What is the Catholic eBooks Project?
The Catholic eBooks Project is a public service website that provides links to free Catholic Christian ebooks: that is, ebooks and other texts that are written faithfully from the perspective of Catholic Christianity, are available online, and may be read or downloaded legally and for free.
These links are indexed on a page entitled List of Free eBooks (Arranged by Title) and on the subpages of List of Free eBooks (Arranged by Subject). The main blog entries will highlight some of the indexed free ebooks.
Why was the Catholic eBooks Project initiated?
The Project was initiated to make Catholic Christians aware of the hundreds, even thousands, of legally free Catholic texts and ebooks available online. Most of them are out-of-print works written in great revival of Catholic culture from the beginning of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century.
There are a fair number of sites that index Catholic ebooks (like the very faithful and topical tracts of the Catholic Truth Society available on Catholic Pamphlets.net and Catholic Truth Society Pamphlets), which are mostly linked as Sources of Catholic Ebooks & Texts. However, lest some useful or edifying materials escape even the notice of observant Catholics or curious non-Catholics, we propose to make an index of the indexes, always with proper attribution.
What kind of Catholic texts and ebooks will be indexed?
The selection of texts and ebooks will be very catholic (from the Greek catholicos, ‘universal’) in terms of topic: the Sacred Scriptures and commentaries on Scripture; doctrine, theology, philosophy, apologetics; ethics, spirituality, mysticism, prayer; history and biography, including the lives of the Saints; homilies, lectures; periodicals; letters, fiction, poetry, and literary essays.
It will also be catholic as to the traditions of the Church. On liturgical usage and ecclesiastical discipline, it will have Latin Catholic ebooks (including on the Anglican Use tradition), as well as on the Byzantine, Syriac, and other Eastern Catholic traditions. On theology, it will have books from the various Thomist and Augustinian schools, from Christian Personalism, and those rooted in the thought of the Eastern Fathers.
Furthermore, it will be catholic in geographical scope. Many ebooks come from and are focused on the English-speaking countries (primarily the US, UK, Canada, and Australia) and Western Europe, but we will try to include others that are drawn from or deal with other regions of the world (i.e., Africa, Eastern Europe, South America, Asia). We are also trying to include ebooks in languages other than English, especially Francais, Espanol, e Portugues.
How are they legal and free?
The texts and ebooks linked here are those that are already in the public domain (generally those available on Project Gutenberg, Google Books, Open Library, and Internet Archive, which we assume their own contributors have already checked); or texts under copyright that their authors or publishers have voluntarily put online (as the Holy See does for publications like the Catechism, and as Germain Grisez did for his multi-volume treatise of moral theology, The Way of the Lord Jesus). There are NO pirated ebooks linked here; and if you see one, please comment immediately so we can remove the link.
We work on the assumption that if administrators put up a text or ebook then their pages can be linked to (but the text or ebook itself will not be copied and placed here), in accordance with what we humbly believe to be a reasonable expectation of privacy online. If this assumption is wrong in the case of your webpage, then please comment immediately so the offending link can be dropped.
What does it mean that they are faithful?
Generally this means they say nothing contrary to the Rule of Faith: Divine Revelation as contained in Sacred Scripture and transmitted in Sacred Tradition, and authoritatively proposed by the one true Church.
How do you verify that they are faithful?
This is verified through a five-step process based on the Divine and Apostolic Tradition entrusted to the one true Church:
First, we check if it was written or published by ecclesiastical authority in the authentic exercise of its office; i.e., if the author is a Bishop of Rome, an ecumenical council, or a curial body like the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Of course, in some cases (notably decrees from Councils like Constantinople II, Pisa, Constance, and Basel-Ferrara-Florence), some cautionary notes are in order.
If it was not written by Church authority, then we check if the work was approved or cleared by ecclesiastical authority, typically by having a Nihil Obstat and an Imprimi Potest and/or Imprimatur from the superior or ordinary, or at other times by having some other form of ecclesiastical approbation. Generally, for books written before 1950 this may be treated as conclusive proof of fidelity. For books written in 1950 and after, an Imprimatur remains an important indicator of fidelity.
When there is no Imprimi Potest or Imprimatur or other form of approbation, we check if its author is acknowledged by the Church or widely known among faithful Catholics to be doctrinally reliable. Thus, if the author is a Father, Saint or Doctor of the Church (with reservations in some cases), an esteemed prelate like James Cardinal Gibbons, a well-respected priest like Father John Hardon, S.J., or a faithful layperson like Athenagoras, then they may be indexed.
Where we cannot verify the reputation of the author, we check the publisher and publication date. Generally, books and tracts printed before 1950 by all or nearly all Catholic publishers (like B. Herder, Benziger Brothers, and Catholic Truth Society) can be presumed to be faithful to Catholic Tradition. For books published in 1950 and after, there remain bedrock imprints like Ignatius, Our Sunday Visitor, and Saint Austin Press. (Most of these, alas, are not yet in the public domain, except those books reproduced in Christendom Awake.)
When all else fails, we take a (more or less) random sampling of the book and make a reasoned and prayerful judgment based on authoritative doctrinal texts, subject to a later, more detailed re-reading and to correction by sancti et sapientes.
If time allows, we employ additional means to verify a work’s fidelity.
We might check the reviews or notifications, if any, by ecclesiastical authorities, especially the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith or the Sacred Congregation of the Index. One useful resource for this purpose is the old Index Librorum Prohibitorum.
We might check the opinions of faithful Catholics on the work. For example, the fact that The Spirit of Catholicism by Karl Adam comes highly recommended by Dave Armstrong and Scott Hahn is a major factor in discerning its fidelity.
What if you are unable to verify that the text is faithful?
An ebook or text will not be indexed if its doctrinal fidelity cannot verified based on authoritative texts or if, after verification, it appears to contain errors or dangerous novelties.
What if you do not agree with the work’s position?
It will not matter. Whether its author is a Neo-Scholastic like Father Garrigou-Lagrange or a Nouvelle Theologien like Cardinal Danielou; an advocate of the Ordinary Form, the Extraordinary Form, or the “Reform of the Reform” of the Roman Rite; a theological “liberal” like Cardinal Newman or a theological “conservative” like Cardinal Manning; a political liberal like Maritain or a political conservative like De Maistre: as long as the work contains nothing heterodox, then it will be indexed.
One area in which this approach is appropriate is on temporal structures: social, economic, and political arrangements, including Church-State relations. Since the Second Vatican Council declared that the Church is not attached to any system, then temporal structures will be considered a secondary doctrinal concern.
Nonetheless, where the work is somehow problematic despite being orthodox, for example, if it proposes opinions whose nuances may confuse the lay faithful, we will make due warning. For indeed, even a text that is formally orthodox may pose dangers for untrained persons or for trained persons who have drifted from the grace and truth of the Lord.
What about works by non-Catholics?
Certain works by non-Christians or non-Catholic Christians may be indexed if they support or point to Catholic teaching (the essays of T.S. Eliot, for instance) or are appropriate reading for Catholics (like the works of Aristotle), but always with the proper notice of their non-Catholic origin. In the case of some converts to the Faith, the works they wrote before they became Catholics may be so suffused with Catholicity that they may be included with little hesitation, as in the case of works by Chesterton the Wonderful.
What about paid or for-purchase ebooks?
Catholic ebooks that are available for purchase are listed on a page entitled List of Worth-It eBooks. No ad revenue, commission, or other income is collected by the Project for indexing them.
Since the Project is primarily focused on legally free ebooks, the paid ebooks will not be updated frequently. Nonetheless, we would appreciate comments giving notice of such ebooks, hopefully with links to proof of their Imprimatur or to sample pages that would help in verifying their orthodoxy.
Will you charge for indexing these ebooks?
NEVER. If a work is online, legally available, and doctrinally orthodox, then it will be indexed FOR FREE. No ad price or fee will be charged for listing ebooks.
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So, if you’re a Catholic Christian by the grace of God and want to learn more about the intellectual and spiritual heritage of our divine Faith; or if you’re a curious non-Catholic and want to know more about one of the most ancient and vibrant belief systems in the world; or even if you’re a determined anti-Catholic and want to know the monkish Popery behind those Romish Papists’ smells and bells, then we hope you find this blog useful and edifying.