Pope Paul VI reflects on the challenges of post-industrial society and the inadequacy of ideologies to address them in this 1971 Apostolic Letter. Octogesima Adveniens is an open letter addressed to the President of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Roy. Although it is not a social encyclical, Octogesima Adveniens is considered to be one of the major Catholic Social Teaching documents. It commemorated the eightieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum.
Octogesima Adveniens was a call to action, urging Catholics to take responsibility for Christian action in all dimensions of their lives. It affirms two aspirations that Paul VI saw growing “stronger as human beings become better informed and better educated: the aspiration to equality and the aspiration to participation” (n 22). Other issues addressed by the letter include:
– urbanisation (n 8 – 12)
– the role of women (n 13)
– discrimination (n 16)
– the right to emigrate (n 17)
– social communications (n 20)
– and the environment (n 21).
Octogesima Adveniens provided the strongest expression of an historically conscious ethical approach in the papal social teachings from the Second Vatican Council until the pontificate of Pope Francis. The action it asks of Christians starts from the local and the particular rather than from universal and unchanging principles. It advocates an inductive approach to taking up responsibility for Christian action in social life. Paul VI does not regard all morality as contingent and changeable. He recognises continuity and universality in Church teaching but grounds his reflections in experience in context (n 42). We can see Pope Francis returning to this approach in his social teachings today.
Contribution to Catholic Social Teaching
Octogesima Adveniens affirmed the possibility of a plurality of Catholic options for action. It assigned an unprecedentedly strong role to the local churches in reading the signs of the times and responding in their own places. Because situations varied so much, Paul VI said that it was often difficult to make universal pronouncements.
Read Octogesima Adveniens
Read the full text of the official English translation here.