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 did you call it the ‘Catholic eBooks Project’? Was it because it was a specially conceptualized project for a diocese, school or organization?
No, and none of the above. Initially I wanted to call it the ‘Index Librorum Approbatorum’ or some variant thereof, but I eventually settled on ‘Catholic eBooks Project’ because it resembled the ‘Alan Parsons Project’, which sounded cool.
Why, then, did you start the Catholic eBooks Project?
I began the Project after realizing that there are hundreds, possibly 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 you index?
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 I 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). I am 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 I can remove the link.
By the way, I 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 I 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 the holy Scriptures and the holy Tradition to which the Fathers bear witness, and as interpreted by the Pope and bishops in communion with him, in the ordinary and extraordinary exercise of their teaching office.
More precisely, this means that they do not contain anything that contradicts or is in conflict with revealed truths and truths necessarily connected to revealed truths, as expressed in solemn definitions of revealed truth and the ordinary and universal teaching of the Pope and the bishops throughout the world. Nor can they contradict the ordinary teaching of the Pope and the bishops; and they must be in harmony with the consensus of the Fathers, Doctors, and Saints of the Church.
How do you verify that they’re faithful?
This is verified through a 5-step process based on authority of the Church and the consensus of faithful Catholics:
- First, I check if it was written or published by ecclesiastical authority. Thus, if the author is the Bishop of Rome, an ecumenical council, or a curial body like the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then it’s conclusive. Of course, with some Eastern and Western councils (notably Constantinople II, Pisa, Constance, and Basel-Ferrara-Florence), some cautionary notes are in order.
- If it’s not written by Church authority, then I check if the work was approved 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. Especially for books written before 1958* this may be treated as conclusive proof of fidelity.
- When there’s no Imprimi Potest or Imprimatur or other form of approbation, I 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 I can’t verify the fidelity of the author, I check the publisher and publication date. Generally, I’ve found that books and tracts printed before 1958* by all or nearly all Catholic publishers (like B. Herder, Benziger Brothers, Longmans, Green & Co., and Catholic Truth Society) can be presumed faithful to the magisterium. For 1958* and after, Catholic publishers are no longer as universally safe, but you still have 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, I take a (more or less) random sampling of the book and make a reasoned 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 wiser and holier people.
If I have time, I’ll also take other means to verify a work’s fidelity.
- I’ll check the reviews or notifications, if any, by ecclesiastical authorities, especially the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith. One resource I’ll begin using is the old Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the 1948 edition of which is available online here.
- I’ll check the opinions of faithful Catholics on the work. For example, even if I had never before read The Spirit of Catholicism by Karl Adam (I’ve actually read it
twicethrice now), the recommendations of Dave Armstrong and Scott Hahn would have been enough for me.
In all things we submit without reservation to the teaching authority 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 won’t 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.
*You said works in 1958 and after are not universally safe. What’s so special about 1958? Are you sedevacantist or anti-Council?
No, I do not and never will deny the continuity of the one true Church, the authority of the Second Vatican Council and the Successors of St. Peter during and after that Council, or the validity of their acts, in line with the hermeneutic of reform and continuity expounded by Pope Benedict XVI. (This does not mean I like all their acts or their results, but I will submit in any case to the magisterium.)
The year 1958 matters because it was the year of the election of Pope St. John XXIII, who loosened the regulation of Catholic literature. This led in turn to many Catholics publishing opinions “dissenting” from Catholic teaching, or publicizing novelties that are unsafe outside the academe, or denouncing the magisterium for moving too slowly or too fast. As a result, for a work written in 1958 and after, it is not longer possible to be reasonably certain that a work published by a Catholic author or publisher or containing an Imprimatur was strictly vetted for its fidelity.
What if you yourself don’t agree with the work’s position?
It won’t matter. Whether the author is a neoscholastic like Father Garrigou-Lagrange or an adherent of la nouvelle theologie like Cardinal Danielou; an advocate of the old liturgical movement; a theological “liberal” like Cardinal Newman or a theological “conservative” like Cardinal Manning; a political liberal like Maritain or a conservative like Donoso Cortes: as long as it contains nothing heterodox, then it will be indexed.
On theological interpretations of authoritative teachings, we adhere to the policy of the Church as enunciated by Pope Paul V after the Congregatio de Auxiliis. According to the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia (whose matter-of-fact narration probably doesn’t quite convey the Pope’s exasperation at the theologians): “The pope’s decree communicated (5 September, 1607) to both Dominicans and Jesuits, allowed each party to defend its own doctrine, enjoined each from censoring or condemning the opposite opinion, and commanded them to await, as loyal sons of the Church, the final decision of the Apostolic See. That decision, however, has not been reached, and both orders, consequently, maintain their respective theories, just as any other theological opinion is held.” Which is only sensible, and well demonstrates why the Church is governed by bishops who make judgments and not by scholars who make opinions.
One area in which this approach is appropriate is temporal structures: social, economic, and political arrangements, including Church-State relations. I myself am a firm adherent of Pope Leo XIII’s social teachings, but 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, I will make due warning. For indeed, not everything that is doctrinally orthodox (not in contradiction of Catholic teaching) is appropriate for reading by people not trained in theology. If it proposes theological opinions whose nuances may confuse the lay faithful, for example, I’ll make a note.
What about works by non-Catholics?
As a general rule, they will not be included. In certain cases, works by non-Catholics may be indexed if they support Catholic teaching, but always with the proper notice of their non-Catholic origin. In the case of converts to the Faith, it may be different. In some cases, the works they wrote before they became Catholics may be so suffused with Catholicity that they may be included already, as is the case with Chesterton the Wonderful.
What about paid or for-purchase ebooks?
I began the Project solely to index legally free ebooks, but after receiving a comment informing me of nominally priced Catholic ebooks available or soon to be available online, I started a page entitled List of Worth-It eBooks. But since this Project is primarily focused on legally free ebooks, I’ll work more on searching for and linking to free ebook pages. I’ll simply await comments on the blog with information on paid ebooks and, I hope, 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 it’s online, legally available, and doctrinally okay, then a work will be indexed FOR FREE. No ad price or fee will be charged for listing ebooks.
What about for reviewing them?
Maybe, since reviewing books takes a lot more work. But it would be far more appropriate if better-qualified Catholics write reviews, which I would link to or quote as may be proper.
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 an ancient belief system that often seems controversial and strange; or even if you’re a determined anti-Catholic and want to know the monkish Popery behind those Romish Papists’ smells and bells, then I hope you find this blog worth your while:)