Imprimaturs

by Jimmy Akin

in Canon Law

A reader writes:

I am currently reading your book The Salvation Controversy, which I received as a Christmas gift.  I am enjoying it very much by the way.  It is very clearly written and easy to understand.

Thanks! Glad you’re enjoying it!

My question is why it does not appear to have an imprimatur.  I trust your scholarship and your work generally in this area; I’m just wondering whether there is something I don’t understand about principles regarding whether or not an imprimatur should be applied for, and how readers should regard its presence or absence.  I always check for the imprimatur in books I am considering reading as a “safety check” on whether the material is reliable from a Catholic perspective.

An imprimatur is not required for a book like The Salvation Controversy. The relevant passage in the Code of Canon Law is as follows:

Can. 827 §1. To
be published, catechisms and other writings pertaining to catechetical
instruction or their translations require the approval of the local ordinary,
without prejudice to the prescript of can. 775, §2.

§2. Books which regard questions pertaining to
sacred scripture, theology, canon law, ecclesiastical history, and religious or
moral disciplines cannot be used as texts on which instruction is based in
elementary, middle, or higher schools unless they have been published with the
approval of competent ecclesiastical authority or have been approved by it
subsequently.

§3. It is recommended that books dealing with the
matters mentioned in §2, although not used as texts in instruction, as well as
writings which especially concern religion or good morals are submitted to the
judgment of the local ordinary.

Since The Salvation Controversy is not meant as a textbook for instruction in Catholic schools, it does not require an imprimatur under §2, which puts it under §3.

Works falling under §3 are not required to have an imprimatur, though the Code does recommend that they be submitted for one.

This recommendation is not generally exercised by Catholic publishers because there are far too many books on these subjects written today and dioceses are simply not set up to handle the in a timely manner–which is the reason that the law was changed in the first place. Previously many more books were required to have an imprimatur, but the publishing explosion of the 20th century made this impracticable. The situation has only accelerated in the twenty years since the revised Code was issued in 1983, and dioceses simply couldn’t handle the load if all books by Catholic that touched on religious matters were submitted for imprimaturs.

As a result, publishers often only submit books for imprimaturs if the nature of the work requires one or if there is a special marketing reason to do so.

Conversely, dioceses are at times resistant to accepting works into the imprimatur process if the nature of the work doesn’t require one, since dioceses don’t generally have full-time censors and so each imprimatur-bound project means that a censor must work on the project in and around whatever other work the censor has to do.

Because of the crunch of work that already exists, some dioceses have waiting lists because they only do imprimaturs during certain times of the year (e.g., during a window in the summer when things are slower), which can play havoc with a publisher’s ability to get the book to market in a timely manner and hit needed sales windows (e.g., the Christmas window).

As a result, publishers and dioceses try to work together to pursue imprimaturs for the projects that require them, but they both try not to overtax the system, which produces problems for both.

The current situation is the reasult of a historical process that is still in motion. The amount of Catholic publishing is growing and is only going to grow further (e.g., on the Internet and via blogs like this one) and there is simply going to be no way to run it all through the imprimatur process. As a result, the future will generate even greater pressures to submit ONLY those works that require an imprimatur, as well as pressure to decrease the number of KINDS of works that require one and to DECENTRALIZE the granting of them even further than it already has been.

Stay tuned.

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{ 11 comments }

Anonymous December 29, 2005 at 1:14 pm

The situation is unfortunate, if the really good books that ought to be used in Catholic education are more and more likely not to have an imprimatur.

Darin December 29, 2005 at 2:50 pm

I am working on an Impramatur for a book on mysticism. I wouldn’t buy one without an Impramatur and don’t think anyone else will either. But the Curio here in Detroit says what you said that its usually only textbooks. But I am pushing it because devout Catholics look for it. It just wont sell without it because it pushes the edge with Mystical Theology. It is “Catholic” but when folks hear rapture they think the left behind series and not St Theresa’s descriptions of rapture. I need the Impramatur and am floating in limbo without it.

Breier December 29, 2005 at 4:10 pm

Unfortunately, the Imprimatur is a fairly poor indicator of the doctrinal value of the book anyway. The imprimatur is only as strong as the orthodoxy of the diocesan censor. How many diocesan chanceries do you entrust to ensure orthodoxy? Paradoxically, the freedom from an Imprimatur may allow orthodoxy to thrive now, an orthodoxy that would otherwise be repressed by heteredox censors.

Anonymous December 29, 2005 at 4:33 pm

Darin, i tend to let spelling slips in blogs slide, but if you really addressed the Detroit “Curia” (which is an old but recognizable term for offices) as “Curio” (which means, well, oddity) and asked three times for “impramatur” instead of for an “imprimatur”, they might have decided your letter would not top their list of those most worthy of being taken seriously. Just a thought.

Realist December 29, 2005 at 5:27 pm

Looks like we need to outsource the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur jobs. :))

Sharon December 29, 2005 at 5:35 pm

Breier is right. I always told my kids to look for the Imprimatur and Nihl Obstat before buying a religious book. My son bought a study bible with the I and NO and the comments were totally hetrodox. The bible was given the ok by the Bishops’ Commission of the Philipines with an introduction by one of the bishops. I emailed the Bishops’ Commission with a list of my questions re the comments but am still waiting for a reply. (2 years)

Darin December 30, 2005 at 3:39 am

Breier, hey your right about the spelling. I just looked the IMPRIMATUR and NIHIL OBSTAT that I got for another book in 2003 and yep, your right. The problem is things changed from 2003 to 2005. In 2005 a letter was sent from the Vatican to the Diocese further limiting what gets the “I”. This is a very recent change and I guesss I didn’t explain myself well enough.

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rudy August 10, 2008 at 9:08 pm

I RECENTILY RAN ACROSS A BOOKLET OF SEEING WITH THE EYES OF THE SOUL. MYSTIC BY THE NAME OF BARBARA CENTIILLI,PUBLISHED BY ST.ANDREWS PRODUCTUCTIONS,BY DR. THOMAS PETRISKO.SHOULD I TRUST THIS, OR THROW IT IN THE TRASH.NO IMPRIMATUR OR NIHIL OBSTAT.THANKS FOR ANY INFO

rudy August 10, 2008 at 9:09 pm

I RECENTILY RAN ACROSS A BOOKLET OF SEEING WITH THE EYES OF THE SOUL. MYSTIC BY THE NAME OF BARBARA CENTIILLI,PUBLISHED BY ST.ANDREWS PRODUCTUCTIONS,BY DR. THOMAS PETRISKO.SHOULD I TRUST THIS, OR THROW IT IN THE TRASH.NO IMPRIMATUR OR NIHIL OBSTAT.THANKS FOR ANY INFO

De Maria January 21, 2009 at 8:31 pm

I haven’t read your book “Salvation Controversy”, but someone said that you make this statement.
“Catholic theology holds, it is impossible for man to do anything meritorious prior to justification (DJ 8).”
And, as I understand Catholic Teaching, it isn’t true.
What does “merit” mean?
By merit (meritum) in general is understood that property of a good work which entitles the doer to receive a reward (prœmium, merces) from him in whose service the work is done.
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10202b.htm
Let me give a simple example of what merit means in this context.
If I say to my son, “if you jump that stick, I’ll buy you a camaro”. And my son jumps the stick. Does my son merit the camaro?
1. Not in real terms. The camaro is worth far more than the action of jumping over a stick.
2. But in my terms, yes. I have set the value of the action at the same value as the camaro. Therefore, based on my authority, my son’s jumping over that stick merits him a camaro.
This is what God has done. Neither our faith nor works are equal to the value of justification. We do not have any intrinsic merit in ourselves nor in our works.
But God has promised. He has made an oath and set some conditions. If we meet these conditions, HE SAYS that we merit justification. He has imbued those works with merit. He is the source of that merit and we are the recipients of that merit if we accomplish those required works.
And God’s word is justice. He swears by Himself and He does not go back on His Word.
Therefore, although the intrinsic value of our works does not merit justification, the fact that God demands these works and makes them necessary, means that we do merit justification if we perform the deeds He requires.
What are those meritorious deeds?
1. Faith in God. Because without faith it is impossible to please God.
2. Works of faith and charity, such as repentance, keeping the Commandments, corporal works of mercy…
Because faith without works is dead being alone.
Summary:
Nothing which we do is intrinsically valuable enough to merit justification.
But everything which we do in obedience to God merits justification.

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