It was under this iron Pope that censorship of publications reached its greatest severity and scope, and the Inquisition became a terror almost as inhuman in Rome as in Spain. Probably Paul IV felt that censorship of literature and suppression of heresy were unavoidable duties of a Church whichin Protestant as well as Catholic opinion—had been founded by the Son of God. For if the Church was divine, her opponents must be agents of Satan, and against these devils perpetual war was a religious obligation to an insulted God.

Censorship was almost as old as the Church herself. The Christians of Ephesus, in the age of the Apostles, burned books of “curious arts” to the alleged value of “50,000 pieces of silver,”22 and the Council of Ephesus (150) forbade the circulation of the uncanonical Acta Pauli.23 At various times the popes ordered the burning of the Talmud or other Jewish books. Wyclifite and later Protestant translations of the Bible were forbidden, as containing anti-Catholic prefaces, notes, and emendations. Printing heightened the anxiety of the Church to keep her members uncorrupted by false doctrines. The Fifth Council of the Lateran (1516) ordered that henceforth no books should be printed without ecclesiastical examination and consent. Secular authorities issued their own prohibitions of unlicensed publications: the Venetian Senate in 1508, the Diet of Worms and the edicts of Charles V and Francis I in 1521, the Parlement of Paris in 1542; and in 1543 Charles extended the ecclesiastical control of publications to Spanish America. The first general index of condemned books was issued by the Sorbonne in 1544; the first Italian list by the Inquisition in 1545.

In 1559 Paul IV published the first papal Index auctorum et librorum prohibitorum. It named forty-eight heretical editions of the Bible, and put sixty-one printers and publishers under the ban.24 No book that had been published since 1519 without bearing the names of the author and the printer and the place and date of publication was to be read by any Catholic; and hereafter no book was to be read that had not obtained an ecclesiastical imprimatur—“let it be printed.” Booksellers and scholars complained that these measures would handicap or ruin them, but Paul insisted on full obedience. In Rome, Bologna, Naples, Milan, Florence, and Venice thousands of books were burned—10,000 in Venice in a day.25 After Paul’s death leading churchmen criticized his measures as too drastic and indiscriminate. The Council of Trent rejected his Index, and issued a more orderly proscription, the “Tridentine Index” of 1564. A special Congregation of the Index was formed in 1571 to revise and republish the list periodically.

It is hard to judge the effect of this censorship. Paolo Sarpi, ex-monk and anticlerical, thought the Index “the finest secret ever discovered for ., . making men idiotic.” 26 It probably shared in causing the intellectual decline of Italy after 1600, of Spain after 1700, but economic and political factors were more important. Free thought, according to its most virile English historian, survived better in Catholic than in Protestant countries; the absolutism of the Scriptures, enforced by Protestant divines, proved, till 1750, more damaging to independent investigation and speculation than the Indexes and Inquisition of the Church.27 In any case the humanist movement faded out, in Catholic and Protestant countries alike. The accent on life subsided in literature; the study of Greek and the love of the pagan classics declined; and the triumphant theologians denounced the Italian humanists (not without reason) as arrogant and dissolute infidels.

The censorship of books was laxly enforced until Paul IV entrusted it to the Inquisition (1555). That institution, first established in 1217, had lapsed in power and repute under the lenience of the Renaissance popes. But when the final attempt at reconciliation with the Protestants had failed at Ratisbon, and Protestant doctrines appeared in Italy itself, even among the clergy, and entire towns like Lucca and Modena threatened to go Protestant,28 Cardinal Giovanni Caraffa, Ignatius Loyola, and Charles V joined in urging the restoration of the Inquisition. Paul III yielded (1542), appointed Caraffa and five other cardinals to reorganize the institution, and empowered them to delegate their authority to specific ecclesiastics throughout Christendom. Caraffa proceeded with his accustomed severity, set up headquarters and a prison, and laid down rules for his subordinates:

1. When the faith is in question, there must be no delay, but on the slightest suspicion rigorous measures must be taken with all speed.

2. No consideration is to be shown to any prince or prelate, however high his station.

3. Extreme severity is rather to be exercised against those who attempt to shield themselves under the protection of any potentate. Only he who makes plenary confession should be treated with gentleness and fatherly compassion.

4. No man must debase himself by showing toleration toward heretics of any kind, above all toward Calvinists.29

Paul III and Marcellus II restrained Caraffa’s ardor, and reserved the right of pardon on appeal. Julius III was too lackadaisical to interfere with Caraffa, and several heretics were burned in Rome during his pontificate. In 1550 the new Inquisition ordered the trial of any Catholic clergyman who did not preach against Protestantism. When Caraffa himself became Paul IV, the institution was set in full motion, and under his “superhuman rigor,” said Cardinal Seripando, “the Inquisition acquired such a reputation that from no other judgment seat on earth were more horrible and fearful sentences to be expected.” 30 The jurisdiction of the inquisitors was extended to cover blasphemy, simony, sodomy, polygamy, rape, procuring, violation of the Church regulations for fasting, and many other offenses that had nothing to do with heresy. To quote again a great Catholic historian:

The hasty and credulous Pope lent a willing ear to every denunciation, even the most absurd.... . The inquisitors, constantly urged on by the Pope, scented heresy in numerous cases where a calm and circumspect observer would not have discovered a trace of it.... . The envious and the calumniator were kept hard at work snapping up suspicious words fallen from the lips of men who had been firm pillars of the Church against the innovators, and in bringing groundless accusations of heresy against them.... . An actual reign of terror began, which filled all Rome with fear.31

At the height of this fury (May 31, 1557) Paul ordered the arrest of Cardinal Giovanni Morone, Bishop of Modena, and on June 14 he commanded Cardinal Pole to surrender his legatine power in England and come to Rome to face trial for heresy; the College of Cardinals, said the Pope, was itself infected with heresy. Pole was protected by Queen Mary, who prevented the papal summons from being delivered to him. Morone was charged with having signed the Ratisbon agreement on justification by faith, with having been too lenient with heretics under his jurisdiction, and with having been friendly with Pole, Vittoria Colonna, Flaminio, and other dangerous characters. After eighteen days as a prisoner in the Castel Sant’ Angelo, he was pronounced guiltless by the inquisitors, and was ordered released, but he refused to leave his cell until Paul acknowledged his innocence. Paul would not, and Morone remained a prisoner until the Pope’s death freed him. Flaminio cheated the Inquisition by dying, but, said Paul, “we have had his brother Cesare burned in the piazza before the church of the Minerva.”32 With impartial resolution the mad Pontiff pursued his own relatives with suspicions of heresy. “Even if my own father were a heretic,” he said, “I would gather the wood to burn him.”33

Fortunately, Paul was mortal, and went to his reward after four years of rule. Rome celebrated his death with four days of joyful rioting, during which the crowd tore down his statue, dragged it through the streets, sank it in the Tiber, burned the buildings of the Inquisition, freed its prisoners, and destroyed its documents.34 The Pope would have retorted that only a man of his inflexible austerity and courage could have reformed the morals of Rome and the abuses of the Church, and that he had succeeded in that enterprise where his predecessors had failed. It was a pity that in reforming the Church he had remembered Torquemada and forgotten Christ.

All Western Europe was relieved when the conclave of 1559 chose Giovanni Angelo de’ Medici to be Pope Pius IV. He was no Medici millionaire, but the son of a Milanese taxgatherer. He practiced law for a living, won the admiration and confidence of Paul III, was made a cardinal, and gained a reputation for intelligence and benevolence. As pontiff he kept clear of war, and reproved those who counseled aggressive policies. He did not end the Inquisition, but he let the inquisitors know that they “would better please him were they to proceed with gentlemanly courtesy than with monkish harshness.”35 A fanatic who thought him too lenient set out to assassinate him, but was palsied with awe when the Pope passed by tranquil and defenseless. Pius enforced with polite firmness the ecclesiastical reforms established by his predecessor. He proved his conciliatory spirit by allowing the Catholic bishops of Germany to administer the Eucharist in both bread and wine. He reconvened the Council of Trent, and guided it to an orderl – conclusion. In 1565, after a pontificate that had peaceably consolidated the Counter Reformation, he passed away.

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