GENERAL AUDIENCE OF WEDNESDAY, 6 AUGUST
During the General
Audience on Wednesday, 6 August, John Paul II delivered the following
1. Continuing our cycle, let us take up again today the Sermon on the
Mount, and the statement: "Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has
already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt 5:28). Jesus appeals
here to the heart.
In his talk with the Pharisees, referring to the "beginning" (cf. the
preceding analyses), Jesus uttered the following words with regard to the
certificate of divorce: "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to
divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" (Mt 19:8). This
sentence undoubtedly contains an accusation. "Hardness of heart"(1)
indicates what, according to the ethos of the people of the Old Testament,
had brought about the situation contrary to the original plan of
God-Yahweh in Genesis 2:24. There we must seek the key to interpret the
whole legislation of Israel in the sphere of marriage and, in the wider
sense, in relations between man and woman as a whole. Speaking of hardness
of heart, Christ accuses the whole "interior subject" who is responsible
for the distortion of the law. In the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28), he
also refers to the heart, but the words pronounced here do not seem only
2. We must reflect on them once more, placing them as far as possible
in their historical dimension. The analysis made so far—aimed
at highlighting the man of lust in his genetic moment, almost at the
initial point of his history interwoven with theology—constitutes
an ample introduction, especially an anthropological one, to the work that
must still be undertaken. The following stage of our analysis will have an
The Sermon on the Mount, and in particular that passage we have chosen
as the center of our analyses, is part of the proclamation of the new
ethos, the ethos of the Gospel. In the teaching of Christ, it is deeply
connected with awareness of the "beginning," namely with the mystery of
creation in its original simplicity and richness. At the same time, the
ethos that Christ proclaims in the Sermon on the Mount is realistically
addressed to historical man, who has become the man of lust. Lust in its
three forms is the heritage of all humanity, and the human heart really
participates in it.
Christ knows "what is in every man" (cf. Jn 2:25).(2) He cannot speak
in any other way than with this awareness. From this point of view, in the
words of Matthew 5:27-28 it is not the accusation that prevails but the
judgment, a realistic judgment on the human heart. It is a judgment which
has both an anthropological foundation and a directly ethical character.
For the ethos of the Gospel it is a constitutive judgment.
3. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ directly addresses the man who
belongs to a well defined society. The Master, too, belongs to that
society, to that people. So we must look in Christ's words for a reference
to the facts, the situations and the institutions which he was familiar
with in everyday life. These references must be analyzed at least in a
summary way, so that the ethical meaning of the words of Matthew 5:27-28
may emerge more clearly.
However, with these words, Christ also addresses, in an indirect but
real way, every historical man (understanding this adjective mainly in a
theological sense). This man is precisely the man of lust, whose mystery
and whose heart is known to Christ. "For he himself knew what was in man"
(Jn 2:25). The Sermon on the Mount enables us to contact the interior
experience of this man almost at every geographical latitude and
longitude, in the various ages, in the different social and cultural
conditionings. The man of our time feels called by name with this
statement of Christ, no less than the man of that time, whom the Master
was addressing directly.
4. The universality of the Gospel, which is not at all a
generalization, lies in this. Perhaps precisely in this statement of
Christ, which we are analyzing here, this is manifested with particular
clarity. By virtue of this statement, the man of all times and all places
feels called, in an adequate, concrete and unrepeatable way. This is
because Christ appeals to the human heart, which cannot be subject to any
generalization. With the category of the heart, everyone is characterized
individually, even more than by name. Everyone is reached in what
determines him in a unique and unrepeatable way, and is defined in his
humanity from within.
5. The image of the man of lust concerns his inner being in the first
place.(3) The history of the human heart after original sin is written
under the pressure of lust in its three forms. Even the deepest image of
ethos in its various historical documents is also connected with this
lust. However, that inner being is also the force that decides exterior
human behavior, and also the form of multiple structures and institutions
at the level of social life. If we deduce the content of ethos, in its
various historical formulations, from these structures and institutions,
we always meet this inner aspect, characteristic of the interior image of
man. This is the most essential element. Christ's words in the Sermon on
the Mount, especially those of Matthew 5:27-28, indicate it unmistakably.
No study on human ethos can regard it with indifference.
Therefore, in our subsequent reflections, we shall try to analyze in a
more detailed way that statement of Christ which says: "You have heard
that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that
everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery
with her in his heart" (or "has already made her adulterous in his
To understand this text better, we shall first analyze its single
parts, so as to obtain afterward a deeper overall view. We shall take into
consideration not only those for whom it was intended at that time, those
who actually heard the Sermon on the Mount, but also, as far as possible,
modern men, the men of our time.
1) The Greek term sklerokardía
was formed by the authors of the Septuagint to express what in the Hebrew
meant: "non-circumcision of the heart" (cf. e.g., Dt 10:16; Jer 4:4; Sir
3:26f.) and which, in the literal translation of the New Testament,
appears only once (cf. Acts 7:51).
Non-circumcision meant "paganism," "immodesty," "distance from the
covenant with God"; "non-circumcision of the heart" expressed unyielding
obstinacy in opposing God. This is confirmed by the exclamation of the
deacon Stephen: "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears,
you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you" (Acts
2) Cf. Rv 2:23: "....he who searches mind and heart..."; Acts 1:24:
"Lord, who knows the hearts of all men..." (kardiognostes).
3) "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery,
fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a
man..." (Mt 15:19-20).