FREE SPEECH HISTORY TIMELINE
Dive into a timeline covering the subjects of Clear and Present Danger. The timeline will expand as we travel through the history of free speech.
Free speech history
1258: The Siege of Baghdad
Illustration, c. 1430, from Bibliothèque nationale de France (Public Domain)
The Mongols conquer Baghdad in January 29, 1258. The event causes the downfall of the ʿAbbāsids and the end of the Islamic Golden Age. The Tigris is said to run black with scholars’ ink and red with their blood. So many books from Baghdad’s library are thrown into the river that a horse can walk across them.
Episode VI: The Not so Dark Ages
In episode VI, we get Medieval! Find out why the Middle Ages were as much a period of inquisition and persecution as reason and inquiry.
Why was the famous medieval intellectual Pierre Abelard castrated, forced to burn his works, and condemned to silence by the church? How did the combination of Aristotelian philosophy and the development of universities institutionalize reason and science? What are the parallels between clashes over academic freedom in the 13th and 21st centuries? All this and much more in “Clear and Present Danger” – episode VI!
The coronatino of Charlemagne, 14th century illumination (Public Domain)
In 800 on new years eve, Charlemagne is proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor by the pope. With his court in Aachen, he revives the Latin language and rescues ancient manuscripts from oblivion.
But blasphemy is a capital crime, heretics are persecuted and heathens are converted by the sword.
According to Charlemagne’s servant and biographer Einhard:
“And at last the war, protracted through so many years, was finished on conditions proposed by the King and accepted by them; they were to abandon the worship of devils, to turn from their national ceremonies, to receive the sacraments of the Christian faith and religion, and then, joined to the Franks, to make one people with them.”
– Einhard, Vita Karoli Magni
c. 1100: The 12th century Renaissance
Winchester Cathedral from 1079 is one of the first – and largest – Gothic cathedrals in Europe (Public Domain)
Around the turn of the millennium, new farming techniques are invented. Modern historians believe the weather is getting warmer and more stable too.
The European population virtually explodes, either doubling or trebling in size between 1000 and 1300. New cities sprout up and the continent enters a period of social, intellectual and cultural transformation later known as the 12th century Renaissance.
1079-1142: Pierre Abelard
14th century miniature of Abelard and Héloïse (Public Domain)
The multitalented theologian, philosopher and poet Pierre Abelard (1079-1142) is most famous for his love affair with Héloïse. It turns platonic when Abelard is castrated by Héloïse’s uncle.
Abelard’s theology attract a fair amount of controversy too. In 1121, the synod in Soissons condemns the work Theologia for heresy and orders Abelard to burn it with his own hands. In 1141, his heretical propositions are condemned again.
Abelard dies in 1142. Supposedly, his last words are “I don’t know”.
“Constant and frequent questioning is the first key to wisdom … For through doubting we are led to inquire, and by inquiry we perceive the truth.”
– Pierre Abelard, prologue to Sic et Non (1120)
c. 1200: Birth of the European University
A congregation of doctors at the University of Paris, 16th century (Public Domain)
Europe’s first universities evolve in Paris and Bologna around 1200. Masters and students group up to form artisan guilds known as universitas magistrorum et scholarium. A few years later, the first English universities appear in Oxford and Cambridge. By 1300, Europe has 18 universities. By 1500, the number is 70.
With the university, masters of theology assume the function of heresy police. There are about 50 known cases of academically related trials in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
Around 1206, Master Amalric of Bène is found guilty of false teaching for advocating pantheism. Four years later, he is excommunicated and his followers are burned at the stake outside the gates of Paris.
But the majority of cases convict books – not persons. Most offenders are free to continue their careers if they recant their views and burn the problematic books.
1215: Magna Carta
The Magna Carta Libertatum – or Great Charter of Liberties – is signed by an unwilling King John in 1215 under pressure from rebellious barons. Declaring the liberties held by ‘free men’ and holding that the king is subject to the rule of law, the Magna Carta is a cornerstone of English liberty.
1225–1274: Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas sitting between Plato (right) and Aristotle (left). Benozzo Gozzoli: Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas, 1470-1475 (Public Domain)
St Thomas of Aquinas is one of the most influential thinkers in Medieval Europe. He sets out to reconcile Christian doctrine with ancient philosophy. His philosophical proofs for the existence of God builds on aristotelian and platonic principles.
1277: The Condemnations of Étienne Tempier
Giovanni di Paolo: St. Thomas Aquinas Confounding Averroës (1445-1450). Bishop Tempier mainly condemned the works of Aquinas and Averroës aka Ibn Rushd.
In March 1277, the Parisian bishop Étienne Tempier issues a list of 219 forbidden propositions. The list includes the notion that “happiness is found in this life, and not in another”. The Archbishop of Canterbury issues the same list.
Most of the condemned propositions revolve around the thoughts of Aristotle and Aristotelian philosophers like Thomas Aquinas, Siger of Brabant, Ibn Rushd (Averoës) and Ibn Sina (Avicenna).
C. 1287–1347: William of Ockham
The friar and philosopher William of Ockham is best known for his razor: The problem-solving principle of going with the explanation based on fewest assumptions.
In 1339 and 1340, two statutes ban Ockham’s ideas from the University of Paris’ faculty of arts.
1299-1369: Nicholas of Autrecourt
The philosopher Nicholas of Autrecourt – also known as the ‘Medieval Hume’ – is convicted of false teaching in 1346. He is sentenced to burn his works and stripped of his title as master of arts.
Episode VIII: The Hounds of God
From the High Middle Ages, Europe developed into a “persecuting society,” obsessed with stamping out the “cancer” of heresy. But questions about how this was accomplished — and the consequences of these developments — abound:
- Why did popes and secular rulers shift from persuasion to persecution of heretics?
- Why was human choice in matters of religious belief considered a mortal threat to Christendom itself?
- Why did bookish inquisitors armed with legal procedure, interrogation manuals, data and archives succeed where bloody crusades and mass slaughter failed?
- How did the “machinery of persecution” developed in the Late Middle Ages affect other minority groups such as Jews?
- Are inquisitions a thing of a past and dark hyper-religious age, or a timeless instrument with appeal to the “righteous mind” whether secular or religious?
- What are the similarities between medieval laws against heresy and modern laws against hate speech?
We try to answer these questions — and more — in episode 8 of Clear and Present Danger: The Hounds of God.
1184-1230: The Medieval Inquisition
Illustration of Lucius III from C.A. de Montor, The Lives and Times of the Popes, 1842 (Public Domain)
The ‘Medieval Inquisition’ is a series of inquisitions from the Episcopal Inquisition of 1184 to the Papal Inquisition of the 1230s.
The Episcopal Inquisition is launched by Pope Lucius III to combat the heretical Cathars and Waldensians. Both groups are excommunicated, and the pope issues a bull instructing his bishops to comb their jurisdictions for heretics twice every year.
Innocent III steps up the inquisition in 1199, making heresy equal to high treason. In 1208, the pope orders a crusade on the Cathars. Between 10-15,000 are massacred in the town of Beziers.
In 1231, Pope Gregory IX orders Dominicans in the German city of Regensburg to “seek out diligently those who are heretics or are inflamed of heresy”. An increasing number of people are burned to death in the following decade.
1415: The execution of Jan Hus
The Bohemian theologian Jan Hus is burned to death in Jena on July 6, 1415. The execution is a sign of the times to come: The number of religious executions grow rapidly in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries.
‘It will be strange if any one now escapes punishment who shall bravely resist wickedness—in particular of the priests—which doth not suffer itself to be rebuked. But I rejoice that they were compelled to read my books, in which their wickedness was revealed. I know that they have perused these books more carefully than the Holy Scriptures in their desire to discover my errors.’
– Jan Hus in a letter 9 days before his death
1478: The Spanish Inquisition
The Spanish Inquisition is initiated by Isabel of Castille and Fernando of Aragon in 1478. Around 150,000 are persecuted and 3-5,000 executed before the inquisition is called off in 1834.
1492: The Alhambra Decree
Spanish Jews pleading with Isabel, Fernando and grand inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada in a painting by Solomon A. Hart.
The Alhambra Decree issued by Fernando and Isabel expels all practising Jews from the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon and their possessions. Also known as the Edict of Expulsion, it is issued on 31 March 1492 and effective from 31 July.
Episode X: The Great Disruption Part I
The disruptive effects of the internet and social media on the spread of information are unprecedented. Or are they?
In episode 10 of Clear and Present Danger, we cover the invention, spread, and effects of Gutenberg’s printing press:
- What significance did this new technology have for the dissemination of knowledge and ideas?
- Why was the printing press instrumental in helping a German monk and scholar break the religious unity of Europe?
- What happened when new religious ideas raged through Europe like wildfire?
- And did Martin Luther’s Reformation lead to religious tolerance and freedom, or persecution and censorship?
c. 1450: Gutenberg’s printing press
Woodcut of early printing workshop (Public Domain)
The goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg (c. 1400 – 1468) sets up Europe’s first printing press in Mainz around 1448. Around 1454 he finishes his first book, the Gutenberg Bible.
In the 15th century, printing offices crop up in Bohemia, Poland, England, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and Sweden. By 1470, around 19 European cities have a printing press. By 1500, the number is 255.
The Portuguese install printing presses in Goa, Macao and Nagasaki. The Spanish set up the first American printing press in Mexico in 1539. The first Russian printing press appears in the 1560s, and the first printing press with Arabic types is installed in the Ottoman Empire in the 1720s.
1487: First censorship of the press
The first ever regulation of the printing press is implemented by Pope Innocent VIII.
According to the papal bull, Inter multiplices, all printers in Cologne are to be monitored by the local university and archbishop. The bull addresses the whole Christian world but is only effective in Cologne.