Medieval Inquisition

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The Medieval Inquisition is a series of Inquisitions (Catholic Church bodies charged with suppressing heresy) from around 1184, including the Episcopal Inquisition (1184-1230s) and later the Papal Inquisition (1230s). It was in response to large popular movements throughout Europe considered apostate or heretical to Christianity, in particular Catharism and Waldensians in southern France and northern Italy. These were the first inquisition movements of many that would follow.

The Medieval Inquisitions were in response to growing religious movements, in particular the Cathars, first noted in the 1140s in southern France, and the Waldensians, starting around 1170 in northern Italy. Individual "Heretics", such as Peter of Bruis, had often challenged the Church. However, the Cathars were the first mass heretical organization in the second millennium that posed a serious threat to the authority of the Church. This article covers only these early inquisitions, not the Roman Inquisition of the 16th century onwards, or the somewhat different phenomenon of the Spanish Inquisition, which was under the control of the Spanish monarchy, though using local clergy. The Portuguese Inquisition and various colonial branches followed the same pattern.



All major medieval inquisitions were decentralized. Authority rested with local officials based on guidelines from the Holy See, but there was no central top-down authority running the inquisitions, as would be the case in post-medieval inquisitions. Thus there were many different types of inquisitions depending on the location and methods; historians have generally classified them into the episcopal inquisition and the papal inquisition. For example, The Papal Inquisition of 1633 condemned Galileo for stating that the sun, not the earth, is the center of the universe.

The first medieval inquisition, the episcopal inquisition, was established in the year 1184 by a papal bull entitled Ad abolendam, "For the purpose of doing away with." The inquisition was in response to the growing Catharist heresy in southern France. It is called "episcopal" because it was administered by local bishops, which in Latin is episcopus.

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