The Vatican has a history of opposition to Encyclopedias published outside its control, and that was revealed when it moved quickly to suppress a major volume compiled by learned French Encyclopedist, Denis Diderot (1713-83).¹ The Vatican was appalled, for his Encyclopèdie, published in 1759, stood in violent opposition to its claims, supported with powerful references from leaked records from the Secret Vatican Archives that revealed the Gospel personage of Jesus Christ had no relation with reality. An outraged Pope Clement XIII (1758-69) exclaimed that ‘with forty pages against Christianity it is among the boldest book ever known, worse even than Rousseau’s Emile and Febronius‘s vilifications’. Thereupon, Clement XIII ordered:
The said book is impious, scandalous, bold, and full of blasphemies and calumnies against the Christian religion. These volumes are so much more dangerous and reprehensible as they are written in French and in the most seductive style. The author of this book, who has the boldness to sign his name to it, should be arrested as soon as possible. It is important that justice should make an example, with all severity, both of the author and those who have shared in printing or distributing such a book.²
Accordingly, later in 1759, the Vatican ordered all volumes to be burned, prohibited their sale, and decreed arrest for Diderot should he ever enter Rome.³ His Encyclopèdie was listed on the Vatican’s infamous Index of Prohibited Books, and a ban of excommunication was pronounced on anybody who should read it. Later, in 1764, Diderot learnt with great disappointment that his publisher, Andre Le Breton, had, under instructions ‘from a team of priests’, eliminated ‘compromising evidence’ from the corrected proof sheets of ten folio volumes of a scheduled reprint his Encyclopèdie.4 However, many of his earlier versions exist today, and are held by rare book collectors and libraries.
¹ ‘Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church’, Cross, 1997, p. 545
² ‘Catholic Encyclopedia’, Vol. iii, p. 343, Ed. Cardinal Cardozia, published under the Imprimatur of ‘De Romano Pontiff’ (Pecci), 1897. Pecci was Pope Leo XIII (Vincenzo Gioacchino Pecci; 1810-1903)
³ ‘The Censoring of Diderot’s Encyclopedia and the Re-established Text’ (NY.1947), D. H. Gordon and N. L. Torrey; also, ‘Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church’, E. A. Livingstone, 2000, p. 191; also, ‘The Vatican Censors’, Professor Peter Elmsley (1773-1825), Principal of St. Alban’s Hall, Oxford
4 ‘The Censoring of Diderot’s Encyclopedia and the Re-established Text’ (NY.1947), D. H. Gordon and N. L. Torrey