Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

The principal weapon in enforcing these regulations was the Society of Jesus, whose maxim was “If the church preaches that a thing which appears to us as white is black, we must proclaim it black immediately” — an attitude of mind which has become unpleasantly familiar to us today from another quarter of the compass. (34) Nothing conveys better than this phrase the contemptible acceptance of authoritarianism, the miserable abandonment of the faculties of judgment and initiative, the blank lack of interest in truth and learning, which characterized the Counter-Reformation. Following in the wake of the conquering Spanish armies, the Jesuits re-established the terror of the Inquisition. Paul IV enlarged its powers and instituted the index of prohibited books. Speculative enquiry became mortally dangerous. (247) In 1600 Giordano Bruno was burnt for holding, what the Greeks, Romans and Chaldeans had realized ages before, that the universe evolved. (When in 1889, a statue was erected to Bruno opposite the Vatican, the Pope seriously considered leaving Rome.) The already dead body of Archbishop Antonio de Dominis, a Dean of Windsor, was formally burnt, together with his writings on the nature of light. Galileo was tortured and imprisoned by the same man who, as Cardinal, had befriended him. Campanella was tortured seven times for defending Galileo. Descartes, whose Principia had narrowly escaped the charge of being heretical, was so discouraged by the fate of Galileo that he abandoned his plan for a magnum opus, the “Treatise on the World“. When G. P. Porta, inventor of the camera obscura, founded a society for experimental research, Pius III banned it — probably because he was the first man to write a treatise on meteorology, whereas the Church held that storms were caused by God or by witches. Once Florence had been the seat of learning and enlightenment: but here too the Church intervened, destroying the Accademia del Cimento, which Borelli had founded

“to investigate nature by the pure light of experiment”.

Papal infallibility had its set-backs, of course. In 1493, for instance, Alexander VI, on the basis of his belief that the earth was flat, drew a line on the map and ruled that all-territory east of it belonged to the Portuguese, all territory west to the Spaniards. The Portuguese promptly confounded his intention by reaching South America by the eastward route and claiming Brazil. Shortly after, Magellan circumnavigated the globe. Yet the flatness of the earth was taught for another two centuries in Catholic territories. (247)

And with all this went, as before, a display of fiendish sadism. The Renaissance tyrants had often been careless of the lives and feelings of others, but they had not gloated over suffering — as that austere fanatic Ghislieri gloated over the cruelties of Alva and urged on the persecutors of the Huguenots with a relish which had not been seen since the days of the Albigensian crusade. For this he was rewarded by canonization, an honour accorded to no Pope since his time. He was followed by Sixtus V, whom Fisher calls

“a Philistine from whose hands no ancient monument, however beautiful, was safe”;

he set poisoned dishes for bandits and delighted to watch them die. (83)