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encyclical, originally, a pastoral letter sent out by a bishop, now a solemn papal letter, meant to inform the whole church on some particular matter of importance. Benedict XIV circulated the first known encyclical in 1740. Unlike those in the papal bull, doctrinal statements in an encyclical are not necessarily regarded as infallible; the faithful, however, are bound to give assent. Encyclicals became more numerous after the 18th cent. Leo XIII issued a whole series of encyclicals reorienting Roman Catholic life in the modern world; among these are Aeterni Patris, 1879, on Thomistic philosophy, and Rerum novarum, 1891, concerning the social order. Other noteworthy encyclicals include Pascendi, 1907, by Pius X, on modernism; Quadragesimo anno [in the 40th year, i.e., since Rerum novarum], 1931, by Pius XI, dealing further with social questions; and two by Pius XI not written in Latin—Non abbiamo bisogno, 1931, against Italian Fascism, and Mit brennender Sorge, 1937, against the National Socialist regime in Germany. Among the numerous encyclicals of Pius XII are Mystici corporis Christi, 1943, on the nature of the church, and Sacra virgintas, 1954, on evangelical chastity. The encyclical Mater et Magistra, 1961, by John XXIII, makes current the church's teachings on social matters. Paul VI's Humanae Vitae, 1968, which reaffirms the church's traditional prohibition of contraception, caused considerable controversy. John Paul II's many encyclicals include Laborem Exercens, 1981, on the value of human labor; Evangelium Vitae, 1995, which restated the church's teachings on abortion, birth control, and euthanasia and condemned capital punishment; and Fides et Ratio, 1998, which condemns both atheism and faith unsupported by reason and affirms a place for reason and philosophy in religion. All papal edicts are normally known by their first word or words.


See A. J. Fremantle, The Papal Encyclicals in Their Historical Context (1963).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a letter sent by the pope to all Catholics or to the Catholics of one country concerning questions of dogma and sociopolitical matters. According to the canons of the Catholic Church, an encyclical is not subject to discussion, and its instructions must be implemented. Encyclicals are usually written in Latin and take their title from the first words of the text; for example, Mater et magistra (1961) was an encyclical of John XXIII. A modern encyclical with widespread impact was Rerum novarum (1891), in which the Catholic Church’s social program was formulated.

In the early Christian church, an encyclical was a letter sent by a bishop on questions of faith. In the Anglican Church the term “encyclical” is applied to the epistles of the Lambeth Conferences (the highest body of the Anglican Communion).

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a letter sent by the pope to all Roman Catholic bishops throughout the world
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
I think that in the encyclical, however, we can find what I would call several "winks" to liberation theology, in the sense of one of the definitions given by the Oxford Dictionary, which relates "wink" to "a signal of affection and greeting." (3)
For those long engaged in environmental issues, the encyclical proved a valuable rallying tool, one that opened doors, spurred mobilization and generated not-seen-before excitement within Catholic circles.
I don't know if news about the encyclical will make it to the Inquirer deadline.
Donfried, "The Use of Scripture in Veritatis Splendor," in Ecumenical Ventures in Ethics: Protestants Engage Pope John's Moral Encyclicals, eds.
It is unfortunate that what appears to be the record of an open and frank discussion of the encyclical is more the result of the adept editing of submitted papers.
On matters of war and peace, Pius XII issued ten encyclicals, mostly after 1945, three of them protesting the Soviet invasion of Hungary in order to crack down on the Hungarian revolution in 1956: Datis Nuperrime, Sertum Laetitiae, Luctuosissimi Eventus.
But what John Paul II is doing in this encyclical is a rearguard defense of faith and revelation through a strategy of bolstering reason.
And in his remarkable 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint John Paul offered an unprecedented invitation to other Christian leaders to enter into dialogue with him regarding how the papacy, within the limits of received doctrine, might be refashioned to become a ministry of unity for all Christian churches.
Returning to the development of the Catholic encyclical tradition relative to economic justice, we should focus for a moment on the second of the social encyclicals, Pius XI's Quadragesimo Anno." Its vision is very similar in most aspects to that in "Rerum Novarum." But one problem did become more acute in the mid-thirties: economic concentration.
The encyclical is Widely expected to give support to those who attribute climate change to human activity since the pope has already said he accepts this scientific conclusion.
Economic Law in Tension with Papal Teaching: Encyclicals from Leo XIII to Paul VI
Humanae vitae is the encyclical issued by Pope Paul VI on July 25, 1968, "On the Regulation of Birth." It re-affirms the traditional teaching of the Roman Catholic Church regarding abortion, contraception, and other issues pertaining to human life and the family.