Cervantes, Don Quixote, Inquisition, Index of Banned Books, Index of Prohibited Books, Juan de Borja, turtle, Erasmus, Adagia


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An Encounter with the Inquisition

Don Quixote, II. 36 and Sancho’s Whipping

© Studiolum, 22-6-2005


Sancho’s Whipping (II.71)
R. Golding, after the drawing of Robert Smirke (1752 – 1845)

The Penitence of Don Quixote in Sierra Morena (I.25)
Francis Englehart, after the drawing of Robert Smirke.

In this episode Don Quixote does not act at all "in a lukewarm and halfhearted way" (Grossman, 697), since to Sancho’s observation on the absence of motives for such penitence, the knight answers: "Therein lies the virtue responded Don Quixoteand the excellence of my enterprise, for a knight errant deserves neither glory nor thanks if he goes mad for a reason: the great achievement is to lose one’s reason for no reason, and to let my lady know that if I can do this wthout cause, what should I not do if there were cause?" (English translation by Edith Grossman, Don Quixote. A New Translation by Edith Grossman. New York: HarperCollins, 2003, p. 194).

Authors who have written on topics closely related to this passage from Don Quixote include:

• Castro, Américo, «Cervantes y la Inquisición», in Hacia Cervantes, Madrid: Taurus, 1967, 213-221.

• Descouzis [1972]: Descouzis, Paul Marcel, «C. y San Pablo, con la iglesia hemos dado, Sancho (Q., 2.ª P., c. IX)», Anales Cervantinos, XI (1972), pp. 33-57.

• López Navío, José, «Sobre la frase de la duquesa: “las obras de caridad hechas floja y tibiamente” (DQ, II, 36)», Anales Cervantinos, IX (1961-1962), 97-112.

• Márquez, A., «La Inquisición y Cervantes», Anthropos, 98-99 (1989), 56-58.

• Márquez, A.. Literatura e Inquisición en España, Madrid: Taurus.

• Osterc, Ludovic. El “Quijote”, la Iglesia y la Inquisición, México: UNAM, 1972.

• Ricard, Robert, «Cervantes et l’Inquisition Portugaise», Les Lettres Romanes, 17 [2] 1963, 167-170.

• Ricard, Robert, «Sur deux phrases de Cervantes (Don Quichotte, I, 7 et II, 36)», Les Lettres Romanes, 17 (1963), 159-167.

• Rodríguez Marín, F. «Cervantes y la Inquisición», en su ed. del Quijote (Madrid, 1928), vol. VII, appendix 31, 333-338.


In the year in which we celebrate the fourth centenary of the publication of the first part of Don Quixote (1605) we believe that this brief note may help to elucidate a passage that has always raised questions for critics. The text in question is found in chapter 36 of the Second Part (1615) and it is one of the few explicitly expurgated by the Inquisition.

The following day, the duchess asked Sancho if he had begun the task of the penance he was obliged to perform in order to disenchant Dulcinea. He said yes, that very night he had given himself five lashes. The duchess asked what implement he had used to administer them. He responded that he had used his hand.
  – That replied the duchess is more like slapping than flogging. It seems to me that the wise Merlin will not be satisfied with so much gentleness. And that it will be necessary for our good Sancho to use a whip with metal points or a cat-o’-nine-tails, something he can feel, because a good teacher never spares the rod, and the freedom of so great a lady as Dulcinea cannot be gotten cheaply, and at so little cost; and be advised, Sancho, that works of charity performed in a lukewarm and halfhearted way have no merit and are worth nothing.
  (Grossman translation, p. 697)

The problem lies in the final phrase: "and be advised, Sancho, that works of charity performed in a lukewarm and halfhearted way have no merit and are worth nothing". In 1616, the Valencia edition by Patricio Mey suppressed it suddenly, without an overt prohibition by the Inquisition until 1632. In that year indeed, in the Índice expurgatorio of Cardenal Zapata, on page 905, he orders that the phrase be erased from all editions, but without clarifying why. Somewhat surprised, Francisco Rodríguez Marín concluded a brief study entitled "Cervantes y la Inquisición" by confessing: "no acierto a explicarme en qué pecó Cervantes para que mandaran borrar en su libro un concepto que de San Pablo acá viene corriendo como verdad palmaria" [I am unable to explain what sin Cervantes may have committed that led to the order of erasing from his book a concept that was so common from Saint Paul on that it came to constitute a self-evident truth] (p. 338). Thus, Rodríguez Marín’s aticle gathered together a series of similar affirmations from the pen of authors such as Francisco de Osuna, Bernardino de Laredo, Alonso de Orozco, Jerónimo Gracián, etc., that refer to Christian charity, but which had no problems with inquisitorial censorship. But Rodríguez Marín forces his argument a bit, since all of these quotes, as he himself notes in his conclusion, deal principally with charity according to Saint Paul’s sentence in the First Epistle to the Corinthians 13.3: "et si distribuero in cibos pauperum omnes facultates meas et si tradidero corpus meum ut ardeam caritatem autem non habuero nihil mihi prodest" ("And if I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing"). That is to say, they point out that good deeds done without the Christian virtue of charity are of no use for future life, and they do not touch on what appears to us to be the crux of the affirmation by Cervantes’s duchess: the condemnation of acting "in a lukewarm and halfhearted way" in matters of Christian praxis.

We will leave without comment the question of the irony involved in applying a theological subtelty to the lashings that Sancho must inflict upon himself in order to disenchant Dulcinea, even though Cervantes is surely playing entirely upon it. On this point we agree with Américo Castro:

No creo que Cervantes tuviera ninguna intención complicada al escribir la frase que tan peligrosa juzgó el Santo Oficio; el que se encuentre en el Quijote está, sin embargo, de acuerdo con el carácter íntimo y antivulgar del cristianismo de Cervantes, con el hecho de su predilección por el Apóstol San Pablo y con el abolengo erasmista de su religiosidad. (Hacia Cervantes, 219)

[I do not believe that Cervantes had any complicated intention when he wrote this phrase that the Holy Office adjudged so dangerous; the fact that it is found in Don Quixote is, nevertheless, in accordance with the intimate and anti-commonplace nature of Cervantes’s Christianity, and with his love for the Apostle Saint Paul and with the Erasmist lineage of his religiousness.]

But neither can Américo Castro offer any other reason for the prohibition of the phrase beyond "the distant hint of illuminism rose up before Cardinal Zapata, and he then took action with a zeal that in 1632 strikes us as being somewhat retrospective" (218-219). It would be one more instance of the Catholic reticence in the face of the interiority of individual conscience, inferior in value to external and material deeds, which generate an immediate public consensus. Thus the Inquisition would have seen in this redundant literalness (like that employed in the famous sonnet to the tomb of Phillp II in Seville), crafted in a phrase devoid of any dogmatic loopholes, an irony that it would be best to eliminate.

And indeed, we can add that the Sessio VII del of the Council of Trent developed explicitly as the center of Christian faith the need for action, affirming that faith without works is invalid, and pure desire or will that is not acted upon is not sufficient. This point seems to be a cause for constant reflection by Cervantes. It is at the heart of the construction of the character of Don Quixote, of course. But it recurs throughout the work (as well as in his pastoral romance, La Galatea, III, f. 127). To cite just one example, in chapter 50 of the First Part. Don Quixote, caged in a cart, utters a long and beautiful speech on the excellence of books of chivalry. In his impeded condition, he winds up lamenting that in his current circumstances he is unable to put into practice his ideals and good intentions; although he winds up saying:

I think that with the valor of my arm, and heaven favoring me, and fortune not opposing me, in a few days I shall find myself the king of some kingdom where I can display the gratitude and liberality of my heart. For by my faith, Señor, the poor man is incapable of displaying the vittue of liberality with anyone, even if he possesses it to the greatest degree, and gratitude that consists of nothing more than desire is a dead thing, as faith without works is dead… (Grossman, p. 430).

The direct quote from the second epistle of St. James is clear ("...et fides sine operibus mortua est" 17 and 26). And the very literalness does not conceal an ironic seed and an intention that also misma literalidad no oculta un germen irónico y una intención que también – just as in the previous example – could have been perceived by the Inquisition. Especially if, as is pointed out in a note in the edition by Francisco Rico, the context of Don Quixote’s phrase contradicts the sentence of the Glossa ordinaria of II Corinthians, IX, 7: "large dat qui affectum largiendi habet, et si nihil habeat quod largiri possit" (cit. Volumen Complementario, 418).

Then, why is it that the Inquisition took umbrage only with this phrase from Don Quixote II, 36?

Perhaps we can arrive at the solution if we keep in mind that Cervantes, familiar with the Adagia of Erasmus, and surely an avid reader of the Empresas morales by Juan de Borja (the first part of which, let us not forget, was published in 1581), recalled the concentrated words of the latter author, that carry forth the rich tradition that we have commented in our Silva 1. We need to refer to this reading in order to fully appreciate the intuition that we we are expousing here. The recollection that Cervantes appears to have of Borja’s phrase ("es mucho peor, y de mayor inconveniente, el proceder floja y tibiamente en lo que se emprende que si del todo se dexasse de hacer" [it is much worse, and of greater inconvenience, to proceed in a lukewarm and halfhearted way in that which one undertakes, than if it is left totally undone]) leads, as we have seen in the aforementioned Silva, directly to an adage commented on by Erasmus. In the same sense of the dialectic between will and action, and the need to undertake actions decisively and without vacillation. And so readers and censors of refined sensibilities were able to capture this.

And now a final question would be: why then, did Borja escape offical censorship? There does not appear to be an easy answer. The Empresas morales, a work that was not widely disseminated in 1581, may simply have escaped the notice of the Inquisition in its first edition, published in Prague, and by 1632 it was already too late to apply to the book that "retrospective zeal" of the inquisitor Zapata. And then, in 1681, when the second edition came out in Brussels, the texts of Erasmus were no longer subject to such minute quibbles.

In any event, we believe that the indisputable similarity of enunciation of the texts of Juan de Borja and of Cervantes, should not escape the attention of critics of Don Quixote.


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