to the Series on the Redemption of the Body and Sacramentality of
General Audience, November 28, 1984
1. As a whole, the catechesis which
I began over four years ago and which I am concluding today can be
summed up under the title: "Human love in the divine plan," or more
precisely, "The redemption of the body and the sacramentality of
marriage." The catechesis can be divided into two parts.
The first part was dedicated to a study of Christ's words, which
prove to be suitable for opening the current theme. These words were
analyzed at length in the totality of the Gospel text. Following the
long-lasting reflection it was fitting to emphasize the three texts
that were analyzed right in the first part of the catechesis.
First of all there is the text in which Christ referred to "the
beginning" in his discussion with the Pharisees on the unity and
indissolubility of marriage (cf. Mt 19:8; Mk 10:6-9). Next there are
the words Christ spoke in the Sermon on the Mount concerning
concupiscence as adultery committed in the heart (cf. Mt 5:28).
Finally, there are the words reported by all the synoptic Gospels in
which Christ referred to the resurrection of the body in the other
world (cf. Mt 22:30; Mk 12:25; Lk 20:35).
The second part of the catechesis was dedicated to the analysis of
the sacrament based on the Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 5:21-33).
This goes back to the biblical beginning of marriage expressed in
the words of Genesis: "A man leaves his father and mother and clings
to his wife, and the two of them become one body" (Gn 2:24).
The catechesis of the first and second parts repeatedly used the
term "theology of the body." In a certain sense, this is a "working"
term. The introduction of the term and the concept of the theology
of the body was necessary to establish the theme, "The redemption of
the body and the sacramentality of marriage," on a wider base. We
must immediately note that the term "theology of the body" goes far
beyond the content of the reflections that were made. These
reflections do not include multiple problems which, with regard to
their object, belong to the theology of the body (as, for example,
the problem of suffering and death, so important in the biblical
message). We must state this clearly. Nonetheless, we must also
recognize explicitly that the reflections on the theme, "The
redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage," can be
correctly carried out from the moment when the light of revelation
touches the reality of the human body (that is, on the basis of the
theology of the body). This is confirmed, among other ways, by the
words of Genesis: "The two of them become one body." These words
were originally and thematically at the basis of our argument.
Reflecting on the Sacrament of Marriage
2. The reflections on the sacrament of marriage were carried out by
considering the two dimensions essential to this sacrament (as to
every other sacrament), that is, the dimension of the covenant and
grace, and the dimension of sign.
Throughout these two dimensions we continually went back to the
reflections on the theology of the body, reflections linked to the
key words of Christ. We went back to these reflections also when we
took up, at the end of this whole series of catecheses, the analysis
of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae.
The doctrine contained in this document of the Church's modern
teaching is organically related to both the sacramentality of
marriage and the whole biblical question of the theology of the
body, centered on the key words of Christ. In a certain sense we can
even say that all the reflections that deal with the redemption of
the body and the sacramentality of marriage seem to constitute an
ample commentary on the doctrine contained in the Encyclical Humanae
This commentary seems quite necessary. In fact, in responding to
some questions of today in the field of conjugal and family
morality, at the same time the encyclical also raised other
questions, as we know, of a biomedical nature. But also (and above
all) they are of a theological nature: they belong to that sphere of
anthropology and theology that we have called the theology of the
The reflections we made consist in facing the questions raised with
regard to the Encyclical Humanae Vitae. The reaction that the
encyclical aroused confirms the importance and the difficulty of
these questions. They are reaffirmed also by later pronouncements of
Paul VI where he emphasized the possibility of examining the
explanation of Christian truth in this area.
In addition, the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, fruit
of the 1980 Synod of Bishops on "The Role of the Christian Family,"
confirms it. The document contains an appeal, directed especially to
theologians, to elaborate more completely the biblical and
personalistic aspects of the doctrine contained in Humanae Vitae.
To gather the questions raised by the encyclical means to formulate
them and at the same time to search again for the answer to them.
The doctrine contained in Familiaris Consortio requires that both
the formulation of the questions and the search for an adequate
answer focus on the biblical and personalistic aspects. This
doctrine also points out the trend of development of the theology of
the body, the direction of the development, and therefore also the
direction of its progressive completion and deepening.
3. The analysis of the biblical aspects speaks of the way to place
the doctrine of today's Church on the foundation of revelation. This
is important for the development of theology. Development, that is,
progress in theology, takes place through a continual restudying of
the deposit of revelation.
The rooting of the doctrine proclaimed by the Church in all of
Tradition and in divine revelation itself is always open to
questions posed by man. It also uses the instruments most in keeping
with modern science and today's culture. It seems that in this area
the intense development of philosophical anthropology (especially
the anthropology that rests on ethics) most closely faces the
questions raised by the Encyclical Humanae Vitae regarding theology
and especially theological ethics.
The analysis of the personalistic aspects of the doctrine contained
in this document has an existential significance for establishing
what true progress, that is, the development of man, is. In fact,
throughout all modern civilization—especially in Western
civilization—there is an occult and at the same time an explicit
enough tendency to measure this progress on the basis of "things,"
that is, material goods.
The analysis of the personalistic aspects of the Church's doctrine,
contained in Paul VI's encyclical, emphasizes a determined appeal to
measure man's progress on the basis of the person, that is, of what
is good for man as man—what corresponds to his essential dignity.
The analysis of the personalistic aspects leads to the conviction
that the encyclical presents as a fundamental problem the viewpoint
of man's authentic development. This development is measured to the
greatest extent on the basis of ethics and not only on technology.
4. The catechesis dedicated to the Encyclical Humanae Vitae
constitutes only one part, the final part, of those which dealt with
the redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage.
If I draw your attention especially to this last catechesis, I do so
not only because the subject dealt with is more closely connected to
our contemporaneity. But I do so above all because of the fact that
questions come from it which in a certain sense permeate the sum
total of our reflections. It follows that this last part is not
artificially added to the sum total but is organically and
homogeneously united with it. In a certain sense, that part which in
the complex arrangement is located at the end is at the same time
found at the beginning of this sum total. This is important from the
point of view of structure and method.
Even the historical moment seems to have its significance. The
present catechesis was begun in the period of preparation for the
1980 Synod of Bishops on the theme of marriage and the family ("The
role of the Christian family"), and ends after the publication of
the Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, which is a result of the work
of this Synod. Everyone knows that the 1980 Synod also referred to
the Encyclical Humanae Vitae and fully reconfirmed its doctrine.
Nevertheless, the most important moment seems to be that essential
moment when, in the sum total of the reflections carried out, we can
precisely state the following: to face the questions raised by the
Encyclical Humanae Vitae, especially in theology, to formulate these
questions and seek their reply, it is necessary to find that
biblical-theological sphere to which we allude when we speak of the
redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage. In this
sphere are found the answers to the perennial questions in the
conscience of men and women, and also to the difficult questions of
our modern world concerning marriage and procreation.
Taken from: L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English 3 December 1984, page 1.
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