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n the Western World, the Catholic

Church was the earliest and most pow-

erful player in the book-banning business.


Index Librorum Prohibitorum,

a list of

publications banned by the church for

heretical or immoral content, controlled

access to knowledge for over a millenni-

um. The first Index emerged without au-

thorization in the 9th century, but only

fully gained power under Pope Paul IV in

1559 who issued the Pauline Index, “the

turning-point for the freedom of enquiry

in the Catholic world” (Paul F. Grendler).

A looser Tridentine Index followed just a

year later, but the damage had been done

and the index remained in force until its

formal abolition in 1966. In the interven-

ing centuries, the list took aim at scien-

tists, philosophers, novelists, and religious

figures. The rationales for the bans leveled

by the Index were used to build heresy

cases against authors, particularly during

the Inquisition; cosmologist Giordano

Bruno was burned at the stake for theories

now widely agreed to be true. Even today,

Catholic canon law continues to recom-

mend that works with religious content be

submitted to a local ordinary for evalua-

tion and judgment.