Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mid-Term Elections and "Gaudium et spes"

As another election cycle comes to an end here in the US, I thought it would be a good time to post something from the Second Vatican Council on the subject of politics.  Shortly after I started this blog I posted something about the possibility of deacons serving in political life, and that drew some interesting reactions, often negative, suggesting that deacons could or should never serve in politics.  I'll get back to that later. 

For now, here are a couple of citations from the wonderful document Gaudium et spes from Vatican II.  This document, although promulgated in 1965, could easily have been written this morning.  Among five issues raised which the bishops of the world considered of "special urgency", politics and political life are included.  Consider the following:

"The political community exists, consequently, for the sake of the common good, in which it finds its full justification and significance, and the source of its inherent legitimacy. Indeed, the common good embraces the sum of those conditions of the social life whereby men, families and associations more adequately and readily may attain their own perfection.  Yet the people who come together in the political community are many and diverse, and they have every right to prefer divergent solutions. If the political community is not to be torn apart while everyone follows his own opinion, there must be an authority to direct the energies of all citizens toward the common good, not in a mechanical or despotic fashion, but by acting above all as a moral force which appeals to each one's freedom and sense of responsibility (#74).

"It is clear, therefore, that the political community and public authority are founded on human nature and hence belong to the order designed by God, even though the choice of a political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free will of citizens" (#74).

"According to the character of different peoples and their historic development, the political community can, however, adopt a variety of concrete solutions in its structures and the organization of public authority. For the benefit of the whole human family, these solutions must always contribute to the formation of a type of man who will be cultivated, peace-loving and well-disposed towards all his fellow men" (#74).

"All citizens, therefore, should be mindful of the right and also the duty to use their free vote to further the common good. The Church praises and esteems the work of those who for the good of men devote themselves to the service of the state and take on the burdens of this office" (#75).

"Citizens must cultivate a generous and loyal spirit of patriotism, but without being narrow-minded. This means that they will always direct their attention to the good of the whole human family, united by the different ties which bind together races, people and nations" (#75).

"All Christians must be aware of their own specific vocation within the political community. It is for them to give an example by their sense of responsibility and their service of the common good. In this way they are to demonstrate concretely how authority can be compatible with freedom, personal initiative with the solidarity of the whole social organism, and the advantages of unity with fruitful diversity. They must recognize the legitimacy of different opinions with regard to temporal solutions, and respect citizens, who, even as a group, defend their points of view by honest methods. Political parties, for their part, must promote those things which in their judgement are required for the common good; it is never allowable to give their interests priority over the common good" (#75).


Back to the question of deacons and politics: Perhaps deacons could help us move away from a "politics as partisanship" modality.  Does politics in the US have to be a matter of raw partisanship?  I don't know, but I am an idealist and an optimist: I believe it could be.

Finally, a word on Gaudium et spes.  As anyone who knows me will already realize, I am a "Vatican II" guy.  I was in high school seminary during the Council, and in college seminary during the early years of its implementation.  All of the various ministries I've been involved with over the years, and my own graduate studies, have all been influenced by the study of the Council.  This December we will celebrate the 45th anniversary of the solemn closing of the Council, and the jewel in the crown of the Council's documents is Gaudium et spes.  Perhaps we could all benefit from an intense re-examination of the teachings of this powerful document and its agenda for reform.


  1. Deacon Bill:

    I'm a bit older than you are.

    I did my undergraduate work in a large Roman Catholic university in the Midwest from 61-65: times that overlapped Vatican II. During my junior and senior year, I opted to take the seminar based Theology courses (rather than the required lecture ones) since "doing" Theology in those years was "fun."

    In my last semester, I was invited to register for the "capstone-seminar" required of all religious men and women who were Theology majors. There were almost twenty seniors in that class -- maybe nine were required to be there. The half who had been "invited" to join in probably represented a cross section of the smartest and most perceptive seniors at that university. I felt kind of "out-of-place" since my cumulative average was a mere 3.2.

    It is now 46 years later and that seminar is one of my fondest memories of my college days.

    But, as a result, I too became a big fan of Vatican II. It happened at exactly the correct chronological moment for me -- I was ready to discard "the things of a child" (which Rabbi Saul of Tarsus so adroitly explains) and to move on with my adult religious life using a powerful and new paradigm.

    BUT it is also true that I went through parish grade school and RC preparatory high school BEFORE Vatican II. I still remember most of my Alter Boy Latin responses and can move around in a Baltimore Catechism as well as I can move around in a Bible.

    Even though most folks alive have no comprehension of what it was like living in a pre-Vatican church, I do. AND, I really do not want to go there again!

    Deacon Norb in Ohio

  2. In our diaconate formation program, we have long included a course in the Documents of Vatican II. I understand it has been taught with varying degrees of effectiveness, but I cannot imagine a more important formative course for diaconal ministry. Unfortunately, we will soon implement a new curriculum--minus the V2 class. It seems that "it wasn't mandated" and "there wasn't room." I think that is a terrible mistake, but I don't have a vote in the matter.