Carranza, the “heretic” archbishop persecuted by the Inquisition

Times of crisis favor paranoia.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
17 March 2023 Friday 23:25
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Carranza, the “heretic” archbishop persecuted by the Inquisition

Times of crisis favor paranoia. For this reason, after the Protestant Reformation, everyone believed they saw Lutherans on the peninsula. The King of Spain, as guardian of orthodoxy, could not allow the existence of heretical foci in the heart of his domain. Religious dissidence was, for the mentality of the time, also a political problem. It was considered that there could be no peace in a kingdom if its people did not profess the same faith.

The obsession with heresy created a climate of deep fear. Everyone was careful to avoid a Holy Office process. Teresa de Jesús, founder of the Discalced Carmelite nuns, was right to define that difficult time as “hard times”.

Bartolomé de Carranza (1503-1576), an illustrious theologian who had intervened in the Council of Trent, was not free from suspicion. In 1558 he published Commentaries on the Christian Catechism, where he expounded Catholic doctrine. With his work, he intended to help priests to fulfill his preaching and also educated believers.

As the Hispanist Joseph Pérez explained, he was attacked precisely for reasoning about theological issues instead of excommunicating the contrary. In his Brief History of the Inquisition in Spain (Crítica, 2003), Pérez pointed out that religious polarization reached the point where any nuance was automatically interpreted as a concession to the opponent.

On the other hand, it was suspicious that the archbishop wanted to disseminate certain knowledge among the Christian people instead of limiting it to an elite. The democratization of doctrinal teachings, in the 16th century, had a Protestant connotation. Weren't the Lutherans the ones who didn't use Latin so that the teachings of the faith would reach the whole world more easily?

Carranza's detractors returned to the charge a year later, in 1559. Among his enemies, one in particular stood out, Fernando de Valdés, Archbishop of Seville and Inquisitor General. Obsessed with the fight against heresy, Valdés tended to exaggerate its dangers. Thus, he turned against Carranza, spurred, in part, by personal envy. According to Pérez, he was jealous of his prestige and his success.

Thus began a persecution that reached the point of cruelty. Valdés had an important ally for this, Fray Bernardo de Fresneda, the royal confessor. Fresneda was annoyed that the one chosen for the archbishopric of Toledo had been Carranza, and not him. That is why he had no objection to defame him with the crazy accusation of sodomy.

But what was the charge against the primate of Spain? It was said that he had spoken with Protestants who would have confided in his religious concerns. After these conversations, his duty was supposed to be to present a report to the Inquisition. Why, instead of fulfilling that obligation, had he recommended his interlocutors to remain silent and not tell anyone about his encounter?

The process against Carranza began in Spain. The Holy Office, according to Geoffrey Parker, one of the best biographers of Felipe II, came to question the king under oath about the religious opinions of the archbishop. They asked him if he had heard an orthodox doctrine from the archbishop's lips. The monarch angrily declared that this was not the case, although he also specified that he was not a theologian. He came to say that he did not possess the necessary competence to seriously evaluate the issue in dispute.

The Holy See, meanwhile, requested the delivery of the prisoner. From Rome's point of view, only the pontiff had the power to judge an archbishop. The Spanish monarch, on the other hand, thought that the pope should not interfere in the internal affairs of a kingdom, and did not agree to Pius IV's request.

With this decision, Felipe II allowed a trial to take place without sufficient guarantees, although not for that reason completely non-existent. The defendant, for example, managed to challenge Valdés based on the personal enmity that he professed to him. In other cases, in the face of adverse anonymous testimonies, he also knew how to discredit them by showing that they were guided by animosity.

The inquisitors searched for evidence in Carranza's writings with a method that was anything but appropriate. The excerpts were taken out of context, so it was very easy to twist them to make them say what you wanted them to say. Due to confusion, alleged heresies were attributed to the accused by quotes that were not his. They belonged to St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Augustine!

In 1567, finally, Philip II was forced to relent, under threat of excommunication, and placed Carranza under Vatican authority. In Rome, the trial continued until 1576. After receiving a lesser sentence, the archbishop was released. He died a few weeks later.

The king, as Geoffrey Parker recounts, the benevolence of the pope did not sit very well. After so many years persecuting Carranza, he felt humiliated to see that the pontiff did not support him on this thorny issue. At this point, he must know that the archbishop was, in fact, innocent. What he could not allow was that the error splashed the good image of the Crown.