My latest post is up at my website. Check it out!
Was the Bible ever on the Index of Prohibited Books?
Short answer: No.
Long answer: The Index of Prohibited Books is an old list of bad books and authors. It was made popular by the Council of Trent, which prohibited Catholics from reading books on the list, as well as some of the authors on it. The Index also contained an introduction with ten “rules” that gave general information about how to know if a book was acceptable and how to use the Index. You can read the Latin text of the Index here. An English translation of the “rules” part is available here.
Rule 3 is where some people attempt to find a prohibition on reading the Bible. Here is what it says: “versions of the books of the Old Testament may be allowed only to learned and pious men at the discretion of the bishop.” And: “let versions of the New Testament, made by authors of the first class of this index, be allowed to no one.” Notice that: regarding the New Testament, only certain versions are prohibited – versions “made by authors of the first class of this index.” Those are the authors whose names are listed in alphabetical order starting on this page. The first name on the list is Abidenus Corallus. Abidenus Corallus was a name associated with Ulrich Zwingli, a heretic. The New Testament is not prohibited by the Index of Prohibited Books, only versions of it made by heretics.
Moreover, that very same rule, in the next sentence, mentions that some bibles are approved: “[some] annotations are made public with such versions as are permitted, or with the Vulgate edition…” Notice: the Vulgate is not the only version of the Bible that is permitted. There is a plural used: such “versions” as are permitted. And these are separate from the Vulgate: “OR…the Vulgate edition.” You can use Either such “versions” as are permitted “or” the Vulgate edition. The Vulgate was permitted too, since it was an official Catholic bible. But this rule makes it clear that there were other Bibles permitted for use among Catholics.
Then there’s the subject of the Old Testament. “versions of the books of the Old Testament may be allowed only to learned and pious men at the discretion of the bishop.” It is Possible to read this statement as banning Most people from reading the Old Testament, but not “learned and pious men” who have their bishop’s permission. I’d like to observe something about this interpretation. The phrase “only to learned and pious men” may be referring to a smaller category and a larger category. There are more pious men than there are learned men because it is possible to be good without being educated.
If I said that my car insurance can cover other drivers from my city and my state, I think it would be clear that drivers from my city get the coverage and also drivers from my state. The second category is larger than the first and covers more people. Notice, drivers from my city are Also in my state, but it’s okay to specify that drivers from my city get coverage. Similarly, it seems possible that the phrase about letting “only…learned and pious men” read the Old Testament might actually cover a smaller category and a larger category, learned men and pious men. Just as my car insurance only covers people in my city because they are in my state, so also the learned men must be pious or else they wouldn’t particularly care what the Church commands. If you are pious but not particularly educated, you would be in the “pious” class of men without being in the “learned” class. And if you were learned but not pious, you would not care what the Church says because impious people do not obey the Church.
From this analogy it seems clear to me that reading the Bible isn’t necessarily “limited” to learned people by this rule. They are the smaller category out of two categories: “learned” could be one category, and “pious men” could be a bigger category, which includes some learned men but is not limited to them. The rule calls for “pious men” to be allowed to read the Old Testament, and perhaps this category includes most ordinary Catholics. But also, some “learned men” are specified within that larger category because grammatically it’s okay to do that, and learned men can particularly more easily discover the best insights available in the Old Testament.
Then there’s the issue of “discretion.” The full sentence says: …