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date: 19 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The Index librorum prohibitorum, first issued in 1559, the Roman Catholic Church’s official effort to ban certain books, is often contrasted with John Milton’s Areopagitica, so often claimed the foundational text of a modern notion of freedom of expression. But the opposition is more a function of a modern desire than of historical fact. The two texts do not so much display this reassuring opposition as their unnerving similarity. This article examines and attempts to undo some of the oppositions that have structured most of the scholarly discussion on the subject of censorship: Catholic versus Protestant, state versus individual, repression versus freedom. All of these play their role in an undeniably appealing history of liberty and toleration, but it is not a history that has much purchase in early modern England, as may be shown by a consideration of the efforts of the Church and authorities in England to prevent the circulation of what they called “naughty printed books.”

Keywords: Index librorum prohibitorum, Roman Catholic Church, John Milton, Areopagitica, freedom of expression, censorship, heresy, naughty printed books, England

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