Lust is the Fruit of the Breach of the Covenant With God

Author: Pope John Paul II

Lust Is the Fruit of the Breach of the Covenant with God

Pope John Paul II


Continuing with the cycle of catechesis on the subject of adultery, the Holy Father delivered the following address to the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square for the General Audience on Wednesday, 30 April.

1. During our last reflection, we said that the words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount directly refer to the lust that arises immediately in the human heart. Indirectly, however, those words guide us to understanding a truth about man, which is of universal importance.

The words of Christ, taken from Matthew 5:27-28, direct us toward this truth about "historical" man, of universal importance. It seems to be expressed in the biblical doctrine on the three forms of lust. We are referring here to the concise statement in 1 John 2:16-17: "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever."

To understand these words, obviously it is necessary to carefully consider the context in which they appear, that is, the context of the whole Johannine theology.(1) However, the same words are inserted, at the same time, in the context of the whole Bible. They belong to the whole revealed truth about man, and are important for the theology of the body. They do not explain lust itself in its threefold form, since they seem to assume that "the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life," are, in some way, a clear and known concept. However, they explain the genesis of lust in its threefold form, indicating its origin which is "not of the Father," but "of the world."

2. The lust of the flesh and, together with it, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is "in the world." At the same time it "is of the world," not as the fruit of the mystery of creation, but as the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in man's heart (cf. Gn 2:17). What fructifies in the three forms of lust is not the "world" God created for man, the fundamental "goodness" of which we have read several times in Genesis 1: "God saw that it was good.... It was very good." On the contrary, in the three forms of lust there fructifies the breaking of the first covenant with the Creator, with God-Elohim, with God-Yahweh. This covenant was broken in man's heart. It would be necessary to make here a careful analysis of the events described in Genesis 3:1-6. However, we are referring only in general to the mystery of sin, to the beginnings of human history. The "world" of Genesis has become the "world" of the Johannine words (cf. 1 Jn 2:15-16), the place and source of lust, only as the consequence of sin, as the fruit of the breaking of the covenant with God in the human heart, in the inner recesses of man.

In this way, therefore, the statement that lust "is not of the Father but is of the world," seems to direct us once more to the biblical beginning. The genesis of lust in its three forms presented by John finds in this beginning its first and fundamental elucidation. This explanation is essential for the theology of the body. To understand that truth of universal importance about historical man, contained in Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28), we must return once more to Genesis. We must linger once more at the threshold of the revelation of historical man. This is all the more necessary, since this threshold of the history of salvation proves to be at the same time the threshold of authentic human experiences, as we will see in the following analyses. The same fundamental meanings that we drew from the preceding analyses will come to life in them again, as essential elements of a fitting anthropology and the deep substratum of the theology of the body.

3. The question may arise again whether it is permissible to transport the content typical of the Johannine theology, contained in the entire First Letter (especially in 1 Jn 2:15-16), to the ground of the Sermon on the Mount according to Matthew, and precisely of Christ's statement in Matthew 5:27-28. ("You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.") We will come back to this matter several times. Nevertheless, we are referring straightway to the general biblical context, to the whole truth about man revealed and expressed in it. Precisely in the name of this truth, we are trying to understand completely the man that Christ indicates in the text of Matthew 5:27-28, that is, the man who looks at a woman lustfully.

Is not this look to be explained by the fact that man is precisely a "man of lust," in the sense of the First Letter of St. John? Both the man who looks lustfully and the woman who is the object of this look are in the dimension of lust in its three forms, which "is not of the Father but is of the world." It is necessary to understand what that lust is, or rather who that "lustful man" of the Bible is. This is necessary in order to discover the depths of Christ's words according to Matthew 5:27-28, and to explain the significance of their reference to the human heart, so important for the theology of the body.

4. Let us return again to the Yahwist narrative. In it, the same man, male and female, appears at the beginning as a man of original innocence before original sin. Then he appears as the one who lost innocence, by breaking the original covenant with his Creator. We do not intend here to make a complete analysis of temptation and sin, according to the same text of Genesis 3:1-5, the doctrine of the Church in this connection and theology. It should merely be observed that the biblical description itself seems to highlight especially the key moment, in which the gift is questioned in man's heart. The man who gathers the fruit of the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" makes, at the same time, a fundamental choice. He carries it out against the will of the Creator, God-Yahweh, accepting the motivation suggested by the tempter: "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." According to old translations: "You will be like gods, who know good and evil.(2)

This motivation clearly includes questioning the gift and the love from which creation has its origin as donation. As regards man, he receives the "world" as a gift and at the same time the image of God that is, humanity itself in all the truth of its male and female duality. It is enough to read carefully the whole passage of Genesis 3:1-5, to detect in it the mystery of man who turns his back on the Father (even if we do not find this name applied to God in the narrative). Questioning in his heart the deepest meaning of the donation, that is, love as the specific motive of the creation and of the original covenant (cf. Gn 3:5), man turns his back on God-Love, on the Father. In a way he casts God out of his heart. At the same time, he detaches his heart and almost cuts it off from what "is of the Father." Thus, there remains in him what "is of the world."

5. "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons" (Gn 3:7). This is the first sentence of the Yahwist narrative, which refers to man's situation after sin and shows the new state of human nature. Does not this sentence also suggest the beginning of lust in man's heart? To answer this question more thoroughly, we cannot stop at that first sentence, but must read the whole text again. However, it is worth recalling here what was said in the first analyses on the subject of shame as the experience "of the limit."(3)

Genesis refers to this experience to show the "frontier" between the state of original innocence (cf. Gn 2:25, to which we devoted a great deal of attention in the preceding analyses) and man's sinfulness at the very "beginning." Genesis 2:25 emphasizes that they "were both naked, and were not ashamed." But Genesis 3:6 speaks explicitly of shame in connection with sin. That shame is almost the first source of the manifestation in both man and woman of what "is not of the Father, but of the world."


1) Cf. e.g.; J. Bonsirven, Epitres de Saint Jean (Paris: Beauchesne, 1954), pp. 113-119; E. Brooke, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: Clark, 1912), pp. 47-49; P. De Ambroggi, Le Epistole Cattoliche (Torino: Marietti, 1947), pp. 216-217; C. H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, Moffatt New Testament Commentary (London: 1946), pp. 41-42; J. Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles (London: Black, 1973), pp. 73-74; B. Prete, Lettere di Giovanni (Roma: Ed. Paoline, 1970), p. 61; R. Schnackenburg, Die Johannesbriefe, Herders Theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament (Freiburg: 1953), pp. 112-115; J. R. W. Stott, Epistles of John, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (London: 1969), pp. 99-101.
On the subject of John's theology, see in particular A. Feuillet, Le mystère de l'amour divin dans la théologie johannique (Paris: Gabalda, 1972).

2) The Hebrew text can have both meanings, because it runs: "ELOHIM knows that when you eat of it [the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like ELOHIM, knowing good and evil." The term elohim is the plural of eloah (pluralis excellentiae).
In relation to Yahweh, it has a singular meaning, but it may indicate the plural of other heavenly beings or pagan divinities (e.g. Ps 8:6; Ex 12:12; Jgs 10:16; Hos 31:1 and others).
Here are some translations:
—English: "you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Revised Standard Version, 1966).
—French: "vous serez comme des dieux, qui connaissent le bien et le mal" (Bible de Jérusalem, 1973).
—Italian: "diverreste come Dio, conoscendo il bene e il male" (Pont. Istit. Biblico, 1961).
—Spanish: "seréis como dioses, conocedores del bien y del mal" (S. Ausejo Barcelona 1964).
seréis como Dios en el conocimiento del bien y del mal (A. Alonso-Schökel, Madrid 1970).

3) Cf. general audience of December 12, 1979 (L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, December 17, 1979).

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
5 May 1980, page 3

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