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The human body, "theme" of works of art

60 (of 129) - Catechesis by John Paul II on the Theology of the Body
General Audience, Wednesday 15 April 1981 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"L’udienza odierna cade nel corso della Settimana Santa, la settimana "grande" dell’anno liturgico, perché ci fa rivivere da vicino il mistero pasquale, in cui "la rivelazione dell’amore misericordioso di Dio raggiunge il suo culmine" (cf. Giovanni Paolo II, Dives in Misericordia, 8).

Mentre invito ciascuno a partecipare con fervore alle celebrazioni liturgiche di questi giorni, formo l’auspicio che tutti riconoscano con esultanza e gratitudine il dono irripetibile di essere stati salvati dalla passione e dalla morte di Cristo. Tutta la storia dell’umanità è illuminata e guidata da questo evento incomparabile: Dio, infinita bontà, l’ha effusa con indicibile amore per mezzo del supremo sacrificio di Cristo. Mentre, pertanto, ci prepariamo ad elevare a Cristo, vincitore della morte, il nostro inno di gloria, dobbiamo eliminare dalle nostre anime tutto ciò che possa contrastare con l’incontro con Lui. Per vederlo attraverso la fede è necessario, infatti, essere purificati dal sacramento del perdono e sostenuti dall’impegno perseverante di un profondo rinnovamento dello spirito e di quella interiore conversione che è avvio in se stessi della "nuova creazione" (2Cor 5,17), di cui il Cristo risorto è la primizia e il pegno sicuro.

Allora la Pasqua rappresenterà per ciascuno di noi un incontro con Cristo.

È quanto auguro di cuore a tutti.

1. In our preceding reflections — both in the analysis of Christ's words, in which he refers to the "beginning", and during the Sermon on the Mount, that is, when he refers to the human "heart" — we have tried systematically to show how the dimension of man's personal subjectivity is an indispensable element present in theological hermeneutics, which we must discover and presuppose at the basis of the problem of the human body. Therefore, not only the objective reality of the body, but far more, as it seems, subjective consciousness and also the subjective experience of the body, enter at every step into the structure of the biblical texts, and therefore require to be taken into consideration and find their reflection in theology. Consequently theological hermeneutics must always take these two aspects into account. We cannot consider the body an objective reality outside the personal subjectivity of man, of human beings, male and female. Nearly all the problems of the ethos of the body are bound up at the same time with its ontological identification as the body of the person. They are also bound up with the content and quality of the subjective experience, that is, of the "life" both of one's own body and in its interpersonal relations, especially in the perennial man-woman relationship. Without any doubt, the words of the First Letter to the Thessalonians, in which the author exhorts us to "control our own body in holiness and honor" (that is, the whole problem of "purity of heart") indicate these two dimensions.

2. They are dimensions which directly concern concrete, living men, their attitudes and behavior. Works of culture, especially of art, enable those dimensions of "being a body" and "experiencing the body" to extend, in a way, outside these living men. Man meets the "reality of the body" and "experiences the body" even when it becomes a subject of creative activity, a work of art, a content of culture. Although generally speaking, it must be recognized that this contact takes place on the plane of aesthetic experience, in which it is a question of viewing the work of art (in Greek aisthá nomai: I look, I observe)—and therefore that, in the given case, it is a question of the objectivized body, outside its ontological identity, in a different way and according to the criteria characteristic of artistic activity—yet the man who is admitted to viewing in this way is a priori too deeply bound up with the meaning of the prototype, or model, which in this case is himself:—the living man and the living human body—to be able to detach and separate completely that act, substantially an aesthetic one, of the work in itself and of its contemplation from those dynamisms or reactions of behavior and from the evaluations which direct that first experience and that first way of living. By its very nature, this looking is aesthetic. It cannot be completely isolated, in man's subjective conscience, from that looking of which Christ speaks in the Sermon on the Mount: warning against lust.

3. Therefore, in this way the whole sphere of aesthetic experiences is, at the same time, in the area of the ethos of the body. Rightly we must think here too of the necessity of creating a climate favorable to purity. This climate can be threatened not only in the way in which the relations and society of living men take place, but also in the area of the objectivizations characteristic of works of culture; in the area of social communications, when it is a question of the spoken or written word; in the area of the image, that is, of representation and vision, both in the traditional meaning of this term and in the modern one. In this way we reach the various fields and products of artistic, plastic and dramatic culture, as also that based on modern audio-visual techniques. In this field, a vast and very differentiated one, we must ask ourselves a question in the light of the ethos of the body, outlined in the analyses made so far on the human body as an object of culture.

4. First of all it must be noted that the human body is a perennial object of culture, in the widest meaning of the term. This is for the simple reason that man himself is a subject of culture, and in his cultural and creative activity he involves his humanity, including his body. In these reflections, however, we must restrict the concept of object of culture, limiting ourselves to the concept understood as the subject of works of culture and in particular of works of art. It is a question, in a word, of the thematic nature, that is, of the "objectivation" [sic] of the body in these works. However, some distinctions must be made here at once, even if by way of example. One thing is the living human body, of man and of woman, which creates in itself the object of art and the work of art (for example, in the theater, in the ballet and, to a certain point, also in the course of a concert). Another thing is the body as the model of the work of art, as in the plastic arts, sculpture or painting. Is it possible to also put films or the photographic art in a wide sense on the same level? It seems so, although from the point of view of the body as object-theme, a quite essential difference takes place in this case. In painting or sculpture the human body always remains a model, undergoing specific elaboration on the part of the artist. In the film, and even more in the photographic art, it is not the model that is transfigured, but the living man is reproduced. In this case man, the human body, is not a model for the work of art, but the object of a reproduction obtained by means of suitable techniques.

5. It should be pointed out right away that the above-mentioned distinction is important from the point of view of the ethos of the body in works of culture. It should be added at once that when artistic reproduction becomes the content of representation and transmission (on television or in films), it loses, in a way, its fundamental contact with the human body, of which it is a reproduction. It often becomes an anonymous object, just like an anonymous photographic document published in illustrated magazines, or an image diffused on the screens of the whole world. This anonymity is the effect of the "propagation" of the image-reproduction of the human body, objectivized first with the help of the techniques of reproduction, which—as has been recalled above—seems to be essentially differentiated from the transfiguration of the model typical of the work of art, especially in the plastic arts. This anonymity (which, moreover, is a way of veiling or hiding the identity of the person reproduced) also constitutes a specific problem from the point of view of the ethos of the human body in works of culture, especially in the modern works of mass culture, as it is called.

Let us confine ourselves today to these preliminary considerations, which have a fundamental meaning for the ethos of the human body in works of artistic culture. Subsequently these considerations will make us aware of how closely bound they are to the words which Christ spoke in the Sermon on the Mount, comparing "looking lustfully" with "adultery committed in the heart." The extension of these words to the area of artistic culture is especially important, insofar as it is a question of "creating an atmosphere favorable to chastity," which Paul VI spoke of in Humanae Vitae. Let us try to understand this subject in a deep and fundamental way."

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

Al gruppo della Facoltà di teologia di Abidjan

Je ne puis saluer de façon spéciale chacun des groupes présents à cette audience. Je les assure tous de mes vœux cordiaux, en les remerciant de leur venue. Permettez que je nomme l’un des groupes, qui vient d’assez loin, celui des pèlerins de Côte d’Ivoire. Avec l’aide de la Compagnie Air-Afrique, ils ont tenu à marquer ainsi le premier anniversaire de mon voyage apostolique dans leur pays. Chers amis, je suis touché que vous me rendiez en quelque sorte ma visite! J’en garde un vif souvenir. J’ose espérer qu’elle porte ses fruits, de vitalité dans la foi, de charité active, d’union autour de vos Pasteurs et avec le successeur de Pierre. Que Dieu vous comble de ses bénédictions!

A un gruppo di giovani cechi, provenienti da diverse parti d'Europa

Zdravím také skupinu české mládeże, která priputovala do Říma z ruzných zemí západní Evropy. Kéž na přímluvu svatých Cyrila a Metodĕje Buh žehná jejich národu!

A un gruppo di giovani lituani

Nuoširdžiai sveikinu Lietuviu Gimnazijos vadovybę ir mokinius. Laiminu jus visus, jūsu šeimas ir visą lietuviu jaunimą.

Ai giovani

Un particolare saluto rivolgo a voi, cari giovani, e in questa vigilia del Giovedì Santo, richiamo la vostra attenzione alla grande e dolce realtà di questo Mistero. In quella sera, infatti, è nata l’Eucaristia, Sacrificio e Sacramento d’amore. E con essa Dio è restato in mezzo a noi. Nell’Eucaristia si rinnova ogni giorno la morte di Cristo e, quindi, la nostra Redenzione. Essa è anche l’alimento robusto dell’anima nel cammino verso il Cielo.

Cari giovani, ricevere frequentemente l’Eucaristia, è trasfigurare a poco a poco la nostra natura e da umana trasformarla in divina. E’ l’augurio che vi porgo di tutto cuore nell’imminenza della Pasqua.

Agli ammalati

Una parola ed un affetto particolare rivolgo anche a voi, cari ammalati, che la fede e il senso cristiano della vita ha condotto qui, presso le memorie di Pietro. A voi, oltre il Pane dell’Eucaristia, indico Cristo Crocifisso, il cui mistero celebriamo il prossimo Venerdì Santo.

Ho detto mistero. E’ infatti davvero un mistero il Calvario, dove il Figlio di Dio viene immolato per la salvezza degli uomini.

Cari fratelli e figli ammalati, chi soffre come voi, ha una sorte comune con Cristo, ed in qualche modo ne partecipa l’azione redentrice, conforme a quanto dice San Paolo: " Compio quanto manca alla passione di Cristo nel mio corpo ". Compito arduo, che brucia le carni, e talvolta il cuore; ma che libera lo spirito e lo rende degno di Dio, e collabora alla redenzione del mondo. Che Dio ve lo conceda, inondando di pace i vostri cuori.

Alle coppie di sposi novelli

Cari sposi novelli, Cristo che sale sulla Croce e muore fra i gemiti per santificare la sua Chiesa, e renderla degna dello sguardo del Padre, senza macchia né ruga, è simbolo ideale dello sposo, che dev’essere disposto a dare la sua vita per la sposa: così come la sposa tutto deve mettere in opera per piacere allo sposo. E’ una strofa di grazia, che l’Apostolo canta nella Lettera agli Effemini.

La morte di Cristo, allora, e la sua beata risurrezione nella gioia hanno molto da insegnare anche a voi, cari sposi. E il matrimonio, anche solo sotto questo aspetto, vi conferisce una tale dignità, da trasformarvi in soggetti di grazia. A tale fine tutti vi benedico.

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