ST PAUL VI (2) – Main writings

– FAUSTO GOMEZ OP

Pope Paul VI wrote excellent documents, which are part of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church. These documents continue to be important. Some of them are still very relevant today and often quoted by the Popes that succeeded Pope Giovanni Battista Montini, namely St John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis.

With many others, I love the works of Pope Paul VI. His writings are well grounded, clear in content, not long – and elegant. Undoubtedly, he is intelligent, and so honest, humble, dialogical and even colloquial – as if he also wants to listen to others, to us. Hereafter, I mention and explain briefly his main papal writings.

In his Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, On the Church (1964), Pope Paul VI presents his papal program. It is subtitled Paths of the Church and focuses on three key concepts that help us understand and interpret his rich and complex pontificate: the Church’s self-knowledge and awareness; renewal of the Church by the hand of Vatican II – its 16 documents, and the spirit of aggiornamento; and dialogue (internal and external, within and without). The Pope speaks of the Church as Mystical Body of Christ, as communion, as humble and poor, as the mother of all.

In the Encyclical Populorum Progressio, On the Development of Peoples (1967), Pope Paul VI speaks powerfully and committedly of integral development, of development of the whole man and of all peoples. In his other significant social document, the Apostolic Letter Octogesima Adveniens, On the Occasion of the Eightieth Anniversary of the Encyclical Rerum Novarum (1971), the Pope calls Christians to social action, and speaks of pluralism in political life. He asks local churches and communities to analyze their concrete socio-political-economic situation, reflect upon it with the light of reason and faith, and act accordingly. He underlines that “the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor.” Both social documents are grounded on Vatican II Constitution Gaudium et Spes, and its development thereafter by St. John Paul II in his Encyclical letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, On the Twentieth Anniversary of Populorum Progressio, and by Pope Benedict XVI in his Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth, which the German Pope issued “to honor the great Pope Paul VI.” For his part, Pope Francis developed PP further in his Encyclical Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home.

The Encyclical Humanae Vitae, On the Regulation of Birth (1968) is the most controversial encyclical of Pope Paul VI. In HV, the Pope re-affirms with great humility and courage the traditional teaching of the Church on sexuality, marriage and family, explains convincingly responsible parenthood, the inseparable connection of the unitive and the procreative aspects of conjugal relations, and condemns artificial contraception. Humanae Vitae is a Church document that is very present in all the related papal texts up to today, in particular the two most important ones: John Paul II Familiaris Consortio, On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, and Pope Francis also controversial Post-synodal Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, The Joy of Love.

In Marialis Cultus, For the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary (1974), Pope Paul VI develops deeply and clearly the theology of the Christian devotion to Mary, and promotes movingly an authentic Marian devotion that leads to Christ, who is the goal of all devotions. Obviously, Pope Paul VI was an ardent devotee of Our Lady of the Rosary and of the Angelus as is clearly confirmed in other Marian documents, such as the Encyclical Mense Maio (1965), On Prayers during May for Preservation of Peace. Another Marian encyclical of Pope Paul VI is Christi Matri Rosarii, On the Rosary and Peace during October (1966), which is the month of the Rosary of Mary. By the way, St. John Paul II, also a great devotee of Our Lady, followed suit by publishing a wonderful Apostolic Letter on the Rosary: Rosarium Virginis Mariae.

In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, On Evangelization in the Modern World (1975), Pope Paul VI presents faithfully and creatively the mission of the Church in our world, that is, evangelization. Pope Montini writes: “Evangelizing is, in fact, the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity.” He adds: “To evangelize is first of all to bear witness.” EN is still a very fundamental Church document, which is quoted often by John Paul II in his Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio, On the Permanent Validity of the Church’s Missionary Mandate, and Pope Francis Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel.

In his brief Apostolic Letter The Creed of the People of God, The Solemn Profession of Faith (1968), Pope Paul VI develops with faithful and profound faith the essentials of Christian faith, and explains the profession of faith, the Creed: nature, circumstances and content. In his Encyclical Sacerdotalis Coelibatus, On the Celibacy of the Priest (1967), Pope Paul VI strongly re-affirms clerical celibacy. One may not forget, moreover, Pope Montini’s encyclical Mysterium Fidei (1965), On the Holy Eucharist as mystery, sacrifice, and sacrament. 

Personally, I love Pope Paul VI Gaudete in Domino, On Christian Joy (1975), a wonderful pace-setting document on joy, which will be the point of departure for the joy that permeates the main encyclicals and texts of Pope Francis, in particular his Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, Rejoice and Be Glad. In Gaudete in Domino, Pope Paul VI speaks of the need of joy for all, joy of the followers of Jesus, joy of the saints, the hopeful joy of the pilgrims. Certainly, the Pope was a joyful person, and not a cold but a reserved joyful person. 

Among the many addresses and speeches of Pope Giovanni Battista Montini, I point out two which moved me much. First his homily in Bethlehem. And, second, his address to the United Nations in New York. On January 5, 1964, Pope Paul VI pronounced a sublime Address in Nazareth (1964). He tells us that he would have loved to become a child again and a students at the school of Nazareth, but, he said, “I am only a passing pilgrim.” Then the Holy Father meditates aloud on three lessons given to us by the school of Nazareth, the Holy Family. Lesson number one: a lesson of silence: “May the silence of Nazareth teach us recollection, inwardness, the disposition to listen to good inspirations and the teachings of true masters.” Lesson number two: a lesson on family life: “May Nazareth teach us what family life is, its communion of love, its austere and simple beauty, and its sacred and inviolable character.” Lesson number three: a lesson of work. The Holy Father talks to Nazareth: “Nazareth, home of the ‘Carpenter’s Son’, in you I would choose to understand and proclaim the severe and redeeming law of human work; here I would restore the awareness of the nobility of work; and reaffirm that work cannot be an end in itself, but that its freedom and its excellence derive, over and above its economic worth, from the value of those for whose sake it is undertaken.”

Pope Paul VI Address to the United Nations in New York (1965), his moving plea for world peace, was truly epochal. I remember vividly the image of the Holy Father speaking humbly and prayerfully to the representatives of all the nations of the world, and pleading to them: “Your vocation is to bring not some people but all peoples to treat each other as brothers…” “If you wish to be brothers, let the arms fall from your hands. One cannot love while holding offensive arms…” And his loud cry: “No more war! War never again. Peace, it is peace which must guide the destinies of peoples and mankind.”

Pope Paul VI:  gentle teacher, courageous defender of the family and the poor, humble and faithful servant of the Church, of the people of God, and above all, of Christ: Saint Paul VI.

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