March 13, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 25

Our look at the pastoral constitution of Vatican II continues:

(Human) social nature makes it evident that the progress of the human person and the advance of society itself hinge on one another. For the beginning, the subject and the goal of all social institutions is and must be the human person which for its part and by its very nature stands completely in need of social life. (cf. St. Thomas, 1 Ethica Lect. 1.) Since this social life is not something added on to (people), through (their) dealings with others, through reciprocal duties, and through ... dialogue (they develop all their) gifts and (are) able to rise to (their) destiny.

Dialogue is lauded as an essential task, and the appeal is to basic human sociology. A social life is not a graft onto an otherwise self-sufficient and independent individual. The Church teaches that dialogue is an essential part of the realization of full human potential. This would seem to be a rejection of the value of withdrawal from the world. Indeed, if the destiny of the Christian is evangelization to the ends of the earth (cf Matt 28:19-20) the outward thrust of dialogue is an essential component to the Christian life.

Among those social ties which (humankind) needs for (its) development some, like the family and political community, relate with greater immediacy to (its) innermost nature; others originate rather from (a) free decision. In our era, for various reasons, reciprocal ties and mutual dependencies increase day by day and give rise to a variety of associations and organizations, both public and private. This development, which is called socialization, while certainly not without its dangers, brings with it many advantages with respect to consolidating and increasing the qualities of the human person, and safeguarding (their) rights. (Cf. John XXIII, encyclical letter Mater et Magistra: AAS 53 (1961), p. 418. Cf. also Pius XI, encyclical letter Quadragesimo Anno: AAS 23 (1931), p. 222 ff.)

Settings outside of the family and the political sphere: these too are tools for the advance ment of the human person. The implication is that no group is of itself problematic for human development. Advantages and disadvantages must be weighed in the balance. But in all, the Church would approve of associations outside of the home and government.

The problems of evil are rooted not in particular associations, but in the life circumstances of a person. It is there that temptations arise and that our human tendency to sin is uncovered and nourished:

But if by this social life the human person is greatly aided in responding to ... destiny, even in its religious dimensions, it cannot be denied that (people) are often diverted from doing good and spurred toward and by the social circumstances in which they live and are immersed from their birth. To be sure the disturbances which so frequently occur in the social order result in part from the natural tensions of economic, political and social forms. But at a deeper level they flow from (human) pride and selfishness, which contaminate even the social sphere. When the structure of affairs is flawed by the consequences of sin, (humankind), already born with a bent toward evil, finds there new inducements to sin, which cannot be overcome without strenuous efforts and the assistance of grace.