The Original “Cancel Culture”

Way back in history, when information traveled much more slowly (and in fact, when it was compiled much more slowly than it is today), to “cancel” someone may have simply involved “not re-copying the manuscripts” (which were initially created, by hand, on animal skins and later papyrus). The writings would simply disappear on their own.

Some time later, “canceling” someone involved things like cutting out tongues or cutting off fingers and hands. Yes, the Roman Catholic Church did this. See the story of poor “Greek antipope John XVI (997–998), who, unfortunately for him, did not die from the removal of his eyes, nose, lips, tongue and hands” (from Eamon Duffy, “Saints and Sinners”, a history of the papacy, p. 104).

Later versions of “Cancel Culture” were perfected by the Medieval Roman Catholic Church, “which had enshrined such a practice for centuries.”

In describing how we have come to know about the genuine writings of Nestorius, for example, (long considered to be a heretic, but now not so much), Friedrich Loofs wrote, “The church of the ancient Roman Empire did not punish its heretics merely by deposition, condemnation, banishment and various deprivation of rights, but, with the purpose of shielding its believers against poisonous influence, it destroyed all heretical writings … a similar fortune was prepared for Nestorius.” (Loofs, “Nestorius,” 2-11)”.

Here is a selection from one of my early blog articles on Roman Catholicism, entitled “On the repression of information in the pursuit of an agenda”, which featured the following account from the English historian of the period, Patrick Collinson:

In 1543 a little book was published in Venice with the title “Trattato utilissimo del beneficio di Giesu Christo crocifisso i cristianin” (A Most Useful Treatise on the Merits of Jesus Christ Crucified for Christians), written by an elusive Benedictine monk called Benedetto da Mantova (dates of birth and death unknown, but his surname seems to have been Fontanino) with some help from the humanist and poet Marcantonio Flaminio (1498-1550), a popular work of piety that was translated into several languages ….

[T]he “Beneficio” … proves to have been made up from a number of transalpine Protestant texts, and especially the 1539 edition of Calvin’s Institutes. Whether or not Benedetto had come across Calvin in his monastery on the slopes of Mount Etna, which seems unlikely, the Institutes was known to Flaminio.

It is hard to distinguish between the theology of the Beneficio and Protestantism. “Man can never do good works unless he first know himself to be justified by faith.” Other scholars insist, however, that the Beneficio is an expression of Evangelism, a movement that was not generated by Protestantism and should be distinguished from it.

What is certain is that the Beneficio was placed on the Index [of forbidden books] and so successfully repressed by the Roman Inquisition that of the many thousands of copies of the Italian edition that were once in existence only one is known to survive, discovered in the library of a Cambridge college in the nineteenth century. That sort of successful repression was the Counter-Reformation. (“The Reformation, a History”, Patrick Collinson, (c) 2003, New York: The Modern Library (Random House edition), pgs. 105-106.)

George Orwell wrote, in “1984”, “If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say this or that even, it never happened—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.” (Book 1, Chapter 3).

Orwell’s “Big Brother”, and today’s “Cancel Culturists” both, have learned this lesson well, from the practices of Roman Catholic Church. If we are to retain a culture of true freedom in our day, we must resist such a practice mightily.