Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Not Destroyed After All

One of the ironic bits I've observed about the history of the Roman Catholic Church is that popes who take the name of Innocent are the worst. It's almost as if many of them knew ahead of time that they were going to do awful stuff, so they chose a name that they imagined might preemptively absolve them of guilt.

In 1679 Pope Innocent XI ordered all copies of a book of theology written by a Spanish Jesuit destroyed. The book was titled Varia Opuscula Theologica, and history does not record the precise reason for the Pope's order. Fortunately for modern scholars, one copy of the book seems to have survived and found its way to a British bookstore. The book is written in Latin and in poor condition, but it still appears to be readable.

The decrepit copy of “Varia Opuscula Theologica” (“Various Theological Brochures”) by Doctoris Francisco Suarez, written in Latin, contains a stamp that indicates it was once held in a Rome library, Caters News Agency reported.

The book — priced at $740 on rare books website Abe Books — was donated to the Oxfam Bookshop in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. “All of the Suarez books were burned, but this obviously survived,” said store manager Tom Cotton. “It is in Latin and is very obscure. It looks like it came from one of the famous Catholic colleges in Rome.”

Experts have yet to fully examine or translate the book, but once they do it will be interesting to see exactly what Suarez wrote that prompted Innocent XI to ban his work. I'll be watching for that story and keep you all posted if and when it circulates. Regardless of the book's contents, it's a significant find that sheds light on the actions of the seventeenth-century church.

According to what I was able to find, in the late 1600's Innocent XI banned the works of theologians including Suarez over their use of casuistry - case-based reasoning, much like that employed in modern legal disputes - as a basis for theological arguments. The pope believed that casuistry led to "laxist morals," so it may simply be that Suarez was too good at rules-lawyering for Innocent to handle.

UPDATE: No translation is available yet, but the book has now been scanned and can be viewed on Google Books here. So if you can read the Latin, go for it!

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