The Catholic Pamphlets Collection

The Catholic Pamphlets collection at the University of Notre Dame contains a wide variety of pamphlets, booklets, and other documents pertaining to Catholicism or the Church in some way. The collection is located at the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Hesburgh Library, and is currently undergoing digitization. These publications were intended to educate a particular audience regarding issues relevant to the Church. While the University of Notre Dame’s collection does not include any entries before the nineteenth century, there is evidence of similar pamphlets being published at least since the time of the Reformation in Europe. With the invention of the printing press, pamphlets became a convenient means to disseminate ideas to a wide audience. Such publications were produced by both Protestant and Catholic sources in an attempt to influence readers with respect to religious and social issues (Edwards).

Example Pamphlet

In the Catholic Pamphlets collection, the publication dates range from 1823 to 2008, but most of them were published in the twentieth century, particularly between 1930 and 1959. Of the 5126 entries in the catalog, 152 were published before 1900, 3719 were published between 1900 and 1999 inclusive, 26 were published in 2000 or later, and 1229 have an unknown or approximate year listed.

There are 1295 unique publisher entries, of which the one with the most pamphlets in the collection is the Paulist Press, with 355 entries, followed by the National Council of Catholic Men (220 entries), Queen’s Work (209 entries), s.n. [none listed] (193 entries), the Catholic Truth Society (156 entries), and Our Sunday Visitor (154 entries).

Most common words in titles

Most common words in subject headings

Most common words in subject headings (minus “Catholic” and “Church”)

The pamphlets are mostly in English, but there are entries from a variety of languages in the collection, including Latin, French, Polish, Spanish, Chinese, and more. Despite the name “Catholic Pamphlets,” not all of the documents are “pamphlets” in a strict sense: the documents in the collection range in size from single pages to small books of one hundred to two hundred pages. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, for example, uses the following definition for a pamphlet in its publication, “International Standardization of Statistics Relating to Book Production and Periodicals:”

“A pamphlet is a non-periodical printed publication of at least 5 but not more than 48 pages, exclusive of the cover pages, published in a particular country and made available to the public.”

This definition should be helpful as a point of comparison. Using this definition, there are entries that might not be considered “pamphlets,” such as “Courtship and Marriage,” which is 136 pages, and “Suggested Constitution of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine for Parish Units Affiliated with the Diocesan Confraternity,” which is only 4 pages.

Examples of entries not meeting the UNESCO definition of a “pamphlet”

There is a wide range of topics discussed in these pamphlets, which can be dependent on the time in which they were published. For example, during the early to mid-twentieth century there were a fair number of pamphlets published concerning communism and the views of the Church and individual Catholics concerning it, such as “Communism: Threat to Freedom” [1962], “Facts about Communism” [1937], and “Just What is Communism?” [1935]. Other pamphlets are instructional in nature, teaching about the sacraments or the mass. These materials include pamphlets targeted toward Catholics such as “Preparing Your Child for the Sacraments” [1965] as well as pamphlets targeted toward non-Catholics who may be unfamiliar with various aspects of Catholicism, such as “Catholic’s Ready Reply; Thirty-nine Answers to the Thirty-nine Most Frequent Questions Asked by Non-Catholics” [1954]. Some pamphlets concern social and moral issues, such as poverty, alcoholism, and war, while others are simply prayer books, catechisms, instructions for mass, and novenas. Finally, there are some entries which are only tangentially related to Catholicism such as a few collections of comics that were published in Catholic magazines, including “Speck, the Altar Boy” [1958], “Our Little Nuns: A Book of Cartoons Created Exclusively for Extension Magazine” [1954], and “Priests are like People: A Book of Cartoons Created Exclusively for Extension Magazine” [1954].

The pamphlets can be useful in answering a number of questions researchers may have about the Church or Catholicism. For example, one could use the pamphlets to study how has the Church evolved regarding ecumenism and relations toward non-Catholics. A cursory search of the collection reveals titles such as “Is there Salvation Outside the Church?”, “An Interdiocesan Program for Ecumenism: That We May Be One” [1971], “Documents on Anglican/Roman Catholic relations” [1972], and “On Dialogue with Non-Believers: August 28, 1968.” [1968]. Another possible research question that could be answered with the Catholic Pamphlets collection is how views on papal and church authority have changed over the years. A search of titles in the collection for “authority” and “infallibility returns the following entries, among others:

  • “Is the Pope Always Right? Of Papal Infallibility” [1947]
  • “Papal Infallibility” [1925]
  • “Is Papal Infallibility Reasonable? A Divine Safeguard Against Error”
  • “An Agreed Statement on Authority in the Church: Venice, 1976”
  • “The Principle of Authority: Churches and Pastors, the Church, its Authority”
  • “The Obedience of Authority” [1922]
  • “Freedom vs. authority” [1966]
  • “Reflections on conscience and authority” [1964]

Of particular interest to researchers is the concordance feature, currently located at http://concordance.library.nd.edu/app/. This can be used to find the frequency of words in a given document, and can be useful in getting an overview of the themes and topics of that publication. For example, the concordance feature can be used with “Is the Pope Always Right? Of Papal Infallibility” to find the 25 most frequently used words, which are as follows:

church (62); bill (49); €” (36); charlie (32); father (32); catholic (24); can (22); priest (22); faith (21); said (21); infallibility (19); one (18); even (14); papal (14); come (13); say (13); make (12); know (11); god (11); will (10); people (10); think (10); life (10); see (10); work (10);

The concordance feature is fairly flexible in how it can be used. Along with searching for the most frequent words in a document, the concordance can find the most common phrases of x number of words, or the most common words beginning with a certain letter of the alphabet. The concordance feature is not without a few shortcomings, however. As the example above shows, the concordance may include common words like “can” in its search, along with artifacts from the optical character recognition (OCR) process such as the euro currency symbol shown in the third result. Despite these shortcomings, the concordance should still be a rather useful and interesting feature to researchers of the pamphlet collection.

Finally, when using the Catholic Pamphlets collection for research, some things should be kept in mind. In particular, the views presented in a given pamphlet could be those of the Church itself, or it could be just those of a particular individual or group. Care should be taken to avoid giving undue weight to the views of one particular person or organization as being representative. For example, there are several pamphlets by the controversial 1930s radio host, Father Charles Coughlin, and it might not be reasonable to conclude that his views on, for example, labor and economic issues are representative of the Church as a whole, even in the 1930s. Additionally, there could be some greater context that needs to be kept in mind, such as the events of a particular time period. For example, something significant such as World War II or the Second Vatican Council may have influenced the sorts of pamphlets published in their respective time periods. Finally, an existing familiarity with Church history and issues related to Catholicism will help greatly in making use of the Catholic Pamphlets collection for research. The examples given here are based on title keywords that this author knows are associated with a given topic. A title may not always be indicative of a pamphlet’s subject material. There may be other pamphlets about, for example, church authority that do not use the terms “infallibility,” “authority,” or certain other words. A researcher with a better knowledge of church history may have a better ability to search for relevant documents. In spite of the limitations mentioned here, the Catholic Pamphlets collection should still be rather useful for those studying Church history or other aspects of Catholicism.

 

Bibliography

  • Edwards, M. U. (1994). Printing, Propaganda and Martin Luther. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Holborn, L. W. (1942). Printing and the Growth of a Protestant Movement in Germany from 1517 to 1524. Church History, 11 (2), 123-137.

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