The Holy Office in the Republic of Letters

Frontispiece of Harmonia Macrocosmica
Frontispiece of Harmonia Macrocosmica
  • Article
  • 23 pages
  • Level: university

This 2019 article by Daniel Stolzenberg, published in the history of science journal Isis, discusses the treatment of the Copernican theory by Roman officials in the decades after Galileo’s death, as seen in the case of the 1660 book Harmonia Macrocosmica by Andreas Cellarius and its review by Fr. Athanasius Kircher, S. J.  Stolzenberg argues for a reading of the of role of the Holy Office that is different from the usual one (where it is thought of as only serving to hinder the creation and communication of knowledge).  The abstract of “The Holy Office in the Republic of Letters: Roman Censorship, Dutch Atlases, and the European Information Order, circa 1660” is as follows:

This essay reconstructs the story of hidden collaborations between the Amsterdam bookseller Johannes Janssonius and the Roman Inquisition in 1660. It provides evidence that the papacy tacitly permitted the circulation of an explicitly Copernican book at a surprisingly early date and that the Protestant publisher was eager to curry favor with the Holy Office by secretly submitting texts to Catholic censorship. Building on recent scholarship that depicts Catholic censors as mediators between the Church and Italian authors, the essay argues that, in the second half of the seventeenth century, they came to play a similar role in an international, multiconfessional context. Censorship should not be construed merely as an external force, impeding the creation and communication of knowledge; it was an integral component of the European information order, shaping scholarship and how it moved. The Holy Office was a node in the Republic of Letters.

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