Programs of moral and religious reform: Inquisitions

Doris Moreno Martínez, Gretchen Starr-LeBeau

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© Cambridge University Press 2017. Traditionally, Inquisitions have been studied as exceptional ecclesiastical tribunals destined to persecute and punish heresy, instruments of violence in the service of political and religious orthodoxies. Only in the last decades of the twentieth century have Inquisitions been analyzed from the point of view of their social pedagogy and of the tools that they used toward that end. This approach emerged from early modern Europeanists’ development of the interpretive paradigms of confessionalization and social discipline. In brief, the religious fissure between Protestants and Catholics brought a concomitant restructuring of religious space, which was intimately connected to the development of early modern nation-states. Beyond the political management of difference, the existence of all these churches (or confessions) confirmed the necessity of reinterpreting traditional customs and beliefs by other methods. Politico-religious unity was sought through intellectual tools and through political means that permitted the recycling or “correction” of thoughts and behaviors. The “subjects-faithful” existed within a structure framed by parameters defined by established powers. Churches got ready for the task of educating the faithful and busied themselves with the most effective methods for this. They attempted, in the words of Michel de Certeau, to reform the Christian community, to remake the forms of devotion and its practices. For Catholics, it was the Council of Trent (1545–1563) that established the bases of a program of dogmatic redefinition and, above all, a wide-ranging plan of Catholic renovation that included the moral and religious reform of the community. Early modern Inquisitions played a notable role in that program. Powerful elites, both secular and religious, supported a bureaucratic inquisitorial structure that was already functioning, adding to it the Holy Office's symbolic patrimony of suspicion and fear; above all, they utilized the crime of heresy as pretext. Early modern Inquisitions, for their part, as powers on the rise, anxiously sought hegemony on this newly opened field of labor, successfully confronting bishops and royal ministers. The inquisitorial pedagogy of Catholic Reform was double-edged. Along one edge ran a pedagogy of fear, as Bartolomé Bennassar wrote, fear of the lingering memory of a loss of reputation, of economic ruin, of having no way to defend oneself before the secret tribunal.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationJudging Faith, Punishing Sin: Inquisitions and Consistories in the Early Modern World
Place of Publication(US)
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


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