…the [recent Margaret Farley] episode raises anew the question, always lurking in the cathedral, of who decides what we’re allowed to read, and how we’re supposed to read it. In religion, who controls the books?
In the Reformation, Protestants were persecuted for making the Bible available in vernacular translations, so that laypeople, in addition to priests, could read it. But translation was just one battleground in the war over who controls religious literature. And while the battles have been particularly fierce in the Catholic Church, they are not unique to Catholicism, or Christianity.
“The papacy was not the first to begin this idea of censoring books,” said John W. O’Malley, a Jesuit priest and historian at Georgetown University. “The indices of books that were prohibited, at the universities of Paris and Louvain and so forth, started in the 16th century. It all began with printing.”