Pope John Paul II and the Christ-centered Anthropology of Gaudium et Spes" | Douglas Bushman | Catholic World Report
The late pontiff consistently summarized Gaudium et Spes in terms of the dynamism of its Christological anthropology.
Editor's Note: The following article originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the July/August 2000 issue of Catholic Faith
magazine. It is republished here to mark the feast day for Blessed John
Paul II during the Year of Faith and the 50th anniversary of the Second
A thorough study of the anthropology of Gaudium et Spes (GS) would be preceded by a study of the general purpose of the Pastoral Constitution. This would include considerations of how Gaudium et Spes articulates the relation of the Church to the world, and vice versa. It would also include its conception of the relationships of creation and redemption in Christ, nature and grace, reason and faith. Detailed evaluation of these themes is beyond the scope of this article.
For our purposes it will suffice to become familiar with the way in which Pope John Paul II understood and interpreted the pastoral purpose of Gaudium et Spes. That will follow these introductory remarks, which focus on the link between Gaudium et Spes and Fides et Ratio.
That Pope John Paul II was profoundly formed by and faithful to the general pastoral purpose and style of Gaudium et Spes throughout his pontificate is easy to show. He not only made constant reference to Gaudium et Spes, 22 and 24, referring to the former as encapsulating the motif of his pontificate, his encyclical, Fides et Ratio, stressed the unity of the two orders of knowledge, natural and supernatural. There is a "unity of truth" assured by the fact that God is Creator and Redeemer and thus the Author of what is revealed through creation and through the economy of salvation.
The fundamental presupposition of Gaudium et Spes is precisely this unity of truth as it pertains to the human person, that is, to anthropology. "For though the same God is Savior and Creator, Lord of human history as well as of salvation history, in the divine arrangement itself, the rightful autonomy of the creature, and particularly of man is not withdrawn, but is rather re-established in its own dignity and strengthened in it" (GS, 41).  There is a truth about the human person that is accessible to those without faith. This truth is not only confirmed by revelation, but also deeply enriched by it. How else can the Church enter into a dialogue with those without faith than to find some common ground, some starting point upon which both are in agreement?
Fides et Ratio was an alarm bell. The more serene tone and optimistic outlook of Gaudium et Spes ceded to a direct and serious warning that the "crisis of man" had reached a new, critical point.  Modern man has become so confused about himself that the very presuppositions for human fulfillment have been nearly eradicated: that there is objective and absolute truth; that man is made to search out this truth; and that he is capable of discovering it. These are under attack, being systematically rejected. Without them there is no foundation for the dispositions that create openness to a deeper understanding of the meaning of life based on faith. And without those dispositions, meaningful dialogue is impossible.
According to Fides et Ratio, if modern man is not searching for the meaning of life, then he lacks an essential openness to the Gospel. For the Gospel is precisely "the definitive, superabundant answer to the questions that man asks himself about the meaning and purpose of his life."  Indifference to religion has become indifference to truth, and living as if God does not exist has led to the near annihilation of man's most characteristic action, seeking the truth.
In Fides et Ratio the Pope called for a rediscovery of the integrity of the created order and of man's place in it as one called to realize himself by seeking and discovering the truth, and of the mutual complementarity of faith and reason. The fundamental assertion of Gaudium et Spes about man is that by being faithful to himself in seeking the truth, he is in fact being faithful to God, Who is the Author of human nature and thus of the innate desire to seek the truth. By seeking the truth man is in fact seeking God: "For God has willed that man remain 'under the control of his own decisions,' so that he can seek his Creator spontaneously, and come freely to utter and blissful perfection through loyalty to Him" (GS, 17).