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.
Pope John Paul II wrote 14 encyclical letters. In them, the pontiff developed his characteristic personalism—a focus on the dignity of each human person as an end in and of themselves. Through this lens, John Paul II analyzed the problems faced by the contemporary world and provided penetrating insight into their solutions—solutions that focused not on political or economic policy, but on conversion. The topics of his encyclicals varied from the relationship between faith and reason, to guidelines for a just economic order, to contemporary ecumenism.
Pope Benedict XVI has written three encyclicals. He has treated the three theological virtues, faith, hope, and love, in the light of current theological and social problems. His focus has been on love as the most basic reality, and thus as the starting point for his theological analysis. He has also produced a major contribution to social doctrine with his encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). In this significant body of work, the pontiff has attempted to interpret the teaching of Vatican II in light of recent developments, endeavoring to articulate its authentic doctrine.
As a body of work, Encyclicals of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI (34 vols.) offers some of the most important theology produced in recent decades. With the Verbum edition, all Scripture passages in the encyclicals are tagged and appear on mouse-over. What's more, references to important works, such as the decrees of Vatican II, Trent, or the writings of the Church Fathers, are tagged. This makes these texts more powerful and easier to access than ever before for scholarly work or personal study. With the advanced search features of Verbum Catholic Software, you can perform powerful searches by topic or Scripture reference—finding, for example, every mention of “mercy” or “Eucharist.”
Interested in having these in Spanish as well? You can find the Spanish edition here.
John Paul II (Karol Józef Wojtyla) (1920–2005) served as Pope for 26 years (1978–2005). In 1942, he felt called to the priesthood and began courses in the clandestine seminary of Krakow. Wojtyla was ordained to the priesthood on November 1, 1946, and shortly after, was sent to Rome where he worked under Garrigou-Lagrange. In 1958 he was appointed as the titular bishop of Ombi and auxiliary of Krakow and in 1964 was appointed as the archbishop or Krakow. Three years later, he was elevated to Cardinal.
In 1978, Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope, where he took on the name John Paul II. As Pope, he was instrumental in ending communism in his native Poland. He significantly improved the Catholic Church's relationship with Judaism, Islam, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion. He has been acclaimed as one of the most influential leaders of the twentieth century.
Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger), was born on 16 April 1927 in Marktl, Bavaria in Germany. During his youth, his father's devout Catholicism led to conflicts with the Nazi regime, and his family was forced to relocate several times. At the age of twelve he enrolled in minor seminary, but the seminary was closed for military use in 1942. He resumed his studies for the priesthood in 1946 and was ordained a priest on June 29, 1951. A year later he began teaching at the Higher School of Freising. He received his doctorate in 1953 and became a professor at Freising College in 1958.
On March 25, 1977, Pope Paul VI named him Archbishop of Munich and Freising, and on June 27 of that same year he was made a Cardinal. In November 1981, he was summoned by Pope John Paul II to Rome, where he was named Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and President of the International Theological Commission.
On April 19, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected to be the 265th pope. He took the name Benedict XVI, after St. Benedict of Nursia. As pope, he received worldwide respect and was a spiritual influence to Christians and non-Christians alike. In 2013, he resigned the papacy, becoming the first pope to do so in since the fifteenth century. He retired to a monastery in the Vatican Gardens, where he continues to study and write.