Pacem in Terris Summary

Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The early 1960’s saw the world facing the grim reality of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race, with the threat of a nuclear holocaust. The Berlin Wall, constructed in 1961, had become a chilling symbol of the polarization of relations between the Soviet Union and the Western capitalist nations. The Cuban missile crisis in 1962 had brought the world to the very brink of war, and Pope John XXIII had been personally involved as a correspondent between President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. This alarming event, however, precipitated an eloquent response from the Vatican in the form of the encyclical Pacem in Terris. Issued on April 11, 1963, at the start of the Easter weekend, the encyclical was addressed to not only the Catholic community, or even just the Christian community, but also “all men of good will.” It acknowledged peace as a goal and necessity that transcended all denominational and national boundaries, and it appealed to all on the level of common humanity.

The entire encyclical was an affirmation of human rights and duties, appealing to its audience on the grounds of a common humanity within a global community. While it echoes and develops certain ideas put forth in Pope John’s 1961 encyclical Mater et Magistra (English translation, 1961), it is the first Vatican document to address issues essentially on an international order. In the introduction, Pope John states that the only way to establish peace on earth is to follow God’s order. This divine order is outlined in the first four of five parts of the encyclical.

Part 1 is primarily a discussion of the rights of the human being, such as a “worthy standard of living”; religious, economic and political freedoms; and the right to immigrate and emigrate. This statement of human rights also reflects the political and social times of the mid-twentieth century, when civil rights were a major issue, especially concerning racial segregation and inequality in the southern part of the United States (incidentally, Martin Luther King,...

(The entire section is 844 words.)

Pacem in Terris Bibliography (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Catholic Church, National Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response. Washington, D.C.: Office of Publishing Services, United States Catholic Conference, 1983. This pastoral letter from U.S. Catholic bishops declares that nuclear war can never be justified by just-war teachings. Echoing Pacem in Terris, it calls for immediate disarmament and cessation of nuclear war.

Curran, Charles E. Catholic Social Teaching 1891-Present: A Historical, Theological, and Ethical Analysis. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2002. Follows the development of methodological approaches to modern Catholic social teachings and ethics as rooted in theology.

Massaro, Thomas J. Catholic Perspectives on War and Peace. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004. Provides an insightful overview of Catholic teachings on war and peace, including just-war theory and pacifism. It traces the developments of particular teachings and examines recent Christian approaches to peacemaking.

Roncalli, Angelo. Journal of a Soul. Translated by Dorothy M. White. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964. Autobiography of Pope John XXIII, compiled from diaries he began at age fourteen. Offers insight into how doctrines of peace affected and shaped Pope John’s spirituality.