Christ Calls Us to Rediscover the Living Forms of the New Man

Author: Pope John Paul II

Christ Calls Us to Rediscover the Living Forms of the New Man

Pope John Paul II


On Wednesday, 3 December, the Holy Father returned to his analysis of the Sermon on the Mount in his address to thousands gathered in the Paul VI Hall.

1. At the beginning of our considerations on Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28), we saw that they contain a deep ethical and anthropological meaning. It is a question here of the passage in which Christ recalled the commandment, "You shall not commit adultery," and added, "Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." We speak of the ethical and anthropological meaning of these words, because they allude to the two closely connected dimensions of ethos and historical man. In the course of the preceding analyses, we tried to follow these two dimensions, always keeping in mind that Christ's words are addressed to the heart, that is, to the interior man. Interior man is the specific subject of the ethos of the body, with which Christ wishes to imbue the conscience and will of his listeners and disciples. It is certainly a new ethos. It is new in comparison with the ethos of the Old Testament, as we have already tried to show in more detailed analyses. It is new also with regard to the state of historical man, subsequent to original sin, that is, with regard to the man of lust. It is, therefore, a new ethos in a universal sense and significance. It is new in relation to any man, independently of any geographical and historical longitude and latitude.

Towards the redemption of the body

2. We have already called this new ethos, which emerges from the perspective of Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount, the "ethos of redemption" and, more precisely, the ethos of the redemption of the body. Here we followed St. Paul. In the Letter to the Romans he contrasts "bondage to decay" (Rom 8:21) and submission "to futility" (Rom 8:20)—in which the whole of creation has become participant owing to sin—with the desire for "the redemption of our bodies" (Rom 8:23). In this context, the Apostle spoke of the groans "of the whole creation," which "waits with eager longing..." to "be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom 8:20-21). In this way, St. Paul reveals the situation of all creation, especially that of man after sin. The aspiration which—together with the new "adoption as sons" (Rom 8:23)—strives precisely toward "the redemption of the body," is significant for this situation. The redemption of the body is presented as the end, the eschatological and mature fruit of the mystery of the redemption of man and of the world, carried out by Christ.

Perspective of redemption alone justifies

3. In what sense, therefore, can we speak of the ethos of redemption and especially of the ethos of the redemption of the body? We must recognize that in the context of the words of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28), which we have analyzed, this meaning does not yet appear in all its fullness. It will be manifested more completely when we examine other words of Christ, the ones, that is, in which he referred to the resurrection (cf. Mt 22:30; Mk 12:25; Lk 20:35-36). However, there is no doubt that also in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ spoke in the perspective of the redemption of man and of the world (and, therefore, precisely of the redemption of the body). This is the perspective of the whole Gospel, of the whole teaching, of the whole mission of Christ. The immediate context of the Sermon on the Mount indicates the law and the prophets as the historical reference point, characteristic of the People of God of the old covenant. Yet we can never forget that in Christ's teaching the fundamental reference to the question of marriage and the problem of the relations between man and woman referred to the beginning. Such a reference can be justified only by the reality of the redemption. Outside it, there would remain only the three forms of lust or that "bondage to decay," which Paul writes of (Rom 8:21). Only the perspective of the redemption justifies the reference to the "beginning," that is, the perspective of the mystery of creation in the totality of Christ's teaching on the problems of marriage, man and woman and their mutual relationship. The words of Matthew 5:27-28 are set, in a word, in the same theological perspective.

Rediscovering what is truly human

4. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ did not invite man to return to the state of original innocence, because humanity has irrevocably left it behind. But he called him to rediscover—on the foundation of the perennial and indestructible meanings of what is human—the living forms of the new man. In this way a link, or rather a continuity is established between the beginning and the perspective of redemption. In the ethos of the redemption of the body, the original ethos of creation will have to be taken up again. Christ did not change the law, but confirmed the commandment, "You shall not commit adultery." At the same time, he led the intellect and the heart of listeners toward that "fullness of justice," willed by God the Creator and legislator, that this commandment contains. This fullness is discovered, first with an interior view of the heart, and then with an adequate way of being and acting. The form of the new man can emerge from this way of being and acting, to the extent to which the ethos of the redemption of the body dominates the lust of the flesh and the whole man of lust. Christ clearly indicated that the way to attain this must be the way of temperance and mastery of desires, that is, at the very root, already in the purely interior sphere ("Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully..."). The ethos of redemption contains in every area—and directly in the sphere of the lust of the flesh—the imperative of self-control, the necessity of immediate continence and of habitual temperance.

Realized through self-mastery

5. However, temperance and continence do not mean—if it may be put in this way—suspension in emptiness: neither in the emptiness of values nor in the emptiness of the subject. The ethos of redemption is realized in self-mastery, by means of temperance, that is, continence of desires. In this behavior the human heart remains bound to the value from which, through desire, it would otherwise have moved away, turning toward pure lust deprived of ethical value (as we said in the preceding analysis). In the field of the ethos of redemption, union with that value by means of an act of mastery is confirmed or re-established with an even deeper power and firmness. It is a question here of the value of the nuptial meaning of the body, of the value of a transparent sign. By means of this the Creator—together with the perennial mutual attraction of man and woman through masculinity and femininity—has written in the heart of them both the gift of communion, that is, the mysterious reality of his image and likeness. It is a question of this value in the act of self-mastery and temperance, to which Christ referred in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28).

Experiencing freedom

6. This act may give the impression of suspension "in the emptiness of the subject." It may give this impression especially when it is necessary to make up one's mind to carry it out for the first time, or, even more, when the opposite habit has been formed, when man is accustomed to yield to the lust of the flesh. However, even the first time, and all the more so if he then acquires the capacity, man already gradually experiences his own dignity. By means of temperance, he bears witness to his own self-mastery and shows that he is carrying out what is essentially personal in him. Furthermore, he gradually experiences the freedom of the gift, which in one way is the condition, and in another way is the response of the subject to the nuptial value of the human body, in its femininity and masculinity. In this way, the ethos of the redemption of the body is realized through self-mastery, through the temperance of "desires." This happens when the human heart enters an alliance with this ethos, or rather confirms it by means of its own integral subjectivity; when the deepest and yet most real possibilities and dispositions of the person are manifested; when the innermost layers of his potentiality acquire a voice, layers which the lust of the flesh would not permit to show themselves. Nor can these layers emerge when the human heart is bound in permanent suspicion, as is the case in Freudian hermeneutics. Nor can they be manifested when the Manichaean anti-value is dominant in consciousness. The ethos of redemption, on the other hand, is based on a close alliance with those layers.

Purity a requirement

7. Further reflections will give us other proofs. Concluding our analyses on Christ's significant enunciation according to Matthew 5:27-28, we see that in it the human heart is above all the object of a call and not of an accusation. At the same time, we must admit that the consciousness of sinfulness is, in historical man, not only a necessary starting point. It is also an indispensable condition of his aspiration to virtue, to purity of heart, to perfection. The ethos of the redemption of the body remains deeply rooted in the anthropological and axiological realism of revelation. Referring in this case to the heart, Christ formulated his words in the most concrete way. Man is unique and unrepeatable above all because of his heart, which decides his being from within. The category of the heart is, in a way, the equivalent of personal subjectivity. The way of appeal to purity of heart, as it was expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, is in any case a reminiscence of the original solitude, from which the man was liberated through opening to the other human being, woman. Purity of heart is explained, finally, with regard for the other subject, who is originally and perennially co-called.

Purity is a requirement of love. It is the dimension of its interior truth in man's heart.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
9 December 1980, page 19

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