The history of the great books that were placed in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, or the list of prohibited books, and why they were censored and feared.
Galileo Galilei, Copernicus, Giordano Bruno, David Hume, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Machiavelli, Sartre, Voltaire, Descartes, Anatole France and Johanes Keppler are just a few among many great thinkers whose works were forbidden or banned by the Catholic Church under the accusation of being immoral or containing theological errors.
Epitome of Copernican Astronomy by Johannes Kepler
The Epitome Astronomia Copernicanae is a book in three volumes that was printed between 1617 and 1621. It contains the description of the motion of the planets around the sun in an elliptical system, defending the heliocentric model of Copernicus, which proved that the earth revolves around the sun and not the opposite, as the Church erroneously claimed. Kepler also defended that this law could be applied to all the other planets and satellites.
Kepler’s Epitome of Copernican Astronomy was placed in the index of prohibited books in 1621, shortly after the publication of the third volume of the book, but the ecclesiastic positive law (or the legislative power of the Church) wasn’t strong enough outside Italy, Spain, Portugal and Bohemia and therefore, Kepler’s works could still be found in other locations.
Kepler’s findings became an important part of the theory of universal gravitation defended by Isaac Newton years later.
Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
Published in 1781, The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant talks about a priori knowledge(universal knowledge independent from experiences) and a posteriori knowledge (originated from experience) and its objective is to identify the limits of reason in order to investigate if reason alone can reach the truth, without the use of the senses.
Despite being a Christian raised in a strict Lutheran movement, Kant opposed to the cosmological argument in which God is seen as a necessary being, that is, a being does not need a cause to exist. Thus, he argued that no one could prove (or disprove) God’s existence since the argument that believers use to justify God is a result of characteristics of the human mind rather than an universal truth that does not need an experience to exist.
This was enough to enrage the officials of the Holy Office and Critique of Pure Reason was placed in the Index and banned in 1827 under the accusation of being heretical. However the Church could not prevent Kant’s work from becoming one of the most important philosophical treatises, as today Kant’s theories are studied in every university.
Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descates
Meditationes de Prima Philosophia, in qua Dei Existentia et Animæ Immortalitas Demonstratur is the original title in Latin of this philosophical treatise written by Descartes and published in 1641. Meditations on First Philosophy consists of six meditations in which he explains his philosophical system. They are:
Meditation I – the senses are not reliable, therefore, one must suspend judgments about every belief.
Meditation II – contains the famous quote: “I think, therefore I am”. He argues that the ideas represent the outside world, but one cannot be sure if the ideas are represented correctly.
Meditation III – God must exist because the idea of God is innate, and exists before experience.
Meditation IV – the ability to err is a result of a discrepancy between understanding and will.
Meditation V – the assurance of truth is impossible without the idea of God
Meditation VI – God can create ideas without a body. God, mind and material things are the three parts of reality.
Descartes was accused of atheism and scepticism for providing different reasons for the existence of God and Meditations on First Philosophy was banned in 1663.
The Abolition of the Index of Prohibited Books
In 1966 the Index was officially extinguished by the pope Paul VI, however, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that every Christian has the moral obligation to avoid the books that were listed even though there were no official laws against such books. It seems that despite the Church’s attempt to hide knowledge, the truth always wins the battle against dogmatism.
In 2001, thirty five years after the abolition of the Index, a pastor from Maine attempted to publicly burn the Harry Potter books by J.K Rowling but was stopped by the local fire department. Is it the return of the middle ages?