heresy by opposing the introduction of the Inquisition in


Segovia, it included the allegation that the bishop had secretly dug up the bones of his ancestors (in the dead of night, of course) and hidden them from pious eyes seeking proof that they had been buried in the Jewish fashion. The bishop was finally sent off to Rome for trial at the papal court. The case dragged on for years and he died before its conclusion, which was inconclusive. In Segovia, meanwhile, the new Inquisition tribunal flourished without further hindrance.

      The kingdom of Aragon jealously guarded its local privileges against encroachment by outsiders. Only after much heated debate did the national Cortes of Aragon finally consent in 1484 to the introduction of Torquemada's Inquisition. Even then, local resistance had to be overcome in a number of cities, Barcelona, Valencia, Teruel and Saragossa being the most difficult. In the latter place all the ugly forces of hate and violence came together in their most destructive form. The plot against the Holy Office in that city had included some of the most eminent Conversos of the realm from the families of Santa Fe, Santa Maria, Caballeria, Santa Cruz and Santangel. The symbol of their hatred, and immediate object of their attention, was the local Inquisitor, Pedro Arbues.

      Inquisitor Arbues apparently suspected that his enemies were bent on killing him, for he never appeared in public without an armed guard to protect him. The Conversos waited him out in the established tradition of Renaissance assassination, which was to catch the victim off-guard in church. On the evening of September 15, 14:85, Arbues was kneeling before the high altar in the cathedral at


Saragossa when a professional assassin by the name of Durango stepped up behind him and struck him in the neck with a sword, "splitting him open from his cervix to his beard, " as a contemporary put it. Arbues lurched about briefly while two other assassins stabbed him repeatedly through the body until he was dead. Retribution was even more terrible than the deed.

      Hundreds of suspects were thrown into the dungeons of the Inquisition while the Holy Office pondered their fate. Those directly implicated were disposed of in a manner best calculated to slake the blood thirst of the enraged populace, as well as to discourage future assassinations of heavenly agents. The chief assassin-Durango-was hauled out to the great square; his hands were cut off and nailed to the door of the House of Deputies, while he was allowed to bleed to death. His body was then carted off to the market place where the head was detached, the trunk pulled apart by horses, and the pieces hung in the streets. One of his companions was burned alive, his hands being hacked off immediately prior to the lighting of the fire. The third assassin frustrated his captors by eating a glass lamp in his cell. His remains were brought out, however, and cut up into pieces while his wife, who, unfortunately, was still living, was burned alive as an accessory to the murder. For several years the vengeance continued as more details were wrung from the prisoners. The names of some of Spain's most illustrious Converso families appear on the lists of conspirators burned alive, in corpse, and in effigy in the great Autos de Fe which followed the assassination of Inquisitor Arbues. The most shocking, perhaps, is that


of Francisco de Santa Fe, son of the great debater and missionary. Geronimo de Santa Fe. Francisco died by hurling himself from his prison tower to avoid being burned alive. His broken corpse was burned, of course, for the inflicting of indignity was as important as death itself. In any event, there would be no more resistance to the new Inquisition and Torquemada could get on with his work.


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