GENERAL AUDIENCE, 28 MAY 1980
At the General Audience on
Wednesday, 28 May, the Holy Father delivered the following address.
1. We are reading again the first chapters of Genesis, to understand
"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,"
provide evidence of the first experience of man's shame with regard to his
shame that could also be called "cosmic".
However, this "cosmic shame"—if
it is possible to perceive its features in man's total situation after
way in the biblical text for another form of shame. It is the shame
produced in humanity itself. It is caused by the deep disorder in that
reality on account of which man, in the mystery of creation, was God's
image. He 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. This mutual shame 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
The shame of both was turned in this direction after original sin, when
they realized that 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 and 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.
Relative character of original shame
2. Although in the light of that one decisive sentence of Genesis 3:7,
the answer to the question seems to support especially 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 in perceiving the human essentiality
of one's own body. Man had not experienced this difficulty in the state of
original innocence. The words, "I was afraid, because I was naked," can be
understood in this way. They show clearly the consequences in the human
heart of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Through these words a certain constitutive break within the human
person is revealed, which is almost a rupture of man's original spiritual
and 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. It conceals 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"
Centre of resistance
3. In this way, that shame is immanent. It contains such a cognitive
acuteness as to create a fundamental disquiet in all human existence. This
is not only in face of the prospect of death, but also before that on
which the value and dignity of the person in his ethical significance
depends. 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 is not subordinated to the spirit as in the state of original
innocence. It bears within it a constant center of resistance to the
spirit. It threatens, in a way, the unity of the person, that is, of the
moral nature, which is firmly rooted in the constitution of the person.
Lust, especially 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. 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 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 especially that imbalance, which springs from lust and
especially from the lust of the body. From this point of view, that first
impulse which Genesis 3:7 speaks of is very eloquent: "They knew that they
were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves
aprons." 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, especially in what determines its sexuality and
is directly connected with the call to that unity in which man and woman
"become one flesh" (Gn 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. Shame is manifested in this way in the
narrative of Genesis 3. As a result of it we are, in a certain sense,
witnesses of the birth of human lust. Also the motivation to go back from
Christ's words about the man 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".
Desire and shame
5. The human heart keeps within it simultaneously desire and shame. The
birth of shame directs us toward 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 threefold 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 name: 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. As we can deduce from 1
Jn 2:16, biblical lust 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. This simplicity and fullness of
the value of the human body in the first experience of its
masculinity-femininity, which Genesis 2:23-25 speaks of, has subsequently
undergone, in the dimensions of the world, a radical transformation. 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 human heart, from
the moment when the lust of the body was born in it, also keeps shame
within itself. This fact indicates that it is possible and necessary to
appeal to the heart 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 can understand better why Christ, speaking of lust,
appeals to the human "heart".
1) Cf. Karol Wojtyla, Amore e responsabilità
(Turin: 1978), chap. "Metafisica del pudore," pp. 161-178.