John XXIII: Pacem in Terris

Critical Comments Selected by Gerald Darring

New York Times (14 April 1963) 8E. "John XXIII's basic doctrine is that the common humanity which binds all men and all nations is more important than the doctrinal or racial differences which divide them. On these premises, he calls for an end to the arms race, for disarmament under effective control, and for voluntary acceptance by all nations of a world law.... It will not be easy to realize this program in a world riddled by suspicions, jealousies and hatreds. But it can be done if the leaders of the world follow the Pope's example and rise above national and doctrinal hatreds that lead only to disaster."

Nation (20 April 1963) 317. "It is the kind of message which befits the most liberal and earnestly religious Pope of this century. It echoes the yearnings of human beings everywhere. Whether the statesmen will dismiss it as the well-meaning declaration of one who has no atomic bombs at his command--that remains to be seen. Judging by past reaction, it will not dissuade them from redoubled efforts in the nuclear-arms race."

Emmet John Hughes. Newsweek (22 April 1963) 19. "He strikes at authoritarianism--as sternly on the political right as on the political left.... He scorns all economic doctrine fancifully returning to nineteenth-century laissez-faire.... He excoriates racial and national prejudice.... He warns free society against parochial opinion-makers--either state-appointed censors or self-appointed oracles.... He assails the shallow moralisms that can denature national policy and world diplomacy.... He insists--finally--upon respect for the rights of all who may be wrong.... Four centuries of modern history stand behind (these pronouncements). A Catholic tradition rarely distracted, over those centuries, by the premises--or the promises--of an unbridled 'free economy' can greet a new age, more alert to the common weal, with a sigh of relief and recognition."

Christian Century (24 April 1963) 567. With regard to tactics "John XXIII has shown himself to be a blunderer. For example, he issued Mater et Magistra without consulting the editors--several of whom are Catholics--of the National Review, which described the encyclical as a venture in trivia because it dealt with recent social thought in a positive way.... Furthermore, the pope's latest encyclical, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), contains utterances on race that would confound New Orleans lay theologian Mrs. B. J. Gaillot, who has issued her own views on what the pope must teach. And what will the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation cells do with the new encyclical's words on disarmament, on coexistence, on the U.N.? On these points Pope John sounds as 'communist' as the World and National councils of churches. Why does he embarrass the Catholic social right wing? What kind of a tactician is he, anyhow?"

Commonweal (26 April 1963) 123. "It provides no support for those who would argue that a holy war against Communism is called for; for those who believe that any aid given one nation by another should be determined solely by political and military considerations; for those who believe that a nuclear balance of terror is the best way to preserve peace; for those who would cheerfully resort to nuclear war in the name of 'justice'; for those who would misuse the traditional doctrine of subsidiarity to keep the government out of the areas of social and economic welfare."

Life (26 April 1963) 4. "John XXIII has been called a 'socialist Pope' and his diplomacy has been marked by a series of overtures toward the Communist world.... In line with this diplomatic 'opening to the East,' the new encyclical makes some surprising verbal overtures.... Small wonder that Pope John has been accused of overoptimism, even 'softness' toward Communism; and his critics will not be mollified by other '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."

America (27 April 1963) 604. "Its abiding importance will prove to be something more than specific programs or policies. Ultimately, the encyclical's true greatness may be seen to consist in this, that it gave voice in our day to all mankind's authentic aspiration for lasting peace in a world order based on justice, truth, charity and freedom."

John Courtney Murray, S.J. America (27 April 1963) 613. "In the past, papal pronouncements on political and social order have always been suspended, as it were, from three great words--truth, justice and charity. These three great words are repeated in this encyclical, and the demands of each are carefully particularized. But a fourth word is added, with an insistence that is new at the same time that it is traditional. I mean the word freedom. 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 postmodern world is looking cannot be an order that is imposed by force, or sustained by coercion, or based on fear."

John Cogley. Commonweal (3 May 1963) 158-59. There are five reasons why this is a classic encyclical. 1) It is not overly specific in its directives and suggestions. 2) It is not so remotely general and unspecific as to become little more than a ferverino. 3) It is a soundly realistic document, packed with sound doctrine without being doctrinaire. 4) Its presentation is integral; its directives are put in a context which shows the exquisite conformity between reason and faith. 5) It unmistakably recognizes the need for political action and structural organization if peace is to be served.

Will Herberg. National Review (7 May 1963) 365. "Why the silence on Communist totalitarianism? Why the unrealism about world political community, peace and disarmament?... To me, it seems that the Pope's thinking is of a piece with his character as a man and as a Pontiff. Pope John is a man of great simplicity of spirit, a man of the deepest Christian idealism. He sees himself, if we may presume to guess, as the Pope of Peace and Unity. The vision of peace and unity possesses him; and a generous vision it is. But it is a vision of ultimates; it looks beyond, perhaps overlooks, the nearer world of immediates. But we, on our part, must live in both."

Frank S. Meyer. National Review (7 May 1963) 406. It is one thing to uphold the social primacy of the person. "It is another matter altogether, however, when the rights of the person are presented in close symmetry with the egalitarian, anti-capitalist, anti-Western attitudes of Liberalism; when the necessity of order is equated with a moral mandate for 'a world political authority'--an authority which would inevitably, by its very nature, impugn the sovereignties, the freedoms, the diversities, not only of nations but of civilizations, and create the conditions for the most fearsome tyranny in the history of man." And instead of condemning "the greatest danger to freedom, order, justice and peace in our time--the all-encompassing drive of Communism towards world dominion ... the encyclical counsels coexistence and collaboration with Communism."

Thurston N. Davis, S.J. America (18 May 1963) 708. "Realizing the desperate spiritual needs of the millions who are cut off from him, the pope has decided to try to break through the rigidities and ice jams of the Cold War with a purely religious, doctrinal, nonpolitical appeal to the rulers of the world--Chairman Khrushchev included--by which he urges that the illusory world peace no longer be allowed to be an instrument of false propaganda, but become a reality that corresponds to the avid dreams of all mankind."

Peter Riga. Continuum (1963) 194. "The novelty of this encyclical is that Pope John presents the church's teaching in a way which is in profound accord with modern aspirations (for international rights, disarmament, independence, the world community, economic and cultural dignity, and so on). It expresses these aspirations in the language of modern man, in his vocabulary. Pius XII had already said many of the things contained here, but for the first time a document from the Holy See uses the modern vocabulary of the rights of man. In fact, it is the first time that a papal document has given so much attention and praise to a secular document such as the Universal Declaration of Man."

Norman Cousins. Continuum (Summer 1963) 218. "In its analysis of the condition of man; in its assertion of freedom of conscience in religious and political matters; in its discussion of the dangers of a runaway nuclear arms race; in its comprehension of the nature of nuclear war; in its call for a strengthened United Nations under law, and responsive to the needs of the world human community--in all these respects, the encyclical letter has historic proportions. It is at once eloquent and practical, diagnostic and therapeutic, historical and contemporary. Most important of all, it sets men's minds in a new direction, enabling them to break loose from notions of inevitability, defeatism, and despair."

Otto Feinstein. Continuum (Summer 1963) 223. "The world is still caught up in the debates and classifications of the past century.... We live in this world and much of the discussion concerning Pacem in Terris and the work of John XXIII reflect these outworn debates. He was a great liberal Pope is the consensus of the mass media and the intellectual commentators. From the holy throne of the church, the liberal forces had received a document to support their side in the debate. But was this really the case? It is my fervent belief that Pope John was not the great liberal pope. He was a great Christian, nay, human pope. He transgressed the outworn Liberal-Conservative debate and addressed himself to the issues of the day using the precepts of those human values embodied in Christianity to capture the facts in the form of a problematic, and what is more important, made them real to the individual by pointing out what had to be done."

Victor Ferkiss. Catholic World (November 1963) 101. "Pacem in Terris strikes at the very basis of earlier pronouncements and discussions about communism by saying in effect that 'communism' as such is an abstract concept, but that the world in which we live is made up not of concepts but of individual men, particular political parties, day-to-day issues, and varied political and economic regimes. This represents a kind of analogue to the Church's changing position on religious tolerance. In this latter instance, the statement 'error has no rights' is being replaced by the more meaningful position that a person in error does have the right to worship according to the dictates of his conscience."

Catholic Lawyer (1964) 139. "This is the very first time that a document of the Church acclaims a declaration of human rights so solemnly. The main reason would seem to be, from the context, that the Declaration may form the common denominator, the ground for an understanding where men of different ideologies can meet."

Rudolf Kraemer-Badoni. Die Welt, quoted in Cross Currents 14 (Summer 1964) 276. "I address myself to Pope John, who sits on the venerable throne of St. Peter, with the following warning: You are abusing your dignity politically; you have taken a path leading to the final undermining of our will to ensure liberty, which is already weak; you want to save the Church at the cost of our freedom. You have no authorization from us to conduct such a policy. Give up that approach."

Leslie Dewart. Cross Currents (1964) 308-09. "The encyclical resolutely and unambiguously defends the principle of self-determination for all nations and thus can be taken also to exclude every form of political messianism, whether Communist or Liberalist. For not only individuals but societies also, in their own way, are endowed with freedom and, therefore, with responsibility. If freedom of conscience obtains in religious matters, it can hardly fail to obtain in political ones. Peaceful coexistence, in the last analysis, means toleration--sincere, deep and consistent toleration, not only of those groups we may dislike, but even of those which we may morally condemn."

John Cogley. Commonweal (1964) 357. "Pacem in Terris never veers from its natural law presuppositions. A world totally fashioned after its prescriptions would be a world in which the philosophy of natural law has triumphed over all others. Essentially, then, the encyclical, in the pluralistic setting of the modern world, is a 'sectarian' statement. That its conclusions jibe with those dear to many who have no taste for its cast of thought may be an unwitting tribute to the universalism of natural law doctrine, a tribute to the remarkably humane spirit of John XXIII, or merely an expression of the yearnings of a generation which longs for peace and is looking for any way out of its present impasse."

Augustine Rock. Cross and Crown (1965) 164-65. "What lifts Pacem in Terris out of the role of a somewhat impractical program proposed by a beloved visionary is [that it] was written by the Vicar of Christ on earth to human beings redeemed, whether they know it or not, by divine love attested in the death of Jesus Christ and his glorious resurrection. In other words, it is a document that comes from a Christian mind ... filled with Christian hope, which contains a message that only a Christian mind can fully comprehend. Surely in the light of human wisdom there is an element of the impractical in Christian hope."

E.E.Y. Hales. Pope John and His Revolution (1965) 63. "In this remarkable new document ... Roncalli succeeded in lifting himself right out of his political and even out of his clerical environment on to the lofty plane of Father-in-God of all men.... We are allowed, as we read it, to forget, for a time, Pius XII's root assumption that the great apostasy, the withdrawal of so many from allegiance to the Holy See ... has shrouded much of mankind in impenetrable darkness and divided humanity in two. Nor are we any longer in Pius XI's world of sheep within the fold, Communist wolves outside, and the Papacy standing sentinel at the gate. Still less are we in St. Pius X's world of multiplying censorship or Pius IX's non-possumus and non-expedit. We are looking at the whole world, at Africa, and Asia, and the United Nations, in particular, and we are trying to see what will help to make mankind everywhere have life, in peace, and have it more abundantly."

Thomas Merton. "... Therefore Choose Life" (1965) 57. "Pope John realized that his main job was one of 'clearing the air' morally, psychologically, and spiritually. To a world lost in a pea-soup fog of exhausting and intricate technicalities about law, economics, politics, weaponry, technology, etc., the Pope did not offer a series of casuistic solutions to complex and detailed questions. He recalled the minds of men to the fundamental ideas on which peace among nations and races must always depend. In other words, he tried to recreate for them the climate of thought in which they could see their objectives in a human and even a hopeful light, and invited them at least for a moment to emerge from the obscurity and smog of arguments that are without issue."

Mary McGrory. "Pope Paul Speaks for the Have-Nots." America 116 (15 April 1967) 552. "Pope John's Pacem in Terris received instant acclaim here [in Washington, DC], and was the subject of intense discussion and enthusiasm. His magical personality and simply shattering concepts perhaps added to the impact of his most famous message."

Charles E. Curran. Catholic Moral Theology in Dialogue (1976) 122-23. "A person reading the introductory paragraphs of Pacem in Terris today realizes the romantic and utopian view which finds in the heart of man an order and the laws by which men know how to regulate their lives. Our own contemporary experience reminds us of another important factor--the disorder which exists in the hearts of man because of which men do not know how to live in order and peace with one another, because of which tensions between individuals and the government have become escalated, because of which individual nations remain suspicious of one another and unwilling to give up their own power of autonomy to any supranational body. One could very easily take the four main parts of Pacem in Terris and, beginning from the sin and disorder existing in man's heart, show the opposite tendency to that which is alone emphasized in the papal document. One could argue that Pacem in Terris merely proposed an ideal based on reason, but a more realistic vision of peace and the world order calls for a greater realization of the existence of sin and its disruptive effects in human existence."

Gordon Zahn. National Catholic Reporter (1977) 20. "The encyclical's immediate and intended effect was to introduce a spirit of ideological dÄtente in a world apparently headed for nuclear annihilation.... The links between that initiative and the beginnings of political dÄtente that have developed since might be difficult to trace, but it would be even more difficult to deny they exist. That goal accomplished, the longer range effect of Pacem in Terris was to tip the theological scales against nuclear war and deterrence. All the quibbles over which translations were most authentic could not obscure the insistent thrust of the encyclical's explicit dismissal of nuclear-age war as an instrument for achieving or restoring justice."

David Hollenbach. Claims in Conflict (1979) 68. "The advance contained in Pacem in Terris is its attempt to show that there has been a logic operating throughout the development of the tradition which links these rights together and prevents them from disintegrating into a jumble of ad hoc claims. This logic has not unfolded in mathematical or relentlessly linear fashion. It is, however, clearly discernible in historical retrospect. The thread which ties all these rights together is the fundamental norm of human dignity. Human dignity is not an abstract or ethereal reality but is realized in concrete conditions of personal, social, economic and political life. The history of the papal teaching has been a process of discovering and identifying these conditions of human dignity. These conditions are called human rights. Also, these different conditions of dignity are interrelated with each other through the social and political structures of society. The preservation of the worth of the person does not depend simply on the fulfillment of the basic needs of individuals and the protection of their basic freedoms. Rather, the institutions of social and political power must be 'ordered' or structured in a way which makes the protection of personal dignity possible."

Francois Refoule. "Efforts Made on Behalf of Human Rights by the Supreme Authority of the Church" (1979) 78-79. "Without the courageous encyclicals of Pius XI against the totalitarianism of Hitler and atheistic communism, without the Christmas messages of Pius XII during the war years, and particularly those of 1941 and 1942 and that of 1944 on democracy, without the same pope's profound reflections on the state, economic and social affairs, the encyclical Pacem in Terris would be scarcely thinkable. There is a clear line of continuity between Pius XII and John XXIII. But drawing attention to John XXIII's debt to his immediate predecessors takes away nothing of the encyclical's originality or boldness. The measure of this is the position John XXIII takes up in regard to the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the UNO when compared with the corresponding attitude of Pius XII. For in the whole of the latter's nevertheless vast output, there is not the slightest reference to the Declaration of 1948."

Christine E. Gudorf. Catholic Social Teaching on Liberation Themes (1981) 223-24. "Despite John's overall consistent position on the illegitimacy of violence in solving social problems, he did sound one note concerning violence which became the starting point for a new perspective within the social teaching. In Pacem in Terris John quoted St. Thomas on human law: 'Insofar as it falls short of right reason, a law is said to be a wicked law; and so, lacking the true nature of law, is rather a kind of violence.' This brief, unelaborated statement is a reference to a sort of violence not directed by the masses against authority. This recognition of a kind of violence, called structural or institutionalized, was a milestone in the social teaching. Although John did no more than present this single line from a theological work on which the Church had long based much of his philosophy and theology, it was sufficient to open up the subject for his successor. This recognition of another kind of violence shifted much of the burden of responsibility for violence from the masses (and their Marxist agitators) to the powerful who control and maintain the social, political, and economic system. Paul's Populorum Progressio is dependent upon this particular perspective on violence."

Donal Dorr. Option for the Poor (1983) 91. "John XXIII was not just optimistic about the world in general. His optimism and hopefulness were directed specifically to the modern world--meaning the kind of society that had emerged in the Western world as a result of rapid economic growth. Here his tone is notably different from that of Pius XII. He speaks with ringing hope and challenge of this age of the atom and of the conquest of space as 'an era in which the human family has already entered on its new advance toward limitless horizons' (PT 156). He asks whether the modern developments in social relationships will entangle people in a maze of restrictions so that human freedom and responsibility will be eliminated; and his answer is a firm 'no.' The 'modernization' of society can, he believes, have more advantages than disadvantages, if it is properly controlled and directed."

Dean C. Curry. "The Origins and Relevance of the Bishops' Pastoral Letter" (1984) 4. "In Pacem in Terris the Church was acknowledging that nuclear weapons posed a unique challenge to the traditional Church teaching on war and peace. Traditional notions of self-defense, resistance to aggression, criteria for involvement in war, and conduct in war had to be reassessed. A safe reading of Pacem in Terris is that while it did not represent a break with past tradition, it did signify a rethinking of Church doctrines, which had not been reevaluated in over a millennium."

John J. Mitchell, Jr. Journal of Church and State (1985) 471. Pacem in Terris broke new ground in the church's attitude toward socialism. "With evident caution and obvious diplomacy, John moved beyond the unqualified censure of socialism that had characterized the thought of Leo XIII, Pius XI, and Pius XII. John built a new bridge in the church's developing dialogue with socialism. He rejected the monolithic understanding of socialism that characterized the thought of his predecessors."

Stanley Hauerwas. Against the Nations: War and Survival in a Liberal Society. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985, p. 176. "Pacem in Terris is not only a vision peculiar to the Catholic Church, but it also articulates a view of peace that is the working assumption of many schooled by the Enlightenment. It may seem odd to suggest that the Catholic Church, the great enemy of the Enlightenment, has now become its most prominent advocate, but I think this is what has happened. For the working assumption of the encyclical is something like this: There is a fundamental symmetry between establishing and maintaining a just constitution within a state and establishing and maintaining a just relationship between states. If we could instruct just states of autonomous moral agents then we could secure peace between them, reserving war for protection against unjust aggressor states."

Gordon C. Zahn. "The Church's 'New Attitude toward War'" (1986) 203-04. The encyclical sets forth principles and exhortations which, even today nearly a quarter-century later, carry almost revolutionary implications when taken in the context of more traditional teachings and interpretations. Though there is no indication that John himself departed from the 'just war' formulations of Scholastic theology, some of the ideas advanced in this document would lead many to the conclusion that whatever relevance those formulations may once have held had long since vanished."

George Weigel. Tranquillitas Ordinis (1987) 92. "One can agree with Pope John that political community is the only available this-worldly moral answer to the problem of war; but such agreement does not require one to conclude that international conflict, particularly between democratic and totalitarian states, is essentially a matter of misunderstanding that can be assuaged by mutual trust. That, for all the encyclical's relatively sophisticated understanding of the conditions for the possibility of world political community, it did not address itself to the central problem of power within that community, but instead opted at the critical moment for a solution in the order of personal spirituality rather than in the order of politics, was the core failure of Pacem in Terris."

Paul Seighart. Month (February 1989) 51. "Though it builds on scholastic tradition and has some precursors, at all events in our own century, I would still have no hesitation in describing Pacem in Terris as nothing less than revolutionary: a veritable quantum leap over the philosophical and theological hurdles which had hitherto stood between the Christian churches and the secular theory now transformed into a universally-binding legal code of human rights."

Paul Tillich. "On 'Peace on Earth'" (1990) 176. "Power can be identified neither with force nor with authority. In several statements of the encyclical this has been done, and a direct discussion of the ambiguities of power is lacking. But without it, a realistic approach to the peace problem is impossible."

George E. McCarthy and Royal W. Rhodes. Eclipse of Justice (1992) 171. "In some earlier sections of the encyclical, the pope lists an extensive number of human rights in the context of the natural law, which has caused some commentators to view this letter as too theoretical and 'not quite as innovative' as earlier papal pronouncements. What John XXIII has done, however, is extremely significant. He has identified the U.N. Declaration (of Human Rights) with the natural-law teaching of the church in the fundamental concept of rights and set it as the basis for dialogue and action with common agencies in modern society."