|St. Thomas Aquinas|
Firstly, as Catholics, we can benefit from the fact that Holy Mother Church looks out for us in our readings. Thanks to the Church, we can know whether something is doctrinally "safe" to read simply by seeing whether the work has the "Nihil Obstat" (nothing stands in the way) imprinted within its first few pages, along with an "Imprimatur" ("let it be printed") and occasionally an "Imprimi Potest" (it can be printed").
Simply put, "The 'Nihil Obstat' and 'Imprimatur' are official declarations that a book or pamphlet is free of 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."
In essence, these words being stamped upon a book provide a kind of safeguard for the spiritually conscious Catholic trying to ensure that they are feeding their mind and soul with spiritually healthy writing. I'm grateful for the Church taking the time to do this - it's an easy way to know what I'm getting into when I pick up a bit of Catholic writing.
But what of non-Catholic Christian writings? What of spiritual writings in other religious traditions? Should a Catholic ever read these?
|St. Augustine of Hippo|
I think this is where spiritual maturity and direction come into play. I think too, that one who studies religion and spirituality in general should take a view somewhere between Thomas Merton and Seraphim Rose. Thomas Merton, in a way, became far too "open" to other religions and philosophies, not simply taking wisdom from them and using that wisdom to enrich his own faith and understanding, but falling into almost seemingly letting these other philosophies undermine and hurt his faith (this is just my personal, uneducated view). Seraphim Rose, on the other hand, comes off as quite reactionary in a negative sense to nearly anything not strictly falling within his own Eastern Orthodox tradition. So it is that we end up with two extremes. I think both men meant well in their views and writings - of a surety, both are profound spiritual writers worth checking out on some level or another.
Like I said, I greatly appreciate the Church taking the time out to let humble lay people like me who want to deepen and enrich their faith what's healthy spiritual reading, and what might not be. In reading any questionable writing, I think it's important to be firmly grounded in the orthodox Catholic faith so that errors and heresies can be spotted right away and one can separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were.
I suppose the question will be asked, though, why a faithful Catholic would ever read anything that is not faithfully Catholic in teaching, doctrine, and the like. I think one could have asked St. Thomas Aquinas why he was studying Aristotle or Maimonides. Again, I think that spiritually maturity and knowledge must come into play at some point here. If one is a fledgling in understanding the faith (and many times, I think we all are - there is so much to know!), and still new, then maybe reading Catholic or non-Catholic Christian writings might not be the best idea - stick with the approved, orthodox works universally acclaimed by the Church. But overall, I would simply say - be cautious, be prudent, be open but grounded at the same time in the faith.
That's the best advice I can come up with - be prudent when it comes to your spiritual diet.