GENERAL AUDIENCE 6 FEBRUARY
On Wednesday, 6 February, the Holy
Father delivered the following address to the faithful gathered in the
Paul VI Hall for the General Audience.
Let us continue the examination of that beginning, which Jesus referred
to in his talk with the Pharisees on the subject of marriage. This
reflection requires us to go beyond the threshold of man's history and
arrive at the state of original innocence. To grasp the meaning of this
innocence, we take as our basis, in a way, the experience of historical
man, the testimony of his heart and conscience.
United with innocence
2. Following the historical a posteriori line, let us try
to reconstruct the peculiarity of original innocence enclosed within the
mutual experience of the body and its nuptial meaning, according to
Genesis 2:23-25. The situation described here reveals the beatifying
experience of the meaning of the body. Within the mystery of creation, man
attains this in the complementarity of what is male and female in him.
However, at the root of this experience there must be the interior freedom
of the gift, united above all with innocence. The human will is originally
innocent. In this way, the reciprocity and the exchange of the gift of the
body, according to its masculinity and femininity, as the gift of the
person, is facilitated. Consequently, the innocence to which Genesis 2:25
bears witness can be defined as innocence of the mutual experience of the
The sentence: "The man and his wife were both naked, and were not
ashamed," expresses this innocence in the reciprocal experience of the
body. This innocence inspires the interior exchange of the gift of the
person. In the mutual relationship, this actualizes concretely the nuptial
meaning of masculinity and femininity. To understand the innocence of the
mutual experience of the body, we must try to clarify what the interior
innocence in the exchange of the gift of the person consists of. This
exchange constitutes the real source of the experience of innocence.
3. Interior innocence (that is, righteousness of intention) in the
exchange of the gift consists in reciprocal "acceptance" of the other,
such as to correspond to the essence of the gift. In this way, mutual
donation creates the communion of persons. It is a question of "receiving"
the other human being and "accepting" him. This is because in this mutual
relationship, which Genesis 2:23-25 speaks of, the man and the woman
become a gift for each other, through the whole truth and evidence of
their own body in its masculinity and femininity. It is a question, then,
of an "acceptance" or "welcome" that expresses and sustains, in mutual
nakedness, the meaning of the gift. Therefore, it deepens the mutual
dignity of it. This dignity corresponds profoundly to the fact that the
Creator willed (and continually wills) man, male and female, "for his own
sake." The innocence "of the heart," and consequently, the innocence of
the experience, means a moral participation in the eternal and permanent
act of God's will.
The opposite of this "welcoming" or "acceptance" of the other human
being as a gift would be a privation of the gift itself. Therefore, it
would be a changing and even a reduction of the other to an "object for
myself" (an object of lust, of misappropriation, etc.).
We will not deal in detail now with this multiform, presumable
antithesis of the gift. However, in the context of Genesis 2:23-25, we can
note that this extorting of the gift from the other human being (from the
woman by the man and vice versa) and reducing him or her interiorly to a
mere "object for me," should mark the beginning of shame. The latter
corresponds to a threat inflicted on the gift in its personal intimacy and
bears witness to the interior collapse of innocence in the mutual
Giving becomes accepting
4. According to Genesis 2:25, "The man and his wife were not ashamed."
We can conclude that the exchange of the gift, in which the whole of their
humanity participated, body and soul, femininity and masculinity, was
actualized by preserving the interior characteristic (that is, precisely,
innocence) of the donation of oneself and of the acceptance of the other
as a gift. These two functions of mutual exchange are deeply connected in
the whole process of the gift of oneself. The giving and the accepting of
the gift interpenetrate, so that the giving itself becomes accepting, and
the acceptance is transformed into giving.
5. Genesis 2:23-25 enables us to deduce that woman, who in the mystery
of creation "is given" to man by the Creator, is "received," thanks to
original innocence. That is, she is accepted by man as a gift. The Bible
text is quite clear and limpid at this point. At the same time, the
acceptance of the woman by the man and the very way of accepting her,
become, as it were, a first donation. In giving herself (from the very
first moment in which, in the mystery of creation, she was "given" to the
man by the Creator), the woman "rediscovers herself" at the same time.
This is because she has been accepted and welcomed, and thanks to the
way in which she has been received by the man.
So she finds herself again in the very fact of giving herself "through
a sincere gift of herself," (cf. Gaudium et Spes 24), when she is
accepted in the way in which the Creator wished her to be, that is, "for
her own sake," through her humanity and femininity. When the whole dignity
of the gift is ensured in this acceptance, through the offer of what she
is in the whole truth of her humanity and in the whole reality of her body
and sex, of her femininity, she reaches the inner depth of her person and
full possession of herself.
Let us add that this finding of oneself in giving oneself becomes
the source of a new giving of oneself. This grows by virtue of the
interior disposition to the exchange of the gift and to the extent to
which it meets with the same and even deeper acceptance and welcome as the
fruit of a more and more intense awareness of the gift itself.
Real communion of persons
6. It seems that the second narrative of creation has assigned to man
"from the beginning" the function of the one who, above all, receives the
gift (cf. especially Gn 2:23). "From the beginning" the woman is entrusted
to his eyes, to his consciousness, to his sensitivity, to his heart. On
the other hand, he must, in a way, ensure the same process of the exchange
of the gift, the mutual interpenetration of giving and receiving as a
gift. Precisely through its reciprocity, it creates a real communion of
In the mystery of creation, the woman was "given" to the man. On his
part, in receiving her as a gift in the full truth of her person and
femininity, man thereby enriches her. At the same time, he too is enriched
in this mutual relationship. The man is enriched not only through her, who
gives him her own person and femininity, but also through the gift of
himself. The man's giving of himself, in response to that of the woman,
enriches himself. It manifests the specific essence of his masculinity
which, through the reality of the body and of sex, reaches the deep
recesses of the "possession of self." Thanks to this he is capable both of
giving himself and of receiving the other's gift.
Therefore, the man not only accepts the gift. At the same time he is
received as a gift by the woman, in the revelation of the interior
spiritual essence of his masculinity, together with the whole truth of his
body and sex. Accepted in this way, he is enriched through this acceptance
and welcoming of the gift of his own masculinity. Subsequently, this
acceptance, in which the man finds himself again through the sincere gift
of himself, becomes in him the source of a new and deeper enrichment of
the woman. The exchange is mutual. In it the reciprocal effects of the
sincere gift and of the finding oneself again are revealed and grow.
In this way, following the trail of the historical a posteriori—and
above all, following the trail of human hearts—we
can reproduce and, as it were, reconstruct that mutual exchange of the
gift of the person, which was described in the ancient text of Genesis, so
rich and deep.