The Name of the Rose: Heresy, Inquisition, and Interrogation Representation

The Name of the Rose is one of the most fascinating novels about an Italian monastery and the mysteries of a murder described by Umberto Eco. This story begins with a kind of preface to the book under consideration.

The narrator, Umberto Eco himself, finds a book in 1968, where the events of the 14th century take place. He introduces a story of Adso of Melk, an elderly Benedictine monk and the narrator, and William of Baskerville, a Franciscan friar, the main protagonist of the story. This novel remains a critical success and one of the bestsellers created by Eco.

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With the help of this book, he gained recognition as a good scholar and historian, who raised such important for the church issues as heresy, inquisition, and interrogation. These issues are represented by many other writers, like Ronald Surtz, and can be found in various sources, like The Fourth Lateran Council; such wide usage and explanation of these ideas proves their urgency and necessity.

In the story The Name of the Rose, the Benedictine monks get to know that knowledge can be rather a dangerous thing. The point is that the truth that is dictated by the leading authority can be considerably different from the real truth, however, not every person can find enough powers to prove it. This is why such awareness may become one of the major reasons for different rebellions and even revolutions, which will certainly destroy the power of the leading authority.

Of course, one of the simplest and quickest ways for the authorities to calm down the rebels is to proclaim the existence of heresy and provide inquisition with powers to control the society. Eco is one of those authors, who usually focus on the reader’s participation in the story. He uses the reader’s experience as one of the means to solve the murder and find out the guilty.

This author tries to unite several religious conflicts such as absolute truth and personal interpretation of this truth, or the idea of predestination and free will, or the necessity of spirituality and religion. Eco represents these heresies and conflict with the help of numerous political terms and modern context in order to provide the reader with an opportunity to the necessary conclusion independently and grasp the clear meaning of the novel.

The philosophy of Aristotle and millenarist heresies, both attract the attention of many readers, who want to find out how heresy was used. “Italy was invaded by these Fraticelli or Friars of the Poor Life, whom many considered dangerous. At this point it was difficult to distinguish the spiritual masters, who maintained contact with the ecclesiastical authorities.” (Eco 53)

In order to find out and comprehend the issues of heresy, inquisition, and interrogation, it is necessary to clear up what each of them means in general and analyze the ways of how the author may represent them in the novel. Heresy is a kind of change within a certain system of beliefs that may conflict with the later established rules. The inquisition is one of the organizations, which aim to eliminate all possible threats to the stability set by the ruling authorities.

As a rule, inquisitors represent as powerful and intelligent people, who have enough abilities to control the situation and be ready to take certain steps rather quickly in order not to destroy the existed regime. Interrogation, in its turn, is a kind of questioning that is arranged by the police or any other authority to find out the necessary answers, clear up the situation, and get rid of the possible dangers. Because of their nature, these three notions are closely connected to each other.

Heresy is one of the means to disturb the already existed rules and the system, lots of people live in. Inquisition should use any types of interrogations in order to find out the roots of heresy and dispose of them. “This is evil that heresy inflicts on the Christian people, obfuscating ideas and inciting all to become inquisitors to their personal benefit.” (Eco 52)

Libraries, where people can find any source on any topic are not available for everyone. It is necessary to admit that librarians only have the right to analyze the works of different authors, representatives of pagan, Arab, and even Jewish literature, and decide which ones can be viewed as strong evidences for all existed heresies. Due to such strict selection of the allowed books and forbidden, it is rather difficult to judge the guilty or prove people’s innocence.

The case of Remigio of Varagine may serve as one of the brightest examples of interrogation for a crime of heresy and underline its predictability. “The interrogation is over. The accused, guilty by his own confession” has to wait for the final decision and be ready to the worst. (Eco 391) The scene, when Remigio is asked by Bernard Gui, creates an atmosphere that is so inherent to interrogations of the 14th century.

Bernard knows how to make his victims to feel fear. At the beginning, he usually keeps silence in order to prepare the victim and allow him/her to think over the questions and the speech. He may stare at the person in order demonstrate his hypocritical indulgence, icy irony, and merciless severity.

Without any doubts, The Name of the Rose is the story, where the characters come alive with the help of author’s ability to concentrate on their physical and emotional description. The major character of the story and its narrator are sent to investigate how different charges of heresy to find out the guilty of the murders, which take place in the abbey.

They truly believed that all those murders are connected to heretical philosophies and religious orders, which any monk has to follow. Such interesting medieval framework as the presence of heresy or Franciscan order’s predicament makes the reader feel of how strict the system can be and how each rebel may be treated. The trials connected to heresy represent the every day struggle for power and the desire to solve all religious and philosophical conflicts using the same idea presented by the ruling authority.

One of the most important events that happed to decide the issues of heresy and the importance of inquisition was the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. The major purpose of this council was to solve all church doctrine’s matters, which have remained unsolved during a certain period.

Pope Innocent III was the leader of that congregation, and his motivation was rather clear: the rising of heresy leaders and people’s desire to follow the new rules was quite dangerous to the church authority and the doctrine itself. With the help of the canons, presented at the Fourth Lateran Council, it was easier to control the actions of each department of the church.

There were more than 70 canons, which helped to unify the church and the actions of its representatives. Each of the canons played a very significant role in the history of church and its impact on society. People did not have the right to choose. Any ideas, which did not contradict the already existed rules were blamed in heresy, this is why the essence of the Third Canon proclaimed during the Fourth Lateran Council turned out to be crucially important.

The Third Canon was all about the regulation of procedures, which had to be taken against heretics and their followers. To my mind, one of the peculiar features of the interrogation that happed according to the Third Canon and the ones described by Umberto Eco lies in the fact that the former aimed at providing the guilty with an opportunity to think over his/her sins and come back to the “necessary truth”.

The first sentence of the Third Canon states that the representatives of the church authority “excommunicate and anathematize every heresy that raises against the holy, orthodox and Catholic faith which we have above explained; condemning all heretics under whatever names they may be known.” (Canon 3, 1215)

The representatives of the church tries to explain the guilty how wrong his/her thought were, and what actions had to be taken to find the necessary way and follow it. According to Innocent III and Eco, a heresy is considered to be a terrible crime. Heretic people have to pass certain procedures to be punished in accordance to all the necessary juridical elements even such as contumacy.

Innocent children and heretic supporters and followers have also to be present during the procedures in order to stop the crimes of such nature and be ready to any kinds of consequences. In Eco’s The Name of the Rose, the cases of interrogations took place privately, without taking into account the public opinion and society’s interests. According to The Third Canon, even if public may not influence the decision of the inquisitors, it participates in the interrogations and learn something.

One of such public inquisitorial trials was the case of Ines Lopez. At the age of 30, she was arrested. On October 22, 1495, she confessed, “I, Ines Lopez… appear before Your Reverences with the greatest contrition and repentance for my sins of which I am capable, and I beg Our Lord Jesus Christ for His pardon and mercy.” (Surtz, 333)

With time, there were several additions to the same confessions. The question was whether she decided to present the information by parts or these parts were added with the help of force that was so inherent to the inquisitors.

Their interrogations were of different types. People could not be sure what kind of tortures was used to find out the truth or just the information that was obligatory till that period of time. After all, Ines Lopez was imprisoned, and the church authority confiscated all her property.

With the help of one more sources, Memorandum for John Rizzo: Acting General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency, I have one more chance to learn another interesting information about possible way of interrogation and its impact. Of course, in order to find out the desired truth, lots of different methods may be used.

Unfortunately, people try to demonstrate their power and abilities to control the lives of other people in different ways. For example, the case of Abu Zubaydah, one of the members of a terroristic organization is one of the events, which demonstrate how people may torture the others in order to get the answers and provide society with piece and safe. One of the possible techniques, presented in this source, is sleep deprivation.

With the help of such technique, a person is deprived of the opportunity “to think on his feet, and through the discomfort associated with lack of sleep, to motivate him to cooperate.” (Memorandum for John Rizzo, 3) This kind of interrogation is rather popular among the organizations, which aim to find out the truth. The effectiveness of such tortures will be noticeable in two or three sleepless nights. Another technique that may also be used is called “waterbroad”.

Its essence lies in bounding to an inclined bench, where person’s feet can be elevated. The eyes and forehead should be under some cloth, and water should be applied at certain intervals. When the cloth closes person’s nose and mouth, it turns out to be rather difficult to breath, and the increase of blood pressure happens. Within some period, the person under this torture will be ready to speak.

Of course, truth is an integral part of our life. However, is it obligatory to use such terrible methods of interrogation to find it out? In The Name of the Rose, the author concentrates on the reasons why such interrogations happen.

With the help of The Third Canon of the Fourth Lateran Council, we get to know about the allowed punishment. And, from the Memorandum, we learn the possible means of torture that people can use. In fact, any torture is evil, and we should try to live according to the rules in order not to become another victim of tortures.

Works Cited

Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose: Including the Author’s Postscript. Harvest Books, 1994.

Fourth Lateran Council. Canon 3. 1215.

Surtz, Robert. “Heresy and Inquisition.” Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources by Remie, Olivia. University of Pennsylvania Pr, 1997.

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