The 40th anniversary of Pope John XXIII's encyclical "Pacem in Terris" ("Peace on Earth") is not until April, but the commemoration has already begun — understandably enough.
Pope John Paul II made it the subject of his World Day of Peace Message on Jan. 1 and of a message to journalists on Jan. 24.
"Pacem in Terris" reflected another moment of great international tension. John XXIII conceived of writing it in October 1962 — in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis — during the late-night hours when he passed back and forth from his writing desk to his private chapel, composing a message sent to Kennedy and Khrushchev in hopes of bringing them into agreement and preventing a war that might incinerate millions in its opening salvos.
When the encyclical emerged just before Easter in 1963, it was addressed not only to the Catholic bishops, clergy and faithful, as was customary, but also "to all men of good will." And "Pacem in Terris" was embraced by non-Catholic readers like no previous encyclical.....
But are there not "situations in which nothing short of war can defend or establish" such rights? That was one objection raised in 1965 by the theologian Paul Tillich at a major conference where a score of world leaders addressed the themes of "Pacem in Terris."
A refugee from Nazism, Tillich welcomed the encyclical but countered its optimism with a more tragic perspective. Other theologians, like Reinhold Niebuhr and even John Courtney Murray, a Catholic, also questioned the pope's optimism. Couldn't the ingredients in his recipe for peace — human rights, disarmament, equal respect for all nations, economic development, the peaceful resolution of differences by dialogue and negotiation — come into conflict with one another? Wouldn't hard choices be unavoidable?