1. We are
reading again the first chapters of Genesis, to understand
how—withoriginalsin—the "man of lust" took the place of the
"man of original innocence." The words of Genesis 3:10, "I was
afraid, because I was naked, and Ihid myself," provide evidence
of the first experience of man's shame with regard to his
Creator—a shame that could also be called "cosmic".
"cosmic shame"—if it is possible to perceive its features in
man's total situation after original sin—makes way in the
biblical text for another form of shame. It is the shame
produced in humanity itself. It is caused by the deep disorder
in that reality on account of which man, in the mystery of
creation, was God's image. He was God's image both in his
personal "ego" and in the interpersonal relationship, through
the original communion of persons, constituted by the man and
the woman together.
the cause of which is in humanity itself, is at once immanent
and relative. It is manifested in the dimension of human
interiority and at the same time refers to the "other." This is
the woman's shame with regard to the man, and also the man's
with regard to the woman. This mutual shame obliges them to
cover their own nakedness, to hide their own bodies, to remove
from the man's sight what is the visible sign of femininity, and
from the woman's sight what is the visible sign of masculinity.
The shame of
both was turned in this direction after original sin, when they
realized that they were naked, as Genesis 3:7 bears witness. The
Yahwist text seems to indicate explicitly the sexual character
of this shame. "They sewed fig leaves together and made
themselves aprons." However, we may wonder if the sexual aspect
has only a relative character, in other words, if it is a
question of shame of one's own sexuality only in reference to a
person of the other sex.
character of original shame
in the light of that one decisive sentence of Genesis 3:7, the
answer to the question seems to support especially the relative
character of original shame, nevertheless reflection on the
whole immediate context makes it possible to discover its more
immanent background. That shame, which is certainly manifested
in the "sexual" order, reveals a specific difficulty in
perceiving the human essentiality of one's own body. Man had not
experienced this difficulty in the state of original innocence.
The words, "I was afraid, because I was naked," can be
understood in this way. They show clearly the consequences in
the human heart of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of
good and evil.
words a certain constitutive break within the human person is
revealed, which is almost a rupture of man's original spiritual
and somatic unity. He realizes for the first time that his body
has ceased drawing upon the power of the spirit, which raised
him to the level of the image of God. His original shame bears
within it the signs of a specific humiliation mediated by the
body. It conceals the germ of that contradiction, which will
accompany historical man in his whole earthly path, as St. Paul
writes: "For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but
I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind"
3. In this
way, that shame is immanent. It contains such a cognitive
acuteness as to create a fundamental disquiet in all human
existence. This is not only in face of the prospect of death,
but also before that on which the value and dignity of the
person in his ethical significance depends. In this sense the
original shame of the body ("I am naked") is already fear ("I
was afraid"), and announces the uneasiness of conscience
connected with lust.
The body is
not subordinated to the spirit as in the state of original
innocence. It bears within it a constant center of resistance to
the spirit. It threatens, in a way, the unity of the person,
that is, of the moral nature, which is firmly rooted in the
constitution of the person. Lust, especially the lust of the
body, is a specific threat to the structure of self-control and
self-mastery, through which the human person is formed. It also
constitutes a specific challenge for it. In any case, the man of
lust does not control his own body in the same way, with equal
simplicity and naturalness, as the man of original innocence
did. The structure of self-mastery, essential for the person, is
shaken to the very foundations in him. He again identifies
himself with it in that he is continually ready to win it.
shame is connected with this interior imbalance. It has a
"sexual" character, because the very sphere of human sexuality
seems to highlight especially that imbalance, which springs from
lust and especially from the lust of the body. From this point
of view, that first impulse which Genesis 3:7 speaks of is very
eloquent: "They knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig
leaves together and made themselves aprons." It is as if the
"man of lust" (man and woman "in the act of knowledge of good
and evil") felt that he had just stopped, also through his own
body and sex, being above the world of living beings or animalia.
It is as if he felt a specific break of the personal integrity
of his own body, especially in what determines its sexuality and
is directly connected with the call to that unity in which man
and woman "become one flesh" (Gn 2:24).
Therefore, that immanent and at the same time sexual shame is
always, at least indirectly, relative. It is the shame of his
own sexuality with regard to the other human being. Shame is
manifested in this way in the narrative of Genesis 3. As a
result of it we are, in a certain sense, witnesses of the birth
of human lust. Also the motivation to go back from Christ's
words about the man who "looks at a woman lustfully" (Mt
5:27-28), to that first moment in which shame is explained by
means of lust, and lust by means of shame, is therefore
sufficiently clear. In this way we understand better why and in
what sense Christ speaks of desire as adultery committed in the
heart, because he addresses the human "heart".
Desire and shame
5. The human
heart keeps within it simultaneously desire and shame. The birth
of shame directs us toward that moment in which the inner man,
"the heart," closing himself to what "comes from the Father,"
opens to what "comes from the world." The birth of shame in the
human heart keeps pace with the beginning of lust—of the
threefold concupiscence according to Johannine theology (cf. 1
Jn 2:16), and in particular the concupiscence of the body.
Man is ashamed of his body because of lust. In fact, he is
ashamed not so much of his body as precisely of lust. He is
ashamed of his body owing to lust. He is ashamed of his body
owing to that state of his spirit to which theology and
psychology give the same name: desire or lust, although with a
meaning that is not quite the same.
The biblical and theological meaning of desire and lust is
different from that used in psychology. For the latter, desire
comes from lack or necessity, which the value desired must
satisfy. As we can deduce from 1 Jn 2:16, biblical lust
indicates the state of the human spirit removed from the
original simplicity and the fullness of values that man and the
world possess in the dimensions of God. This simplicity and
fullness of the value of the human body in the first experience
of its masculinity-femininity, which Genesis 2:23-25 speaks of,
has subsequently undergone, in the dimensions of the world, a
radical transformation. Then, together with the lust of the
body, shame was born.
6. Shame has
a double meaning. It indicates the threat to the value and at
the same time preserves this value interiorly.(1) The human
heart, from the moment when the lust of the body was born in it,
also keeps shame within itself. This fact indicates that it is
possible and necessary to appeal to the heart when it is a
question of guaranteeing those values from which lust takes away
their original and full dimension. If we keep that in mind, we
can understand better why Christ, speaking of lust, appeals to
the human "heart".
1) Cf. Karol
Wojtyla, Amore e responsabilità (Turin: 1978), chap. "Metafisica
del pudore," pp. 161-178.
L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 2 June 1980, page
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