As we await publication of Pope Francis’s first encyclical it might be interesting to examine other first papal encyclicals.
Pope Pius XII, being the immediate pre-Vatican II pontiff, may be the obvious place to start…
Encyclical of His Holiness Pope Pius XII
On the Unity of Human Society
October 20, 1939
Venerable Brethren; Health and Apostolic Benediction.
In the very year which marks the fortieth anniversary of the consecration of mankind to our Redeemer’s Most Sacred Heart, the inscrutable counsel of the Lord, for no merit of Ours, has laid upon Us the exalted dignity and grave care of the Supreme Pontificate; for that consecration was proclaimed by Our immortal predecessor, Leo XIII, at the beginning of the Holy Year which closed the last century.
2. And We, as a newly ordained priest, then just empowered to recite “I will go in to the altar of God” (Psalm xlii. 4), hailed the Encyclical Annum Sacrum with genuine approval, enthusiasm and delight as a message from heaven. We associated Ourselves in fervent admiration with the motives and aims which inspired and directed the truly providential action of a Pontiff so sure in his diagnosis of the open and hidden needs and sores of his day. It is only natural, then, that We should today feel profoundly grateful to Providence for having designed that the first year of Our Pontificate should be associated with a memory so precious and so dear of Our first year of priesthood, and that We should take the opportunity of paying homage to the King of kings and Lord of lords (I Timothy vi. 15; Apocalypse xix. 6) as a kind of Introit prayer to Our Pontificate, in the spirit of Our renowned predecessor and in the faithful accomplishment of his designs, and that, in fine, We should make of it the alpha and omega of Our aims, of Our hopes, of Our teaching, of Our activity, of Our patience and of Our sufferings, by consecrating them all to the spread of the Kingdom of Christ.
3. As We review from the standpoint of eternity the past forty years in their exterior events and interior developments, balancing achievements against deficiencies, We see ever more clearly the sacred significance of that consecration of mankind to Christ the King; We see its inspiring symbolism We see its power to refine and to elevate, to strengthen and to fortify souls. We see, besides, in that consecration a penetrating wisdom which sets itself to restore and to ennoble all human society and to promote its true welfare. It unfolds itself to Us ever more clearly as a message of comfort and a grace from God not only to His Church, but also to a world in all too dire need of help and guidance: to a world which, preoccupied with the worship of the ephemeral, has lost its way and spent its forces in a vain search after earthly ideals. It is a message to men who, in ever increasing numbers, have cut themselves off from faith in Christ and, even more, from the recognition and observance of His law; a message opposed to that philosophy of life for which the doctrine of love and renunciation preached in the Sermon on the Mount and the Divine act of love on the Cross seem to be a stumbling block and foolishness.
4. Even as the precursor of the Lord proclaimed one day to those who sought and questioned him: “Behold the lamb of God” (Saint John i. 29), in order to warn them that the desired of the nations (cf. Aggeus ii. 8), dwelt, though as yet unrecognized, in their midst, so, too, the representative of Christ addressed his mighty cry of entreaty: “Behold your King” (Saint John xix. 14) to the renegades, to the doubters, to the wavering, to the hesitant, who either refused to follow the glorious Redeemer, living ever and working in His Church, or followed Him with carelessness and sloth.
5. From the widening and deepening of devotion to the Divine Heart of the Redeemer, which had its splendid culmination in the consecration of humanity at the end of the last century, and further in the introduction, by Our immediate predecessor of happy memory, of the Feast of Christ the King, there have sprung up benefits beyond description for numberless souls — as the stream of the river which maketh the City of God joyful (Psalm xlv. 5). What age had greater need than ours of these benefits? What age has been, for all its technical and purely civic progress, more tormented than ours by spiritual emptiness and deep-felt interior poverty? May we not, perhaps, apply to it the prophetic words of the Apocalypse: “Thou sayest: I am rich, and made wealthy, and have need of nothing: and knowest not, that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” (Apocalypse iii. 17.)
6. Can there be, Venerable Brethren, a greater or more urgent duty than to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians iii. 8) to the men of our time? Can there be anything nobler than to unfurl the “Ensign of the King” before those who have followed and still follow a false standard, and to win back to the victorious banner of the Cross those who have abandoned it? What heart is not inflamed, is not swept forward to help at the sight of so many brothers and sisters who, misled by error, passion, temptation and prejudice, have strayed away from faith in the true God and have lost contact with the joyful and life-giving message of Christ?
….. Given at Castel Gandolfo, near Rome, on the twentieth day of October, in the year of Our Lord, 1939, the first of Our Pontificate.
Read entire encyclical here