In today’s post, we are going to start a read-through and analysis of Evangelii Nuntiandi, the apostolic exhortation of Pope St. Paul VI, which Pope Francis has called “the greatest pastoral document written to date,” and has encouraged bishops and cardinals to read it over and over again.
Before we dive into the text, allow me to give a little bit of context. Evangelii Nuntiandi was officially issued on December 8, 1975, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. As with most Church documents, the official Latin title refers to the opening words of the document itself. In this case, the phrase means “in proclaiming the Gospel,” referring to every Christian’s vocation to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The descriptive title given by the Vatican is “Evangelization in the Modern World.”
In September 1974, the Holy Father convened a synod to discuss evangelization, what it means to evangelize in today’s world, and how evangelization can be done effectively so as to bring people to a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Interestingly, then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (at the time Archbishop of Krakow, and later Pope John Paul II) was instrumental in the drafting of Evangelii Nuntiandi. This is not surprising, especially when one considers that the document could be considered to epitomize the goals of the papacy of John Paul II just a few years later. The universal call of all Christians — clergy, religious, lay, everyone — to announce the Gospel to the whole world is something that he emphasized throughout his papacy. The “New Evangelization”, so greatly emphasized by Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis,
Evangelii Nuntiandi opens with the pope proclaiming that the proclamation of the Gospel is “a service rendered to the Christian community and also to the whole of humanity.” (1) Right off the bat, this gets at the heart of the matter: the Gospel is for everyone, the entire human race, and not just something to be discussed at church, or in Bible study, or even in RCIA classes. The whole of humanity: we are sent to bring the Good News to the ends of the earth! And the Holy Father is enthusiastic in his role, including the part he plays in encouraging others to do so.
The document was officially released on the 10th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council. The council is how the pope explicitly frames the document, and his approach to the question of evangelization. He summarizes the objectives of the council: “to make the Church of the twentieth century ever better fitted for proclaiming the Gospel to the people of the twentieth century.” (2) The council was not meant to “update” the Church, or to “bring the Church in line with the modern world.” Rather, it was about preparing the Church to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ out to all the world in a very different global context than she had ever seen before.
The synod fathers had asked the pope to write this document, requesting “a fresh forward impulse, capable of creating within a Church still more firmly rooted in the undying power and strength of Pentecost a new period of evangelization.” (2)
We can consider this document a culmination of sorts, a summation of the analysis that had been taking place for years, attempting to “revise methods, to seek by every means to study how we can bring the Christian message to modern man.” (3) To do so, and to do so validly and comprehensively, the rich patrimony of the Church’s evangelical traditions should be considered; “it is absolutely necessary for us to take into account a heritage of faith that the Church has the duty of preserving in its untouchable purity, and of presenting it to the people of our time, in a way that is as understandable and persuasive as possible.” (3)
We will continue our exploration of this monumentally important document in the coming weeks and months.