Catholics sometimes wonder whether papal encyclicals have got rather long in recent decades. Now a researcher has confirmed the trend.
Sharon Kabel, who runs the blog A Wild Sostenuto, has drawn up charts showing that between Leo XIII and Pope Francis there has been a marked increase in the average word count. Leo’s average encyclical came in at under 5,000 words.
The average steadily grew after that, but the big jump came with Pope St John Paul II, whose encyclicals averaged around 28,000 words each. Pope Francis has broken the record, reaching the 30,000-word mark on average. (This includes Lumen Fidei, co-written with Benedict XVI. If one adds up all the words in all encyclicals, a different picture emerges: Pope Francis has produced fewer overall words than any pope since Benedict XV (excluding John Paul I, who died before issuing any encyclical). That said, Francis has only been in office for six years. Pope Leo, with more than 300,000 words, and JPII with nearly 40,000, had much longer reigns.
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