The Catholic Encyclopedia, also referred to as the Old Catholic Encyclopedia and the Original Catholic Encyclopedia,[1] is an English-language encyclopedia published in the United States. The first volume appeared in March 1907 and the last three volumes appeared in 1912, followed by a master index volume in 1914 and later supplementary volumes. It was designed "to give its readers full and authoritative information on the entire cycle of Catholic interests, action and doctrine."[2][3]

The Catholic Encyclopedia was published by Robert Appleton Company, a publishing company incorporated at New York in February 1905 for the express purpose of publishing the encyclopedia. The five members of the encyclopedia's Editorial Board also served as the directors of the company. In 1912 the company's name was changed to The Encyclopedia Press. Publication of the encyclopedia's volumes was the sole business conducted by the company during the project's lifetime.[4]


The encyclopedia was designed to serve the Roman Catholic Church, concentrating on information related to the Church and explaining matters from the Catholic point of view. It records the accomplishments of Catholics and others in nearly all intellectual and professional pursuits, including artists, educators, poets and scientists. While more limited in focus 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 offers in-depth portrayals of historical and philosophical ideas, persons and events, from a Catholic perspective, including issues that divide Catholicism from Protestantism and other faith communities. Since the encyclopedia was first published starting in 1907 and has never been updated, many of its entries may be out of date either with respect to the wider culture or to the Catholic ecclesiastical world. In particular it predates the creation of the Vatican City State (1929) and the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) which introduced many significant changes in Catholic practice.


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

The first edition was initially printed by Robert Appleton Company (RAC), a company created for that purpose. The volumes came out sequentially the first two in 1907 and the last three in 1912:[5]

VolumeNamesYear first pub.Chief editor
1 Aachen — Assize1907Charles George Herbermann
2 Assize — Brownr
3 Brow — Clancy 1908
4Cland — Diocesan
5 Diocese — Fathers1909
6 Fathers — Gregory
7 Gregory — Infallibility1910
8 Infamy — Lapparent
9 Laprade — Mass
10 Mass — Newman1911
11 New Mexico — Philip
12 Philip — Revalidation
13 Revelation — Simon Stock1912
14 Simony — Tournely
15 Tournon — Zwirner

The editors had their first editorial meeting at the office of The Messenger, on West 16th Street, New York City. The text received a nihil obstat from an official censor, Remy Lafort, on November 1, 1908 and an imprimatur from John Murphy Farley, Archbishop of New York. 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 first supplement was published in 1922; a second supplement in nine loose-leaf sections was published by The Gilmary Society between 1950 and 1958.

In 1912, a special completely illustrated commemorative volume was awarded to those patrons who contributed to the start of the enterprise by buying multiple encyclopedia sets early on.[6]

There was controversy over the presence of the Catholic Encyclopedia in public libraries in the United States with nativist protests that this violated the separation of church and state, including a successful appeal in Belleville, New Jersey.[7]

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.

Authors and sourcesEdit

The Catholic Encyclopedia and its makers states that:

The work is entirely new, and not merely a translation or a compilation from other encyclopedic sources. The editors have insisted that the articles should contain the latest and most accurate information to be obtained from the standard works on each subject.

However, "from standard works" allows that some of the articles from European contributors such as Pierre Batiffol (French), Johann Peter Kirsch (German) had previously been published in whole or in part in Europe and were translated and edited for the Encyclopedia.[8] Those who wrote new articles in English include Anthony Maas and Herbert Thurston.

Catholic Encyclopedia onlineEdit

Under United States copyright law all works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain.

New AdventEdit

In 1993 Kevin Knight, then a 26-year-old resident of Denver, Colorado, decided 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 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 work ended in 1997.[Volumes 1]

Other versionsEdit

In 2007 Catholic Answers published a watermarked version derived from page scans.[Volumes 2]

Other scanned copies of the 1913 Encyclopedia are available on Google Books, at the Internet Archive and at Wikimedia Commons. Wikisource also hosts a transcription project backed by the scans hosted at Commons.

The 1922 supplement to the Encyclopedia is also in the public domain and is available online. The New Catholic Encyclopedia also is available online at some libraries.

See alsoEdit


Explanatory notes
  1. "The Original Catholic Encyclopedia". El Cajon, California: Catholic Answers. Retrieved 2011-07-21. 
  2. Preface to the Catholic Encyclopedia
  3. "Scan of "Preface"". El Cajon, California: Catholic Answers. Retrieved 6 September 2010. 
  4. "The Making of the Catholic Encyclopedia". The Catholic Encyclopedia and its Makers. New York: The Encyclopedia Press. 1917. iii–viii. OCLC 748253. 
  5. "About". El Cajon, California: Catholic Answers. Retrieved 6 September 2010. 
  6. "Celledoor Miscellany: Selected Illustrations from the Catholic Encyclopedia". 2010-06-07. Retrieved 2010-09-04. 
  7. Separation of Church and State, Hamburger, Philip, Harvard University Press (2002), p. 412
  8. The Catholic encyclopedia and its makers 1917

External linksEdit

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