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Through the communion of persons man becomes the image of God

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Theology of the Body - 9
General Audience, Wednesday 14 November 1979 - also in French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. Following the narrative of Genesis, we have seen that the "definitive" creation of man consists in the creation of the unity of two beings. Their unity denotes above all the identity of human nature; their duality, on the other hand, manifests what, on the basis of this identity, constitutes the masculinity and femininity of created man. This ontological dimension of unity and duality has, at the same time, an axiological meaning. From the text of Genesis 2:23 and from the whole context, it is clearly seen that man was created as a particular value before God. "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gn 1:31). But man was also created as a particular value for himself—first, because he is man; second, because the woman is for the man, and vice versa, the man is for the woman. While the first chapter of Genesis expresses this value in a purely theological form (and indirectly a metaphysical one), the second chapter, on the other hand, reveals, so to speak, the first circle of the experience lived by man as value. This experience is already inscribed in the meaning of original solitude and then in the whole narrative of the creation of man as male and female. The concise text of Gen 2:23, which contains the words of the first man at the sight of the woman created, "taken out of him", can be considered the biblical prototype of the Canticle of Canticles. And if it is possible to read impressions and emotions through words so remote, one might almost venture to say that the depth and force of this first  and "original" emotion of the male-man in the presence of the humanity of the woman, and at the same time in the presence of the femininity of the other human being, seems something unique and unrepeatable.

2. In this way the meaning of man's original unity, through masculinity and femininity, is expressed as an overcoming of the frontier of solitude. At the same time it is an affirmation—with regard to both human beings—of everything that constitutes man in solitude. In the Bible narrative, solitude is the way that leads to that unity which, following Vatican II, we can define as communio personarum. As we have already seen, in his original solitude man acquires a personal consciousness in the process of distinction from all living beings (animalia). At the same time, in this solitude, he opens up to a being akin to himself, defined in Genesis (2:18, 20) as "a helper fit for him." This opening is no less decisive for the person of man; in fact, it is perhaps even more decisive than the distinction itself. In the Yahwist narrative, man's solitude is presented to us not only as the first discovery of the characteristic transcendence peculiar to the person. It is also presented as the discovery of an adequate relationship "to" the person, and therefore as an opening and expectation of a "communion of persons."

The term "community" could also be used here, if it were not generic and did not have so many meanings. Communio expresses more, with greater precision, since it indicates precisely that "help" which is derived, in a sense, from the very fact of existing as a person "beside" a person. In the Bible narrative this fact becomes eo ipso—in itself—the existence of the person "for" the person, since man in his original solitude was, in a way, already in this relationship. That is confirmed, in a negative sense, precisely by this solitude. Furthermore, the communion of persons could be formed only on the basis of a "double solitude" of man and of woman, that is, as their meeting in their distinction from the world of living beings (animalia), which gave them both the possibility of being and existing in a special reciprocity. The concept of "help" also expresses this reciprocity in existence, which no other living being could have ensured. All that constituted the foundation of the solitude of each of them was indispensable for this reciprocity. Self-knowledge and self-determination, that is, subjectivity and consciousness of the meaning of one's own body, was also indispensable.

3. In the first chapter, the narrative of the creation of man affirms directly, right from the beginning, that man was created in the image of God as male and female. The narrative of the second chapter, on the other hand, does not speak of the "image of God." But in its own way it reveals that the complete and definitive creation of "man" (subjected first to the experience of original solitude) is expressed in giving life to that communio personarum that man and woman form. In this way, the Yahwist narrative agrees with the content of the first narrative. If, vice versa, we wish to draw also from the narrative of the Yahwist text the concept of "image of God," we can then deduce that man became the "image and likeness" of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning. The function of the image is to reflect the one who is the model, to reproduce its own prototype. Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion. Right "from the beginning," he is not only an image in which the solitude of a person who rules the world is reflected, but also, and essentially, an image of an inscrutable divine communion of persons.

In this way, the second narrative could also be a preparation for understanding the Trinitarian concept of the "image of God," even if the latter appears only in the first narrative. Obviously, that is not without significance for the theology of the body. Perhaps it even constitutes the deepest theological aspect of all that can be said about man. In the mystery of creation—on the basis of the original and constituent "solitude" of his being—man was endowed with a deep unity between what is, humanly and through the body, male in him and what is, equally humanly and through the body, female in him. On all this, right from the beginning, the blessing of fertility descended, linked with human procreation (cf. Gn 1:28).

4. In this way, we find ourselves almost at the heart of the anthropological reality that has the name "body." The words of Genesis 2:23 speak of it directly and for the first time in the following terms: "flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones." The male-man uttered these words, as if it were only at the sight of the woman that he was able to identify and call by name what makes them visibly similar to each other, and at the same time what manifests humanity. In the light of the preceding analysis of all the "bodies" which man has come into contact with and which he has defined, conceptually giving them their name (animalia), the expression "flesh of my flesh" takes on precisely this meaning: the body reveals man. This concise formula already contains everything that human science could ever say about the structure of the body as organism, about its vitality, and its particular sexual physiology, etc. This first expression of the man, "flesh of my flesh," also contains a reference to what makes that body truly human. Therefore it referred to what determines man as a person, that is, as a being who, even in all his corporality, is similar to God.(2)

5. We find ourselves, therefore, almost at the very core of the anthropological reality, the name of which is "body," the human body. However, as can easily be seen, this core is not only anthropological, but also essentially theological. Right from the beginning, the theology of the body is bound up with the creation of man in the image of God. It becomes, in a way, also the theology of sex, or rather the theology of masculinity and femininity, which has its starting point here in Genesis. The original meaning of unity, to which words of Genesis 2:24 bear witness, will have in the revelation of God an ample and distant perspective. This unity through the body—"and the two will be one flesh"—possesses a multiform dimension. It possesses an ethical dimension, as is confirmed by Christ's answer to the Pharisees in Matthew 19 (cf. Mk 10). It also has a sacramental dimension, a strictly theological one, as is proved by St. Paul's words to the Ephesians(3) which refer also to the tradition of the prophets (Hosea, Isaiah, Ezekiel). And this is so because that unity which is realized through the body indicates, right from the beginning, not only the "body," but also the "incarnate" communion of persons—communio personarum—and calls for this communion right from the beginning. Masculinity and femininity express the dual aspect of man's somatic constitution. ("This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh"), and indicate, furthermore, through the same words of Genesis 2:23, they indicate the new consciousness of the sense of one's own body: a sense which, it can be said, consists in a mutual enrichment. Precisely this consciousness, through which humanity is formed again as the communion of persons, seems to be the layer which in the narrative of the creation of man (and in the revelation of the body contained in it) is deeper than his somatic structure as male and female. In any case, this structure is presented right from the beginning with a deep consciousness of human corporality and sexuality, and that establishes an inalienable norm for the understanding of man on the theological plane."


"Un saluto beneaugurante rivolgo ora al gruppo delle Suore della Famiglia del Sacro Cuore di Gesù di Brentana, in arcidiocesi di Milano, le quali sono qui venute insieme con la loro Superiora Generale, nel primo centenario della loro fondazione. Carissime Sorelle, ben volentieri vi accolgo in questa Basilica di San Pietro e vi ringrazio non solo per i sentimenti di fede nel Signore e di fedeltà al suo Vicario, i quali hanno ispirato i vostri pellegrinaggi a Roma, ma anche per la generosa attività ecclesiale che voi svolgete nelle parrocchie mediante l’insegnamento del catechismo, l’assistenza dei bambini negli asili infantili e l’apostolato fra le giovani.

Sia per voi codesta ricorrenza centenaria una pausa feconda di riflessione, nella preghiera e nel rendimento di grazie a Dio, sul carisma originale che ha suscitato la vostra Congregazione e quindi sull’opera finora svolta e su quella che intendete svolgere per il futuro. Ma abbiate soprattutto davanti agli occhi l’ideale della vostra vocazione religiosa: sia esso lampada ai vostri passi, giacché nessun altro ideale su questa terra è più vero, più generoso e più santo dell’umile e fedele corrispondenza alla chiamata del Signore, alla sua imitazione e alla sua missione di bontà e di salvezza. A tutta la Congregazione la mia speciale Benedizione Apostolica.

Rivolgo un saluto tutto particolare agli Alunni della Scuola Elementare "San Giuseppe" di Vigevano, che sono accompagnati dai loro Genitori e dalle loro benemerite Insegnanti, le Suore Domenicane di Santa Caterina da Siena. Carissimi, vi ringrazio di questa visita e per i doni che, con gentile pensiero, mi avete portato a favore dei bambini vietnamiti. Vi raccomando di prepararvi bene al vostro futuro e di essere sempre riconoscenti verso chi si prodiga per voi. Da parte mia, vi assicuro che potete sempre contare sull’amore del Papa verso di voi, e con tutto il cuore vi benedico.

Saluto con vivo compiacimento i numerosi fedeli di Ferrara, partecipanti al secondo pellegrinaggio di quest’anno, guidato dal loro Arcivescovo. Cari Fratelli e Sorelle, questa sosta romana sia davvero per voi occasione propizia per ritemprare la vostra fede cristiana, così da affrontare con serena fermezza i vostri quotidiani impegni. A tutti voi concedo di cuore la particolare Benedizione Apostolica, che vi affido di portare anche ai vostri cari, specialmente ai bambini e agli ammalati.

Con particolare affetto rivolgo il mio saluto a voi, giovani: sia perché i figli traggono sempre su di sé lo sguardo amorevole dei genitori, sia perché voi non lasciate mai cadere nella freddezza e nella noncuranza la causa che abbracciate con fede. Se dunque – com’è vero – voi credete in Cristo, nella Chiesa e nella redenzione degli uomini attraverso la verità, siete gli amanti, i cultori, i propagatori indefessi di questa verità, che, come il sole, dappertutto porta la luce e la gioia. Vi sostenga e vi accompagni la mia Benedizione.

Un pensiero, ormai consueto, ma sempre nuovo e cordiale, desidero ora rivolgere agli ammalati presenti a questa Udienza. Carissimi, il Papa vi guarda con sincera predilezione, ha per voi un particolare riguardo e a voi riserva un ricordo speciale nelle sue preghiere, affinché possiate essere sempre sereni nell’infermità, fervorosi nello spirito e accetti al Signore! Vi esorto, poi, a non considerarvi mai degli sfortunati, degli inutili: pur soggetti all’esperienza del dolore, a cui spesso si accompagna la solitudine, lo sconforto, l’inattività, voi dovete sperimentare che la malattia, cristianamente accettata e vissuta, vi eleva e vi nobilita. Infatti – al dire dell’Apostolo – la vostra tribolazione produce pazienza, la pazienza una virtù provata, la virtù provata la speranza, che non delude e contribuisce a un accrescimento dell’amor di Dio nei vostri cuori (cf. Rm 5,3).Vi siano sempre motivo di speranza e di conforto tali pensieri, che accompagno con la mia paterna Benedizione.

E anche a voi, carissimi sposi, io desidero porgere il mio cordiale saluto, accompagnato da vive felicitazioni e da fervidi auguri di ogni bene. Il Signore, Dio della bontà, della pace e della gioia, sia sempre con voi! Egli, che ha benedetto e consacrato il vostro amore mediante il sacramento del matrimonio, vi conceda la grazia di conservare tale amore indefettibile nel tempo, nell’essenza e nel suo termine! Il Signore vi conservi nel suo amore e la mia Benedizione vi sostenga per tutta la vita.

ET MAINTENANT j’adresse un salut particulièrement ému aux chers Cambodgiens, réfugiés en France et venus exprimer leur reconnaissance, et celle de tous leurs compatriotes, pour mon récent appel en faveur de leur patrie si cruellement éprouvée.

A vous qui êtes ici présents et à tous vos frères cambodgiens, j’ose dire avec tout mon coeur: entraidez-vous à demeurer courageux et dignes, fraternels et solidaires, dans l’espérance!

A toutes les nations et à tous les hommes de bonne volonté, je ne crains pas de renouveler mon appel pour que tous les Cambodgiens soient efficacement secourus, et que leur terre natale retrouve la paix.

J’invoque sur vous, sur vos familles et sur votre pays la miséricorde et l’aide de Dieu.

AUX CONSEILLERS et à tous les membres de la Société de Saint-Vincent de Paul, je tiens à redire mes vifs encouragements. Continuez à porter, et à faire partager largement, y compris parmi les jeunes, le souci des pauvres de toute sorte, hélas trop souvent délaissés même par des sociétés qui se disent très organisées. Continuez à les aider efficacement, en leur permettant de participer eux-mêmes peu à peu à leur prise en charge. La charité qui anime les efforts de toutes vos équipes dans les cinq continents est un témoignage essentiel de l’Eglise. Que l’intercession de saint Martin et de saint Vincent de Paul et de tous les grands apôtres de la charité vous soutienne! Avec mon affectueuse Bénédiction Apostolique.

JE SALUE CORDIALEMENT les chers pèlerins belges de l’Union Chrétienne des Pensionnés. A tous et à chacun, je souhaite que cette étape importante de la vie, sujette à certaines souffrances physiques ou morales, soit un temps privilégié de croissance dans la foi, une espérience nouvelle d’ouverture et de disponibilité aux autres, un cheminement dans la sérénité et l’espérance, tonifiantes pour vous-mêmes et pour les générations qui montent. Courage et confiance! Le troisième âge n’est-il pas comme le soleil du soir, aussi beau que celui du petit matin ou du plein midi? Je demande au Christ de vous accompagner et je vous bénis en son nom.

I AM HAPPY to meet the members of the Federation of International American Clubs who are holding their annual congress in Rome this week. As Americans living outside your own country, you have a special opportunity, indeed a special duty, to play a large part in fulfilling your country’s noble destiny of service to the world. May God make fruitful your efforts for full human advancement and for the safeguarding of the right of all."