Pacem in Terris

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Pacem in Terris
(Latin: Peace on Earth)
Encyclical Letter of Pope John XXIII
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Paenitentiam Agere Cercle jaune 50%.svg Ecclesiam Suam
Date 11 April 1963
Argument That peace between all peoples must be based on truth, justice, love and freedom
Encyclical number 8 of 8 of the Pontificate
Text in Latin
in English
Social Teaching
Emblem of the Papacy SE.svg

Pope Leo XIII
Quod Apostolici Muneris
Rerum Novarum

Pope Pius XI
Quadragesimo Anno

Pope Pius XII
Social teachings

Pope John XXIII
Mater et Magistra
Pacem in Terris

Vatican II
Dignitatis Humanae
Gaudium et Spes

Pope Paul VI
Populorum progressio

Pope John Paul II
Laborem Exercens
Sollicitudo Rei Socialis
Centesimus Annus
Evangelium Vitae

Pope Benedict XVI
Deus Caritas Est
Caritas in Veritate

Pope Francis
Lumen fidei

Social teachings of the Popes
Tranquillitas Ordinis

Notable figures
Gaspard Mermillod
René de La Tour du Pin
Dorothy Day
Óscar Romero
Joseph Bernardin
Hilaire Belloc
G. K. Chesterton
Thomas Woods

Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) was a papal encyclical issued by Pope John XXIII on 11 April 1963. It was the last encyclical drafted by John XXIII, who died from cancer two months after its completion.


Pacem in terris was the first encyclical that the Pope addressed to "all men of good will", rather than only to Catholics. 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.[1]

In this work, John XXIII reacted to the political situation in the middle of the Cold War. The "peace encyclical" was issued only two years after the erection of the Berlin Wall and only a few months after the Cuban Missile Crisis. 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..."

The document is divided into four sections.

  • The first section of the encyclical establishes the relationship between individuals and humankind, encompassing the issues of human rights and moral duties.
  • The second section addresses the relationship between man and state, dwelling on the collective authority of the latter.
  • The third section establishes the need for equality amongst nations and the need for the state to be subject to rights and duties that the individual must abide by.
  • The final section presents the need for greater relations between nations, thus resulting in collective states assisting other states. The encyclical ends with the urging of Catholics to assist non-Christians and non-Catholics in political and social aspects.
German Stamp 1969


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 (incipit) 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, which all men of every era have most eagerly yearned for, can be firmly established only if the order laid down by God be dutifully observed.")


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.[1]

It also influenced the 1965 Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae).[1]

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.“Pacem in Terris” (Peace on Earth) enumerated the rights of the human person to life, respect, freedom and education as well as working towards the end of nuclear weapons, and arms race.

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