Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Human Person in Gaudium et Spes

As pointed out previously, during the discussions for the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), a distinction was borrowed from Trinitarian theology; the actions of the Church were described either as ad intra, and ad extra. The interior works versus the exterior works. The use of this distinction was influenced by the Belgian Cardinal Suenens, and the Commission for the Lay Apostolate.

The original seventy schemas prepared by the preparatory commissions were first reduced to twenty in December 1962 and then to seventeen in January of 1963. The earlier schema, De Ecclesia, was concerned only with works within the Church. The Theological Commission was asked to create a second schema concerning the ad extra works of the Church. The seventeenth schema was to concern the work of the Church external to itself or in the world. Schema XVII was eventually named Gaudium et Spes the title is from the first sentence in the Latin original which means "Joy and Hope." Our English title The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World comes from the earlier title of Schema XVII. The name of the Schema changed from "The Active Participation of the Church in the Building of the World" to its final title "The Church in the World of Today" (De Ecclesia in Mundo Huius Temporis). This title, "in the World of Today" is paralleled the first phrase, "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age" (GS 1).

Norman Tanner, observes that there was a definite shift in emphasis as the Council began "proposing itself and the Catholic Church as moral points of reference for contemporary society" This was a deliberate attempt to seriously respond to Pope John XXIII's desire that the Council be pastoral in character. The schema was initially presented to the council by Cardinal Cento and Bishop Guano on behalf of the mixed commission that prepared it. Cardinal Cento proposed that the Council should conduct a dialogue with the people of our time. Bishop Gauno noted that "the Church had the right and duty to respond to the needs and aspirations of the world." He also observed that the council should be "a sign and vehicle of this dialogue between the Church and mankind." Cardinal Angelo Scola observes that "the category of dialogue as explored by the Magisterium of Paul VI in the Encyclical Escclesium suam provided the keystone for the development of this different way of looking at reality" He notes further that "it was in the nature of a pastoral Constitution to remain open to later developments."

There are two difficulties which arise from the idea of promoting a dialogue between the Church and the world. The first involves the doctrinal complexity of the relationship between the Church and the world. What does 'world' mean? What is meant by 'Church'? Secondly how does one find the balance between the unchanging principles of the faith and the contingencies of the present historical reality?

Cardinal Scola highlights two fundamental principles which relate to both the content and the method of Gaudium et spes. First, the teaching of this Constitution is based on a Christocentric anthropology, or an understanding of the human person which is centered on Christ. Secondly it is founded on a pastoral dimension which is attentive to the "signs of the times" and seeking the best way to present Christ to the human family.

Clear examples of a Christocentric anthropology is seen in a great number of passages from Gaudium et spes such as GS 10, 22, 32, 38-39, 40-41, and 45.

Cardinal Scola notes that the nexus between dialogue and Christocentric anthropology is seen most explicitly in GS 10;

The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, Who is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever (Cf. Heb 13:8). Hence under the light of Christ, the image of the unseen God, the firstborn of every creature, (Cf. Col 1:15) the council wishes to speak to all men in order to shed light on the mystery of man and to cooperate in finding the solution to the outstanding problems of our time. (Gaudium et spes 10).

Although the council provides many sections of Gaudium et spes which clearly offer features of an objective Christocentric anthropology they are fragmentary and seen "in embryo." Cardinal Scola's point mentioned above may be revisited; he notes "it was in the nature of a pastoral Constitution to remain open to later developments." Commenting on the reception of the Constitution after the council he notes that there is still an imperative need for "an organic reconsideration of the subject." The work of the Council that began in embryo needs to be continued to be developed by the Church and fully worked out as an objective Christocentric anthropology of the human person.

The second important dimension Cardinal Scola mentions is the pastoral dimension. This theme is expressed in terms of dialogue and resonates with themes of aggioramento and of the signs of the times. In his Encyclical Escclesium suam Pope Paul VI calls theme of aggioramento the guiding principle of the Council.

Pope Paul VI notes;

We cannot forget Pope John XXIII's word aggiornamento which We have adopted as expressing the aim and object of Our own pontificate. Besides ratifying it and confirming it as the guiding principle of the Ecumenical Council, We want to bring it to the notice of the whole Church. It should prove a stimulus to the Church to increase its ever growing vitality and its ability to take stock of itself and give careful consideration to the signs of the times, always and everywhere "proving all things and holding fast that which is good" (Cf. 1 Thes 5. 21.) with the enthusiasm of youth.

Cardinal Scola highlights three problems which arise from the above two themes.

  1. The need to find a language adequate to express the dialogical (pastoral) dimension of the Council.
  2. The problem of the pastoral nature of doctrine (particularly Magisterial pronouncements).
  3. The question of the relationship between Christ as absolute Truth and the need for the "respect of the insuperable freedom of each person."

The Preface and Introductory Statement

Considerable controversy existed over what type of document Gaudium et spes should be. Was it a Constitution, or a Declaration or Decree, or even just a letter? Although many experts initially favored downgrading the documents official status, the Council Fathers voted by a fairly strong majority to name the document a "Pastoral Constitution." Gaudiaum et spes would share equal status with the other three Constitutions, thought it would maintain a greater pastoral emphasis. An idea arose in some circles that only the first part of GS was a formal Constitution. This is corrected by the official commentary on the title given in note 1 of the preface;

1. The Pastoral Constitution "De Ecclesia in Mundo Huius Temporis" is made up of two parts; yet it constitutes an organic unity. By way of explanation: the constitution is called "pastoral" because, while resting on doctrinal principles, it seeks to express the relation of the Church to the world and modern mankind. The result is that, on the one hand, a pastoral slant is present in the first part, and, on the other hand, a doctrinal slant is present in the second part. In the first part, the Church develops her teaching on man, on the world which is the enveloping context of man's existence, and on man's relations to his fellow men. In part two, the Church gives closer consideration to various aspects of modern life and human society; special consideration is given to those questions and problems which, in this general area, seem to have a greater urgency in our day. As a result in part two the subject matter which is viewed in the light of doctrinal principles is made up of diverse elements. Some elements have a permanent value; others, only a transitory one. Consequently, the constitution must be interpreted according to the general norms of theological interpretation. Interpreters must bear in mind-especially in part two-the changeable circumstances which the subject matter, by its very nature, involves. (GS, Preface, n. 1)

Once again the note emphasizes the unchanging principles on the one hand and the application of these principles in contemporary life situations which involve changeable circumstances. The preface set the tone for the whole document.

The joys and the hopes (Latin gaudium et spes), the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. (GS 1)

The decree begins from below, and is addressed to all people. The Council addresses itself "to the whole of humanity." Gaudium et spes is closely linked to Lumen Gentium, which it explicitly refers to, "having probed more profoundly into the mystery of the Church." The seven sections which follow this describe the state of humankind in today's world. This leads to some fundamental questions;

What is man? What is this sense of sorrow, of evil, of death, which continues to exist despite so much progress? What purpose have these victories purchased at so high a cost? What can man offer to society, what can he expect from it? What follows this earthly life? (GS 10).

These are to be answered by developing a Christocenteric focus. Christ is the ultimate foundation, Salvation is found in Christ alone (GS 10). "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). The Council seeks to solve these fundamental human questions in the light of Christ "in order to shed light on the mystery of man and to cooperate in finding the solution to the outstanding problems of our time" (GS 10).

Article 11

11. The People of God believes that it is led by the Lord's Spirit, Who fills the earth. Motivated by this faith, it labors to decipher authentic signs of God's presence and purpose in the happenings, needs and desires in which this People has a part along with other men of our age. For faith throws a new light on everything, manifests God's design for man's total vocation, and thus directs the mind to solutions which are fully human.

Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Bendict XVII) comments on this section. He notes that the verb "detected" (animadveretre) in the original schema is strengthened to "distinguished" (discernere) or as translated above "decipher." Ratzinger calls this a felicitous touch which draws on the spiritual tradition from the idea of the discernment of spirits (discretion spirtuum). While it is certainly true that God's presence exists in the world it needs to be discerned carefully. "That of course is necessary in order that the moment of the Holy Spirit my not imperceptibly change in to the momentary spirit of the age, and what is done under the appearance of obedience to the pneuma may not in fact be submission to the dictates of fashion and apostasy from the Lord." The purpose of this discernment is to find "solutions which are fully human" (GS 11). Although in a certain sense the Church and the humanity are placed in dialogue, the Church "cannot stand outside the human race, even for reasons of dialogue. . . The Church meets its vis-á-vis [face to face counterpart] in the human race . . . it cannot exclude itself from the human race and then artificially create a solidarity."

Article 12

Ratzinger notes that a dynamic account of the human person was followed which was based on biblical data rather than on neo-scholastic tradition. This article begins answering the question "But what is man?" The Church offers an answer based on revelation,

For Sacred Scripture teaches that man was created "to the image of God," is capable of knowing and loving his Creator, and was appointed by Him as master of all earthly creatures(1) that he might subdue them and use them to God's glory.(2) (GS 12).

This text leaves a number of theological tensions which are developed later in the text (The problem of sin, (GS 13); and Christ as the recapitulation of Adam (GS 22). A crucial understanding is the notion that;

God did not create man 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 man is a social being, and unless he relates himself to others he can neither live nor develop his potential. (GS 12).

While the Council Fathers affirm the relationship between man and women as an aspect of being created in the image and likeness of God, they avoid making this its exclusive aspect. They highlight the essential trait of communion and the notion that man is a social being.


Article 13

The attempt to bring the Church out of the mindset of the Middle Ages and into the modern world had led some to ignore the problem of sin. This section was added to balance what especially the German theologians regarded as an overly optimistic perspective. Apparently the French authors of the schema were influenced by a combination of Thomistic and Greek patristic thinking which gave greater emphasis to creation and redemption. Ratzinger notes that a specific effort was made to keep the thought of Teilhard de Chardin out of the Constitution. Article 13 refers to the devil, the fall of man and to concupiscence. With the resulting affirmation that, "sin has diminished man, blocking his path to fulfillment." Ratzinger points out that because of unresolved debates regarding the exact nature of the original state of Adam and Eve and original sin, the Council Fathers chose to focus on the notion of mankind's collective disobedience quoting Romans 1:12ff instead of Romans 5. This was not a disagreement with the essential content of Trent but an attempt to not further and more precisely define these issues.

Article 14

This article combines what were originally two articles, one on the body and the other on the soul. The two were combined to emphasize the inseparable unity of the body and soul. As the opening sentence declares, "Though made of body and soul, man is one" (GS 14). Ratzinger believes that the discussion of man's "interior resources" or as the Vatican translates, "For by his interior qualities he outstrips the whole sum of mere things" (GS 14), is an echo of Blaise Pascal's Penéese (Fragment par. 308/793) with its notion of three orders, while the idea that man "probes the heart" is taken from St. Augustine. At the end of this article the Council Father explicitly affirm belief in "a spiritual and immortal soul" as opposed to reductionistic modern theories.

Article 15

The next three articles describe human spirituality under three aspects, the intellect (man's capacity for truth), the conscience (man's capacity for good), and freedom. Commenting on this section Ratzinger complains that "the phenomenon of intersubjectivity, man's essential ordination to love, is not mentioned." The modern understanding of the philosophy of the person is not yet highlighted.

"Man judges rightly that by his intellect he surpasses the material universe, for he shares in the light of the divine mind" (GS 15). The idea of the intellect as a participation in the light of the divine mind follows St. Augustine, especially as later understood by St. Bonaventure. The notion that the mind is superior to the universe is a further echo of Pascal. A contrast is made between science and wisdom (scientia-sapientia). Important achievements in science and technology make the sensible world serviceable to mankind. The Council Fathers note "the intellectual nature of the human person is perfected by wisdom" (GS 15).

Again this picks up on the Augustinian understanding that the sensible world (mundis sensibilis) may be manipulated by skill/craft/art (ars) and in this way to be made use (uti) of in the world. The sensible world is limited to appearances "in contradistinction to non-phenomenal, non-sensible, genuine reality." What is useful to man does not necessarily give him truth, in fact it may be dangerous if it taken to represent the ultimate. Instead of being merely useful (uti) it becomes "enjoyment" (frui) and holds one back from the genuine. St. Augustine notes that God alone is to be enjoyed. "And so the great question is whether human beings ought to regard themselves as things to be enjoyed, or to be used or both." The answer is that we "ought not love ourselves for our own sake, but for the sake of the one to whom your love is most rightly directed as its end" (De doctrina christiana, I.22.20). Ratzinger notes, "The advance of science and of the techniques which it makes possible, brings no certain assurance of man's future, which continues to be threatened if a lack of wisdom runs parallel with the growth of knowledge."

Article 16

This article deals with the notion of conscience. A general notion of conscience is emphasized. The conscience is transcendent in character. It is written on the heart and is objective and has a non-arbitrary character. It is "guided by the objective norms of morality" (GS 16). Although it is possible to be invincibly ignorant, it is not possible to have careless disregard for truth and goodness. A person is also culpable if they allow their conscience to grow practically sightless by degrees as a result of habitual sin GS 16).

After a lengthy quote from Gaudium et spes 16, John Paul II comments;

The way in which one conceives the relationship between freedom and law is thus intimately bound up with one's understanding of the moral conscience. Here the cultural tendencies referred to above — in which freedom and law are set in opposition to each other and kept apart, and freedom is exalted almost to the point of idolatry — lead to a "creative" understanding of moral conscience, which diverges from the teaching of the Church's tradition and her Magisterium. (Veritatis splendor, 54)

Against this false notion of a "creative" conscience John Paul II notes that, "The judgment of conscience is a practical judgment, a judgment which makes known what man must do or not do. . . Conscience thus formulates moral obligation in the light of the natural law: it is the obligation to do what the individual, through the workings of his conscience, knows to be a good he is called to do here and now. The universality of the law and its obligation are acknowledged, not suppressed, once reason has established the law's application in concrete present circumstances (VS 59).

Article 17

Ratzinger points out that this article is still in need of further development. Positively it affirms the value of freedom expressed on the basis of faith. It is affirmed that man is a free being who should not be coerced or forced to act under compulsion. The Council was concerned to correct the false notion of freedom with the absence of commitment which is used to manipulate people at the "disposition of powers which anonymously control the intellectual and economic market." John Paul II quotes GS 17 and calls attention to the role man plays in sharing in God's dominion over the earth (VS 38). This implies a type of genuine autonomy of reason. This does not imply that reason itself creates values and moral norms (VS 40). He notes (explicitly quoting (GS 17);

Patterned on God's freedom, man's freedom is not negated by his obedience to the divine law; indeed, only through this obedience does it abide in the truth and conform to human dignity. (VS 41).

It is not freedom to drive off a cliff, or speed down the lanes of opposing oncoming traffic. This may be a type of freedom, a freedom of choice but it is not genuine freedom. Freedom must be in conformity with behaviors which are consistent with the integral fulfillment of the human person.

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