From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Webster's Dictionary [1]

(n.) The office or power of a censor; as, to stand for a censorship.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [2]

OF Books, supervision of publications by means of a preliminary examination and authorization, under Church or state law. The design of censorship has always been to hinder the publication of writings supposed to be dangerous either to the state or to religion (i.e. under Roman Catholic authority, to the Church). The practice has been defended

(1) by the example given in  Acts 19:9, where the "books of curious arts" were burnt;

(2) by the responsibility of the Church for the souls of the flock, liable to be destroyed by bad books;

(3) by the duty of teaching, which includes the withholding of bad doctrine as well as the furnishing of good.

Before the invention of printing, it was comparatively easy to control the circulation of manuscripts, and to destroy them when thought necessary. But the discovery of that art, and the spread of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, induced stronger measures and rules on the part of the Roman Church than had been known before, in order to prevent the diffusion of heretical literature. A censorship was officially established by the bull of Leo X, May 12,1515, commanding the bishops and inquisitors to examine all works before publication, and not to tolerate any of heretical tendencies.

The Council of Trent expressly prohibited the printing or reading of heretical books in the terms following: "No one shall be permitted to print, or cause to be printed, any books relating to religion without the name of the author; neither shall any one hereafter sell such books, or even retain them in his possession, unless they have been first examined and approved by the ordinary, under penalty of anathema, and the pecuniary fine adjudged by the last Council of Lateran. And if they be regulars they shall obtain, besides this examination and approval, the license of their superiors, who shall examine the books according to the forms of their statutes. Those who circulate or publish them in manuscript, without being examined and approved, shall be liable to the same penalties as the printers; and those who possess or read them, unless they declare the authors of them, shall themselves be considered as the author. The approbation of books of this description shall be given in writing, and shall be placed in due form on the titlepage of the book, whether manuscript or printed; and the whole, that is, the examination and the approval, shall be gratuitous, that what is deserving may be approved, and what is unworthy may be rejected" (Session IV).

A committee was appointed to carry out this law by proper enactments, which resulted in the Index Librorum prohibitorum, or Index Expurgatorius, and in the establishment of the Congregation of the Index as a perpetual censorship. The popes sought also to obtain the assistance of the civil authorities in the carrying out of the censorship, and we find that several German states published edicts in 1524, 1530, 1541, 1548, 1567, 1577, etc. recommending a stricter control of the press. Still stricter regulations were afterwards enacted in Spain, Italy, and France. In 1522 the legate Chierepati maintained in the free town of Nuremberg that it was right to take and burn all works printed without authority, and that the printers and publishers of such works were punishable. In most Roman Catholic countries there arose a twofold censorship, that of the bishops and that of the state. In many cases the two were united into one.

The process was simple: the censor or licenser read over the MS. to be printed, and, after striking out any objectionable passages, certified that the work might be printed. Hence, in old books, we see the word imprimatur (let it be printed), followed by the signatures of the authorities. In England a censorship was established by act of Parliament in 1662, 13 Char. II, 100:33: "An act for preventing the frequent abuses in printing seditious, treasonable, and unlicensed looks and pamphlets, and for regulating of printing and printing-presses." This was a temporary act, renewed from time to time; and its renewal was refused in 1693, owing to a quarrel between the House of Commons and the licenser. Since that time there has been, generally speaking, no restriction on what any man may publish; and he is merely responsible to the law if in his publication he should commit any public or private wrong. On the Continent of Europe the censorship became generally less stringent after the conclusion of the peace of Westphalia, although Lecpold I and Francis II continued to enforce it. It was abolished in Denmark in 1770; Sweden, 1809; France, 1827; Belgium, 1830; Spain, 1893; Germany and Austria, 1848. Pierer, Universal Lexikon, s.v.; Chambers, Encyclop Æ dia; Milton, Liberty of Unlicensed Printing; Mendham, Literary Policy of the Ch. of Rome; M'Crie, Reformation in Italy, ch. 5. (See Index (Expurgatorius).)