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The meaning of original shame in man-woman interpersonal relationships

29 (of 129) - Catechesis by John Paul II on the Theology of the Body
General Audience, Wednesday 4 June 1980 - in French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. Speaking of the birth of lust, on the basis of the book of Genesis, we analyzed the original meaning of shame, which appeared with the first sin. In the light of the biblical narrative, the analysis of shame enables us to understand even more thoroughly the meaning it has for interpersonal man-woman relations as a whole. The third chapter of Genesis shows without any doubt that shame appeared in man's mutual relationship with woman. By reason of the shame itself, this relationship underwent a radical transformation. It was born in their hearts together with the lust of the body. Thus, the analysis of original shame enables us at the same time to examine what relationship this lust remains in with regard to the communion of persons. This communion was granted and assigned from the beginning as the task of the man and woman, owing to the fact that they had been created "in the image of God." Therefore, the further stage of the study of lust, which had been manifested "at the beginning" through the man and woman's shame, according to Genesis 3, is the analysis of the insatiability of the union, that is, of the communion of persons. This was to be expressed also by their bodies, according to their specific masculinity and femininity.

Changes in man-woman relationship

2. According to the biblical narrative, this shame induces man and woman to hide from each other their bodies and especially their sexual differentiation. This shame confirms that the original capacity of communicating themselves to each other, which Genesis 2:25 speaks of, has been shattered. The radical change of the meaning of original nakedness leads us to presume negative changes in the whole interpersonal man-woman relationship. That mutual communion in humanity itself by means of the body and by means of its masculinity and femininity, which resounded so strongly in the preceding passage of the Yahwist narrative (cf. Gn 2:23-25), is upset at this moment. It is as if the body, in its masculinity and femininity, no longer constituted the trustworthy substratum of the communion of persons, as if its original function were called in question in the consciousness of man and woman.

Having facilitated an extraordinary fullness in their mutual communication, the simplicity and purity of the original experience disappear. Obviously, our first progenitors did not stop communicating with each other through the body and its movements, gestures and expressions. But that simple and direct communion with each other, connected with the original experience of reciprocal nakedness, disappeared. Almost unexpectedly, an insuperable threshold appeared in their consciousness. It limited the original giving of oneself to the other, in full confidence in what constituted their own identity and, at the same time, their diversity, female on the one side, male on the other. The diversity, that is, the difference of the male sex and the female sex, was suddenly felt and understood as an element of mutual confrontation of persons. The concise expression of Genesis 3:7 and its immediate context testify to this: "They knew that they were naked." All that is also part of the analysis of the first shame. The Book of Genesis not only portrays its origin in the human being, but also makes it possible to reveal its degrees in both man and woman.

Loss of that original certainty

3. The ending of the capacity of a full mutual communion, which is manifested as sexual shame, enables us to understand better the original value of the unifying meaning of the body. It is not possible to understand otherwise that respective closure to each other, or shame, unless in relation to the meaning that the body, in its femininity and masculinity, previously had for man in the state of original innocence. That unifying meaning is understood with regard to the unity that man and woman, as spouses, were to constitute, becoming "one flesh" (Gn 2:24) through the conjugal act. It is also understood in reference to the communion of persons itself, which had been the specific dimension of man and woman's existence in the mystery of creation. The body in its masculinity and femininity constituted the peculiar "substratum" of this personal communion. Sexual shame, with which Genesis 3:7 deals, bears witness to the loss of the original certainty that the human body, through its masculinity and femininity, is precisely that "substratum" of the communion of persons, that expresses it "simply", that it serves the purpose of realizing it (and thus also of completing the image of God in the visible world).

This state of consciousness in both has strong repercussions in the further context of Genesis 3, with which we shall deal shortly. If after original sin, man had lost the sense of the image of God in himself, that loss was manifested with shame of the body (cf. Gn 3:10-11). That shame, encroaching upon the man-woman relationship in its totality, was manifested with the imbalance of the original meaning of corporeal unity, that is, of the body as the peculiar "substratum" of the communion of persons. As if the personal profile of masculinity and femininity, which before highlighted the meaning of the body for a full communion of persons, had made way only for the sensation of sexuality with regard to the other human being. It is as if sexuality became an obstacle in the personal relationship of man and woman. Concealing it from each other, according to Genesis 3:7, they both express it almost instinctively.

Second discovery of sex

4. At the same time, this is the second discovery of sex, which in the biblical narrative differs radically from the first one. The whole context of the narrative confirms that this new discovery distinguishes historical man with his lust (with the three forms of lust) from the man of original innocence. What relationship does lust have, especially the lust of the flesh, with regard to the communion of persons mediated by the body, by its masculinity and femininity, that is, to the communion assigned "from the beginning" to man by the Creator? This question must be posed, precisely with regard to the beginning, about the experience of shame, which the biblical narrative refers to.

As we have already observed, shame is manifested in Genesis 3 as a symptom of man's detachment from the love in which he participated in the mystery of creation according to the Johannine expression, the love that "comes from the Father." "The love that is in the world," that is, lust, brings with it an almost constitutive difficulty of identification with one's own body. This is not only in the sphere of one's own subjectivity, but even more with regard to the subjectivity of the other human being, of woman for man, of man for woman.

Collapse of original communion

5. Hence the necessity of hiding before the other with one's own body, with what determines one's own femininity-masculinity. This necessity proves the fundamental lack of trust, which in itself indicates the collapse of the original relationship of communion. Regard for the subjectivity of the other, and at the same time for one's own subjectivity, has aroused in this new situation, that is, in the context of lust, the necessity of hiding oneself, which Genesis 3:7 speaks of.

Here it seems to us that we can discover a deeper meaning of sexual shame and also the full meaning of that phenomenon, to which the biblical text refers, to point out the boundary between the man of original innocence and the historical man of lust. The complete text of Genesis 3 supplies us with elements to define the deepest dimension of shame, but that calls for a separate analysis. We will begin it in the next reflection."


Al pellegrinaggio dei "Christian Brothers" e dei Fratelli di San Gabriele

It is a pleasure to have among the pilgrims two groups of religious brothers: Christian Brothers who are finishing their tertianship in Rome, and Brothers of Saint Gabriel from Asia. I pray that your time in Rome will enhance your appreciation of your special vocation. The Church sets great store not only by the active assistance you give her, especially in the field of education, but also by your calling in itself: for, without the dimension given by religious brothers, the Church’s witness would lack some of its brilliance. May God bless you and give you strength in your work and your vocation.

Ai gruppi provenienti da Bayern, Bamberg e Paderborn

Einen besonderen Willkommensgruß richte ich sodann an die Pfingst-Romwallfahrt aus Bayern anläßlich des Jubiläumsjahres des hl. Benedikt und die Rom-Wallfahrt der Erzdiözese Bamberg. Letztere gedenkt, durch einen Besuch in der Kathedrale von Sutri das Andenken ihres ehemaligen Heimatbischofs Suidgerus zu ehren, der dort im Jahre 1046 als Clemens II. zum Papst gewählt worden ist. Es ist würdig und recht, das Leben und Glaubenszeugnis unserer Vorfahren, insbesondere der Heiligen unter ihnen, in uns lebendig zu erhalten und uns an ihrem Beispiel zu orientieren. Wie sie damals, so ruft Christus heute uns in seine Nachfolge. Mögen auch wir auf seinen Anruf mit derselben hoch-herzigen Bereitschaft und Treue antworten, wie es ungezählte Glaubensbrüder und -schwestern vor uns getan haben. Diese Gnade erbitte ich euch von Herzen mit meinem Apostolischen Segen.

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Ebenso herzlich grüße ich die zahlreichen Pilgerinnen und Pilger der Romwallfahrt der Leser der Kirchenzeitung für das Erzbistum Paderborn, der Dom. Das sichtbare Gotteshaus, die Bischofskirche, an die euch der Name eurer Kirchenzeitung stets erinnert, ist sinnfälliges Zeichen für die unsichtbare Gegenwart Gottes inmitten seines Volkes. Er soll euch aber auch immer zugleich daran erinnern, daß ihr als Christen selbst dazu berufen seid, lebendige Tempel des Heiligen Geistes zu sein. Seid euch stets dieser Berufung und Würde eingedenk und sucht ihr durch ein überzeugtes Leben aus dem Glauben immer mehr zu entsprechen. Dazu erteile ich euch in der Liebe Christi den Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli della parrocchia romana di Santa Maria in Trastevere

Saluto adesso il gruppo di pellegrini della parrocchia di S. Maria in Trastevere, i quali sono venuti a ricambiare la visita da me fatta poco tempo fa alla loro Comunità. Nel ringraziarvi, figli carissimi, di questo gesto gentile, vi esorto a perseverare nell’impegno di fedele adesione a Cristo e di devozione filiale a Maria Santissima, emulando le generose tradizioni cristiane, lasciate a voi dai vostri avi. A tutti voi ed alle vostre famiglie la mia paterna Benedizione Apostolica.

Al gruppo di marittimi e portuali di Marghera

É presente a questa Udienza un gruppo di Marittimi e di Portuali di Marghera, i quali, accompagnati dal loro Patriarca, il Cardinale Marco Cè, hanno voluto ricordare con un pellegrinaggio a Roma il 25° anniversario dell’istituzione della benemerita Opera di Santa Maria del Porto. Accogliete, carissimi figli, il mio riconoscente e gioioso saluto, mentre prego il Signore di benedire il vostro lavoro e la vostra generosa dedizione, e ricolmi voi e le vostre famiglie di quelle consolazioni, di cui è pegno la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Ai pellegrini di diverse diocesi italiane

Ed ora un pensiero, altrettanto affettuoso, ai numerosi pellegrini delle Diocesi di Macerata, Tolentino, Cingoli, Treia e Recanati, che rappresentano, nella grande maggioranza, il mondo del lavoro e dell’impresa. Grazie a voi, per aver desiderato incontrarvi col Padre comune. Amo partecipare alla vostra fatica con l’augurio fervido che sia per voi non solo fonte di sostentamento materiale, ma anche motivo di elevazione personale, avvalorando e stimolando le vostre capacità d’intelletto e di cuore per il bene comune, come per la serenità delle vostre persone e delle vostre famiglie; a tutti imparto, propiziatrice dei doni del divino Spirito, la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Ai giovani

Ai giovani presenti a questa Udienza giunga, come di consueto, il mio saluto cordiale ed affettuoso.

La Pentecoste ci suggerisce di rivolgere la nostra preghiera allo Spirito Santo. É Lui che illumina la nostra mente per comprendere che Gesù Cristo è la speranza certa dell’uomo, senza della quale egli vive nella solitudine e nella tristezza.

Lo Spirito di Dio, cari giovani, riempia anche i vostri cuori della sua gioia e rinnovi le vostre volontà, rendendole docili alle sue ispirazioni.

Agli ammalati

Il mio abbraccio particolare a voi, cari fratelli ammalati! Voi rappresentate, per la vostra stessa condizione, la debolezza umana ed insieme la potenza e la misericordia di Dio.

Io vi sono vicino con l’affetto ed ancor più con la preghiera; ma a mia volta raccomando le necessità di tutta la Chiesa alle vostre preghiere, tanto potenti presso Dio, il Quale "ha scelto le cose deboli per confondere le forti" (1Cor 1,8).

Vi aiuti per questo la mia confortatrice Benedizione Apostolica.

Alle coppie di sposi

Alle numerose coppie di sposi novelli, intervenuti a questa Udienza, rivolgo il mio saluto ed augurio cordiale.

L’affetto che vi lega - e che è stato santificato e corroborato nel Sacramento del Matrimonio - possa mantenere intatta la freschezza gioiosa di questi giorni, nella consapevolezza che ogni cristiano è portatore d’una Speranza certa di vita, della quale egli deve sempre rendere ragione (cf. 1Pt 3).

Iddio vi benedica, cari novelli sposi, e la Vergine Santissima vi assista.

Appello per la liberazione di quanti sono ancora tenuti sotto sequestro. Giovanni Paolo II implora prima di tutto la liberazione del bambino di 9 anni Giovanni Furci in mano ai rapitori dallo scorso mese di gennaio, e poi quella di altre cinque persone:

Sento il dovere di farmi, ancora una volta, interprete dei sentimenti di accorata trepidazione di alcune famiglie, che stanno vivendo giorni di logorante angoscia per il rapimento di un loro caro. Il mio pensiero va al bambino Giovanni Furci, ai giovani Francesco Coppola, Enrico Zappino, Leonardo Rossi; ai signori Antonio Rullo e Giuseppe Gullì, e a tutti quanti sono tenuti sotto sequestro.

Nel rivolgere pubblicamente un appello al senso di umanità che non può essere spento nell’animo dei rapitori, invito tutti voi ad unirvi con me nella preghiera, per ottenere dal Signore che tocchi il loro cuore e li induca a porre termine ad una situazione insostenibile, concedendo alle loro vittime di tornare quanto prima ad abbracciare i familiari così duramente provati dall’ormai lungo periodo di forzata lontananza.