GENERAL AUDIENCE OF WEDNESDAY, 26 MARCH
During the second part
of the General Audience, held in the Paul VI Hall 26 March, the Holy
Father continued his catechesis on marriage in the following discourse.
1. We are drawing to the end of the cycle of reflections wherein we
have tried to follow Christ's appeal handed down to us by Matthew 19:3-9
and by Mark 10:1-12: "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?'" (Mt 19:4-5). In Genesis, conjugal union is
defined as knowledge. "Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and
bore...saying, 'I have begotten a man with the help of the Lord'" (Gn
4:1). In our preceding meditations, we have tried to throw light on the
content of that biblical knowledge. With it man, male-female, not only
gives his own name, as he did when he gave names to the other living
beings (animalia), thus taking possession of them, but he knows in
the sense of Genesis 4:1 (and other passages of the Bible), that is,
realizes what the name "man" expresses: realizes humanity in the new
man generated. In a sense, therefore, he realizes himself, that is, the
2. In this way, the biblical cycle of "knowledge-generation" closes.
This cycle of knowledge is constituted by the union of persons in love,
which enables them to unite so closely that they become one flesh. Genesis
reveals to us fully the truth of this cycle. By means of the "knowledge"
of which the Bible speaks, man,
male and female,
conceives and generates a new being, like himself, to whom he can give the
name of man ("I have begotten a man"), takes possession, so to
speak, of his humanity, or rather retakes possession of it.
However, that happens in a different way from the manner in which he had
taken possession of all other living beings when he had given them
their names. On that occasion, he had become their master. He had begun to
carry out the content of the Creator's mandate: "Subdue the earth and have
dominion over it" (cf. Gn 1:28).
3. The first part, however, of the same command: "Be fruitful and
multiply, and fill the earth" (Gn 1:28), conceals another content and
indicates another element. The man and the woman, in this "knowledge," in
which they give rise to a being similar to them, of which they can say
that: "This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gn 2:24), are
almost "carried off" together, are both taken possession of by the
humanity which they, in union and in mutual knowledge, wish to express
again, take possession of again, deriving it from themselves, from their
own humanity, from the marvelous male and female maturity of their bodies,
the whole sequence of human conceptions and generations right from the
the very mystery of creation.
4. In this sense, biblical "knowledge" can be explained as
"possession." Is it possible to see in it some biblical equivalent of
eros? It is a question here of two conceptual spheres, of two
languages, biblical and Platonic. Only with great caution can they be used
to interpret each other.(1) However, it seems that in the original
revelation the idea of man's possession of the woman, or vice versa, as of
an object, is not present. On the other hand, it is well known that as a
result of the sinfulness contracted after original sin, man and woman must
reconstruct, with great effort, the meaning of the disinterested mutual
gift. This will be the subject of our further analyses.
5. The revelation of the body, contained in Genesis, especially in
chapter 3, shows with impressive clearness the cycle of
"knowledge-generation." It shows that this cycle, so deeply rooted in the
potentiality of the human body, was subjected, after sin, to the law of
suffering and death. God-Yahweh says to the woman: "I will greatly
multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth
children" (Gn 3:16). The horizon of death opens up before man, together
with revelation of the generative meaning of the body in the spouses' act
of mutual knowledge. The first man gives his wife the name Eve, "because
she was the mother of all living" (Gn 3:20), when he had already heard the
words of the sentence which determined the whole perspective of human
existence "within" the knowledge of good and evil. This perspective is
confirmed by the words: "You shall return to the ground, for out of it you
were taken. You are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gn 3:19).
The radical character of this sentence is confirmed by the evidence of
the experiences of man's whole earthly history. The horizon of death
extends over the whole perspective of human life on earth, life that was
inserted in that original biblical cycle of "knowledge-generation." Man
has broken the covenant with his Creator by picking the fruit of the tree
of the knowledge of good and evil. He is detached by God-Yahweh from the
tree of life: "Now, let him not put forth his hand and take also of the
tree of life, and eat, and live forever" (Gn 3:21). In this way, the life
given to man in the mystery of creation has not been taken away. But it is
restricted by the limit of conceptions, births and deaths, and further
aggravated by the perspective of hereditary sinfulness. But it is given to
him again, in a way, as a task in the same ever-recurring cycle.
The sentence: "Adam knew his wife, and she conceived and bore..." (Gn
4:1) is like a seal impressed on the original revelation of the body at
the very beginning of man's history on earth. This history is always
formed anew in its most fundamental dimension as if from the "beginning",
by means of the same "knowledge-generation" of which the Book of Genesis
6. Thus, each person bears within him the mystery of his beginning,
closely bound up with awareness of the generative meaning of the body.
Genesis 4:1-2 seems to be silent on the subject of the relationship
between the generative and the nuptial meaning of the body. Perhaps it is
not yet the time or the place to clarify this relationship, even though it
seems indispensable in the further analysis. It will be necessary, then,
to raise again the questions connected with the appearance of shame in
man, shame of his masculinity and femininity, not experienced before.
However, for now this is in the background.
In the foreground there remains, however, the fact that "Adam knew Eve
his wife, and she conceived and bore...." This is precisely the threshold
of man's history. It is his beginning on the earth. On this threshold man,
as male and female, stands with the awareness of the generative meaning of
his own body. Masculinity conceals within it the meaning of fatherhood,
and femininity that of motherhood. In the name of this meaning, Christ
will one day give a categorical answer to the question that the Pharisees
will ask him (cf. Mt 19; Mk 10). On the other hand, penetrating the simple
content of this answer, we are trying at the same time to shed light on
the context of that beginning to which Christ referred. The theology of
the body has its roots in it.
7. Awareness of the meaning of the body and awareness of its generative
meaning come into contact, in man, with awareness of death, the inevitable
horizon of which they bear within them. Yet the "knowledge-generation"
cycle always returns in human history. In it, life struggles ever anew
with the inexorable perspective of death, and always overcomes it. It is
as if the reason for this refusal of life to surrender, which is
manifested in generation, were always the same knowledge. With that
knowledge, man goes beyond the solitude of his own being, and decides
again to affirm this being in an "other." Both of them, man and woman,
affirm it in the new person generated.
In this affirmation, biblical knowledge seems to acquire an even
greater dimension. It seems to take its place in that "vision" of God
himself, which the first narrative of the creation of man ends with. The
narrative is about the male and the female made in the image of God. "God
saw everything that he had made and...it was very good" (Gn 1:31). In
spite of all the experiences of his life, in spite of suffering,
disappointment with himself, his sinfulness, and, finally, in spite of the
inevitable prospect of death, man always continues to put knowledge at the
beginning of generation. In this way, he seems to participate in that
first "vision" of God himself: God the Creator "saw...and behold, it was
very good." And, ever anew, he confirms the truth of these words.
1) According to Plato, eros is love athirst for transcendent
Beauty, and expresses insatiability straining toward its eternal object.
Therefore, it always raises what is human toward the divine, which alone
is able to satisfy the nostalgia of the soul imprisoned in matter. It is a
love that does not draw back before the greatest effort, in order to reach
the ecstasy of union. Therefore, it is an egocentric love. It is lust,
although directed to sublime values (cf. A. Nygren, Eros et Agapê‚
[Paris: 1951], vol. II, pp. 9-10).
Throughout the centuries, through many changes, the meaning of eros
has been debased to merely sexual connotations. Characteristic, here, is
the text of P. Chauchard, which even seems to deny eros the
characteristics of human love:
The cerebralization of sexuality does not lie in boring technical tricks,
but in full recognition of its spirituality, since eros is human
only when it is animated by agape and since agape demands to
be incarnated in eros (P. Chauchard, Vices des vertus, vertus
des vices [Paris: 1963], p. 147).
The comparison of biblical knowledge with Platonic eros reveals the
divergence of these two concepts. The Platonic concept is based on
nostalgia for transcendent Beauty and on escape from matter. The biblical
concept, on the contrary, is geared to concrete reality, and the dualism
of spirit and matter is alien to it as also the specific hostility to
matter ("And God saw that it was good"—Gn
1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25).
Whereas the Platonic concept of eros goes beyond the biblical scope
of human knowledge, the modern concept seems too restricted. Biblical
knowledge is not limited to satisfying instinct or hedonistic pleasure,
but it is a fully human act, directed consciously toward procreation, and
it is also the expression of interpersonal love (cf. Gn 29:20; 1 Sm 1:8; 2