Charles Buck Theological Dictionary
Act of Faith
(Auto da Fe, ) in the Romish church, is a solemn day held by the Inquisition for the punishment of heretics, and the absolution of the innocent accused. They usually contrive the Auto to fall on some great festival, that the execution may pass with the more awe; and it is always on a Sunday. The Auto da Fe may be called the last act of the Inquisitorial tragedy: it is a kind of gaol-delivery, appointed as often as a competent number of prisoners in the Inquisition are convicted of heresy, either by their own voluntary or extorted confession, or on the evidence of certain witnesses. The process is this:
In the morning they are brought into a great hall, where they have certain habits put on, which they are to wear in the procession, and by which, they know their doom. The procession is led up by Dominican friars, after which come the penitents, being all in black coats without sleeves, and barefooted, with a wax candle in their hands. These are followed by the penitents who have narrowly escaped being burnt, who over their black coats have flames painted, with their points turned downwards. Next come the negative and relapsed, who are to be burnt, having flames on their habits pointing upwards. After these come such as profess doctrines contrary to the faith of Rome, who, besides flames pointing upwards, have their picture painted on their breasts, with dogs, serpents, and devils, all open-mouthed, about it. Each prisoner is attended with a familiar of the Inquisition; and those to be burnt have also a Jesuit on each hand, who are continually preaching to them to abjure.
After the prisoners, comes a troop of familiars on horseback; and after them the Inquisitors, and other officers of the court, on mules: last of all, the Inquisitor-general on a white horse, led by two men with black hats and green hat-bands. A scaffold is erected beg enough for two or three thousand people; at one end of which are the prisoners, at the other the Inquisitors. After a sermon made up of encomiums of the Inquisition, and invectives against heretics, a priest ascends a desk near the scaffold, and, having taken the abjuration of the penitent recites the final sentence of those who are to be put to death, and delivers them to the secular arm, earnestly beseeching at the same time the secular power not to touch their blood, or put their lives in danger!!! The prisoners, being thus in the hands of the civil magistrate, are presently loaded with chains, and carried first to the secular gaol, and from thence, in an hour or two, brought before the civil judge; who, after asking in what religion they intend to die, pronounces sentence on such as declare they die in the communion of the church of Rome, that they shall be first strangled, and then burnt to ashes; or such as die in any other faith, that they be burnt alive.
Both are immediately carried to the Ribera, the place of execution, where there are as many stakes set up as there are prisoners to be burnt, with a quantity of dry furze about them. The stakes of the professed, that is, such as persist in the heresy, are about four yards high, having a small board towards the top for the prisoner to be seated on. The negative and relapsed being first strangled and burnt, the professed mount their stakes by a ladder, and Jesuits, after several repeated exhortations to be reconciled to the church, part with them; telling them that they leave them to the devil, who is standing at their elbow, to receive their souls, and carry them with him to the flames of hell. On this a great shout is raised; and the cry is, "Let the dogs' beards be made!" which is done by thrusting flaming furzes fastened to long poles against their faces, till their faces are burnt to a coal, which is accompanied with the loudest acclamations of joy. At last, fire is set to the furze at the bottom of the stake, over which the professed are chained so high, that the top of the flame seldom reaches higher than the seat they sit on, so that they rather seem roasted than burnt. There cannot be a more lamentable spectacle: the sufferers continually cry out, while they are able, "Pity, for the love of God!" Yet it is beheld, by all sexes and ages, with transports of joy and satisfaction
O merciful God! is this the benign, humane religion thou hast given to men? Surely not. If such were the genius of Christianity, then it would be no honour to be a Christian. Let us however, rejoice that the time is coming when the demon of Persecution shall be banished out of this our world, and the true spirit of benevolence and candour pervade the universe; when none shall hurt or destroy, but the earth be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea!
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Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Act of Faith'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/a/act-of-faith.html. 1802.