Pacem in Terris, ##1-45


Reading for Module A, 7.2.4

Excerpt from Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris (1963)


Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth)


Encyclical Letter



To our Venerable Brothers

the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops

and Other Local Ordinaries

in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See,

to the Clergy and Faithful of the Whole World,

and to All Men of Good Will

 Order in the Universe

 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.

2  The progress of learning and the inventions of technology clearly show that, both in living things and in the forces of nature, an astonishing order reigns, and they also bear witness to the greatness of man, who can understand that order and create suitable instruments to harness those forces of nature and use them to his benefit.

3  But the progress of science and the inventions of technology show above all the infinite greatness of God, Who created the universe and man himself. He created all things out of nothing, pouring into them the abundance of His wisdom and goodness, so that the holy psalmist praises God in these words: O Lord our master, the majesty of thy name fills all the earth.1. Elsewhere he says: What diversity, Lord, in thy creatures! What wisdom has designed them all!2. God also created man in His own image and likeness,3. endowed him with intelligence and freedom, and made him lord of creation, as the same psalmist declares in the words: Thou hast placed him only a little below the angels, crowning him with glory and honor and bidding him rule over the works of thy hands. Thou hast put all under his dominion.4

Order in Human Beings

4  How strongly does the turmoil of individual men and peoples contrast with the perfect order of the universe! It is as if the relationships which bind them together could be controlled only by force.

5  But the Creator of the world has imprinted in man’s heart an order which his conscience reveals to him and enjoins him to obey: This shows that the obligations of the law are written in their hearts; their conscience utters its own testimony.5. And how could it be otherwise? For whatever God has made shows forth His infinite wisdom, and it is manifested more clearly in the things which have greater perfection.6

6  But fickleness of opinion often produces this error, that many think that the relationships between men and States can be governed by the same laws as the forces and irrational elements of the universe, whereas the laws governing them are of quite a different kind and are to be sought elsewhere, namely, where the Father of all things wrote them, that is, in the nature of man.

7  By these laws men are most admirably taught, first of all how they should conduct their mutual dealings among themselves, then how the relationships between the citizens and the public authorities of each State should be regulated, then how States should deal with one another, and finally how, on the one hand individual men and States, and on the other hand the community of all peoples, should act towards each other, the establishment of such a community being urgently demanded today by the requirements of universal common good.

Part I


8  First of all, it is necessary to speak of the order which should exist between men.

9  Any human society, if it is to be well-ordered and productive, must lay down as a foundation this principle, namely, that every human being is a person, that is, his nature is endowed with intelligence and free will. Indeed, precisely because he is a person he has rights and obligations flowing directly and simultaneously from his very nature.7. And as these rights and obligations are universal and inviolable so they cannot in any way be surrendered.

10  If we look upon the dignity of the human person in the light of divinely revealed truth, we cannot help but esteem it far more highly; for men are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, they are by grace the children and friends of God and heirs of eternal glory.


The right to life and a worthy standard of living

11  Beginning our discussion of the rights of man, we see that every man has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life; these are primarily food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and finally the necessary social services. Therefore a human being also has the right to security in cases of sickness, inability to work, widowhood, old age, unemployment, or in any other case in which he is deprived of the means of subsistence through no fault of his own.8

Rights Pertaining to Moral and Cultural Values

12  By the natural law every human being has the right to respect for his person, to his good reputation; the right to freedom in searching for truth and in expressing and communicating his opinions, and in pursuit of art, within the limits laid down by the moral order and the common good; and he has the right to be informed truthfully about public events.

13  The natural law also gives man the right to share in the benefits of culture, and therefore the right to a basic education and to technical and professional training in keeping with the stage of educational development in the country to which he belongs. Every effort should be made to ensure that persons be enabled, on the basis of merit, to go on to higher studies, so that, as far as possible, they may occupy posts and take on responsibilities in human society in accordance with their natural gifts and the skills they have acquired.9

The Right to Worship God According to One’s Conscience

14  This too must be listed among the rights of a human being, to honor God according to the sincere dictates of his own conscience, and therefore the right to practice his religion privately and publicly. For as Lactantius so clearly taught: “We were created for the purpose of showing to the God Who bore us the submission we owe Him, of recognizing Him alone, and of serving Him. We are obliged and bound by this duty to God; from this religion itself receives its name.”10. And on this point Our Predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII, declared: “This genuine, this honorable freedom of the sons of God, which most nobly protects the dignity of the human person, is greater than any violence or injustice; it has always been sought by the Church, and always most dear to Her. This was the freedom which the Apostles claimed with intrepid constancy, which the Apologists defended with their writings, and which the Martyrs in such numbers consecrated with their blood.”11

The right to choose freely one’s state in life

15  Human beings have the right to choose freely the state of life which they prefer, and therefore the right to set up a family, with equal rights and duties for man and woman, and also the right to follow a vocation to the priesthood or the religious life.12

16  The family, grounded on marriage freely contracted, monogamous and indissoluble, is and must be considered the first and essential cell of human society. From this it follows that most careful provision must be made for the family both in economic and social matters as well as in those which are of a cultural and moral nature, all of which look to the strengthening of the family and helping it carry out its function.

17  Parents, however, have a prior right in the support and education of their children.13

Economic Rights

18  If we turn our attention to the economic sphere it is clear that man has a right by the natural law not only to an opportunity to work, but also to go about his work without coercion.14

19  To these rights is certainly joined the right to demand working conditions in which physical health is not endangered, morals are safeguarded, and young people’s normal development is not impaired. Women have the right to working conditions in accordance with their requirements and their duties as wives and mothers.15

20  From the dignity of the human person, there also arises the right to carry on economic activities according to the degree of responsibility of which one is capable.16. Furthermore – and this must be specially emphasized – the worker has a right to a wage determined according to criterions of justice, and sufficient, therefore, in proportion to the available resources, to give the worker and his family a standard of living in keeping with the dignity of the human person. In this regard, Our Predecessor Pius XII said: “To the personal duty to work imposed by nature, there corresponds and follows the natural right of each individual to make of his work the means to provide for his own life and the lives of his children; so fundamental is the law of nature which commands man to preserve his life.”17

21  The right to private property, even of productive goods, also derives from the nature of man. This right, as We have elsewhere declared, “is an effective means for safeguarding the dignity of the human person and for the exercise of responsibility in all fields; it strengthens and gives serenity to family life, thereby increasing the peace and prosperity of the State.”18

22  However, it is opportune to point out that there is a social duty essentially inherent in the right of private property.19

The Right of Meeting and Association

23  From the fact that human beings are by nature social, there arises the right of assembly and association. They have also the right to give the societies of which they are members the form they consider most suitable for the aim they have in view, and to act within such societies on their own initiative and on their own responsibility in order to achieve their desired objectives.20

24  And, as We Ourselves in the encyclical Mater et Magistra have strongly urged, it is by all means necessary that a great variety of organizations and intermediate groups be established which are capable of achieving a goal which an individual cannot effectively attain by himself. These societies and organizations must be considered the indispensable means to safeguard the dignity of the human person and freedom while leaving intact a sense of responsibility.21

The Right to Emigrate and Immigrate

25  Every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his own country; and, when there are just reasons for it, the right to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there.22. The fact that one is a citizen of a particular State does not detract in any way from his membership in the human family as a whole, nor from his citizenship in the world community.

Political Rights

26  The dignity of the human person involves the right to take an active part in public affairs and to contribute one’s part to the common good of the citizens. For, as Our Predecessor of happy memory, Pius XII, pointed out: “The human individual, far from being an object and, as it were, a merely passive element in the social order, is in fact, must be and must continue to be, its subject, its foundation and its end.”23

27  The human person is also entitled to a juridical protection of his rights, a protection that should be efficacious, impartial and inspired by the true norms of justice. As Our Predecessor Pius XII teaches: “That perpetual privilege proper to man, by which every individual has a claim to the protection of his rights, and by which there is assigned to each a definite and particular sphere of rights, immune from all arbitrary attacks, is the logical consequence of the order of justice willed by God.”24


Rights and duties necessarily linked in the one person

28  The natural rights with which We have been dealing are, however, inseparably connected, in the very person who is their subject, with just as many respective duties; and rights as well as duties find their source, their sustenance and their inviolability in the natural law which grants or enjoins them.

29  Therefore, to cite a few examples, the right of every man to life is correlative with the duty to preserve it; his right to a decent standard of living with the duty of living it becomingly; and his right to investigate the truth freely, with the duty of seeking it ever more completely and profoundly.

Reciprocity of Rights and Duties Between Persons

30  Once this is admitted, it also follows that in human society to one man’s right there corresponds a duty in all other persons: the duty, namely, of acknowledging and respecting the right in question. For every fundamental human right draws its indestructible moral force from the natural law, which in granting it imposes a corresponding obligation. Those, therefore, who claim their own rights, yet altogether forget or neglect to carry out their respective duties, are people who build with one hand and destroy with the other.

Mutual Collaboration

31  Since men are social by nature they are meant to live with others and to work for one another’s welfare. A well-ordered human society requires that men recognize and observe their mutual rights and duties. It also demands that each contribute generously to the establishment of a civic order in which rights and duties are more sincerely and effectively acknowledged and fulfilled.

32  It is not enough, for example, to acknowledge and respect every man’s right to the means of subsistence if we do not strive to the best of our ability for a sufficient supply of what is necessary for his sustenance.

33  The society of men must not only be organized but must also provide them with abundant resources. This certainly requires that they observe and recognize their mutual rights and duties; it also requires that they collaborate in the many enterprises that modern civilization either allows or encourages or even demands.

An Attitude of Responsibility

34  The dignity of the human person also requires that every man enjoy the right to act freely and responsibly. For this reason, therefore, in social relations man should exercise his rights, fulfill his obligations and, in the countless forms of collaboration with others, act chiefly on his own responsibility and initiative. This is to be done in such a way that each one acts on his own decision, of set purpose and from a consciousness of his obligation, without being moved by force or pressure brought to bear on him externally. For any human society that is established on relations of force must be regarded as inhuman, inasmuch as the personality of its members is repressed or restricted, when in fact they should be provided with appropriate incentives and means for developing and perfecting themselves.

Social Life in Truth, Justice, Charity and Freedom

35  A civic society is to be considered well-ordered, beneficial and in keeping with human dignity if it is grounded on truth. As the Apostle Paul exhorts us: “Away with falsehood then; let everyone speak out the truth to his neighbor; membership of the body binds us to one another.”25. This will be accomplished when each one duly recognizes both his rights and his obligations towards others. Furthermore, human society will be such as we have just described it, if the citizens, guided by justice, apply themselves seriously to respecting the rights of others and discharging their own duties; if they are moved by such fervor of charity as to make their own the needs of others and share with others their own goods: if finally, they work for a closer fellowship in the world of spiritual values. Yet this is not sufficient; for human society is bound together by freedom, that is to say, in ways and means in keeping with the dignity of its citizens, who accept the responsibility of their actions, precisely because they are by nature rational beings.

36 Therefore, Venerable Brothers and beloved children, human society must primarily be considered something pertaining to the spiritual. Through it, in the bright light of truth men should share their knowledge, be able to exercise their rights and fulfill their obligations, be inspired to seek spiritual values, mutually derive genuine pleasure from the beautiful of whatever order it be, always be readily disposed to pass on to others the best of their own cultural heritage and eagerly strive to make their own the spiritual achievements of others. These benefits not only influence, but at the same time give aim and scope to all that has bearing on cultural expressions, economic and social institutions, political movements and forms, laws, and all other structures by which society is outwardly established and constantly developed.

God and the Moral Order

37  The order which prevails in society is by nature moral. Grounded as it is in truth, it must function according to the norms of justice, it should be inspired and perfected by mutual love, and finally it should be brought to an ever more refined and human balance in freedom.

38  Now an order of this kind, whose principles are universal, absolute and unchangeable, has its ultimate source in the one true God, Who is personal and transcends human nature. Inasmuch as God is the first Truth and the highest Good, He alone is that deepest source from which human society can draw its vitality, if that society is to be well ordered, beneficial, and in keeping with human dignity.26. As St. Thomas Aquinas says: “Human reason is the norm of the human will, according to which its, goodness is measured, because reason derives from the eternal law which is the divine reason itself. It is evident then that the goodness of the human will depends much more on the eternal law than on human reason.27

Characteristics of the Present Day

39  Our age has three distinctive characteristics.

40  First of all, the working classes have gradually gained ground in economic and public affairs. They began by claiming their rights in the socio-economic sphere; they extended their action then to claims on the political level; and finally applied themselves to the acquisition of the benefits of a more refined culture. Today, therefore, workers all over the world refuse to be treated as if they were irrational objects without freedom, to be used at the arbitrary disposition of others. They insist that they be always regarded as men with a share in every sector of human society: in the social and economic sphere, in the fields of learning and culture, and in public life.

41  Secondly, it is obvious to everyone that women are now taking a part in public life. This is happening more rapidly perhaps in nations of Christian civilization, and, more slowly but broadly, among peoples who have inherited other traditions or cultures. Since women are becoming ever more conscious of their human dignity, they will not tolerate being treated as mere material instruments, but demand rights befitting a human person both in domestic and in public life.

42  Finally, in the modern world human society has taken on an entirely new appearance in the field of social and political life. For since all nations have either achieved or are on the way to achieving independence, there will soon no longer exist a world divided into nations that rule others and nations that are subject to others.

43   Men all over the world have today–or will soon have–the rank of citizens in independent nations. No one wants to feel subject to political powers located outside his own country or ethnical group. Thus in very many human beings the inferiority complex which endured for hundreds and thousands of years is disappearing, while in others there in an attenuation and gradual fading of the corresponding superiority complex which had its roots in social-economic privileges, sex or political standing.

44  On the contrary, the conviction that all men are equal by reason of their natural dignity has been generally accepted. Hence racial discrimination can in no way be justified, at least doctrinally or in theory. And this is of fundamental importance and significance for the formation of human society according to those principles which We have outlined above. For, if a man becomes conscious of his rights, he must become equally aware of his duties. Thus he who possesses certain rights has likewise the duty to claim those rights as marks of his dignity, while all others have the obligation to acknowledge those rights and respect them.

45  When the relations of human society are expressed in terms of rights and duties, men become conscious of spiritual values, understand the meaning and significance of truth, justice, charity and freedom, and become deeply aware that they belong to this world of values. Moreover, when moved by such concerns, they are brought 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, both of that life which they live interiorly in the depths of their own souls and of that in which they are united to other men in society.

Source: Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, translation issued by the US Bishops (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1963), text accessible (20 Dec. 2013) at:  This link takes you to a long list of Church teaching documents. Go down to ‘Encyclicals’, then to John XXIII, where you will see Pacem in Terris.


  1. Ps 8,1 

  2. Ps 103,24 

  3. Cf. Gn 1,26 

  4. Ps 8,6-8 

  5. Rom. 2,15 

  6. Cf. Ps 18,8-11 

  7. Cf. Radio Message of Pius XII, Christmas Eve, 1942, A.A.S. XXXV, 1943. pp. 9-24; and Discourse of John XXIII, Jan. 4, 1963, A.A.S. LV, 1963, pp. 89-91. 

  8. Cf. Encycl. Divini Redemptoris of Pius XI, A.A.S. XXIX, 1937, p. 78; and Radio Message of Pius XII, Pentecost, June 1, 1941, A.A.S. XXXIII, 1941, pp. 195-205. 

  9. Cf. Radio Message of Pius XII, Christmas Eve, 1942, A.A.S. XXXV, 1943, pp. 9-24. 

  10. Divinae Institutiones, Book IV, ch. 28, 2; Patrologia Latina, 6, 535. 

  11. Encycl. Libertas Praestantissimum, Acta Leonis XIII, VIII, 1888, pp. 237-238. 

  12. Cf. Radio Message of Pius XII, Christmas Eve, 1942, A.A.S. XXXV, 1943, pp. 9-24. 

  13. Cf. Encycl. Casti Connubii of Pius XI, A.A.S. XXII, 1930, pp. 539-592; and Radio Message of Pius XII, Christmas Eve, 1942, A.A.S. XXXV, 1943, pp. 9-24. 

  14. Cf. Radio Message of Pius XII, Pentecost, June 1, 1941, A.A.S. XXXIII, 1941, p. 201. 

  15. Cf. Encycl. Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII, Acta Leonis XIII, XI, 1891, pp. 128-129. 

  16. Cf. Encycl. Mater et Magistra of John XXIII, A.A.S. Llll, 1961, p. 422. 

  17. Cf. Radio Message, Pentecost, June 1, 1941, A.A.S. XXXIII, 1941, p. 201. 

  18. Encycl. Mater et Magistra, A.A.S. Llll, 1961, MM 1 p. 428. 

  19. Cf. Ibid., p. MM 1 p. 430. 

  20. Cf. Encycl. Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII, Acta Leonis XIII, XI, 1891, pp. 134-142; Encycl. Quadragesimo Anno of Pius XI, A.A.S. XXIII, 1931, pp. 199-200; Encycl. Sertum Laetitiae of Pius XII, A.A.S. XXXI, 1939, pp. 635-644. 

  21. Cf. A.A.S. Llll, 1961, p. 430. 

  22. Cf. Radio Message of Pius XII, Christmas Eve, 1952, A.A.S. XLV, 1953, pp. 33-46. 

  23. Cf. Radio Message, Christmas Eve, 1944, A.A.S. XXXVII, 1945, p. 12. 

  24. Cf. Radio Message, Christmas Eve, 1942, A.A.S. XXXV, 1943, p. 21. 

  25. Eph. 4,25 

  26. Radio Message of Pius XII, Christmas Eve, 1942, A.A.S. XXXV, 1943, p. 14. 

  27. Ia-IIae, q. 19, a. 4; cf. a. 9. 

Go to Top