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The Medieval Inquisition in Naples
"Medieval inquisition" refers to the institution set up by Pope Lucius III within the Roman Catholic Church in 1184 to deal with heresy. In what follows I cover the period from that date up through the mid-1300s, times that included the beginning of the Inquisition, the Albigensian Crusade, the reign of Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, and the subsequent Angevin dynasty in southern Italy. Before that change of dynasties, the city of Naples was within the Kingdom of Sicily (the capital was Palermo). The term "Kingdom of Naples" was not used until well beyond the period under discussion. I shall try to distinguish carefully between the city of "Naples" and the "Kingdom of Sicily."
Pope Innocent III
After centuries of oblivion, a reminder of the Medieval Inquisition has been reopened in Naples on the premises of the old Dominican monastery annexed to the church. The entrance is on a narrow alley that angles over from Piazzetta Casanova on via San Sebastiano to pass between the back of the music conservatory and the back of the entire San Domenico Maggiore complex. At that point, the monastic premises contained the Inquisition Chamber. A local newspaper, on the occasion of the reopening of the premises, scoffed at the notion that Naples had ever "rejected" the Inquisition. The writer then made the comment that "for centuries, starting in 1233 thousands of persons [heretics] passed through the chamber." The article is accompanied by pictures of medieval torture. At least as far as the Medieval Inquisition is concerned, the matter is not so cut and dried.
First, it is true, in spite of what the journalist may think, that the city of Naples (and thus the entire Spanish vicerealm of Naples) rejected at least one Inquisition. That was in 1547; the affair involved the particularly severe Spanish Inquisition. (Read about that episode here.) There was, however, an earlier one, what historians term the Medieval Inquisition, proclaimed in 1184 by Pope Lucius III to suppress the growing Catharist and Albigensian heresies in southern France. It was the first step in what eventually turned into the Albigensian Crusade—i.e., a war declared by powerful Pope Innocent III*1 (image, above) to eliminate those heresies in the Languedoc region of France. In 1199, almost at the beginning of his reign, Innocent had written:
The civil law punishes traitors with the confiscation of their property and death; it is only out of kindness that the lives of their children are spared. All the more then should we excommunicate and confiscate the property of those who are traitors to the faith of Jesus Christ; for it is an infinitely greater sin to offend the divine majesty than to attack the majesty of the sovereign. (cited in Vanandard, p.66)The Albigensian Crusade lasted from 1209 to 1229 and was "successful" at the cost of about one million lives.*2 During that period (in 1215), Innocent convoked the Fourth Lateran Council; it declared all heretics excommunicated, and delivered them over to the state to receive due punishment, generally banishment and confiscation of property, but also death. Beginning in the 1230s, Pope Gregory IX then favored the Dominican Order as tools of the Inquisition; the Dominicans were mendicants and accustomed to travel, and they had a reputation as enemies of heresy.
Frederick II (statue, facade,That order had a strong presence in the city of Naples, centered on the large church and monastery of San Domenico Maggiore; the premises had earlier been Benedictine but passed to the Dominicans in 1221. At that time—a year earlier—the King of Sicily, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, had become the new Holy Roman Emperor. He has come down to us as one of the most able and powerful rulers of the Middle Ages as well as one of the great antagonists of the Papacy. He was termed a "heretic" by the pope, and Frederick, in turn, called the pope the "anti-Christ." Frederick was ex-communicated at least three times. One might then plausibly think that at least in southern Italy heretics would be safe; after all, Frederick had a reputation as a religious pluralist (indeed, on various occasions in his life, he employed a Muslim army!). Much of that reputation, however, is based on Frederick's later career. When he came to power, he did so with the backing of Innocent III.
Royal Palace, Naples.)
In return for that papal support, Frederick, among other things, issued in 1220 a decree against heretics, one that allowed religious authorities to see to the enforcement of such decrees in Italy. His imperial law of that year was in accordance with the Lateran Council of 1215 and "condemned heretics to every form of banishment, to perpetual infamy, together with the confiscation of their property, and the annulment of all their civil acts and powers" (cited in Vanandard, p. 107). He also enacted at Ravenna in 1227 another imperial law condemning heretics to death. Gregory IX (pope from 1227-1241) denounced the heretics he said were swarming through Frederick's kingdom of Sicily, especially in the cities of Aversa and Naples and urged Frederick to prosecute them with vigor. Frederick responded in his own Constitution of Melfi (from 1231). It is a document still seen as having been centuries ahead of its time, one that set civil law above ecclesiastical law. That may be true, but it did contain a declaration against heresy. Maybe Fredrick was trying to continue his balancing act with the Papacy, but the Constitution of Melfi did establish the Inquisition in the Kingdom of Sicily, including the city of Naples. It was, however, a State Inquisition. (As strange as it sounds, it was indeed a secular mechanism, run by Frederick's civil servants and not by the Dominican order.)
One source (Ullman, cited in Dolan, below) has said, "Whilst faith and religion are nowadays matters of private opinion, at that time they were issues of public law, of public concern and public interest." Another (Journet, cited in Dolan) has said, "Heresy loomed up unexpectedly as something anarchic, something capable of destroying the whole political and social structure from within. It amounted to a crime against public safety." That is the spirit in which Frederick's relation to "heresy" should be understood. His own Constitution of Melfi condemned heresy, sacrilege, treason, usury, and counterfeiting as structural crimes against the state. He may truly have been (or, at least, would become later in life) a religious pluralist, but if you were a "heretic," in that you questioned the accepted ecclesiastical order of things, you were questioning authority and potentially undermining the social fabric of the state. Again, "heresy" refers to "wrong" Christians and not to Jews or Muslims. Muslims were more than tolerated in the Kingdom of Sicily under Frederick II, and Jews retained their status as Servi camerae regis [servants of the royal chamber], (which meant that they were second-class but protected servants of the Crown).[For a dynastic time line, click here.]
*1. There were ten Popes from Lucius III through 1250, the year in which Emperor Frederick II died. Of those, Innocent III was the most important: he served 18 years, was responsible for the Albigensian Crusade, the Fourth Lateran Council and, importantly, the fratricidal Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), the justification for which was that Muslims were heretics and not simply followers of an "alien" faith—thus, the Holy Lands could be seized. ^up
*2. Even by more recent standards of slaughter, the Albigensian Crusade was ferocious. It destroyed the old Occitan culture and language (in modern terms, called "Provençal") and has given us the infamous expression, loosely rendered as "Kill everyone. God will sort it out." A Papal legate, when asked by a Crusader how to distinguish heretics from true Catholics, is said to have answered: "Caedite eos! Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius" – "Kill them all! The Lord knows which ones are his".
—Amabile, Luigi. Il santo Officio della Inquisizione in Napoli, S. Lapi, Città di Castello 1892. [There is also a photostatic reprint published by Rubbettino. Soveria Mannelli (prov. of Catanzaro). 1987.
—Dolan, John P. "A Note on Emperor Frederick II and Jewish Tolerance" in Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Jul., 1960), pp. 165-174.
—Journet, Charles. The Church of the Word Incarnate, vol. 1, p. 240. New York. 1955.
—Kelly, Samantha. The new Solomon: Robert of Naples (1309-1343) and fourteenth-century kingship. Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands. 2003.
—Starr, Joshua. "The Mass Conversion of Jews in Southern Italy (1290-1293)" in Speculum,Vol. 21, No. 2 (Apr., 1946), pp. 203-211. Published by: Medieval Academy of America.
—Ullman, Walter. The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages. New York 1953, p. 448.
—Vanandard, E. The Inquisition, A Critical and Historical Study of the Coercive Power of the Church. Longmans, Green, and Co. New York, 1908.
—Voltmer, Ernest. entry: "Guelphs" in The Papacy: An Encyclopedia, vol. 2. Gaius-Proxies, gen. ed. Philippe Levillain. Routledge. NY, 2002.