GENERAL AUDIENCE OF 23 APRIL
At the General Audience in St.
Peter's Square on 23 April, Pope John Paul II gave the following address.
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
Lord says —
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" (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 is 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, our present, our
contemporary age also belongs.
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 commandment 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. He has acquired it even before crossing the threshold of his
historical experiences, in the mystery of creation, since he emerged from
it as "male and female" (cf. Gn 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 man who knew (the woman), his wife, and knew her several times. She
"conceived and bore" (cf. Gn 4:1-2) according to the Creator's plan, which
went back to the state of original innocence (cf. Gn 1:28; 2:24).
Entering into his full image
2. In his Sermon on the Mount, especially in the words of Matthew
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. As we have already seen, he addresses the "interior"
man. Christ's words have an explicit anthropological content. They concern
those perennial meanings through which an "adequate" anthropology is
By means of their ethical content, these words simultaneously
constitute such an anthropology. They demand that man should enter into
his full image. The man who is "flesh," as a male remains in relationship
with woman through his body and sex. (The expression "You shall not commit
adultery" indicates this.) In the light of these words of Christ, this man
must 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. Here it is a
question both of the meaning which, in the preceding analyses, we called
nuptial, and of that which we called generative. What order are we
Meaning of adultery
3. This part of our considerations must give an answer precisely to
answer that reaches not only the ethical reasons, but also the
anthropological; they remain, in fact, in a mutual relationship. For the
time being, as a preliminary it is necessary to establish the meaning of
Matthew 5:27-28, the meaning of the expressions used in it and their
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" (Gn 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 concerns a desire directed, in this case, by the
man toward a woman who is not his wife, in order to unite with her as if
that is — using once more
the words of Genesis 2:24
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. This was
the case of David and Bathsheba, to use an example taken from the Bible
(cf. 2 Sm 11:2).(3) The connection of lust with the sense of sight has
been highlighted especially in Christ's words.
Man's interior act
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. Rather, it is necessary to intuit it, especially on the
basis 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." This is precisely because the man's interior act refers to the
woman who is his wife, with regard to whom adultery cannot take place. 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, the interior act in the same relationship is in
conformity with morality.
Clarifying the text
5. Nevertheless, that desire, indicated by the expression "everyone who
looks at a woman lustfully," has a biblical and theological dimension of
its own, which we must clarify here. Even if this dimension is not
manifested directly in this one concrete expression of Matthew 5:27-28, it
is deeply rooted in the global context, which refers to the revelation of
the body. We must go back to this context, so that Christ's appeal to the
heart, to the interior man, may ring out in all the fullness of its truth.
This statement of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28) fundamentally
has 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. Furthermore, it is to show 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 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 historical man. This 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.
1) In this way, the content of our reflections shifts, in a way, to the
field of natural law. The words quoted from the Letter to the Romans
(2:15) have always been considered, in revelation, as a source of
confirmation for the existence of natural law. Thus the concept of natural
law also acquires a theological meaning.
Cf. among others, D. Composta, Teologia del diritto naturale, status
quaestionis (Brescia: Ed. Civilta, 1972), pp. 7-22, 41-53; J. Fuchs,
S.J., Lex naturae. Zur Theologie des Naturrechts (Dusseldorf:
1955), pp. 22-30; E. Hamel, S.J., Loi naturelle et loi du Christ
de Brouwer, 1964), p. 18; A. Sacchi, "La legge naturale nella Bibbia,"
La legge naturale. Le relazioni del Convegno dei teologi moralisti
dell'Italia settentrionale, September 11-13, 1969 (Bologna: Ed.
Dehoniane, 1970), p. 53; F. Böckle,
"La legge naturale e la legge cristiana," ibid., pp. 214-215; A. Feuillet,
"Le fondement de la morale ancienne et chrétienne
d'apres l'Epitre aux Romains," Revue Thomiste 78 (1970), pp.
357-386; Th. Herr, Naturrecht aus der kritischen Sicht des Neuen
1976), pp. 155-164.
2) "The typically Hebraic usage reflected in the New Testament implies
an understanding of man as unity of thought, will and feeling.... It
depicts man as a whole, viewed from his intentionality; the heart as
the center of man is thought of as source of will, emotion, thoughts and
This traditional Judaic conception was related by Paul to Hellenistic
categories, such as "mind", "attitude", "thoughts" and "desires". Such a
coordination between the Judaic and Hellenistic categories is found in
Phil 1:7, 4:7; Rom 1:21-24, where "heart" is thought of as the center from
which these things flow (R. Jewett, Paul's Anthropological Terms, A
Study of Their Use in Conflict Settings [Leiden: Brill, 1971], p.
"Das Herz...ist die verborgene, inwendige Mitte und Wurzel des Menschen
und damit seiner Welt...der unergründliche
Grund und die lebendige Kraft aller Daseinserfahrung und—entscheidung"
(H. Schlier, "Das Menschenherz nach dem Apostel Paulus," Lebendiges
Zeugnis, 1965, p. 123).
Cf. also F. Baumgärtel
and J. Behm, "Kardia," Theologisches Wörterbuch
zum Neuen Testament, II [Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1933], pp. 609-616.
3) This is perhaps the best-known one, but other similar examples can
be found in the Bible (cf. Gn 34:2; Jgs 14:1, 16:1).