The "heart" a battlefield between love and lust

During the General Audience on 23 July, in St Peter's Square, the Holy Father gave the following address.

1. The human body in its original masculinity and femininity, according to the mystery of creation—as we know from the analysis of Genesis 2:23-25—is not only a source of fertility, that is, of procreation, but right "from the beginning" has a nuptial character: that is to say, it is capable of expressing the love with which the man-person becomes a gift, thus fulfilling the deep meaning of his being and his existence. In this peculiarity, the body is the expression of the spirit and is called, in the very mystery of creation, to exist in the communion of persons "in the image of God". Well, the concupiscence "that comes from the world"—here it is directly a question of the concupiscence of the body—limits and distorts the body's objective way of existing, of which man has become a participant.

The human "heart" experiences the degree of this limitation or distortion, especially in the sphere of man-woman mutual relations. Precisely in the experience of the "heart" femininity and masculinity, in their mutual relations, no longer seem to be the expression of the spirit which aims at personal communion, and remain only an object of attraction, in a certain sense as happens "in the world" of living beings which, like man, have received the blessing of fertility (cf. Gen 1).

2. This similarity is certainly contained in the work of creation; also Genesis 2 and particularly verse 24 confirms this.  However, already in the mystery of creation, that which constituted the "natural", somatic and sexual substratum of that attraction, fully expressed the call of man and woman to personal communion. After sin, on the contrary, in the new situation of which Genesis 3 speaks, this expression was weakened and dimmed: as if it were lacking in the shaping of mutual relations, or as if it were driven back to another plane.

The natural and somatic substratum of human sexuality was manifested as an almost autogenous force, marked by a certain "coercion of the body", operating according to its own dynamics, which limits the expression of the spirit and the experience of the exchange of the gift of the person. The words of Genesis 3:15 addressed to the first woman seem to indicate this quite clearly ("your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you"). 

3. The human body in its masculinity/femininity has almost lost the capacity of expressing this love, in which the man-person becomes a gift, in conformity with the deepest structure and finality of his personal existence, as we have already observed in preceding analyses. If here we do not formulate this judgment absolutely and add the adverbial expression "almost", we do so because the dimension of the gift— namely, the capacity of expressing love with which man, by means of femininity or masculinity, becomes a gift for the other—has continued to some extent to permeate and mould the love that is born in the human heart. The nuptial meaning of the body has not become completely suffocated by concupiscence, but only habitually threatened.

The "heart" has become a battlefield between love and lust. The more lust dominates the heart, the less the latter experiences the nuptial meaning of the body, and the less it becomes sensitive to the gift of the person, which, in the mutual relations of man and of woman expresses precisely that meaning. Certainly, that "lust" also of which Christ speaks in Matthew 5:27-28, appears in many forms in the human heart: it is not always plain and obvious, sometimes it is concealed, so that it passes itself off as "love", although it changes its true profile and dims the limpidity of the gift in the mutual relationship of persons. Does this mean that it is our duty to distrust the human heart? No! It only means that we must keep it under control.

4. The image of the concupiscence of the body, which emerges from the present analysis, has a clear reference to the image of the person, with which we connected our preceding reflections on the subject of the nuptial meaning of the body. Man, indeed, as a person is "the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake" and, at the same time, he is the one who "can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself" (1).  Lust in general—and the lust of the body in particular—attacks precisely this "sincere giving". It deprives man, it could be said, of the dignity of giving, which is expressed by his body through femininity and masculinity, and in a way it "depersonalizes" man making him an object "for the other". Instead of being "together with the other"—a subject in unity, in fact in the sacramental unity "of the body"—man becomes an object for man: the female for the male and vice versa. The words of Genesis 3:16—and, even before, of Genesis 3:7—bear witness to this, with all the clearness of the contrast, as compared with Genesis 2:23-25.

5. Violating the dimension of the mutual giving of the man and the woman, concupiscence also calls in question the fact that each of them was willed by the Creator "for his own sake".  The subjectivity of the person gives way, in a certain sense, to the objectivity of the body.  Owing to the body man becomes an object for man—the female for the male and vice versa. Concupiscence means, so to speak, that the personal relations of man and of woman are unilaterally and reductively linked with the body and sex, in the sense that these relations become almost incapable of accepting the mutual gift of the person. They do not contain or deal with femininity/masculinity according to the full dimension of personal subjectivity, they are not the expression of communion, but they remain unilaterally determined "by sex".

 6. Concupiscence entails the loss of the interior freedom of the gift. The nuptial meaning of the human body is connected precisely with this freedom. Man can become a gift —that is, the man and the woman can exist in the relationship of mutual self-giving—if each of them controls himself. Concupiscence, which is manifested as a "coercion 'sui generis' of the body", limits interiorly and reduces self-control, and for that reason, makes impossible, in a certain sense, the interior freedom of giving. Together with that, also the beauty that the human body possesses in its male and female aspect, as an expression of the spirit, is obscured. There remains the body as an object of lust and therefore as a "field of appropriation" of the other human being. Concupiscence, in itself, is not capable of promoting union as the communion of persons. By itself, it does not unite, but appropriates. The relationship of the gift is changed into the relationship of appropriation.

At this point, let us interrupt out reflections today. The last problem dealt with here is of such great importance, and is, moreover, so subtle, from the point of view of the difference between authentic love (that is, between the "communion of persons") and lust, that we shall have to take it up again at our next meeting.


1) Gaudium et Spes; 24: "Furthermore, the Lord Jesus, when praying to the Father 'that they may all be one... even as we are one' (Jn 17:21-22), has opened up new horizons closed to human reason by implying that there is a certain parallel between the union existing among the divine persons and the union of the sons of God in truth and love. It follows, then, that if man is the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake, man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself ".

L'Osservatore Romano July 28, 1980
Reprinted with permission