The Ethical and Anthropological Content of the Commandment: "You
Shall Not Commit Adultery"
1. Let us recall the words of the Sermon on the Mount, to which we are referring in this cycle of our Wednesday reflections. "You haveheard — the Lord says — 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).
The man to whom Jesus refers here is precisely "historical" man, the one whose "beginning" and "theological prehistory" we traced in the preceding series of analyses. Directly, it is the one who hears with his own ears the Sermon on the Mount. But together with him, there isalso every other man, set before that moment of history, both in the immense space of the past, and in the equally vast one of the future. To this "future," confronted with the Sermon on the Mount, our present, our contemporary age also belongs.
This man is, in a way, "every" man, each of us. Both the man of the past and also the man of the future can be the one who knows the positive commandment, "You shall not commit adultery" as "contained in the Law" (cf. Rom 2:22-23). But he can equally be the one who, according to the Letter to the Romans, has this commandment only "written on his heart" (cf. Rom 2:15).(1) In the light of the previous reflections, he is the man who from his beginning has acquired a precise sense of the meaning of the body. He has acquired it even before crossing the threshold of his historical experiences, in the mystery of creation, since he emerged from it as "male and female" (cf. Gn 1:27). He is the historical man, who, at the beginning of his earthly vicissitudes, found himself "inside" the knowledge of good and evil, breaking the covenant with his Creator. He is the man who knew (the woman), his wife, and knew her several times. She "conceived and bore" (cf. Gn 4:1-2) according to the Creator's plan, which went back to the state of original innocence (cf. Gn 1:28; 2:24).
Entering into his full image
of their ethical content, these words simultaneously constitute such
an anthropology. They demand that man should enter into his full
image. The man who is "flesh," as a male remains in relationship
with woman through his body and sex. (The expression "You shall not
commit adultery" indicates this.) In the light of these words of
Christ, this man must find himself again interiorly, in his
heart.(2) The heart is this dimension of humanity with which the
sense of the meaning of the human body, and the order of this sense,
is directly linked. Here it is a question both of the meaning which,
in the preceding analyses, we called nuptial, and of that which we
called generative. What order are we treating of?
Meaning of adultery
part of our considerations must give an answer precisely to this
question—an answer that reaches not only the ethical reasons, but
also the anthropological; they remain, in fact, in a mutual
relationship. For the time being, as a preliminary it is necessary
to establish the meaning of Matthew 5:27-28, the meaning of the
expressions used in it and their mutual relationship.
Man's interior act
4. These words do not say clearly whether the woman—the object of lust—is the wife of another or whether simply she is not the wife of the man who looks at her in this way. She may be the wife of another, or even not bound by marriage. Rather, it is necessary to intuit it, especially on the basis of the expression which precisely defines as adultery what man has committed in his heart with his look. It must be correctly deduced that this lustful look, if addressed to his own wife, is not adultery "in his heart." This is precisely because the man's interior act refers to the woman who is his wife, with regard to whom adultery cannot take place. The conjugal act as an exterior act, in which "they become one flesh," is lawful in the relationship of the man in question with the woman who is his wife. In like manner, the interior act in the same relationship is in conformity with morality.
Clarifying the text
Nevertheless, that desire, indicated by the expression "everyone who
looks at a woman lustfully," has a biblical and theological
dimension of its own, which we must clarify here. Even if this
dimension is not manifested directly in this one concrete expression
of Matthew 5:27-28, it is deeply rooted in the global context, which
refers to the revelation of the body. We must go back to this
context, so that Christ's appeal to the heart, to the interior man,
may ring out in all the fullness of its truth.
Speaking in this way, Christ wants us not to dwell on the example in itself, but to penetrate the full ethical and anthropological meaning of the statement. If it has an indicative character, this means that, following its traces, we can arrive at understanding the general truth about historical man. This is valid also for the theology of the body. The further stages of our reflections will have the purpose of bringing us closer to understanding this truth.
typically Hebraic usage reflected in the New Testament implies an
understanding of man as unity of thought, will and feeling.... It
depicts man as a whole, viewed from his intentionality; the heart as
the center of man is thought of as source of will, emotion, thoughts
is perhaps the best-known one, but other similar examples can be
found in the Bible (cf. Gn 34:2; Jgs 14:1, 16:1).
Taken from: L'Osservatore Romano