Gaudium et Spes

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 529

Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) is one of the most important documents emerging from the second Vatican Council (Vatican II). This was an ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church which discussed matters of doctrine and the nature of the Church and its doctrine. Vatican II opened in 1962 and was closed in 1965. As this is a philosophical and religious doctrine, it does not focus on individual characters but rather character roles and positions, such as bishops and the laity. Some of the most important figures one needs to understand to read this document are described below.

Pope Saint John XXIII

Pope Saint John XXIII (25 November 1881 to 3 June 1963) convened Vatican II. He was especially involved with trying to save Jews from the Holocaust and later aiding Israel. One of his goals for Vatican II was affirming that Jews were not, as a group, responsible for the death of Christ and eliminating antisemitism from the Church. He was also concerned with human rights and social justice, concerns reflected in Gaudium et Spes.

Pope Pail VI

Pope Paul VI (26 September 1897 to 6 August 1978) was responsible for the completion of Vatican II and carrying out its work in the transformation of the Church. He was especially known for the honor in which he held the Virgin Mary, elaborating the doctrine of her Immaculate Conception proclaimed infallibly at Vatican I and emphasizing her role as the Mother of God, not just of Jesus as a human. His Marian theology led to an expanded vision of the importance of women in the Church and in the social justice doctrines of Gaudium et Spes.

The Roman Catholic Church

In Roman Catholic theology, the Church is frequently described metaphorically as the "Bride of Christ" and referred to by a female pronoun. Within Gaudium et Spes, the Church is seen as having a responsibility for social justice and acting as a force for good in the world. However, the theology of the document allows for some degree of ecumenism and the possibility of holiness or piety outside the institutional confines of the Church.

The Papacy

The New Testament mentions priests, deacons, and bishops, but not a Pope. The Bishop of Rome was often considered "primus inter pares" (first among equals) among the bishops, with the title of Pope first used in the fourth century. The Eastern Orthodox Church and Protestant churches disagree with assigning the title of Pope to the Bishop of Rome and giving the Pope unique authority over all Christians. While Vatican I took a position of "ultramontanism," emphasizing the power of the papacy, Vatican II moved in the opposite direction, emphasizing the Pope as "primus inter pares" and emphasizing the importance of all bishops as well as other members of the Church.

The Clergy

The Roman Catholic clergy consists of the pope, cardinals, bishops, and priests. Other Roman Catholics are considered part of the "laity." Clergy must be celibate and have an important role as leaders of the Church. As part of its emphasis on human rights and the way God and his Holy Spirit act through all members of the church, Gaudium et Spes emphasizes the communal rather than hierarchical nature of the Church.

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