GENERAL AUDIENCE OF WEDNESDAY, 18 JUNE
The Holy Father
delivered the following address during the General Audience in St. Peter's
Square on Wednesday, 18 June.
1. The phenomenon of shame, which appeared in the first man together
with original sin, is described with surprising precision in Genesis 3.
Careful reflection on this text enables us to deduce from it that shame
has a deeper dimension. This shame took the place of the absolute trust
connected with the previous state of original innocence in the mutual
relationship between man and woman. In this connection it is necessary to
reread chapter 3 of Genesis to the end, and not limit ourselves to verse 7
or verses 10-11, which contain the testimony about the first experience of
shame. After this narrative, the dialogue of God-Yahweh with the man and
the woman breaks off and a monologue begins. Yahweh turns to the woman and
speaks first of the pain of childbirth, which will accompany her from now
on: "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall
bring forth children..." (Gn 3:16).
That is followed by the expression which characterizes the future
relationship of both the man and the woman: "Your desire shall be for your
husband, and he shall rule over you" (Gn 3:16).
A particular "disability" of woman
2. These words, like those of Genesis 2:24, have a perspective
character. The incisive formulation of 3:16 seems to regard the facts as a
whole. They have already emerged, in a way, in the original experience of
shame, and will subsequently be manifested in the entire interior
experience of historical man. The history of consciences and of human
hearts will continually confirm the words of Genesis 3:16. The words
spoken at the beginning seem to refer to a particular "disability" of
woman as compared with man. But there is no reason to understand it as a
social disability or inequality. The expression: "Your desire shall be for
your husband, and he shall rule over you" immediately indicates, on the
other hand, another form of inequality. Woman will feel this as a lack of
full unity precisely in the vast context of union with man, to which both
were called according to Genesis 2:24.
A fundamental loss
3. The words of God-Yahweh: "Your desire shall be for your husband, and
he shall rule over you" (Gn 3:16), do not concern exclusively the moment
of man and woman's union, when both unite in such a way as to become one
flesh (cf. Gn 2:24). They refer to the ample context of relations,
including indirect ones, of conjugal union as a whole. For the first time
the man is defined here as "husband." In the whole context of the Yahwist
narrative these words mean above all, a violation, a fundamental loss, of
the original community-communion of persons. The latter should have made
man and woman mutually happy by the pursuit of a simple and pure union in
humanity, by a reciprocal offering of themselves. That is the experience
of the gift of the person expressed with the soul and with the body, with
masculinity and femininity ("flesh of my flesh"—Gn
2:23). Finally, it should have made them happy by the subordination of
this union to the blessing of fertility with procreation.
Distorted by lust
4. It seems that in the words which God-Yahweh addressed to the woman,
there is a deeper echo of the shame which the man and woman began to
experience after breaking the original covenant with God. We find,
moreover, a fuller motivation of this shame. In a very discreet way, which
is still decipherable and expressive, Genesis 3:16 testifies how that
original beatifying conjugal union of persons will be distorted in man's
heart by lust. These words are addressed directly to woman, but they refer
to man, or rather to both together.
Dominion over woman
5. The previous analysis of Genesis 3:7 showed that in the new
situation, after breaking the original covenant with God, the man and the
woman found themselves more divided. Instead of being united, they were
even opposed because of their masculinity and femininity. The biblical
narrative stresses the instinctive impulse that had driven them both to
cover their bodies. It describes at the same time the situation in which
man, as male or female—before
it was rather male and female—feels
more estranged from the body, as from the source of the original union in
humanity ("flesh of my flesh"). They were more opposed to the other
precisely on the basis of the body and sex. This opposition does not
destroy or exclude conjugal union, willed by the Creator (cf. Gn 2:24), or
its procreative effects. But it confers on the realization of this union
another direction, which will be that of the man of lust. Genesis 3:16
speaks precisely of this.
The woman, whose "desire shall be for her husband" (cf. Gn 3:16), and
the man who responds to this desire, as we read: "He shall rule over you,"
unquestionably form the same human couple. It was the same marriage as in
Genesis 2:24, the same community of persons. However, they are now
something different. They are no longer called only to union and unity,
but are also threatened by the insatiability of that union and unity. It
does not cease to attract man and woman precisely because they are
persons, called from eternity to exist in communion. In the light of the
biblical narrative, sexual shame has its deep meaning. It is connected
with the failure to satisfy the aspiration to realize in the conjugal
union of the body (cf. Gn 2:24) the mutual communion of persons.
6. All that seems to confirm, from various aspects, that at the basis
of shame, in which historical man has become a participant, there is the
threefold lust spoken of in the First Letter of John. It is not only the
lust of the flesh, but also "the lust of the eyes and the pride of life"
(1 Jn 2:16). Does not the expression of Genesis 3:16 regarding "rule" ("He
shall rule over you") indicate this last form of lust? Does not the rule
over the other—of
man over woman—change
essentially the structure of communion in the interpersonal relationship?
Does it not transpose into the dimension of this structure something that
makes the human being an object, which can, in a way, be desired by the
lust of the eyes?
These questions spring from reflection on the words of God-Yahweh
according to Genesis 3:16. Delivered almost on the threshold of human
history after original sin, those words reveal to us not only the exterior
situation of man and woman, but enable us also to penetrate into the deep
mysteries of their hearts.