Vatican II – Gaudium et Spes
Preface and Introductory Statement
Gaudium et spes addresses not only the sons of the Church, but all of mankind. For man in the modern world, profound and rapid changes can be found in man’s search for a better world, but he has forgotten the necessary spiritual dimension of his soul. “Today’s spiritual agitation and the changing conditions of life are part of a broader and deeper revolution” (GS, 5) that includes technological advances, increased socialization, and advances in the sciences. As such, “the institutions, laws and modes of thinking and feeling as handed down from previous generations do not always seem to be well adapted to the contemporary state of affairs; hence arises an upheaval in the manner and even the norms of behavior.” (GS, 7) In part, man is abandoning God and turning instead towards scientific progress and secular humanism as that beacon which guides them.
Part I – The Church and Man’s Calling
Chapter I – The Dignity of the Human Person
It is faith that lights all in the world and thus only through God can the world find “solutions which are fully human.” (GS, 11) And, to be fully human, man must acknowledge his immaterial dimensions and “through the gift of the Holy Spirit…man comes by faith to the contemplation and appreciation of the divine plan.” (GS, 15)
As a creation of God and given free-will, man is bound by the God’s law; it is written upon his heart and “according to it he will be judged.”(GS, 16) The conscience is where one is alone with God and man’s dignity is found in obeying God. Conscience errs “from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity…[but] the same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.” (GS, 16) Freedom is not freedom to do as one pleases, but to answer God’s call to communion with Him. Man “cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love [of God] and devotes himself to His Creator.”(GS, 19)
“Those who willfully shut out God…are not following the dictates of their consciences, and hence are not free of blame.” (GS, 19) But Christians too share in the blame in so much as they teach false doctrine or are deficient in living the Gospel message. Indeed, it is the “function of the Church, led by the Holy Spirit Who renews and purifies her ceaselessly, to make God the Father and His Incarnate Son present and in a sense visible.” (GS, 21)
Chapter II – The Community of Mankind
Community of man does not reach perfection through technological progress, but through interpersonal relationship. (GS, 23) As such, respect should be shown towards those that disagree with the Church and Gospel, and she, through her members, is called to enter into dialogue with them. However, “this love and good will…must in no way render us indifferent to truth and goodness…it is necessary to distinguish between error, which always merits repudiation, and the person in error, who never loses the dignity of being a person even when he is flawed by false or inadequate religious notions.” (GS, 28) It is through dialogue that individuals can join in unity as a community.
Chapter III – Man’s Activity Throughout the World
Man’s labor is properly considered as from God and, while it is indeed good for man to seek to flourish, “a man is more precious for what he is than for what he has…hence, the norm of human activity is this: that in accord with the divine plan and will, it harmonize with the genuine good of the human race, and that it allow men as individuals and as members of society to pursue their total vocation and fulfill it.” (GS, 35) Contrary to the modern thought, religion works for man’s fulfillment and is not contrary to science or the independence of man. Further, it must be remembered that while human progress is good, it can only serve man’s happiness if bound to God.
Chapter IV – The Role of the Church in the Modern World
The Church’s role is religious not economic, political, or the like. She is here to bring men to salvation in Jesus Christ. She is universal and is not bound to any culture or nation. Members of her body are exhorted to “discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit.” (GS, 43) The “split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.” (GS, 43) It is especially the laity who are to demonstrate the Gospel of Christ in the secular world.
Part II – Some Problems of Special Urgency
Chapter I – Fostering the Nobility of Marriage and the Family
The well-being of both the person and of society are built upon marriage and the family. As such, these are held in especially high esteem. Married love can, of course, be self-serving and false love – this is seen especially in “the worship of pleasure and illicit practices against human generation.” (GS, 47). Yet, marriage is from God Himself and, as such, is very good and indissoluble. Authentic marriages increase the perfection of the spouses in addition to building up and educating children in the faith. While marriage is not only for procreation, the conjugal union is essentially oriented to it and thus, even should a couple be infertile, their union remains indissoluble. Both the father and mother are needed for the care and upbringing of children. “The active presence of the father is highly beneficial to their formation. The children, especially the younger among them, need the care of their mother at home. This domestic role of hers must be safely preserved, though the legitimate social progress of women should not be underrated on that account.” (GS, 52)
Chapter II – The Proper Development of Culture
“The world ‘culture’ in its general sense indicates everything whereby man develops and perfects his many bodily and spiritual qualities.” (GS, 53) Modern man can be spoken of as being in a “new age of human history” (GS, 54) in part because of changes in the culture and society. One of these changes is the increased focus on scientific progress which, based upon observable data, is agnostic about all else. (GS, 57) The Church must engage the culture and “Faithful to her own tradition and at the same time conscious of her universal mission, she can enter into communion with the various civilizations, to their enrichment and the enrichment of the Church herself.” (GS, 58)
Chapter III – Economic and Social Life
Man “is the source, the center, and the purpose of all economic and social life.” (GS, 63) Therefore, economic development must be in accord with the dignity of the human person and at the service of man, not merely profit. Further, “economic development must remain under man’s determination and must not be left to the judgment of a few men or groups.” (GS, 65) Man should view all he possesses as “not only his own but also as common in the sense that they should be able to benefit not only him but also others.” (GS, 69)
Chapter IV – The Life of the Political Community
Human dignity includes “the right freely to meet and form associations, the right to express one’s own opinion and to profess one’s religion both publicly and privately.” (GS, 73) Political systems built upon the abuse of man and his rights for the benefit of one faction or the rulers themselves must be reproved. (GS, 73) Political authority, while possessing true authority, must not violate the moral order or the common good. (GS, 74) In so much as the authority remains within its proper realm, “citizens are bound in conscience to obey.” (GS, 74) Though the Church does influence and guard against abuse by political authority, the Church “is not identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system.” (GS, 76) She must always preach the Gospel and “bear on all fields of human endeavor the light of her doctrine and of a Christian witness.” (GS, 76)
Chapter V – The Fostering of Peace and the Promotion of a Community of Nations
Peace is “appropriately called an enterprise of justice” (GS, 78) and should be the aim of all. Peace is found in the desire to avoid war, but even still, “governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defense once every means of peaceful settlements has been exhausted.” (GS, 79) Should war occur, nations should seek to abide by those agreements which allow for as the care of wounded, etc. Further, war does not “mean that all [actions are] fair between the warring parties.” (GS, 79) The Council declares that “any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.” (GS, 80)
To start, I recommend reading R.R. Reno’s comments on Gaudium et Spes. The comments were on the end of another piece, so you’ll have to scroll near the bottom of this article… just start reading when you see Gaudium et Spes.
I would additionally like to direct you to the very first note offered in the preface of the document. It is as follows:
“The Pastoral Constitution “De Ecclesia in Mundo Huius Temporis” is made up of two parts; yet it constitutes an organic unity. By way of explanation: the constitution is called “pastoral” because, while resting on doctrinal principles, it seeks to express the relation of the Church to the world and modern mankind. The result is that, on the one hand, a pastoral slant is present in the first part, and, on the other hand, a doctrinal slant is present in the second part. In the first part, the Church develops her teaching on man, on the world which is the enveloping context of man’s existence, and on man’s relations to his fellow men. In part two, the Church gives closer consideration to various aspects of modern life and human society; special consideration is given to those questions and problems which, in this general area, seem to have a greater urgency in our day. As a result in part two the subject matter which is viewed in the light of doctrinal principles is made up of diverse elements. Some elements have a permanent value; others, only a transitory one. Consequently, the constitution must be interpreted according to the general norms of theological interpretation. Interpreters must bear in mind—especially in part two—the changeable circumstances which the subject matter, by its very nature, involves.”
Other than that, I have limited comments. Like all the previously reviewed documents, I have some difficulties with this one as well. Perhaps the most poignant difficulty is the discussion of the one-world government found in the last chapter of the document. As you’ll see in my summary, I did not even mention this because I was concerned I would devolve into angry ranting and thought it better to avoid it. Part II Chapter V is a quick piece to read and I recommend you take a look at it if nothing else. My difficulty with it is, of course, due to the U.N.’s terrible secular humanistic agenda that we can see the fruit of today. Perhaps it wasn’t as obvious in 1965 when this document was promulgated, but regardless I am biased today because the humanistic attempt to “fix” the world has led to the massive murder of children and world-wide imposition of the LGBTQ agenda by the UN to say the least.
I welcome your thoughts on this document and, should I be gifted with any edifying insights, I’ll contribute again later as, for now, my insights tend to be pessimistic and violate that great virtue of hope.