The First Book on the Index?

Recently, via the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Blog, I was asked the following:

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).

A short selection of these books is as follows:

–A commentary on a work by the Roman historian Tacitus: ALTHAMER (BRENTZIUS), Andreas (c.1498-1560), Commentaria Germaniae in P. Cornelii Taciti Libellum de situ, moribus et populis Germanorum. Nuremberg: Johann Petreius, 1536;

–Four texts published in 1557 by Italian humanist and libertine Pietro ARETINO (1492-1556);

–A treatise on law by SCHURFF (SCHURPF), Hieronymus (1481-1554). Consiliorum, seu Responsorum iuris…, centuria prima. Frankfurt: Christian Egenolff, 1556.

Hope this answers it, at least somewhat!