Mystery of body's redemption basis of teaching on marriage and voluntary continence

On Wednesday, 21 July, the Holy Father returned by helicopter from Castel Gandolfo to the Vatican for the weekly general audience in St Peter's Square. Basing his message on Paul's Letter to the Romans, Pope John Paul continued his catechetical series of reflections on marriage and celibacy.

1.  "We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we await... the redemption of our body" (Rom 8:23). In his Letter to the Romans, St Paul sees this "redemption of the body" in both an anthropological and a cosmic dimension. Creation "in fact was subjected to futility" (Rom 8:20). All visible creation, all the universe, bears the effects of man's sin. "The whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now" (Rom 8:22). And at the same time, the whole "creation awaits with eager longing the revelation of the sons of God" and "nourishes the hope of also being freed from the slavery of corruption, to obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom 8:19, 20-21).

The object of hope

2.  According to Paul, the redemption of the body is the object of hope. This hope was implanted in the heart of man in a certain sense immediately after the first sin. Suffice it to recall the words of the Book of Genesis, which is traditionally called the "proto-evangelium" (cf. Gen 3:15), and we could therefore also call them the beginning of the Good News, the first announcement of salvation. The redemption of the body, according to the words of the Letter to the Romans, is connected precisely with this hope in which, as we read, "we have been saved" (Rom 8:24). Through the hope that arises at man's very origin, the redemption of the body has its anthropological dimension: it is the redemption of man. At the same time it radiates, in a certain sense, on all creation, which from the beginning has been bound in a particular way to man and subordinated to him (cf. Gen 1:28-30). The redemption of the body is therefore the redemption of the world: it has a cosmic dimension.

Awaiting redemption

3.  Presenting in his Letter to the Romans the "cosmic" image of redemption, Paul of Tarsus places man at its very centre, just as "in the beginning" he had been placed at the very centre of the image of creation. It is precisely man, they are men, those who "have the first fruits of the Spirit", who groan inwardly, awaiting the redemption of their body (cf. Rom 8:23). Christ, who came to reveal man to man fully by making him aware of his sublime vocation (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22), speaks in the Gospel from the divine depths of the mystery of redemption, which finds its specific "historical" subject precisely in Christ himself.  Christ therefore speaks in the name of that hope that had already been implanted in the heart of man in the "proto-evangelium".  Christ gives fulfillment to this hope, not only with the words of his teaching, but above all with the testimony of his death and resurrection. So therefore the redemption of the body has already been accomplished in Christ. In him has been confirmed that hope in which "we have been saved".  And at the same time, that hope has been opened anew to its definitive eschatological fulfillment. "The revelation of the sons of God" in Christ has been definitively directed toward that "glorious liberty" that is to be definitively shared by the "children of God".

Authentic theology

4.  To understand all that "the redemption of the body" implies according to Paul's Letter to the Romans, an authentic theology of the body is necessary. We have tried to construct this theology by referring first of all to the words of Christ. The constitutive elements of the theology of the body are contained in what Christ says, recalling "the beginning", concerning the question about the indissolubility of marriage (cf. Mt 19:8), in what he says about concupiscence, referring to the human heart, in his Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5:28), and also in what he says in reference to the resurrection (cf. Mt 22:30). Each one of these statements contains a rich content of an anthropological and ethical nature. Christ is speaking to man—and he is speaking about man: about man who is "body" and who has been created male and female in the image and likeness of God. He is speaking about man whose heart is subject to concupiscence, and finally, about man before whom is opened the eschatological prospect of the resurrection of the body.

"Body", according to the Book of Genesis, means the visible aspect of man and his belonging to the visible world. For St Paul it means not only this belonging, but sometimes also the alienation of man by the influence of the Spirit of God. Both the one meaning and the other are in relation to the "resurrection of the body".

Sermon on the Mount

5.  Since in the previously analysed texts Christ is speaking from the divine depths of the mystery of redemption, his words serve that very hope which is spoken of in the Letter to the Romans. "The redemption of the body", according to the Apostle, is ultimately what "we await".  So we await precisely the eschatological victory over death, to which Christ gave testimony above all by his resurrection. In the light of the Paschal Mystery, his words about the resurrection of the body and about the reality of the "other world", recorded by the synoptic Gospels, have acquired their full eloquence. Christ, and then Paul of Tarsus, proclaimed the call for abstention from marriage "for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven" precisely in the name of this eschatological reality.

6.  However, the "redemption of the body" is expressed not only in the resurrection as victory over death. It is present also in Christ's words addressed to "historical" man, when they confirm the principle of the indissolubility of marriage as a principle coming from the Creator himself, and also when, in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ calls man to overcome concupiscence, even in the uniquely interior movements of the human heart. The key to both the one and the other of these statements must be to say that they refer to human morality, they have an ethical meaning.  Here it is the question not of the eschatological hope of the resurrection, but of the hope of victory over sin, which can be called the hope of every day.

Strength to overcome evil

7.  In his daily life man must draw from the mystery of the redemption of the body the inspiration and the strength to overcome the evil that is dormant in him under the form of threefold concupiscence. Man and woman, bound in marriage, must daily undertake the task of the indissoluble union of that covenant which they have made between them. But also a man or a woman who has voluntarily chosen continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven must daily give living witness of fidelity to that choice, heeding the directives of Christ in the Gospel and those of Paul the Apostle in his First Letter to the Corinthians. In each case it is a question of the hope of every day, which in proportion to the normal duties and difficulties of human life helps to overcome "evil with good" (Rom 12:21). In fact, "in hope we have been saved": the hope of every day manifests its power in human works and even in the very movements of the human heart, clearing a path, in a certain sense, for the great eschatological hope bound with the redemption of the body.

Victory over sin

8.  Penetrating daily life with the dimension of human morality, the redemption of the body helps first of all to discover all this good in which man achieves the victory over sin and concupiscence. Christ's words, which spring from the divine depths of the mystery of redemption, permit us to discover and strengthen that bond that exists between the dignity of the human being (man or woman) and the nuptial meaning of his body. They permit us to understand and put into practise, on the basis of that meaning, the mature freedom of the gift, which in one way is expressed in indissoluble marriage and in another way through abstention from marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In these different ways Christ fully reveals man to man, making him aware of "his sublime vocation". This vocation is inscribed in man according to all his psycho-physical make-up, precisely through the mystery of the redemption of the body.

Everything we have tried to do in the course of our meditations in order to understand Christ's words has its ultimate foundation in the mystery of the redemption of the body.

L'Osservatore Romano July 26, 1982
Reprinted with permission