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The Inner Lives of Medieval Inquisitors

There have been numerous studies in recent decades of the medieval inquisitions, most emphasizing larger social and political circumstances and neglecting the role of the inquisitors themselves. In this volume, Karen Sullivan sheds much-needed light on these individuals and reveals that they had choices—both the choice of whether to play a part in the orthodox repression of heresy and, more frequently, the choice of whether to approach heretics with zeal or with charity.


In successive chapters on key figures in the Middle Ages—Bernard of Clairvaux, Dominic Guzmán, Conrad of Marburg, Peter of Verona, Bernard Gui, Bernard Délicieux, and Nicholas Eymerich—Sullivan shows that it is possible to discern each inquisitor making personal, moral choices as to what course of action he would take. All medieval clerics recognized that the church should first attempt to correct heretics through repeated admonitions and that, if these admonitions failed, it should then move toward excluding them from society. Yet more charitable clerics preferred to wait for conversion, while zealous clerics preferred not to delay too long before sending heretics to the stake. By considering not the external prosecution of heretics during the Middles Ages, but the internal motivations of the preachers and inquisitors who pursued them, as represented in their writings and in those of their peers, The Inner Lives of Medieval Inquisitors explores how it is that the most idealistic of purposes can lead to the justification of such dark ends.

312 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2011

History: European History

Literature and Literary Criticism: Romance Languages

Medieval Studies


“Filled with analysis that illumines the individuality of each inquisitor, this book ranks among the finest studies of the medieval inquisition. Highly recommended.”

W. L. Pitts Jr., Baylor University | Choice

“A lively and readable book. [Sullivan’s] exploration of her subjects’ beliefs and their epistemic context is intelligent, sensitive, and balanced. This book is essential reading for anyone striving to understand the medieval position on heresy, though it is to be hoped that its audience will extend far further.”

Lola Sharon Davidson, University of Technology Sydney | Parergon

“In focusing on the inquisitors’ and their predecessors’ own understanding of the nature and motivation of their work rather than on their institutional and cultural contexts, Sullivan offers an original and stimulating contrast to most current approaches in the field. Its clarity, vividness, and straightforwardness in approach make The Inner Lives of Medieval Inquisitors an excellent general introduction to the subject and a valuable addition to the literature.”

R. I. Moore, Newcastle University

“In a stunning example of the New Humanism, Karen Sullivan manages with consummate tact and resourcefulness to get inside the head of medieval inquisitors and their victims. Inner Lives is relevant to contemporary considerations of religious intolerance, techniques of interrogation, and torture. From the well known case of Saint Bernard’s pursuit of Abelard, to the fascinating stories of lesser known zealots and resistants, we enter the inquisitor’s chamber with the vividness and intelligence of Karen Sullivan’s earlier work on Joan of Arc. A must-read for anyone interested in the place where religion meets the long arms of social and political practice.”

R. Howard Bloch, Yale University

“Karen Sullivan’s book is a major contribution to the literary history of the inquisition. She has carefully read the self-portraits that six inquisitors have left us in their writings concerning their motivations, inner spiritual lives, and religious commitments. She offers her readers (who need not be specialists in the Middle Ages) a useful complement to the literature on the inquisition that emphasizes the role of social, economic, ecclesiological, or historical factors. There are moments when her book reads like a good novel—an extension of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. She also gives her readers an accurate and sensitive interpretation of the sermons, manuals, and autobiographical writings of the inquisitors themselves, moving in turn through the rich but troubled lives of Dominic Guzmán, Conrad of Marburg, Peter of Verona, Bernard Gui, Bernard Délicieux, and Nicholas Eymerich.”

Brian Stock, University of Toronto

"A compelling study of medieval inquisitors in Europe from the 11th to the 14th centuries."

Times Higher Education

"Eloquent and innovative."

Journal of Religion

Table of Contents


1.  Bernard of Clairvaux 
 The Chimera of His Age

2. Dominic Guzmán
 Preacher and Disputant

3. Conrad of Marburg
 Zealot of the Faith

4. Peter of Verona
 Martyr of the Faith

5. Bernard Gui
 The Inquisitor as Performer

6. Bernard Déliceux
 The Scourge of the Inquisition

7.  Nicholas Eymerich
 Toward the Spanish Inquisition


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