What is the Catholic eBooks Project?
The Catholic eBooks Project is a public service blog that provides links to free Catholic Christian ebooks: that is, ebooks and other sources that are written faithfully from the perspective of Catholic Christianity, are available online, and may be read or downloaded legally and for free.
These free ebook 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 eBooks available online. Most of them are out-of-print works written in the Golden Century of modern Catholic culture from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s (like the wonderful apologetics and information books and tracts of the Catholic Truth Society that are available on Catholic Pamphlets.net and Catholic Truth Society Pamphlets).
There are a fair number of sites that index Catholic ebooks, which are mostly linked as Resources. However, lest some wonderful 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 ebooks will be indexed?
The selection of ebooks will be very catholic (from the Greek catholicos, ‘universal’) in terms of topic: the 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 those dealing with Catholics from the Anglican 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 (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 eBooks linked here are those that are already in the public domain (generally those available on Project Gutenberg, Open Library, and Internet Archive, which their own contributors have already checked), or which 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.
By the way, we work on the assumption that if administrators put up an ebook then their pages can be linked to (but the 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’re faithful?
Generally that means they say nothing contrary to the Rule of Faith: Divine Revelation as contained in Sacred Scripture and in Sacred Tradition, and authoritatively proposed by the one true Church.
How do you verify that they’re faithful?
This is verified through a 5-step process based on Catholic Tradition and Authority and the consensus of faithful Catholics:
- 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, with 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 1958 this may be treated as conclusive proof of fidelity. For books written in 1958 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), a prelate like James Cardinal Gibbons, a well-respected priest like Father John Hardon, S.J., or a faithful layperson like Athenagoras, then the lack of an Imprimatur wouldn’t be a problem.
- Where we can’t verify the fidelity of the author, we check the publisher and publication date. Generally, books and tracts printed before 1958 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 1958 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 like the Catechism of the Catholic Church, subject to a later, more detailed re-reading and to correction by sancti et sapientes.
If time allows, we’ll also take other means to verify a work’s fidelity.
- We’ll check the reviews or notifications, if any, by ecclesiastical authorities, especially the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith. One useful resource is the old Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the 1948 edition of which is available online here.
- We’ll 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.
In all things we submit without reservation to the Divine and Apostolic Tradition of the one true Church founded by Christ our Lord, which is (subsisting in) the Catholic Church.
What if you can’t verify if they’re faithful?
An ebook will not be linked to if its doctrinal fidelity cannot verified based on authoritative texts or if, after verification, it turns out to be an erroneous or “dissenting” work.
What if you yourself don’t agree with the work’s position?
It won’t 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”; 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 a 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 Vatican II 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, we will make due warning. For indeed, not everything that is formally orthodox is appropriate for reading by people not trained in theology. If it proposes theological opinions whose nuances may confuse the lay faithful, for example, we’ll make a note.
What about works by non-Catholics?
Certain works by non-Catholics 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. But 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.
So, if you’re a Catholic by God’s grace 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.