Remembering Pierre Haubtmann, redactor of Gaudium et Spes

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the tragic death of Pierre Haubtmann, the co-author, compiler and editor of the final, definitive version of the Vatican II Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today, Gaudium et Spes.

Originally from Saint Etienne in the south of France, Haubtmann studied at the French Seminary and the Gregorian University in Rome before being ordained in 1936 for the Diocese of Grenoble.

I don’t know what drew him to Grenoble but there he must have encountered Fr Emile Guerry, the priest who had founded the JOC as well as the Jeunesse Agricole Chrétienne (JAC) for the diocese and become a great promoter of Specialised Catholic Action. Indeed, it was in 1936 that Guerry published his book Action Catholique, a compilation of pontifical texts relevant to that field.

A JOC and ACO chaplain

Haubtmann had evidently showed great intellectual promise in his time in Rome and was sent to Paris in 1937 to study social sciences at the Institut catholique of Paris. He soon became chaplain to a local JOCF team at his local parish of Meudon.

When World War II broke out, he was called to serve in the military and he became a prisoner of war for a short time before being released back home in occupied France.

Upon his return he began to work with adult worker groups from the Ligue Ouvrière Chrétienne and later the Action Catholique Ouvrière (ACO) of which he became national chaplain from 1954-62. During some of this period, he lived at the JOC chaplains’ residence in Paris, with French JOC founding chaplain, Georges Guérin.

Meanwhile, he continued his academic studies, focusing particularly on the 19th century philosopher, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

Redactor of Gaudium et Spes

When Vatican II opened in October 1962, the French bishops appointed Haubtmann as their media person. Soon after, he was also appointed as a peritus, or expert, to the Council, assisting in the drafting of Schema XIII, the future Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today, Gaudium et Spes.

In October 1964, he was placed in charge of compiling and editing what would become the final definitive version of Gaudium et Spes.

“With respect to each question, we begin with facts (previously ‘signs of the times’); we judge them; and we derive various pastoral orientations,” Haubtmann wrote. “This method was explicitly desired by the competent bodies; it manifestly corresponds to the will of the overwhelming majority of the Fathers.”

Thus, Part II of Gaudium et Spes comprised five chapters on marriage and family, culture, economic and social life, political community and finally peace and the community of nations, each of which is drafted as a see-judge-act.

The Three Truths

Yet there is also another overlooked aspect of Gaudium et Spes, which is also constructed as a Proudhonian real-ideal dialectic. For Proudhon, the gap that existed between the conditions of the real world and one’s ideals could never be resolved by a once off revolution. What was needed was a permanent method in which each generation would seek to reconcile the real and the ideal.

Similarly, Cardijn’s famous Three Truths dialectic is also a Proudhonian dialectic in which the Truth of Method (see-judge-act, educate-serve-represent) overcomes the contradiction between the Truth of Reality (oppression and suffering in the world) and the (Christian) Truth of Faith (the human and divine dignity, mission and destiny of each worker). As a Jocist chaplain and a Proudhon expert, Haubtmann was highly aware of this.

We can thus read Gaudium et Spes as a Proudhonian Three Truths dialectic structured as follows:

Real/Truth of Reality/Experience

It begins with the Introductory section on “The situation of people in the world today” which contrasts the abundance of wealth in the world with the suffering and even slavery of many people in the world.

Ideal/Truth of Faith

This is followed by Part I on The Church and Man’s Calling, beginning with Chapter 1 on The Dignity of the Human Person, Chapter 2 on the Human Community, Chapter 3, Man’s Vocation in the World and Chapter 4, The role of the Church.

Method/Truth of Method

Finally, as mentioned above, Part II of Gaudium et Spes consists of five separate see-judge-act chapters, illustrating the “method” of how to reconcile the contradiction between the reality revealed in the Introduction and the Christian ideal revealed in Part I on The Church and Man’s Calling.

But why then is the Introductory section on the situation of people in the world not Part I? The answer is that it was a compromise by the drafters with those bishops who felt that a conciliar document should focus on “doctrine” rather than reality. Nevertheless, once we become aware of the real-ideal-method structure of the Proudhonian dialectic we can readily see how Gaudium et Spes retains this underlying structure.

Remembering Pierre Haubtmann

After the Council, Haubtmann found himself appointed in 1996 as rector of the Catholic Institute of Paris with the role of implementing the conciliar reforms.

He faced fierce opposition to the changes he sought to introduce. Sadly, he did not live to see the fruits of his work, dying tragically in a bushwalking accident on 6 September 1971.

The Australian Cardijn Institute honours his memory with a special webinar on 6 September 2021. Speaker will be Haubtmann’s successor at the Catholic Institute of Paris, Mgr Philippe Bordeyne. Respondent will be Clara Geoghegan, executive secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

See also my video and presentation below.

Stefan Gigacz


Remembering Pierre Haubtmann, redactor of Gaudium et Spes, 6 September 2021 (Australian Cardijn Institute) (Registration required)


Stefan Gigacz, The Three Truths in Gaudium et Spes, in The Leaven in the Council, Joseph Cardijn and the Jocist Network at Vatican II

Philippe Bordeyne, Mgr Pierre Haubtmann (1912-1971) : un théologien de la communication de la foi, Transversalités, 2010/4 (N° 116), pages 127-149. (French)

Stefan Gigacz, Pierre Haubtmann and the drafting of Gaudium et Spes (Presentation)

Stefan Gigacz, Pierre Haubtmann and the drafting of Gaudium et Spes (YouTube)

Pierre Haubtmann (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)