YEAR OF FAITH - Gaudium et Spes, The Church in the Modern World

I recently attended a colloquium by Fr. Robert Pesarchick (Academic Dean & Assistant Professor at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary), and wanted to provide an outline of his talk, as well as George Weigel’s thoughts, about Gaudium et Spes, which means “Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World.”

Gaudium et Spes

The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World

Reverend Robert A. Pesarchick, Academic Dean & Assistant Professor, Department of Systematic Theology

Colloquium Notes

  • Originally the writers of Gaudium et Spes (GeS) envisioned 3 chapters on human anthropology and 1 chapter on “current issues in the Church.” This didn’t work.
  • 13 schemas were drafted over the space of several years with an original title “Hope and Sorrow.” The schemas considered were 500 pages, single space.
  • In the end 4 themes come through:
    • Spiritual: Christian anthropology/Christian humanism and dignity of the human person.
    • Temporal: The value and order of earthly things
    • The Church humanizes the world through evangelization.
    • Consideration on what the term “world” means.
  • What DIDN’T make it?
    • The Holy Spirit working in human history to transform the world.
    • The Church and liturgy changing, renewing and revitalizing the world.
    • The humanism of the “Sermon on the Mount” as a charter of human action.
    • A “Charter of Human Cosmology: (i.e., eschatology, life after death, salvation, etc.).
  • What do we find in Gaudium et Spes:
    • The role of “dogmatic pronouncements” juxtaposed upon idea of “Prudential Judgment.”
    • Fundamental questions of human existence. Nothing “authentically human” is antithetical to believers of the Body of Christ. Progress, science, technology, etc… can and should be engaged as they can lead us to a higher place. However they can also cause human anxiety.
    • The Church is right in the middle of the human world but always within the context of the Mystery of the Incarnation. (i.e., The Orientation of Christ as the new eschaton (redemption)).
  • Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s points on GeS:
  1. There seems to be an ambiguous treatment of the “world.” What is the world? Is the world and Church different, separate?
  2. There needs to be a “colloquium between the world and the Church” with the Church humanizing the world through dialogue with the Church.
  3. There is an optimism of the Council Fathers who felt that we can come to grips with issues of the world and come to a new tomorrow (However, was this view TOO optimistic?)
  4. Was GeS and attempt to counter the Syllabus of Pius IX (“Syllabus of Errors”) which might not have been entirely correct? Every dualism is not correct but to totally embrace the modern world might not be entirely correct either. This leads to DE-emphasis of the doctrine of the salvation. Either faith is at the center or it’s something separate that “dialogues” with the world. This Reduces humanity to a “Non contemplative functionalism of man.”
  5. Although there is a difference between liberation through “revolution” vs. liberation through “evolution,” Both are inadequate. Politics and history are NOT the sources of the solutions to the world’s problems.
  6. GeS rejects “individualism” and “collectivism.”
  7. Look at Sections 12, 22 and 24 which describes human anthropology which is central to this document and is later found in writings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

George Weigel, Rescuing Gaudium et Spet, the New Humanism of John Paul II:

  1. GeS misdiagnosed what we’re now facing such as the negative effects of science, genetics, technology …
  2. GeS did address Communism and the errors of incorrect political and economic models. However, it didn’t give ample consideration to the challenges of “utilitarianism” and dictatorship of relativism
  3. GeS did not foresee the effects of hard feminism (Abortion on demand, definition of marriage, etc.)
  4. It didn’t see the rise of a new Gnosticism drawn from technology (Leading to gender as merely a “social construct,” mixing of animal and human genomes, biotech, etc…) which leads to a new “immortality project.”
  5. Sometimes modernization does NOT lead to secularism but to a new religious fervor (which can be positive in the case of evangelization or negative in the case of radical jihad).
  6. The scare of population growth has been debunked but now, ironically, the there are now real issues of achieving increased economic wealth in the face of Decrease in populations.
  7. Autonomy of secular society and “separation of Church and state” (potentially good) vs radical secularism.
  8. Economic inequality leading to war aided by UN.
  9. Theoretical atheism, even radical atheism, was considered by the Council Fathers but not radical total “metaphysical indifferentism” where people just DON’T CARE (about god, transcendence, etc…). They are spiritually bored, disinterested in meaning and then push to force this worldview on others using the political process.

Hope. What GES Offers:

  • Structural change is good but HUMAN change is central.
  • GeS is about:
    • What the world is,
    • What man could be,
    • The Church’s function in the world.
    • It calls:
      • Human intellect towards truth,
      • Human will towards good.
      • Freedom is not about “choice” but about excellence!”
      • “Christian humanism and anthropology are rooted in the nature of man, seeking the highest aspects of human nature and action (Destiny) vs. secularism which is a truncated vision.
      • Human destiny can ONLY be achieved in relationship with Christ and message of Gospel.

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