(This was to have posted a few weeks back… I entered it, posted it, but it seems to have disappeared. Here it is in its entirety! Apologies to Peter Avvento and to all of you.)
This was one of the most bitterly debated documents of the council. The original plan had called for one document on the church – “De Ecclesia”- but this changed largely due through the efforts of Leo Cardinal Suenens (Belgium) and his fellow bishops from Germany and the Netherlands. The pivotal point was the need to make a distinction between the church ad intra (the basic nature and structure of the Church) and the church ad extra (the church understood from the perspective of its mission to the world). Thus Vatican II produced two documents – “Lumen Gentium” (on the nature of the church) and “Gaudium et Spes” (on the mission of the church). One of the key speeches was that given by Dom Helder Camara of Brazil that bears repeating and should be emphasized to church leadership today, “Are we to spend our whole time discussing internal church problems while two-thirds of humankind is dying of hunger?”
Part I of “Gaudium et Spes” establishes the theological framework for the church’s engagement in the world. It creates a theological anthropology that is grounded in the biblical notion of the human person as the “image of God”. Part II deals with the practical questions of moral application and addresses such topics as marriage and family, economic and social life and the fostering of peace.
Throughout the document there is an over-riding spirit of respectful dialogue with the world. On one hand, the church admits that it has much to learn from the world. On the other hand, the church offers to the world the “Good News” of Jesus Christ. The Church maintains that it is the guardian of the deposit of God’s Word and it draws religious and moral principles from it but it does not always have a ready answer to every question. While this may be frustrating to some it is part and parcel of the fact that life is filled with more “gray” than “black and white”, especially in moral matters.
One of the basic themes is an understanding of the Church (“all Christian faithful” as being called to a mission in the world. The Church believes that through each of us and all of us as a whole, we can make the human family even more human. Your actions and my actions have a social and a political impact. The metaphor of “leaven” (yeast) is most appropriate because it suggests that we are sent into the world to transform it from within. As a result, this document repudiates any attempt to define the church as being over and against the world as if it were so sort of autonomous entity (“a perfect society”) unaffected by the issues and concerns for humanity. The Church is NOT of ultimate importance – the Kingdom of God is. The Church exists as a UNIVERSAL SACRAMENT of SALVATION. As Christians we must be willing to “get our hands dirty” for the sake of the Kingdom.