HomeThe Inquisition(s) and the Christian East, 1500-1800

HomeThe Inquisition(s) and the Christian East, 1500-1800

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Published on Tuesday, November 09, 2021


The conference is the first of its kind to examine in a comparative way how Catholic ecclesiastical tribunals (Roman Inquisition, Spanish Inquisition, Portuguese Inquisition, episcopal courts, etc.) dealt with Eastern Christianity in early modern times. By bringing together historians of the Inquisition and specialists in the relationship between the Catholic World and the Eastern Churches, this colloquium aims to find out the far-reaching consequences of the attempt by Catholic authorities to frame and discipline a Christian tradition different from their own. Scholars are invited to focus both on the judicial level (Inquisition trials) and on the doctrinal one (book censorship, dubia circa sacramenta, liturgical issues), keeping a comparative perspective and linking discussions on the Christian East to other controversies formulated by theologians and missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries.



While inquisitorial control over Protestants, Jews and conversos, and even renegades and moriscos has been thoroughly examined by many scholars, no studies of this kind have examined the representatives of the other half of Christianity, namely those believers coming from an Eastern background: Greek, Arabic or Slavic-speaking Orthodox, Armenians, Ethiopians, Copts, “Jacobites” and “Nestorians”, Maronites and others. Browsing the over two thousand pages of the Dizionario Storico dell’Inquisizione (Prosperi 2010) or the most recent Companion to Heresy Inquisitions (Prudlo 2019) one fails to find any specific entry examining Catholic confessional control over Eastern-rite converts, or the inquisitorial attitude toward those who were deemed Oriental “schismatics and heretics”.

This apparent lack of interest is also reflected in the exploration of the inquisitorial archives. The most striking case is that of the Archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which hold the documents of the Roman Inquisition: very few scholars of Eastern Christianity have paid serious attention to this collection, partly because of its late opening in 1998, but mostly because of the misconception (persistent despite its refutation already ten years ago: Pizzorusso 2011) that missionary issues were discussed and recorded only elsewhere, especially in the archives of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide or in the collections of religious orders devoted to the apostolate, such as the Jesuits. Yet, as has already been demonstrated (Windler 2018; Santus 2019), the records of the Roman Inquisition are extremely rich and shed considerable light on the confessional control exercised by the Catholic Church over Eastern Christianity, both in judicial and doctrinal terms.

Alongside its original vocation, that of acting as a coordination center for the various courts established in the Italian peninsula to counter the spread of the "Lutheran heresy", the Holy Office soon became the supreme authority for the control of the Catholic faith, extending its competence to all doctrinal and moral matters. This implied that it had in fact the task of providing definitions and solutions to the doubtful matters (dubia) that could arise from the examination of individual cases of conscience, from book censorship or from the questions directly submitted to Rome by Catholic faithful and missionaries around the world (Broggio, Castelnau-L’estoile, Pizzorusso 2009; Fattori 2010). In the case of Eastern converts to Catholicism, the contradictions inherent in their simultaneous Roman and Oriental belonging elicited a wide series of practical problems and theoretical challenges, linked to the difficulty of keeping together the formal respect for "oriental rites" on the one hand, and the requested fidelity to the Tridentine ecclesiological and disciplinary model on the other. The result was that Rome was flooded with questions concerning the validity of the peculiar way in which the various Eastern churches administered the sacraments, celebrated the liturgy or marked the calendar of feasts and eating habits.

 During the early modern age, the Inquisition had to deal with Eastern Christians not only in areas visited by missions, but also in the territories directly under its jurisdiction. In the 17th and 18th centuries, an increasing number of pilgrims, merchants, wandering monks and other alms-collectors left the Ottoman Empire and its surroundings, heading to the ports of Catholic Europe: they were often looking for money, shelter or education, but they were also pushed by conversional and devotional purposes. Both the Roman and Spanish Inquisitions were at the forefront in controlling this influx into the Italian and Iberian coasts, trying to differentiate true Catholic converts from impostors and rogues, and subjecting newcomers and diaspora communities to close confessional surveillance (Floristán 2005 and 2010; Aslanian 2019; Santus 2020 and 2021). In their wanderings, some of them crossed the Atlantic Ocean, reaching the Americas and stumbling upon the inquisitors of Mexico and Lima (Ghobrial 2014 and 2019; Antaramian 2015), while others traveled the trade routes of the Indian and Pacific Ocean, ending up in front of the Holy Office of Manila (Aslanian 2011). The Portuguese Inquisition, for its part, had to deal with the problems raised by the establishment of a colonial empire and by the encounter with alternative forms of Christianity in Ethiopia and India (Marcocci 2011; Marcocci, Paiva 2013). Finally, in addition to the great, centralized inquisitions mentioned so far, we must not forget that other "tribunals of faith" could have tried Eastern Christians in early modern Europe, like the episcopal courts in the Kingdom of Naples (where there was a long-established Greek-Albanian community), or the Parliament of Paris in France.

 One of the objectives of this conference is to bring together scholars of various institutions and geographical areas, in order to foster a comparison of the different ways in which Catholic ecclesiastical justice treated Eastern Christians in the early modern age, according to different times and places. The other central point will be the articulation between the particular case and the general norm, that is, between individual inquisitorial trials and the theoretical consideration of how Eastern Christianity should be considered. Finally, the ultimate goal of this meeting (which could lead to the publication of a volume of proceedings) is to find out the far-reaching consequences of the attempt by Catholic authorities to frame and discipline a Christian tradition different from their own. Our working hypothesis is that the comparison and confrontation with Eastern Christianity revealed some of the contradictions and unsolved problems of the Tridentine model, while providing the Inquisition with a range of cultural tools and interpretative lenses that were then applied also in other contexts, especially in the framework of the missionary and theological controversies which shook the Catholic world after 1650.

Interested contributors may deal with one or more of the following subjects:

  • Particularly significant case studies in which Eastern Christians ended up before the inquisitorial courts, in Europe, Asia or the New World;
  • The confessional control exerted by Catholic authorities over Eastern Christians, both subjects (non-Catholic and non-Latin minorities in Europe or in colonial settlements) and foreigners (pilgrims, merchants, alms-collectors and travelers);
  • Book censorship of published works concerning the Christian East, particularly in the framework of early modern confessional disputes;
  • The theological and canonical debates about the orthodoxy and legitimacy of the Eastern Christian tradition: questions concerning the correct administration of the sacraments (dubia circa sacramenta); mixed marriages; liturgical peculiarities, “abuses” and ritual changes; general doctrinal or pastoral issues, sometimes arising from the examination of individual cases of conscience;
  • The intertwining in inquisitorial sources of issues concerning Eastern Christianity and other theological controversies, both of missionary origin (e.g. Chinese and Malabar Rites) and intra-European (Protestantism, Jansenism, dispute over papal authority, etc.).

Submission Guidelines

Applicants are invited to submit an abstract of around 250 words (in English or French) together with their CV to this address: cesare.santus@uclouvain.be

The deadline for the submission is on 15 November 2021. Successful applicants will be notified shortly after.



  • Cesare Santus (FNRS, RSCS),
  • Jean-Pascal Gay (Université catholique de Louvain),
  • Laurent Tatarenko (CNRS-IHMC) 

Scientific committee

  • Bernard Heyberger (EHESS),
  • Andrea Barbara Schmidt (UCLouvain),
  • Vincenzo Lavenia (University of Bologna),
  • Silvia Mostaccio (UCLouvain)


  • Academia Belgica
    Rome, Italian Republic

Event attendance modalities

Full on-site event


  • Monday, November 15, 2021


  • eastern christianity, inquisition, holy office, early modern catholicism


  • Cesare Santus
    courriel : cesare [dot] santus [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • Cesare Santus
    courriel : cesare [dot] santus [at] gmail [dot] com


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« The Inquisition(s) and the Christian East, 1500-1800 », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, November 09, 2021, https://doi.org/10.58079/17lr

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