Analysis: Obama’s SOTU written at 8th grade level, pope’s homilies at 11th grade

The other day, Elizabeth Scalia asked “Is great oratory over and done?” She made a compelling case that, yes, the era of truly eloquent speechifying is a thing of the past:

I think what is missing from our current crop of gushers and gasbags is the ability to find poetry in their texts, or even to purposely include it. Whether this is because there is something lacking within them or because they believe their audiences too stupid to appreciate a well-struck image or relate to metaphor, I cannot say. These are all highly credentialed people, but I am not sure that is the same thing as being broadly educated.

She also quoted an off-the-cuff speech that remains, for me, one of the greats of the last century: Bobby Kennedy’s poignantly poetic remarks following the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

As if to confirm her conclusion, along comes criticism for Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, with Politico noting:

President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address again rated at an 8th grade comprehension level on the Flesch-Kincaid readability test — the third lowest score of any State of the Union address since 1934.

The University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics conducted an analysis on the last 70 State of the Union addresses and found that President Obama’s three addresses have the lowest grade average of any modern president. “Obama‘s average grade-level score of 8.4 is more than two grades lower than the 10.7 grade average for the other 67 addresses written by his 12 predecessors,” they conclude.

All of which has led one observer to wonder: how smart do you have to be to understand a homily by the pope?

The answer:

The Holy Father’s homilies (translated in English) have been averaging 11.6 in recent months with a high score of 15.5 and a low of 9.1. Now it is the case that these homilies are very often read by more people than they are heard in person. Translation issues may also affect the scores. It is also the case that one might expect the content of his homilies to be a bit more complex than a modern president’s State of the Union or Inaugural Address.
For comparison I went back and ran the numbers on eight homilies given by Pope John Paul II during his October 1979 apostolic visit to the United States. The average grade level for these is 10.7 with a low of 8.1 and a high of 13.1.

It appears one needs about an 11th grade education, on average, to best understand a papal homily and about an 8th grade education to do the same with an American president’s speech.

Read more.


  1. I think that the Pope’s speeches are finely crafted, and he does his best to reach as wide an audience as possible. The presidential speeches are immaterial to me in my life. However, both should try to not be obscure to the point that people just will not listen.

  2. Deacon Norb says:

    I had a good laugh over this one.

    “In an earlier life,” I taught both College Composition, Technical Writing and Speech at our local college and the issue of “readability” — particularly when it is defined by a “Grade-Level” indicator is an important component of those courses.

    At that time, the general consensus was that: (1) Small town daily papers — the Monroe (MI) Evening News for instance — need to be geared toward 7-8th grade reading levels;(2) Large city Papers — Cleveland Plain Dealer or New York Times or Washington Post — need to be geared at a 9-11th grade reading level; (3) Selected audience daily papers — Wall Street Journal — can go higher to maybe a 12-13th grade reading level.

    The same thing is true in Technical Writing. I recall that during that era my classes examined: (1) Some Air Force Manuals (12-14th grade — but remember you cannot even enlist in that branch of service without a high-school diploma and you cannot get promoted above E-3 without two years of college) (2) Some service and operational manuals for the Nuclear Power Industry (14+grade reading level — most folks working in that field have Baccalaureate degrees or higher); or (3) What about the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Pastoral Counselors. Most of these folks have two graduate degrees (one in Theology and the other one in some form of Behavioral Sciences). That document comes in at 16+.

    Point is: If you want your text (written or oral) to be understood, you have to know your audience and– by extension — their comprehension level.

    NOW, if you REALLY want a surprise: do a readability level test on one of Benedict’s encyclicals and then go back to one written by Pius XII. The difference is striking!

  3. I guess this is the reason why Obama refuses to release his college transcripts while all previous presidents and candidates have. I might be embarrassing if his grades were worse than Bush’s. It also explains why he requires a teleprompter for every speech, he can’t speak contemporaneously.

  4. Fiergenholt says:

    “he can’t speak contemporaneously.”

    Come ‘on! IMHO he speaks very “contemporaneously” — that means very up-to-date with modern insights and examples that modern folks can understand.

    You PROBABLY mean “extemporaneously” — without notes and “off-the-cuff.”

    I’m not sure I fault him for that. Folks who speak in public — especially where they might be quoted (often out of context) — often prefer to have a written copy so that they can fall back on it when the trolls surface.

  5. Deacon Norb says:

    I just had a flashback of sorts to an insight from my priest/mentor when I was in diaconal formation many years ago. He said it this way:

    “Look out over your congregation any given Sunday Mass. There will likely be several hundred folks there: ages from newborn to 100; gender maybe balanced but more likely tilted feminine (women live longer than men); educational attainment from Pre-K to doctoral levels; nominal/bored “lazy” Catholics and others who will ponder every word you speak.

    You need to be the voice of the Risen Lord Jesus to ALL of them — no exceptions.”

  6. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    I’m terrible at speaking extemporaneously myself. I always use a text for my homilies, for example, unless I’m just giving a two or three minute reflection at a daily Mass or prayer service. Speaking “off the cuff” is a gift that I lack. I envy people who can do it.

  7. I have been, and remain, baffled by pundits who claim O is a great orator, as if having an annoying number of affectations in one’s speech makes one an orator. It doesn’t. Else, Henry Kissinger was an orator. Good grief.

  8. I had to laugh at this one and some of the comments. Effective communication is three-part: message, delivery, and recipients. Maybe the president was dumbing it down for the Republicans in the congressional audience. I’d like to dig a bit deeper and see how the other three speeches designated as State of the Union.

  9. How old is this scale, and has it been updated in recent decades?

    In the 1970′s I was hearing that the NY Times was written on an 11th grade reading level. The NY Times vocabulary has come down quite a bit since then, as has the reading abilities of Americans, as evidenced by the “recalibration” of the SAT about 15 years ago when the test makers added a 250 point curve to prop up declining scores.

    Still we hear of the NY Times being written at an 11th grade reading level. I’m truly curious as to how those reading levels are defined; by what criteria.

  10. Deacon Greg, with your broadcast experience, do you know if there’s a comparable index for assessing comprehensibility of the spoken word? Flesch-Kincaid is specifically designed to assess (silent) readability, and the parameters for comprehension would seem to be different when one is listening. There’s also the more subjective factor of the speaker’s talents in conveying text, whether extemporaneously or read from a document or Teleprompter.

    I have been thinking, since Elizabeth’s post on oratory, of the way audience education levels—or at least, our perceptions of them—have changed since Bobby Kennedy’s amazing off-the-cuff speech. Who today would claim Aeschylus as his favorite poet, or expect any audience to recognize the name? Where were the accusations that Kennedy was patronizing at best or racist at worst for expecting Dr. King’s followers to find comfort in the words of a long-dead white male? The fact that Kennedy did not feel some need to “dumb down” his remarks, and neither did his audience, says a lot about how our expectations have been lowered across the board—at a reading level we all can understand enough to feel regret.

  11. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Great points, jkm. I’m not aware of anything similar for broadcasting.

    And it’s worth noting: Presidential speeches, especially today, are not only written for the ear, but for the widest possible audience (since they are broadcast on national and even international media). An 8th grade “reading level” for a speech, in those circumstances, isn’t necessarily bad. It reflects an astute awareness of the audience.

    (The Pope, I’d wager, has an entirely different audience in mind, and knows he is writing first and foremost for the mind and heart. He also knows the text will be pored over for centuries after he’s gone.)

    But yeah: how many “educated” Americans today have even heard of Aeschylus?

    Dcn. G.

  12. With you there, Brother Deacon. Gotta have a text to lean on, or I forget!

  13. I think this is related to the familiarity, or lack now, of most people with the Bible, Talmud, Graeco-Roman classics, etc. Even people who were not well-educated used to be steeped in the poetry of great literature, sacred and otherwise, of at least one tradition. This is the case for fewer and fewer people and their speech and writings shows how this impacts thoughts which no loner soar, but crash into the dust. Elizabeth Scalia is correct. If you do not mind a plug, here is one way to get it back into daily life, however minimal its effects: The more we hear great literature spoken, the more we read it, the greater impact it has on all of us.

  14. “Maybe the president was dumbing it down for the Republicans in the congressional audience.”

    Yes, and maybe the president was dumbing it down for the Democrats in the congressional audience. How does a comment like Todd’s contribute to adult discourse on the caliber of public speaking? Oh, wait, maybe his wasn’t meant to. My bad.

  15. So what grade-level are the old and new translations of the Roman Missal?

  16. I don’t preach extemporaneously because I lack discipline when I do- I tend to ramble on forever without any real points. Having a written homily forces me to stay on track and to be succinct. What I preach is close to the written but not exact as I am unable to write completely truthful to my speaking voice (if that makes any sense).

  17. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    On a related note:

    I remember once writing a line for CBS that brought down the wrath of a corporate Vice President.

    It was in the mid-1990s. I was the writer for the newsmagazine “48 Hours,” (back before it was “48 Hours Mysteries”). One of our stories involved the travels of the Olympic torch, which began in Greece and would end at the site of the games (I forget where). I described it as “an odyssey worthy of Homer.”

    The CBS VP complained that the writing was “too smart for our audience.”

    Dcn. G.

  18. “I think what is missing from our current crop of gushers and gasbags is the ability to find poetry in their texts, or even to purposely include it.”

    Considering that poetry is a red headed step child in the U.S.A. why would any of these gasbags and gushers even think of taking a poetic turn of phrase?

    You have to appreciate poetry to use it and if you appreciate it why would you cast your poetic pearls before swine. Swine being those who would not get it or would think it affective as opposed to effective.

  19. Exactly. And in formation, we were ‘trained” to “preach from the heart”…no script, no note cards, no memorization. Yikes.

  20. Each speaker knows his audience! I wonder what level the last president spoke at?

  21. I don’t have the earlier translation on this machine but the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal Creed scores like this:
    Passive Sentences 8%
    Flesch Reading Ease 85.2
    Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 3.0

    The First Eucharistic Prayer scores similarly:
    Passive Sentences 7%
    Flesch Reading Ease 83.7
    Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 3.1

    This scoring using MS Word.

  22. Interesting. I wonder why passive sentences are scored at all? As we are dealing with a translation of a binding (Latin) text, verb voice would be driven mostly by the dictates of the original, and not by the preferences of English comp.

  23. ouch

  24. Nice to see you’re having a good morning, Ed. Must be that all the Voris-sympathizers are wearing you down.

    But yes, I’m sure that the overall audience of politicians is somewhat lower on a comprehension scale than theologians. I don’t think that this post, nor most of the comments were really intended to set any sort of example for adult discourse.

    But if you’d like something to chew on this morning, I’d like to offer an opinion that Flesch-Kincaid, even if it adapts well to the listener’s perceptions, doesn’t measure the artistry that’s put into the use of language. It’s more than about grammar and vocabulary, but also how the writer puts words together. And it certainly doesn’t take into account the aural delivery.

    The two examples that strike me as most irrelevant to F-K would be poetry and vocal music. Let’s just take art songs, and you’ll find a wide range in the comprehension in texts, even from the same composer. But music and delivery often overshadow the particulars of the text. And while two English-language poets, say ee cummings and Shakespeare, may have very different approaches to language, we can concede, even if we dislike the result of one or both, that each gives a serious artistry that somewhat transcends F-K.

    Those eager to bash the president don’t strike me as serious about having a serious discussion on this. Have any adult commentary to offer now, my friend?

  25. Oregon Catholic says:

    Frankly, I want just the facts anymore. I hold all the politicians in such disdain that I don’t want them wasting my time with lofty sentiments they don’t mean and I won’t believe coming from them anyway.

  26. Unfortunately, that VP was likely right: a greater association would be with a cartoon figure on a rival network.

  27. They played clips of former speeches of O’s and the State of the Union repeated, almost verbatim, many quotes from prior speeches. They included doing something about illegal immigration, energy dependence and other items that he has never really addressed. Words are cheap Mr. Pres. Do something about it.
    I don’t think he is great orator. What comes across when he speaks is an air of arrogance and condescension. All talking points and no action.

  28. Todd, you made a gratuitous comment about the members of a political party. I called you on it. No need to go ad hominen by bringing up, of all things, Voris; it’s bad rhetoric.

    And, I am not your friend. I know about you only what you write, and what you post about yourself, which is interesting. We both live in and love college towns; we both love music (I had a music award to college); we both love astronomy (I’ve hosted many star parties for up to 40 kids at a time); and we’re married with kids (you have a special needs child? I don’t recall now, anyway, if so, same here). But that does not mean we are friends, and it’s a word I prefer not use sarcastically.

    Shall we keep our criticisms to what people say and do, instead of what (we think) they “are”? I think O is a hugely overrated orator; I need not buttress my point by insulting Democrats. If you think O is good orator, fine, but don’t make your point by insulting Republicans.

  29. Yup.

  30. I believe that the article indicates that all of GWB’s speeches scored higher than BHO.

  31. Yes. Read Stuart Chase’s THE TYRANNY OF WORDS (1935?)

  32. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    That’s what I thought, too ;-) .


  33. There is a prejudice against passive sentences.
    “Passive Sentences Readability Score”
    “Also known as: passive sentences readability statistics, passive sentences readability test, passive sentences readability rating,

    The Passive Sentences readability score formula provides the ratio of passive sentences over active sentences. The score is therefore expressed as a percentage of passive sentences found in a text. Aim at the lowest passive sentences ratio for the best readability. It’s well known that a text exempt of passive sentences doesn’t hamper the reading flow, give strength to the exposed ideas, thus ease the understanding and persuasion process.”

  34. The 2005 SOTU speech scored as follows:
    Passive Sentences 14%
    Flesch Reading Ease 50.3
    Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 11.0

    I read the transcripts of these speeches because there is too much commotion and distractions with cheering, jeering and applause. With the 2005 speech I think the low score of Reading Ease would make it more difficult aurally to grasp.

  35. Maybe it helps to hire corporate VPs (and presidential speechwriters, counselors, etc.) who aren’t “too smart”. It would explain a lot.

  36. Hmm…. I think that “grade level” can (in principle) be very misleading as a measure of oratory. Good poetry does not have to sound like an engineering textbook; in fact, one could argue that good poetry MUST NEVER sound like an engineering textbook.

    I’d be interested to see how John Paul II’s homilies rate. I’ve always thought that he was more of an artist, and Benedict XVI more of a philosopher — and EVERY INCH a German professor! I suspect Pope Benedict works hard at simplifying his ideas to the 11-13th grade level, but he can’t stand the loss of precision.

  37. Fair enough, Ed.

    Usually a senseless gratuitous comment gets passed on. Obviously, both our comments were seriously poking enough to merit a response. My comment wasn’t serious, but it was certainly in keeping with the tone and comment I’ve seen in the Bench’s commentariat the past few days.

    I happen to think not so much of the president’s oratory either, but I don’t see the point in making snarky commentary about it with comparisons to Mr Bush or the Holy Father. More goes into oratory than reading a speech.

    No problem accepting your suggestion. And I offer my apology for bringing Mr Voris into the discussion. No need for that.

  38. Deacon Norb says:

    I used and taught a totally different test. When I ran two selections from the New Mass through the criteria, I got remarkably similar results.

    My tests require a “random” passage of 100 words:

    –For Test One, I combined a random passage of 50 words from the opening prayer of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and a similar random 50 word passage from the Opening Prayer of the Third Sunday of Lent — March 8. Grade equivalency Score 17.6 (College graduate plus)

    –For Test Two, I took the Preface for Eucharistic Prayer II (almost exactly 100 words). Grade Equivalency Score 16.8 (Again, College graduate plus)

    NOW, I readily admit that this test uses “average sentence length” as an extremely important criteria. In both passages the average sentence length is over 33 words. That is a LATIN style of writing and not an ENGLISH style of speaking.

  39. See folks? More evidence for my point that one can almost always have an intelligent combox exchange with someone who uses a real name.

    Todd, re us both being tarred with the tone taken by some others out there, most agreed, and I recall Mr. Fowler’s great line from the film “Separate Tables”: “The trouble about being on the side of right, as one sees right, is that one often finds oneself in the company of such very questionable allies.”

    Best, edp.

  40. What a stupid post. It follows that least you can understand the higher grade you would get. Scalia should write speeches for both of the individuals in question.

  41. Yes, I know. My point is that Latin is linguistically quite comfortable with passive voice, and that the Roman Missal is a translation of Latin into English (not a re-writing of the Latin in English), and so, the use of passive voice scarcely merits measuring as a tool for assessing quality of a TRANSLATED text. imho.

  42. Plus, B16 is writing for history. He can’t help it.

  43. After nearly a half century of (often painful) experience, I can attest that few homilists can speak extemporaneously. And given the ready availability of technology (pencil and paper are more than adequate), why should they need to? I bet you can’t preach and juggle simultaneously, too. I bet you can’t preach in iambic pentameter, either. Who cares?

    Dcn Luis nails it right on the head — the 99% of speakers will meander incoherently without notes.

    I competed in extemp in high school, and there is one feature that doesn’t get commented on — extemp rounds have a time keeper, and you get disqualified if you are a second over the allowed time. Even that rare successful extemporaneous preacher that I’ve heard would have been gonged by the kid with the stopwatch!

  44. That’ll explain why the Obama administration can’t understand Catholic teaching on abortion. “We won’t fund abortions” is obviously too complicated..

  45. I think that the average American can only understand at an 8th grade level. I’m sure President Obama’s speach writers understand that and are trying make everyone understand what he is saying. And yes, it’s not President Obama who is doing all the writing, whereas Pope Benedict is writing his homilys. I work in a corporate environment for a very large company and when the executives some and speak, they do in such a way that is barely understandable. I find comfort that I can understand what President Obama is saying.

  46. Since America’s schools are getting worse, an 8th grade comprehension level is probably setting the bar high for most Americans. Also, a big percentage of Catholcs live in countries that don’t have 11 grades or any grades, so the Pope is talking over their heads.

  47. Alls I know is, nobody knows nothing about writing anymore. Ugh.

  48. I thought the article referred to the collective speeches of the past 100 or so years, not GWB.

  49. Her rhetoric does nothing for me, although it would be interesting to read a speech she would write for the president.

  50. Oregon Catholic says:

    How did a text with words like consubstantial and incarnate end up at 3rd grade level?

  51. It’s possible that as a Christian he understands it. It’s more likely he agrees with it as a personal standard, but dissents from permitting an immoral act to continue he probably couldn’t do much about anyway.

    It’s a vaguely insulting notion with no real basis in fact nor connection to the topic.

  52. I think I was told in 6th grade (1968) that the Baltimore Sun was written on a 7th grade level and the Hearst News American was on a 5th grade level.

  53. The article is interesting to read in its entirety; it indicates that the main reason for Obama’s low score is the shortness of his sentences. It’s also interesting that there seems to be a general trend downwards in the grade level, although Kennedy and Eisenhower rank above Roosevelt. It may be that the speeches are increasingly focused on the TV audience rather than the actual reader and that would likely encourage shorter sentences as well.

    At any rate, the grade level of his speeches indicates nothing about a president’s own capabilities, rather it reflects what he and his speechwriters think of his audience’s.

  54. I’m guessing Piotr is talking about Antonin Scalia, not Elizabeth Scalia.

  55. Oh. Well the same would be the case for him.

  56. Jim from Utah says:

    The Pope’s homilies and writings have made me a better write, hands-down!

  57. Are you from Chicago? There is a reason I ask.

  58. Deacon Norb says:

    Let me continue the science of this kind of discussion.

    –YES, the shorter the sentences, the lower the readability level. Both the system I use and the other system described in the other blogs use that criteria. Both find passive voice usage and longer sentence length as signs of a higher grade-level equivalency. IF you want to be understood, use axctive voice and short sentences.

    –BUT there is another issue here. When we speak, we do not speak in sentences — we speak in “breath groups.” Human speech naturally depends upon a lung full of air and in most human beings, a typical lung full of air “breath group” is about eight-ten words long and lasts about five seconds of speech energy. Often, those “breath groups” are connected by a conjunction of some kind. [BTW: ever wonder about the "Biblical 'and'" in the First Chapter of Genesis. That is an immutable sign of an oral composition!]

    –That’s how language scholars of the earliest translations of the Bible in English can determine how primitive a text really is — is there a naturally occurring “breath group” syntax.

    If you want any proof, try READING ALOUD the First Chapter of Genesis from the King James Version — lots of “Biblical ‘and’” examples — and then READ ALOUD that same passage from the New English Bible of the 1970′s where they have been all removed. The difference is striking.

  59. I thought the Clintonistas were the worst vermin to hit the White House…SURPRISE!!

  60. And therein lies theh problem. NO ONE I know, including the lawyers I work with every day HAVE EVER used the word “consubstantial”. The prayers were rewritten by theologians-not real people.

  61. Me, too and it appears that the President knows HIS audience, better than theh Pope knows his.

  62. The article may be on oratory, but the image our pope on that throne with that regalia communicates something that is of deeper concern and problematic for getting the message out in today’s world.

  63. alter Dan S. says:

    I wonder how “the Architect” in the Matrix movie would score. 20th grade?

  64. Ah yes, theologians are certainly not real people at all. Why, they are probably made of plastic. Of course, comparing them disfavorably to lawyers is in poor taste, as most theologians can readily cast reflections and are not repulsed by garlic.

  65. “incarnate”, while somewhat rarely used, has been used in mass media, even cartoons. Of course, the meaning is poorly used in these instances, but the word is still used.

    Consubstantial is not terribly difficult to figure out given about a minute of instruction to a 3rd grader. They seem to be better suited to picking out “substance” and asking about the rest than many adults.

  66. Actually, Obama is on record declaring that he would encourage his own daughters to have abortions if they become inconveniently pregnant.

  67. Yes, let’s sell the spikenard and give the proceeds to the poor!

  68. Yes. People who hang on Obama’s words want mundane pablum, whereas the Pope is actually trying to teach about a higher truth.

  69. Very good Patrick, good form…good form

  70. Actually, I recall that Obama said, “I don’t want them punished with a baby.” Is that what you’re talking about? Because that is not the same as “on record declaring that he would encourage his own daughters to have abortions if they become inconveniently pregnant.” It might be your spin that it’s what he meant, but then that would still be what you are saying, not Obama.

  71. I haven’t seen a report specific to Congress, but I’ve seen reports that the average adult in the U.S. reads between the 8th and 9th grade reading levels.

  72. Nanci Keatley says:

    I agree. I always read aloud to my children when they were younger from good literature and poetry. This past December, when my oldest son was on Christmas break from Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, he told his younger sister (who has some learning disabilities) she should memorize at least 10 poems or pieces of literature to be read aloud. He then proceeded to challenge her to learn Tarantella by Hilaire Belloc before he headed off to Rome to study this semester. She learned it in two days and shared it with all of us. We have all taken up the challenge to read and memorize great literature to share this year.

  73. Again, you have to distinguish substance from structure — “mundane pablum” can be couched in either 1st or 12th grade terms.
    The appropriate analogy is between teaching a graduate level seminar with students who have voluntarily enrolled to learn from a master versus trying to teach a room full of junior high students.

  74. Deacon Norb says:

    I’m following up here. I just finished some tests on some of the encyclicals of the modern popes:

    Benedict XVI “Deus Caritas Est.” Two passages: one comes in at 12 and the other passage at 13.6 equivalent grade levels. Everyone agrees this is fairly easy reading.

    John Paul II: “Fides et Ratio.” Again two passages: one comes in at 23.2 and the other at 18.4 equivalent grade levels. (BTW: This is generally considered JP II’s most “arcane” encyclical.)

    Pius XII: “Divino Affalnte Spiritu.” One passage which comes in at 18.4 equivalent grade level. [BTW: For years anyone who took my Lay Ministry Formation Class in Sacred Scripture HAD to read this encyclical thoroughly.]

  75. You managed to recall a fragment, conveniently missing a key phrase. Nice try. This was also a speach before NARAL.

    Maybe if you just “believe” in “hope” for a “change” just a little more, you can push out all that silly reality…

  76. Antonio A. Badilla says:

    Dear Deacon,

    Don’t leave me “guessing!” How do the enyclicals of Benedict XVI compared to those of Venerable Pius XII? I am under the impression that Pius’s writings are superior to most of the Popes of the 20th century. Am I right?

  77. Antonio A. Badilla says:

    Cheap shot, Patrick, cheap shot. Read in the Gospels what Jesus said about the poor!

  78. Deacon Norb says:

    “Don’t leave me “guessing!” How do the enyclicals of Benedict XVI compared to those of Venerable Pius XII? I am under the impression that Pius’s writings are superior to most of the Popes of the 20th century. Am I right?”

    Well: I did list an encyclical of Pius XII in my 28 Jan 6:07pm posting above. “Divini Affante Spiritu” (“DAF”) checks in at 18.4.

    How about two other famous encyclicals by two other popes:

    –Pius XI’s condemnation of Nazi Germany “Mit Brennender Sorg” checks in at an astonishing 26.4 — outrageously high but then you have to remember this was one of the very few Papal Encyclicals where the ORIGINAL language was not Latin but GERMAN — which might help explain its complexity. It was, however, “readable enough.” The political reaction in Germany by the Nazi leadership as a result of all Catholic Pastors reading this letter to their congregations was immediate and vile.

    –Paul VI’s famous “Humanae Vitae” is a fairly moderate 17.5 — far more readable than almost anything up to that point. That may also explain the widespread public reaction to it — although I doubt if a lot of people (including Bishops and Priests) read it in its entirety.

    I guess I will answer your question with another question. Have you ever read any one of Pius XII’s encyclicals in their entirety? I do suggest you try “DAF.” I have read that one completely through maybe a half-dozen times — very remarkable encyclical considering the times.


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