Vatican II's Call to Communicate the Gospel

June 2011By Christopher Zehnder

Christopher Zehnder is the general editor of the Catholic Schools Textbook Project, which has published his book From Sea to Shining Sea, a history of the United States for grades 5-8. His second book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World, for grades 8-11, will be published this spring. He lives with his wife and seven children in the mountains of central California. The first installment of this two-part series, “The Missionary Character of the Church,” appeared in the May issue.

As discussed in Part I of this series in last month's issue, the intent of the Second Vatican Council was to outfit the Church so that she could better promote and cultivate communion — a more intense communion among the members of Christ’s body, the Church, and between the Church and the world. How, then, according to Vatican II, is the Church to communicate herself to the world? The message the Church must communicate is one thing; the manner in which it is communicated is another. That there must be different ways of communicating the Gospel is clear from the Acts of the Apostles; for instance, Peter’s sermon to the Jews on the day of Pentecost (2:14-36) differs strikingly from Paul’s address to the Athenians at the Areopagus (17:16-33). Different audiences require different approaches.

The Council recognized this and so suggested different ways of communicating the Gospel to people of the “modern world.” Despite its apparent and much vaunted uniqueness, the modern world is rather like the world in other ages: besides Catholics, it is divided into two general categories — Christians separated from the Church on the one hand, and those who do not believe in Christ on the other. We can further divide these two categories. Separated Christians include those who, like the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, are constituted in true, particular Churches with valid apostolic succession and sacraments, and the Protestants whose ecclesial bodies lack these characteristics and do not form true Churches. The non-Christians are divided into religious believers (such as Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and the various polytheists and animists) and those who have no religion or belief in God.

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