Man Called to Overcome Concupiscence

Author: Pope John Paul II

Man Called to Overcome Concupiscence

Pope John Paul II


On the morning of Wednesday, 9 February, Pope John Paul held the usual weekly general audience in the Paul VI Hall. To the large group of visitors the Holy Father delivered the following address.

1. We said previously that in the context of the present reflections on the structure of marriage as a sacramental sign, we should bear in mind not only what Christ said about its unity and indissolubility in reference to the beginning, but also (and still more) what he said in the Sermon on the Mount when he referred to the human heart. Referring to the commandment, "You shall not commit adultery," Christ spoke of adultery in the heart. "Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt 5:28).

The sacramental sign of marriage—the sign of the conjugal covenant of a man and a woman—is formed on the basis of the language of the body reread in truth (and continuously reread). In stating this, we realize that he who rereads this language and then expresses it, not according to the requirements proper to marriage as a pact and a sacrament, is naturally and morally the man of concupiscence—male and female, both of them understood as the "man of concupiscence." The prophets of the Old Testament certainly have this man before their eyes when, using an analogy, they condemn the "adultery of Israel and Judah." The analysis of the words Christ spoke in the Sermon on the Mount lead us to understand more deeply "adultery" itself. At the same time it leads us to the conviction that the human heart is not so much accused and condemned by Christ because of concupiscence (concupiscentia carnalis), as first of all called. Here there is a decisive difference between the anthropology (or the anthropological hermeneutics) of the Gospel and some influential representatives of the contemporary hermeneutics of man (the so-called masters of suspicion).

The man who is "called"

2. Continuing our present analysis we can observe that even though man, notwithstanding the sacramental sign of marriage, notwithstanding conjugal consent and its actuation, remains naturally the "man of concupiscence," he is at the same time the man who has been "called." He is called through the mystery of the redemption of the body, a divine mystery, which at the same time is—in Christ and through Christ in every man—a human reality. That mystery, besides, implies a determinate ethos which is essentially human, and which we have previously called the ethos of the redemption.

3. In the light of the words Christ spoke in the Sermon on the Mount, in the light of the whole Gospel and of the new covenant, the threefold concupiscence (and in particular the concupiscence of the flesh) does not destroy the capacity to reread in truth the language of the body—and to reread it continually in an ever more mature and fuller way—whereby the sacramental sign is constituted both in its first liturgical moment, and also later in the dimension of the whole of life. In this light one must note that concupiscence perse causes many errors in rereading the language of the body. Together with this it gave rise also to sin—moral evil, contrary to the virtue of chastity (whether conjugal or extra-conjugal). Nevertheless in the sphere of the ethos of redemption the possibility always remains of passing from error to the truth, as also the possibility of returning, that is, of conversion, from sin to chastity, as an expression of a life according to the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:16).

Sacramental sign of love

4. In this way, in the evangelical and Christian perspective of the problem, historical man (after original sin), on the basis of the language of the body reread in truth, is able—as male and female—to constitute the sacramental sign of love, of conjugal fidelity and integrity, and this as an enduring sign: "To be faithful to you always in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, and to love and honor you all the days of my life." This signifies that man, in a real way, is the author of the meanings whereby, after having reread in truth the language of the body, he is also capable of forming in truth that language in the conjugal and family communion of the persons. He is capable of it also as the man of concupiscence, being at the same time called by the reality of the redemption of Christ (simul lapsus et redemptus).

Hermeneutics of the sacrament

5. By means of the dimension of the sign proper to marriage as a sacrament there is confirmed the specific theological anthropology, the specific hermeneutics of man. In this case it could also be called the hermeneutics of the sacrament, because it permits us to understand man on the basis of the analysis of the sacramental sign. Man—male and female—as the minister of the sacrament, the author (co-author) of the sacramental sign, is a conscious and capable subject of self-determination. Only on this basis can he be the author of the language of the body, the author (co-author) of marriage as a sign—a sign of the divine creation and redemption of the body. The fact that man (male and female) is the man of concupiscence does not prejudice his capacity to reread the language of the body in truth. He is the man of concupiscence. But at the same time he is capable of discerning truth from falsity in the language of the body. He can be the author of the meanings of that language, whether true or false.

Called, not accused

6. He is the man of concupiscence, but he is not completely determined by libido (in the sense in which this term is often used). Such a determination would imply that the ensemble of man's behavior, even, for example, the choice of continence for religious motives, would be explained only by means of the specific transformations of this libido. In such a case—in the sphere of the language of the body—man would, in a certain sense, be condemned to essential falsifications. He would merely be one who expresses a specific determination on the part of the libido, but he would not express the truth or falsity of spousal love and of the communion of the persons, even though he might think to manifest it. Consequently, he would then be condemned to suspect himself and others in regard to the truth of the language of the body. Because of the concupiscence of the flesh he could only be accused, but he could not be really called.

The hermeneutics of the sacrament permits us to draw the conclusion that man is always essentially called and not merely accused, and this precisely inasmuch as he is the man of concupiscence.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
14 February 1983, page 11

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