…there can be no peace between human beings,
unless there is peace within each of them,
unless, that is, each one builds up within [themselves]
the order wished by God.
Pope John XXIII
Pacem in Terris, ¶ 165
Fifty years ago today, Pope John XXIII published his encyclical letter on peace and human rights, Pacem in Terris. In my mind, it is one of the most important papal encyclicals of the twentieth century.
In this document, issued less than two months before his death, John XXIII set out a vision of human rights and duties that he considered essential for a peaceful world.
His list may surprise some US Catholics since he includes what some call economic rights in addition to civil rights.
…every man has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life; these are primarily food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and finally the necessary social services. Therefore a human being also has the right to security in cases of sickness, inability to work, widowhood, old age, unemployment, or in any other case in which he is deprived of the means of subsistence through no fault of his own. (¶11)
Furthermore, citing Pope Pius XII, he invokes a positive notion of government:
“to safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person, and to facilitate the fulfillment of his duties, should be the chief duty of every public authority.” (¶60)
He is clear in his condemnation of modern warfare, a condemnation that will be taken up in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes. Though not advocating a pacifist position, Pope John pointedly states:
¶126. Men are becoming more and more convinced that disputes which arise between states should not be resolved by recourse to arms, but rather by negotiation.
¶127. We grant indeed that this conviction is chiefly based on the terrible destructive force of modern weapons and a fear of the calamities and frightful destruction which such weapons would cause. Therefore, in an age such as ours which prides itself on its atomic energy it is contrary to reason to hold that war is now a suitable way to restore rights which have been violated.
But central to Pope John’s vision is a vision of the human person at peace, living in harmony with God and others:
“Every believer in this world of ours must be a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying leaven amidst [their] fellow human beings; and [they] will be this all the more perfectly [they] live in communion with God and in the intimacy of [their] soul[s].
“In fact, there can be no peace between human beings, unless there is peace within each of them, unless, that is, each one builds up within [themselves] the order wished by God.”
Pope John XXIII,
Pacem in Terris, ¶¶ 164 – 5