Banned Science and Philosophy Books

[This is taken From P.H. Ditchfield's Books Fatal to Their Authors.]

 Bishop Virgil—Roger Bacon—Galileo—Jordano Bruno—Thomas Campanella—De Lisle de Sales—Denis Diderot—
Balthazar Bekker—Isaac de la Peyrere—Abbe de Marolles—Lucilio Vanini—Jean Rousseau.

Science in its infancy found many powerful opponents, who, not understanding the nature of the newly-born babe, strove to strangle it.  But the infant grew into a healthy child in spite of its cruel stepmother, and cried so loudly and talked so strangely that the world was forced to listen to its utterances. These were regarded with distrust and aversion by the theologians of the day, for they were supposed to be in opposition to Revelation, and contrary to the received opinions of all learned and pious people. Therefore Science met with very severe treatment; its followers were persecuted with relentless vehemence, and “blasphemous fables” and “dangerous deceits” were the only epithets which could characterize its doctrines.

The controversy between Religion and Science still rages, in spite of the declaration of Professor Huxley that in his opinion the conflict between the two is entirely factitious. But theologians are wiser now than they were in the days of Galileo; they are waiting to see what the scientists can prove, and then, when the various hypotheses are shown to be true, it will be time enough to reconcile the verities of the Faith with the facts of Science.

To those who believed that the earth was flat it was somewhat startling to be told that there were antipodes. This elementary truth of cosmology Bishop Virgil of Salzbourg was courageous enough to assert as early as A.D. 764. He wrote a book in which he stated that men of another race, not sprung from Adam, lived in the world beneath our feet. This work aroused the anger of Pope Zacharias II, who wrote to the King of Bavaria that Virgil should be expelled from the temple of God and the Church, and deprived of God and the Church, and deprived of his office, unless he confessed his perverse errors. In spite of the censure and sentence of excommunication pronounced upon him, Bishop Virgil was canonised by Pope Gregory XI.; thus, in spite of his misfortunes brought about by his book, his memory was revered and honoured by the Western Church.

If the account of his imprisonment be true (of which there is no contemporary evidence) our own celebrated English philosopher, Roger Bacon, is one of the earliest scientific authors whose works proved fatal to them. In 1267 he sent his book, Opus Majus, together with his Opus Minus, an abridgement of his former work, to Pope Clement IV. After the death of that Pope Bacon was cited by the General of the Franciscan order, to which he belonged, to appear before his judges at Paris, where he was condemned to imprisonment. He is said to have languished in the dungeon fourteen years, and, worn out by his sufferings, to have died in his beloved Oxford during the year of his release, 1292. The charge of magic was freely brought against him. His great work, which has been termed “the Encyclopaedia and the Novum Organum of the thirteenth century,” discloses an unfettered mind and judgment far in advance of the spirit of the age in which he lived. In addition to this he wrote Compendium Philosophiae, De mirabili Potestate artis et naturae, Specula mathematica, Speculum alchemicum, and other works.

The treatment which Galileo received at the hands of the ecclesiastics of his day is well known. This father of experimental philosophy was born at Pisa in 1564, and at the age of twenty-four years, through the favour of the Medicis, was elected Professor of Mathematics at the University of the same town. Resigning his chair in 1592, he became professor at Padua, and then at Florence. He startled the world by the publication of his first book, Sidereus Nuntius, in which he disclosed his important astronomical discoveries, amongst others the satellites of Jupiter and the spots on the sun. This directed the attention of the Inquisition to his labours, but in 1632 he published his immortal work Dialogo sopra i due Massimi Sistemi del monda, Tolemaico et Copernicano (Florence), which was the cause of his undoing. In this book he defended the opinion of Copernicus concerning the motion of the earth round the sun, which was supposed by the theologians of the day to be an opinion opposed to the teaching of Holy Scripture and subversive of all truth. The work was brought before the Inquisition at Rome, and condemned by the order of Pope Urban VIII.  Galileo was commanded to renounce his theory, but this he refused to do, and was cast into prison. “Are these then my judges?” he exclaimed when he was returning from the presence of the Inquisitors, whose ignorance astonished him. There he remained for five long years; until at length, wearied by his confinement, the squalor of the prison, and by his increasing years, he consented to recant his “heresy,” and regained his liberty. The old man lost his sight at seventy-four years of age, and died four years later in 1642. In addition to the work which caused him so great misfortunes he published Discorso e Demonstr. interna alle due nuove Scienze, Delia Scienza Meccanica (1649), Tractato della Sfera (1655); and the telescope, the isochronism of the vibrations of the pendulum, the hydrostatic balance, the thermometer, were all invented by this great leader of astronomical and scientific discoverers. Many other discoveries might have been added to these, had not his widow submitted the sage’s MSS. to her confessor, who ruthlessly destroyed all that he considered unfit for publication. Possibly he was not the best judge of such matters!

Italy also produced another unhappy philosophic writer, Jordano Bruno, who lived about the same time as Galileo, and was born at Nole in 1550, being fourteen years his senior. At an early age he acquired a great love of study and a thirst for knowledge. The Renaissance and the revival of learning had opened wide the gates of knowledge, and there were many eager faces crowding around the doors, many longing to enter the fair Paradise and explore the far-extending vistas which met their gaze. It was an age of anxious and eager inquiry; the torpor of the last centuries had passed away; and a new world of discovery, with spring-like freshness, dawned upon the sight. Jordano Bruno was one of these zealous students of the sixteenth century. We see him first in a Dominican convent, but the old-world scholasticism had no charms for him. The narrow groove of the cloister was irksome to his freedom-loving soul. He cast off his monkish garb, and wandered through Europe as a knight-errant of philosophy, multum ille et terris jactatus et alto, teaching letters. In 1580 we find him at Geneva conferring with Calvin and Beza, but Calvinism did not commend itself to his philosophic mind. Thence he journeyed to Paris, where in 1582 he produced one of his more important works, De umbris idearum. Soon afterwards he came to London, where he became the intimate friend of Sir Philip Sidney. Here he wrote the work which proved fatal to him, entitled Spaccio della bestia triomphante (The expulsion of the triumphing beast) (London, 1584). [Footnote: The full title of the work is: Spaccio della bestia triomphante da giove, effetuato dal conseglo, revelato da Mercurio, recitato da sofia, udito da saulino, registrato dal nolano, divisa in tre dialogi, subdivisi in tre parti. In Parigi, 1584, in-8.] This was an allegory in which he combated superstition and satirised the errors of Rome. But in this work Bruno fell into grievous errors and dangerous atheistic deceits. He scoffed at the worship of God, declared that the books of the sacred canon were merely dreams, that Moses worked his wonders by magical art, and blasphemed the Saviour. Bruno furnished another example of those whose faith, having been at one time forced to accept dogmas bred of superstition, has been weakened and altogether destroyed when they have perceived the falseness and fallibility of that which before they deemed infallible.

But in spite of these errors Bruno’s learning was remarkable. He had an extensive knowledge of all sciences. From England he went to Germany, and lectured at Wittenberg, Prague, and Frankfort. His philosophy resembled that of Spinosa. He taught that God is the substance and life of all things, and that the universe is an immense animal, of which God is the soul.

At length he had the imprudence to return to Italy, and became a teacher at Padua. At Venice he was arrested by order of the Inquisition in 1595, and conducted to Rome, where, after an imprisonment of two years, in order that he might be punished as gently as possible without the shedding of blood, he was sentenced to be burned alive. With a courage worthy of a philosopher, he exclaimed to his merciless judges, “You pronounce sentence upon me with greater fear than I receive it.” Bruno’s other great works were Della causa, principio e uno (1584), De infinito universo et mundis (1584), De monade numero et figura (Francfort, 1591).

The Inquisition at Rome at this period was particularly active in its endeavours to reform errant philosophers, and Bruno was by no means the only victim who felt its power. Thomas Campanella, born in Calabria, in Italy, A.D. 1568, conceived the design of reforming philosophy about the same time as our more celebrated Bacon. This was a task too great for his strength, nor did he receive much encouragement from the existing powers.  He attacked scholasticism with much vigour, and censured the philosophy of Aristotle, the admired of the schoolmen. He wrote a work entitled Philosophia sensibus demonstrata, in which he defended the ideas of Telesio, who explained the laws of nature as founded upon two principles, the heat of the sun and the coldness of the earth. He declared that all our knowledge was derived from sensation, and that all parts of the earth were endowed with feeling. Campanella also wrote Prodromus philosophiae instaurandae (1617); Philosophia rationalis, embracing grammar, dialectics, rhetoric, poetry, and history; Universalis Philosophatus, a treatise on metaphysics; Civitas solis, a description of a kind of Utopia, after the fashion of Plato’s Republic. But the fatal book which caused his woes was his Atheismus triumphatus. On account of this work he was cast into prison, and endured so much misery that we can scarcely bear to think of his tortures and sufferings. For twenty-five years he endured all the squalor and horrors of a mediaeval dungeon; through thirty-five hours he was “questioned” with such exceeding cruelty that all his veins and arteries were so drawn and stretched by the rack that the blood could not flow. Yet he bore all this terrible agony with a brave spirit, and did not utter a cry. Various causes have been assigned for the severity of this torture inflicted on poor Campanella. Some attribute it to the malice of the scholastic philosophers, whom he had offended by his works. Others say that he was engaged in some treasonable conspiracy to betray the kingdom of Naples to the Spaniards; but it is probable that his Atheismus triumphatus was the chief cause of his woes. Sorbiere has thus passed judgment upon this fatal book: “Though nothing is dearer to me than time, the loss of which grieves me sorely, I confess that I have lost both oil and labour in reading the empty book of an empty monk, Thomas Campanella. It is a farrago of vanities, has no order, many obscurities, and perpetual barbarisms. One thing I have learned in wandering through this book, that I will never read another book of this author, even if I could spare the time.”

Authorities differ with regard to the ultimate fate of this author. Some say that he was killed in prison in 1599; others declare that he was released and fled to France, where he enjoyed a pension granted to him by Richelieu. However, during his incarceration he continued his studies, and wrote a work concerning the Spanish monarchy which was translated from Italian into German and Latin. In spite of his learning he made many enemies by his arrogance; and his restless and ambitious spirit carried him into enterprises which were outside the proper sphere of his philosophy. In this he followed the example of many other luckless authors, to whom the advice of the homely proverb would have been valuable which states that “a shoemaker should stick to his last.”

The book entitled De la Philosophie de la Nature, ou Traite de morale pour l’espece humaine, tire de la philosophie et fonde sur la nature (Paris, Saillant et Nyon, 1769, 6 vols., in-12), has a curious history.  It inflicted punishment not only on its author, De Lisle de Sales, but also on two learned censors of books who approved its contents, the Abbe Chretien and M. Lebas, the bookseller Saillant, and two of its printers.  De Lisle was sent to prison, but the severity of the punishment aroused popular indignation, and his journey to gaol resembled a triumph. All the learned *men of Paris visited the imprisoned philosopher. All the sentences were reversed by the Parliament of Paris in 1777. This book has often been reproduced and translated in other languages. De Lisle was exposed to the persecutions of the Reign of Terror, and another work of his, entitled Eponine, caused him a second term of imprisonment, from which he was released when the terrible reign of anarchy, lasting eighteen months, ended.

The industrious philosopher Denis Diderot wrote Lettres sur les Aveugles a l’usage de ceux qui voient (1749, in-12). There were “those who saw” and were not blind to its defects, and proceeded to incarcerate Diderot in the Castle of Vincennes, where he remained six months, and where he perceived that this little correction was necessary to cure him of his philosophical folly. He was a very prolific writer, and subsequently with D’Alembert edited the first French Encyclopaedia (1751-1772, 17 vols.).  This was supposed to contain statements antagonistic to the Government and to Religion, and its authors and booksellers and their assistants were all sent to the Bastille. Chambers’ Cyclopaedia had existed in England some years before a similar work was attempted in France, and the idea was first started by an Englishman, John Mills. This man was ingeniously defrauded of the work, which owed its conception and execution entirely to him. Perhaps on the whole he might have been congratulated, as he escaped the Bastille, to which the appropriators of his work were consigned.

An author who dares to combat the popular superstitious beliefs current in his time often suffers in consequence of his courage, as Balthazar Bekker discovered to his cost. This writer was born in West Friezland in 1634, and died at Amsterdam in 1698. He was a pastor of the Reformed Church of Holland, and resided during the greater part of his life at Amsterdam, where he produced his earlier work Recherches sur les Cometes (1683), in which he combated the popular belief in the malign influence of comets.  This work was followed a few years later by his more famous book De Betoverde Weereld, or The Enchanted World, [Footnote: Le Monde enchante, ou Examen des sentimens touchant les esprits, traduit du flamand en francais (Amsterdam, 1694, 4 vols., in-l2). One Benjamin Binet wrote a refutation, entitled Traite historique des Dieux et des Demons du paganisme, avec des remarques sur le systeme de Balthazar Bekker (Delft, 1696, in-l2).] in which he refuted the vulgar notions with regard to demoniacal possession. This work created a great excitement amongst the Hollanders, and in two months no less than four thousand copies were sold.  But, unfortunately for the author, it aroused the indignation of the theologians of the Reformed Church, who condemned it, deprived Bekker of his office, and expelled him from their communion. Bekker died shortly after his sentence had been pronounced. A great variety of opinions have been expressed concerning this book. Bekker was a follower of Descartes, and this was sufficient to condemn him in the eyes of many of the theologians of the day. The Jansenists of Port-Royal and the divines of the old National Church of Holland were vehement opponents of Cartesianism; consequently we find M.S. de Vries of Utrecht declaring that this fatal book caused more evil in the space of two months than all the priests could prevent in twenty years. Another writer states that it is an illustrious work, and full of wisdom and learning. When Bekker was deposed from his office, his adversaries caused a medal to be struck representing the devil clad in a priestly robe, riding on an ass, and carrying a trophy in his right hand; which was intended to signify that Bekker had been overcome in his attempt to disprove demoniacal possession, and that the devil had conquered in the assembly of divines who pronounced sentence on Bekker’s book. The author was supposed to resemble Satan in the ugliness of his appearance. Another coin was struck in honour of our author: on one side is shown the figure of Bekker clad in his priestly robe; and on the other is seen Hercules with his club, with this inscription, Opus virtutis veritatisque triumphat. Bekker also wrote a catechism, entitled La Nourriture des Parfaits (1670), which so offended the authorities of the Reformed Church that its use was publicly prohibited by the sound of bells.

The science of ethnology has also had its victims, and one Isaac de la Peyrere suffered for its sake. His fatal book was one entitled Praeadamitae, sive exercitatio super versibus xii., xiii., xiv., capitis v., epistolae divi Pauli ad romanos. Quibus inducuntur primi homines ante Adamum conditi (1655, in-12), in which he advocated a theory that the earth had been peopled by a race which existed before Adam. The author was born at Bordeaux in 1592, and served with the Prince of Conde; but, in spite of his protector, he was imprisoned at Brussels, and his book was burnt at Paris, in 1655. This work had a salutary effect on the indefatigable translator Abbe de Marolles, who with extraordinary energy, but with little skill, was in the habit of translating the classical works, and almost anything that he could lay his hands upon. He published no less than seventy volumes, and at last turned his attention to the sacred Scriptures, translating them with notes. In the latter he inserted extracts and reflections from the above-mentioned book by Peyrere, which caused a sudden cessation of his labours. By the authority of the Pope the printing of his works was suddenly stopped, but probably the loss which the world incurred was not very great. Peyrere seems to have foretold the fate of his book and his own escape in the following line:--

Parve, nec invideo, sine me, liber, ibis in ignem.

Lucilio Vanini, born in 1585, was an Italian philosopher, learned in medicine, astronomy, theology, and philosophy, who, after the fashion of the scholars of the age, roamed from country to country, like the knight-errants of the days of chivalry, seeking for glory and honours, not by the sword, but by learning. This Vanini was a somewhat vain and ridiculous person. Not content with his Christian name Lucilio, he assumed the grandiloquent and high-sounding cognomen of Julius Caesar, wishing to attach to himself some of the glory of the illustrious founder of the Roman empire. As the proud Roman declared Veni, Vidi, Vici, so would he carry on the same victorious career, subduing all rival philosophers by the power of his eloquence and learning. He visited Naples, wandered through France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and England, and finally stationed himself in France, first at Lyons, and then in a convent at Toulouse. At Lyons he produced his famous and fatal book, Amphitheatrum aeternae providentiae divino-magicum Christiano-Physicum, nec non Astrologo-Catholicum (Lugduni, 1616). It was published with the royal assent, but afterwards brought upon its author the charge of Atheism. He concealed the poison most carefully; for apparently he defended the belief in the Divine Providence and in the immortality of the soul, but with consummate skill and subtilty he taught that which he pretended to refute, and led his readers to see the force of the arguments against the Faith of which he posed as a champion. By a weak and feeble defence, by foolish arguments and ridiculous reasoning, he secretly exposed the whole Christian religion to ridicule.

But if any doubts were left whether this was done designedly or unintentionally, they were dispelled by his second work, De admirandis naturae reginae deaeque mortalium arcanis (Paris, 1616), which, published in the form of sixty dialogues, contained many profane statements. In this work also he adopted his previous plan of pretending to demolish the arguments against the Faith, while he secretly sought to establish them. He says that he had wandered through Europe fighting against the Atheists wherever he met with them. He describes his disputations with them, carefully recording all their arguments; he concludes each dialogue by saying that he reduced the Atheists to silence, but with strange modesty he does not inform his readers what reasonings he used, and practically leaves the carefully drawn up atheistical arguments unanswered. The Inquisition did not approve of this subtle method of teaching Atheism, and ordered him to be confined in prison, and then to be burned alive. This sentence was carried out at Toulouse in 1619, in spite of his protestations of innocence, and the arguments which he brought forward before his judges to prove the existence of God. Some have tried to free Vanini from the charge of Atheism, but there is abundant evidence of his guilt apart from his books.  The tender mercies of the Inquisition were cruel, and could not allow so notable a victim to escape their vengeance. Whether to burn a man is the surest way to convert him, is a question open to argument. Vanini disguised his insidious teaching carefully, but it required a thick veil to deceive the eyes of Inquisitors, who were wonderfully clever in spying out heresy, and sometimes thought they had discovered it even when it was not there. Vanini and many other authors would have been wiser if they had not committed their ideas to writing, and contented themselves with words only. Litera scripta manet; and disguise it, twist it, explain it, as you will, there it stands, a witness for your acquittal or your condemnation. This thought stays the course of the most restless pen, though the racks and fires of the Inquisition no longer threaten the incautious scribe.

We must not omit a French philosopher who died just before the outbreak of the First French Revolution, Jean Jacques Rousseau. It is well known that his work Emile, ou de l’Education, par J.J. Rousseau, Citoyen de Geneve (a Amsterdam, 1762, 4 vols., in-12), obliged him to fly from France and Switzerland, in both of which countries he was adjudged to prison. For many years he passed a wandering, anxious life, ever imagining that his best friends wished to betray him. Of his virtues and failings as an author, or of the vast influence he exercised over the minds of his countrymen, it is needless to write. This has already been done by many authors in many works.





Copyright © D. J. McAdam· All Rights Reserved