GENERAL AUDIENCE OF WEDNESDAY, 19 DECEMBER
During the General
Audience in the Paul VI Hall on 19 December, the Holy Father gave the
1. What is shame and how can we explain its absence in the state of
original innocence, in the depth of the mystery of the creation of man as
male and female? From contemporary analyses of shame—and
in particular of sexual modesty—we
can deduce the complexity of this fundamental experience, in which man
expresses himself as a person according to his own specific structure. In
the experience of shame, the human being experiences fear with regard to
his "second self," (for example, woman before man). This is substantially
fear for one's own "self." With shame, the human being manifests almost
instinctively the need of affirmation and acceptance of this "self,"
according to its rightful value. He experiences it at the same time both
within himself, and externally, before the "other." Shame is a complex
experience. Almost keeping one human being away from the other (woman from
man), it seeks at the same time to draw them closer personally, creating a
suitable basis and level to do so.
For the same reason, it has a fundamental significance as regards the
formation of ethos in human society, and especially in the man-woman
relationship. The analysis of shame clearly indicates how deeply it is
rooted precisely in mutual relations, how exactly it expresses the
essential rules for the "communion of persons," and likewise how deeply it
touches the dimension of man's original "solitude." The appearance of
shame in the subsequent biblical narration of chapter 3 of Genesis has a
pluri-dimensional significance. It will be opportune to resume the
analysis in due time.
On the other hand, what does its original absence mean in Genesis 2:25:
"They were both naked and were not ashamed"?
2. It is necessary to establish in the first place that it is a
question of a real non-presence of shame, and not a lack of
underdevelopment of it. We cannot in any way sustain here a "primitivization"
of its meaning. Therefore the text of Genesis 2:25 does not only exclude
decisively the possibility of thinking of a "lack of shame" or immodesty.
Even more, it excludes the possibility of explaining it by analogy with
some positive human experiences, such as those of childhood or of the life
of so-called primitive peoples. These analogies are insufficient and can
even be misleading. The words of Genesis 2:25: "They were not ashamed," do
not express a lack, but, on the contrary, serve to indicate a particular
fullness of consciousness and experience. Above all they indicate a full
understanding of the meaning of the body, bound up with the fact that they
The continuation of the Yahwist narrative testifies that this is how
the text quoted is to be understood and interpreted. In it, the appearance
of shame, and in particular of sexual modesty, is connected with the loss
of that original fullness. Taking the experience of shame as a
"borderline" experience, we must ask ourselves what does the meaning of
the original nakedness which Genesis 2:25 speaks of, correspond to? To
what fullness of conscience and experience, and in particular to what full
understanding of the meaning of the body, does the meaning of original
nakedness correspond to?
Fullness of consciousness
3. To answer this question, we must keep in mind the analytical process
carried out so far, which has its basis in the Yahwist passage as a whole.
In this context, man's original solitude was manifested as
"non-identification" of his own humanity with the world of living beings
(animalia) that surround him.
This non-identification, following upon the creation of man as male and
female, made way for the happy discovery of one's own humanity with the
help of the other human being. Thus the man recognized and found again his
own humanity with the help of the woman (cf. Gn 2:25). At the same time,
this act of theirs realized a perception of the world, which was carried
out directly through the body ("flesh of my flesh"). It was the direct and
visible source of the experience that arrived at establishing their unity
in humanity. It is easy to understand that nakedness corresponds to that
fullness of consciousness of the meaning of the body, deriving from the
typical perception of the senses.
One can think of this fullness in categories of truth of being or of
reality, and it can be said that man and woman were originally given to
each other precisely according to this truth, since they were naked. In
analyzing the meaning of original nakedness, this dimension absolutely
cannot be disregarded. This participating in perception of the world—in
its "exterior" aspect—is
a direct and almost spontaneous fact. It is prior to any "critical"
complication of knowledge and of human experience and is seen as closely
connected with the experience of the meaning of the human body. The
original innocence of "knowledge" could already be perceived in this way.
Meaning of communication
4. However, it is not possible to determine the meaning of original
nakedness considering only man's participation in exterior perception of
the world. It is not possible to establish it without going into the
depths of man. Genesis 2:25 introduces us specifically to this level and
wants us to seek there the original innocence of knowing. The dimension of
human interiority is necessary to explain and measure that particular
fullness of interpersonal communication, thanks to which man and woman
were naked and were not ashamed.
In our conventional language, the concept of communication has been
practically alienated from its deepest, original semantic matrix. It is
connected mainly with the sphere of the media, that is, for the most part,
products that serve for understanding, exchange, and bringing closer
together. On the other hand, it can be supposed that, in its original and
deeper meaning, communication was and is directly connected with subjects.
They communicate precisely on the basis of the common union that exists
between them, both to reach and to express a reality that is peculiar and
pertinent only to the sphere of person-subjects.
In this way, the human body acquires a completely new meaning, which
cannot be placed on the plane of the remaining "external" perception of
the world. It expresses the person in his ontological and existential
concreteness, which is something more than the individual. Therefore the
body expresses the personal human "self," which derives its exterior
perception from within.
Man's vision of God
5. The whole biblical narrative, and in particular the Yahwist text,
shows that the body through its own visibility manifests man. In
manifesting him, it acts as intermediary, that is, it enables man and
woman, right from the beginning, to communicate with each other according
to that communio personarum willed by the Creator precisely for
them. It seems that only this dimension enables us to rightly understand
the meaning of original nakedness. In this connection, any "naturalistic"
criterion is bound to fail, while, on the contrary, the "personalistic"
criterion can be of great help. Genesis 2:25 certainly speaks of something
extraordinary, which is outside the limits of the shame known through
human experience. At the same time it decides the particular fullness of
interpersonal communication, rooted at the very heart of that communio,
which is thus revealed and developed. In this connection, the words "they
were not ashamed" can mean in sensu obliquo only an original depth
in affirming what is inherent in the person, what is "visibly" female and
male, through which the personal intimacy of mutual communication in all
its radical simplicity and purity is constituted. To this fullness of
exterior perception, expressed by means of physical nakedness, there
corresponds the interior fullness of man's vision in God, that is,
according to the measure of the "image of God" (cf. Gn 1:17). According to
this measure, man "is" really naked ("They were naked"—Gn
2:25),(1) even before realizing it (cf. Gn 3:7-10).
We shall still have to complete the analysis of this important text
during the meditations that follow.
1) According to the words of Holy Scripture, God penetrates the
creature, who is completely "naked" before him. "And before him no
creature is hidden, but all are open (p anta gymn ) and laid bare to the
eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Heb 4:13). This characteristic
belongs in particular to divine Wisdom: "Wisdom...because of her pureness
pervades and penetrates all things" (Wis 7:24).