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Gaudium et Spes

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Part of a series of articles on
Social Teachings
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Social Teachings of the Popes
Catholic social teaching

Gaudium et Spes (Latin: "Joy and Hope"), the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, was one of the four Apostolic Constitutions resulting from the Second Vatican Council. The document is an overview of the Catholic Church's teachings about man's relationship to society, especially in reference to economics, poverty, social justice, culture, science & technology, and ecumenism.

Approved by a vote of 2,307 to 75 of the bishops assembled at the council, it was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965, the day the council ended. As is customary with Catholic documents, the title is taken from its first sentence:

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.


The document was not drafted before the council met, but arose from the floor of the council and was one of the last to be promulgated. Pope John XXIII, who was deathly ill at the time, was forced to watch the proceedings on closed circuit television. He was too sick to attend, and died within months.

The previous Vatican Council in 1869-1875 had tried to defend the role of the church in an increasingly secular world. Those who interpret the purpose of the Second Council as one of embracing this world use Gaudium et Spes as the primary hermeneutic for all its documents. One of the cardinals, Leo John Suenens of Belgium urged the council to take on social responsibility for Third World suffering, International peace and war, and the poor.


The numbers given correspond to section numbers within the text.

  1. Preface (1-3)
  2. Introduction: The Situation of Men in the Modern World (4-10)
  3. Part 1: The Church and Man's Calling (11-45)
    1. The Dignity of the Human Person (12-22)
    2. The Community of Mankind (23-32)
    3. Man's Activity Throughout the World (33-39)
    4. The Role of the Church in the Modern World (40-45)
  4. Part 2: Some Problems of Special Urgency (46-93)
    1. Fostering the Nobility of Marriage and the Family (47-52)
    2. The Proper Development of Culture (53-62)
      1. The Circumstances of Culture in the World Today (54-56)
      2. Some Principles for the Proper Development of Culture (57-59)
        1. Definition of Culture. Culture in its general sense indicates everything whereby man develops and perfects his many bodily and spiritual qualities; he strives by his knowledge and his labor, to bring the world itself under his control. He renders social life more human both in the family and the civic community, through improvement of customs and institutions. Throughout the course of time he expresses, communicates and converses in his works, great spiritual experiences and desires that they might be of advantage to the progress of many, even the whole family (Guadium Et Spes Part II, Chapter II, Paragraph II).
      3. Some More Urgent Duties of Christians in Regard to Culture (60-62)
    3. Economic and Social Life (63-72)
      1. Economic Development (64 - 66)
      2. Certain Principles Governing Socio-Economic Life as a Whole (67-72)
    4. The Life of the Political Community (73-76)
    5. The Fostering of Peace and the Promotion of a Community of Nations (77-93)
      1. The Avoidance of War (79-82)
      2. Setting Up an International Community (83-93)

Ecumenical impact

The document has made a huge influence on the social teachings of the wider Christian churches and communities, especially the churches that belong to the World Council of Churches.


It has been criticized as over-optimistic, even from the floor of the council.

The ongoing question that arose from Gaudium et Spes is: how can the church be credible in a secular world? In the commentaries of the document, Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) called certain parts of Gaudium et Spes "downright Pelagian," particularly in the treatment of free will in article 17. He is not wholly negative in his judgment about Gaudium et Spes, however, and praises the discussion of atheism in articles 19-21 as “balanced and well-founded.”

Gaudium et Spes is a pastoral document.


  • Alberigo, Giuseppe (2006). History of Vatican II: the Council and the Transition, the Fourth Period and the End of the Council, September 1965-December 1965. Maryknoll: Orbis Books. p. 386. ISBN 1570751552. 
  • Linden, Ian (2009). Global Catholicism: diversity and change since Vatican II. 41 Great Russell St, London: Hurst and Co. p. 337. ISBN 9781850659570. 

External links

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