More Fruit – Papal Encyclicals I
We’ve seen that the Church’s Index of Forbidden Books was nearly perfect – perfectly wrong. It’s not clear that a single one of the thousands of condemned books was rightfully judged. Many of the condemned works turned out to be classics. Only the most credulous could believe this fruit of the Church was divinely inspired.
Perhaps the Holy Spirit felt too overworked to supervise the Index. Consider that in the Prophetic Age, world population was about 100 million. In Jesus’ day, it was at most 300 million. Today, it is nearly 7,500 million. The Holy Spirit’s workload has increased exponentially. I assume the Spirit was always doing the best It could. Being perfect, It couldn’t get any better. With all those additional people, something had to give. Presumably the Holy Spirit sets priorities, and being all-just, attending to Vatican censors - even papal censors – may not have been high on Its list.
(Note that despite the enormous reduction in divine attention per capita, mankind did exceedingly well over this period. Not only was quality of life vastly improved, the evidence indicates that morality also improved.)
While the Holy Spirit might have overlooked the Index, the Church’s own publications are another matter. If there is any truth at all to the Church’s claims, such publications should be guided by the Holy Spirit. Still, the Church issues a vast number of publications. Perhaps the Holy Spirit can’t give them Its undivided attention, and inadvertently lets error creep in. But when it comes to Papal Encyclicals, the Holy Spirit has no excuse. In the last 250 years, only 298 papal encyclicals were published. Surely this is not too heavy a workload. Even if the Spirit didn’t directly inspire each one, It should have edited out errors.
In fact, the Church claims quasi-infallibility for these encyclicals. Thus Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical Humani generis, said:
20. Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority… and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.
According to Pope Pious XII – and subsequent popes as well - a papal encyclical only reflects papal teaching authority, and not their Teaching Authority. (This is like the difference between saying something with your fingers crossed versus uncrossed.) As the highlighted sentence indicates, papal encyclicals must treated as carrying Teaching Authority, and hence essentially infallible, unless otherwise indicated.
This papal encyclical reflects the official position of the Catholic Church. Papal encyclicals are treated almost like messages from God, and should not be questioned. Those who do so are subject to severe penalties, though nothing like the good old days, when popes went around yelling, “Off with their heads! Off with their heads!”
The next article will take a brief look at them.