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Frequently Asked Questions

Q. 1. What is an encyclical and what is it used for?

A. 1. The word "encyclical" comes from the Greek, meaning "circular." It refers to a letter that is sent by the Pope with the intent of being circulated among the bishops of the world, or a particular part of the world. The encyclicals (circulars) provide instructions that are usually intended for the clergy, the Catholic faithful or other "men of good will" outside the Catholic Church.

The title of the encyclical is always taken from the first words of the opening sentence. If the first words speak of marriage, then the encyclical is about the Sacrament of marriage. If the first few words speak of love, then the content of the encyclical would be about love.

As a general rule, the official version of the encyclical is always written in Latin. In rare cases, when the encyclical is directed to one nation, the official version may be in the language of that land.

Encyclicals are used primarily for teaching, sometimes to caution, and in a few cases for condemnations.

The first encyclical was released by Pope Benedict XIV on December 3, 1740. Since then, the Popes have written nearly 300 encyclicals.

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