God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World

From the publisher:
The Inquisition conducted its last execution in 1826—the victim was a Spanish schoolmaster convicted of heresy. But, as Cullen Murphy shows in this provocative new work, not only did its offices survive into the twentieth century, in the modern world its spirit is more influential than ever.

God’s Jury encompasses the diverse stories of the Knights Templar, Torquemada, Galileo, and Graham Greene. Established by the Catholic Church in 1231, the Inquisition continued in one form or another for almost seven hundred years. Though associated with the persecution of heretics and Jews--and with burning at the stake--its targets were more numerous and its techniques more ambitious. The Inquisition pioneered surveillance and censorship and "scientific" interrogation. As time went on, its methods and mindset spread far beyond the Church to become tools of secular persecution. Traveling from freshly opened Vatican archives to the detention camps of Guantánamo to the filing cabinets of the Third Reich, Murphy traces the Inquisition and its legacy.

With the combination of vivid immediacy and deeply learned analysis that characterized his acclaimed Are We Rome?, Murphy puts a human face on a familiar but little-known piece of our past, and argues that only by understanding the Inquisition can we hope to explain the making of the present.

Comment about God’s Jury

“Cullen Murphy’s account of the Inquisition is a dark but riveting tale, told with luminous grace. The Inquisition, he shows us, represents more than a historical episode of religious persecution. The drive to root out heresy and sin, once and for all, is emblematic of the modern age and a persisting danger in our time.”
Michael J. Sandel, author of Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?

"God’s Jury is a reminder, and we need to be constantly reminded, that the most dangerous people in the world are the righteous, and when they wield real power, look out. At once global and chillingly intimate in its reach, the Inquisition turns out to have been both more and less awful than we thought. Murphy wears his erudition lightly, writes with quiet wit, and has a delightful way of seeing the past in the present.”
Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down

"From Torquemada to Guantanamo and beyond, Cullen Murphy finds the ‘inquisitorial impulse’ alive, and only too well, in our world. His engaging romp through the secret Vatican archives shows that the distance between the Dark Ages and Modernity is shockingly short.”
Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side.

"When virtue arms itself —beware! Lucid, scholarly, elegantly told, God’s Jury is as gripping as it is important.”
James Carroll, author of Jerusalem, Jerusalem

"The Inquisition is a dark mark in the history of the Catholic Church. But it was not the first inquisition nor the last as Cullen Murphy shows in this far-ranging, informed, and (dare one say?) witty account of its reach down to our own time in worldly affairs more than ecclesiastical ones.”
Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, former editor, Commonweal

“There will never be a finer example of erudition, worn lightly and wittily, than this book. As he did in Are We Rome?, Cullen Murphy manages to instruct, surprise, charm, and amuse in his history of ancient matters deftly connected to the present.”
James Fallows, national correspondent, The Atlantic Monthly

Reviews

The New Yorker, review by Adam Gopnik, January 16, 2012

Murphy’s tone is calm, even good-humored, but he can vibrate to the victims’ preserved cries for mercy, which he reproduces from transcripts that the Inquisition kept. The good ghost of Garry Wills’s historical writing haunts his pages—the same kind of open-ended, casually erudite inquiry scrutinized at length and from a liberal-Catholic point of view. He makes a grand and scary tour of inquisitorial moments, racing back and forth in history from Torquemada to Dick Cheney, and from Guantánamo to Rome; we are there when Giordano Bruno is burned to death, on the orders of Cardinal Bellarmine, and then are asked to compare our own readiness to torture when what we fear threatens us.

Murphy’s point, entirely convincing, is that Cheney’s “one per cent doctrine”—if there’s any chance that terrorists might get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, we have an obligation to do whatever we have to do to make sure that they haven’t—is ancient and all too easily universalized. Torturers always do their work with regret, and out of last-ditch necessity, certain that the existence of their country or their church or their values depends on it.

The New York Times, review by Patricia Cohen, January 18, 2012

His aim is, ultimately, deeply serious. Mr. Murphy wants to demonstrate how the mind-set and machinery of the Inquisition are inescapable products of the modern world that later surfaced in Stalin’s Russia, Argentina’s military junta and 21st-century America, where harsh interrogation tactics and unlimited detention were used at Guantánamo Bay.
His strategy is to combine this grave and grim message with a charming road trip through the Vatican archives at the Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio, quaint French villages and Santa Fe’s plazas, a package tour that the publisher describes as both a “colorful travelogue” and “political analysis.

In less capable hands, this somewhat incongruous combination might register as off-key. Fortunately, Mr. Murphy, the author of “Are We Rome?” and “The Word According to Eve,” is such a witty writer that he pulls it off for the most part, offering a compact and breezy history of the Roman Catholic Church’s bloody crusade with an incisive critique of America’s post-9/11 security apparatus.

The Daily Beast, Hot Reads, January 13, 2012

Engaging and scholarly, God’s Jury concludes that the “inquisitorial impulse” is in many ways “as robust as ever.” Because it stems fundamentally from “some vision of the ultimate good, some conviction about ultimate truth, some confidence in the quest for perfectibility,” Cullen warns that as long as there are righteous people in the world, the danger of widespread persecution will persist.

The Washington Post, review by Edward Peters, January 13, 2012

This is very high-end, appealing and thought-provoking popular history. It does its historical duty by making us look at several aspects of the past from an unconventional and surprising perspective. It does its public duty by making us consider our own world as the outcome, at least in some respects, of a process of modernization that needs to be understood and regarded more critically. It is certainly not a world from which the United States can any longer be exempted. And Murphy rightly worries about its present and future — as should we.

The Boston Globe, review by Michael Washburn, January 22, 2012

God’s Jury is beautifully written, very smart, and devilishly engaging. Murphy’s ghastly tale even manages charm at moments. What “God’s Jury’’ is not is straightforward history. Rather, Murphy offers a historically grounded, elegant rumination on humanity’s aggressive certainty and aptitude for moral hysteria and violent overreaction.

San Francisco Chronicle, review by Michele Clouse, February 5, 2012

In God’s Jury, Cullen Murphy masterfully traces the social, legal and political evolution of the Inquisition and the inquisitorial process from its origins in late medieval Christian France to its eerily familiar, secular cousin in the modern world. Murphy dons many hats, including historian, tour guide, journalist and civic-minded citizen, as he attempts to get at the heart of what made and makes a persecuting society.

The Daily, review by Graeme Wood, January 29, 2012

God's Jury can be read with profit in two ways. The first is as a digressively engaging re-telling of the principal episodes from the Inquisition's history, starting with the extermination of Cathar heretics in the Pyrenees. The Cathars, whose Gnostic heresies included rejection of Rome and home-grown traditions of sacrament, fled into the hills and were burned to death. By the early 14th century, they were totally annihilated, in one of the Church's more successful responses to its dissidents. ("Have you ever met a Cathar?" asks one of Murphy's Catholic friends.) The second reading of God's Jury is more controversial. All the talk of beheadings, mountain redoubts and picayune yet deadly theological differences might lead one to imagine the Inquisition as comically antiquated. Murphy, however, frames the Inquisition not as a particularly appalling relic of a barbarous former world but as the founding barbarism of our current one.

The New York Times Sunday Book Review, review by Samuel G. Freedman, January 27, 2012

At his best, Murphy assays Inquisition history both by smoothly synthesizing secondary sources and by describing his encounters with active scholars in the field. Strange as the comparison may seem, Murphy’s passages about his visits to the Vatican’s Inquisition archives bring to mind the mordant wit and curious eye of Paul Theroux in his travel memoirs. Every sentence in God’s Jury, and I mean every sentence, reads as if it had been chiseled and etched. And in his concise way, Murphy provides a thorough overview of the Inquisition’s motives, methods and effects.

The Scotsman, review by Stuart Kelly, January 21, 2012

This is not an academic volume, and it is all the better for that: Murphy, editor-at-large for Vanity Fair, combines reportage, travelogue and interview to advance his argument, although there is a bedrock of sound academic research. While the typical academic volume might be even-handed to the point of never quite stating anything (on the one hand … however, on the other), Murphy animates these debates by actually speaking to the historians. It makes for a surprisingly breezy book about monstrosity….God’s Jury is an expansive and provocative book. I would not be surprised if it appears on shortlists for the year’s best non-fiction.

The Independent, review by Peter Stanford, February 17, 2012

Television has been widely credited with making history fashionable again, with all those enthusiastic and engaging experts taking to the small screen. They have hauled what had become too often a subject constrained by the lifeless prose of academic books into the mainstream of public debate. Now there seems to be traffic the other way, for there is something televisual about God’s Jury, an enormously enjoyable and very modern history of the Inquisition by Cullen Murphy, editor-at-large of Vanity Fair. He is not content with just slipping in the standard reference, in the small industry of books on the topic, to Monty Python’s “No one expects the Spanish Inquistion’ quip. Instead, he sets out to walk and talk his way through his subject, right up to the present day. The absence of moving images is scarcely an impediment. Murphy has a way with words and, with the choice of beguiling stopping-off points, this reader forever had a vivid picture running in my mind.

Sunday Times (London), review by Dominic Sandbrook, January 22, 2012

As Cullen Murphy points out in this lucid and provocative book, the Inquisition lasted more than 700 years and probably killed tens of thousands of people. And as Murphy sees it, the story of the Inquisition is a “lens” onto “a central contest of the modern era…in which privacy and freedom of conscience are pitted against forces that would contain them.” This may sound absurd—the intolerant inquisitorial temperament, after all, is as old as history itself—but, on second thought, his thesis rings true. For at its peak, he argues, the Inquisition was the embodiment of modernity, relying on a professional bureaucracy, rapid communications, and reliable record-keeping, all fueled by a burning sense of moral conviction.

The Wall Street Journal, review by Geoffrey Parker, January 28, 2012

It has been more than 40 years since the Monty Python troupe provided the definitive statement on one of history's most vexing subjects: "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms." What more can Cullen Murphy possibly tell us in God's Jury?

A good deal, as it turns out. To begin with, he shows that the Spanish Inquisition formed only a part of the apparatus of surveillance created by the Roman Catholic Church to detect and destroy heresy. First came the "inquisitors of heretical depravity" set up by the papacy in 1231 to eliminate a group of Christian deviants known as Cathars in southern France. Within a century the inquisitors encountered, as Mr. Murphy puts it, "a shortage of combustible material" but still continued their search for deviants. In the late 15th century, Queen Isabella of Castile and her husband, King Ferdinand of Aragon, created and received papal approval for a separate inquisition in each of their kingdoms to eliminate Jewish converts to Christianity (known as conversos) rumored still to practice Judaism.

As the Spanish monarchy expanded, the Inquisition expanded with it—to Sicily and Sardinia in the east and to Mexico and Peru in the west—until 22 distinct tribunals reported to a central body in Madrid composed of an Inquisitor-General and a small committee of assistants, all appointed directly by the crown. Other states followed this initiative and created their own Holy Office (the alternative name of the institution).

These tribunals never ran out of "combustible material" because they expanded their remit to include those suspected of other deviations from Catholic orthodoxy. Meanwhile, the papacy established a tribunal of its own to eliminate Protestantism in Europe—although mission creep also characterized the Roman Inquisition, which tried and punished those suspected of Judaism, sodomy and witchcraft and any "public intellectuals" who held opinions contrary to the teaching of the church.

Washington Independent Review of Books, review by Penelope Farthing, February 22, 2012

If Cullen Murphy were a baseball player rather than the author of an enticing new book, he would be hailed as a “5-Tool” player. These rare athletes possess traits that the baseball gods bestow on only a few: speed, a strong and accurate arm, the ability to hit consistently as well as for power and skillful, error-free fielding. [Murphy] employs five tools—maybe more—to deliver an insightful, sophisticated examination of how the mindset of the Inquisition continues to affect the world.…Murphy’s book serves to remind readers that the religious intolerance, racism, moral arrogance and hostility to freedom of conscience that gave rise to the Inquisition are still present, although muted and sometimes disguised.

Bloomberg, review by Craig Seligman, January 22, 2012

God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World isn’t exactly a history. As the subtitle suggests, the author, Cullen Murphy, is really interested in examining the dread institution’s relation to the world we live in now. His last book was titled “Are We Rome?” His new one is short, entertaining and formidably smart.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, review by Alan Cate, January 22, 2012

Part historical survey, part Da Vinci Code, God's Jury is also a subtle, learned warning against intolerance in our own time. Murphy cites an earlier Inquisition historian in what could serve as the motto for his own book. "I have not paused to moralize, but I have missed my aim if the events narrated are not so presented as to teach the appropriate lesson."

Pittsburgh Post Gazette, review by Mitchell James Kaplan, January 15, 2012

In this accomplished, highly readable and thought-provoking survey, Cullen Murphy examines the Catholic Church's centuries-long effort to stamp out heresies of all kinds. These efforts always involved fact-gathering and deposition of witnesses. Sometimes they resulted in the censorship of books and other materials. In thousands of cases -- it is difficult to come up with exact figures -- investigators utilized torture to obtain confessions….

But God's Jury is not merely a compilation of gut-wrenching anecdotes. It is also the heartfelt mea culpa of an enlightened 21st-century Catholic who takes pride in his rich cultural and religious heritage but refuses to deny historical truths. The self-examination and intellectual honesty of writers such as Mr. Murphy and James Carroll (Constantine's Sword) are impressive and moving.

Wilson Quarterly, review by James Reston, Jr., Winter 2012 Edition

Cullen Murphy has written a wonderfully interesting and courageous book. His command of Inquisition literature is impressive, as are his interviews and the literary and biblical connections he makes in his argument. The questions he raises about repression, torture, censorship, corruption, and contrition are profound.

Literary Review, review by Christopher Caldwell, February 2012

Murphy is a U.S. magazine editor whose elegant books mine the ancient world for lessons about our own time. Just as the Bush administration was getting mired in Iraq, his provocative Are We Rome? warned of imperial hubris. God's Jury makes use of newly opened Vatican archives to similar ends. Murphy finds that, while the Inquisition was often fanatical, fanaticism was not what distinguished it. What made the Inquisition innovative--indeed, what made it possible--was its mastery of early modern bureaucracy and data management. Far from being unimaginable to us, it is an "unheralded ancestor" of our own attempts to enforce conformity.

New Statesman, review by John Cornwell, February 12, 2012

Cullen Murphy's journey through a millennium of inquisitions and torture is both beguiling and horrifying. In a mix of travel, history, interview, anecdote and acute reflection, he is immensely entertaining while being horribly specific about the mechanics of man's inhumanity to man in the name of conviction. …Murphy argues that the Catholic inquisitions were a prelude to modernity itself. He makes much of how the inquisitors kept elaborate records, anticipating the proliferating centralised databases of the French Revolution, the FBI, the Gestapo, the Stasi and, indeed, the UK's surveillance bonanza, which boasts four million spy cameras - apparently a world record. I am not entirely persuaded by the "modernity" argument. The ecclesiastical record-keeping of the early inquisitions might have owed as much to imperial Rome as to the dawn of the modern, but I think that Murphy is right to draw comparisons and even an equivalence between the past and the present.

Santa Fe Republican, review by James McGrath Morris, February 24, 2012

God's Jury will entertain the most discriminating readers and impress them with its elegance. More important, if offers a compelling interpretation of a little understood period of time that many today smugly consider a digression from history's inexorable civilizing march. Not so. From its debris, lying around like shell casings on a Civil War battlefield, to its modern progeny, the Inquisition's legacy is very much with us.

Publishers Weekly, December 12, 2011

In 1998, the Vatican opened the Archivio della Congregazione per Dottrina della Fede, the Inquisition archive, thereby unveiling to the world the secrets of censorship and persecution that the Catholic Church had hidden since the Middle Ages. Journalist Murphy (The Word According to Eve) visits the archives several times and in his typically compelling style leads readers on a journey through the many inquisitions conducted by the Church over time, from the Spanish Inquisition to the Roman Inquisition of the 16th century. Murphy convincingly demonstrates that while the inquisitions most often are associated with the Church, they arise anytime an organization, state, or institution possesses and uses tools—such as censorship and torture—to stoke and manage suspicion, intolerance, and hatred of the other. Inquisitions require a system of law that can be administered with uniformity, the power to conduct interrogations and extract information, a bureaucracy with a large staff of individuals to administer it, a capacity to restrict the communications of others, and a source of power to ensure enforcement. Murphy powerfully shows that the impulse to inquisition can quietly take root in any system—civil or religious—that orders our lives.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2011

There were many Inquisitions—also lowercased—and inquiring author Murphy (Are We Rome?: The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America, 2007, etc.) traces the tentacles of the righteous persecution of “heretical depravity” up to the present, when the fallout from 9/11 especially reawakened the urge for surveillance, censorship, torture and a general “us versus them” mentality. The author first explores the three institutions that bore the name: the Medieval Inquisition, put into effect in 1231 by Pope Gregory IX in order to quash the heretical Cathars in southern France; the Spanish Inquisition, launched by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1478; and the Roman Inquisition, taken up with relish under Pope Paul III, in 1542, and intended to stop the dissemination of heretical thought and print. While the persecution of the Cathars lasted only a century and was completely successful (“Have you ever met a Cathar?”), the Spanish Inquisition perfected the art of torture under Tomás de Torquemada, culminating in the expulsion of the Jews and Muslims from Spain and the spread of global inquisition to the Americas. The Roman Inquisition had to stem the flood of Reformation ideas pouring out of the new printing presses, resulting in a massive buildup of archives that have only been opened to visiting scholars since 1998. The Holy Office would be the relentless persecutor of scientists and free thinkers, from Galileo to Graham Greene. Murphy visits the modern incarnation of the Vatican's inquisition, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from 1981 onward, which decrees on matters of cloning, same-sex marriage, etc. Entertaining, lively chronicle of the Inquisition, touching on a wide variety of issues across the centuries.

Interviews and other articles

All Things Considered, interview with Guy Raz

“Fresh Air”, interview with Terry Gross

New York Times, “The Certainty of Doubt,” by Cullen Murphy

Morning Joe, interview

BBC News, interview with Nick Higham

Bloggingheads.TV, interview with Robert Wright

London School of Economics lecture

Vanity Fair, “Writers Reading”

Vanity Fair, "Burning Questions," by Doug Stumpf

Bloomberg, interview by Lewis Lapham

Interfaith Voices interview

The Huffington Post, “Inquisition's Top 10 Questions”

Philadelphia Inquirer, “Inquisition and Censorship”

The Boston Globe, Q&A with Mark Feeney

The Boston Globe, “Bureaucrats With Torches”

The Atlantic Monthly, "The Torturer's Apprentice”

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