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Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur?

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An image of Catholics burning books.This morning, a website visitor wrote and asked,

“Please direct me on your website to where I will find the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur for the written material presented in your educational programs and on your website.”

I don’t know whether this was a sincere request or just a scrupulous individual being annoying, but I’m happy to respond.

First of all, the question of “Church approval” is addresed in canons 822-832 in the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law.

In Canon 822, we learn that the approval of Catholic books is a matter that concerns only the bishops of the Church.  The judgment of individual laymen, priests or religious is irrelevant–even if it belongs to the latest online Catholic celebrity.

In light of this, in 2008, before starting the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, I wrote to my bishop and informed him of my desire to work to research, restore, publish and teach the classical liberal arts and that I intended to teach Catholic students privately in the classical Catholic curriculum.  I was the upper school Classics teacher at a reputable private school in Charlotte, so my academic credentials were not an issue.  I simply desired to present my plans to the bishop, wishing to be obedient to whatever was required of me before starting any such work.  Consequently, I met with the Bishop’s Vicar of Education in my diocese, presented all of my plans and was encouraged to not only do as I had planned but to also consider starting an independent Catholic school if I wished.  After receiving this permission, I started the Classical Liberal Arts Academy.   So, whatever permission was required or available to me, I sought and received at that time.  It’s also worth noting that one of my private students was admitted to the bishop’s new college seminary with me as his own instructor and academic reference and the CLAA as his only school.  Nothing has ever been done secretly in the Classical Liberal Arts Academy.  Everything I write is available online in the form of lessons, videos and articles, and this year I’m making the entire curriculum available freely online.

In Canon 825, we learn that “books of the Sacred Scriptures cannot be published” without approval.  In the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, we publish no printed copies of the Sacred Scriptures.  On our website, we host the text of the Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible, which is in the public domain, with no comments added.  In fact, I have even removed the comments that were published with the Douay-Rheims Bible so that only the text of the Scriptures is available online.  No books about Sacred Scripture, or explaining Sacred Scripture are used or published by the Academy, making this restriction irrelevant.  Our courses do not depend on the online copy of the Bible text, so if that was ever a problem, we would remove it without any affect on our students or curriculum.

In Canon 826, the publication of liturgical books or prayer books requires approval.  The Classical Liberal Arts Academy publishes no liturgical books or prayer books of any kind, so this is irrelevant.

Canon 827 would raise issues that might be relevant to the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, so we’ll look at this in detail:

§4.To be published, catechisms and other writings pertaining to catechetical instruction or their translations require the approval of the local ordinary.

We offer a number of Catechism courses, including the Baltimore Catechism and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. For neither of these courses do we publish any printed texts, so no such concerns exist.  For the Baltimore Catechism courses, we offer students an online copy of the text of the Catechism, which is in the public domain.  We add no commentary, exposition or application of the teaching of the Catechism in our lessons, but simply provide the catechism text to students for study.

In our courses on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we link students to an online version of the Catechism hosted by the bishops, so this obviously requires no approval.

§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.

In the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, we do not publish any books to be used as texts regarding the subjects listed.  The course we offer make use of Catholic books that have been approved for use by the Church.  For our Sacred Scripture courses, we offer two Catholic Bible courses that use digital copies of Church-approved textbooks.  For our Daily Scripture Reading course, we use the Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible, with no content added.  For our Sacred Scripture I-VI courses, we use nothing but the text of the Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible.

For Theology courses, we offer courses in the Summa Theologica, which study the English translation of the Summa provided by the Dominican Fathers, with no additions or exposition.

Consequently, all of the content of our courses in the subjects listed in this section comes from sources approved by the Church.

§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.

All of the sources for our online courses and lesson content are accessible on the Library page on our website.  We publish nothing privately.

§4. Books or other writings dealing with questions of religion or morals cannot be exhibited, sold, or distributed in churches or oratories unless they have been published with the permission of competent ecclesiastical authority or approved by it subsequently.

Nothing we offer is being exhibited, sold or distributed in chuches or oratories, so this is irrelevant.

The Quality of Our Program’s Content

While I welcome a question about “Church approval” (whether sincere or not), I challenge Catholics to go even further than this when considered study programs for their children, or or themselves.  In most Catholic circles, Catholics will pretend to be concerned about religious books and teachings, while carelessly imbibing doctrines contradictory to the Catholic faith and Scholastic philosophy in other areas of thought and study—”straining out the gnats and swallowing the camel” (Matthew 23:24).

In the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, our standards go far beyond religious books, but inclued every subject in the curriculum, and every source text used in every course.

While it’s not expected that we would find any of our source texts in the classical liberal arts reviewed and approved by the bishops of the Church, the books we use in most of these subjects were actually approved and used by the Church throughout Church history–a reality true of no other schools today.  For example, the Latin Grammar textbook we used was recommended, by name, in the Ratio Studiorum of the Jesuits in 1599.  Our Greek and Hebrew textbooks were also published by the Jesuits and used, with approval in the Church.  For Reasoning, we teach Aristotle’s Organon, which was approved and taught in the (Catholic) University of Paris in the 12th century.  For Philosophy, we lead students through the texts of Aristotle’s Ethics, Physics and Metaphysics, which were taught in Catholic schools throughout history, as the chapter-by-chapter commentaries of St. Thomas Aquinas prove.   In Mathematics, we teach classical Arithmetic, the content of which comes primarily from the 5th century Catholic scholar Boethius.  The Geometry is the original text of Euclid.  Music is taught from the text of Boethius.  Astronomy studies the classical text of Ptolemy, which was the Church’s source text throughout history.

What other program, outside the Classical Liberal Arts Academy offers studies with any such record of approval and use by saints and doctors of the Church?  Which other study program besides ours directly answers the call of Popes Leo XIII or Pius X for the restoration of Christian philosophy through the study of Scholastic philosophy?  Other Catholic programs have a lot of explaining to do, but not the Classical Liberal Arts Academy.

Therefore, while it is not even possible for an educational program such as ours to request or receive “Church approval” in any official way as might be found in a “nihil obstat” or “imprimatur”, we are confident that there is no program available anywhere that, in all of its subjects and content, can compare to what is offered to Catholic students in the Classical Liberal Atrs Academy.  I have been open, from before the founding of the Academy, making all that we do subject to the approval of our bishop, and have never received anything but encouragement.  Moreover, everything we do publish is available freely online for any bishop or censor of books to review, any time.  If anything was ever judged by the hierarchy of the Church to contradict the Catholic faith, I would remove it immediately, but I don’t believe there’s any such danger to worry about.

God bless,
William C. Michael, Headmaster
Classical Liberal Arts Academy
wcm@classicalliberalarts.com