The Dignity of the Human Person. Towards an Evangelical Reading of the Theology of Personhood of Vatican II

Published as “The dignity of the human person: towards an Evangelical reading of the theology of personhood of Vatican II”, Evangelical Quarterly LXXVII (2005/3) 249-259

Personhood is a key-concept in present-day magisterial Roman Catholicism. Virtually, every official speech of the pope makes some kind of reference to it while many official documents often revolve around the supreme value of personhood, the threats to its dignity and the strenuous defence of its centrality for the well-being of human society. In order to be understood properly, the Roman Catholic discourse on personhood has to be appreciated in its immediate historical background (i.e. Vatican II),[1] in the context of the consolidated body of catholic teachings concerning earthly realities (i.e. the social doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church),[2] and in its pastoral motivations and missionary aim (i.e. the call for a “new evangelisation”). Each of these aspects would deserve a specific treatment but, as the scope of the paper is appropriately limited to the theology of personhood of Vatican II, it will be sufficient to give a general introduction which will set the scene for a subsequent reading of some conciliar texts on personhood.[3]


In this novo millennio ineunte, the Roman Catholic Church seems to be fully committed to the task of a “new evangelisation” of the world, especially the traditionally Christian West which is showing signs of a progressive marginalisation of its religious heritage. This wide-ranging commitment dates back to the early Sixties when the hope for a kind of “aggiornamento” of the Church came to fruition in the convocation of a universal council. Pope John XXIII’s intention was that the new council should follow up the abruptly truncated work of the First Vatican Council in 1870 and should come to terms with the changed scenario both within the church and in the world. While Vatican I had promoted a strong judgmental and confrontational line in the area of the relationship between church and world, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) prompted the Roman Catholic Church to abandon her introspective and antagonist attitude by assuming a more extrovert and pastorally minded posture vis-à-vis the “modern world”. It is not surprising that one the most important documents of the Council is the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (which begins with the famous expression gaudium et spes) which delineates a renewed ecclesiological awareness of the Roman Church as she recognises and confronts what she had previously opposed and fought. The whole of Vatican II can be summarised using the initial expressions of its major documents: the newly perceived missionary task ad gentes calls for a reinvigorated catholic ecclesial witness to the lumen gentium on the basis of dei verbum and aimed at blowing a wind of gaudium et spes in the world.


Following the watershed event of Vatican II with all its missionary impetus, Paul VI issued the exhortation “Evangelii nuntiandi” (1975) in which the sense of urgency posed by the missionary challenge envisioned by the Council was underlined. Stemming from the same conciliar stream, the present pope has called the church to a renewed missionary effort, that is a “new evangelisation”, aimed at re-evangelising the world in general and the West in particular. Through various encyclicals and his restless activity,[4] John Paul II has tried to implement that ambitious missionary vision and give it a world-wide profile. Against the background of the “new evangelisation”, through the extremely feeble but powerfully amplified voice of the pope, Rome has launched her campaign in the present-day religious babel. What is striking in this post-Vatican II massive effort is the centrality of the category of personhood in the whole catholic missionary enterprise, both in its theological rationale and its practical outworking. Sundry magisterial documents, official speeches and pastoral programmes are shaped around the strategic value of the person and the vital need to promote personhood in all areas of life. The “new evangelisation” takes into consideration what the magisterium declares to be the constitutive, non-negotiable elements of personhood.[5] Inasmuch as Vatican II was of fundamental importance in determining the new posture of the Catholic Church in relation to the modern world, it is still of strategic significance as far as the catholic emphasis on personhood is concerned.

 “The Dignity of the Human Person” is the expression which opens a relatively minor document of Vatican II, the “Declaration on Religious Freedom”, “Dignitatis Humanae” (henceforth DH), but it is also the title of an important section (Chapter I, nn. 12-22) of the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”, more often referred to with the words of its incipit Gaudium et Spes (henceforth GS).[6] Its concise density well epitomises the main thrust of the conciliar theology of personhood. In a telling statement which recapitulates one of the main concerns of the Council and introduces its anthropological vision, GS so reads: “the pivotal point of our total presentation will be man himself, whole and entire, body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will” (3). So, the reflection on personhood is a major avenue leading to the heart of the Second Vatican Council as it represents the catholic version of the “anthropological turn” which was one of the main features of the modernity project. Such a turn was opposed by the Vatican for a long time but eventually endorsed, even though mediated by the early Twentieth century personalistic tendencies of Catholic philosophy.

 1. The anthropological thrust of Vatican II

Out of all the conciliar corpus, GS is the main text to turn to in order to gain an authoritative insight into the contemporary magisterial theology of personhood. Based on GS, DH rehearses its major anthropological themes and attempts to apply some of its pivotal teachings to the area of religious freedom. Considering that religious freedom was traditionally neglected, if not opposed by the Roman Church, DH represents a significant move forward in the reception of the theology of personhood by the Catholic Church herself. Interestingly enough, the first recipient of the teaching of GS seems to be the same Church which formulated it. Having being promulgated on the same day (7 December 1965), DH is the first fruit of GS because it is the immediate and internal application of GS. Before evoking the salient contours of personhood which emerge from GS, it should to be borne in mind that Vatican II does not provide a dogmatically outlined theology of personhood nor a fully fledged treatise on theological anthropology. There are at least three reasons which warrant such a preliminary remark.

 Firstly, contrary to the strongly doctrinal profile of the basically juridical ecclesiology of the First Vatican Council, the intentions of Vatican II are more pastorally inclined and missionary minded, although still ecclesiological in nature. The dogmatic structure is always present (GS is a “Constitution” endowed with binding authority) but the emphasis majors on pastoral interests and goals. The conciliar teaching on personhood clearly echoes the pastoral breadth of a Church which is engaged in reflecting on her self-understanding and her posture in relation to the world. An awareness of the distinct character of Vatican II surely helps in reading its documents according to its underlying motivations.

 Secondly, the anthropological vocabulary of Vatican II is not technically rigorous but tends to employ several terms interchangeably (“man”, “men”, “mankind”, “creature”, “person”, “persons”, “humanity”, “human family”, “human community”, etc.), thus showing an apparently relaxed attitude towards semantic precision and analytical definition.[7] The frequent use of synonyms significantly hinders the possibility of a neat systematisation of conciliar anthropology, even though this has not prevented Roman Catholic theologians from engaging in subsequent systematic studies mainly based on the anthropological ethos of Vatican II.

 Thirdly and finally, the structure of the argumentation in GS is mainly based on a phenomenological driving concern rather than on classical procedures, whether dogmatic or even systematic. Since the observation of the complex reality of the “signs of the times” spurs the Church to think afresh her identity and mission, it is the profoundly changed “situation of men in the modern world” (4-10) which sets the agenda for the conciliar teaching on personhood rather than the preoccupation to establish an authoritative pronouncement based on a more traditional (i.e. biblical, theological, historical) kind of argumentation. The briefly sketched phenomenology of the present time, with its hopes and anguishes, outstanding transformations and deepening problems, is the context in which what the Council has to say on our subject stands out, both in terms of interpreting the situation and indicating possible areas of encounter between the Church and the world. With these introductory observations in mind, it is now possible to present briefly some of its most interesting aspects for a tentative evangelical evaluation.


2. The Dignity of the Person

The title of the paper has already pointed out a fundamental distinguishing mark of the theology of personhood in GS. In characterising the meaning and value of person, GS repeatedly underlines its “dignity”. This qualification is overwhelmingly present throughout the whole text and represents the backbone of its message.

 As far as the supreme source of dignity is concerned, the Council boldly asserts that it is supremely rooted in man’s “call to communion with God” (19). This statement is particularly significant because GS in particular expressly and extensively deals with the pressing issue of atheism which was at the centre of the religious agenda in the Sixties. In order to counteract the atheistic argument that belief in God demeans the value of man and thus his intrinsic dignity, GS affirms the exact opposite, that is: “the recognition of God is in no way hostile to man’s dignity, since this dignity is rooted and perfected in God” (21). In the Council’s view, man’s dignity is “most grievously lacerated” when a sensus divinitatis is excluded from the human horizon (idem). Moreover, contrary to the atheistic assumptions, only the gospel of Christ can promote and safeguard it in a way that no human law can (41); in fact, in spite of the threats to which man’s dignity is always subject to, the gospel has the power to re-establish and strengthen it (41).

 As for its ontological value, according to the Council, the dignity of the person is an inherent worth which can never be disposed of since it is intrinsically related to the human person. Though man can err in a variety of ways, his conscience never looses its dignity (16). Even more than that, in spite of all his tragic problems and evident short-comings, man never falls short of the “dignity of being a person” (28). Dignity is an inalienable anthropological trait because it is intertwined with man’s identity as man. In GS’s words, “man is more precious for what he is than for what he has” (35) and therefore his rights and duties are “universal and inviolable” (26).

 This high view of personhood impinges on the whole of the human person and her life. In this respect, every aspect of man is endowed with dignity: his “mind” (15), his “moral conscience” (16, 41), his “vocation” (22), his “spiritual” dimension (23), his whole being and calling (39). Not only is the whole person marked by inherent dignity, but every person enjoys the same “equal dignity”, though the Council immediately recognises that “rightful differences exist between men” (29). The equality of man is argued for in terms of the fundamental dignity of each and every person and this is one of its “irresistible requirements” (26).


His dignity also determines the position which is attributed to man in the world. In this respect, GS says that man “stands above all things” (26) since he is the “centre and crown” (12) of all things. The supremacy and centrality of man lead the Council to stress the fact that the world is “the theatre of man’s history” (2) and to express forcefully its “reverence for man” (27).


Finally, GS repeatedly speaks of the socio-political implications derived from the strong affirmation of man’s dignity. At this point, the teaching of the Council reaches the meeting point between theological reflection on man and pastoral exhortation to all men in authority. Human dignity is so high a value that the political, social and economic order should “minister to” (29), “affirm and develop” (9), always having in view the benefit of the human person (26). In the light of this principle, earthly affairs should be “subordinate to the personal realm and not contrariwise” (26), thus recognising the pre-eminence of man in policy-making over any other concern. Labouring on this point, GS underlines two necessary prerequisites for the implementation of such an ambitious programme. First, human dignity has to be “acknowledged” (12) by those who are in authority and “the goal of all social institutions is and must be the human person” (25). Second, every man should become “conscious” of his dignity (31) by having “living conditions” which would make it possible for everyone to appreciate it (idem).[8] Dignity is not an abstract concept but an ontological, yet concrete value whose importance for every man should inspire all men in their activities.


3. The Mystery of the Person

In its attempt to listen to what the modern world is saying, the Council picks up the searching question that many have asked and continue to ask: “what is man?” (10; cf. also 12). This attitude marked by a readiness to listen before pontifying is an instance of what Gustav Thils has called Vatican II’s “methodological inversion” in its dealings with the world.[9] It is no longer the Vatican I Church which shouts her condemning truths in judgement to it, but a Church that strives to listen to the world before speaking and confronts earthly issues inductively. As regards the variously declined ontological problem concerning the nature of man, the unapologetic answer of GS is that man is properly a mysterium that the Church wants to illuminate in the light of Christ (10). Later, the key to the right approach is specified when it is said that “only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light” (22). The Church can shed light on the mystery of man inasmuch as she does it christologically or, to put it differently, by relating it to another mystery (that of Jesus Christ). Referring to the mystery of man opens the door to the delineation of the essentially christological contours of what is man and what it means to be man. In this respect, while rooting its anthropological discourse on the «imago dei» motif (12), GS advocates a christological anthropology.[10]


In a typological sense, Adam the first man is seen as a figure of Jesus Christ “the last Adam” (22), thus pointing eschatologically to the “new man”. The intrinsic relationship between the two Adams enables GS to assert that the innermost qualities of the first Adam “find their root and attain their crown” in the last Adam. The eschatological Adam sheds light on the protological one as well as on the historical ones as he is God’s realised project for man; “whoever follows after Christ, the perfect man, becomes himself more of a man” (41).


In an incarnational sense, Jesus’ assumption of human nature elevates man to “divine dignity”, thus providing a divine pattern to which man must conform himself. One of the most best known statements of the entire Council reads that “by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man” (idem). Whatever this somewhat ambiguous phrase means, it certainly refers to the objective fact that the incarnation effects all of humanity and the whole of humanity in the sense that, after the incarnation, man’s mystery cannot be considered apart from the perspective of the incarnation. Christ’s humanity is not absorbed by his divinity but fully displayed as humanity proper. In Coda’s words, “the mystery of the Incarnation is the mystery of the full humanisation of man, which does not mean opposition to God but a reciprocal relationship between man and God, who are united yet distinct in Christ”.[11]  


In a soteriological sense, since “Christ died for all men” (22), his redemptive work makes it possible for man to be linked with “the Paschal mystery”, in other words to participate in his sacrifice and to share its salvific benefits. Not only Christians are the recipients of this association but “all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way” (idem). The link between Christ and man is not soteriologically free but the way in which it operates for the effectual salvation of all is not spelt out. The universalistic tendency of the Council, however, is clearly expressed here and it is argued for on the basis of the supreme value of man, of every man, for whom Christ died.


Finally, in an eschatological sense, as Christ is “the Alpha and the Omega” (45), he is “the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilisation, the centre of the human race, the joy of every heart, and the answer to all its yearnings” (45; cf. also 10). His reality is so pervasive that it is utterly inescapable and will eventually become incontrovertible; the destiny of mankind is united to that of Christ. As Christ is the ultimate horizon for man, he is also considered as the inexhaustible reservoir of identity, meaning and purpose for human beings.


Of course, these hurried remarks on man’s and Christ’s mysterii do not fully account for the immense theological importance of what is articulated in the above mentioned paragraphs of GS. Their modest aim is to underline in a preliminary way the more general point of the interconnection posed by the Council between its christology and its view of personhood. In GS, christology is the hermeneutics of personhood as Christ is the new man and the paradigmatic pattern of and for man so that the christological mystery sheds light on the anthropological one. In this way, the Council hopes to overcome both “secular integrism” which would exclude Christ from the reflection on personhood and “confessional integrism” which would tend to limit the significance of Christ to the Church only. Roman Catholic universalism is christologically connoted.


4. The Vocation of the Person

Dignity and mystery do not exhaust the theology of personhood of Vatican II. There is yet another key-word which plays an important role in determining the anthropological orientation of the Council. In fact, the GS vocabulary on personhood is also enriched by a large number of references to man’s “vocation” which indicates its horizontal and relational dimension. This foundational aspect entails not only the social but also the ecclesial calling of man.


Vocation is primarily understood as expressing the communitarian character (32) of person, the fact that man is never to be considered as if he were simply an individual. On the contrary, he is always and intrinsically a being with a “social nature” (25), a person-in-relation with other persons who is what he is because of his being in relation. Each man should treat his neighbour “as another self” (27) because otherness is never considered as external to personhood but an essential aspect for its make-up. Man is seen as an essentially “social being” (12) who inherently experiences “human interdependence” (26) with his fellow men. The social thrust of the Council’s anthropology is argued for both protologically and christologically. In fact, God has created men to form a “social unity” (32) with other human beings, while the incarnate Christ has fully shared and therefore elevated man’s communitarian dimension (idem). The original social project of creation has been enhanced by the incarnation which has reiterated it so that it stands out as part of a trinitarian plan worked out in the course of salvation history. Besides these protological and christological profiles, it also has an unavoidable soteriological significance in that God also saves men “not merely as individuals” but as a “single people” (32, quoting “Lumen Gentium” 9). Having created men as social beings, He also saves them in the same way, that is as a community. Stemming from this paramount vocational aspect of personhood, GS argues for “the basic equality of all” (29), the relationship between sexes as “a primary form of interpersonal communion” (12), its teaching on marriage and family (47-52) and its appeal for “universal brotherhood” and “brotherly solidarity” between men (38; cf. also 2).


Man’s vocation is also related to the unity of mankind. Since being a person means to be part of a community as large as the whole of humanity, such a unity is part of God’s will as Father of all. It is God’s design and purpose that men form a “single world community” (33); in fact, according to GS, “God, who has a fatherly concern for everyone, has willed that all men should constitute one family and treat one another in a spirit of brotherhood” (24). The unity of mankind is also at the centre of the mystery of salvation. As protological unity marks God’s will from the beginning, so eschatological unity is mankind’s destiny. In order to achieve this, God’s salvific purposes are universal and embrace the whole of mankind. The unity of mankind is envisaged in creation, fulfilled in the eschaton and achieved in salvation.


5. An Ecclesia(stica)lly[12] Safeguarded Dignity, Enlightened Mystery and Enhanced Vocation

The whole discourse on personhood in GS revolves around these three poles: the inalienable dignitas of the person indicates her supreme value; the profound mysterium touches on the christological ontology of the person; the communitarian vocatio reflects her existential, social and ecclesial calling. Different paths of theological evaluation may be pursued at this point and different interpretative perspectives may be followed. Magisterial teaching is so theologically rich and wide that it offers innumerable ways of appreciating it. Among all the possible options, it is perhaps worth pondering on the ecclesiological apparatus which is always implied in Vatican II’s authoritative pronouncements on our subject. These preliminary considerations will try to account for the ecclesiological concern of the Council.


Significantly enough, GS opens with the first paragraph paradigmatically entitled “The Intimate Bond between the Church and Mankind” (1) and continues by reflecting on “The Church and Man’s Calling” (11) and “The Role of the Church in the Modern World” (40-45) as they are “mutually related”. It should be borne in mind that, even though it deals with the modern world, GS does it from the perspective of the Roman Church in relation to it. In other words, everything which is said about the world, person and society is not a theoretical exercise in religious social philosophy but an ecclesial programme for an ecclesial project. While the other ecclesiological pillar of Vatican II, “Lumen Gentium”, strongly upholds the sacramental nature of the Church with regard to Christ and the unity of mankind (e.g. LG 1), GS deepens the sacramental profile of the Church which characterises her relationship with the whole of mankind (40). In both relations, however, she stands in the middle, being a “sign and instrument” of both and serving both. The Church is the “sacrament” of the incarnate Word thus representing his authority, work and office. The Church is also the “sacrament” through which the new humanity is enacted until the final accomplishment of its universal destiny. In a telling statement, GS states that “the Church is the universal sacrament of salvation, simultaneously manifesting and exercising the mystery of God’s love for man” (45). She stands between God and man. In Roman Catholic theology, where Christ is mentioned, the Church is in some way always implied. As was noted earlier, Catholic universalism is christologically connoted but, as the relationship between Christ and the (Roman) Church is of a quasi perichoretical type, its universalism is also ecclesiastically connoted. The same is true as far as the Roman Catholic perspective on personhood is concerned. Because of what the Church is and does, she is always implied when the constitutive elements of personhood are at stake. There cannot be a fully realised personhood if man is not engrafted into the Church, taught by the Church and nurtured by the Church. The “function”, “light” and “energy” (42) of the Church is indispensable to attain personhood. The catholic Christ has an inherent ecclesial dimension just as the catholic man has an intrinsic ecclesial profile. The Church is therefore the sacramental link between the divine pole and the human one.


With regard to what has been argued concerning the primary aspects of the Roman Catholic view of personhood, the teaching of GS in not to be understood as if it were in an ecclesiological vacuum. On the contrary, the Church plays a fundamental role in each of them. In fact, the (Roman) Church safeguards the dignity of the person (41, 76), sheds light on the mystery of the person (10, 33, 41) and is the place where the person can fully accomplish his vocation (21, 42). While the focus seems to be on man, the Church is always in the background and always ready to come to the fore. As she enjoys an intimate relationship with Christ, on the one hand, and with man, on the other, she is both the sacrament of the incarnate Christ and the sacrament of the unity of mankind. She stands between. In her “motherly” attitude, she mediates personhood and dispenses it. In articulating her theology of personhood, the Roman Catholic Church does not deny her own ecclesiological self-awareness nor does she hide her universal mission. The magisterial theology of personhood is built on a particular kind of juridical and universal ecclesiology and the two elements are so intertwined that her view of personhood is not ecclesiastically neutral. GS presents the Catholic magisterium at its best in dealing with an increasingly disillusioned version of modernity; before the hopes and anguish of the modern world, the Catholic Church presents herself in a more modest way than in the past, though she is nonetheless animated by the consciousness of her universal identity and salvific purpose. In attempting to respect the Roman Catholic vision of the person, it is vital to come to terms with the Roman Catholic ecclesiology which sustains and nurtures it. This is not to demean the theological “aggiornamento” which was pursued by Vatican II nor to devalue the significance of magisterial anthropology.


The point is this: while advocating personhood in her effort for the “new evangelisation” (and this is done in a way that fully displays catholic theological wisdom), Rome advocates herself as the ecclesial locus in which a person can enjoy the fullness of her personhood. The logic of this understanding of personhood is that those who are outside the Roman Catholic circle of sacramental fullness attain to a lesser profile of personhood because of their distance from the centre which warrants the possibility of a full personhood. This is perfectly legitimate on Rome’s part, but it is, at the very least, evangelically questionable in that it associates a creaturely dimension (personhood) always subjected to the involution of the fall to an ecclesial allegiance to the Roman Church. The strong personalist tendency in Roman Catholic theology as an equally strong ecclesiological thrust as the other side of the coin. Any evangelical reading of GS, and especially of its perspective on personhood, needs to discern the ecclesiological premises and implications of the anthropological breadth of Vatican II.



Leonardo De Chirico


Istituto di Formazione Evangelica e Documentazione

C.P. 756 – 35100 Padova (Italy)







Walter ABBOTT (ed.), The Documents of Vatican II (London-Dublin: Geoffrey Chapman, 1966)

Christopher BUTLER, The Theology of Vatican II (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1967)

Vincenzo CAPORALE, “Antropologia e cristologia nella «Gaudium et spes»”, Rassegna di teologia 29:2 (1988) pp. 142-165

Catechism of the Catholic Church (London: Geoffrey Chapman 1994)

Enrico CHIAVACCI, “La nozione di persona nella «Gaudium et Spes»”, Studia Moralia 24 (1986) pp. 93-114

Pietro CODA, “L’uomo nel mistero di Cristo e della Trinità. L’antropologia della «Gaudium et spes»”, Lateranum 54:1 (1988) pp. 164-194

Pietro CODA, “Antropologia teologica e agire umano nel mondo della «Gaudium et spes», Lateranum 55:1 (1989) pp. 176-207

Georges COTTIER, “La persona nel Magistero recente della Chiesa” in AaVv, Persona e personalismo. Aspetti filosofici e teologici (Padova: Fondazione Lanza-Gregoriana, 1992) pp. 99-128

Mauro COZZOLI, Chiesa, vangelo e società. Natura e metodo della dottrina sociale della Chiesa (Cinisello Balsamo: Ed. San Paolo, 1996)

Joseph HÖFFNER, Christliche Gesellschaftslehre (Kevelaer: Verlag Butzon & Bercker, 1983)

Luis LADARIA, “L’uomo alla luce di Cristo nel Vaticano II” in R. Latourelle (ed.), Vaticano II. Bilancio e prospettive venticinque anni dopo – vol. 2 (Assisi: Cittadella, 1987) pp. 939-951

José Miguel Ibáñez LANGLOIS, Doctrina social de la Iglesia (Barañáin: Ediciones Universidad de Navarra, 1987)

Enda McDONAGH, “The Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes)” in A. Hastings (ed.), Modern Catholicism. Vatican II and After (London-New York: SPCK-OUP, 1991) pp. 96-112

Charles MOELLER, “Man, the Church and Society” in J.H. Miller (ed.), Vatican II. An Interfaith Appraisal (Notre Dame-London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966)

John W. ROBBINS, Ecclesiastical Megalomania. The Economic and Political Thought of the Roman Catholic Church (Unicoi: The Trinity Foundation, 1999)

Luigi RULLA, Franco IMODA, Joyce RIDICK, “Antropologia della vocazione cristiana: aspetti conciliari e postconciliari” in R. Latourelle (ed.), Vaticano II, cit., pp. 952-978

Edward SCHILLEBEECKX, “Fede cristiana ed aspettative terrene” in AaVv, La chiesa nel mondo contemporaneo. Commento alla Costituzione «Gaudium et spes» (Brescia: Queriniana, 1966) pp. 103-135

Mario TOSO, Verso quale società? La dottrina sociale della Chiesa per una nuova progettualità (Roma: LAS, 2000)

Herbert VORGRIMLER (ed.), Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II – vol. V (New York-London: Herder-Burns & Oates, 1969)



[1] The bibliography on Vatican II is very wide. With reference to the conciliar texts which will be discussed in the paper, useful readings can be Moeller (1966), Schillebeeckx (1966), Butler (1967), Vorgrimler (1969) and McDonagh (1991).

[2] Introductory works on the social doctrine of the church are Höffner (1983), Langlois (1987), Cozzoli (1996) and Toso (2000). Unfortunately, evangelical works on the catholic vision for society are few and fragmentary; for a very critical and rather unfair evaluation, cf. Robbins (1999).

[3] In this paper the rather fluid anthropological language of Vatican II (see later) will be retained. References to person and personhood will not have to be considered technically but as conveying different and sometime overlapping anthropological meanings. 

[4] Especially, the encyclicals “Redemptor hominis” (1979), “Laborem exercens” (1981), “Sollicitudo rei socialis” (1987), “Centesimus annus” (1991), “Veritatis splendor” (1993).

[5] For an introductory presentation of the main tenets of recent Catholic magisterium on personhood in its historical development, cf. Cottier (1992).

[6] The same expression entitles the section of the 1992 (though published in English in 1994) Catechism of the Catholic Church on “Man’s vocation. Life in the Spirit” (n.1700ss). All quotations of Vatican II are taken from Abbott (1966).

[7] Il va sans dire that the use of inclusive language is not a feature of Vatican II nor does it seem to be a concern even for present-day magisterial theology.

[8] The conciliar teachings on “socio-economic life” and “the life of the political community” are more fully explained in GS 63-72 and 73-78, respectively.

[9] Quoted by Coda (1988) 166.

[10] The relationships between christology and anthropology in GS are explored by Chiavacci (1986), Ladaria (1987), Caporale (1988) and Coda (1988).

[11] Coda (1988) 183.

[12] In Catholic theological language, “ecclesial”, “ecclesiological” and “ecclesiastical” tend to have the same meaning, or at least they imply one another. Because of the strongly juridical ecclesiology which is the basis for the whole of the Catholic view of the church, “ecclesial” is always “ecclesiastical” and vice versa.

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