“Pacem in Terris,” 40 Years On

Recalling 4 Key Concepts Articulated by John XXIII

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 11, 2003 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II’s message for World Day of Peace 2003 centered on key elements of Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical, “Pacem in Terris.” There, John XXIII identified four important requirements for peace to reign: truth, justice, love and freedom.

The four concepts appear in several parts of the encyclical, uniting a wide variety of themes. The concepts, in fact, are closely related, as the encyclical explained in Nos. 35-38.

For a society to be ordered according to human dignity, “it must be based on truth,” affirmed John XXIII. Quoting Ephesians 4:25, he wrote that every person should speak the truth with his neighbor. This practice implies acknowledging not only each individual’s rights, but also the duties to be fulfilled toward others.

After being founded on truth, society “must be brought into effect by justice.” This is achieved when we respect the rights of others and fulfill our duties toward them. Only then will people be guided by justice in their social relations. But this social life also needs, the encyclical stated, to “be animated by such love as will make them feel the needs of others as their own, and induce them to share their goods with others, and to strive in the world to make all men alike heirs to the noblest of intellectual and spiritual values.”

The last of the four concepts, freedom, comes into play when members of society choose the means to carry out their actions that are “consistent with the dignity of its individual members, who, being endowed with reason, assume responsibility for their own actions.”

The interplay of these four factors, continued John XXIII, means that we can think of society “as being primarily a spiritual reality.” It is spiritual in the sense that its members share in the truth and together aspire for “the goods of the spirit,” while at the same time sharing the “wholesome pleasures of the world.”

This sharing implies persons’ passing on to others “all that is best in themselves,” and to benefit from the spiritual riches of their neighbors. The spiritual values thus obtained will, in turn, guide the actions of society in its culture, economy, laws and other elements that make up human life.

But, John XXIII warned, the foundation of the truth in social relations is not based merely on mutual agreement. Rather, the social order “finds its source in the true, personal and transcendent God. He is the first truth, the sovereign good, and as such the deepest source from which human society, if it is to be properly constituted, creative, and worthy of man’s dignity, draws its genuine vitality” (No. 38).

He further stated, in No. 45, that actions based on God would, in turn, lead people to the Almighty. Concern for rights and duties would pass through an appreciation for spiritual values, “to a better knowledge of the true God who is personal and transcendent, and thus they make the ties that bind them to God the solid foundation and supreme criterion of their lives,” No. 45 of the encyclical said.

Relations between states

The encyclical in No. 80 returns to these concepts when dealing with international affairs. John XXIII insisted that truth be the first point that governs ties among states. This truth demands the elimination of racism and means that states “are by nature equal in dignity.” Thus they have an equal right to existence, self-development and respect. Experience shows that nations are very sensitive to questions touching their dignity and honor, he warned.

Naturally, states will differ greatly in power, talent and wealth, the encyclical noted. But this doesn’t imply that the richer states are justified in trying to control the others. Instead, “it means that they have to make a greater contribution to the common cause of social progress.”

The encyclical did not say that nations or individuals must regard all states as equally good. In fact, people should not “be prevented from drawing particular attention to the virtues of their own way of life,” John XXIII stated. But they should respect the principles of truth and justice, he said.

Indeed, relations between states should be governed by the principle of justice. This means not only the recognition of rights, but also the fulfillment of duties and the avoidance of actions that are unfair or detrimental to others. “Take away justice, and what are kingdoms but mighty bands of robbers,” wrote the Pope, quoting St. Augustine.

And when there are clashes of interest between states, these differences should be settled “in a truly human way,” urged the encyclical, “not by armed force nor by deceit or trickery.”

The third virtue, love, is examined under the title of solidarity. John XXIII recommended that states pool their resources. Civil authority exists, he explained, “not to confine men within the frontiers of their own nations, but primarily to protect the common good of the state, which certainly cannot be divorced from the common good of the entire human family.”

But, he warned, what is beneficial for some can be detrimental for others. So in this mutual aid, “great care must be taken,” so as not to cause injury.

Turning to the fourth virtue, freedom, the encyclical called for countries to avoid any action that would constitute unjust oppression or undue interference. Any help given to the poorer countries in their economic development should be done “in a way which guarantees to them the preservation of their own freedom.”

Summing up the task ahead, the Pope in No. 163 of the encyclical called for the establishment of new relationships in human society, “under the mastery and guidance of truth, justice, charity and freedom.” These principles, he insisted, should guide actions at all levels: between individuals, within families, among associations, and at the international level.

John XXIII noted that there are few people who shoulder this responsibility. These he encouraged to persevere.

He also called upon all Christians to be “a glowing point of light in the world, a nucleus of love, a leaven of the whole mass.” This will be achieved to the degree in which each Christian is united with God, the Pope explained. The world will not be in peace until “peace has found a home in the heart” of every person and until every individual respects the order ordained by God, he said. Forty years on, John XXIII’s message is as valid as ever.

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