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The Roman Inquisition

A Papal Bureaucracy and Its Laws in the Age of Galileo

By Thomas F. Mayer

Publication Year: 2013

While the Spanish Inquisition has laid the greatest claim to both scholarly attention and the popular imagination, the Roman Inquisition, established in 1542 and a key instrument of papal authority, was more powerful, important, and long-lived. Founded by Paul III and originally aimed to eradicate Protestant heresy, it followed medieval antecedents but went beyond them by becoming a highly articulated centralized organ directly dependent on the pope. By the late sixteenth century the Roman Inquisition had developed its own distinctive procedures, legal process, and personnel, the congregation of cardinals and a professional staff. Its legal process grew out of the technique of inquisitio formulated by Innocent III in the early thirteenth century, it became the most precocious papal bureaucracy on the road to the first "absolutist" state.

As Thomas F. Mayer demonstrates, the Inquisition underwent constant modification as it expanded. The new institution modeled its case management and other procedures on those of another medieval ancestor, the Roman supreme court, the Rota. With unparalleled attention to archival sources and detail, Mayer portrays a highly articulated corporate bureaucracy with the pope at its head. He profiles the Cardinal Inquisitors, including those who would play a major role in Galileo's trials, and details their social and geographical origins, their education, economic status, earlier careers in the Church, and networks of patronage. At the point this study ends, circa 1640, Pope Urban VIII had made the Roman Inquisition his personal instrument and dominated it to a degree none of his predecessors had approached.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Haney Foundation Series


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. 4-4

Copyright Page

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pp. 5-5

Table of Contents

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pp. 6-7

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pp. 1-8

Ignorance and prejudice shroud few institutions as they do the Inquisition.1 About the prejudice there is probably little more to be done than about any other kind. About the ignorance there is hope...

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Chapter 1: The Roman Inquisition’s Operations

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pp. 9-37

The Roman Inquisition belonged to the pope. Gregory IX originally created it, Paul III revived it, Paul IV and Pius V (both former Inquisitors, Pius also having served as commissary) made it...

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Chapter 2: The Sacred Congregation: Inquisitors Before 1623

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pp. 38-75

In this chapter and the next, I offer a prosopographical study of a group of Inquisitors, originally those involved in significant ways in Galileo’s trial.1 These men represent a majority of Inquisitors...

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Chapter 3: The Sacred Congregation Under Urban VIII

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pp. 76-109

The vast majority of the cardinals considered in Chapter 2 were promoted by Paul V. Things had changed by the time Antonio Barberini, Sr., became secretary in 1629. He together with Francesco...

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Chapter 4: The Professional Staff

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pp. 110-154

The Roman Inquisition’s professional staff provided its backbone, especially the four major officials: the commissary, assessor, notary, and fiscal. Unlike the cardinals, most of these had serious training...

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Chapter 5: Inquisition Procedure: The Holy Office’s Use of Inquisitio

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pp. 155-205

Adriano Prosperi has noted that the “obscurity” of the Inquisition’s rules dominates the institution’s historiography.1 This perception contains some truth: the rules did indeed become complex, and...

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pp. 206-216

In this book, I have recounted the evolution of the Roman Inquisition from about 1590 to 1640 as the most direct institutional expression of papal will. Originally aimed by Paul III at the threat from...


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pp. 217-226

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 227-230


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pp. 231-358

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 359-366


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pp. 367-382

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pp. 383-386

Ed Muir has had a lot to do with this book. In part I began it in response to his challenge a few years ago that it was too early to write the history of the Inquisition in Italy. Under the guise of studying...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812207644
E-ISBN-10: 0812207645
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812244731
Print-ISBN-10: 0812244737

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Haney Foundation Series
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OCLC Number: 858601667
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Roman Inquisition

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Subject Headings

  • Inquisition -- Italy -- History -- 16th century.
  • Inquisition -- Italy -- History -- 17th century.
  • Catholic Church. Congregatio Romanae et Universalis Inquisitionis.
  • Criminal procedure (Canon law) -- History -- 16th century.
  • Criminal procedure (Canon law) -- History -- 17th century.
  • Italy -- Church history -- 16th century.
  • Italy -- Church history -- 17th century.
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