Mater et Magistra

by Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

"Mater et Magistra" (Mother and Teacher) is an encyclical written by Pope John XXIII, which was promulgated on 15 May 1961. The letter is, in a way, a social doctrine, as it covers a plethora of socially and politically relevant subjects such as peace, human rights, human dignity, education, health care, and aid for women.

Mother and Teacher of all nations—such is the Catholic Church in the mind of her Founder, Jesus Christ; to hold the world in an embrace of love, that men, in every age, should find in her their own completeness in a higher order of living, and their ultimate salvation.

"Mater et Magistra" was written as some sort of a response to Pope Leo XIII's social encyclical "Rerum Novarum," on his 70th anniversary, and the social opinions and philosophies of Pope Pius XI in "Quadragesimo Anno," and of Pope Pius XII, who explained his thoughts on a radio show in 1941.

Small wonder, then, that the Catholic Church, in imitation of Christ and in fulfillment of His commandment, relies not merely upon her teaching to hold aloft the torch of charity, but also upon her own widespread example. This has been her course now for nigh on two thousand years, from the early ministrations of her deacons right down to the present time. It is a charity which combines the precepts and practice of mutual love. It holds fast to the twofold aspect of Christ's command to give, and summarizes the whole of the Church's social teaching and activity.

The literal title of the letter is “MATER ET MAGISTRA ENCYCLICAL OF POPE JOHN XXIII ON CHRISTIANITY AND SOCIAL PROGRESS.” Thus, he starts the letter as follows:

To His Venerable Brethren the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, and all other Local Ordinaries that are at Peace and in Communion with the Apostolic See, and to the Clergy and Faithful of the entire Catholic World.

Venerable Brethren and Dearest Sons, Health and Apostolic Benediction.

The Pope wrote the letter to the Church, addressing its role, the various changes that happened in the world at the time, the overall socio-economic and political development, and, naturally, the role of Christianity and religion in general.

Justice is to be observed not only in the distribution of wealth, but also in regard to the conditions in which men are engaged in producing this wealth. Every man has, of his very nature, a need to express himself in his work and thereby to perfect his own being.

Christianity is the meeting-point of earth and heaven. It lays claim to the whole man, body and soul, intellect and will, inducing him to raise his mind above the changing conditions of this earthly existence and reach upwards for the eternal life of heaven, where one day he will find his unfailing happiness and peace.

He ends the letter by giving his conclusion, writing:

This era in which we live is in the grip of deadly errors; it is torn by deep disorders. But it is also an era which offers to those who work with the Church immense possibilities in the field of the apostolate. And therein lies our hope.

You can read the full encyclical here.

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