The Inquisition was the Catholic tribunal's way of exposing and punishing religious unorthodoxy. When Christianity became the state religion & church of the Roman Empire, the new religion extended the intolerance to heretics and those deemed contrary to the Catholic faith as the Roman's did to Christianity prior to its acceptance. By 430 A.D., the civil code was ordering the death sentence for heretics, although such laws were not rigorously enforced until many centuries later. The procedure of the Inquisition's investigation of heresy was repeated in later trials for witchcraft, which came under the jurisdiction of the Inquisition when sorcery was deemed heresy.
The Inquisitorial method, which developed slowly, is summarized here:
1. The accused was presumed guilty until he proved his innocence. This was adopted by the Inquisition from Roman Imperial Law.
2. Suspicion, denunciation or gossip was a sufficient indication of guilt to hail a person before the Inquisition.
3. To justify the activities of the Inquisition, the offense, whatever it might have been, was correlated with heresy. For example, one who committed murder would be tried as a heretic and the crime would be heresy.
4. The defendant could not confront the witness, and the accusations were often times not known by the defendant.
5. Witnesses disallowed in other offenses were encouraged to testify in trials of heresy. Such individuals were: convicted perjurers, persons without civil rights, very young children and excommunicates (including condemned heretics). If a hostile witness retracted his testimony, he was charged with perjury but the testimony would still stand. However, if the retraction was less favorable to the accused, the judge could accept the hostile witnesses' second testimony.
6. No witness was allowed to testify on behalf of the accused; nor was his previous good reputation as a citizen or Christian taken into account.
7. The accused was permitted no council, since the lawyer would thereby be guilty of defending heresy.
8. The judges were inquisitors.
9. The judges were encouraged to manipulate the accused into confessing. Mind games, tricks and traps were all employed for this purpose.
10. Although technically allowed only as a last resort, in practice tortured was regularly used and could be inflicted upon any witness.
11. Legally, torture could not be repeated, but it could be (and was) legally continued until the accused confessed whatever was demanded of him. Three sessions of torture were usual. The Instructio pro Formandis Processibus in Causis Strigum (1623) was widely circulated by the inquisition and revealed that over the preceding two centuries, its judges had employed torture, even prescribing death, without careful scrutiny of the evidence.
12. Having confessed under torture, the accused, in sight of the torture chamber, had to repeat his confession "freely and spontaneously without the pressure of force or fear". Thus, he was considered, and the court records so stated, to have admitted his guilt without torture.
13. Every accused individual had to supply names or invent names of accomplices or those whom he suspected of heresy. In many cases, while the accused was under torture, the judges would "suggest" the names of "heretics" to the accused, and the accused would agree that the named were heretics, hoping that the torture would stop.
14. Generally, no appeal was allowed.
15. The property of the accused was confiscated by the Inquisition. All popes praised this practice as one of the strongest weapons against in the fight against heresy.
As a result of the above methods, and as all surviving records show, once accused, the chances of escaping death were nil.
The position of the Inquisition in the history of Europe is summarized by the nineteenth-century Roman Catholic historian, Lord Acton:
"The principle of the Inquisition is murderous...liberalism swept away that appalling edifice of intolerance, tyranny, cruelty, which believers in Christ built up to perpetuate their belief. There is much to deduct from the praise of the Church in protecting marriage, abolishing slavery and human sacrifice, preventing war and helping the poor. No deduction can be made from her evil-doing toward unbelievers, heretics, savages, and witches. Here her responsibility is more undivided: her initiative and achievement complete."