Every gift of God brings with it responsibility on our part in the use that we make of it. The supreme gift of intelligence and free-will are powers to enable us to love and serve God, but we are able to use them to dishonour and outrage Him. So with all the other faculties that flow from these two great gifts. Beading and books have brought many souls nearer to their Creator. Many souls, on the other hand, have been ruined eternally by the books which they have read. It is dearly, therefore, of importance to us to know how to use wisely these gifts that we possess.
The Holy Catholic Church, the Guardian of God’s Truth, and the unflinching upholder of the moral law, has been always alive to her duty in this matter, and from the earliest times has claimed and exercised the right of pointing out to her children books that are dangerous to faith or virtue. This is one of the duties of bishops, and, in a most special manner, of the Sacred Congregation of the Index. And, though at the present day, owing to the decay of religious belief, this authority cannot be exercised in the same way as of old, it is on that very account all the more necessary for us to bear well in mind, and to carry out fully in practice, the great unchanging principles on which the legislation of the Church in this matter has been ever based.
You are bound, dear children in Jesus Christ, to guard yourselves against all those things which may be a source of danger to your faith or purity of heart. You have no right to tamper with the one or the other. Therefore, in the first place, it is the duty of Catholics to abstain from reading all such books as are written directly with the object of attacking the Christian Faith, or undermining the foundations of morality. If men of learning and position are called upon to read such works in order to refute them, they must do so with the fear of God before their eyes. They must fortify themselves by prayer and spiritual reading, even as men protect themselves from contagion, where they have to enter a poisonous atmosphere. Mere curiosity, still less the desire to pass as well informed in every newest theory, will not suffice to justify us in exposing ourselves to so grave a risk.
Again, there are many books, especially works of fiction, in which false principles are often indirectly conveyed, and by which the imagination may be dangerously excited. With regard to such reading, it is very hard to give one definite rule, for its effect on different characters varies so much. A book most dangerous to one may be almost without harm to another, on account of the latter’s want of vivid imagination. Again, a book full of danger to the youth or girl may be absolutely without effect on one of maturer years. The one and only rule is to be absolutely loyal and true to our conscience, and if the voice of conscience is not sufficiently distinct, to seek guidance and advice from those upon whom we can rely,