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Pacem in Terris


Eighth encyclical of john xxiii, issued April 11, 1963. Although widely hailed as an encyclical on international peace, in the narrow sense, its scope covers the whole range of order in human affairs, for it identifies peace with that unity of order that is based on respect for the law of God. To this end it expounds, in a more comprehensive manner than any previous papal document, the order that should prevail between man and man, between man and the community, and between communities inter se and the world community.

Because of the immense scope of the encyclical, it is not surprising that different interests welcomed it for different reasons. In one respect it appealed to all, namely, in its sincere desire for brotherhood between men. Western newspapers welcomed the encyclical for its humanitarian vision and boundless confidence in man's capacity for peace. Soviet news agencies gave it the favor of relatively extensive summary. In certain respects its welcome was selective. Some socialist sources praised it vaguely for positions already advocated by socialists, particularly internationalism, while the Communist press headlined its plea for disarmament to the extent that

Radio Vatican felt it necessary to issue a reminder that insistence on human freedom and dignity rather than advocacy of disarmament was at the core of the document.

The first part of Pacem in terris is built on the truth that order between individual men must be founded on the fact that man is a person. Such order consists essentially in respect for rights and duties that pertain to man entirely in virtue of his personality. The encyclical is a veritable charter of human rights, which it lists in specific detail, and is in a way reminiscent of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In its second part the encyclical presents the relationship between the individual and the state as basically one of subjection to authoritynot, however, as an authority rooted simply in physical force, but rather one representing the coercive power of a moral entity. For this reason the ordinances of human authority must be in accordance with the order of God's law. The encyclical launches into an important exposition of the philosophy of law that is diametrically opposed to all forms of legal positivism.

In its third part the encyclical argues that states, just as individuals, are the subjects of rights and duties. These rights and duties are translated into practical action by the persons who govern the state, for through these alone can the state be subjected to the moral law. Among the many things that this entails is a practical recognition of the equality of all states in dignity, whatever their racial backgrounds or their political or cultural stages of development. Recognition of solidarity implies in the concrete, not only that individual states should pursue their ends without hurting one another, but also that they should join forces whenever the efforts of an individual government cannot achieve its desired goals. The encyclical insists that trust rather than fear should be the vivifying factor in relationships between states. In place of the law of fear, which has prevailed for so long, the law of love should be substituted. Here there is a direct reference to war and peace, in the form of a plea that the arms race cease, that the stockpiles that exist be reduced equally and simultaneously by the countries concerned, and that nuclear weapons be banned and eventually a general disarmament reached.

The fourth part of the encyclical urges the importance of interdependence between states. Greater today than ever before, the collaboration that such interdependence stimulates puts an end to former ideas about absolute sovereignty and absolute national self-determination. The conclusion of the encyclical is devoted to pastoral exhortations. Catholics are urged to cooperate both individually and corporately with non-Catholics and even non-Christians for the advancement of praiseworthy social and political ends.

Bibliography: Official Latin text in Acta Apostolicae Sedis 55 (1963) 257304. English translation in d. j. o'brien and t. a. shannon, eds., Catholic Social Thought: The Documentary Heritage (Maryknoll, NY, 1992) 131162. j. newman, Principles of Peace: A Commentary on John XXIII's "Pacem in Terris" (Oxford, 1964). d. j. o'brien, "A Century of Catholic Social Teaching: Contexts and Comments," in j. a. coleman, ed., One Hundred Years of Catholic Social Thought (Maryknoll, NY, 1991) 1324.

[j. newman]

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