Authentic Christian Life Develops Social Spirit

Author: Pope Paul VI


Pope Paul VI

On Wednesday morning, September 4th, Pope Paul VI delivered the following discourse to the large group gathered in the courtyard at Castel Gandolfo.

The events taking place in our times, the currents of ideas pervading the modern mind, the political and social movements disturbing this world of ours, the themes which today preoccupy religion, be it Catholic or non-Catholic, all these converge from different directions upon one central, dominant focus, namely: man. "According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike, all things on earth should be related to man as their centre and crown." (Gaudium et Spes, n. 12). Again the question is raised: "Who is man?" Again it is observed that in the discussion of this central problem men do not agree; they do not understand; they are opposed to one another, or at the very least, they confront one another. This confrontation becomes a conflict in a double sense. The first sense concerns truth. What is the truth about man? Who is in the right? The second sense is that of inclusiveness. Who, today, has the larger concept of man, more complete in its analysis of his human components, more comprehensive in its grasp of his modern needs, more adequate in relating his actual and historical characteristics to our time?

The truth about man, the significance of man, these two comprise the chapter headings under which humanism balances and counterbalances its assertions. Man again wants to know himself. He looks at himself in the mirror, clothed in his experience, or in his speculative reflections; he classifies himself according to the form or the measure this inevitable inquiry suggests to him. We hear the expressions, man the animal (cf. Cor. 2. 2, 14), man the spirit, man the maker, man the economist, man the wise, and so on. But above all, one hears of the value attributed to man in the order of existing things. The conclusion is drawn that man is a prime being. Among those why deny the existence of God, this conclusion becomes an absolute: man is every thing, they say, not taking into account the tragic mockery implied by such a qualification, attributing infiniteness to a being which is neither its own cause nor its own finality, a being subject to limitations, weakness, infirmity and inexorable frailty.

According to these adulators of man, if man is not everything, he is, nevertheless, the epitome of all that is meaningful. There is no going beyond man. In a certain sense, man is the summit of everything, but often this thought is not accompanied by the reflection as to where man secures authentic title to such lofty prerogatives and how, in that light, he is to be evaluated.

Man's call to communion with God

This is a tremendous question surrounded by continual discussion, a question that is old but ever new. The Church does not turn away from renewed vigour and deepened wisdom. For us it is enough at this moment of meditation to consider ourselves children of the Council and to recall from this source a word of orientation: "An outstanding cause of human dignity lies in man's call to communion with God." (Gaudium et Spes, n. 19). These words seem to echo that famous saying of St. Augustine in the first chapter of the Confessions: "You have made us for Yourself, 0 God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You." Leaving aside, for the time being, the doctrine of merit, let us conclude with a very brief, reference to the two aspects most relevant to the contemporary attitude towards man: the individual and the social.

In regard to both of these aspects, the Church evaluates man, especially in the Conciliar documents, as a being of incomparable greatness. No anthropology equals that of the Church in its evaluation of the human person. This is true as regards man's individuality, his originality, his dignity; as regards the intangible richness arising from his fundamental rights; as regards his sacredness, his capacity for education, his aspiration to complete development, his immortality, etc.

"Creature" made in Divine image

A code could be composed out of the rights which the Church recognizes in man, and it will always be difficult to limit the fullness of the rights which derive from man's elevation to the supernatural by reason of his insertion in Christ. With reference to this exaltation of the human person on the part of the Church's doctrines and charisms, two points ought to be particularly dear to contemporary humanism: conscience and liberty. These are fundamentals on which the Council forcefully insists with great authority. A right understanding of them is difficult. The superficial vocabulary current in our times prevents many from having an exact concept of either conscience or of liberty, and much less so, of their right use. Both terms deserve a careful study. But the fact remains that the Church vindicates man's conscience and liberty in the highest and most exact sense. In so doing, the Church confers on man a stature she describes as "creature," but a creature made in the image of God, the Creator. This creature, elevated into the ineffable love of Christian regeneration, is raised to the level of son and of participant of the divine nature. (cf. 2 Peter 1:4)

Social nature of man

At the same time, the affirmation that "it remains each man's duty to preserve a view of the whole human person," (Gaudium et Spes, n. 61) is joined to another statement concerning the social nature of man (ibid. n. 12). From this it follows that "man's social nature makes it evident that the progress of the human person and the advance of society itself hinge on each other." (ibid. n. 25). This truth has its full explanation in the plan of salvation. Man, however, does not effect salvation in isolation. United to Christ, he enters the community of the faithful who form the Mystical Body. Thus the Church is necessary to him, and the vital, intimate and stable rapport which grows between himself and God is unfolded and developed in his charity towards his brothers (cf. I John 4:20). This includes all men without discrimination; in practice it includes those who enter into the definition of man's neighbor illustrated by Christ in the famous story of the Good Samaritan; it includes those who participate in full communion with the same Jesus (cf. I Cor. 10: 17) and who are virtually; commanded to have, as a sign of their authentic Christianity, love for one another (John 17:21). No single school of social thought arrives at such a conclusion. The sense of community and the obligation of community meet on a higher level in Christian life that is understood and practiced. Authentic Christian life gives rise to a social spirit, even on the natural and temporal plane, which is always progressing along the lines of respect for others, concord, collaboration and peace among men. The Christian, without losing any of the fullness of his personality, even to the point of possessing it and developing it, finds himself inserted in a community order. This community he must himself accept and promote, since the community is oriented towards the fullness of social unity. Only the law and the grace of Christ can offer this to man, not as a Utopia but as a reality, not as a suppression of individual personality but as a broadening and an exaltation of it, in that supreme design known to us as the Communion of Saints.

Call to fullness

We believe that all of this, in its truth and beauty, is especially important for our day, when the enormous advances in civilization tend to stifle the human personality and generate social structures which can be intolerable.

Let us thank the Lord who has called us, in the plan of salvation, to His Church. In the Church, all men, each one of us, find their twofold destiny—personal and social—incomparably harmonized. This destiny constitutes our call to perfection, demanding and always moving forward in time, so as to be one day, the day of eternity, a call to fullness and joy in the Lord.

This is the way We think, this is Our work, this is the hope of us all is We bestow on You Our Apostolic Benediction.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
12 September 1968, page 1

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