This may seem like a dumb question, but I think it could be useful to people who look at links on the internet to the old Catholic Encyclopedia (which is heavily referenced on wikipedia for Christianity related entries) and I don't know the answer to it.

Last year, Pope Benedict promulgated a letter requiring institutions that call themselves Catholic to adhere to certain standards. Certain Internet television networks critical of Bishops have been warned not to call themselves "Catholic".

Did anyone care 100 years ago whether some work, produced without direct involvement of the Catholic Bishops, would have called itself Catholic?

2 Answers 2


Generally, the Bishops are not in the business of writing and publishing scholarly works. What happens is that Catholic authors write a work, then seek official permission to publish (imprimatur), and an endorsement that the contents are not contrary to the faith (nihil obstat). The original Catholic Encyclopedia obtained both (which are visible at the bottom of every article at the New Advent website, such as the one on Aachen:

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

  • The date is useful, because developments since then (for example, one General Council, two new Missals, the entire corpus of Canon Law and several Motus Proprio) may well leave the text in need of adjustment. Commented Apr 21, 2013 at 10:27

From the prefatory material:

The Encyclopedia bears the imprimatur of the Most Reverend Archbishop [of New York, John Cardinal Farley,] under whose jurisdiction it is published. In constituting the editors the ecclesiastical censors, he has given them a singular proof of his confidence

I take this to mean that the five members of the Editorial Board were themselves the guarantee of the work's orthodoxy. I'm not sure how this harmonizes with the Nihil Obstat mentioned at the bottom of each of the articles. Perhaps the official diocesan censor's Nihil Obstat was a rubber stamp in this case?

Two of the five editors were laymen, two were secular clerics, and one was a Jesuit:

These men certainly intended the encyclopedia to be accurate, orthodox, comprehensive, and up-to-date (the "date" being roughly 1912):

The Catholic Encyclopedia ... proposes to give its readers full and authoritative information on the entire cycle of Catholic interests, action and doctrine ... The editors have insisted that the articles should contain the latest and most accurate information to be obtained from the standard works on each subject.

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