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Gaudium et Spes. Second Vatican Council, 7 December 1965. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World

Gaudium et Spes

Second Vatican Council, 7 December 1965

Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World

English translations in: The Documents of Vatican II, Walter Abbott (ed.), Guild Press, New York 1966; Vatican Council II, Austin Flannery (ed.), Dominican Publications, Ireland 1975; electronic version available from the Vatican website. Subtitles and subdivisions of paragraphs by John Wijngaards.

The Church's response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in the world

Second Vatican Council

§ 11. (a) The People of God believes that it is led by the Lord's Spirit, who fills the earth. Motivated by this faith, it labors to decipher authentic signs of God's presence and purpose in the happenings, needs and desires in which it has a part along with other people of our age. For faith throws a new light on everything, manifests God's design for human being's total vocation, and thus directs the mind to solutions which are fully human.

(b) This council, first of all, wishes to assess in this light those values which are most highly prized today and to relate them to their divine source. Insofar as they stem from endowments conferred by God on human beings, these values are exceedingly good. Yet they are often wrenched from their rightful function by the taint in the human heart, and hence stand in need of purification.

(c) What does the Church think of humanity? What needs to be recommended for the upbuilding of contemporary society? What is the ultimate significance of human activity throughout the world? People are waiting for an answer to these questions. From the answers it will be increasingly clear that the People of God and the human race in whose midst it lives render service to each other. Thus the mission of the Church will show its religious, and by that very fact, its supremely human character.

The dignity of human conscience

§ 16. (a) In the depths of his conscience, a human being detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For a human being has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of a human being; according to it he will be judged.

(b) Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a a human being. There he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths.

(c) In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor.

(d) In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of people in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more ‘correct conscience’ holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality.

(e) Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a a human being who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.

The importance of human freedom

§ 17. (a) Only in freedom can a human being direct himself toward goodness.

(b) Our contemporaries make much of this freedom and pursue it eagerly; and rightly to be sure. Often however they foster it perversely as a license for doing whatever pleases them, even if it is evil.

(c) For its part, authentic freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within a human being. For God has willed that a human being remain "under the control of his own decisions," so that he can seek his Creator spontaneously, and come freely to utter and blissful perfection through loyalty to him.

(d) Hence a human being's dignity demands that he act according to a knowing and free choice that is personally motivated and prompted from within, not under blind internal impulse nor by mere external pressure. A human being achieves such dignity when, emancipating himself from all captivity to passion, he pursues his goal in a spontaneous choice of what is good, and procures for himself through effective and skillful action, apt helps to that end. Since a human being's freedom has been damaged by sin, only by the aid of God's grace can he bring such a relationship with God into full flower.

(e) Before the judgment seat of God each a human being must render an account of his own life, whether he has done good or evil.

The rights of the human person

§ 26. (a) Every day human interdependence grows more tightly drawn and spreads by degrees over the whole world. As a result the common good, that is, the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment, today takes on an increasingly universal complexion and consequently involves rights and duties with respect to the whole human race. Every social group must take account of the needs and legitimate aspirations of other groups, and even of the general welfare of the entire human family.

(b) At the same time, however, there is a growing awareness of the exalted dignity proper to the human person, since he stands above all things, and his rights and duties are universal and inviolable.

(c) Therefore, there must be made available to all people everything necessary for leading a life truly human, such as food, clothing, and shelter; the right to choose a state of life freely and to found a family, the right to education, to employment, to a good reputation, to respect, to appropriate information, to activity in accord with the upright norm of one's own conscience, to protection of privacy and to rightful freedom, even in matters religious.

(d) Hence, the social order and its development must invariably work to the benefit of the human person if the disposition of affairs is to be subordinate to the personal realm and not contrariwise, as the Lord indicated when he said that the Sabbath was made for human beings, and not human beings for the Sabbath.

(e) This social order requires constant improvement. It must be founded on truth, built on justice and animated by love; in freedom it should grow every day toward a more humane balance. An improvement in attitudes and abundant changes in society will have to take place if these objectives are to be gained.

(f) God's Spirit, who with a marvelous providence directs the unfolding of time and renews the face of the earth, is not absent from this development. The ferment of the Gospel too has aroused and continues to arouse in each human being's heart the irresistible requirements of his dignity.

Defending human dignity

§ 27. (a) Coming down to practical and particularly urgent consequences, this Council lays stress on reverence for man; everyone must consider his every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first of all his life and the means necessary to living it with dignity, so as not to imitate the rich man who had no concern for the poor man Lazarus.

(b) In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception, and of actively helping him when he comes across our path, whether he be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union and wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord, "As long as you did it for one of these the least of my brethren, you did it for me" (Mat 25:40).

(c) Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator.

Essential equality of all human beings

§ 29. (a) Since all human beings possess a rational soul and are created in God's likeness, since they have the same nature and origin, have been redeemed by Christ and enjoy the same divine calling and destiny, the basic equality of all must receive increasingly greater recognition.

(b) True, all human beings are not alike from the point of view of varying physical power and the diversity of intellectual and moral resources. Nevertheless, with respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God's intent.

(c) For in truth it must still be regretted that fundamental personal rights are still not being universally honored.

(d) Such is the case of a woman who is denied the right to choose a husband freely, to embrace a state of life or to acquire an education or cultural benefits equal to those recognized for men.

(e) Therefore, although rightful differences exist between human beings, the equal dignity of persons demands that a more humane and just condition of life be brought about. For excessive economic and social differences between the members of the one human family or population groups cause scandal, and militate against social justice, equity, the dignity of the human person, as well as social and international peace.

(f) Human institutions, both private and public, must labor to minister to the dignity and purpose of humankind. At the same time let them put up a stubborn fight against any kind of slavery, whether social or political, and safeguard the basic rights of the human person under every political system.

(g) Indeed human institutions themselves must be accommodated by degrees to the highest of all realities, spiritual ones, even though meanwhile, a long enough time will be required before they arrive at the desired goal.

What the Church recieves from the modern world

§ 44. (a) Just as it is in the world's interest to acknowledge the Church as an historical reality, and to recognize her good influence, so the Church herself knows how richly she has profited by the history and development of humanity.

(b) The experience of past ages, the progress of the sciences, and the treasures hidden in the various forms of human culture, by all of which the nature of humanity itself is more clearly revealed and new roads to truth are opened, these profit the Church, too. For, from the beginning of her 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. Her purpose has been to adapt the Gospel to the grasp of all as well as to the needs of the learned, insofar as such was appropriate. Indeed this accommodated preaching of the revealed word ought to remain the law of all evangelization.

(c) For thus the ability to express Christ's message in its own way is developed in each nation, and at the same time there is fostered a living exchange between the Church and the diverse cultures of people. To promote such exchange, especially in our days, the Church requires the special help of those who live in the world, are versed in different institutions and specialties, and grasp their innermost significance in the eyes of both believers and unbelievers.

(d) 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, so that revealed truth can always be more deeply penetrated better understood and set forth to greater advantage.

(e) Since the Church has a visible and social structure as a sign of her unity in Christ, she can and ought to be enriched by the development of human social life, not that there is any lack in the constitution given her by Christ, but that she can understand it more penetratingly, express it better, and adjust it more successfully to our times.

(f) Moreover, she gratefully understands that in her community life no less than in her individual sons, she receives a variety of helps from people of every rank and condition, for whoever promotes the human community at the family level, culturally, in its economic, social and political dimensions, both nationally and internationally, such a person, according to God's design, is contributing greatly to the Church as well, to the extent that she depends on things outside herself. Indeed, the Church admits that she has greatly profited and still profits from the antagonism of those who oppose or who persecute her.

How to integrate Christian faith and modern culture

§ 62. (a) Although the Church has contributed much to the development of culture, experience shows that, for circumstantial reasons, it is sometimes difficult to harmonize 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.

(b) The recent studies and findings of science, history and philosophy raise new questions which effect life and which demand new theological investigations.

(c) Furthermore, theologians, within the requirements and methods proper to theology, are invited to seek continually for more suitable ways of communicating doctrine to the people 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.

(d) In pastoral care, sufficient use must be made not only of theological principles, but also of the findings of the secular sciences, especially of psychology and sociology, so that the faithful may be brought to a more adequate and mature life of faith.

(e) Literature and the arts are also, in their own way, of great importance to the life of the Church. They strive to make known the proper nature of man, his problems and his experiences in trying to know and perfect both himself and the world. They have much to do with revealing humanity's place in history and in the world; with illustrating the miseries and joys, the needs and strengths of human beings and with foreshadowing a better life for them. Thus they are able to elevate human life, expressed in multifold forms according to various times and regions.

(f) Efforts must be made so that those who foster these arts feel that the Church recognizes their activity and so that, enjoying orderly liberty, they may initiate more friendly relations with the Christian community. The Church acknowledges also new forms of art which are adapted to our age and are in keeping with the characteristics of various nations and regions. They may be brought into the sanctuary since they raise the mind to God, once the manner of expression is adapted and they are conformed to liturgical requirements.

(g) Thus the knowledge of God is better manifested and the preaching of the Gospel becomes clearer to human intelligence and shows itself to be relevant to people's actual conditions of life.

(h) May the faithful, therefore, live in very close union with the other people 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.

(i) Let those who teach theology in seminaries and universities strive to collaborate with persons versed in the other sciences through a sharing of their resources and points of view. Theological inquiry should pursue a profound understanding of revealed truth; at the same time it should not neglect close contact with its own time that it may be able to help those people skilled in various disciplines to attain to a better understanding of the faith.

(j) This common effort will greatly aid the formation of priests, who will be able to present to our contemporaries the doctrine of the Church concerning God, people and the world, in a manner more adapted to them so that they may receive it more willingly.

(k) Furthermore, it is to be hoped that many of the laity will receive a sufficient formation in the sacred sciences and that some will dedicate themselves professionally to these studies, developing and deepening them by their own labors.

(l) In order that they may fulfill their function, let it be recognized that all the faithful, whether clerics or laity, possess a lawful freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought and of expressing their mind with humility and fortitude in those matters on which they enjoy competence.


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