Gaudium et Spes 4


Our look at Gaudium et Spes continues. The first three sections were a preface; the next seven cover a lengthy “introduction” assessing the “Situation of (People) in the Modern World.”

To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other.

I’ll point out the virtue attached to the intelligibility of the answers the Church is to provide to questioners.

We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics. Some of the main features of the modern world can be sketched as follows.

Nearly all of what follows holds true today:

Today, the human race is involved in a new stage of history. Profound and rapid changes are spreading by degrees around the whole world. Triggered by the intelligence and creative energies of (people), these changes recoil upon (them), upon (their) decisions and desires, both individual and collective, and upon (their) manner of thinking and acting with respect to things and to people. Hence we can already speak of a true cultural and social transformation, one which has repercussions on … religious life as well.

Culture affects religion, or more accurately, we could say that people bring their own cultural upheaval into the life of faith. That may be good, bad, or morally neutral.

As happens in any crisis of growth, this transformation has brought serious difficulties in its wake. Thus while (people extend their) power in every direction, (they do) not always succeed in subjecting it to (their) own welfare. Striving to probe more profoundly into the deeper recesses of (the human) mind, (they) frequently appear more unsure of (themselves). Gradually and more precisely (humanity) lays bare the laws of society, only to be paralyzed by uncertainty about the direction to give it.

It’s important to recall that GS presents this as a sketch, not an endorsement. GS was well aware of the problems in economics (including the distribution of resources), personal freedom, and the various human contentions facing the world of 1965.

Never has the human race enjoyed such an abundance of wealth, resources and economic power, and yet a huge proportion of the worlds citizens are still tormented by hunger and poverty, while countless numbers suffer from total illiteracy. Never before (have people) had so keen an understanding of freedom, yet at the same time new forms of social and psychological slavery make their appearance. Although the world of today has a very vivid awareness of its unity and of how one (person) depends on another in needful solidarity, it is most grievously turn into opposing camps by conflicting forces. For political, social, economic, racial and ideological disputes still continue bitterly, and with them the peril of a war which would reduce everything to ashes.

GS acknowledges the positive influences in the world:

True, there is a growing exchange of ideas, but the very words by which key concepts are expressed take on quite different meanings in diverse ideological systems.

Yet it sees a lack on the spiritual side of the equation:

Finally, (humanity) painstakingly searches for a better world, without a corresponding spiritual advancement.

Influenced by such a variety of complexities, many of our contemporaries are kept from accurately identifying permanent values and adjusting them properly to fresh discoveries. As a result, buffeted between hope and anxiety and pressing one another with questions about the present course of events, they are burdened down with uneasiness. This same course of events leads (people) to look for answers; indeed, it forces them to do so.

Again, the Vatican Council is painting with broad strokes its own sense of the world. I cannot see anything in this section that would need substantial editing to fail a relevancy test today. If anything, the various world tensions have heightened as cultural and economic forces merge and aim for that world domination formerly reserved for crazed dictators. World Government or Nike: to the third world worker making shoes, it’s pretty much already there.

Anything you would add to this list? Keep in mind the upcoming sections (5-10). Peek there, if you would, before making a substantial revision argument. Otherwise, any comments?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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