Page:A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages-Volume I .pdf/434

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out further hearing, abandon them to the secular arm. If one consents to swear that he is not a heretic, I say to him, 'If you wish to swear so as to escape the stake, one oath will not suffice for me, nor ten, nor a hundred, nor a thousand, because you dispense each other for a certain number of oaths taken under necessity, but I will require a countless number. Moreover, if I have, as I presume, adverse witnesses against you, your oaths will not save you from being burned. You will only stain your conscience without escaping death. But if you will simply confess your error, you may find mercy.' Under this anxiety, I have seen some confess."[1]

The same inquisitor illustrates the ease with which the cunning of these simple folk fenced and played with the best-trained men of the Holy Office by a case in which he saw a serving-wench elude the questions of picked examiners for several days together, and she would have escaped had there not by chance been found in her chest the fragment of a bone of a heretic recently burned, which she had preserved as a relic, according to one of her companions who had collected the bones with her. But the inquisitor does not tell us how many thousand good Catholics, confused by the awful game which they were playing, mystified with the threats of burning for persistent denial, despairingly confessed the crime of which they were so confidently assumed to be guilty, and ratified their conversion by inventing tales about their neighbors, while expiating the wrong by suffering confiscation and lifelong imprisonment.

Yet the inquisitor was frequently baffled in this intellectual digladiation by the innocence or astuteness of the accused. His resources, however, were by no means exhausted, and here we approach one of the darkest and most repulsive aspects of our theme. Human inconsistency, in its manifold development, has never exhibited itself in more deplorable fashion than in the instructions of this subject transmitted to their younger brethren by the veterans of the Holy Office - instructions intended for none but official eyes, and therefore framed with the utmost unreserve. Trained through long experience in an accurate knowledge of all that can move

  1. Tract. de Paup. de Lugduno Marteno Thes. V. 1792).-Cf. Bernard. Guidon. Practica l'. v. (Doat, XXX.)