As the subject of our future reflections—at the Wednesday meetings—I
wish to develop the following statement of Christ, which is part of
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).
This passage seems to have a key meaning for the theology of the
body, like the one in which Christ referred to the "beginning,"
which served as the basis of the preceding analyses. We then
realized how wide was the context of a sentence, or rather of aword, uttered by Christ. It was a question not only of the immediate
context, which emerged in the course of the conversation with the
Pharisees, but of the global context. We could not penetrate that
without going back to the first chapters of Genesis (omitting what
refers there to the other books of the Old Testament). The preceding
analyses have shown what an extensive content Christ's reference to
the "beginning" involves.
Need of fulfilment of the Law
The statement to which we are now referring, Matthew
5:27-28, will certainly introduce us not only to the immediate
context in which it appears. It will also introduce us to its wider
context, the global context, through which the key meaning of the
theology of the body will be revealed to us. This statement is one
of the passages of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus Christ
fundamentally revises the way of understanding and carrying out the
moral law of the old covenant. It refers, in order, to the following
commandments of the Decalogue: the fifth, "You shall not kill" (cf.
Mt 5:21-26); the sixth, "You shall not commit adultery" (cf. Mt
5:27-32)—it is significant that at the end of this passage there
also appears the question of the "certificate of divorce" (cf. Mt
5:31-32), already mentioned in the preceding chapter—and the eighth
commandment, according to the text of Exodus (cf. Ex 20:7): "You
shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have
sworn" (cf. Mt 5:33-37).
Significant, above all, are he words that precede these articles—
and the following ones—of the Sermon on the Mount, the words in
which Jesus declares: "Think not that I have come to abolish the law
and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill
them" (Mt 5:17). In the sentences that follow, Jesus explains the
meaning of this opposition and the necessity of the fulfillment of
the law in order to realize the kingdom of God: "Whoever...does them
[these commandments] and teaches them shall be called great in the
kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:19). "The kingdom of heaven" means the
kingdom of God in the eschatological dimension.
The fulfillment of the law fundamentally conditions this kingdom in
the temporal dimension of human existence. However, it is a question
of a fulfillment that fully corresponds to the meaning of the law,
of the Decalogue, of the individual commandments. Only this
fulfillment constructs that justice which God the legislator willed.
Christ the Teacher urges us not to give such a human interpretation
to the whole law and the individual commandments contained in it
that it does not foster the justice willed by God the legislator:
"Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and
Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:20.
Aspects of fulfilment
2. In this context there appears Christ's statement
according to Matthew 5:27-28, which we intend to take as the basis
for the present analyses, considering it together with the other
statement in Matthew 19:3-9 (and Mark 10) as the key to the theology
of the body. Like the other one, this one has an explicitly
normative character. It confirms the principle of human morality
contained in the commandment, "You shall not commit adultery." At
the same time, it determines an appropriate and full understanding
of this principle, that is, an understanding of the foundation and
at the same time of the condition for its adequate fulfillment. The
latter is to be considered precisely in the light of the words of
Matthew 5:17-20, already quoted, which we have just drawn attention
the one hand, it is a question here of adhering to the meaning that
God the legislator enclosed in the commandment, "You shall not
commit adultery." On the other hand, it is a question of carrying
out that "justice" on the part of man. This justice must superabound
in man himself, that is, it must reach its specific fullness in him.
These are the two aspects of fulfillment in the evangelical sense.
the heart of "ethos"
3. We find ourselves in this way at the heart of ethos, that
is, in what can be defined as the interior form, almost the soul, of
human morality. Contemporary thinkers (e.g., Scheler) see in the
Sermon on the Mount a great turning point in the field of ethos.(1)
A living morality in the existential sense is not formed only by the
norms that invest the form of the commandments, precepts and
prohibitions, as in the case of "You shall not commit adultery." The
morality in which there is realized the meaning of being a man—which
is, at the same time, the fulfillment of the law by means of the "superabounding"
of justice through subjective vitality—is formed in the interior
perception of values, from which there springs duty as the
expression of conscience, as the response of one's own personal
"ego." At the same time ethos makes us enter the depth of the norm
itself and descend within the human subject of morality. Moral value
is connected with the dynamic process of man's intimacy. To reach
it, it is not enough to stop at the surface of human actions. It is
necessary to penetrate inside.
4. In addition to the commandment, "You shall not commit
adultery," the Decalogue has also, "You shall not covet your
neighbor's wife."(2) In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ connects
them with each other, in a way: "Everyone who looks at a woman
lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
However, it is not so much a question of distinguishing the scope of
those two commandments of the Decalogue as of pointing out the
dimension of the interior action, referred to also in the words:
"You shall not commit adultery."
This action finds its visible expression in the "act of the body,"
an act in which the man and the woman participate against the law of
matrimonial exclusiveness. The casuistry of the books of the Old
Testament aimed at investigating what constituted this "act of the
body" according to exterior criteria. At the same time, it was
directed at combating adultery, and opened to the latter various
legal "loopholes."(3) In this way, on the basis of the multiple
compromises "for hardness of heart" (Mt 19:8), the meaning of the
commandment as willed by the legislator underwent a distortion.
People kept to legalistic observance of the formula, which did not
superabound in the interior justice of hearts.
Christ shifts the essence of the problem to another dimension when
he says: "Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already
committed adultery with her in his heart." (According to ancient
translations, the text is: "...has already made her an adulteress in
his heart," a formula which seems to be more exact).(4)
this way, therefore, Christ appeals to the interior man. He does so
several times and under different circumstances. In this case it
seems especially explicit and eloquent, not only with regard to the
configuration of evangelical ethos, but also with regard to the way
of viewing man. Not only the ethical reason, but also the
anthropological one makes it advisable to dwell at greater length on
the text of Matthew 5:27-28, which contains the words Christ spoke
in the Sermon on the Mount.
kenne kein grandioseres Zeugnis für eine solche Neuerschliessung
eines ganzen Werbereiches, die das ältere Ethos relativiert, als die
Bergpredigt, die auch in ihrer Form als Zeugnis solcher
Neuerschliessung und Relativierung der älteren "Gesetzes"-werte sich
überall kundgibt: "Ich aber sage euch" (Max Scheler, Der Formalismus
in der Ethik und die materiale Wertethik [Halle a.d.s., Verlag M.
Niemeyer, 1921], p. 316, no. 1).
2) Cf. Ex 20:17; Dt. 5:21.
3) On this point, see the continuation of the present meditations.
The text of the Vulgate offers a faithful translation of the
original: iam moechatus est eam in corde suo. In fact, the Greek
verb moicheúo is transitive. In modern European languages, on the
other hand, "to commit adultery" is an intransitive verb; so we get
the translation: "...has committed adultery with her." And thus,
—in Italian: "...ha già commesso adulterio con lei nel suo cuore"
(Version of the Italian Episcopal Conference, 1971; similarly the
version of the Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1961, and the one
prepared by S. Garofalo, 1966).
—in French: "...a déjà commis, dans son coeur, l'adultère avec elle"
(Bible de Jérusalem [Paris: 1973]; Traduction Oecuménique [Paris:
1972]; Crampon); only Fillion translates: "A déjà commis l'adultère
dans son coeur."
—in English: "...has already committed adultery with her in his
heart" (Douay Version, 1582, similarly Revised Standard Version,
from 1611 to 1966; R. Knox, New English Bible, Jerusalem Bible,
—in German: "...hat in seinem Herzen schon Ehebruch mit ihr begangen"
(Einheitsübersetzung der Heiligen Schrift, im Auftrag der Bischöfe
des deutschen Sprachbereiches, 1979).
—in Spanish: "...ya cometió adulterio con ella en su corazón" (Bibl.
—in Portuguese: "...já cometeu adulterio com ela no seu coraçaõ" (M.
Soares, Sao Paolo, 1933).
—in Polish: ancient translations: "...juz ja scudzolozyl w sercu
swoim"; last translation: "...juz sie w swoim ser cu dopuscil z nia
cudzolostwa" (Biblia Tysiaclecia).
Taken from: L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 21 April
1980, page 1
Return to the Theology of the Body Main
This page is the work of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and