Mutual Attraction Differs from Lust

Author: Pope John Paul II

Mutual Attraction Differs from Lust

Pope John Paul II


More than fifty thousand faithful took part in Wednesday's Audience in St. Peter's Square. The Holy Father continued his theme of adultery which he had been developing for several weeks.

1. During our last reflection, we asked ourselves what the lust was which Christ spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28). Let us recall that he spoke of it in relation to the commandment: "Do not commit adultery." Lust itself (more exactly: looking at lustfully),is defined as "adultery committed in the heart." That gives much food for thought. In the preceding reflections we said that by expressing himself in that way, Christ wanted to indicate to his listeners the separation from the matrimonial significance of the body felt by a human being (in this case the man) when concupiscence of the flesh is coupled with the inner act of lust. The separation of the matrimonial significance of the body causes at the same time a conflict with his personal dignity, a veritable conflict of conscience.

At this point it appears that the biblical (hence also theological) meaning of lust is different from the purely psychological. The latter describes lust as an intense inclination toward the object because of its particular value, and in the case considered here, its sexual value. As it seems, we will find such a definition in most of the works dealing with similar themes. Yet the biblical interpretation, while not underestimating the psychological aspect, places that ethic in relief above all, since a value is being impaired. I would say that lust is a deception of the human heart in the perennial call of man and woman—a call revealed in the mystery of creation—to communion by means of mutual giving. In the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28) Christ referred to the heart or the internal man. His words do not cease being charged with that truth concerning the principle to which, in replying to the Pharisees (cf. Mt 19:8), he had reverted to the whole problem of man, woman and marriage.

2. The perennial call, which we have tried to analyze following Genesis (especially Gn 2:23-25) and, in a certain sense, the perennial mutual attraction on man's part to femininity and on woman's part to masculinity, is an indirect invitation of the body. But it is not lust in the sense of the word in Matthew 5:27-28. That lust carries into effect the concupiscence of the flesh (also and especially in the purely internal act). It diminishes the significance of what were—and that in reality do not cease being—that invitation and that reciprocal attraction.  The "eternal feminine" (das ewig weibliche), just like the "eternal masculine" for that matter, on the level of historicity, too, tends to free itself from pure concupiscence and seeks a position of achievement in the world of people. It testifies to that original sense of shame of which Genesis 3 speaks. The dimension of intentionality of thought and heart constitutes one of the main streams of universal human culture. Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount exactly confirm this dimension.

3. Nonetheless, these words clearly assert that lust is a real part of the human heart. When compared with the original mutual attraction of masculinity and femininity, lust represents a reduction. In stating this, we have in mind an intentional reduction, almost a restriction or closing down of the horizon of mind and heart. It is one thing to be conscious that the value of sex is a part of all the rich storehouse of values with which the female appears to the man. It is another to "reduce" all the personal riches of femininity to that single value, that is, of sex, as a suitable object for the gratification of sexuality itself. The same reasoning can be valid concerning what masculinity is for the woman, even though Matthew's words in 5:27-28 refer directly to the other relationship only. As can be seen, the intentional reduction is primarily of an axiological nature. On one hand the eternal attraction of man toward femininity (cf. Gn 2:23) frees in him—or perhaps it should free—a gamut of spiritual-corporal desires of an especially personal and "sharing" nature (cf. the analysis of the "beginning"), to which a proportionate pyramid of values corresponds. On the other hand, lust limits this gamut, obscuring the pyramid of values that marks the perennial attraction of male and female.

4. Lust has the internal effect, that is, in the heart, on the interior horizon of man and woman, of obscuring the significance of the body, of the person itself. Femininity thus ceases being above all else an object for the man. It ceases being a specific language of the spirit. It loses its character of being a sign. I would say that it ceases bearing in itself the wonderful matrimonial significance of the body. It ceases its correlation to this significance in the context of conscience and experience. Lust arising from concupiscence of the flesh itself, from the first moment of its existence within the man—its existence in his heart—passes in a certain sense close to such a context. (Using an image, one could say that it passes on the ruins of the matrimonial significance of the body and all its subjective parts.) By virtue of axiological intentionality itself, it aims directly at an exclusive end: to satisfy only the sexual need of the body, as its precise object.

5. According to the words of Christ (Mt 5:27-28), such an intentional and axiological reduction can take place in the sphere of the look (of looking). Rather, it takes place in the sphere of a purely interior act expressed by the look. A look (or rather looking) is in itself a cognitive act. When concupiscence enters its inner structure, the look takes on the character of lustful knowledge. The biblical expression "to look at lustfully" can indicate both a cognitive act, which the lusting man "makes use of," (that is, giving him the character of lust aiming at an object), and a cognitive act that arouses lust in the other object and above all in its will and in its heart. As is seen, it is possible to place an intentional interpretation on an interior act, being aware of one and the other pole of man's psychology: knowledge or lust understood as appetitus (which is something broader than lust, since it indicates everything manifested in the object as aspiration, and as such always tends to aim at something, that is, toward an object known under the aspect of value.) Yet, an adequate interpretation of Matthew 5:27-28 requires us—by means of the intentionality itself of knowledge or of the appetitus to discern something more, that is, the intentionality of the very existence of man in relation to the other man. In our case, it is the man in relation to the woman and the woman in relation to the man.

It will be well for us to return to this subject. Concluding today's reflection, we add again that in that lust, in looking at lustfully, which the Sermon on the Mount deals with, for the man who looks in that way, the woman ceases to exist as an object of eternal attraction. She begins to be only an object of carnal concupiscence. To that is connected the profound inner separation of the matrimonial significance of the body, about which we spoke in the preceding reflection.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
22 September 1980, page 11

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