Language of the Body Strengthens the Marriage Covenant

Author: Pope John Paul II

Language of the Body Strengthens the Marriage Covenant

Pope John Paul II


At the general audience of Wednesday, 26 January, in the Paul VI Hall, the Holy Father delivered the following address:

1. The sign of marriage as a sacrament of the Church is constituted each time according to that dimension which is proper to it from the "beginning." At the same time it is constituted on the foundation of the spousal love of Christ and of the Church as the unique and unrepeatable expression of the covenant between "this" man and "this" woman. They are the ministers of marriage as a sacrament of their vocation and their life. In saying that the sign of marriage as a sacrament of the Church is constituted on the basis of the language of the body, we are using analogy (the analogy of attribution), which we have sought to clarify previously. It is obvious that the body as such does not "speak," but man speaks, rereading that which requires to be expressed precisely on the basis of the "body," of the masculinity and femininity of the personal subject, indeed, on the basis of what can be expressed by man only by means of the body.

In this sense man—male or female—does not merely speak with the language of the body. But in a certain sense he permits the body to speak "for him" and "on his behalf," I would say, in his name and with his personal authority. In this way even the concept of the "prophetism of the body" seems to be well founded. The prophet spoke "for" and "on behalf of"—in the name and with the authority of a person.

2. The newlywed spouses are aware of it when in contracting marriage they institute its visible sign. In the perspective of life in common and of the conjugal vocation, that initial sign, the original sign of marriage as a sacrament of the Church, will be continually completed by the "prophetism of the body." The spouses' bodies will speak "for" and "on behalf of" each of them. They will speak in the name of and with the authority of the person, of each of the persons, carrying out the conjugal dialogue proper to their vocation and based on the language of the body, reread in due course opportunely and continually—and it is necessary that it be reread in truth! The spouses are called to form their life and their living together as a communion of persons on the basis of that language. Granted that there corresponds to the language a complexus of meaning, the spouses—by means of their conduct and comportment, by means of their actions and gestures ("gestures of tenderness"—cf. Gaudium et Spes 49)—are called to become the authors of such meanings of the "language of the body." Consequently, love, fidelity, conjugal uprightness and that union which remains indissoluble until death are constructed and continually deepened.

3. The sign of marriage as a sacrament of the Church is formed precisely by those meanings which the spouses are the authors of. All these meanings are initiated and in a certain sense "programmed" in a synthetic manner in the conjugal consent for the purpose of constructing later—in a more analytical way, day by day—the same sign, identifying oneself with it in the dimension of the whole of life. There is an organic bond between rereading in truth the integral significance of the language of the body and the consequent use of that language in conjugal life. In this last sphere the human being—male and female—is the author of the meanings of the language of the body. This implies that this language which he is the author of corresponds to the truth which has been reread. On the basis of biblical tradition we speak here of the "prophetism of the body." If the human being—male and female—in marriage (and indirectly also in all the spheres of mutual life together) confers on his behavior a significance in conformity with the fundamental truth of the language of the body, then he also "is in the truth." In the contrary case he is guilty of a lie and falsifies the language of the body.

4. If we place ourselves on the perspective line of conjugal consent—which, as we have already said, offers the spouses a particular participation in the prophetic mission of the Church handed down from Christ himself—we can in this regard also use the biblical distinction between true and false prophets. By means of marriage as a sacrament of the Church, man and woman are called explicitly to bear witness—by using correctly the language of the body—to spousal and procreative love, a witness worthy of true prophets. The true significance and the grandeur of conjugal consent in the sacrament of the Church consists in this.

5. The problematic of the sacramental sign of marriage has a highly anthropological character. We construct it on the basis of theological anthropology and in particular on that which, from the beginning of the present considerations, we have defined as the theology of the body. Therefore, in continuing these analyses, we should always have before our minds the previous considerations which refer to the analysis of the key words of Christ. (We call them key words because they open up for us, like a key, the individual dimensions of theological anthropology, especially of the theology of the body.) Constructing on this basis the analysis of the sacramental sign of marriage in which the man and woman always participate, even after original sin, that is, man and woman as historical man, we must constantly bear in mind the fact that that historical man, male and female, is at the same time the man of concupiscence. As such, every man and every woman enter the history of salvation and they are involved in it through the sacrament which is the visible sign of the covenant and of grace.

Therefore, we bear this in mind in the context of the present reflections, on the sacramental structure of the sign of not only what Christ said on the unity and indissolubility of marriage by referring to the "beginning," but also (and still more) what he said in the Sermon on the Mount when he referred to the "human heart."

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
31 January 1983, page 11

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