Which was the first book ever to be condemned by the Church or to be entered in the Index?
This is an excellent question! It’s a little tricky to answer, however, for a few reasons. (SPOILER: There have been many Indexes!)
For one, the Church has banned books going back to its earliest foundations during the first centuries after Jesus Christ’s death (c. 30 AD). These banned books included texts considered apocryphal, or non-canonical, especially in regards to the New or Christian Testament, or otherwise sinful, scandalous, profane, etc. etc.. This was not done in a particularly systematic manner, however, as condemnations were fleeting and depended on the Church’s leadership at the given time.
Several semi-autonomous indexes existed in various parts of Europe. The first of them was published by the Faculty of Theology of the University of Paris (La Sorbonne), in 1544.
The Church did not have a fully consolidated Index until about 1564, upon the conclusion of the Council of Trent. If we take this date as our starting point, it becomes easier to isolate individual titles. Note that this date is not too long after Martin Luther initiated the Protestant Reformation in 1517. Essentially, any attempt at a definitive system of banning books or other texts is a response to the religio-cultural revolution that Luther set ablaze.
That said, according to de Bujanda et al. (Eds.), it is fairly easy to pinpoint those books entered into the Catholic Index of Forbidden Books around the year 1564 (day-specific dates of condemnation were not recorded — or at least are no longer extant — until 1571, when the Vatican’s Congregation of the Index was established).
I am happy to report, however, that during the last three months’ hiatus I’ve been busy working on the longer-term version (and vision) of this project. I’ve been developing the draft manuscript that will, with luck, someday become a full-length book. This work has been concentrated mostly within my week-long research visits to the Houghton Library and the Harvard University Library system in general since July of last year. With those resources and the (so far) three weeks of dedicated time for reading, outlining, and writing, I feel confident that I am now well on my way.
If you’ve missed my posts on the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Blog related to the first two of these trips, see July’s here and October’s here. The post for my most recent trip, January 20-27, 2019, will be posted shortly at the same location (see my Instagram account linked above for a few photos and notes). My final week at Harvard will most likely take place this upcoming May or June.
As a bit of a preview, below is an outline of the annotated bibliography section of my current draft outline — the “Bibliography of the Damned” itself. These 46 author entries correspond with four chronological categories…with a twist for the fifth that you’ll have to wait for the book to find out the meaning of. Mystery!
Also: This outline is subject to change.
Part III: A Bibliography of the Damned
Circa 1600 to 1700
COPERNICUS, Nicolaus (Micołaj Kopernik)
SPINOZA, Baruch (Benedictus de)
1700 to 1800
VOLTAIRE (François-Marie Arouet)
1800 to 1900
CASANOVA (Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seignault)
MORGAN, Lady Sydney Owenson
SAND, George (Amandine Lucile Aurore Dupin)
STENDHAL (Marie-Henri Beyle)
1900 to 1966
BEAUVOIR, Simone de
SULLIVAN, William Lawrence
UNAMUNO, Miguel de
Works out of Time
JULIANUS AUGUSTUS, Flavius Claudius (Julian the Apostate)
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.