riH E Encyclical Hurnanae Generis is the seventh that Pope Paul VI has writtep since his election in 1963. Its predecesscrs have dealt with thb Church, peace and the Ecumenical Council, the Eucharist, the Rosary, poverty and celibacy.
opuh)rum Progressio verty) and Sacerdotalis Cdelihaius (celibacy) were both widely reported and debated but neither has redeived the kind of public ty nor ignited such im assioned debate as H matiae Generic.
he word "encyclical" co es from two Greek w rds: en meaning "in," an I kyklos, a circle. Enky -like means a circular Let er. a letter that is meant to 'go the rounds." Originally the term was applied to their pastoral letters by many bishops. but today it indicates only, the Pope's letters, 7-incyclicals always start by addressing those to wI om they are sent. finzanue Generic is no ex option. It begins: To t the Venerable Patriarchs, Archbishops and Bishops and other Local Ordinaries i in peace and communion wi h the Apostolic See, to Pr ests and the Faithful and to all men of good will.
The introduction also includes the Papal blessing and the date on which the document was signed by the Pope together with the year of his pontificate. The Pope's name is followed by "PP's—papa. the Latin for pope.
The custom of sending letters to scattered Christians began in the earliest days of the Church. St. Peter. the first pope. wrote two of these. His first begins with a familiar ring: "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect who dwell as foreigners up and down Pontus. Galatia. Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia ..."
No letter of Peter's successor, Linus. survives but there is one from the third pope, Clement. It was probably written about AD. 95. but such were the hazards of communication in those days that the letter does not appear to have reached England until 1633 by which time. one presumes. the issue had lost sonic of its urgency.
Generally encyclicals arc used as vehicles to condemn prevalent errors or to explain to the faithful the line of conduct which Christians should take in reference to urgent practical questions.
One of the earliest largescale disputes which called forth the ancient equivalent of an encyclical concerned the date of Easter. Christians throughout Asia fixed the date to coincide with the Jewish Passover, but the rest of the Church thought it should be on the day of Our Lord's Resurrection.
Pope Victor I ( A.D. c.189-c.199) "denounced in letters" the communities of the whole of Asia and proclaimed that the Christians Of those parts "were all wholly excommunicated."
The encyclical as we know it today dates from the middle of the eighteenth century when Pope Benedict XIV', (1740-58) wrote the first of an uninterrupted sequence of encyclicals.
In his 18-year pontificate he wrote 29 encyclicals covering a variety of sub jects including the exercise of the priestly ministry. marriage. Quanta cura which forbade trafficking in alms, liturgical prayer. fasting, usury and the Holy Inquisition.
Benedict's successors did not all share his vociferous appetite for writing encyclicals. Pius VII (188-23) issued only six in his pontificate of 23 years.
But Catholics in the days of Leo XIII (1878-1903) must have become positively punch-drunk with that Pontiff's offerings. In his 25-year pontificate he issued 84, an average of three a year with eight in 1888 alone. His most lasting encyclical was Reran' Novarum on the condition of the working classes which was condemned by sonic bishops at the time as Marxist.
In more recent times Pius XI promulgated thirty encyclicals including Quadrugesimo anno which was. in effect. a follow-up to Rerum Novarum, and the famous Casti connubii, the direct predecessor of last week's encyclical.
Pius Xll's two greatest encyclicals were Mystici Corporis Christi on the nature of the Church which foreshadowed much of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, and Medicaor Dei, reforming the liturgy.
Pope John XXIII wrote eight encyclicals. The most famous are (tlater, et Magistra on Christianity and Pacem in Terris, a plea for peace in the world which brought an imrnediate and generous response from the world at large.
Like its predecessors, Ilumanne Vitae was printed in the Tipografia Poligliata Vaticana, the Vatican printing press established in 1587. The official translations — supplied to the bishops of each country—come from here too. And true to Roman tradition, which demands that nothing must be brought into being without an edict, the Vatican press was set up all those years ago by Sixtus V under the terms of a Papal Bull called Ewe Semper EA.