In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Censorship and the Index in the Roman and Iberian Inquisitions

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Renaissance and Reformation Censorship and the Index in the Roman and Iberian Inquisitions
Christopher F. Black
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0280


This article is primarily concerned with censorship in Italy and Iberia as conducted by Church authorities and as governed by Indexes of Prohibited Books. References are made also to some studies of censorship in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies. Political or secular censorship remains marginal in this listing, though, given that the Iberian Inquisitions were essentially departments of state, the censorship was more closely interconnected. This article treats in subdivided listings Italy as one area and Iberia with the colonies as another. Spain and Portugal were ruled by the same king from 1580 to 1640 (when Portugal sought to break away and conflict ensued for some time). While the Inquisitions retained some autonomy, interconnections did exist as well as an overarching political input. The colonies had varying relations with the mother country, Peru being more autonomous than New Spain (greater Mexico), and Goa was ruled under limited control from Portugal. The Italian scene predominates in this article, both because the author’s research has focus here and because the opening up of the Holy Office archive, especially from 1998—the Archivio della Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede (ACDF) as now called—has generated much beneficial research. This archive contains material generated by the Congregation of the Holy Office and the Congregation of the Index of Prohibited Books (created in 1571 as an offshoot of the former). The two congregations had an overlapping membership among the cardinals, but they did not necessarily work harmoniously. The Holy Office was more concerned with overall policies and pre-publication censorship along with the Master of the Sacred Palace, who had a longer standing role in censorship dating from the early 16th century. The Congregation of the Index was more concerned with post-publication censorship, with expurgation issues, and with seeking out prohibited books. All Inquisitions issued Indexes of Prohibited Books under central control of the papacy, Congregations, the Suprema, or the Crown, but local indexes and lists were produced by individual cities as well. The Iberian Inquisitions initially had their own indexes that did not take their lead from the papal indexes; rather, they considered French ones. However, Portugal issued its last Index of Prohibited Books in 1624, and, after the break with Spain in 1640, the country followed the Roman indexes. Control over the implementation of indexes, of pre-publication licensing, and of expurgation varied considerably between Inquisition systems and within them according to geographical and political realities. In Italy, concern was raised in the 16th century over theological books imported from the Germanic lands, but the main worries were over production by the Italian presses. Iberia had a less vital printing industry; thus, foreign importation, whether from Italy, France, or the Netherlands, attracted more attention. The religious and political authorities in the colonies were even more intent that subversive theology and immoral fiction should never succeed in crossing the Atlantic.

General Overviews

Studies of the Inquisitions and censorship tend to concentrate on the main geopolitical areas or states, with limited discussion of comparisons. Bethencourt 2009 attempts a global study of the inquisitions, and it provides some sense of comparisons. As with other aspects of this author’s book, he is less involved with the Italian scene and censorship there than with the Iberian and colonial worlds. Some specialists on Spain argue that censorship there proved more detrimental to scientific knowledge and “modernization” than in Italy. Black 2017 is a quick comparative guide to aspects of the three Inquisitions, which brings out diversities between and within them, which affect censorship issues; but the discussion is not particularly concerned with censorship. See also the section General Impact.

  • Bethencourt, Francisco. The Inquisition: A Global History, 1478–1834. Translated by Jean Birrell. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    The translation marginally updates a 1995 French original, L’inquisition à l’époque moderne (Paris: Fayard) without benefiting directly from the 1998 opening of ACDF. Includes quick guides to censorship under papal and Iberian systems. Suggests that, in Spain and Portugal, visitations of bookshops and libraries seem to have been more intense than in Italy.

  • Black, Christopher F. “Local Contexts and Regional Variations: Inquisitions.” In Judging Faith, Punishing Sin. Inquisitions and Consistories in the Early Modern World. Edited by Charles H. Parker and Gretchen Starr-Lebeau, 28–39. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781316492659.003

    A quick guide comparing procedural aspects of the Spanish, Portuguese, and Roman Inquisitions, stressing differences between and within them according to state organization, local politics, and the degree of challenge from episcopal authorities. Limited documentation was allowed by the publisher.

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