Banned Authors – who got on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum?

Many noteworthy authors were put on the Index librorum prohibitorum because their works were seen to cause religious, political and moral controversies.

Famous names on the Roman Index include:
– Greek and the Roman authors like Ovid and Petronius
– religious reformers like Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, and Jean Calvin
– humanists like Erasmus of Rotterdam, Hugo Grotius and Nicodemus Frischlin
– natural scientists like Nicolaus Copernicus, Paracelsus, and Joannes Kepler
– political thinkers like Niccolò Machiavelli, Jean Bodin and Montesquieu
– philosophers like René Descartes, Francis Bacon, Baruch Spinoza, David Hume, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, immanuel Kant, George Berkeley, Auguste Comte and Jean-Paul Sartre
– poets and novelists like Giovanni Boccaccio, John Milton, Jean de la Fontaine, Madame de Staël, Daniel Defoe, Stendhal, Gustave Flaubert, Emile Zola, André Gide, David Herbert Lawrence
– and many others!

Portrait of Martin Luther, Bibliothèque nationale de France, No Copyright – Other Known Legal Restrictions

The boundaries between the permitted and the banned were sometimes very thin and unpredictable. Erasmus of Rotterdam’s popular collection of proverbs, the Adagia, was banned together with his entire opus, only because he did not take a sufficiently critical stance against the Protestant Reformation.

Though exorcism was an acknowledged method of casting out demons and the devil, popular exorcism manuals like Flagellum daemonum by Girolamo Menghi were banned because they contained rites which were not compliant with the official Church liturgy.

Though widely popular, Machiavelli’s political works were banned because they dealt with politics outside of the Church’s authority. Montesquieu’s proposal to divide political power into legislative, executive, and judicial in his De l’esprit des lois was considered to be politically subversive at the time. But it had a strong impact on numerous state and political regulations, and constitutional acts.

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek – Austrian National Library, Public Domain 

Baldassare Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano was the central reference work for aristocratic courtly etiquette throughout Europe. It was put on the Index because of its satirical comments and jokes at the Church’s expense.

In order to prevent further opposition to the geocentric worldview, Nicolaus Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium was put on the Index in 1616. This was more than seventy years after it was first published!

 Portrait of Nicholas Copernicus, Bibliothèque nationale de France, No Copyright – Other Known Legal Restrictions

D’Alembert and Diderot’s Encyclopedie was banned because of its materialistic and empirical views of science, while Johannes Trithemius’s Steganographia was condemned because of its occultist content.

Left: portrait of Denis DiderotWellcome Collection, CC BY.
Right: Jean Le Rond d’Alembert, Bibliothèque nationale de France, No Copyright – Other Known Legal Restrictions

The novelist Ferrante Pallavicino experienced fierce revenge and was executed in Avignon because of his anti-papal and anti-Jesuit satires.

Two notorious 17th- and 18th-century libertines and pornographers, Donatien Alphonse François Marquis de Sade and Nicolas-Edme Restif were in fierce personal disputes, but they appeared together on the Roman Index as well as on other censorship lists of the time.

 

By dr. Sonja Svoljšak, Manuscript, Rare and Old Prints Collection, Special Collections Division, National and University Library, Slovenia

Interested in book censorship? Read our previous blog post about it. Both posts are part of the Rise of Literacy project, where we take you on an exploration of literacy in Europe thanks to the digital preservation of precious textual works from collections across the continent. 

3 thoughts on “Banned Authors – who got on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum?

  1. I recently read a very interesting book about this subject, in particularly the reason why those books were banned. Here: [Why Did The Inquisition Ban Certain Books?: A Case Study from Portugal by Miguel Carvalho Abrant] link edited into the title by administrator

    1. A fin de comprender la razòn de LO PROHIBIDO, debemos clarificar la influencia, el objetivo y la ganancia que se obtendrìa: tanto de parte de quien prohibe y de parte de quien expresa lo que se prohíbe. En ambos casos el problema expresa PODER. Si tengo el control total de una Instituciòn que ha venido extendiendo su Poder sobre las mentes y el trabajo de los pueblos por mil seiscientos años, es obvio que no me gustarìa que un intelectual como Martìn Lutero, quien ha descubierto las triquiñuelas semànticas e històricas de la Biblia,se le ocurra desafiar a mis “intelectuales” còmplices de las mentiras y malentendidos que hay en ese libro que se considera INFALIBLE, solo porque defiende la postura del PODER POLÌTICO SOBRE LOS HOMBRES INFERIORES. Y digo “inferiores” debido a que los sacerdotes, no solo catòlicos, sino de todas las religiones, se consideran a sì mismos como superiores a los demàs por el hecho de ser servidores y vigilantes del Poder Polìtico que a lo largo de los milenios ha terminado por ser “DIVINIZADO”. Este conflicto del papa con Lutero, fue la gota que derramò el vaso de la idologìa dominante poniendo en un entredicho toda la estructura religiosa difundida por el cristianismo y del que se habìan hecho usufructuarios los clèrigos de la Iglesia Catòlica. Tenemos asì un conflicto entre dos mentalidades que intuìan la razòn del problema, solo que los clèrigos catòlicos no deseaban dar su brazo a torcer y, como tenían el control mental sobre los reyes màs poderosos de Europa en ese siglo XVI, decidieron destruir a Lutero condenàndole. Pero es un siglo donde las ideas estàn difundiendo sospechas y explicaciones màs lògicas; Copèrnico, Galileo,Newton, irrumpen sobre una concepciòn obsoleta del universo basada en la Biblia. y eso contagiò a los artistas, poetas etcètera, de tal manera que se rompiò el cerco del pensamiento atolondrado por el miedo que los clèrigos le habìan impuesto a la humanidad. Lutero tuvo grandes e importantes hombres polìticos que le ayudaron y protegieron de las garras de Leòn X. Ademàs, Lutero conocìa, como miembro del clero catòlico, la CORRUPCIÒN que se cultivaba en esa Instituciòn. Algo que no era nuevo, pero èl, como espìritu ingenuo, ser quedô espantado del cinismo que imperaba en Roma y en todas partes. Basta este pasaje de la Historia Universal para entender todo lo demàs. Despuès, Lutero quiso componer el mundo con el mismo mètodo clerical de la Iglesia Catòlica, pero se le apareciò el DIABLO, y esas apariciones nos enseñan que Lutero no pudo salir de su propio laberinto. La Inqusiciòn fue un instrumento que ya tenìa casi cuatro siglos de pràcticas persecutorias contra el LIBRE ALBEDRÌO. El casi exterminio de los Càtaros es una prueba històrica infalible que los clèrigos actuales no pueden ocultar bajo de su sotana. Estamos en este mundo en manos de la MENTIRA INSTITUCIONAL y es claro que debemos buscar una salida; no exterminando a otros ni poniendo en un INDEX sus ideas contestatarias, sino de comprensiòn y democracia. El mundo es de todos no solamente de unos cuantos.

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