The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Read the books that got the Pope’s Wag of the Finger

Posted on: July 27, 2007

Former popes anyway. Another tasty titbit I gleaned from Dirt for Art’s Sake was a brief overview of how literature had been censored from the Middle Ages up to the 19th century obscenity trials in France. Before the government there was the Catholic church that created an infamous black list to save its followers from all literary evil. When the new found evils of the printing press was discovered the government stepped in and ordered all publishers to first seek permission. The Vatican, not the sort to concede moral authority, created the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in the 16th century to warn its followers which authors were not be read under any circumstances. While one can be forgiven for being sceptical about the Church’s moral authority one cannot fault its taste and eye for future classics. Here is a small sample of the writers privileged with a place on the list:

  • Honore de Balzac
  • Simone de Beauvoir
  • Gustave Flaubert
  • John Milton
  • Alexandre Dumas
  • Andre Gide
  • Blaise Pascal
  • Heinrech Heine
  • Immanuel Kant
  • Laurence Stern
  • Emanuel Swedenborg
  • Victor Hugo

The list did not became inactive until 1966.

In light of all the marvellous authors conveniently listed in one spot I think I may have my Fall challenge. I’m not making it official, putting up a site, getting a button or anything like that. It will be a personal quest of mine, the details of which will be made up as I go along. You’re welcome to steal it and modify to your own needs, if you like.

A heads up for the Summer Poetry Challenge participants: start preparing your posts for publishing next week. My Paradise Lost is an ongoing endeavour and I’ve already done my post on a Glück poem. Next week I’ll scrummage up something on Adam Zagajewski and Yusef Komunyakaa (although one may be a week late). Those two names are a mouthful aren’t they?


14 Responses to "Read the books that got the Pope’s Wag of the Finger"

That’s great. Several authors there I haven’t read, and this is a great reason to go out and do it! I’ve been meaning to read Balzac for a while. Will I do it now? Maybe.

Oh, my. If the church says they’re bad, I must immediately cull my collection. Can’t have evil in the house. Oh no.

[Seriously, though. Stuff like this makes you wonder how they still manage to get away with the “infallability of the pope” idea.]

infallibility, infallibility, infallibility

Ever shout, “Oops!” upon hitting the submit button?

“While one can be forgiven for being sceptical about the Church’s moral authority one cannot fault its taste and eye for future classics.”


Very kind of the Catholic Church to make our reading lists for us, heh?

There are the makings of a most excellent challenge in that list…

Dorothy I thought so! Like you I’m well aware of how my often good intentions don’t pan out when I mean to read an author but the list makes it fun.

Marydell you must think of the children! The children.

(Well the pope has to make a pronouncement in his “infallible mode” (there’s a fancy Latin word for it) before it comes into effect. I don’t know if the list counted as such but yeah, daft idea any way you look at it.)

Beepy it is a good patron of the arts.

Isabella that’s true, it’s a shame I’m so unambitious. Maybe someone will be inspired by the idea and go the whole nine yards…? Heh.

If I may clarify the concept of papal infallibility, it only means the pope can declare that certain teachings are infallible. This has been done *once* since the concept was established, and *one* earlier papal teaching is also generally agreed to be infallible because it fits the conditions of infallibility. The church is nothing if not conservative!

Right. I think Male! Priests! Only! was marked down as infallible by fun Pope John Paul II. Is that right? I remember coming across that somewhere.

Nope, technically not infallible.

I spent 9 years in Catholic parochial school (which explains why I’m now an atheist), and I don’t recall ever learning that the pope had to call “game on” before being in infallible mode. I bet the majority of practicing Catholics don’t know this tidbit either.

Sylvia aahh, I searched and it was just a “reaffirming” letter. Whew!

Marydell yeah, I’m not sure how I picked up that bit of information. I’ve always been fascinated and repelled by Catholicism though. Fascinated because it had all and more of the rituals I loved about Anglicanism to the 10th power, its historical patronization of the arts (basically its aesthetics) and repelled…well for the obvious reasons.

What a great list of authors! I don’t know that I dare take on any more challenges or else I’d join you, imani, but I’ll watch on with pleasure!

I think you should call it the Librorum Prohibitorum Liberatorum!

Looking forward to that poetry.

Ha! Ted I don’t know a thing about Latin so I’m trusting you on that one. And I’ve done my last SPC post so you’re all set.

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