Gaudium et Spes 63

Gaudium et Spes now begins a new chapter to treat “Economic and Social Life”

In the economic and social realms, too, the dignity and complete vocation of the human person and the welfare of society as a whole are to be respected and promoted. For (the human person) is the source, the center, and the purpose of all economic and social life.

Economics and society made for people, not the other way around.

Like other areas of social life, the economy of today is marked by (an) increasing domination over nature, by closer and more intense relationships between citizens, groups, and countries and their mutual dependence, and by the increased intervention of the state. At the same time progress in the methods of production and in the exchange of goods and services has made the economy an instrument capable of better meeting the intensified needs of the human family.

One might say this suggests a naive view of the modern world compatible with business interests: life is getting better; why complain that corporate CEO’s are raking in their profits? Clouds on the horizon, though:

Reasons for anxiety, however, are not lacking. Many people, especially in economically advanced areas, seem, as it were, to be ruled by economics, so that almost their entire personal and social life is pennated with a certain economic way of thinking. Such is true both of nations that favor a collective economy and of others. At the very time when the development of economic life could mitigate social inequalities (provided that it be guided and coordinated in a reasonable and human way), it is often made to embitter them; or, in some places, it even results in a decline of the social status of the underprivileged and in contempt for the poor. While an immense number of people still lack the absolute necessities of life, some, even in less advanced areas, live in luxury or squander wealth. Extravagance and wretchedness exist side by side. While a few enjoy very great power of choice, the majority are deprived of almost all possibility of acting on their own initiative and responsibility, and often subsist in living and working conditions unworthy of the human person.

Again, we have a description of the bishops’ view of the world. This is not church teaching per se, but a diagnosis of what the Church sees in the world.

A similar lack of economic and social balance is to be noticed between agriculture, industry, and the services, and also between different parts of one and the same country. The contrast between the economically more advanced countries and other countries is becoming more serious day by day, and the very peace of the world can be jeopardized thereby. Our contemporaries are coming to feel these inequalities with an ever sharper awareness, since they are thoroughly convinced that the ampler technical and economic possibilities which the world of today enjoys can and should correct this unhappy state of affairs.

I think we could say that confidence in technological progress has waned in some quarters since this was written in the 60’s. But again, the Church has never put its hopes in the affairs of economics, technology, or the like.

The final part simply states the obvious: the world itself is changing, and new social patterns are needed to avoid the potential human miseries of poverty and violence. The Church possesses principles of justice that the world would benefit from adopting. The purpose of Vatican II in dealing with this topic is to reinforce the Judeo-Christian notions of justice and equity.

Hence, many reforms in the socioeconomic realm and a change of mentality and attitude are required of all. For this reason the Church down through the centuries and in the light of the Gospel has worked out the principles of justice and equity demanded by right reason both for individual and social life and for international life, and she has proclaimed them especially in recent times. This sacred council intends to strengthen these principles according to the circumstances of this age and to set forth certain guidelines, especially with regard to the requirements of economic development. (Cf. Pius XII, address on March 23, 1952: AAS 44 (1953), p. 273; John XXIII, allocution to the Catholic Association of Italian Workers, May 1, 1959: AAS 51 (1959), p. 358.)

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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