G.K. Chesterton: greatest lay Catholic apologist in the first half of the 20th century: almost all of his books, including studies of St. Francis and St. Thomas Aquinas, lack the Imprimatur
Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin has a good article explaining this, using his own book The Salvation Controversy (which does not have an Imprimatur) as an example.
My three books for Sophia Institute Press do not have the Imprimatur, but The New Catholic Answer Bible (where I am co-author with Paul Thigpen, of the apologetics inserts) does:
Imprimatur: J. Kevin Boland, D.D. Bishop of Savannah: January 15, 2005Also, the earlier Catholic Answer Bible, where I was the sole author of the apologetics inserts, has it, from different people:
Nihil Obstat: Douglas K. Clark, S.T.L., Censor Librorum
Imprimatur: James P. Keleher, S.T.D., Archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas: July 1, 2002Don't be taken in by the idle speculations of ignorant anti-Catholics, intent on causing a ruckus and embarrassing the efforts of Catholic apologists like myself. The same person recently misrepresented some of the claims I made in my new book on Martin Luther. A person who can't be counted on for even elementary accuracy of research and documentation (in this case, quite easy to obtain -- it was online -- if they would only read it in a remotely objective state of mind and emotion) ought not be trusted at all, in the "scholarly" sense.
Nihil Obstat by Gary Applegate, J.C.L., Censor
Steve Hays, the notoriously sophistical, hyper-voluminous anti-Catholic polemicist, tried not too long ago to make hay (no pun intended; honest!) of this Imprimatur business as well:
How do you know that Dave is propagating the truth? He has no degree in theology from a Catholic seminary, does he? Have his online articles received the imprimatur? Is he a patrologist? A canon lawyer? How is Dave any different from a storefront preacher or a backwoods preacher who “received the call"? Dave set up shop and hung out a shingle.
Cohort Gene M. Bridges followed suit:
What the "mainstream apologetics" community may feel is no measure of what the Magisterium has to say. That would come not from some endorsements by Sungenis or Hahn, but by a Papal Imprimatur, which very few in that community enjoy. Indeed, it makes one wonder if the reason so few have received the imprimatur is because this leaves the Magisterium in a position giving them plausible deniability.
I then responded in the same combox, pointing out the Imprimatur(s) I have received, as above, and noted with my typically dry wit:
But I suppose that is not sufficient. You guys require a signed letter by the pope himself, authorized by a Notary Public and witnessed by a board of 12 anti-Catholic nitwits like yourselves. Then you'll admit that I can write on behalf of the Church on Tuesdays and Thursdays on odd-numbered years, between 12:30 and 5:30 when the moon is full.Obviously, the game was to taunt and mock my credibility by noting that my writings did not ever receive an Imprimatur. Having shown them that they have, Hays then switched his tactic to ridicule: carping on about the fact I had only received one Imprimatur:
So, out of Armstrong’s extremely prolific apologetic output, the only thing he’s ever written which has received the imprimatur are the inserts to The Catholic Answer Bible.
He then went on to engage in the vilest mockery (excessive even by the low standards of vitriolic anti-Catholics), including the following astonishing description of Mother Angelica:
How does the (distant) association with Mother Angelica serve to validate your writings? To my knowledge, she’s a high school graduate with extensive experience scrubbing floors and baking bread. She may be an admirable woman, but is she a theological expert?
And unless the Catholic church has changed it’s mind on the ordination of women, she’s not even a priest—much less a bishop.
BTW, did you become a staff-member before or after her stroke? What is her level of mental competence, much less theological competence, to evaluate your writings?
No doubt it comes in handy to have a stroke victim validate your work. Does she also sign blank checks made out to your apostolate?
Gene Bridges, having had his fire over the "no Imprimatur" canard stolen away, was likewise reduced to juvenile quibbling over minutiae:
ME: "( . . .where I alone wrote the inserts).”
1. Does the CA Bible actually say this? As I recall, it doesn't, but maybe I've missed it.
2. I do know that Amazon.com says that you and Mr. Thigpen contributed to the NCA. Apparently, your acumen was not enough alone.
Of course, the quality of these inserts generally leaves much to be desired. Thanks, Dave for making our job so much easier by crafting such easily dismantled material.
No, the original Catholic Answer Bible did not name me as author of the inserts (much to my justified consternation, but great for humility). But Our Sunday Visitor would be happy, I'm sure, to verify that I was the author, and the second edition (where Paul Thigpen wrote roughly the same additional amount of inserts and added some new material) verifies that. Thigpen's additions are apparently sufficient enough reason for Bridges to malign my original work (talk about desperation to insult!).
Thus we see once again the high and noble quality of anti-Catholic insults. First, I'm taunted for not having obtained an Imprimatur (as if this proves I am an illegitimate apologist); then when I point out that I did, I'm mocked because I only have one! Then later on Catholic apologists as a class are falsely accused of deliberately thumbing our noses at canon law.
These guys need to get a life. It's one thing to be unable to answer theological arguments, but when one is so desperate that one has to nitpick about "legalistic" things where they don't have the slightest clue, trying to trap Catholics in an error or hypocrisy somewhere, anywhere, then it's time to move on, before they further embarrass themselves (if indeed that is even possible).
The Jimmy Akin article I cited at the top gives a good explanation of why it is used less often these days. In a nutshell, it's not required if a book isn't used in official catechetical instruction. My books are popular apologetics; no more, no less.
The Imprimatur was not always used even in the "old" days. Looking through some of my many books, I notice that G.K. Chesterton's works did not utilize it (not even his studies of St. Francis and St. Thomas and his masterpiece, Everlasting Man). Hilaire Belloc's works don't have them, either. They were both lay apologists.
Chesterton came into the Church in 1922. The book on St. Francis is from 1924 and the one on St. Thomas is from 1933, with Everlasting Man dating from 1925. Other "Catholic" books also lack the Imprimatur: The Well and The Shallows (1935), Eugenics and Other Evils (1922), The Thing: Why I am a Catholic (1929), but I did discover one book that has the Imprimatur: The Catholic Church & Conversion (1926).
Joseph Pearce's recent biography, Wisdom and Innocence (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996) notes:
[I]n the spring of 1933 he commenced the writing of St Thomas Aquinas.Pages 262-267 of the same book inform the reader that Chesterton's reception into the Church occurred on July 30, 1922 (my birthday, coincidentally).
[H]e began, in 1923, to write his biography of St. Francis of Assisi.
Chesterton is widely considered the most important lay Catholic apologist in the first half of the 20th century. Yet his Catholic books (save one that I found) do not have an Imprimatur. Here are some additional influential and well-known Catholic books from before the revision of canon law in 1983 that also lacked the Imprimatur:
The Faith of Our Fathers, James Cardinal Gibbons, 1876 (I have a 1917 edition).Many other books by theologians, priests, etc. from that period usually do have it, but the lay authors such as Chesterton, are far more analogous to my own lay apologetics books.
Nine books by Catholic cultural historian Christopher Dawson.
Eight books by Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc.
One of his books has it: The Catholic Church and History (1926) but other similar books, such as The Great Heresies and Europe and the Faith do not.
As the canon law was apparently stricter on this matter before 1983, and books similar to mine still did not have an Imprimatur, then it is all the less objectionable for mine to lack then in the current post-1983 period of less restrictive canon law in this respect.
In other words: "what's good enough for Chesterton is good enough for me."
I think we all agree that Chesterton was a highly revered figure in the Church. He received an honorary doctorate at Notre Dame. And a noted Thomistic scholar like Etienne Gilson stated that GKC's book on St. Thomas was the best he knew of: even better than his own. Pearce recounts how James A. Weisheipl, OP, a Thomist scholar at the Pontifical Institute in Toronto, wrote about Chesterton in a 1975 review:
The master of English prose, paradox, wit, and penetrating insight has rightfully attracted appreciation from such professional Thomists as Etienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain, and Anton C. Pegis. Unanimously they have proclaimed this book the best ever written on Aquinas. While others have laboured a life-time to portray the genius of St Thomas, Chesterton in the space of a very little book has brilliantly revealed the optimism, realism, and common sense of the Angelic Doctor in such a way that the reader cannot help but want more.Etienne Gilson, who considered Chesterton's Orthodoxy (written in 1908: 14 years before he was even a Catholic) "the best piece of apologetic the century had produced," wrote:
Chesterton makes one despair. I have been studying St Thomas all my life and I could never have written such a book.All of this adulation, but no Imprimatur. So are we to conclude that Chesterton was a renegade, disobedient to his own Church, and that the book is null and void and not to be trusted as accurately conveying Catholic theology, in its treatment of the greatest Catholic theologian of all time? No, of course not.
(in Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1943, 620)
I consider it as being without possible comparison the best book ever written on St Thomas. Nothing short of genius can account for such an achievement . . . the few readers . . . who, perhaps, have themselves published two or three volumes on the subject, cannot fail to perceive that the so-called 'wit' of Chesterton has put their scholarship to shame . . . he has said all that which they were more or less clumsily attempting to express in academic formulas. Chesterton was one of the deepest thinkers who ever existed . . .
I do believe that our mind has a natural feeling for truth quite apart from dialectical reasoning -- in fact dialectical reasoning often clouds us to truth: G.K. always argues from his intellectual perception of truth, never towards it. In the case of Thomas Aquinas . . . I always feel him nearer the real Thomas than I am after reading and teaching the Angelic Doctor for sixty years . . . with Chesterton more than literature is at stake -- We love him . . . for his importance as a theologian at least as much as a writer.
(Chesterton Review, vol. XVIII, no. 2, 281-282; from the year 1965)
Indeed, Chesterton never even attained a college degree in any field (he had studied art for a time) and was primarily a journalist by profession. He had written in great humility about his own book on St. Thomas:
This book makes no pretence to be anything but a popular sketch of a great historical character . . . Its aim will be achieved, if it leads those who have hardly even heard of St. Thomas Aquinas to read about him in better books . . .Biographer Pearce added:
I have taken the view that the biography is an introduction to the philosophy, and that the philosophy is an introduction to the theology; and that I can carry the reader just beyond the first stage of the story.
(New York: Sheed & Ward, 1933, Introductory Note, ix, xi)
[H]e hadn't written St Thomas Aquinas to receive the adulation and approval of scholars but to introduce the saint to those who had possibly never heard of him and to elucidate Thomist teaching to the public at large.Public apologetics by a layman and convert to the faith! This is widely despised today, for some reason, particularly by anti-Catholics (as we have seen). And what were Chesterton's "credentials"? The man didn't even obtain a degree from college. He left the Slade School of Art, a department of University College, London, after the summer term in 1895 without one. He had studied English, French, History, and Political Economy, and lasted only a year in the Latin course before dropping it. Biographer Michael Ffinch writes:
(Pearce, ibid., 434)
Both Chesterton and his brother were particularly vague about this period of his life, which is understandable as there must have been some feeling of shame involved . . . Chesterton himself later in life naturally attempted to conceal the extent of his 'failure'.For more along the same lines, see my article, A Defense of Amateur Apologetics a la C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton.
(G.K. Chesterton: A Biography, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986, 41, 47)