When Brazil Censored the Church

As you have probably heard by now, Brazil elected a new president on Sunday, Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro is a far-right populist, often compared to Donald Trump but in reality probably closer in his platform to the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte.

You might be shocked to learn that Brazil even has such borderline fascistic elements given the prominent Brazilian stereotypes among non-Brazilians. These might include things like futebol, tropical sun, caipirinhas, Carnaval, samba, and a general sense of multi-racial diversity and harmony. While all of these may certainly be parts of what makes Brazil Brazil, they are also stereotypes that only scratch the surface of a vast nation-state of almost 210 million people.

What’s less understood among foreigners or non-experts is how complex the politics and demographic make-up of Brazil are. One case in point is that up until quite recently, Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship. This took place from 1964 until 1985, after which a transitional period followed for three years until 1988, when a new, fully democratic federal constitution was ratified. The twenty-one-year era of dictatorship was defined by a high level of suppression of free speech; harassment of intellectuals, artists, and dissidents; and torture. Even the Catholic Church, and especially its more progressive, pro-poor and -labor wing, was not immune to the regime.

Notably, this was also one of the few times in history when the Catholic Church deferred to a government in a predominantly Catholic nation, its role reversed from censor to censored. In the case of the military dictatorship in Brazil, a government official was tasked with reviewing O São Paulo, the most influential Catholic newspaper in the country at that time. In 1975, in the mainline Protestant magazine Christian Century, James Bruce reported,

Every Thursday afternoon, before presses can roll to produce the archdiocesan newspaper of Latin America’s largest city, a delegate from federal police headquarters in São Paulo arrives at the printer’s office and begins reading proofs. Using a felt tip pen and rubber stamp, “VETADO,” [vetoed] he gleans the grayish columns for offensive items before returning the proofs to an editor, who fills the censored gaps with overset and sends the sterilized weekly to the presses. (940)

Although O São Paulo was, at the time, the Catholic Church’s only externally censored publication, it speaks to the shifting dynamics between church and state that occurred during the twentieth century. Even in a predominantly devout Catholic nation such as Brazil, the status quo lay with the generals at the top.

Whether any similar practices of censorship will re-emerge under President-elect Jair Bolsonaro’s administration are yet to be seen. But due to the incendiary rhetoric and hardline “law-and-order” policies espoused during his campaign, rights-watch organizations in Brazil and around the world are undoubtedly on high alert.

Bruce, J. (1975). “Brazil: Muzzling the Outspoken Church.” Christian Century, 92 (34), 940-942.

 

That Damned Priest: Joseph McCabe and the Index

Joseph McCabe in 1910

Meet Joseph Martin McCabe (1867-1955), a mostly forgotten giant of Rationalism and scholarly criticism of the Catholic Church and its policies (among many other topics). The majority of his copious output was published during the 1920s and ’30s by the Haldeman-Julius Company of Girard, Kansas.

In a previous life, McCabe had been a Catholic monk. At the age of 29, however, the once pious and obedient man of God started on the path to becoming a crusader for reason and humanism. He dedicated the remainder of his life to understanding why humans are the way we are through the prism of our recorded history.

Fighter for Freethought

The arc of Joseph McCabe’s life was remarkable. In the biography Joseph McCabe: Fighter for Freethought, author and fellow Rationalist Isaac Goldberg introduces the man thus:

The life-story of McCabe begins with a fight for freedom; it continues as a campaign to keep life free. Ever since that fateful Ash Wednesday of 1896, when he tore off the brown robe and flung aside the sandals that he had worn for 12 years, abandoning the life of a monk and his title as ‘The Very Reverend Father Antony,’ he has dedicated himself to the service of human liberation. (1936: Ch. II)

McCabe’s life, then, is one of two diametrically opposed eras: before and after his departure from the Church. Once he renounced the priesthood and Christianity/theism in general, he dedicated the entirety of the rest of his life to revealing hypocrisy not only in the Catholic Church, but in any and all entrenched or otherwise sacrosanct institutions. But even more than that, his liberation and affiliation with Haldeman-Julius allowed him to study and explicate scores of subjects, from the history of the popes to the theory of evolution.

The Stupidity of the Index

When first researching the Index as a graduate student at the University of Illinois, I sought out materials on my topic wherever I could find them. One search led me directly to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML), where a particularly rare text was to be found: Joseph McCabe’s The History and Meaning of the Catholic Index of Forbidden Books (1931).

I ended up quoting the following passage in the resulting research paper (also cited elsewhere on this site):

I do not mean that the Index has made no progress since the days when the Popes and cardinals and monks were so rudely disturbed in their prayers and amours by the Lutheran earthquake…The legendary wizard Merlin is no longer represented as an author from whose books we need to be protected by a sage authority. (1931: 5, “Introduction: The Stupidity of the Index”)

This short book achieves the impressive feat of being both academically scathing and, at regular intervals, pretty funny. It was also the first text I found from before 1966 (the year the Index was abolished) that seemed wholly free from fear or bias.

McCabe employs the dry wit of a northern Englishman (he was of half Irish descent and grew up in Manchester) to eviscerate any apologists’ claims that the Vatican was justified in its fervent suppression of intellectual freedom. “[A]ny attempt to defend the Index in our time on the pretext that the Church is still protecting souls from eternal damnation,” he writes, “…ought at once…be denounced as a moral and intellectual outrage” (11). He argues that the ultimate reasons behind the Index, its legislation, and Congregation were plain and simple: to stanch the flow of any literate or semi-literate Catholic faithful into apostasy, or worse: Protestantism. In this sense, the Index as a subset of the Inquisition is made clear.

What’s most powerful herein is McCabe’s detailing of the effects that the Index/Inquisition had on literature and the culture in general in the Catholic countries of Europe, and in Spain (and Portugal) in particular. “There is no need to speak of literature in Spain,” he explains. “After the seventeenth century there were ‘two centuries of comparative silence’…” (40). Publishing houses and booksellers in other countries, such as Belgium, he relates, were subject to constant raids and searches by agents of their local dioceses.

The End of an Era

On the last page of his short yet dense treatise, McCabe made a prediction, perhaps uncanny, but to him self-evident:

The only real interest of the Index is that it reminds the world of the heavy and paralyzing tyranny which Rome laid upon thought in half of Europe for three centuries, in the sole interest of the Church, over the mind of their followers today… It will be abolished in the course of the present century, as the Inquisition was abolished in the last century. (107)

Fin.

It would only take another thirty-five years for this to come true. In the meantime, none of McCabe’s many works ever found its way onto the Index. I am fairly certain that, at least on some level, this came as somewhat of a disappointment to the man.

The Discovery of a World in the Moone (1638)

First title page. Source: Houghton Library, Harvard University (photograph by the author)

WILKINS, John, The Discovery of a World in the Moone. Or, A Discourse Tending to Prove That ‘Tis Probable There May Be Another Habitable World in That Planet [eBook via archive.org]. London: Printed by E[dward]. G[riffin]. for Michael Sparke and Edward Forrest, 1638.

Original condemned citation: A Discovery of a new world, or a discourse tending to prove that ’tis probable there may be another habitable world in the moon, with a discourse concerning the probability of a passage thither. London: Printed by John Norton for John Maynard, 1640; first condemned in French: Le Monde dans la Lune [Divisé en deux livres. Le premier, prouvant que la Lune peut estre un monde. Le second, que la Terre peut estre une planette.] [Translated by Sieur de La Montagne]. Rouen: Jacques Cailloué, 1655.

Condemned: April 25, 1701.

§4: Books by non-Catholics dealing in any way with religion (unless in total agreement with Catholic dogma).

§7: Books engaged in any kind of superstition, fortune-telling, magic, spirit-conjuring, or other similar occult topics.

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The Last Temptation of Christ (1952)

Since it is still under copyright restrictions, open-access eBook or other digitized versions of this text in the original or translation are not currently available. The source of this image of the first-edition cover is an auction on the German version of eBay.

KAZANTZAKIS, Nikos, The Last Temptation of Christ. Translated by P.A. Bien. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998; 1988; 1960.

Original citation: Ο τελευταίος πειρασμός [O telefteos pirasmos] — Die letzte Versuchung [German translation by Werner Kerbs]. Berlin-Grunewald: F. A. Herbig, 1952.

Condemned: December 16, 1953.

§4: Books by non-Catholics dealing in any way with religion (unless in total agreement with Catholic dogma).

§9: Books which professedly discuss, describe, or teach impure and obscene topics.

§11: Books containing apocrypha.

Additional notes: Not published in Greek until 1955; highly censured (but not officially banned) by the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church. 

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Houghton Mifflin Fellowship in Publishing History

Hello, reader.

I just wanted to take the opportunity to officially announce on this site that, starting in July, Bibliography of the Damned will be supported in part by a public fellowship grant from Harvard University’s Houghton Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Specifically, I was awarded the Houghton Mifflin Visiting Fellowship in Publishing History.

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Scarlet and Black (1831)

Source: Gallica (Bibliothèque nationale de France).

STENDHAL (Henri Beyle), Scarlet and Black: A Chronicle of the Nineteenth century. Translated by Margaret R.B. Shaw. Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books, 1983; 1953.  

Original citation: Le Rouge et le noir. Paris:  A. Levasseur, 1831.

Condemned: June 20, 1864 to 1900.

§3: Books that attempt to attack religion or good morals.

§9: Books which professedly discuss, describe, or teach impure and obscene topics.

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831)

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Source: Gallica (Bibliothèque nationale de France).

HUGO, Victor, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Translated by Walter Cobb. New York: Signet Classics/Chamberlain Bros., 2005.

Original citation: Notre-Dame de Paris. Paris: Charles Gosselin, 1831.

Condemned: July 28, 1834.

§3: Books that attempt to attack religion or good morals;

§6: Books that scorn or ridicule the Church or Catholic dogma in any way;

§7: Books engaged in any kind of superstition, fortune-telling, magic, spirit-conjuring, or other similar occult topics;

§9: Books which professedly discuss, describe, or teach impure and obscene topics.

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Madame Bovary (1857)

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Source: HathiTrust (digitized by Internet Archive; original from Duke University)

FLAUBERT, Gustave, Madame Bovary. Translated by Francis Steegmuller. New York: Random House, 1957; 1950.

Original citation: Madame Bovary, moeurs de province. Paris: Michel Lévy, 1857.

Condemned: June 20, 1864.

§3: Books that attempt to attack religion or good morals;

§6: Books that scorn or ridicule the Church or Catholic dogma in any way;

§8: Books which declare duels, suicide, or divorce as licit, or that deal with Freemasonry;

§9: Books which professedly discuss, describe, or teach impure and obscene topics.

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OPERA OMNIA (All Works, 1600)

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Source: HathiTrust (digitized by and original from the Getty Research Institute; see link below).

BRUNO, Giordano (1548-1600), Iordanvs Brvnvs nolanvs De vmbris idearvm : implicantibus artem quaerendi, inueniendi, iudicandi, ordinandi, & applicandi : ad internam scripturam, & non vulgares per memoriam operationes explicatis. Parisiis [Paris]: Apud Aegidium Gorbinum, sub insigne Spei, è regione gymnasij Cameracensis, 1582.

Original citation: Opera omnia (all works).

Condemned: February 8, 1600.

§2: Books including any heresy or schism attempting to destroy religious orthodoxy;

§3: Books that attempt to attack religion or good morals;

§6: Books that scorn or ridicule the Church or Catholic dogma in any way;

§7: Books engaged in any kind of superstition, fortune-telling, magic, spirit-conjuring, or other similar occult topics;

§9: Books which professedly discuss, describe, or teach impure and obscene topics.

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