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Ideology and Inquisition

Ideology and Inquisition: The World of the Censors in Early Mexico

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Ideology and Inquisition
    Book Description:

    This book is the first comprehensive treatment in English of the ideology and practice of the Inquisitional censors, focusing on the case of Mexico from the 1520s to the 1630s. Others have examined the effects of censorship, but Martin Nesvig employs a nontraditional approach that focuses on the inner logic of censorship in order to examine the collective mentality, ideological formation, and practical application of ideology of the censors themselves.

    Nesvig shows that censorship was not only about the regulation of books but about censorship in the broader sense as a means to regulate Catholic dogma and the content of religious thought. In Mexico, decisions regarding censorship involved considerable debate and disagreement among censors, thereby challenging the idea of the Inquisition as a monolithic institution. Once adapted to cultural circumstances in Mexico, the Inquisition and the Index produced not a weapon of intellectual terror but a flexible apparatus of control.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15603-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Note on Orthography and Names
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Horace observed that “a word once uttered can never be recalled.”¹ In 1552 the jurist Diego de Simancas—a member of the General Council of the Spanish Inquisition, bishop of Ciudad Rodrigo, hater and prosecutor of the archbishop of Toledo, Bartolomé Carranza—stole this line from Horace and concluded that “books of heretics must be sent to the fire … because they can endure for centuries and infect those that come after their publication. And while the voices of heretics can only fill a city, books can pass from region to region, from kingdom to kingdom.”² Simancas expressed a centuries-old...

  6. Part I. Theories of Inquisitional Authority

    • 1 Longue Durée Concerns
      (pp. 19-29)

      The ideological and jurisprudential origins of the concept of an Inquisition date in many ways to the patristic Church, though the formal development of the Inquisition as a specially delegated tribunal had specific origins in the thirteenth century. As early as the third century, patristic thinkers like Tertullian were writing extensively on questions of the doctrine and the need to create a coherent orthodoxy. Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome were the most noted polemicists of the patristic Church, promoting an orthodox doctrine as it related to various heresies—that is, the rejection of an officially established article of truth—and heterodox...

    • 2 Medieval and Early Modern Precedents
      (pp. 30-64)

      The theory of censorship and of ecclesiastical censure cannot be separated from the theorization of heresy, Inquisition, and ecclesiology. To order an Inquisition was to censure, and censorship of books was only an extension of the fundamental concept and justification of the Inquisition, which was to stamp out heresy. In the collective mentality of inquisitors and censors, two principal metaphors expressed the dangers of heresy, heretical ideas, and the need for censorship: cancer and pearls before swine. With virtually no exception, theologians, jurists and inquisitional theorists viewed heresy as a virus—indeed, a cancer, a spreading evil which threatened to...

    • 3 Theories of Adjudication
      (pp. 65-90)

      “The Pope is not lord of the whole world,” concluded the Dominican holder of the prime chair of theology at the University of Salamanca, Francisco de Vitoria.¹ On his return to Spain in 1523 after more than a decade in Paris (during which he earned a doctorate in theology) he was responsible for the introduction of the study of Aquinas into the theology faculty in Salamanca and the invigoration of neoscholastic discussions of contemporary ethical concerns associated with the School of Salamanca.² Vitoria argued in his discussion “On the Power of the Church,” as he would do in his discussions...

  7. Part II. Practice of Censure in Mexico

    • 4 The Salamanca Connection
      (pp. 93-103)

      On August 13, 1521, Hernán Cortés entered a nearly destroyed Tenochtitlan as the undisputed victor in a horrific battle for dominance of the Valley of Mexico. His victory came about as a result of his combined use of technology, allying with the force of the enemies of the Mexicas, strategy, and the advantage of germs in a months-long siege in which some estimate that close to half the city of two hundred thousand died of epidemic disease. The military conquest of Mexico would not be matched necessarily by immediate “spiritual conquest,” but the plan for conversion began immediately. Cortés called...

    • 5 The Early Inquisitions, 1525–71
      (pp. 104-133)

      Before the establishment of a formal, central tribunal of the Inquisition in Mexico in 1571, friars, bishops, diocesan councils, and delegated inquisitors vied for ecclesiastical authority in the Indies. In some cases, Inquisitions operated parallel to each other. In others jurisdictional conflicts boiled over into full-scale administrative wars. Overall, the period from 1492, the year of Columbus’s arrival, to 1521, which saw the fall of Tenochtitlan, to 1571, when the Mexican Inquisition was established, was characterized, in the assessment of Miguel Ángel González, by “jurisdictional disintegration.”¹ Others, like José Toribio Medina, refer to this period as the “primitive American Inquisition.”²...

    • 6 The Holy Office Established, 1571–90
      (pp. 134-163)

      In 1569 an assembly was convened in the Council of the Indies to discuss the restructuring of the administration of the overseas holdings of the Spanish empire. As part of this change the Council of the Indies recommended the establishment of independent tribunals of the Holy Office for Lima and Mexico. The result was that the Suprema commissioned the jurist Moya de Contreras as inquisitor general and Juan de Cervantes and Alfonso Fernández Bonilla as prosecutors (fiscales).¹ In November 1571 the formal tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition was physically established in Mexico. Unlike the previous diocesan Inquisitions...

    • 7 The Ebb of the Holy Office, 1591–1640
      (pp. 164-198)

      In 1607 a farmer from Lisbon living in Mexico, Francisco Gómez, was accused of making suspect statements which were reviewed by the inquisitors in Mexico City. According to various testimonies, Gómez was in the countryside and on his way home when he engaged in a conversation with several men. In the course of the conversation he said, “Whoever does not fornicate in this lifetime will be fornicated by the devil in hell.”¹ Heresy? Blasphemy? Earlier censors like Ledesma would likely have seen this as worthy of punishment and possibly as heretical, since in the statement Gómez implied that fornication was...

  8. Part III. Censors and Their Worlds

    • 8 Lucre and Connections
      (pp. 201-225)

      From the Mexican Inquisition’s inception in the 1520s until its (temporary) decline in the 1620s and 1630s the nature of theologians and censors as a group shifted considerably. During the diocesan Inquisitions prior to 1571 and in the early years of the Holy Office in the 1570s, friar-inquisitors and censors came from the ecclesiastical elite. They were often hidalgos, frequently became bishops, and were highly educated theologians near the apex of intellectual power of New Spain. They may have suffered a political setback in 1571 and in the decades that followed, when the inquisitors were drawn from the legal profession...

    • 9 Cordon Sanitaire: Efforts and Failures of Book Censorship
      (pp. 226-246)

      On the afternoon of June 24, 1610, the feast of the birth of Saint John the Baptist, after rumors of an impromptu auto de fe, the cathedral bell rang ostentatiously to indicate that something important was about to happen in Mexico-Tenochtitlan. Shopkeepers grumbled at the interruption to business but also perked up their ears, knowing there would be a spectacle. The Franciscans wondered whether the Dominicans had again found cause to invade their libraries or chastise one of their liberal confreres. The inquisitor himself, accompanied by his bailiff and his Jesuit chargé d’affaires, solemnly exited the cathedral into the Zócalo....

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 247-256)

    Jurists and theologians considered the control of transregional book movement and the regulation of reading to be extremely important components of the spiritual health of the faithful and of the Church itself. Likewise, the concerns about incursion, infection, and doctrinal movement were central to inquisitional censure. On one level this discourse was abstruse and theoretical, as in the work of Aquinas and Castro, or specific, as in the inquisitional instructions. On another level this discourse was translated into the prosecutorial activity of the Inquisition and codified in the Index itself. Yet if the theorization of the inherent connections between heresy,...

  10. Appendix 1: Inquisitional Trials
    (pp. 257-260)
  11. Appendix 2: Censors
    (pp. 261-273)
  12. Appendix 3: Inquisitors
    (pp. 274-276)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 277-318)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 319-346)
  15. Index
    (pp. 347-366)