- The last of the major inquisitions to be founded, the Roman Inquisition, was the only one directed primarily against the Protestant Reformation. The papal bull founding this in-quisition, Licet ab initio, was promulgated by Pope Paul III in 1542 and was modelled after the Spanish Inquisition, having a strong cen-tral authority (a commission of cardinals that met weekly under the presidency of the pope himself) and also having a network of local tribunals. Its tribunals followed the procedural rules common among such bodies, including secret accusations, taking of secret testimony, and in the most serious cases, use of judicial torture. Here, too, the ul-timate punishment was the death penalty. Torture and capital punish-ment could be used only if a bishop or an episcopal vicar was pres-ent. In any serious case, the local court could not pronounce final sentence until the supreme congregation at Rome had reviewed the documents and had expressed its own judgment, which was binding on the lower court.Although the procedure was harsh, trials were not merely pro forma processing of defendants already doomed. Accusers had to present their charges on oath. The defendant was given legal counsel and a written transcript of the proceedings. Execution was kept in reserve as an ultimate sanction for the most serious cases. Most punishments were interpreted leniently—for example, life imprisonment was usu-ally commuted after three years. The most frequent penalty was the re-quirement to make public abjuration, an act normally performed out-side churches on feast days so that the abjuration of error would be witnessed by large numbers of fellow citizens. Being sentenced to confinement as a rower in the galleys or to death by burning alive were the most severe punishments. The Roman Inquisition was aimed primarily at people who were either supporters of the Protestant here-sies or supporters of more moderate teachings (the ideas of reformist humanists like Erasmus, for example) that were thought to favor the Protestants and to undermine the authority of the church. Despite the infamous prosecution of the scientist Galileo Galilei, very rarely were individuals tried and punished by any inquisitorial court for abstract philosophical and scientific doctrines.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.
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