At 6:00am ET this morning (noon Rome time), Pope Francis released his first apostolic exhortation, titled Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). It comes on the heels of his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), which he composed alongside Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. This exhortation, however, is his first solo teaching document as pope. Here’s a summary according to an early press release:
The highly anticipated The Joy of the Gospel will answer a number of evangelization-related questions, including:
- How to foster conversion in the Church in order to make her people more faithful and effective in communicating God’s love to others?
- Why is the place of missions in the modern world? What are the obstacles believers’ own lives sometimes place in the way of others’ coming to faith?
- What are the questions people have about faith?
- What attitudes make it hard for people to be receptive to the Christian message? How does Jesus answer the most fundamental questions of human existence?
- Is there a difference between evangelizing and proselytizing, between proposing faith and imposing it
An apostolic exhortation is simply a teaching document on a particular theme to encourage and challenge people. It’s meant to inspire Catholics to action rather than define Church doctrine. Also, popes usually issue them in response to a synod of bishops, which is a gathering of Church leaders focused on particular theme. Pope Francis has written Evangelii Gaudium in response to the October 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.
However according to Catholic News Service, Pope Francis informed the synod last June that he would not be working from their synodal draft documents. Instead, he planned to write an “exhortation on evangelization in general and refer to the synod,” in order to “take everything from the synod but put it in a wider framework.”
Interestingly, the very first apostolic exhortation was published in 1975 by Pope Paul VI after the 1974 synod on evangelization. Titled Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World), the document aimed to define evangelization and explore how to carry it out in today’s increasingly secular world.
Although the document bore Pope Paul VI’s signature, large chunks were written by a young Polish bishop, Karol Wojtyla, who would later become Pope John Paul II. As we all know, that same Pope John Paul would instigate the New Evangelization, a springtime of faith and the topic of the 2012 synod to which Pope Francis devotes his exhortation. It’s beautiful to see this harmony among popes and how this new exhortation fits neatly into the teaching history of the Church.
Speaking of Pope Paul VI, to better understand Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) you might check out Pope Paul’s 1975 encyclical Gaudete In Domino (On Christian Joy). He explores a wide variety of different types of joy and shows how to cultivate joy in our own lives.
Now, I ran into some roadblocks last time when trying to make the Pope’s work available in multiple digital formats, so this time I’ll simply link to documents on the Vatican’s official website. Enjoy!
(Image credit: Catholic Philly)