Precursors to the Creation of the Index
Lifespan of the Index
Repercussions of not Following the Index
Demise of the Index
Lifespan of the Index
The lifespan of the Index was around 400 years.
The Index began with the Inquisition under Pope Paul IV.
Pope Paul IV feared what was happening with books so he
“…authorized the first list of banned books in 1557”
(Haight and Grannis 1978, p.105). It is important to note
that the “Index should not be confused with the Index Librorum
Expurgatorius, a projected catalogue, never published, of works
allowed to be read after the deletion or amendment of specified
passages” (Craig 1963, p.18). Although both were used as tools for
censorship the focus of this paper remains on the Index Librorum
Prohibitorum. Once the Index was published people were forbidden to be in posession of
any of the books listed on it. The Church
said, “no layman may read or possess any of [the books on the list]
without special permission granted only for single books and in urgent
cases” (Craig 1963, p.18). By 1571 the Congregation of the Index was
created by Pius V. The Congregation was “…made up of certain cardinals
selected by the Pope and was charged with the work of continuing the series
of Indexes and of shaping the regulations for the prohibition and supervision
of books” (Putnam 1906, v.1 p.131). The reason for the creation of the Congregation
was given by the Pope saying:
‘In order to put a stop to the circulation of pernicious opinions, and as far
as practicable to bring certainty and protection to the faithful, it is our
desire to bring the Index of prohibited books into a condition of completeness,
so that Christians may be able to know what books it is safe for them to read and
what they must avoid, and that there may be in this matter no occasion for doubt or
question… Therefore we give to you or to the majority of your body, full authority
and powers to take action in regard to the examination and the classification of books,
and to secure for aid in such work the service of learned men, ecclesiastics and laymen,
who have knowledge of theology and of the canons; and to permit or to prohibit the use of
books so examined, all authority given by my predecessors to their bodies or individuals
for the carrying on of the work’ (Putnam 1906, v.1 p.132).
The Church and the Congregation had the best of intentions when creating the Index.
The Index was there to help
the people to prevent them from getting too close to Satan’s ways as well as to prevent
heresy. In practice, the Index turned out to censor books that
differed from the way the Church believed a person should live their life. Now that we know
how the Index was started it is important to look at what types of books made it on the list.
There needed to be rules or guidelines as to how certain books would be chosen
to be on the Index. Books that were listed on the Index had to be considered obscene
in some way. “The term ‘obscene’ covers those matters whether real or imaginative which
arouse the lower passions. However, a publication is not to be judged obscene simply if
it offends against a local convention of propriety…[rather] the obscenity must be explicit.
It must be made directly and be prominent. The latter term is currently defined as dominating
in a large section of the text, for example, a whole chapter” (Burke 1952, p. 23). Although
this was one of the guidelines, more stringent rules started appearing to help determine more
easily what books should be placed in the Index.
Books became separated into classes based on the topics they were about.
These were listed in Canon 1399 and were separated into 12 separate groups.
The 12 groups were separated into 3 main categories. They were religious books
without Catholic censorship, books against faith and books against morals. Within
the area of books without Catholic censorship there were five areas. These were
editions of the bible created by a non-Catholic source as well as notes and commentaries
published without the permission of the Catholic Church (1399:1 and 1399:5), books dealing
with new forms of devotion or new prophecies or apparitions (1399:5), approved books of
the Church that have been altered so that they no longer agree with the Church’s view (1399:10),
“books which spread a knowledge of spurious indulgences” (1399:11), and any picture of God or
the Virgin Mary which are not following the decrees of the Church (1399:12) (Burke 1952, p. 26).
Within the area of books against faith there were four areas which included “books of any writers
defending or championing heresy or schism, or attempting in any way to undermine the foundations
of religion” (1399:2), books which attack good morals and religion (1399:3), “books of any non-Catholic
writers which professedly treat of religion, unless it is certain they contain nothing contrary to the
Catholic religion” (1399:4), and “books which: a) Attack or pour ridicule on any Catholic dogma; b) Defend
errors condemned by the Holy See; c) Tend to diminish the fervor of worship; d) Seek to undermine
ecclesiastical discipline; e) Have the avowed aim of insulting the ecclesiastical hierarchy or the
clerical or religious state” (1399:6) (Burke 1952, p.26-7). Lastly, there were books against morals
which included books that teach divination, fortune telling or magic (1399:7), “books which represent
that Masonic and other similar sects are useful and not detrimental to the Church and to the State”,
and books which defend obscene matters or which defend dueling, suicide or divorce (1399:8-9)
(Burke 1952, p. 27). The Church became quite stringent with rules as time went on.
When the Index first started, all that was listed were obscene books and then it grew to
a list of 12 groups of books that were prohibited by the Catholic Church. The big question
became whether or not people actually listened to the Church and chose to not read the books.