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The Moral Profile of an Inquisitor

Hugh O’Reilly

Selection from the book L’Inquisition Médievale
by Bernard Grasset, Paris, 1928, pp. 83-84

The Dominican Bernard Gui was Inquisitor in Toulouse 1307-1323. He had the reputation of being a just, incorruptible, yet merciful judge. His most important work, Practica Inquisitionis Hereticae Pravitatis or "Conduct of the Inquisition into Heretical Wickedness," advises inquisitors how to deal with the questioning of members of particular groups. In it, he makes this portrayal of the inquisitor:
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“The Inquisitor must be diligent and ardent in his zeal for the truth of religion, the salvation of souls and the extirpation of heresy. In difficulties and unexpected incidents, he must remain calm and never make a concession to ire or indignation. He must be courageous and stand firm among dangers and diversities, even unto death. While he must never step back in face of the danger, he also should not precipitate it by acting with unwise audacity.

“He must be indifferent to the requests and pleas of those who try to influence him. However, he must not harden his heart to the point of refusing to soften penalties according to place and circumstance.

“In uncertain questions, he must be cautious and not believe easily that which seems probable, because often what seems improbable ends by being the truth. He must listen, discuss, and examine with all his zeal in order to arrive patiently at the truth.

“Love of the truth and piety, which must always reside in the heart of a judge, should shine on his gaze so that his decision never seems dictated by connivance or cruelty.”
The Sovereign Pontiffs also held the inquisitor in high consideration in view of his grave function. They imposed a certain age for the position: Clement V at the Council of Vienna, determined that the minimum age for an inquisitor be 40. Also, guarantees of intelligence and honorability were required: Alexander IV, Urban IV and Nicolas IV also demanded these qualities as well as purity of customs and the most meticulous honesty. Also required was a profound knowledge of Theology and Canon Law.

A judgment made by St. Dominic

In 1208, St. Dominic, who was an inquisitor, gave absolution to a heretic of Tréville, near Castelnerdary. He imposed the following penances: flagellation, perpetual abstinence from meat except for the feasts of Easter, Pentecost and Christmas, when he should eat meat to show that he was not a heretic. He should also fast for the period of three Lents each year, and throughout the year abstain three days a week from wine. He should wear two crosses sewed on his dressing, in form and color like those worn by religious men.

He should attend Mass everyday and on Sundays assist at Vespers, wherever he would be. He should recite the night prayers of the Divine Office; and during the day he should pray 10 Our Fathers, and at midnight, 20 Our Fathers. Each month he should appear before his parish priest giving an account of the fulfillment of these acts.

Posted on February 17, 2007

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