With his apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium" (The Joy of the Gospel), which the Vatican has scheduled for publication today, Pope Francis finally makes his real debut as papal author, reports the Catholic News Service.
Popes through the centuries have issued their most important written messages in one of 10 classic forms, ranging from encyclical to 'chirograph,' a brief document on a highly limited subject. But most of these are typically formulaic texts that do not express the distinctive voice or charism of the man who issues them.
Pope Francis has already published an encyclical, traditionally considered the most authoritative form of papal writing. But in the opening paragraphs of "Lumen Fidei," released in July, he explained that the text was essentially the work of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, to whose words Pope Francis had merely "added a few contributions" of his own.
By contrast, Pope Francis has made clear that "Evangelii Gaudium" is very much his own work.
Apostolic exhortations are often based on deliberations of synods of bishops, and this one takes into account the October 2012 synod on the new evangelization. But last June, Pope Francis informed the ordinary council of the Synod of Bishops, which is normally responsible for helping draft post-synodal apostolic exhortations, he would not be working from their draft.
Instead, the pope said, he planned to write an "exhortation on evangelization in general and refer to the synod," in order to "take everything from the synod but put it in a wider framework."
That choice surprised some, especially since Pope Francis had voiced his strong commitment to the principle of consultation with fellow bishops and even suggested that the synod should become a permanent advisory body.
But the pope was merely reverting to earlier practice. None of the first three modern synods, in 1967, 1969 or 1971, led to a papal document. It was not until 1974 that Pope Paul first chose to use a synod's recommendations to write an apostolic exhortation, "Evangelii Nuntiandi," published the following year.