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  • Roman Thought Police and Early-Modern Astrology
  • J. L. Heilbron (bio)
Monica Azzolini. The Duke and the Stars. Astrology and Politics in Renaissance Milan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013. xiii + 370pp, b&w figures, general index.
Ugo Baldini and Leen Spruit, eds. Catholic Church and Modern Science: Documents from the Archives of the Roman Congregations of the Holy Office and the Index - 16th Century Documents 4 volumes. Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2009. xli + 3380pp., b&w ill., name index. Fontes Archivi Sancti Officii Romani, series Archivi Congregationis pro Doctrina Fidei, 5.
Fabrizio Bònoli, Giuseppe Bezza, Salvo de Meis, and Cinzia Colarita. I prognostici di Domenico Maria Novara. Florence: Olschki, 2012. vii + 317pp., b&w figures, name index.
Mary Quinlan-McGrath. Influences. Art, Optics, and Astrology in the Italian Renaissance. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2013. xi + 284pp., b&w ill., color plates, general index.

The Roman Inquisition against Heretical Depravity, also known as the Holy Office (HO), established in 1542, and the Congregation of the Index of Prohibited Books (CI), announced officially in 1572, undertook to protect Italy from ideas and practices that menaced the authority of the Roman Catholic Church in this world and the salvation of its members in the next. This grandiose public-health program required trained and dedicated thought police to receive and evaluate alarms from the public and, when business was bad, to seek out sources of infection themselves. The resultant records of accusations, investigations, trials, condemnations, expurgations, and exceptions, if extant in its entirety, would go far to fill the nave of St. Peter’s. Time has so withered the records, however, that it is now practical to consider a printed edition of all the documents pertaining more or less to natural knowledge created by the HO and the CI from their establishment in [End Page 228] the sixteenth century to the suppression of papal government by Napoleon in 1808.

1. The Police Records

The inquisitorial records among which Ugo Baldini and his collaborators have selected documents related to “science” represent only a fraction of the paper created by the HO. Many records disappeared in the destruction of its offices by a Roman mob in 1559. Others it burnt itself to prevent their capture by invaders. The greatest loss occurred during the removal of the HO’s papers to Paris by Napoleon and their subsequent return to Rome. The papal agent charged with repatriation sold off many tons as waste paper to help pay the transportation costs of the rest. Additional losses occurred during the Italian political crises of the nineteenth century. The seriously depleted archive of the HO and the largely intact records of the CI now reside in the Archive of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Although the CI’s papers suffered far fewer depredations than the HO’s, they amount in bulk to only a twelfth of the 610 running meters of material from which Baldini and his collaborators have chosen their documents.

The selection criteria though vague are judicious. Baldini applied neither the meaning of scientia at the time the documents were produced nor that of “science” in our own time, but a combination and mutual limitation of both. The result is the inclusion of all science in the modern sense, pure and mixed mathematics, general physics, psychology, natural theology, biblical exegesis, chronology, astrology, natural magic, and divination. Here an important distinction in the jurisdictions of the Holy Office and the Congregation of the Index is useful. Although both could prohibit books, the HO attended to people, the CI to written material. Consequently, Catholic Church and modern science presents most of its documents as files devoted to individuals. The files vary in size from an item or two to the 79 documents, covering 440 pages, dealing with Girolamo Cardano. In the laborious years of transcribing and checking the documents, Baldini had the collaboration of Leen Spruit. But the concept and design of the project and the necessary negotiations with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), who presided over the Archive of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when the project began, were the work of Baldini.

The four volumes of Baldini and Spruit contain much...


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