Professor Speaks About 'Gaudium et Spes' and Its Relevance Today

ROME, May 4, 2012 ( A conference celebrating 50 years since the Second Vatican Council was held at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross's theology department Thursday and today. Titled "The Permanent Value of Reform for the New Evangelization," the addresses given at the congress examined the council's documents, while touching upon such topics as ecumenism, the council's historical relevance, and methods of communication used during the council.

ZENIT spoke with Professor Manfred Spieker of the Universität Osnabrück, who delivered an address at the congress titled "The Pastoral Constitution of Gaudium et Spes".

ZENIT: We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Vatican II. How does the council remain relevant to the Church and society today?

Spieker: Extremely relevant. John Paul II and Benedict XVI always underlined it as a new phase of evangelization. Also, we want to revive the spirit of these documents from the Vatican council. [The prophetical view of the council has yet to be fulfilled]. And I hope that for central Europe (Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain) what the council wanted and said can be revived.

ZENIT: What does the document Gaudium et Spes teach about the dignity of the human person, especially in today's world where human dignity is called into question in debates over abortion, euthanasia, and so forth?

Spieker: There's a big difference between the worldly [understanding] of the human person and the Church’s [understanding] of the human person. The worldly [understanding] always underlines self-determination as the most important point of the human being. But the Church [refers to] self-giving as a gift, as a real sense of human life, and it is underlined not only in encyclicals, but also in the life of John Paul II -- because of his life, four million people came to Rome in April 2005 to see him. [The Church] has convinced the world that self-giving is the sense of human love.

ZENIT: Gaudium et Spes spoke of democracy and society. What is the relevance of this document amid the social and political climate of today?

Spieker: Democracy is founded in an anthropocentric manner in Gaudium et Spes. The Church's teaching accepted democracy in the 1940s, saying that if you have a democracy, you can change governments; world war would not be started if the governments were [willing] to work with their own society. John Paul II has found democracy in human nature; human beings want to participate in the decisions of the state.

I have said at times that John Paul II sanctified democracy. It was a very good pontificate. In political aspects, he changed not only the communist war in Eastern Europe, but also in Argentina, in South Korea, in Chile; he visited these countries, changing political structures and atmospheres. His reason was that political structures must serve the human person, must protect human dignity. And this was the way in which the Church preaches to the states, to the governments.

ZENIT: Could you speak about the role of the laity in the Church, as was defined by Vatican II?

Spieker: The task of the layman is not inside the Church, but outside the Church: as journalists, as teachers, as lawyers, as businessmen. It is very important – and Church documents underlined it very often – you must have competence in your profession as teachers, as journalists, as businessmen. It was said by John XXIII in Pacem in Terris number 147-150, where he said that it is not enough if you want to sanctify the world that you have a good faith and that you are pious; you must have professional competence. And he said that you must engage in worldly institutions, not in Church institutions. Nobody can influence a worldly institution or profession if he is not competent. It means that you have to form yourself, and to educate yourself. John Paul II repeated this, and Gaudium et Spes says it also. But a competence is not useful [without faith, or without prayer.]