(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The fathers of Vatican II address Gaudium et Spes to all people. They propose that the Catholic Church has always and must continue to read the signs of the time, and they identify both positive and negative consequences of modern developments. They explain that industrialization has led to an abundance of wealth but also wretched poverty; improvements in communication have led to international solidarity but also opposition; and material advancements have been accomplished but to the neglect of humanity’s spiritual good.

The framers of Gaudium et Spes propose that the Church’s affirmation of God and life after death do not detract from the dignity of humankind but rather provide the only true answer to the enduring questions of humankind’s origin, meaning, and end. The Fathers state that humanity’s greatest source of dignity is that people are made in the image of God; that is, humankind is capable of knowing and loving God and is created to freely enter into communion with God. Since humankind’s meaning is properly understood in relation to its source and end, the council fathers express concern about political proposals that seek economic and social emancipation but neglect spiritual concerns. The fathers warn against causes of atheism, such as faulty notions of God and humanistic and scientific commitments whose very presuppositions deny God’s existence. The fathers propose that the best response to atheism is to live as mature Christians.

In loving God, people recognize that God calls all people to himself. Therefore, the fathers state that love of God implies love of neighbor. They write that the social union of humankind forms an analogy for the communion that is the Trinity. They propose that people fully discover themselves only when they sincerely give of themselves to others. Accordingly, although Christians live for heaven rather than earthly life, commitment to God should actually make Christians more concerned with the social well-being of their local and international communities. The Church, as a whole, is called to relate to the world as the universal sacrament of salvation revealing the redemption offered in Christ. This privileged position of the Church,...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Himes, Kenneth R., ed. Modern Catholic Social Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2005. This scholarly collection includes four foundational essays and fourteen commentaries on influential church documents. Each essay includes thorough bibliographical information. Brief index.

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Translated by Vatican Press. Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005. This reference work provides a comprehensive synthesis of central concepts in Catholic social ethics. Includes thorough reference and analytical indexes.

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The Social Agenda: A Collection of Magisterial Texts. Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticano, 2000. This work is a concise compilation of official church statements thematically organized to discuss eleven issues central to Christian social ethics.

Rowland, Tracey. Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II. New York: Routledge, 2003. This work examines culture as understood in discussion surrounding and present in Gaudium et Spes. Includes a thorough bibliography and a helpful subject index.