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The original unity of man and woman in humanity

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Theology of the Body - 8
General Audience, Wednesday 7 November 1979 - also in French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. The words of Genesis, "It is not good that the man should be alone" (2:18) are a prelude to the narrative of the creation of woman. Together with this narrative, the sense of original solitude becomes part of the meaning of original unity, the key point of which seems to be precisely the words of Genesis 2:24. Christ referred to them in his talk with the Pharisees: "A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh" (Mt 19:5). If Christ quoted these words referring to the "beginning," it is opportune for us to clarify the meaning of that original unity, which has its roots in the fact of the creation of man as male and female.

The narrative of the first chapter of Genesis does not know the problem of man's original solitude. Man is "male and female" right from the beginning. On the contrary, the Yahwist text of the second chapter authorizes us, in a way, to think first only of the man since, by means of the body, he belongs to the visible world but goes beyond it. Then, it makes us think of the same man, but through the dualism of sex. Corporality and sexuality are not completely identified. Although the human body in its normal constitution, bears within it the signs of sex and is by its nature male or female, the fact, however, that man is a "body" belongs to the structure of the personal subject more deeply than the fact that in his somatic constitution he is also male or female. Therefore, the meaning of "original solitude," which can be referred simply to "man," is substantially prior to the meaning of original unity. The latter is based on masculinity and femininity, as if on two different "incarnations," that is, on two ways of "being a body" of the same human being created "in the image of God" (Gn 1:27).

2. Following the Yahwist text, in which the creation of woman was described separately (Gn 2:21-22), we must have before our eyes, at the same time, that "image of God" of the first narrative of creation. In language and in style, the second narrative keeps all the characteristics of the Yahwist text. The way of narrating agrees with the way of thinking and expressing oneself of the period to which the text belongs. Following the contemporary philosophy of religion and that of language, it can be said that the language in question is a mythical one. In this case, the term "myth" does not designate a fabulous content, but merely an archaic way of expressing a deeper content. Without any difficulty we discover that content, under the layer of the ancient narrative. It is really marvelous as regards the qualities and the condensation of the truths contained in it. Let us add that up to a certain point, the second narrative of the creation of man keeps the form of a dialogue between man and God-Creator. That is manifested above all in that stage in which man ('adam) is definitively created as male and female ('is-'issah).(1) The creation takes place almost simultaneously in two dimensions: the action of God-Yahweh who creates occurs in correlation with the process of human consciousness.

3. So, therefore, God-Yahweh says: "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Gn 2:18). At the same time the man confirms his own solitude (cf. Gn 2:20). Next we read: "So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman" (Gn 2:21-22). Considering the specific language, first it must be recognized that in the Genesis account, that sleep in which the man is immersed—thanks to God-Yahweh—in preparation for the new creative act, gives us food for thought. Against the background of contemporary mentality, accustomed—through analysis of the subconscious—to connecting sexual contents with the world of dreams, that sleep may bring forth a particular association.(2) However, the Bible narrative seems to go beyond the dimension of man's subconscious. If we admit, moreover, a significant difference of vocabulary, we can conclude that the man ('adam) falls into that "sleep" in order to wake up " male" and "female." In Genesis 2:23, we come across the distinction 'is-'issah for the first time. Perhaps, therefore, the analogy of sleep indicates here not so much a passing from consciousness to subconsciousness, as a specific return to non-being (sleep contains an element of annihilation of man's conscious existence), that is, to the moment preceding the creation, in order that, through God's creative initiative, solitary "man" may emerge from it again in his double unity as male and female.

In any case, in the light of the context of Genesis 2:18-20, there is no doubt that man falls into that "sleep" with the desire of finding a being like himself. If, by analogy with sleep, we can speak here also of a dream, we must say that the biblical archetype allows us to admit as the content of that dream a "second self." It is also personal and equally referred to the situation of original solitude, that is, to the whole process of the stabilization of human identity in relation to living beings (animalia) as a whole, since it is the process of man's "differentiation" from this environment. In this way, the circle of the solitude of the man-person is broken, because the first "man" awakens from his sleep as "male and female."

4. The woman is made "with the rib" that God-Yahweh had taken from the man. Considering the archaic, metaphorical and figurative way of expressing the thought, we can establish that it is a question here of homogeneity of the whole being of both. This homogeneity concerns above all the body, the somatic structure. It is also confirmed by the man's first words to the woman who has been created: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gn 2:23).(15) Yet the words quoted refer also to the humanity of the male. They must be read in the context of the affirmations made before the creation of the woman, in which, although the "incarnation" of the man does not yet exist, she is defined as "a helper fit for him" (cf. Gn 2:18 and 2:20).(16) In this way, therefore, the woman is created, in a sense, on the basis of the same humanity.

Somatic homogeneity, in spite of the difference in constitution bound up with the sexual difference, is so evident that the man, on waking up from the genetic sleep, expresses it at once, when he says: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh—she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man" (Gn 2:23). In this way the man manifests for the first time joy and even exaltation, for which he had no reason before, owing to the lack of a being like himself. Joy in the other human being, in the second "self," dominates the words spoken by the man on seeing the woman. All this helps to establish the full meaning of original unity. The words here are few, but each one is of great weight. We must take into account—and we will do so also later—the fact that the first woman, "made with the rib...taken from the man," is at once accepted as a fit helper for him.

We shall return to this same subject, that is, the meaning of the original unity of man and of woman in humanity, in the next meditation."


"ET MAINTENANT J’ADRESSE à tous les pèlerins français un salut affectueux et un merci cordial pour leur présence à cette impressionnante rencontre de famille.

Je sais que vous-êtes venus nombreux de l’Ouest de la France, guidés par le Cardinal-Archevêque de Rennes, vos Evêques et vos prêtres. Je sais que le diocèse d’Aix-en-Provence avec son Archevêque est également bien représenté. Pasteurs et fidèles, vous êtes profondément heureux de vous retrouver ensemble à la source deux fois millénaire et toujours jaillissante de l’unité dans la vérité et la charité du Christ. Que cette venue à Rome soit pour tous et pour chacun comme une nouvelle Pâque, un passage véritablement marquant vers une vie selon le Seigneur Jésus et son Evangile! Et que nous poursuivions tous ensemble, Pape et Evêques, prêtres et laïcs chrétiens, dans la confiance mutuelle, dans le courage et la fidélité, l’œuvre gigantesque de la Rédemption du monde. Ne craignez pas! Dieu est avec vous, et je lui demande de vous bénir, ainsi que vos diocèses, vos paroisses et vos milieux de vie.

I AM HAPPY to receive a visit from the President of Loyola University, Chicago and from the students and faculty of the Rome Center. You have an important part to play in deciding the future of your country and of the world. The challenges you will face will be serious ones. In Christ you will find the inspiration and the strength to meet those challenges with courage and in truth, with awareness of the true greatness of your humanity and with respect for the individual human dignity of all others. I ask him to bless you, both now and in the future.

Saluto di cuore i Membri delle Pontificie Opere Missionarie, che hanno in questi giorni la loro Assemblea e che rivedo volentieri dopo l’incontro della primavera scorsa. Voglio ampiamente incoraggiare il vostro lavoro e dirvi quanto apprezzo ciò che fate per la causa missionaria, che è la causa di tutta la Chiesa e di Cristo stesso. Continuate con impegno e con entusiasmo la vostra zelante e competente dedizione allo studio e alla soluzione dei concreti problemi attinenti all’espansione del Regno di Dio. E Colui che non lascia senza ricompensa "anche solo un bicchiere di acqua fresca" dato ad un discepolo (Mt 10,42) vi colmi abbondantemente delle sue grazie.

Con la mia particolare Benedizione Apostolica.

Un cordiale saluto rivolgo ora al pellegrinaggio della diocesi di Oria, guidato dal Vescovo Monsignor De Giorgi, ed esprimo a tutti i partecipanti la mia gioia per questo incontro, che assume il significato di un evento di fede. Figli carissimi, so che questo pellegrinaggio si inserisce tra le numerose iniziative pastorali, poste in atto nella vostra diocesi durante questo Anno Mariano. Il mio augurio cordiale è che la devozione a Maria, tanto sentita nella vostra Terra, che diede i natali al venerabile Bartolo Longo, permanga viva nel cuore delle nuove generazioni e susciti in tutti propositi efficaci di generosa coerenza cristiana.

E sono altrettanto lieto di porgere il mio affettuoso benvenuto ai pellegrini provenienti dall’antica e gloriosa Chiesa di Trento. A voi e al vostro zelante Pastore, Monsignor Alessandro Maria Gottardi, l’espressione della mia gratitudine per questa visita e l’augurio che la sosta sulle tombe degli Apostoli valga a corroborare l’impegno di proseguire generosamente nel cammino di fede, segnato dall’amore a Cristo, dalla fedeltà alla Chiesa e dalla carità verso i fratelli.

Ai due numerosi pellegrinaggi diocesani va la mia particolare Benedizione Apostolica.

Vi domanderete, carissimi giovani, perché il Papa nei suoi discorsi ha sempre una parola particolare per voi. La risposta è semplice: egli ha l’inderogabile dovere di far avvicinare, quanto più possibile, l’umanità a Gesù, il quale, essendo Dio fatto uomo, è eternamente giovane e suscitatore di sempre più generose iniziative e di nuovi programmi di vita. Voi che siete alla ricerca di qualcosa che risponda alle vostre legittime aspirazioni e che pienamente vi soddisfino, per essere, a vostra volta, datori di gioia e di consolazione, avete in Gesù l’incomparabile modello. Egli, infatti, è la vera vita, la vera luce. Voi la potete godere, questa vita, nella sua pienezza; potete inebriarvi di questa luce attraverso l’esercizio delle virtù, santamente operose, della fede e della carità. Vi sarà dato, così, di poter diffondere di tali beni tra quanti incontrerete. Mentre vi invito a compiere quest’opera meravigliosa, vi accompagno con la mia Benedizione Apostolica estensibile a tutti i vostri cari.

Carissimi malati! Il Papa, come ripete continuamente in questi incontri e in quelli straordinari, vi è vicino con il suo costante ricordo, la sua comprensione, il suo affetto e la sua preghiera. So quanto bisogno avete di non sapervi soli nella vostra sofferenza. Ebbene, vi dico con tutta cordialità e umiltà: non perdetevi mai di coraggio, siate sempre vicini a Gesù, con Gesù; egli per primo è l’uomo dei dolori e di tutte le umane sofferenze; egli vi conforta con la presenza della sua grazia, vi ripete con il suo esempio, che voi siete preziosi collaboratori della Chiesa perché, come lui la rende feconda con il suo sacrificio, così voi ne impetrate con i vostri dolori la misericordia e particolari doni di assistenza e di protezione. Su di voi, sui vostri cari, su quanti vi curano discenda, a comune conforto, la Benedizione Apostolica.

Ed ora a voi, sposi novelli, presenti a questa udienza per porgervi paterni auguri di un santa e feconda unione coniugale. Come ho avuto occasione di ribadire nel recente incontro con i rappresentanti del "Centro di collegamento tra gruppi di ricerca", il matrimonio proprio perché comporta una speciale partecipazione a quell’amore nuziale di Cristo e della sua Chiesa, di cui è sacramento, cioè segno efficace, è un totalità dove si incontrano tutte le componenti della persona; una unità profondamente personale, che esige l’indissolubilità e la fedeltà reciproca definitiva, e si apre alla fecondità. Abbia il vostro amore questo significato nuovo del cristianesimo che lo purifica e lo consolida: Con la mia benedizione apostolica per voi e per tutti i vostri cari."