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THE ANTHROPOCENTRISM OF GAUDIUM ET SPES (CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH IN THE MODERN WORLD)

(by Brunero Gherardini)


The following essay is excerpted from Il Vaticano II. Alle radici d'un equivoco [Vatican II: At the Roots of an Equivoque] (Torino: Lindau 2012) 185-195. For a link to the full Italian text, go to: Gherardini online

Abstract: "Anthropocentrism" is the notion that sees man as the centre and fundamental value of the whole universe. The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes, hereafter: GS) asserts that man is the pivotal point (cardo), i.e. the supporting point on which the whole document hinges (GS 3/b). "Pivotal point. Anyone wishing to underscore the anthropocentric foundation of GS could not have chosen a clearer and more effective expression." (p. 191-192)



Text: The word "anthropocentrism" is a recurring one, hence it is hardly feasible to keep talking about it without first providing a brief explanation. In its most succinct form, it could be this: Anthropocentrism is the habit of mind that sees man as the centre of the universe, the fundamental value and point of convergence of everything that exists. It is a view quite close to that of F.C. Schiller, who derived it from the maxim of Protagoras, according to whom man is the measure of all things. Ultimately, a philosophical theory known as Humanism grew out of this maxim (Troiano, Ferrari, Maritain). It elects man not only as measure, but also as fundamental value of the whole universe; at the theoretical level, then, prior to that of appreciation. Maritain added the note (quite untenable) of a discordance between humanism and incarnation.

I have no reason to say, and not even to suspect, that the writers of GS and the Council fathers, while drafting, discussing, and voting on such a document, all firmly intended to anchor conciliar teaching to the theory mentioned above. Yet the derivation is undeniable. Way before being raised to dizzying heights, man is set as the focal point and object of the entire document. "Man, then - indeed, man whole and entire, body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will, will be the pivotal point of our presentation." [Homo igitur, et quidem unus ac totus, cum corpore et anima, corde et conscientia, mente et voluntate, totius nostrae explanationis cardo erit] (GS 3/b). The asserted centrality of man, of his natural reality, of his dignity and of his eminence over and above any other creatural reality; man in his concrete historical existence and in his social and cultural contexts; hence, man with all the burden of his quandaries: this is the only object of the most detailed conciliar document and the only supporting point - "cardo", the pivot - of all its contents.

When such quandaries are mistaken for the concept of mystery and immersed in it ("the mystery of man"), the anthropocentric drift becomes even more obvious at the expenses of the "mystery of Christ" that ought to shed light on, and provide a solution to, such problems: it is in fact stated that "the mystery of man becomes clear only in the mystery of the incarnate Word." [nonnisi in mysterio Verbi incarnati mysterium hominis vere clarescit] (GS 22/a) and that the profound reason why the riddle of man is clarified and solved is the very fact of the incarnation by which "the son of God united himself in a certain way with every man" [Ipse enim Filius Dei incarnatione sua cum omni homine quodammodo se univit] (GS 22/b). Now, while it is true that the discovery of the total solution to the riddle of man is only possible in the mystery of the incarnate Word, the reason adduced is, to the contrary, utterly unfounded, untenable, absurd.

The mystery of the incarnate Word is, as the word itself says, the mystery of his incarnation; and along with it, that of his indiviuality, also as this specific Person ruling over two distinct worlds, the human and the divine, both hypostatically joined in him, thanks to the function that the personal "I" of the Word performs on the human nature of Christ; a nature individual, entire, perfect. By saying, "two distinct worlds, human and divine" Catholic doctrine does not mean the individuals who belong to them, but rather both natures or substances: divine and human nature joined together - and yet always distinct, not confused - in the divine hypostasis of the Word. But in the just cited text from GS the doctrine concerning union and distinction is radically subverted: hypostatic union is expanded to the whole mankind, though the assertion is softened by "quodammodo" ["in a certain way"]; suppressed the boundary between human and divine, non-existent the distinction between natural and supernatural.

Yes, even the Council fathers realized the enormity of this assertion, and with the usual method of saying and not saying, propounded its downsizing. They added the word quodammodo ("in some way or measure"), to soften the jar of an irreducibly contradictory assertion. According to this view, the Word did not unite himself to human nature, but "in some way or measure" to every single holder of it. Apart from the fact that in theological language, even in that of Saint Thomas, the adverb quodammodo and the very use of quidam-quaedam-quoddam ["a certain one, a certain something"] are often implicit admissions of uncertainty, indecision, non-conclusiveness, and thus ultimately confirm what they should, and would wish to, modify, I do not in the least deny the intention (a self-evident one at that) to tame the untenable assertion; but such assertion remains exactly what it is, and such as it is . It maintains, though attenuated - but it is not clear in what sense and measure - the meaning of its words, which is this: Not everyone present in the incarnate Word, but the Word present in everyone, because he became incarnated in everyone, albeit in undefinable fashion. Ephesus and Chalcedon, then, blotted out. Union and distinction of both natures, likewise blotted out. And also blotted out the union and distinction of both natures. With Christ, the Divine is no longer in all that is human, but in every single human being. The anthropocentric drift of the Godhead could not have found a proclamation more significant than this one: Ipse enim, Filius Dei, incarnatione sua cum omni homine quodammodo se univit [the Son of God by his incarnation united himself in a certain way with every human being].

I could go on citing, one after the other, the paeans to man in GS; the expression of a radical anthropological infatuation that, and not seldom, seems to verge on true worship: I would not add much, or not much that would be more significant than what I just expounded. I cannot, however, pass by the opportunity to highlight yet another metaphysical absurdity of this document, which (at 24/c) does not hesitate to affirm that man in terris sola creatura est quam Deus propter seipsam voluit [is the only creature on earth that God wanted for itself]. Man is, then, the only creature created by God for itself. The metaphysical absurdity lies in the fact that, if God creates for someone or something outside himself, either God is, or God becomes himself subject to him or to it. In either case, since he remains conditioned to and by something, to and by someone outside himself, he neither is nor can call himself God: not Absolute, not Supreme Being, not Necessary distinct from anything contingent.

Furthermore, it should be noted that in the case in question we are dealing not only with a metaphysical absurdity, but with an internal contradiction as well: 24/c is in fact contradicted by 41/a, which reads, mysterium Dei, qui est ultimus finis hominis [the mystery of God, who is man's ultimate end]: the ultimate end, beyond which there is absolutely no other, for God created for Himself everything, including man. Indeed, I should say, above all man; who, inasmuch as he is endowed with intellect, while acknowledging that his rational knowledge of the concatenation of cause and effect ultimately derives from God, expresses his radical dependence from him and gives glory to his self-communicating love. On the other hand, though not all of them were professors of metaphysics and perhaps not all favoured with a metaphysical disposition, the Council Fathers, all of them, should have known the Bible and refrained from writing such and so serious a statement as that of "the only creature created for itself." Propter semetipsum - Proverbs 16 reads - operatus est Dominus (cf. Dt. 26:19) [God worked for Himself], only for Himself and the expansion of his eternal glory.

If GS had intended to stress that all creation had been willed by the Creator for man, and that man, the summit of creation, should be its end so as not to be subject to any other creature, there would have been no reason to take offence. But, since that was not the meaning given by the Council to its own words, offence was taken, and what an offence! At an ecumenical Council!

The whole document is a sequel of shocking proclamations, whose sheer number makes exemplification a difficult choice; for that purpose, I might as well say,tolle et lege [take up and read]. A few additional remarks seem to me, however, not only appropriate but a moral obligation. I mentioned the confusion between natural and supernatural. This is no mean thing. It is ostracism - though not ostentatiously shouted - against a theocentric perspective and a gateway to an anthropocentric one. The cards have been shuffled: what belongs to a Christian because it belongs to the Church, also belongs to everyone because it belongs to mankind. Not by chance the Preface to GS alludes to this idea as to one of the major themes on which the whole document will eventually rest. The Preface reads: 'Nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in the heart' of Christians, whose community 'feels for this reason (quapropter) truly and closely bound up with mankind and its history.' If these words were to refer to Christian participation in any cause of trouble for human hearts or any human, high-minded hopes, there would be no objection whatsoever; but the close association of the Church, even her communicating with all mankind on the basis of natural conditions, identical for Christians and non-Christians alike, is oblivious of the supernatural reasons that do indeed urge the Church to meet every man, but only in order to solve his basic problems: original sin, the related issue of eternal salvation, the questions raised by a life in line with the evangelical requirements and consistency with the Gospel's demands.

The fact is that the expansion of the Council's interests from Christians alone to man as such is further evidence for the above-mentioned overtures to an anthropocentric perspective. And that such an overture responds to a prime intent of GS is proven by its direct profession; which is all the more significant, inasmuch as it is enunciated after the initial propositions, for a clearly programmatic purpose. After the declaration of intent to initiate a dialogue with mankind in order to "put at its disposal the saving energies that the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, receives from her Founder" [humano generi salutares vires suppeditando, quas ipsa Ecclesia, Spiritu Sancto ducente, a Fundatore suo accipit], GS 3/b - almost in order to erase the suspicion of a return to medieval supernaturalism that such words might suggest - bursts into a paean to man, whose worth is recognized as the foundation of the concerns and the doctrine which GS sets forth. The pertinent text has been previously cited, but its repetition at this point is a rhetorical device to show the true purpose of the Council: "The pivotal point of all our discourse will, then, be man in his unity and totality, with body and soul, with his heart and conscience, with his mind and will." [Homo igitur, et quidem unus ac totus, cum corpore et anima, corde et conscientia, mente et voluntate, totius nostrae explanationis cardo erit].Pivotal point. Anyone wishing to underscore the anthropocentric foundation of GS could not have chosen a clearer and more effective expression."

And, obviously, along with man the world. Mention was already made of what John XXIII and Paul VI wanted, what John Paul II wanted, what the reigning pontiff wants, now that the Council is in its reception stage: the reconciliation of the Church with the world. Also highlighted was the equivoque linked to the repetition of the following phrase: not the Church had made herself an enemy to the world, but the world to the Church. Hence another equivoque: the desire to reconcile the world to herself is part of the Church's mission, but this mission cannot require of the Church to adjust, much less to conform, to the principles of the world. Apart from this equivoque, a question appears unavoidable at this point: what is the meaning of the term world in the usage of GS, a document soon to be imitated by the new theological language?

The ambiguity of this expression, abundantly attested in Sacred Scripture, is well-known. The Bible recognizes that the world takes its origin from God (Acts 17:24, 1John 3:10, Col. 1:16, Heb 1:2) and bears witness to Divine Providence (Acts 14:16); but is also aware of the world's condition of subordination to Satan (1John 5:19), which - from its very origin (John 1:29) - makes it theatre and gateway to sin, hence a stumbling stone on the way to the Kingdom (Mt 18:7). Yet, this world totally under the sway of Satan (1Jogn 5:19) is the same world that the Father envelops in his love, upon which he bestowed his Only-Begotten Son (John 3:16-17). GS neither ignores, nor refuses, nor analyzes such an ambiguity: it takes it such as it is. It even stands before this world in an attitude of admiring veneration and chooses to dwell, rather than on its ambiguity, on "the whole human family with all the realities in whose midst it lives, [...] the theatre of mankind's history, [...] marked with its endeavours, his defeats, and his victories", the object of "its Creator's love" (GS 2/b). The original Latin text reads: Quem christifideles credunt ex amore Conditoris conditum et conservatum [that Christians believe tp have been created and preserved out of the Creator's love]; as can be seen, this phrase does not assert creation out of nothing caused by divine love expanding into the objects it created, but hooks up such objects to the credulity of Christians, according to whom - that is to say, in a subjective manner - what exists finds its explanation in the creative power of God's love. The world is subject to "the bondage of sin, but freed by Christ crucified and risen again, so that, the power of the Evil One being crushed, it may be transformed according to God's plan and come to completion" (GS 2/b)>

This is another puzzling phrase. God's plan envisions, then, the "transformation" of the world till "completion" (!!!). The text seems to ignore that a transformation can be for the better or for the worse, and that "to come to completion" (ad consummationem means more precisely "till the end", "up to the conclusion") makes no sense unless the completion is specified. As it stands, it can say everything and its opposite.

Should this not be sufficient, the "world" theme is taken up again, repeated, and once more respected in its basic ambiguity throughout the whole pastoral constitution. GS does in fact wish that "the world recognizes the Church as a social reality in history and as its ferment" [Ecclesiam ut socialem realitatem historiae eiusque fermentum agnoscere], but also professes its own awareness of how much the Church "has received from history and the evolution of mankind" [ex humani generis historia et evolutione acceperit] (GS 44/a): "the concepts and the languages of diverse peoples' [(ope) conceptuum et linguarum diversorum populorum], "the wisdom of philosophers" [sapientia insuper philosophorum], "the vital exchange between the Church and various cultures" [vivum commercium inter Ecclesiam et diversas populorum culturas] (GS 44/b). This is no mean help that "believers and non-believers" [sive de credentibus sive de non credentibus agatur] (GS 44/b) provide for the Church "to the extent that she depends on external factors" [in quantum haec ab externis dependet] (GS 44/c); help and "a profit that may come to the Church even from the opposition of as many as oppose and persecute her" [ex ipsa oppositione eorum qui ei adversantur vel eam persequuntur, se multum profecisse et proficere posse fatetur] (GS 44/c). By now opposite frontiers no longer exist, and if someone opposes them, even to the point of a possible persecution, they will all and always be a "profit" that the world offers to the Church. The frontiers have come so close and to such an extent, that they have become welded. What the Church says and does, she says and does it for the world; and what the world is doing in its drive toward progress, is to the advantage of the Church.