Little Bits of History

June 14

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 14, 2017

1966: The Index Librorum Prohibitorum or List of Prohibited Books is abolished. The Roman Catholic Church had maintained a list of books no good Catholic should read from as early as the 9th century. The first list was created then, but never officially authorized. Decretem Glasianum gave way to the Pauline Index first published in 1559 by Pope Paul IV. The invention of the movable type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440 changed the way books were published. Handwritten copies of books were rare and kept in a small number of libraries. But with mass production possible, more books came to print and were dispersed among the general citizens. After about 100 years of continual growth of books and literacy, both the Church and European governments tried to regulate or control printing.

The Protestant Reformation helped to spur on many new works and the texts were often in direct opposition to the Catholic Church. This was the area of texts the Pope was concerned about. Governments had different concerns and both entities tried to control what could be printed and where it could be sold. Government tried to control who could have the presses and they issued licenses for the right to trade or print books. England and France were both concerned with ideas spread via the printed words and tried to stop the output. The Church had less access to this method of control and so began printing lists of books banned to the faithful. Even so, the first Indexes did not come from Rome. The first came from the Dutch (1529) and the next was from Venice (1543) which was followed by Paris (1551).

By the middle of the century, religious wars were waged in Germany and France and the ideas spread by the written words were quickly found in the hands of rebels. It was deemed by those in charge, that controlling the presses was imperative to their continued existence. The first Roman Index was issued in 1557 with a new edition in 1559 banning the entire works of about 550 authors as well as some individual titles. The censors were seen as being too restrictive, even within the intelligentsia of the Catholic Church. A new list came out in 1564 and was the basis for later texts even up to 1897.

Some Protestant scholars were blacklisted by the Catholic Church as well as some ideas that might be outside dogma as presented by the Church. Special dispensation could be granted so scholars could read the banned works. The last edition was published in 1948. It was the 20th edition and had about 4,000 titles included. Heresy and sexual explicitness could land a work on the list. Atheists could be blacklisted. Pope Pius VI brought the practice to an end. Good Christians still need to be wary of heretical topics, but they can no longer be punished by ecclesiastical law.

Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world. – Malala Yousafzai

There is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and the tired man who wants a book to read. – Gilbert K. Chesterton

Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image, but thee who destroys a good book, kills reason its self. – John Milton

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. – Oscar Wilde