St. Michael's Parish - Cobourg

The Pastoral Constitution “On the Church in the modern world” (Gaudium et Spes)

The Pastoral Constitution "On the Church in the modern world" (Gaudium et Spes)


It is the longest document of the II Vatican Council, and one of the most beautiful. If a person tells me that he or she will read only one document of the II Vatican Council, I would tell that person to read this one. Today, because we are praying for peace, I will first present the contents of the document, and afterwards will focus on the section on peace.

1. Contents of the Document

It is a document intended for all men and women, not only for Catholic. "For the council yearns to explain to everyone how it conceives of the presence and activity of the Church in the world of today" (GS 1). "The constitution is called `pastoral' because, while resting on doctrinal principles, it seeks to express the relation of the Church to the world and modern mankind" (GS 1, footnote 1).

"The Pastoral Constitution `on the Church in the modern world' is made up of two parts". The first is more doctrinal, the second is more practical, but "a pastoral slant is present in the first part, and, on the other hand, a doctrinal slant is present in the second part. In the first part, the Church develops her teaching on man, on the world which is the environment of man's existence, and on the Church's relationship to them [man and world]. In part two, the Church gives closer consideration to various aspects of modern life and human society; special consideration is given to those questions and problems which, in this general area, seem to have a greater urgency in our day" (GS 1, footnote 1).

The contents are the following: first of all, an exposition on the condition of man in the modern world. It is amazing how precise the statements are on globalization and the deepest aspirations of human kind. The document talks about the meaning of life.

The first part of the document will deal with a question: "What does the Church think about man?" The chapters: 1) The human dignity (freedom, death, atheism, Jesus: "by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some way with every man" (GS 22). 2) The human community or society (social justice, the problem of individualism, equity, love for everyone including the enemies). 3) The human activity or work (the value of work, the just autonomy of earthly realities, there is no contradiction between our work in this world and our hope in the world to come). 4) The mission of the church in the modern world (right relationship between the Church and the world, how the Church may help individuals, how she may help the human community, how the world may help the Church).

The second part of the document talks about some more urgent problems. Chapters: 1) On the valorization of the dignity of marriage and family (the problem of divorce, the issue of birth control, respect for life, etc.). 2) On the promotion of the development of culture (the right of everyone to partake at the benefits of culture, etc.). 3) On economic and social life (human progress must be at the service of man, the problem of the immense economic inequalities in the world, the principles of social doctrine applied to those problems, private property, etc. 4) The life of the politic community (there is a more vivid consciousness of the proper dignity in every human person [Cf. GS 73], principles on the collaboration of everyone to the public life, the relationship between Church and state, etc. 5) The fostering of peace and the promotion of a community of nations. This last chapter has two sections: in the first, we deal with the necessity of avoiding war, the danger of a total war and the arms race. In the second, it is established the necessity of a new and deeper collaboration among the nations in order to foster peace. ÿ"The universal common good now require[s] of the community of nations that it organize itself in a manner suited to its present responsibilities".

2. What is peace, according to the document?

"Peace is not merely the absence of war; nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies; nor is it brought about by dictatorship. Instead, it is rightly and appropriately called a work [or effect, fruit] of justice" (GS 78). If we want peace, we need to work for justice. But there are two difficulties: first, the circumstances change, and so in order to keep a social order that is just, we must unceasingly work to match the new circumstances. The other problem is sin, and that's why "the achievement of peace requires a constant mastering of passions and the vigilance of lawful authority" (Ibid.). "But this is not enough. This peace on earth cannot be obtained unless personal well-being is safeguarded and men freely and trustingly share with one another the riches of their inner spirits and their talents. To have a firm determination to respect other men and peoples and their dignity, as well as the studied practice of brotherhood are absolutely necessary for the establishment of peace. Hence peace is likewise the fruit of love, which goes beyond what justice can provide" (Ibid.).

"That earthly peace which arises from love of neighbor symbolizes and results from the peace of Christ which radiates from God the Father. For by the cross the incarnate Son, the prince of peace, reconciled all men with God [.] Insofar as men are sinful, the threat of war hangs over them, and hang over them it will until the return of Christ. But insofar as men vanquish sin by a union of love, they will vanquish violence" (Ibid.).

If we want to work for peace, we must educate a new generation of love. A new generation that understands that, because Jesus came for everyone, everyone is my brother or sister, and so I must love everyone. I must get out of an individualistic prospective and reach out my neighbour, I need to care for my neighbour, even for my enemy.

How important Jesus is in all this! He is the only one who can help us to overcome sin. He is the only one who can give us the grace to forgive our enemies. He is the prince of peace, because He is the prince of Love. May God, through our Blessed Mother Mary, give us the grace of a greater care for our neighbour, and the grace of educating a new generation of love.


Fr. Andrew