In the ancient Church, an encyclical was a circular letter sent to all the churches of a particular area. As used at that time, the word could be used of a letter sent out by any bishop. The word comes from Latin "encyclia" meaning "general" or "encircling", which is also the origin of the word "encyclopedia".
In the modern Roman Catholic Church an encyclical is a letter sent by the Pope to all Roman Catholic bishops, usually a statement of policy or announcing a new initiative. The Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion retain the older usage.
Important papal encyclicals
Important Eastern Orthodox Encyclicals
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd. ed.), p. 545
Last updated: 08-14-2005 22:37:01
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46