Warmth in winter

And another thing: my fortnightly column for the Catholic Thing, electronic organ of the Faith & Reason Institute, in Washington, DC. It is on the joys, & also the moral imperatives, of book burning:

“Fires are welcome in our northern winter, up here in the Canadas, & dry softwood logs are the fuel of first resort. Books, by comparison, need a lot of page-turning attention to keep them alight, at least when roasted individually. This is why I recommend the books-plus-logs approach to an open fire. I might mention chestnuts, but this is to consider the matter in too superficial a way. …”


One of my little disappointments, on joining the Catholic Church, was to discover that the Index Librorum Prohibitorum had been discontinued. The last (20th) edition was published in 1948. Pope Paul VI formally abolished the Index in 1966, let me happily suppose because any further revision would have been too unwieldy. Granted, the Index was a passing thing, having been started only in 1559, & I generally oppose these modern innovations. But it did give readers some assurance that the Church knew what she was about.

It was always a little lax, however, compared to the licensing & censorship arrangements in the Protestant countries. This had partly to do with the Catholic practice of allowing authors of banned works to argue in their defence. They could often get around the prohibition with a few minor textual changes. For instance, books advocating the heliocentric cosmology were at first banned (as they also were in the Protestant north), but allowed if instead of “a fact” the heliocentric theory were described as “an hypothesis.” Moreover, you could get a dispensation from your priest to read almost anything; the books were all available in the towns. It wasn’t like England, for instance, where prohibited (mostly Catholic) books had to be printed abroad, & there were frightful penalties for smuggling them into the country.

The first couple of editions of the Index, in the 16th century, occasioned lively public debate among Catholic intellectuals, & the list was quickly much reduced. The discussion in itself was useful, of what should be condemned, & why. I should like to see something similar revived: a forum in which learned Catholics could dispute not merely which books should be avoided by Catholic readers, but more importantly, why they are pernicious.

Meanwhile, it strikes me some money could be made with a new line of “Idleness” products. A woodstove specially adapted for book burning might be a start, & I invite the Commentariat to suggest other attractive products with which we might begin to make our fortune.