Friday, May 12, 2006

From Gaudium et Spes to the Compendiumof the Social Doctrine of the Church

The year 2005 marked the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in Modern World” (or Gaudium et Spes). This document focuses on the Church’s relations ad extra—i.e., sharing “the joys and the hopes” of the world. It synthesizes in contemporary accents the Church’s social teachings from the first social encyclical of Pope Leo XIII in the late 19 th century to the encyclicals of Pope John XXIII in the 1960’s.

In its opening chapters, the document touches on recurrent theme such as the Church’s mission in the world, the dignity of human person, and the challenges of modern-day atheism. In its second part, Gaudium et Spes focuses on problems of special urgency such as: marriage and the family, culture, socio-economic life, the political community and world peace.

One concrete result of Gaudium et Spes was the creation of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace which was tasked by the Holy Father to carry on the Church’s dialogue with the world on the Social issues if the day and to help guide the Church’s pastoral action in society. It was with this mandate that the Pontifical Council convened in Rome in October 2004 the First World Congress of Ecclesial Organizations Working for Justice and Peace.

There were two interrelated reasons for the congress: first, to prepare for the commemoration of the 40 th anniversary of Gaudium et Spes; and secondly, to launch the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which had just been published by the PCJP presidency of the late Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, the 525 page Compendium has finally come to light and offers “a concise but complete overview of the Church social teaching.”

In systematic fashion, the Compendium takes us once more the classical themes of Gaudium et Spes, this time expanded with citations from other ecclesial documents, particularly Pope John Paul II’s three social encyclicals and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994).

The Compendium contains three parts. Part One, comprising four chapters, discusses the presuppositions of the Church’s Social Doctrine: God’s plan of love for humanity; the Church’s mission and social doctrine; the human person and human rights; and the principle of the Church’s Social doctrine.

Part Two, composed of seven chapters, contains an up-to-date examination of the traditional themes of social doctrine: the family, human work, economic life, the political community, the international community, and the promotion of peace. A noteworthy addition is a chapter on the environment.

Part Three, in a single chapter, contains recommendations for pastoral action in the social field and dwells in particular on the commitment of the lay faithful. The Compendium concludes with an invitation to the men and women of our age to build a “civilization of love” – the over –arching motif of the entire document.

At the dawn of the third millennium, the Compendium is offered as a continuing work in progress not only for Catholics but also for brethren of other faiths as well as for “all people of good will who are committed to serving the common good.”

If Gaudium et Spes has been characterized by Cardinal Renato Martino, current PCJP President, as containing the “genetic code” for the Church’s social apostolate, the Compendium can well be viewed as the vademecum for today’s church worker in the social field – as bishop, priest, religious or, especially, as lay person. Comprising about a third of the Compendium is a valuable analytical index that provides cross references for the topical themes of the Church’s social teachings.

A papal audience for the delegates provided a high point for the world congress. In his brief message, the late Pope John Paul II forcefully remarked:

"The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church has just been published as an instrument meant to help Christians in their daily commitment to make the world more just, from the perspective of a true solidary humanism. The social doctrine is an essential part of the Christian message (Centesimus Anus, 5) and must be better known, integrally spread and witnessed to by constant and coherent pastoral action.”

For the Church, there is no socio-pastoral action without a social doctrine; but neither there can be a social doctrine without pastoral action.