Sin and Shame (3)

Father Richard M. Hogan

Chapter 3

In the first cycle of  the Theology of the Body (nos. 1-23) John Paul II applied the phenomenological method to the study of the second and third chapters of Genesis.  In these Genesis chapters, the Pope sees the first experiences (solitude and original unity) of the human race experienced by Adam (humanity) and then by Adam and Eve. Through these experiences recorded in their consciousness, Adam and Eve, come to know themselves as beings with minds, wills, and bodies, and as images of God created in and for love. This self-knowledge is what the Pope calls the meaning of the experiences which Adam and Eve had. Interestingly, the self-knowledge of Adam and Eve, gathered subjectively from their experiences, is identical to what is revealed in the first chapter of Genesis by God in an objective way.

We see in the application of the phenomenological method to Genesis the intertwining of what we called the “double flow of data from the Scriptures.”  Human experiences  lead not only to meanings (self-knowledge), but also to the mystery of the human person. The mystery of human personhood gives rise to questions about how a person should act and who a person is.  In the second and third chapters of Genesis, we have the first human experiences recorded. But Genesis, as all of Scripture, is the Revelation of God. So, we find in Genesis the first experiences of the human race recorded together with their meanings. We find also the entrance, the door, to the mystery of human personhood together with the questions arising from this mystery.  But we also find the answers to these questions.  Further, the experiences, their meanings, and the Revelation which clarifies these experiences and meanings are succinctly and almost inseparably linked. John Paul, in partially separating these various aspects, has laid the foundation for the remaining 106 addresses in his Theology of the Body series.

Beginning the second cycle (nos. 24-63), John Paul analyzes in depth another one of the very first experiences of Adam and Eve: their nakedness, especially their nakedness after sin. This study is undertaken in the first ten addresses of the second cycle (24-33). John Paul clearly demonstrates that this analysis is necessary to understand the words of Christ which is the subject matter of the entire second cycle of the Theology of the Body: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”[1]  In his teaching on adultery, Christ was speaking to the men and women of his day, to men and women who were the heirs of Adam and Eve. These men and women were the heirs of the original experiences and their meanings, but they were also the heirs to the experiences of nakedness, particularly the nakedness after sin which caused Adam and Eve to be ashamed.  In order to understand what Christ meant by his teaching on adultery, the Pope argues that we must understand the state of those in his audience.  But to come to know their state is to come to know our own because we, together with them, are the heirs of Adam and Eve’s sin.

Frequently, to understand a speaker’s intent it is necessary to understand the audience because a speaker will tailor his words to those who hear it.  This is partially true with Christ’s words on adultery.  However, since Christ directed his remarks to the interior dimensions of every person, it is even more vital to understand those dimensions to interpret Christ’s teachings properly.  The Pope writes that “Christ shifts the essence of the problem [of adultery] to another dimension, when he says: ‘Every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ (According to ancient translations: ‘has already made her an adultress in his heart,’ a formula which seems to be more exact). In this way, Christ appeals to the interior man.”[2]  Since Christ is talking about an internal act, “looking lustfully,” He is referencing what goes on inside the human person.  But what goes on inside all of us is partly the result of sin. Adam and Eve’s first experiences of themselves after sin will reveal this internal state of all of us. These experiences will reveal the internal state of what the Pope calls, “historical man,” i.e., all human beings who suffer the effects of original sin (except for Mary and Christ who were free from sin).  Therefore, the study of Adam and Eve’s nakedness after sin helps us to interpret Christ’s teachings.

The experiences of nakedness before and after sin are can be examined using the same tools as were used on the experiences of original solitude and unity.  The experiences of nakedness are recorded subjectively in the second and third chapters of Genesis.  The Pope does this analysis in the first ten addresses of the second cycle of the Theology of the Body (nos. 24-33). There follows a detailed analysis of Christ’s words about adultery, to look with lust, and adultery in the heart (nos. 34-43). This is followed by a few talks delineating Christ’s words from the ancient Manichean point of view and from the interpretation of the modern “masters of suspicion” who have a very pessimistic view of human nature (nos. 44-46). (It might seem from Christ words about “adultery in the heart” that he was attacking the human body and accusing everyone rather than holding out the hope of acting as we were created to act, i.e., to love in a self-giving way.)  A reflection on ethics and eroticism leads the Pope to what he calls the “redemption of the body” (nos. 47-48). To participate in this “redemption of the body,” we all need to make an effort, with the help of Christ, to gain purity (nos. 49-59). This purity can be helped if the art world and the media cooperate. The second cycle of the Theology of the Body concludes with four addresses on the topic of the reproduction of the human body in art and the media (nos. 60-63.)

Using the tools of phenomenology, the Pope examines Adam and Eve’s experiences of nakedness in the first ten addresses of the second cycle of the Theology of the Body series. However, the remainder of the addresses in this second cycle are not a phenomenological analysis of experiential data as was the entire first cycle of the Theology of the Body.  A large section is devoted to understanding exactly what Christ was trying to say (nos. 34-43, and even 44-46) and showing that Christ’s gentle teaching does not injure true spontaneous love (nos. 47-48). The remainder of the talks in this cycle show that Christ’s teaching is possible through the redemption of the body (which He offers all of us) and a modest effort on our part to achieve purity (nos. 49-59 and even 60-63).

In this second cycle of the Theology of the Body, the Pope relies heavily on the principle that every “historical man” has common experiences. These common experiences known by every one of us are clarified through Revelation, i.e., through the Word, who is Christ. Christ “who knows what is in every man”[3] clarifies the common experience of sinful man. He can do this because He is God the Son Who reveals the mystery of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in and through His visible humanity.  In revealing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Christ reveals God.  In revealing God, He shows every single person (who is created in the image and likeness of God) who he or she is and how he or she should act. Christ “reveals man to man himself”[4] because as God He shows every human person (who is an image of God) who he or she is and how he or she should act. So, Christ knows what is “in man.”  Therefore, his words touching on the deepest experiences of historical man clarify and explain those experiences. They are essential to the theology of the body.

In this chapter, we will discuss the analysis of the experiences of nakedness (nos. 24-33) and the examination of the words of Christ on adultery and adultery in the heart (nos. 34-46.) In the following chapter, the remainder of the second cycle will be considered (nos. 47-63).

I. Adam & Eve's Experiences of Nakedness

Before Adam and Eve sinned, before the Fall (as it is known to theology), they were naked but not ashamed.[5] After they sinned, “The eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.”[6]  They then hid from God who they heard walking in the garden during the cool part of the day.

There are then two distinct results of sin reported in Genesis. First, they cover themselves. Second, they are fearful of God. In fact, Adam even tells God that “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself."[7] Both of these results of sin mark significant changes.  Before the Fall, they were naked and were not ashamed, i.e., they did not cover themselves.  Further, before the Fall, there was an easy and familiar relationship with God. Adam receives God’s command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil without protest or reaction.[9]

When we are ashamed, fear is almost always present. But Adam and Eve’s fear was not only connected with their shame at their physical nakedness. “In all this, ‘nakedness’ has not solely a literal meaning, it does not refer only to the body. . . . Actually, through ‘nakedness,’ there is manifested man deprived of participation in the Gift, man alienated from that Love which had been the source of the original gift . . .   .”[9]

Adam and Eve sinned and experienced shame and fear. This shame and fear registered in their consciousness and is recorded on the pages of Genesis. But the true cause of Adam and Eve’s shame and fear transcends merely their physical nakedness. In fact, John Paul asks rhetorically, “What state of consciousness can be manifested in the words: ‘I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself’.”[10]

John Paul answers his own question by reminding his readers that before sin, Adam was able to know himself as a person in and through his human body.  Adam’s solitude, his awareness that no other living body was like his own (until Eve was created), was the source of Adam’s knowledge that he was different than the animals, that he was a person. After the creation of Eve, the awareness of both Adam and Eve that their bodies were created so that they could join with one another was the source of their mutual understanding that they were each created for love, i.e., that they were created to love each other as God loved them. Through their consciousness of human solitude (as distinguished from the animals) and of unity, Adam and Eve came to know themselves as persons created for love. This knowledge came from Adam and Eve’s experiences of their own bodies—first knowing that their bodies were radically different from those of the animals and then knowing that their bodies as masculine and feminine were created for one another.

With Adam and Eve’s experience of nakedness after sin, an experience also founded on the body, their awareness of their own bodies was radically different from their previous awareness of their bodies. This altered consciousness of their own bodies testifies to a radical change in themselves. Adam and Eve’s experience of shame and fear is not merely shame and fear at their physical nakedness but it is shame and fear rooted in their new way of existing in the world—a way not intended for them by God “from the beginning.”

Adam and Eve were constituted as persons with bodies and asked to subdue the earth.  The words of Adam, “I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself,” seem “to express the awareness of being defenseless, and the sense of insecurity of his bodily structure before the process of nature.”[11] In other words, before sin Adam and Eve were “in charge.” As persons, they were not subject to the natural processes, but nature was supposed to be subject to them.  After sin, the original order had been reversed. Adam and Eve’s fear after sin was the natural reaction to their new situation: fear at what the processes of nature might do to them.

However, Adam and Eve’s consciousness of their shame and fear points to something more than a reversal of the original order of nature. “They sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.”  They hid their own bodies “to remove from man’s sight what is the visible sign of femininity, and from the woman’s sight what is the visible sign of masculinity.”[12]  In seeing one another naked after sin, they reacted in way that was contrary to their value systems.  They each knew that the other was to be cherished and loved. However, after sin and observing each other without clothes, they experienced a reaction in the presence of the other which was contrary to the proper attitude they knew they should have towards one another. They were ashamed because their physical reactions spoke a language: the language of taking and using in a sexual way. This contrasted with the language of giving and receiving which their bodies had always previously (before sin) spoken.  In short, they experienced lust and yet, they still knew that they should love, rather than use one another.  Acting contrary to their value system, they were ashamed of themselves.  They were also fearful that acting in this way would result in the loss of a value: the loss of the gift of the other because the other would be deeply offended at being considered an object of use.  The loss of the other would have left  both of them utterly alone and abandoned.  Shame and fear at the reversal of the order of nature and at their reactions at seeing each other without clothes both testify to an different awareness or their bodies.

The Pope writes that Adam and Eve’s shame “reveals a specific difficulty of perceiving the human essentiality of one’s own body.”[13]  In a striking formulation of his thesis, the Pope writes that Adam and Eve’s experiences of their own bodies after sin reveals “a constitutive break within the human person, almost a rupture of man’s original spiritual and somatic unity. He realizes for the first time that his body has ceased drawing upon the power of the spirit . . .  . His original shame bears within it the signs of a specific humiliation mediated by his body.”[14]  There is a fundamental change in the body/spirit unity of the human person.  Adam and Eve know that this should not be and are ashamed of themselves because of the lack of unity within themselves. They are also ashamed at the results of this lack of unity: the lust they sometimes feel in the presence of the other and the lack of control over the natural order.  Fear accompanies this shame because they know they are responsible (because of their own sin) for not having the  body/spirit unity they previously had. This fear and shame testifies to what John Paul calls “an uneasiness of conscience”[15] They are also fearful of how nature might harm them and fearful of losing the other: Adam losing Eve and Eve losing Adam.

The “constitutive break within the human person” was a loss of self-mastery and self-control.  After sin, Adam and Eve did not control their own bodies “in the same way, with equal simplicity and ‘naturalness,’ as the man of original innocence did. The structure of self-mastery essential for the person, is, in a way, shaken to the very foundations in him.”[16] If a person is constituted primarily by the powers of mind and will, of thinking and choosing, then in human persons, since the human body is to express and reveal the person, the mind and will must be the dominant powers.  The mind and will must have a mastery and a control over the body.  When God created Adam and Eve, they enjoyed this self-mastery. Their minds and wills had the capability of orchestrating their bodily powers so that their bodies infallibly and always expressed what they knew and chose. The break in the human person after sin lies precisely in the lack of control the mind and will have over the body.

We all have experiences of this “break” in ourselves.  We all know that we might decide to eat only a few potato chips, or one candy bar, and we often find ourselves eating more then we had decided. We often hear ourselves say, “I changed my mind.” What happened was that the desires of the body stimulated by the food, pressed the mind and the will. Weakened as they are by original sin, the mind and will often “give in.” We think to ourselves, “One more won’t hurt me,” and then choose in our wills to eat another one. We alter our choice—we change our minds—because of the press of the bodily desires on our minds and wills. The author of the Epistle to the Romans references the lack of self-mastery in all of us (except the Blessed Virgin and Christ) when he writes that “I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”[17] This scenario did not happen to Adam and Eve before sin because they enjoyed a self-mastery of themselves. Their minds and wills always orchestrated their bodily powers, not the other way around.

Adam and Eve’s shame after sin points to a reality which shakes “the very foundations of their existence.”[18]  But it is not just their existence which is shaken to the foundations. It is every human being who is the heir of Adam and Eve’s sin—the entire human race except for Mary and Christ. We all suffer the “constitutive break within the human person.” We all lack the self-mastery which we are supposed to have.  Adam and Eve’s awareness of their experiences  reveals to them what has happened to them. But since we all share in the effects of original sin, their awareness of their experiences recorded in the pages of Genesis also reveals to us our own situation.  John Paul’s examination of Adam and Eve’s consciousness is not merely an exercise in biblical analysis. It is undertaken to illuminate the situation of every single human person subject to original sin and its effects.

We experience the “constitutive break” within ourselves which leads us away from acting as we should. We experience the hostility of nature and with that comes fear, at least at times, that the forces of nature will harm us. (Since we are so accustomed to the reversal of the original order of the human relationship to nature, most of us are probably not regularly “ashamed” of this. Nevertheless, there are occasions when we do feel a certain shame-like frustration when we are unable to orchestrate nature the way we wish, e.g., when the weather is ugly for a planned outdoor party.)  We certainly experience the lust of the flesh in sexual ways and the fear which accompanies this lust.

The “constitutive break within the human person,” the result of original sin, has marred our ability to love as we should, i.e., to give ourselves selflessly in and through our bodies in marriage. As the Pope writes, after sin, the capacity to express authentic love in and through the human body “has been shattered.” It is as if the human body “in its masculinity and femininity no longer constituted the ‘trustworthy’ substratum of the communion of persons, as if its original function were ‘called in question’ in the consciousness of man and woman.”[19]

It is important to note that the Pope writes that it is in the consciousness of Adam and Eve that the original meaning of the body is called into question.  The experience of lust has led Adam and Eve to the self-awareness that their bodies are now different, that their bodies speak a different and an inappropriate language, i.e., inappropriate to human dignity.  This new self-awareness changes their appreciation of their own bodies and in turn changes the way they relate to one another in and through their bodies.  Before sin, they were aware that their bodies as masculine and feminine were created so that they could give themselves to each other.  After sin, this self-awareness of masculinity and femininity changed. The Pope teaches that they saw their physical differences, not as a sign and means for their mutual self-donation to one another, but rather as a sign and means of opposition, of confrontation.  The Pope goes so far as to say that the sexual differences between Adam and Eve now became an “obstacle” in the personal relationship between man and woman.

This is obvious if we understand what the original unity of man and woman was and what sin did. In original unity before sin, Adam and Eve each expressed through their bodies and total self-donation to the other. They gave themselves freely and without reservation almost without thinking about it. With nothing held back and with nothing “taken” from the other.  Theirs was pure gift. After sin, lust caused them to see each other as purely sexual beings. They saw in each other the chance to benefit (through sexual pleasure) from the other. This changed how they each appreciated their own bodies and they each thought of the other’s body. In turn, their consciousness of the other as a means of gratification changed their self-gift into something different. The communion of persons, founded on gift and self-donation, no longer existed because they no longer loved each other, i.e., no longer perceived the other as a gift—but rather perceived the other as an object of self-gratification, as some “thing” to be taken. This perception destroyed their communion of persons and turned their relationship into something unworthy of the human person. In addition to seeing each other as objects to be taken,  each of them now was threatened by the other because to be “taken” is offensive to the human person. Even after sin, Adam and Eve retained some semblance of their own dignity and value. They knew that they were not mere things to be taken by another. To be perceived as a thing to be taken created a lack of trust between them. As the Pope writes, “Hence the necessity of hiding before the ‘other’ with one’s own body, with what determines one’s own femininity-masculinity. This necessity proves the fundamental lack of trust, which in itself, indicates the collapse of the original relationship ‘of communion’.”[20]

In addition to their sense of self-worth (through which they knew that they should not be regarded as mere objects to be “taken”), Adam and Eve after sin retained a longing to achieve the unity which they had experienced in the state of original innocence. Along with their sense of their own self-worth they retained the almost unquenchable and deep-seated longing for a loving union.  So, the woman’s desire will be for her husband,[21] i.e., she will long for that unity which is now almost unachievable, the unity which existed in the state of original innocence.  The husband will also long to receive his wife and in turn give himself to her. But this longing will often turn to domination. The husband will often “take” her as an object and even settle for this “taking” as a counterfeit, a very poor substitute, for receiving her loving self-donation. She, in turn, sometimes will allow herself to be taken, as a counterfeit of true love.  But if he takes her as a thing, then in the mystery of their union, he also becomes an object for her.  “If man in his relationship with woman considers her only as an object to gain possession of and not as a gift, he condemns himself thereby to become also for her only an object of appropriation, and not a gift.” [22]Their union is reduced to one unworthy of human personhood!

In the state of innocence, Adam and Eve knew that they were to make a self-donation to one another because they understood that their bodies were the sign and the means of that gift. They understood the nuptial meaning of their bodies. This original awareness changed with sin and lust.  Lust limits “the nuptial meaning of the body itself, in which man and woman participated in the state of original innocence. When we speak of the nuptial meaning of the body, we refer in the first place to the full awareness of the human being, but we also include all actual experience of the body in its masculinity and femininity, and, in any case, the constant predisposition to this experience.”[23]  Their awareness of themselves and each of their acts of union were different after sin. The meaning of their bodies has changed for them and thus the nuptial meaning of the body is limited. It has been “driven back to another plane,”[24] i.e., from the plane of self-gift to the plane to the plane of possession. “The human body in its masculinity and femininity has almost lost the capacity of expressing” love.[25]

Even so, “the nuptial meaning of the body has not become completely suffocated by concupiscence, but only habitually threatened.”[26] As the Pope writes, the human heart has become the focal point of the struggle between love and lust.  Lust interferes with love because it inhibits the freedom necessary to love.  If a person is “compelled” by the desires of the flesh, by lust, towards a physical union with another person (even one’s spouse), this is hardly love because love is a completely free self-donation, chosen by the person in his or her free will.  “Concupiscence entails the loss of the interior freedom of the gift. The [unlimited] nuptial meaning of the body is connected precisely with this freedom.”[27]  Love is still possible if a person can freely choose to make a self-donation to the one loved.  But this requires control or self-mastery which is difficult. Precisely it is this self-mastery which Christ has in mind in his comments regarding lust.

II. Christ's Appeal to the Human Heart

Christ’s words: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart:”[28] are addressed to “historical” man, to human  beings subject to the “constitutive break within the human person” caused by sin.  Further, these words of Christ, with their emphasis and “adultery in the heart,” are an appeal to the interior man. “Adultery in the heart” is an interior act. Christ shifts the focus of morality from external laws and precepts to the source of human acts, to the interior man.  Christ is asking each one of us to internalize his teaching so that proper behavior springs from within each of us. We do not commit adultery not just because there is a law against it, but because the value (the norm) of not committing adultery springs from within each of is, i.e., from the internal perception that to commit adultery is to violate a deeply held personal appreciation of the dignity of the human person. “A living morality, in the existential sense, is not formed only by the norms that invest the form of the commandments, precepts, and prohibitions, as in the case of ‘you shall not commit adultery.’ The morality in which there is realized the very meaning of being a man . . . is formed in the interior perception of values, from which there springs duty as the expression of conscience, as the response of one’s own personal ‘ego’.”[29]

The paradox here is obvious.  Christ is addressing human beings wounded by the “constitutive break” within them. As John Paul has explained, this “break” occurred “in” each of us and is perceived interiorly.  Christ addresses the interior person and teaches that this “break” within each of us must be overcome by interiorly accepting norms of behavior appropriate to the state of original innocence and then acting on those norms.  Not only does Christ identify the problem with absolute accuracy, he identifies precisely where the problem is: in the interior acceptance of the situation caused by sin, i.e., in accepting the notion that it is proper to live the nuptial meaning of the body only in a limited way.

 In fact, this notion was enshrined in law in the Old Testament. When the Pharisees questioned Christ about the provisions of divorce in the law of Moses, Christ referred to the Pharisees’s “hardness of heart. [30]  This “hardness of heart” is precisely the notion that the effects of sin, the “break” within the human person, means that it is not necessary to strive to act according to the values known through the original experiences in the state of innocence. In the reference to “hardness of heart,” Christ “accuses, so to speak, the whole ‘interior subject’ who is responsible for the distortion of the [Old Testament] Law.”[31] Not only were individuals permitting themselves to accept values inconsistent with the full truth of human dignity (revealed in the original experiences in the state of innocence), but these limited values were actually written into the law of whole societies! Not acquiescing in this situation, Christ asks the Pharisees (and us) to overcome the “break” within us, to re-interiorize  the values present in the state of original innocence, and then live accordingly.

Still, it is necessary to be accurate about what Christ is asking us to do. In the Sermon on the Mount, the text on adultery has three parts.  First, there is adultery, itself. Second, there is the element of “looking with lust.”  Third, there is “adultery in the heart.”  The Pope analyzes each of these phrases in light of the Old Testament tradition (the tradition known to Christ’s hearers) and in light of the “constitutive break within the human person.”

In the Jewish law of the Old Testament, adultery consisted of  possessing another man’s wife. David was guilty of adultery with Bathsheba because Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite. David had many wives, but polygamy was not contrary to the law.[32]

Adultery, the “violation of man’s right of possession regarding each woman who may be his own legal wife (usually one among many),” was against the law.[33] On the other hand, the prophets of the Old Testament use the spousal analogy to explain the relationship between the Chosen People and God. The prophets describe the Chosen People as committing adultery against God, as a wife might commit adultery by leaving her husband and clinging to another, when they abandon God and worship the false gods of their neighbors. This is adultery not because God “possesses” the Chosen People, but because they have abandoned their love for God, i.e., they have abandoned their “communion” with God to which they are committed by the oft-repeated Old Testament covenants between God and His people.  Both the legal and the prophetic traditions of the Old Testament would have been known to the members of Christ’s audience. However, the prophetic concept of the communion of two people in marriage (as illustrated by the conceit of God’s marriage to the Chosen People) is much closer to the content of Christ’s teaching.  According to the prophets, “Adultery is a sin because it constitutes the breakdown of the personal covenant between the man and the woman.”[34]  This is the sense in which Christ speaks of adultery in his famous statement: “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”[35]

When Christ speaks about “looking with lust,” he is speaking “in the context of human experience.”[36] He is referencing “the experience and the conscience of the man of every time and place”[37] because every single human being after Adam and Eve (except, of course, for Mary and Christ) carries with him or her the original experiences, including that of nakedness after sin. We all have experienced what Adam and Eve experienced when they were naked before one another and were ashamed. Christ does not need to explain lust because it is part of all of our lives and because, for his listeners, descriptions are not lacking in the Old Testament.

In an incredibly clear statement (one that emphasizes how everything we experience is “charged” with a positive or negative value), the Pope observes that lust “indicates an experience of value to the body, in which its ‘nuptial’ significance ceases to be that, just because of concupiscience.”[38]  In looking lustfully, the body of the other is “charged” with a value which eliminates its true value in the experience of the one looking lustfully.  Through the “look,” the body of the other person suffers the loss (in the mind of the one looking) of its matrimonial significance. The nuptial meaning of the other’s body is separated from that person.  Lust reduces the value of the other person to only one characteristic, the sexual one.  The mutual attraction between the masculine and the feminine, established by God when he created us male and female, is founded on the mystery of human personhood. It is founded on a whole host of personal characteristics and values as expressed by each individual person either through his masculinity or her femininity. The lustful look reduces the mutual attraction to one value: sex.  “It is one thing to be conscious that the value of sex is a part of all the rich storehouse of values with which the female appears to the man.  It is another to reduce all the personal riches of femininity to that single value.”[39]  This reduction of the other is what it means to “look with lust.” Christ equates this “looking” to “adultery in the heart.”

But, as John Paul notes, this is not “in the heart” until there is a choice, a decision, to embrace this reduction of the other person to one value.  With that choice, that decision, the individual who “looks with lust” has decided that the object of his look exists in a different way for him.  He has subjectively embraced an altered reality (altered from the way things actually are). This decision becomes part of who he is.  It shapes him into existing in a certain altered relationship with the one who is the object of his look.  He has shaped or determined himself in a certain way by this decision and he has, in his mind, altered the way the object of his look exists.

All this rests on the principle, oft repeated in the Pope’s works, that we become what we do.  By repeatedly doing certain things, we come what we do.  Those who play the piano, gradually shape themselves into piano players (although, not necessarily accomplished piano players). Similarly, those who cook, become cooks.  Our decisions and choices determine who we are.  Free will allows us to make choices which, in turn, allows us to determine who we are.  When we make decisions contrary to reality, we shape ourselves into people who live in a world determined by ourselves, not by the way things are. When we look lustfully, we are trying to re-create the world in our own image, i.e., we are trying to change the way others exist and the way we exist in relation to them. This, then, is “adultery in the heart.”

In order to make this point as clear as possible, the Pope devotes some lines to the possibility of a husband looking at his wife in a lustful way, or vice-versa.  This is also “adultery in the heart.”  Although adultery is defined legally as participating in a sexual union with someone who is not one’s spouse, “adultery in the heart,” as defined by Christ, is to reduce another to a mere object that satisfies one’s desire, namely lust.  In this sense, husbands and wives can commit adultery with one another.  When they do, they alter the fundamental significance of each other and the way they both exist for one another. This alteration of their true significance, or, as the Pope has put it, the separation of the nuptial meaning of their bodies from their persons, has devastating consequences for all of humanity because  “the future of humanity passes by way of the family.”[40] “Human life, by its nature, is ‘coeducative’ and its dignity, its balance, depend at every moment of history and at every point of geographical longitude and latitude, on ‘who’ she will be for him, and he for her.”[41] If human persons do not see the full dignity and value of each other, especially in the heart of the family, then the worth and value of each one of us, and of all future generations is threatened.  “Adultery in the heart,” the reduction, with a look, of the other to an object for me, distorting the actual way the other exists in reality, has profound consequences which threaten the very existence of humanity on the earth.  Christ warns us of this danger because he knows “what was in man.”[42]

III. Manicheans and the Masters of Suspicion

Christ’s warning could be interpreted as an accusation against all “historical” men and women, i.e., all men and women effected by original sin. The Pope specifically asks this question: “Is the heart accused?” by Christ’s words.[43]  The Pope also asks himself what the person who accepts Christ’s words should do; how should such a person act. In other words, how are Christ’s words binding on the interior person, on the hearts of each of us, and then how are these interior attitudes of the heart translated into appropriate action.

Since each of us is a completely free agent, we each act according to our own insights and values.  Christ’s words need to be interiorized and become part of the value system of each one of us. Then, we strive to act according to those values.  This is what John Paul II calls the process of the “interpenetration of ethos [the values Christ taught] and praxis [our acts which follow on the interiorization of Christ’s teachings].[44]  This process, which continually goes on in the hearts of each one of us as we  enter into a dialogue with Christ and face different situations almost on a daily basis, is for the most part private and hidden within each person.  Still, intellectuals have written about their reaction to Christ’s words. They have made public their encounter and dialogue with Christ. The Pope calls these reflections the echo of Christ’s words.

One such echo was the Manichean interpretation which held that it was not just lust which was condemned, but the object of lust, the human body in its masculinity and femininity.  It is not the lustful look which is evil revealing an attitude of the heart, it is the object of the lustful look.  The evil was transferred in the Manichean view from the interior attitude to the object looked at.  This transference is common in many areas of human endeavor.  For example, some have suggested that if people drink alcoholic beverages to excess, it is not those who drink who are committing an evil. Rather, the alcoholic beverages themselves are evil.  Similarly, some would say that guns are evil in themselves because they are used to kill people.  In this view, it is not the one who kills who is acting improperly, it is the object, the weapon, he or she uses which is evil: the gun.  All these are examples of transferring the evil of an act from within a person to the exterior object. In the case of the Manichean interpretation of Christ’s words, it is the human body itself which is evil.  As the Pope writes, this is a terrible distortion of Christ’s meaning.

Christ’s words on adultery and adultery in the heart, far from being a condemnation of the body, are “the affirmation of the body as an element which, together with the spirit, determines man’s ontological subjectivity and shares in his dignity as a person.”[45]  A Manichean attitude would lead to a “annihilation of the body,”[46] as an evil.  Christ is appealing to all people to realize the incredible value and dignity of the human body as the expression of the human person and the means of expressing a profound personal union of love.  In the “Manichean mentality, the body and sexuality constitute, so to speak, an anti-value,” for Christianity, on the contrary, they remain a ‘value not sufficiently appreciated’.”[47]

The Pope goes on to remark that not only are Christ words not a condemnation of the body, they are not even a condemnation of the human heart. Rather, Christ is appealing to the human heart. He is asking each of us not to submit to the temptations of lust. “The appeal to master the lust of the flesh springs precisely from the affirmation of the personal dignity of the body and of sex, and serves only this dignity.”[48]

John Paul next argues that Christ’s words are indeed an appeal and not an accusation of the human heart as in the case of  those he calls the “masters of suspicion:” Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche.  These three men discovered, argues John Paul, the triple forms of lust mentioned in Scripture.  Freud discovered in humanity the lust of the flesh.  Marx discovered what the Bible calls the lust of the eyes, the lust for wealth and things.  Nietzsche discovered in humanity what the Bible calls the pride of life, the lust to make oneself into an all-powerful being. It is an excessive self-love which shuts out everyone else.  Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche accused humanity of these forms of lust, but offered no solution, no way to overcome these weaknesses. Thus, we are left with the accusation and nothing else.

Christ also identifies these forms of lust, particularly that of the lust of the flesh. But He does not stop with the accusation. At the same time that He warns us not to look lustfully, He appeals to each of us to live in accordance with the original plan manifested so wondrously in Genesis before sin. He calls us to re-affirm the dignity of the human body in the miraculous differences of masculinity and femininity.  Christ makes this appeal, and it is an effective one, because simultaneously with the appeal, Christ gives us the means of answering the appeal: the Redemption and the grace flowing from it.

“Redemption is a truth, a reality, in the name of which man must feel called, and ‘called with efficacy’.” Called to what? Called “to rediscover, nay more, to realize the nuptial meaning of the body and to express in this way the interior freedom of the gift.”[49]

No better conclusion to this article could be given than the words of Pope John Paul II as the conclusion of his forty-sixth address in the Theology of the Body series

The appeal contained in Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount cannot be an act detached from the context of concrete existence. It always means—though only in the dimension of the act to which it refers—the rediscovery of THE MEANING OF THE WHOLE OF EXISTENCE, OF THE MEANING OF LIFE, in which there is contained also that meaning of the body which here we call ‘nuptial.’ . . .  These words [Christ’s words] reveal not only another ethos, but also another vision of man’s possibilities.  It is important that he, precisely in his ‘heart,’ should not only feel irrevocably accused and given as prey to the lust of the flesh, but that he should feel forcefully called in this same heart. Called precisely to that supreme value that is love. Called as a person in the truth of his masculinity and femininity, in the truth of the body. Called in that truth which has been his heritage ‘from the beginning,’ the heritage of his heart, which is deeper than the sinfulness inherited, deeper than lust in its three forms. The words of Christ, set in the whole reality of creation and redemption, reactivate that deeper heritage and give it real power in man’s life. [50]

[1] See Matthew 5:27-28.

[2] See See no. 24, Theology of the Body, April 16, 1980: "Christ Appeals to Man’s Heart," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 16.

[3] See no. 34, Theology of the Body, August 6, 1980: "Sermon on the Mount to the Men of Our Day," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 32. 

[4] See John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis,  The Redeemer of Man, L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 12, no. 12, (March 19, 1979), no. 8.

[5] See Genesis 2:25. 

[6] See Genesis 3:7. 

[7] See Genesis 3:10. 

[8] See Genesis 2:16-17. 

[9] See no. 27, Theology of the Body, May 14, 1980: "Real Significance of Original Nakedness," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 20. 

[10] See no. 27, Theology of the Body, May 14, 1980: "Real Significance of Original Nakedness," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 20.

[11] See no. 27, Theology of the Body, May 14, 1980: "Real Significance of Original Nakedness," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 20.

[12] See no. 28, Theology of the Body, May 28, 1980: "A Fundamenal Disquiet In All Human Existence," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 22. 

[13] See no. 28, Theology of the Body, May 28, 1980: "A Fundamenal Disquiet In All Human Existence," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 22. 

[14] See no. 28, Theology of the Body, May 28, 1980: "A Fundamenal Disquiet In All Human Existence," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 22.

[15] See no. 28, Theology of the Body, May 28, 1980: "A Fundamenal Disquiet In All Human Existence," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 22. 

[16] See no. 28, Theology of the Body, May 28, 1980: "A Fundamenal Disquiet In All Human Existence," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 22. 

[17] See Romans 7:23.

[18] See no. 27, Theology of the Body, May 14, 1980: "Real Significance of Original Nakedness," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 20. 

[19] See no. 29, Theology of the Body, June 4, 1980: "Relationship of Lust to Communion of Persons," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 23.

[20] See no. 29, Theology of the Body, June 4, 1980: "Relationship of Lust to Communion of Persons," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 23. 

[21] See Genesis 3:16. 

[22] See no. 33, Theology of the Body, July July 30, 1980: "Opposition in the Human Heart Between the Spirit and the Body" L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 31.  

[23]See no. 31, Theology of the Body, June 25, 1980: "Lust Limits the Nuptial Meaning of the Body," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 26.

[24] See no. 32, Theology of the Body, July 23, 1980: "The ‘Heart" A Battlefield Between Love and Lust" L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 30.

[25] See no. 32, Theology of the Body, July 23, 1980: "The ‘Heart" A Battlefield Between Love and Lust" L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 30.

[26] See no. 32, Theology of the Body, July 23, 1980: "The ‘Heart" A Battlefield Between Love and Lust" L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 30.

[27] See no. 32, Theology of the Body, July 23, 1980: "The ‘Heart" A Battlefield Between Love and Lust" L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 30.

[28] See Matthew 5:27-28.

[29] See no. 24, Theology of the Body, April 16, 1980: "Christ Appeals to Man’s Heart" L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 16.

[30] See Matthew 19:3-8.

[31] See no. 34, Theology of the Body, August 6, 1980: "Sermon on the Mount to the Men of our Day,"L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 32. 

[32] See 2 Samuel 11:1-27.

[33] See no. 35, Theology of the Body, August 13, 1980: "Content of Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, nos. 33-34. 

[34] See no. 37, Theology of the Body, August 27, 1980: "Adultery: A Breakdown of the Personal Covenant," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 35.

[35] See Matthew 5:28. 

[36] See no. 38, Theology of the Body, September 3, 1980: "Meaning of Adultery Transferred From the Body to the Heart," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 36. 

[37] See no. 38, Theology of the Body, September 3, 1980: "Meaning of Adultery Transferred From the Body to the Heart," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 36. 

[38] See no. 39, Theology of the Body, September 10, 1980: "Concupiscence as a Separation From Matrimonial Significance of the Body," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 37. 

[39] See no. 40, Theology of the Body, September 17, 1980: "Mutual Attraction Differs From Lust," L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 38. 

[40] See John Paul II, The Apostolic Exhortation on the Family, Familiaris Consortio, no. 86.

[41] See no. 43, Theology of the Body, October 8, 1980: "Interpreting the Concept of Concupiscence" L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 41. 

[42] See no. 43, Theology of the Body, October 8, 1980: "Interpreting the Concept of Concupiscence" L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 41. 

[43] See no. 44, Theology of the Body, October 15, 1980: "Gospel Values and Duties of the Human Heart" L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 42. 

[44] See no. 44, Theology of the Body, October 15, 1980: "Gospel Values and Duties of the Human Heart" L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 42. 

[45] See no. 45, Theology of the Body, October 22, 1980: "Realization of the Body According to the Plan of the Creator" L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 43.

[46] See no. 45, Theology of the Body, October 22, 1980: "Realization of the Body According to the Plan of the Creator" L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 43. 

[47] See no. 45, Theology of the Body, October 22, 1980: "Realization of the Body According to the Plan of the Creator" L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 43. 

[48] See no. 46, Theology of the Body, October 29, 1980: "Power of Redeeming Completes Power of Creating" L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 44. 

[49] See no. 46, Theology of the Body, October 29, 1980: "Power of Redeeming Completes Power of Creating" L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 44. 

[50] See no. 46, Theology of the Body, October 29, 1980: "Power of Redeeming Completes Power of Creating" L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), vol. 13, no. 44. 

March 5th, 2003 --- Fr. Richard Hogan