Paul II - Theology of the Body
Language of the Body: Actions and Duties Forming the Spirituality of
General Audience, July 4, 1984
1. Today let us return to the
classic text of the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians,
which reveals the eternal sources of the covenant of the Father's
love and at the same time the new and definitive institution of that
covenant in Jesus Christ.
This text brings us to such a dimension of the language of the body
that could be called mystical. It speaks of marriage as a great
mystery—"This is a great mystery" (Eph 5:32). This mystery is
fulfilled in the spousal union of Christ the Redeemer with the
Church, and of the Church-Spouse with Christ ("I mean that it refers
to Christ and the Church"— Eph 5:22), and it is definitively carried
out in eschatological dimensions. Nevertheless the author of the
Letter to the Ephesians does not hesitate to extend the analogy of
Christ's union with the Church in spousal love, outlined in such an
absolute and eschatological way, to the sacramental sign of the
matrimonial pact between man and woman, who "defer to one another
out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21). He does not hesitate to
extend that mystical analogy to the "language of the body," reread
in the truth of the spousal love and the conjugal union of the two.
2. We must recognize the logic of this marvelous text which
radically frees our way of thinking from elements of Manichaeism or
from a non-personalistic consideration of the body. At the same time
it brings the language of the body, contained in the sacramental
sign of matrimony, nearer to the dimension of real sanctity.
The sacraments inject sanctity into the plan of man's humanity. They
penetrate the soul and body, the femininity and the masculinity of
the personal subject, with the power of sanctity. All of this is
expressed in the language of the liturgy. It is expressed there and
brought about there.
The liturgy, liturgical language, elevates the conjugal pact of man
and woman, based on the language of the body reread in truth, to the
dimensions of mystery. At the same time it enables that pact to be
fulfilled in these dimensions through the language of the body.
It is precisely the sign of the sacrament of marriage that speaks of
this. In liturgical language this sign expresses an interpersonal
event, laden with intense personal content, assigned to the two
"until death." The sacramental sign signifies not only the fieri
(the "becoming")—the birth of the marriage—but builds its whole esse
(its "being"), its duration, both the one and the other as a sacred
and sacramental reality, rooted in the dimension of the covenant and
grace—in the dimension of creation and redemption. In this way, the
liturgical language assigns to both, to the man and to the woman,
love, fidelity and conjugal honesty through the language of the
body. It assigns them the unity and the indissolubility of marriage
in the language of the body. It assigns them as a duty all the
sacrum (holy) of the person and of the communion of persons, and
likewise their femininity and masculinity—precisely in this
Profound experience of the holy
3. In this sense we affirm that liturgical language becomes the
language of the body. This signifies a series of acts and duties
which form the spirituality of marriage, its ethos. In the daily
life of the spouses these acts become duties, and the duties become
acts. These acts—as also the commitments—are of a spiritual nature.
Nevertheless, they are expressed at the same time with the language
of the body.
The author of the Letter to the Ephesians writes in this regard:
"Husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies..."
(Eph 5:28) ("as he loves himself"--Eph 5:33), and "the wife for her
part showing respect for her husband" (Eph 5:33). Both, for that
matter, are to "defer to one another out of reverence for Christ"
The "language of the body," as an uninterrupted continuity of
liturgical language, is expressed not only as the attraction and
mutual pleasure of the Song of Songs, but also as a profound
experience of the sacrum (the holy). This seems to be infused in the
very masculinity and femininity through the dimension of the
mysterium (mystery), the mysterium magnum of the Letter to the
Ephesians. This mystery sinks its roots precisely in the beginning,
that is, in the mystery of the creation of man, male and female, in
the image of God, called from the beginning to be the visible sign
of God's creative love.
4. So therefore that reverence for Christ and respect which the
author of the Letter to the Ephesians speaks of, is none other than
a spiritually mature form of that mutual attraction—man's attraction
to femininity and woman's attraction to masculinity, which is
revealed for the first time in Genesis (Gn 2:23-25). Consequently,
the same attraction seems to flow like a wide stream through the
verses of the Song of Songs to find, under entirely different
circumstances, its concise and concentrated expression in the book
The spiritual maturity of this attraction is none other than the
blossoming of the gift of fear—one of the seven gifts of the Holy
Spirit, which St. Paul speaks of in First Thessalonians (cf. 1 Thes
On the other hand, Paul's doctrine on chastity as "life according to
the Spirit" (cf. Rom 8:5) allows us (especially on the basis of
First Corinthians, chapter 6) to interpret that respect in a
charismatic sense, that is, as a gift of the Holy Spirit.
A virtue and a gift
5. The Letter to the Ephesians, in exhorting spouses to defer to
each other "out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21), and in urging
them, consequently, to show respect in their conjugal relationship,
seems to point out—in keeping with Pauline tradition—chastity as a
virtue and as a gift.
In this way, through the virtue and still more through the gift
("life according to the Spirit") the mutual attraction of
masculinity and femininity spiritually matures. Both the man and
woman, getting away from concupiscence, find the proper dimension of
the freedom of the gift, united to femininity and masculinity in the
true spousal significance of the body.
Thus liturgical language, that is, the language of the sacrament and
of the mysterium, becomes in their life and in their living together
the language of the body in a depth, simplicity and beauty hitherto
Conjugal life becomes liturgical
6. This seems to be the integral significance of the sacramental
sign of marriage. In that sign—through the language of the body—man
and woman encounter the great mystery. This is in order to transfer
the light of that mystery—the light of truth and beauty, expressed
in liturgical language—to the language of the body, that is, to the
language of the practice of love, fidelity, and conjugal honesty, to
the ethos rooted in the redemption of the body (cf. Rom 8:23). In
this way, conjugal life becomes in a certain sense liturgical.
Taken from: L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 9 July
1984, page 2
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