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The pedagogy of the body, the moral order, the affective manifestations

59 (of 129) - Catechesis by John Paul II on the Theology of the Body
General Audience, Wednesday 8 April 1981 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. The time has now come to conclude the reflections and analyses based on the words Christ spoke in the Sermon on the Mount, with which he appealed to the human heart, exhorting it to purity: "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" (Mt 5:27-28). We have said several times that these words, spoken once to the limited number of listeners to that Sermon, refer to people of all times and places. They appeal to the human heart, in which the most interior and, in a way, the most essential design of history is inscribed. It is the history of good and evil (whose beginning is connected, in Genesis, with the mysterious tree of the knowledge of good and evil). At the same time, it is the history of salvation, whose word is the Gospel, and whose power is the Holy Spirit, given to those who accept the Gospel with a sincere heart.

2. If Christ's appeal to the human heart and, still earlier, his reference to the beginning, enable us to construct or at least to outline an anthropology which we can call the theology of the body, such a theology is, at the same time, a pedagogy. Pedagogy aims at educating man, setting before him the requirements, motivating them, and pointing out the ways that lead to their fulfillment. Christ's pronouncements have also this purpose: they are pedagogical enunciations. They contain a pedagogy of the body, expressed in a concise and at the same time extremely complete way. Both the answer given to the Pharisees with regard to the indissolubility of marriage, and the words of the Sermon on the Mount concerning the mastery of lust, prove—at least indirectly— that the Creator has assigned as a task to man his body, his masculinity and femininity; and that in masculinity and femininity he, in a way, assigned to him as a task his humanity, the dignity of the person, and also the clear sign of the interpersonal communion in which man fulfills himself through the authentic gift of himself. Setting before man the requirements conforming to the tasks entrusted to him, at the same time the Creator points out to man, male and female, the ways that lead to assuming and discharging them.

3. Analyzing these key texts of the Bible to their very roots, we discover that anthropology which can be called the theology of the body. This theology of the body is the basis of the most suitable method of the pedagogy of the body, that is, the education (the self-education) of man. This takes on particular relevance for modern man, whose science in the field of biophysiology and biomedicine has made great progress. However, this science deals with man under a determined aspect and so is partial rather than global. We know well the functions of the body as an organism, the functions connected with the masculinity and femininity of the human person. But in itself, this science does not yet develop the awareness of the body as a sign of the person, as a manifestation of the spirit. The whole development of modern science, regarding the body as an organism, has rather the character of biological knowledge. This is because it is based on the separation of that which is corporeal in man from that which is spiritual. Using such a one-sided knowledge of the functions of the body as an organism, it is not difficult to arrive at treating the body, in a more or less systematic way, as an object of manipulations. In this case man ceases to identify himself subjectively with his own body, because it is deprived of the meaning and the dignity deriving from the fact that this body is proper to the person. We here touch upon problems often demanding fundamental solutions, which are impossible without an integral view of man.

4. Precisely here it appears clear that the theology of the body, which we derive from those key texts of Christ's words, becomes the fundamental method of pedagogy, that is, of man's education from the point of view of the body, in full consideration of his masculinity and femininity. That pedagogy can be understood under the aspect of a specific "spirituality of the body." In its masculinity or femininity the body is given as a task to the human spirit (this was expressed in a stupendous way by St. Paul in his own characteristic language). By means of an adequate maturity of the spirit it too becomes a sign of the person, which the person is conscious of, and authentic "matter" in the communion of persons. In other words, through his spiritual maturity, man discovers the nuptial meaning proper to the body.

Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount indicate that lust in itself does not reveal that meaning to man, but on the contrary dims and obscures it. Purely biological knowledge of the functions of the body as an organism, connected with the masculinity and femininity of the human person, is capable of helping to discover the true nuptial meaning of the body only if it is accompanied by an adequate spiritual maturity of the human person. Otherwise, such knowledge can have quite the opposite effect. This is confirmed by many experiences of our time.

5. From this point of view it is necessary to consider prudently the pronouncements of the modern Church. Their adequate understanding and interpretation, as well as their practical application (that is, pedagogy) demand that deep theology of the body which we derive mainly from the key words of Christ. As for the pronouncements of the Church in modern times, it is necessary to study the chapter entitled, "The Dignity of Marriage and the Family," of Pastoral Constitution of the Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et Spes, part II, chap. 1) and, subsequently, Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae Vitae. Without any doubt, the words of Christ, which we have analyzed at great length, had no other purpose than to emphasize the dignity of marriage and the family. Hence there is a fundamental convergence between them and the content of both the above-mentioned statements of the modern Church. Christ was speaking to the man of all times and places. The pronouncements of the Church aim at applying Christ's words to the here and now. Therefore they must be reread according to the key of that theology and that pedagogy which find roots and support in Christ's words.

It is difficult here to make a total analysis of the cited pronouncements of the supreme Magisterium of the Church. We will confine ourselves to quoting some passages. Here is how the Second Vatican Council—placing among the most urgent problems of the Church in the modern world the dignity of marriage and the family—characterizes the situation that exists in this area: "The happy picture of the dignity of these partnerships (that is, marriage and the family) is not reflected everywhere, but is overshadowed by polygamy, the plague of divorce, so-called free love and similar blemishes; furthermore, married love is too often dishonoured by selfishness, hedonism, and unlawful contraceptive practices (Gaudium et Spes 47). Paul VI, setting forth this last problem in the encyclical Humanae Vitae, writes, among other things: "Another thing that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection" (Humanae Vitae 17).

Are we not here in the sphere of the same concern which once dictated Christ's words on the unity and indissolubility of marriage, as well as those of the Sermon on the Mount, concerning purity of heart and mastery of the lust of the flesh, words that were later developed with so much acuteness by the Apostle Paul?

6. In the same spirit, speaking of the demands of Christian morality, the author of Humanae Vitae presents at the same time the possibility of fulfilling them when he writes: "The mastery of instinct by one's reason and free will undoubtedly demands an asceticism"—Paul VI uses this term—so that the affective manifestations of conjugal life may be in keeping with right order, in particular with regard to the observance of periodic continence. Yet this discipline which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value. It demands a continual effort [this effort was called above asceticism], yet, thanks to its beneficent influence, husband and wife fully develop their personalities, [and] enrich each other with spiritual values.... It favors attention for one's partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love, and deepens their sense of responsibility..." (Humane Vitae 21).

7. Let us pause on these few passages. They—particularly the last one—clearly show how indispensable, for an adequate understanding of the pronouncements of the Magisterium of the modern Church, is the theology of the body, whose foundations we sought especially in the words of Christ himself. It is precisely that theology—as we have already said—that  becomes the fundamental method of the whole Christian pedagogy of the body. Referring to the words quoted, it can be affirmed that the purpose of the pedagogy of the body lies in ensuring that the "affective manifestations"—particularly those "proper to conjugal life"— be in conformity with the moral order, or, in a word, with the dignity of the person. In these words the problem returns of the mutual relationship between eros and ethos, which we have already dealt with. Theology, understood as a method of the pedagogy of the body, prepares us also for further reflections on the sacramentality of human life and especially married life.

The Gospel of purity of heart, yesterday and, today: concluding with this phrase this cycle of our considerations—before going on to the next one, in which the basis of analyses will be Christ's words on the resurrection of the body—we still wish to devote some attention to "the need of creating an atmosphere favorable to education in chastity," with which Paul VI's encyclical deals (cf. Humanae Vitae 22), and we wish to focus these observations on the problem of the ethos of the body in works of artistic culture, referring especially to the situations we encounter in modern life."

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

Al folto pellegrinaggio proveniente da Strasburgo

C’est avec une particulière satisfaction que je salue, parmi beaucoup de groupes méritants, celui des pèlerins de Strasbourg: des parents, des professeurs et des élèves sont venus ensemble, méditant sur les exigences de la miséricorde, vénérer les tombes des Apôtres Pierre et Paul, qui l’un et l’autre ont expérimenté la joie du pardon du Christ. Je leur souhaite de trouver dans cette démarche commune, vécue dans la foi, les moyens exemplaires de compréhension entre jeunes et adultes conformes à l’esprit évangélique de la miséricorde. Puissent-ils repartir plus forts afin d’apporter un esprit nouveau dans leurs relations au lycée, au collège ou dans leur famille!

Je les bénis de grand cœur.

Ad un gruppo di personalità di Vienna

Einen besonderen Willkommensgruß richte ich an die hier anwesenden "Abgeordneten und Gemeinderäte aus Wien". Als gewählte Vertreter Ihrer Mitbürger opfern Sie dem Gemeinwohl einen großen Teil Ihrer Zeit und Ihrer Kraft. Sie bemühen sich, in den komplexen Problemen heutigen Zusammenlebens jeweils die bestmöglichen Lösungen zu finden. Möge Ihnen dafür das Erlebnis der Ewigen Stadt mit ihrer Botschaft von der Lebenskraft des Evangeliums Licht und Orientierung schenken. Gern erbitte ich Ihnen und Ihrer verantwortungsvollen Arbeit Gottes besonderen Segen.

Ad un gruppo di studenti della diocesi di Münster

Ebenso Grüße ich herzlich die grße Romwallfahrt der Schüler Eltern und Lehrer von katholischen Schulen aus dem Bistum Münster wie auch die "Pilgergruppe 81 St. Ludgerus Münster". Erneuerung und Vertiefung unseres religiösen Lebens bedeutet immer Besinnung und Rückkehr zu den ursprünglichen Quellen unseres Glaubens. Möge Ihnen diese Gnade aus der Begegnung mit den Heiligen Stätten in reichem Maße zuteil werden und Sie in Ihrem christlichen Sendungsauftrag in Familie, Schule und Gesellschaft neu ermutigen und bestärken. Dazu erteile Ihnen und allen anwesenden Pilgern deutscher Sprache von Herzen den Apostolischen Segen.

Ai membri dell’Associazione Culturale di Osaka

Porgo il benvenuto a tutti voi, membri dell’Associazione culturale di Osaka. Saluto tutti di cuore e tramite voi intendo benedire tutti i vostri fratelli e le vostre sorelle che sono in Giappone.

Al Movimento dei Focolarini

Saluto ora con particolare affetto le 300 Suore, appartenenti al " Movimento Internazionale delle Religiose aderenti al Movimento dei Focolarini " le quali sono venute a Roma da 50 Nazioni dei 5 Continenti per approfondire, presso il Centro Mariapoli di Rocca di Papa, il tema generale di quest’anno: " La volontà di Dio ".

Come ho già avuto occasione di dire a precedenti gruppi di Focolarini, ricordatevi in questi giorni di preghiera e di meditazione che " volontà di Dio è la nostra santificazione ", secondo le parole dell’Apostolo Paolo. Se farete di questa bella esortazione la ragion d’essere della vostra vita religiosa, il Signore certamente non mancherà di accordarvi i suoi lumi, le sue energie e i suoi conforti per aderire sempre più pienamente alla divina volontà, in cui risiede la nostra pace. Accompagno questi voti con una speciale Benedizione Apostolica.

Ai giovani

Carissimi giovani, la vostra è sempre la presenza più numerosa, ma anche la più simpatica ed entusiasta.

Ed è proprio al vostro entusiasmo e alla vostra gioia di vivere e di costruire che guardano con speranza il Papa e la Chiesa tutta. Il mondo di domani è nelle vostre mani, ma ne sarete artefici di rinnovamento se saprete oggi impegnarvi nello studio, nella preparazione professionale, ma anche e soprattutto nella profonda ricerca dei valori spirituali e religiosi.

Guardate sempre a Cristo: Egli rappresenta il modello più perfetto di ogni umana esistenza. I vostri sforzi di impegno e di ricerca sono costantemente accompagnati dalla mia preghiera.

Per questo di cuore vi benedico.

Agli ammalati

Carissimi ammalati, giungano particolarmente affettuoso il mio saluto a voi, che siete i più vicini al mio cuore per il debito di riconoscenza che vi devo: penso infatti al grosso dono delle vostre preghiere e delle sofferenze che offrite al Signore per il mio ministero.

La vostra presenza alla Sede di Pietro è in questi giorni particolarmente significativa, in quanto coincide con il periodo liturgico che ci immette nelle celebrazioni della Passione del Signore. Non dimenticate che il Venerdì santo è solo un momento di passaggio per arrivare alla gioia della Pasqua, che è pienezza di vita in Cristo crocifisso e risorto.

Affidatevi a Lui nella vostra preghiera quotidiana, affidatevi a Maria, Madre Addolorata.

E vi accompagni sempre anche il mio ricordo al Signore, al quale volentieri unisco la confortatrice Benedizione.

Alle coppie di sposi novelli

Carissimi sposi, leggo nei vostri occhi la gioia e l’entusiasmo per la nuova vita a due che avete da poco suggellato nel sacramento del Matrimonio, rendendo il vincolo della vostra unione indissolubile e santo, divinizzato nella carità di Dio stesso.

Permettete che anch’io aggiunga un augurio ai tanti che vi sono pervenuti da parte di parenti ed amici. Se saprete radicare il vostro amore in Cristo mediante la preghiera, le inevitabili difficoltà della vita, come i temporali e le piogge primaverili di passaggio, non affievoliranno, bensì serviranno ad irrobustire la vostra unione feconda, attraverso la quale, come ci ricorda la Scrittura, voi diventate collaboratori di Dio nella trasmissione della vita.

E voglia il Cielo che siate sempre e solo strumenti di vita, mai di morte!

Tornando nella vostra nuova casa, portate, con i ricordi più belli del viaggio nella Città eterna, la mia Benedizione.

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