Inquisition, Voluntarism, and Harshness
In this paper I contribute to a new line of scholarship concerning the foundations of the medieval Inquisition. I develop a series of arguments concerning the origins of the Inquisition in Southern France and Northern Italy in the early 13th century. In the final sections of the work I formulate an interdisciplinary assessment of Western intellectual development in regard to the rise of modern understandings of subjectivity that impute to individuals high levels of rational autonomy. I then develop a general thesis about the nature of subjectivity and its relationship to the harshness of criminal discipline in the modern and contemporary period. A new line of scholarship has placed a renewed emphasis on the religious foundations of the Inquisition, as against understandings that focus on the social, economic, or political roots of religious intolerance. I document an important but overlooked aspect of the religious foundations of the Inquisition: the rise in the 12th and early 13th centuries of a new kind of sacramentology and idea of pastoral care that viewed participation in the sacraments as setting forth contracts to which well-instructed lay individuals freely assented. I demonstrate this development by exploring the sacrament of confirmation, changes to the sacrament of the Eucharist, and the rise of private, auricular confession. The rise of a contractual understanding of the sacraments helps to explain the Church's abandonment of its well-established principle that heretics should not be killed, only exiled: the western Church for the first time since the emergence of infant baptism could view the heretic as a traitor to his own free assent to magisterial discipline. I then argue that the connection between rational autonomy and the death penalty in the Middle Ages can help to illuminate the later rise of harsh understandings of retributive justice in the criminal law.
Keywords: The Medieval Inquisition, Voluntarism, Rational Autonomy, Sacraments, The Sacraments in the 13th Century, Retributive Justice, Harshness, The Death Penalty, Criminal Law
Dr. Joseph Prud'homme
Assistant Professor of Humanities, Villanova University