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In the definition of man, the alternative between death and immortality

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Theology of the Body - 7
General Audience, Wednesday 31 October 1979 - also in French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. Today it is opportune to return to the meaning of man's original solitude, which emerges above all from the analysis of the so-called Yahwist text of Genesis 2. As we have seen in the preceding reflections, the biblical text enables us to stress not only consciousness of the human body (man is created in the visible world as a "body among bodies"), but also that of its meaning.

In view of the great conciseness of the biblical text, it is admittedly not possible to amplify this implication too much. It is certain, however, that here we touch upon the central problem of anthropology. Consciousness of the body seems to be identified in this case with the discovery of the complexity of one's own structure. On the basis of philosophical anthropology, this discovery consists, in short, in the relationship between soul and body. The Yahwist narrative with its own language (that is, with its own terminology), expresses it by saying: "The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being" (Gn 2:7).(1) Precisely this man, "a living being," distinguishes himself continually from all other living beings in the visible world. The premise of man's distinguishing himself in this way is precisely the fact that only he is capable of "tilling the earth" (cf. Gn 2:5) and "subduing it" (cf. Gn 1:28). It can be said that the consciousness of "superiority" contained in the definition of humanity is born right from the beginning on the basis of a typically human praxis or behavior. This consciousness brings with it a particular perception of the meaning of one's own body, emerging precisely from the fact that it falls to man to "till the earth" and "subdue it." All that would be impossible without a typically human intuition of the meaning of one's own body.

2. It seems necessary, then, to speak in the first place of this aspect, rather than of the problem of anthropological complexity in the metaphysical sense. The original description of human consciousness, given by the Yahwist text, comprises also the body in the narrative as a whole. It contains the first testimony of the discovery of one's corporeality and even, as has been said, the perception of the meaning of one's own body. All this is revealed not on the basis of any primordial metaphysical analysis, but on the basis of a concrete subjectivity of man that is quite clear. Man is a subject not only because of his self-awareness and self-determination, but also on the basis of his own body. The structure of this body permits him to be the author of a truly human activity. In this activity the body expresses the person. Therefore, in all its materiality ("God formed man of dust from the ground"), it is almost penetrable and transparent, in such a way as to make it clear who man is (and who he should be), thanks to the structure of his consciousness and of his self-determination. On this rests the fundamental perception of the meaning of one's own body, which can be discovered when analyzing man's original solitude.

3. And here, with this fundamental understanding of the meaning of his own body, man, as subject of the ancient covenant with the Creator, is placed before the mystery of the tree of knowledge. "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die" (Gn 2:16-17). The original meaning of man's solitude is based on experience of the existence obtained from the Creator. This human existence is characterized precisely by subjectivity, which includes also the meaning of the body. But could man, who in his original consciousness, knew exclusively the experience of existing and therefore of life, have understood the meaning of the words, "You shall die"? Would he have been able to arrive at understanding the meaning of these words through the complex structure of life, given to him when "the Lord God...breathed into his nostrils the breath of life"? It must be admitted that the word "die," a completely new one, appeared on the horizon of man's consciousness without his having ever experienced its reality. At the same time this word appeared before him as a radical antithesis of all that man had been endowed with.

For the first time, man heard the words "You shall die," without having any familiarity with them in his experience up to then. On the other hand, he could not but associate the meaning of death with that dimension of life which he had enjoyed up to then. The words of God-Yahweh addressed to man confirmed a dependence in existing, such as to make man a limited being and, by his very nature, liable to nonexistence. These words raised the problem of death in a conditional way: "In the day that you eat of it you shall die." Man, who had heard these words, had to find their truth in the interior structure of his own solitude. In short, it depended on him, on his decision and free choice, if, with solitude, he was to enter also the circle of the antithesis revealed to him by the Creator, together with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and thereby to make his own the experience of dying and death. Listening to the words of God-Yahweh, man should have understood that the tree of knowledge had roots not only in the garden of Eden, but also in his humanity. He should have understood, furthermore, that that mysterious tree concealed within it a dimension of loneliness, hitherto unknown, with which the Creator had endowed him in the midst of the world of living beings, to which he, man—in the presence of the Creator himself—had "given names", in order to understand that none of them was similar to him.

4. The fundamental meaning of his body had already been established through its distinction from all other creatures. It had thereby become clear that the "invisible" determines man more than the "visible." Then, there was presented to him the alternative closely and directly connected by God with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The alternative between death and immortality, which emerges from Genesis 2:17, goes beyond the essential meaning of man's body. It grasps the eschatological meaning not only of the body, but of humanity itself, distinguished from all living beings, from "bodies." This alternative concerns, however, in a quite particular way, the body created from "dust from the ground".

Not to prolong this analysis, we will merely note that right from the outset the alternative between death and immortality enters the definition of man. It belongs "from the beginning" to the meaning of his solitude before God himself. This original meaning of solitude, permeated by the alternative between death and immortality, also has a fundamental meaning for the whole theology of the body.

With this observation we conclude for the present our reflections on the meaning of man's original solitude. This observation, which emerges in a clear and penetrating way from the texts of Genesis, induces reflection both on the texts and on man. Perhaps he is too little conscious of the truth that concerns him, which is already contained in the first chapters of the Bible."


"IN BESONDERE WEISE grüße ich zum Schluß noch die große Diözesanwallfahrt von Hildesheim unter der Leitung des Herrn Weihbischofs Mons. Pachowiak; ferner dier Pilger aus den Bistümern Mainz, Limburg und Fulda sowie die anwesenden Leser der Familienzeitschrift "Leben und Erziehen".

Eure Rompilgerfahrt und euer Gebet an den Gräbern der Apostel und Heiligen gelten nicht so sehr dem ehrenden Andenken von Verstorbenen, die einmal Großes für Christus und die Kirche geleistet haben; sie gelten großen und beispielhaften Glaubensbrüdern, die heute in Gottes Herrlichkeit und Anschauung leben. Eure Wallfahrt ist ein feierliches Bekenntnis zur Gemeinschaft der Heiligen, die nicht Vergangenheit, sondern lebendige Gegenwart ist. Das morgige Allerheiligenfest erinnert uns wiederum daran. Gott, der ein Gott der Lebenden ist, erfülle euch mit einem starken Verlangen nach dem hohen Ideal der Heiligkeit, wodurch auch unser Leben einmal in Gott seine höchste Vollendung finden soll. Das wünsche ich euch allen von Herzen mit meinem Apostolischen Segen.

SALUDO CON PROFUNDO AFECTO a los sacerdotes de Santa Rosa de Osos (Colombia), que han acompañado a su Obispo, venido a Roma para la visita " ad limina ".

En vosotros saludo también a los hermanos sacerdotes de vuestra querida Diócesis. Sed constantes en vuestra misión pastoral de llevar a los fieles por caminos de auténtica fe, de renovada esperanza y de solidaria caridad. A todos os doy de corazón una especial Bendición.

Un affettuoso saluto desidero rivolgere anche ai numerosi pellegrini della diocesi di Nardò, i quali, sotto la guida del loro Vescovo, Monsignor Antonio Rosario Mennonua, intendono iniziare qui, a Roma, accanto al Papa, l’Anno Mariano diocesano per l’ulteriore incremento della vita spirituale della loro comunità e per la santificazione delle anime.

Vi esprimo il mio vivo compiacimento per questa iniziativa, che coinvolge tutte le forze migliori della vostra comunità. Siate interiormente docili ai materni suggerimenti che la Madonna Santissima non mancherà di ispirarvi in questo periodo, perché possiate testimoniare, di fronte al mondo, la vostra fede, che trovi la sua concretezza nell’adesione gioiosa e totale alle esigenze morali del messaggio di Gesù; la vostra carità generosa ed operosa verso tutti coloro che si trovano nel bisogno; la vostra costante speranza nel Signore nostro Gesù Cristo (cf. 1Ts 1,2ss.). Con questi auspici invoco su voi tutti, sul vostro Pastore, sui Sindaci dei Comuni della diocesi l’abbondanza delle grazie del Signore e di cuore vi imparto la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Un saluto particolarmente affettuoso va a voi tutti, giovani, accorsi anche oggi numerosi ad allietare questa udienza generale. Carissimi, vi ringrazio di cuore per questa vostra significativa presenza, segno di donazione a Cristo e di comunione con il suo Vicario in terra. Le generose aspirazioni del vostro animo mi recano sempre tanta gioia. Celebrando domani la Chiesa le festa di Tutti i Santi, vi invito, cari giovani, a rivolgere il vostro pensiero verso le realtà indefettibili, ragione della nostra speranza, e a trarre esempio e conforto da chi ha seguito il Signore con eroica adesione e vuole ora aiutare noi a percorrere con coraggio la stessa strada di salvezza. A voi tutti imparto una speciale Benedizione.

Desidero assicurare a tutti voi, ammalati, che vi sono particolarmente vicino con il cuore e con la preghiera, consapevole della preziosità del vostro sacrificio che, mentre eleva e rafforza i vostri animi, è fonte di tanta gioia per tutta la Chiesa. Concludendosi oggi il mese del Rosario, mi è caro invitarvi a trarre ispirazione, gioia e conforto da questa preghiera tanto cara alla tradizione cristiana. Rivolgete incessantemente il vostro sguardo alla Vergine Santissima; essa, che è la Madre dei dolori e Madre anche della consolazione, può capirvi fino in fondo e soccorrervi. Guardando a lei, pregando lei, voi otterrete che il vostro tedio diventi serenità, che la vostra angoscia si tramuti in speranza, che la vostra pena si trasformi in amore. Vi accompagno con la mia Benedizione che volentieri estendo a tutti quanti vi assistono.

Ed ora mi rivolgo a voi, cari sposi novelli, per porgervi il mio augurio paterno, che è insieme invito alla fiducia e alla gioia. La letizia sbocciata dai vostri cuori con la grazia del Sacramento vi accompagni per tutta la vita e vi aiuti a vincere le tentazioni sempre insorgenti dell’egoismo, il grande nemico dell’unione familiare. Fate che le nuove famiglie, sorte dal vostro libero consenso, vivificato e reso offerta di amore alla presenza di Cristo, siano sempre pervase da costante volontà reciproca di bene; rimangano salde sulla roccia dell’unità e della fedeltà; siano ricche di quelle virtù cristiane che fondano e garantiscono la prosperità del focolare domestico. Accompagno questi auspici con la mia Benedizione."