Relationship of lust to communion of persons

During the General Audience in St Peter's Square on Wednesday afternoon, 4 June, the Holy Father delivered the following address.

Speaking of the birth of man's lust, on the basis of the Book of Genesis, we analysed the original meaning of shame, which appeared with the first sin. The analysis of shame, in the light of the biblical narrative, 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 that shame appeared in man's mutual relationship with woman and that this relationship, by reason of the very shame itself, underwent a radical transformation. Since it was born in their hearts together with the lust of the body, the analysis of original shame enables us at the same time to examine in what relationship this lust remains with regard to the communion of persons, which was granted and assigned from the beginning as the man and woman's task 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, which was to be expressed also by their bodies, according to their specific masculinity and femininity.

Changes in man-woman relationship

2. Above all, therefore, this shame which, according to the biblical narrative, induces man and woman to hide from each other their bodies and particularly their sexual differentiation, confirms that the original capacity of communicating themselves to each other, of which Genesis 2:25 speaks, 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. Gen 2:23-25), is upset at this moment: 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.

The simplicity and "purity" of the original experience, which facilitated an extraordinary fullness in the mutual communication of each other, disappear. Obviously, our first progenitors did not stop communicating with each other through the body and its movements, gestures and expressions; but the simple and direct communion with each other, connected with the original experience of reciprocal nakedness, disappeared. Almost unexpectedly, there appeared in their consciousness an insuperable threshold, which 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. This is testified by the concise expression of Genesis 3:7, "They knew that they were naked", and by its immediate context. All that is part also of the analysis of the first shame. The book of Genesis not only portrays its origin in the human being, but makes it possible also 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 its to understand better the original value of the unifying meaning of the body. It is not possible, in fact, 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, had for man previously, in the state of original innocence. That unifying meaning is understood not only with regard to the unity that man and woman, as spouses, were to constitute, becoming "one flesh" (Gen 2:24) through the conjugal act, but also 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 man, after original sin, had lost, so to speak, the sense of the image of God in himself, that loss was manifested with shame of the body (cf. particularly Gen 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. And 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. This is, at the same time, the "second" discovery of sex, as it were, 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, in fact) from man of original innocence. What is the relationship of lust, and in particular 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 is the question that must be posed, precisely with regard "to the beginning", about the experience of shame, to which the biblical narrative refers.

Shame, as we have already observed, is manifested in the narrative of 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: and 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". Precisely 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, of which Genesis 3:7 speaks.

Precisely 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.

L'Osservatore Romano June 9, 1980
Reprinted with permission