Index Expurgatorius

Index Librorum Prohibitorum

[in-deks-lahy-brawr-uhm proh-hib-i-tawr-uhm, -brohr-uhm proh-hib-i-tohr-, lee-]
The Index Librorum Prohibitorum ("List of Prohibited Books") was a list of publications prohibited by the Roman Catholic Church. In a first version (the Pauline Index) it was promulgated by Pope Paul IV in 1559; in a revised and somewhat relaxed form (the Tridentine Index authorized at the Council of Trent) it remained in force until it was abolished on June 14, 1966 by Pope Paul VI. The promulgation of the Index marked the "turning-point in the freedom of enquiry" in the Catholic world.

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, although it also contained scientific works by leading astronomers such as Johannes Kepler. The various editions also contained the rules of the Church relating to the reading, selling and censorship of books. Manuscripts that passed inspection by official readers were printed with nihil obstat ("nothing forbids") or Imprimatur ("let it be printed") on the title page.

However, some of the scientific works on the Index (e.g. foundations of cosmology) are now routinely taught at Catholic universities worldwide, scientists whose works were on the index now have monuments built for them in Rome exactly where they were burned alive at the stake, some items banned by the Index on theological grounds have since received imprimaturs from Roman Catholic bishops, and some authors who were on the Index have since been declared as saints, signifying the loss of relevance of the Index in the 21st century.


Early indexes (1529—1571)

The first list of the kind was not published in Rome, but in Roman Catholic Netherlands (1529). Venice (1543) and Paris (1551, under the terms of the Edict of Châteaubriant) followed this example. By mid-century, in the tense atmosphere of wars of religion in Germany and France, both Protestant and Catholic authorities realised that only control of the press coordinated between Church and State could prevent the spread of heresy. The first Roman Index, produced in 1559 under the direction of Pope Paul IV (1557-1559), banned the entire works of some 550 authors in addition to the individual proscribed titles: "The Pauline Index felt that the religious convictions of an author contaminated all his writing. The work of the censors was considered too severe and met with much opposition even in Catholic intellectual circles; after the Council of Trent had authorised a revised list prepared under Pope Pius IV, the so-called Tridentine Index was promulgated in 1564; it remained 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 (later the Holy Office, now the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).

The blacklisting of Protestant scholars even when writing on subjects a modern reader would consider outside the realm of dogma meant that obedient Catholic thinkers were denied access to the botanist Conrad Gesner's Historiae animalium or the botanical works of Otto Brunfels, those of the medical scholar Janus Cornarius, to Christoph Hegendorff or Johann Oldendorp on the theory of law, Protestant geographers and cosmographers like Jacob Ziegler or Sebastian Münster, or anything by Philipp Melancthon.

Sacred Congregation of the Index (1571—1917)

In 1571 a special congregation was created, 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.

Holy Office (1917—1966)

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. That some atheists, such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, were not included was 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.

Abolishment (1966)

The Index was abolished on June 14th 1966 by Pope Paul VI, and the Congregation for Doctrine of Faith ceased its publication following the end of the Second Vatican Council. The Index is now suppressed and is no longer enforceable under canonical law. Some sources list the abolishment of the Index as the last step in the Timeline of the Inquisition.

Scope and impact

Censorship and enforcement

The Index was not simply a reactive work. Roman Catholic authors had the opportunity to defend their writings and could prepare a new edition with the necessary corrections or elisions, either to avoid or to limit a ban. Pre-publication censorship was encouraged; self-censorship, however, was incalculable.

The effects of the Index were at times felt throughout much of the Roman 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, however, had little effect outside Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland or Bohemia, as it lacked an effective means of enforcement. The inability of the Church in Rome to enforce the banning of works by authors such as Kepler resulted in their availability in northern Europe, allowing Kepler's work to be used as the foundation for Isaac Newton's theory of universal gravitation, which significantly influenced the formation of modern physics.

Moral continuation

Some theologians argue that the Index is not repudiated nor condemned, despite its abolishment. This view of the remaining moral obligation of not circulating or reading those writings was stated by Cardinal Ottaviani in 1966, in the same document - Notification by Congregation for Doctrine of Faith: "This Congregation for Doctrine of Faith (...) reaffirms that its Index retains its moral value (...) in the sense that it is appealing to the conscience of the faithful (...) to be on their guard against written materials that can put faith and good conduct in danger" - Signed Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, June 14, 1966).

It should be noted that Cardinal Ottaviani, who signed the decree to suppress the Index, was one of the most conservative members of the College of Cardinals at the time, and had himself previously arranged for a number of works (including those of Saint Faustina Kowalska) to be placed on the Index soon after Pope John XXIII took office in 1959.

In a letter in January 1985 to the Archbishop of Genoa regarding the book Poem of the Man God, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) also stated that the Index still retains some moral value "for the more unprepared faithful". However, Cardinal Ratzinger did not address the issue of whether university students are permitted to read books on science and philosophy by authors such as Kepler, Descartes or Sartre which were on the Index but are now routinely used in courses in most universities.

Multimedia issues

As its title implies, the Index only dealt with the censorship of printed matter and did not deal with objectionable material in media such as film. As the motion picture industry started to gather momentum in the United states in the 1930s, the Catholic Legion of Decency was formed by American bishops. Its aim was to both warn Catholics about objectionable movies and to impose a form of self-censorship on the movie industry.

The legion wielded significant influence over Hollywood studios and in 2001 was incorporated into the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It continues to issue ratings to date.

Modern day irrelevance

Since the Index was abolished in 1966, the overall number of published books in the world in multiple languages has increased dramatically.And the moral standards by which items were judged has shifted by significant margins. The Index thus includes a very small fraction of the possibly objectionable material (sexual, scientific or theological) that is available in the multimedia world of the 21st century. For instance, while the Index prohibits the works of a few authors such as D. H. Lawrence on the grounds of sexual offensiveness, that number is truly negligable compared to the huge volume of pornography available at the end of the 20th century.

On the scientific front, the material from some the books on the Index (e.g. basics of astronomy) are routinely taught at most universities (even Catholic universities) in the world. Hence the very ideas for which Giordano Bruno was burned alive at the stake in Campo de' Fiori in Rome in the year 1600 now form part of the foundations of modern cosmology Yet, possibly objectionable material on human cloning is not on the Index. The Index has thus lost scientific relevance in the modern world, as the quest for forbidden knowledge has continued.

From a theological perspective, some of the works that were on the Index have since received imprimaturs from Roman Catholic Bishops. E.g. the works of Maria Valtorta that were put on the Index by Cardinal Ottaviani in 1959 now bear the imprimatur of Bishop Roman Danylak, a Canon of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

Listed works and authors

A number of authors and intellectuals whose works are widely read today in most leading universities and are now considered as the foundations of science were listed on the Index, e.g. Kepler's New Astronomy, his Epitome of Copernican Astronomy, and his World Harmony were quickly placed on the Index after their publication. Other examples of noteworthy intellectuals and religious figures on the Index include Jean Paul Sartre, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke, Galileo Galilei, Blaise Pascal and Saint Faustina Kowalska.

Some books were added to the Index by the Holy Office during the reign of one Pope after they had reportedly received verbal papal approval from the previous Pope. An example is the book Poem of the Man God which received praise from Pope Pius XII's confessor, and was presented to Pius XII during a special audience in 1948 in which he reportedly approved of it, and the Servite priests present signed an affidavit to that effect. But Cardinal Ottaviani at the Holy Office ordered the Servite priests to total silence in 1948 and waited over 10 years to add the book to the Index soon after the death of Pius XII.

However, some authors whose views are generally unacceptable to the Church (e.g. Charles Darwin, Karl Marx or Hitler) were never put on the Index.

See also


External links

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