Can any real religious faith he imposed by force and through fear of torture

and execution? Faced will a threefold threat from crypto-lslam, secret

Judaism and - most of all - new Christian 'heresies, the Catholic Church

determined to do its best to try,

Judge not, that you be not judged!

— Matthew 7:1

One day in 1620, a certain William Lithgow, a Scottish travel writer in search of colourful material, got more than he bargained for when he was arrested as a spy in Malaga. As a foreigner - and a Protestant - he was automatically suspicious in a Spain that for several centuries now had been in the grip of the 'Holy Office' - better known now as the 'Inquisition'. Lithgow's story is unusual only in having happened to an English-speaking writer with the contacts to get the facts out to the outside world.

It's worth setting out here at some length, as a sort of case study in the cruelty of which the Inquisition was capable - just as a matter of routine:

'About midnight, the sergeant and two Turkish slaves released Mr. Lithgow from his then confinement, but it was to introduce him to one much more horrible. They conducted him through several passages, to a chamber in a remote part of the palace, towards the garden, where they loaded him with irons, and extended his legs by means of an iron bar above a yard long, the weight of which was so great that he could neither stand nor sit, but was obliged to lie continually on his back. They left him in this condition for some time.'

The 'Turks' in this story were almost certainly North African Moors, prisoners-of-war enslaved by Spain. It is ironic that the only kindness Lithgow was to receive in his time in the Spanish gaol would be from African prisoners of this kind.

'The next day he received a visit from the governor, who promised him his liberty, with many other advantages, if he would confess being a spy; but on his protesting that he was entirely innocent, the governor left him in a rage, saying, "He should see him no more until further torments constrained him to confess"; commanding the keeper, to whose care he was committed, that he should permit no person whatever to have access to, or commune with him; that his sustenance should not exceed three ounces of musty bread, and a pint of water every second day; that he shall be allowed neither bed, pillow, nor coverlid. "Close up (said he) this window in his room with lime and stone, stop up the holes of the door with double mats: let him have nothing that bears any likeness to comfort." ... In this wretched and melancholy state did poor Lithgow continue without seeing any person for several days...'

... he lay on the rack for above

five hours during which time

he received above sixty different

tortures of the most hellish

nature ...

Taken to another place for further interrogation, Lithgow was freed from his shackles ('which put him to very great pains, the bolts being so closely riveted that the sledge hammer tore away half an inch of his heel') only to be 'stripped naked, and fixed upon the rack'.

'It is impossible to describe all the various tortures inflicted upon him. Suffice it to say that he lay on the rack for above five hours, during which time he received above sixty different tortures of the most hellish nature; and had they continued them a few minutes longer, he must have inevitably perished.

'These cruel persecutors being satisfied for the present, the prisoner was taken from the rack, and his irons being again put on, he was conducted to his former dungeon, having received no other nourishment than a little warm wine, which was given him rather to prevent his dying, and reserve him for future punishments, than from any principle of charity or compassion. As a confirmation of this, orders were given for a coach to pass every morning before day by the prison, that the noise made by it might give fresh terrors and alarms to the unhappy prisoner, and deprive him of all possibility of obtaining the least repose.

'In this loathsome prison was poor Mr. Lithgow kept until he was almost devoured by vermin. They crawled about his beard, lips, eyebrows, etc., so that he could scarce open his eyes; and his mortification was increased by not having the use of his hands or legs to defend himself, from his being so miserably maimed by the tortures. So cruel was the governor, that he even ordered the vermin to be swept on him twice in every eight days.'

The idea of the Inquisition casts almost as disturbing a shadow now, in the mythic imagination, as it did in its fearful heyday - albeit then as a grim reality. There is something uniquely terrifying about an organization that sets out so coldly and deliberately to torture, maim and kill in the cause of 'God'.

From Black Legend to Whitewash

The first Inquisition had been set up in southern France in the thirteenth century, in hopes of stemming the rising tide of Catharism in the years before the Albigensian Crusade. An anti-Waldensian Inquisition followed in Italy, but thereafter the 'Holy Office' waned in importance, to be revived in Spain and Portugal (and their overseas colonies) from the late fifteenth century. More of these ecclesiastical courts for suppressing heresy were constituted in France and Italy during the Reformation.

Modern historians have been quick to point to the Leyenda Negra, or 'Black Legend' - the stream of anti-Spanish and anti-Papist propaganda put out by the Protestant nations of northern Europe in early modern times. They're right. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, sectarian suspicions ran as deep as ideological mistrust was to in the Cold War decades of the twentieth century. And there's no real doubt that this was indeed the case - that highly-coloured conspiracy theories were rampant, along with lurid accounts of colonial atrocities, and prisoners subjected

Lanark-born William Lithgow, the 'Wonderful Traveller', had indeed roamed extraordinary distances in his time. He had walked the length and breadth of Europe - making further forays into the Middle East and North Africa - before he famously fell foul of the Inquisition in southern Spain.

to terrible tortures. Yet there's no real doubt either that the Cold War decades saw CIA 'dirty tricks' and NATO spy-rings - not to mention Soviet human-rights abuses on a colossal scale. This or that example may have been exaggerated - even dreamed up from nowhere by a Protestant pamphleteer in Britain or the Netherlands - but the Inquisition existed every bit as surely as the GULAG did.

The 'Rules of Torture'

But the image we have of it is a caricature, revisionist historians have objected - and of course they have been right, up to a point. Modern researchers point to the painstaking documentation kept by the Holy Office; the elaborate procedures that had to be followed before violent methods might be applied. Strict rules governed the Inquisition and its workings: those accused of heresy were to be given several weeks warning and a chance to recant before being subjected to any sort of questioning - still less any sort of torture. The danger of malicious denunciation was recognized and safeguards in place to prevent mischievous prosecutions. The inquisitors themselves were priests in orders, sworn on their honour to carry out their work in the cause of God and not for any personal pleasure or advantage.

Scholars have also underlined the fact that, although administered by the Church, the Inquisition worked with the temporal authorities. In many cases, indeed, it seems to have been the state that took the lead. Monarchs always had an interest in enforcing conformity and were happy enough to claim divine

Stretched to sinew-shredding, joint-cracking agony on an ever-tightening cranking wheel, a man suspected of harbouring heretical views is quizzed by the Inquisition. Almost literally 'grilled', he has flames applied to his feet to encourage cooperation.

Heretics are led out to face the flames having been convicted at an auto-da-fe or 'act of faith'. Such ceremonies were conducted across the Spanish-speaking world in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This one was conducted at Cordoba, in southern Spain.

 St Francis of Assisi receives the blessing of Innocent IV for his 'rule' - the code for his new order of mendicant friars. But the very same pope had sanctioned another rule - that allowing the Inquisition to extract the 'truth' by torture; thousands were to suffer unspeakable agonies in consequence.

sanction for doing so. After the Reformation, moreover, religion took on a political aspect. A Protestant was no longer just a heretic but a dangerous subversive - potentially, the agent of a foreign state.

This hardly counts as an excuse, of course. That the Church had allowed itself to get so close to the Earthly authorities of the time, identifying their interests so completely with its own, is something of an indictment in itself. It's certainly hard to see what in Christ's Gospels - even the notorious admonition to 'Render to Caesar what is due to Caesar' - could have justified the application of rack and pinions to prisoners, however 'heretical' their views. Torture wasn't an abuse of inquisitorial procedure, it was its very basis - it had been ever since its explicit approval by Pope Innocent IV in 1252.

'Banality of Evil'

As for the bureaucratic scrupulousness of the Holy Office, this aspect of the Inquisition is only underlined by the meticulously itemized invoices sent to many grieving families, which demanded payment for interrogation, imprisonment, transportation and execution costs.

The reality, in any case, seems to be that such as they were these procedures were widely disregarded. Equipped with all the powers of judges, juries and executioners, and more or less completely free of any outside supervision or any need for transparency, the Inquisitors did what men in such a privileged position have invariably done throughout history - took the utmost advantage of the cruel powers they had. Take Inquisitor Diego Rodriguez Lucero of Cordoba who, in 1506, was accused of having denounced and executed one of the city's leading citizens to gain access to his wife. She was forced to remain with him as his mistress - along, it was said, with another girl, whose parents had been branded 'heretics' for resisting his designs.

Some 20 years later, Granada's city councillors wrote an official letter to King Charles V objecting that inquisitors were using their powers over husbands and fathers to force wives and daughters into sexual submission on a systematic basis. This sort of collective response was rare enough: few were rash enough to make individual complaints. One man who did, in



There's good reason for the Inquisition's mythic role as the archetypal example for all subsequent programmes of repression: it went about its work in a cold, calculating and organized way. It also understood, as others didn't quite yet, the value of psychological terror and trauma: arguably, the torture began with the first serving on the suspect of a summons to appear. The weeks of delay and the fear they instilled were enough to break the nerve of waverers - many recanted 'heretical' beliefs before they'd even been brought before the court. (On the basis of what might seem relatively trivial admissions, new areas of enquiry might easily be opened up, and the names of new suspects brought before inquisitors.) Others cracked at the point when - as was routinely done at a preliminary session - they were given a 'tour' of the torture chamber and shown the instruments that might be used.

The most important of these - the central mechanism of the inquisitorial process, it might be said - was the potro (literally 'colt' or 'horse'):

the rack. Basically a long trestle table on which the prisoner was laid out flat, his ankles shackled, it had a ratcheting mechanism at the other end so the victim could be stretched out by his (or her) arms - to a bone-breaking point and well beyond. It was typically supplemented by the application of a cloth gag on to which water was poured to simulate drowning (the modern 'waterboard'). Alternatively (or additionally) a standing prisoner might have his arms chained behind his back and then be hoisted up into the air. This excruciating position (the 'hanging aeroplane', to modern torturers) left the dangling body fully exposed to attack by beating or by flogging, or to a cruel succession of bone-jarring, muscle-tearing drops.

Torture wasn't just a punishment for the Holy Office, it was an integral part of the process, as Alessandro Magnasco's painting A Court of the Inquisition (c.1710) makes clear. The whole system was hideously paradoxical in its workings, an incongruous combination of bureaucracy and brutality.

Murcia in 1560., seeing an inquisitor openly consorting with the widow of a man he'd sent to the stake, was himself promptly denounced as a Jew and executed.

A Ferocious 'Faith'

If the Inquisition's abuses had ended at torture they would have been bad enough, but the Holy Office claimed the right of life and death. And not just of death but of divine judgement: the public show-trial and execution it staged for the confirmed heretic, the auto-da-fe (or 'Act of Faith') was a ritualized enactment of the Last Judgment. The actual fire in which the unfortunate prisoner was burned at the stake only too obviously symbolized the flames of hell - the inquisitors were quite literally pre-judging the eternal destiny of those they killed. Or, rather, those the executioners killed, because as clerics they were ever-mindful of God's commandments - far be it from any churchman to take a life.

Most prisoners weren't actually

killed by fire but by garrotting at

the stake - their consumption by

the flames was more symbolic.

At the last moment, then, the prisoner was released (the Spanish word, literally, meant 'relaxed') to lay-executioners who actually carried out the dirty work. Most prisoners weren't actually killed by fire but by garrotting at the stake - their consumption by the flames was more symbolic. In some cases, though, where heretics had held out against their torturers with obstinacy (or courage), they might indeed have to endure the first flames alive.

Large crowds came to see what where by any standards grand and carefully choreographed spectacles (300,000 attended one in Valladolid in 1559).They were drawn no doubt by vulgar curiosity and the desire for a sadistic frisson, but also by the implicit underlining the event gave of the reassuringly rigid

The auto-da-fe became an essential aspect of Iberian (and Latin American) culture. Held in public squares, it played a part in cementing civic and social life. Vast crowds came out to see what was at once a lurid spectacle and a solemn, sacred ceremony.



The Spanish Inquisition had first been established in Aragon in the thirteenth century, but it came into its own in the fifteenth under Ferdinand and Isabella, the 'Catholic Monarchs'. They bore that title because by their marriage they had brought the realms of Navarra, Aragon and Castile together into a single 'Spain'. (The word 'Catholic' originally meant 'universal', 'all-embracing' - hence indeed its use for the Church of Rome.) But Ferdinand and Isabella were also 'Catholic' in the now more obvious sense of supporting the Catholic Church in all its beliefs and values - including its ugliest ones. They welcomed the Holy Office to their kingdom, granting it far-reaching powers and privileges, using ecclesiastical structures as the basis for what we would now consider a 'police state'.

Torquemada, the Inquisition's torturer-in-chief, had a special rapport with Spain's 'Catholic Monarchs', Ferdinand and Isabella. 

orderliness of the moral universe. The 'achievement' of the Inquisition was the sense of security it created for the credulous and the conformist in a time when all the certainties of life and belief were being questioned.

It's not for nothing that the 'Spanish Inquisition' has come to have more of a mythic aura than its equivalents in Italy and France. Only in Spain did the Holy Office make common cause quite so completely with a state so resolutely bent on a near-totalitarian programme of centralization and social and cultural policing.

Unmingling the Melting Pot

The Islamic kingdom of al-Andalus had been a beacon of civilization, style and culture in a Western Europe that had still been very backward in many ways. Science, scholarship, literature and art had flourished in an atmosphere of enlightenment and tolerance in which all sections of the community had felt free to live and worship in their own very different ways. In recent years, radical historians have suggested that al-Andalus was some sort of Utopia, a paradigm for what the

Ferdinand and Isabella receive the surrender of Granada's Muhammad II or Boabdil (from 'Abu Abdullah') after the fall of Spain's last sultanate in 1492. Coinciding with the expulsion of the Jews - and, of course, Columbus' discoveries - the event opened a new chapter in the history of Spain.

modern multicultural society might be. This is perhaps an over-optimistic view: Christians and Jews in Muslim Spain might have begged to differ, disdained as they were by Islamic authorities who were quick to subject them to petty harassment, and saw them as a 'soft' population always ready to be milked for taxes.

Yet it's true that, basically, by the standards of this and later times, al-Andalus did enjoy comparatively easy-going community relations. The authorities certainly never mounted anything remotely resembling a general persecution of Jews or Christians, nor did they try to prevent their living and worshipping as they liked. Intermarriage, while not encouraged, wasn't stopped; commercial and cultural relations spanned the divides; 'live and let live' was the order of the day.

 Like her friend St John of the Cross, the mystic Teresa of Avila was partly of Jewish descent. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish spirituality was a psychodrama, its intensity deriving both from the country's hybrid heritage and from official attempts to suppress its legacy.

So when, in the fifteenth century, Ferdinand and Isabella came along and tried to carve out a Catholic monoculture in Spain, they found themselves facing a very challenging task indeed. While Muslim Spain officially came to an end with the Siege of Granada in 1492 - the same year in which the last of the country's openly-observant Jews were expelled - the new Spain still found itself with major Muslim and Jewish 'problems'. Only by force and by the fear of pain and death could members of these groups be compelled to convert. And even when they did, their good faith was always to be suspect - with good reason, because, naturally enough, many did make a show of obedience to save their own lives and their families' without actually experiencing any real shift in religious loyalties.

Crypto-Jews and Muslims undoubtedly did exist, going through the motions of Catholic observance while secretly continuing with their old ancestral ways. At the same time, though, there were a great many genuinely pious Christians of Jewish or Islamic heritage who never could find full acceptance. A rumour about a grandparent or great-uncle might easily be enough to guarantee a life dogged by suspicion from busybody neighbours or officious local priests. Such was the paranoia abroad in Spain that even the holiest of Christians came under suspicion - including such celebrated figures as Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross. Both had been born into converso ('convert') families, although both had been brought up in - and had taken passionately to - the creed of Christ. But the more apparently blameless people were, paradoxically, the more suspicion they risked arousing in a paranoid nation in which the quest for religious and cultural purity became obsessive.

Racial Hygiene

Limpieza - 'cleanness' - it was called, and it was regarded as residing in the blood, a more unusual association than might be imagined in the fifteenth century. The sort of pseudo-scientific 'race theory' that was to foreshadow the emergence of Nazism in the modern age was more or less entirely alien to earlier times. In Spain, however, the Inquisition introduced a code of limpieza de sangre - pure-bloodedness - that looked forward to the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. At a stroke, the legislation created a sort of second-class citizenship: the 'New Christians', it was reasoned, weren't quite Christian after all. Anybody seeking public office, a place in the priesthood or even a matrimonial alliance with an 'Old Christian' family could expect to have to swear an oath of limpieza - and

Spanish anxieties about contaminating strands of Jewish and Muslim ancestry transferred 'naturally' to a New World in which relations with native populations (and African slaves) were inevitable. The result was a blood-based hierarchy in which 'pure'- white criollos (Creoles) clearly outranked 'mixed' mestizos.



Spain's most important inquisitor, and to this day a byword for all that's fanatical and cruel in intellectual and political repression, Tomas de Torquemada was born in Valladolid in 1420. From boyhood he saw his vocation as a religious one - although he quickly came to see that religious orthodoxy had political aspects too. He met the future Queen Isabella when he was in his forties and she was just a teenage princess, but became her mentor pretty much from that time on. (It even seems to have been his idea that she should marry Prince Ferdinand of Aragon, creating a powerful - and super-Catholic - kingdom in the heart of Spain.)

The Grand Inquisitor from 1483, he literally 'wrote

the book' on inquisitorial practice - the Compilation of Instructions for the Office of the Holy Inquisition - although it wasn't actually to be published till the end of the sixteenth century. No matter, its strictures governed procedures on everything from sorcery to sodomy - whatever the charge, torture was to be at the heart of Inquisitorial practice. Although known as the 'Hammer of Heretics', Torquemada showed particular zeal and ruthlessness in rooting out crypto-Muslims and Marranos. Was this fanaticism founded in self-hatred? Some scholars have certainly suspected as much, pointing to the presence of known Jews among the Inquisitor's ancestral connections.

Torquemada's tome, the Compilation of Instructions for the Office of the Holy Inquisition didn't just provide tips for torturers. By codifying practices, setting down procedures for interrogation in elaborate detail, it lent an air of legitimacy to what was at bottom a brutal system.

Damned by the Inquisition, by nineteenth-century painter Eugenio Lucas Velazquez. The Inquisition cast a long shadow over the collective consciousness of Catholic Spain, providing material for painters for many centuries after its end.

to have his or her antecedents carefully researched. It wasn't racism, technically - or even actually, indeed, given that the very idea of 'race' hadn't yet been formulated. A Jewish or Muslim ancestry was suspect because it suggested the risk of a secret loyalty to an alien religion, not because it made an individual different in some more essential way. At the same time, though, the location of this limpieza in the blood did obviously imply some intrinsic, physiological difference between 'Old' and 'New' Christians of the sort that in later centuries would have been rationalized as 'race'. The ease with which the doctrine was afterwards able to be transferred to the American colonies to distinguish between criollos or 'creoles' of pure Spanish blood and those mestizos (mixed-race Spanish and Indian) or mulatos (Spanish and African) suggests that it was already a sort of racism-in-waiting.

Coming Out in the Wash

In Spain itself, though, the emphasis was always upon religious backsliding. Even if a converse was faithful now, that didn't mean he or she could be relied on to remain so. Hence, the conscientious Spanish servant would always be on the lookout for some sign that her employer was avoiding pork chorizo; or a master might note if a servant was mumbling during household prayers. Just as those who were pursuing a forbidden faith in secret learned to hide their ritual practices with the utmost subtlety, conventional Catholics grew hugely sophisticated in detecting (real or imaginary) lapses, like that of Maria de Mendoza, a young morisca woman from Cuenca in central Spain. She was seen by a witness to draw a jar of water from a well then take it home where, kneeling naked, she washed her hair and body down. Given that Islamic observance does

 Heretics convicted by the Inquisition process to their place of public execution in Lisbon in this engraving. The crimes of the Portuguese Inquisition have been overshadowed by those of Spain's but they were every bit as grave - and as integral to the state    


Just as those who pursued a

forbidden faith in secret learned to

hide their practices, conventional

Catholics grew hugely sophisticated

in detecting lapses.

prescribe ritual ablutions prior to praying or reading in the Quran, it's perhaps not surprising that washing should have been viewed askance, suggests historian

Toby Green. In an age when mass-produced soap still lay several centuries in the future, and standards of personal hygiene were necessarily rough and ready, washing was not something most people generally did.

A New World of Persecution

Its work in attacking Catharism done - or, rather superseded by a policy of virtual genocide - the French Inquisition dropped from sight. It was never to rival the

Christopher Columbus arrives in America - a heroic scene, but one overflowing with historical ironies. The 'benefits' of the European civilization he brought with him were to include conquest and enslavement, deadly epidemics and, of course, the plague of Christian piety, cruelly enforced.

scale of the Spanish or Portuguese Inquisitions in the early-modern period. Or their reach, because of course this was a time in which Spain and Portugal were opening up new territories in the Americas. They took the Inquisition with them wherever they went. More important than the desire to strike fear into (already well and truly terrorized) native populations in the New World was the fear that, far from home, Europeans would stray from the straight and narrow. How was the Church to stop the spread of Protestantism among an independent-minded community of settlers across the ocean? What was to stop 'New Christians' from reverting to Muslim or Marrano type? Mexico City, the capital of 'New Spain', became its capital of cruelty, with regular round-ups of 'heretics' and spectacular public autos-da-fe. The same was true, although to a lesser extent, in the Portuguese colonies of Brazil.

The Roman Inquisition

Italy, the Church's home country, was no more immune than anywhere else to the plague of heresy, and here too the Holy Office did its work. But it never managed to make common cause with the secular authorities in Italy in the same way as it had in Spain and Portugal, and its scope for action was much more limited as a result.

It did nevertheless make a considerable contribution to Catholicism's history - and a disproportionate one to its 'dark history', it might be said. For the Church's unique role in defending superstition, in fighting a rearguard action against the advance of scientific understanding and rational intelligence, was spearheaded by the Roman Inquisition.

Take the example of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) - himself a Catholic cleric, and a naive believer in the official line that the Church saw no incompatibility between religious faith and scientific reason. His book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium ('On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres', 1543) was a revolution in itself. Rejecting the ancient assumption that the cosmos was 'geocentric' - centred around the Earth - it proposed that the Earth and planets orbited the sun in a 'heliocentric' system. Copernicus was slapped down by the Inquisition for his pains.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) took Copernicus' findings further, his observations of Venus and of Jupiter (with its 'Galilean Moons') all tending to confirm the earlier scientist's work. Notoriously, the 'Father of Modern Physics' was hauled up before the Inquisition in 1632 and forced to recant his 'heretical' theories under threat of torture. Having admitted that the Earth stood still, he reputedly muttered 'And yet it moves'.

Despite his show of obedience, Galileo was placed under house arrest - where he'd stay for the next ten years; it went without saying that his books were banned. Not just those he'd actually written, but any he might conceivably think about writing at some point in the future - the Inquisition seemed resolved to cast the Church in as ludicrous a light as possible.



Everyone in sixteenth-century Spain paid at least lip service to Catholic orthodoxy. It was more than one's life was worth to do otherwise. Paradoxically, rather than reassuring the Catholic authorities - or the respectable majority of Spanish people - this show of conformity only fostered greater fear. Spanish society was haunted by the spectre of a secret enemy, following alien practices underground. Hence the constant anxiety about the presence of Moriscos in society's midst. These were people of Moorish origin who had (themselves or their forebears) been converted by force to Catholicism but whose loyalties

lay with Islam underneath. The same went for Spain's Marranos. The word marrano (ironically, an Arabic one) had literally meant 'dirty' or 'unclean', in the ritual sense of being 'taboo' and so it came to mean a pig, which was forbidden both to Muslims and Jews. In early-modern Spain, it was used to refer to those Jews who (or whose ancestors), despite having officially converted to Catholicism, still followed Jewish practice secretly. The word was of course a deeply unpleasant swipe at the 'dirty', forbidden status of such Jews, but it was also a jibe at their own careful avoidance of pigs and pork.



The Catholic Church has always been at pains to stress its deep commitment to the cause of reason. It has always claimed that there's no incompatibility between science and religion. And in truth, in our own time, while American Protestant churches bang the drum for fundamentalism, successive Popes have expressed their belief in evolution. Oddly, it might be thought, Charles Darwin's 'The Descent of Man' has never fallen foul of the Church's censors - even in the nineteenth century, when it first appeared.

This stance is still more surprising given the historical readiness of Catholic prelates to slap wholesale bans on books or authors. Their repressiveness is recorded in a handy checklist. The Index - or, to give it its full title, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Tindex of Prohibited Books') - is a veritable catalogue of Catholic intolerance, and to most modern eyes a collective act of utter folly.

It's unsurprising, if perhaps a little unenlightened, that the theological works of famous Protestant reformers like Luther and Calvin should have been included - but what of an otherwise blameless botanist like Otto Braunfels? What makes a flower or leaf heretical? Did Konrad Gesner's Protestantism really vitiate all his zoological findings? Was his description of the guinea pig as threatening as the observations of Galileo? The latter was eventually removed from the Index by a sheepish Catholic establishment in 1741. No such luck for philosophers from Locke, Hobbes and Hume to Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Also included are creative writers from John Milton to Honore de Balzac and Graham Greene.

That Greene was a Catholic didn't save him: his offence seems to have been his specific slights against the priesthood. For far more obviously 'problematic' works have gone unnoticed by the Church's censors. Karl Marx's writings, for example, atheistic as they are, and D.H. Lawrence's racier scribblings: they may not be recommended reading but they weren't banned.

Galileo fights his corner before the Italian Inquisition - notoriously, the hearing concluded with dogma defeating science. In this case at least - and only unconvincingly, and for the moment. In the long run, Catholicism's obdurate resistance to rational enquiry was to prove self-defeating.








Keith Hunt