Mystery of man’s original innocence

During the General Audience on 30 January the Holy Father gave the following address.

1. The reality of the gift and the act of giving, outlined in the first chapters of Genesis as the content constituting the mystery of creation, confirms that the radiation of Love is an integral part of this same mystery. Only Love creates the good, and it alone can, in a word, be perceived in all its dimensions and its aspects in created things and particularly in man. Its presence is almost the final result of that interpretation of the gift, which we are carrying out here. Original happiness, the beatifying "beginning" of man whom God created "male and female" (Gen 1:27), the nuptial significance of the body in its original nakedness: all that expresses its radication in Love.

This consistent giving, which goes back to the deepest roots of consciousness and subconsciousness, to the ultimate levels of the subjective existence of both, man and woman, and which is reflected in their mutual "experience of the body", bears witness to its radication in Love. The first verses of the Bible speak about it so much as to remove all doubt. They speak not only of the creation of the world and of man in the world, but also of grace, that is, of the communication of holiness, of the radiation of the Spirit, which produces a special state of "spiritualization" in that man, who in fact was the first. In biblical language, that is, in the language of Revelation, the adjective "first" means precisely "of God": "Adam, the son of God" (cf. Lk 3:38).

2. Happiness is being rooted in Love. Original happiness speaks to us of the "beginning" of man, who emerged from Love and initiated love. That happened in an irrevocable way, despite the subsequent sin and death. In his time, Christ will be a witness to this irreversible love of the Creator and Father, which had already been expressed in the mystery of creation and in the grace of original innocence. And therefore also the common "beginning" of man and woman, that is, the original truth of their body in masculinity and femininity, to which Genesis 2:25 draws our attention, does not know shame. This "beginning" can also be defined as the original and beatifying immunity from shame as the result of love.

Foundation of original innocence

3. This immunity directs us towards the mystery of man's original innocence. It is a mystery of his existence, prior to the knowledge of good and evil and almost "outside" it. The fact that man exists in this way, before the breaking of the first Covenant with his Creator, belongs to the fullness of the mystery of creation. If, as we have already said, creation is a gift to man, then his fullness and deepest dimension is determined by grace, that is, by participation in the interior life of God himself, in his holiness. This is also, in man, the interior foundation and source of his original innocence.  It is with this concept—and more precisely with that of “original justice”—that theology defines the state of man before original sin.

In the present analysis of the "beginning", which opens up for us the ways indispensable for understanding the theology of the body, we must dwell on the mystery of man's original state. Indeed, that very awareness of the body—rather, awareness of the meaning of the body—which we are trying to highlight through analysis of the "beginning", reveals the peculiarity of original innocence.

What is most manifested, perhaps, in Genesis 2:25, in a direct way, is precisely the mystery of this innocence, which the original man and woman both bear, each in himself or herself. The body itself is, in a way, an "eye" witness of this characteristic. It is significant that the affirmation contained in Genesis 2:25—about nakedness mutually free from shame—is a statement unique in its kind in the whole Bible, so that it will never be repeated. On the contrary, we can quote many texts in which nakedness will be connected with shame or even, in an even stronger sense, with "ignominy" (1).

Dimension of grace

In this wide context the reasons are all the more visible for discovering in Genesis 2:25 a particular trace of the mystery of original innocence and a particular factor of its radiation in the human subject. This innocence belongs to the dimension of grace contained in the mystery of creation, that is, to that mysterious gift made to the inner man—to the human "heart"—which enables both of them, man and woman, to exist from the "beginning" in the mutual relationship of the disinterested gift of oneself.

In that is contained the revelation and at the same time the discovery of the "nuptial" meaning of the body in its masculinity and femininity. It can be understood why we speak, in this case, of revelation and at the same time of discovery. From the point of view of our analysis, it is essential that the discovery of the nuptial meaning of the body, which we read in the testimony of the Book of Genesis, takes place through original innocence; in fact, it is this discovery which reveals and highlights the latter.

Original righteousness

4. Original innocence belongs to the mystery of man's "beginning", from which "historical" man was then separated by committing original sin. This does not mean, however, that he is not able to approach that mystery by means of his theological knowledge. "Historical" man tries to understand the mystery of original innocence almost by means of a contrast, that is, going back also to the experience of his own sin and his own sinfulness (2). He tries to understand original innocence as an essential characteristic for the theology of the body, starting from the experience of shame; in fact, the Bible text itself directs him in this way. Original innocence, therefore, is what "radically", that is, at its very roots, excludes shame of the body in the man-woman relationship, eliminates its necessity in man, in his heart, that is, in his conscience.

Although original innocence speaks above all of the Creator's gift, of the grace that made it possible for man to experience the meaning of the primary donation of the world, and in particular the meaning of the mutual donation of one to the other through masculinity and femininity in this world, this innocence, however, seems to refer above all to the interior state of the human "heart", of the human will. At least indirectly, there is included in it the revelation and discovery of human moral conscience, the revelation and discovery of the whole dimension of conscience—obviously, before the knowledge of good and evil. In a certain sense, it must be understood as original righteousness.

Purity of heart

5. In the prism of our "historical a posteriori", we are trying, therefore, to reconstruct, in a certain way, the characteristic of original innocence understood as the content of the reciprocal experience of the body as experience of its nuptial meaning (according to the testimony of Genesis 2:23-25). Since happiness and innocence are part of the framework of the communion of persons, as if it were a question of two convergent threads of man's existence in the very mystery of creation, the beatifying awareness of the meaning of the body—that is, of the nuptial meaning of human masculinity and femininity—is conditioned by original innocence.

It seems that there is no impediment to understanding that original innocence here as a particular "purity of heart", which preserves an interior faithfulness to the gift according to the nuptial meaning of the body. Consequently, original innocence, conceived in this way, is manifested as a tranquil testimony of conscience which (in this case) precedes any experience of good and evil; and yet this serene testimony of conscience is something all the more beatifying. It can be said, indeed, that awareness of the nuptial meaning of the body, in its masculinity and femininity, becomes "humanly" beatifying only by means of this testimony.

To this subject—that is to the link which, in the analysis of man's "beginning", can be seen between his innocence (purity of heart) and his happiness—we shall devote the next meditation.

NOTES

1) “Nakedness, in the sense of "lack of clothing", in the ancient Middle East, meant the state of abjection of men deprived of freedom: slaves, prisoners of war or condemned persons, those who did not enjoy the protection of the law. In women, nakedness was considered a dishonour (cf. e.g. the threats of the prophets: Hosea 1:2 and Ezekiel 23:26, 29).

A free man, concerned about his dignity, had to be dressed sumptuously: The longer the trains of his clothes, the higher was his dignity (cf. e.g. Joseph's coat, which made his brothers jealous; or that of the Pharisees, who lengthened their fringes.

The second meaning of "nakedness", in the euphemistic sense, concerned the sexual act. The Hebrew word cerwat means a spatial emptiness (for example, of the landscape), lack of clothes, divesting, but there was in itself nothing disgraceful about it.

2) "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want but I do the very thing I hate... So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Rom 7:14-15, 17-24; cf. "Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor, Ovid, Metamorph. V11 20).

L'Osservatore Romano February 4, 1980
Reprinted with permission