From Daniel Mendelsohn’s fascinating piece, “God’s Librarians,” about the Vatican Library, published in the January 3, 2011 New Yorker:
…although the library was founded as, essentially, a public information resource, the Vatican itself has had a historically vexed relationship to knowledge, power, secrecy, and authority. Its library may possess some of the most ancient manuscripts of Scripture in existence, but for centuries the Catholic Church held that ordinary people shouldn’t be be able to read the Bible—that the Old and New Testaments themselves should be a kind of “secret history” for everyone but the scholar-priests trained to decipher the arcane tongues in which they were written.
On December 20, 2010, I posed a corresponding, if less elevated, thesis in “So why are legal documents such lousy reads?” Oh, sure, I began my piece with a quote from Night at the Opera, but the essential point remains the same: professionals—lawyers, priests, et al.—have always known that as long as they keep their knowledge a secret, they wield power and authority over us.
Aside from inadvertently giving my thinking a pat on the back, Mendelsohn writes an engrossing study about accessibility to knowledge, populated with priests and scholars you’ll want to invite home for further discussion. (One who gets a brief but titillating mention is Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini [1405-1464], Pope Pius II. He’s a ribald old pal of mine, worth running around with, especially if you ever visit the Siena Duomo and decide to by-pass the Piccolomini Libreria, a small side chamber devoted to the life of Pius II and requiring an supplemental entrance fee. Why should you fork over the euros? Because some of the ceiling art is pornographic. )
Although the New Yorker requires a subscription to read the entire piece on its website, the abstract is at The Vatican Library in the twenty-first century : The New Yorker.