An encyclical was originally a circular letter sent to all the churches of a particular area in the ancient Roman Church. At that time, the word could be used for a letter sent out by any bishop. The word comes from Late Latin ''encyclios'' (from Latin ''encyclius'', a Latinization of Greek ''enkyklios'' meaning "circular", "in a circle", or "all-round", also part of the origin of the word encyclopedia). The term has been used by Catholics, Anglicans and the Eastern Orthodox.

Catholic usage

Although the term "encyclical" originally simply meant a circulating letter, it acquired a more specific meaning within the context of the Catholic Church. In 1740, Pope Benedict XIV wrote a letter titled ''Ubi primum'', which is generally regarded as the first ''encyclical'' in a modern sense. The term is now used almost exclusively for a kind of letter sent out by the Pope. For the modern Roman Catholic Church, a papal encyclical is a specific category of papal document, a kind of letter concerning Catholic doctrine, sent by the Pope and usually addressed especially to patriarchs, primates, archbishops and bishops who are in communion with the Holy See. The form of the address can vary widely, and may concern bishops in a particular area, or designate a wider audience. Papal encyclicals usually take the form of a papal brief due to their more personal nature as opposed to the formal papal bull. They are usually written in Latin and, like all papal documents, the title of the encyclical is usually taken from its first few words (its ''incipit'').

Papal use of encyclicals

Within Catholicism in recent times, an encyclical is generally used for significant issues and is second in importance only to the highest ranking document now issued by popes, an Apostolic Constitution. However, the designation "encyclical" does not always denote such a degree of significance. The archives at the Vatican website currently classify certain early encyclicals as Apostolic Exhortations, a term generally applied to a type of document with a broader audience than the bishops alone. Pope Pius XII held that papal encyclicals, even when they are not of ''ordinary magisterium'', can nonetheless be sufficiently authoritative to end theological debate on a particular question: Encyclicals indicate high papal priority for an issue at a given time. Pontiffs define when, and under which circumstances, encyclicals should be issued. They may choose to issue an apostolic constitution, bull, encyclical, apostolic letter or give a papal speech. Popes have differed on the use of encyclicals: on the issue of birth control and contraception, Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical ''Casti connubii'', while Pope Pius XII gave a speech to midwives and the medical profession, clarifying the position of the church on the issue. Pope Paul VI published an encyclical ''Humanae vitae'' on the same topic. On matters of war and peace, Pope Pius XII issued ten encyclicals, mostly after 1945, three of them protesting the Soviet invasion of Hungary in order to crack down on the Hungarian Revolution in 1956: ''Datis nuperrime'', ''Sertum laetitiae'' and ''Luctuosissimi eventus''. Pope Paul VI spoke about the war in Vietnam and Pope John Paul II, issued a protest against the war in Iraq using the medium of speeches. On social issues, Pope Leo XIII promulgated ''Rerum novarum'' (1891), which was followed by ''Quadragesimo anno'' (1931) of Pius XI and ''Centesimus annus'' (1991) of John Paul II. Pius XII spoke on the same topic to a consistory of cardinals, in his Christmas messages and to numerous academic and professional associations.

Modern encyclicals by pope

Anglican usage

Amongst Anglicans the term ''encyclical'' was revived in the late 19th century. It is applied to circular letters issued by the English primates.

Important Anglican encyclicals

*''Saepius officio'' (1897) in response to the Papal bull ''Apostolicae curae'' denying validity of Anglican orders

Important Eastern Orthodox encyclicals

*Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs (1848) *Patriarchal encyclical of 1895 *Patriarchal encyclical of 1920
Patriarchal encyclical of 2012



* ''Acta Apostolicae Sedis, (AAS),'' Rome and Vatican City State, 1920–2007 * ''The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church'' (3rd. ed.), p. 545.

External links

a source for etexts of most of the encyclicals from recent centuries {{Authority control Category:Christian genres