An encyclical issued by Pope pius xii on Aug. 12, 1950, to meet the thrust of the theological revival after World War II. At the end of that war the pent-up energies of Catholic scholars, together with the freedom to publish and exchange opinions, set in motion the theological revival sometimes labeled the "new theology." The purpose of the encyclical was twofold: to correct certain extreme opinions held in some Catholic circles; and to restate those traditional Catholic teachings relative to the direction in which the postwar theological revival was heading.
The opening paragraphs of the encyclical catalogued extreme non-Christian philosophies of evolutionism, existentialism, and historicism as contributing to the spread of error. However, at the same time, it called for Catholic philosophers and theologians to study these philosophies for the purpose of combating them. The encyclical significantly stated that each of these philosophies contains a certain amount of truth, and that such study will lead Catholic scholars to a fruitful discussion and evaluation of philosophical and theological truths.
In the field of theology the encyclical specifically restated the condemnations of earlier pontiffs of merely relativistic conceptions of Catholic dogma. Such conceptions lead to the more dangerous error of neglect of the teaching authority of the Church. At this point the encyclicals themselves are spoken of as organs of the ordinary teaching (magisterium ) of the Church.
In modern Biblical studies the encyclical condemned as specific errors the exegesis of Scripture that ignores or is opposed to the analogy of faith and the tradition of the Church and that which is marked by either ignorance or contempt for the literal meaning of the text in favor of a purely spiritual interpretation.
Theological reaffirmations of traditional Catholic teaching concerned the following: the demonstration of the existence of God, creation, predestination, the existence of angels, the gratuity of the supernatural order, original sin, the meaning of sin, transubstantia tion, and membership in the Church, mystical body of christ. In philosophy, the encyclical reaffirmed the Church's approval of thomism according to the norms of Pope leo xiii and Pope St. pius x.
Finally, the encyclical considered specific teachings derived from the "positive sciences" but more or less connected to the truths of the Christian religion. In the question of human evolution specific direction is given to continue present research and inquiry by specialists; in addition, two statements are made about problems related directly to evolution. The first concerns the evolution of the human body from preexisting and living matter, that is, that such an opinion is not as yet a certain conclusion from the facts and that revelation demands moderation and caution. The second concerns polygenism, and is to the effect that it cannot at the present time be taught by Catholics, for it is not yet apparent how polygenism is to be reconciled with the traditional teaching of the Church on original sin. Finally, in the sphere of historical study, the encyclical condemns those who empty the Genesis accounts in the OT of any historical sense. However, the history contained in those accounts is, according to the encyclical, to be determined by exegetes keeping in mind the process of inspiration, the popular intent of the documents, and the metaphorical nature of the language.
Humani generis did not stop the postwar theological revival, nor was it intended to do so; but it did serve to channel that revival toward constructive work, and to limit prudently certain areas of speculation. The ultimately prudential nature of the encyclical is evident in its refusal to name or censure specific persons or even titles of works, and in its evident awareness of and interest in modern thought.
The significance of Humani generis as regards to various theological topics has been discussed where pertinent in the respective related articles of this encyclopedia.
Bibliography: pius XII, "Humani generis" (Encyclical, 12 Aug. 1950) Act ApS 42 (1950) 561–578, Eng. Catholic Mind 48 (Nov. 1950) 688–700. a. c. cotter, The Encyclical "Humani generis" (Weston, Mass. 1951). s. tromp, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 5:524–525. j. m. connolly, Voices of France (New York 1961). j. levie, "L'Encyclique Humani generis, " Nouvelle Revue théologique 72 (1950) 785–793. f. taymÁns, "L'Encyclique Humani generis et la théologie," ibid., 73 (1951) 3–20. r. guelluy, "Les antécédents de l'encyclique Humani Generis dans les sanctions Romaines de 1942: Chenu, Charlier, Draguet," Revue d'Histoire Ecclesiastique 81 (1986) 421–97.
[j. m. connolly]