Question: What was the purpose and the role of the Inquisition in the occupied by Spaniards Mexico?
The Inquisition is one of the most notorious institutions in the history of Medieval Europe. It is known as a ruthless machine of terror protecting the ideals of the most radical Christianity. At the same time, little attention is paid to the tribunal of Inquisition established by the Spaniards in Mexico. Surprisingly, the main purpose of the Inquisition in Mexico was not to convert indigenous people to Christianity. The primary aim of this institution was to monitor Christian beliefs of Spaniards, who had moved to new territories, which was recognizable in trials against bigamists and the promotion of conservative Christian values.
The Inquisition emerged in Europe as a way to preserve the influence of Christianity, and its roots can be found in the official doctrine of the Vatican. This institution was known for its violent methods applied for defending dogmas of Christianity. Even though the Spanish Inquisition was less brutal than the Roman one, it still was a significant source of fear for all people deviating from the traditional dogmas of Christianity (Lecture 3). In fact, the Inquisition’s dogmatism was frequently excessively radical, which was recognizable in its struggle against the Reformation ideals in Europe. This institution has violently fought against the so-called ‘crypto-Jews,’ people who integrated Jewish rituals into Christian faith (Boyer 13). The methods of the Inquisition have proved to be efficient since ‘crypto-Jews’ and followers of other doctrines considered as heresy were suppressed and almost eradicated in Spain. An Inquisition was established in New Spain immediately after the conquest of new territories, and the Holy Tribunal was formally established in 1571(Boyer 16). After all, such lands were densely populated by both native people, who did not follow the Chrisitan doctrine and were devoted to their pagan beliefs, and Spanish colonists.
At the same time, there were significant concerns regarding the Inquisition’s suitability as a method to convert American pagans into Christianity. The point was that “many judged the Inquisition too harsh and too demanding and therefore an inappropriate way to deal with idolatry and paganism” (Boyer 16). The Inquisition was excessively demanding in cases of any deviations from the traditional doctrine of the Catholic faith. It frequently imposed cruel punishments for people expressing such patterns. At the same time, native inhabitants of New Spain were utterly unfamiliar with the Chrisitan doctrine; thus, requiring full-fledged adherence to Catholicism from such humans was irrelevant. To some extent, using the Inquisition in regard to such populations would mean making all of them face tribunals that would potentially lead indigenous people to severe punishments. At the same time, the primary objective set before the Spanish colonists was converting indigenous communities into Christianity; thus, it was essential to choose a more flexible and less aggressive approach than the one to which introduced by the Inquisition.
Even though, to some extent, it was irrelevant in regard to indigenous people, the Spanish Inquisition was still established in the Americas. In this case, the point was in the Inquisition’s primary assignment, namely offering instruction and correction to faithful people (Lecture 3). The discussed institution was not really applicable to indigenous Americans, who could not be regarded as faithful Christians at all. Nonetheless, the Spanish Inquisition was suitable in terms of controlling the colonists settling on the territories of New Spain. The new tribunals were responsible for monitoring the Christians on vast Mexican areas, which recognizably undermined its efficiency (Boyer 19). At the same time, several cases, such as the trial of a bigamist Paulo Salazar in 1762, had shown that the discussed institution had an actual power in the region (Boyer 13). The Inquisition was capable of eradicating the signs of heresy among the Spaniards inhabiting the Mexican colonies, while the conversion of indigenous populations became one of the primary objectives of missionaries. It may be challenging to evaluate the impact of the Inquisition on Mexico’s development because, in the observed country, this institution was much less powerful than in Spain (Boyer). At the same time, this institution had still contributed to the development of Chrisitan values and the eradication of bigamy among the colonists in New Spain.
Consequently, the Spanish Inquisition has played a rather recognizable role in the history of Mexico. Similarly to its Spanish division, the Inquisition tribunal established in Mexico was focused on providing instruction and correction to faithful Christians. The Inquisition was not an essential tool in terms of converting indigenous populations of New Spain to Christianity since the institution’s methods were considered too sharp for such an assignment. At the same time, one of the most significant purposes of the Inquisition was maintaining the devotion to traditional Catholic beliefs among Spanish colonists who had moved to the new lands. Therefore, the Inquisition in Mexico was primarily focused on the eradication of heresies, such as bigamy, and the development of local people’s adherence to the traditional Catholic Church. In general, one can suggest that the discussed institution has made a significant impact on the development of Mexico as a country with a devoted Catholic population.
Boyer, Richard. Lives of the Bigamists: Marriage, Family, and Community in Colonial Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, 2001.
Lecture 3. 2020.