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The psychological and theological interpretation of the concept of concupiscence

43 (of 129) - Catechesis by John Paul II on the Theology of the Body
General Audience, Wednesday 8 October 1980 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. Today I wish to conclude the analysis of the words spoken by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount about adultery and lust, and especially the last element of this enunciation, in which "lust of the eyes" is defined specifically as "adultery committed in the heart."

We have already 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). However, it seems 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 called 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 Matthew 5:27-28 indicates the necessity of amplifying and above all deepening the interpretation presented previously, with regard to the ethical meaning that this enunciation contains. "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." 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 in speaking of the object of this act, Christ did 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. It is expressed in this case by a look, that is, by the fact that that man—of whom Christ speaks, for 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 consideratiion 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. It reduces 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 (the concept of "instinct" seems to be linked more closely with this). 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 Matthew 5:27-28 indicates, 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 Matthew 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 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. On the other hand, if we refer to the theological interpretation—without underestimating what remains unchangeable in the first interpretation (the psychological one)—the second interpretation (the theological one) appears to us as more complete. Thanks to it, 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: "Do not think 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). 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 Matthew 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 which especially concerns purity of heart (cf. Mt 5:8) (an expression which—.as is known—has a wide meaning in the Bible). Elsewhere, too, we will consider in what way the commandment "Do not commit adultery"—which, as regards the way in which it is expressed and the content, is a univocal and severe 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 to directly by the following words of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Christ spoke 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 already seen 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. On the contrary, Christ taught that the commandment is carried out through purity of heart. This is not given to man except at the cost of firmness with regard to everything that springs from the lust of the flesh. Whoever is able to demand consistently 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 it, man and woman, by virtue of the original plan of the Creator, unite in such a way that "the two become one flesh" (cf. Gn 2:24). By its essence, adultery conflicts 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 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. This is 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. This gift is the condition of all life together in truth, and, in particular, in the freedom of mutual giving. Both 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 placed 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, was claimed by the Master in Matthew 5:27-28. He had 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. By its nature, human life is "coeducative." Its dignity and 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 puts 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."

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

Ad alcuni membri dell’"Association Saint-Benoît, Patron de l’Europe"

A l’"Association Saint-Benoît, Patron de l’Europe", qui vient de tenir son Congrès annuel à Nursie, j’adresse de tout cœur quelques paroles d’encouragement. Vous avez reçu la grâce d’une sensibilité particulière à l’œuvre accomplie depuis quinze siècles par saint Benoît et ses fils. Que ce don du Seigneur vous porte de plus en plus à servir l’Eglise et la société d’aujourd’hui avec l’ardeur et le réalisme des meilleurs disciples du Patriarche des moines d’Occident! Augmentez en vous et réveillez autour de vous l’amour de la contemplation, la passion des valeurs spirituelles! Rejoignez humblement et courageusement les milieux à évangéliser! Ils sont si divers et si nombreux. En tout cela, gardez constamment le souci d’agir individuellement et collectivement, en union étroite avec les Pasteurs que Dieu vous a donnés et qui sont les premiers responsables de l’évangélisation. La convergence des forces apostoliques est un impératif de toujours et spécialement de notre temps. Que saint Benoît vous comble de grâces de choix! Moi-même, je suis heureux de vous bénir.

Al gruppo dei giornalisti svizzeri

Je salue tout particulièrement les journalistes suisses venus ces jours-ci prendre contact avec le Vatican et l’organisation du Saint-Siège, particulièrement le Secrétariat pour l’unité des chrétiens. Soyez les bienvenus.

Je vous remercie, chers amis, de votre intérêt pour l’organisation centrale de l’Eglise catholique. J’espère que cette visite vous fera saisir concrètement que la Curie romaine n’a qu’un but: le service des Eglises locales, de leur unité et de leur communion dans la foi et la fidélité à la mission de l’Eglise; en un mot - et vous retrouverez là un souci qui vous est certainement cher -, le service de la vérité, dans la fidélité au Seigneur.

Al pellegrinaggio dell’"Alliance agricole chrétienne de Belgique"

J’adresse aussi un salut cordial à tous les membres du pèlerinage organisé par l’Alliance agricole chrétienne de Belgique et à leurs nombreux collègues des Pays-Bas qui se sont joint à eux. A vous tous, chers amis, je désire dire ma joie de vous rencontrer aujourd’hui. De grand cœur, je vous assure de ma prière et je vous donne la Bénédiction Apostolique pour vous-mêmes, les membres de vos familles, et tous ceux que vous représentez.

Bemínde zónen van de vláamse taal, van gánser hárte zégenen wij U, Uw famílies en állen die U diérbaar zijn.

Ai malati assistiti da "Across Trust"

With particular affection I greet the group of sick and handicapped sponsored by the Across Trust. Be assured, dear friends, that your presence at this audience has a special meaning for me, just as your whole lives have a special meaning for the entire Church. It is my prayer that here in Rome you will discover ever more deeply the love of Christ, and reveal it ever more effectively to all who come in contact with you. And may our Lord bless all those who assist you in his name.

Ai nuovi studenti del Venerabile Collegio Inglese di Roma

I extend a very cordial welcome to the new students of the Venerable English College. Following a long and splendid tradition, you have come to Rome to prepare for the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

Here you will have special opportunities to study sacred theology, to understand the history of the Church and to come into vital contact with her catholicity. But your greatest challenge will be to know Christ, to grow in the wisdom of his Cross, and to remain united with him as branches united with the vine. Christ is calling you to deep friendship with himself. And the generosity of your response - the way you say yes - will influence the effectiveness of any ministry that you will ever exercise in your life. Remember that Jesus is really telling each one of you: "Remain in my love".

A diversi gruppi di lingua tedesca

Herzlich grüße ich bei der heutigen Audienz die Gruppe der Priester aus dem Bistum Aachen mit ihrem Oberhirten Bischof Hemmerle. Eure Pilgerfahrt zu den frühchristlichen Heiligen Stätten in der Ewigen Stadt führt euch, liebe Mitbrüder, zurück zum Ursprung eurer priesterlichen Sendung. "Geht zu allen Völkern und macht alle Menschen zu meinen Jüngern..."! Die Apostel, deren Gräber hier unter uns sind, haben diese Worte Jesu an uns weitervermittelt. Als Priester seid ihr dazu berufen, heute diesen Auftrag Christi fortzusetzen und mit Leben zu erfüllen. Laßt die Gnade, die durch die Handauflegung in euch wohnt, wieder neu in euch erwachen und fruchtbar werden zur geistlichen Auferbauung eurer Gemeinden und des Gottesreiches in der Welt. Das erbitte ich euch mit meinem besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

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Herzlich grüße ich die anwesenden Angehörigen und Freunde der Diakone des Päpstlichen Kollegs "Germanicum et Hungaricum", die in einigen Tagen die heilige Priesterweihe empfangen werden. Ich beglückwünsche eure Familien zu dem großen Gnadengeschenk und segne euch und eure Söhne von ganzem Herzen.

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Schließlich richte ich noch ein herzliches Wort des Grußes an den großen Diözesanpilgerzug aus der Diözese Münster. Zu eurem Rombesuch während der Bischofssynode empfehle ich deren wichtiges Beratungsthema, nämlich die Familie, auch ganz besonders eurer Sorge und eurem Gebet. Die Familie ist der erste Ort, an dem ihr eure christliche Berufung leben und euch als wirkliche Christen bewähren sollt. Bemüht euch um eine wahrhaft christliche Gestaltung eurer Familien und um deren wirksamen Schutz durch die Verantwortlichen in Staat und Gesellschaft. Dazu erteile ich euch und allen hier anwesenden Pilgern in der Liebe Christi den Apostolischen Segen.

Ad una associazione padovana

Un saluto speciale va ora al gruppo dei dirigenti e dei soci del "Club Ignoranti", convenuti dalla Diocesi di Padova, nella ricorrenza del 90° di fondazione.

Carissimi padovani, vi ringrazio per questa visita e vi esprimo il mio apprezzamento per le nobili attività umanitarie ed assistenziali che, nello spirito del vostro motto "Charitas in laetitia", svolgete soprattutto in favore degli anziani e dei giovani emarginati dalla società. Vi sia di incoraggiamento la mia particolare Benedizione, che volentieri estendo a tutti i vostri cari.

Ai giovani

Ed ora un pensiero paterno ed affettuoso per voi, cari giovani. Prenderò occasione dalla festa della Vergine santissima del Rosario, celebrata ieri; ma che si protende in qualche modo a tutto il mese di Ottobre. Il santo Rosario ci introduce nel cuore stesso della fede. Col pensiero fisso ad esso noi salutiamo più volte, gioiosamente, la Santa Madre di Dio, ne dichiariamo beato il Figlio, dolce frutto del suo seno, ne invochiamo la protezione materna in vita e in morte.

Cari giovani, stimate il Rosario un canto gioioso elevato alla Regina dei Cieli, e vi sia caro recitarlo.

Ai malati

Il Santo Rosario, con le sue alterne strofe di gioia e di dolore, oltre che di speranza nella Risurrezione, può servire anche a voi, cari ammalati che siete presenti, o che siete rimasti nelle vostre case. Esso dimostra, attraverso le vicende del Figlio di Dio e della Vergine, quanto sia costante nella vita umana l’alternarsi del bene e del male, del sereno e della tempesta, dei giorni lieti e tristi. Il dolore pesa sulla natura umana, creata per la gioia; ma è anche elemento rigeneratore e santificante, come ben vediamo nella vita di Cristo e della Madre sua.

Cari ammalati, se saprete levare gli occhi al Cielo e prendere da Dio l’eredità delle lacrime, avrete parte anche voi al canto della vita celeste, che mai tramonta.

Agli sposi novelli

Cari sposi novelli: il santo Rosario recitato in famiglia è lodevole abitudine e dolce espressione della fede religiosa. La casa diventa così il Santuario domestico, di cui i genitori sono in qualche modo i Sacerdoti. Ora, la famiglia sembra aver dimenticato questo modo così singolare di onorare Dio e la Vergine sua Madre. Ma si è impoverita; ed è più dispersa, con grave danno della società.

Vi esorto perciò caldamente a riprendere questa devota abitudine. Essa rafforzerà il Sacramento, stringerà il vincolo coniugale, alimenterà l’amore, chiamerà Dio in mezzo a voi, perché sia autore della vostra felicità.

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