One of the primary goals of Vatican II was to reach out to the modern world, recognize its trials and tribulations, and offer the best and only solution to every problem: Jesus Christ. In Gaudium et Spes or the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the Vatican II Fathers strive to meet this goal as they discuss everything from the nature of human work and culture to the arms race and the political community. Because this document is so long and complex, I will present it in several parts, beginning with the preface and introduction, which set the stage for the Church's outreach to the modern world.
Here are a few of the topics and ideas you'll find in the preface and introduction of Gaudium et Spes.
Solidarity of the church with the whole human family
* Christians care deeply about everything that is genuinely human, experiencing the joys, hopes, griefs, and anguish of the modern world in deep solidarity with the whole human family.
The council addresses all men
* In this document, the Church speaks to all people in order to explain “the presence and function of the Church in the world today.” The Church strives to see the human family in the context of its history, culture, and work but also as it is created by God and saved by Christ.
An offer of service to mankind
* Human beings ask important questions about the meaning of their lives in the world and what happens after they die. The Church reaches out to humanity in dialogue to help them answer these questions according to the Gospel.
* The Church, led by Christ and the Holy Spirit, seeks to save individual people while renewing humankind.
Introduction – The Situation of Man in the World Today
Hope and anguish
* The Church must read and interpret the signs of the times and answer questions in a “language intelligible to every generation.”
* Rapid changes in the modern world have led to “serious problems” and great perplexity among people who do not know how to respond to the paradoxes of modernity and the loss of traditional values.
* The Church must understand these issues and teach the truth about humanity with all its hope and anguish.
* Today's world offers a mixture of “spiritual uneasiness,” scientific and technological progress, an increasing human “mastery over time,” and “greater self awareness.”
Changes in the social order
* Communities are changing rapidly due to industrialization, urbanization, media, and emigration. These kinds of changes can also lead to a loss of personalization in society as well as a loss of traditional structures and relationships.
Changes in attitudes, morals and religion
* Traditional values, morals, and institutions are often called into question in the modern world, and many people have fallen away from religious faith and practice.
* Many modern people claim that God and religion are not compatible with “scientific progress.” Many others are highly disturbed by this idea.
Imbalances in the world of today
* Several imbalances exists in the modern world including 1. that between practicality and morality; 2. that between group demands and individual needs; and 3. that between specialization and “an overall view of reality.”
* Tensions in families and between races and social classes are rampant in the modern world.
Broader aspirations of mankind
* Even amidst the troubles and tensions in the modern world, humankind still aspires to the dignity of full humanity and to social and economic justice.
* People today are actively claiming their human rights and “cultural benefits” and craving a life that is full, independent, and worthy of their nature as human beings.
* There is, however, a dichotomy in the modern world, which is “at once powerful and weak, capable of doing what is noble and what is base, disposed to freedom and slavery, progress and decline, brotherhood and hatred.” This is the “modern dilemma.”
Man's deeper questionings
* There is also a dichotomy in human beings. Humans are “the meeting point of many conflicting forces.” They suffer great anxiety and weakness and are affected by the “discords in social life.” At the same time, humans cling to the hope that there are answers to the fundamental questions they continue to ask.
* The Church shows humanity the answer to all its questions: Jesus Christ, in Whom humans find the meaning and purpose of their whole lives and their whole history.
* Through Gaudium et Spes, the Church speaks to all people “in order to unfold the mystery that is man and cooperate in tackling the main problems facing the world today.”
Gaudium et Spes in Its Own Words
“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.” (#1)
“Never has the human race enjoyed such an abundance of wealth, resources and economic power, and yet a huge proportion of the worlds citizens are still tormented by hunger and poverty, while countless numbers suffer from total illiteracy. Never before has man had so keen an understanding of freedom, yet at the same time new forms of social and psychological slavery make their appearance. Although the world of today has a very vivid awareness of its unity and of how one man depends on another in needful solidarity, it is most grievously torn into opposing camps by conflicting forces. For political, social, economic, racial and ideological disputes still continue bitterly, and with them the peril of a war which would reduce everything to ashes. True, there is a growing exchange of ideas, but the very words by which key concepts are expressed take on quite different meanings in diverse ideological systems. Finally, man painstakingly searches for a better world, without a corresponding spiritual advancement.” (#4)
“The Church firmly believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all, can through His Spirit offer man the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme destiny. Nor has any other name under the heaven been given to man by which it is fitting for him to be saved. She likewise holds that in her most benign Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point and the goal of man, as well as of all human history. The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, Who is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever. Hence under the light of Christ, the image of the unseen God, the firstborn of every creature, the council wishes to speak to all men in order to shed light on the mystery of man and to cooperate in finding the solution to the outstanding problems of our time.” (#10)
The full text of Gaudium et Spes is available online at the Vatican website.