GENERAL AUDIENCE OF 21 NOVEMBER
On 21 November the General
Audience was held in two parts—in
the Basilica and in the Paul VI Hall. To the Italian-speaking pilgrims in
the Basilica the Holy Father spoke as follows.
1. Let us recall that Christ, when questioned about the unity and
indissolubility of marriage, referred to what was "in the beginning." He
quoted the words written in the first chapters of Genesis. In the course
of these reflections, we are trying to penetrate the specific meaning of
these words and these chapters.
The meaning of the original unity of man, whom God created "male and
female," is obtained (especially in the light of Genesis 2:23) by knowing
man in the entire endowment of his being, that is, in all the riches of
that mystery of creation, on which theological anthropology is based. This
knowledge, that is, the study of the human identity of the one who, at the
beginning, is "alone," must always pass through duality, "communion."
Let us recall the passage of Genesis 2:23: "Then the man said, 'This at
last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman,
because she was taken out of man.'" In the light of this text, we
understand that knowledge of man passes through masculinity and
femininity. These are, as it were, two "incarnations" of the same
metaphysical solitude before God and the world—two
ways, as it were, of "being a body" and at the same time a man, which
complete each other—two
complementary dimensions, as it were, of self-consciousness and
self-determination and, at the same time, two complementary ways of
being conscious of the meaning of the body.
As Genesis 2:23 already shows, femininity finds itself, in a sense, in
the presence of masculinity, while masculinity is confirmed through
femininity. Precisely the function of sex, which is in a sense, "a
constituent part of the person" (not just "an attribute of the person"),
proves how deeply man, with all his spiritual solitude, with the never to
be repeated uniqueness of his person, is constituted by the body as "he"
or "she." The presence of the feminine element, alongside the male element
and together with it, signifies an enrichment for man in the whole
perspective of his history, including the history of salvation. All this
teaching on unity has already been expressed originally in Genesis 2:23.
Rediscover the mystery of creation
2. The unity of which Genesis 2:24 speaks
("they become one flesh") is undoubtedly expressed and realized in
the conjugal act. The biblical formulation, extremely concise and simple,
indicates sex, femininity and masculinity, as that characteristic of man—male
permits them, when they become "one flesh," to submit their whole humanity
to the blessing of fertility. However, the whole context of the lapidary
formulation does not permit us to stop at the surface of human sexuality.
It does not allow us to deal with the body and sex outside the full
dimension of man and of the "communion of persons." Right from the
beginning it obliges us to see the fullness and depth which are
characteristic of this unity, which man and woman must constitute in the
light of the revelation of the body.
The perspective expression which says, "a man cleaves to his wife" so
intimately that "they become one flesh," always induces us to refer to
what the biblical text expresses previously with regard to the union in
humanity, which binds the woman and the man in the very mystery of
creation. The words of Genesis 2:23, just analyzed, explain this concept
in a particular way. Uniting with each other (in the conjugal act) so
closely as to become "one flesh," man and woman, rediscover, so to speak,
every time and in a special way, the mystery of creation. They return in
this way to that union in humanity ("bone of my bones and flesh of my
flesh") which allows them to recognize each other and, like the first
time, to call each other by name.
This means reliving, in a sense, the original virginal value of man,
which emerges from the mystery of his solitude before God and in the midst
of the world. The fact that they become one flesh is a powerful bond
established by the Creator. Through it they discover their own humanity,
both in its original unity, and in the duality of a mysterious mutual
However, sex is something more than the mysterious power of human
corporality, which acts almost by virtue of instinct. At the level of man
and in the mutual relationship of persons, sex expresses an ever new
surpassing of the limit of man's solitude that is inherent in the
constitution of his body, and determines its original meaning. This
surpassing always contains within it a certain assumption of the solitude
of the body of the second "self" as one's own.
Choice establishes pact
3. Therefore, it is bound up with choice. The formulation of Genesis
2:24 indicates that human beings, created as man and woman, were created
for unity. It also indicates that precisely this unity, through which
they become one flesh, has right from the beginning a character of
union derived from a choice. We read: "A man leaves his father and
mother and cleaves to his wife." If the man belongs "by nature" to his
father and mother, by virtue of procreation, on the other hand, he cleaves
by choice to his wife (or she to her husband).
The text of Genesis 2:24 defines this character of the conjugal bond
with reference to the first man and the first woman. At the same time, it
does so in the perspective of the whole earthly future of man. Therefore,
in his time, Christ will appeal to that text, as equally relevant in his
age. Formed in the image of God, also inasmuch as they form a true
communion of persons, the first man and the first woman must constitute
the beginning and the model of that communion for all men and women, who,
in any period, are united so intimately as to be one flesh.
The body, which through its own masculinity or femininity right from
the beginning helps both to find themselves in communion of persons,
becomes, in a particular way, the constituent element of their union, when
they become husband and wife. This takes place, however, through a mutual
choice. This choice establishes the conjugal pact between persons,(1) who
become one flesh only on this basis.
4. That corresponds to the structure of man's solitude, and in actual
fact to the "twofold solitude." As the expression of self-determination,
choice rests on the foundation of his self-consciousness. Only on the
basis of the structure peculiar to man is he "a body" and, through the
body, also male and female. When they both unite so closely as to become
one flesh, their conjugal union presupposes a mature consciousness of the
body. In fact, it bears within it a particular consciousness of the
meaning of that body in the mutual self-giving of the persons.
In this sense too, Genesis 2:24 is a perspective text. It proves that
in every conjugal union of man and woman, the same original consciousness
of the unifying significance of the body in its masculinity and femininity
is discovered again. At the same time, the biblical text indicates that
each of these unions renews, in a way, the mystery of creation in all its
original depth and vital power. "Taken out of man" as "flesh of his
flesh," woman subsequently becomes, as wife and through her motherhood,
mother of the living (cf. Gn 3:20), since her motherhood also has its
origin in him. Procreation is rooted in creation, and every time, in a
sense, reproduces its mystery.
5. A special reflection on "knowledge and procreation" will be devoted
to this subject. In it, it will be necessary to refer further to other
elements of the biblical text. The analysis made hitherto of the meaning
of the original unity proves in what way that unity of man and woman,
inherent in the mystery of creation, is "from the beginning" also given as
a commitment in the perspective of all following times.
1) "The intimate partnership of married life and love has been
established by the Creator and qualified by his laws, and is rooted in the
conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent" (GS 48).