Index Librorum Prohibitorum

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The 1500s

Works of Luther.  In 1517, the popularity of Martin Luther surged through out Europe after he nailed his 95 Theses, arguments against the selling of indulgences, to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg and challenged the Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg to a public disputation about the practice.  Although the Church was initially slow to react, it did respond forcefully in time.  In 1520, Pope Leo X issued a papal bull, Exsurge Domine, in which he threatened Luther with excommunication if he did not recant 41 specific sentences drawn from his writings.  Not only did Luther refuse, but he publicly burned the bull.  After he was officially excommunicated in 1521, the pope insisted that Emperor Charles V formally enforce the sentence.  After a hearing in which Luther again refused to recant, the emperor declared him an outlaw, banned all of his writings, and announced that ""We want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic."

The Tyndale Bible.  William Tyndale was an English theologian who, by 1522, had come to the conclusion that the way only way to find God was directly through His word, The Bible.  Tyndale further reasoned that for the common man to study God's word, God's word must be printed in the vernacular.  So, Tyndale began to translate The Bible into common English, fully expecting monetary support from the Church.  Instead, Tyndale soon found himself so threatened that he fled to the European continent in order to finish his translation.  His Bibles were printed in Antwerp and then  smuggled into England and Scotland.  This disturbed King Henry VIII, who although he had declared himself to be the head of the Church of England and had his own marital differences with the Rome, was still a Catholic at heart and agreed with the papal position that the only way for the common man to find God was through the intercession of priests.  Worse for Tyndale, while in exile, he also published a treatise on divorce that infuriated Henry as it seemed to side with the Church. Henry could stand no more and contacted Emperor Charles V and requested he locate and apprehend Tyndale.  Tyndale was found and captured in Antwerp in 1535. The following year, he was tried for heresy and found guilty.  His Bibles were banned, and Tyndale was executed by a combination of hanging and burning.  Interestingly, Tyndale's translation was later used as the basis for much of the King James Version of The Bible.

Gargantua and Pantagruel.  The first book in Francois Rabelais Gargantua and Pantagruel fantasy was censored by the  Parlement of Paris almost from the date of its first publication in 1533.  It is a  ribald story of two giants, Gargantua (the father) and Pantagruel (his son), filled with crudity, scatological humor, excessive violence, earthy descriptions of sex, and satirical comments about religion.  It is also a comic masterpiece.  In truth, most of today's translations shy away from current idiomatic speech to relate the tales, opting instead for less graphic and more polite language.

Matthew's Bible.  The Matthew's Bible, the second English language Bible, was first published in 1537 under the pseudonym of Thomas Matthew.  It was, however, the combined work of three translators; William Tyndale, Roger Coverdale, and John Rogers.  Rogers, who had worked with Tyndale in Belgium before his execution, served as the editor.  Although first published in Antwerp and Paris, Rogers had later editions published in London after Henry VIII changed his position on vernacular Bibles.  When Queen Mary I ascended the throne in 1554 following the death of her half- brother, Edward, she began to reinstitute Catholicism as the state religion and banned all English language editions of the Bible.  Almost immediately, Rogers preached a sermon at St. Paul's Preaching Cross in the Cathedral Churchyard, in which he railed against the "pestilent Popery, idolatry and superstition" of the Catholic Church.  Within days, Mary had Rogers arrested and tossed into prison until he was sentenced to death for denying the Christian character of the Catholic Church and denying the physical presence of the body of Jesus in the sacrament of communion.  Rogers was the first of three hundred of Protestants to be burned at the stake by "Bloody Mary."

Index Librorum Prohibitorum.  Between 1557 and 1559, Pope Paul IV issued the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the first official listing of books prohibited by the Catholic Church.  The list was regularly updated until 1948 and not officially abolished until 1966.  Authors whose works, including their Bible translations, were banned on the initial list, of course included Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and John Rogers.  Among the many others were:

John Calvin.  Calvin was the second most influential religious reformer following Martin Luther and the founder of the Reformed and Presbyterian denominations.

Thomas Cranmer.  Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of the English kings Henry VIII and Edward VI.  He was imprisoned by Queen Mary I for two years and then burned at the stake.

Desiderius Erasmus.  Although Erasmus remained a devoted Catholic for his entire life and even defended some Church doctine against attacks by Martin Luther, he still fell from favor for the satirical and humanist nature of his writing, especially The Praise of Folly, a satirical work that lampooned the then superstitious and corrupt character of the Church.

John Foxe.  With the ascension of Queen Mary I, Foxe--who had become a Protestant in 1545--found himself threatened and left England to join other religious exiles on the continent.  There he began to write a series of essays describing the often grisly persecution of Christians.  Later, he began to concentrate on documenting the martyrdom of Luther's followers, and when "Bloody Mary" began to execute his friends as well, Foxe chronicled their demise.  Although his original works--the ones banned in the first Index Librorum Prohibitorum--were in Latin, his Book of Martyrs was published in London and in English in 1560 following Mary's death in 1558.

Niccolo Machiavelli.  Machiavelli became an administrator and diplomat in republican Florence following the fall of the Medicis.  When the Medicis, cousins and allies of the pope, regained control of the city, Machiavelli was ousted from his position and forced into exile.  During his exile, he wrote the classic handbook on political intrigue and manipulation, The Prince.  Although he dedicated it to Lorenzo de' Medici, Machiavelli never was able to earn his favor, much less return to prominence in Florence. His pragmatic political and religious indifference alienated both Protestant and Catholic hierarchies alike.  He was branded as an atheist at the Council of Trent and his works placed on the first Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

Maya Codices.  The Maya Codices were pre-Columbian books made of bark paper or thinned animal skin that documented all aspects of Mayan civilization.  They were written in extraordinarily colorful and ornate hieroglyphics.  Thousands of them existed before the Spanish Conquisition of Mexico in the 16th century, however all but three or four were intentionally destroyed as the religious "missionaries" that accompanied the more mercenary conquistadors attempted to forcibly convert the Mayans to Catholicism.  As noted by the Bishop of Yucatan, Diego de Landa, "There were many beautiful books, however as they contained nothing but superstitions and falsehoods from the Devil, we burned them."  

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