Gaudium et Spes 12

Gaudium et Spes Part I, Chapter I is titled, “The Dignity Of The Human Person” and runs for eleven sections. I’ll transcribe the full footnote into the text, for your convenience.

According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike, all things on earth should be related to (humanity) as their center and crown.

I was struck by this. Environmentalist-leaning people might dispute it. Radical traditional Catholics, too, probably. But the notion is Scriptural. Let’s leave it aside for the moment, unless somebody feels urged to make a strong case for the Green side.

But what is (humanity)? About (themselves they have) expressed, and (continue) to express, many divergent and even contradictory opinions. In these (they) often (exalt themselves) as the absolute measure of all things or (debase themselves) to the point of despair. The result is doubt and anxiety. The Church certainly understands these problems. Endowed with light from God, she can offer solutions to them, so that (humankind’s) true situation can be portrayed and (their) defects explained, while at the same time (their) dignity and destiny are justly acknowledged.

More of the same theme from the introduction: an acknowledgement of the created goodness of humanity, yet the helping hand of understanding and clarity is offered. The rest of GS 12 turns to Scripture to provide the theological basis for this contention:

For Sacred Scripture teaches that (people were) created “to the image of God,” (are) capable of knowing and loving (their) Creator, and was appointed by Him as master of all earthly creatures (Cf. Gen. 1:26, Wis. 2;23) that (they) might subdue them and use them to God’s glory. (Cf. Sir. 17:3-10) “What (are we) that you should care for (us)? You have made (us) little less than the angels, and crowned (us) with glory and honor. You have given (us) rule over the works of your hands, putting all things under (our) feet” (Ps. 8:5-7).

But God did not create (human beings) as a solitary, for from the beginning “male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Their companionship produces the primary form of interpersonal communion. For by his innermost nature (humans are social beings), and unless (they relate themselves) to others (they) can neither live nor develop (their) potential.

Therefore, as we read elsewhere in Holy Scripture God saw “all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).

In sum, we have a statement of which Matthew Fox would approve. Overall, the document takes this original aspect of creation as a launching point for what follows. Our longing for God and for right relationships with God and one another will color how the Church sees its relatinship with the modern world.



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Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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21 Responses to Gaudium et Spes 12

  1. Don. says:

    And I have got issues with your term “Radical Traditionalist” for it is slighting what was understood as Catholic for 1960+ years and what is still Catholic, how’s you ignorance pal
    Liberty, Equality, Fraternity French revolution hint hint

    • Todd says:

      Not at all. There are traditionalists who are perfectly reasonable, thoughtful people who are solid in their faith and discernment. And there are others who have turned Catholicism into an idolatry of the past. Not all traditionalists are radical, my friend.

  2. Daniel says:

    I think it is heresy at least if not blasphemy. And the content follows from there is right to a point because it is guided by the Holy Scriptures. That is the problem with Vatican II, it is mixed of heresy and truth. At one place it seems to affirm the dogma of out side the Church no Salvation and then it says everybody is saved, including Muslims and Jews. Father of lies is the author of confusion.

    • Todd says:

      Vatican II is a council of the Church with nearly universal acceptance within Roman Catholicism. While there are critics of its broad scope and of its particulars, it seems to me that charges of heresy and blasphemy are more due to misunderstandings of its readers and pundits than actual fact.

      The so-called father of lies would seem to be able to sow confusion in small groups as well as across the spread of the whole Church. Some might say more easily on small scales.

      Do you have a specific case to make, Daniel, against a particular passage here or elsewhere? I’m interested in reading it.

    • Church Councils are not theological smoothies. If a Council mixes truth with heresy, then the Council is heretical.

  3. Joe says:

    I googled this topic after I learned that the late (and probably Saint) Fr. Gregory Hesse pointed it out as an example of obvious error in the second Vatican council. I find the wording of the council so flowery and ambiguous that I can’t figure out what most of it means. I’ve tried to read it a few times only to be beaten back by the crushing ambiguity.
    I think what this first sentence is saying is that things other than humans that are created on earth are created for humans as their purpose. So therefore things like water, trees and whales exist to serve us humans. However someone else could argue that “all things” includes humans and so humans are oriented to humans and not to God (seems heretical). This council is word soup and confusing even if I read it slowly many times over. It can be read as heretical or not, depending on what ambiguous meanings you derive from it.

    • Todd says:

      The official wording is Latin, so the final word on error would need to come from an expert in language, it would seem.

      Mastery and subduction were appropriate expressions in Genesis at an era in human history when people were at the mercy of nature. Now, the created world is at the mercy of human beings mostly.

      What I read in this passage is an echo of the Spiritual Exercises, that the human being is created to strive for God. Things inanimate and living, and even people, are opportunities for us to be assisted to that union with Christ. In that sense, Fr Hesse existed to serve you, if his insight assisted you to draw closer to God.

      Still striving to see what others count as error. I’m inclined not to obsess over specific passages. If I find something confusing, I usually attribute the error, if any, to myself, and move on to something or someone more understandable.

      • Joe says:

        By error I mean that it it’s not compatible with the catholicism that came before it. Hesse was a master of latin, and the videos of him that are available are very worth learning from. I listen to them periodically and they have helped me a lot.
        I actually don’t think that the intent in the first sentence was to be blasphemous, but it is written so sloppily that it can easily be taken as blasphemy by someone who takes a “textual” reading at face value without trying to discern meaning between the lines.
        The Church in its councils should not be ambiguous. This writing would earn a D in any university class. Take the first sentence… “According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike”… really? Did they survey believers and non-believers? What does almost unanimous mean? 80% agree, 90%, 99%? Do 99% of people hold the opinion that all of nature was created for man (if that’s what the sentence is taken to mean)? And why are we concerned with non-believers anyways in a Church council? Are we hanging out with enough non-believers to know what they all think with near unanimity? This kind of writing is worthy of a C-.
        There are three or four ideas in this short chapter that are garbled and confused. Compare this with Trent:
        “Canon 13. If anyone says that the received and approved rites of the Catholic Church, accustomed to be used in the administration of the sacraments, may be despised or omitted by the ministers without sin and at their pleasure, or may be changed by any pastor of the churches to other new ones, let him be anathema.”
        Which very obviously means don’t change the mass! Even you Mr Pope! Now VII did not say to change the mass, but we digress.
        Father Hesse straightened me out.

      • Liam says:


        “The Church in its councils should not be ambiguous. This writing would earn a D in any university class.”

        With respect, if every council were as unambiguous as you argue is normative, then we’d only have had one. If you’d give that a D, imagine what some other councils ought to be graded – not only for what they did but what they failed to do…. Lateran V anyone?

      • Joe says:

        It’s a fair point Liam. I’m reading Lateran V now. It’s wordy for sure, but not ambiguous. The meanings of the (long winded) paragraphs are clear to me.
        I don’t have to guess.
        Also it’s fine for councils to fail. I’d far rather a council fail than to publish heresy. If VII had said we cannot change the church to make it feel more inclusive to protestants then I’d argue it would have been better for the Church in the long run.
        The problem with VII is the scholastic weakness coupled to the massive and probably not so well thought out changes that accompanied it.
        This is not to say that modernization is evil, but only that modernization must be theologically sound. The next council may deal with the issue of televised mass or youtube mass.

      • Liam says:

        Well, Lateran V may exemplify the limits of your approach. It may not have affirmatively taught anything ambiguous, but its failure to attend to urgent matters created a vacuum into which others could step in with violent force. You seem to be viewing conciliar documents like mathematical formula – perhaps a common temptation if one is viewing them as primarily as matter to study. If so, that’s rather blinkered.

    • Joe says:

      That is a good point Liam…
      I’m also not a rad trad, though I’m more of a traditionalist than most Catholics.
      However I actually do view official church documents as mathematical in the way they disseminate truth.
      “Infalliable” church documents should be “true” the exact same way 1+1=2 and their meaning shouldn’t be able to change.
      If there are contradictions in Church documents or dogmas then it’s a big problem. I don’t think that has (yet) happened.
      Getting back to the original point of this thread, it’s hard for me to understand what section 12 is getting at. After several hours of thinking about section 12, even the first sentence, I struggle with the point it is trying to make.
      I cannot say that it is heretical or blasphemous. I do think someone could potentially read a heretical meaning out of it.

      • Liam says:

        “I actually do view official church documents as mathematical”

        But the Church itself doesn’t really. Just because mathematics deals in truths doesn’t mean truths are necessarily mathematical. Essentially, the Church is a mystical communio.

        Love is not a syllogism. A person is not a formula. Syllogisms and formulas are part of the truth, but not the whole of Truth.

        And 1+1=10 in binary. “There are only 10 types of people in the world: Those who understand binary, and those who don’t”

      • Liam says:

        PS: In case you’re someone who really loves to dig into complex rules-based systems – Catholic theology, for all its seeming complexity, is ultimately a love canticle, not a rule system.

      • Todd says:

        “I do think someone could potentially read a heretical meaning out of it.”

        The Church would view a serious attempt at this to be a sin against the 8th Commandment. Catechism #2478

    • Joe says:

      I have to think about what you are saying…
      We are not talking about love or persons, we are talking about Church doctrine and official Church documents. Admittedly this is different than actual people and actual Jesus. I agree God’s love is ultimately subjective.
      Your argument about the number system being base 10 is a good one.
      When I say 1+1=2 then I assume we are using the common number system that everyone uses. The same can be true of the vocabulary in these documents.
      If the Church says that valid confirmation can occur only with olive oil then it means what people would commonly know as olive oil.
      A better example is this: a lot of current academics are arguing there is no biological basis for gender. So men can choose to identify as women, and they are a woman, and vice versa. If the Church “deepens its understanding” and accepts this one day, then a man should be able to marry a transgendered woman in the Church. Or a transgendered man, i.e. a man with two X chromosomes, can become a priest.
      If we are allowed to change definitions in the philosophical systems we are dealing with, we can change almost anything we want to. We simply “deepen” our understanding of the faith. I suspect the day will come when a future Pope or council will try to enable homosexual marriage on such grounds, i.e. gender doesn’t really exist anyways, we simply have a deeper understanding now…
      Restating what gender means is like changing the number system…
      If I try to read this passage in a way that avoids blasphemy, then the meaning I get is simply restated from prior doctrine. Such as it is I don’t know what GeS 12 is trying to say…
      When the V2 says Christ’s Church subsists in the Catholic Church, I have to take that to mean Christ’s Church IS the Catholic Church. That’s what they must have meant…
      Perhaps Sola Scriptura isn’t such a bad idea. I’m finding myself in a Sola Scriptura mood tonight.

      • Todd says:

        At the risk of getting too far off topic, regarding:

        “A better example is this: a lot of current academics are arguing there is no biological basis for gender. So men can choose to identify as women, and they are a woman, and vice versa. If the Church “deepens its understanding” and accepts this one day, then a man should be able to marry a transgendered woman in the Church. Or a transgendered man, i.e. a man with two X chromosomes, can become a priest.”

        Perhaps not such a good example. Or it might illustrate a deeper problem with fundamentalism and how one interprets it. I would be sure that sometime in church history, a priest has been ordained who was XXY, or who was a fused twin with XX material in his body, or who had another biological condition that people today would identify as authentically trans. In the first example, men with two X chromosomes may well have ordained. Possibly with a Y as well.

        As for the passage, you and I and any Christian are all obligated to avoid the interpretation of blasphemy. That this is an official church document might suggest that if you or I or any individual has a problem with it, it’s our problem. Not the council bishops.

        Did you want to take this discussion to your separate post I provided for you?

  4. Pingback: Struggles With Vatican II | Catholic Sensibility

  5. Joe says:

    That’s ok Todd. I don’t want to get too off topic for your thread here. This has all been said and debated before.
    I have no doubt that a man with Klinefelter syndrome has been ordained into the priesthood (such a person is very obviously male nonetheless, the same way we would all agree that oil crushed out of an olive is olive oil, or the water used for a baptism is water and not cola).
    I have nothing but love for the LGTQ_ community btw. I have a one year old at home and for all I know he could be gay or trans one day. I don’t want to get into those discussions here simply because it’s all been said before ad nauseam.
    Getting back to GeS 12, my own opinion is that it is ambiguously worded. As such, I don’t really know what it’s trying to say. And ergo, I cannot hold it to be blasphemous. Unless I have absolute irrefutable proof of blasphemy or heresy, I cannot make the accusation of such or hold the opinion of such.
    Those who regard this section as heretical are obligated to provide definitive proof that the words are anathema, and that there is NO OTHER POSSIBLE WAY to interpret the words.
    Merry Christmas guys. Peace of Christ be with you and family!

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