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Octogesima Adveniens Summary

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Pope Paul VI’s Octogesima Adveniens takes its title, as do all major papal writings, from the first few words of the Latin version of the document. In this case, the words mean “the eightieth anniversary” and refer to the eightieth anniversary of Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891), the first papal social encyclical. Paul VI is following the tradition of Pius XI, whose 1931 social encyclical was entitled Quadragesimo Anno (forty years) and also paid homage to Rerum Novarum. Later, in 1991, John Paul II would again refer to Rerum Novarum with his Centesimus Annus.

Octogesima Adveniens reads like an encyclical, but it is properly classified as an apostolic letter, a typic of document that is usually addressed to a Vatican official or a group of bishops. Octogesima Adveniens is addressed to Cardinal Maurice Roy, president of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace, which was established by Paul VI. It is likely that Octogesima Adveniens was intended to give prominence to that body. The work consists of fifty-two sections without any chapter divisions.

Paul VI begins by speaking of the universal appeal of the Church’s message about human beings and social life, and makes reference to the people whom he has met during his pontificate. This is significant as Paul VI was the first modern pope to travel extensively. The Church, Paul VI asserts, does not require the same structures in all places, but the same moral concerns should be expressed to all people.

Sections 8 through 21 address specific social concerns. The topic receiving the most attention in these sections is the impact of urbanization. Paul VI decries large urban areas with vast numbers of poor living in substandard conditions. He expresses a vision whereby Christians can bring “a message of hope” to the city and states that “this can be done by brotherhood which is lived and by concrete justice.”

Paul VI then raises several other concerns about social life. He briefly refers to the youth of the world and is concerned whether the world will provide a proper environment for them. He has a brief section on women in which he expresses concern regarding sex discrimination and hopes for equality of rights. There follows a section on workers in which he reaffirms a right to work and speaks of the important role of labor unions, although he expresses concern that labor unions are not always able to perform their role, which he sees as collaboration in society. There follows a brief section on compassion for those who experience social and political changes and are thereby placed on the fringes of society. Paul VI offers some brief thoughts on discrimination based on race, origin, color, culture, sex, or religion and says that all must be eradicated.

There are two sections that relate to seeking employment. One section affirms a new idea in the social encyclicals—the right to emigrate for economic reasons—and calls on Christians to assist those migrating for economic well-being. The other section related to employment indicates that the state has a positive role in encouraging the creation of new jobs.

After a brief section on social communication, there is a section addressing moral concerns related to the environment. Paul VI says that “man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill-considered exploitation of nature he risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation.”

Section 22 through 41 consider more theoretical concerns about public life. Paul VI addresses the need for legal rules that protect rights, but he also acknowledges that legal rules alone will not be enough for the recognition of rights. There must be a culture that respects the rights of human beings. Paul VI affirms the importance of equality and participation within political society, both of which point to democratic life.

Paul VI then addresses the Catholic Church’s social views regarding relations to others. He asserts that the Church’s social teachings are not an...

(The entire section is 986 words.)