GENERAL AUDIENCE OF 28 NOVEMBER 
At the general audience in the Paul VI Hall, 28 November, Pope
John Paul II concluded his four-year-long catechesis on the theme of the
redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage. Following is
our translation of the Holy Father's address.
1. As a whole, the catechesis which I began over four years ago and
which I am concluding today can be summed up under the title: "Human
love in the divine plan," or more precisely, "The redemption of the body
and the sacramentality of marriage." The catechesis can be divided into
The first part was dedicated to a study of Christ's words,
which prove to be suitable for opening the current theme. These words
were analyzed at length in the totality of the Gospel text. Following
the long-lasting reflection it was fitting to emphasize the three texts
that were analyzed right in the first part of the catechesis.
First of all there is the text in which Christ referred to "the
beginning" in his discussion with the Pharisees on the unity and
indissolubility of marriage (cf. Mt 19:8; Mk 10:6-9). Next there are the
words Christ spoke in the Sermon on the Mount concerning concupiscence
as adultery committed in the heart (cf. Mt 5:28). Finally, there are the
words reported by all the synoptic Gospels in which Christ referred to
the resurrection of the body in the other world (cf. Mt 22:30; Mk 12:25;
The second part of the catechesis was dedicated to the
analysis of the sacrament based on the Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 5:21-33). This
goes back to the biblical beginning of marriage expressed in the words
of Genesis: "A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife,
and the two of them become one body" (Gn 2:24).
The catechesis of the first and second parts repeatedly used the term "theology
of the body." In a certain sense, this is a "working" term. The
introduction of the term and the concept of the theology of the body was
necessary to establish the theme, "The redemption of the body and the
sacramentality of marriage," on a wider base. We must immediately note
that the term "theology of the body" goes far beyond the content of the
reflections that were made. These reflections do not include multiple
problems which, with regard to their object, belong to the theology of
the body (as, for example, the problem of suffering and death, so
important in the biblical message). We must state this clearly.
Nonetheless, we must also recognize explicitly that the reflections on
the theme, "The redemption of the body and the sacramentality of
marriage," can be correctly carried out from the moment when the light
of revelation touches the reality of the human body (that is, on the
basis of the theology of the body). This is confirmed, among other ways,
by the words of Genesis: "The two of them become one body." These words
were originally and thematically at the basis of our argument.
Reflecting on the Sacrament of Marriage
2. The reflections on the sacrament of marriage were carried out by
considering the two dimensions essential to this sacrament
(as to every other sacrament), that is, the dimension of the covenant
and grace, and the dimension of sign.
Throughout these two dimensions we continually went back to the
reflections on the theology of the body, reflections linked to the key
words of Christ. We went back to these reflections also when we took up,
at the end of this whole series of catecheses, the analysis of the
Encyclical Humanae Vitae.
The doctrine contained in this document of the Church's modern teaching
is organically related to both the sacramentality of marriage and the
whole biblical question of the theology of the body, centered on the key
words of Christ. In a certain sense we can even say that all the
reflections that deal with the redemption of the body and the
sacramentality of marriage seem to constitute an ample commentary
on the doctrine contained in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae.
This commentary seems quite necessary. In fact, in responding to some
questions of today in the field of conjugal and family morality, at the
same time the encyclical also raised other questions, as we know, of a
biomedical nature. But also (and above all) they are of a theological
nature: they belong to that sphere of anthropology and theology that
we have called the theology of the body.
The reflections we made consist in facing the questions raised with
regard to the Encyclical Humanae Vitae. The reaction that the
encyclical aroused confirms the importance and the difficulty of these
questions. They are reaffirmed also by later pronouncements of Paul VI
where he emphasized the possibility of examining the explanation of
Christian truth in this area.
In addition, the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio,
fruit of the 1980 Synod of Bishops on "The Role of the Christian
Family," confirms it. The document contains an appeal, directed
especially to theologians, to elaborate more completely the
biblical and personalistic aspects of the doctrine contained in
To gather the questions raised by the encyclical means to formulate them
and at the same time to search again for the answer to them. The
doctrine contained in Familiaris Consortio requires that both the
formulation of the questions and the search for an adequate answer focus
on the biblical and personalistic aspects. This doctrine also points out
the trend of development of the theology of the body, the direction of
the development, and therefore also the direction of its progressive
completion and deepening.
3. The analysis of the biblical aspects speaks of the way to
place the doctrine of today's Church on the foundation of revelation.
This is important for the development of theology. Development,
that is, progress in theology, takes place through a continual
restudying of the deposit of revelation.
The rooting of the doctrine proclaimed by the Church in all of Tradition
and in divine revelation itself is always open to questions posed by
man. It also uses the instruments most in keeping with modern science
and today's culture. It seems that in this area the intense development
of philosophical anthropology (especially the anthropology that rests on
ethics) most closely faces the questions raised by the Encyclical
Humanae Vitae regarding theology and especially theological
The analysis of the personalistic aspects of the doctrine
contained in this document has an existential significance for
establishing what true progress, that is, the development of
man, is. In fact, throughout all modern civilization—especially
in Western civilization—there
is an occult and at the same time an explicit enough tendency to measure
this progress on the basis of "things," that is, material goods.
The analysis of the personalistic aspects of the Church's doctrine,
contained in Paul VI's encyclical, emphasizes a determined appeal to
measure man's progress on the basis of the person, that is, of what is
good for man as man—what
corresponds to his essential dignity.
The analysis of the personalistic aspects leads to the
conviction that the encyclical presents as a fundamental problem
the viewpoint of man's authentic development. This development is
measured to the greatest extent on the basis of ethics and not only on
4. The catechesis dedicated to the Encyclical Humanae Vitae
constitutes only one part, the final part, of those which dealt with the
redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage.
If I draw your attention especially to this last catechesis, I do so not
only because the subject dealt with is more closely connected to our
contemporaneity. But I do so above all because of the fact that
questions come from it which in a certain sense permeate the sum
total of our reflections. It follows that this last part is not
artificially added to the sum total but is organically and homogeneously
united with it. In a certain sense, that part which in the complex
arrangement is located at the end is at the same time found at the
beginning of this sum total. This is important from the point of view of
structure and method.
Even the historical moment seems to have its significance. The present
catechesis was begun in the period of preparation for the 1980 Synod of
Bishops on the theme of marriage and the family ("The role of the
Christian family"), and ends after the publication of the Exhortation
Familiaris Consortio, which is a result of the work of this Synod.
Everyone knows that the 1980 Synod also referred to the Encyclical
Humanae Vitae and fully reconfirmed its doctrine.
Nevertheless, the most important moment seems to be that essential
moment when, in the sum total of the reflections carried out, we can
precisely state the following: to face the questions raised by the
Encyclical Humanae Vitae, especially in theology, to formulate
these questions and seek their reply, it is necessary to find that
biblical-theological sphere to which we allude when we speak of the
redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage. In this
sphere are found the answers to the perennial questions in the
conscience of men and women, and also to the difficult questions of our
modern world concerning marriage and procreation.