Paul II - Theology of the Body
Victorious in the Struggle Between Good and Evil
General Audience, June 27, 1984
1. During these past weeks, in
commenting on the Song of Songs, I emphasized how the sacramental
sign of matrimony is constituted on the basis of the language of the
body, which man and woman express in the truth that is proper to it.
Under this aspect, today I intend to analyze some passages from the
book of Tobit.
In the account of the wedding of Tobiah with Sarah, besides the
expression "sister"—through which there seems to be a fraternal
character rooted in spousal love—another expression is also found,
likewise analogous to those in the Song.
As you will recall, in the spouses' duet, the love which they
declare to each other is "stern as death" (Sg 8:6). In the book of
Tobit we find a phrase which, in saying that he fell deeply in love
with Sarah and "his heart became set on her" (Tb 6:19), presents a
situation confirming the truth of the words about love "stern as
2. For a better understanding, we must go back to some details that
are explained against the background of the specific nature of the
book of Tobit. We read there that Sarah, daughter of Raguel, had
"already been married seven times" (Tb 6:14), but all her husbands
had died before having intercourse with her. This had happened
through the work of a demon, and young Tobiah too had reason to fear
a similar death.
So from the very first moment Tobiah's love had to face the test of
life and death. The words about love "stern as death," spoken by the
spouses in the Song of Songs in the transport of the heart, assume
here the nature of a real test. If love is demonstrated as stern as
death, this happens above all in the sense that Tobiah and, together
with him, Sarah, unhesitatingly face this test. But in this test of
life and death, life wins because, during the test on the wedding
night, love, supported by prayer, is revealed as more stern than
3. This test of life and death also has another significance that
enables us to understand the love and the marriage of the newlyweds.
Becoming one as husband and wife, they find themselves in the
situation in which the powers of good and evil fight and compete
against each other. The spouses' duet in the Song of Songs seems not
to perceive completely this dimension of reality. The spouses of the
Song live and express themselves in an ideal or abstract world, in
which it is as though the struggle of the objective forces between
good and evil did not exist. Is it not precisely the power and the
interior truth of love that subdues the struggle that goes on in man
and around him?
The fullness of this truth and this power proper to love seems
nevertheless to be different. It seems to tend rather to where the
experience in the book of Tobit leads us. The truth and the power of
love are shown in the ability to place oneself between the forces of
good and evil which are fighting in man and around him, because love
is confident in the victory of good and is ready to do everything so
that good may conquer. As a result, the love of the spouses in the
book of Tobit is not confirmed by the words expressed by the
language of loving transport as in the Song of Songs, but by the
choices and the actions that take on all the weight of human
existence in the union of the two. The language of the body here
seems to use the words of the choices and the acts stemming from the
love that is victorious because it prays.
4. Tobiah's prayer (Tb 8:5-8), which is above all a prayer of praise
and thanksgiving, then one of supplication, situates the language of
the body on the level of the essential terms of the theology of the
body. It is an "objectivized" language, pervaded not so much by the
emotive power of the experience as by the depth and gravity of the
truth of the experience.
The spouses profess this truth together, in unison before the God of
the covenant: "God of our fathers." We can say that under this
aspect the language of the body becomes the language of the
ministers of the sacrament, aware that in the conjugal pact the
mystery that has its origin in God himself is expressed and
realized. Their conjugal pact is the image—and the original
sacrament of the covenant of God with man, with the human race—of
that covenant which took its origin from eternal Love.
Tobiah and Sarah end their prayer with the following words: "Call
down your mercy on me and on her, and allow us to live together to a
happy old age" (Tb 8:7).
We can admit (on the basis of the context) that they have before
their eyes the prospect of persevering in their union to the end of
their days—a prospect that opens up before them with the trial of
life and death, already during their wedding night. At the same
time, they see with the glance of faith the sanctity of this
vocation in which—through the unity of the two, built upon the
mutual truth of the language of the body—they must respond to the
call of God himself which is contained in the mystery of the
Beginning. This is why they ask: "Call down your mercy on me and on
The spouses in the Song of Songs, with ardent words, declare to each
other their human love. The newlyweds in the book of Tobit ask God
that they be able to respond to love. Both the one and the other
find their place in what constitutes the sacramental sign of
marriage. Both the one and the other share in forming this sign.
We can say that through the one and the other the "language of the
body," reread in the subjective dimension of the truth of human
hearts and in the "objective" dimension of the truth of living in
union, becomes the language of the liturgy.
The prayer of the newlyweds in the book of Tobit certainly seems to
confirm this differently from the Song of Songs, and even in a way
that is undoubtedly more deeply moving.
Taken from: L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 2 July
1984, page 2
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