News.va today reports on the Holy Father's address to participants in a three day conference, organised by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Encyclical Letter of Blessed John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, issued on Holy Thursday, 1963.
Seeing this item, I re-read the encyclical letter of the Pope who is soon to be canonised. As Pope Francis rightly notes, the immediate context of the letter was the cold war and the fear of a third world war even more terrible and destructive than the previous two which had brought such horror to the world.
We can also see in the great encyclicals of former popes much that is relevant to our own time and our own culture, since the encyclicals build on the constant teaching of the Church and the wisdom that has been handed on to us. I have copied and pasted a few quotations that struck me as being pertinent to us in England today:
First of all, a fundamental principle:
"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." (n.1)Then something that was uncontroversial in 1963:
"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. Of course, the support and education of children is a right which belongs primarily to the parents." (nn. 16-17)An appeal to objective truth:
"Hence, before a society can be considered well-ordered, creative, and consonant with human dignity, it must be based on truth." (n.35)And an affirmation that was taken up by Blessed John Paul, who is also to be canonised along with Blessed John XXIII, in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae with regard to abortion and euthanasia which are contraventions of the moral order:
"Governmental authority, therefore, is a postulate of the moral order and derives from God. Consequently, laws and decrees passed in contravention of the moral order, and hence of the divine will, can have no binding force in conscience, since "it is right to obey God rather than men." (n.51)In Britain, several cases have emerged in recent years where people have been arrested and held in cells because of the excessive concern for the rights of a particular minority, namely those with same-sex attraction. Blessed John XXIII would not have imagined these cases but states the principle:
"An excessive concern for the rights of any particular individuals or groups might well result in the principal advantages of the State being in effect monopolized by these citizens." (n.65)This longer extract is fascinating in its prophetic understanding of the question of the proper association of minority groups - in this case, we might think of Muslims - in a society in which they form a part:
"It is worth noting, however, that these minority groups, in reaction, perhaps, to the enforced hardships of their present situation, or to historical circumstances, frequently tend to magnify unduly characteristics proper to their own people. They even rate them above those human values which are common to all mankind, as though the good of the entire human family should subserve the interests of their own particular groups. A more reasonable attitude for such people to adopt would be to recognize the advantages, too, which accrue to them from their own special situation. They should realize that their constant association with a people steeped in a different civilization from their own has no small part to play in the development of their own particular genius and spirit. Little by little they can absorb into their very being those virtues which characterize the other nation. But for this to happen these minority groups must enter into some kind of association with the people in whose midst they are living, and learn to share their customs and way of life. It will never happen if they sow seeds of disaffection which can only produce a harvest of evils, stifling the political development of nations." (n.97)Finally, another consideration which bears on Catholic education:
"We consider too that a further reason for this very frequent divorce between faith and practice in Christians is an inadequate education in Christian teaching and Christian morality. In many places the amount of energy devoted to the study of secular subjects is all too often out of proportion to that devoted to the study of religion. Scientific training reaches a very high level, whereas religious training generally does not advance beyond the elementary stage. It is essential, therefore, that the instruction given to our young people be complete and continuous, and imparted in such a way that moral goodness and the cultivation of religious values may keep pace with scientific knowledge and continually advancing technical progress." (n.153)