Pacem in Terris Primary Source eText

Primary Source

(American Decades Primary Sources: 1960-1969)

Pope John XXIII is welcomed by the crowds on his way to the shrines of Loreto and Assisi, Italy, October 1962. Pope John XXIII affirmed the inviolability of human rights in his encyclical Pacem in Terris. GETTY IMAGES. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Pope John XXIII is welcomed by the crowds on his way to the shrines of Loreto and Assisi, Italy, October 1962. Pope John XXIII affirmed the inviolability of human rights in his encyclical Pacem in Terris. GETTY IMAGES. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage GETTY IMAGES. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

Papal encyclical

By: Pope John XXIII

Date: April 11, 1963

Source: Pope John XXIII. Pacem in Terris, Rome, April 11, 1963. Available online at (accessed February 2, 2003).

About the Author: Pope John XXIII (1881–1963) was born in Sotto il Monte, Italy, as Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli. He was ordained a priest in 1904 and served as a chaplain during World War I. In 1925, he became an archbishop and served as an apostolic delegate to Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece. In 1953, he was appointed patriarch of Venice. During his tenure as pope (1958–1963), he summoned the Second Vatican Council.


Pope John XXIII issued "On Establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity, and Liberty" (Pacem in Terris) during the height of cold war tension between the West and the Soviet Union. As the world faced the threat of nuclear war, the pope wanted to play a role in helping to calm people's fears.

The aim of his encyclical was to bring about global stability. In addressing human rights abuses throughout the world, the pope condemned authoritarianism from both the political left and the political right—in both communist nations and the capitalist, Western nations. By addressing the human rights weaknesses of both sides, and through his own personal diplomacy, he was trying to convince all nations that they were equally responsible for changing their own societies and reducing the threat of war.

His concern for the promotion of human rights was apparent through his choice of subtopics for the encyclical. Under the banner of human rights and freedom, for example, he focused upon rights pertaining to moral and cultural values, the right to worship God according to one's conscience, the right to choose freely one's state in life, economic rights (having a decent job), the right of meeting and association, the right to emigrate and immigrate, political rights, reciprocity of rights and duties between persons, the right of mutual collaboration (working together), and the right of the equality of all humans. In the pope's view, some of these issues were more applicable to communist nations such as the Soviet Union, and some were more applicable to the Western nations, including the United States.

The overall message of Pope John XXIII's encyclical centered on the common bonds that united all humans. These ties were more important than the political, cultural, and racial differences that divided them. In emphasizing these common bonds, he called for an end to the arms race, gradual disarmament, and respect for basic human rights.


In their encyclicals, earlier popes had urged universal peace, truth, justice, and charity. In the eyes of many theologians and religious observers, though, the pope's emphasis on the word liberty made Pacem in Terris unique. In an April 27, 1963, article in America magazine, for example, Father John Courtney Murray commented that "Freedom is a basic principle of political order; it is also the political method. The whole burden of the encyclical is that the order for which the post-modern world is looking cannot be an order that is imposed by force, or sustained by coercion, or based on fear."

The pope's words were generally welcomed by many Americans. His charisma and emphasis on human rights were well received in the Catholic community and the rest of the nation. Some observers, though, were sharply critical, charging that he was too soft on communism and even suggesting that he was a "socialist pope." A column in Life magazine on April 26, 1963—just two weeks after the encyclical was issued—noted that the pope's critics were disturbed by the "'leftish' pronouncements in the new encyclical, including its favorable references to government welfare services, full employment, complete racial equality, the U.N., disarmament, and even the need for world government."

Primary Source: Pacem in Terris [excerpt]

SYNOPSIS: In these excerpts, Pope John XXIII affirms the God-given sanctity of human rights. These rights applied to relations among individuals, between the individual and the community, and among nations. Only by respecting and obeying the law of God can full human rights ever be achieved and peace, founded on mutual trust, be obtained. The encyclical contained 173 statements; numbers 8–27 and 37–43 are included here.

To Our Venerable Brethren the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, and all other Local Ordinaries who are at Peace and in Communion with the Apostolic See, and to the Clergy and Faithful of the entire Catholic World, and to all Men of Good Will. Venerable Brethren and Dearest Sons Health and Apostolic Benediction.

Peace on Earth—which man throughout the ages has so longed for and sought after—can never be established, never guaranteed, except by the diligent observance of the divinely established order.…

I. Order Between Men

8. We must devote our attention first of all to that order which should prevail among men.

9. Any well-regulated and productive association of men in society demands the acceptance of one fundamental principle: that each individual man is truly a person. His is a nature, that is, endowed with intelligence and free will. As such he has rights and duties, which together flow as a direct consequence from his nature. These rights and duties are universal and inviolable, and therefore altogether inalienable.

10. When, furthermore, we consider man's personal dignity from the standpoint of divine revelation, inevitably our estimate of it is incomparably increased. Men have been ransomed by the blood of Jesus Christ. Grace has made them sons and friends of God, and heirs to eternal glory.


11. But first We must speak of man's rights. Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood.

Rights Pertaining to Moral and Cultural Values

12. Moreover, man has a natural right to be respected. He has a right to his good name. He has a right to freedom in investigating the truth, and—

within the limits of the moral order and the common good—to freedom of speech and publication, and to freedom to pursue whatever profession he may choose. He has the right, also, to be accurately informed about public events.

13. He has the natural right to share in the benefits of culture, and hence to receive a good general education, and a technical or professional training consistent with the degree of educational development in his own country. Furthermore, a system must be devised for affording gifted members of society the opportunity of engaging in more advanced studies, with a view to their occupying, as far as possible, positions of responsibility in society in keeping with their natural talent and acquired skill.

The Right to Worship God According to One's Conscience

14. Also among man's rights is that of being able to worship God in accordance with the right dictates of his own conscience, and to profess his religion both in private and in public. According to the clear teaching of Lactantius, "this is the very condition of our birth, that we render to the God who made us that just homage which is His due; that we acknowledge Him alone as God, and follow Him. It is from this ligature of piety, which binds us and joins us to God, that religion derives its name."

Hence, too, Pope Leo XIII declared that "true freedom, freedom worthy of the sons of God, is that freedom which most truly safeguards the dignity of the human person. It is stronger than any violence or injustice. Such is the freedom which has always been desired by the Church, and which she holds most dear. It is the sort of freedom which the Apostles resolutely claimed for themselves. The apologists defended it in their writings; thousands of martyrs consecrated it with their blood."

The Right to Choose Freely One's State in Life

15. Human beings have also the right to choose for themselves the kind of life which appeals to them: whether it is to found a family—in the founding of which both the man and the woman enjoy equal rights and duties—or to embrace the priesthood or the religious life.

16. The family, founded upon marriage freely contracted, one and indissoluble, must be regarded as the natural, primary cell of human society. The interests of the family, therefore, must be taken very specially into consideration in social and economic affairs, as well as in the spheres of faith and morals. For all of these have to do with strengthening the family and assisting it in the fulfilment of its mission.

17. Of course, the support and education of children is a right which belongs primarily to the parents.

Economic Rights

18. In the economic sphere, it is evident that a man has the inherent right not only to be given the opportunity to work, but also to be allowed the exercise of personal initiative in the work he does.

19. The conditions in which a man works form a necessary corollary to these rights. They must not be such as to weaken his physical or moral fibre, or militate against the proper development of adolescents to manhood. Women must be accorded such conditions of work as are consistent with their needs and responsibilities as wives and mothers.

20. A further consequence of man's personal dignity is his right to engage in economic activities suited to his degree of responsibility. The worker is likewise entitled to a wage that is determined in accordance with the precepts of justice. This needs stressing. The amount a worker receives must be sufficient, in proportion to available funds, to allow him and his family a standard of living consistent with human dignity. Pope Pius XII expressed it in these terms:

Nature imposes work upon man as a duty, and man has the corresponding natural right to demand that the work he does shall provide him with the means of livelihood for himself and his children. Such is nature's categorical imperative for the preservation of man.

21. As a further consequence of man's nature, he has the right to the private ownership of property, including that of productive goods. This, as We have said elsewhere, is "a right which constitutes so efficacious a means of asserting one's personality and exercising responsibility in every field, and an element of solidity and security for family life, and of greater peace and prosperity in the State."

22. Finally, it is opportune to point out that the right to own private property entails a social obligation as well.

The Right of Meeting and Association

23. Men are by nature social, and consequently they have the right to meet together and to form associations with their fellows. They have the right to confer on such associations the type of organization which they consider best calculated to achieve their objectives. They have also the right to exercise their own initiative and act on their own responsibility within these associations for the attainment of the desired results.

24. As We insisted in Our encyclical Mater et Magistra, the founding of a great many such intermediate groups or societies for the pursuit of aims which it is not within the competence of the individual to achieve efficiently, is a matter of great urgency. Such groups and societies must be considered absolutely essential for the safeguarding of man's personal freedom and dignity, while leaving intact a sense of responsibility.

The Right to Emigrate and Immigrate

25. Again, every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his own State. When there are just reasons in favor of it, he must be permitted to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there. The fact that he is a citizen of a particular State does not deprive him of membership in the human family, nor of citizenship in that universal society, the common, world-wide fellowship of men.

Political Rights

26. Finally, man's personal dignity involves his right to take an active part in public life, and to make his own contribution to the common welfare of his fellow citizens. As Pope Pius XII said, "man as such, far from being an object or, as it were, an inert element in society, is rather its subject, its basis and its purpose; and so must he be esteemed."

27. As a human person he is entitled to the legal protection of his rights, and such protection must be effective, unbiased, and strictly just. To quote again Pope Pius XII:

In consequence of that juridical order willed by God, man has his own inalienable right to juridical security. To him is assigned a certain, well-defined sphere of law, immune from arbitrary attack.…

God and the Moral Order

37. Now the order which prevails in human society is wholly incorporeal in nature. Its foundation is truth, and it must be brought into effect by justice. It needs to be animated and perfected by men's love for one another, and, while preserving freedom intact, it must make for an equilibrium in society which is increasingly more human in character.

38. But such an order—universal, absolute and immutable in its principles—finds its source in the true, personal and transcendent God. He is the first truth, the sovereign good, and as such the deepest source from which human society, if it is to be properly constituted, creative, and worthy of man's dignity, draws its genuine vitality. This is what St. Thomas means when he says:

Human reason is the standard which measures the degree of goodness of the human will, and as such it derives from the eternal law, which is divine reason … Hence it is clear that the goodness of the human will depends much more on the eternal law than on human reason.

Characteristics of the Present Day

39. There are three things which characterize our modern age.

40. In the first place we notice a progressive improvement in the economic and social condition of working men. They began by claiming their rights principally in the economic and social spheres, and then proceeded to lay claim to their political rights as well. Finally, they have turned their attention to acquiring the more cultural benefits of society.

Today, therefore, working men all over the world are loud in their demands that they shall in no circumstances be subjected to arbitrary treatment, as though devoid of intelligence and freedom. They insist on being treated as human beings, with a share in every sector of human society: in the socioeconomic sphere, in government, and in the realm of learning and culture.

41. Secondly, the part that women are now playing in political life is everywhere evident. This is a development that is perhaps of swifter growth among Christian nations, but it is also happening extensively, if more slowly, among nations that are heirs to different traditions and imbued with a different culture. Women are gaining an increasing awareness of their natural dignity. Far from being content with a purely passive role or allowing themselves to be regarded as a kind of instrument, they are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons.

42. Finally, we are confronted in this modern age with a form of society which is evolving on entirely new social and political lines. Since all peoples have either attained political independence or are on the way to attaining it, soon no nation will rule over another and none will be subject to an alien power.

43. Thus all over the world men are either the citizens of an independent State, or are shortly to become so; nor is any nation nowadays content to submit to foreign domination. The longstanding inferiority complex of certain classes because of their economic and social status, sex, or position in the State, and the corresponding superiority complex of other classes, is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.…

Further Resources


Cahill, Thomas. Pope John XXIII. New York: Viking, 2002.

Feldman, Christian. Pope John XXIII: A Spiritual Biography. New York: Crossroad, 2000.

Johnson, Paul. Pope John XXIII. Boston: Little, Brown, 1974.


"Jewish Group Wants Pope John XXIII Declared Righteous." America, September 23, 2000, 5.

McBrien, Richard P. "Peasant Profundis." America, April 8, 2002, 23.

Twomey, Gerald S. "Anniversary Thoughts: Ten Lessons from Good Pope John." America, October 7, 2002, 12.


O'Grady, Desmond. "Almost a Saint: Pope John XXIII." St. Anthony Messenger. Available online at ; website home page: (acessed February 2, 2003).

Randall, Beth. "Illuminating Lives: Pope John XXIII." Available online at (accessed February 2, 2003).