The Language of the Body: Actions and Duties Forming the Spirituality of Marriage

Author: Pope John Paul II

The Language of the Body: Actions and Duties Forming the Spirituality of Marriage

Pope John Paul II


At the general audience in St Peter's Square on Wednesday morning, 4 July, Pope John Paul II continued his series of catechetical talks on the theology of human love, basing his reflections on the biblical reading from Ephesians 5:22, 24-25.

1. Today let us return to the classic text of the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians, which reveals the eternal sources of the covenant of the Father's love and at the same time the new and definitive institution of that covenant in Jesus Christ.

This text brings us to such a dimension of the language of the body that could be called mystical. It speaks of marriage as a great mystery—"This is a great mystery" (Eph 5:32). This mystery is fulfilled in the spousal union of Christ the Redeemer with the Church, and of the Church-Spouse with Christ ("I mean that it refers to Christ and the Church"— Eph 5:22), and it is definitively carried out in eschatological dimensions. Nevertheless the author of the Letter to the Ephesians does not hesitate to extend the analogy of Christ's union with the Church in spousal love, outlined in such an absolute and eschatological way, to the sacramental sign of the matrimonial pact between man and woman, who "defer to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21). He does not hesitate to extend that mystical analogy to the "language of the body," reread in the truth of the spousal love and the conjugal union of the two.

2. We must recognize the logic of this marvelous text which radically frees our way of thinking from elements of Manichaeism or from a non-personalistic consideration of the body. At the same time it brings the language of the body, contained in the sacramental sign of matrimony, nearer to the dimension of real sanctity.

The sacraments inject sanctity into the plan of man's humanity. They penetrate the soul and body, the femininity and the masculinity of the personal subject, with the power of sanctity. All of this is expressed in the language of the liturgy. It is expressed there and brought about there.

The liturgy, liturgical language, elevates the conjugal pact of man and woman, based on the language of the body reread in truth, to the dimensions of mystery. At the same time it enables that pact to be fulfilled in these dimensions through the language of the body.

It is precisely the sign of the sacrament of marriage that speaks of this. In liturgical language this sign expresses an interpersonal event, laden with intense personal content, assigned to the two "until death." The sacramental sign signifies not only the fieri (the "becoming")—the birth of the marriage—but builds its whole esse (its "being"), its duration, both the one and the other as a sacred and sacramental reality, rooted in the dimension of the covenant and grace—in the dimension of creation and redemption. In this way, the liturgical language assigns to both, to the man and to the woman, love, fidelity and conjugal honesty through the language of the body. It assigns them the unity and the indissolubility of marriage in the language of the body. It assigns them as a duty all the sacrum (holy) of the person and of the communion of persons, and likewise their femininity and masculinity—precisely in this language.

Profound experience of the holy

3. In this sense we affirm that liturgical language becomes the language of the body. This signifies a series of acts and duties which form the spirituality of marriage, its ethos. In the daily life of the spouses these acts become duties, and the duties become acts. These acts—as also the commitments—are of a spiritual nature. Nevertheless, they are expressed at the same time with the language of the body.

The author of the Letter to the Ephesians writes in this regard: "Husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies..." (Eph 5:28) ("as he loves himself"--Eph 5:33), and "the wife for her part showing respect for her husband" (Eph 5:33). Both, for that matter, are to "defer to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21).

The "language of the body," as an uninterrupted continuity of liturgical language, is expressed not only as the attraction and mutual pleasure of the Song of Songs, but also as a profound experience of the sacrum (the holy). This seems to be infused in the very masculinity and femininity through the dimension of the mysterium (mystery), the mysterium magnum of the Letter to the Ephesians. This mystery sinks its roots precisely in the beginning, that is, in the mystery of the creation of man, male and female, in the image of God, called from the beginning to be the visible sign of God's creative love.

4. So therefore that reverence for Christ and respect which the author of the Letter to the Ephesians speaks of, is none other than a spiritually mature form ofthat mutualattraction—man's attraction to femininity and woman's attraction to masculinity, which is revealed for the first time in Genesis (Gn 2:23-25). Consequently, the same attraction seems to flow like a wide stream through the verses of the Song of Songs to find, under entirely different circumstances, its concise and concentrated expression in the book of Tobit.

The spiritual maturity of this attraction is none other than the blossoming of the gift of fear—one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which St. Paul speaks of in First Thessalonians (cf. 1 Thes 4:4-7).

On the other hand, Paul's doctrine on chastity as "life according to the Spirit" (cf. Rom 8:5) allows us (especially on the basis of First Corinthians, chapter 6) to interpret that respect in a charismatic sense, that is, as a gift of the Holy Spirit.

A virtue and a gift

5. The Letter to the Ephesians, in exhorting spouses to defer to each other "out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21), and in urging them, consequently, to show respect in their conjugal relationship, seems to point out—in keeping with Pauline tradition—chastity as a virtue and as a gift.

In this way, through the virtue and still more through the gift ("life according to the Spirit") the mutual attraction of masculinity and femininity spiritually matures. Both the man and woman, getting away from concupiscence, find the proper dimension of the freedom of the gift, united to femininity and masculinity in the true spousal significance of the body.

Thus liturgical language, that is, the language of the sacrament and of the mysterium, becomes in their life and in their living together the language of the body in a depth, simplicity and beauty hitherto altogether unknown.

Conjugal life becomes liturgical

6. This seems to be the integral significance of the sacramental sign of marriage. In that sign—through the language of the body—man and woman encounter the great mystery. This is in order to transfer the light of that mystery—the light of truth and beauty, expressed in liturgical language—to the language of the body, that is, to the language of the practice of love, fidelity, and conjugal honesty, to the ethos rooted in the redemption of the body (cf. Rom 8:23). In this way, conjugal life becomes in a certain sense liturgical.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
9 July 1984, page 2

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