Home Page Faithful to the Magisterium Ubi Petrus, Ibi Ecclesia Write to Marty Why Catholic? Because True.
Catholic Definitions Abbess Abbey Abbot Accident Absolute Actual Grace Adoration Amen Angel Anointing Apologetics Apostasy Apostolic Apostolic Constitution Apostolic Exhortation Apostolic Letter Art Assent Authority Avarice Baptism Benign Bible Bishop Brotherly Love Bull Calumny Canon Law Capital Sins Capital Virtues Cardinal Virtues Catechesis Catholic Charity Chastity Chrism Christ’s Commands Church Cloister Codex Communio Compassion Completion Story Concupiscence Confession Confirmation Consecration Conscience Conservatism Continence Convent Corporal Works of Mercy Counsel Custody of the Senses Deacon Deaconess Death Detraction Dicastery Diligence Divine Office Doctrine Dogma Double Effect Dulia Economy of Salvation Ecumenical Ecumenical Council Encyclical Epistle Encyclica Letter Envy Eternity Eucharist Evangelization Ex Cathedra Ex Opere Operantis Ex Opere Operato Faith Fear Fideism Form Fortitude Four Last Things Friar Friday Abstinence Fruits of the Holy Spirit Gifts of the Holy Spirit Gluttony Good Grace Heaven Hell Holy Heresy Holy Eucharist Holy Orders Hope Humility Hyperdulia Hypostatic Union Immortal Impassible Indulgence Infallible Intellectual Virtues Intrinsic Joy Judgment Justice Justification Knowledge Latria Letter Liberality Limbo Liturgy Longanimity Lust Magisterium Man Marriage Matrimony Matter Meek Mercy Message Mild Miracle Modernism Modesty Monastery Monk Mortal Sin Motu Proprio Nun Obedience One Orders Original Sin Pallium Parable Pasch Patience Pauline Privilege Peace Penance Piety Pope Prayer Precept Preternatural Pride Priest Prophet Prudence Purgatory Purity Rationalism Religious Reparation Revelation Rule Sacrament Sacramental Presence Sacred Tradition Sacrifice Saint Sanctifying Grace Science Scrupulosity Sin Sister Sloth Soul Spirit Spiritual Direction Spiritual Works of Mercy Substance Supernatural Synoptic Telepathy Temperance Theological Virtues Theology Transubstantiation Trinity Triumphalist Truly, truly Ultramontane Understanding Vatican II Vademecum Vanity Veneration Venial Sin Victim Virtues Wisdom Words of Institution Worship Wrath
A letter written by the Pope to the entire Church, generally concerning matters of doctrine, morals or discipline, pastoral concerns, or significant commemorations. Its formal title is the first few words of its official text, usually in Latin.
From the Latin encyclicus and the Greek enkyklios, circular.
Encyclicals are not divinely inspired and do not contain new revelation, but they are authoritative teaching instruments from the Vicar of Christ. In descending order of formal authority, the papal documents are: apostolic constitutions, encyclical letters, encyclical epistles, apostolic exhortations, apostolic letters, letters, and messages. An encyclical letter is written for the whole Church, while an encyclical epistle is directed toward part of the Church, e.g., bishops or laity in a particular country, leaders of religious orders, priests, etc.
The original Apostles, particularly St. Paul, used letters to keep in touch with far distant church communities. Twenty-one of these letters were included as part of the New Testament. After the Apostles passed into eternity, bishops often sent letters to one another, and sometimes to the faithful, to promote consistency in faith and discipline, especially about doctrines, feast-day celebrations, and liturgical calendars. The Bishop of Rome wrote epistles to bishops all over the world. He also received a great many letters from bishops all over the world and circulated them to other bishops.
The practice of circular letters fell into disuse during the Middle Ages, when the collegial bonds among bishops began to fray. The Holy See began to write letters to one bishop at a time concerning the affairs of his local diocese, and each diocesan bishop would in turn write only to the Holy See.
Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758), helped by widespread use of the printing press, revived the ancient tradition of the Pope writing a common letter to all the bishops of the world; modern collections of papal letters usually begin with his papacy. Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846) called these letters encyclicals, from the Latin encyclicus, circular, because they were intended for wide circulation. However, for papal letters published between 1740 and 1870, there was no agreement among scholars as to which were encyclicals. After Vatican I (1870) encyclical letters were clearly marked as such.
Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) restored an important characteristic of the early Christian circular letters. Encyclicals since 1740 had been primarily admonitions and exhortations regarding traditional issues; Pope Leo XIII addressed new substantive issues, such as Catholic social teaching. He wrote some seventy-five encyclicals, including such classics as Humanum Genus (1884) on Freemasonry, Rerum Novarum (1891) on Catholic social teaching, and Providentissimus Deus (1893) on Holy Scripture, and Annum Sacrum (1899) on consecration to the Sacred Heart.
During the twentieth century, Pope Pius X (1903-1914) wrote sixteen encyclicals, Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) wrote twelve, Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) wrote thirty, Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) wrote forty-one, Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) wrote eight, Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) wrote seven, and Pope John Paul II has so far written thirteen.
Since 1740 the Popes have produced nearly three hundred encyclicals, most of no continuing pastoral or theological interest. Pope Benedict XIV’s Quod Provinciale (1754) to the Bishops of Albania on the use of Islamic names by Christians, and Pope Leo XIII’s In Amplissimo (1902) thanking the American bishops for their good wishes on his anniversary, address no pressing needs for the Church Militant of our day. Indeed, among the encyclicals written before Pope John Paul II, perhaps ten percent are currently studied by faithful theologians.
Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letters have had a powerful impact on Church and also on non-Catholics via the public media, such as Laborem Exercens (1981) and Centesimus Annus (1991) on Catholic social teaching, Veritatis Splendor (1993) on the splendor of the truth, Evangelium Vitae (1995) on the value of human life, Ut Unum Sint (1995) on ecumenism, and Fides et Ratio (1998) on the unity of faith and reason.
Vatican documents include, in descending order of formal authority: apostolic constitutions, encyclical letters, encyclical epistles, apostolic exhortations, apostolic letters, letters and messages.
Copyright © 1999-2010 Martin K Barrack. All rights reserved.