Spanish Inquisition in Latin American Term Paper

Pages: 10 (3323 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 7  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion

Spanish Inquisition in Latin America

Largely, the origins of the Spanish Inquisition can be traced back to the Emperor Constantine of Rome. Christianity, which had within Constantine's lifetime been officially battled by the Roman state, was eventually adopted by the Emperor; most significantly, his embracing of the Christian religion brought it under formal protection and established the first rigorous definition of faith. Constantine called a religious council at Nicaea in 324 a.D. To establish sanctioned doctrines of the Christian church. "From the meetings in the Christian gathering came the Nicene Creed... Among other things, the Creed declared that there were three parts of one God -- the part, called the holy trinity, consisted of God, the father; Jesus Christ, who was the son of God; as well as God, the Holy Spirit." These basic laws of the Church constituted the fist orthodox teachings of Christianity, and made up what became Catholicism.

The general purpose of the Council of Nicaea was to establish the official position concerning specific debates from within the Christian faith. Foremost among these deviations from orthodoxy was Arianism. Arians believed that God and Jesus were definitively distinct -- the council felt otherwise. In an attempt to unify the Church the Arians were declared the first heretics, and their punishment was death. In short, Constantine made the formalization of Christianity possible, and laid the foundations for authorized investigations into matters of the Church.

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The early Roman approach to heresy was somewhat more severe than the practices that were adopted by the first few centuries of Catholicism:

TOPIC: Term Paper on Spanish Inquisition in Latin American Assignment

The New Testament certainly contains no basis for a theory of persecution, but after the conversion of Constantine, the Roman Emperors began using the policy of force against heretics -- sometimes even the death penalty. This tactic met with little opposition from the fathers of the Church.... But from the middle of the twelfth century we see legal thought, both secular and ecclesiastical going beyond this -- even to sanctioning death as a possible punishment to obstinate heretics." It took the instillation of the Inquisition to legitimate a practice of religious persecution. "Beginning in 1231, special Inquisitors began to preside at trials involving alleged heretics." In part, this was done to mitigate the mob trials and executions that had permeated Europe for centuries. In subsequent years the Inquisition grew in power and culminated in the appointment of Thomas de Torquemada as Inquisitor General in Spain. Torquemada installed much of the bureaucratic mechanisms of the Spanish Inquisition.

By 1521, when Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztec Empire, the Inquisition was already well established in Spain. It was transferred to the newly colonized land as an as hoc institution under the guidance of missionary friars and, later, Mexico's archbishop. This rather informal relationship was replaced, in 1571, by an officially constituted Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, Based in Mexico City and with ostensible authority over the whole of New Spain."

By this time, the Spanish Inquisition had evolved into a structure strongly resembling a police force, but still steeped in the traditions of superstition and lacking in any recognizable form of due process. An individual could be arrested and held indefinitely without being informed of their accused crime, and possessing little hope of escape unless they confessed their sins. However, in Latin America trials investigating crimes of high heresy were quite rare. "The Mexican tribunal spent much more time enforcing socioreligious norms than attacking heresy and crypto-Judaism." Essentially, the Spanish Inquisition had become such a strong facet of Spanish and Latin culture, that by the late sixteenth century it served to enforce social norms as well as religious orthodoxy. Overall, this is the aspect of the inquisition that becomes most apparent through investigation of documents from the colonial period. The Spanish Inquisition was charged with the task of maintaining the social order; this included reinforcing the political, economic, and ecclesiastical hierarchies.

Nevertheless, the fundamental nature of the Inquisition remained unchanged from its Spanish origins: "According to the instructions, after the Inquisitors arrived in a community, they were expected to give everyone guilty of heresy a period of grace lasting thirty to forty days in which to come forward and confess their sins. These sinners would be given a minimal penance, such as a fine, and permitted to resume their lives." Yet if this grave period was violated, the individuals charged would be faced with far more severe penalties. In many ways, this allowed the Church to collect substantial amounts of capital in the name of the Inquisition and stamping out heresy. It was a way of both asserting the power of the Catholic Church and assuring its sustention into the future.

As with its European counterpart, the Spanish Inquisition in Latin America extended very few rights to those accused -- particularly, those accused of heresy. "People accused of heresy were tried in a chamber of the Holy House, or Holy Office, of the Inquisition. They would be brought before a long table at one end of a dark room, lit only by a few candles." This person was not allowed to know the identity of the individual who made accusations against them, and in many cases, was not allowed to know the nature of their accused crimes. "Individuals who have been reported might not even be aware of it until a knock came at their door, usually in the middle of the night. Then they would be confronted by the soldiers employed by the Inquisition." In many instances, obviously, the charges may be fabricated by a hated rival wishing to eliminate competition. In other cases, it was out of legitimate concern for another's immortal soul. But regardless of the reasoning behind the accusations, once apprehended, the accused could be subject to indefinite incarceration, lengthy inquiries, and even torture -- all in the name of God and upholding His teachings.

As evidenced by the story of Marina de San Miguel, the Spanish Inquisition in Latin America could squeeze any number of confessions out of an individual through substantial confinement and mental manipulation. Doubtlessly, none of the "crimes Marina eventually confessed to would be matters of any legal concern today, but chastity, monogamy, and true faith in God were seen as necessary avenues to the proper functioning of society. Of course, the mere act of accusing Marina of heresy predetermined the outcome of the Inquisition. An accusation that appeared legitimate offered only one escape for the accused: confession. However, since the nature of her crimes was never disclosed to Marina, she ends up confessing to numerous crimes against the Church over the period of several months.

Marina's trial was a bit of an exceptional one, in the fact that she was charged with heresy and eventually admitted to this high crime. The typical approach of the Inquisitors in such matters was to begin the questioning as broadly as possible and see if the individual would implicate themselves:

She was asked whether she is a Christian, baptized and confirmed, and if she hears mass, confesses, and receives communion at the times ordered by the Holy Mother Church.... She was asked whether she knows how to read and write and whether she has studied any subjects.... She was asked for the story of her life.... She was asked whether she knows, presumes, or suspects the cause for her arrest and imprisonment in the prisons of this Holy Office."

This line of questioning is extremely vague in its approach, and reflects the considerable amount of time, power, and authority the Inquisition had on its side. The high Inquisitor could afford to wait and allow any individual to convey their own sins, under the pressures of imprisonment and pain. There existed no legal recourse for those subject to the Inquisition to escape, no loopholes, and no statutes of limitations. In the interest of keeping Christendom free of heretics and pure in the eyes of God, the governments of medieval and colonial societies generally welcomed the Inquisition and infused it into their methods of rule.

Marina's case is an illustrative one, not only because the nature of her heresy is reasonably rare, but that her initial confessions illustrate what the most prevalent social taboos in Latin American colonial society were. On the day of her sixth confession, Marina admits, "She has been condemned to hell, because for fifteen years she has had a sensual temptation to the flesh, which makes her perform dishonest acts with her own hands on her shameful parts." The use of language in this passage is particularly revealing in that certain portions of the human body are associated with a feeling of shame, and that their temptation, inevitably leads to the devil and eternal damnation. Clearly, this is not a matter that anyone would consider a matter of legal significance today, but it was one of the most common accusations and admissions that the Spanish Inquisition dealt with in Latin America.

Similarly, "In colonial Latin America, sexual relations between men were considered an offense against… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Spanish Inquisition in Latin American" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Spanish Inquisition in Latin American.  (2005, February 14).  Retrieved September 20, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Spanish Inquisition in Latin American."  14 February 2005.  Web.  20 September 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Spanish Inquisition in Latin American."  February 14, 2005.  Accessed September 20, 2021.