of the BODY
1. [§24] Christ Appeals to Man’s Heart (16 Apr.`80)
(16 April, 1980) [ »Table of Cont.]
The form, the “ethos” of human morality
During the General Audience in St. Peter’s Square on 16 April the Holy Father gave the following address which is the first of a series of talks on the analysis of the text of Mt 5:27-28.
1. As the subject of our future reflections - at the Wednesday meetings - I wish to develop the following statement of Christ, which is part of the Sermon on the Mount. You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall not commit adultery,’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27-28).
This passage seems to have a keying for the theology of the body, like the one in which Christ referred to the “beginning,” and which served as the basis of the preceding analyses. We were then able to realize how wide was the context of a sentence, or rather of a word, uttered by Christ. It was a question not only of the immediate context, which emerged in the course of the conversation with the Pharisees, but of the global context, which we cannot penetrate without going back to the first chapters of the Book of Genesis (omitting what refers there to the other books of the Old Testament). The preceding analyses have shown how extensive is the content that Christ’s reference to the ‘beginning” involves.
The statement, to which we are referring, that is Mt 5:27-28, will certainly introduce us - not only to the immediate context in which it appears - but also to its wider text, the global context, through which the key meaning of the theology of the body will be revealed to us. This statement is one of the passages of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus Christ makes fundamental revision of the way of understanding and carrying out the moral law of the Old Covenant. It refers, in order, to the following commandments of the Decalogue: the fifth, “you shall not kill” (cf. Mt 5:21-26), the sixth, “You shall not commit adultery” (cf. Mt 5:27-32) - it is significant that at the end of this passage there also appears the question of the “certificate of divorce” (cf. Mt 5:31-32), already mentioned in the preceding chapter - and the eighth commandment according to the text of Exodus (cf. Ex 20:7): “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn” (cf. Mt 5:33-37).
Significant, above all, are the words that precede these articles - and the following ones-of the Sermon on the Mount, the words in which Jesus declares: “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets, I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mt 5:17). In the sentences that follow, Jesus explains the meaning of this opposition and the necessity of the “fulfillment” of the Law in order to realize the kingdom of God: “Whoever . . . does them (these commandments) and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:19). “The kingdom of heaven” means the kingdom of God in the eschatological dimension.
The fulfillment of the Law conditions, fundamentally, this kingdom in the temporal dimension of human existence. It is a question, however, of a fulfillment that fully corresponds to the meaning of the Law, of the Decalogue, of the individual commandments. Only this fulfillment constructs that justice that God the Legislator willed. Christ the Teacher urges us not to give such a human interpretation of the whole Law and the individual commandments contained in it that it does not construct the justice willed by God the Legislator: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20).
2. In this context there appears Christ’s statement according to Mt 5:27-28, which we intend to take as the basis for the present analyses, considering it, together with the other statement according to Mt 19:3-9 (and Mk 10), as the key to the theology of the body. Like the other one, this one has an explicitly normative character. It confirms the principle of human morality contained in the commandment “you shall not commit adultery,” and, at the same time, it determines an appropriate and full understanding of this principle, that is, an understanding of the foundation and at the same time of the condition for its adequate “fulfillment.” The latter is to be considered precisely in the light of the words of Mt 5:17-20, already quoted before, to which we have just drawn attention.
It is a question here, on the one hand, of adhering to the meaning that God the Legislator enclosed in the commandment “you shall not commit adultery,” and, on the other hand, of carrying out that “justice” on the part of man, a justice that must “superabound” in man himself, that is, it must reach its specific fullness in him. These are, so to speak, the two aspects of “fulfillment” in the evangelical sense.
3. We find ourselves in this way at the heart of ethos, that is, in what can be defined the interior form, almost the soul, of human morality. Contemporary thinkers (e.g. Scheler) see in the Sermon on the Mount a great turning-point in the field of ethos (1). A living morality, in the existential sense, is not formed only by the norms that invest the form of the commandments, precepts and prohibitions, as in the case of “you shall not commit adultery.” The morality in which there is realized the very meaning of being a man - which is, at the same time, the fulfillment of the Law by means of the “superabounding” of justice through subjective vitality - is formed in the interior perception of values, from which there springs duty as the expression of conscience, as the response of one’s own personal “ego.” At the same time ethos makes us enter the depth of the norm itself and descend within the man-subject of morality. Moral value is connected with the dynamic process of man’s intimacy. To reach it, it is not enough to stop “at the surface” of human actions. it is necessary to penetrate inside.
4 In addition to the commandment “you shall not commit adultery,” the Decalogue has also “you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (2). In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ connects them with each other, in a way: “Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” However, it is not a question so much of distinguishing the scope of those two commandments of the Decalogue as of pointing out the dimension of the interior action, referred to also in the words, “you shall not commit adultery.”
This action finds its visible expression in the “act of the body,” an act in which the man and the woman participate against the law of matrimonial exclusiveness. The casuistry of the books of the Old Testament, which aimed at investigating what, according to exterior criteria, constituted this “act of the body” and was, at the same time, directed at combating adultery, opened to the latter various legal “loopholes” (3). In this way, on the basis of the multiple compromises “for hardness of heart” (Mt 19:8), the meaning of the commandment, willed by the Legislator, underwent a distortion. People kept to legalistic observance of the formula, which did not “superabound” in the interior justice of hearts.
Christ shifts the essence of the problem to another dimension, when he says: “Every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (According to ancient translations: “has already made her an adulteress in his heart,” a formula which seems to be more exact) (4).
In this way, therefore, Christ appeals to the interior man. He does so several times and under different circumstances. In this case it seems particularly explicit and eloquent, not only with regard to the configuration of evangelical ethos, but also with regard to the way of viewing man. It is not only the ethical reason, therefore, but also the anthropological one, that makes it advisable to dwell at greater length on the text of Mt 5:27-28, which contains the words spoken by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount.
Ethical and Anthropological Content of
the Commandment: “You Shall Not Commit Adultery”
(23 April, 1980)
1. Let us recall the words of the Sermon on the Mount, to which we are referring in this cycle of our Wednesday reflections: “You have heard - the Lord says - that it was said: ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ but I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27-28).
The man, to whom Jesus refers here, is precisely “historical” man, the one whose “beginning” and “theological prehistory” we traced in the preceding series of analyses. Directly, it is the one who hears with his own ears the Sermon on the Mount. But together with him, there i also every other man, set before that moment of history, both in the immense space of the past, and in the equally vast one of the future. To this “future,” confronted with the Sermon on the Mount, there belongs also our present, our contemporary age.
This man is, in a way, “every” man, “each” of us. Both the man of the past and also the man of the future can be the one who knows the positive commandment, “you shall not commit adultery,” as “contained in the Law” (cf. Rom 2:22-23), but he can equally be the one who, according to the letter to the Romans, has this command only “written on his heart” (cf. Rom 2:15). (1) In the light of the previous reflections, he is the man who from his “beginning” has acquired a precise sense of the meaning of the body, already before crossing “the threshold” of his historical experience, in the very mystery of creation, since he emerged from it as “male and female” (Gen 1:27), He is the historical man, who, at the “beginning” of his earthly vicissitudes, found himself “inside” the knowledge of good and evil, breaking the Covenant with his Creator. He is the male-man, who “knew” (the woman) his” wife” and “knew” her several times, and “she conceived and bore” (cf. Gen 4:1-2) according to the Creator’s plan, which went back to the state of original innocence (cf. Gen 1:28; 2:24).
2. In his Sermon on the Mount, particularly in the words of Mt 5:27-28, Christ addresses precisely that man. He addresses the man of a given moment of history and, at the same time, all men, belonging to the same human history. He addresses, as we have already seen, the “interior” man. Christ’s words have an explicit anthropological content; they concern those perennial meanings, through which an “adequate” anthropology is constituted.
These words, by means of their ethical content, simultaneously constitute such an anthropology, and demand, so to speak, that man should enter into his full image. The man who is “flesh”, and who as a male remains in relationship, through his body and sex, with woman (also the expression “you shalt not commit adultery” indicates this, in fact), must, in the light of these words of Christ, find himself again interiorly, in his “heart.” (2) The “heart” is this dimension of humanity with which the sense of the meaning of the human body, and the order of this sense, is directly linked. It is a question, here, both of the meaning which, in preceding analyses, we called “nuptial,” and of that which we denominate “generative.” And of what order are we treating?
3. This part of our considerations must give an answer precisely to this question - an answer that reaches not only the ethical reasons, but also the anthropological; they remain, in fact, in a mutual relationship. For the time being, preliminarily, it is necessary to establish the meaning of the text of Mt 5:27-28, the meaning of the expressions used in it and their mutual relationship.
Adultery, to which the aforesaid commandment refers, means a breach of the unity, by means of which man and woman only as husband and wife, can unite so closely as to be “one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Man commits adultery if he unites in this way with a woman who is not his wife. The woman likewise commits adultery if she unites in this way with a man who is not her husband. It must be deduced from this that the “adultery in the heart,” committed by the man when he “looks at a woman lustfully,” means a quite definite interior act. It is a question of a desire directed, this case, by the man towards a woman who is not his wife in order to unite with her as if she were, that is - using once more the words of Gen 2:4 - in such a way that “they become one flesh.” This desire, as an interior act, is expressed by means of the sense of sight, that is, with looks, as in the ease of David and Bathsheba, to use an example taken from the Bible (cf. 2 Sam 11:2). The connection of lust with the sense of sight has been highlighted particularly in Christ’s words.
4. These words do not say clearly whether the woman - the object of lust - is the wife of another or whether simply she is not the wife of the man who looks at her in this way. She may be the wife of another, or even not bound by marriage. It is necessary rather to intuit it, on the basis particularly of the expression which, precisely, defines as adultery what man has committed “in his heart” with his look. It must be correctly deduced that this lustful look, if addressed to his own wife, is not adultery “in his heart,” precisely because the man’s interior act refers to the woman who is his wife, with regard to whom adultery cannot take place. If the conjugal act as an exterior act, in which “they become one flesh,” is lawful in the relationship of the man in question with the woman ‘who is his wife, in like manner also the interior act in the same relationship is in conformity with morality.
Nevertheless, that desire, indicated by the expression “every one who looks at a woman lustfully,” has a biblical and theological dimension of its own, which we cannot but clarify here. Even if this dimension is not manifested directly in this one concrete expression of Mt 5:27-28, it is, however, deeply rooted in the global context, which refers to the revelation of the body. We must go back to this context, in order that Christ’s appeal “to the heart,” to the interior man, may ring out in all the fullness of its truth.
The statement of the Sermon on the Mount quoted (Mt 5:27-28) has fundamentally an indicative character. The fact that Christ directly addresses man as the one “who looks at a woman lustfully,” does not mean that his words, in their ethical meaning, do not refer also to woman. Christ expresses himself in this way to illustrate with a concrete example how “the fulfillment of the Law” must be understood, according to the meaning that God the Legislator gave to it, and furthermore how that superabounding of justice” in the man who observes the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, must be understood.
Speaking in this way, Christ wants us, not to dwell on the example in itself, but also to penetrate the full ethical and anthropological meaning of the statement. If it has an indicative character, this means that, following its traces, we can arrive at understanding the general truth about “historic” man, which is valid also for the theology of the body. The further stages of our reflections will have the purpose of bringing us closer to understanding this truth.
Is the Fruit of the Breach of the
Covenant with God
(30 April, 1980)
1. During our last reflection, we said that the words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount are in direct reference to the “Lust” that arises immediately in the human heart; indirectly, however, those words guide us to understanding of a truth about man, which is of universal importance.
This truth about “historical” man, of universal importance, towards which the words of Christ, taken from Mt 5: 27-28, direct us, seems to be expressed in the biblical doctrine on the three forms of lust. We are referring here to the concise statement in the first Letter of St. John 2: 16-17: For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever.”
It is obvious that to understand these words, it is necessary to take into careful consideration the context in which they appear, that is, the context of the whole “Johannine theology” (1). However, the same words are inserted, at the same time, in the context of the whole Bible: they belong to the whole revealed truth about man, and are important for the theology of the body. They do not explain lust itself in its threefold form, since they seem to assume that “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life,” are, in some way, a clear and known concept. They explain, however, the genesis of lust in its threefold form, indicating its origin which is “not of the Father,” but “of the world.”
2. The lust of the flesh and, together with it, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is “in the world” and at the same time “is of the world,” not as the fruit of the mystery of creation, but as the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (cf. Gen 2:17) in man’s heart. What fructifies in the three forms of lust is not the “world” created by God for man, the fundamental “goodness” of which we have read several times in Gen 1: “God saw that it was good . . . it was very good.” In the three forms of lust there fructifies, on the contrary, the breaking of the first covenant with the Creator, with God-Elohim, with God-Yahweh. This covenant was broken in man’s heart. It would be necessary to make here a careful analysis of the events described in Gen 3:1-6. However, we are referring only in general to mystery of sin, to the beginnings of human history. In fact, only as consequence of sin, as the fruit of the breaking of the covenant with God in the human heart - in the inner recesses of man - has the “world” of the Book of Genesis become the “world” of the Johannine words (Gen:15-16): the place and source of lust.
In this way, therefore, the statement that lust “is not of the Father but is of the world,” seems to direct us once more, to the biblical “beginning.” The genesis of lust in its three forms, presented by John, finds in this beginning its first and fundamental elucidation, an explanation, which is essential for the theology of the body. To understand that truth of universal importance about “historical” man, contained in Christ’s words during the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28), we must return once more to the Book of Genesis, and linger once more “at the threshold” of the revelation of “historical” man. That is all the more necessary, since this threshold of the history of salvation proves to be at the same time the threshold of authentic human experiences, as we will see in the following analyses. The same fundamental meanings, that we drew from the preceding analyses, will come to life in them again, as essential elements of a fitting anthropology and the deep substratum of the theology of the body.
3. The question may arise again whether it is permissible to transport the content typical of the “Johannine theology,” contained in the whole of the first letter (particularly in I 2:15-16), to the ground of the Sermon on the Mount according to Matthew, and precisely of Christ’s statement in Mt 5:27-28 (“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”). We will come back to this matter several times: nevertheless, we are referring straightaway to the general biblical context, to the whole of the truth about man, revealed and expressed in it. Precisely in the name of this truth, we are trying to understand completely the man that Christ indicates in the text of Mt 5:27-28: that is, the man who looks” at a woman lustfully.”
Is not this look, after all, to be explained by the fact that man is precisely a “man of lust,” in the sense of the first Letter of St. John, in fact that both of them, the man who looks lustfully and the woman who is the object of this look, are in the dimension of lust in its three forms, which “is not of the Father but is of the world”? It is necessary, therefore, to understand what that lust is or rather who is that “lustful man” of the Bible in order to discover the depths of Christ’s words according to Mt 5: 27-28, and to explain the significance of their reference to the human ‘heart,” so important for the theology of the body.
4. Let us return again to the Yahwist narrative, in which the same man, male and female, appears at the beginning as a man of original innocence - before original sin - and then as the one who lost innocence, by breaking the original covenant with his Creator. We do not intend here to make a complete analysis of temptation and sin, according to the same text of Gen 3:1-5, the doctrine of the Church in this connection and theology. It should merely be observed that the biblical description itself seems to highlight particularly the key moment, in which the Gift is questioned in man’s heart. The man who gathers the fruit of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” makes, at the same time, a fundamental choice and carries it out against the will of the Creator, God Yahweh, accepting the motivation suggested by the tempter: “you will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”; according to old translations: “you will be like gods, who know good and evil” (2).
This motivation clearly includes the questioning of the Gift and of the Love, from which creation has its origin as donation. As regards man, he receives the “world” as a gift and at the same time the “image of God” that is, humanity itself in all the truth of its male and female duality. It is enough to read carefully the whole passage of Gen 3:1-5, to detect in it the mystery of man who turns his back on the “Father” (even if we do not find this name applied to God in the narrative). Questioning, in his heart, the deepest meaning of the donation, that is, love as the specific motive of the creation and of the original Covenant (cf. in particular Gen 3:5), man turns his back on God-Love, on “the Father.” In a way he casts Him out of his heart. At the same time, therefore, he detaches his heart and almost cuts it off from what “is of the Father”: thus, there remains in him what “is of the world.”
5. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons” (Gen 3:7). This is the first sentence of the Yahwist narrative, which refers to man’s “situation” after sin and shows the new state of human nature. Does not this sentence also suggest the beginning of “lust” in man’s heart? To answer this question more thoroughly, we cannot stop at that first sentence, but must read again the whole text. However, it is worth recalling here what was said in the first analyses on the subject of shame as the experience “of the limit” (3).
The Book of Genesis refers to this experience to show the “frontier” between the state of original innocence (cf. in particular Gen 2:25, to which we devoted a great deal of attention in the preceding analyses) and man’s sinfulness at the very “beginning.” While Gen 2:25 emphasizes that they “were both naked, and were not ashamed,” Gen 3:6 speaks explicitly of shame in connection with sin. That shame is almost the first source of the manifestation in man - in both man and woman - of what “is not of the Father, but of the world.”
of Original Nakedness
(14 May, 1980) [ »Table of Cont.]
(1) Lust as a lack of acceptance of body with human truth;
(2) Lost right to participate in perception of the world:
1. We have already spoken of those which arose in the heart of the first man, male and female, ether with sin. The first sentence the biblical narrative, in this connection, runs as follows: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons” (Gen 3:7). This passage, which speaks of the mutual shame of the man and the man as a symptom of the fall (status naturae lapsae), must be cornered in its context. At that m t shame reaches its deepest level seems to shake the very foundations of their existence. “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among trees of the garden” (Gen 3:8). The necessity of hiding themselves indicates that in the depths of the shame they both feel before each other, as the immediate fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, there has matured a sense of fear before God: a fear previously unknown. The “Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself’“ (Gen 3:9-10).
A certain fear always belongs to the very essence of shame; nevertheless original shame reveals its character in a particular way: “I was afraid, because I was naked.” We realize that something deeper than physical shame, bound up with a recent consciousness of his own nakedness, is in action here. Man tries to cover with the shame of his own nakedness the real origin of fear, indicating rather its effect, in order not to call its cause by name. It is then that God Yahweh says in his turn: “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Gen 3:11).
2. The precision of that dialogue overwhelming, the precision of the whole narrative is overwhelming. manifests the surface of man’s emotions in living the events, in such way as to reveal at the same time their depth. In all this, “nakedness” not solely a literal meaning, it does not refer only to the body, is not the origin of a shame related only to the body. Actually, through nakedness”, there is manifested deprived of participation in the Gift, man alienated from that Love which had been the source of the original gift, the source of the fullness of the good intended for the creature.
This man, according to the for-alas of the theological teaching of Church (1), was deprived of supernatural and preternatural which were part of his “endowment” before sin. Furthermore, he suffered a loss in what belongs to his nature itself, to humanity in the original fullness “of the image of God”. The three forms of lust do not correspond to the fullness of that image, but precisely to the loss, the deficiencies, the limitations that appeared with sin..
Lust is explained as a lack, which, however, has its roots in the original depth of the human spirit. If we wish to study this phenomenon in its origins, that is, at the threshold of the experiences of “historical” man, we must take into consideration all the words that God Yahweh addressed to the woman (Gen 3:16) and to the man (Gen 3:17-19), and furthermore we must examine the state of their consciousness; and it is the Yahwist text that expressly enables us to do so. We have already called attention before to the literary specificity of the text in this.
3. What state of consciousness can be manifested in the words: “1 was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself”? To what interior truth do they correspond? To what meaning of the body do they testify? Certainly this new state differs a great deal from the original one. The words of Gen 3:10 bear witness directly to a radical change of the meaning of original nakedness. In the state of original innocence, nakedness, as we pointed out previously, did not express a lack, but represented full acceptance of the body in all its human and therefore personal truth.
The body, as the expression of the person, was the first sign of man’s presence in the visible world. In that world, man was able, right from the beginning, to distinguish himself, almost to be individualized - that is, confirm himself as a person - also through his own body. In fact, it had been marked, so to speak, as a visible factor of the transcendence in virtue of which man, as a person, surpasses the visible world of living beings (animalia). in this sense, the human body was from the beginning a faithful witness and a tangible verification of man’s original “solitude” in the world, becoming at the same time, by means of his masculinity and femininity, a limpid element of mutual donation in the communion of persons.
In this way, the human body bore in itself, in the mystery of creation, an unquestionable sign of the “image of God” and constituted also the specific source of the certainty of that image, present in the whole human being. Original acceptance of the body was, in a way, the basis of the acceptance of the whole visible world. And in its turn it was for man a guarantee of his dominion over the world, over the earth, which he was to subdue (cf. Gen 1:28).
Primordial Loss of Theoria Physike - true vision of world
4. The words “I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (Gen 3:10), bear witness to a radical change in this relationship. Man loses, in a way, the original certainty of the “image of God”, expressed in his body. He also loses to some extent the sense of his right to participate in the perception of the world, which he enjoyed in the mystery of creation. This right had its foundation in man’s inner self, in the fact that he himself participated in the divine vision of the world and of his own humanity; which gave him deep peace and joy in living the truth and value of his own body, in all its simplicity, transmitted to him by the Creator: “God saw (that) it was very good” (Gen 1:31).
The words of Gen 3:10: ‘I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself”,  confirm the collapse of the original acceptance of the body as a sign of the person in the visible world.  At the same time. the acceptance of the material world in relation to man, also seems to be shaken. The words of God Yahweh are a forewarning, in a way, of the hostility of the world, the resistance of nature with regard to man and his tasks, they are a forewarning of the fatigue that the human body was to feel in contact with the earth subdued by him: “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you: and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken” (Gen 3:17-19). The end of this toil, of this struggle of man with the earth, is death: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19).
Gardener / Steward becomes subject to [unsubdued] world
In this context, or rather in this perspective, Adam’s words in Gen 3:10: ‘l was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself”, seem to express the awareness of being defenseless, and the sense of insecurity of his bodily structure before the processes of nature, operating with inevitable determinism. Perhaps, in this overwhelming statement there is implicit a certain cosmic shame”, in which the being created in ‘the image of God” and called to subdue the earth and dominate it (cf. Gen 1:28) expresses himself precisely when, at the beginning of his historical experiences and in a manner so explicit he is subjected to the earth, particularly in the “part” of his transcendent constitution represented precisely by the body.
It is necessary to interrupt here our reflections on the meaning of original shame, in the Book of Genesis. We will resume them in a week’s time.
in All Human Existence
(28 May, 1980) [ »Table of Cont.]
1. We are reading again the first chapters of the Book of Genesis, to understand how - with original sin - the “man of lust” took the place of the “man of original innocence”. The words of Genesis 3:10: “I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself”, which we considered two weeks ago, provide evidence of the first experience of man’s shame with regard to his Creator: a shame that could also be called “cosmic”.
However, this “cosmic shame “ - if is possible to perceive its features man’s total situation after original sin - makes way in the biblical text for another form of shame. It is the shame produced in humanity itself caused by the deep disorder in that on account of which man, the mystery of creation, was ‘God’s image”, both in his personal ego and in the interpersonal relationship, through the original communion of persons, constituted by the man and the woman together.
That shame, the cause of which is in humanity itself, is at once immanent and relative: it is manifested in the dimension of human interiority and at the same time refers to the “other”. This is the woman’s shame “with regard to” the man, and also the man’s “with regard to” the woman: mutual shame, which obliges them to cover their own nakedness, to hide their own bodies. to remove from the man’s sight what is the visible sign of femininity, and from the woman’s sight what is the visible sign of masculinity.
The shame of both was turned in this direction after original sin, when they realized they “were naked”, as Genesis 3:7 bears witness. The Yahwist text seems to indicate explicitly the “sexual” character of this shame: “they sewed fig leaves together arid made themselves aprons”. However, we may wonder if the “sexual” aspect has only a “relative” character; in other words: if it is a question of shame of one’s own sexuality only in reference to a person of the other sex.
2 Although in the light of that Lone decisive sentence of Genesis 3:7, the answer to the question seems support particularly the relative character of original shame, nevertheless reflection on the whole immediate context makes it possible to discover its more immanent background. That shame, which is certainly manifested in the “sexual” order, reveals a specific difficulty of perceiving the human essentially of one’s own body: a difficulty which man had not experienced in the state of original innocence. In this way, in fact, the words: “I was afraid, because I was naked”, can be understood; they show clearly the consequences of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in man’s heart.
Through these words there is revealed a certain constitutive break within the human person, almost a rupture of man’s original spiritual arid somatic unity. He realizes for the first time that his body has ceased drawing upon the power of the spirit, which raised him to the level of the image of God. His original shame bears within it the signs of a specific humiliation mediated by the body. There is concealed in it the germ of that contradiction, which will accompany “historical” man in his whole earthly path, as St. Paul writes: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind” (Rom 7:22-23).
3. In this way, therefore, that shame is immanent. It contains such a cognitive acuteness as to create a fundamental disquiet in the whole of human existence, not only in face of the prospect of death, but also before that on which there depend the value and dignity them-selves of the person in his ethical significance. In this sense the original shame of the body (“I am naked”) is already fear (“I was afraid”), and announces the uneasiness of conscience connected with lust.
The body, which is not subordinated to the spirit as in the state of original innocence, hears within it a constant center of resistance to the spirit, and threatens in way the unity of the man-person, that is, of the moral nature, which is firmly rooted in the very constitution of the person. Lust, and in particular the lust of the body, is a specific threat to the structure of self-control and self-mastery, through which the human person is formed. And it also constitutes a specific challenge for it. In any case, the man of lust does not control his own body in the same way, with equal simplicity and “naturalness”, as the man of original innocence did. The structure of self-mastery, essential for the person, is, in a way, shaken to the very foundations in him; he again identifies himself with it in that he is continually ready to win it.
4. Immanent shame is connected with this interior imbalance. It has a “sexual” character, because the very sphere of human sexuality seems to highlight particularly that imbalance, which springs from lust and especially from the “lust of the body”. from this point of view, that first impulse, of which Genesis 3:7 speaks (“they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons”) is very eloquent; it is as if the “man of lust” (man and woman “in the act of knowledge of good and evil”) felt that he had just stopped, also through his own body and sex, being above the world of living beings or “animalia”. It is as if he felt a specific break of the personal integrity of his own body, particularly in what determines its sexuality and is directly connected with the call to that unity, in which man and woman “become one flesh (Gen 2:24).
Therefore, that immanent and at the same time sexual shame is always, at least indirectly, relative. It is the shame of his own sexuality “with regard” to the other human being. In this way shame is manifested in the narrative of Genesis 3, as a result of which we are, in a certain sense, witnesses of the birth of human lust. Also the motivation to get back from Christ’s words about man (male), who “looks at a woman lustfully” (Mt 5:27-28), to that first moment in which shame is explained by means of lust, and lust by means of shame, is therefore sufficiently clear. In this way we understand better why - and in what sense - Christ speaks of desire as “adultery” committed in the heart, because he addresses the human “heart”.
5. The human heart keeps within it simultaneously desire and shame. The birth of shame directs us towards that moment in which the inner man, “the heart”, closing himself to what “comes from the Father”, opens to what “comes from the world”. The birth of shame in the human heart keeps pace with the beginning of lust-of the three-fold concupiscence according to Johannine theology (cf. 1 Jn 2:16), and in particular the concupiscence of the body.
Man is ashamed of his body because of lust. In fact, he is ashamed not so much of his body as precisely of lust: he is ashamed of his body owing to lust. He is ashamed of his body owing to that state of his spirit to which theology and psychology give the same synonimic denomination: desire or lust, although with a meaning that is not quite the same.
The biblical and theological meaning of desire and lust is different from that used in psychology. For the latter, desire comes from lack or necessity, which the value desired must satisfy. Biblical lust, as we can deduce from 1 Jn 2:16, indicates the state of the human spirit removed from the original simplicity and the fullness of values that man and the world possess “in the dimensions of God”. Precisely this simplicity and fullness of the value of the human body in the first experience of its masculinity-femininity, of which Genesis 2:23-25 speaks, has subsequently undergone, “in the dimensions of the world”, a radical transformation. And then, together with the lust of the body, shame was born.
6. Shame has a double meaning: it indicates the threat to the value and at the same time preserves this value interiorly. (1) The fact that the human heart, from the moment when the lust of the body was born in it keeps also shame within itself, indicates that it is possible and necessary to appeal to it when it is a question of guaranteeing those values from which lust takes away their original and full dimension. If we keep that in mind, we are able to understand better why Christ, speaking of lust, appeals to the human “heart”.
to the Communion of Persons
( 4 June, 1980) [ »Table of Cont.]
Original Sin manifests as breakdown in the ability to:
Speaking of the birth of man’s lust, on the basis of the Book of Genesis, we analyzed the original meaning of shame, which appeared with the first sin. The analysis of shame, in the light of the biblical narrative, enables us to understand even more thoroughly the meaning it has for interpersonal man-woman relations as a whole. The third chapter of Genesis shows without any doubt that that shame appeared in man’s mutual relationship with woman and that this relationship, by reason of the very shame itself, underwent a radical transformation. Since it was born in their hearts together with the lust of the body, the analysis of original shame enables us at the same time to examine in what relationship this lust remains with regard to the communion of persons, which was granted and assigned from the beginning as the man and woman’s task owing to the fact that they had been created “in the image of God”. Therefore, the further stage of the study of lust, which had been manifested “at the beginning” through the man and woman’s shame, according to Genesis 3, is the analysis of the insatiability of the union, that is, of the communion of persons, which was to be expressed also by their bodies, according to their specific masculinity and femininity.
2. Above all, therefore, this shame which, according to the biblical narrative, induces man and woman to hide from each other their bodies and particularly their sexual differentiation, confirms that the original capacity of communicating themselves to each other, of which Genesis 2:25 speaks, has been shattered. The radical change of the meaning of original nakedness leads us to presume negative changes in the whole interpersonal man-woman relationship. That mutual communion in humanity itself by means of the body and by means of its masculinity and femininity, which resounded so strongly in the preceding passage of the Yahwist narrative (cf. Gen 2: 23-25), is upset at this moment: as if the body, in its masculinity and femininity, no longer constituted the “trustworthy” substratum of the communion of persons, as if its original function were “called in question” in the consciousness of man and woman.
The simplicity and ‘purity” of the original experience, which facilitated an extraordinary fullness in the mutual communication of each other, disappear. Obviously, our first progenitors did not stop communicating with each other through the body and its movements, gestures and expressions; but the simple and direct communion with each other, connected with the original experience of reciprocal nakedness, disappeared. Almost unexpectedly, there appeared in their consciousness an insuperable threshold, which limited the original “giving of oneself” to the other, in full confidence in what constituted their own identity and, at the same time, their diversity, female on the one side, male on the other. The diversity, that is, the difference of the male sex and the female sex, was suddenly felt and understood as an element of mutual confrontation of persons. This is testified by the concise expression of Genesis 3:7, “They knew that they were naked”, and by its immediate context. All that is part also of the analysis of the first shame. The book of Genesis not only portrays its origin in the human being, but makes it possible also to reveal its degrees in both, man and woman.
Sex as one kind of interpersonal communion,
3. The ending of the capacity of a full mutual communion, which is manifested as sexual shame, enables us to understand better the original value of the unifying meaning of the body. It is not possible, in fact, to understand otherwise that respective closure to each other, or shame, unless in relation to the meaning that the body; in its femininity and masculinity, had for man previously, in the state of original innocence. That unifying meaning is understood not only with regard to the unity that man and woman, as spouses, were to constitute, becoming one flesh” (Gen 2:24) through the conjugal act, but also in reference to the communion of persons” itself, which had been the specific dimension of man and woman’s existence in the mystery of creation. The body in its masculinity and femininity constituted the peculiar “sub-stratum” of this personal communion. Sexual shame, with which Genesis 3:7 deals, bears witness to the loss of the original certainty that the human body, through its masculinity and femininity, is precisely that “substratum” of the communion of persons, that expresses it “simply”, that it serves the purpose of realizing it (and thus also of completing the “image of God” in the visible world).
This state of consciousness in both has strong repercussions in the further context of Genesis 3, with which we shall deal shortly. If man, after original sin, had lost, so to speak, the sense of the image of God in himself, that loss was manifested with shame of the body (cf. particularly Gen 3:10-11). That shame, encroaching upon the man-woman relationship in its totality, was manifested with the imbalance of the original meaning of corporeal unity, that is, of the body as the peculiar “substratum” of the communion of persons. As if the personal profile of masculinity and femininity, which, before, highlighted the meaning of the body for a full communion of persons, had made way only for the sensation of “sexuality” with regard to the other human being. And as if sexuality became an “obstacle” in the personal relationship of man and woman. Concealing it from each other, according to Genesis 3:7, they both express it almost instinctively.
4. This is, at the same time, the “second” discovery of sex, as it were, which in the biblical narrative differs radically from the first one. The whole context of the narrative confirms that this new discovery distinguishes “historical” man with his lust (with the three forms of lust, in fact) from man of original innocence. What is the relationship of lust, and in particular the lust of the flesh, with regard to the communion of persons mediated by the body, by its masculinity and femininity, that is, to the communion assigned, “from the beginning” to man by the Creator? This is the question that must be posed, precisely with regard “to the beginning’, about the experience of shame, to which the biblical narrative refers.
Shame, as we have already observed, is manifested in the narrative of Genesis 3 as a symptom of man’s detachment from the love in which he participated in the mystery of creation according to the Johannine expression: the love that “comes from the Father”. “The love that is in the world”, that is, lust, brings with it an almost constitutive difficulty of identification with one’s own body: and not only in the sphere of one’s own subjectivity, but even more with regard to the subjectivity of the other human being: of woman for man, of man for woman.
5. Hence the necessity of hiding before the “other” with one’s own body, with what determines one’s own femininity-masculinity. This necessity proves the fundamental lack of trust, which in itself indicates the collapse of the original relationship “of communion”. Precisely regard for the subjectivity of the other, and at the same time for one’s own subjectivity, has aroused in this new situation, that is, in the context of lust, the necessity of hiding oneself, of which Genesis 3:7 speaks.
Precisely here it seems to us that we can discover a deeper meaning of “sexual” shame and also the full meaning of that phenomenon, to which the biblical text refers, to point out the boundary between the man of original innocence and the “historical” man of lust. The complete text of Genesis 3 supplies us with elements to define the deepest dimension of shame; but that calls for a separate analysis. We will begin it in the next reflection.
over the Other in the
(18 June, 1980)
1. The phenomenon of shame, which appeared in the first man together with original sin, is described with surprising precision in Genesis 3. Careful reflection on this text enables us to deduce from it that shame, which took the place of the absolute trust connected with the previous state of original innocence in the mutual relationship between man and woman, has a deeper dimension. In this connection it is necessary to reread chapter 3 of Genesis to the end, and not limit ourselves to verse 7 or the text of verses 10-11, which contain the testimony about the first experience of shame. After this narrative, the dialogue of God-Yahweh with the man and the woman breaks off and a monologue begins. Yahweh turns to the woman and speaks first of the pain of childbirth, which will accompany her from now on:
“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children . . . “ (Gen 3:16).
That is followed by the expression which characterizes the future relationship of both, of the man and the woman: “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you (Gen 3:16).
2 These words, like those of Genesis 2 24, have a perspective character The incisive formulation of 3 16 seems to regard the facts as a whole which have already emerged in a way in the original experience of shame, and which will subsequently be manifested in the whole interior experience of “historical” man The history of consciences and of human hearts will contain the continual confirmation of the words contained in Genesis 3:16. The words spoken at the beginning seem to refer to a particular “disability” of woman as compared with man. But there is no reason to understand it as a social disability or inequality. The expression: “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” immediately indicate, on the other hand, another form of inequality. which woman will feel as a lack of full unity precisely in the vast context of union with man, to which both were called according to Genesis 2:24.
3. The words of God-Yahweh: “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you (Gen 3:16), do not concern exclusively the moment of man and woman’s union, when both unite in such a way as to become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24), but refer to the ample context of relations, also indirect ones, of conjugal union as a whole. For the first time the man is defined here as “husband”. In the whole context of the Yahwist narrative these words mean above all, a violation, a fundamental loss, of the original community-communion of persons. The latter should have made man and woman mutually happy by means of the pursuit of a simple and pure union in humanity, by means of a reciprocal offering of themselves, that is, the experience of the gift of the person expressed with the soul and with the body, with masculinity and femininity (“flesh of my flesh”: Gen 2:23), and finally by means of the subordination of this union to the blessing of fertility with “procreation.”
4. It seems, therefore, that in the words addressed by God-Yahweh to the woman, there is a deeper echo of the shame, which they both began to experience after the breaking of the original Covenant with God. We find, moreover, a fuller motivation of this shame, in a very discreet way, which is, nevertheless, decipherable and expressive, Genesis 3:16 testifies how that original beatifying conjugal union of persons will be distorted in man’s heart by lust. These words are addressed directly to woman, but they refer to man, or rather to both together.
5. The previous analysis of Genesis 3:7 already showed that in the new situation, after the breaking of the original Covenant with God, the man and the woman found them-selves, instead of united, more divided or even opposed because of their masculinity and femininity. The biblical narrative, stressing the instinctive impulse that had driven them both to cover their bodies, describes at the same time the situation in which man, as male or female-before it was rather male and female-feels more estranged from the body, as from the source of the original union in humanity (“flesh of my flesh”), and more opposed to the other precisely on the basis of the body and sex. This opposition does not destroy or exclude conjugal union, willed by the Creator (cf. Gen 2:24), or its procreative effects; but it confers on the realization of this union another direction, which will be precisely that of the man of lust. Genesis 3:16 speaks precisely of this.
The woman, whose “desire shall be for (her) husband” (cf. Gen 3:16), and the man who responds to this desire, as we read: “shall rule over you,” unquestionably form the same human couple, the same marriage as Genesis 2:24, in fact, the same community of persons; however, they are now something different. They are no longer called only to union and unity, but also threatened by the insatiability of that union and unity, which does not cease to attract man and woman precisely because they are persons, called from eternity to exist “in communion.” In the light of the biblical narrative, sexual shame has its deep meaning, which is connected precisely with the failure to satisfy the aspiration to realize in the “conjugal union of the body” (cf. Gen 2:24) the mutual communion of per-sons.
6. All that seems to confirm, from various aspects, that at the basis of shame, in which “historical” man has became a participant, there is the threefold lust spoken of in the first Letter of John 2:16: not only the lust of the flesh, but also “the lust of the eyes and the pride of life”. Does not the expression regarding “rule” (“he shall rule over you”), of which we read in Genesis 3:16, indicate this last form of lust? Does not the rule “over” the other - of man over woman - change essentially the structure of communion in the interpersonal relationship? Does it not transpose into the dimension of this structure something that makes the human being an object, which can, in a way, be desired by the lust of the eyes?
These are the questions that spring from reflection on the words of God-Yahweh according to Genesis 3:16. Those words. delivered almost on the threshold of human history after original sin, reveal to us not only the exterior situation of man and woman, but enable us also to penetrate into the deep mysteries of their hearts.
Limits the Nuptial Meaning of the
(25 June, 1980)
1. The analysis we made during the preceding reflection was centered on the following words of Genesis 3:16, addressed by God-Yahweh to the first woman after original sin: “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you,” (Gen 3:16). We arrived at the conclusion that these words contain an adequate clarification and a deep interpretation of original shame (cf. Gen 3:7), which became part of man and of woman together with lust. The explanation of this shame is not to be sought in the body itself, in the somatic sexuality of both, but goes back to the deeper changes undergone by the human spirit. Precisely this spirit is particularly aware of how insatiable it is with regard to the mutual unity between man and woman.
This awareness, so to speak, blames the body, and deprives it of the simplicity and purity of the meaning connected with the origin innocence of the human being. In relation to this awareness, shame is a secondary experience. If on the one hand it reveals the moment of lust, at the same time it can protect from the consequences of the three forms of lust. It can even be said that man and woman, through shame, almost remain in the state of original innocence. Continually, in fact, they become aware of the nuptial meaning of the body and aim at preserving it, so to speak, from lust, just as they try to maintain the value of communion, that is, of the union of persons in the “unity of the body.”
2. Genesis 2:24 speaks with discretion but also with clarity of the “union of bodies” in the sense of the authentic union of persons: “A man . . . cleaves to his wife, and hey become one flesh”; and it is seen from the context that this union comes from a choice, since the man “leaves” his father and mother to unite with his wife. Such a union of persons entails that they should become “one flesh.” Starting from this “sacramental” expression, which corresponds to the communion of persons - of the man and the woman - in their original call to conjugal union, we can understand better the specific message of Genesis 3:16; that is, we can establish and, as it were, reconstruct what the imbalance, in fact the peculiar distortion of the original interpersonal relationship of communion, to which the “sacramental” words of Genesis 2:24 refer, consists of.
3. It can therefore be said - studying Genesis 3: 16 - that while on the one hand the “body,” constituted in the unity of the personal subject, does not cease to stimulate the desires of personal union, precisely because of masculinity and femininity (“your desire shall be for your husband”), on the other hand and at the same time lust directs these desires in its own way. That is con-firmed by the expression: “he shall rule over you.”
The lust of the flesh directs these desires, however, to satisfaction of the body, often at the cost of a real and full communion of persons. In this sense, attention should be paid to the way in which semantic accentuations are distributed in the verses of Genesis 3; in fact, although there are few of them, they reveal interior consistency. The man is the one who seems to feel shame of his own body with particular intensity: “I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Gen 3:10). These words emphasize the really metaphysical character of shame. At the same time, the man is the one for whom shame, united with lust, will become an impulse to “dominate” the woman (“he shall rule over you”).
Subsequently, the experience of this domination is manifested more directly in the woman as the insatiable desire for a different union. From the moment when man “dominates” her, the communion of persons - made of the full spiritual union of the two subjects giving themselves to each other - is followed by a different mutual relationship, that is, the relationship of possession of the other as the objet of one’s own desire. If this impulse prevails on the part of the man, the instincts that the woman directs to him, according to the expression of Genesis 3:16, can - and do - assume a similar character. And sometimes, perhaps, they precede the man’s “desire,” or even aim at arousing it and giving it impetus.
4. The text of Genesis 3:16 seems to indicate the man particularly as the one who “desires,” similarly to the text of Mt 5:27-28, which is the starting-point of these meditations. Nevertheless, both the ‘man and the woman have become a “human being” subject to lust. And therefore the lot of both is shame, which with its deep resonance touches the innermost recesses both of the male and of the female personality, even though in a different way. What we learn from Genesis 3 enables us barely to outline this duality, but even the mere references are already very significant. Let us add that, since it is a question of such an archaic text, it is surprisingly eloquent and acute.
5. An adequate analysis of Genesis 3 leads therefore to the conclusion that the three forms of lust, including that of the body, bring with them a limitation of the nuptial meaning of the body itself, in which man and woman participated in the state of original innocence. When we speak of the meaning of the body, we refer in the first place to the full awareness of the human being, but we also include all actual experience of the body in its masculinity and femininity, and , in any case, the constant predisposition to this experience.
The “meaning” of the body is not just something conceptual. We have already drawn attention to this sufficiently in the preceding analyses The “meaning of the body” is at the same time what determines the attitude: it is the way of living the body. It is the measure, which the interior man, that is, that “heart” to which Christ refers in the Sermon on the Mount, applies to the human body with regard to his masculinity/femininity (therefore with regard to his sexuality).
That “meaning” does not change the reality in itself, that which the human body is and does not cease to be in the sexuality that is characteristic of it, independently of the states of our conscience and our experiences. However, this purely objective significance of the body and of sex, outside the system of real and concrete interpersonal relations between man and woman, is in a certain sense “ahistorical.” In the present analysis, on the contrary - in conformity with the biblical sources - we always take man’s historicity into account (also because of the fact that we start from his theological prehistory). It is a question here, obviously, of an interior dimension, which eludes the external criteria of historicity, but which, however, can be considered “historical.” In fact, it is precisely at the basis of all the facts which constitute the history of man-also the history of sin and of salvation-and thus reveal the depth and very root of his historicity.
With Sermon On The Mount
6. When, in this vast context, we speak of lust as limitation, infraction or even distortion of the nuptial meaning of the body, we are referring above all to the preceding analyses regarding the state of original innocence, that is, the theological prehistory of man. At the same time, we have in mind the measure that “historical” man, with his “heart”, applies to his own body in relation to male/female sexuality. This measure is not something exclusively conceptual: it is what determines the attitudes and decides in general the way of living the body.
Certainly, Christ refers to that in his Sermon on the Mount. We are trying here to link up the words taken from Matthew 5:27-28 to the very threshold of man’s theological history, taking them therefore into consideration already in the context of Genesis 3. Lust as limitation, infraction or even distortion of the nuptial meaning of the body, can be ascertained in a particularly clear way (in spite of the concise nature of the biblical narrative) in our first progenitors, Adam and Eve. Thanks to them we have been able to find the nuptial meaning of the body and rediscover what it consists of as a measure of the human “heart,” such as to mold the original form of the communion of persons. If in their personal experience (which the biblical text enables us to follow) that original form has undergone imbalance and distortion - as we have sought to prove through the analysis of shame - also the nuptial meaning of the body, which in the situation of original innocence constituted the measure of the heart of both, of the man and of the woman, must have undergone a distortion. If we succeed in reconstructing in what this distortion consists, we shall also have the answer to our question: that is, what lust of the flesh consists of and what constitutes its theological and at the same time anthropological specific character. It seems that an answer theologically and anthropologically adequate - important as regards the meaning of Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28) - can already be obtained from the context of Genesis 3 and from the whole Yahwist narrative, which previously enabled us to clarify the nuptial meaning of the human body.
Heart - A Battlefield between Love and
(23 July, 1980)
1. The human body in its original masculinity and femininity, according to the mystery of creation - as we know from the analysis of Genesis 2:23-25 - is not only a source of fertility, that is, of procreation, but right “from the beginning” has a nuptial character: that is to say, it is capable of expressing the love with which the man-person becomes a gift, thus fulfilling the deep meaning of his being and his existence. In this peculiarity, the body is the expression of the spirit and is called, in the very mystery of creation, to exist in the communion of persons “in the image of God.” Well, the concupiscence “that comes from the world” - here it is directly a question of the concupiscence of the body - limits and distorts the body’s objective way of existing, of which man has become a participant.
The human “heart” experiences the degree of this limitation or distortion, especially in the sphere of man-woman mutual relations. Precisely in the experience of the “heart” femininity and masculinity, in their mutual relations, no longer seem to be the expression of the spirit which aims at personal communion, and remain only an object of attraction, in a certain sense as happens “in the world” of living beings which, like man, have received the blessing of fertility (cf. Gen 1).
2. This similarity is certainly contained in the work of creation; also Genesis 2 and particularly verse 24 confirms this. However, already in the mystery of creation, that which constituted the “natural”, somatic and sexual substratum of that attraction, fully expressed the call of man and woman to personal communion. After sin, on the contrary, in the new situation of which Genesis 3 speaks, this expression was weakened and dimmed: as if it were lacking in the shaping of mutual relations, or as if it were driven back to another plane.
The natural and somatic substratum of human sexuality was manifested as an almost autogenous force, marked by a certain “coercion of the body,” operating according to its own dynamics, which limits the expression of the spirit and the experience of the exchange of the gift of the person. The words of Genesis 3:15 addressed to the first woman seem to indicate this quite clearly (“your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rile over you”).
3. The human body in its masculinity/femininity has almost lost the capacity of expressing this love, in which the man-person becomes a gift, in conformity with the deepest structure and finality of his personal existence, as we have already observed in preceding analyses. If here we do not formulate this judgment absolutely and add the adverbial expression “almost,” we do so because the dimension of the gift - namely, the capacity of expressing love with which man, by means of femininity or masculinity, becomes a gift for the other - has continued to some extent to permeate and mold the love that is born in the human heart. The nuptial meaning of the body has not become completely suffocated by concupiscence, but only habitually threatened.
The “heart” has become a battlefield between love and lust. The more lust dominates the heart, the less the latter experiences the nuptial meaning of the body, and the less it becomes sensitive to the gift of the person, which, in the mutual relations of n-an and of woman expresses precisely that meaning. Certainly, that “lust” also of which Christ speaks in Matthew 5:27-28, appears in many forms in the human heart: it is not always plain and obvious, sometimes it is concealed, so that it passes itself off as “love,” although it changes its true profile and dims the limpidity of the gift in the mutual relationship of persons. Does this mean that it is our duty to distrust the human heart? No. It only means that we must keep it under control.
4. The image of the concupiscence of the body, which emerges from the present analysis, has a clear reference to the image of the person, with which we connected our preceding reflections on the subject of the nuptial meaning of the body. Man, indeed, as a person is “the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake” and, at the same time, he is the one who “can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself” (1). Lust in general - and the lust of the body in particular attacks precisely this “sincere giving.” It deprives man, it could be said, of the dignity of giving, which is expressed by his body through femininity and masculinity, and in a way it “depersonalizes” man making him an object “for the other.” Instead of being “together with the other” - a subject in unity, in fact in the sacramental unity “of the body” - man becomes an object for man: the female for the male and vice versa. The words of Genesis 3:16 - and, even before, of Genesis 3:7 - bear witness to this. with all the clearness of the contrast, as compared with Genesis 2:23-25.
5. Violating the dimension of the mutual giving of the man and the woman, concupiscence also calls in question the fact that each of them was willed by the Creator “for his own sake.” The subjectivity of the person gives way, in a certain sense, to the objectivity of the body. Owing to the body man an object for man - the female for the male and vice versa. Concupiscence means, so to speak, that the personal relations of man and of woman are unilaterally and reductively linked with the body and sex, in the sense that these relations become almost incapable of accepting the mutual gift of the person. They do not contain or deal with femininity/masculinity according to the full dimension of personal subjectivity, they are not the expression of communion, but they remain unilaterally determined, “by sex.”
6. Concupiscence entails the loss of the interior freedom of the gift. The nuptial meaning of the human body is connected precisely with this freedom. Man can become a gift - that is, the man and the woman can exist in the relationship of mutual self-giving - if each of them controls himself. Concupiscence, which is manifested as a “coercion ‘sui generis’ of the body,” limits interiorly and reduces self-control, and for that reason, makes impossible, in a certain sense, the interior freedom of giving. Together with that, also the beauty that the human body possesses in its male and female aspect, as an expression of the spirit, is obscured. There remains the body as an object of lust and therefore as a “field of appropriation” of the other human being. Concupiscence, in itself, is not capable of promoting union as the communion of persons. By itself, it does not unite, but appropriates. The relationship of the gift is changed into the relationship of appropriation.
At this point, let us interrupt our reflections today. The last problem dealt with here is of such great importance, and is, moreover, so subtle, from the point of view of the difference between authentic love (that is, between the “communion of persons”) and lust, that we shall have to take it up again at our next meeting.
Opposition in the Human Heart between the Spirit and the Body
(30 July, 1980)
1. The reflections we are developing in the present cycle refer to the words which Christ uttered in the Sermon on the Mount on man’s “lust” for woman. In the attempt to proceed with a thorough examination of what characterizes the “man of lust,” we went back again to the Book of Genesis. Here, the situation that came into being in the mutual relationship of man and woman is portrayed with great delicacy. The single sentences of Genesis 3 are very eloquent. The words of God-Yahweh addressed to woman in Genesis 3:16: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you,” seem to reveal, upon a careful analysis, in what way the relationship of mutual giving, which existed between them in the state of original innocence, changed after original sin to a relationship of mutual appropriation. If man in his relationship with woman considers her only as an object to gain possession of and not as a gift, he condemns himself thereby to become also for her only an object of appropriation, and not a gift. It seems that the words of Genesis 3:16 deal with this bilateral relationship, although the only thing they say directly is: “he shall rule over you.” Furthermore, in unilateral appropriation (which indirectly is bilateral) the structure of communion between persons disappears. Both human beings become almost incapable of attaining the interior measure of the heart, directed to the freedom of the giving of oneself and the nuptial meaning of the body, which is intrinsic to it. The words of Genesis 3:16, seem to suggest that it is often at the expense of the woman that this happens, and that in any case she feels it more than man.
2. It is worth turning our attention now to this detail at least. The words of God-Yahweh according to Genesis 3:16: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you”, and those of Christ according to Matthew 5:27-28: “Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully, make it possible to perceive a certain parallelism. Perhaps it is not a question here of the fact that the woman particularly becomes the object of man’s “lust,” but rather that-as we have already stressed previously-” from the beginning” man was to have been the guardian of the reciprocity of donation and its true balance.
The analysis of that “beginning” (Gen 2:23-25) shows precisely man’s responsibility in accepting femininity as a gift and in borrowing it in a mutual, bilateral exchange. To take from woman her own gift by means of concupiscence; is in open contrast with that. Although the maintenance of the balance of the gift seems to have been entrusted to both, a special responsibility rests with man above all, as if it depended more on him whether the balance is maintained or broken or - even if already broken - reestablished.
Certainly, the diversity of roles according to these statements, to which we are referring here as to key-texts, was also dictated by the social marginalization of woman in the conditions of that time (and the Holy Scripture of the Old and the New Testament gives us sufficient proofs of this); nevertheless, it contains a truth, which has its weight independently of specific conditionings due to the customs of that given historical situation.
3. As a consequence of lust, the body becomes almost a “ground” of appropriation of the other person. As is easy to understand, that entails the loss of the nuptial meaning of the body. And together with that also the mutual “belonging” of persons, who, uniting so as to “become one flesh” (Gen 2:24), are called at the same time to belong to each other, acquires another meaning. The particular dimension of the personal union of man and woman through love is expressed in the word “my.” This pronoun, which has always belonged to the language of human love, often recurs in the verses of the Song of Songs and also in other biblical texts (1). It is a pronoun which, in its “material” meaning, denotes a relationship of possession, but in our case indicates personal analogy of this relationship.
The mutual belonging of man and woman, especially when they belong to each other as spouses “in unity of the body,” is formed according to this personal analogy. An analogy - -as is well known-indicates at the same time similarity and also the lack of identity (namely, a substantial dissimilarity). We can speak of persons belonging to each other only if we take such an analogy into consideration. In fact, in its original and specific meaning, belonging presupposes the relationship of the subject to the object: a relationship of possession and ownership. It is a relationship that’s not only objective, but above “material” . . . he belonging of something, and therefore of an object to someone.
4. In the eternal language of human love, the term “my” certainly does not have this meaning. It indicates the reciprocity of the donation, it expresses the equal balance of the gift-precisely this, perhaps, in the first place-namely, that balance of the gift in which the mutual communio personarum is established. And if this is established by means of the mutual gift of masculinity and femininity, there is also preserved in it the nuptial meaning of the body.
In the language of love, in fact, the word “my” seems a radical negation of belonging in the sense in which an object-thing belongs to the subject-person. The analogy preserves its functions until it falls into the meaning set forth above. Triple lust, and in particular the lust of the flesh, takes away from the mutual belonging of man and woman the specific dimension of the personal analogy, in which the term “my” preserves its essential meaning. This essential meaning lies outside the “law of ownership,” outside the meaning of “object of possession”; concupiscence, on the contrary, is directed towards the latter meaning.
From possessing, a further step goes towards “enjoyment”: the object I possess acquires a certain meaning for me since it is at my disposal and I avail myself of it, I use it. It is evident that the personal analogy of belonging is decidedly opposed to this meaning. And this opposition is a sign that what, in the mutual relationship of man and woman, “comes from the Father,” still persists and continues in confrontation with what comes “from the world.” However, concupiscence in itself drives man towards possession of the other as an object, drives him to “enjoyment”, which brings with it the negation of the nuptial meaning of the body. In its essence, disinterested, giving is excluded from selfish “enjoyment.” Do not the words of God-Yahweh addressed to woman in Genesis 3:16, already speak of this?
5. According to the first letter of John 2:16, lust shows above all the state of the human spirit. Also the lust of the flesh bears witness in the first place to the state of the human spirit. It will be opportune to devote a further analysis to this problem. Applying Johannine theology to the field of the experiences described in Genesis 3, as well as to the words spoken by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28), we find, so to speak, a concrete dimension of that opposition which - together with sin - was born in the human heart between the spirit and the body.
Its consequences are felt in the mutual relationship of persons, whose unity in humanity is determined right from the beginning by the fact that they are man and woman. Since another law at war with the law of (my) mind” (Rom 7:23) has been installed in man, there exists almost a constant danger of this way of seeing, evaluating, and loving, so that “the desire of the body” is more powerful than “the desire of the mind.” And it is precisely this truth about man, this anthropological element that we must always keep in mind, if we wish to understand completely the appeal made by Christ to the human heart in the Sermon on the Mount.
Sermon on the Mount to the
Men of Our Day
(6 August, 1980)
1. Continuing our cycle, let us take up again today the Sermon on the Mount, and precisely the statement: “Every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28). Jesus appeals here to the “heart.”
In his talk with the Pharisees, Jesus, referring to the “beginning” (cf. the preceding analyses), uttered the following words with regard to the certificate of divorce: “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19:8). This sentence undoubtedly contains an accusation. “Hardness of heart” (1) indicates what, according to the ethos of the people of the Old Testament, had brought about situation contrary to the original plan of God-Yahweh according to Genesis 2:24. And it is there that the key must be sought to interpret the whole legislation of Israel in the sphere of marriage and, in the wider sense, in relations between man and woman as a whole. Speaking of “hardness of heart,” Christ accuses, so to speak, the whole “interior subject” who is responsible for the distortion of the Law. In the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28), he also refers to the “heart,” but the words pronounced here do not seem only to accuse.
2. We must reflect on them once more, placing them as far as possible in their “historical” dimension. The analysis made so far - aimed at highlighting “the man of lust” in his genetic moment, almost at the initial point of his history interwoven with theology - constitutes an ample introduction, particularly an anthropological one, to the work that must still be undertaken. The following stage of our analysis will have to be of an ethical character.
The Sermon on the Mount, and in particular that passage we have chosen as the center of our analyses, is part of the proclamation of the new ethos: the ethos of the Gospel. In the teaching of Christ, it is deeply connected with awareness of the “beginning,” namely with the mystery of creation in its original simplicity and riches. At the same time, the ethos that Christ proclaims in the Sermon on the Mount, is realistically addressed to “historical man,” who has become the man of lust. Lust in its three forms, in fact, is the heritage of the whole of mankind, and the human “heart” really participates in it.
Christ, who knows “what is in every man” (cf. Jn 2:25) (2), cannot speak in any other way than with this awareness. From this point of view, in the words of Matthew 5:27-28 it is not the accusation that prevails but the judgment: a realistic judgment on the human heart, a judgment which, on the one hand, has an anthropological foundation, and, on the other hand, a directly ethical character. For the ethos of the Gospel it is a constitutive judgment.
3. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ addresses directly the man who belongs to a well-defined society. The Master, too, belongs to that society, to that people. So we must look in Christ’s words for a reference to the facts, the situations, the institutions, with which he was familiar in everyday life. These references must be analyzed at least in a summary way, in order that the ethical meaning of the words of Matthew 5:27-28 may emerge more clearly.
However, with these words, Christ also addresses, in an indirect but real way, every historical” man (understanding this adjective mainly in a theological sense). And this man is precisely the “man of lust”, whose mystery and whose heart is known to Christ (“for he himself knew what was in man” Jn 2:25). The words of the Sermon on the Mount enable us to establish a contact with the interior experience of this man almost at every geographical latitude and longitude, in the various ages. in the different social and cultural conditionings. The man of our time feels called by name by this statement of Christ, no less than the man of “that time,” whom the Master was addressing directly.
4. The universality of the Gospel which is not at all a generalization, lies in this. And perhaps precisely in this statement of Christ, which we are analyzing here, this is manifested with particular clearness. By virtue of this statement,. the man of all times and all places feels called, in an adequate, concrete, unrepeatable way: precisely because Christ appeals to the human “heart,” which cannot be subject to any generalization. With the category of the “heart,” everyone is characterized individually even more than by name, is reached in what determines him in a unique and unrepeatable way, is defined in his humanity “from within.”
5. The image of the man of lust concerns his inner being in the first place (3). The history of the human “heart” after original sin is written under the pressure of lust in its three forms, with which even the deepest image of ethos in its various historical documents is also connected. However, that inner being is also the force that decides “exterior” human behavior, and also the form of multiple structures and institutions at the level of social life. If we deduce the content of ethos, in its various historical formulations, from these structures and institutions, we always meet this inner aspect, characteristic of the interior image of man. This, in fact, is the most essential element. The words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, and especially those of Matthew 5:27-28, indicate it unmistakably. No study on human ethos can regard it with indifference.
Therefore, in our subsequent reflections, we shall try to analyze in a more detailed way that statement of Christ’s which says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (or “has already made her adulterous in his heart”).
To understand this text better, we shall first analyze its single parts, so as to obtain afterwards a deeper overall view. We shall take into consideration not only those for whom it was intended at that time, those who actually heard the Sermon on the Mount, but also, as far as possible, modern men, the men of our time.
Content of the Commandment: “You Shall Not Commit Adultery”
(13 August, 1980)
1. Christ’s affirmation made during the Sermon on the Mount regarding adultery and “desire,” which he calls “adultery of the heart,” must be analyzed from the very beginning. Christ says: “You have understood that it was said: Thou shalt not commit adultery . . . “ (Mt 5:27). He has in mind God’s commandment, the sixth in the Decalogue, included in the so-called second Table of the Law which Moses received from God-Yahweh.
First of all, let’s place ourselves in the situation of the audience present during the Sermon on the Mount, those who actually heard the words of Christ. They are sons and daughters of the Chosen People-people who had received the “Law” from God-Yahweh himself. These people had also received the “Prophets” who, time and time again throughout the centuries, had reproved the people’s behavior regarding this very commandment, and the way in which it was continually broken. Christ also speaks of similar transgressions. But he speaks more precisely about a certain human interpretation of the Law, which negates and does away with the correct meaning of right and wrong as specified by the will of the Divine Legislator. The Law is in fact, above all, a means-an in-dispensable means if “justice is to abound” (Mt 5:20). Christ desires such justice to be “superior to that of the Scribes and Pharisees”. He does not accept the interpretation which through the centuries they gave to the authentic content of the Law, inasmuch as such content, or rather the purpose and will of the Legislator, were subjected in a certain way to the varied weaknesses and limits of human will-power deriving precisely from the threefold concupiscence. This was a casuistic interpretation which was superimposed on the original version of right and wrong connected with the Law of the Decalogue. If Christ tends to transform the ethos, he does so mainly to recover the fundamental clarity of the interpretation: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17). Fulfillment is conditioned by a correct understanding, and this is applied, among others, also to the commandment: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
2. Those who follow the history of the Chosen People from the time of Abraham in the pages of the Old Testament, will find many facts which bear witness as to how this commandment was put into practice, and as a result of such practice, how the casuistic interpretation of the Law developed. First of all, it is well known that the history of the Old Testament is the scene for the systematic defection from monogamy, which fact must have a fundamental significance in our understanding of the prohibition: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Especially at the time of the Patriarchs, the abandonment of monogamy was dictated by the desire for offspring, a very numerous offspring. This desire was so profound, and procreation as the essential end of marriage was so evident, that wives who loved their husbands but were not able to give them children, on their own initiative asked their husbands who loved them, if they could carry “on their own knees,” or welcome, his children born of another woman, for example, those of the serving woman, the slave. Such was the case of Sarah regarding Abraham (1) or the case of Rachel and Jacob (2). These two narratives reflect the moral atmosphere in which the Decalogue was practiced. They illustrate the way in which the Israelite ethos was prepared to receive the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and how such a commandment was applied in the most ancient tradition of this people. The authority of the Patriarchs was in fact the highest in Israel and had a religious character. It was strictly hound to the Covenant and to the Promise.
3. The commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” did not change this tradition. Everything points to the fact that its further development was not limited by the motives (however exceptional) which had guided the behavior of Abraham and Sarah, or of Jacob and Rachel. If we take as an example the most renowned Israelites after Moses; the Kings of Israel, David and Solomon, the description of their lives shows the establishing of real polygamy, which was undoubtedly for reasons of concupiscence.
In the history of David who also had other wives, we are struck not only by the fact that he had taken the wife of one of his subjects, but also by the fact that he was clearly aware of having committed adultery. This fact, as well as the repentance of the King, is described in a detailed and evocative way (3). Adultery is understood as meaning only the possession of another man’s wife, but it is not considered to be the possession of other women as wives together with the first one. All Old Testament tradition indicates that the real need for monogamy as an essential and indispensable implication of the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” never reached the conscience and the ethos of the following generations of the Chosen People.
4. Against this background one must also understand all the efforts which aim at putting the specific content of the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” within the framework of the promulgated laws. It is confirmed by the books of the Bible in which we find the Old Testament legislation fully recorded as a whole. If we take into consideration the letter of such legislation, we find that it takes a determined and open stand against adultery, using radical means, including the death penalty (4). It does so however, by effectively supporting polygamy, even fully legalizing it, at least indirectly. Therefore adultery was opposed only within special limits and within the sphere of definitive premises which make up the essential form of the Old Testament ethos. Adultery is under-stood above all (and maybe exclusively) as the violation of man’s right of possession regarding each woman who may be his own legal wife (usually, one among many). On the contrary, adultery is not under-stood as it appears from the point of view of monogamy as established by the Creator. We know now that Christ referred to the “beginning” precisely in regard to this argument (Mt 19:8).
5. Furthermore, the occasion in which Christ takes the side of the woman caught in adultery and defends her from being stoned to death is most significant. He says to the accusers: “Whoever of you is without sin, let him throw the first stone.” (Jn 8:7). When they put down the stones and go away he says to the woman: “Go, and from now on, sin no more.” (Jn 8:11). Therefore Christ clearly identifies adultery with sin. On the other hand when he turns to those who wanted to stone the adulteress, he doesn’t refer to the precepts of Israel’s Law but exclusively to conscience. The discernment between right and wrong engraved on the human conscience can show itself to be deeper and more correct that the content of a norm.
As we have seen, the history of God’s People in the Old Testament (which we have tried to illustrate through only a few examples), takes place mainly outside the normative content contained in God’s commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” It went along, so to speak, side by side with it. Christ wants to straighten out these errors, and thus we have his words spoken during the Sermon on the Mount.
according to the Law
and As Spoken by the Prophets
(20 August, 1980)
1. In the Sermon on the Mount, when Christ says: “You have heard that it was said: You shall not commit adultery” (Mt 5:27), he refers to what each person present knew perfectly well, and by which everyone felt himself bound by virtue of the commandment of God-Yahweh. However, the history of the Old Testament shows us that both the life of the people bound to God-Yahweh by a special covenant, and the life of each single man, often wanders away from this commandment. A brief look at the legislation, of which there is a comprehensive documentation in the Books of the Old Testament, also shows this.
The precepts of the Law of the Old Testament were very severe. They were also very detailed and entered into the smallest details of the daily life of the people (1). One can presume that the more the legalizing of actual polygamy became evident in this law, even more the necessity increased to uphold its juridical dimension, and protect its legal limits. Hence we find the great number of precepts, and also the severity of the punishments provided for by the legislator for the violation of such norms. On the basis of the analysis which we have previously carried out regarding Christ’s reference to the “beginning,” in his discourse on the dissolubility of marriage and on the “act of repudiation,” it is evident that he clearly sees the basic contradiction that the matrimonial law of the Old Testament had hidden within itself by accepting actual polygamy, namely the institution of the concubine, together with legal wives, or else the right of cohabitation with the slave (2). It can be said that such a right, while it combated sin, at the same time contained within itself, or rather protected, the “social dimension of sin,” which it actually legalized. In these circumstances it became necessary for the fundamental ethical sense of the commandment “you shall not commit adultery” to also undergo a basic reassessment. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ reveals that sense again, namely by going beyond its traditional and legal restrictions.
2. Maybe it is worth adding that in the interpretation of the Old Testament, to the extent that the prohibition of adultery is balanced - you could say - by the compromise with bodily concupiscence, the more the position regarding sexual deviations is clearly determined. This is confirmed by the relevant precepts which provide for the death penalty for homosexuality and bestiality. Regarding onanism, it had already been condemned in the tradition of the Patriarchs (cf. Gen 38:8-10). The behavior of Onan, son of Judah (from where we have the origin of word “onanism”)” . . . was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and he slew him also” (Gen 38:10).
The matrimonial law of the Old Testament, in its widest and fullest meaning, puts in the foreground the procreative end of marriage and in certain cases tries to be juridically equitable in the treatment of the woman and the man-for example it says explicitly, regarding the punishment for adultery: “If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wire, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death” (Lev 20:10) - but on the whole it judges the woman with greater severity.
3. Maybe the terminology of this legislation should be emphasized. As always in such cases, the terminology tends to make objective the sexuality of that time. And this terminology is important for the completeness of reflections on the theology of the body. We find the specific confirmation of the characteristic of shame which surrounds what pertains to sex in man. And more than that, what is sexual is in a certain way considered as “impure”, especially when it regards physiological manifestations of human sexuality. The “discovery of nudity” (Lev 20:11; 17:21) is branded as being the equivalent of an illicit and completed sexual act; the expression itself seems already eloquent enough here. There is no doubt that the legislator has tried to make use of the terminology relating to the con-science and customs of contemporary society. Therefore the terminology of the legislation of the Old Testament confirms our conviction that, not only are the physiology of sex and the bodily manifestations of sexual life known to the legislator, but also that these things are evaluated in a specific way. It is difficult to avoid the impression that such an evaluation was of a negative character. Certainly this in no way nullifies the truths which we know from the Book of Genesis, nor does it lay the blame on the Old Testament - and, among others, also on the Books of Laws - as forerunners of a type of manicheism. The judgment expressed therein, regarding the body and sex, isn’t so much negative” or severe, but rather marked by an objectivity motivated by a desire to put in order this area of human life. This isn’t concerned directly with putting some order in the “heart” of man, but with putting order in the entire social life, at the base of which, stands, as always, marriage and the family.
4. If we take into consideration the “sexual” problem as a whole, perhaps we should briefly turn our attention again to another aspect, and that is to the existing bond between morality, law, and medicine, emphasized in their respective Books of the Old Testament. These contain many practical precepts regarding hygiene, or medicine, drawn rather from experience than from science, according to the level reached at that time (3). And besides, the link between experience and science is distinctly still valid today. In this vast sphere of problems, medicine is always very closely accompanied by ethics; and ethics, as does theology, seeks ways of collaborating with it.
Prophets present analogy
5. In the Sermon on the Mount when Christ spoke the words: “You have heard that it was said: You shall not commit adultery”, and he immediately adds: “But I say to you . . . “, it is clear that he wants to restore in the conscience of his audience the ethical significance of this very commandment, disassociating himself from the interpretation of the “doctors of the law,” official experts in it. But other than the interpretation derived from tradition, the Old Testament offers us still another tradition to understand the commandment “do not commit adultery.” And it is the tradition of the Prophets. In reference to adultery, they wanted to remind Israel and Judah” that their greatest sin was in abandoning the one true God in favor of the cult of various idols, which the Chosen People, in contact with other peoples, had easily and thoughtlessly adopted. Therefore, a precise characteristic of the language of the Prophets, is the analogy with adultery, rather than adultery itself; and nevertheless, such analogy also helps to understand the commandment “do not commit adultery” and the relevant interpretation, the absence of which is noted in the legislative documents. In the pronouncements of the Prophets, and particularly of Isaiah, Hosea, and Ezekiel, the God of the Covenant-Yahweh is often represented as a spouse, and the love which united him to Israel can and must be identified with the nuptial love of a married couple. And so Israel, because of its idolatry and abandonment of God-the-Spouse, commits, in regard to him, a betrayal, which can be compared to that of a woman in regard to her husband: Israel commits, precisely, “adultery.”
Love and betrayal
6. The Prophets, using eloquent words, and often by means of images and extraordinarily flexible metaphors, show both the love of Yahweh-Spouse and the betrayal of Israel-Spouse who gives itself over to adultery. This is a theme which must be taken up again in our meditations, that is, when we will analyze the question of the “Sacrament”; however, we must already touch on the subject, inasmuch as it is necessary to understand the words of Christ, according to Matthew 5:27-28, to appreciate that renewal of he ethos, implied in these words: ‘But I say unto you . . . “. If on the one hand, Isaiah (4) in his texts lays emphasis, above all, on the love of Yahweh-Spouse who always takes the first step towards his spouse, passing over all her infidelities, on the other hand, Hosea and Ezekiel abound in comparisons, which clarify primarily the ugliness and moral evil of the adultery by Israel-the Spouse.
In the next meditation we will try to penetrate still more profoundly the texts of the Prophets, to further clarify the content which, in the conscience of those present during the Sermon on the Mount, corresponded to the “commandment”; “you shall not commit adultery.”
Is a Breakdown of the
(27 August, 1980)
1. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ says: ‘Think not that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Mt 5:17). In order to understand clearly what such a fulfillment consists of, he then passes on to each single commandment, referring also to the one which says: “You shall not commit adultery.” Our previous meditation aimed at showing in what way the correct content of this commandment, desired by God, was obscured by the numerous compromises in the particular legislation of Israel. The Prophets, who in their teachings often denounce the abandonment of the true God-Yahweh by the people, comparing it to “adultery,” point out such content in a very true way.
Hosea, not only with words, but (as it seems) also in his behavior, is anxious to reveal to us (1), that the people’s betrayal is similar to that in marriage, or rather, even more, to adultery practiced as prostitution: “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry, and have children of harlotry, for the land commits great harlotry by forsaking the lord” (Hos 1:2). The prophet takes heed within himself of this command and accepts it as coming from God-Yahweh: “And the Lord said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is beloved of a paramour and is an adulteress’ (Hos 3:1). In fact, although Israel may be so unfaithful with regard to its God, like the wife ‘who went after her lovers and forgot me’ (Hos 2:13), nevertheless Yahweh never ceases to search for his spouse, and doesn’t tire of waiting for her conversion and her return confirming this attitude with the words and actions of the Prophet: “And in that day, says the Lord, you will call me, ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me, ‘My Baal’ . . . And I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord” (Hos 2:16, 19-20). This fervent call to conversion of the unfaithful wife-consort goes hand in hand with the following threat: “That she put away harlotry from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born.” (Hos 2:4-5).
2. The unfaithful Israel-spouse was reminded of this image of the humiliating nudity of birth, by the Prophet Ezekiel, and even within a wider sphere (2) “ . . . but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. And when I passed by you, and saw you weltering in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live, and grow up like a plant in the field.’ And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full maidenhood; your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare. When I passed by you again and looked upon you, behold, you were at the age for love; and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness: yea, I plighted my troth to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine . . . And I put a ring on your nose, and earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown upon your head. Thus you were decked with gold and silver; and your raiment was of fine linen, and silk and embroidered cloth . . . And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor which I had bestowed upon you . . . But you trusted in your beauty, and played the harlot because of your renown, and lavished your harlotries on any passer-by . . . How lovesick is your heart, says the Lord God, seeing you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen harlot, making your lofty place in every square. Yet you were not like a harlot, because you scorned hire. Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband!” (Ez 16:5-8, 12-15; 30-32).
3. The quotation is a little long, but the text is so important that it was necessary to bring it up again. The analogy between adultery and idolatry is expressed therein in a particularly strong and exhaustive way. The similarity between the two parts of the analogy consists in the covenant accompanied by love. Out of love, God-Yahweh settles the covenant with Israel - which is not worthy of it - and for him Israel becomes as a most affectionate, attentive, and generous spouse-consort is towards his own wife. Yahweh-spouse receives in exchange for this love, which ever since the dawning of history accompanies the Chosen People, numerous betrayals: “haughtiness” - here we have the cult of idols, in which “adultery” is committed by Israel-spouse. In the analysis we are carrying out here, the essential thing is the concept of adultery, as put forth by Ezekiel. However, it can be said that the situation as a whole, in which this concept is included (in the analogical sphere), is not typical. Here it is not so much a question of the mutual choice made by the husband and wife, which is born from mutual love, but of the choice of the wife (which was already made at the moment of her birth), a choice deriving from the love of the husband, a love which on the part of the husband himself, is an act of pure mercy. This choice is outlined in the following way: it corresponds to that part of the analogy which defines the covenant of Yahweh with Israel; but on the other hand, it corresponds to a lesser degree to the second part of it, which defines the nature of marriage. Certainly, the mentality of that time was not very sensitive to this reality - according to the Israelites, marriage was rather the result of a unilateral choice, often made by the parents - nevertheless, such a situation seldom forms part of our mentality.
4. Apart from this detail, we must be aware that in the texts of the prophets can be noted a different meaning of adultery from that given by the legislative tradition. Adultery is a sin because it constitutes the breakdown of the personal covenant between the man and the woman. In the legislative texts, the violation of the right of ownership is pointed out, and primarily the right of ownership of the man in regard to that woman who was his legal wife: one of many. In the texts of the prophets, the background of real and legalized polygamy does not alter the ethical meaning of adultery. In many texts monogamy appears as the only correct analogy of monotheism as understood in the categories of the covenant, that is, of faithfulness and confidence towards the one true God Yahweh: Spouse of Israel. Adultery is the antithesis of that nuptial relationship. It is the antinomy of marriage (even as an institution) inasmuch as the monogamous marriage accomplishes within itself the interpersonal alliance of the man and the woman, and achieves the alliance born from love and received by both parties, precisely as marriage (and, as such, is recognized by society). This type of covenant between two people constitutes the foundation of that union when “man . . . cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). In the above-mentioned context, one can say that such bodily union is their “right” (bilateral), but above all that it is the regular sign of the communion of the two people, a union formed between the man and the woman in the capacity of husband and wife. Adultery committed by either one of them is not only the violation of this right, which is exclusive to the other marriage partner, but at the same time it is a radical falsification of this sign. It seems that in the pronouncements of the prophets, precisely this aspect of adultery is expressed in a sufficiently clear manner.
5. In observing that adultery is a falsification of that sign which has not so much its “legality”, but rather its simple interior truth in marriage - that is, in the cohabitation of the man and the woman who have become a married couple - then, in a certain sense, we refer again to the basic statements made previously, considering them essential and important for the theology of the body, from both an ethical and anthropological point of view. Adultery is “a sin of the body.” All the tradition of the Old Testament bears witness to it, and Christ confirms it. The comparative analysis of his words, pronounced in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28), like the several relevant enunciations contained in the Gospels and in other parts of the New Testament, allows us to establish the exact reason for the “sinfulness” of adultery. And it is obvious that we determine such reason for ‘‘sinfulness,” or rather for moral evil, basing ourselves on the principle of contraposition, in regard to that moral goodness which is faithfulness in marriage, that goodness which can be adequately achieved only in the exclusive relationship of both the parties (that is, in the marriage relationship between a man and a woman). Such a relationship needs precisely nuptial love, the interpersonal structure of which (as we have already pointed out) is governed by the interior “normativity” of the “communion of the two people concerned.” It is precisely this which gives a fundamental significance to the Covenant (either in the relationship of man-woman, or, analagously, in the relationship of Yahweh-Israel). One can pronounce judgment on the basis of the contraposition of the marriage pact as it is understood, with adultery, its sinfulness, and the moral evil contained in it.
6. All this must be kept in mind when we say that adultery is a “sin of the body”; the “body” is considered here in the conceptual bond with the words of Genesis 2:24, which in fact speaks of the man and the woman, who, as husband and wife, unite so closely so as to form “one body only.” Adultery indicates an act through which a man and a woman, who are not husband and wife, unite as “one body only” (that is, those who are not husband and wife in a monogamous sense, as was originally established, rather than in the legal casuistic sense of the Old Testament). The “sin” of the body can be identified only in regard to the relationship between the people concerned. One can speak of moral good and evil according to whether in this relationship there is a true “union of the body” and whether or not it has the character of the truthful sign. In this case, we can therefore judge adultery as a sin, according to the objective content of the act.
This is the content which Christ has in mind, when, in the Sermon on the Mount, he reminds us: “You have understood that it was said: You shall not commit adultery”. However Christ does not dwell on such an aspect of the problem.
Meaning of Adultery Is Transferred from
the Body to the Heart
(3 September, 1980)
1. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ limited himself to recalling the commandment: “You shall not commit adultery,” without evaluating the relative behavior of his listeners. What we previously said concerning this theme comes from other sources, especially from Christ’s discussion with the Pharisees, in which he hearkened back to the “beginning” (cf. Mt 19:8; Mk 10:6). In the Sermon on the Mount Christ omitted such evaluation, or rather, he implied it. What he will say in the second part of the statement, which begins with the words.. “But I say to you . . . ,” will be something more than the dispute with the “doctors of the Law” or with the moralists of the Torah. And it will also be something more with respect to the evaluation of the Old Testament ethos. It will be a direct transition to the new ethos. Christ seems to leave aside the whole dispute about the ethical significance of adultery on the plane of legislation and casuistry - in which the essential interpersonal relationship between husband and wife was considerably darkened by the objective relationship of property - and it acquires another dimension. Christ says: “But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28; when reading this passage there always comes to mind the ancient translation: “he has already made her an adulteress in his heart”, a version that perhaps better than the present text expresses the fact that here it deals with a purely interior and unilateral act). Thus, therefore, “adultery committed in the heart” is in a certain sense counterposed with “adultery committed in the body.” We should question ourselves on the reason why the point of gravity of sin is shifted, and further ask ourselves what is the authentic significance of the analogy. If in fact “adultery,” according to its fundamental meaning, can be only a “sin committed in the body,” in what sense does what man commits in his heart deserve to be also called adultery? The words with which Christ poses the foundation of the new ethos demand for their part a thorough grounding in anthropology. Before satisfying these queries, let us pause for a while on the expression that, according to Matthew 5:27-28, in a certain way effects the transfer or rather the shifting of the significance of adultery of the “body” to the “heart.” These are words which concern desire.
2. Christ speaks of concupiscence: “Whoever looks lustfully.” This expression requires a special analysis in order to understand the statement in its entirety. It is necessary here to go back to the preceding analysis that aims, I would say, at reconstructing the image of “the lustful man” dating back to the beginning of history (cf. Gen 3). The man Christ is speaking about in the Sermon on the Mount-the man who ‘looks lustfully”-is without doubt the concupiscent man. For this very reason, because it is part of bodily concupiscence, he ‘desires” and looks lustfully”. The figure of the concupiscent man, reconstructed in the preceding aspect, will aid us now in interpreting “desire” about which Christ speaks according to Matthew 5:27-28. This concerns here not only a psychological interpretation, but at the same time a theological interpretation. Christ speaks in the context of human experience and simultaneously in the context of the work of salvation. These two contexts in a certain way are superimposed upon and pervade one another: and that has an essential and elemental significance for the entire ethos of the Gospel, and in particular for the content of the word “lust” or “looking lustfully.”
3. Using such expressions, the Master first refers to the experience of those who are his direct listeners, then he also refers to the experience and conscience of the man of every time and place. In fact, although evangelical language may have a universal communicativeness, yet for a direct listener, whose conscience was formed on the Bible, lust” must be linked with numerous precepts and warnings, present in the first place in the Wisdom Books, which contain repeated admonitions about concupiscence of the body and also advice as to how to preserve oneself from it.
4. As we know, Wisdom tradition had an especial interest for the ethics and morality of the Israelite society. What strikes us immediately in these admonitions and advice, appearing for example in the Book of Proverbs (1) and Sirach (2) or even Ecclesiastes (3), is a certain one-sidedness they have in that the admonitions are above all directed to men. This can mean that for them they are particularly necessary. As far as woman is concerned, it is true that in these warnings and counsels she appears most frequently as an occasion of sin or as a downright seducer of whom to beware. Yet one must recognize that both the Book of Proverbs and the Book of Sirach, besides the warning to beware of woman and the seduction of her charm which lead man to sin (cf. Prov 5:1-6; 6:24-29; Sir 26:9-12), also praise woman who is the “perfect life companion of her own husband (cf. Prov 31:10 ff, and likewise praise the beauty and graciousness of a good wife who is able to make her husband happy.
“A modest wife adds charm to charm, / and no balance can weigh the value of a chaste soul. / Like the sun rising in the heights of the Lord, / so is the beauty of a good wife in her well-ordered home. / Like the shining lamp on the holy lampstand, / so is a beautiful face on a stately figure. / Like pillars of gold on a base of silver, / so are beautiful feet with a steadfast heart . . . / A wife’s charm delights her husband, / and her skill puts fat on his bones”. (Sir 26:15-18; 13).
5. In Wisdom tradition a frequent admonition is in contrast with the above praise of the woman-wife: it is the one that refers to the beauty and graciousness of the woman who is not one’s own wife and is the cause of temptation and occasion for adultery: “Do not desire her beauty in your heart . . .” (Prov 6:25). In Sirach (cf. 9:8-9) the same warning is expressed in a more peremptory manner: “Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman, / and do not look intently at beauty belonging to another; / Many have been misled by a woman’s beauty, / and by it passion is kindled like a fire” (Sir 9:8-9).
The sense of the Wisdom texts has a prevalent pedagogical significance. They teach virtue and seek to protect the moral order, going back to God’s law and to widely understood experience. Moreover, they are distinguished for their special knowledge of the human “heart.” We call say that they develop a specific moral psychology, yet without falling into psychologism. In a certain sense, they are close to that call of Christ’s to the “heart” that Matthew has handed down to us (cf. 5:27-28), even though it cannot be affirmed that they reveal any tendency to change ethos in a fundamental way. The authors of these Books use the conscience of human inner life to teach morals somewhat in the sphere of ethos historically in action, and substantially confirmed by them. Sometimes one of them, as for example Ecclesiastes, synthesizes this confirmation with its own “philosophy” of human existence, which however, if it has an influence on the method with which warnings and counsels are formulated, does not change the fundamental structure of ethical evaluation.
6. For such transformation it is necessary to wait until the Sermon on the Mount. Nonetheless, this very sagacious knowledge of human psychology present in “wisdom” tradition was certainly not without significance for the circle of personal and immediate hearers of this sermon. If by virtue of the prophetic tradition these listeners were in a certain sense prepared for understanding in an adequate way the concept of “adultery,” likewise by virtue of wisdom” tradition they were prepared to understand the words that referred to the “lustful look” or alternatively to “adultery committed in the heart.”
It will be well for us to come back again to analysis of concupiscence in the Sermon on the Mount.
Is a Separation from
the Nuptial Meaning of the
(10 September, 1980)
1. Let us reflect on the following words of Jesus, taken from the Sermon on the Mount: “Every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (“has already made her an adulteress in his heart”) (Mt 5:28). Christ said this sentence be-fore listeners who, on the basis of the books of the Old Testament, were in a certain sense prepared to understand the significance of the look that comes from concupiscence. Last Wednesday we made reference to the texts taken from the so-called Wisdom Books.
Here is, for example, another passage in which the biblical author analyzes the state of the soul of the man dominated by concupiscence of the flesh: “ . . . the soul heated like a burning fire / will not be quenched until it is consumed; / a man who commits fornication . . . / will never cease until the fire burns him up; / to a fornicator all bread tastes sweet, / he will never cease until he dies. / A man who breaks his marriage vows / says to himself: ‘Who sees me? / Darkness surrounds me, and the walls hide me; / no one sees me. Why should I fear? / The Most High will not take notice of my sins.’ / His fear is confined to the eyes of men; / he does not realize that the eyes of the Lord / are ten thousand times brighter than the sun; / they look upon all the ways of men, / and perceive even the hidden places. / So it is with a woman who leaves her husband, / and provides an heir by a stranger.” (Sir 23:17-22).
2. Analogous descriptions are not lacking in world literature (1). Certainly, many of them are distinguished by a more penetrating discernment of psychological analysis and a more intense significance and expressive force. Yet, the biblical description from Sirach (23:17-22) includes some elements maintained to be “classic” in the analysis of carnal concupiscence. One element of this kind, for example, is comparison between concupiscence of the flesh and fire: this, flaring up in man, invades his senses, excites his body, involves his feelings and in a certain sense takes possession of his “heart.” Such passion, originating in carnal concupiscence, suffocates in his “heart” the most profound voice of conscience, the sense of responsibility before God; and in fact that is particularly placed in evidence in the biblical text just now quoted. On the other hand, external modesty with respect to men does persist . . . or rather an appearance of decency, which shows itself as fear of the consequences rather than of the evil in itself. In suffocating the voice of conscience, passion carries with itself a restlessness of the body and the senses: it is the restlessness of the “external man.” When the internal man has been reduced to silence, then passion, once it has been given freedom of action, so to speak, exhibits itself as an insistent tendency to satisfy the senses and the body.
This gratification, according to the criterion of the man dominated by passion, should put out the fire; but on the contrary, it does not reach the source of internal peace and only touches the outermost level of the human individual. And here the biblical author rightly observes that man, whose will is committed to satisfying the senses, finds neither peace nor himself, but, on the contrary, “is consumed.” Passion aims at satisfaction; therefore it blunts reflective activity and pays no attention to the voice of conscience; thus, without itself having any principle of indestructibility, it “wears out.” The dynamism of usage is natural for its continuity, but it tends to exhaust itself. It is true that where passion enters into the whole of the most profound energies of the spirit, it can also become a creative force, in which case, however, it must undergo a radical transformation. If instead it suppresses the deepest forces of the heart and conscience (as occurs in the text of Sirach 23:17-22), it “wears out” and indirectly, man, who is its prey, is consumed.
3. When Christ in the Sermon on the Mount speaks of the man who “lusts”, who “looks lustfully,” it can be presumed that he had before his eyes also the images known to his listeners from the “wisdom” tradition. Yet, at the same time he refers to every man who on the basis of his own internal experience knows the meaning of “lust,” “looking at lustfully.” The Master does not analyze this experience nor does he describe it, as had for example Sirach (23:17-22); he seems to presuppose, I would say, an adequate knowledge of that interior fact, to which he calls the attention of his listeners, present and potential. Is it possible that some of them do not know what it is all about? If they really know nothing about it, the content of Christ’s words would not apply to him, nor would any analysis or description be capable of explaining it to him. If instead he knows-this in fact in such case deals with a knowledge completely internal, intrinsic to the heart and the conscience-he will immediately’ understand when the quoted words refer to him.
4. Christ, therefore, does not describe or analyze what constitutes the experience of “lust,” the experience of concupiscence of the flesh. One has even the impression that he does not penetrate this experience in all the breadth of its interior dynamism, as occurs, for example, in the text quoted from Sirach, but rather he pauses on its threshold. “Lust” has not yet been changed into an exterior action, it has still not become the “act of the body”; it is till now the interior act of the heart: it expresses itself in a look, in the way of “looking at the woman.” Nevertheless, it already lets itself be understood, it reveals its content and its essential quality. It is now necessary for us to make this analysis. A look expresses what is in the heart. A look expresses, I would say, the man within. If in general it is maintained that man “acts according to his lights” (operari sequitur esse), Christ in this case wants to bring out that the man “looks” in conformity with what he is: intueri sequitur esse. In a certain sense, man by his look reveals himself to the outside and to others; above all he reveals what he perceives on the “inside” (2).
5. Christ, then, teaches us to consider a look almost like the threshold of inner truth. In a look, “in the way in which one looks,” it is already possible to single out completely what is concupiscence. Let us try to explain it. “Lust”, “looking at lustfully,” indicates an experience of value to the body, in which its “nuptial” significance ceases to be that, just because of concupiscence. Its procreative meaning likewise ceases (we spoke about this in our previous considerations); and when it concerns the conjugal union of man and woman, it is rooted in the nuptial meaning of the body and almost organically emerges from it. Now, then, man, “lusting,” “looking at lustfully” (as we read in Mt 5:27-28) attempts in a more or less explicit way the separation of that meaning of the body, that (as we have already observed in our reflections) is at the basis of the communion of persons: whether outside of marriage, or - in a special way - when man and woman are called to build their union “in the body” (as the “gospel of the beginning” proclaims in the classic text of Genesis 2:24). The experience of the nuptial meaning of the body is subordinate in a special way to the sacramental call, but is not limited to this. Such meaning qualifies the liberty of the gift that-as we shall see more precisely in further analyses-can be fulfilled not only in marriage but also in a different way.
Christ says: “Every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (“has made her an adulteress in his heart”) (Mt 5:28). Did he not perhaps mean by this that concupiscence itself - like adultery - is an interior separation from the nuptial meaning of the body? Did he not want to refer his listeners to their internal experiences of such detachment? Is it not perhaps for this reason that he defines it “adultery committed in the heart”?
Attraction Differs from
(17 September, 1980)
1. During our last reflection, we asked ourselves what was the “lust” of which Christ spoke in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28). Let us recall that he spoke of it in relation to the commandment: “Do not commit adultery.” “Lust” itself (more exactly: “looking at lust-fully”) is defined as “adultery committed in the heart.” That gives much food for thought. In the preceding reflections we said that Christ, by expressing himself in that way, wanted to indicate to his listeners the separation from the matrimonial significance of the body felt by a human being (in this case the man) when concupiscence of the flesh is coupled with the inner act of “lust.” The separation of the matrimonial significance of the body causes at the same time a conflict with his personal dignity: a veritable conflict of conscience.
At this point it appears that the biblical meaning (hence also theological) of “lust” is different from the purely psychological. The latter describes “lust” as an intense inclination towards the object because of its particular value: in the case considered here, its “sexual” value. As it seems, we will find such definition in most of the works dealing with similar themes. Yet, the biblical interpretation, while not underestimating the psychological aspect, places that ethic in relief above all, since there is a value that is being impaired. “Lust,” I would say, is a deception of the human heart in the perennial call of man and woman - a call revealed in the very mystery of creation - to communion by means of mutual giving. So then, when Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28) makes reference to the “heart” or the internal man, his words do not cease being charged with that truth concerning the “principle” to which, in replying to the Pharisees (cf. Mt 19:8), he had reverted to the whole problem of man, woman and marriage.
2. The perennial call, which we have tried to analyze following the Book of Genesis (especially Gen 2:23-25) and, in a certain sense, the perennial mutual attraction on man’s part to femininity and on woman’s part to masculinity, is an indirect invitation of the body, but it is not lust in the sense of the word of Matthew 5:27-28. “Lust” that carries into effect the concupiscence of the flesh (also and especially in the purely internal act) diminishes the significance of what were-and that in reality do not cease being-that invitation and that reciprocal attraction. The “eternal feminine” (das ewig weibliche), just like the “eternal masculine,” for that matter, on the level of historicity, too, tends to free itself from pure concupiscence and seeks a position of achievement in the world of people. It testifies to that original sense of shame of which Genesis 3 speaks. The dimension of intentionality of thought and heart constitutes one of the main streams of universal human culture. Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount exactly confirm this dimension.
3. Nonetheless, these words clearly assert that “lust” is a real part of the human heart. When we state that “lust,” when compared with the original mutual attraction of masculinity and femininity, represents a “reduction,” we have in mind an intentional “reduction,” almost a restriction or closing down of the horizon of mind and heart. In fact, it is one thing to be conscious that the value of sex is a part of all the rich storehouse of values with which the female appears to the man; it is another to “reduce” all the personal riches of femininity to that single value, that is, of sex, as a suitable object for the gratification of sexuality itself. The same reasoning can be valid concerning what masculinity is for the woman, even though Matthew’s 5 words in 5:27-28 refer directly to the other relationship only. The intentional “reduction” is, as can be seen, primarily of an axiological nature. On one hand the eternal attraction of man towards femininity (cf. Gen 2:23) frees in him - or perhaps it should free - a gamut of spiritual-corporal desires of an especially personal and “sharing” nature (cf. analysis of the “beginning”), to which a proportionate pyramid of values corresponds. On the other hand, “lust” limits this gamut, obscuring the pyramid of values that marks the perennial attraction of male and female.
4. “Lust” has the internal effect, that is, in the “heart,” on the interior horizon of man and woman, of obscuring the significance of the body, of the persona itself. Femininity thus ceases being above all else an object for the man; it ceases being a specific language of the spirit: it loses its character of being a sign. It ceases, I would say, bearing in itself the wonderful matrimonial significance of the body. It ceases its correlation to this significance in the context of conscience and experience. “Lust” arising from concupiscence of the flesh itself, from the first moment of its existence within the man - its existence in his “heart” - passes in a certain sense close to such a context (one could say, using an image, that it passes on the ruins of the matrimonial significance of the body and all its subjective parts) and by virtue of axiological intentionality itself aims directly at an exclusive end: to satisfy only the sexual need of the body, as its precise object.
5. Such an intentional and axiological reduction can take place, according to the words of Christ (Mt 5:27-28), in the sphere of the “look” (of “looking”) or rather in the sphere of a purely interior act expressed by the look. A look (or rather “looking”) is in itself a cognitive act. When concupiscence enters into its inner structure, the look takes on the character of “lustful knowledge.” The biblical expression “to look at lustfully” can indicate both a cognitive act, which the lusting man “makes use of,” (that is, giving him the character of lust aiming at an object). and a cognitive act that arouses lust in the other object and above all in its will and in its “heart.” As is seen, it is possible to place an intentional interpretation on an interior act, being aware of one and the other pole of man’s psychology: knowledge or lust understood as appetitus (which is something broader than “lust,” since it indicates everything manifested in the object as “aspiration,” and as such always tends to aim at something, that is, towards an object known under the aspect of value). Yet, an adequate interpretation of the words of Matthew 5:27-28, requires us - by means of the intentionality itself of knowledge or of the “appetitus” - to discern something more, that is, the intentionality of the very existence of man in relation to the other man: in our case, of the man in relation to the woman and the woman in relation to the man.
It will be well for us to return to this subject. Concluding today’s reflection, it is necessary to add again that in that “lust,” in “looking at lustfully”, with which the Sermon on the Mount deals, the woman, for the man who “looks” in that way, ceases to exist as an object of eternal attraction and begins to be only an object of carnal concupiscence. To that is connected the profound inner separation of the matrimonial significance of the body about which we already spoke in the preceding reflection.
Depersonalizing Effect of
(24 September, 1980)
1. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27-28). We have been trying for some time to penetrate the meaning of this statement, analyzing the single elements in order better to under-stand the text as a whole.
When Christ speaks of a man who “looks lustfully,” he indicates not only the dimension of intentionality in “looking, and so lustful knowledge, the psychological dimension, but also the dimension of the intentionality of man’s very existence. In the situation described by Christ, that dimension passes unilaterally from the man, who is the subject, to the woman, who has become the object (this does not mean, however, that such a dimension is only unilateral). For the present we will not reverse the situation analyzed, or extend it to both parties, to both subjects. Let us dwell on the situation outlined by Christ, stressing that it is a question of a “purely interior” act, hidden in the heart and stopping on the thresh-old of the look.
It is enough to note that in this case the woman - who, owing to her personal subjectivity exists perennially “for man,” waiting for him too, for the same reason, to exist for her” - is deprived of the meaning of her attraction as a person, who, though being characteristic of the “eternal feminine,” becomes at the same time only an object for the man: she begins, that is, to exist intentionally as an object for the potential satisfaction of the sexual need inherent in his masculinity. Although the act is completely interior, hidden in the “heart” and expressed only by the “look,” there already occurs in him a change (subjectively unilateral) of the very intentionality of existence. If it were not so, if it were not a question of such a deep change, the following words of the same sentence: “has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28), would have no meaning.
2. That change of the intentionality of existence, by means of which a certain woman begins to exist for a certain man not as a subject of call and personal attraction or as a subject “of communion,” but exclusively as an object for the potential satisfaction of the sexual need, is carried out in the “heart” since it is carried out in the will. Cognitive intentionality itself does not yet mean enslavement of the “heart.” Only when the intentional reduction, illustrated previously, sweeps the will along into its narrow horizon, when it brings forth the decision of a relationship with another human being (in our case: with the woman) according to the specific scale of values of “lust,” only then can it be said that “desire” has also gained possession of the ‘heart.” Only when “lust” has gained possession of the will is it possible to say that it is dominant over the subjectivity of the person and that it is at the basis of the will, and the possibility of choosing and deciding, through which - by virtue of self-decision or self-determination - the very way of existing with regard to another person is established. The intentionality of this existence then acquires a full subjective dimension.
3. Only then - that is from that subjective moment and on its subjective prolongation - is it possible to confirm what we read, for example, in Sirach (23:17-22) about the man dominated by lust, and what we read in even more eloquent descriptions in world literature. Then we can also speak of that more or less complete “compulsion,” which is called elsewhere “compulsion of the body” and which brings with it loss of the “freedom of the gift,” congenital in deep awareness of the matrimonial meaning of the body, of which we have also spoken in preceding analyses.
4. When we speak of “desire” as the transformation of the intentionality of a concrete existence, of the man, for example, for whom (according to Mt 5:27-28) a certain woman becomes merely the object of the potential satisfaction of the “sexual need” inherent in his masculinity, it is not at all a matter of questioning that need, as an objective dimension of human nature with the procreative finality that is characteristic of it. Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount (in its whole broad context) are far from Manichaeism, as the true Christian tradition also is. In this case, there cannot arise, therefore, objections of the kind. It is a question, on the contrary, of the man’s and the woman’s way of existing as persons, that is, of that existing in a mutual “for,” which - also on the basis of what, according to the objective dimension of human nature, can be defined as the “sexual need” - can and must serve the building up of unity “of communion” in their mutual relations. Such, in fact, is the fundamental meaning characteristic of the perennial and reciprocal attraction of masculinity and femininity, contained in the very reality of the constitution of man as a person, body and sex together.
5. The possible circumstance that one of the two persons exists only as the subject of the satisfaction of the sexual need, and the other becomes exclusively the object of this satisfaction, does not correspond to the union or personal “communion,” to which man and woman were mutually called “from the beginning” - on the contrary it is in conflict with it. Moreover, the case in which both the man and the woman exist reciprocally as the object of satisfaction of the sexual need, and each on his or her part is only the subject that satisfaction; does not correspond to this unity of “communion” - but on the contrary clashes with it. This “reduction” of such a rich content of the reciprocal and perennial attraction of human persons, in their masculinity or femininity, does not at all correspond to the “nature” of the attraction in question. This “reduction,” in fact, extinguishes the personal meaning, “of communion,” characteristic of man and woman, through which, according to Genesis 2:24, “a man . . . cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” “Lust” turns away the intentional dimension of the man’s and woman’s mutual existence from the personal perspectives, “of communion,” characteristic of their perennial and mutual attraction, reducing it, and, so to speak, pushing it towards utilitarian dimensions, within which the human being “uses” the other human being, for the sake merely of satisfying his own “needs.”
6. It seems possible to find this content again, charged with human interior experience characteristic of different ages and environments, in Christ’s concise affirmation in the Sermon on the Mount. At the same time, we cannot in any case lose sight of the meaning that this affirmation attributes to man’s “interiority,” to the integral dimension of the “heart” as the dimension of the inner man. Here lies the very core of the transformation of ethos aimed at by Christ’s words according to Matthew 5:27-28, expressed with powerful forcefulness and at the same time with admirable simplicity.
the Ethical Sense
(1 October, 1980)
1. We arrive in our analysis at the third part of Christ’s enunciation in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28). The first part was: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’.” The second: “But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully,” is grammatically connected with the third part: “has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
The method applied here, which is that of dividing, of “splitting” Christ’s enunciation into three parts which follow one another, may seem artificial. However, when we seek the ethical meaning of the whole enunciation in its totality, the division of the text used by us may, precisely, be useful, provided that it is applied not only in a disjunctive, but in a conjunctive way. And that is what we intend to do. Each of the distinct parts has its own specific content and connotations, and this is precisely what we wish to stress by dividing the text. But it must be pointed out at the same time that each of the parts is explained in direct relationship with the others. That refers in the first place to the principal semantic elements, by which the enunciation constitutes a whole. Here are these elements: to commit adultery, to desire, to commit adultery in the body, to commit adultery in the heart. It would be particularly difficult to establish the ethical sense of “desiring” without the element indicated here last, that is “adultery in the heart.” The preceding analysis has already taken this element into consideration to a certain extent; however, a fuller understanding of the part: “to commit adultery in the heart” is possible only after a special analysis.
2. As we have already mentioned at the beginning, it is a question here of establishing the ethical sense. Christ’s enunciation in Mt 5:27-28 starts from the commandment: “do not commit adultery,” in order to show how it must be understood and put into practice, so that the “justice” that God Yahweh wished as Legislator may abound in it: in order that it may abound to a greater extent than appeared from the interpretation and casuistry of the Old Testament doctors. If Christ’s words in this sense aim at constructing the new ethos (and on the basis of the same commandment), the way to that passes through the rediscovery of the values which - in general Old Testament understanding and in the application of this commandment - have been lost.
3. From this point of view also the formulation of the text of Matthew 5:27-28 is significant. The commandment “do not commit adultery” is formulated as a prohibition which categorically excludes a given moral evil. It is well known that the same Law (the Ten Commandments), as well as the prohibition “do not commit adultery,” also includes the prohibition “do not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Ex 20:14, 17; Deut 5:18, 21). Christ does not nullify one prohibition with regard to the other. Although he speaks of “desire,” he aims at a deeper clarification of “adultery.” It is significant that after mentioning the prohibition “do not commit adultery,” as well known to his listeners, subsequently, in the course of his enunciation he changes his style and the logical structure from the normative to the narrative-affirmative. When he says: “every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he describes an interior fact, whose reality can easily be understood by his listeners. At the same time, through the fact thus described and qualified, he indicates how the commandment: do not commit adultery” must be understood and put into practice, so that it will lead to the “justice” willed by the Legislator.
4. In this way we have reached the expression “has committed adultery in his heart,” the key-expression, as it seems, to understand its correct ethical meaning. This expression is at the same time the principal source to reveal the essential values of the new ethos: the ethos of the Sermon on the Mount. As often happens in the Gospel, here, too, we come up against a certain paradox. How, in fact, can “adultery” take place without “committing adultery”, that is, without the exterior act which makes it possible to identify the act forbidden by the Law? We have seen how much the casuistry of the “doctors of the Law” devoted itself to defining this very problem. But even apart from casuistry, it seems clear that adultery can be identified only “in the flesh,” that is, when the two, the man and the woman who unite with each other in such a way as to become one flesh (cf. Gen 2.24), are not legal spouses, husband and wife. What meaning, then, can “adultery committed in the heart” have? Is it not, perhaps, just a metaphorical expression, used by the Master to highlight the sinfulness of lust?
5. If we admitted this semantic reading of Christ’s enunciation (Mt 5:27-28), it would be necessary to reflect deeply on the ethical consequences that would be derived from it, that is, on the conclusions about the ethical regularity of the behavior. Adultery takes place when the man and the woman who unite with each other so as to become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24), that is, in the way characteristic of spouses, are not legal spouses. The detecting of adultery as a sin committed “in the body” is closely and exclusively united with the “exterior” act, with living together in a conjugal way, which refers also to the status of the acting persons, recognized by society. In the case in question, this status is improper and does not authorize such an act (hence, precisely the term “adultery”).
6. Going on to the second part of Christ’s enunciation (that is, the one in which the new ethos begins to take shape) it would be necessary to understand the expression: “every one who looks at a woman lust-fully”, in exclusive reference to persons according to their civil status, that is, their status recognized by society, whether or not they are husband and wife. Here the questions begin to multiply. Since there can be no doubt about the fact that Christ indicates the sinfulness of the interior act of lust expressed through a way of looking at every woman who is not the wife of the one who so looks at her, therefore we can and even must ask ourselves if, with the same expression, Christ admits and approves such a look, such an interior act of lust, directed towards the woman who is the wife of the man who so looks at her.
The following logical premise seems to be in favor of the affirmative answer to such a question: (in the case in question) only the man who is the potential subject of “adultery in the flesh” can commit “adultery in the heart.” Since this subject cannot be the man-husband with regard to his own legitimate wife, therefore “adultery in the heart” cannot refer to him, but any other man can be considered guilty of it. If he is the husband, he cannot commit it with regard to his own wife. He alone has the exclusive right to “desire,” to “look lustfully” at the woman who is his wife - and never can it be said that due to such an interior act he deserves to be accused of “adultery committed in the heart.” If by virtue of marriage he has the right to “unite with his wife,” so that the two become one flesh,” this act can never be called “adultery.” Similarly the interior act of “desire”, dealt with in the Sermon on the Mount, cannot be defined “adultery committed in the heart”.
7. This interpretation of Christ’s words in Mt 5:27-28 seems to correspond to the logic of the Ten Commandments, in which, in addition to the commandment “do not commit adultery” (VI), there is also the commandment “do not covet your neighbor’s wife” (IX). Furthermore, the reasoning that has been made in support of it has all the characteristics of objective correctness and accuracy. Nevertheless, there remain good grounds for doubt whether this reasoning takes into account all the aspects of revelation as well as of the theology of the body which must be considered, especially when we wish to understand Christ’s words. We have already seen previously what is the “specific weight” of this expression, how rich are the anthropological and theological implications of the one sentence in which Christ refers “to the beginning” (cf. Mt 19:8). The anthropological and theological implications of the enunciation in the Sermon on the Mount in which Christ refers to the human heart confer on the enunciation itself also a “specific weight” of its own, and at the same time determine its consistency with evangelical teaching as a whole. And therefore we must admit that the interpretation presented above, with all its objective correctness and logical precision, requires a certain amplification and, above all, a deepening. We must remember that the reference to the human heart, expressed perhaps in a paradoxical way (Mt 5:27-28), comes from him who “knew what was in man” (Jn 2:25). And if his words confirm the Decalogue (not only the sixth, but also the ninth),at the same time they express that knowledge of man, which - as we have pointed out elsewhere - enables us to unite awareness of human sinfulness with the perspective of the “redemption of the body” (cf. Rom 8:23). This very knowledge lies at the basis of the new ethos which emerges from the words of the Sermon on the Mount.
Taking all that into consideration. we conclude that, as in understanding “adultery in the flesh” Christ criticizes the erroneous and one-sided interpretation of adultery that is derived from the failure to observe monogamy (that is marriage understood as the indefectible covenant of persons), so also in understanding “adultery in the heart” Christ takes into consideration not only the real juridical status of the man and woman in question. Christ makes the moral evaluation of the “desire” depend above all on the personal dignity itself of the man and the woman, and this has its importance both when it is a question of persons who are not married, and-perhaps even more-when they are spouses, wife and husband. From this point of view it will be useful for us to complete the analysis of the words of the Sermon on the Mount, and we will do so the next time.
(8 October, 1980) [ »Table of Cont.]
Lust Destroys Communion:
1. Today I wish to conclude the analysis of the words spoken by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount on “adultery” and “lust”, and in particular of the last element of his enunciation, in which “lust of the eyes” is defined specifically as “adultery committed in the heart.”
We have already previously seen that the above-mentioned words are usually understood as desire for another’s wife (that is, according to the spirit of the ninth commandment of the Decalogue). It seems, however, that this interpretation-a more restrictive one-can and must be widened in the light of the total context. The moral evaluation of lust (of “looking lustfully”) which Christ calls “adultery committed in the heart,” seems to depend above all on the personal dignity itself of man and of woman. This holds true both for those who are not united in marriage, and - perhaps even more - for those who are husband and wife.
2. The analysis which we have made so far of the enunciation of Mt 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” indicates the necessity of amplifying and above all deepening the interpretation presented previously, with regard to the ethical meaning that this enunciation contains. Let us dwell on the situation described by the Master, a situation in which the one who “commits adultery in his heart” by means of an interior act of lust (expressed by the look), is the man. It is significant that Christ, speaking of the object of this act, does not stress that it is “another man’s wife,” or a woman who is not his own wife, but says generically: a woman. Adultery committed “in the heart” is not circumscribed in the limits of the interpersonal relationship which make it possible to determine adultery committed “in the body.” It is not these limits that decide exclusively and essentially about adultery committed “in the heart,” but the very nature of lust, expressed in this case by a look, that is, by the fact that that man - of whom Christ speaks, or the sake of example - “looks lustfully.” Adultery “in the heart” is committed not only because man “looks” in this way at a woman who is not his wife, but precisely because he looks at a woman in this way. Even if he looked in this way at the woman who is his wife, he could likewise commit adultery “in his heart.”
3. This interpretation seems to take into consideration more amply what has been said about lust in these analyses as a whole, and primarily about the lust of the flesh as a permanent element of man’s sinfulness (status naturae lapsae). The lust which, as an interior act, springs from this basis, (as we tried to indicate in the preceding analyses) changes the very intentionality of the woman’s existence “for” man, reducing the riches of the perennial call to the communion of persons, the riches of the deep attractiveness of masculinity and femininity, to mere satisfaction of the sexual “need” of the body (with which the concept of “instinct” seems to be linked more closely). As a result of this reduction, the person (in this case, the woman) becomes for the other person (the man) mainly the object of the potential satisfaction of his own sexual “need.” In this way, that mutual “for” is distorted, losing its character of communion of persons in favor of the utilitarian function. A man who “looks” in this way, as Mt 5:27-28 writes, “uses” the woman, her femininity, to satisfy his own ‘‘instinct.” Although he does not do so with an exterior act, he has already assumed this attitude (deep down, inwardly deciding in this way with regard to a given woman. This is what adultery “committed in the heart” consists of. Man can commit this adultery “in the heart” also with regard to his own wife, if he treats her only as an object to satisfy instinct.
4. It is not possible to arrive at the second interpretation of the words of Mt 5:27-28, if we confine ourselves to the purely psychological interpretation of lust without taking into account what constitutes its specific theological character, that is, the organic relationship between lust (as an act) and the lust of the flesh, as, so to speak, a permanent disposition derived from man’s sinfulness. The purely psychological (or “sexological”) interpretation of “lust” does not seem to constitute a sufficient basis to understand the text of the Sermon on the Mount in question. If, on the other hand, we refer to the theological interpretation, - without underestimating what remains unchangeable in the first interpretation (the psychological one) - it, that is, the second interpretation (the theological one), appears to us as more complete. Thanks to it, in fact, also the ethical meaning of the key-enunciation of the Sermon on the Mount, to which we owe the adequate dimension of the ethos of the Gospel, becomes clearer.
5. Sketching this dimension, Christ remains faithful to the Law: “Think not that have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mt 5:17). Consequently he shows how deep down it is necessary to go, how the recesses of the human heart must be thoroughly revealed, in order that this heart may become a place of “fulfillment” of the Law. The enunciation of Mt 5:27-28, which makes manifest the interior perspective of adultery committed “in the heart” - and in this perspective points out the right ways to fulfill the commandment: “do not commit adultery” - is an extraordinary argument of it. This enunciation (Mt 5:27-28) refers, in fact, to the sphere in which it is a question in particular of “purity of heart” (cf. Mt 5:8) (an expression which - as is known - has a wide meaning in the Bible). Elsewhere, too, we will have the opportunity to consider in what way the commandment “do not commit as regards the way in which it is expressed and the content, is a univocal and sever prohibition (like the commandment “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Ex 20:17) - is carried out precisely by means of “purity of heart.” The severity and strength of the prohibition are testified indirectly by the following words of the text of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Christ speaks figuratively of “plucking out one’s eye” and “cutting off one’s hand,” if these members were the cause of sin (cf. Mt 5:29-30). We have seen previously that the legislation of the Old Testament, though abounding in severe punishments did not contribute to “fulfill the Law,” because its casuistry was marked by many compromises with the lust of the flesh. Christ teaches, on the contrary, that the commandment is carried out through “purity of heart,” which is not given to man unless at the cost of firmness with regard to everything that springs from the lust of the flesh. He who is able to demand consistently from his “heart”, from his “heart” and from his “body,” acquires “purity of heart.”
6. The commandment “do not commit adultery” finds its rightful motivation in the indissolubility of marriage, in which man and woman, by virtue of the original plan of the Creator, unite in such a way that “the two become one flesh” (cf. Gen 2:24). Adultery, by its essence, is in conflict with this unity, in the sense in which this unity corresponds to the dignity of persons. Christ not only confirms this essential ethical meaning of the commandment, but aims at strengthening it in the very depth of the human person. The new dimension of ethos is always connected with the revelation of that depth, which is called “heart,” and with its liberation from “lust,” in order that man, male and female in all the interior truth of the mutual “for” may shine forth more fully in that heart. Freed from the constraint and from the impairment of the spirit that the lust of the flesh brings with it, the human being, male and female, finds himself mutually in the freedom of the gift which is the condition of all life together in truth, and, in particular, in the freedom of mutual giving, since both, as husband and wife, must form the sacramental unity willed, as Genesis 2:24 says, by the Creator himself.
7. As is plain, the necessity which, in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ lays on all his actual and potential listeners, belongs to the interior space in which man-precisely the one who is listening to him-must perceive anew the lost fullness of his humanity, and want to regain it. That fullness in the mutual relationship of persons, of the man and of the woman, is claimed by the Master in Mt 5:27-28, having in mind above all the indissolubility of marriage, but also every other form of the common life of men and women, that common life which constitutes the pure and simple fabric of existence. Human life, by its nature, is “co-educative” and its dignity, its balance, depend, at every moment of history and at every point of geographical longitude and latitude, on “who” she will be for him, and he for her.
The words spoken by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount have certainly this universal and at the same time profound significance. Only in this way can they be understood in the mouth of him who knew thoroughly “what was in man,” and who, at the same time, bore within him the mystery of the “redemption of the body,” as St. Paul will put it. Are we to fear the severity of these words, or rather have confidence in their salvific content, in their power?
In any case, the analysis carried out of the words spoken by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount opens the way to further indispensable reflections in order to reach full awareness of “historical” man, and above all of modern man: of his conscience and he for her.
Values and the Duties of the
(15 October, 1980)
1. During our many Wednesday meetings, we have made a detailed analysis of the words of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Christ refers to the human “heart”. As we now know, his words are exacting. Christ says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27-28). This reference to the heart throws light on the dimension of human interiority, the dimension of the inner man, characteristic of ethics, and even more of the theology of the body. Desire, which rises in the sphere of the lust of the flesh, is at the same time an interior and theological reality, which is experienced, in a way, by every “historical” man. And it is precisely this man - even if he does not know the words of Christ - who continually asks himself the question about his own “heart.” Christ’s words make this question particularly explicit: is the heart accused, or is it called to good? And we now intend to take this question into consideration, towards the end of our reflections and analyses, connected with the sentence of the Gospel, so concise and yet categorical at the same time, so pregnant with theological, anthropological, and ethical content.
A second question goes hand and hand with it, a more “practical” one: how “can” and “must” he act, the man who accepts Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, the man who accepts the ethos of the Gospel, and, in particular, accepts it in this field?
2. This man finds in the considerations made up to now the answer, at least an indirect one, to the two questions: how “can” he act, that is, on what can he rely in his “inner self”, at the source of his “interior” or “ exterior” acts? And furthermore: how “should” he act, that is, in what way do the values known according to the “scale” revealed in the Sermon on the Mount, constitute a duty of his will and his “heart,” of his desires and his choices? In what way are they “binding” on him in action, in behavior, if, accepted by means of knowledge, they already “commit” him in thinking and, in a certain way, in “feeling”? These questions are significant for human “praxis,” and indicate an organic connection of “praxis” itself with those. Lived morality is always the ethos of human practice.
3. It is possible to answer the aforesaid questions in various ways. In fact, various answers are given, both in the past and today. That is confirmed by an ample literature. In addition to the answers we find in it, it is necessary to take into consideration the infinite number of answers that concrete man gives to questions by himself, the ones that his conscience, his awareness and moral sensitivity give repeated, in the life of everyone. Precisely in this sphere an interpenetration of ethos and praxis is carried out. .Here there live their own life (not exclusively “theoretical”) the individual principles, that is, the norms of morality with their motivations, worked out and made known by moralists, but also the ones worked out - certainly not without a link with the work of moralists and scientists - by individual men, as authors and direct subjects of real morality, as co-authors of its history, on which there depends also the level of morality itself, its progress or its decadence. In all this there is reconfirmed everywhere and always, that “historical man” to whom Christ once spoke, proclaiming the good news of the Gospel with the Sermon on the Mount, where he said among other things the sentence that we read in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
4. Matthew’s enunciation is stupendously concise in comparison with everything that has been written on this subject in secular literature. And perhaps its power in the history of ethos consists precisely in this.
At the same time the fact must be realized that the history of ethos flows in a multiform bed, in which the individual currents draw nearer to, or move further away from, one another in turn. “Historical” man always evaluates his own “heart” in his own way, just as he also judges his own “body”: and so he passes from the pole of pessimism to the pole of optimism, from puritan severity to modern permissiveness. It is necessary to realize this, in order that the ethos of the Sermon on the Mount may always have due transparency with regard to man’s actions and behavior. For this purpose it is necessary to make some more analyses.
5. Our reflections on the meaning of the words of Christ according to Matthew 5:27-28 would not be complete, if they did not dwell - at least briefly - on what can be called the echo of these words in the history of human thought and of the evaluation of ethos. The echo is always a transformation of the voice and of the words that the voice expresses. We know from experience that this transformation is sometimes full of mysterious fascination. In the case in question, it was rather the opposite that happened. Christ’s words, in fact, have rather been stripped of their simplicity and depth, and there has been conferred a meaning far removed from the one expressed in them, a meaning that, when all is said and done, is even in contradiction to them. We have in mind here all that happened outside Christianity under the name of Manichaeism (1), and that also tried to enter the ground of Christianity as regards theology itself and the ethos of the body. It is well known that, in its original form, Manichaeism, which arose in the East outside the biblical environment and sprang from Mazdeistic dualism, saw the source of evil in matter, in the body, and therefore proclaimed the condemnation of everything that is corporeal in man. And since corporeity is manifested in man mainly through sex, so the condemnation was extended to marriage and to conjugal life, as well as to other spheres of being and acting in which corporeity is expressed.
6. To an unaccustomed ear, the evident severity of that system might seem in harmony with the severe words of Matthew. 5:29-30, in which Christ speaks of “plucking out one’s eye” or “cutting off one’s hand”, if these members were the cause of scandal. Through the purely “material” interpretation of these expressions, it was also possible to obtain a Manichaean view of Christ’s enunciation, in which he speaks of a man who has “committed adultery in his heart . . . by looking at a woman lustfully.” In this case, too, the Manichaean interpretation aims at condemnation of the body, as the real source of evil, since the “ontological” principle of evil, according to Manichaeism, is concealed and at the same time manifested in it. The attempt was made, therefore, to see this condemnation in the Gospel, and sometimes it was perceived, where actually only a particular requirement addressed to the human spirit had been expressed.
Note that the condemnation might - and may always - be a loophole to avoid the requirements set in the Gospel by him who “knew what was in man” (Jn 2:25). There is no lack of proofs in history. We have already partially had the opportunity (and we will certainly. have it again) to show to what extent such a requirement may arise solely from an affirmation - and not from a denial or a condemnation--if it has to lead to an affirmation that is even more mature and deeper, objectively and subjectively. And the words of Christ according to . Matthew 5:27-28 must lead to such an affirmation of the femininity and masculinity of the human being, as the personal dimension of ‘being body.” This is the right ethical meaning of these words. They impress, on the pages of the Gospel, a peculiar dimension of ethos in order to impress it subsequently on human life.
We will try to take up this subject again in our further reflections.
Value of the
according to the Creator’s Plan
(22 October, 1980) [ »Table of Cont.]
Body NOT CONDEMNED: Mainfests Spirit:
1. At the center of our reflections, at the Wednesday meetings, there has been for a long time now the following enunciation of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount.. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her (towards her) in his heart” (Mt 5:27-28). These words have an essential meaning for the whole theology of the body contained in Christ’s teaching. Therefore, we rightly attribute great importance to their correct understanding and interpretation. Already in our preceding reflection, we noted that the Manichean doctrine, both in its primitive and in its later expressions, contradicts these words.
It is not possible, in fact, to see in the sentence of the Sermon on the Mount, analyzed here, a “condemnation” or an accusation of the body. If anything, one could catch a glimpse of a condemnation of the human heart. However, the reflections we have made so far show that, if the words of Matthew 5:27-28 contain an accusation, it is directed above- all at the man of lust. With those words the heart is not so much accused as subjected to a judgment, or, better, called to a critical, in fact a self-critical, examination: whether or not it succumbs to the lust of the flesh. Penetrating into the deep meaning of the enunciation of Matthew 5:27-28, we must note, however, that the judgment contained in it about “desire”, as an act of lust of the flesh, brings with it not the negation, but rather the affirmation, of the body as an element which, together with the spirit, determines man’s ontological subjectivity and shares in his dignity as a person. In this way, therefore, the judgment on the lust of the flesh bas a meaning essentially different from the one which the Manichean ontology presupposes and which necessarily springs from it.
2. The body, in its masculinity and femininity, is called “from the beginning” to become the manifestation of the spirit. It does so also by means of the conjugal union of man and woman, when they unite in such a way as to form “one flesh”. Elsewhere (cf. Mt 19:5-6) Christ defends the inviolable rights of this unity, by means of which the body, in its masculinity and femininity, assumes the value of a sign - in a way a sacramental sign. Furthermore, by warning against the lust of the flesh, he expresses the same truth about the ontological dimension of the body and confirms its ethical meaning, consistent with his teaching as a whole. This ethical meaning has nothing in common with the Manichean condemnation, and is, on the contrary, deeply penetrated by the mystery of the “redemption of the body,” of which St. Paul will write in the letter to the Romans (cf. Rom 8:23). The “redemption of the body” does not indicate, however, ontological evil as a constituent attribute of the human body, but points out only man’s sinfulness, as a result of which he has, among other things, lost the clear sense of the nuptial meaning of the body, in which interior mastery and the freedom of the spirit is expressed. It is a question here - as we have already pointed out previously - a “partial,” potential loss, where the sense of the nuptial meaning of the body is confused, in -a way, with lust, and easily lets itself be absorbed by it.
3. The appropriate interpretation of Christ’s words according to Matthew 5:27-28, as well as the “praxis” in which the authentic ethos of the Sermon on the Mount will be subsequently expressed, must be absolutely free of Manichean elements in thought and in attitude. A Manichaean attitude would lead to an “annihilation” of the body - if not real, at least intentional - to negation of the value of human sex, of the masculinity and femininity of the human person, or at least to their mere “toleration” in the limits of the “need” delimited by the necessity of procreation. On the basis of Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, on the other hand, Christian ethos is characterized by a transformation of the conscience and attitudes of the human person, both man and woman, such as to express. and realize the value of the body and of sex, according to the Creator’s original plan, placed as they are in the service of the “communion of persons,” which is the deepest substratum of human ethics and culture. Whereas, for the Manichaean mentality, the body and sexuality constitute, so to speak, an “anti-value,” for Christianity, on the contrary, they always remain a “value not sufficiently appreciated,” as I will explain better further on. The second attitude indicates what must be the form of ethos in which the mystery of the “redemption of the body” takes root, so to speak, in the “historical” soil of man’s sinfulness. That is expressed by the theological formula, which defines the “state” of “historical” man as status naturae lapsae simul ac redemptae. (The state of fallen, but at the same time redeemed, nature).
4. Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28) must be interpreted in the light of this complex truth about man. If they contain a certain “accusation” leveled at the human heart, all the more so they address an appeal to it, The accusation of the moral evil which “desire,” born of intemperate lust of the flesh, conceals within it, is at the same time a call to overcome this evil. And if victory over evil must consist in detachment from it (hence the severe words in the context of Matthew 5:27-28), it is, however, only a question of detaching oneself from the evil of the act (in the case in question, the interior act of “lust”), and never of transferring the negative character of this act to its object. Such a transfer would mean a certain acceptance - perhaps not fully conscious - of the Manichaean “anti-value.” It would not constitute a real and deep victory over the evil of the act, which is evil by its moral essence, and so evil of a spiritual nature; on the contrary, there would be concealed in it the great danger of justifying the act to the detriment of the object (the essential error of Manichaean ethos consists, in fact, just in this). It is clear that in Matthew 5:27-28 Christ demands detachment from the evil of “lust” (or of the look of disorderly desire), but his enunciation does not let it be supposed in any way that the object of that desire, that is, the woman who is “looked at lustfully,” is an evil.
(This clarification seems to be lacking sometimes in some “wisdom” texts).
5. We must, therefore, specify the difference between the “accusation” and the “appeal.” Since the accusation leveled at the evil of lust is at the same time an appeal to overcome it, this victory, consequently, must be united with an effort to discover the true values of the object, in order that the Manichaean “anti-value” may not take root in man, in his conscience, and in his will. In fact, as a result of the evil of “lust,” that is, of the act of which Christ speaks in Matthew 5:27-28, the object to which it is addressed constitutes for the human subject a “value not sufficiently appreciated”. If, in the words of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28) which have been analyzed, the human heart is “accused” of lust (or is warned against that lust), at the same time, by means of the words themselves, it is called to discover the full sense of what, in the act of lust, constitutes for him a “value that is not sufficiently appreciated.” As we know, Christ said: “Every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” “Adultery committed in the heart” can and must be understood as “devaluation,” or as the impoverishment of an authentic value, as an intentional deprivation of that dignity to which the complete value of her femininity corresponds in the person in question. The words of Matthew 5:27-28 contain a call to discover this value and -this dignity, and to reassert them. It seems that only when the words of Matthew are understood in this way, is their semantic significance respected.
To conclude these concise considerations, it is necessary to note once more that the Manichaean way of understanding and evaluating man’s body and sexuality is essentially alien to the Gospel, not in conformity with the exact meaning of the words of the Sermon on the Mount spoken by Christ. The appeal to master the lust of the flesh springs precisely from the affirmation of the personal dignity of the body and of sex, and serves only this dignity. Anyone who wanted to see in these words a Manichaean perspective would he committing an essential error.
Completes the Power of Creating
(29 October, 1980) [ »Table of Cont.]
The Modern “MASTERS of SUSPICION”
1. For a long time, now, our Wednesday reflections have been centered on the following enunciation of Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her (with regard to her) in his heart” (Mt 5:27-28). We have recently explained that the above-mentioned words cannot be understood or interpreted in a Manichean key. They do not contain, in any way, a condemnation of the body and of sexuality. They merely contain a call to overcome the three forms of lust, and in particular the lust of the flesh. This call springs precisely from the affirmation of the personal dignity of the body and of sexuality, and merely confirms this affirmation.
To clarify this formulation, that is, to determine the specific meaning of the words of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Christ appeals to the human heart (cf. Mt 5:27-28), is important not only because of “inveterate habits,” springing from Manicheanism, in the way of thinking and evaluating things, but also because of some contemporary positions which interpret the meaning of man and of morality. Ricoeur described Freud, Marx and Nietzsche as “masters of suspicion” (1) (“Maîtres du soupçon”), having in mind the; set of systems that each of them represents and, above all, perhaps, the hidden basis and the orientation of each of them in understanding and interpreting the humanum itself.
It seems necessary to refer, at least briefly, to this basis and to this orientation. It must be done to discover on the one hand a significant convergence, and on the other hand also a fundamental divergence, which has its source in the Bible, to which we are trying to give expression in our analyses. What does the convergence consist-of? It consists of the fact that the above-mentioned thinkers, who have exercised, and still do, a great influence on the way of thinking and evaluating of the men of our time, seem substantially also to judge and accuse man’s “heart.” Even more, they seem to judge it and accuse it because of what, in biblical language, especially Johannine, is called lust, the three forms of lust.
2. Here a certain distribution of the parts could be made. In the Nietzschean interpretation, the judgment and accusation of the human heart correspond, in a way, to what is called in biblical language “the pride of life”; in the Marxist interpretation, to what was called “the lust of the eyes”; in the Freudian interpretation, on the other hand, to what is called “the lust of the flesh.” The convergence of these conceptions with the interpretation of man founded on the Bible lies in the fact that, discovering the three forms of lust in the human heart, we, too, could have limited ourselves to putting that heart in a state of continual suspicion. However, the Bible does not allow us to stop here. The words of Christ according to Matthew 5:27-28 are such that, while manifesting the whole reality of desire and lust, they do not permit us to make this lust the absolute criterion of anthropology and ethics, that is, the very core of the hermeneutics of man. In the Bible, lust in its three forms does not constitute the fundamental and perhaps even unique and absolute criterion of anthropology and ethics, although it is certainly an important coefficient to understand man, his actions, and their moral value. Also the analysis we have carried out so far shows this.
3. Though wishing to arrive at a complete interpretation of Christ’s words on man who “looks lustfully” (cf. Mt 5:27-28), we cannot be content with any conception of “lust,” even if the fullness of the “psychological” truth accessible to us were to be reached; we must, on the contrary, draw upon the First Letter of John 2:15-16 and the “theology of lust” that is contained in it. The man who “looks lustfully” is, in fact, the man of the three forms of lust; he is the man of the lust of the flesh. Therefore he “can” look in this way and he must even be conscious that, leaving this interior act at the mercy of the forces of nature, he cannot avoid the influence of the lust of the flesh. In Matthew 5:27-28 Christ also deals with this and draws attention to it.
His words refer not only to the concrete act of “lust,” but, indirectly, also to the “man of lust.”
Recovery of Nuptial Meaning of Body
4. Why cannot these words of the Sermon on the Mount, in spite of the convergence of what they say about the human heart (2) with what has been expressed in the interpretation of the “masters of suspicion,” why cannot they be considered as the foundation of the aforesaid interpretation or a similar one? And why do they constitute an expression, a configuration, of a completely different ethos? - different not only from the Manichean one, but also from the Freudian one? I think that the set of analyses and reflections made so far gives an answer to this question. Summing up, it can be said briefly that Christ’s words according to Matthew 5:27-28 do not allow us to stop at the accusation of the human heart and to regard it continually with suspicion, but must be understood and interpreted above all as an appeal to the heart. This derives from the very nature of the ethos of redemption. On the basis of this mystery, which St. Paul (Rom 8:23) defines “the redemption of the body,” on the basis of the reality called “redemption” and, consequently, on the basis of the ethos of the redemption of the body, we cannot stop only at the accusation of the human heart on the basis of desire and lust of the flesh. Man cannot stop at putting the “heart” in a state of continual and irreversible suspicion due to the manifestations of the lust of the flesh and libido, which, among other things, a psychoanalyst perceives by means of analyses of the unconscious (3). Redemption is a truth, a reality, in the name of which man must feel called, and “called with efficacy.” He must realize this call also through Christ’s words according to Matthew 5:27-28, reread in the full context of the revelation of the body. Man must feel called to rediscover, nay more, to realize the nuptial meaning of the body and to express in this way the interior freedom of the gift, that is, of that spiritual state and that spiritual power which are derived from mastery of the lust of the flesh.
5. Man is called to this by the word of the Gospel, therefore from “outside,” but at the same time he is also called from “inside.” The words of Christ, who in the Sermon on the Mount appeals to the “heart,” induce the listener, in a way, to this interior call. If he lets them act in him, he will be able to hear within him at the same time almost the echo of that “beginning,” that good “beginning” to which Christ refers on another occasion, to remind his listeners who man is, who woman is, and who we are for each other in the work of creation The words of Christ uttered in the Sermon on the Mount are not a call hurled into emptiness. They are not addressed to the man who is completely absorbed in the lust of the flesh, unable to seek another form of mutual relations in the sphere of the perennial attraction, which accompanies the history of man and woman precisely “from the beginning.” Christ’s words bear witness that the original power (therefore also the grace) of the mystery of creation becomes for each of them the power (that is grace) of the mystery of redemption. That concerns the very “nature,” the very substratum of the humanity of the person, the deepest impulses of the “heart.” Does not man feel, at the same time as lust, a deep need to preserve the dignity of the mutual relations, which find their expression in the body, thanks to his masculinity and femininity? Does he not feel the need to impregnate them with everything that is noble and beautiful? Does he not feel the need to confer on them the supreme value which is love?
Nuptial Meaning of Body
6. Rereading it, this appeal contained in Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount cannot be an act detached from the context of concrete existence. It always means - though only in the dimension of the act to which it refers - the rediscovery of the meaning of the whole of existence, the meaning of life, in which there is contained also that meaning of the body which here we call “nuptial”. The meaning of the body is, in a sense, the antithesis of Freudian libido. The meaning of life the antithesis of the interpretation “of suspicion.” This interpretation is very different, it is radically different from what we rediscover in Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount. These words reveal not only another ethos, but also another vision of man’s possibilities. It is important that he, precisely in his “heart,” should not only feel irrevocably accused and given as a prey to the lust of the flesh, but that he should feel forcefully called in this same heart. Called precisely to that supreme value that is love. Called as a person in the truth of his humanity, therefore also in the truth of his masculinity and femininity, in the truth of his body. Called in that truth which has been his heritage “from the beginning,” the heritage of his heart, which is deeper than the sinfulness inherited, deeper than lust in its three forms. The words of Christ, set in the whole reality of creation and redemption, reactivate that deeper heritage and give it real power in man’s life.
(24) Eros and Ethos Meet and Bear Fruit
(5 November, 1980) [ »Table of Cont.]
There should be no fundamental division between:
1. In the course of our weekly reflections on Christ’s enunciation in the Sermon on the Mount, in which, in reference to the commandment “You shalt not commit adultery,” he compares “lust” (“looking lustfully”) with “adultery committed in the heart”, we are trying to answer the question: do these words only accuse the human “heart,” or are they first and foremost an appeal addressed to it? An appeal, of course, of ethical character; an important and essential appeal for the very ethos of the Gospel. We answer that the above-mentioned words are above all an appeal.
At the same time, we are trying to bring our reflections nearer to the “routes” taken, in its sphere, by the conscience of contemporary men. Already in the preceding cycle of our considerations we mentioned “eros.” This Greek term, which passed from mythology to philosophy, then to the literary language and finally to the spoken language, unlike the word “ethos,” is alien and unknown to biblical language. If, in the present analyses of biblical texts, we use the term “ethos,” known to the Septuagint and to the New Testament, we do so because of the general meaning it has acquired in philosophy and theology, embracing in its content the complex spheres of good and evil, depending on human will and subject to the laws of conscience and the sensitivity of the human “heart.” The term “eros,” as well as being the proper name of the mythological character, has a philosophical meaning in the writings of Plato (1), which seems to be different from the common meaning and also from what is usually attributed to it in literature. Obviously, we must take into consideration here the vast range of meanings, which differ from one another in their finer shades, as regards both the mythological character and the philosophical content, and above all the “somatic” or “sexual” point of view. Taking into account such a vast range of meanings, it is opportune to evaluate, in an equally differentiated way, what is related to “eros” (2) and is defined as “erotic.”
Connotation Of The Term “Eros”
2. According to Plato, “eros” represents the interior force that drags man towards everything good, true, and beautiful. This “attraction” indicates, in this case, the intensity of a subjective act of the human spirit. In the common meaning, on the contrary, - as also in literature - this “attraction” seems to be first and foremost of a sensual nature. It arouses the mutual tendency of both the man and the woman to draw closer to each other, to the union of bodies, to that union of which Genesis 2:24 speaks. It is a question here of answering the question whether “eros” connotes the same meaning in the biblical narrative (particularly in Gen 2:23-25), which certainly bears witness to the mutual attraction and the perennial call of the human person-through masculinity and femininity - to that “unity in the flesh” which, at the same time, must realize the communion-union of persons. It is precisely because of this interpretation of “eros” (as well as of its relationship with ethos) that also the way in which we understand the “lust” spoken about in the Sermon on the Mount takes on fundamental importance.
3. As it seems, common language takes into consideration above all that meaning of “lust,” which we previously defined as “psychological” and which could also be called “sexogical”: this is done on the basis of premises which are limited mainly to the naturalistic, “somatic and sensualistic interpretation of human eroticism. (It is not a question here, in any way, of reducing the value of scientific researches in this field, but we wish to call attention to the danger of reductivism and exclusivism). Well, in the psychological and sexological sense, lust indicates the subjective intensity of straining towards the object because of its sexual character (sexual value). That straining has its subjective intensity due to the specific “attraction” which extends its dominion over man’s emotional sphere and involves his “corporeity” (his somatic masculinity or femininity). When in the Sermon on the Mount we hear of the “concupiscence” of the man who “looks at a woman lustfully,” these words-understood in the “psychological” (sexological) sense-refer to the sphere of phenomena which in common language are, precisely, described as “erotic.” Within the limits of the enunciation of Matthew 5:27-28, it is a question only of the interior act, while it is mainly those ways of acting and of mutual behavior of the man and the woman, which are the external manifestation of these interior acts, that are defined “erotic.” Nevertheless, there seems to be no doubt that - reasoning in this way - it is almost necessary to put the sign of equality between “erotic” and what “derives from desire” (and serves to satisfy the lust of the flesh). If this were so, then the words of Christ according to Matthew 5:27-28 would express a negative judgment about what is “erotic” and, addressed to the human heart, would constitute at the same time a severe warning against “eros.”
Many Shades Of Meaning Of “Eros”
4. However, we have already mentioned that the term “eros” has many semantic shades of meaning. Therefore, wishing to define the relationship of the enunciation of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28) with the wide sphere “erotic,” phenomena, that is, those mutual actions and ways of behaving through which man and woman approach each other and unite so as to be “one flesh” (cf. Gen 2:24), it is necessary to take into account the multiplicity of the semantic shades of meaning of “eros.” It seems possible, in fact, that in the sphere of the concept of “eros “ - taking into account its Platonic meaning - there is room for that ethos, for those ethical and indirectly even theological contents which, in the course of our analyses, have been seen from Christ’s appeal to the human “heart” in the Sermon on the Mount. Also knowledge of the multiple semantic nuances of “eros” and of what, in the differentiated experience and description of man, at various periods and various points of geographical and cultural longitude and latitude, is defined as “erotic,” can be of help in understanding the specific and complex riches of the “heart,” to which Christ appealed in his enunciation in Matthew 5:27-28.
5. If we admit that “eros” means the interior force that “attracts” man towards what is true, good, and beautiful, then, within the sphere of this concept, the way towards what Christ wished to express in the Sermon on the Mount, can also be seen to open. The words of Matthew 5:27-28, if they are an “accusation” of the human heart, are at the same time, even more, an appeal made to it. This appeal is the specific category of the ethos of redemption. The call to what is true, good, and beautiful means at the same time, in the ethos of redemption, the necessity of overcoming what is derived from lust in its three forms. It also means the possibility and the necessity of transforming what has been weighed down by the lust of the flesh. Furthermore, if the words of Matthew 5:27-28 represent this call, then they mean that, in the erotic sphere, “eros” and “ethos” do not differ from each other, are not opposed to each other, but are called to meet in the human heart, and, in this meeting, to bear fruit. What is worthy of the human “heart” is that the form of what is “erotic” should be at the same time the form of ethos, that is, of what is “ethical.”
6. This affirmation is very important for ethos and at the same time for ethics. In fact, a “negative” meaning is often connected with the latter concept, because ethics bears with it norms, commandments, and also prohibitions. We are commonly inclined to consider the word of the Sermon on the Mount on “lust” (on looking lustfully”) exclusively as a prohibition-a prohibition in the sphere of “eros” (that is, in the “erotic” sphere). And very often we are content merely with this understanding, without trying to reveal the really deep and essential values that this prohibition covers, that is, ensures. Not only does it protect them, but it also makes them accessible and liberates them, if we learn to open our “heart” to them.
In the Sermon on the Mount Christ teaches us this and directs man’s heart towards these values.
The Mature Result of
(12 November, 1980)
1. Today we resume our analysis, which started a week ago, on the mutual relationship between what is “ethical” and what is “erotic.” Our reflections follow the pattern of the words spoken by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, with which he referred to the commandment “You shall not commit adultery” and, at the same time, defined “lust” (“looking lustfully”) as “adultery committed in the heart.” We see from these reflections that “ethos” is connected with the discovery of a new order of vales. It is necessary continually to rediscover in what is “erotic” the nuptial meaning of the body and the true dignity of the gift. This is the role of the human spirit, a role of an ethical nature. If it does not assume this role, the very attraction of the senses and the passion of the body may stop at mere lust devoid of ethical value, and man, male and female, does not experience that fullness of “eros,” which means the aspiration of the human spirit towards what is true, good and beautiful, so that what is erotic” also becomes true, good and beautiful. It is indispensable, therefore, that ethos should become the constituent form of eros.
2. The above-mentioned reflections are closely connected with the problem of spontaneity. It is very often thought that it is ethos itself that takes away spontaneity from what is erotic in man’s life and behavior; and for this reason detachment from ethos is demanded “for the benefit” of eros. Also the words of the Sermon on the Mount would seem to hinder this “good.” But this opinion is erroneous and, in any case, superficial. Obstinately accepting’ it and upholding it, we will never reach the full dimensions of eros, and that inevitably has repercussions in the sphere of “praxis,” that is, in our behavior and also in the concrete experience of values. In fact, he who accepts the ethos of the enunciation of Matthew 5:27-28, must know that he is also called to full and mature spontaneity of the relations that spring from the perennial attraction of masculinity and femininity. This very spontaneity is the gradual fruit of the discernment of the impulses of one’s own heart.
3. Christ’s words are severe. They demand from man that, in the sphere in which relations with persons of the other sex are formed, he should have full and deep consciousness of his own acts, and above all of interior acts; that he should be aware of the internal impulses of his “heart,” so as to be able to distinguish them and qualify them maturely. Christ’s words demand that in this sphere, which seems to belong exclusively to the body and to the senses, that is, to exterior man, he should succeed in being really an interior man; that he should be able to obey correct conscience; to be the true master of his own deep impulses, like a guardian who watches over a hidden spring; and finally to draw from all those impulses what is fitting for “purity of heart,” building with conscience and consistency that personal sense of the nuptial meaning of the body, which opens the interior space of the freedom of the gift.
4. Well, if man wishes to respond to the call expressed by Matthew 5:27-28, he must learn, with perseverance and consistency, what is the meaning of the body, the meaning of femininity and masculinity. He must learn this not only through an objectivizing abstraction (although this, too, is necessary), but above all in the sphere of the interior reactions of his own “heart.” This is a “science,” which cannot really be learned only from books, because it is a question here in the first place of deep “knowledge” of human interiority. In the sphere of this knowledge, man learns to distinguish between what, on the one hand, composes the multiform riches of masculinity and femininity in the signs that come from their perennial call and creative attraction, and what, on the other hand, bears only the sign of lust. And although these variants and nuances of the internal movements of the “heart” can, within a certain limit, be confused with one another, it must be said, however, that interior man has been called by Christ to acquire a mature and complete evaluation, leading him to discern and judge the various movements of his very heart. And it should be added that this task can be carried out and is really worthy of man.
In fact, the discernment of which we are speaking has an essential relationship with spontaneity. The subjective structure of man shows, in this area, a specific richness and a clear distinction. Consequently, a noble gratification, for example, is one thing, while sexual desire is another; when sexual desire is linked with a noble gratification, it differs from desire pure and simple. Similarly, as regards the sphere of the immediate reactions of the “heart,” sexual excitement is very different from the deep emotion with which not only interior sensitivity, but sexuality itself reacts to the total expression of femininity and masculinity. It is not possible here to develop this subject further. But it is certain that, if we affirm that Christ’s words according to Matthew 5:27-28 are severe, they are also severe in the sense that they contain within them the deep requirements concerning human spontaneity.
5. There cannot be such spontaneity in all the movements and impulses that arise from mere carnal lust, devoid as it is of a choice and of an adequate hierarchy. It is precisely at the price of self-control that man reaches that deeper and more mature spontaneity with which his “heart,” mastering his instincts, rediscovers the spiritual beauty of the sign constituted by the human body in its masculinity and femininity. Since this discovery is enhanced in the conscience as conviction, and in the will as guidance both of possible choices and of mere desires, the human heart becomes a participant, so to speak, in another spontaneity, of which “carnal man” knows nothing or very little. There is no doubt that through Christ’s words according to Matthew 5:27-28, we are called precisely to such spontaneity. And perhaps the most important sphere of “praxis” - concerning the more “interior” acts - is precisely that which gradually prepares the way towards such spontaneity.
This is a vast subject which will be opportune for us to take up another time in the future, when we will dedicate ourselves to showing what is the real nature of the evangelical “purity of heart.” We conclude for the present saying that the words of the Sermon on the Mount, with which Christ calls the attention of his listeners - at that time and today - to “lust” (“looking lustfully”), indirectly indicate the way towards a mature spontaneity of the human “heart,” which does not suffocate its noble desires and aspirations, but, on the contrary, frees them and, in a way, facilitates them.
Let what we said about the mutual relationship between what is “ethical” and what is “erotic,” according to the ethos of the Sermon on the Mount, suffice for the present.
Calls Us to Rediscover the Living Forms of the
(3 December, 1980)
1. At the beginning of our considerations on Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28), we saw that they contain a deep ethical and anthropological meaning. It is a question here of the passage in which Christ recalls the commandment: “You shall not commit adultery,” and adds: “Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We speak of the ethical and anthropological meaning of these words, because they allude to the two closely connected dimensions of ethos and “historical” man. In the course of the preceding analyses, we tried to follow these two dimensions, always keeping in mind that Christ’s words are addressed to the “heart,” that is, to interior man. Interior man is the specific subject of the ethos of the body, with which Christ wishes to imbue the conscience and will of his listeners and disciples. It is certainly a “new” ethos. It is “new,” in comparison with the ethos of Old Testament men, as we have already -tried to show in more detailed analyses. It is “new” also with regard to the state of “historical” man, subsequent to original sin, that is, with regard to the “man of lust”. It is therefore a “new” ethos in a universal sense and significance. It is “new” in relation to any man, independently of any geographical and historical longitude and latitude.
2. We have on several occasions already called this “new” ethos, which emerges from the perspective of Christ’s words spoken in the Sermon on the Mount, the “ethos of redemption” and, more precisely, the ethos of the redemption of the body. Here we followed St. Paul, who in the Letter to the Romans contrasts “bondage to decay” (Rom 8:21) and submission “to futility” (ibid. 8:20) - in which the whole of creation has become participant owing to sin - with the desire for “the redemption of our bodies” (ibid. 8:23). In this context, the Apostle speaks of the groans “of the whole creation,” which “waits with eager longing”. . . to “be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (ibid. 8:20-21). In this way St. Paul reveals the situation of all creation, and in particular that of man after sin. Significant for this situation is the aspiration which - together with the new “adoption as sons” (ibid. 8:23) - strives precisely towards the redemption of the body,” is presented as the end, the eschatological and mature fruit of the mystery of the redemption of man and of the world, carried out by Christ.
3. In what sense, therefore, can we speak of the ethos of redemption and especially of the ethos of the redemption of the body? We must recognize that in the context of the words of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28), which we have analyzed, this meaning does not yet appear in all its fullness. It will be manifested more completely when we examine other words of Christ, the ones, that is, in which he refers to the resurrection (cf. Mt 22:30; Mk 12:25; Lk 20:35-36). However, there is no doubt that also in the Sermon on the Mount Christ speaks in the perspective of the redemption of man and of the world (and therefore precisely of the “redemption of the body”). This is, in fact, the perspective of the whole Gospel, of the whole teaching, in fact of the whole mission of Christ. And although the immediate context of the Sermon on the Mount indicates the Law and the Prophets as the historical reference point, characteristic of the people of God of the Old Covenant, yet we can never forget that in Christ’s teaching the fundamental reference to the question of marriage and the problem of the relations between man and woman, refers to “the beginning.” Such a reference can be justified only by the reality of Redemption; outside it, in fact, there would remain solely the three forms of lust or that “bondage to decay”, of which the Apostle Paul writes (Rom 8:21).
Only the perspective of the Redemption justifies the reference to the “beginning,” that is, the perspective of the mystery of creation in the totality of Christ’s teaching on the problems of marriage, man and woman and their mutual relationship. The words of Matthew 5:27-28 are set, in a word, in the same theological perspective.
4. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ does not invite man to return to the state of original innocence, because humanity has irrevocably left it behind, but he calls him to rediscover-on the foundation of the perennial and, so to speak, indestructible meanings of what is “human” - the living forms of the “new man.” In this way a link, or rather a continuity is established between the “beginning” and the perspective of Redemption. In the ethos of the redemption of the body, the original ethos of creation will have to be taken up again. Christ does not change the Law, but confirms the commandment: “You shall not commit adultery”; but, at the same time, he leads the intellect and the heart of listeners towards that “fullness of justice” willed by God the creator and legislator, that this commandment contains. This fullness is discovered: first with an interior view “of the heart,” and then with an adequate way of being and acting. The form of the “new man” can emerge from this way of being and acting, to the extent to which the ethos of the redemption of the body dominates the lust of the flesh and the whole man of lust. Christ clearly indicates that the way to attain this must be the way of temperance and mastery of desires, that is, at the very root, already in the purely interior sphere (“Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully . . .”) The ethos of redemption contains in every area - and directly in the sphere of the lust of the flesh - the imperative of self-control, the necessity of immediate continence and of habitual temperance.
5. However, temperance and continence do not mean - if it may be put in this way - suspension in emptiness: neither in the emptiness of values nor in the emptiness of the subject. The ethos of redemption is realized in self-mastery, by means of temperance, that is, continence of desires. In this behavior the human heart remains bound to the value from which, through desire, it would otherwise have moved away, turning towards pure lust deprived of ethical value (as we said in the preceding analysis). In the field of the ethos of redemption, union with that value by means of an act of mastery, is confirmed or reestablished with an even deeper power and firmness. And it is a question here of the value of the nuptial meaning of the body, of the value of a transparent sign, by means of which the Creator - together with the perennial mutual attraction of man and woman through masculinity and femininity - has written in the heart of both the gift of communion, that is, the mysterious reality of his image and likeness. It is a question of this value in the act of self-mastery and temperance, to which Christ refers in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28).
6. This act may give the impression of suspension “in the emptiness of the subject.” It may give this impression particularly when it is necessary to make up one’s mind to carry it out for the first time, or, even more, when the opposite habit has been formed, when man is accustomed to yield to the lust of the flesh. However, even the first time, and all the more so if he then acquires the capacity, man already gradually experiences his own dignity and, by means of temperance, bears witness to his own self-mastery and shows that he is carrying out what is essentially personal in him. And, furthermore, he gradually experiences the freedom of the gift, which in one way is the condition, and in another way is the response of the subject to the nuptial value of the human body, in its femininity and its masculinity. In this way, therefore, the ethos of the redemption of the body is realized through self-mastery, through the temperance of “desires,” when the human heart enters into an alliance with this ethos, or rather confirms it by means of its own integral subjectivity: when the deepest and yet most real possibilities and dispositions of the person are manifested, when the innermost layers of his potentiality acquire a voice, layers which the lust of the flesh, so to speak, would not permit to show themselves. Nor can these layers emerge when the human heart is bound in permanent suspicion, as is the case in Freudian hermeneutics. Nor can they be manifested when the Manichaean “anti-value” is dominant in consciousness. The ethos of redemption, on the other hand, is based on a close alliance with those layers.
7. Further reflections will give us other proofs. Concluding our analyses on Christ’s significant enunciation according to Matthew 5:27-28, we see that in it the human “heart” is above all the object of a call and not of an accusation. At the same time, we must admit that the consciousness of sinfulness is, in “historical” man, not only a necessary starting point, but also an in-dispensable condition of his aspiration to virtue, to “purity of heart,” to perfection. The ethos of the redemption of the body remains deeply rooted in the anthropological and axiological realism of revelation. Referring, in this case, to the “heart,” Christ formulates his words in the most concrete way: man, in fact, is unique and unrepeatable above all because of his “heart,” which decides his being “from within.” The category of the “heart” is, in a way, the equivalent of personal subjectivity. The way of appeal to purity of heart, as it was expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, is in any case a reminiscence of the original solitude, from which the male-man was liberated through opening to the other human being, woman. Purity of heart is explained, finally, with regard for the other subject, who is originally and perennially “so-called.”
Purity is a requirement of love. It is the dimension of its interior truth in man’s “heart.”
(10 December, 1980)
1. The analysis of purity is an indispensable completion of the words spoken by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, on which the cycle of our present reflections is centered. When Christ, explaining the correct meaning of the commandment “You shall not commit adultery,” appealed to the interior man, he specified at the same time the fundamental dimension of purity that marks the mutual relations between man and woman both in marriage and outside it. The words: “But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27-28), express what is opposed to purity. At the same time, these words demand the purity which, in the Sermon on the Mount, is included in the list of the beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). In this way Christ makes an appeal to the human heart: he calls upon it, he does not accuse it, as we have already clarified previously.
2. Christ sees in the heart, in man’s inner self, the source of purity - but also of moral impurity - in the fundamental and most generic sense of the word. That is confirmed, for example, by the answer given to the Pharisees, who were scandalized by the fact that his disciples “transgress the tradition of the elders. For they do not wash their hands when they eat” (Mt 15:2). Jesus then said to those present: “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Mt 15:11). To his disciples, on the other hand, answering Peter’s question, he explained these words as follows: “ . . . what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man” (cf. Mt 15:18-20; also Mk 7:20-23).
When we say “purity,” “pure,” in the first meaning of these words, we indicate what is in contrast with dirty. “To dirty” means “to make filthy,” “to pollute.” That refers to the various spheres of the physical world. We talk, for example, of a “dirty road,” a “dirty room,” we talk also of “polluted air.” In the same way also man can be “filthy,” when his body is not clean. To remove the dirt of the body, it must be washed.
In the Old Testament tradition, great importance was attributed to ritual ablutions, e.g., to wash one’s hands before eating, of which the above-mentioned text speaks. Numerous and detailed prescriptions concerned the ablutions of the body in relation to sexual impurity, understood in the exclusively physiological sense, to which we have referred previously (cf. Lev 15). According to the state of the medical science of the time, the various ablutions may have corresponded to hygienic prescriptions. Since they were imposed in God’s name and contained in the Sacred Books of the Old Testament legislation, observance of them acquired, indirectly, a religious meaning; they were ritual ablutions and, in the life of the man of the Old Covenant, they served ritual “purity.”
Purity in the moral sense
3. In relation to the aforesaid juridico-religious tradition of the Old Covenant, there developed an erroneous way of understanding moral purity (1). It was often taken in the exclusively exterior and “material” sense. In any case, an explicit tendency to this interpretation spread. Christ opposes it radically: nothing “from outside” makes man filthy, no “material” dirt makes man impure in the moral, that is, interior sense. No ablution, not even of a ritual nature, is capable in itself of producing moral purity. This has its exclusive source within man: it comes from the heart.
It is probable that the respective prescriptions in the Old Testament (those, for example, that are found in Leviticus 15:16-24; 18:1 ff., or 12:1-5) served, in addition to hygienic purposes, also to attribute a certain dimension of interiority to what is corporeal and sexual in the human person. In any case Christ took good care not to connect purity in the moral (ethical) sense with physiology and its organic processes. In the light of the words of Matthew 15:18-20, quoted above, none of the aspects of sexual “dirtiness”, in the strictly bodily, biophysiological sense, falls by itself into the definition of purity or impurity in the moral (ethical) sense.
A general concept
4. The aforesaid assertion (Mt 15:18-20) is important above all for semantic reasons. Speaking of purity in the moral sense, that is, of the virtue of purity, we make use of an analogy, according to which moral evil is compared precisely to uncleanness. Certainly this analogy has been a part of the sphere of ethical concepts from the most remote times. Christ takes it up again and confirms it in all its extension: “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man.” Here Christ speaks of all moral evil, of all sin, that is, of transgressions of the various commandments, and he enumerates “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander,” without confining himself to a specific kind of sin. It follows that the concept of “purity” and “impurity” in the moral sense is in the first place a general concept, not a specific one: so that all moral good is a manifestation of purity, and all moral evil is a manifestation of impurity.
The statement of Matthew 15:18-20 does not limit purity to one area of morality, namely, to the one connected with the commandment “You shall not commit adultery” and “Do not covet your neighbor’s wife,” that is, to the one that concerns the mutual relations between man and woman, linked to the body and to the relative concupiscence. Similarly we can also understand the beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount, addressed to “the pure in heart,” both in the general and in the more specific sense. Only the actual context will make it possible to delimit and clarify this meaning.
The flesh and the Spirit
5. The wider and more general meaning of purity is present also in St. Paul’s letters, in which we shall gradually pick out the contexts which explicitly limit the meaning of purity to the “bodily” and “sexual” sphere, that is, to that meaning which we can grasp from the words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount on lust, which is already expressed in “looking at a woman”, and is regarded as equivalent to “committing adultery in one’s heart” (cf. Mt 5:27-28).
It is not St. Paul who is the author of the words about the three forms of lust. They occur, as we know, in the First Letter of John. It can be said, however, that similarly to what is for John (1 Jn 2:16-17) the opposition within man between God and the world (between what comes “from the Father” and what comes “from the world”) - an opposition which is born in the heart and penetrates into man’s actions as “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” - St. Paul points out another contradiction in the Christian. It is the opposition and at the same time the tension between the “flesh” and the “Spirit” (written with a capital letter, that is, the Holy Spirit): “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would” (Gal 5:16-17). It follows that life “according to the flesh” is in opposition to life “according to the Spirit.” “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their, minds on the things of the Spirit” (Rom 8:5).
In subsequent analyses we shall seek to show that purity - the purity of heart of which Christ spoke in the Sermon on the Mount - is realized precisely in life “according to the Spirit.”