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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 bullbull
[Lat. bulla=leaden seal], papal letter. As the diplomatic organization of the papal chancery progressed in the Middle Ages, the papal bull came to be more solemn than the papal brief or encyclical.
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, 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 modernismmodernism,
in religion, a general movement in the late 19th and 20th cent. that tried to reconcile historical Christianity with the findings of modern science and philosophy.
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; 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 ?
Individual speakers will introduce various aspects of the encyclical and action on behalf of the environment.
If we look at the structure of Laudato Si', we can recognize the "See--Judge--Act" methodology in how the encyclical has been put together.
The encyclical is full of generalizations but gives few specific details.
"Throughout the last two years, in preparation for the encyclical rollout, the Vatican has relied solely upon global warming alarmists in its rush to judgment to meet the UN 2015 Sustainable Development Goals' timetable," said Elizabeth Yore, child's rights attorney for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
That is the significance of the encyclical and why it is provoking such strong reactions.
This encyclical on ecology is meant to galvanize world leaders to make bold decisions at the climate change conference in Paris at the end of the year.
He said that the people should see clearly about the Pope's encyclical, which includes a reading of the current ecological conditions.
The pope's encyclical will not be the Roman Catholic Church's first word on the issue.
Pius XI was impressed with the work Interracial Justice by an American Jesuit, Father John LaFarge and commissioned him, with the assistance of two German Jesuits, Gustav Gundlach and Heinrich Bacht (the latter responsible for the translation of the work into Latin), to put together a draft of an encyclical to be sent to the entire Church.
Two days after Pope Benedict XVI's social encyclical Caritas in Veritate was published on July 7, 2009, an international philosophy and theology conference convened in Nottingham that became the first extended theological discussion of the encyclical in Britain.
The encyclical Veritatis Splendor deals with central issues in Catholic fundamental moral theology.
Within the Catholic academic world and among those who share the distinction of being "professional Catholics" (i.e., those whose paychecks come from bishops conferences, diocesan chancelleries, or Catholic nongovernmental organizations), there is a hermeneutical game called "reading the pope to find that he shares my political opinions." It starts with taking a papal social encyclical and combing through it for sentences that match one's own way of thinking about politics or economics.