Positive Function of Purity of Heart

Author: Pope John Paul II

Positive Function of Purity of Heart

Pope John Paul II


On Wednesday, 1 April, the weekly audience again was given in two parts, the first to the young people gathered in St. Peter's Basilica, the second to the thousands of pilgrims in the Paul VI Hall. The following is the text of the Holy Father's address in the Hall.

1. Before concluding the series of considerations concerning the words Jesus Christ uttered in the Sermon on the Mount, it is necessary to recall these words once more and briefly retrace the thread of ideas whose basis they constitute. Here is the tenor of Jesus' words: "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" (Mt 5:27-28). These concise words call for deep reflection, in the same way as the words in which Christ referred to the beginning. The Pharisees had asked him, referring to the law of Moses which admitted the so-called act of repudiation: "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" He replied: "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female?... For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.... What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mt 19:3-6). These words, too, called for a deep reflection, to derive all the riches contained in them. A reflection of this kind enabled us to outline the true theology of the body.

Truth rooted in man's original innocence

2. Following the reference Christ made to the beginning, we dedicated a series of reflections to the relative texts in Genesis, which deal precisely with that beginning. An image of the situation of man—male and female—in the state of original innocence emerged from that analysis, as well as the theological basis of the truth about man and about his particular vocation. This springs from the eternal mystery of the person—the image of God, incarnate in the visible and corporeal fact of the masculinity or femininity of the human person. This truth is at the basis of the answer Christ gave about the nature of marriage, and especially its indissolubility. It is truth about man, truth rooted in the state of original innocence, truth which must therefore be understood in the context of that situation prior to sin, as we tried to do in the preceding series of reflections.

3. At the same time, however, it is necessary to consider, understand and interpret the same fundamental truth about man, his being male and female, in the prism of another situation—that is, of the one that was formed through breaking the first covenant with the Creator, that is, through original sin. Such truth about man—male and female—should be seen in the context of his hereditary sinfulness. It is precisely here that we find Christ's enunciation in the Sermon on the Mount. It is obvious that in the Scriptures of the Old and the New Covenant there are many narratives, phrases and words which confirm the same truth, that is, that historical man bears within him the inheritance of original sin. Nevertheless, Christ's words spoken in the Sermon on the Mount seem to have—with all their concise enunciation—a particularly rich eloquence. This is shown also by the previous analyses, which gradually revealed what those words contain. To clarify the statements concerning lust, it is necessary to grasp the biblical meaning of lust itself—of the three forms of lust—and principally that of the flesh. Then, little by little, we arrive at understanding why Jesus defined that lust (looking at lustfully) as adultery committed in the heart. Making the relative analyses, we tried at the same time to understand what meaning Christ's words had for his immediate listeners. They had been brought up in the tradition of the Old Testament, that is, in the tradition of the legislative texts, as well as the prophetic and sapiential ones. Furthermore, we tried to understand what meaning Christ's words can have for the person of every other era, especially for modern man, considering his various cultural conditionings. We are convinced that these words, in their essential content, refer to the man of every time and every place. Their comprehensive value consists also in this: they proclaim to each one the truth that is valid and substantial for him.

An ethical truth

4. What is this truth? Unquestionably, it is a truth of an ethical nature and therefore a truth of a normative nature, just as the truth contained in the commandment: "You shall not commit adultery," is normative. The interpretation of this commandment, made by Christ, indicates the evil that must be avoided and overcome—precisely the evil of lust of the flesh—and at the same time it points out the good for which the way is opened by overcoming desire. This good is purity of heart, which Christ spoke of in the same context of the Sermon on the Mount. From the biblical point of view, purity of heart means freedom from every kind of sin or guilt, not just from sins that concern the lust of the flesh. However, we are dealing here especially with one of the aspects of that purity, which constitutes the opposite of adultery committed in the heart. If that purity of heart, about which we are concerned, is understood according to St. Paul's thought as life according to the Spirit, then the Pauline context offers us a complete image of the content present in the words Christ spoke in the Sermon on the Mount. They contain a truth of an ethical nature. They warn us against evil and indicate the moral good of human conduct. In fact, they direct listeners to avoid the evil of lust and acquire purity of heart. Therefore these words have a meaning that is both normative and indicative. Directing toward the good of purity of heart, at the same time they indicate the values toward which the human heart can and must aspire.

Christ's words realistic

5. Hence the question: what truth, valid for every man, is contained in Christ's words? We must answer that not only an ethical truth, but also the essential truth, the anthropological truth about man is contained in them. Precisely for this reason we go back to these words in formulating here the theology of the body. It is closely related to and is in the perspective of the preceding words in which Christ had referred to the beginning. It can be affirmed that, with their expressive evangelical eloquence, the man of original innocence is, in a way, recalled to the consciousness of the man of lust.

But Christ's words are realistic. They do not try to make the human heart return to the state of original innocence, which man left behind him at the moment when he committed original sin. On the contrary, they indicate to him the way to a purity of heart which is possible and accessible to him even in the state of hereditary sinfulness. This is the purity of the man of lust. However, he is inspired by the word of the Gospel and open to life according to the Spirit (in conformity with St. Paul's words), that is, the purity of the man of lust who is entirely enveloped by the redemption of the body Christ carried out. For this reason we find in the words of the Sermon on the Mount the reference to the heart, that is, to the interior man. The interior man must open himself to life according to the Spirit, in order to participate in evangelical purity of heart, to rediscover and realize the value of the body, freed through redemption from the bonds of lust. The normative meaning of Christ's words is deeply rooted in their anthropological meaning, in the dimension of human interiority.

Felt with the heart

6. According to the evangelical doctrine, developed in such a stupendous way in Paul's letters, purity is not just temperance or abstention from unchastity (cf. 1 Th 4:3). At the same time, it also opens the way to a more and more perfect discovery of the dignity of the human body. The body is organically connected with the freedom of the gift of the person in the complete authenticity of his personal subjectivity, male or female. In this way, purity in the sense of temperance matures in the heart of the person who cultivates it and tends to reveal and strengthen the nuptial meaning of the body in its integral truth. This truth must be known interiorly. In a way, it must be felt with the heart, in order that the mutual relations of man and of woman—even mere looks—may reacquire that authentically nuptial content of their meanings. In the Gospel, purity of heart indicates precisely this content.

Enjoying the victory

7. If in the interior experience of man (that is, the man of lust), temperance takes shape as a negative function, the analysis of Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount and connected with the texts of St. Paul enables us to shift this meaning toward the positive function of purity of heart. In mature purity man enjoys the fruits of the victory won over lust, a victory which St. Paul writes of, exhorting man to "control his own body in holiness and honor" (1 Th 4:4). The efficacy of the gift of the Holy Spirit, whose "temple" the human body is (cf. 1 Cor 6:19), is partly manifested precisely in such mature purity. This gift is above all that of piety (donum pietatis),which restores to the experience of the body—especially when it is a question of the sphere of the mutual relations of man and woman—all its simplicity, its explicitness and also its interior joy. As can be seen, this is a spiritual climate which is very different from the "passion of lust" of which Paul writes (and which we know, moreover, from the preceding analyses; cf. Sir 26:13, 15-18). The satisfaction of the passions is one thing, and the joy that man finds in mastering himself more fully is another thing. In this way he can also become more fully a real gift for another person.

The words spoken by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount direct the human heart precisely towards this joy. We must entrust ourselves, our thoughts and our actions to them, in order to find joy and give it to others.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
6 April 1981, page 3

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