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Building a new ethical sense through the rediscovery of values

42 (of 129) - Catechesis by John Paul II on the Theology of the Body
General Audience, Wednesday 1 October 1980 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"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 everyone 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 or splitting Christ's enunciation into three parts which follow one another may seem artificial. However, when we seek the ethical meaning of the enunciation in its totality, the division of the text used by us may be useful. This is provided that it is applied not only in a disjunctive, but in a conjunctive way. This is what we intend to do. Each of the distinct parts has its own specific content and connotations, and we wish to stress this 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 referred in the first place to the principal semantic elements by which the enunciation constitutes a whole. These elements are: to commit adultery, to desire to commit adultery in the body, to commit adultery in the heart. It would be especially 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 considered this element to a certain extent. However, a fuller understanding of "to commit adultery in the heart" is possible only after a special analysis.

2. As we have already mentioned, it is a question here of establishing the ethical sense. Christ's enunciation in Matthew 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. It is 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 the 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 include the prohibition, "Do not covet your neighbor's wife" (Ex 20:14, 17; Dt 5:18, 21). Christ did not nullify one prohibition with regard to the other. Although he spoke of desire, he aimed at a deeper clarification of adultery. It is significant that after mentioning the prohibition, "Do not commit adultery," as well known to his listeners, in the course of his enunciation he changed his style and the logical structure from the normative to the narrative-affirmative. When he said: "'Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart," he described an interior fact, whose reality can easily be understood by his listeners. At the same time, through the fact thus described and qualified, he indicated 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." This is the key-expression, as it seems, for understanding its correct ethical meaning. This expression is at the same time the principal source for revealing 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 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 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. Gn 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 the Master used 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. Gn 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. This referred 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 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, "Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully," in exclusive reference to persons according to their civil status. This is their status recognized by society, whether or not they are husband and wife. Here the questions begin to multiply. There can be no doubt about the fact that Christ indicated 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 admitted and approved such a look, such an interior act of lust, directed toward the woman who is the wife of the man who so looks at her. The following logical premise seems to favor 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 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. It can never 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 as 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 addition to the commandment, "Do not commit adultery" they also contain the commandment, "Do not covet your neighbor's wife." Furthermore, the reasoning in support of this interpretation has all the characteristics of objective correctness and accuracy. Nevertheless, good grounds for doubt remain as to whether this reasoning takes into account all the aspects of revelation, as well as of the theology of the body. This must be considered, especially when we wish to understand Christ's words. We have already seen what the "specific weight" of this expression is, how rich the anthropological and theological implications are of the one sentence in which Christ referred "to the beginning" (cf. Mt 19:8). These implications of the enunciation in the Sermon on the Mount in which Christ referred to the human heart confer on the enunciation itself also a "specific weight" of its own. At the same time they determine its consistency with evangelical teaching as a whole. 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 (cf. Mt 5:27-28), comes from him who "knew what was in man" (Jn 2:25). If his words confirm the Decalogue (not only the sixth, but also the ninth commandment), 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 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 criticized 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 also 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."

After the catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages:

Alle Piccole Sorelle di Gesù

Il y a ici un grand nombre de Petites Sœurs de Jésus réunies autour leur vénérée Fondatrice et de leur Responsable générale: je désire les saluer spécialement; d’abord celles qui viennent de faire, ici même, dans la Basilique Saint-Pierre, leur profession perpétuelle, avant d’aller porter au loin le témoignage de leur amour de Jésus et de leur attachement à l’Eglise; puis toutes celles qui participent à une session de formation spirituelle. Mes chères Sœurs, par votre origine, vous représentez presque trente pays de tous les continents; et, selon la vocation de Frère universel de Charles de Foucauld, vous allez implanter et enfouir vos fraternités - enfouir comme le levain dans la pâte - aux quatre horizons, surtout chez les pauvres et les marginaux de toute sorte, pour prier au milieu d’eux et partager l’amitié que Jésus demande à ses disciples. C’est dire que votre foi et votre disponibilité spirituelle doivent être sans cesse entretenues, comme la lampe des vierges sages. Soyez heureuses de servir le Seigneur, l’Eglise et vos frères. Au nom de Jésus, je vous bénis de tout cœur, avec vos familles et vos amis.

Alle delegate dell’"Association Catholique Internationale des Services de la Jeunesse Féminine"

Et je me tourne maintenant vers les déléguées - responsables et jeunes - de 1’"Association Catholique Internationale des Services de la Jeunesse Féminine", qui tiennent leur Assemblée générale à Rome. Chères Amies, je ne peux qu’encourager votre souci d’aider les jeunes filles éloignées de leur milieu familial, souvent pour des raisons de travail, à développer au mieux leur personnalité, par les multiples initiatives que vous avez mises en œuvre - foyers, clubs, rencontres... - et surtout par l’esprit humain chrétien qui y préside. Sur le chemin de leur vie, parfois itinérante et souvent éprouvée, ces jeunes filles ont besoin d’être accueillies, respectées, comprises, orientées; besoin de trouver non seulement la sécurité indispensable et la garantie de leurs droits humains, mais le sens de leur vie; besoin de marcher ensemble, librement, avec le soutien de l’amitié, la certitude de l’amour de Dieu, et la lumière des principes chrétiens. Que le Seigneur bénisse et féconde vos efforts, et que la protection de la Vierge Marie vous accompagne toujours, vous et celles qui vous sont chères.

Ai partecipanti ad una conferenza internazionale medica

It is with great pleasure that I note the presence here this afternoon of all those participating, together with Professor Mario Stirpe, in the International Conference on Retina Detachment and Postoperative Complications. I am happy to offer you the encouragement of the Apostolic See for all your endeavours in the delicate field of work that is yours. May God sustain you in competent service to humanity and in compassionate interest in all those who need your help.

Ai membri della "Japanese Association of Volunteer Probation Officers"

My cordial welcome goes also to the members of the Japanese Association of Volunteer Probation Officers. I pray that God will bless your efforts aimed at the correction and rehabilitation of criminal offenders. Through you I send my respectful greetings to all your colleagues at home.

Ai nuovi studenti del Collegio Nord Americano

On this first anniversary of my pastoral visit to the United States, I offer a word of special greeting to the new students at the North American College. Dear young men, you have come to Rome to prepare for the priesthood by growing in the knowledge and love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Never forget the real priorities of your vocation: you are called to hear and guard and do the word of God, in order to be able to proclaim it faithfully and effectively. In this great task you will always be guided by the Magisterium of the Church, sustained by prayer, and assisted by the intercession and protection of our Blessed Mother Mary.

I wish also to recall that today marks the anniversary of the final day of my memorable and most fruitful pastoral visit to Ireland. I know that throughout Ireland this week the Church is celebrating this anniversary with special liturgical functions, with great emphasis on the role of the Laity in the Church. To all the beloved Irish faithful I send my sincere greeting and my Apostolic Blessing as they continue to grow in and witness to the faith of their fathers.

This week also marks the anniversary of my historic visit to the United Nations Organization. It is my prayer that that world body may continue, with every effort, to work for peace and understanding among all peoples in order to rid the world of the terrible scourge of war.

Ai minatori e metallurgici di Essen

Besonders herzlich grüße ich die sehr zahlreiche Gruppe der Bergleute und Stahlarbeiter aus dem Ruhrgebiet mit ihrem Bischof von Essen Franz Hengsbach. Ihr kommt, liebe Freunde, aus dem größten Industriegebiet Europas. Ich habe einen großen Respekt vor eurer Leistung für das Wohl der Gemeinschaft, denn ich kenne eure Arbeit, eure Fragen, eure Schwierigkeiten. Ich weiß, wie wichtig sichere und human gestaltete Arbeitsplätze sind. Ich weiß aber auch um eure Treue zu Christus und seiner Kirche.

Gern würde ich, wenn ich demnächst nach Deutschland komme, euch an euren Arbeitsstätten besuchen. Aber das ist bei den wenigen Tagen, die mir zur Verfügung stehen, leider nicht möglich. Ihr sollt wissen, daß mir eure Probleme sehr nahe sind. Deshalb bin ich im Geiste bei euch. Bemüht euch, eure Arbeit als überzeugte Christen zu verrichten und zu leben. Dann wird sie für euch zum Segen.

Auf Wiedersehen also in eurer Heimat!

Ai seminaristi dell’Arcidiocesi di Vienna

Mein brüderlicher Grüß gilt sodann dem Herrn Rektor und den Alumnen des Priesterseminars der Erzdiözese Wien. Möge euch das Erlebnis von Weltkirche hier auf dem Petersplatz eures Glaubens und eurer Berufung zur engeren Nachfolge Christi im Priesteramt froh machen. Die Welt und die Kirche braucht euch. Die Menschen warten auf euch heute mehr denn je. Nehmt diese Gewißheit von dieser Begegnung mit dem Nachfolger Petri mit zurück an euren Studienplatz, in euer Seminar, in euer Gebet. Ich begleite euren weiteren Weg zum Weihealtar mit meinen besten persönlichen Wünschen und erteile euch und allen hier anwesenden Pilgern von Herzen meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

A un pellegrinaggio di Sorelle Terziarie Francescane della Sacra Famiglia

Saludo con afecto a vosotras, Hermanas Terciarias Capuchinas o de la Sagrada Familia que, procedentes de diversos países, tenéis en Roma unas jornadas de reflexión.

Os exhorto a dedicaros plenamente a vuestro apostolado asistencial, misionero y, sobre todo, de educación de la niñez y juventud, camino tan apto para contribuir al consolidamiento de las familias. Pidiendo la protección de la Sagrada Familia sobre vuestras tareas, os imparto una cordial Bendición Apostólica.

Ai giovani

Un cordiale saluto rivolgo a tutti voi, giovani, presenti in questa piazza, e proprio all’inizio del mese di ottobre, che vede la maggior parte di voi ritornare a scuola, desidero raccomandare, in particolare, l’impegno dello studio: anche nelle aule scolastiche voi preparate il vostro futuro e quello della società, di cui sarete fra non molto autentici protagonisti. Tale preparazione sia animata dalla serietà, dal rispetto verso gli altri, dall’amore nei confronti di tutti gli uomini; ma sia, specialmente, fecondata dalla fede in Cristo, il vostro amico, il vostro fratelli, il vostro Salvatore.

A tutti voi la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Ai malati

Ed a voi, carissimi fratelli e sorelle infermi, che nell’animo e nel corpo rinnovate, per la vita del mondo e per la crescita della Chiesa, la Passione misteriosa di Gesù, va il mio affettuoso e commosso saluto, unito all’assicurazione che Dio è con voi; che la Chiesa vi predilige; che i vostri fratelli vi amano. A voi chiediamo le vostre preghiere, impreziosite dalle vostre umane sofferenze, mentre vi diciamo il nostro "grazie" sincero.

La mia confortatrice Benedizione Apostolica vi accompagni sempre e dappertutto.

Agli sposi novelli

A voi, cari sposi novelli, che in questi giorni avete consacrato nel Matrimonio il vostro amore dinanzi a Dio e dinanzi alla Chiesa, rivolgo l’augurio che manteniate sempre, per tutto il corso della vostra vita, "nella gioia e nel dolore", il gioioso entusiasmo di questo felice periodo dell’inizio della vostra famiglia cristiana, che voi state già costruendo, giorno dopo giorno.

Alcuni giorni or sono è iniziata l’Assemblea del Sinodo dei Vescovi, che, per quasi tutto il mese di ottobre, mediterà e rifletterà sui compiti della famiglia cristiana oggi. Come vedete, la Chiesa tutta guarda a voi con immenso affetto e con profonda trepidazione e prega per voi, perché formiate una serena ed autentica "Chiesa domestica".

Con la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Pregare per Monsignor Aaron Marton, Vescovo già di Alba Julia, in Romania

Ieri è pervenuta dalla Romania la notizia che Monsignor Aaron Marton, Vescovo già di Alba Julia, è stato chiamato alla Casa del Padre. Il venerando Presule, di oltre 80 anni di età, aveva retto per oltre 40 anni la sua vasta diocesi, affrontando anche con grande fiducia in Dio e serenità di spirito momenti particolarmente difficili. La sua memoria resterà in benedizione per la sua insigne pietà, per il suo ardente zelo apostolico, per la sua intima e costante unione con questa Sede di Pietro.

Ieri, appena conosciuta la notizia della morte di Monsignor Marton, ho subito invitato i Padri sinodali ad elevare insieme con me preghiere di suffragio per la sua grande Anima. Ora mi rivolgo a voi tutti, perché insieme preghiamo per il compianto Presule e per tutta la Chiesa in Romania.

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