The Holy Inquisition: Dominic and the Dominicans | Guy Bedouelle, O.P. | From Saint Dominic: The Grace of the Word (Ignatius, 1987, 1995)
In his History of France, so characteristic of the nineteenth century, Jules Michelet has painted a fresco in which he shows the Church of the thirteenth century in Languedoc checking "the spirit of free thought" that represented heresy. The sentences pour out, nervous, breathless, romantic . . . and inexact. "This Dominic", he writes, "this terrifying founder of the Inquisition, was a Castilian noble. No one surpassed him in the gift of tears, a thing so often joined to fanaticism."  And in the following chapter he continues: "The Pope could only vanquish independent mysticism by himself opening great schools of mysticism: I refer to the mendicant orders. This was fighting evil with evil; attempting that most difficult of contradictions, the regulation of inspiration, the determination of illuminism . . . delirium unleashed!"
Pedro Berruguete's (d. 1504) tableau, the Scene of Auto da fé in the Prado museum in Madrid, is equally well known. St. Dominic, recognizable by his mantle ornamented with stars, is seated on a throne presiding over a tribunal and surrounded by six magistrates, almost all of them laymen. Below, to the right, are heretics roped to stakes soon to be set ablaze. The contrast is striking and the composition noteworthy. The tableau was doubtless intended for the glory of Dominic: the same painter designed several altar pieces for the Dominican convent in Avila at the request of Thomas of Torquemada (d. 1493), Inquisitor General in Spain in 1483.
If we go back a little further in history we shall find Dominican witnesses to show how Dominic took part in the first Inquisition against the Catharists and Vaudois in Languedoc. A reference made by Bernard Gui (1261-1331) in a Life of St. Dominic does not hesitate to claim for his Founder the title of First Inquisitor, following the "legendary" texts of the thirteenth century.  Nor has the author of the celebrated "Manual for Inquisitors" hesitated to interpolate on his own authority the Albigensian History of Pierre des Vaux de Cernai in order to prove Dominic's presence at the Battle of Muret during the bloody Albigensian Crusade on September 12, 1213: the Saint is pictured holding in his hands a crucifix riddled with wounds, which is still shown at St. Sernin in Toulouse. 
Lacordaire, on the contrary, at the moment when he was pleading before his "country" the cause of the reestablishment of the Order of Preachers in France in 1838, that is to say, a few years after the impassioned words of Michelet about the foundation of the mendicant orders, affirmed boldly (chap. 6) that "St. Dominic was not the inventor of the Inquisition, and never performed the duties of an inquisitor. The Dominicans were never the promoters or principal agents of the Inquisition." The historical demonstration following these claims must unfortunately be viewed with some reserve. It was - and not only on the basis of historical accuracy - vehemently attacked, in particular by his friend Dom Prosper Guéranger, the restorer of the Benedictines of Solesmes; he accused Lacordaire of not having the courage to "accept his heritage".
What, then, are we to believe? Was Dominic the first of the inquisitors?