Social Control During the Medieval Inquisition
The Inquisition, though it did not become the true instrument of torture and oppression popularized in movies and books until after the Reformation, began during the Middle Ages, in response to the unorthodox religious practices of a variety of different groups throughout Europe. The most threatening of these sects were the Cathars, who lived in what is now southern France. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what frightened the Church fathers most about this group, especially as those people who condemned the Cathars wrote the only surviving records and it was popular at the time to vilify anyone who held radically different religious views. As a result, all manner of horrible rituals
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The Inquisitorial writings of Jacques Fournier, bishop of Pamiers from 1318 to 1325, remain one of the most detailed and complete historical records of the medieval Inquisition. He conducted investigations both of the Cathars and the Jews, and though many of the confessions made to Fournier serve to illustrate the religious tension in the region over matters of faith, they are also useful in a discussion of medieval social history, and were employed in an important work in this field by Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie called Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error. As most of the individuals investigated were not trained in religious matters, the subject of these confessions centers not on specific tenets of faith, but rather provides a holistic view of medieval society, including family life, social hierarchy, and sexuality. In addition, the role of the Church in society is often discussed, as a result of the conflict between the Cathars and the religious establishment. Many of the Cathars disagreed with what had become religious truth: the power of the Church to dispense the sacraments and to regulate social custom. Their confessions articulate a basic hostility towards the social and religious power of the Church, and illustrate what methods and reasoning they used to combat it.
The basic structure of medieval life was feudalism, an incorporated system of vassalage whereby lesser nobles