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Dark Mysteries of the Vatican
By H. Paul Jeffers
CITADEL PRESS BOOKSCopyright © 2010 H. Paul Jeffers
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThou Shalt Not Read
When movie director Ron Howard requested permission in 2008 to shoot scenes for Angels & Demons, the latest movie thriller by Dan Brown, that takes place in the Vatican and Rome's churches, Archbishop Velasio De Paolis, head of the Vatican's Prefecture for Economic Affairs, banned use of any Church property in Rome. He said that the author of The Da Vinci Code had "turned the gospels upside down to poison the faith."
Calling the best-selling novel's premise that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married and had a child "an offense against God," Da Paolis asserted, "It would be unacceptable to transform churches into film sets so that his blasphemous novels can be made into films in the name of business." He added that Brown's work "wounds common religious feelings."
"Father Marco Fibbi, spokesman for the Diocese of Rome, said, 'Normally we read the script but this time it was not necessary. The name Dan Brown was enough.' "
When the movie version of The Da Vinci Code was released, a top Vatican official urged all Roman Catholics to boycott it. Calling the book "stridently anti-Christian," Archbishop Angelo Amato, a close aide to Pope Benedict XVI, said it was "'full of calumnies, offenses and historical and theological errorsregarding Jesus, the Gospels and the church.... If such lies and errors had been directed at the Koran or the Holocaust, they would have justly provoked a world uprising.... Instead, if they were directed against the Catholic Church and Christians, they remained unpunished."
As the second-ranking official in the Vatican's doctrinal office, Amato urged a boycott similar to the one in 1988 against The Last Temptation of Christ, directed by Martin Scorsese. When The Da Vinci Code was published in 2003, Catholic leaders and some other Christians were outspoken against it. In the weeks before the film was released, Opus Dei, the lay Catholic group whose members were portrayed as villains in the story, sponsored forums and other public events to refute the book's premise and dispute its suggestions that the group is shadowy and secretive.
Banning Howard from filming Angels & Demons in any of Rome's churches and at the Vatican and the earlier protests against Brown's book and its film version were echoes of a time when the Vatican exercised unquestionable power to control dissemination of knowledge in books that was made possible by means of printing presses using moveable type. Invented by Johann Gutenberg in 1454, the press revolutionized the world of religion by making the Bible widely available, and introducing printed books to the world.
This proliferation of published material resulted in an effort by the Vatican to dictate what Catholics could read. It did so by establishing the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (The Index of Prohibited Books). "Active from 1559 until 1966, the [Index] listed books that Catholics should neither own nor read under pain of excommunication.
"During the Index's long life," noted an article in America, the National Catholic Weekly, "the public was told about the latest bans, but not the reasons for them. Behind closed doors, though, the Vatican officials held long and sometimes heated debates about the books of the day." After more than a decade of studying the Index, a diocesan priest and history professor at Münster University in Germany, the Reverend Hubert Wolf stated, "Nowhere else in the world did an institution try to control the medium of modern times, the book, for over 400 years."
The archives covering Church debates about thousands of books offer a unique insight into centuries of Vatican thinking on theology, philosophy, history, politics, science, and world literature. Stored in a basement of what was once known as the Holy Office, now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the files were closed to outside researchers for centuries. Building the archives started in earnest with the Inquisition in 1542 to combat the Protestant Reformation that began with Martin Luther's challenge to papal authority. After he nailed his "95 theses" to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1515, they were printed in Leipzig, Nuremberg, and Basel and distributed widely. The Holy Office was soon overwhelmed by the combination of the printing press and prolific Protestant authors who employed it to foster a publishing explosion as influential in its time as the Internet is today. The Vatican established a separate office, the Congregation of the Index, to deal just with books in 1571.
"The first Index, ... published in 1559, banned all books by Luther, John Calvin and other Protestant reformers. Since translating the Holy Bible into vernacular language was a Protestant specialty, all Bibles but the Roman Catholic Latin Vulgate were banned. The Talmud and the Koran were also taboo." The Index also listed "books that should be purged of passages that were in conflict with Church teaching. Classical writers-including Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Virgil, Homer, Euclid, Hippocrates, Thucydides and others-were put on the expurgatio list because they reflected pagan beliefs. Books translated by Protestants had to be filtered for offending passages. In some cases, a book only had to be printed in a 'Protestant' city to earn a place on the list of objectionable works...."
The Index Congregation met three or four times a year in Rome. Two "consultors" were named for each book being surveyed. Their findings were discussed at a meeting of cardinals in the congregation. The congregation's decision was then brought to the pope for approval. This produced a vast accumulation of files, written in Latin or Italian and divided into the Diarii, which recorded the congregation's sessions, and the Protocolli, with all kinds of other papers. The Inquisition congregation met weekly but handled only 2 or 3 percent of the censorship cases, usually theology books.
"Over the centuries, the Index managed to condemn a large number of writings that eventually became classics of European culture. Banned philosophy books included works by Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Voltaire, Pascal, Kant and Mill. Among the novelists listed were Balzac, Flaubert, Hugo, Zola, D'Annunzio and Moravia. Books by the novelists Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift were blacklisted. The censors' zeal varied over the years and lost steam as the 20th century wore on. One of their last targets was [Jean Paul] Sartre, whose complete works were banned as early as 1948."
Suppression of "forbidden books" began with a conference on the contents of the Holy Bible for Christians in A.D. 393 at which the church elders compiled the Old Testament and the "approved" gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John; the book of Revelations; letters of Peter and Paul; and the Acts of the Apostles. With all other texts banned, the Church began sixteen centuries of forbidding possession and reading of disapproved books and accumulation of a Vatican library of literature that was forbidden to Catholics. "Ever since St. Paul's new converts at Ephesus burned their old magic books, the Church has waged war against books that might damage the faith or morals of its communicants."
The Index "listed books which Catholics were not to read. They included non-Catholic editions of the Bible, books attacking Catholic dogma, those defending 'heresy or schism,' and those which 'discuss, describe or teach impure or obscene matters,' such as Lady Chatterley's Lover." However, "any Catholic with a 'good reason' for reading a banned book could get permission from his bishop. Many U.S. bishops give temporary blanket permissions to students to read books necessary for their studies." Although the Vatican no longer issues an Index, the Church continues to condemn books, along with films, that are either contrary to Christian doctrine or offensive to the Church and morally wrong.
This militant stance frequently resulted in a desire by some authors to have their books "banned in Boston" in the belief that official disapproval by the Catholic Church would produce brisk sales among non-Catholics. Condemnation of The Da Vinci Code, and all the resulting controversial publicity, contributed to the novel's phenomenal commercial success.
After centuries of screening books for Christian orthodoxy and moral acceptability, the Vatican accumulated the world's largest collection of religiously and morally condemned books and manuscripts. But the Vatican Library is also the repository of volumes of science, history, and philosophy dating to the Middle Ages and earlier. The present library was founded in 1451 by Pope Nicholas V (1147-1455). Eugene IV bequeathed 340 manuscripts and Nicholas V added his own collection to form the basis of the library. A century before printing, he increased the holdings by employing monks to copy manuscripts that could not be bought from their owners. He also gathered materials that had belonged to the Imperial Library at Constantinople after the city fell to the Byzantines. When Nicholas died, he had increased the library to 1,200 manuscripts. When Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84) housed the library in the Vatican Palace, it became known as the Palatine Library. Today the Vatican Library is open to scholars and academics who submit a letter of accreditation from a university or research institute. Its collection consists of about 1.6 million volumes, including some 75,000 manuscripts and 8,300 incunabula (printed books from the second half of the fifteenth century).
"The Vatican Secret Archives have been estimated to contain fifty-two miles of shelving, and there are 35,000 volumes in the selective catalogue alone. 'Publication of the indexes, in part or as a whole, is forbidden,' according to the regulations current in 2005." According to the Vatican website, the oldest surviving document dates back to the end of the eighth century. Movement of the material from one location to another, and political upheavals, nearly "caused the total loss of all the archival material preceding [the reign of] Pope Innocent III. From 1198 onward more complete archives exist, although documentation is scarce before the 13th century." Of most interest to historians are documents related to the Inquisition.
"The Inquisition itself was established by Pope Gregory IX in 1233 as a special court to help curb the influence of heresy. It escalated as Church officials began to rely on civil authorities to fine, imprison, and even torture heretics. It reached its height in the 16th century to counter the spread of the Protestant Reformation. The department later became the Holy Office and its successor is now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which controls the orthodoxy of Roman Catholic teaching. Its [former] head, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, declared the archives open at a special conference at which he recalled how the decision stemmed from a letter written to Pope John Paul II ... by Carlo Ginzburg, a Jewish-born, atheist professor in Los Angeles. [The Pope wrote,] 'I am sure that opening our archives will respond not just to the legitimate aspirations of scholars but also the Church's firm intention to serve man helping him to understand himself by reading without prejudice his own history.'"
Arguably the most infamous trial of the Inquisition was that of the astronomer Galileo Galilei. Born in 1574 in Pisa, Italy, he was determined to study medicine. He enrolled at the University of Pisa in 1581, but soon switched his scientific interests to study mathematics and physics. Among his experiments, it is said (but not confirmed), was taking his pulse to time the swings of a lamp hanging from a ceiling of the Pisa cathedral. In his subsequent experiments, he described the physics of the pendulum. By dropping balls of varying weights from the Tower of Pisa, he found that they fell with equal velocity and uniform acceleration.
Forced because of financial reasons to leave the university without earning a degree, he returned to Florence, but eventually went back to the university as a teacher and became a lively participant in campus disputes and controversies. That there was a rebel within Galileo came to the attention of the faculty and students when he mocked the custom of wearing academic robes by declaring that they would be better to abandon clothing altogether.
After the death of his father in 1591 left him responsible for supporting his mother and siblings, he accepted a more remunerative post at the University of Padua.
Remaining there for eighteen years, he continued work in the area of motion, while widening his interests into astronomy by modifying a simple telescope into one that allowed him to study the mountains of the Moon, the phases of Venus, the moons of Jupiter, spots on the surface of the Sun, and the stars of the Milky Way. By publishing his findings in a booklet titled The Starry Messenger, he found that his scientific reputation rose like a skyrocket. But his further observations resulted in interest in theories proposed in 1543 by Nicholas Copernicus that the Sun was the center of the universe and that the Earth was a rotating planet that revolved around it.
By embracing Copernicus, Galileo placed himself in conflict with the Church's doctrine of Creation, based on the Bible's account in Genesis. Known as geocentrism, it fixed Earth in the center of the universe with the Sun and stars circling it. Declaring the Copernican view dangerous to the faith in 1616, the Church summoned Galileo to the city of Rome. His "instruction" from Cardinal Robert Bellarmine was to not "hold, teach and defend in any manner whatsoever, in words or in print" the Copernican doctrine. It was a sobering warning. But four years later, Galileo learned that the pope, Urban VIII, had declared that "the Holy Church had never, and never would, condemn" Copernicanism as heretical, but "only as rash, though there was no danger that anyone would ever demonstrate it to be necessarily true."
Interpreting this as indirect permission to continue with his explorations of the Copernican view, Galileo plunged into six years of study. The result was a vigorous defense of Copernicus in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. By publishing it, Galileo found himself in Rome again on the charge of defying Cardinal Bellarmine's instruction not to defend Copernicus in any way. The trial by a panel of cardinals began in the fall of 1632.
When the inquiry ended a year later, the Church pronounced and declared that Galileo was "suspect of heresy" for having held and believed the "false doctrine" that the Earth was not the center of the universe. The cardinals informed Galileo, who was now seventy years old, that the Holy Office was willing to absolve him, provided that first, "with sincere heart and unfeigned faith, in our presence you adjure [recant], curse and detest the said errors and heresies." Declaring the Dialogue prohibited, the panel of judges condemned him to "imprisonment in the Holy Office at our pleasure." But they reserved "the power of moderating, commuting, or taking off" the sentence. What they might do depended on whether Galileo knelt before them to recant.
Admitting on June 21, 1633, that he had defied the warning not to speak or write in defense of Copernicus, he said, "I abjure with a sincere heart deigned faith those errors and heresies, and I curse and detest them [and] I swear that for the future I shall neither say nor assert orally or in writing such as may bring upon me similar suspicions."
After a period of confinement, Galileo was allowed go to his home near Florence, where he lived in seclusion in failing health and going nearly blind. He died on January 8, 1642.
Accounts of his submission to the Church, published more than a century later, contain a statement that may be a legend. As he rose from his knees after recanting, he may or may not have said quietly in Italian, "Eppur si mouve." (Nevertheless, it [the earth] does move.)
In November 1992, at a ceremony in Rome, before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope John Paul II officially declared that Galileo was right. The formal rehabilitation was based on the findings of a committee of the Academy the pope set up in 1979, soon after taking office. The committee decided the Inquisition had acted in good faith, but was wrong. Today the Vatican has its own celestial observatory.
Excerpted from Dark Mysteries of the Vatican by H. Paul Jeffers Copyright © 2010 by H. Paul Jeffers. Excerpted by permission.
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