GENERAL AUDIENCE OF 18 MARCH
On Wednesday, 18 March, the Holy Father resumed his development of
the theme of purity according to the Pauline texts. He addressed the
following to the thousands gathered in the Paul VI Hall.
1. At our meeting some weeks ago, we concentrated our attention on the
passage in the First Letter to the Corinthians in which St. Paul calls the
human body "a temple of the Holy Spirit." He writes: "Do you not know that
your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from
God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price" (1 Cor 6:19-20).
"Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?" (1 Cor 6:15).
The Apostle points out the mystery of the redemption of the body, carried
out by Christ, as a source of a special moral duty which commits the
Christian to purity. This is what Paul himself defines elsewhere as the
necessity of "controlling his own body in holiness and honor" (1 Thess
Piety serves purity
2. However, we would not completely discover the riches of the thought
contained in the Pauline texts, if we did not note that the mystery of
redemption bears fruit in man also in a charismatic way. According to the
Apostle's words, the Holy Spirit enters the human body as his own
"temple," dwells there and operates together with his spiritual gifts.
Among these gifts, known in the history of spirituality as the seven gifts
of the Holy Spirit (cf. Is 11:2, according to the Septuagint and the
Vulgate), the one most congenial to the virtue of purity seems to be
the gift of piety (eusebeia, donum pietatis).(1) If purity prepares
man to "control his own body in holiness and honor" (1 Th 4:3-5), piety,
which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, seems to serve purity in a particular
way. It makes the human subject sensitive to that dignity which is
characteristic of the human body by virtue of the mystery of creation and
redemption. "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit
within you.... You are not your own" (1 Cor 6:19). Thanks to the gift of
piety, Paul's words acquire the eloquence of an experience of the nuptial
meaning of the body and of the freedom of the gift connected with it, in
which the profound aspect of purity and its organic link with love is
Fruit of the Spirit's indwelling
3. Although control of one's body in holiness and honor is acquired
through abstention from immorality—and
this way is indispensable—yet
it always bears fruit in deeper experience of that love, which was
inscribed from the beginning, according to the image and likeness of God
himself, in the whole human being and so also in his body. Therefore, St.
Paul ends his argumentation in chapter six of the First Letter to the
Corinthians with a significant exhortation: "So glorify God in your body"
(v. 20). Purity as the virtue is the capacity of controlling one's body in
holiness and honor. Together with the gift of piety, as the fruit of the
dwelling of the Holy Spirit in the temple of the body, purity brings about
in the body such a fullness of dignity in interpersonal relations that God
himself is thereby glorified. Purity is the glory of the human body before
God. It is God's glory in the human body, through which masculinity and
femininity are manifested. From purity springs that extraordinary beauty
which permeates every sphere of men's common life and makes it possible to
express in it simplicity and depth, cordiality and the unrepeatable
authenticity of personal trust. (There will perhaps be an opportunity
later to deal with this subject more fully. The connection of purity with
love and also the connection of purity in love with that gift of the Holy
Spirit, piety, is a part of the theology of the body which is little
known, but which deserves particular study. That will be possible in the
course of the analysis concerning the sacramentality of marriage.)
In the Old Testament
4. And now a brief reference to the Old Testament. The Pauline doctrine
about purity, understood as life according to the Spirit, seems to
indicate a certain continuity with regard to the Wisdom books of the Old
Testament. For example, we find there the following prayer to obtain
purity in thought, word and deed: "O Lord, Father and God of my
life...remove from me evil desire, let neither gluttony nor lust overcome
me" (Sir 23:4-6). Purity is, in fact, the condition for finding wisdom and
following it, as we read in the same book: "I directed my soul to her
[that is, to Wisdom], and through purification I found her" (Sir 51:20).
We could also consider the text of the Book of Wisdom (8:21), known by the
liturgy in the Vulgate version: "Scivi quoniam aliter non possum esse
continens, nisi Deus det; et hoc ipsum erat sapientiae, scire, cuius esset
According to this concept, it is not so much purity that is a condition
for wisdom, but wisdom that is a condition for purity, as for a special
gift of God. It seems that already in the above-mentioned Wisdom texts the
double meaning of purity takes shape: as a virtue and as a gift. The
virtue is in the service of wisdom, and wisdom is a preparation to receive
the gift that comes from God. This gift strengthens the virtue and makes
it possible to enjoy, in wisdom, the fruits of a behavior and life that
The sight of God
5. Just as Christ, in his beatitude in the Sermon on the Mount which
referred to the "pure in heart," highlights the "sight of God," the fruit
of purity, and in an eschatological perspective, so Paul in his turn sheds
light on its diffusion in the dimensions of temporality, when he writes:
"To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving
nothing is pure; their very minds and consciences are corrupted. They
profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds..." (Tit 1:15f.).
These words can also refer both to the general and to the specific meaning
of purity, as to the characteristic note of all moral good. For the
Pauline concept of purity, in the sense spoken of in the First Letter to
the Thessalonians (4:3-5) and the First Letter to the Corinthians
(6:13-20), that is, in the sense of life according to the Spirit, the
anthropology of rebirth in the Holy Spirit (cf. also Jn 3:5ff.) seems to
can be seen from these considerations of ours as a whole. It grows from
roots set in the reality of the redemption of the body, carried out by
whose ultimate expression is the resurrection. There are profound reasons
for connecting the whole theme of purity with the words of the Gospel, in
which Christ referred to the resurrection (and that will be the subject of
the further stage of our considerations). Here we have mainly linked it
with the ethos of the redemption of the body.
Appeal to the heart
6. The way of understanding and presenting purity—inherited
from the tradition of the Old Testament and characteristic of the Wisdom
certainly an indirect, but nonetheless real, preparation for the Pauline
doctrine about purity understood as life according to the Spirit. That way
unquestionably helped many listeners of the Sermon on the Mount to
understand Christ's words when, explaining the commandment, "You shall not
commit adultery," he appealed to the human heart. In this way our
reflections as a whole have been able to show, at least to a certain
extent, how rich and profound the doctrine on purity is in its biblical
and evangelical sources themselves.
1) In the Greco-Roman period eusebeia or pietas generally
referred to the veneration of the gods (as "devotion"), but it still kept
its broader original meaning of respect for vital structures.
Eusebeia defined the mutual behavior of relatives, relations
between husband and wife, and also the attitude due by the legions toward
Caesar or by slaves to their masters.
In the New Testament, only the later writings apply eusebeia to
Christians; in the older writings this term characterizes "good pagans"
(Acts 10:2, 7; 17:23).
And so the Greek eusebeia, as also the donum pietatis, while
they certainly refer to divine veneration, have a wide basis in the
connotation of interpersonal relations (cf. W. Foerster, art. eusebeia,
"Theological Dictionary of the New Testament", Vol. 7, ed. G. Kittel, G.
Bromley [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971], pp. 177-182).
2) This version of the Vulgate, retained by the Neo-Vulgate and by the
liturgy, quoted several times by Augustine (De S. Virg., par. 43;
Confess. VI, 11; X, 29; Serm. CLX, 7), changes, however, the
meaning of the original Greek, which can be translated as follows:
"Knowing that I would not have obtained it [Wisdom] otherwise, if God had
not granted it to me....