Power of Redeeming Completes Power of Creating

Author: Pope John Paul II

Power of Redeeming Completes Power of Creating

Pope John Paul II


On Wednesday, 29 October, the Holy Father delivered the following address to the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square for the weekly General Audience.

1. For a long time now, our Wednesday reflections have been centered on the following enunciation of Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount: "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). We have recently explained that these words cannot be understood or interpreted in a Manichaean way. They do not in any way condemn the body and sexuality. They merely contain a call to overcome the three forms of lust, especially the lust of the flesh. This call springs precisely from the affirmation of the personal dignity of the body and of sexuality, and merely confirms this affirmation.

To clarify this formulation, that is, to determine the specific meaning of the words of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Christ appeals to the human heart (cf. Mt 5:27-28), is important not only because of "inveterate habits," springing from Manichaeism, in the way of thinking and evaluating things, but also because of some contemporary positions which interpret the meaning of man and of morality. Ricoeur described Freud, Marx and Nietzsche as "masters of suspicion"(1) ("maîtres du soupçon"). He had in mind the set of systems that each of them represents, and above all, perhaps, the hidden basis and the orientation of each of them in understanding and interpreting the humanum itself.

It seems necessary to refer, at least briefly, to this basis and to this orientation. It must be done to discover a significant convergence and also a fundamental divergence, which has its source in the Bible, and which we are trying to express in our analyses. What does the convergence consist of? It consists in the fact that the above-mentioned thinkers, who have and still do exercise a great influence on the way of thinking and evaluating of the men of our time, seem substantially also to judge and accuse man's heart. Even more, they seem to judge it and accuse it because of what biblical language, especially Johannine, calls lust, the three forms of lust.

The pride of life

2. Here a certain distribution of the parts could be made. In the Nietzschean interpretation, the judgment and accusation of the human heart correspond, in a way, to what is called in biblical language "the pride of life"; in the Marxist interpretation, to what is called "the lust of the eyes"; in the Freudian interpretation, to what is called "the lust of the flesh." The convergence of these conceptions with the interpretation of man founded on the Bible lies in the fact that, discovering the three forms of lust in the human heart, we, too, could have limited ourselves to putting that heart in a state of continual suspicion. However, the Bible does not allow us to stop here. The words of Christ according to Matthew 5:27-28 are such that, while manifesting the whole reality of desire and lust, they do not permit us to make this lust the absolute criterion of anthropology and ethics, that is, the very core of the hermeneutics of man. In the Bible, lust in its three forms does not constitute the fundamental and perhaps even unique and absolute criterion of anthropology and ethics, although it is certainly an important coefficient to understand man, his actions, and their moral value. The analysis we have carried out so far also shows this.

To the "man of lust"

3. Though wishing to arrive at a complete interpretation of Christ's words on the man who "looks lustfully" (cf. Mt 5:27-28), we cannot be content with any conception of lust, even if the fullness of the psychological truth accessible to us were to be reached; we must, on the contrary, draw on the First Letter of John 2:15-16 and the "theology of lust" that is contained in it. The man who looks lustfully is, in fact, the man of the three forms of lust; he is the man of the lust of the flesh. Therefore he can look in this way and he must even be conscious that, leaving this interior act at the mercy of the forces of nature, he cannot avoid the influence of the lust of the flesh. In Matthew 5:27-28 Christ also dealt with this and drew attention to it. His words refer not only to the concrete act of lust, but, indirectly, also to the man of lust.

4.  Why cannot these words of the Sermon on the Mount, in spite of the convergence of what they say about the human heart (2) with what has been expressed in the interpretation of the "masters of suspicion," why cannot they be considered as the foundation of the aforesaid interpretation or a similar one? Why do they constitute an expression, a configuration, of a completely different ethos—different not only from the Manichaean one, but also from the Freudian one? I think that the analyses and reflections made so far answer this question. Summing up, it can be said briefly that Christ's words according to Matthew 5:27-28 do not allow us to stop at the accusation of the human heart and to regard it continually with suspicion. But they must be understood and interpreted above all as an appeal to the heart. This derives from the nature of the ethos of redemption. On the basis of this mystery, which St. Paul defines as "the redemption of the body" (Rom 8:23), on the basis of the reality called "redemption" and, consequently, on the basis of the ethos of the redemption of the body, we cannot stop only at the accusation of the human heart on the basis of desire and lust of the flesh. Man cannot stop at putting the heart in a state of continual and irreversible suspicion due to the manifestations of the lust of the flesh and libido, which, among other things, a psychoanalyst perceives by analyzing the unconscious.(3) Redemption is a truth, a reality, in the name of which man must feel called, and "called with efficacy." He must realize this call also through Christ's words according to Matthew 5:27-28, reread in the full context of the revelation of the body. Man must feel called to rediscover, nay more, to realize the nuptial meaning of the body. He must feel called to express in this way the interior freedom of the gift, that is, of that spiritual state and that spiritual power which are derived from mastery of the lust of the flesh.

That good beginning

5. Man is called to this by the word of the Gospel, therefore from "outside," but at the same time he is also called from "inside." The words of Christ, who in the Sermon on the Mount appealed to the heart, induce the listener, in a way, to this interior call. If he lets them act in him, he will be able to hear within him at the same time almost the echo of that "beginning." Christ referred to that good beginning on another occasion, to remind his listeners who man is, who woman is, and who we are for each other in the work of creation. The words Christ uttered in the Sermon on the Mount are not a call hurled into emptiness. They are not addressed to the man who is completely absorbed in the lust of the flesh. This man is unable to seek another form of mutual relations in the sphere of the perennial attraction, which accompanies the history of man and woman precisely from the beginning. Christ's words bear witness that the original power (therefore also the grace) of the mystery of creation becomes for each of them power (that is, grace) of the mystery of redemption. That concerns the very nature, the very substratum of the humanity of the person, the deepest impulses of the heart. Does not man feel, at the same time as lust, a deep need to preserve the dignity of the mutual relations, which find their expression in the body, thanks to his masculinity and femininity? Does he not feel the need to impregnate them with everything that is noble and beautiful? Does he not feel the need to confer on them the supreme value which is love?

Real meaning of life

6. Rereading it, this appeal contained in Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount cannot be an act detached from the context of concrete existence. It always means—though only in the dimension of the act to which it referred—the rediscovery of the meaning of the whole of existence, the meaning of life, which also contains that meaning of the body which here we call "nuptial." The meaning of the body is, in a sense, the antithesis of Freudian libido. The meaning of life is the antithesis of the interpretation "of suspicion." This interpretation is radically different from what we rediscover in Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount. These words reveal not only another ethos, but also another vision of man's possibilities. It is important that he, precisely in his heart, should not only feel irrevocably accused and given as a prey to the lust of the flesh, but that he should feel forcefully called in this same heart. He is called precisely to that supreme value that is love. He is called as a person in the truth of his humanity, therefore also in the truth of his masculinity or femininity, in the truth of his body. He is called in that truth which has been his heritage from the beginning, the heritage of his heart, which is deeper than the sinfulness inherited, deeper than lust in its three forms. The words of Christ, set in the whole reality of creation and redemption, reactivate that deeper heritage and give it real power in man's life.


1) Cf. Paul Ricoeur, Le conflit des interprétations (Paris: Seuil, 1969), pp. 149-150.

2) Cf. also Mt 5:19-20.

3) Cf., for example, the characteristic affirmation of Freud's last work: S. Freud, Abriss der Psychoanalyse, Das Unbehagen der Kultur (Frankfurt-M. Hamburg: Fisher, 1955), pp. 74-75.
Then that "core" or "heart" of man would be dominated by the union between the erotic instinct and the destructive one, and life would consist in satisfying them.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
3 November 1980, page 9

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