1252 — Pope Innocent IV unexpectedly authorizes the Inquisition to torture heretics

The Medieval Inquisition was a series of Inquisitions that slowly merged into a more or less continuous process of arrest and interrogation of suspected heretics. Like all good coppers, the Inquisitors often complained that they were hamstrung by the limitations under which they worked – i.e., that they needed more powers, more authority to use them, and so on. In the middle ages, what that basically meant was torture.

On May 15, Pope Innocent IV, who had been Pope for nine years and would continue in that capacity for another two, issued the now-infamous papal bull ad exstirpanda, which authorized, with some limits, the torture of suspected heretics for the purpose of eliciting confessions. The limitations were as follows:

  • that the torture did not cause loss of life or limb
  • that it was used only once
  • that the Inquisitor deemed the evidence against the accused to be virtually certain

In practice, these limitations were meaningless – loss of life or limb could be deemed accidental, ‘only once’ was often interpreted to mean a series of tortures collectively defined as one, and Inquisitors were somewhat less objective than the bull appeared to assume. Subsequent Popes would expand the scope and powers of the various Inquisitions.

Referenced in:

Soldiers of Christ — Jill Sobule
Sign of the Cross — Iron Maiden