Faith and Literature: A Look at Book Censorship

Laura Cox, Ouachita Baptist University


For centuries, society has debated the issue of book censorship. Before Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press in 1455, the burning of hand-scribed books destroyed limited copies and guaranteed they would not be read. With the printing press, books could be produced in greater numbers; yet, printed speech was still a commodity that could be controlled. In 1517, Pope Leo X condemned Martin Luther's Ninety Five Theses, an early example of religious censorship of materials deemed dangerous or subversive. Political censorship quickly followed when Emperor Charles V issued the Edict of Worms, containing a "Law of Printing" which banned the printing, copying, sale, or reading of Luther's writings (Foerstel xi). Beginning in 1564, the Catholic papacy promulgated its Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books). Compiled by the Holy Inquisition in Rome, the Index listed the books and authors Catholics were prohibited from printing or reading. This censorship system was finally abandoned in 1966, the last list having been published in 1881 and last revised in 1900 (Karolides 156). Protestant censorship during this time relied more on the state as the source of censorship. In England, the crown issued censorship regulations that were then enforced by civil agencies. However, Europe's heterogeneity and lack of political cooperation allowed authors to have their books printed in other countries, thereby avoiding local censorship (Foestel xii).