In the ancient church, the Bishop of Rome was recognised among the bishops as "primus inter pares", first among equals. As early as 800 AD the popes have claimed both spiritual and temporal authority throughout the Western church. Increasingly the claim developed such that the pope claims to exercise "universal and ordinary authority" throughout the church. Of course, this is partly an exaggeration. No pope has ever exercised local authority in far-flung dioceses. However, the claim does mean that the pope claims the authority to supercede the authority of any bishop. Further, the pope's "universal" authority consists of the jurisdiction to legislate for all churches in communion with Rome. This presents an ecumenical problem, as the popes themselves have been the first to acknowledge (Pope Paul VI & Pope John Paul II).

Legislative authority is not the direct concern of the documents listed here. These documents represent the best of the spiritual authority of the popes. These are primarily teaching documents. The documents chosen here are those of substantial importance. Encyclicals, apostolic letters and exhortations provide the bulk of the material. These are the most authoritative papal teaching documents. The selection is limited to those which are available on the internet, and thus mostly represents the 20th century. As archives are converted into electronic form, the lists here will increase.

Wherever possible, the links below connect to the official Vatican translations of the relevant documents. In some cases the document is not yet available on the Vatican website. In these cases, another document archive has been substituted. Care should be taken to ensure that these alternate archives contain accurate translations. Care should also be paid to transcription errors in any internet resource. Use the original print editions for academic citations.

Papal archives

Francis (2013-)Pope Francis (2013- )


Apostolic Exhortations

Selected letters

Benedict XVI (2005-2013)Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013)


Apostolic Constitutions

Apostolic Exhortations

Apostolic Letters


John Paul II (1978-2005)Pope John Paul II (1978-2005)

Encyclicals (alphabetical)

Apostolic letters (alphabetical)

Untitled apostolic letters (chronological)

Apostolic Exhortations (chronological)

Other texts from Pope John Paul II

Paul VI (1963-1978)Pope Paul VI (1963-1978)

John XXIII (1958-1963) Pope John XXIII (1958-1963)

Pius XII (1939-1958) Pope Pius XII (1939-1958)

Pius XI (1922-1939) Pope Pius XI (1922-1939)

Benedict XV (1914-1922) Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922)

Pius X (1903-1914) Pope Pius X (1903-1914)

Leo XIII (1878-1903)

Pius IX (1846-1878)

Gregory XVI (1831-1846)

Pius VIII (1829-1830)

Leo XII (1823-1829)

Paul III (1534-1549)

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