[From Temenos; Studies in Comparative Religion, vol. 24, 1988, pp. 167-170]
GUSTAV HENNINGSEN and JOHN TEDESCHI in association with CHARLES AMIEL (eds.), The Inquisition in Early Modern Europe. Studies on Sources and Methods. Northern Illinois University Press, Illinois 1986. x + 241 pp. ($27.50)
The Holy Office of the Inquisition was active over most of Europe between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. Despite massive losses, its archives are arguably the finest single source we have for the historical study of many topics on the borderland between religion and society. Yet there are immense difficulties facing those who wish to use them. This volume provides a chart to guide us through the complex history, documentation and procedure of these piles of paper scattered over Europe.
Firstly, it tells us what has survived and where it is to be found. John Tedeschi in 'The Dispersed Archives of the Roman Inquisition' describes the terrible depradations of time, angry mobs and Napoleon, on the archives of the Holy Office in Rome. The narrative of the dispersal, re-assembly and present location of materials is both clear and exciting. It is usefully supplemented by Patricia Jobe's 'Inquisitorial Manuscripts in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana: A Preliminary Handlist'. Using a publicly available microfilm collection, the author describes some of the manuals and theological treatises. Both authors point out that other records are unavailable to scholars because they have been classified as 'Secret' by the Vatican.
The Spanish archives are mainly located in the National Historical Archive in Madrid, where there are 1.115 volumes of manuscripts and some 4,000 bundles of loose papers. Gustav Henningsen in 'The Archives and the Historiography of the Spanish Inquisition' provides a lucid outline of what remains and how it is organized. His tracking down of crucial manuscripts, the background to his Witches Advocate, reads like an archival detective story.
Immense though they are, most of the original 'processes' have been lost in Spain and we have to rely on the summaries of trials sent from the individual tribunals. When we turn to Charles Amiel's 'The Archives of the Portuguese Inquisition: A Brief Survey', we are given a description of an archive which has, with the exception of the Goan Inquisition, more or less survived intact. It is a staggering collection of documents, including some 40,000 original processos crimes (criminal trials), each averaging between twenty and forty manuscript pages. Amiel's excellent overview makes it possible to understand something of the process and arrangement of these materials, including the background to the "31,353 persons who appeared at the 760 autos-da-fe between 1536 and 1794 at the four tribunals of Lisbon, Coimbra, Evora and Goa" (p. 87).
Secondly, the book provides some guidance on how the records were produced. The most detailed account is in Jean Pierre Dedieu's article on 'The Archives of the Holy Office of Toledo as a Source for Historical Anthropology' in an important section on 'Problems of Utilization'. He points to the various biases in records created in the context of secrecy, threat, leading questions, interpreters, and sometimes torture. He stresses the importance of linking the 'records to other, non-Inquisition, sources such as ordinary ecclesiastical and municipal records. He points out what
the documents do not contain, and he provides a very clear survey of the classes of inquisition literature, and especially the procedure in the trials of faith.
Though we can supplement his account with those in Henningsen's Witches Advocate, one could have wished for a little more discussion of the trial processes here. Perhaps an analysis of the inquisitor's manuals combined with a detailed analysis of how particular trial records were constructed. There are probably no more deceptive documents than these, where "truth" is inverted, mirrored, reflected and refracted in multiple ways which are unusually complex. The more guidance we have on the models in the minds of the authorities and on how each type of document was produced, the more useful our analysis can become.
A third function of the book is to tell us the current state of inquisition studies. Here the article by Henningsen already referred to is a good start and can be supplemented by extensive bibliographic details in the accounts of the Italian and Portuguese inquisitions. Giovanni Gonnet's 'Bibliographic Appendix: Recent European Historiography in the Medieval Inquisition' takes the account back through the medieval period, but omits non-European scholars.
One puzzle in the historiography worth further attention lies in the status of one of the most learned early commentators on the Inquisition, Juan Antonio Llorente. Llorente had been a Secretary for the Inquisition Court for twenty years. This gave him the chance to use the secret archives and compile some eighty volumes of notes and preparatory work for his Histoire critique de l'inquisition (Paris 1817). Alongside H. C. Lea, this makes him the most energetic gatherer of material from the Inquisition records. Tragically his notes have been lost, but in some respects his calculations are very accurate. Thus Henningsen (pp. 113-114) writes "According to his (Llorente's) figures, there were 84,400 accused for the period from 1547 to 1699" and this figure is "astonishingly close to the number of cases we estimate we should have when our project is completed". On the other hand, Henningsen is dismissive about Llorente's calculations on the numbers of those who were put to death by burning, some 12,536, or 14.9 % according to Llorente. Henningsen suggests a figure of 826 or 1.8 % of the total tried. How did a man whose erudition, energy and actual immersion in the workings of the Inquisition have not been matched, manage to make such a very great miscalculation?
A fourth function of the book is to show some ways in which the Inquisition records can be used. This may be crudely divided into the quantitative and qualitative. We are given several analyses of the numbers and types of cases tried in the tribunals. The methodology first developed for Spain is demonstrated in Jaime Contreras and Gustav Henningsen 'Forty-four thousand cases of the Spanish Inquisition (1540-1700): Analysis of a Historical Databank'. In an index of the surviving trial summaries, the authors used the same categories as the Inquisitors: 'Judaism', 'Mohammedanism', 'Lutheranism" 'Alumbrados', 'Propositions and Blasphemy', 'Bigamy', 'Solicitation’ Acts against the Holy Office', 'Superstitions and Witchcraft', 'Various Heresies'. Their most important conclusions include the demonstration of the fact that "relatively few people were executed by the Spanish Inquisition after 1540", that after 1540 the Inquisitor's major campaign was not against the major heresies,
but more minor, moral, offences, and that statistical analysis "proves that the 'Old Christians' of Spain, condemned for 'heretical propositions' in the reign of Philip 11, were punished as part of a Catholic Reformation that preceded the close of the Council of Trent" (p. 125).
A comparable analysis is provided in E. William Monter and John Tedeschi's 'Toward a Statistical Profile of the Italian Inquisitions, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries'. They analyse some 12,000 cases from four separate tribunals and show that "the most important feature for all four tribunals is their remarkably high level of activity during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries". (p. 132) They show the differences between Italian and Spanish Inquisitions; the latter was mainly constituted to supervise the massive numbers of converted Jews in Spain, while the former was principally instituted to deal with the menace of Protestantism, and hence in northern and central Italy, Lutheranism dominated the trials up to the 1580s. Later, the Italian inquisition became pre-occupied with witchcraft and magic; "illicit magic alone constituted over 40 % of all cases both of Venice and in the Friuli" (p.135). The authors also found that “only a very small percentage of cases concluded with capital punishment" (p. 142). These analyses of Spain and Italy, supplemented with the detailed figures for the Toledo Inquisition in an Appendix to Dedieu's article, now provide us with an overview of the fluctuations and patterns of accusation. Why these fluctuations should have occurred, takes us into another area of research, a more qualitative approach.
The contributors agree that these documents allow us to write a new kind of history. Henningsen and Tedeschi in the Introduction quote P. Chaunu who wrote that we are left with the archives of an institution whose "probes entered between marrow and nerve into the deepest secrets of the conscious and unconscious" (p. 4). The same authors claim that "the incredible richness and diversity of inquisitorial sources make it possible for them to be used to shed light on virtually every aspect of early modern social, religious, legal and cultural history." (p. 4) They might also have added, as Amiel (p. 90) points out, economic history. They believe that “scrupulous analysis of the trial records, together with outside sources, may lead to the discovery of lost worlds of thought and emotion that are recoverable in no other way." (p. 4) Le Roy Ladurie's Montaillou and Carlo Ginzburg's The Cheese and the Worms have already shown that this is indeed possible.
Some idea of what might be gleaned is shown in Dedieu's contribution, where he points out how we can use the records to study the Inquisition's use of ritual and terror in controlling ideology and behaviour. As he writes, in the study of the "relationship of Spaniards to their faith" the Inquisition archives "let the humble, the poor, those outside history, talk and say what they believe ... to a superlative degree." (p. 161). The religious world of men and, to a lesser extent, women, is opened up to our eyes, as is their social life and inter-personal relationships. Only a tiny fraction of what one could explore, as an historical anthropologist, is touched on by Dedieu, and even less in the disappointingly short vignette by Carlo Ginzburg, 'The Dovecote has opened its eyes: popular conspiracy in seventeenth century Italy'. It is curious to have chosen a case where the trial records have been lost; in other sets of records it is likely that a thousand 'Montaillou' -type studies could be attempted, not just for Europe, but also for north Africa,
Mexico, Brazil, India and the Far East.
Yet to find and use the documents 'scrupulously' requires not only very considerable linguistic skills, archival ability, a good knowledge of the theological, legal and political background of both the Holy Office and the
particular society in which it was operating, but also new methods which are only just becoming possible. In the nineteenth century the great scholars who studied the Inquisition tried to come to grips with the massive archives by extracting and copying out pages and pages of selected records, which they would then work on. With the rebirth-of Inquisition studies based on the archives in the 1970's, timidly at first, the new potentials of computer data storage and sorting began to be applied to the hitherto intractable mountain of data. Henningsen, Dedieu and others in this volume refer to the setting up of, data banks' of records. At present these appear to consist of either very short abstracts, indexes or summaries of cases. As methods of data input become more efficient and cheaper, as the holding and searching capacity of computers become greater, we may envisage the day when the total records of one or more tribunals will be held in a desk-top microcomputer. It will be possible to move, as the Inquisitors themselves could once do, along chains of logic. We will again be able to connect people, places and topics which have been separated by constant archival re-arrangements or the loss of essential indexes. Only then will we really be able to understand the internal world of the Inquisition, the horror of its secret investigations, and to re-create thousands of mental and social worlds which lie trapped, at present lifeless, in the webs which it spun. When that time comes, people will still be using this book as a useful, practical and clearly written 'Guide' to these hidden treasures.