History's 5 Hottest Encyclicals

Pope Francis joins a rich tradition of ill papal statements on social problems. Here's five more that shook us up.


Ever since Pope Francis dropped that new papal classic on climate change, we’ve had encyclical fever. Getting praise from A-listers like the Dalai Lama and Neil deGrasse Tyson, the summer of Catholic teaching letters is in full swing, y’all. But every pontiff breaks free of the rectory mixtape circuit someday. Here’s five papal letters that shined bright like a funny hat.

Leo XIII ain't no joke.

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1. Rerum Novarum, 1891

This encyclical from Pope Leo XIII was a dose of 100 percent realness on the Rights and Duties of Capital Labor. It lit up greedy industrialists who abused workers, calling out the state for moral intervention on their behalf. In the middle of the Second Industrial Revolution, Leo addressed workers’ rights, laissez faire capitalism, urbanization, and that bullshit of “the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class.” If you don’t know, now you know.

Little hat. Big swinging dick.

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2. Divini Redemptoris, 1937

The Hit ‘Em Up of papal declarations. Pope Pius XI wasn’t down with pitiful bullshitting communist regimes and he let you know it. Aiming his sights straight at the Soviet Union, Mexico, and Spain, Pius laid down a scathing 82-paragraph dissection of communism’s “errors and sophisms.” That’s no surprise because the “Great Purge” was a dead-fucking-giveaway what a punk-ass Joseph Stalin was. He even calls out the West for its “conspiracy of silence” a full two years before WWII broke out.

3. Mit Brennender Sorge, 1937

Pius XI was a down-ass dude. English title to this bitch is “On the Church and the German Reich”, and you can fill in the blanks from there. Pius doesn’t name names, but you don’t need a roadmap to figure out who the “mad prophet” sitting in Berlin was. Again, pre-World War II, but Pius ain’t about waiting for violence, he’s about finishing that shit before it starts.

John the XIII but first in our hearts.

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4. Pacem in Terris, 1963

A few months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Blessed Pope John XXIII let the beast off the chain with the first document addressed not only to Catholics but “all men of goodwill.” Arguably lacking in the pure lyricism of his predecessors, John XXIII still brought an irresistible verve to this call for cooperation and world peace in the height of the Cold War. Scholar Russell Hittinger called it the “magna carta” for the church’s position on human rights to love, eat, have a crib, and generally go about their lives without some bullshittingass nuclear standoff bringing down all of civilization. John XIII died just two months after completing the letter. Mourn ya till I join ya.

Spitting game like fire.

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5. Laborem Exercens, 1981

Sometimes you gotta step back and just let the man spit for himself. Here’s Pope John Paul II off on some prophetic shit about the the future of man, work, and technology.

Understood in this case not as a capacity or aptitude for work, but rather as a whole set of instruments which man uses in his work, technology is undoubtedly man’s ally. It facilitates his work, perfects, accelerates, and augments it. It leads to an increase in the quantity of things produced by work, and in many cases improves their quality. However, it is also a fact that, in some instances, technology can cease to be man’s ally and become almost his enemy, as when the mechanization of work “supplants” him, taking away all personal satisfaction and the incentive to creativity and responsibility, when it deprives many workers of their previous employment, or when, through exalting the machine, it reduces man to the status of its slave.

Drops scepter. Walks off stage. No encore.

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