Monday, September 28, 2015

Index of Prohibited Books

Banned Books Week 2015 is September 27th – October 3rd. In recognition of this week, the St. Catherine University Archives and Special Collections has on display copies of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books) from our rare book collections.

First published in 1559 by Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis (Vatican Polyglot Press), the Index was created to protect Catholics against Protestant error through maintaining their faith and morals. Eventually, the Index contained roughly 6,000 immoral and heretical works. The 20th and final edition was published in 1948.
Indice General de los Libros Prohibidos, 1844
Spanish version published in Madrid
Excommunication was the penalty for publishing or reading any books on the list. But St. Kate's students or faculty could request permission to study books on the Index in their courses. There are many of these letters in the Archives. The library also had to request permission to have these books, which were kept in a locked case.

Due to the publishing boom of the 1960s, the Index could not be updated as quickly as “questionable” materials were released. The last entry to the Index was added in 1961. In 1966, Pope John Paul VI concurred that the Index Librorum Prohibitorum no longer had the force of ecclesiastical law.

After the Index was abolished, the Church left what Catholics should and should not read up to their individual consciences. However, national conferences of bishops would be able to issue warnings--as distinct from bans--against specific books.

Items on display include:

  • Copies of the Index of Prohibited Books from 1844 and 1948
  • A 1960 memo from Sister Maris Stella requesting permission for students to read Madame Bovary 
  • A 1957 pamphlet on the Index put out by the National Federation for Catholic College Students
The Index is considered one of the world’s rarest books and even many Catholic college libraries didn’t have a copy by 1966. This makes our collection very rare and a reason to stop by the display!

The display will be on view now through October 11th on the main level of the St. Paul Library, in the case in front of the video carrels. Stop by to learn more!

For more information on the history of St. Catherine University, visit the Archives online or in person in Room 62 of the Library, open Monday-Friday from 9:30-4:30.

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