Index Librorum Prohibitorum  

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Illustration: Index Librorum Prohibitorum ("List of Prohibited Books") of the Catholic Church.

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Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Ashbee)

The Index Librorum Prohibitorum ("List of Prohibited Books") is a list of publications which the Catholic Church censored for being a danger to itself and the faith of its members. Pre-publication censorship was encouraged.

The final (20th) edition appeared in 1948, and it was formally abolished on 14 June 1966 by Pope Paul VI.

A first version (the Pauline Index) was promulgated by Pope Paul IV in 1559, and a revised and somewhat relaxed form (the Tridentine Index) was authorized at the Council of Trent.

The avowed aim of the list was to protect the faith and morals of the faithful by preventing the reading of immoral books or works containing theological errors. Books thought to contain such errors included some scientific works by leading astronomers such as Johannes Kepler's Epitome astronomiae Copernicianae, which was on the Index from 1621 to 1835. The various editions of the Index also contained the rules of the Church relating to the reading, selling and pre-emptive censorship of books. Canon law still requires that works intended to be published as in conformity with Church teaching on matters of faith or morals must obtain the nihil obstat ("nothing forbids") of an official censor (also the imprimi potest of a religious superior if the author is a member of a religious order and the book is on questions of religion or morals) and then Imprimatur ("let it be printed") of the author's bishop or of the bishop of the place of publication, when are then printed in the book, usually on the reverse of the title page.

However, some of the scientific works on the Index (e.g. on the foundations of cosmology) are now routinely taught at Catholic universities worldwide. Giordano Bruno, whose works were on the Index, now has a monument in Rome at the place where he was burned alive at the stake. The writings of Maria Valtorta that were on the Index have since received an imprimatur from a Roman Catholic bishop. Mary Faustina Kowalska, who was on the Index, has since been declared a saint.

The History

The first list of that kind was not published in Rome, but in the Netherlands (1529). Venice and Paris followed this example (1543 and 1551). The first Roman Index was the work of Pope Paul IV (1557, 1559). The work of the censors was considered too severe and, after the Council of Trent had remodeled the church legislation on the prohibition of books, Pope Pius IV promulgated in 1564 the so called Tridentine Index, the basis of all later lists until Pope Leo XIII, in 1897, published his Index Leonianus. The very first lists were the work of the Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church (the Holy Office, later the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).

In 1571 a special congregation was erected, the Sacred Congregation of the Index, which had the specific task to investigate those writings that were denounced in Rome as being not exempt of errors, to update the list of Pope Pius IV regularly and also to make lists of corrections in case a writing was not in itself damnable but only in need of correction and put on the list with a mitigating clause (e.g., donec corrigatur (forbidden if not corrected) or donec expurgetur (forbidden if not purged)). This sometimes resulted in very long lists of corrections, published in the Index Expurgatorius. Prohibitions made by other congregations (mostly the Holy Office) were simply passed on to the Congregation of the Index, where the final decrees were drafted and made public, after approval of the Pope (who always had the possibility to condemn an author personally—only a few examples, such as Lamennais and Hermes). The Congregation of the Index was abolished in 1917, when the rules on the reading of books were again reelaborated in the new Codex Iuris Canonici. From that date on the Holy Office (again) took care of the index.

The Index was regularly updated until the 1948 edition. This 32nd edition contained 4,000 titles censored for various reasons: heresy, moral deficiency, sexual explicitness, and so on. Among the notable writers on the list were Desiderius Erasmus, Edward Gibbon, Giordano Bruno, Laurence Sterne, Voltaire, Daniel Defoe, Nicolaus Copernicus, Honoré de Balzac, Jean-Paul Sartre, Nikos Kazantzakis, as well as the Dutch sexologist Theodoor Hendrik van de Velde, author of the sex manual The Perfect Marriage. A complete list of the authors and writings present in the subsequent editions of the index are listed in J. Martinez de Bujanda, Index librorum prohibitorum, 1600-1966, Geneva, 2002. Almost every modern Western philosopher was, or is, included on the list — even those that believed in God, such as Descartes, Kant, Berkeley, Malebranche, Lamennais and Gioberti. That some atheists, such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, are not included is due to the general (Tridentine) rule that heretical works (i.e., works that contradict Catholic dogma) are ipso facto forbidden. Some important works are absent simply because nobody bothered to denounce them.

Many actions of the congregations were of a definite political content. In 1926, the Action Française magazine, espousing far-right French causes, was put on the Index. Alfred Rosenberg’s Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts (The Myth of the Twentieth Century) and his An die Dunkelmänner unserer Zeit: eine Antwort auf die Angriffe gegen den "Mythus des 20. Jahrhundert" (Regarding The Dark Men of Our Time: an Answer to the Problems against the "Myth of the Twentieth Century"), were condemned by decrees of February 7, 1934 and of July 17, 1935 respectively. Ernst Bergmann's Die deutsche Nationalkirche (The German National Church) and his Die natürliche Geistlehre (Natural Spirit Teachings), by decrees of February 7 1934 and November 17, 1937. Hitler's Mein Kampf was not placed on the Index, however, as censors continually postponed and eventually terminated its examination [1] [2].

The Index's effects were felt throughout much of the Catholic world. From Quebec to Poland it was, for many years, very difficult to find copies of banned works, especially outside of major cities. The Index as an official list having force of law was abolished in 1966 under Pope Paul VI, following the end of the Second Vatican Council and largely due to practical considerations. However, the moral obligation of not circulating or reading those writings which endanger faith and morals, was reaffirmed in 1966 - Notification by Congregation for Doctrine of Faith: "This Congregation for Doctrine of Faith (...) says that its index keeps its moral value (...) in the sense that it is asking to the conscience of the faithful (...) to be on guard against the written materials that can put the faith and good conduct in danger" - Signed Alfredo card. Ottaviani, June 14th 1966).

Some notable writers on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum

See also




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