On this day in 1252, Pope Innocent IV issued his papal letter, Ad extirpanda. It was where the pope codified torture in the inquisition of suspected heretics. But as will be familiar to those who watched the House of Representatives pass the USA Freedom Act — it was put forward as rules to limit torture. (In the USA Freedom Act, most sources are reporting it as limiting the NSA’s bulk collection of metadata, but it is in fact codifying it.) Check out these amazing limitations on torture:
- No loss of life or limb!
- Just this once!
- Only if the inquisitor is really really sure!
Let me say that personally, I’m kind of pleased at this. I probably shouldn’t admit this in public, but one of my greatest fears is to have my fingers cut off. Of course, I’m even more afraid of being set on fire, and I’m sure that limited burning was just fine. But mostly, these rules are just ridiculous. Prosecutors are always certain that their targets are guilty. There have actually been psychological tests regarding this, although I’m not going to take the time to dig this up. So this just meant that inquisitors were always going to use torture. And since they could only use it once, that meant they were going to be extreme.
But what is most ridiculous about this is the first rule. They couldn’t kill the heretic with torture. But if they tortured her and she confessed, they could then kill her. It makes little sense. But it isn’t supposed to. It is just what the powerful do to make their oppression of the weak seem just.
Happy anniversary Ad extirpanda!
This actually happened a couple of centuries later: