Catholic Encyclopedia

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Catholic Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia, also referred to today as the Old Catholic Encyclopedia, is an English-language encyclopedia published by The Encyclopedia Press. The first volume appeared in March 1907 and it was completed in April 1914. It was designed "to give its readers full and authoritative information on the entire cycle of Catholic interests, action and doctrine."[1]


The encyclopedia was designed to serve the Roman Catholic Church, excluding information which has no relation to the Church and explaining matters from the point of view of the official Catholic doctrine, as it stood during the pontificate of Pius X. It records the accomplishments of Catholics and some others in nearly all intellectual and professional pursuits, including artists, educators, poets and scientists. While more limited than other general encyclopedias, it was far broader in scope than previous efforts at comprehensive Catholic encyclopedias, which had studied only internal Church affairs.

It also offers in-depth portrayals of historical and philosophical ideas, persons and events, from the Roman Catholic point-of-view. On issues that divide Catholicism from other Churches and Protestant ecclesial communities, the text presents matters from the Catholic point of view. Since the encyclopedia was first undertaken in 1913, some of its entries are not up-to-date, either with respect to the secular domain or to the Catholic ecclesiastical world. In particular, it predates The Second Vatican Council, which introduced significant changes in Catholic practice.


The writing of the encyclopedia began on January 11, 1905 under the supervision of five editors:

  • Charles G. Herbermann, Professor of Latin and Librarian of the College of the City of New York
  • Edward A. Pace, Professor of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America, at Washington D.C.
  • Condé B. Pallen, Editor
  • Rev. Thomas J. Shahan, Professor of Church History at the Catholic University.
  • Rev. John J. Wynne, S.J., Editor of The Messenger

The editors, all situated in the United States of America, had their first editorial meeting at the office of The Messenger, on West 16th Street, New York City. The text received a Nihil Obstat ("nothing hinders") from an official censor Remy Lafort on November 1, 1908 and an Imprimatur ("let it be printed") from John Cardinal Farley, who was Archbishop of New York at the time. This review process was presumably accelerated by the reuse of older authorized publications. In addition to frequent informal conferences and constant communication by letters, the editors subsequently held 134 formal meetings to consider the plan, scope and progress of the work, culminating in publication on April 19, 1913. A supplement was published in 1922.

There was controversy over the presence of the Catholic Encyclopedia in public libraries with nativist protests that this violated the separation of church and state, including a successful appeal in Bellville.[2]

The encyclopedia was later updated under the auspices of The Catholic University of America and a 17-volume New Catholic Encyclopedia was first published in 1967, and then in 2002.

Internet version

While the encyclopedia does present information from a Catholic perspective, it often offers in-depth and accurate portrayals of historical and philosophical ideas, persons and events. Due to its public domain status, content from the 1913 edition can be incorporated into any work, as long as an individual does not try to pass off articles or information from the encyclopedia as his or her own. Text from the Catholic Encyclopedia appears, sometimes in an edited form, in online reference works such as Wikipedia.

Under United States copyright law, all works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. In 1993, Kevin Knight, then a 26-year-old resident of Denver, Colorado, was inspired, during the visit of Pope John Paul II to that city for World Youth Day, to launch a project to publish the 1913 edition of the encyclopedia on the Internet. Knight founded the website New Advent[3] to house the undertaking. Volunteers from the United States, Canada, France and Brazil helped in the transcription of the original material. The site went online in 1995 and transcription efforts stopped in 1997.

In 2007 Catholic Answers[4] published an authorative version[5] derived from page scans, (with complete article text, full-sized page scans, colour illustrations [6] and maps[7]) thus avoiding problems of missing articles and transcription errors found on other sites.



  1. Preface to the Catholic Encyclopedia
  2. p. 412, Separation of Church and State, by Philip Hamburger, 2002, Harvard University Press
  3. [ New Advent -
  4. Catholic Answers
  5. [1]
  6. [2]
  7. maps


Volumes published on

Access to page scans is provided by Catholic Answers'[1] site

Volumes published by Google Books

The 1922 supplement to the Encyclopedia is also in the public domain, but as of 2007 has not been placed on-line. The New Catholic Encyclopedia is available online at some libraries. The scanned copies of it is also available on Google Books (as at 25 April 2010, Google books no longer provides a preview of this book).

This article includes content from English Wikisource and Catholic Encyclopedia (1913). Template:Christianity Knowledge Base

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