Interview with Prof. Axgrind

I am presenting to the readers of Secular Outpost my exclusive interview with Professor Hugo Axgrind, Professor of Revisionist History and Head of The Center for Medieval Exoneration at the University of St. Torquemada. I am interviewing Prof. Axgrind about his new book A New Edition of the Spanish Inquisition.

Parsons: Professor Axgrind, I understand that your stated purpose in writing your book was “To correct the accumulated calumnies directed against the Spanish Inquisition and the men who conducted it.” Am I correct in saying that your aim is nothing less than to change our entire image of the Holy Inquisition and, in particular, its notorious practice in Spain?

Axgrind: Yes, indeed. For centuries the assumption has been that the Spanish Inquisition was a brutal attempt to impose doctrinal conformity and submission to Catholic authority by ferreting out heresy using such means as the humiliation and imprisonment of accused heretics and coercion of confession by torture.

Parsons: So, torture was not used by the inquisitors to extract confessions?

Axgrind: Well, it depends on what you mean by “torture.” Some of my students seem to regard sitting through an hour-long class to be torture, heh, heh.

Parsons: But, really, weren’t the strappado and the rack more excruciating than being bored in class? Could not the inquisitors hold you indefinitely and torture you repeatedly?

Axgrind: My research indicates that descriptions of the strappado and the rack are figures of speech, hyperbolic language meant to intimidate but never actually used. In fact, the accused heretic was brought to Inquisition Headquarters, placed on a hard stool, and given a stern talking-to. He then was sent to “time out” which means he had to sit still in a comfortable chair until dinner time with only a cup of coffee to drink. He was then sent home with a note to his mother.

Parsons: Seriously?!? Where did all these stories about brutal torture come from?

Axgrind: Oh, you know how people exaggerate, especially when it involves anything medieval or Catholic.

Parsons: Excuse me, but there are transcripts, recorded by the inquisitors themselves, of victims of torture screaming and begging for mercy. How do you account for those?

Axgrind: Oh, those “transcripts” were pieces of creative fiction written by the inquisitors to pass the time. Actually, investigating heresy was really boring work, and the inquisitors were intelligent and educated people who resented being assigned to such tedious duty. Most of the people they interrogated had such a vague idea of the content of Catholic doctrine that they could not have been heretics had they tried. Can you imagine having to ask José the barber what he thought of the filioque clause of the creed? You got hours and hours of meaningless babble. Yawn. They wrote those “transcripts” for their own entertainment.

Parsons: So, the inquisitors were not cruel men at all?

Axgrind: Some were cruel. Cruel but fair. Actually, you have to remember that the Inquisition was really instituted to prevent the abuses of the secular authorities.

Parsons: How do you mean?

Axgrind: Well, in those days the secular authorities would grab you and nail your head to the floor for no reason at all. They found out that they could make big bucks by accusing people of heresy, forcing confessions by torture, and confiscating all their property. The Church nobly stepped in to curtail these abuses with a regular, orderly, and rule-bound procedure for investigating heresy.

Parsons: But did not the Inquisition hand over recalcitrant “heretics” to the secular authorities to be burned at the stake?

Axgrind: Well, yes, of course that did happen, but as Prof. Pferdscheiss shows in his masterful study, only a few thousand people were actually burned after passing through the hands of the Inquisition. Just a drop in the bucket, really.

Parsons: So, actually the Inquisition was not a brutally oppressive agency attempting to impose Orwellian thought control, but a liberal institution that served humane purposes and respected the rights of the accused?

Axgrind: Exactly! Really, the Founding Fathers of this country looked back to their predecessors of the Holy Inquisition for inspiration in drawing up the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Parsons: So, Prof. Axgrind, do you have any plans for future research that will change other facile assumptions?

Axgrind: Yes indeed!  My next book will argue that the Crusades were a defensive war. Richard “The Lionheart” fought in the Third Crusade because Saladin was poised on the French shore with a merciless army of jihadists, just waiting to invade England. Richard had no choice but to act. Also, I am planning a future work that will show that the scientific revolution actually started at the Monastery of Cluny in the Tenth Century. Also, I am planning a book to be titled The Misunderstood Renaissance Popes.

Parsons: I would like to thank you Prof. Axgrind for allowing me to interview you and for your diligent work in correcting our misconceptions!