1. We have
already spoken of the shame which arose in the heart of the
first man, male and female, together with sin. The first
sentence of the biblical narrative concerning this runs as
follows: "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that
they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made
themselves aprons" (Gn 3:7). This passage, which speaks of the
mutual shame of the man and the woman as a symptom of the fall
(status naturae lapsae), must be considered in its context. At
that moment shame reaches its deepest level and seems to shake
the foundations of their existence. "And they heard the sound of
the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and
the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the
Lord God among the trees of the garden" (Gn 3:8).
The necessity of hiding themselves indicates that in the depths
of the shame they both feel before each other, as the immediate
fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a sense of
fear before God has matured, a fear previously unknown. The
"Lord God called to the man, and said to him, 'Where are you?'
And he said, 'I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was
afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself'" (Gn 3:9-10).
fear always belongs to the essence of shame. Nevertheless,
original shame reveals its character in a particular way: "I was
afraid, because I was naked." We realize that something deeper
than physical shame, bound up with a recent consciousness of his
own nakedness, is in action here. Man tries to cover the real
origin of fear with the shame of his own nakedness. Thus he
indicates its effect, in order not to call its cause by name.
Then God-Yahweh says in his turn: "Who told you that you were
naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not
to eat?" (Gn 3:11).
alienated from love
precision of that dialogue is overwhelming; the precision of the
whole narrative is overwhelming. It manifests the surface of
man's emotions in living the events, in such a way as to reveal
their depth at the same time. In all this, nakedness does not
have solely a literal meaning. It does not refer only to the
body; it is not the origin of a shame related only to the body.
Actually, through nakedness, man deprived of participation in
the gift is manifested, man alienated from that love which had
been the source of the original gift, the source of the fullness
of the good intended for the creature.
According to the formulas of the theological teaching of the
Church,(1) this man was deprived of the supernatural and
preternatural gifts which were part of his endowment before sin.
Furthermore, he suffered a loss in what belongs to his nature
itself, to humanity in the original fullness of the image of
God. The three forms of lust do not correspond to the fullness
of that image, but precisely to the loss, the deficiencies, the
limitations that appeared with sin.
Lust is explained as a lack which has its roots in the original
depth of the human spirit. If we wish to study this phenomenon
in its origins, that is, at the threshold of the experiences of
historical man, we must consider all the words that God-Yahweh
addressed to the woman (Gn 3:16) and to the man (Gn 3:17-19).
Furthermore, we must examine the state of their consciousness.
The Yahwist text expressly enables us to do so. We have already
called attention to the literary specificity of the text in this
3. What state
of consciousness can be manifested in the words: "I was afraid,
because I was naked, and I hid myself"? What interior truth do
they correspond to? What meaning of the body do they testify to?
Certainly this new state differs a great deal from the original
one. The words of Genesis 3:10 witness directly to a radical
change of the meaning of original nakedness. As we pointed out
previously, in the state of original innocence nakedness did not
express a lack. Rather, it represented full acceptance of the
body in all its human and therefore personal truth.
The body, as the expression of the person, was the first sign of
man's presence in the visible world. In that world, right from
the beginning, man was able to distinguish himself, almost to be
individualized—that is, confirm himself as a person—through his
own body. It had been marked as a visible factor of the
transcendence in virtue of which man, as a person, surpasses the
visible world of living beings (animalia). In this sense, the
human body was from the beginning a faithful witness and a
tangible verification of man's original solitude in the world.
At the same time, by means of his masculinity and femininity, it
became a limpid element of mutual donation in the communion of
In this way,
the human body bore in itself, in the mystery of creation, an
unquestionable sign of the image of God. It also constituted the
specific source of the certainty of that image, present in the
whole human being. In a way, original acceptance of the body was
the basis of the acceptance of the whole visible world. In its
turn it was for man a guarantee of his dominion over the world,
over the earth, which he was to subdue (cf. Gn 1:28).
4. The words
"I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself" (Gn 3:10),
witness to a radical change in this relationship. In a way, man
loses the original certainty of the image of God, expressed in
his body. He also loses to some extent the sense of his right to
participate in the perception of the world, which he enjoyed in
the mystery of creation. This right had its foundation in man's
inner self, in the fact that he himself participated in the
divine vision of the world and of his own humanity. This gave
him deep peace and joy in living the truth and value of his own
body, in all its simplicity, transmitted to him by the Creator:
"God saw [that] it was very good" (Gn 1:31).
The words of Genesis 3:10, "I was afraid, because I was naked,
and I hid myself," confirm the collapse of the original
acceptance of the body as a sign of the person in the visible
world. At the same time, the acceptance of the material world in
relation to man also seems to be shaken. The words of God-Yahweh
forewarn the hostility of the world, the resistance of nature
with regard to man and his tasks. They forewarn the fatigue that
the human body was to feel in contact with the earth subdued by
him: "Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat
of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall
bring forth to you, and you shall eat the plants of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to
the ground, for out of it you were taken" (Gn 3:17-19). Death is
the end of this toil, of this struggle of man with the earth:
"You are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gn 3:19).
In this context, or rather in this perspective, Adam's words in
Genesis 3:10, "I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid
myself," seem to express the awareness of being defenseless.
They express the sense of insecurity of his bodily structure
before the processes of nature, operating with inevitable
determinism. Perhaps in this overwhelming statement a certain
"cosmic shame" is implicit. In it, man's being created in the
image of God and called to subdue the earth and dominate it (cf.
Gn 1:28) expresses his own self. This happens precisely when, at
the beginning of his historical experiences and in a manner so
explicit, he is subjected to the earth, especially in the "part"
of his transcendent constitution represented precisely by the
It is necessary to interrupt here our reflections on the meaning
of original shame, in the book of Genesis. We will resume them
in a week's time.
Magisterium of the Church dealt more closely with these
problems, in three periods, according to the needs of the age.
The declarations of the period of the controversies with the
Pelagians (V-VI centuries) affirm that the first man, by virtue
of divine grace, possessed "naturalem possibilitatem et
innocentiam" (DS 239), also called "freedom" ("libertas," "libertas
arbitrii"), (DS 371, 242, 383, 622). He remained in a state
which the Synod of Orange (in the year 529) calls "integritas":
"Natura humana, etiamsi in illa integritate, in qua condita est,
permaneret, nullo modo se ipsam, Creatore suo non adiuvante,
servaret..." (DS 389).
The concepts of integritas and, in particular, that of libertas,
presuppose freedom from concupiscence, although the
ecclesiastical documents of this age do not mention it
The first man was furthermore free from the necessity of death
(cf. DS 222, 372, 1511).
The Council of Trent defines the state of the first man, prior
to sin, as "holiness and justice" ("sanctitas et iustitia"—DS
1511, 1512) or as "innocence" ("innocentia"—DS 1521).
Further declarations on this matter defend the absolute
gratuitousness of the original gift of grace, against the
affirmations of the Jansenists. The "integritas primae
creationis" was an unmerited elevation of human nature ("indebita
humanae naturae exaltatio") and not "the state due to him by
nature" ("naturalis eius condicio"—DS 1926). God, therefore,
could have created man without these graces and gifts (cf. DS
1955); that would not have shattered the essence of human nature
and would not have deprived it of its fundamental privileges
(cf. DS 1903-1907, 1909, 1921, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1955, 2434,
2437, 2616, 2617).
In analogy with the anti-Pelagian Synod, the Council of Trent
deals above all with the dogma of original sin, integrating in
its teaching preceding declarations in this connection. Here,
however, a certain clarification was introduced, which partly
changed the content comprised in the concept of liberum
arbitrium. The "freedom" or "free will" of the anti-Pelagian
documents did not mean the possibility of choice, connected with
human nature, and therefore constant, but referred only to the
possibility of carrying out meritorious acts, the freedom that
springs from grace and that man may lose.
Because of sin, Adam lost what did not belong to human nature in
the strict sense of the word, that is integritas, sanctitas,
innocentia, iustitia. Liberum arbitrium, free will, was not
taken away, but became weaker:
"...liberum arbitrium minime exstinctum...viribus licet
attenuatum et inclinatum... (DS 1521--Trid. Sess. VI, Decr. de
Justificatione, C. 1).
Together with sin appears concupiscence and the inevitability of
"...primum hominem...cum mandatum Dei...fuisset transgressus,
statim sanctitatem et iustitiam, in qua constitutus fuerat,
amisisse incurrisseque per offensam praevaricationis huismodi
iram et indignationem Dei atque ideo mortem...et cum morte
captivatatem sub eius potestate, qui 'mortis' deinde 'habuit
imperium'...'totumque Adam per illam praevaricationis offensam
secumdum corpous et animam in deterius commutatum fuisse...'"
(DS 1511, Trid. Sess. V, Decr. de Pecc. Orig. 1).
Cf. Mysterium Salutis, II, Einsiedeln-Zuirch-Köln 1967, pp.
827-828; W. Seibel, "Der Mensch als Gottes übernatürliches
Ebenbild und der Urstand des Menschen."
L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 19 May 1980, page
Return to the Theology of the Body Main