The severest penance the inquisitor coukl impose was incarceration. It was, according to the theory of the inquisitors, not a punishment, but a means by which the penitent could obtain, on the bread of tribulation and water of affliction, pardon from God for his sins, while at the same time he was closely supervised to see that he persevered in the right path and was segregated from the rest of the flock, thus removing all danger of infection. Of course it was only used for converts. The defiant heretic who persisted in disobedience, or who pertinaciously refused to confess his heresy and asserted his innocence, could not be admitted to penance, and was handed over to the secular arm.
In the bull Excommunicamus of Gregory IX., in 1229, all who after arrest were converted to the faith through fear of death were ordered to be incarcerated for life, thus to perform appropriate penance. The Council of Toulouse almost simultaneously made the same regulation, and manifested its sense of the real value of the involuntary conversions by adding the caution that they be prevented from corrupting others. The Ravenna decree of Frederic II., in 1332, adopted the same rule and made it settled legal practice. The Council of Aries, in 1234, called attention to the perpetual backsliding of those converted by force, and ordered the bishops to enforce strictly the penance of perpetual prison in all such cases. As yet the relapsed were not considered as hopeless, and were not abandoned to the secular court, or "relaxed," but were similarly imprisoned for life.
The Inquisition at its inception thus found the rule established, and enforced it with the relentless vigor which it manifested in all its functions. It was represented as a special mercy shown to those who had forfeited all claims on human compassion. There were to be no exemptions. The Council of Narbonne, in 1244,
- Zanchini Tract, de Haeret. c. x.
- Gregor. PP. IX. Bull. Excommunicamus, 20 Aug. 1229. — Concil. Narbonn. ann. 1229 c. 9.— Hist. Diplom. Frid. H. T. IV. p. 300.— Concil. Arelatens. ann. 1234 c. 6.— Vaissette, III. Pr. 314.
Gregory's bull, as inserted in the canon law, provides perpetual imprisonment for those who "redire noluerint" (C. 15, § 1, Extra v. vii.), which is self-evidently an error for "voluerint,'' as the previous section directs that persistent heretics are to be handed over to the secular arm. Besides, Frederic's Ravenna decree, issued soon after, in prescribing lifelong imprisonment for converts, speaks of this being in accordance with the canons.