Background: My (non-Catholic) friend was given The Way to Love by Anthony de Mello by a close relative and is enjoying it so far. I lent her Theology for Beginners by Frank Sheed and told her about Catholic books having an Imprimatur in the beginning, which both books had. I had never heard of Fr. de Mello before and in looking it up, found that the CDF had written a notice of warning about his later books (which, as The Way to Love is subtitled The Last Meditations of Anthony de Mello, I would presume that applies here) Also, I didn’t remember until I saw the warning that I saw the book had an Imprimatur, but no Nihil Obstat.
Question: Can an Imprimatur be given to a book that contains doctrinal errors? Has there ever been a case where an Imprimatur (and maybe a Nihil Obstat) was given wrongly (or, worst case, maliciously)? In such a case, could the CDF revoke an Imprimatur?
A “Nihil obstat” means “nothing objectionable.” It means that – in the opinion of the one granting it – nothing in the book is contrary to Catholic doctrine. The “Imprimatur” simply means “Let it be printed.” Neither designation means that everything in the book is true. It just means that it doesn’t contradict Catholic teaching (as defined at the time it is granted).
Ordinarily, a diocesan Censor Librorum will do the leg work and grant the nihil obstat. The bishop – trusting the judgment of who he has designated for that role – grants that it be printed.
That a book does not show the nihil obstat does not mean it does not have one. Different publishers at different times have done different things in that regard.
Further, that an author was corrected by the CDF does not mean that everything else he wrote is questionable. There are plenty of theologians who started out strong, but then veered off the track in their later years.
All this said, an imprimatur is not an infallible statement. It’s coming from one bishop, not the Pope nor all the bishops together in union with the Pope. It’s generally a good bet that such a book won’t contain explicit heresy. But that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be a good book nor that the censor librorum or bishop in question necessarily made the best judgment call.
So if a book contained the imprimatur, I would usually consider it generally reliable. But it doesn’t make it errorless or beyond reproach. Obviously, the measuring stick is the documents of the Church. If something the author says contradicts the teachings of the Holy See, we would defer to the Holy See.
In answer to your question I think it can be misleading for some people only because they misunderstand its meaning. It’s purpose is to state there is nothing objectionable to Catholic teaching in the document. I think some people assume it means that everything in the document is dogmatic or doctrinal. So yes, one must fully understand the definition of the imprimatur to grasp it’s use.
Not necessarily. It is always nice to see, but it’s absence does not necessarily mean the book won’t be good.
Further, I know I remember hearing one Catholic author (I can’t remember who anymore :o) say that his book did have the nihil obstat and imprimatur, but the publisher didn’t want to include it on the copyright page for some reason.
I do like to see it. If it’s not there, I don’t assume the book is bad, but I may approach it more cautiously. If it is there and something seems problematic, I wouldn’t get overly scandalized about it, though. I consider them to be generally reliable benchmarks. But I wouldn’t stake my faith on their being infallible.
Thank you everyone for your responses! I was worried about whether I would sound like I was contradicting myself if I tried to tell my friend about the warning from the CDF after telling her that having an Imprimatur was a sign that a book could have a greater degree of trust in terms of holding no errors.
I’m glad to see Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, or if those aren’t there, that the book comes from a publisher known for orthodoxy in their books. But I’m also glad for the clarification that these aren’t infallible! :thankyou::aok:
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