Mutual attraction differs from lust

More than fifty thousand faithful took part in Wednesday's Audience in St Peter's Square. The Holy Father continued his theme of adultery which he had been developing for several weeks.

1. During our last reflection, we asked ourselves what was the "lust" of which Christ spoke in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28). Let us recall that he spoke of it in relation to the commandment: "Do not commit adultery". "Lust" itself (more exactly: "looking at lustfully") is defined as "adultery committed in the heart". That gives much food for thought. In the preceding reflections we said that Christ, by expressing himself in that way, wanted to indicate to his listeners the separation from the matrimonial significance of the body felt by a human being (in this case the man) when concupiscence of the flesh is coupled with the inner act of "lust". The separation of the matrimonial significance of the body causes at the same time a conflict with his personal dignity: a veritable conflict of conscience.

At this point it appears that the biblical meaning (hence also theological) of "lust" is different from the purely psychological. The latter describes "lust" as an intense inclination towards the object because of its particular value: in the case considered here, its "sexual" value. As it seems, we will find such definition in most of the works dealing with similar themes. Yet, the biblical interpretation, while not underestimating the psychological aspect, places that ethic in relief above all, since there is a value that is being impaired. "Lust", I would say, is a deception of the human heart in the perennial call of man and woman —a call revealed in the very mystery of creation—to communion by means of mutual giving. So then, when Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28) makes reference to the "heart" or the internal man, his words do not cease being charged with that truth concerning the "principle" to which, in replying to the Pharisees (cf. Mt 19:8), he had reverted to the whole problem of man, woman and marriage.

2. The perennial call, which we have tried to analyze following the Book of Genesis (especially Gen 2:23-25) and, in a certain sense, the perennial mutual attraction on man's part to femininity and on woman's part to masculinity, is an indirect invitation of the body, but it is not lust in the sense of the word of Matthew 5:27-28. "Lust" that carries into effect the concupiscence of the flesh (also and especially in the purely internal act) diminishes the significance of what were—and that in reality do not cease being— that invitation and that reciprocal attraction. The "eternal feminine" (das ewig weibliche), just like the "eternal masculine", for that matter, on the level of historicity, too, tends to free itself from pure concupiscence and seeks a position of achievement in the world of people. It testifies to that original sense of shame of which Genesis 3 speaks. The dimension of intentionality of thought and heart constitutes one of the main streams of universal human culture. Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount exactly confirm this dimension.

3. Nonetheless, these words clearly assert that "lust" is a real part of the human heart. When we state that "lust", when compared with the original mutual attraction of masculinity and femininity, represents a "reduction", we have in mind an intentional ''reduction'', almost a restriction or closing down of the horizon of mind and heart. In fact, it is one thing to be conscious that the value of sex is a part of all the rich storehouse of values with which the female appears to the man; it is another to "reduce" all the personal riches of femininity to that single value, that is, of sex, as a suitable object for the gratification of sexuality itself. The same reasoning can be valid concerning what masculinity is for the woman, even though Matthew's words in 5:27-28 refer directly to the other relationship only. The intentional "reduction" is, as can be seen, primarily of an axiological nature. On one hand the eternal attraction of man towards femininity (cf. Gen 2:23) frees in him—or perhaps it should free—a gamut of spiritual?corporal desires of an especially personal and "sharing" nature (cf. analysis of the "beginning"), to which a proportionate pyramid of values corresponds. On the other hand, "lust" limits this gamut, obscuring the pyramid of values that marks the perennial attraction of male and female.

4. "Lust" has the internal effect, that is, in the "heart", on the interior horizon of man and woman, of obscuring the significance of the body, of the persona itself. Femininity thus ceases being above all else an object for the man; it ceases being a specific language of the spirit; it loses its character of being a sign. It ceases, I would say, bearing in itself the wonderful matrimonial significance of the body. It ceases its correlation to this significance in the context of conscience and experience. "Lust" arising from concupiscence of the flesh itself, from the first moment of its existence within the man—its existence in his "heart"—passes in a certain sense close to such a context (one could say, using an image, that it passes on the ruins of the matrimonial significance of the body and all its subjective parts) and by virtue of axiological intentionality itself aims directly at an exclusive end: to satisfy only the sexual need of the body, as its precise object.

5. Such an intentional and axiological reduction can take place, according to the words of Christ (Mt 5:27-28), in the sphere of the "look" (of "looking") or rather in the sphere of a purely interior act expressed by the look. A look (or rather "looking") is in itself a cognitive act. When concupiscence enters into its inner structure, the look takes on the character of "lustful knowledge". The biblical expression "to look at lustfully" can indicate both a cognitive act, which the lusting man "makes use of", (that is, giving him the character of lust aiming at an object), and a cognitive act that arouses lust in the other object and above all in its will and in its "heart". As is seen, it is possible to place an intentional interpretation on an interior act, being aware of one and the other pole of man's psychology: knowledge or lust understood as  appetitus (which is something broader than "lust", since it indicates everything manifested in the object as "aspiration", and as such always tends to aim at something, that is, towards an object known under the aspect of value). Yet, an adequate interpretation of the words of Matthew 5:27-28 requires us—by means of the intentionality itself of knowledge or of the "appetitus" to discern something more, that is, the intentionality of the very existence of man in relation to the other man: in our case, of the man in relation to the woman and the woman in relation to the man.

It will be well for us to return to this subject. Concluding today's reflection, it is necessary to add again that in that "lust", in "looking at lustfully", with which the Sermon on the Mount deals, the woman, for the man who "looks" in that way, ceases to exist as an object of eternal attraction and begins to be only an object of carnal concupiscence. To that is connected the profound inner separation of the matrimonial significance of the body about which we already spoke in the preceding reflection.

L'Osservatore Romano September 23, 1980
Reprinted with permission