Musing as I head off to sleep

One of the criticisms the SSPX has about the Second Vatican Council (and those initiatives and documents subsequently based on documents and the event of the Council) center on the documents being man-centered rather than God-centered. 

As a young but already prominent theologian Fr. Joseph Ratzinger wrote commentaries on Council documents.  He criticized Gaudium et spes on just such a point, that it was overly anthropocentric rather than Christocentric.  However, he found in Gaudium et spes key paragraphs which provided the proper interpretive key for reading the rest of the document.  For example, GS 22, one of the most famous paragraphs – and rightly so, helps us to read the whole of Gaudium et spes in the proper light. 

22. The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.

In order to deal with social questions of burning urgency, we have to have the proper starting point, the proper anthropology.  Our view of man must never be separated from Christ. 

As Catholic Christians we learn who we are by considering who Christ is.  Man’s proper end becomes clearer and our worldly aims take on deeper meaning and efficacy when Christ holds the proper place.  Our consideration of Christ, and what He did for us and asks us to do for each other and the world must form the core of our search for solutions for the ills of the world and the proper development of peoples.

Without the right lens, we can get a distorted vision of nearly anything!

I am just musing to myself, in a way.  But you might want to look over that section of Gaudium et spes before reading the Holy Father’s new encyclical. 

BTW… look up GS 27 while you are at it.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Ann says:

    oh goody, homework for before the Encyclical comes out! :D

  2. Maureen says:

    “Everyone hurried to study up on Gaudium Spes. But when they got to the classroom, it turned out that it was really a pop quiz on Populorum Progressio. Oh, no!”

    Actually, though, I get the feeling now that I should have studied up on all the justice/charity encyclicals. Sigh. OTOH, the encyclical does make all that justice/peace/charity stuff sound more interesting.

    I only made it through the preface of this encyclical before I had to come to work. It’s full of chewy goodness, but the chewing takes a while.

  3. chironomo says:

    Have only made it to #24 so far…it seems that the pre-commentators are a bit off the mark. I see nothing in the way of a scathing rebuke of Capitalism, but rather a rebuke of corruption and injustice indifferent to the message of Christ.

    There are some incredibly illuminating passages though, such as…

    …we must adopt a realistic attitude as we take up with confidence and hope the new responsibilities to which we are called by the prospect of a world in need of profound cultural renewal, a world that needs to rediscover fundamental values on which to build a better future. The current crisis obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negative ones. The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future

    I certainly need to continue reading,but it seems that the Holy Father is setting renewal in the context of rediscovering tradition (fundamental shared values). Interesting…

  4. chironomo says:

    C in V #28

    \”Not only does the situation of poverty still provoke high rates of infant mortality in many regions, but some parts of the world still experience practices of demographic control, on the part of governments that often promote contraception and even go so far as to impose abortion. In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other States as if it were a form of cultural progress.

    Some non-governmental Organizations work actively to spread abortion, at times promoting the practice of sterilization in poor countries, in some cases not even informing the women concerned. Moreover, there is reason to suspect that development aid is sometimes linked to specific health-care policies which de facto involve the imposition of strong birth control measures.

    OUCH!! So much for the ever-so-hoped-for endorsement of Obamaism heard for the last few weeks…

  5. shoofoolatte says:

    well said, Fr. Z – and without the usual barbs! I can hear you :-)

  6. Maureen says:

    A lot of commentators optimistic for “their side” didn’t grow up in a German family. That’s why they were so optimistic.

    If somebody German says they’re going to tell you how you’re doing, you’re never going to get told, “Oh, yeah, you’re doing great. Attaboy!” Either you are doing work correctly, in which case you will get new work or more responsibility, or you’re not doing it correctly. Either way, you’re going to get lectured on what’s not getting done. :)

    Now, in the Pope’s case, you’ve got an old professor to deal with. When did you ever go to a conference with a good professor and get told that you were doing fine and could
    relax? Never! So what do we get? A reading assignment, and getting told that we’re not thinking broadly enough or following up the logical consequences. More work. :)

  7. AP says:

    The character of the Conciliar documents is their ambiguity and openness to a wide scope of interpretations. Saint Pius X noted this in his Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907):

    “This becomes clear to anybody who studies the conduct of Modernist, which is in perfect harmony with their teachings. In their writings & addresses they seem not infrequently to advocate now one doctrine, now another, so that one would be disposed to regard them as vague & doubtful. But there is a reason for this, and it is to be found in their ideas as to the mutual separation of science and faith. Hence in their books you find some things which might well be expressed by a Catholic, but in the next page you find other things which might have been dictated by a rationalist.”

    Furthermore, did not the rationalist postulate of the continuous progress necessary to humanity lead the Council to say in Gaudium et Spes that :
    “the human race has passed from a rather static concept of reality to a more dynamic, evolutionary one. In consequence, there has arisen a new series of problems, a series as important as can be, calling for a new efforts of analysis and synthesis. When at the beginning of the century (20th) this thesis was applied to religion by the heirs of Lessing, Herder, and Hegel, it led to a “liberal, modernist Christology” that was expertly criticized at the time by Fr. Leonce de Grandmaison.” (Quoted by Abp Lefebvre, “L’Eglise accomplira-t-elle a temps sa veritable renovation? Aug. 30, 1968, Lettres pastorales, 331).

    From this perspective the conciliar doctrine of GS appears questionable; it made man and not God the center and summit of all the earth (GS 12) “the principle and the end of all his institutions” (GS 25). Quite the contrary, “the principle of finalization (towards God) bringing about the spreading of charity will be what drives all our activities.” Whence the fundamental error of liberalism in spirituality as in public order: “It tends to ignore the purpose and the end of liberty to the detriment of the divine law” and the “reign of God’s love” (Abp Lefebvre).

  8. Matthew says:

    Would you be so kind, Father Z, as to direct us to these commentaries of Father Ratzinger’s. Are they still in print. It’s the first I’ve heard of them, actually. They sound fascinating. Frankly, I would appreciate, more broadly speaking, your recommendation of any trustworthy commentaries on the Second Vatican Council documents.

  9. Matthew says:

    Would you be so kind, Father Z, as to direct us to these commentaries of Father Ratzinger\’s? Are they still in print? It\’s the first I\’ve heard of them, actually. They sound fascinating. Frankly, I would appreciate, more broadly speaking, your recommendation of any trustworthy commentaries on the Second Vatican Council documents.

  10. chironomo says:

    C in V #51

    …These are important steps, but the decisive issue is the overall moral tenor of society. If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves.

    For the Holy Father..EVERYTHING comes back to repect for life… incredible and indisputable. One cannot simultaneously preach about the need for environmental preservation while promoting a culture of death.

    in other words…the fight against Global Warming is at odds fundamentally with pro-choice policies. Brilliant!

  11. Allen Murphy sfo says:

    It might be useful for both parishes which celebrate the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite as well as the parishes with the ordinary form of the Roman rite to study the teachings of Vatican 11. Both need to see the actual texts not as a repudiation of earlier councils but as an ongoing part of magisterial teaching. Allen Murphy sfo

  12. FrGregACCA says:

    “As Catholic Christians we learn who we are by considering who Christ is.”

    Amen and Amen. A point that cannot be made strongly enough or often enough. Further, in speaking of Christ, we must speak of the WHOLE Christ meaning, in this case, the Communion of Saints. This is why it is so important to study the lives of the Saints; they reveal to us the life of Christ.

  13. ssoldie says:

    ‘ambiguous’ open to dispute, having many possible interpretations, can be interpreted in more then one way, obscure, vague.

  14. a reader says:

    Although the document clearly shows the marks of different viewpoints vying for priority, with some work, one can show that GS does not contradict itself or tradition. In continuity with tradition, GS 24 states: “All, in fact, are destined to the very same end, namely God himself, since they have been created in the likeness of God.” See also GS 45: “For God’s Word, by whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh so that as perfect man He might save all men and sum up all things in Himself. The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the desires of history and civilization, the center of mankind, the joy of all hearts, and the fulfillment of all aspirations.”

    In sum, GS teaches that God is man’s ultimate end. If it speaks about man as an end, it is only as the end of the material created order. Aquinas taught this in 1 Ethica Lect. 1.

  15. Sal says:

    John Paul II also purportedly made use of GS22, but his anthropology and Centesimus Annus are quite different from Benedict’s.

    The point is: if one finds one, possibly two, paragraphs of GS that are even usable, of what ultimate value is GS?

    One spends all one’s time rescuing a deficient document.

  16. ssoldie says:

    I thank God that I live in a day when the enemy is outside the Church, and I know where he is, and what he is up to. But, I foresee a day when the enemy will be both outside and inside the Church … and, I pray for the poor faithful who will be caught in the crossfire. –Cardinal Newman

  17. Maureen says:

    Re: waste of time rescuing a deficient document.

    Seems to me that’s the sort of thing some Protestants say of whole books of the Bible, or of the entire Old Testament. (I even ran into one guy who claimed that no Christian should pay attention to the Gospels, since anything Jesus said before the New Covenant was void.)

    Whatever belongs to our capital-M Magisterium, even when it seems confused, has
    been in some way given to us by God, and must therefore repay study. So any valid document of any valid big Council is not something to forget.

  18. Maureen says:

    It occurs to me that there’s another reason to “rescue” documents. If somebody has been using a document to teach erroneous ideas, there’s an obvious apologetics need to point out the correct reading of the document, both to those who made the mistake in the first place and to those who were taught it.

    If somebody was teaching the verse “Jesus wept” to mean that only Christians with tear ducts could possibly be saved, and lots of people were falling for it, suddenly “Jesus wept” and tear ducts would become spiritual-life-or-death objects of theological study.

  19. Sal says:


    Your example is irrelevant. GS has been problematic since Day One. Joseph Ratzinger himself said parts of it were semi-Pelagian.

    And there is no necessity to “rescue” magisterial documents. Many of them have gone into dignified obscurity, uncited, unmissed, and unremembered.

    Your idea that every single thing ever issued from a magisterial organ is hilarious. Cardinal Ratzinger himself said that many of the ecumenical councils were wastes of time.

    Want to parse that?

  20. Maureen says:

    Then you must admit that JPII and B16 have either wasted a good deal of time, or that they think those particular Council documents on which they have written, or which they are quoted, are important and worth study.

  21. Sal says:


    Take off your blinders. Benedict XVI rarely adduces
    GS. He doesn’t particularly focus on it here. John
    Paul was more likely to do so. Whether or not GS
    remains a lodestar for the future is ambiguous at
    best (unlike Lumen Gentium), given its
    anthropology and obeisance to modernity (which
    itself is fast becoming a museum piece).

    Many Popes in the past studied and paid attention to
    many documents. Many of them are not longer regarded
    as critical and have disappeared beneath the

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