A Thematic Summary of Gaudium et Spes

Hugh MacKenzie FAITH Magazine November – December 2012

The Editor illustrates the nine themes presented in the editorial with quotations taken mainly from the first part of Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World

The nine collections of representative quotations below capture the nine themes mentioned in our editorial. They add up to a clear call for a new synthesis of Faith and Reason, in which the implications of modern science should play a significant role.
N.B. Bullet points are all direct quotes from the text, except for words in square brackets. The translation we have used is from the Vatican website. Especially in theme 4 on the facing page, which contains we believe those sentences that have caused most concern among those of a conservative mindset, we have slightly retranslated a few phrases, usually making reference to the relevant Latin words. Numbers in brackets are paragraph numbers.

Contents of Gaudium et Spes

Preface (1-3)

Introduction: The Situation of Men in the Modern World (4-10)

Part I: The Church and Man's Calling (11-45)

I. The Dignity of the Human Person (12-22)
II. The Community of Mankind (23-32)
III. Man's Activity Throughout the World (33-39)
IV. The Role of the Church in the Modern World (40-45)

Part II: Some Problems of Special Urgency (46-93)
I. Fostering the Nobility of Marriage and the Family (47-52)
II. The Proper Development of Culture (53-62)
III. Economic and Social Life (63-72)
IV The Life of the Political Community (73-76)
V The Fostering of Peace and the Promotion of a Community of Nations (77-93)

1. We now Have a New Culture

We are entering "a new stage of history ... a true cultural and social transformation" (4) in which "the human race is passing from a rather static concept of the order of things to a more dynamic, evolutionary one" (5).

More specifically:

• There is "a movement toward more mature and personal exercise of liberty" (6); "new social relationships between men and women" (8); a growing thirst for a "full and free life" (9).
• "For the first time in human history all people who have [sibi habent] the benefits of culture are convinced that these benefits ought to be and actually can be extended to everyone. (9).
• There is a "growing interdependence ... a world becoming more unified every day ... [a growing awareness of] rights and duties with respect to the whole human race" (26).
• Indeed there are "new ways of thinking ... which better promote and express the unity of the human race" (57).

Gaudium et Spes summarises this new situation in para 41:

"Modern man is on the road to a more thorough development of his own personality, and to a growing discovery and vindication of his own rights ... the birth of a new humanism, one in which man is defined first of all by this responsibility to his brothers and to history."

2. Science Has Had a Major Impact

In its introduction Gaudium et Spes makes this foundational statement:

"Today's spiritual agitation and the changing conditions of life are part of a broader and deeper revolution. Intellectual formation is ever increasingly based on the mathematical and natural sciences and on those dealing with man himself, while in the practical order the technology which stems from these sciences takes on mounting importance. This scientific spirit has a new kind of impact on the cultural sphere and on modes of thought.....The destiny of the human community has become all of a piece, the human race is passing from a rather static concept of the order of things to a more dynamic, evolutionary one. In consequence there has arisen a new series of problems, a series as numerous as can be" (5).

Part I of the constitution, "The Church and Man's Calling", from which most of the quotations below are taken, focuses upon the nature of man who today "has won superlative victories, especially in his probing of the material world and in subjecting it to himself" (15). Part II, "Some Problems of Particular Urgency", has a section on the proper "development of culture", which provides some of the quotations below, and affirms that we now have "a culture which [has arisen] from the enormous progress of science and technology" (56). "The recent studies and findings of science, history and philosophy raise new questions which affect life" (62).

3. There are Significant Dangers in This New Culture

At the same time as these seemingly positive developments man appears "burdened down with uneasiness" (4) and "mutual distrust" (8). Before man "lies the path to freedom or to slavery" (9). So the last two chapters of Part I affirm that "Christ's Church, trusting in the design of the Creator, acknowledges that human progress can serve man's true happiness, yet she cannot help echoing the Apostle's warning: 'Be not conformed to this world' (Rom 12:2)" (37).

For there is a real temptation toward the "annihilation" of the dignity of man (41), by "losing sight" of the fact that man has a nature (61).

So it is that "growing numbers of people are abandoning religion in practice; on every side they influence literature, the arts, the interpretation of the humanities and of history and civil laws themselves. As a consequence, many people are shaken" (7). The more theoretical analyses of the first two chapters of Part I bring out that:

• "Atheism must be accounted among the most serious problems of this age, and is deserving of closer examination" (19).

• There is an already apparent need for "abundant changes in society" (26).

• "Believers themselves frequently bear some responsibility for this situation ... to the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life" (19).

4. Acknowledgment of the Sincerity and Insight of Many Non-Catholics

Because of the above (cf. first sentence of Chapter IV, "The Role of the Church in the Modern World", beginning at para 40) the Council wanted to foster a respectful "dialogue" with the great mass of people outside the Church "acknowledging their positive values" (57). For, as we have seen, these people, as well as taking some very dangerous paths, have developed insights from the Christian tradition by effectively synthesising them with new discoveries about nature. This challenging, confusing reality is faced by many Catholics every day. No "New Evangelisation" can afford to ignore it.

So Part I builds up a thread which would seem a rational development, yet involves some of its most controversial statements. The Vatican website's translation may not be the most conservative interpretation of the text. We have retranslated a few parts of these, putting some of the relevant Latin in square brackets.

• Chapter I: "Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution" (16).

• Chapter II: "Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and even religious matters ... it is necessary to distinguish between error, which always merits repudiation, and the person in error" (28).

• Chapter IV: "The council now sets forth certain general principles for the proper fostering of this mutual exchange and assistance in concerns which are in some way common to the world and the Church" (40).

• Chapter IV: "The Church proclaims the rights of man, she acknowledges and highly values the dynamic movements of today by which these rights are promoted everywhere. ... this Council acknowledges all the true, good and just elements inherent in the very wide variety of institutions which the human race has established for itself" (40).

Paragraph 40 offers some qualification of the above: "not that there is any lack in the constitution given her by Christ", and the Church "serves as a leaven and as a kind of soul for human society".

This is the context for understanding some of document's most humble of expressions, such as: "Christian revelation contributes greatly [subsidium affert magnum] to the promotion of this communion between persons, ... a world becoming more unified every day" (23) and, the Church "contributes toward making the family of man and its history fully human [humaniorem reddendam]" (40). This might even perhaps be rendered: "the Church fosters the fully human formation of the family and history of man."

This courtesy of Vatican II towards those outside the Church is the context for understanding the invitatory and generous opening words of the whole constitution, which affirm:

"Nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in the hearts [of members of the Church], ... [which] community realises that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds ... this Council can provide no more eloquent proof of its solidarity with, as well as its respect and love for, the entire human family with which it is bound up than by engaging with it in conversation about these various problems."

5. The Urgent Need for a New Synthesis

Thus we can conclude that "there has arisen a new series of problems, a series as numerous as can be, calling for efforts of analysis and synthesis" (5). In later, more practical parts of the document some key questions are articulated:

• "How can we quickly and progressively harmonise the proliferation of particular branches of study with the necessity of forming a synthesis of them, and of preserving among men the faculties of contemplation and observation which lead to wisdom?" (56).

• "How is the dynamism and expansion of a new culture to be fostered without losing a living fidelity to the heritage of tradition?" (56)

• "How is the autonomy which culture claims for itself to be recognised as legitimate without generating a notion of humanism which is merely terrestrial, and even contrary to religion itself?" (56).

Might it be a certain failure to answer these questions which makes this statement seem a worrying anachronism: "The number constantly swells of the people who raise the most basic questions or recognise them with a new sharpness" (10). Fifty years on the needs below would seem unmet:

• "Our era needs wisdom more than bygone ages if the discoveries made by man are to be further humanised" (15).

• "The future of humanity lies in the hands of those who are strong enough to provide coming generations with reasons for living and hoping" (31).

• "The enormous progress of science and technology must be harmonised with a culture nourished by classical studies according to various traditions" (56).

• "It remains each man's duty to retain an understanding of the whole human person ... a profound inquiry into the meaning of culture and science for the human person" (61).

6. The Church's Role in Synthesising Modern Insights With Perennial Doctrine

As we have seen (eg in para 16), this is a shared predicament. Moreover, "it is sometimes difficult to harmonise culture with Christian teaching. These difficulties do not necessarily harm the life of faith, rather they can stimulate the mind to a deeper and more accurate understanding of the faith" (62).

Yet "When God is forgotten the creature itself grows unintelligible" (36). Furthermore "faith ... directs the mind to solutions" (11).

Thus, in addition to the shared tasks of humanity outlined in the above section, we have these increasingly specialised, ecclesial tasks:

• "[Achieving] the witness of a living and mature faith, namely, one trained to see difficulties clearly and to master them ... [atheistic] questions ought to be examined seriously and more profoundly" (21).

• "By unremitting study [the faithful] should fit themselves to do their part in establishing dialogue with the world and with men of all shades of opinion" (43).

• "With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is the task of the entire People of God, especially pastors and theologians, to hear, distinguish and interpret the many voices of our age, and to judge them in the light of the divine word." (44) ... "deciphering authentic signs of God's presence and purpose" (11). "The recent studies and findings of science, history and philosophy raise new questions which affect life and which demand new theological investigations" (62).

• "Theologians ... are invited to seek continually for more suitable ways of communicating doctrine to the men of their times; for the deposit of Faith or the truths are one thing and the manner in which they are enunciated, in the same meaning and understanding, is another" (62).

We should remember that all these contemporary tasks are the ones termed "normative for the 21st century" by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. These duties, which might simply be termed "seeking a proper presentation of the Church's teaching" (21), are synthesised in paragraph 62:

"May the faithful, therefore, live in very close union with the other men of their time and may they strive to understand perfectly their way of thinking and judging, as expressed in their culture. Let them blend new sciences and theories and the understanding of the most recent discoveries with Christian morality and the teaching of Christian doctrine, so that their religious culture and morality may keep pace with scientific knowledge and with the constantly progressing technology....Thus they will be able to interpret and evaluate all things in a truly Christian spirit, ... and priests will be able to present to our contemporaries the doctrine of the Church concerning God, man and the world, in a manner more adapted to them so that they may receive it more willingly."

Lest this repeated and urgent call of the Ecumenical Council appear controversial the Council reminds us that:

"From the beginning of [the Church's] history she has learned to express the message of Christ with the help of the ideas and terminology of various philosophers, and has tried to clarify it with their wisdom, too" (44). Further, "the Church, living in various circumstances in the course of time, has used the discoveries of different cultures" (58).

Such "accommodated preaching of the revealed word ought to remain the law of all evangelisation" (44).

7. Overall Purpose of Such Development

Gaudium et Spes reminds us of the perennial goal of this effort. It is that, appropriately for the modern world:

• "[The Church might] make God the Father and His Incarnate Son present and in a sense visible" (21).

• "Revealed truth can always be more deeply penetrated, better understood and set forth to greater advantage" (44, all repeated in 58).

08 Faith IA Thematic Summary of Gaudium et Spes

"The human race is passing from a rather static concept of the order of things to a more dynamic, evolutionary one"

• "In her preaching [the Church] might spread and explain the message of Christ to all nations" (58), "as well as to the needs of the learned" (44).

8. Founding the Vision: Jesus Christ as the Recapitulation of History

The last paragraph of the Constitution's "Introductory Statement" presents the heart of the vision it proposes as the "key" to unlocking the problems it has outlined. This key is "welcoming" Christ as the recapitulation of secular and salvation history, man being "body and soul", in his image.

"[The Church] holds that in her most benign Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point and the goal of man, as well as of all human history ... Under the light of Christ, the image of the unseen God, the firstborn of every creature, the council wishes to speak to all men in order to shed light on the mystery of man and to cooperate in finding the solution to the outstanding problems of our time" (10).

It is a theme to which the document returns towards the end of each of the four chapters in its first and main part, "The Church and Man's Calling", linking it with the theme of the chapter:

• Chapter I: "The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light... in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown" (22).

• Chapter II: "As the firstborn of many brethren and by the giving of His Spirit, He founded after His death and resurrection a new brotherly community composed of all those who receive Him in faith and in love" (32).

• Chapter III: Christ "entered the world's history as a perfect man, taking that history up into Himself and summarising it"; this is shortly followed by a point fairly crucial for understanding the human predicament today, namely that "the effort to establish a universal brotherhood is not a hopeless one" (38).

• Chapter IV: "God's Word, by whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh so that as perfect man He might save all men and sum up all things in Himself. The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilisation, the centre of the human race, the joy of every heart and the answer to all its yearnings" (45).

Such a vision of the Word made flesh can provide the basis for the synthetic vision that Gaudium et Spes has called for:

"Since it has been entrusted to the Church to reveal the mystery of God, Who is the ultimate goal of man, she opens up to man at the same time the meaning of his own existence, that is, the innermost truth about himself ...For by His incarnation the Father's Word assumed, and sanctified through His cross and resurrection, the whole of man, body and soul, and through that totality the whole of nature created by God for man's use" (41).

"Only God, Who created man to His own image and ransomed him from sin, provides the most adequate answer to the questions, and this He does through what He has revealed in Christ His Son, Who became man" (41).

9. Filling out this Synthesis: Our Need of God's Grace

The above is a grand task. For man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible. Given the needs of our time, we should have this active trust:

• "To this questioning only God fully and most certainly provides an answer as He summons man to higher knowledge and humbler probing ... led by the Holy Spirit Who renews and purifies her ceaselessly" (21).

• "With the needed help of divine grace men who are truly new and artisans of a new humanity can be forthcoming" (30).

• "It is, finally, through the gift of the Holy Spirit that man comes by faith to the contemplation and appreciation of the divine plan" (15), "purified and perfected by the power of Christ's cross and resurrection" (37).

Faith Magazine