8 April 2010

Gaudium et ... er ... Spes

Mgr Gherardini has written a fascinating book; not flawless in content (at one point he or his translator alarmingly confuses Plato with Socrates; and his references to the Malines Conversations are a mess) or in style, but always thought-provoking.

He reminds us that in Gaudium et Spes "the Council Fathers wasted a great deal of time and thought in order to decipher what the actual culture of the day might be ... Their analysis almost always remained generic, superficial, and redundant".

Indeed. My own feeling is that the Council was guilty of a radical failure in its attempt to Discern the Times. The 1960s were in many ways an attractive era; but the seeds of the horrors which were to come to maturity in the next half-century were already present. The holocaust of the unborn was already a legislative probability. The trajectory which was to lead to the affirmation of heterosexual and homosexual moral disorders as normality, was already fairly clear. Events in the Congo had already given clear indications of the genocidal possibilities inherent in the dissolution of Empire. But warnings and condemnations were quite simply not what the Council wanted to utter; so there was very little attempt to describe and analyse what might just possibly be dangerous or even just plain wrong with the newly emerging world.

With the advantage of hindsight, we can see that the only document of that period which demonstrated any foresight and put in place any caveats was Humanae Vitae.

Which was not a product of the collective wisdom and collegial processes of the Fathers of the Council, but an action of a Roman Pontiff acting solus.

I find that rather thought-provoking.


rick allen said...

I don't know what you find lacking in Gaudium et Spes. To my knowledge it was the first ecumenical council to confirm that abortion is an "abominable crime." It was the first council to articulate the Catholic sense of the place of marriage and the family, and the importance of fidelity, and the procreation of children. Coming right on the eve of the sexual revolutions, it strikes me as providential.

I am always frustrated by many web sites, which claim to support the "spirit of Vatican II" and never make specific reference to its actual teaching. I remember a time when just about every Catholic I know had a dog-eared copy of the Council documents on the shelf. Nowadays everyone discusses Vatican II, but no one seems to bother to read what it actually proclaimed. Perhaps it would be helpful, if you have problems with Gaudium et Spes, that you give us chapter and verse. All of the documents of Vatican II are available at the Vatican website for easy cutting and pasting.

rick allen said...

And so that I am not accused of not following my own advice, here is a fair sample of the teaching of Gaudium et Spes on marriage:

"...the excellence of this institution [marriage] is not everywhere reflected with equal brilliance, since polygamy, the plague of divorce, so-called free love and other disfigurements have an obscuring effect. In addition, married love is too often profaned by excessive self-love, the worship of pleasure and illicit practices against human generation. Moreover, serious disturbances are caused in families by modern economic conditions, by influences at once social and psychological, and by the demands of civil society. Finally, in certain parts of the world problems resulting from population growth are generating concern."

"The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one. For the good of the spouses and their off-springs as well as of society, the existence of the sacred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone. For, God Himself is the author of matrimony, endowed as it is with various benefits and purposes. All of these have a very decisive bearing on the continuation of the human race, on the personal development and eternal destiny of the individual members of a family, and on the dignity, stability, peace and prosperity of the family itself and of human society as a whole. By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown. Thus a man and a woman, who by their compact of conjugal love "are no longer two, but one flesh" (Matt. 19:ff), render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons and of their actions. Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them."

Would you prefer that this rather unambiguous teaching not have been clearly proclaimed?

Michael McDonough said...

rick allen,

My sense is that Fr. H is not saying that the doctrine actually taught by Gaudium et spes, "Joy and hope", is wrong, especially where it is traditional; but that the motivation for repeating it in a specific "constitution" may have been naive: the bishops, or large numbers of them, may have been "hoodwinked" by the relative peace and economic prosperity of the era, the optimism of the moment, which was real also on the part of "the world", into thinking that the world was about to do an "about-face", and start agreeing with the Church, or at a minimum, take her at face value, as opposed to trying to annihilate Her.

I think that was a real factor, which leaves the constitution sounding somewhat dated.

In many ways, G&S was an attempt to restate the core of Catholic Social Teaching, setting it in its proper context as dependent on the Church's moral teaching, rather than allowing it to sound as if it were some form of "Catholic politics". The Archbishop of Cracow was heavily involved with others in trying to "found" it on "Christian anthropology", i.e., to center it on Christ's Incarnation and example. Almost certainly, that is why JPII referred so often to those critical paragraphs in his later writings and preaching. Judging by his interventions, as depicted in the Acta of the Council, he pretty much led the charge against language that smacked of pro-communist or pro-socialist sentiments, not always being entirely successful.

Michael McDonough said...

Fr. H,

Acting solus yes, but not without the advice and dissent of others: the commission he appointed to advise him on the matter! As we say nowadays, the Pope is the servant of Tradition, and Paul VI did serve Tradition, at the expense of being ridiculed by the non-Traditionalists he had asked to advise him.

Makes one realize how very difficult it is to "define" in human words the concepts of "primacy" and "infallibility", no? It's almost as if "you know it when you see it".

Sadie Vacantist said...

Four superpowers met in 1938 to hammer out a peace settlement in Europe by 1945 their superpower status had gone never to return. Western Europe could no longer defend itself and was dependant totally on the USA for its security.

This was a humiliating paradigm shift in 1945, in 1962 and remains so for Europeans today. It's also a position of fragility for if a paleo-conservative American administration were to withdraw their country from NATO and the UN where on earth do people think that would leave us all?

This dilemma should have been understood by the Council Fathers and so what possessed European theologians to be filled with joy and hope in 1962 is baffling.

They failed to see the "signs of the times".

rick allen said...

"what possessed European theologians to be filled with joy and hope in 1962 is baffling"

How do you find it baffling that any Christian should possess joy or hope? Do you believe that we ought not to possess them when the political landscape is threatening? If that were the case, we would always be in despair.

Walter said...

As someone who was alive and really using all 5 senses in 1962, however youthful, I can sympathise with what Father says. Unless you 'lived' through the sixties, 'you have no idea...' and if you did live and still don't see how crazy life was, you must have been living on those 'banned substances' going around.
The documanets of Vatican 2 are the most forgettable nonsense ever written by blind deaf and dumb wolves in sheep's clothing, generally speaking. Every word was ignored unless you agreed with it; what mattered was: 'do your own thing'. Even I memorized more words from the Mamas and the Papas than the Docs of Vat2.
The whole subject produces and war of words, doesn't it?

rick allen said...

"The documanets of Vatican 2 are the most forgettable nonsense ever written by blind deaf and dumb wolves in sheep's clothing"

Unhappily for you, perhaps, they are also the teaching of the pope and the bishops in ecumenical council. I don't very well see how anyone can call himself "Catholic" with such a contemptuous attitude.

But perhaps you could give any example. Why does no one, discussing Vatican II, ever help us out with a reference?

Sadie Vacantist said...

Hope and Joy is the reference!

60 million people had been massacred 20 years before and the Second European Civil War in the space of 30 years had not been properly concluded.

St Anthony of Egypt suggested that "we keep our sins before our eyes" at all times. Sadness and despair should have been the order of the day in 1962.

rick allen said...

And now a word from that crazy, naive Paul, who obviously had no notion of the enormities of the Roman Caesars:

"Deus autem spei repleat vos omni gaudio et pace in credendo ut abundetis in spe in virtute Spiritus Sancti."

As one who lived through the sixties I think I can say that its "craziness" has been much romanticised and exaggerated. Like many periods of relative material prosperity it was often characterized by excess. The idealism that came out of it was often misplaced, but there was some good that came out as well, especially in racial relations. There was a consciousness that the "dark valley" of the thirties and forties had veen endured, but the prospect of nuclear devastation was very front and center (it still should be, but we've learned quite well to ignore it).

So, no, I don't think there was anything about the sixties that made joy and hope any less appropriate to a Christian as now, or in the first age of the Church.