On October 11th – the day the universal Church celebrated the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council – Fr. Edward Oakes, Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, gave a lecture for the Lumen Christi Institute on the famously misinterpreted document Gaudium et spes, or the “Pastoral Constitution on the Modern World.”
Since “the document as a whole implies throughout…that the era of the ‘fortress mentality’ Church is over and done with,” many have taken this to imply that the Church is wholeheartedly embracing the world, even those contemporary trends that directly contradict its teachings.
Oakes argued that “far from countenancing a gushing wonderment at the achievements of the modern world (impressive as they undoubtedly are), Vatican II explicitly endorses an active political engagement by Christians, based on Church teaching, to counter what John Paul II would later call the culture of death.”
Interestingly, two experts who had great influence on the drafting of the document – French Jesuit priest and theologian Henri de Lubac and French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain – later diagnosed the problems that would beset the Church after the council, namely a “neo-modernist fever” that would capitulate to all the “pathologies of the modern world” and a failure to announce the salvation that comes from Christ, what de Lubac called, “the betrayal of our obligation to the world.”
Both de Lubac and Maritain had indirect connections to the work of the Lumen Christi Institute, as de Lubac taught philosopher Jean-Luc Marion, and Maritain gave lectures as a guest of the University of Chicago’s prestigious Committee on Social Thought.
Oakes concluded his talk saying that though Gaudium et spes includes important doctrinal teaching (influenced by de Lubac and Maritain) about the centrality of the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s Death and Resurrection for determining the final end of man, and the need for an independent secular sphere, ironically its very purpose “will inevitably make it the least enduring of the major documents of the council, precisely because it was meant as a reading of the ‘signs of the times,’ and of course these times have much changed since then, requiring a new reading of new signs.”