Jonathan Kirsch has a new book coming out called “The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God,” which digs deep into the 600-year Inquisition era and finds its legacy in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and the U.S.-led war on terror. (To be clear, Kirsch, who happens to be The Jewish Journal’s pro-bono attorney, doesn’t morally equate Hitler and Stalin to Bush and Cheney.)
I learned a lot reading the book, and next week will publish my Q&A with Kirsch. Most disturbing to me were the descriptions of some of the torture devices, particularly The Pear of Anguish. Hurts just thinking about it.
Anyway, the Inquisition, as you probably know, was the Catholic Church’s KGB. It’s duty was not to worry about the Muslim or Jew—though many of its victims were accused of being false converts to Christianity. The inquisitors only had authority over fellow Christians. And, offering a reminder that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, the Inquisition often targeted people considered threats to the Church.
“Some men and women are capable of acting with appalling cruelty once they convince themselves that theiri victims are filth or vermin or, at best, miscreants with some incurable disease or congenital defect that compels them to serve the Devil rather than God,” Kirsch writes. “That’s how the Inquisition instruction good Christians to look on those it condemned as heretics.”
One organization that felt God’s wrath on earth was the Knights Templar, the secret Christian warriors who protected pilgrims en route to Jerusalem. They fell out of favor with Pope Clement V and were tortured into confessing to heresy, the punishment for which was being burned at the stake. The significant assets they amassed in the Holy Land were seized.
Now, a group claiming to be the Knights’ distant descendants has sued Pope Benedict XVI and is seeking $150 billion for the property stolen from the Knights.
“We are not trying to cause the economic collapse of the Roman Catholic Church, but to illustrate to the court the magnitude of the plot against our Order,” said a statement issued by the self-proclaimed modern day knights.
The legal move by the Spanish group comes follows the unprecedented step by the Vatican towards the rehabilitation of the group when last October it released copies of parchments recording the trials of the Knights between 1307 and 1312.
The papers lay hidden for more than three centuries having been “misfiled” within papal archives until they were discovered by an academic in 2001.
The Chinon parchment revealed that, contrary to historic belief, Clement V had declared the Templars were not heretics but disbanded the order anyway to maintain peace with their accuser, King Philip IV of France.
Over the centuries, various groups have claimed to be descended from the Templars and legend abounds over hidden treasures, secret rituals, and their rumoured guardianship of the Holy Grail.
Most recently the knights have fascinated the modern generation after being featured in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code.