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Posted April 6, 2006

Book: The Church and the World: Gaudium et Spes Inter Mirifica
Author: Norman Tanner, S.J.
Paulist Press, NY, 2005, pp. 131

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Gaudium et Spes was one of the key documents to come out of the Second Vatican Council. In this outstanding volume of the Rediscovering Vatican II series, Norman Tanner traces the document’s evolution from its beginnings to its eventual promulgation at the end of the council in December 1965. He reviews its reception by the Catholic Church and beyond and its possible future influence. Also included is a discussion of the controversial decree on the mass media, Inter Mirifica.

The Rediscovering Vatican II series, which is the only one of its kind at this level of organization, will prove valuable for religious educators, theologians, church historians of all faiths, students, and everyday Christians. It will appeal to readers who have heard much about Vatican II, but who have never sat down to understand certain aspects of the Council and how it affected the course of church history and the world in particular.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Chapters 3 and 4: Social, Economic, and Political Life

Chapters 3, “Socio-economic Life,” and 4, “Life in the Political Community,” may be taken together. Social, economic, and political developments had been closely intertwined in the realities of life during the previous two hundred years, notably in western Europe, as well as in the reflection and teaching of the church. Christians had been obliged to confront the results of the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution in 1789, the Russian Revolution in 1917, the spread of Marxism and Communism, and many other developments. A series of social encyclicals, from Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum of 1891 to John XXIII’s Mater et Magister, saw the papacy responding to these developments. The two chapters in question make numerous references to these encyclicals. In a sense they are a summary of them yet there is also a different tone. The encyclicals are principally an application of church teaching to particular issues; the two chapters are more empirical, more descriptive of reality “from below.” They describe the situation in the world and then offer Catholic contributions. There is no harking after a fully Catholic society and a certain pluralism is accepted, even welcomed. Neither Marxism nor Communism is mentioned by name. There is recognition that many positive developments have occurred outside the Catholic Church. Indeed, there seems implicit acceptance, even praise, for many of the achievements and values of the Anglo-Saxon world. It is tempting to see the two chapters as steering a middle course between Communism and capitalism.

Thus chapter 3 begins by stating that “the originator of all socio-economic life, as well as its centre and purpose, is humankind.” It notes the benefits of recent economic advances: “our growing mastery over nature, closer and more developed contacts and interdependence among citizens, . . .better provision for the increased needs of the human family.” But it also list various reasons for disquiet, most of which are the result of people being ruled by economics rather than vice versa. There are the hugh imbalances in wealth in the world, the risks of automation putting people out of work, the danger that “workers are in a sense made slaves of their work.” Instead, rather:

The entire process of productive labor must be adapted to the needs of persons and to considerations of their way of life, particularly home life and especially as regards mothers of families, and always taking sex and age into account. Workers should be afforded the opportunity of expressing their own qualities and their personality in their work. And, while applying their time and energy responsibly in their work, all should nevertheless also enjoy sufficient rest and leisure for their family, culture, social and religious lives.

The earth’s goods are destined for all and the rights of the poor are asserted. “A person who is living in extreme need has the right to procure from the riches of others what is necessary for personal sustenance”; to this is added in a footnote the quotation from Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II,II, 66 art.7, “In extreme need all goods are common, that is, to be shared.” The customary sharing of goods in “economically underdeveloped societies” (this Western and rather patronizing phraseology persists in the document) is singled out for praise. So too are investment, finance, and what might be called responsible capitalism: “Private property or some ownership of external goods affords each person the scope needed for personal and family autonomy, and should be regarded as an extension of human freedom.” Yet public ownership of property also has a place. The chapter ends with a short section summing up economic activity in the reign of Christ: “Whoever in obedience to Christ seek first the reign of God, gain from that a stronger and purer love to aid their neighbours and to bring about the work of justice under the inspiration of charity.

Table of Contents:

Section I

Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today
Gaudium et Spes
Part I: The document
Part II: Major points
Part III: Implementation
Part IV: The state of the questions

Section II

Decree on Means of Social Communication
Inter Mirifica
Part I: The document
Part II: Major Points
Part III: Implementation
Part IV: The state of the questions


Part V: Further reading