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piety & mercy

Kirstin Downey’s biography Isabella, the Warrior Queen acknowledges that scholars debate who were the first non-Americans to step onto the shores of the New World: Norseman, Welsh, Africans, Polynesians, Chinese? Some or all of these may have arrived before Columbus.

They looked, but they left.

Queen Isabella of Spain was the first to recognize the possibilities of the Western Hemisphere. Alert to its value she claimed it for her imperial self, then launched an enterprise that resulted in one of history’s most dramatic transfers of wealth and shifts of population.

Queen Isabella also launched the
Spanish Inquisition.

While still teenagers Isabella married Ferdinand. Their union would unite two of the most powerful kingdoms on the Iberian peninsula, resulting in the nation of Spain. Both teenagers were serious about their Catholic faith, albeit Ferdinand had already fathered children outside marriage. Like Roman emperor Constantine, they viewed Christianity as a unifying influence.

Tragically, they went further than Constantine. Isabella and Ferdinand made Catholicism a requirement. Then, discovering that some citizens gave mostly lip service to the faith, they decided to purify their nation via an Inquisition.

Pope Sixtus IV protested that their Inquisition was not about zeal for the faith or the salvation of souls, but by the lust of wealth and power. Confident in their piety, Isabella and Ferdinand responded their astonishment that the pontiff was so deluded. They even warned the Pope to be careful and not criticize their work.

Prior to Isabella’s reign, her kingdom was ruled by her half-brother, Enrique—a notorious sinner. He, however, had a better grasp of mercy. Once when pronouncing judgment on nobleman who had repeatedly betrayed him, Enrique proclaimed “I pardon you so that God may pardon my soul when my time comes to part with this life.”

“Sinners” can grasp the mystery of mercy better than do “righteous” people.

To those confident of their righteousness, Jesus told this parable: Two men went into the temple to pray; a religious leader and a notorious sinner. The religious leader loudly prayed: “I thank God that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even this notorious sinner. I fast and I tithe.”

In contrast, the notorious sinner stood at a distance, not daring to look up to heaven. He beat his breast and prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus claimed that only the notorious sinner left the temple that day justified before God. ~

Dan Nygaard