AskDefine | Define encyclical

Dictionary Definition

encyclical adj : intended for wide distribution; "an encyclical letter" n : a letter from the pope sent to all Roman Catholic bishops throughout the world [syn: encyclical letter]

User Contributed Dictionary



From encyclicus, from εγκυκλιος, from εν− + κυκλος.


IPA: /ɛn'sɪklɪkəl/


  1. A papal letter delivered to Bishops in the Roman Catholic Church.


papal letter delivered to Bishops

Extensive Definition

An encyclical was originally a circular letter sent to all the churches of a particular area in the ancient Christian church. At that time, the word could be used for a letter sent out by any bishop. The word comes from Latin encyclia (from the Greek "en kyklo, ") meaning "general" or "encircling", which is also the origin of the word "encyclopedia".
The Roman Catholic Church generally only uses this term for papal encyclicals, but the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion retain the older usage.

Roman Catholic usage

For the modern Roman Catholic Church a Papal encyclical, in the strictest sense, is a letter sent by the Pope which is explicitly addressed to Roman Catholic bishops of a particular area or to the world, usually treating some aspect of Catholic doctrine. However, the form of the address can vary widely, and often designates a wider audience. Papal encyclicals usually take the form of a Papal brief due to their more personal nature as opposed to the formal Papal bull. Papal encyclicals are so famous that the term encyclical for Roman Catholics is used almost exclusively for those sent out by the Pope. The title of the encyclical is usually taken from its first few words.
Within Catholicism in recent times, an encyclical is generally used for significant issues, and is second in importance only to the highest ranking document now issued by popes, an Apostolic Constitution. However, the designation 'encyclical' does not always denote such a degree of significance. The archives at the Vatican website currently classify some encyclicals as "Apostolic Exhortations". This informal term generally indicates documents with a broader audience than the bishops alone.
Pope Pius XII held that Papal Encyclicals, even when they are not ex cathedra, can nonetheless be sufficiently authoritative to end theological debate on a particular question:
Papal use of encyclicals
Encyclicals indicate high Papal priority for a issue at a given time. Pontiffs define when, and under which circumstances encyclicals should be issued. They may choose to issue an apostolic constitution, bull, encyclical, apostolic letter or give a papal speech. Pontiffs differ on the use of encyclicals: On the issue of birth control and contraception, Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical Casti Connubii, while Pope Pius XII spoke to midwives and the medical profession, when he clarified his position on the issue. Pope Paul VI published an encyclical Humanae Vitae on the same topic. On matters of war and peace, Pope Pius XII issued ten encyclicals, most of them after 1945, three of them Datis Nuperrime, Sertum Laetitiae, Luctuosissimi Eventus protesting the Soviet invasion and crackdown of the Hungarian revolution in 1956. Pope Paul VI spoke about the war in Vietnam and Pope John Paul II, issued his protest against the war in Iraq in speeches. On social issues, Pope Leo XIII promulgated Rerum Novarum, followed by Quadragesimo Anno of Pius XI, and Centesimus Annus by John Paul II. Pius XII spoke on the same topic to a consistory of cardinals in his Christmas messages and to numerous academic and professional associations.

Anglican usage

Amongst Anglicans the term encyclical was revived in the late 19th century. It is applied to circular letters issued by the English primates.

Important papal encyclicals

*Pope Saint Peter (30-67) *Pope Eugene IV (1431-1447) *Pope Saint Pius V 7 January 1566 to 1 May 1572 *Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) *Pope Blessed Pius IX (1846-1878) *Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) *Pope Saint Pius X (1903-1914) *Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) *Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) *Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) *Pope Blessed John XXIII (1958-1963) *Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) *Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) *Pope Benedict XVI (2005 to present)

Important Eastern Orthodox encyclicals

Important Anglican encyclicals


  • Acta Apostolicae Sedis, (AAS), Roma Vaticano, 1920-2007
  • The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd. ed.), p. 545.


encyclical in Bulgarian: Енциклика
encyclical in Catalan: Encíclica
encyclical in Czech: Encyklika
encyclical in German: Enzyklika
encyclical in Spanish: Encíclica
encyclical in Esperanto: Encikliko
encyclical in French: Encyclique
encyclical in Croatian: Enciklika
encyclical in Indonesian: Ensiklik
encyclical in Italian: Enciclica
encyclical in Latin: Epistula Encyclica
encyclical in Lithuanian: Enciklika
encyclical in Limburgan: Encycliek
encyclical in Hungarian: Enciklika
encyclical in Dutch: Encycliek
encyclical in Japanese: 回勅
encyclical in Norwegian: Encyklika
encyclical in Polish: Encyklika
encyclical in Portuguese: Encíclica
encyclical in Russian: Энциклика
encyclical in Slovak: Encyklika
encyclical in Swedish: Encyklika

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Pastoral Epistle, aerogram, air letter, airgraph, announcement, annunciation, billet-doux, bull, bulletin board, chain letter, circular, communique, dead letter, declaration, dimissorial, dimissory letter, drop letter, edict, enunciation, fan letter, form letter, letter of credit, letter of introduction, letters credential, letters of marque, letters of request, letters overt, letters patent, letters rogatory, love letter, manifesto, monitory, newsletter, nixie, notice, notification, open letter, pastoral letter, poison-pen letter, position paper, proclamation, program, programma, pronouncement, pronunciamento, public notice, report, round robin, statement, ukase, white book, white paper
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