March 14, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 26

I'll warn you if you're not ready, the Church includes in section 26 a "bill of rights and duties." Watch for it.

Every day human interdependence grows more tightly drawn and spreads by degrees over the whole world. As a result the common good, that is, the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment, today takes on an increasingly universal complexion and consequently involves rights and duties with respect to the whole human race. Every social group must take account of the needs and legitimate aspirations of other groups, and even of the general welfare of the entire human family. (Cf. John XXIII, encyclical letter Mater et Magistra: AAS 53 (1961) )

That seems clear: every group has concerns outside of its own population, including the human race as a whole.

At the same time, however, there is a growing awareness of the exalted dignity proper to the human person, since (the person) stands above all things, and (the person's) rights and duties are universal and inviolable.

Here's the bill, though:

Therefore, there must be made available to all (people) everything necessary for leading a life truly human, such as ...
- food, clothing, and shelter;
- the right to choose a state of life freely and to found a family,
- the right to education,
- to employment,
- to a good reputation,
- to respect,
- to appropriate information,
- to activity in accord with the upright norm of one's own conscience,
- to protection of privacy and rightful freedom, even in matters religious.

Not a bad list; the rights to a good reputation and to respect are interesting, aren't they?

Hence, the social order and its development must invariably work to the benefit of the human person if the disposition of affairs is to be subordinate to the personal realm and not contrariwise, as the Lord indicated when He said that the Sabbath was made for (people), and not (people) for the Sabbath. (cf. Mark 2:27)

The theological realist would concede there is no hope for perfection on earth, but the Church insists that working to improve the human condition is not in vain. Indeed, the improvement and reform of society is an expected consequence of a progressive society:

This social order requires constant improvement It must be founded on truth, built on justice and animated by love; in freedom it should grow every day toward a more humane balance. (cf. John XXIII, encyclical letter Pacem in Terris: AAS 55 (1963), p. 266) An improvement in attitudes and abundant changes in society will have to take place if these objectives are to be gained.

GS 26 concludes with the statement that God is concerned with our welfare, even those non-believers among us. The Church's concern is not rooted in some vague application of charity, but is impelled by Christ himself.

God's Spirit, Who with a marvelous providence directs the unfolding of time and renews the face of the earth, is not absent from this development. The ferment of the Gospel too has aroused and continues to arouse in (the human) heart the irresistible requirements of (human) dignity.