Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Censorship of Books by the Catholic Church, 1876 Article

The Church's Censorship of Books, 1876 Article

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That extensive division of the Christian Church which has its headquarters at Rome has claimed and exercised for more than 300 years the right of deciding what books its members shall be allowed to read. This power resides in a body of cardinals, designated by the Pope, who issue an "Index" of books containing a twofold catalogue, one of which is of works absolutely prohibited, and the other of works that are prohibited only until they are expurgated, or so corrected by their authors as to be acceptable to the Church authorities. The first papal "Index" was published in 1549, by Pope Paul IV. It was made a part of the work of the Inquisition, and this body had charge of it until 1586, when a special commission—"The Congregation of the Index"—was created, and has been maintained to the present time. Among the early works prohibited by this conclave were those of Galileo, Copernicus, and Kepler; and, among those forbidden in more modern times, were Locke's "Essay on the Human Understanding," and Mill's "Political Economy." Dr. Draper's "History of the Conflict between Religion and Science" has now the honor of being added to the list of celebrated books which Catholics cannot read without rebelling against ecclesiastical authority.

This institution of the Catholic Church is itself the most conspicuous example we have of that great "conflict" which Dr. Draper has so vividly delineated in his little volume. Its rise was coincident with the general awakening of thought in modern Europe, which was manifested on the one hand in the Protestant Reformation, and, on the other, in that independent study of Nature by which the sciences have been created. The Church took issue with this spirit of free thought, which it sought to repress by violence wherever and as long as it had the power, and which it still seeks to extinguish by the force of its claim to represent divine authority. It is still as vicegerent of God upon earth that the Pope interposes to stop the circulation of scientific books, and continues his warfare with the tendency to independent inquiry.

We cannot but remark how greatly the papal government mistakes the times, and how utterly it fails to realize the change that has taken place since the sixteenth century. The time has come when books are not to be forbidden but answered, and the policy of interdiction by the Vatican authorities is so futile that it becomes nothing short of a blunder. Dr. Draper's volume has been put under ban because it is pervading all Europe—two editions having been called for even in ultra Catholic Spain. Publicly thus to mark a book for religious outlawry is simply to give to it a prodigious advertisement. Where before it had one reader it will now have ten. Men will get it, determined to find out for themselves in what its offense consists; and women will do as Eve did—taste simply because it is a forbidden thing. The only way to overcome the objectionable tendencies of any work is to point them out; and the only way to deal with its arguments is to refute them. To suppress such books in our time is out of the question; and if, in this special instance, there are among the highly-educated ecclesiastics in Rome none who can do this, the inference is that the book is unanswerable. We have, certainly, no complaint to make of the course adopted by the theological authorities at Rome, and must, at any rate, give them credit for consistency; but they forget that the world has changed a good deal since the Inquisition was established.

It is a great mistake to suppose that bigotry and intolerance are altogether confined to the Vatican; we have excellent illustrations of this temper much nearer home. While the Pope at Rome is commanding the faithful not to admit Dr. Draper's book into their libraries, Bishop Coxe, the little pontiff of Western New York, is warning the good Christians of Buffalo not to let Prof. Huxley come into their houses; while both potentates put their intolerant action on the same ground of divine authorization. One would think that in the nineteenth century, in an enlightened American city, in the year of the nation's centennial, in the midst of a presidential campaign, and at a large convocation of the scientists of this and foreign countries, Buffalo Christians might have been left to their own good sense and good taste to entertain whom they pleased. Moreover, Prof. Huxley was the guest of the American Scientific Association, which was itself the guest of the city, and this should have been sufficient to protect him from insult from such a quarter. It is well that the bishop's type of Christianity does not prevail in Buffalo, as, otherwise, the obnoxious foreigner might have been left in the streets to starve.

Some of the Buffalo papers, holding the bishop's utterance in regard to Huxley to be nothing less than a public affront and a disgrace to the town, made it rather warm for him, and so he has followed up the original mandate by a defense of it in subsequent letters to his organ, "The Orbit." The faithful were admonished to withhold their hospitalities from Prof. Huxley, because he is an atheist. The bishop charges him with "scientific atheism"—whatever that may mean—and refers to his admonition to his flock for "importing atheism into their families under color of science." He also accuses Prof. Huxley of being a "propagator of atheism." Now, though these charges are launched from the Episcopal throne of Western New York, they are nevertheless not true. Bishop Coxe says, "I bear a divine commission." Then he has a divine commission to bear false witness. His accusation is simply a baseless calumny, and in none of his communications does he offer a shadow of proof to substantiate the charge. Prof. Huxley has never avowed himself an atheist, and has never advocated the doctrine, but on the contrary he has distinctly condemned it and declared it to be an absurd doctrine. Bishop Coxe says he is "a propagator of atheism," but where is the proof? There are such people as avowed atheists, and there is a party of them in England that labors to propagate the belief. Bradlaugh is one of their chiefs, who boasted that he is the only man who ever ran for Parliament on the issue of being an atheist. Prof. Huxley has never had anything to do with this party, and is no more in sympathy with it than is Bishop Coxe. If Prof. Huxley has propagated atheism, lie must have done it some time, some-where, and somehow, and there must be evidence of it. Has the bishop any better source of information than other people? If not, then he has lent him-self to a false accusation. He quotes Scripture copiously in defense of his course, and cites from St. John the following passage: "Many deceivers are entering into the world. Look to your-selves . . . receive them not into your house." But, who are the deceivers, if not those who mislead people by un-truthful statements? The utmost defense that Bishop Coxe can make is, that he has heard Prof. Huxley called an atheist, or that he infers from his books that he holds atheistic opinions; but is a man to be stripped of his character, and loaded with opprobrious epithets, and are all good Christians to be invited to slam their doors in his face, because of mere idle rumors and inferential constructions of his writings, both of which are contradicted by his explicit averments? The Bishop of Western New York should migrate to Rome, where he properly belongs, at the earliest opportunity.

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