Gaudium et Spes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 427

In the preface, the authors explain that they're writing to address the concerns of the real world—not just theological concerns. They say that they want to help make the world a better place and improve it for mankind through the power of the Church as they bring Christ to more people.

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Next, the authors make an introductory statement about where men are in the world. They discuss technological changes and how they can actually work to make people more unsure even while they increase the ability to reach and teach others. There are a variety of pressures that can make it difficult for man to find peace in himself; these same pressures can create tension in every group from the family to the larger international community.

After the introduction, Gaudium Et Spes is split into two parts: "The Church and Man's Calling" and "Some Problems of Special Urgency."

In "The Church and Man's Calling," the authors examine the meaning of life in the modern era. Things have changed so quickly that it's difficult for me to have a deeper understanding of themselves. This section is split up into parts that look at the person as an individual, human communities, what people do in the world, and the role of the Church. Humans have dignity and have been called to do work alone and in groups to improve their communities and their inner selves.

In "Some Problems of Special Urgency," the authors reaffirm the importance of marriage and family; next, they discuss the development and importance of culture and what kinds of responsibilities the church and church members have regarding culture. They discuss dangers to marriage, like polygamy, self-love, and divorce; these things make people anxious and endanger the communities that marriage and family create. However, the authors note that the true character of marriage and family stays despite the changes. They say that people should not be ruled by economics and should help countries that aren't advanced to become more in line with advanced countries. They believe that modern technology has created ways for this to happen.

The entire document rests on the belief that God created humans in his image and made them the "master of all earthly creatures." That is what gives humans dignity and authority. They also make it clear that God wanted people to live together in communities. People weren't meant to be alone. However, modern technology can make that difficult and isolating if steps aren't taken to overcome the difficulties it brings while working to make a better world for everyone.


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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1509

First published: 1965 (English translation, 1965)

Vatican Council II (1962-1965)

Edition(s) used: Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, edited by Austin Flannery. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1975

Genre(s): Nonfiction

Subgenre(s): Theology

Core issue(s): Catholics and Catholicism; charity; church; connectedness; justice; peace; poverty; social action


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, however, does not prevent Christians from learning from the advancement of science, the diversity of cultures, and experiences of the past, all of which the Church ought to engage in light of the Gospel of Christ.

To explain the Church’s interaction with the modern world, the council fathers turn to five issues they identify as urgent: marriage and family, the development of culture, social and economic life, the life of the political community, and peace and a community of nations. They begin with marriage and family. The fathers gladly acknowledge that some are growing in their esteem for marriage and others have formed organizations for the benefit of family life. The fathers then point to practices they describe as harmful to family life, including polygamy, divorce, free love, selfishness, and contraception. Lastly, the fathers present the vision of the Church, which states that the institution of marriage and married love should be ordered to the procreation and education of offspring. The fathers explain that spouses are called to participate in the love that Christ has for his Church. In this, God grants married couples special assistance to fruitfully live their unique vocation.

The second issue the fathers discuss is the development of culture. They describe culture as those things that cultivate individual and communal well-being. Turning to modernity, the council fathers acknowledge advancements in the media, industry, and social sciences, which promote international solidarity, technological teamwork, and eagerness to promote the standard of living. Still, the fathers express concern that specialization and autonomy have prevented general synthesis and that conflicts have arisen from cross-cultural encounters. The fathers state that Christians should utilize the resources from different cultures and that the Church should always teach the Gospel in terms appropriate to the cultures being addressed.

Concerning the third issue, economic and social life, the fathers affirm developments that have led to growing dominion over nature, improved methods of communication, state intervention in cases of significant abuse, and efficient productivity. Still, the fathers state that some people are consumed with economic matters and that a few enjoy the majority of the wealth while many live in wretched poverty. The fathers state that individuals have a right to private property but that goods have a universal destination. They also promote the dignity of work and the worker’s right both to receive a living wage and to form labor associations.

On the fourth and fifth issues, political and international communities, the fathers state that political communities exist for the common good. They extend this thought to the international level. The fathers propose that peace is more than the absence of war, and they honor those who seek the common good without resorting to violence. The fathers also propose that modern weapons call for new consideration of warfare. They condemn the indiscriminate destruction of cities and the distribution of wealth for the production of weapons rather than the relief of the poor. Concerning the development of poorer nations, the fathers state that such nations should use their own resources but that affluent nations should assist when such resources do not provide for a dignified life. The fathers conclude Gaudium et Spes by explaining that they have intentionally sought to be general on many issues and they encourage further dialogue and communion among Christians and among all people.

Christian Themes

In Gaudium et Spes, the council fathers discuss how Christians should engage the modern world and how such interaction can be fruitful for both modern culture and the Church. The document portrays Christians not as sectarians afraid of the world but as a community of truth capable of engaging all cultures. The fathers acknowledge that their reflections do not address concrete issues in particular cultures but rather provide a general framework to guide Christians of all cultures. In this regard, much is left open for further reflection.

The fathers argue that Christ has redeemed all people, a point that has two significant implications in the document. First, as followers of Christ, Christians are called to love all people. Second, every person will lack fulfillment and meaning without knowledge of the Gospel of Christ. Christian evangelization, therefore, is founded not on a false righteousness or pride but on love and concern for the genuine good of others. In this framework, the council fathers diagnose certain modern practices that are harmful. They condemn the economic disparity between the wealthy few and the wretched poverty of the majority. Further, they write against those political proposals that deny humanity’s spiritual good. The fathers argue that exclusive attention to economic or social goods loses sight of humanity’s highest calling, namely, to enter into communion with God. This calling is revealed in the revelation of Christ, who shows humanity that people are fully themselves only when they offer a sincere gift of themselves to others.

Because Gaudium et Spes speaks in general terms, much work is yet to be done to apply these guiding reflections to concrete situations. Local Church leaders must discern the signs of the time and equip their communities for fruitful engagement with their surrounding culture. Christians must identify those cultural characteristics that are harmful to the Christian community. Once identified, Christians must determine when they should seek to overcome the structures of culture, when they should seek conversion within the structures of society, and when they should withdraw from their surrounding culture. Perhaps, more important, the council fathers propose that Christians must affirm those aspects of culture that promote or are compatible with the Christian faith. By acknowledging such similarities, the Church provides a foundation for social unity and fruitful dialogue.

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.

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