Paul II- Theology of the Body
Analysis of Knowledge and of Procreation
General Audience, March 5, 1980
1. To the
ensemble of our analyses, dedicated to the biblical "beginning", we
wish to add another short passage, taken from chapter IV of the Book
of Genesis. For this purpose, however, we must refer first of all to
the words spoken by Jesus Christ in the talk with the Pharisees (cf.
Mt 19 and Mk 10), (1) in the compass of which our reflections take
place. They concern the context of human existence, according to
which death and the destruction of the body connected with it have
become the common fate of man (according to the words, "to dust you
shall return" of Gn 3:19). Christ referred to "the beginning," to
the original dimension of the mystery of creation, when this
dimension had already been shattered by the mysterium iniquitatis,
that is, by sin and, together with it, by death, mysterium
Sin and death
entered man's history, in a way, through the very heart of that
unity which, from the beginning, was formed by man and woman,
created and called to become "one flesh" (Gn 2:24). Already at the
beginning of our meditations we saw that in referring to "the
beginning," Christ leads us, in a certain way, beyond the limit of
man's hereditary sinfulness to his original innocence. In this way
he enables us to find the continuity and the connection existing
between these two situations. By means of them, the drama of the
origins was produced, as well as the revelation of the mystery of
man to historical man.
us to pass, after the analyses concerning the state of original
innocence, to the last of them, that is, to the analysis of
"knowledge and of procreation." Thematically, it is closely bound up
with the blessing of fertility, which is inserted in the first
narrative of man's creation as male and female (cf. Gn 1:27-28).
Historically, on the other hand, it is already inserted in that
horizon of sin and death. As Genesis teaches (cf. Gn 3), this has
weighed on the consciousness of the meaning of the human body,
together with the breaking of the first covenant with the Creator.
Union defined as
2. In Genesis 4,
and therefore still within the scope of the Yahwist text, we read:
"Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, 'I
have begotten a man with the help of the Lord.' And again, she bore
his brother Abel" (Gn 4:1-2). If we connect with knowledge that
first fact of the birth of a man on earth, we do so on the basis of
the literal translation of the text. According to it, the conjugal
union is defined as knowledge. "Adam knew Eve his wife,"
which is a translation of the Semitic term jadac.(2)
We can see in
this a sign of the poverty of the archaic language, which lacked
varied expressions to define differentiated facts. Nevertheless, it
is significant that the situation in which husband and wife unite so
closely as to become one flesh has been defined as knowledge. In
this way, from the very poverty of the language a specific depth of
meaning seems to emerge. It derives precisely from all the meanings
this is also important as regards the "archetype" of our way of
conceiving corporeal man, his masculinity and his femininity, and
therefore his sex. In this way, through the term knowledge used in
Genesis 4:1-2 and often in the Bible, the conjugal relationship of
man and woman—that they become, through the duality of sex, "one
flesh"—was raised and introduced into the specific dimension of
persons. Genesis 4:1-2 speaks only of knowledge of the woman by the
man, as if to stress above all the activity of the latter. It is
also possible, however, to speak of the reciprocity of this
knowledge, in which man and woman participate by means of their body
and their sex. Let us add that a series of subsequent biblical
texts, as, moreover, the same chapter of Genesis (cf. Gn 4:17,
4:25), speak with the same language. This goes up to the words Mary
of Nazareth spoke in the annunciation: "How shall this be, since I
know not man?" (Lk 1:34).
4. That biblical
"knew" appears for the first time in Genesis 4:1-2. With it, we find
ourselves in the presence of both the direct expression of human
intentionality (because it is characteristic of knowledge), and of
the whole reality of conjugal life and union. In it, man and woman
become "one flesh."
Even though due
to the poverty of the language, in speaking here of knowledge, the
Bible indicates the deepest essence of the reality of married life.
This essence appears as an element and at the same time a result of
those meanings, the trace of which we have been trying to follow
from the beginning of our study. It is part of the awareness of the
meaning of one's own body. In Genesis 4:1, becoming "one flesh," the
man and the woman experience in a particular way the meaning of
their body. In this way, together they become almost the one subject
of that act and that experience, while remaining, in this unity, two
really different subjects. In a way, this authorizes the statement
that "the husband knows his wife" or that both "know" each other.
Then they reveal themselves to each other, with that specific depth
of their own human self. Precisely this self is revealed also by
means of their sex, their masculinity and femininity. Then, in a
unique way, the woman "is given" to the man to be known, and he to
5. To maintain
continuity with regard to the analyses made up to the present
(especially the last ones, which interpret man in the dimension of a
gift), it should be pointed out that, according to Genesis, datum
and donum are equivalent.
4:1-2 stresses datum above all. In conjugal knowledge, the
woman is given to the man and he to her, since the body and sex
directly enter the structure and the content of this knowledge. In
this way, the reality of the conjugal union, in which the man and
the woman become one flesh, contains a new and, in a way, definitive
discovery of the meaning of the human body in its masculinity and
femininity. But in connection with this discovery, is it right to
speak only of "sexual life together"? We must consider that each of
them, man and woman, is not just a passive object, defined by his or
her own body and sex, and in this way determined "by nature." On the
contrary, because they are a man and a woman, each of them is
"given" to the other as a unique and unrepeatable subject, as
"self," as a person.
Sex decides not
only the somatic individuality of man, but defines at the same time
his personal identity and concreteness. Precisely in this personal
identity and concreteness, as an unrepeatable female-male "self,"
man is "known" when the words of Genesis 2:24 come true: "A
man...cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." The knowledge
which Genesis 4:1-2 and all the following biblical texts speak of,
arrives at the deepest roots of this identity and concreteness,
which man and woman owe to their sex. This concreteness means both
the uniqueness and the unrepeatability of the person.
worthwhile, therefore, to reflect on the eloquence of the biblical
text quoted and of the word "knew." In spite of the apparent lack of
terminological precision, it allows us to dwell on the depth and
dimension of a concept, of which our contemporary language, precise
though it is, often deprives us.
1) The fact
must be kept in mind that in the talk with the Pharisees (Mt 19:7-9;
Mk 10:4-6), Christ took a position with regard to the practice of
the Mosaic law concerning the so-called "certificate of divorce."
The words, "for your hardness of heart," spoken by Christ, reflect
not only "the history of hearts," but also the whole complexity of
the positive law of the Old Testament, which always sought a "human
compromise" in this delicate field.
2) "To know" (jadac)
in biblical language does not mean only a purely intellectual
knowledge, but also concrete knowledge, such as the experience of
suffering (cf. Is 53:3), of sin (Wis 3:13), of war and peace (Jgs
3:1; Is 59:8). From this experience moral judgment also springs:
"knowledge of good and evil" (Gn 2:9-17).
Knowledge enters the field of interpersonal relations when it
regards family solidarity (Dt 33:9) and especially conjugal
relations. Precisely in reference to the conjugal act, the term
stresses the paternity of illustrious characters and the origin of
their offspring (cf. Gn 4:1, 25; 4:17; 1 Sm 1:19), as valid data for
genealogy, to which the tradition of priests (hereditary in Israel)
attached great importance.
However, "knowledge" could also mean all other sexual relations,
even illicit ones (cf. Nm 31:17; Gn 19:5; Jgs 19:22).
In the negative form, the verb denotes abstention from sexual
relations. especially if it is a question of virgins (cf. for
example, 1 Kgs 2:4; Jgs 11:39). In this field, the New Testament
uses two Hebraisms, speaking of Joseph (Mt 1:25) and of Mary (Lk
The aspect of the existential relationship of "knowledge" takes on a
special meaning when its subject or object is God himself (for
example, Ps 139; Jer 31:34; Hos 2:22; and also Jn 14:7-9; 17:3).
L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 10 March 1980, page
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