For nearly two thousand years, popes have communicated to the world primarily through their letters. In the premodern world, the papal chancery turned out tens of thousands of letters a year. On occasion, a letter dealt with broad concerns and was intended to circulate through the churches of a given region. Such letters became known as encyclicals. In the modern period, papal encyclicals have become the primary medium through which the papacy exercises its teaching office. Through them, the popes address theological topics of especially timely concern, applying Christian doctrine to the immediate circumstances of the day.
This encyclical is a testament to its time. Written during the turbulent 1950s and 1960s, it demonstrates Blessed Pope John XXIII’s commitment to bringing the Gospel to humankind.
“natural rights of which We have so far been speaking are inextricably bound up with as many duties” (source)
“The attainment of the common good is the sole reason for the existence of civil authorities” (source)
“that he enjoy freedom and be able to make up his own mind when he acts.” (source)
“The family, founded upon marriage freely contracted, one and indissoluble, must be regarded as the natural, primary cell of human society. The interests of the family, therefore, must be taken very specially into consideration in social and economic affairs, as well as in the spheres of faith and morals. For all of these have to do with strengthening the family and assisting it in the fulfilment of its mission.” (source)
“the support and education of children is a right which belongs primarily to the parents” (source)
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John XXIII (Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli) (1881–1963) led the Catholic Church and was head of state for the Vatican City from 1958 until his death.
Ordained a priest in 1904, Roncalli completed his ThD the same year in Rome. He was a lecturer in the seminary of Bergamo, Italy, from 1914 until he was drafted into the Royal Italian Army during World War I, where he served as a sergeant in the medical corps and as a chaplain. When he left the army in 1919, he was named spiritual director of the seminary at Bergamo.
In 1944, Pope Pius XII named Roncalli the Apostolic Nuncio to France, where Roncalli worked to negotiate the retirement of bishops who collaborated with the German occupying power during World War II. He worked tirelessly during World War II to assist in the transportation of Jews away from Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, and Italy to places of safer refuge.
In 1953, he was appointed Patriarch of Venice and was promoted to Cardinal by Pope Pius XII. After Pope Pius XII’s death five years later, Roncalli was elected pope. During his papacy, he worked to purify the Church of anti-semitism, called the Second Vatican Council, offered to mediate between President John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and frequently made pastoral visits to various parish hospitals, prisons, and churches in Rome.
He passed away on June 3rd, 1963. His last words, spoken three days prior, began, “I had the great grace to be born into a Christian family, modest and poor, but with the fear of the Lord. My time on earth is drawing to a close. But Christ lives on and continues his work in the Church. Souls, souls, Ut omnes unum sint.”