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Sanctity and respect of the body in the doctrine of St Paul

54 (of 129) - Catechesis by John Paul II on the Theology of the Body
General Audience, Wednesday 28 January 1981 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. St. Paul writes in the First Letter to the Thessalonians: "...this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from unchastity, that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour , not in the passion of lust like heathens who do not know God" (1 Th 4:3-5). After some verses, he continues: "God has not called us for uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you" (ibid. 4:7-8). We referred to these sentences of the Apostle during our last meeting. We take them up again today because they are especially important for the subject of our meditations.

2. The purity which Paul speaks of in First Thessalonians (4:3-5, 7-8) is manifested in the fact that man "knows how to control his own body in holiness and honour , not in the passion of lust." In this formulation every word has a particular meaning and therefore deserves an adequate comment.

In the first place, purity is a "capacity," that is, in the traditional language of anthropology and ethics, an aptitude. In this sense it is a virtue. If this ability, that is, virtue, leads to abstaining from unchastity, that happens because the man who possesses it "knows how to control his own body in holiness and honour , not in the passion of lust." It is a question here of a practical capacity which makes man capable of acting in a given way, and at the same time of not acting in the opposite way. For purity to be such a capacity or aptitude, it must obviously be rooted in the will, in the foundation of man's willing and conscious acting. In his teaching on virtues, Thomas Aquinas sees in an even more direct way the object of purity in the faculty of sensitive desire, which he calls appetitus concupiscibilis. Precisely this faculty must be particularly mastered, subordinated and made capable of acting in a way that is in conformity with virtue, in order that purity may be attributed to man. According to this concept, purity consists in the first place in containing the impulse of sensitive desire, which has as its object what is corporeal and sexual in man. Purity is a different form of the virtue of temperance.

3. The text of the First Letter to the Thessalonians (4:3-5) shows that in Paul's concept, the virtue of purity consists also in the mastery and overcoming of the passion of lust. That means that the capacity for controlling the impulses of sensitive desire, that is, the virtue of temperance, belongs necessarily to its nature. At the same time, however, this Pauline text turns our attention to another role of the virtue of purity. It could be said that this other dimension is more positive than negative.

That is, the task of purity, which the author of the letter seems to stress above all, is not only (and not so much) abstention from unchastity and from what leads to it, and so abstention from the passion of lust, but, at the same time, the control of one's own body and, indirectly, also that of others, in holiness and honour , .

These two functions, abstention and control, are closely connected and dependent on each other. It is not possible to "control one's body in holiness and honour " if that abstention from unchastity and from what leads to it is lacking. Consequently it can be admitted that control of one's body (and indirectly that of others) in holiness and honour  confers adequate meaning and value on that abstention. This in itself calls for overcoming something that is in man and that arises spontaneously in him as an inclination, an attraction, and also as a value. This acts above all in the sphere of the senses, but often not without repercussions on the other dimensions of human subjectivity, and particularly on the affective-emotional dimension.

4. Considering all this, its seems that the Pauline image of the virtue of purity—an image that emerges from the very eloquent comparison of the function of abstention (that is, of temperance) with that of "control of one's body in holiness and honour "—is deeply right, complete and adequate. Perhaps we owe this completeness to nothing else than the fact that Paul considers purity not only as a capacity (that is, an aptitude) of man's subjective faculties, but at the same time, as a concrete manifestation of life according to the Spirit. In this life, human capacity is interiorly made fruitful and enriched by what Paul calls in Galatians 5:22 the "fruit of the Spirit." The honour  that arises in man for everything that is corporeal and sexual, both in himself and in any other person, male and female, is seen to be the most essential power to control the body in holiness. To understand the Pauline teaching on purity, it is necessary to penetrate fully the meaning of the term "honour ," which is obviously understood here as a power of the spiritual order. Precisely this interior power confers its full dimension on purity as a virtue, that is, as the capacity of acting in that whole field in which man discovers within himself the multiple impulses of the passion of lust and for various reasons, sometimes surrenders to them.

5. To grasp better the thought of the author of First Thessalonians, it will be a good thing to keep in mind also another text, which we find in First Corinthians. Paul sets forth in it his great ecclesiological doctrine, according to which the Church is the Body of Christ. Paul takes the opportunity to formulate the following argumentation about the human body: "...God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose" (1 Cor 12:18). Further on he said: "On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honour able we invest with the greater honour , and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honour  to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another" (ibid. 12:22-25).

6. The specific subject of the text in question is the theology of the Church as the Body of Christ. However, in connection with this passage it can be said that Paul, by means of his great ecclesiological analogy (which recurs in other letters, and which we will take up again in due time), contributes, at the same time, to deepening the theology of the body. While in First Thessalonians he writes about control of the body in holiness and honour , in the passage now quoted from First Corinthians he wishes to show this human body as worthy of honour . It could also be said that he wishes to teach the receivers of his letter the correct concept of the human body.

Therefore, this Pauline description of the human body in First Corinthians seems to be closely connected with the recommendations of the First Letter to the Thessalonians: "...that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour " (1 Th 4:4). This is an important thread, perhaps the essential one, of the Pauline doctrine on purity."

After the catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages:

Ai partecipanti ad un corso di spiritualità

I extend my warm greetings to the participants in the special course being held at the Ignatian Spirituality Center in Rome. I hope that your own lives and the lives of those with whom you have contact will benefit from the deeper knowledge and understanding that you are gaining of the decisive and self-sacrificing spirituality of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. It is a form of spirituality that has stood the test of centuries and is daily demonstrating its vitality and relevance to our own times and needs. May God guide you in your work, and give you ever greater holiness in Christ Jesus.

Alla Famiglia Salesiana

Con vivo compiacimento porgo il mio cordiale saluto ai membri della Famiglia Salesiana, rappresentanti di una trentina di paesi, convenuti in Roma per partecipare ad una settimana di spiritualità in occasione del centenario della morte di S. Maria Domenica Mazzarello, la quale insieme con S. Giovanni Bosco ha dato vita all’operosa e diffusa Congregazione delle Figlie di Maria Ausiliatrice.

Rivolgete sempre il vostro sguardo a questi due grandi maestri della pedagogia cattolica, che hanno formato generazioni di giovani ad un illuminato e sereno impegno di testimonianza cristiana. Attingete continuamente dal loro carisma il necessario vigore spirituale, fondato, come già per essi, sulla vita di preghiera e sulla fiducia incrollabile nell’aiuto di Dio e nell’intercessione della Vergine Santissima. Con la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Al Movimento GEN 2

Saluto tutti i giovani qui presenti. So che oggi sono molto numerosi. In particolare, ricordo che gruppi: i giovani del " Centro di Formazione Professionale " dell’Istituto Salesiano " Teresia Gerini " di Roma-Ponte Mammolo, accompagnati dai loro Operatori, e poi i giovani del " Movimento GEN 2 ", provenienti da tutta Europa.

Carissimi, vivete in pienezza di gioia e di impegno questa stagione della vita, che vi prepara ai futuri ruoli da svolgere nella società. E portate sempre radicata in voi l’adesione di fede a Cristo Signore, che accende il vostro entusiasmo, stimola la vostra generosità e dà un orientamento sicuro alle vostre energie, invitandovi a metterle a servizio dei fratelli, nella Chiesa e nel mondo. Così vivendo, voi mantenete giovane la Chiesa. E siate certi che il Papa vi vuole bene, mentre vi incoraggia nella vostra quotidiana testimonianza cristiana. Sempre vi accompagni la mia paterna benedizione.

Ai malati

Rivolgo un saluto tutto particolare ai cari ammalati qui convenuti, tra i quali c’è un gruppo di bambini e un’adulta del Centro Socio-Sanitario di torre Spaccata, insieme con le loro assistenti infermiere volontarie della Croce Rossa Italiana.

Miei figli carissimi, vi dico subito tutto il grande affetto che ho per voi, e che la vostra presenza odierna accresce ancora di più. Vorrei poter lenire le vostre sofferenze, e per questo vi assicuro che avete un posto tutto speciale nella mia preghiera. Vi raccomando vivamente al Signore, perché egli vi dia tutta la forza necessaria per vivere con frutto cristiano la vostra condizione. Affidatevi pienamente a lui. E sentitevi vicino con la premura di un padre, che vi benedice con tutto il cuore.

Alle coppie di sposi novelli

Voglio anche salutare i Novelli Sposi presenti a questa Udienza, per fare loro ogni miglior augurio di letizia e di prosperità cristiana. Il vostro matrimonio sia davvero fecondo, non solo di figli, ma anche di genuina testimonianza cristiana. Sappiate sempre attingere alla superiore comunione col Signore tutta la bellezza della vostra unione reciproca e tutta la forza che occorre per affrontare insieme le difficoltà della vita. Di questi sentiti auspici è pegno la benedizione, che di cuore di imparto.

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