GENERAL AUDIENCE OF 22 APRIL
On Wednesday, 22 April, an estimated 25,000 people were present in
St Peter's Square for the General Audience at 5:00 p.m. The Holy Father
delivered the following address.
A problem with very deep roots
Let us now reflectwith
regard to Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mounton
the problem of the ethos of the human body in works of artistic culture.
This problem has very deep roots. It is opportune to recall here the
series of analyses carried out in connection with Christ's reference to
the beginning, and subsequently to the reference he made to the human
heart, in the Sermon on the Mount. The human bodythe
naked human body in the whole truth of its masculinity and femininityhas
the meaning of a gift of the person to the person. The ethos of the body,
that is, the ethical norms that govern its nakedness, because of the
dignity of the personal subject, is closely connected with that system of
reference. This is understood as the nuptial system, in which the giving
of one party meets the appropriate and adequate response of the other
party to the gift. This response decides the reciprocity of the gift.
The artistic objectivation [sic] of the human body in its male
and female nakedness, in order to make it first of all a model and then
the subject of the work of art, is always to a certain extent a going
outside of this original and, for the body, its specific configuration of
interpersonal donation. In a way, that constitutes an uprooting of the
human body from this configuration and its transfer to the dimension of
specific dimension of the work of art or of the reproduction typical of
the film and photographic techniques of our time.
In each of these dimensionsand
in a different way in each onethe
human body loses that deeply subjective meaning of the gift. It becomes an
object destined for the knowledge of many. This happens in such a way that
those who look at the body, assimilate or even, in a way, take possession
of what evidently exists, of what in fact should exist essentially at the
level of a gift, made by the person to the person, not just in the image
but in the living man. Actually, that "taking possession" already happens
at another levelthat
is, at the level of the object of the transfiguration or artistic
reproduction. However it is impossible not to perceive that from the point
of view of the ethos of the body, deeply understood, a problem arises
here. This is a very delicate problem, which has its levels of intensity
according to various motives and circumstances both as regards artistic
activity and as regards knowledge of the work of art or of its
reproduction. The fact that this problem is raised does not mean that the
human body, in its nakedness, cannot become a subject of works of artbut
only that this problem is not purely aesthetic, nor morally indifferent.
Original shame a permanent element
2. In our preceding analyses (especially with regard to Christ's
reference to the "beginning"), we devoted a great deal of space to the
meaning of shame. We tried to understand the difference between the
original innocence, in which "they were both naked, and were not ashamed"
(Gn 2:25), and, subsequently, between the situationand
sinfulness. In that state there arose between man and woman, together with
shame, the specific necessity of privacy with regard to their own bodies.
In the heart of man, subject to lust, this necessity serves, even
indirectly, to ensure the gift and the possibility of mutual donation.
This necessity also forms man's way of acting as "an object of culture,"
in the widest meaning of the term. If culture shows an explicit tendency
to cover the nakedness of the human body, it certainly does so not only
for climatic reasons, but also in relation to the process of growth of
man's personal sensitivity. The anonymous nakedness of the man-object
contrasts with the progress of the truly human culture of morals. It is
probably possible to confirm this also in the life of so-called primitive
populations. The process of refining personal human sensitivity is
certainly a factor and fruit of culture.
Beyond the need of shame, that is, of the privacy of one's own body (on
which the biblical sources give such precise information in Genesis 3),
there is a deeper norm. This norm is the gift, directed toward the very
depths of the personal subject or toward the other personespecially
in the man-woman relationship according to the perennial norms regulating
the mutual donation. In this way, in the processes of human culture
understood in the wide sense, we noteeven
in man's state of hereditary sinfulnessquite
an explicit continuity of the nuptial meaning of the body in its
masculinity and femininity. That original shame, known already from the
first chapters of the Bible, is a permanent element of culture and morals.
It belongs to the genesis of the ethos of the human body.
3. The person of developed sensitivity overcomes the limit of
that shame with difficulty and interior resistance. This is seen clearly
even in situations which justify the necessity of undressing the body,
such as in the case of medical examinations or operations. Mention should
also be made especially of other circumstances, such as those of
concentration camps or places of extermination, where the violation of
bodily shame is a method used deliberately to destroy personal sensitivity
and the sense of human dignity.
The same rule is confirmed everywherethough
in different ways. Following personal sensitivity, man does not wish to
become an object for others through his own anonymous nakedness. Nor does
he wish the other to become an object for him in a similar way. Evidently
he does not wish this to the extent to which he lets himself be guided by
the sense of the dignity of the human body. Various motives can induce,
incite and even press man to act in a way contrary to the requirements of
the dignity of the human body, a dignity connected with personal
sensitivity. It cannot be forgotten that the fundamental interior
situation of historical man is the state of threefold lust (cf. 1 Jn
2:16). This stateand,
in particular, the lust of the fleshmakes
itself felt in various ways, both in the interior impulses of the human
heart and in the whole climate of interhuman relations and social morals.
When deep governing rules are violated
4. We cannot forget this, not even when it is a question of the broad
sphere of artistic culture, particularly that of visual and spectacular
character, as also when it is a question of mass culture. This is so
significant for our times and connected with the use of the media of
audiovisual communication. A question arises: when and in what case is
this sphere of man's activityfrom
the point of view of the ethos of the bodyregarded
as pornovision, just as in literature some writings were and are often
regarded as pornography (this second term is an older one).
Both take place when the limit of shame is overstepped, that is, of
personal sensitivity with regard to what is connected with the human body
with its nakedness. They take place when in the work of art or by means of
the media of audiovisual reproduction the right to the privacy of the body
in its masculinity or femininity is violatedand
in the last analysiswhen
those deep governing rules of the gift and of mutual donation, which are
inscribed in this femininity and masculinity through the whole structure
of the human being, are violated. This deep inscriptionor
the nuptial meaning of the human body, that is, of the fundamental call it
receives to form the "communion of persons" and take part in it.
Breaking off at this point our consideration, which we intend to
continue next Wednesday, it should be noted that observance or
non-observance of these norms, so deeply connected with man's personal
sensitivity, cannot be a matter of indifference for the problem of
creating a climate favorable to chastity in life and social education.