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Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur

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  • Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur

    Sometimes books, booklets and pamphlets by Catholic authors carry a nihil obstat (Latin for ‘nothing obstructs’) and a name, and an imprimatur (Latin for ‘let it be printed’) and the name of a Bishop (or Archbishop).

    Many non-Catholics (and Catholics) do not understand what these mean and assume they are stating that the contents are official Catholic teaching. That is not so. They have a very limited meaning.

    They do not mean that the work is factually correct or that the Bishop agrees with the opinions contained therein

    What happens is that a Catholic submits a work to the Bishop who passes it to a Censor Liborium (Censor of Books) who would be a theologian. The Censor than checks the book against narrow criteria. According to Jimmy Akin (Catholic apologist) the 1913 code of Canon Law gives this instruction:

    “Examiners in undertaking their office, leaving off all consideration of persons, shall have before their eyes only the dogmas of the Church and the common Catholic doctrine that is contained in the general decrees of the Councils or constitutions of the Apostolic See or the prescriptions and the thinking of approved doctors.”

    Whether the Censor likes the word or not, or disagrees with the opinions of the author does not matter. If it passes the criteria the Censor issues a nihil obstat and passes the work back to the Bishop. Unless there is some exceptional reason the Bishop will then issue an imprimatur. Again the Bishop takes no account of his personal like or dislike of the work, or whether he disagrees with the author’s opinions.

    I have a book by Scott Hahn that states:
    “The Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur are official declarations that a book or pamphlet is free from doctrinal or moral error. No implication is contained therein that those who have granted the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur agree with the content, opinions or statements expressed.”

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