Pacem in terris
Latin for 'Peace on Earth'
Encyclical of Pope John XXIII
Coat of arms of Pope John XXIII
Signature date 11 April 1963[1]
SubjectThat peace between all peoples must be based on truth, justice, love and freedom
Number8 of 8 of the pontificate

Pacem in terris (lit.'Peace on Earth') is a papal encyclical issued by Pope John XXIII on 11 April 1963, on the rights and obligations of people and their states, as well as proper interstate relations. It emphasizes human dignity and human equality in endorsing women's rights, nuclear nonproliferation and the United Nations.

It was the last encyclical drafted by the pope, who was diagnosed with cancer in September 1962 and died two months after its completion. Biographer Peter Hebblethwaite called it his "last will and testament".[2] Published on Holy Thursday, John called it his Easter gift.

Due to its importance and popularity, Pacem in terris is held in the UN archives.


The full title of the encyclical is On Establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity and Liberty. The short title Pacem in terris is derived from the opening words of the encyclical, as is customary with papal documents:

Pacem in terris, quam homines universi cupidissime quovis tempore appetiverunt, condi confirmarique non posse constat, nisi ordine, quem Deus constituit, sancte servato.
("Peace on earth, for which all men of every era have most eagerly yearned, cannot be firmly established unless the order which God laid down is dutifully observed.")


German Stamp 1969

Pacem in terris was the first encyclical that a pope addressed to "all men of good will", rather than only to Catholics, quoting the praise to God as said by the heavenly army above the manger of Bethlehem (Latin Vulgate: in terra pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis, Luke 2:14; English translation: 2:13–14).[3] Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, Mary Ann Glendon, interprets this to mean, "He was insisting that the responsibility for setting conditions for peace does not just belong to the great and powerful of the world—it belongs to each and every one of us."[4] In theological terms, it marked a major shift in papal teaching from reliance on classical scholastic categories of natural law to a more inductive approach based on the signs of the times.[5]

In this work, John XXIII reacted to the political situation in the middle of the Cold War. Coming just months after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, during which the Vatican served as an intermediary between the White House and the Kremlin,[6] the document also reflected the Pope's experience of 1960 in trying to resolve difficulties arising out of the four-power occupation of Berlin. The "peace encyclical" was issued only two years after the erection of the Berlin Wall. It also draws on Pope John's reading of Saint Augustine's The City of God and Thomas Aquinas' view of Eternal Law.[7] In this it echoes the Gospel's core values and principles of patristic and medieval thought, while reflecting the historical period in which it was written.[8]

Sociologist Monsignor Pietro Pavan and a small group of theologians helped draft it.[9] In Pavan's view Pacem in terris would present the teachings of Leo XIII on the eternal law, "in light of the changing tides of history, and allow them to resonate with a much wider audience".[7]

The Pope explains in this encyclical that conflicts "should not be resolved by recourse to arms, but rather by negotiation". He further emphasizes the importance of respect of human rights as an essential consequence of the Christian understanding of men. He clearly establishes "that every man has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life."

Pacem in terris is an extended reflection on the moral order. The document is divided into four sections.


“Pacem in Terris was more than an encyclical—it was an event," recalls Glendon.[4] Pacem in Terris was the first papal encyclical published in its entirety in the New York Times.[10] The Washington Post said, "Pacem in terris is not just the voice of an old priest, nor just that of an ancient Church; it is the voice of the conscience of the world."[4] According to the periodical Catholic World Report, "Two years later, it was the subject of a conference at the United Nations attended by over 2,000 statespersons and scholars."[4]


F. Russell Hittinger describes the encyclical "as a kind of magna carta of the Catholic Church's position on human rights and natural law".[7] Pope John XXIII's 1963 encyclical Pacem in terris ("Peace on Earth") radically affected Catholic social teaching not only on war and peace, but on church-state relations, women's rights, religious freedom, international relations and other major issues. Fr. J. Bryan Hehir called Pacem in terris "a pivotal text in [papal] encyclical history" that played a major role in the development of the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom and its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, and on Pope John Paul II's encyclical Centesimus annus ("The Hundredth Year"), which marked the centennial of Pope Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical on labor, Rerum Novarum.[5] It also influenced the 1965 Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis humanae).[5]

In commemoration of this encyclical, the annual Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom award was instituted in 1964, first by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport and later by the Quad Cities Pacem in Terris Coalition.[11][12]

During an event held on 6 May 2019, in Bulgaria, where John XXIII had gained a reputation for protecting Jews when serving as the country's Vatican representative,[13] Pope Francis invoked the encyclical as a "code of conduct" for peace between Catholics and other religions.[13][14]

See also


  1. ^ Pope John XXIII (11 April 1963). "Pacem in Terris". Vatican.
  2. ^ Hebblethwaite, Peter (2010) [1st ed: John XXIII: Pope of the Council (1984)]. John XXIII: Pope of the Century (abridged, revised, and retitled ed.). London: Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 4, 214, 232, 240, 241–251. ISBN 978-1-441-18413-9.
  3. ^ Other translations did not follow the Latin version or, as in the case of the CEI, have stopped following it with the 1973 revised edition of the Jerusalem Bible: compare the Italian text of the encyclical's address and the different translation subsequently introduced by the Italian bishops.
  4. ^ a b c d "United Nations Conference". Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  5. ^ a b c "Experts: 'Pacem in Terris' had radical impact on church teaching". National Catholic Reporter. 18 April 2013. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  6. ^ "Catholic Spirit: Of Popes, Presidents and Peace". Minnesota Catholic Conference. 26 April 2012. Archived from the original on 12 April 2020. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  7. ^ a b c "Hittinger, Russell. "Quinquagesimo Ante: Reflections on Pacem in Terris Fifty Years Later", The Global Quest for Tranquillitas Ordinis. Pacem in Terris, Fifty Years Later Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Acta 18, 2013" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 June 2015. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
  8. ^ "Sanchez Sorondo, Marcelo. "The Magnitude of 'Walking in the Truth' (3 Jn 1)", The Global Quest for Tranquillitas Ordinis. Pacem in Terris, Fifty Years Later Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Acta 18, 2013" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 June 2015. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
  9. ^ Murphy, Francis X., "Cardinal Pietro Pavan: inveterate optimist", America, February 1996
  10. ^ Mannion, Gerard. "Pacem in Terris@50: Gifts Old and New for Church and Society in Recent Times", Pacem in Terris Conference 2013, Georgetown University
  11. ^ "Pacem in Terris". Diocese of Davenport. Archived from the original on 12 May 2008. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
  12. ^ Arland-Fye, Barb (19 May 2010). "Peace activist Fr. John Dear to get Pacem in Terris Award". The Catholic Messenger. Davenport, IA. Retrieved 1 June 2011.[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ a b Brockhaus, Hannah. "Pope Francis says First Communion Mass in Bulgaria". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  14. ^ "Pope in Bulgaria prays for peace according to the example of St Francis". – Vatican News. 6 May 2019. Retrieved 12 April 2020.

Further reading