Last Updated September 5, 2023.
When the church council met and wrote Gaudium et Spes, they stated their purpose at the outset. Their opening remarks help explain the purpose of the entire document. They write:
Therefore, the council focuses its attention on the world of men, the whole human family along with the sum of those realities in the midst of which it lives; that world which is the theater of man's history, and the heir of his energies, his tragedies and his triumphs; that world which the Christian sees as created and sustained by its Maker's love, fallen indeed into the bondage of sin, yet emancipated now by Christ, Who was crucified and rose again to break the strangle hold of personified evil, so that the world might be fashioned anew according to God's design and reach its fulfillment.
It's clear that the authors wanted to write about the entire world, not just the theological one. The Catholic Church has a large impact on the life of its members and the world in general; Gaudium et Spes acknowledges this while also recognizing that a more firm and all-encompassing doctrine is necessary. It's a guidebook to help both church leaders and those of the faith figure out how to function in the world.
One major point that the authors make is that man is a social creature with ties and responsibilities to the human community. The council understands that no man is in life alone and that, in order for people to do well, we have to rely on others and be able to be relied upon. They write:
Man's social nature makes it evident that the progress of the human person and the advance of society itself hinge on one another. For the beginning, the subject and the goal of all social institutions is and must be the human person which for its part and by its very nature stands completely in need of social life. Since this social life is not something added on to man, through his dealings with others, through reciprocal duties, and through fraternal dialogue he develops all his gifts and is able to rise to his destiny.
Social connections and living in the world help develop a person into who they should be. It helps people realize their full potential. They go on to say that some ties, like family and political community, are ones that are chosen for the person. Others are about desire; these are the groups that we choose to join. While all of these can help men achieve their goals and destiny, they can also create temptation and turn people away from what they're supposed to do.
The council says again and again that people should be working to do good for others. They have specific ideas about how that should happen, too. For example, they say:
The development of a nation depends on human and financial aids. The citizens of each country must be prepared by education and professional training to discharge the various tasks of economic and social life. But this in turn requires the aid of foreign specialists who, when they give aid, will not act as overlords, but as helpers and fellow-workers. Developing nations will not be able to procure material assistance unless radical changes are made in the established procedures of modern world commerce. Other aid should be provided as well by advanced nations in the form of gifts, loans or financial investments. Such help should be accorded with generosity and without greed on the one side, and received with complete honesty on the other side.
These suggestions are for the entire world—not just Catholics. One thing they note is that it would be difficult for the world to change without changing the desire for conquest and profiteering. It would require the entire world to work together to make a change and not value nationalistic pride over the common good.