The following is the text of the Address of John Paul II during the General Audience in St Peter's Square, on Wednesday, 2 April.
Our meeting today takes place in the heart of Holy Week, on the immediate eve of that "Paschal Triduum", in which the whole liturgical year culminates and is illuminated. We are about to live again the decisive and solemn days, in which the work of human redemption was fulfilled: in them Christ, dying, destroyed our death and, rising again, restored life to us.
Each one must feel personally involved in the mystery that the Liturgy, this year too, renews for us. I exhort you cordially, therefore, to take part with faith in the sacred services of the next few days and to commit yourselves in the determination to die to sin and to rise again ever more fully to the new life that Christ brought to us.
Let us resume, now, the treatment of the subject that has been occupying us for some time now.
1. The Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to Mark report to us the answer given by Christ to the Pharisees, when they questioned him about the indissolubility of marriage, referring to the law of Moses, which admitted, in certain cases, the practice of the so-called certificate of divorce. Reminding them of the first chapters of the Book of Genesis, Christ answered: "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." Then, referring to their question about the law of Moses, Christ added: "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" (Mt 19:3 ff.; Mk 12:2 ff.). In his answer, Christ referred twice to the ''beginning'', and therefore we, too, in the course of our analyses, have tried to clarify in the deepest possible way the meaning of this "beginning", which is the first inheritance of every human being in the world, man and woman, the first attestation of human identity according to the revealed word, the first source of the certainty of man's vocation as a person created in the image of God Himself.
2. Christ's reply has a historical meaning—but not only a historical one. Men of all times raise the question on the same subject. Our contemporaries, too, do so, but in their questions they do not refer to the law of Moses, which admitted the certificate of divorce, but to other circumstances and other laws. These questions of theirs are charged with problems, unknown to Christ's interlocutors. We know what questions concerning marriage and the family were addressed to the last Council, to Pope Paul VI, and are continually formulated in the post-conciliar period, day after day, in the most varied circumstances. They are addressed by single persons, married couples, fiances, young people, but also by writers, journalists, politicians, economists, demographers, in a word, by contemporary culture and civilization.
I think that among the answers that Christ would give to the men of our time and to their questions, often so impatient, the one he gave to the Pharisees would still be fundamental. Answering those questions, Christ would refer above all to the "beginning". He would do so, perhaps, all the more resolutely and essentially in that the interior and at the same time cultural situation of modern man seems to be moving away from that ''beginning'' and assuming forms and dimensions which diverge from the biblical image of the "beginning'' into points that are clearly more and more distant.
However, Christ would not be "surprised" by any of these situations, and I suppose that He would continue to refer mainly to the "beginning".
3. It was for this reason that Christ's answer called for a particularly thorough analysis. In that answer, in fact, fundamental and elementary truths about the human being, as man and woman, were recalled. It is the answer through which we catch a glimpse of the very structure of human identity in the dimensions of the mystery of creation and, at the same time, in the perspective of the mystery of redemption. Without that there is no way of constructing a theological anthropology and, in its context, a "theology of the body", from which also the view, fully Christian, of marriage and the family takes its origin. This was pointed out by Paul VI when, in his encyclical dedicated to the problems of marriage and procreation, in its responsible meaning on the human and Christian planes, he referred to the "total vision of man" (Humanae Vitae, 7). It can be said that, in the answer to the Pharisees, Christ put forward to his interlocutors also this "total vision of man", without which no adequate answer can be given to questions connected with marriage and procreation. Precisely this total vision of man must be constructed from the "beginning".
This applies also to the modern mentality, just as it did, though in a different way, to Christ's interlocutors. We are, in fact, children of an age, in which owing to the development of various disciplines, this total vision of man may easily be rejected and replaced by multiple partial conceptions which, dwelling on one or other aspect of the compositum humanum, do not reach man's integrum, or leave it outside their own field of vision. Various cultural trends then take their place which—on the basis of these partial truths—formulate their proposals and practical indications on human behaviour and, even more often, on how to behave with "man". Man then becomes more an object of determined techniques than the responsible subject of his own action. The answer given by Christ to the Pharisees also wishes man, male and female, to be this subject, that is, a subject who decides his own actions in the light of the complete truth about himself, since it is the original truth, or the foundation of genuinely human experiences. This is the truth that Christ makes us seek from the "beginning". Thus we turn to the first chapters of the Book of Genesis.
4. The study of these chapters, perhaps more than of others, makes us aware of the meaning and the necessity of the "theology of the body". The "beginning" tells us relatively little about the human body, in the naturalistic and modern sense of the word. From this point of view, in our study, we are at a completely pre-scientific level. We know hardly anything about the interior structures and the regularities that reign in the human organism. However, at the same time—perhaps precisely because of the antiquity of the text—the truth that is important for the total vision of man is revealed in the most simple and full way. This truth concerns the meaning of the human body in the structure of the personal subject. Subsequently, reflection on those archaic texts enables us to extend this meaning to the whole sphere of human intersubjectivity, especially in the perennial man-woman relationship. Thanks to that, we acquire with regard to this relationship a perspective which we must necessarily place at the basis of all modern science on human sexuality, in the bio-physiological sense. That does not mean that we must renounce this science or deprive ourselves of its results. On the contrary: if the latter are to serve to teach us something about the education of man, in his masculinity and femininity, and about the sphere of marriage and procreation, it is necessary— through all the single elements of contemporary science—always to arrive at what is fundamental and essentially personal, both in every individual, man or woman, and in their mutual relations.
And it is precisely at this point that reflection on the archaic text of Genesis is seen to be irreplaceable. It is really the "beginning" of the theology of the body. The fact that theology also considers the body should not astonish or surprise anyone who is aware of the mystery and reality of the Incarnation. Through the fact that the Word of God became flesh, the body entered theology, that is the science the subject of which is divinity, I would say, through the main door. The Incarnation—and the Redemption that springs from it—became also the definitive source of the sacramentality of marriage, with which we will deal at greater length in due time.
5. The questions raised by modern man are also those of Christians: those who are preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage or those who are already living in marriage, which is the sacrament of the Church. These are not only the questions of science, but, even more, the questions of human life. So many men and so many Christians seek the accomplishment of their vocation in marriage. So many people wish to find in it the way to salvation and holiness.
The answer given by Christ to the Pharisees, zealots of the Old Testament,
is particularly important for them. Those who seek the accomplishment of
their own human and Christian vocation in marriage, are called first of
all to make this "theology of the body", the "beginning" of which we find
in the first chapters of the book of Genesis, the content of their life
and behaviour. In fact, how indispensable is thorough knowledge of the
meaning of the body, in its masculinity and femininity, along the way of
this vocation! How necessary is a precise awareness of the nuptial meaning
of the body, of its generating meaning—since all that, which forms the
content of the life of married couples, must constantly find its full and
personal dimension in life together, in behaviour, in feelings! And all
the more so against the background of a civilization, which remains under
the pressure of a materialistic and utilitarian way of thinking and evaluating.
Modern bio-physiology can supply a great deal of precise information about
human sexuality. However, knowledge of the personal dignity of the human
body and of sex must still be drawn from other sources. A special source
is the word of God Himself, which contains the revelation of the body,
going back to
How significant it is that Christ, in the answer to all these questions, orders man to return, in a way, to the threshold of his theological history! He orders him to put himself at the border between original innocence-happiness and the inheritance of the first fall. Does He not mean to tell him, perhaps, in this way, that the path along which He leads man, male-female, in the Sacrament of Marriage, that is the path of the "redemption of the body", must consist in regaining this dignity in which there is accomplished, simultaneously, the real meaning of the human body, its personal meaning and its meaning "of communion"?
6. For the present, let us conclude the first part of our meditations dedicated to this important subject. To give an exhaustive answer to our questions, sometimes anxious ones, on marriage—or even more precisely: on the meaning of the body— we cannot dwell only on what Christ replied to the Pharisees, referring to the "beginning" (cf. Mt 19:3 ff.; Mk 10:2 ff.). We must also take into consideration all his other statements, of which two, of a particularly comprehensive character, emerge especially: the first one, from the Sermon on the Mount, on the possibilities of the human heart in relation to the lust of the body (cf. Mt 5:8), and the second one, when Jesus referred to the future resurrection (cf. Mt 22:24-30; Mk 12:18-27; Lk 20:27-36).
We intend to make these two statements the subject of our following reflections.
L'Osservatore Romano April 8, 1980