Gaudium et Spes 74

(People), families and the various groups which make up the civil community are aware that they cannot achieve a truly human life by their own unaided efforts.

Gaudium et Spes 74 treats the human reality of politics, which is broadly defined as follows:

They see the need for a wider community, within which each one makes his specific contribution every day toward an ever broader realization of the common good.(Cf. John XXIII, encyclical letter Mater et Magistra: AAS 53 (1961), p. 417.)

The Christian approach to politics moves a bit beyond that. For believers, politics implies the striving for perfection:

For this purpose they set up a political community according to various forms. The political community exists, consequently, for the sake of the common good, in which it finds its full justification and significance, and the source of its inherent legitimacy. Indeed, the common good embraces the sum of those conditions of the social life whereby men, families and associations more adequately and readily may attain their own perfection.(Cf. John XXIII, ibid.)

Leadership is an important quality to acknowledge, for it also benefits the common good:

Yet the people who come together in the political community are many and diverse, and they have every right to prefer divergent solutions. If the political community is not to be torn apart while everyone follows his own opinion, there must be an authority to direct the energies of all citizens toward the common good, not in a mechanical or despotic fashion, but by acting above all as a moral force which appeals to each one’s freedom and sense of responsibility.

A radical concept for Catholics of centuries past, namely that citizens are to rightfully determine the style of politics as well as specific leaders:

It is clear, therefore, that the political community and public authority are founded on human nature and hence belong to the order designed by God, even though the choice of a political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free will of citizens.(Cf. Rom. 13:1-5.)

It follows also that political authority, both in the community as such and in the representative bodies of the state, must always be exercised within the limits of the moral order and directed toward the common good-with a dynamic concept of that good-according to the juridical order legitimately established or due to be established. When authority is so exercised, citizens are bound in conscience to obey.(Cf. Rom. 13:5.)

Naturally, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater:

Accordingly, the responsibility, dignity and importance of leaders are indeed clear.

But where citizens are oppressed by a public authority overstepping its competence, they should not protest against those things which are objectively required for the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and the rights of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority, while keeping within those limits drawn by the natural law and the Gospels.

But consider a multivalent approach, if it works to the aim of the common good.

According to the character of different peoples and their historic development, the political community can, however, adopt a variety of concrete solutions in its structures and the organization of public authority. For the benefit of the whole human family, these solutions must always contribute to the formation of a type of (person) who will be cultivated, peace-loving and well-disposed towards all (other people).

GS 74 seems both vague as well as a bit uneasy over turning over the car keys to the citizenry. Being vague is also being wise in this context; I still think we have a considerable way to go to perfect our own democracy in the US, much less many other nations who suffer from more corruption, organized crime, elitism, and the like.

And on the second point, is there a way to transcend media-coddled mobs? That might not be what the council bishops had in mind with their awkward caveats about protesting against the good things bad leaders might provide.

Maybe you have more substantive comments. If so, have a go.

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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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