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Man in search of the definition of himself

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Theology of the Body - 5
General Audience, Wednesday 10 October 1979 - also in French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. In the last reflection of the present cycle we reached an introductory conclusion, taken from the words of Genesis on the creation of man as male and female. We reached these words, that is, the "beginning," to which the Lord Jesus referred in his talk on the indissolubility of marriage (cf. Mt 19:3-9; Mk 10:1-12.) But the conclusion at which we arrived does not yet end the series of our analyses. We must reread the narrations of the first and second chapters of Genesis in a wider context, which will allow us to establish a series of meanings of the ancient text to which Christ referred. Therefore, today we will reflect on the meaning of man's original solitude.

2. The starting point of this reflection is provided for us directly by the following words of Genesis: "It is not good that man [male] should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Gn 2:18). God-Yahweh speaks these words. They belong to the second account of the creation of man, and so they come from the Yahwist tradition. As we have already recalled, it is significant that, as regards the Yahwist text, the account of the creation of the man is a separate passage (Gn 2:7). It precedes the account of the creation of the first woman (Gn 2:21-22). It is also significant that the first man ('adam), created from "dust from the ground," is defined as a "male" ('is) only after the creation of the first woman. So when God-Yahweh speaks the words about solitude, it is in reference to the solitude of "man" as such, and not just to that of the male.

However, it is difficult to go very far in drawing conclusions merely on the basis of this fact. Nevertheless, the complete context of that solitude of which Genesis 2:18 speaks can convince us that it is a question here of the solitude of "man" (male and female) and not just of the solitude of man the male, caused by the lack of woman.

Therefore, on the basis of the whole context, it seems that this solitude has two meanings: one derived from man's very nature, that is, from his humanity, and the other derived from the male-female relationship. The first meaning is evident in the account of Genesis 2, and the second is evident, in a certain way, on the basis of the first meaning. A detailed analysis of the description seems to confirm this.

3. The problem of solitude is manifested only in the context of the second account of the creation of man. The first account ignores this problem. There man is created in one act as male and female. "God created man in his own image...male and female he created them" (Gn 1:27). As we have already mentioned, the second account speaks first of the creation of the man and only afterward of the creation of the woman from the "rib" of the male. This account concentrates our attention on the fact that "man is alone." This appears as a fundamental anthropological problem, prior, in a certain sense, to the one raised by the fact that this man is male and female.

This problem is prior not so much in the chronological sense, as in the existential sense. It is prior "by its very nature." The problem of man's solitude from the point of view of the theology of the body will also be revealed as such, if we succeed in making a thorough analysis of the second account of creation in Genesis 2.

4. The affirmation of God-Yahweh, "It is not good that man should be alone," appears not only in the immediate context of the decision to create woman, "I will make him a helper fit for him," but also in the wider context of reasons and circumstances, which explain more deeply the meaning of man's original solitude. The Yahwist text connects the creation of man first and foremost with the need to "till the ground" (Gn 2:5). That would correspond, in the first account, with the vocation to subdue and have dominion over the earth (cf. Gn 1:28). Then, the second account of creation speaks of man being put in the "garden in Eden," and in this way introduces us to the state of his original happiness. Up to this moment man is the object of the creative action of God-Yahweh, who at the same time, as legislator, establishes the conditions of the first covenant with man. Man's subjectivity is already emphasized through this. It finds a further expression when the Lord God "formed out of the ground every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to man to see what he would call them" (Gn 2:19). In this way, therefore, the first meaning of man's original solitude is defined on the basis of a specific test or examination which man undergoes before God (and in a certain way also before himself). By means of this test, man becomes aware of his own superiority, that is, that he cannot be considered on the same footing as any other species of living beings on the earth.

As the text says, "Whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name" (Gn 2:19). "The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man [male] there was not found a helper fit for him" (Gn 2:20).

5. All this part of the text is unquestionably a preparation for the account of the creation of woman. However, it possesses a deep meaning even apart from this creation. Right from the first moment of his existence, created man finds himself before God as if in search of his own entity. It could be said he is in search of the definition of himself. A contemporary person would say he is in search of his own "identity." The fact that man "is alone" in the midst of the visible world and, in particular, among living beings, has a negative significance in this search, since it expresses what he "is not."

Nevertheless, the fact of not being able to identify himself essentially with the visible world of other living beings (animalia) has, at the same time, a positive aspect for this primary search. Even if this fact is not yet a complete definition, it constitutes one of its elements. If we accept the Aristotelian tradition in logic and in anthropology, it would be necessary to define this element as the "proximate genus" (genus proximum)

6. The Yahwist text enables us, however, to discover also further elements in that admirable passage. Man finds himself alone before God mainly to express, through a first self-definition, his own self-knowledge, as the original and fundamental manifestation of mankind. Self-knowledge develops at the same rate as knowledge of the world, of all the visible creatures, of all the living beings to which man has given a name to affirm his own dissimilarity with regard to them. In this way, consciousness reveals man as the one who possesses a cognitive faculty as regards the visible world. With this knowledge which, in a certain way, brings him out of his own being, man at the same time reveals himself to himself in all the peculiarity of his being. He is not only essentially and subjectively alone. Solitude also signifies man's subjectivity, which is constituted through self-knowledge. Man is alone because he is "different" from the visible world, from the world of living beings. Analyzing the text of Genesis we are, in a way, witnesses of how man "distinguishes himself" before God-Yahweh from the whole world of living beings (animalia) with his first act of self-consciousness, and of how he reveals himself to himself. At the same time he asserts himself as a "person" in the visible world. Sketched so incisively in Genesis 2:19-20, that process is a search for a definition of himself. Linking up with the Aristotelian tradition, it leads to indicating the proximate genus. Chapter 2 of Genesis expresses this with the words: "The man gave names...." There corresponds to this the specific differentia which is, according to Aristotle's definition, nôus, zoón noetikón. This process also leads to the first delineation of the human being as a human person with the specific subjectivity that characterizes him.

We'll interrupt this analysis of the meaning of man's original solitude. We will take it up again next week."


"BESONDERS HERZLICH WILLKOMMEN heiße ich bei der heutigen Audienz die Neupriester aus dem Päpstlichen Kollegium Germanikum und Hungarikum mit ihren Eltern. Angehörigen und Freunden.

Ich beglückwünsche euch als meine jungen Mitbrüder im Priesteramt von Herzen zu eurem mutigen Entschluß, euer Leben als Priester ganz in den Dienst Christi und seiner Kirche zu stellen. "Wer des begreifen kann, der begreife es". Dieses Wort des Herrn gilt heute mehr denn je auch von der Wahl des Priesterberufes. Eure Berufung ist vor allem eine Gnade, ein Geschenk, das es aber mit Freude und Opferbereitschaft anzunehmen galt. Ihr habt es mit Gottes Gnade getan. Eine eurer vordringlichen Aufgaben wird es nun sein, dieses kostbare Geschenk sorgsam zu hüten und unversehrt zu bewahren. Nur so kann auch euer priesterliches Wirken in den Gemeinden wirklich fruchtbar werden. Mögen euch eure Eltern und Angehörigen auch in Zukunft nahe sein und euch mit ihrem Gebet ständig begleiten. Euch und ihnen, euren Freunden und eurem ganzen Kolleg erteile ich in geistlicher Verbundenheit meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Sono presenti all’Udienza circa seicento Superiore Generali e Provinciali, partecipanti alla XXVII Assemblea dell’"Unione Superiore Maggiori d’Italia" (USMI) che ha trattato il tema: "Presenza pastorale dei religiosi nella Chiesa oggi in Italia e loro carisma specifico".

Vi ringrazio di questa vostra presenza, così significativa, che avrebbe meritato un’udienza privata. Purtroppo, i molteplici ed assillanti impegni di questo periodo di tempo non me lo hanno permesso.

Vi esorto, carissime Sorelle, a meditare sempre, con amore e con generosità, i grandi documenti che riguardano la vostra vita: il capitolo sesto della Costituzione Conciliare Lumen Gentium, il Decreto Perfectae Caritatis e la Lettera Apostolica Evangelica Testificatio. Ciò che maggiormente mi stava a cuore di comunicare a tutte le religiose, l’ho espresso recentemente nei discorsi tenuti il 1° ottobre a Maynooth in Irlanda e il 7 ottobre nel Santuario dell’Immacolata Concezione a Washington

Ora, vorrei soltanto suggerire a voi superiore la fermezza e la delicatezza necessarie in questo momento. Dimostratevi soprattutto madri, sensibili e illuminate, non mai irritate o amareggiate per nulla, ma santamente intrepide nel seguire la voce del Vicario di Cristo, in modo che nessuna suora si senta depressa o emarginata, anche se in qualcosa può aver sbagliato.

Anche a voi ripeto ciò che dissi in Irlanda: "Dovete essere coraggiose nelle vostre imprese apostoliche, non lasciamo che le difficoltà, la diminuzione di personale, l’insicurezza del futuro possano abbattervi o deprimervi. Ricordate sempre che il primo dovere apostolico è la vostra santificazione" (Giovanni Paolo II, Allocutio in "Maynooth", 1 ottobre 1979).

Vi sia particolarmente vicina e confortatrice la mia Benedizione Apostolica

MY DEAR PARTICIPANTS in the Roman Catholic-Pentecostal dialogue, welcome again to Rome. For seven years now this effort of mutual understanding and reconciliation has been going on, and I wish to assure you that it has my fullest interest and prayerful support.

If we Christians are to attain the unity willed by our Lord, we are called to "shared investigation of the truth in the full evangelical and Christian sense". You are contributing to that by your work this week. May God support you in it and by the light of his Holy Spirit enable you to know and experience his truth, his grace and his love.

J’ADRESSE UN SALUT cordial et affectueux aux membres du Conseil général extraordinaire de la Compagnie de Marie, plus connue sous le nom de Congrégation des Pères Montfortains. Je salue le Révérend Père général, ses Assistants, les supérieurs provinciaux et, à travers eux, tous ceux qui se donnent à Dieu et au service de l’Eglise selon l’esprit de saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, qui m’est personnellement si cher.

J’ai beaucoup parlé depuis un an, et récemment encore au cours de ce dernier voyage, de la vie sacerdotale et de la vie religieuse. Méditez ces pensées, chers Fils, elles valent aussi pour vous, avec leurs exigences. Vous avez ainsi la certitude d’être fidèles à l’Eglise. Soyez fidèles à l’esprit de votre saint fondateur, à la source inépuisable de spiritualité qu’il nous a laissée en enseignant le sens de la vraie dévotion à la Sainte Vierge. Selon sa parole: " Ouvrez la porte à Jésus-Christ ", en chacun de vous d’abord, par votre vie d’oraison, chez les autres ensuite, par votre vie missionnaire. Et pour cela, soyez toujours dociles aux leçons intérieures de la Vierge Immaculée, à laquelle je vous recommande de tout cœur, avec une spéciale Bénédiction Apostolique.

DE NOMBREUX PÈLERINS représentent aujourd’hui les diocèses de Clermont-Ferrand et de Moulins. Qu’ils soient les bienvenus. Je leur souhaite d’approfondir leur sens de l’Eglise afin d’être ensuite plus convaincus, plus généreux dans leur vie chrétienne, et je les bénis de grand cœur.

Un cordiale saluto va anche a voi giovani, che come sempre fate vibrare questa piazza di San Pietro della vostra esuberante letizia. Vi ringrazio per questa vostra visita e per il conforto che essa mi procura nel vedervi così entusiasti nella manifestazione della vostra fede in Cristo e, al tempo stesso, così vicini al suo Vicario in terra.

Facendo eco ai miei incontri con i vostri coetanei d’Irlanda e degli Stati Uniti d’America, e ai ripetuti appelli alla giustizia, alla libertà e alla pace, che ho rivolto in occasione del mio recente viaggio apostolico, esorto soprattutto voi, figli della nuova generazione, ad essere sempre all’avanguardia, con quell’ardimento che voi sapete porre in tutto ciò che è grande e nobile, nella difesa e nella promozione di tali inalienabili valori, indispensabili per ogni cristiano, che intende porsi seriamente alla sequela di Cristo. Vi sia di aiuto in questo impegno l’esempio del Cristo e la sua corroborante assistenza.

A voi ammalati, che portate nel vostro corpo e nel vostro spirito le stigmate di Cristo (Gal 6,17), va, in maniera del tutto singolare, la mia paterna, affettuosa e benedicente parola. Vi ringrazio per la vostra preziosa presenza, che offre allo sguardo di tutti noi una sofferta testimonianza di fortezza cristiana, di coraggio e di fede: virtù queste che sostengono voi nelle dure prove a cui siete stati chiamati e, in pari tempo, fanno riflettere gli altri sul vero significato di questa vita terrena così fragile ed effimera, e così incomprensibile senza una fede superiore. Voi quindi siete i benefattori dell’umanità. Il Signore vi ricompensi e vi conforti nel vostro dolore.

Un saluto speciale va ora agli sposi novelli, che all’indomani delle loro nozze sono venuti dal Papa per ricevere la sua Benedizione sulla loro unione matrimoniale e sulla loro nascente famiglia. Mentre esprimo felicitazioni ed augurio per questo passo decisivo che resterà al centro della vostra vita, vi ringrazio per essere qui venuti a testimoniare davanti alla comunità cristiana la bellezza e la grandezza del sacramento, istituito da Gesù per santificare l’amore e renderlo stabile. Sia il vostro esempio per i più giovani un salutare richiamo a quei principi cristiani, che soli possono garantire al focolare domestico la vera e duratura felicità. Vi accompagni sempre la mia Benedizione."