Church Censorship of Science in the Sixteenth Century

Article excerpt

CHURCH CENSORSHIP OF SCIENCE IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY Catholic Church and Modern Science. Documents from the Archives of the Roman Congregations of the Holy Office and the Index. Edited by Ugo Baldini and Leen Spruit. Vol. 1 in 4 tomes: Sixteenth-Century Documents. [Fontes Archivi Sancti Officii Romani 5.] (Roma: Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 2009. Pp. xxiii + 3380 [paged continuously]. euro160,00. ISBN 978-8-82098288-1.)

This work in four large tomes or parts publishes all the surviving documents concerning trials of scientists (broadly conceived) and the censorship of scientific books (very broadly conceived) found in the archives of the Congregations of the Holy Office and Index from their origins in the sixteenth century through December 31, 1600. Pope Paul DI founded the Congregation of the Holy Office, the modern Roman Inquisition, in his bull Licet ab initio of July 21, 1542, and Pius V established the Congregation of the Index in 1571. Both were suppressed in the twentieth century.

When it became apparent that the Vatican policy of barring researchers from the archives of the two congregations (now housed in the archive of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) was going to change, Ugo Baldini, the distinguished professor of the history of science at the University of Padua, well known for his studies of Jesuit science and Galileo Galilei, met two other scholars in 1994 to discuss a very ambitious project. They wanted to publish all the surviving documents concerning scientific books and individuals from the origins of the two congregations to 1808, when Napoleon moved the archives to Paris. (They were returned after 1815, although much was lost.) With organizational and financial support from Vatican officials, including then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he began archival research in autumn 1996. Antonello Pizzaleo, Cesare Preti, and Carla San Mauro aided in the research, and Herman H. Swedet helped prepare biographies. Professor Leen Spruit, lecturer of Dutch language and literature at the University of Rome "La Sapienza" and author of works on Giordano Bruno and censorship, joined the project to help prepare the critical apparatus. The first result is volume 1 in four tomes dealing with the sixteenth century.

The work does three things. It offers ample historical introductions about the history and operations of the two congregations in the censorship of scientific and other works, as well as explanations for all the different kinds of documents published. Tome 1 begins with a 128-page general introduction. The editors offer a broad definition of science that includes the many different kinds of works, from commentaries on Genesis touching on cosmology, to Aristotelian science (which studied qualitative change), to astrology and the like, that the sixteenth century viewed as science.The editors also include books on disciplines that the modern world considers to be science. Second, the work publishes many documents that illuminate the workings of the two congregations, explain censorship and expurgation procedures, and much else. For example, the editors include documents appointing consultores to the Congregation of the Index, mostly clergymen from religious orders, charged with examining and censoring books.Third, the volumes print all the surviving Index and Inquisition documentation that concern eighty-six individuals or their works.These documents concern the banning or expurgation of the books of an author, or material concerning his trial by the Holy Office, or Italian authors whose works were viewed as suspect, such as Girolamo Cardano. Such documents fill about 1850 pages. For each entry the editors provide a brief introduction, then the documents, plus extensive notes.

The Index and the Inquisition did not aim to censor science or to bridle dissent against Aristotelian natural philosophy. Rather, they aimed to control the religious mentality of the Italian population. …