Secret Archives Opened
BY Awake! CORRESPONDENT IN ITALY
“Inquisition archives opened.” This is how the media reported that the Vatican has granted scholars access to the archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, known until 1965 as the Holy Office.
IT WAS stated that the move should be read “within the context of a long and articulated process of historical revision that John Paul II wants to complete before the year 2000.”* Why so much interest in these archives? What secrets are they thought to contain?
The Holy Office was established by Pope Paul III in 1542. This papal agency for the repression of “heresy” was also called the Roman Inquisition, to distinguish it from the Spanish Inquisition introduced in 1478.* The congregation of cardinals that came into being in 1542 was to “concern itself with the question of heresy in the whole of Christendom,” explains Adriano Prosperi, an authority on the subject. Of the Inquisitions operating during the 16th century, only the Roman Inquisition is still active, albeit with a different name and different duties.
Records of the Inquisition were gathered. In time, they formed the secret archives of the Holy Office. In 1559 the archives were ransacked by part of the population of Rome, who revolted to “celebrate” the death of Pope Paul IV, considered the principal advocate of the Roman Inquisition. In 1810, following his conquest of Rome, Napoléon I transferred the archives to Paris. Both then and during their subsequent restitution to the pope, much material was lost or destroyed.
What Do They Contain?
The more than 4,300 documents that constitute the archives occupy two rooms close to St. Peter’s Basilica. According to cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—head of this Vatican agency—the matters contained in the archives pertain indirectly to historical issues but “are mainly of a theological nature.”
There is a consensus among historians that the archives cannot be expected to reveal much. Professor Prosperi explains that the minutes of the meetings of the Roman Inquisition are there but that “the submittals, records, and almost all the trial proceedings are missing. Most were destroyed between 1815 and 1817 in Paris on the orders of Monsignor Marino Marini, who was sent from Rome to recover the papers removed by Napoléon.”
The Vatican has given scholars access to documents gathered prior to the death in July 1903 of Leo XIII. To gain access, researchers have to submit letters of introduction from religious or academic authorities.
Though news of the archives’ opening was greeted with general acclaim, critical voices were heard. Pondering over the reasons why only documents from before 1903 were made available, Catholic theologian Hans Küng asks: “Could it be that 1903 is exactly when it gets more interesting, since in that year Pope Pius X, who had just acceded to the papal throne, began an anti-Modernist campaign, which was to claim as its victims a whole series of theologians and create difficulties for the bishops of Italy, France, and Germany, alienating countless people from the church?”
For law historian Italo Mereu, despite their changing the name and opening the archives, “the work [the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] does is that of the old Inquisition, with its old methods,” such as not allowing those under investigation to see documents that refer to them.
‘Nothing Secret That Will Not Become Known’
Generally, historians do not believe that they will make any sensational discoveries in the “Inquisition archives.” Yet, it is nonetheless significant that the Catholic Church feels bound to submit to the judgment of public opinion.
However, a far more important opinion is that of God. In due time he will render his judgment regarding a religion that claimed to be Christian but for centuries broke God’s commandments and violated the spirit of Jesus’ teaching by conducting vicious Inquisitions. In these, countless innocent people were horribly tortured and murdered, simply because they would not accept the doctrines or practices of the church.—Matthew 26:52; John 14:15; Romans 14:12.
No matter how deep the analysis of the archives by scholars goes, it will always remain incomplete. On the other hand, “there is not a creation that is not manifest to [God’s] sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.” (Hebrews 4:13) That is why Jesus, when referring to the religious leaders who opposed him, could say to his disciples: “Do not fear them; for there is nothing covered over that will not become uncovered, and secret that will not become known.”—Matthew 10:26.
Although their methods and results differed little, these two institutions were new with respect to the medieval Inquisition that had begun in 1231 in Italy and France.
[Picture Credit Lines on page 12]
Palace of the Holy Office, Rome, Italy
Drawings: From the book Bildersaal deutscher Geschichte