Index Librorum Prohibitorum

It’s Banned Books Week here in the United States. So we librarians across the country are doing cool outreach activities with challenged books. It’s always fun, too, to see what books have been banned or challenged in the past year. (Why is it always a Sherman Alexie book?)

In celebration of Banned Books Week, I’m going to debrief on one of the most prominent lists of banned books in the West – the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

Back in the 9th century, the Catholic Church developed the Decretem Glasianum, which was a list of literature that “good” Catholics should not read.  The Decretem Glasianum was never authorized though.  In 1559, the Pauline Index officially started banning books. There were 20 editions from 1559 to 1948.  But it wasn’t until 1966 that Pope Paul VI abolished the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

The Index was meant to protect the faithful from heretical and immoral texts.  Still, canon law recommends that local ordinaries okay books, though no books are prohibited in the generalized and sweeping manner as when the Index Librorum Prohibitorum existed.

It’s kind of cool to look at what got banned.  Most recently, it was Simone de Beauvoir. I see a few more “favorites” on the list too – Jean-Paul Satre, Emile Zola, Gustave Flaubert, Voltaire (doesn’t surprise me a whit), and John Milton.

The Index is a cool historical artifact, that I geek out over every time Banned Books Week comes around.  For example, look at this title page!

Index Librorum Prohibitorum
By Papal printing – “Panorama de la Renaissance” Margaret Aston, Public Domain.
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