|GENERAL AUDIENCE OF 15 OCTOBER
On Wednesday, 15 October,
the Holy Father delivered the following message to the faithful gathered
in St. Peter's Square for the weekly audience.
1. During our Wednesday meetings, we have analyzed in detail the words
of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Christ referred to the human heart.
As we now know, his words are exacting. Christ said: "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" (Mt 5:27-28). This reference to the heart
throws light on the dimension of human interiority, the dimension of the
inner man, characteristic of ethics, and even more of the theology of the
body. Desire rises in the sphere of the lust of the flesh. It is at the
same time an interior and theological reality, which is experienced, in a
way, by every "historical" man. And it is precisely this man—even
if he does not know the words of Christ—who
continually asks himself the question about his own heart. Christ's words
make this question especially explicit: is the heart accused, or is it
called to good? Toward the end of our reflections and analyses we now
intend to consider this question, connected with the sentence of the
Gospel, so concise and yet categorical at the same time, so pregnant with
theological, anthropological, and ethical content.
A second question goes hand in hand with it, a more practical one: how
can and must he act, the man who accepts Christ's words in the Sermon on
the Mount, the man who accepts the ethos of the Gospel, and, in
particular, accepts it in this field?
Ethos of human practice
2. This man finds in the considerations made up to now the answer, at
least an indirect one, to two questions. How can he act, that is,
on what can he rely in his inner self, at the source of his interior or
exterior acts? Furthermore, how should he act, that is, in what way
do the values known according to the scale revealed in the Sermon on the
Mount constitute a duty of his will and his heart, of his desires and his
choices? In what way are they binding on him in action and behavior, if,
accepted by means of knowledge, they already commit him in thinking and,
in a certain way, in feeling? These questions are significant for human
praxis, and indicate an organic connection of praxis itself with those.
Lived morality is always the ethos of human practice.
3. It is possible to answer the aforesaid questions in various ways. In
fact, various answers are given, both in the past and today. This is
confirmed by an ample literature. In addition to the answers we find in
it, it is necessary to consider the infinite number of answers that
concrete man gives to these questions by himself, the ones that his
conscience, his awareness and moral sensitivity give repeatedly, in the
life of everyone. In this sphere an interpenetration of ethos and
praxis is carried out. Here the individual principles live their own
life (not exclusively "theoretical"). This not only concerns the norms of
morality with their motivations which are worked out and made known by
moralists. It also concerns the ones worked out—certainly
not without a link with the work of moralists and scientists—by
individual men, as authors and direct subjects of real morality, as
co-authors of its history. On this the level of morality itself also
depends, its progress or its decadence. All this reconfirms, everywhere
and always, that historical man to whom Christ once spoke. He proclaimed
the good news of the Gospel with the Sermon on the Mount, where he said
among other things: "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" (Mt
Need for further analyses
4. Matthew's enunciation is stupendously concise in comparison with
everything that has been written on this subject in secular literature.
Perhaps its power in the history of ethos consists precisely in this. At
the same time it must be realized that the history of ethos flows in a
multiform bed, in which the individual currents draw nearer to, or move
further away from, one another in turn. Historical man always evaluates
his own heart in his own way, just as he also judges his own body. So he
passes from the pole of pessimism to the pole of optimism, from puritan
severity to modern permissiveness. It is necessary to realize this, in
order that the ethos of the Sermon on the Mount may always have due
transparency with regard to human actions and behavior. For this purpose
it is necessary to make some more analyses.
5. Our reflections on the meaning of the words of Christ according to
Matthew 5:27-28 would not be complete if they did not dwell—at
what can be called the echo of these words in the history of human thought
and of the evaluation of ethos. The echo is always a
transformation of the voice and of the words that the voice expresses. We
know from experience that this transformation is sometimes full of
mysterious fascination. In the case in question, the opposite happened.
Christ's words have been stripped of their simplicity and depth. A meaning
has been conferred far removed from the one expressed in them, a meaning
that even contradicts them. We have in mind here all that happened outside
Christianity under the name of Manichaeism,(1) and that also tried to
enter the ground of Christianity as regards theology itself and the ethos
of the body. Manichaeism arose in the East outside the biblical
environment and sprang from Mazdeistic dualism. It is well known that, in
its original form, Manichaeism saw the source of evil in matter, in the
body, and therefore condemned everything that is corporeal in man. Since
corporeity is manifested in man mainly through sex, the condemnation was
extended to marriage and to conjugal life, as well as to other spheres of
being and acting in which corporeity is expressed.
Affirmation of the body
6. To an unaccustomed ear, the evident severity of that system might
seem in harmony with the severe words of Matthew 5:29-30, in which Christ
spoke of "plucking out one's eye" or "cutting off one's hand," if these
members were the cause of scandal. Through the purely material
interpretation of these expressions, it was also possible to obtain a
Manichaean view of Christ's enunciation, in which he spoke of a man who
has "committed adultery in his heart...by looking at a woman lustfully."
In this case, too, the Manichaean interpretation aims at condemning the
body, as the real source of evil, since the ontological principle of evil,
according to Manichaeism, is concealed and at the same time manifested in
it. The attempt was made, therefore, to see this condemnation in the
Gospel, and sometimes it was perceived, where actually only a particular
requirement addressed to the human spirit had been expressed.
Note that the condemnation might—and
may always be—a
loophole to avoid the requirements set in the Gospel by him who "knew what
was in man" (Jn 2:25). History has no lack of proofs. We have already
partially had the opportunity (and we will certainly have it again) to
show to what extent such a requirement may arise solely from an
not from a denial or a condemnation—if
it has to lead to an affirmation that is even more mature and deep,
objectively and subjectively. The words of Christ according to Matthew
5:27-28 must lead to such an affirmation of the femininity and masculinity
of the human being, as the personal dimension of "being a body." This is
the right ethical meaning of these words. They impress on the pages of the
Gospel a peculiar dimension of ethos in order to impress it
subsequently on human life.
We will try to take up this subject again in our further reflections.
1) Manichaeism contains and brings to maturation the characteristic
elements of all gnosis, that is, the dualism of two
coeternal and radically opposed principles and the concept of a
salvation which is realized only through knowledge (gnosis)
or self-understanding. In the whole Manichaean myth there is only one hero
and only one situation which is always repeated: the fallen soul is
imprisoned in matter and is liberated by knowledge.
The present historical situation is negative for man, because it is a
provisional and abnormal mixture of spirit and matter, good and evil,
which presupposes a prior, original state, in which the two substances
were separate and independent. There are, therefore, three "Times":
initium, or the original separation; the medium, that is, the present
mixture; and the finis, which consists in return to the original
division, in salvation, implying a complete break between Spirit and
Matter is, fundamentally, concupiscence, an evil instinct for pleasure,
the instinct of death, comparable, if not identical, with sexual desire,
libido. It is a force that tries to attack Light; it is disorderly
movement, bestial, brutal and semiconscious desire.
Adam and Eve were begotten by two demons; our species was born from a
series of repelling acts of cannibalism and sexuality and keeps signs of
this diabolical origin, which are the body, which is the animal form of
the "Archons of hell" and libido, which drives man to copulate and
reproduce himself, that is, to keep his luminous soul always in prison.
If he wants to be saved, man must try to liberate his "living self" (nous)
from the flesh and from the body. Since Matter has its supreme expression
in concupiscence, the capital sin lies in sexual union (fornication),
which is brutality and bestiality, and makes men instruments and
accomplices of Evil for procreation.
The elect constitute the group of the perfect, whose virtue has an ascetic
characteristic, practicing the abstinence commanded by the three "seals":
the "seal of the mouth" forbids all blasphemy and also commands fasting,
and abstention from meat, blood, wine and all alcoholic drinks; the "seal
of the hands" commands respect of the life (the "Light") enclosed in
bodies, in seeds, in trees, and forbids the gathering of fruit, the
tearing up of plants, the taking of the life of men and of animals; the
"seal of the womb" prescribes total continence. Cf. H. Ch. Puech: Le
Manicheisme; son fondateur—sa
doctrine (Paris: Musée
Guimet, LVI, 1949), pp. 73-88; H. Ch. Puech, Le Manichéisme,
"Histoire des Religions," Encyclopédie
de la Pleiade II (Gallimard: 1972), pp. 522-645; J. Ties, "Manichéisme,"
Catholicisme hier, aujourd'hui, demain, Vol. 34 (Lille: Letouzey-Ané,
1977), pp. 314-320).