GENERAL AUDIENCE OF 5 SEPTEMBER
At the General Audience in St
Peter's Square on 5 September, attended by more than 20,000 people, Pope
John Paul II gave the following address.
1. For some time now preparations have been going on for the next
ordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will take place in Rome
in autumn of next year. The theme of the Synod, "The role of the Christian
family," concentrates our attention on this community of human and
Christian life, which has been fundamental from the beginning. The
Lord Jesus used precisely this expression "from the beginning" in
the talk about marriage, reported in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St.
Mark. We wish to raise the question what this word "beginning" means. We
also wish to clarify why Christ referred to the "beginning" on that
occasion and, therefore, we propose a more precise analysis of the
relative text of Holy Scripture.
2. During the talk with the Pharisees, who asked him the question about
the indissolubility of marriage, Jesus Christ referred twice to the
"beginning." The talk took place in the following way:
"And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, 'Is it lawful
to divorce one's wife for any cause?' He answered, 'Have you not read that
he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said,
'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to
his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two
but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put
asunder.' They said to him, 'Why then did Moses command one to give a
certificate of divorce, and to put her away?' He said to them, 'For your
hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the
beginning it was not so'" (Mt 19:3ff., cf. also Mk 10:2ff.).
Christ did not accept the discussion at the level at which his
interlocutors tried to introduce it. In a certain sense he did not approve
of the dimension that they tried to give the problem. He avoided getting
caught up in juridico-casuistical controversies. On the contrary, he
referred twice to "the beginning." Acting in this way, he made a clear
reference to the relative words in Genesis, which his interlocutors too
knew by heart. From those words of the ancient revelation, Christ drew the
conclusion and the talk ended.
From the beginning
3. "The beginning" means, therefore, that which Genesis speaks
about. Christ quoted Genesis 1:27 in summary form: "In the
beginning the Creator made them male and female." The original passage
reads textually as follows: "God created man in his own image; in the
image of God he created him; male and female he created them."
Subsequently, the Master referred to Genesis 2:24: "Therefore, a
man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they
become one flesh." Quoting these words almost in full, Christ gave them an
even more explicit normative meaning (since it could be supported that in
Genesis they express de facto statements: "leaves. cleaves.
they become one flesh"). The normative meaning is plausible since Christ
did not confine himself only to the quotation itself, but added: "So they
are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together,
let not man put asunder." That "let not man put asunder" is decisive. In
the light of these words of Christ, Genesis 2:24 sets forth the
principle of the unity and indissolubility of marriage as the very content
of the Word of God, expressed in the most ancient revelation.
The eternal law
4. It could be maintained at this point that the problem is exhausted,
that Jesus Christ's words confirm the eternal law formulated and set up by
God from "the beginning" as the creation of man. It might also seem that
the Master, confirming this original law of the Creator, did nothing but
establish exclusively his own normative meaning, referring to the
authority itself of the first Legislator. However, that significant
expression "from the beginning," repeated twice, clearly induced his
interlocutors to reflect on the way in which man was formed in the mystery
of creation, precisely as "male and female," in order to understand
correctly the normative sense of the words of Genesis. This is no
less valid for the people of today than for those of that time. Therefore,
in the present study, considering all this, we must put ourselves
precisely in the position of Christ's interlocutors today.
Preparation for the Synod
5. During the following Wednesday reflections at the general audiences,
we will try, as Christ's interlocutors today, to dwell at greater length
on St. Matthew's words (19:3ff.). To respond to the indication, inserted
in them by Christ, we will try to penetrate toward that "beginning," to
which he referred in such a significant way. Thus we will follow from a
distance the great work which participants in the forthcoming Synod of
Bishops are undertaking on this subject just now. Together with them,
numerous groups of pastors and laymen are taking part in it, feeling
especially responsible with regard to the role which Christ assigned to
marriage and the Christian family, the role that he has always given, and
still gives in our age, in the modern world.
The cycle of reflections we are beginning today, with the intention of
continuing it during the following Wednesday meetings, also has the
purpose, among other things, of accompanying from afar, so to speak,
the work of preparation for the Synod. However, it will not touch its
subject directly, but will turn our attention to the deep roots from which
this subject springs.