Friday, September 24, 2010


In honor of Banned Books Week, which takes place September 25-October 2, I will be offering a series of postings on the astonishing variety of books that have been banned for various reasons over the centuries. And I do mean "centuries."

John Wycliff's English translation of the bible was banned in 1408. William Tyndale's translations of the Bible, which was thought to include views heretical to both the Roman Catholic Church and, later, to the Church of England as established by Henry VIII, was banned, and so was he—in a very final sort of way. He was burned at the stake in 1536, at the instigation of agents of Henry VIII and the newly-formed English Church.

A wonderfully fascinating online exhibit from Southern Methodist University's Perkins School of Theology is titled Heresy and Error: The Ecclesiastical Censorship of Books, 1400–1800." It focuses on books that the Christian Church sought to suppress from the very beginnings of church history—books and other writings that were thought to contain "heretical" or erroneous teachings.

The most fascinating elements of this online exhibit are the many primary source facsimiles available for viewing. Here, for example, is a facsimile of one page from Wycliffe's Bible. Clicking on the large thumbnail image at the left will enlarge it for you. The exhibit includes an entire section on censorship in England

The writings of one 16th-century bishop residing in the Netherlands comments that "...the invention of printing by Johannes Gutenberg had resulted in a world infected by “pernicious lies.” The bishop singles out the writings of Martin Luther and Jean Calvin, the Talmud, and the Qu’ran, but expresses particular disdain for Erasmus, "...whose writings...had corrupted the Christian religion from within by subtle trickery."

Also included are materials related to censorship at the University of Paris, and, of course efforts to expunge the writings of the Dominican preacher Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498), who wrote "numerous works calling for ecclesiastical reform and spiritual renewal," and who was himself expunged through torture and eventual execution by burning at the stake in Florence's Piazza della Signoria. Holding and expressing wrong ideas was dangerous business.

This online exhibit is a digitized version of the physical exhibit on display at SMU's Bridwell Library, September 20–December 17, 2010.

When you hear the term “banned books,” you probably think of contemporary books containing inappropriate content. But books have been banned in societies all over the world for many centuries and for many reasons. Books that have been banned include English translations of the Bible, The Diary of Anne Frank, Huckleberry Finn, and To Kill a Mockingbird. The banning of books is a complex political, religious and moral issue. This week, I will be posting materials about the enormous variety of books that have been banned over the centuries, and that are still targets of censorship.

No comments: