A problem with very deep
1.Let us now reflect—with regard to Christ's words in the Sermon
on the Mount—on the problem of the ethos of the human body in
works of artistic culture. This problem has very deep roots. It
is opportune to recall here the series of analyses carried out
in connection with Christ's reference to the beginning, and
subsequently to the reference he made to the human heart, in the
Sermon on the Mount. The human body—the naked human body in the
whole truth of its masculinity and femininity—has the meaning of
a gift of the person to the person. The ethos of the body, that
is, the ethical norms that govern its nakedness, because of the
dignity of the personal subject, is closely connected with that
system of reference. This is understood as the nuptial system,
in which the giving of one party meets the appropriate and
adequate response of the other party to the gift. This response
decides the reciprocity of the gift.
The artistic objectivation [sic] of the human body in its male
and female nakedness, in order to make it first of all a model
and then the subject of the work of art, is always to a certain
extent a going outside of this original and, for the body, its
specific configuration of interpersonal donation. In a way, that
constitutes an uprooting of the human body from this
configuration and its transfer to the dimension of artistic
objectivation—the specific dimension of the work of art or of
the reproduction typical of the film and photographic techniques
of our time.
In each of these dimensions—and in a different way in each
one—the human body loses that deeply subjective meaning of the
gift. It becomes an object destined for the knowledge of many.
This happens in such a way that those who look at the body,
assimilate or even, in a way, take possession of what evidently
exists, of what in fact should exist essentially at the level of
a gift, made by the person to the person, not just in the image
but in the living man. Actually, that "taking possession"
already happens at another level—that is, at the level of the
object of the transfiguration or artistic reproduction. However
it is impossible not to perceive that from the point of view of
the ethos of the body, deeply understood, a problem arises here.
This is a very delicate problem, which has its levels of
intensity according to various motives and circumstances both as
regards artistic activity and as regards knowledge of the work
of art or of its reproduction. The fact that this problem is
raised does not mean that the human body, in its nakedness,
cannot become a subject of works of art—but only that this
problem is not purely aesthetic, nor morally indifferent.
Original shame a permanent element
2. In our preceding analyses (especially with regard to Christ's
reference to the "beginning"), we devoted a great deal of space
to the meaning of shame. We tried to understand the difference
between the situation—and the state—of original innocence, in
which "they were both naked, and were not ashamed" (Gn 2:25),
and, subsequently, between the situation—and the state—of
sinfulness. In that state there arose between man and woman,
together with shame, the specific necessity of privacy with
regard to their own bodies.
In the heart of man, subject to lust, this necessity serves,
even indirectly, to ensure the gift and the possibility of
mutual donation. This necessity also forms man's way of acting
as "an object of culture," in the widest meaning of the term. If
culture shows an explicit tendency to cover the nakedness of the
human body, it certainly does so not only for climatic reasons,
but also in relation to the process of growth of man's personal
sensitivity. The anonymous nakedness of the man-object contrasts
with the progress of the truly human culture of morals. It is
probably possible to confirm this also in the life of so-called
primitive populations. The process of refining personal human
sensitivity is certainly a factor and fruit of culture.
Beyond the need of shame, that is, of the privacy of one's own
body (on which the biblical sources give such precise
information in Genesis 3), there is a deeper norm. This norm is
the gift, directed toward the very depths of the personal
subject or toward the other person—especially in the man-woman
relationship according to the perennial norms regulating the
mutual donation. In this way, in the processes of human culture
understood in the wide sense, we note—even in man's state of
hereditary sinfulness—quite an explicit continuity of the
nuptial meaning of the body in its masculinity and femininity.
That original shame, known already from the first chapters of
the Bible, is a permanent element of culture and morals. It
belongs to the genesis of the ethos of the human body.
3. The person of developed sensitivity overcomes the limit of
that shame with difficulty and interior resistance. This is seen
clearly even in situations which justify the necessity of
undressing the body, such as in the case of medical examinations
or operations. Mention should also be made especially of other
circumstances, such as those of concentration camps or places of
extermination, where the violation of bodily shame is a method
used deliberately to destroy personal sensitivity and the sense
of human dignity.
The same rule is confirmed everywhere—though in different ways.
Following personal sensitivity, man does not wish to become an
object for others through his own anonymous nakedness. Nor does
he wish the other to become an object for him in a similar way.
Evidently he does not wish this to the extent to which he lets
himself be guided by the sense of the dignity of the human body.
Various motives can induce, incite and even press man to act in
a way contrary to the requirements of the dignity of the human
body, a dignity connected with personal sensitivity. It cannot
be forgotten that the fundamental interior situation of
historical man is the state of threefold lust (cf. 1 Jn 2:16).
This state—and, in particular, the lust of the flesh—makes
itself felt in various ways, both in the interior impulses of
the human heart and in the whole climate of interhuman relations
and social morals.
When deep governing rules are violated
4. We cannot forget this, not even when it is a question of the
broad sphere of artistic culture, particularly that of visual
and spectacular character, as also when it is a question of mass
culture. This is so significant for our times and connected with
the use of the media of audiovisual communication. A question
arises: when and in what case is this sphere of man's
activity—from the point of view of the ethos of the
body—regarded as pornovision, just as in literature some
writings were and are often regarded as pornography (this second
term is an older one).
Both take place when the limit of shame is overstepped, that is,
of personal sensitivity with regard to what is connected with
the human body with its nakedness. They take place when in the
work of art or by means of the media of audiovisual reproduction
the right to the privacy of the body in its masculinity or
femininity is violated—and in the last analysis—when those deep
governing rules of the gift and of mutual donation, which are
inscribed in this femininity and masculinity through the whole
structure of the human being, are violated. This deep
inscription—or rather incision—decides the nuptial meaning of
the human body, that is, of the fundamental call it receives to
form the "communion of persons" and take part in it.
Breaking off at this point our consideration, which we intend to
continue next Wednesday, it should be noted that observance or
non-observance of these norms, so deeply connected with man's
personal sensitivity, cannot be a matter of indifference for the
problem of creating a climate favorable to chastity in life and
Taken from: L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 27
April 1981, page 3
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