GENERAL AUDIENCE OF WEDNESDAY, 2 APRIL
The following is the
text of the address of John Paul II during the General Audience in St.
Peter's Square, on Wednesday, 2 April.
Our meeting today takes place in the heart of Holy Week, on the
immediate eve of that "Paschal Triduum", in which the whole liturgical
year culminates and is illuminated. We are about to live again the
decisive and solemn days, in which the work of human redemption was
fulfilled; in them Christ, dying, destroyed our death and, rising again,
restored life to us.
Each one must feel personally involved in the mystery that the Liturgy,
this year too, renews for us. I exhort you cordially, therefore, to take
part with faith in the sacred services of the next few days and to commit
yourselves in the determination to die to sin and to rise again ever more
fully to the new life that Christ brought to us.
Let us resume now the treatment of the subject that has been occupying
us for some time now.
1. The Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to Mark
report the answer given by Christ to the Pharisees, when they questioned
him about the indissolubility of marriage. They referred to the law of
Moses, which in certain cases admitted the practice of the so-called
certificate of divorce. Reminding them of the first chapters of Genesis,
Christ answered: "Have you not read that he who made them from the
beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man
shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two
shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What,
therefore, God has joined together, let not man put asunder." Then,
referring to their question about the law of Moses, Christ added: "For
your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from
the beginning it was not so" (Mt 19:3ff.; cf. Mk 12:2ff.). In his answer,
Christ referred twice to the "beginning." Therefore we, too, in the course
of our analyses, have tried to clarify in the deepest possible way the
meaning of this "beginning." It is the first inheritance of every human
being in the world, man and woman. It is the first attestation of human
identity according to the revealed word, the first source of the certainty
of man's vocation as a person created in the image of God himself.
2. Christ's reply has a historical meaning—but
not only a historical one. Men of all times raise the question on the same
subject. Our contemporaries also do so. But in their questions they do not
refer to the law of Moses, which admitted the certificate of divorce, but
to other circumstances and other laws. These questions of theirs are
charged with problems, unknown to Christ's interlocutors. We know what
questions concerning marriage and the family were addressed to the last
Council, to Pope Paul VI, and are continually formulated in the post-conciliar
period, day after day, in the most varied circumstances. They are
addressed by single persons, married couples, fiancés and young people.
But they are also addressed by writers, journalists, politicians,
economists and demographers, in a word, by contemporary culture and
I think that among the answers that Christ would give to the people of
our time and to their questions, often so impatient, the one he gave to
the Pharisees would still be fundamental. Answering those questions,
Christ would refer above all to the "beginning". Perhaps he would do so
all the more resolutely and essentially in that the interior and at the
same time the cultural situation of modern man seems to be moving away
from that beginning. It is assuming forms and dimensions which diverge
from the biblical image of the beginning into points that are clearly more
and more distant.
However, Christ would not be "surprised" by any of these situations,
and I suppose that he would continue to refer mainly to the "beginning".
3. It is for this reason that Christ's answer called for an especially
thorough analysis. In that answer, in fact, fundamental and elementary
truths about the human being, as man and woman, were recalled. It is the
answer through which we catch a glimpse of the structure of human identity
in the dimensions of the mystery of creation and, at the same time, in the
perspective of the mystery of redemption. Without that there is no way of
constructing a theological anthropology and, in its context, a theology of
the body. From this the fully Christian view of marriage and the family
takes its origin. Paul VI pointed this out when, in his encyclical
dedicated to the problems of marriage and procreation in its responsible
meaning on the human and Christian planes, he referred to the "total
vision of man" (Humanae Vitae 7). In the answer to the
Pharisees, Christ also put forward to his interlocutors this "total vision
of man," without which no adequate answer can be given to questions
connected with marriage and procreation. This total vision of man must be
constructed from the "beginning."
This applies also to the modern mentality, just as it did, though in a
different way, to Christ's interlocutors. We are children of an age in
which, owing to the development of various disciplines, this total vision
of man may easily be rejected and replaced by multiple partial
conceptions. Dwelling on one or other aspect of the compositum humanum,
these do not reach man's integrum, or they leave it outside their
own field of vision. Various cultural trends then take their place
which—on the basis of these
formulate their proposals and practical indications on human behavior and,
even more often, on how to behave with "man." Man then becomes more an
object of determined techniques than the responsible subject of his own
action. The answer Christ gave to the Pharisees also wishes man, male and
female, to be this subject. This subject decides his own actions in the
light of the complete truth about himself, since it is the original truth,
or the foundation of genuinely human experiences. This is the truth that
Christ makes us seek from the "beginning". Thus we turn to the first
chapters of Genesis.
4. The study of these chapters, perhaps more than of others, makes us
aware of the meaning and the necessity of the theology of the body. The
beginning tells us relatively little about the human body, in the
naturalistic and modern sense of the word. From this point of view, in our
study we are at a completely pre-scientific level. We know hardly anything
about the interior structures and the regularities that reign in the human
organism. However, at the same time, perhaps precisely because of the
antiquity of the text, the truth that is important for the total vision of
man is revealed in the most simple and full way. This truth concerns the
meaning of the human body in the structure of the personal subject.
Subsequently, reflection on those archaic texts enables us to extend this
meaning of the whole sphere of human inter-subjectivity, especially in the
perennial man-woman relationship. Thanks to that, we acquire with regard
to this relationship a perspective which we must necessarily place at the
basis of all modern science on human sexuality, in the bio-physiological
sense. That does not mean that we must renounce this science or deprive
ourselves of its results. On the contrary, it can teach us something about
the education of man, in his masculinity and femininity, and about the
sphere of marriage and procreation. If it is to do so, it is necessary—through
all the single elements of contemporary science—always
to arrive at what is fundamental and essentially personal, both in every
individual, man or woman, and in their mutual relations.
It is precisely at this point that reflection on the ancient text of
Genesis is irreplaceable. It is the beginning of the theology of the body.
The fact that theology also considers the body should not astonish or
surprise anyone who is aware of the mystery and reality of the
Incarnation. Theology is that science whose subject is divinity. Through
the fact that the Word of God became flesh, the body entered theology
through the main door. The Incarnation and the redemption that springs
from it became also the definitive source of the sacramentality of
marriage, which we will deal with at greater length in due time.
5. The questions raised by modern man are also those of Christians—those
who are preparing for the sacrament of marriage or those who are already
living in marriage, which is the sacrament of the Church. These are not
only the questions of science, but even more, the questions of human life.
So many men and so many Christians seek the accomplishment of their
vocation in marriage. So many people wish to find in it the way to
salvation and holiness.
The answer Christ gave to the Pharisees, zealots of the Old Testament,
is especially important for them. Those who seek the accomplishment of
their own human and Christian vocation in marriage are called, first of
all, to make this theology of the body, whose beginning we find in the
first chapters of Genesis, the content of their life and behavior. How
indispensable is a thorough knowledge of the meaning of the body, in its
masculinity and femininity, along the way of this vocation! A precise
awareness of the nuptial meaning of the body, of its generating meaning,
is necessary. This is so since all that forms the content of the life of
married couples must constantly find its full and personal dimension in
life together, in behavior, in feelings! This is all the more so against
the background of a civilization which remains under the pressure of a
materialistic and utilitarian way of thinking and evaluating. Modern
bio-physiology can supply a great deal of precise information about human
sexuality. However, knowledge of the personal dignity of the human body
and of sex must still be drawn from other sources. A special source is the
Word of God himself, which contains the revelation of the body, going back
to the beginning.
How significant it is that Christ, in the answer to all these
questions, orders man to return, in a way, to the threshold of his
theological history! He orders him to put himself at the border between
original innocence, happiness and the inheritance of the first fall. Does
he not perhaps mean to tell him that the path along which he leads man,
male and female, in the sacrament of marriage, the path of the "redemption
of the body", must consist in regaining this dignity, in which there is
accomplished, simultaneously, the real meaning of the human body, its
personal meaning and its meaning "of communion".
6. For the present, let us conclude the first part of our meditations
dedicated to this important subject. To give an exhaustive answer to our
questions, sometimes anxious ones, on marriage—or
even more precisely, on the meaning of the body—we
cannot dwell only on what Christ told the Pharisees, referring to the
"beginning" (cf. Mt 19:3ff.; Mk 10:2ff.). We must also consider all his
other statements. Two of them, of an especially comprehensive character,
emerge especially. The first one is from the Sermon on the Mount, on the
possibilities of the human heart in relation to the lust of the body (cf.
Mt 5:8). The second one is when Jesus referred to the future resurrection
(cf. Mt 22:24-30; Mk 12:18-27; Lk 20:27-36).
We intend to make these two statements the subject of our following