YEAR OF CONDEMNATION 07: The Index of Forbidden Books
As we continue our year-long series promoting authentic Catholic content that is particularly judgmental, exclusionary, negative, “hateful”, “bigoted”, intolerant, condemnatory, unwelcoming, dogmatic, and narrow-minded, we now turn to one of the things most feared and detested by Liberals and Modernists, and that is the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the so-called “Index of Forbidden Books”.
In a nutshell, the Index of Forbidden Books (or just “Index” for short) is a list of books that no Catholic is permitted to read or possess under pain of excommunication because the Holy See has judged them to contain particularly dangerous errors against Faith or morals. The natural law alone forbids the reading of works that present a danger to one’s Faith or morals, but the Church’s own legislation underscores the moral obligation and the seriousness of the danger. To be allowed to read a forbidden book, it was necessary to receive a dispensation from the Apostolic See.
The Index was established by Pope Paul IV in 1557 as part of an effort to regulate the Church’s censorship of books. Eleven year prior, the Council of Trent had already insisted that books on sacred matters first receive the Church’s approval before they could be published (see Session IV, Decree Concerning the Edition and the Use of Sacred Books), and of course the Church had always reserved the right to pass judgment on religious writings (e.g., Pope Vigilius’ condemnation of The Three Chapters at Constantinople II). The current regulation on the censorship of books is found in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, canons 247 n.4, 1385-1405, and 2318.
The books found on the Index are mainly individual titles, although in some cases, all of an author’s works are condemned, such as those of Giordano Bruno, Thomas Hobbes, and David Hume. The first printed edition of the Index in which the titles with their authors were listed alphabetically was published in 1664 by Pope Alexander VII. The latest printed edition of the Index, published in 1948, contains more than 5,000 titles. More were added after that, although no new complete edition was ever published. Some famous authors whose books were proscribed include Rene Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Blaise Pascal, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jonathan Swift, and Voltaire.
In keeping with the “Great Renewal” of the Second Vatican Council, Antipope Paul VI pretended to abolish the Index of Forbidden Books in the notification Post Litteras Apostolicas of June 14, 1966 (cf. Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n. 62). The Index itself was to no longer have “the force of ecclesiastical law with the attached censure”, while — wink, wink! — it “remains morally binding, in light of the demands of natural law, in so far as it admonishes the conscience of Christians to be on guard for those writings that can endanger faith and morals”! This brilliant masterstroke of Paul VI showcases the Modernist strategy of the past 50+ years: Under the guise of greater “spiritual maturity,” abolish the letter of the law while claiming to retain and uphold its spirit. Fallen human nature being what it is, people will quickly abandon even the spirit of the law once the letter has been removed (cf. Mt 5:17-18). This guarantees that the Modernist tactic will never fail — voilà!
The same happened, for example, with the abolition of Friday abstinence (i.e. no meat on Fridays). The actual decree of Paul VI said essentially that those who choose to eat meat on a Friday may do so but must substitute with another penance instead (see “Apostolic Constitution” Paenitemini, II.2, VI.1.B). Who remembers that part? No one, of course. The only thing people ever remember is that “one can now eat meat” on a Friday. The rest went under, and it will always be like that. This Modernist strategy is extremely clever because it all but guarantees success every single time it’s tried, while also retaining plausible deniability: If someone objects that discipline is being weakened, one can always point to the text and say, “No, nothing has really changed. See, right here in the text it says that another penance must be done if one wishes to enjoy meat on a Friday. The necessity of Friday penance therefore remains.” This is the kind of stuff you will hear from Jimmy Akin and the rest of the well-paid Neo-Catholic apologist gang. But the damage to souls is virtually the same, because that nitpicky detail about “substitute penance” no one really knows about, and you can bet your bottom dollar that practically no cleric in the Vatican II Church will ever emphasize that point.
Likewise with the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. “We can read whatever we want now”, is the message people got, and what we have seen in the last five decades definitely corroborates that.
Curious to see what the list of prohibited books looked like in hardcopy? The 1761 edition of the Index can be viewed here. Best of all, however, the full contents of the 1948 edition of the Index are available online, right here:
Contrary to what one might suppose, the Index is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all books that are a danger to Faith or morals. Thus, a work’s absence from the Index does not at all mean that it can therefore safely be read; rather, it simply means that its reading or possession does not incur the penalty of excommunciation. The obligation to refrain from reading what presents a threat to one’s Faith or good morals remains at all times, Index or no Index.
Many people will be surprised to find out that in the earliest days of the Novus Ordo Sect (=“Catholic Church” after Pope Pius XII), the Holy Office (or what was left of it) issued a decree in which it placed The Poem of the Man-God by Maria Valtorta on the Index of Forbidden Books. The decree is dated January 5, 1960, when Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani served as Secretary of the Holy Office. It can be found in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis LII, p. 60. We mention this because a number of people who consider themselves traditional Catholics unwittingly read and recommend Valtorta’s dangerous book.
A final tidbit of interest: One of the giants of the “New Theology” of the Vatican II Sect, the French Dominican Marie-Dominique Chenu, had one of his books condemned. His Une École de Théologie: Le Saulchoir was placed on the Index by Pope Pius XII on February 6, 1942 (see Acta Apostolicae Sedis XXXIV, p. 37). Twenty years later, the same Chenu served as a “theological expert” (peritus) at Vatican II, where he influenced in particular the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”, Gaudium et Spes. Go figure.
For further reading on this topic, see the following two links:
(Sources used for this post include The Catholic Encylcopedia  and The New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed. .)