Many Catholic friends of mine are seeking religious exemptions to the various Covid-19 mandates. Especially ones who either work from home can prove acquired immunity.

For them, notwithstanding the argument against infanticide - which is very strong, the argument against reason is antecedent.

When Pope John Paul II writes something like:

In the totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, the principle that force predominates over reason was carried to the extreme. Man was compelled to submit to a conception of reality imposed on him by coercion, and not reached by virtue of his own reason and the exercise of his own freedom. This principle must be overturned and total recognition must be given to the rights of the human conscience, which is bound only to the truth, both natural and revealed. The recognition of these rights represents the primary foundation of every authentically free political order

Centesiumus Annus p.29

It gives them pause, they are being told that they cannot use political or sociological arguments for not getting vaccinated, but this is an argument put forth by the Holy Father, promulgated to the entire world that rights of human conscience natural and revealed must be respected or else we're headed to ruin. It could be argued that the common good is served by standing up for reason over and above the common good of boosting numbers of vaccinated individuals. I could argue that all day long, but St. John Paul II bolsters my argument and phrases it in a perfect way I could never even dream of. I believe he was divinely inspired.

Now, for the purpose of my question. Do the Popes intend the faithful to assent to the truths they speak in their encyclicals as a matter of faith or as a matter of reason?

  • I believe he was divinely inspired. - I believe in werewolves.
    – user46876
    Nov 3, 2021 at 23:13

1 Answer 1


Encyclicals are generally thought to be part of the magisterium. They are not weighted as highly as some other documents, and they certainly are not infallible, but given the lack of a higher teaching authority (a council, a papal ex cathedra exhortation, etc), it seems wise to assent to whatever is in an encyclical.

From what I've heard, some theologians are beginning to doubt the authority of an encyclical given how they are being written today. That is: written by a committee of people who are not the pope and merely read and signed off on by the pope himself. But, for encyclicals actually written by popes in prior decades, it stands to reason that what is in them is to be believed unless a document of higher authority contradicts them.

This may help: https://bctorch.com/2020/04/01/a-pocket-guide-for-different-papal-documents/

  • 1
    You might want to answer this question too, if you've got some evidence of the committee approach to writing the encyclicals. christianity.stackexchange.com/q/71414/4 I hope that wasn't the case with Pope John Paul II's. But I don't know that you're hitting the meat of my question (faith vs reason). regardless of who writes them, are they "matters of faith" or "matters of reason".
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 3, 2021 at 19:07
  • Right, they are traditionally thought of as matters of faith, but recently that has been called into question from what I've heard, informally, from some professional theologians I know. As for the committee approach to writing encyclicals nowadays, it's well known. Just reading about Laudato Si gives some insight into the highly irregular practices Francis employs in publishing encyclicals.
    – jaredad7
    Nov 3, 2021 at 21:29

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