(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 entire section is 855 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Cochran, Clarke E., and David Carroll Cochran. Catholics, Politics, and Public Policy: Beyond Left and Right. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2003. This work discusses themes in the documents of Catholic social teachings and makes several references to Octogesima Adveniens.

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005. This work attempts to systematize and synthesize the many documents, including Octogesima Adveniens, that are part of Catholic social teachings.

Weigel, George, and Robert Royal, eds. Building the Free Society: Democracy, Capitalism, and Catholic Social Teaching. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993. This work includes eleven essays, each examining a different important document, including one on Octogesima Adveniens, in the tradition of Catholic social teachings.