Index Librorum Prohibitorum  

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"[Ashbee's Index Librorum Prohibitorum was a] "jocular echo of the Roman Catholic Index."--The Secret Museum (1987) by Walter Kendrick

This page Index Librorum Prohibitorum is part of the mores series. Illustration: Index Librorum Prohibitorum of the Catholic Church.
This page Index Librorum Prohibitorum is part of the mores series.
Illustration: Index Librorum Prohibitorum of the Catholic Church.

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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

Article from the EB1911

INDEX LIBRORUM PROHIBITORUM, the title of the official list of those books which on doctrinal or moral grounds the Roman Catholic Church authoritatively forbids the members of her communion to read or to possess, irrespective of works forbidden by the general rules on the subject. Most govern- ments, whether civil or ecclesiastical, have at all times in one way or another acted on the general principle that some control may and ought to be exercised over the literature circulated among those under their jurisdiction. If we set aside the heretical books condemned by the early councils, the earliest known instance of a list of proscribed books being issued with the authority of a bishop of Rome is the Notitia librorum apocry- phorum qui non recipiuntur, the first redaction of which, by Pope Gelasius (494), was subsequently amplified on several occasions. The document is for the most part an enumeration of such apocryphal works as by their titles might be supposed to be part of Holy Scripture (the " Acts " of Philip, Thomas and Peter, and the Gospels of Thaddaeus, Matthias, Peter, James the Less and others). 1 Subsequent pontiffs continued to exhort the episcopate and the whole body of the faithful to be on their guard against heretical writings, whether old or new; and one of the functions of the Inquisition when it was estab- lished was to exercise a rigid censorship over books put in circula- tion. The majority of the condemnations were at that time of a specially theological character. With the discovery of the art of printing, and the wide and cheap diffusion of all sorts of books which ensued, the need for new precautions against heresy and immorality in literature made itself felt, and more than one pope (Sixtus IV. in 1479 and Alexander VI. in 1501) gave special directions to the archbishops of Cologne, Mainz, Trier and Magdeburg regarding the growing abuses of the printing press; in 1515 the Lateran council formulated the decree De Impressione Librorum, which required that no work should be printed without previous examination by the proper ecclesiastical authority, the penalty of unlicensed printing being excommunica- tion of the culprit, and confiscation and destruction of the books. The council of Trent in its fourth session, 8th April 1546, forbade the sale or possession of any anonymous religious book which had not previously been seen and approved by the ordinary; in the same year the university of Louvain, at the command of Charles V., prepared an " Index " of pernicious and forbidden books, a second edition of which appeared in 1550. In 1557, and again in 1559, Pope Paul IV., through the Inquisition at Rome, published what may be regarded as the first Roman Index in the modern ecclesiastical use of that term (Index auctorum et librorum qui tanquam haeretici aut suspecti aut perversi ab Officio S. R. Inquisitionis reprobanlur et in universa Christiana republica interdicuntur). In this we find the three

'Hardouin, Cone. ii. 940; Labbe', Cone. ii. 938-941. The whole document has also been reprinted in Smith's Diet, of Chr. Antiq., art. " Prohibited Books."

classes which were to be maintained in the Trent Index: authors condemned with all their writings; prohibited books, the authors of which are known; pernicious books by anonymous authors. An excessively severe general condemnation was applied to all anonymous books published since 1519; and a list of sixty-two printers of heretical books was appended. This excessive rigour was mitigated in 1561. At the i8th session of the council of Trent (26th February 1562), in consideration of the great increase in the number of suspect and pernicious books,.and also of the inefficacy of the many previous " censures " which had proceeded from the provinces and from Rome itself, eighteen fathers with a certain number of theologians were appointed to inquire into these " censures," and to consider what ought to be done in the circumstances. At the 25th session (4th December 1 563) this committee of the council was reported to have completed its work, but as the subject did not seem (on account of the great number and variety of the books) to admit of being properly discussed by the council, the result of its labours was handed over to the pope (Pius IV.) to deal with as he should think proper. In the following March accordingly were published, with papal approval, the Index librorum prohibi- torum, which continued to be reprinted and brought down to date, and the " Ten Rules " which, supplemented and explained by Clement VIII., Sixtus V., Alexander VII., and finally by Benedict XIV. (loth July 1753), regulated the matter until the pontificate of Leo XIII. The business of condemning pernicious books and of correcting the Index to date has been since the time of Pope Sixtus V. in the hands of the " Congregation of the Index," which consists of several cardinals, one of whom is the prefect, and more or less numerous " consultors " and " examiners of books." An attempt has been made to publish separately the Index Librorum Expurgandorum or Expur- gatorius, a catalogue of the works which may be read after the deletion or amending of specified passages; but this was soon abandoned.

With the alteration of social conditions, however, the Rules of Trent ceased to be entirely applicable. Their application to publications which had no concern with morals or religion was no longer conceivable; and, finally, the penalties called for modification. Already, at the Vatican Council, several bishops had submitted requests for a reform of the Index, but the Council was not able to deal with the question. The reform was accom- plished by Leo XIII., who, on the 25th of January 1897, published the constitution Officiorum, in 49 articles. In this constitution, although the writings of heretics in support of heresy are con- demned as before (No. i), those of their books which contain nothing against Catholic doctrine or which treat other subjects are permitted (Nos. 2-3). Editions of the text of the Scriptures are permitted for purposes of study; translations of the Bible into the vulgar tongue have to be approved, while those published by non-Catholics are permitted for the use of scholars (Nos. 5-8). Obscene books are forbidden; the classics, however, are author- ized for educational purposes (Nos. 9-10). Articles 11-14 forbid books which outrage God and sacred things, books which propagate magic and superstition, and books which are pernicious to society. The ecclesiastical laws relating to sacred images, to indulgences, and to liturgical books and books of devotion are maintained (Nos. 15-20). Articles 21-22 condemn immoral and irreligious newspapers, and forbid writers to contribute to them. Articles 23-26 deal with permissions to read prohibited books; these are given by the bishop in particular cases, and in the ordinary course by the Congregation of the Index. In the second part of the constitution the pope deals with the censorship of books. After indicating the official publications for which the authorization of the divers Roman congregations is required, he goes on to say that the others are amenable to the ordinary of the editor and, in the case of regulars, to their superior (Nos. 30-37). The examination of the books is entrusted to censors, who have to study them without prejudice; if their report is favourable, the bishop gives the imprimatur (Nos. 38-40). All books concerned with the religious sciences and with ethics are submitted to preliminary censorship, and in.

addition to this ecclesiastics have to obtain a personal authoriza- tion for all their books and for the acceptance of the editorship of a periodical (Nos. 41-42). The penalty of excommunication ipso facto is only maintained for reading books written by heretics or apostates in defence of heresy, or books condemned by name under pain of excommunication by pontifical letters (not by decrees of the Index). By the same constitu- tion Leo XIII. ordered the revision of the catalogue of the Index. The new Index, which omits works anterior to 1600 as well as a great number of others included in the old catalogue, appeared in 1900. The encyclical Pascendi of Gius X. (8th September 1907) made it obligatory for periodicals amenable to the ecclesiastical authority to be submitted to a censor, who sub- sequently makes useful observations. The legislation of Leo XIII. resulted in the better observance of the rules for the publi- cation of books, but apparently did not modify the practice as re- gards the reading of prohibited books. It is to be regretted that the catalogue does not discriminate among the prohibited works according to the motive of their condemnation and the danger ascribed to reading them. The tendency of the practice among Catholics at large is to reduce these condemnations to the proportions of the moral law.

See H. Reusch, Der Index der verbotenen Bücher (Bonn, 1883); A. Arndt, De Libris prohibitis commentarii (Ratisbon, 1895); A. Boudinhon, La Nouvelle Legislation de I'index (Paris, 1899); J. Hilgers, Der Index der verbotenen Biicher (Freiburg in B., 1904); A. Vermeersch, De prohibition et censura librorum (Tournai, 1907) ; T. Hurley, Commentary on the Present Index Legislation (Dublin, 1908). (A. Bo.*)

See also

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