Vatican opens up secrets of forbidden books list





The Vatican has opened up to German historians the secret records associated with the Catholic Church's former Index of Forbidden Books, revealing that well-loved books of the 19th century nearly came under bans.

The Index, which was abolished in 1967, was a directory listing thousands of books that the church considered as theologically wrong or immoral.

The historians discovered that both a guide to good manners and the classic 19th century novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe were scrutinized by the inquisitors in Rome, who formed a department known as the Sacred Congregation of the Index.

One of the Vatican readers in 1853 considered Uncle Tom, a story of slavery in the United States, to be a coded appeal for revolution. But when a second opinion was sought from other inquisitors, they did not consider it very harmful and no ban was ever pronounced.

Another title that was nearly proclaimed insidious was a book on human relationships by Adolph Knigge, a German baron, which became a celebrated 19th century primer on the foundations of etiquette.

The church has never before revealed that the Knigge book landed on the inquisitors' desk in 1820, with critics saying its philosophy encouraged selfishness and concentrated on personal happiness in a way that contradicted Catholic spirituality. But no ban was passed.

The historians, from the University of Muenster in northern Germany, were granted access several years ago to the records of more than 400 years of literary censorship by the church.

Thousands of titles were placed on the Church's guide to bad books, among them books by writers as diverse as Martin Luther, Jean- Paul Sartre and Immanuel Kant. The historians believe about double the number of works that were banned came under scrutiny.

"As a matter of principle, the church never disclosed the 'not guilty' verdicts," said Wolf, whose research is bringing the sometimes random nature of the assessments to light.

The historians were surprised that certain books did not figure in the Congregation's records at all.

"We looked everywhere for a mention of Charles Darwin, for example. There was nothing," said Wolf, referring to the British scientist who proposed the theory of evolution and enraged those who believe literally in the biblical story of creation.

Adolf Hitler's hate-filled ideology, "Mein Kampf", was also never put on the Index, though Wolf and his team did discover evidence that the censors considered what to do about Hitler, with discussions in the office going on for years and a decision constantly postponed. ...



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