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Introduction to inquisition censorship documents

The Index tradition

Conflicts over the written word and the graven image predate the rise of Christianity, and efforts to suppress allegedly heterodox or otherwise objectionable works can be found in any number of societies throughout human history. In premodern Europe, however, such materials were extremely rare and expensive, individually produced by hand and so available only to a very small elite audience. Church authorities could at times take action to destroy texts seen as blasphemous or heretical (from Arian writings under Constantine, to the Talmud and some Aristotelian philosophy by the thirteenth century) but there was no perceived need for any mechanism of regular censorship beyond that associated with university curricula and the ad hoc efforts of individual popes or bishops in the Middle Ages.1 This situation would change in the sixteenth century, as a result of three main developments: the invention of the printing press, the emergence of overt Protestant challenges to Catholic theology, and the growing institutionalization of early modern inquisitions themselves.

Pope Leo X issued a groundbreaking statement on censorship in 1515 with the bull Inter sollicitudines, prohibiting a wide range of books and insisting that Roman officials should be allowed to examine new works before they were sent for printing.2 Leo’s initiative bore fruit in practice with broad censorship of Lutheran writings from the 1520s on, and the papacy would continue to insist on its rights to proscribe objectionable texts, but other centers of secular and ecclesiastical power also sought to make their own determinations of which books required censorship in whole or in part.3 The university of Paris set an important precedent in 1544 when it published the first formal Index of prohibited books, a brief compilation of unacceptable authors and titles.4 Similar lists would be published by the university of Louvain in Belgium under imperial authority (1546) and by inquisition officials in Portugal (1547) and Venice (1549) as well as by some Italian cities.5 By 1551 the Spanish inquisition had also assembled and disseminated its own version (printed locally and so varying somewhat from one Tribunal to the next, but for the most part cribbed from Louvain’s 1550 Index), with subsequent editions appearing in 1554 and 1559.6

The 1559 Cathalogus Librorum, qui prohibentur mandato Illustrissimi & Reverendissimi D.D. Ferdinandi de Valdes Hispalensis, though likewise borrowing heavily from earlier collections, marks a significant development [INQ 42]. At a time of serious and growing concern over the spread of Protestant ideas in Spain, Philip II had centralized and expanded censorship responsibilities in the hands of the inquisition; Inquisitor General Fernando Valdés’ response was to greatly expand the Index of prohibited books. The 1559 Spanish Index was original and aggressive in its denunciation of Spanish literature, Erasmus, and a number of otherwise highly regarded Catholic spiritual writers.7 Meanwhile the Council of Trent was busy developing its own principles for censorship, and ultimately its own Index which appeared in 1564 (with republication at the behest of Philip II in a 1570 Antwerp edition [INQ 43]).

Though not addressed in Torquemada’s original Instrucciones, censorship was henceforth clearly understood to be a primary function of the inquisition and efforts were made to improve Indices for practical use. For one thing there was a need to develop an intermediary category of books, between those which were to be banned outright and those which could circulate with impunity. The respected scholar Benito Arias Montano was therefore assigned to develop a new sort of Index identifying texts subject to only to expurgation. His efforts bore initial fruit in 1571, but work continued thereafter and in 1583 a much enlarged Index et Catalogus Librorum Prohibitorum was published along with a companion Index Librorum Expurgatorum in the following year. This new expurgatory Index was more than double the length of the 1583 prohibitory Index (itself three times the size of the 1559 list), and together they allowed for much greater flexibility and sophistication than did the previous pass/fail system [INQ 44].8 The 1583 Index also included for the first time a brief set of principles, based on those laid down previously at Trent, to guide future censorship; such helpful reglas generales would become standard in later Spanish editions.

Debates over which books truly deserved to appear on the Index could be complicated and divisive. Critics were quick to denounce what they saw as intolerance, injustice and hypocrisy in censorship practices, and Protestant polemicists occasionally published their own editions in an effort to reveal the extent of the inquisitors’ poor judgment (see also Polemics and histories). In 1601, for example, the Saumur house of Thomas Portau produced a new version of the 1584 expurgatory index complete with an introductory essay highlighting instances of forbidden but—in the editor’s opinion—harmless material [INQ 45]. An edict of 1677 [INQ 248] mentions another false edition of the Index, dated 1667 and presumably circulated for similar reasons. Such bogus indices were themselves banned in due course, but they provide important witness to the complex ways in which inquisitorial censorship was received by the different constituencies of early modern Europe.

Expansion of the Index continued through the seventeenth century, especially in Spain.9 From only 72 pages in 1559 and about 300 for the double-Index of 1583-1584, the Novus Index Prohibitorum et Expurgatorum of 1632 had ballooned to over a thousand pages all told [INQ 46]. The 1640 Novissimus Librorum Prohibitorum et Expurgandorum Index was approximately the same in length; however in 1667 printers expanded it to over 1300 pages by binding it with the most recent Roman Index in an impressive double reissue [INQ 47]. Each new publication was a major undertaking, and public sermons were delivered to emphasize their value at special commemorative celebrations [INQ 564].10 It is unlikely, however, that local inquisitors regularly leafed through copies of such massive tomes to check the status of books encountered in the course of their regular visitations to printers, booksellers, private libraries and ships’ cargos.11 Nor could they be updated quickly enough to remain current. By the eighteenth century the ever-growing mass of works in print simply got out of hand and censors could no longer hope to include all proscribed titles and authors’ names within the covers of a single volume. A major revision to the Spanish Index was made in 1707 amid much consultation and preparation [INQ 289, INQ 290, INQ 296, INQ 299, INQ 300], with smaller-scale supplements being published from time to time as required thereafter [INQ 48, INQ 277]. By the time an Indice Ultimo de los Libros Prohibidos y Mandados Expurgar was printed in 1790, it had been reduced to a manageable 305 pages in length [INQ 49].

Royal authority had a long history of involvement with censorship in Spain, and Bourbon monarchs increasingly restricted the inquisitors’ monopoly in this field throughout the eighteenth century [INQ 380].12 Yet indices and lists of banned books remained an important part of the inquisitorial project right up to the end, and even after the tribunals had ceased to function their censorship duties were taken up at the episcopal level.13 In 1815 the reinstated Inquisitor General Francisco Xavier Mier y Campillo, bishop of Almería, published a long alphabetical list of prohibited materials in the Diario de Madrid.14 A similar list of over a hundred banned authors (including “Bolter” [sic for Voltaire], Diderot, Ovid, Rousseau and many more) was re-posted in broadsheet format for popular edification in 1826 [INQ 417]. From 1866 to 1880 Leon Carbonero y Sol published multiple editions of a nearly 700-page, densely-printed Indice de los Libros Prohibidos por el Santo Oficio de la Inquisición Española [INQ 50].15 This latter work’s informative subtitle promised readers that it contained material “from [the inquisition’s] first decree to the last, which was dispatched on the 29th of May 1819, and by the reverend Spanish bishops from that date to the end of December 1872.” Along with the Roman Index, censorship by Spanish bishops (followed by that of the Franco regime) would continue to impact aspects of Catholic cultural and intellectual life well into the second half of the twentieth century.

Evaluation of the Index tradition’s actual impact on early modern writing remains controversial, and has inspired many specialized studies. Henry Charles Lea’s claim that it was responsible for broadly “arresting the development of the Spanish intellect” is no longer widely held.16 Henry Kamen has pointed out practical limitations which ensured that inquisitorial censorship was in general never very effective, but other research emphasizes the ebb and flow of censors’ effectiveness over time, and how censors affected some genres of writing more severely than others.17 Certainly the evolution of the Spanish Indices reveals much about the inquisitors’ changing targets, with an emphasis on Protestant and illuminist spiritual works in the early days gradually becoming supplanted by concern over the potentially atheist and republican influence of French philosophes in the later eighteenth century.18 Still, others have pointed out that the cut-and-paste listings of the Indices themselves tell only part of the story and that analysis of the inquisition manuals’ theoretical discussions of censorship (see Inquisitorial manuals) is crucial to an understanding of how inquisitorial censorship actually developed over time.19 Certainly it would be dangerous to treat the Index tradition as a monolithic source from which to draw all conclusions on the matter.

There is no denying that the Indices were important cultural artifacts, and they demonstrate an evolution of the inquisitors’ own claims as well as their technologies of power. The very fact of these lists’ existence, with repeated expansion, re-production and celebration in physically impressive printed tomes, effectively conveyed the solemnity and seriousness of their censorial task. In the seventeenth century especially it was the Indices’ monumentality itself which expressed the inquisition’s absolutist claims to ideological control—whether that control could ever really be achieved or not. The Indices may have been formulaic, poorly distributed and complicated to use in practice, and they may have been ignored or denigrated in some quarters, but they were a point of pride for the inquisition. Their study remains vital, and further research both into their contents and into their symbolic status at particular moments in histories of the book will be most welcome.

Posted edicts

While the evolving, ambitious yet largely symbolic Indices of prohibited and expurgated books have attracted much scholarly attention, they clearly only make up part of the story of inquisitorial censorship as noted above. Between editions of the Index, new works of dubious orthodoxy were continually coming to light; some copies of the Index bear signs that individual inquisitors actually struggled to keep up-to-date by making manuscript additions of their own [INQ 43, INQ 44]. Papal bulls were issued on occasion to denounce specific texts and authors, and the Spanish inquisition distributed copies of these documents in large poster formats with accompanying translation [INQ 236, INQ 238, INQ 252 etc.]. Inquisitors also passed their own independent censorial judgments on a regular basis, issuing short edicts quite separate from those of the papacy in the form of cartas acordadas (see Inquisitorial manuals). Like their papal counterparts, these were sent out on a regular basis from the Suprema in Madrid to local Tribunals, where they were to be printed in multiple copies as broadsides for posting on church walls.20 The latter type of document, though somewhat ephemeral, survives in great quantities and can be used to piece together a history not only of what sorts of literature made their way onto the Index, but also of how inquisition censorship made itself felt at the local level of monastery conversation and public square gossip. For while most citizens would never actually see a copy of the Index in their lifetimes, posted edicts of the Spanish inquisition must have been visible to all on a more or less daily basis in towns and villages throughout Spain and its colonies.

Single-sheet broadside edicts denouncing allegedly unorthodox writers, texts, and even whole classes of objectionable ideas were cheaply reproduced and widely circulated to reach a large audience in Spain from the mid-sixteenth century on. Each tribunal was expected to produce its own version, and exemplars therefore vary slightly in their dimensions and formatting,21 but overall the genre changed little over time. Generally they were printed, sometimes with blank spaces for place and/or date of issue to be filled in by hand [INQ 234, INQ 235, INQ 239, INQ 252 etc.], though some manuscript copies can also be found [INQ 216].22 Official posted copies were normally signed and sealed by the appropriate local authorities [INQ 238, INQ 247, INQ 249 etc.], though of course most of these were eventually torn down and discarded after public display; it may be that surviving exemplars lacking seals and/or signatures represent extra copies stored for later use or for posterity [INQ 234, INQ 235, INQ 239 etc.]. In some cases notaries’ marks and/or a handwritten summary of the document were added on the verso, perhaps in order to facilitate proper archiving and future reference [INQ 227].

Censors’ edicts tended to be formulaic in terms of content, following a traditional pattern common to many papal letters and related Church documents.23 An opening salutation (the salutatio, identifying the issuing authority) would normally be followed by a cursory explanation of circumstances or theological concerns leading up to the current ban (narratio) and then followed by the main point or dispositio: actual notification of the work or works to be banned along with basic details such as author and title. In some cases (where relevant) the printer’s name and city of printing were also included, but often it was the omission of such details that alerted inquisitors to suspect a potentially illicit volume in the first place. Finally edicts invoked standard threats of punishment for those who failed to respect the ban (sanctio), closing with a statement of date and place of publication (datum) and the relevant signatures (subscriptio). Readers with a comprehension of the documentary format would thus be able to see at a glance which books were at issue by skimming over an otherwise imposing text to glean the dispositio.

For less sophisticated readers, and of course for vast crowds of illiterate viewers, these imposing and densely-printed broadsides were quite inefficient as technologies of communication. In some cases, perhaps in recognition of this shortcoming, the dispositio could be repeated at the end of the poster as a sort of brief summary for ease of reading [INQ 227]. This does not seem to have become a standard practice, however, and the broadsides’ lack of concern for readability may point to other motives for their production. Whether semi-literate or illiterate local villagers could decipher them or not was after all not really the issue; these people were unlikely to ever come into contact with banned books in the first place. For them, the content of the posted document was less significant than its visible existence as a gesture of the inquisition’s immediate presence and power. It was a reminder that a wise and authoritative institution was everywhere on the lookout for heretical ideas, and in this sense the verbal density of the posters could itself communicate a certain sense of intellectual gravitas. Like the Indices, posted edicts were perhaps more influential as cultural artifacts than as practical technologies for the suppression of prohibited works.

All the same edicts can also serve as complements to the evidence of the Indices by revealing how different targets of inquisitorial censorship were treated over time. Texts in Hebrew, for example, including the Bible, were subjected to special scrutiny [INQ 248].24 Arabic was generally of less immediate concern, but materials touching on Islam or on Iberia’s Islamic past were carefully examined for possible offensive content; thus the famous “Sacromonte” forgeries of Granada were repeatedly condemned after their initial ban by pope Urban VIII [INQ 236, INQ 254].25 So too were images of “la Secta de Mahoma” personified as a female figure in a 1662 edition of Blaeu’s Atlas—unproblematic except for the fact that she appears above a depiction of Christ crucified on the same page [INQ 250, INQ 251]. But heterodox Christian devotions were ever among the inquisitors’ main concerns. Well-intentioned but unauthorized spiritual writings were targeted [INQ 249, INQ 257, INQ 305 etc.], as were texts identified with well-defined “heresies” such as Jansenism [INQ 238, INQ 292] or Molinism [INQ 259, INQ 313, INQ 343]. Literature promoting unauthorized popular cults of holy men and women was similarly subjected to inquisitorial bans [INQ 230, INQ 306, INQ 311 etc.], as were images connected to the same, as several Mexican edicts make plain [INQ 223, INQ 230, INQ 231]. Images, even if altogether holy in and of themselves, also had to be protected from improper usage such as the adornment of tobacco packaging [INQ 378]. Indecent images or texts, too, were generally unacceptable [INQ 272] though enforcement varied widely.26

Histories with content potentially critical of either the Spanish monarchy, the Church or the inquisition itself had always attracted censorial attention [INQ 263, INQ 266, INQ 342 etc.], and Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was denounced in broadsides posted in Mexico as late as 1809 [INQ 401]. Notice of current events could also be banned for political reasons; thus a 1655 Mexican edict prohibits circulation of news relating to rebellions in Catalonia [INQ 239]. The later eighteenth century, as mentioned above, also marked the emergence of new targets. The encyclopédistes and philosophes of the Enlightenment were of great concern to the inquisitors [INQ 362, INQ 365], as were the Freemasons [INQ 333], and French literature in general aroused great suspicion [INQ 364, INQ 368, INQ 370, INQ 373 etc.]. Combining religious with political outrage, the Spanish inquisition was especially incensed by the Napoleonic invasion and Joseph Bonaparte’s accession to the Spanish throne in 1807. Though disbanded in the peninsula, the inquisition’s Mexican officials regularly proscribed Bonaparte’s proclamations as well as writings by any of his sympathizers [INQ 403, INQ 404, INQ 405]. Mexican concern over politically sensitive literature at this time even extended to works published in the United States [INQ 399].

Broadsides were not only used to ban specific books, however; some served notice of general changes in policy such as a 1558 papal revocation of licenses to read prohibited works [INQ 205] or an undated Mexican poster banning the import of any and all unlicensed books [INQ 285]. News that a ban had actually been lifted or altered could be communicated through this medium as well [INQ 260, INQ 310, INQ 384].

Nor was the banning of a book always the end of the story, and subsequent edicts sometimes reveal further details—such as a need for reminders to be sent out many decades after an initial verdict, or changes in the inquisitors’ evaluation of a given author that may have taken place over time. Writings by the late bishop and Mexican viceroy Juan de Palafox y Mendoza (d. 1659), for example, became controversial circa 1700 as Charles II began to promote his canonization amid strong resistance from the Jesuits; Inquisitor General Baltasar de Mendoza y Sandoval entered the fray by issuing an edict ordering limits on their circulation [INQ 291]. Suspicion clearly remained when a text known as the Cartas de Palafox was specifically included among many other anti-Jesuit works subject to outright bans years later, in 1759 [INQ 363, INQ 367, INQ 369]. However while acknowledging that certain writings of Palafox y Mendoza had indeed been subjected to inquisition censorship in 1700, with unlicensed new editions subsequently emerging and requiring renewed bans in 1759, Inquisitor General Manuel Quintano Bonifaz nevertheless gave public notice in 1761 that all bans on the late bishop’s work were to be repealed in light of Charles III’s renewed interest in promoting the canonization [INQ 371]. Confusion must have remained, however (or arisen yet again), for reminders of Palafox y Mendoza’s approved status continue to appear as late as 1801 [INQ 393]. Careful scrutiny of inquisitorial broadsides may thus reveal many details regarding the ebb and flow of inquisitorial censure that cannot be gleaned from analysis of the Indices alone.

In another complex episode, Spanish and Roman censors clashed over the orthodoxy of writings by cardinal and one-time inquisition official Henry Noris (d. 1704). These had been placed on the Spanish Index of 1747, but pope Benedict XIV ordered a reversal of that decision in the following year. Angry diatribes such as the anonymous Antidotum contra Virulentam Novatorum Insaniam Beatissimo P.N. Benedicto XIV Dicatum [INQ 278] soon began to appear in response. After much debate, Spanish inquisitors agreed to remove their ban on Noris’ Historia Pelagiana in 1758; texts relating to the controversy itself, on the other hand, were now solemnly proscribed and the case emphatically closed [INQ 349, INQ 359, INQ 360]. An eagerness to pursue more cordial relations with Rome in the aftermath of this controversy may explain a flurry of Spanish edicts endorsing papal condemnations in 1759 [INQ 362, INQ 364, INQ 365, INQ 368], though such collaboration was certainly not unheard of in previous times [INQ 308, INQ 309 etc.].

The censorship policies and practices of the various inquisitions can thus be studied using a variety of source documents, many of which remain underutilized. In addition to the various Indices of prohibited and expurgated books, which wove such a complex web of censorship throughout jurisdictions of Portugal, Spain and Italy, edicts published on an ongoing basis for nearly three hundred years tell complex and important stories of their own. Unfortunately, no comprehensive list—let alone study—of the latter has ever been compiled. Much work remains to be done to further our knowledge of how inquisitorial censorship impacted the production of books, images and ideas in the early modern period.

Robin Vose

Appendix: Inventory of censhorship sources at Notre Dame

The Inquisition Collection at the University of Notre Dame contains dozens of items relating to inquisitorial censorship of books, art, ideas and speech. Many other editions of the various types of prohibitory and expurgatory indices are listed in de Bujanda and E. van der Vekene, Bibliotheca Bibliographica Historiae Sanctae Inquisitionis (1966; repr. 3 vols. Vaduz 1982-92).

Indices of prohibited books

INQ 42 (Valladolid 1559)

INQ 43 (Antwerp 1570)

INQ 44 (Madrid 1583-1584)

INQ 45 (Saumur 1601, produced for anti-inquisition polemic purposes)

INQ 46 (Seville 1632)

INQ 554 (Madrid 1640)

INQ 47 (Madrid/Rome 1667)

INQ 48 (Madrid 1739, supplement to 1707 Index)

INQ 277 (Madrid 1747, notes to 1747 Index)

INQ 49 (Madrid 1790)

INQ 50 (Madrid 1873, post-inquisition period)

Spanish edicts

INQ 216 (1619), INQ 227, INQ 327, INQ 555 (1634), INQ 234 (1647), INQ 235 (1640s), INQ 240 (1656), INQ 247 (1674), INQ 248, INQ 249 (1677), INQ 250, INQ 251 (1679), INQ 253 (1680), INQ 255 (1684), INQ 257 (1685), INQ 259, INQ 260 (1686), INQ 261, INQ 262 (1687), INQ 265 (1688), INQ 268 (1689), INQ 269, INQ 270 (1690), INQ 271 (1691), INQ 272 (1692), INQ 273 (1693), INQ 274, INQ 275 (1695), INQ 246 (1696), INQ 284, INQ 291 (1700), INQ 301 (1705), INQ 296 (1706), INQ 298, INQ 299, INQ 300 (1707), INQ 302 (1708), INQ 305 (1710), INQ 306 (1712), INQ 307 (1714), INQ 310 (1715), INQ 311, INQ 312, INQ 313 (1720), INQ 317 (1724), INQ 320 (1725), INQ 323 (1731), INQ 325 (1733), INQ 329 (1735), INQ 330 (1736), INQ 331 (1738), INQ 333, INQ 334 (1739), INQ 337, INQ 338, INQ 339 (1741), INQ 341 (1743), INQ 342, 343 (1744), INQ 344 (1745), INQ 346, INQ 347 (1746), INQ 348, INQ 350, INQ 351 (1747), INQ 354, INQ 355 (1750), INQ 357 (1756), INQ 349, INQ 359, INQ 360 (1758), INQ 361, INQ 363, INQ 367, INQ 369 (1759), INQ 370 (1760), INQ 371 (1761), INQ 373 (1764), INQ 374, INQ 375, INQ 376, INQ 377 (1766), INQ 378, INQ 379 (1767), INQ 381 (1768), INQ 382, INQ 383 (1769), INQ 384 (1771), INQ 386 (1772), INQ 387 (1773), INQ 390 (1778), INQ 281, INQ 283, INQ 314, INQ 353 (1700s), INQ 393 (1801), INQ 397 (1805), INQ 400 (1807), INQ 417 (1826).

Mexican edicts

INQ 219 (1621), INQ 223 (1626), INQ 230, INQ 231 (1637), INQ 239 (1655), INQ 285 (1700s), INQ 399 (1807), INQ 401 (1809), INQ 403, INQ 404, INQ 405 (1810).

Papal edicts (most in Spanish copies)

INQ 205 (1558), INQ 236 (1641), INQ 238 (1653), INQ 252 (1679), INQ 254 (1682), INQ 256 (1684), INQ 258 (1685), INQ 263 (1687), INQ 266 (1688), INQ 292 (1705), INQ 303 (1708), INQ 304 (1709), INQ 308, INQ 309 (1715), INQ 362, INQ 364, INQ 365, INQ 368 (1759).

Other documents related to book censorship

INQ 225 (description of a book-burning, Madrid 1634)

INQ 564 (sermon celebrating a new Index, Madrid 1640)

INQ 290 (certificate for library inspectors, Madrid 1707)

INQ 289 (credential review form for library inspectors, Madrid ca. 1711)

INQ 278 (polemic on jurisdictional dispute between Rome and Madrid—Noris affair)

INQ 380 (royal brief concerning proper form for inquisitorial censorship, Aranjuéz 1768)


1 On some key episodes in medieval censorship history see J.M.M.H. Thijssen, Censure and Heresy at the University of Paris 1200-1400 (Philadelphia 1998); also Gilbert Dahan (ed.), Le brûlement du Talmud à Paris, 1242-1244 (Paris 1999). Christian spiritual works could be subjected to similar treatment, for example Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, Books under suspicion: censorship and tolerance of revelatory writing in late medieval England (Notre Dame 2006).

2 Edward Peters, Inquisition (New York 1988), pp. 95-96.

3 The first Roman Index was published in 1557; it was not abolished until 1966. See Jesús Martínez de Bujanda, Index librorum prohibitorum: 1600-1966 (Sherbrooke 2002).

4 Indices published in the sixteenth century have been exhaustively edited and studied by a team of scholars working under the direction of J.M. de Bujanda at Université de Sherbrooke in Québec, Canada: Index des livres interdits (11 vols., Sherbrooke 1984-2002). Iberian Indices of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries have not received the same level of scrutiny.

5 In addition to the relevant volumes in de Bujanda, Index, see Gigliola Fragnito (ed.), Church, Censorship and Culture in Early Modern Italy (Cambridge 2001) and Paul Grendler, The Roman Inquisition and the Venetian Press, 1540-1605 (Princeton 1977). Portuguese inquisition censorship for its part remains quite under-studied; preliminary observations can be found in Francisco Bethencourt, The Inquisition: a global history, 1478-1834 (1995; tr. Jean Birrell, Cambridge 2009), pp. 226-230.

6 Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition (New Haven 1998), p. 108. Partial lists circulated as early as the 1540s but no copies have survived; see Antonio Márquez, Literatura e Inquisición en España, 1478-1834 (Madrid 1980), p. 145.

7 The latter included Juan de Avila, Luis de Granada and many Jesuits, such as future saint Francisco Borja—in part a reflection of the rival Dominican Order’s predominance at the time. Kamen, Spanish Inquisition pp. 108-112 argues that this Index was quite exceptional, and in fact “the only repressive Index prior to the eighteenth century”. Translated documents relating to the Valdés initiative may be found in Lu Ann Homza, The Spanish Inquisition 1478-1614: an anthology of sources (Indianapolis 2006), pp. 212-220.

8 Kamen, Spanish Inquisition pp. 112-114; Homza, Anthology p. 220.

9 The Portuguese inquisition, in contrast, published only a single seventeenth-century Index of prohibited books (1624); see Bethencourt, Inquisition p. 221.

10 The “glory” of book censorship seems to have been particularly emphasized through spectacle and documentation in the seventeenth century. In addition to the 1640 sermon cited here (closely related in format to printed auto da fé sermons of the Portuguese inquisition discussed in Autos de fe), broadsides were printed in the 1630s to give detailed descriptions of public book-burnings [INQ 225, INQ 327, INQ 555]. Further research is needed to determine whether such documents were produced at other times.

11 On such inquisitorial visitations (and the credentials required to perform them) see INQ 219, INQ 290, INQ 312 etc.; also Bethencourt, Inquisition pp. 221-236.

12 Ángel de Prado Moura, Las Hogueras de la Intolerancia (Valladolid 1996), p. 197.

13 Prado Moura, Hogueras p. 201.

14 Ángel Alcalá, “Control inquisitorial de humanistas y escritores” in Ángel Alcalá (ed.), Inquisición española y mentalidad inquisitorial (Barcelona 1984), p. 313.

15 Márquez, Literatura p. 148.

16 A History of the Inquisition of Spain (1906; repr. New York 1922), vol. 3, p. 480. Still, Ángel Alcalá’s argument that “la atmósfera de sospecha que creó sobre los amigos de libros, sobre las mentes abiertas a novedades y al espíritu crítico, saturó la vida española” remains worthy of consideration (“Control inquisitorial” p. 313).

17 Kamen, Spanish Inquisition pp. 103-136; cf. Antonio Márquez, Literatura e Inquisición en España, 1478-1834 (Madrid 1980), Virgílio Pinto Crespo, Inquisición y Control Ideologico en la España del Siglo XVI (Madrid 1983) and José Pardo Tomás, Ciencia y Censura (Madrid 1991).

18 Marcelin Defourneaux, L’Inquisition Espagnole et les Livres Français du XVIIIe siècle (Paris 1963).

19 Virgílio Pinto Crespo, “Institucionalización inquisitorial y censura de libros” in Joaquín Pérez Villaneuva (ed.), La Inquisición española: nueva visión, nuevos horizontes (Madrid 1980), pp. 513-536.

20 Virgílio Pinto Crespo, “La censura: sistemas de control e instrumentos de acción” in Ángel Alcalá (ed.), Inquisición española y mentalidad inquisitorial (Barcelona 1984), p. 273.

21 Compare for example INQ 349, INQ 359 and INQ 360, all communicating the same 1758 edict but on behalf of the Seville, Valencia and Madrid (Suprema) inquisitors respectively.

22 Whether the latter mainly represent copies made by later antiquarians, or working exemplars made by officials lacking access to sufficient printed originals, is uncertain (though INQ 216 does seem to bear an original inquisitor’s signature).

23 See Leonard Boyle, “Diplomatics” in James Powell (ed.), Medieval Studies (Syracuse 1976), pp. 82-104.

24 On inquisitorial attitudes toward Hebrew books see inter alia Stephan Wendehorst (ed.), The Roman Inquisition, the Index and the Jews (Leiden 2004) and David Price, Johannes Reuchlin and the campaign to destroy Jewish books (Oxford 2010). The impact of such attentions is evaluated in Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, The censor, the editor, and the text: the Catholic Church and the shaping of the Jewish canon in the sixteenth century (Philadelphia 2007).

25 A. Katie Harris, From Muslim to Christian Granada (Baltimore 2007).

26 La Celestina for example, despite its bawdy humor and the fact that its title character was a procuress, went through over thirty editions from 1499 to its expurgation in 1640. It was only placed on the prohibitory Index in 1790 (Lea, History vol. 3, pp. 545-548).

To cite this essay:

Vose, Robin. “Introduction to inquisition censorship documents.” Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. University of Notre Dame, 2010. <>