The Pastoral Constitution Gaudium Et Spes and Pope Francis’ Contribution to Catholic Social Discernment
Johan Verstraeten
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Gaudium et Spes was obviously one of the breakthroughs of the Church as it entered the period of aggiornamento. It opened the eyes of the faithful to a different Church with a different vision, non-dogmatic at that. It removed the Church from its “fortress mentality” and it immersed her into “the hopes and joys, the griefs and anxieties of our contemporaries.” Here, a paradigm shift was perceived: the Church too has to learn from the world instead of just teaching it and focus shifted from social doctrine to social discernment. More so, the document was not just a body of doctrines as much as a theological hermeneutic for the development of theological ethics. The significant consequence of this is that events are not just known via social analysis (although this is still indispensable for reality grounding) but more in “deciphering signs of God’s presence and purpose” in people’s needs and desires. This was the concept that finally led to visions of “option for the poor,” “Church of the poor,” “liberating theology,” etc. Gaudium et Spes recognizes that God’s Kingdom is already present in the world, in all its ambiguities, but with an eschatological dimension, that is, all these values like human dignity, freedom, human rights, etc. will be realized in Christ’s handing over of the Kingdom to the Father. Not just a document of the past, Gaudium et Spes continues to inspire the social commitment of the Church, all the way to Pope Francis’ own pastoral approach “in which the shepherd smelling like his sheep” represents a servant church in action for justice.

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