1.  Virginity or Celibacy for the Sake of the Kingdom
8.  Celibacy Is a Particular Response to the Love of the Divine Spouse
1.  VIRGINITY or CELIBACY for the SAKE of the KINGDOM
General Audience 10 March 1982
1. Today we begin to reflect on virginity or celibacy for the kingdom of heaven. The question of the call to an exclusive donation of self to God in virginity and in celibacy thrusts its roots deep in the Gospel soil of the theology of the body. To indicate the dimensions proper to it, one must bear in mind Christ’s words about the beginning, and also what he said about the resurrection of the body. The observation, “When they rise from the dead they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mk 12:25), indicates that there is a condition of life without marriage. In that condition, man, male and female, finds at the same time the fullness of personal donation and of the intersubjective communion of persons, thanks to the glorification of his entire psychosomatic being in the eternal union with God. When the call to continence for the kingdom of heaven finds an echo in the human soul, in the conditions of this temporal life, that is, in the conditions in which persons usually “marry and are given in marriage” (Lk 20:34), it is not difficult to perceive there a particular sensitiveness of the human spirit. Already in the conditions of the present temporal life this seems to anticipate what man will share in, in the future resurrection.
Christ on divorce
2. However, Christ did not speak of this problem, of this particular vocation, in the immediate context of his conversation with the Sadducees (cf. Mt 22:23-30; Mk 12:18-25; Lk 20:27-36), when there was reference to the resurrection of the body. Instead he had already spoken of it in the context of his conversation with the Pharisees on marriage and on the grounds of indissolubility, as if it were a continuation of that conversation (cf. Mt 19:3-9). His concluding words concern the so-called certificate of divorce permitted by Moses in some cases. Christ said, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except in the case of concubinage, and marries another, commits adultery” (Mt 19:8-9). Then the disciples who—as can be deduced from the context—were listening attentively to the conversation and especially to the final words spoken by Jesus, said to him: “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry” (Mt 19:10). Christ gave the following reply: “Not all men can receive the precept, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it” (Mt 19:11-12).
Christ’s words on voluntary continence
3. In regard to this conversation recorded by Matthew one could ask the question: what did the disciples think when, after hearing Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees, they remarked: “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry”? Christ considered it an opportune occasion to speak to them about voluntary continence for the kingdom of heaven. In saying this, he did not directly take a position in regard to what the disciples said, nor did he remain in the line of their reasoning.(1) Hence he did not reply: “It is expedient to marry” or “It is not expedient to marry.” The question of continence for the kingdom of heaven is not set in opposition to marriage, nor is it based on a negative judgment in regard to its importance. After all, speaking previously about the indissolubility of marriage, Christ had referred to the beginning, that is, to the mystery of creation, thereby indicating the first and fundamental source of its value. Consequently, to reply to the disciples’ question, or rather, to clarify the problem placed by them, Christ recurred to another principle. Those who in life choose continence for the kingdom of heaven do so, not because it is inexpedient to marry or because of a supposed negative value of marriage, but in view of the particular value connected with this choice and which must be discovered and welcomed personally as one’s own vocation. For that reason Christ said: “He who is able to receive this, let him receive it” (Mt 19:12). But immediately beforehand he said: “Not all men can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given” (Mt 19:11).
Grace needed to accept continence
4. As can be seen, in his reply to the disciples’ problem, Christ stated clearly a rule for the understanding of his words. In the Church’s doctrine the conviction exists that these words do not express a command by which all are bound, but a counsel which concerns only some persons(2)—those precisely who are able “to receive it.” Those able “to receive it” are those “to whom it has been given.” The words quoted clearly indicate the importance of the personal choice and also the importance of the particular grace, that is, of the gift which man receives to make such a choice. It may be said that the choice of continence for the kingdom of heaven is a charismatic orientation toward that eschatological state in which men “neither marry nor are given in marriage.” However, there is an essential difference between man’s state in the resurrection of the body and the voluntary choice of continence for the kingdom of heaven in the earthly life and in the historical state of man fallen and redeemed. The eschatological absence of marriage will be a state, that is, the proper and fundamental mode of existence of human beings, men and women, in their glorified bodies. Continence for the kingdom of heaven, as the fruit of a charismatic choice, is an exception in respect to the other stage, namely, that state in which man “from the beginning” became and remains a participant during the course of his whole earthly existence.
Continence is exceptional
5. It is very significant that Christ did not directly link his words on continence for the kingdom of heaven with his foretelling of the “other world” in which “they will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Mk 12:25). However, as we already said, his words are found in the prolongation of the conversation with the Pharisees in which Jesus referred to the beginning. He was indicating the institution of marriage on the part of the Creator, and recalling its indissoluble character which, in God’s plan, corresponds to the conjugal unity of man and woman.
The counsel and therefore the charismatic choice of continence for the kingdom of heaven are linked, in Christ’s words, with the highest recognition of the historical order of human existence relative to the soul and body. On the basis of the immediate context of the words on continence for the kingdom of heaven in man’s earthly life, one must see in the vocation to such continence a kind of exception to what is rather a general rule of this life. Christ indicates this especially. That such an exception contains within itself the anticipation of the eschatological life without marriage and proper to the “other world” (that is, of the final stage of the “kingdom of heaven”), is not directly spoken of here by Christ. It is a question indeed, not of continence in the kingdom of heaven, but of continence for the kingdom of heaven. The idea of virginity or of celibacy as an anticipation and eschatological sign(3) derives from the association of the words spoken here with those which Jesus uttered on another occasion, in the conversation with the Sadducees, when he proclaimed the future resurrection of the body.
We shall resume this theme in the course of the following Wednesday reflections.
1. On the more detailed problems of the exegesis of this passage, see for example: L. Sabourin, II Vangelo di Matteo, Teologia e Esegesi, Vol. II (Roma: Ed. Paoline, 1977), pp. 834-836; “The Positive Values of Consecrated Celibacy,” The Way, Supplement 10, summer 1970, p. 51; J. Blinzler, “Eisin eunuchoi, Zur Auslegung von Mt 19:12,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, 48 (1957) 268ff.
2. “Likewise, the holiness of the Church is fostered in a special way by the observance of the counsels proposed in the Gospel by Our Lord to his disciples. An eminent position among these is held by virginity or the celibate state. This is a precious gift of divine grace given by the Father to certain souls (cf. Mt 19:11; 1 Cor 7:7), whereby they may devote themselves to God alone the more easily, due to an undivided heart” (Lumen Gentium 42).
3. Cf. Lumen Gentium 44; Perfectae Caritatis 12.
2.  THE VOCATION to CONTINENCE in this EARTHLY LIFE
GENERAL AUDIENCE OF WEDNESDAY, 17 MARCH
1. We continue the reflection on virginity or celibacy for the kingdom of heaven—a theme that is important also for a complete theology of the body.
In the immediate context of the words on continence for the kingdom of heaven, Christ made a very significant comparison. This confirms us still more in the conviction that he wished to root the vocation to such continence deep in the reality of the earthly life, thereby gaining an entrance into the mentality of his hearers. He listed three categories of eunuchs.
This term concerns the physical defects which render procreation in marriage impossible. These defects explain the first two categories, when Jesus spoke of both congenital defects: “eunuchs who have been so from birth” (Mt 19:11), and of acquired defects caused by human intervention: “There are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men” (Mt 19:12). In both cases it is a state of compulsion, and therefore not voluntary. If Christ in his comparison then spoke of those “who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:12), as of a third category, undoubtedly he made this distinction to indicate still further its voluntary and supernatural character. It is voluntary, because those pertaining to this category “have made themselves eunuchs,” and it is supernatural, because they have done so “for the kingdom of heaven.”
2. The distinction is very clear and very forceful. Nevertheless, the comparison also is strong and eloquent. Christ spoke to men to whom the tradition of the old covenant had not handed down the ideal of celibacy or of virginity. Marriage was so common that only physical impotence could constitute an exception. The reply given to the disciples in Matthew (15:10-12) is at the same time directed, in a certain sense, at the whole tradition of the Old Testament. This is confirmed by a single example taken from the Book of Judges. We refer to this here not merely because of the event that took place, but also because of the significant words that accompanied it. “Let it be granted to me...to bewail my virginity” (Jgs 11:37) the daughter of Jephthah said to her father after learning from him that she was destined to be sacrificed in fulfillment of a vow made to the Lord. (The biblical text explains how such a situation came about.) “Go,” the text continues, “and he let her go.... She went with her companions and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. At the end of two months she returned to her father who did with her according to his vow which he had made. She had never known a man” (Jgs 11:38-39).
3. In the Old Testament tradition, as far as we know, there is no place for this significance of the body, which Christ, in speaking of continence for the kingdom of God, wished to present and reveal to his own disciples. Among the personages known to us as spiritual condottieri of the people of the old covenant, there is not one who would have proclaimed such continence by word or example.(1) At that time, marriage was not only a common state, but still more, in that tradition it had acquired a consecrated significance because of the promise the Lord made to Abraham: “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.... I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you” (Gn 17:4, 6-7). Hence in the Old Testament tradition, marriage, as a source of fruitfulness and of procreation in regard to descendants, was a religiously privileged state: and privileged by revelation itself. Against the background of this tradition, according to which the Messiah should be the “son of David” (Mt 20:30), it was difficult to understand the ideal of continence. Marriage had everything going in its favor, not only reasons of human nature, but also those of the kingdom of God.(2)
4. In this environment Christ’s words determine a decisive turning point. When he spoke to his disciples for the first time about continence for the kingdom of heaven, one clearly realizes that as children of the Old Law tradition, they must have associated celibacy and virginity with the situation of individuals, especially of the male sex, who because of defects of a physical nature cannot marry (“the eunuchs”). For that reason he referred directly to them. This reference has a multiple background, both historical and psychological, as well as ethical and religious. With this reference Jesus—in a certain sense—touches all these backgrounds, as if he wished to say: I know that what I am going to say to you now will cause great difficulty in your conscience, in your way of understanding the significance of the body. In fact, I shall speak to you of continence. Undoubtedly, you will associate this with the state of physical deficiency, whether congenital or brought about by human cause. But I wish to tell you that continence can also be voluntary and chosen by man for the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew, in chapter 19, does not record any immediate reaction of the disciples to these words. We find it later only in the writings of the apostles, especially in Paul (3). This confirms that these words were impressed in the conscience of the first generation of Christ’s disciples and they repeatedly bore fruit in a manifold way in the generations of his confessors in the Church (and perhaps also outside it). So, from the viewpoint of theology—that is, of the revelation of the significance of the body, completely new in respect to the Old Testament tradition—these words mark a turning point. Their analysis shows how precise and substantial they are, notwithstanding their conciseness. (We will observe it still better when we analyze the Pauline text of the First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 7.) Christ spoke of continence “for” the kingdom of heaven. In this way he wished to emphasize that this state, consciously chosen by man in this temporal life, in which people usually “marry or are given in marriage,” has a singular supernatural finality. Continence, even if consciously chosen or personally decided upon, but without that finality, does not come within the scope of the above-mentioned statement of Christ. Speaking of those who have consciously chosen celibacy or virginity for the kingdom of heaven (that is, “They have made themselves eunuchs”), Christ pointed out—at least in an indirect way—that this choice during the earthly life is joined to renunciation and also to a determined spiritual effort.
6. The same supernatural finality—for the kingdom of heaven—admits of a series of more detailed interpretations which Christ did not enumerate in this passage. However, it can be said that by means of the lapidary formula which he used, he indicated indirectly all that is said on the subject in revelation, in the Bible and in Tradition; all that has become the spiritual riches of the Church’s experience in which celibacy and virginity for the kingdom of heaven have borne fruit in a manifold way in the various generations of the Lord’s disciples and followers.
1) It is true that Jeremiah, by explicit command of the Lord, had to observe celibacy (cf. Jer 16:1-2). But this was a “prophetic sign,” which symbolized the future abandonment and destruction of the country and of the people.
2) It is true, as we know from sources outside the Bible, that in the period between the two Testaments, celibacy was maintained in the circles of Judaism by some members of the sect of the Essenes (cf. Josephus Flavius, Bell. Jud., II 8, 2:120-121; Philo Al., Hypothel, 11, 14). But this happened on the margin of official Judaism and probably did not continue beyond the beginning of the second century.
In the Qumran community celibacy did not oblige everyone, but some members observed it until death, transferring to the sphere of life during peacetime, the prescription of Dt 23:10-14 on the ritual purity which was of obligation during the holy war. According to the beliefs of the Qumran community, this war lasted always “between the children of light and the children of darkness”; so celibacy was for them the expression of their being ready for the battle (cf. 1 QM 7, 5-7).
3. Cf. 1 Cor 7:25-40; see also Apoc 14:4
1. We continue our reflections on celibacy and virginity for the kingdom of heaven. Continence for the kingdom of heaven is certainly linked to the revelation of the fact that in the kingdom of heaven people “will no longer marry” (Mt 22:30). It is a charismatic sign. The human being, male and female, who, in the earthly situation where people usually marry (Lk 20:34), freely chooses continence for the kingdom of heaven, indicates that in that kingdom, which is the other world of the resurrection, people will no longer marry (Mk 12:25), because God will be “everything to everyone” (1 Cor 15:28).
Such a human being, man and woman, indicates the eschatological virginity of the risen man. In him there will be revealed, I would say, the absolute and eternal nuptial meaning of the glorified body in union with God himself through the “face to face” vision of him, and glorified also through the union of a perfect intersubjectivity. This will unite all who participate in the other world, men and women, in the mystery of the communion of saints.
Earthly continence for the kingdom of heaven is undoubtedly a sign that indicates this truth and this reality. It is a sign that the body, whose end is not the grave, is directed to glorification. Already by this very fact, continence for the kingdom of heaven is a witness among men that anticipates the future resurrection. However, this charismatic sign of the other world expresses the force and the most authentic dynamics of the mystery of the redemption of the body. Christ has inscribed this mystery in man’s earthly history and it has been deeply rooted by him in this history. So, then, continence for the kingdom of heaven bears, above all, the imprint of the likeness to Christ. In the work of redemption, he himself made this choice for the kingdom of heaven.
The virginal mystery
2. Indeed, Christ’s whole life, right from the beginning, was a discreet but clear distancing of himself from that which in the Old Testament had so profoundly determined the meaning of the body. Christ—as if against the expectations of the whole Old Testament tradition—was born of Mary, who, at the moment of the annunciation, clearly says of herself: “How can this be, since I know not man” (Lk 1:34), and thereby professes her virginity. Though he is born of her like every other man, as a son of his mother, even though his coming into the world is accompanied by the presence of a man who is Mary’s spouse and, in the eyes of the law and of men, her husband, nonetheless Mary’s maternity is virginal. The virginal mystery of Joseph corresponds to this virginal maternity of Mary. Following the voice from on high, Joseph does not hesitate to “take Mary...for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:20).
Even though Jesus Christ’s virginal conception and birth were hidden from men, even though in the eyes of his contemporaries of Nazareth he was regarded as “the carpenter’s son” (Mt 13:55) (ut putabatur filius Joseph: Lk 3:23), the reality and essential truth of his conception and birth was in itself far removed from what in the Old Testament tradition was exclusively in favor of marriage, and which rendered continence incomprehensible and out of favor. Therefore, how could continence for the kingdom of heaven be understood, if the expected Messiah was to be David’s descendant, and as was held, was to be a son of the royal stock according to the flesh? Only Mary and Joseph, who had lived the mystery of his conception and birth, became the first witnesses of a fruitfulness different from that of the flesh, that is, of a fruitfulness of the Spirit: “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:20).
3. The story of Jesus’ birth is certainly in line with that “continence for the kingdom of heaven” of which Christ will speak one day to his disciples. However, this event remained hidden to the men of that time and also to the disciples. Only gradually would it be revealed to the eyes of the Church on the basis of the witness and texts of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The marriage of Mary and Joseph (in which the Church honors Joseph as Mary’s spouse, and Mary as his spouse), conceals within itself, at the same time, the mystery of the perfect communion of the persons, of the man and the woman in the conjugal pact, and also the mystery of that singular continence for the kingdom of heaven. This continence served, in the history of salvation, the most perfect fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, in a certain sense it was the absolute fullness of that spiritual fruitfulness, since precisely in the Nazareth conditions of the pact of Mary and Joseph in marriage and in continence, the gift of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word was realized. The Son of God, consubstantial with the Father, was conceived and born as man from the Virgin Mary.
The grace of the hypostatic union is connected precisely with this—I would say—absolute fullness of supernatural fruitfulness, fruitfulness in the Holy Spirit, participated by a human creature, Mary, in the order of continence for the kingdom of heaven. Mary’s divine maternity is also, in a certain sense, a superabundant revelation of that fruitfulness in the Holy Spirit to which man submits his spirit, when he freely chooses continence in the body, namely, continence for the kingdom of heaven.
Example of Jesus
4. This image had to be gradually revealed to the Church’s awareness in the ever new generations of confessors of Christ. This happened when—together with the infancy Gospel—there was consolidated in them the certainty of the divine maternity of the Virgin, who had conceived by the Holy Spirit. Even though only indirectly—yet essentially and fundamentally—this certainly should help one to understand, on the one hand, the sanctity of marriage, and on the other, the disinterestedness in view of the kingdom of heaven, of which Christ had spoken to his disciples. Nonetheless, when he spoke to them about it for the first time (as attested by the evangelist Matthew in chapter 19:10-12), that great mystery of his conception and birth was completely unknown to them. It was hidden from them as it was from all the hearers and interlocutors of Jesus of Nazareth.
When Christ spoke of those who “had made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:12), the disciples could understand it only on the basis of his personal example. Such a continence must have impressed itself on their consciousness as a particular trait of likeness to Christ, who had himself remained celibate “for the kingdom of heaven.” In the tradition of the old covenant, marriage and procreative fruitfulness in the body were a religiously privileged condition. The departure from this tradition had to be effected especially on the basis of the example of Christ himself. Only little by little did it come to be realized that “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” attaches a particular meaning to that spiritual and supernatural fruitfulness of man which comes from the Holy Spirit (Spirit of God), and that fruitfulness, in a specific sense and in determined cases, is served precisely by continence for the kingdom of heaven.
More or less all these elements of Gospel awareness (that is, of an exact consciousness of the new covenant in Christ) concerning continence are found in Paul. We shall seek to show that at a suitable time.
To sum up, we can say that the principal theme of today’s reflection has been the relationship between continence for the kingdom of heaven, proclaimed by Christ, and the supernatural fruitfulness of the human spirit which comes from the Holy Spirit.
1. We continue our reflections on celibacy and on virginity for the kingdom of heaven, on the basis of Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 19:10-12). Speaking of continence for the kingdom of heaven and basing it on the example of his own life, Christ undoubtedly wished that his disciples should understand it especially in relation to the kingdom which he had come to announce and for which he indicated the correct ways. The continence he spoke of is precisely one of these ways. As appears from the context of Matthew’s Gospel, it is an especially effective and privileged way. Indeed, that preference given to celibacy and virginity for the kingdom was an absolute novelty in comparison with the old covenant tradition, and had a decisive significance both for the ethos and the theology of the body.
His own life a witness
2. Christ, in his statement, points out especially its finality. He says that the way of continence, to which his own life bore witness, not only exists and not only is it possible, but it is especially efficacious and important for the kingdom of heaven. So should it be, seeing that Christ chose it for himself. If this way is so efficacious and important, then continence for the kingdom of heaven must have a special value. As we have already noted, Christ did not approach the problem on the same level and according to the same line of reasoning in which it was posed by the disciples when they said: “If such is the case...it is not expedient to marry” (Mt 19:10). Their words implied a certain utilitarianism. However, in his reply Christ indicated indirectly that marriage, true to its original institution by the Creator (we recall that the Master at this point spoke of the beginning), is fully appropriate and of a value that is fundamental, universal and ordinary. If this is so, then continence, on its part, possesses a particular and exceptional value for this kingdom. It is obviously a question of continence consciously chosen for supernatural motives.
3. If Christ in his statement points out, before all else, the supernatural finality of that continence, he does so not only in an objective sense, but also in a sense explicitly subjective—that is to say, he indicates the necessity of a motivation that corresponds adequately and fully to the objective finality implied by the expression “for the kingdom.” To achieve the end in question—that is, to rediscover in continence that particular spiritual fruitfulness which comes from the Holy Spirit—then continence must be willed and chosen by virtue of a deep faith. This faith does not merely show us the kingdom of God in its future fulfillment. It permits us and makes it possible for us to identify ourselves in a special way with the truth and reality of that kingdom, such as it is revealed by Christ in his Gospel message and especially by the personal example of his life and manner of behavior. Hence, it was said above that continence for the kingdom of heaven—as an unquestionable sign of the other world—bears in itself especially the interior dynamism of the mystery of the redemption of the body (cf. Lk 20:35). In this sense it possesses also the characteristic of a particular likeness to Christ. Whoever consciously chooses such continence, chooses, in a certain sense, a special participation in the mystery of the redemption (of the body). He wishes in a particular way to complete it, so to say, in his own flesh (cf. Col 1:24), finding thereby also the imprint of a likeness to Christ.
4. All this refers to the motivation of the choice (or to its finality in the subjective sense). In choosing continence for the kingdom of heaven, man should let himself be guided precisely by this motivation. In the case in question, Christ did not say that man is obliged to it (in any event it is certainly not a question of a duty deriving from a commandment). However, without any doubt, his concise words on continence “for the kingdom of heaven” place in bold relief its precise motivation. They point that out (that is, they indicate the finality of which the subject is well aware), both in the first part of the entire statement, and also in the second part. They indicate that here it is a question of a particular choice—a choice that is proper to a rather exceptional vocation, and not one that is universal and ordinary.
At the beginning, in the first part of his statement, Christ spoke of an understanding: “Not all men can understand it, but only those to whom it is given” (Mt 19:11). It is not a question of an understanding in the abstract, but such as to influence the decision, the personal choice, in which the gift, that is, the grace should find an adequate response in the human will. Such an understanding involves the motivation. Subsequently, the motivation influences the choice of continence, accepted after having understood its significance for the kingdom of heaven. In the second part of his statement, Christ declared then that a man makes himself a eunuch when he chooses continence for the kingdom of heaven and makes it the fundamental situation or state of his whole earthly life. In such a firm decision a supernatural motivation exists, from which the decision itself originated. It subsists by renewing itself continually.
Viewed in the mystery of redemption
5. Previously we have already turned our attention to the particular significance of the final assertion. If Christ, in the case quoted, speaks of making oneself a eunuch, not only does he place in relief the specific importance of this decision which is explained by the motivation born of a deep faith, but he does not even seek to conceal the anguish that such a decision and its enduring consequences can have for a man for the normal (and on the other hand noble) inclinations of his nature.
The reference to “the beginning” in the problem of marriage enabled us to discover all the original beauty of that vocation of man, male and female. This vocation comes from God and corresponds to the twofold constitution of man, as well as to the call to the communion of persons. In preaching continence for the kingdom of God, Christ not only took a stand against the whole tradition of the old covenant, according to which marriage and procreation were religiously privileged, as we have said. But in a certain sense he expressed himself even in opposition to that beginning to which he himself had appealed. Perhaps also for this reason he nuanced his words with that particular rule of understanding to which we referred above. The analysis of the beginning (especially on the basis of the Yahwist text) had demonstrated that, even though it be possible to conceive man as solitary before God, God himself drew him from this solitude when he said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gn 2:18).
6. So then, the double aspect, male and female, proper to the constitution of humanity, and the unity of the two which is based on it, remain the work of God “from the beginning,” that is, to their ontological depth. Speaking of continence for the kingdom of heaven, Christ had before him this reality. Not without reason did he speak of it (according to Matthew) in the most immediate context in which he referred precisely to the beginning, that is, to the divine beginning of marriage in the constitution of man.
On the strength of Christ’s words it can be asserted that marriage helps us to understand continence for the kingdom of heaven. Not only that, but also continence itself sheds a particular light on marriage viewed in the mystery of creation and redemption.
1. With our gaze fixed on Christ the Redeemer, let us now continue our reflections on celibacy and virginity “for the kingdom of heaven”, according to the words of Christ recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 19:10-12).
Man “alone” before God
In proclaiming continence for the kingdom of heaven, Christ fully accepted all that the Creator wrought and instituted from the beginning. Consequently, on the one hand, continence must demonstrate that in his deepest being, man is not only “dual,” but also (in this duality) “alone” before God, with God. Nevertheless, on the other hand, what is an invitation to solitude for God in the call to continence for the kingdom of heaven at the same time respects both the “dual nature of mankind” (that is, his masculinity and femininity), and the dimension of communion of existence that is proper to the person. Whoever, in compliance with Christ’s words, correctly comprehends the call to continence for the kingdom of heaven and responds to it, thereby preserves the integral truth of his own humanity. He does this without losing along the way any of the essential elements of the vocation of the person created in God’s image and likeness. This is important to the idea itself, or rather, to the idea of continence, that is, for its objective content, which appears in Christ’s teachings as radically new. It is equally important to the accomplishment of that ideal, in order for the actual decision made by man or woman to live in celibacy or virginity for the kingdom of heaven (he who “makes himself” a eunuch, to use Christ’s words) to be fully sincere in its motivation.
2. From the context of the Gospel according to Matthew (Mt 19:10-12), it can be seen sufficiently clearly that here it is not a question of diminishing the value of matrimony in favor of continence, nor of lessening the value of one in comparison with the other. Instead, it is a question of breaking away from, with full awareness, that which in man, by the Creator’s will, causes him to marry, and to move toward continence. This reveals itself to the concrete man, masculine or feminine, as a call and gift of particular eloquence and meaning for the kingdom of heaven. Christ’s words (cf. Mt 19:11-12) arise from the reality of man’s condition. With the same realism, they lead him out toward the call in which, in a new way—even though remaining “dual” by nature (that is, directed as man toward woman, and as woman, toward man)—he is capable of discovering in his solitude, which never ceases to be a personal dimension of everyone’s dual nature, a new and even fuller form of intersubjective communion with others. This guidance of the call explains explicitly the expression “for the kingdom of heaven.” Indeed, the achievement of this kingdom must be found along the line of the authentic development of the image and likeness of God in its trinitarian meaning, that is, precisely of communion. By choosing continence for the kingdom of heaven, man has the knowledge of being able in that way to fulfill himself differently and, in a certain way, more than through matrimony, becoming a “true gift to others” (cf. Gaudium et Spes 24).
3. Through the words recorded in Matthew (Mt 19:11-12), Christ makes us understand clearly that that going toward continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is linked with a voluntary giving up of matrimony. In that state, man and woman (according to the meaning the Creator gave to their union “in the beginning”) become gifts to one another through their masculinity and femininity, also through their physical union. Continence means a conscious and voluntary renouncement of that union and all that is connected to it in the full meaning of life and human society. The man who renounces matrimony also gives up procreation as the foundation of the family, concessive renouncements and voluntary children. The words of Christ to which we refer indicate without doubt this kind of renunciation, although they do not go into detail. The way in which these words were stated leads us to assume that Christ understood the importance of such a sacrifice, and that he understood it not only in view of the opinions on the subject prevailing in Jewish society at that time. He understood the importance of this sacrifice also in relationship to the good which matrimony and the family in themselves constitute due to their divine institution. Therefore, through the way in which he stated the words he made it understood that breaking away from the circle of the good that he himself called “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” is connected with a certain self-sacrifice. That break also becomes the beginning of successive self-sacrifices that are indispensable if the first and fundamental choice must be consistent in the breadth of one’s entire earthly life. Thanks only to such consistency, that choice is internally reasonable and not contradictory.
4. In this way, in the call to continence as Christ stated it—concisely but at the same time precisely—the outline and dynamism of the mystery of the redemption emerge, as has previously been stated. It is the same profile under which Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, pronounced the words about the need to guard against concupiscence, against the desire that begins with “looking at” and becomes at that very moment “adultery in the heart.” Behind Matthew’s words, both in chapter 19 (verses 11-12) and in chapter 5 (verses 27-28), the same anthropology and the same ethos are found. In the invitation to voluntary continence for the kingdom of heaven, the prospects of this ethos are enlarged upon. The anthropology of historical man is found in the overall view of the words of the Sermon on the Mount. In the overall view of the words on voluntary continence, essentially the same anthropology remains. But it is illumined by the prospect of the kingdom of heaven, in other words, of the future anthropology of the resurrection. Nonetheless, along the path of this voluntary continence during earthly life, the anthropology of the resurrection does not replace the anthropology of historical man. In him the heritage of the threefold concupiscence remains at the same time, the heritage of sin together with the heritage of redemption. It remains in the one who must make the decision about continence for the kingdom of heaven. He must put this decision into effect, subjugating the sinfulness of his human nature to the forces that spring from the mystery of the redemption of the body. He must do so just as any other man does who has not made a similar decision and whose way remains that of matrimony. The only difference is the type of responsibility for the good chosen, just as the type of good chosen is different.
5. In his pronouncement, did Christ perhaps suggest the superiority of continence for the kingdom of heaven to matrimony? Certainly, he said that this is an exceptional vocation, not a common one. In addition he affirmed that it is especially important and necessary to the kingdom of heaven. If we understand superiority to matrimony in this sense, we must admit that Christ set it out implicitly. However, he did not express it directly. Only Paul will say of those who choose matrimony that they do “well.” About those who are willing to live in voluntary continence, he will say that they do “better” (1 Cor 7:38).
6. That is also the opinion of the whole of Tradition, both doctrinal and pastoral. The “superiority” of continence to matrimony in the authentic Tradition of the Church never means disparagement of matrimony or belittlement of its essential value. It does not even mean a shift, even implicit, on the Manichean positions, or a support of ways of evaluating or acting based on the Manichean understanding of the body and sexuality, matrimony and procreation. The evangelical and authentically Christian superiority of virginity and continence is dictated by the motive of the kingdom of heaven. In Christ’s words recorded in Matthew (Mt 19:11-12) we find a solid basis for admitting only this superiority, while we do not find any basis whatever for any disparagement of matrimony which, however, could have been present in the recognition of that superiority.
We shall return to this problem during our next reflections.
1.  MARRIAGE and CONTINENCE
COMPLEMENT EACH OTHER
General Audience 14 April 1982
1. Let us now continue our reflections of the previous weeks on the words about continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven which Christ addressed to his disciples, according to the Gospel of Matthew (cf. 19:10-12).
Let us say once more that these words, as concise as they are, are admirably rich and precise. They are rich with a number of implications both of a doctrinal and pastoral nature. At the same time they establish a proper limit on the subject. Therefore, any kind of Manichaean interpretation decidedly goes beyond that limit, so that, according to what Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount, there is lustful desire “in the heart” (Mt 5:27-28).
In Christ’s words on continence for the kingdom of heaven there is no reference to the inferiority of marriage with regard to the body, or in other words with regard to the essence of marriage, consisting in the fact that man and woman join together in marriage, thus becoming one flesh. “The two will become one flesh” (Gn 2:24). Christ’s words recorded in Matthew 19:11-12 (as also the words of Paul in 1 Cor 7) give no reason to assert the inferiority of marriage, nor the superiority of virginity or celibacy inasmuch as by their nature virginity and celibacy consist in abstinence from the conjugal union in the body. Christ’s words on this point are quite clear. He proposes to his disciples the ideal of continence and the call to it, not by reason of inferiority, nor with prejudice against conjugal union of the body, but only for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
2. In this light a deeper clarification of the expression “for the sake of the kingdom. of heaven” is especially useful. This is what we shall try to do in the following, at least briefly. However, with regard to the correct understanding of the relationship between marriage and continence that Christ speaks about, and the understanding of that relationship as all Tradition has understood it, it is worthwhile to add that superiority and inferiority fall within the limits of the same complementarity of marriage and continence for the kingdom of God.
Marriage and continence are neither opposed to each other, nor do they divide the human (and Christian) community into two camps (let us say, those who are “perfect” because of continence and those who are “imperfect” or “less perfect” because of the reality of married life). But as it is often said, these two basic situations, these two “states,” in a certain sense explain and complete each other as regards the existence and Christian life of this community. In its entirety and in each of its members this is fulfilled in the dimension of the kingdom of God and has an eschatological orientation, which is precisely of that kingdom. So, with regard to this dimension and this orientation—in which the entire community, that is, all of those who belong to it, must share in the faith—continence for the kingdom of heaven has a particular importance and a special eloquence for those who live a married life. Besides, these constitute the majority.
3. It therefore seems that a complementarity understood in this way finds its foundation in the words of Christ according to Matthew 19:11-12 (and also 1 Cor 7). On the other hand there is no basis for a presumed counterposition according to which celibates (or unmarried persons), only by reason of their continence, would make up the class of those who are “perfect,” and, to the contrary, married persons would make up a class of those who are “imperfect” (or “less perfect”). If, according to a certain theological tradition, one speaks of a state of perfection (status perfectionis), it is done not by reason of continence in itself. But it is in regard to the entirety of a life based on the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity and obedience), since this life corresponds to Christ’s call to perfection: “If you would be perfect...” (Mt 19:21). Perfection of the Christian life, instead, is measured with the rule of charity. It follows that a person who does not live in the state of perfection (that is, in an institute that bases its life plan on vows of poverty, chastity and obedience), or in other words, who does not live in a religious institute but in the “world,” can de facto reach a superior degree of perfection—whose measure is charity—in comparison to the person who lives in the state of perfection with a lesser degree of charity. In any case, the evangelical counsels undoubtedly help us to achieve a fuller charity. Therefore, whoever achieves it, even if he does not live in an institutionalized state of perfection, reaches that perfection which flows from charity, through fidelity to the spirit of those counsels. Such perfection is possible and accessible to every person, both in a religious institute and in the “world.”
4. It seems then that the complementarity of marriage and continence for the kingdom of heaven, in their significance and manifold importance, adequately corresponds to Christ’s words recorded in Matthew (19:11-12). In the life of an authentically Christian community the attitudes and values proper to the one and the other state—that is, to one or the other essential and conscious choice as a vocation for one’s entire earthly life and in the perspective of the “heavenly Church”—complete and in a certain sense interpenetrate each other. Perfect conjugal love must be marked by that fidelity and that donation to the only Spouse (and also of the fidelity and donation of the Spouse to the only Bride), on which religious profession and priestly celibacy are founded. Finally, the nature of one and the other love is “conjugal,” that is, expressed through the total gift of oneself. Both types of love tend to express that conjugal meaning of the body which from the beginning has been inscribed in the personal makeup of man and woman. We shall return to this point at a later date.
5. On the other hand, conjugal love which finds its expression in continence for the kingdom of heaven must lead in its normal development to paternity or maternity in a spiritual sense (in other words, precisely to that fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit that we have already spoken about), in a way analogous to conjugal love, which matures in physical paternity and maternity, and in this way confirms itself as conjugal love. For its part, physical procreation also fully responds to its meaning only if it is completed by paternity and maternity in the spirit, whose expression and fruit is all the educative work of the parents in regard to the children born of their conjugal corporeal union.
As can be seen, there are many aspects and spheres of the complementarity between the vocation, in an evangelical sense, of those who “marry and are given in marriage” (Lk 20:34), and of those who knowingly and voluntarily choose continence “for the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:12).
In First Corinthians (which we will analyze later in our considerations), St. Paul will write on this subject: “Each has his special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Cor 7:7).
7.  THE VALUE of CONTINENCE
General Audience 21 April 1982
1. Let us continue our reflections on Christ’s words about continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is impossible to understand fully the significance and the nature of continence if the last phrase of Christ’s statement, “for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven,” is not complete in its adequate, concrete and objective content. We have previously said that this phrase expresses the motive, or in a certain sense places in relief, the subjective purpose of Christ’s call to continence. However, the expression in itself has an objective character. It indicates an objective reality for which individual persons, men and women, can “make themselves” eunuchs (as Christ says). The reality of the Kingdom in Christ’s statement according to Matthew (19:11-12) is defined in a precise, but at the same time general way, so as to be able to include all the determinations and particular meanings that are proper to it.
2. The Kingdom of Heaven means the Kingdom of God, which Christ preached in its final, that is, eschatological, completion. Christ preached this kingdom in its temporal realization or establishment, and at the same time he foretold it in its eschatological completion. The temporal establishment of the Kingdom of God is at the same time its beginning and its preparation for definitive fulfillment. Christ calls to this kingdom and in a certain sense invites everyone to it (cf. the parable of the wedding banquet in Mt 22:1-14). If he calls some to continence “for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven,” it follows from the content of that expression that he calls them to participate in a singular way in the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, through which the definitive phase of the Kingdom of Heaven is begun and prepared.
Kingdom for all
3. In this sense we have said that this call bears in itself the particular sign of the dynamism of the mystery of the redemption of the body. Therefore, as we have already mentioned, continence for the sake of the Kingdom of God manifests the renunciation of one’s self, taking up one’s cross every day, and following Christ (cf. Lk 9:23). This can reach the point of implying the renunciation of marriage and a family of one’s own. All this arises from the conviction that in this way it is possible to contribute more greatly to the realization of the Kingdom of God in its earthly dimension with the prospect of eschatological completion. In his statement according to Matthew (19:11-12), Christ said generically that the voluntary renunciation of marriage has this purpose, but he did not say so specifically. In his first statement on this subject, he still did not specify through what concrete obligation this voluntary continence is necessary and even indispensable for the realization of the Kingdom of God on earth and for its preparation for future fulfillment. We will hear something further on this point from Paul of Tarsus (1 Cor) and the rest will be completed by the life of the Church in her historical development, borne by the current of authentic Tradition.
4. In Christ’s statement on continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, we do not find any more detailed indication about how to understand that kingdom—with regard to its earthly realization and its definitive completion—in its specific and exceptional relation with those who voluntarily “make themselves eunuchs” for it.
Neither is it said through which particular aspect of the reality that constitutes the Kingdom are those associated to it who freely are made “eunuchs.” In fact, we know that the Kingdom of Heaven is for everybody. Those who “marry and are given in marriage” also are in a relation with it on earth (and in heaven). For everybody it is the Lord’s vineyard in which they must work here on earth, and subsequently it is the Father’s house in which they must be in eternity. Therefore, what is that kingdom for those who choose voluntary continence in view of it?
Clear expression of Christ’s teaching
5. For now, we do not find any answer to this question in Christ’s statement as reported by Matthew (19:11-12). It seems that this is in keeping with the character of the whole statement. Christ answered his disciples in such a way as not to keep in line with their thought and their evaluation, which contained, at least indirectly, a utilitarian attitude regarding marriage (“If this is the case...it is better not to marry”: Mt 19:10). The Master explicitly evaded these general lines of the problem. Therefore, speaking about continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, he did not indicate in this way why the renunciation of marriage is worthwhile, so that the “it is better” would not be understood by his disciples in any utilitarian sense. He said only that this continence is at times required, if not indispensable, for the Kingdom of God. With this he pointed out that continence, in the kingdom which Christ preached and to which he calls, constitutes a particular value in itself. Those who voluntarily choose it must do so with regard to that value it has, and not as a result of any other calculation whatever.
6. This essential tone of Christ’s answer, which refers directly to continence itself “for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven,” can also be referred indirectly to the previous problem of marriage (cf. Mt 19:3-9). Therefore, considering his statement as a whole, according to Christ’s basic intention, the answer would be as follows. If anyone chooses marriage, he must choose it just as it was instituted by the Creator “from the beginning.” He must seek in it those values that correspond to God’s plan. If on the other hand anyone decides to pursue continence for the Kingdom of Heaven, he must seek in it the values proper to such a vocation. In other words, one must act in conformity with his chosen vocation.
Seek values proper to vocation
7. The Kingdom of Heaven is certainly the definitive fulfillment of the aspirations of all men, to whom Christ addressed his message. It is the fullness of the good that the human heart desires beyond the limits of all that can be his lot in this earthly life. It is the maximum fullness of God’s bounty toward man. In his conversation with the Sadducees (cf. Mt 22:24-30; Mk 12:18-27; Lk 20:27-40), which we have previously analyzed, we find other details about that kingdom, or rather about that other world. There are still more in the whole New Testament. Therefore, it seems that to clarify what the Kingdom of Heaven is for those who choose voluntary continence for its sake, the revelation of the nuptial relationship of Christ with the Church has a particular significance. Among the other texts, however, a decisive one is that from Ephesians 5:25ff. It will be especially well to rely on this when we consider the question of the sacramentality of marriage.
That text is equally valid both for the theology of marriage and for the theology of continence for the sake of the kingdom, that is, the theology of virginity or celibacy. It seems that in that text we find almost concretized what Christ had said to his disciples, inviting them to voluntary continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.
8. In this analysis it has already been sufficiently emphasized that Christ’s words—with all their great conciseness—are fundamental, full of essential content and also characterized by a certain severity. There is no doubt that Christ put out his call to continence in the perspective of the other world. But in this call he put the emphasis on everything which expresses the temporal realism of the decision for such continence, a decision bound with the will to share in the redeeming work of Christ.
So, therefore, in the light of Christ’s respective words reported by Matthew (19:11-12), the depth and the gravity of the decision to live in continence for the sake of the Kingdom emerge above all, and the importance of the renunciation that such a decision implies finds its expression. Undoubtedly, throughout all this, through the gravity and depth of the decision, through the severity and the responsibility that it bears with it, love appears and shines through, love as the readiness to give the exclusive gift of oneself for the sake of the Kingdom of God. However, in Christ’s words this love seems to be veiled by what is put in the foreground instead. Christ did not conceal from his disciples the fact that the choice of continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven is—viewed in the light of temporal categories—a renunciation. That way of speaking to his disciples, which clearly expresses the truth of his teaching and of the demands contained in it, is significant through the whole Gospel. It is precisely this that confers on it, among other things, so convincing a mark and power.
In the name of love
9. It is natural for the human heart to accept demands, even difficult ones, in the name of love for an ideal, and above all in the name of love for a person (love, in fact, is by its very nature directed toward a person). Therefore, in the call to continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, first the disciples themselves, and then the whole living Tradition of the Church, will soon discover the love that is referred to Christ himself as the Spouse of the Church, the Spouse of souls, to whom He has given himself to the very limit, in the Paschal and Eucharistic Mystery.
In this way, continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, the choice of virginity or celibacy for one’s whole life, has become, in the experience of Christ’s disciples and followers, the act of a particular response of love for the divine Spouse, and therefore has acquired the significance of an act of nuptial love, that is, a nuptial giving of oneself for the purpose of reciprocating in a particular way the nuptial love of the Redeemer: a giving of oneself understood as renunciation, but made above all out of love.
8.  CELIBACY IS A PARTICULAR RESPONSE to the LOVE of the DIVINE SPOUSE
GENERAL AUDIENCE OF 28 APRIL
1. “There are others who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” This is how Christ expressed himself in St. Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 19:12).
It is natural for the human heart to accept demands, even difficult ones, in the name of love for an ideal, and above all in the name of love for a person. (By its very nature, love is directed toward a person.) Therefore in that call to continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, first the disciples themselves, and then the whole living Tradition of the Church, will soon discover the love that is referred to Christ himself as the Spouse of the Church, the Spouse of souls. He has given himself to them to the very limit, in the Paschal and Eucharistic mystery.
In this way, continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, the choice of virginity or celibacy for one’s whole life, has become in the experience of Christ’s disciples and followers the act of a particular response of love for the divine Spouse. Therefore it has acquired the significance of an act of nuptial love, that is, a nuptial giving of oneself for the purpose of reciprocating in a particular way the nuptial love of the Redeemer. It is a giving of oneself understood as renunciation, but made above all out of love.
2. In this way we obtained all the wealth of the meaning contained in the very concise, but at the same time very profound, statement of Christ about continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. But now it is fitting that we direct our attention to the significance that these words have for the theology of the body, just as we tried to present and reconstruct the biblical foundations for it “from the beginning.” Christ referred to that biblical “beginning” in his conversation with the Pharisees on the subject of marriage, its unity and indissolubility (cf. Mt 19:3-9). He did this shortly before addressing to his disciples the words about continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Mt 19:10-12). This analysis of that “beginning” allows us to recall the profound truth about the nuptial meaning of the human body in its masculinity and femininity, as we deduced at that time from the analysis of the first chapters of Genesis (especially from 2:23-25). It was in just this way that it was necessary to formulate and specify what we find in those ancient texts.
3. The modern mentality is accustomed to thinking and speaking about the sexual instinct, transferring onto the level of human reality what is proper to the world of living beings, of animals. Now deep reflection on the concise text of the first and second chapters of Genesis permits us to establish with certainty and conviction that right from the beginning a very clear and univocal boundary is laid down in the Bible between the world of animals (animalia) and the man created in the image and likeness of God. In that text, though relatively brief, there is nevertheless enough to demonstrate that man has a clear awareness of what essentially distinguishes him from all other living beings (animalia).
4. Therefore, it is not at all appropriate and adequate to apply to man this substantially naturalistic category that is contained in the concept and in the expression of sexual instinct. It is obvious that such application can become the basis for a certain analogy. In fact, the particular characteristic of man compared with the whole world of living beings (animalia) is such that man, understood from the viewpoint of species, can not even basically qualify as an animal, but a rational animal. Therefore, despite this analogy, applying the concept of sexual instinct to man—given the dual nature in which he exists as male or female—nevertheless greatly limits, and in a certain sense diminishes what is the very masculinity-femininity in the personal dimension of human subjectivity. It limits and diminishes even what for both of them, man and woman, unite to become one flesh (cf. Gn 2:24). In order to express this in an appropriate and adequate way, we must use also an analysis different from the naturalistic one. It is precisely the study of the biblical beginning that obliges us to do this convincingly. The truth about the nuptial meaning of the human body in its masculinity and femininity seems to be a key concept in this area. It is deduced from the first chapters of Genesis (especially from 2:23-25), that is, the discovery at the time of the nuptial meaning of the body in the personal makeup of the subjectivity of man and woman. At the same time it is the only appropriate and adequate concept.
5. It is necessary to reread and understand Christ’s words about continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven precisely in relation to this concept, to this truth about the nuptial meaning of the human body. His words were spoken in the immediate context of that reference to the beginning, on which he based his teaching about the unity and indissolubility of marriage. At the basis of Christ’s call to continence there is not only the sexual instinct, which is in the category, I would say, of a naturalistic necessity. But there is also the consciousness of the freedom of the gift. This is organically connected with the profound and mature knowledge of the nuptial meaning of the body, in the total makeup of the personal subjectivity of man and woman. Only in relation to such a meaning of the masculinity and femininity of the human person does the call to voluntary continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven find full warranty and motivation. Only and exclusively in this perspective did Christ say, “He who is able to receive this, let him receive it” (Mt 19:12). With this, he indicated that such continence—although in each case it is above all a gift—can be also received. That is, it can be drawn and deduced from the concept that man has his own psychosomatic “I” in its entirety, and especially the masculinity and femininity of this “I” in the reciprocal relationship which is as though by nature inscribed in every human subjectivity.
6. As we recall from the previous analyses, developed on the basis of Genesis (cf. Gn 2:23-25), that reciprocal relationship of masculinity and femininity, that reciprocal “for” of man and woman, can be understood in an appropriate and adequate way only in the overall dynamics of the personal subject. Christ’s words in Matthew (cf. 19:11-12) consequently show that this “for,” present from the beginning at the basis of marriage, can also be at the basis of continence “for” the Kingdom of Heaven! Based on the same disposition of the personal subject, thanks to which man fully rediscovers himself through a sincere gift of himself (cf. Gaudium et Spes 24), man (male and female) is capable of choosing the personal gift of his very self. This is made to another person in a conjugal pact in which they become “one flesh.” He is also capable of freely renouncing such a giving of himself to another person, so that, choosing continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, he can give himself totally to Christ. On the basis of the same disposition of the personal subject and on the basis of the same nuptial meaning of the being as a body, male or female, there can be formed the love that commits man to marriage for the whole duration of his life (cf. Mt 19:3-10). But there can also be formed the love that commits man to a life of continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Mt 19:11-12). Christ is speaking precisely about this in his overall statement addressed to the Pharisees (cf. Mt 19:3-10) and then to the disciples (cf. Mt 19:11-12).
7. It is evident that the choice of marriage, just as it was instituted by the Creator from the beginning, supposes the learning and the interior acceptance of the nuptial meaning of the body, bound up with the masculinity and femininity of the human person. In fact, this very thing is expressed concisely in the verses of Genesis. In listening to Christ’s words addressed to the disciples about continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Mt 19:11-12), we cannot think that this second kind of choice can be made consciously and freely without reference to one’s masculinity or femininity and to that nuptial meaning which is proper to man precisely in the masculinity or femininity of his being as a personal subject. Furthermore, in the light of Christ’s words, we must admit that this second kind of choice, namely, continence for the sake of the Kingdom of God, comes about also in relation to the masculinity or femininity proper to the person who makes such a choice. It comes about on the basis of full consciousness of that nuptial meaning which masculinity and femininity contain in themselves. If this choice should come about by way of some artificial “prescinding” from this real wealth of every human subject, it would not appropriately and adequately correspond to the content of Christ’s words in Matthew 19:11-12.
Here Christ explicitly required full understanding when he said, “He who is able to receive this, let him receive it” (Mt 19:12).
9.  CELIBACY for the KINGDOM AFFIRMS MARRIAGE
GENERAL AUDIENCE OF 5 MAY 
1. In answering the Pharisees’ questions about marriage and its indissolubility, Christ referred to the beginning, that is, to its original institution on the part of the Creator. Since those with whom he was speaking recalled the law of Moses, which provided for the possibility of the so-called “decree of divorce,” he answered, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses permitted you to divorce your wives, but it was not so from the beginning” (Mt 19:8).
After the conversation with the Pharisees, Christ’s disciples addressed the following words to him: “‘If this is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.’ He answered them, ‘Not all men can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it’“ (Mt 19:10-12).
2. Christ’s words undoubtedly allude to a conscious and voluntary renunciation of marriage. This renunciation is possible only when one admits an authentic knowledge of that value that is constituted by the nuptial disposition of masculinity and femininity to marriage. In order for man to be fully aware of what he is choosing (continence for the sake of the kingdom), he must also be fully aware of what he is renouncing. (It is a question here of the knowledge of the value in an ideal sense; nevertheless this knowledge is after all realistic.) In this way, Christ certainly demands a mature choice. The form in which the call to continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is expressed proves this without a doubt.
Renunciation is not enough
3. But a renunciation made with full awareness of the above-mentioned value is not enough. In the light of Christ’s words, and also in the light of the whole authentic Christian Tradition, it is possible to deduce that this renunciation is at the same time a particular form of affirming that value from which the unmarried person consistently abstains, following the evangelical counsel. This can seem paradoxical. Nevertheless, it is known that many statements in the Gospel are paradoxical, and those are often the most eloquent and profound. Accepting such a meaning of the call to continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, we draw a correct conclusion, holding that the realization of this call serves also—and in a particular way—to confirm the nuptial meaning of the human body in its masculinity and femininity. The renunciation of marriage for the kingdom of God at the same time highlights that meaning in all its interior truth and personal beauty. We can say that this renunciation on the part of individual persons, men and women, in a certain sense is indispensable. This is so that the nuptial meaning of the body can be more easily recognized in all the ethos of human life and above all in the ethos of conjugal and family life.
Aspects to consider
4. So, therefore, although continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (virginity, celibacy) orients the life of persons who freely choose it toward the exclusion of the common way of conjugal and family life, nevertheless it is not without significance for this life, for its style, its value and its evangelical authenticity. Let us not forget that the only key to understanding the sacramentality of marriage is the spousal love of Christ for the Church (cf. Eph 5:22-23): Christ, the Son of the Virgin, who was himself a virgin, that is, a “eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” in the most perfect meaning of the term. It will be convenient for us to take up this point again at a later time.
5. At the end of these reflections there still remains a concrete problem: In what way is this call formed in man, to whom the call to continence for the sake of the kingdom has been given, on the basis of the knowledge of the nuptial meaning of the body in its masculinity and femininity, and further, as the fruit of such knowledge? In what way is it formed, or rather transformed? This question is equally important, both from the viewpoint of the theology of the body, and from the viewpoint of the development of the human personality, which has a personalistic and charismatic character at the same time. If we should want to answer this question exhaustively—in the measure of all the aspects and all the concrete problems that it includes—it would be necessary to make a study based on the relationship between marriage and virginity and between marriage and celibacy. However this would go beyond the limits of the present considerations.
Value in this life
6. Remaining within the sphere of Christ’s words according to Matthew (19:11-12), we must conclude our reflections with the following affirmation. First, if continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven undoubtedly signifies a renunciation, this renunciation is at the same time an affirmation: an affirmation that arises from the discovery of the gift, that is, at the same time from the discovery of a new perspective of the personal realization of oneself “through a sincere gift of oneself” (Gaudium et Spes 24). This discovery still lies in a profound interior harmony with the significance of the nuptial meaning of the body, bound “from the beginning” to the masculinity or femininity of man as a personal subject. Second, although continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is identified with the renunciation of marriage, which in the life of a man and woman gives rise to the family, in no way can one see in this a denial of the essential value of marriage. On the contrary, continence serves indirectly to highlight what is most lasting and most profoundly personal in the vocation to marriage. It highlights that which in the dimensions of temporality (and at the same time in the perspective of the other world) corresponds to the dignity of the personal gift, bound to the nuptial meaning of the body in its masculinity or femininity.
7. In this way, Christ’s call to continence “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” rightly associated to the reference to the future resurrection (cf. Mt 21:24-30; Mk 12:18-27; Lk 20:27-40), has a capital significance not only for Christian ethos and spirituality, but also for anthropology and for the whole theology of the body, which we discover at its foundation. We remember that Christ, referring to the resurrection of the body in the other world, said, according to the version of the three synoptic Gospels, “When they rise from the dead...they will neither marry nor be given in marriage...” (Mk 12:25). These words, already analyzed, form part of our overall considerations on the theology of the body and contribute to building up this theology.
10.  VOLUNTARY CONTINENCE DERIVES FROM A COUNSEL, NOT FROM A COMMAND
GENERAL AUDIENCE OF WEDNESDAY, 23 JUNE 
1. Having analyzed Christ’s words reported in Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 19:10-12), it is now fitting to pass on to Paul’s treatment of virginity and marriage.
Christ’s statement about continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is concise and fundamental. In Paul’s teaching, as we will soon be convinced, we can distinguish a correlating of the words of the Master. However, the significance of his statement (1 Cor 7) taken as a whole is assessed in a different way. The greatness of Paul’s teaching consists in the fact that in presenting the truth proclaimed by Christ in all its authenticity and identity, he gives it a stamp of his own. In a certain sense it is his own personal interpretation, but it is drawn primarily from the experiences of his apostolic missionary activity, and perhaps directly from the necessity to answer the concrete questions of those to whom this activity was directed. So in Paul we encounter the question of the mutual relationship between marriage and celibacy or virginity. This subject troubled the minds of the first generation of Christ’s confessors, the generation of disciples, of apostles, of the first Christian communities. This happened through the converts from hellenism, therefore from paganism, more than through the converts from Judaism. And this can explain the fact that the subject appears precisely in a letter addressed to the community in Corinth.
2. The tone of the whole statement is without doubt a magisterial one. However, the tone as well as the language is also pastoral. Paul teaches the doctrine handed down by the Master to the apostles. At the same time he engages in a continuous conversation on the subject in question with the recipients of his letter. He speaks as a classical teacher of morality, facing and resolving problems of conscience. Therefore moralists love to turn preferably to the explanations and resolutions of this first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 7). However it is necessary to remember that the ultimate basis for those resolutions is sought in the life and teaching of Christ himself.
3. The Apostle emphasizes with great clarity that virginity, or voluntary continence, derives exclusively from a counsel and not from a commandment: “With regard to virgins, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my opinion.” Paul gives this opinion “as one who has obtained mercy from the Lord and merits your trust” (1 Cor 7:25). As is seen from the words quoted, the Apostle, just as the Gospel (cf. Mt 19:11-12), distinguishes between counsel and commandment. On the basis of the doctrinal rule of understanding proclaimed teaching, he wants to counsel. He wishes to give his personal opinions to those who turned to him. So in First Corinthians (chapter 7), the counsel clearly has two different meanings. The author states that virginity is a counsel and not a commandment. At the same time he gives his opinions to persons already married and also to those who still must make a decision in this regard, and finally to those who have been widowed. The problem is substantially the same as the one which we meet in the whole statement of Christ reported by Matthew (19:2-12): first on marriage and its indissolubility, and then on voluntary continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Nevertheless, the style of this problem is totally his own. It is Paul’s.
4. “If however someone thinks he is not behaving properly with regard to his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes; he does not sin. Let them marry! But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So then, he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage does better” (1 Cor 7:36-38).
5. The one who had sought advice could have been a young man who found himself faced with the decision to take a wife, or perhaps a newlywed who in the face of the current asceticism existing in Corinth was reflecting on the direction to give to his marriage. It could have even been a father, or the guardian of a girl, who had posed the question of her marriage. In any case, it would deal directly with the decision that derives from their rights as guardians. Paul is writing at a time when decisions in general belonged more to parents and guardians than to the young people themselves. Therefore, in answering in this way the question that was addressed to him, he tried to explain very precisely that the decision about continence, that is, about the life of virginity, must be voluntary, and that only such continence is better than marriage. The expressions, “he does well,” “he does better,” are completely univocal in this context.
6. So then the Apostle teaches that virginity, or voluntary continence, the young woman’s abstention from marriage, derives exclusively from a counsel, and given the appropriate circumstances, it is better than marriage. The question of sin does not enter in any way. “Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries, she does not sin” (1 Cor 7:27-28). Solely on the basis of these words, we certainly cannot make judgments on what the Apostle was thinking or teaching about marriage. This subject will indeed be partially explained in the context of First Corinthians (chapter 7) and more fully in Ephesians (Eph 5:21-33). In our case, he is probably dealing with the answer to the question of whether marriage is a sin. One could also think that in such a question there might be some influence from dualistic pro-gnostic currents, which later become encratism and Manichaeism. Paul answers that the question of sin absolutely does not enter into play here. It is not a question of the difference between good and evil, but only between good and better. He later goes on to justify why one who chooses marriage will do well and one who chooses virginity, or voluntary continence, will do better.
We will treat of Paul’s argumentation in our next reflection.
11.  “THE UNMARRIED PERSON IS ANXIOUS TO PLEASE THE LORD”
GENERAL AUDIENCE: 30 JUNE
1. Saint Paul, in explaining in the seventh chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians the question of marriage and virginity (or continence for the sake of the kingdom of God), tries to give the reason why one who chooses marriage does well, while one who decides on a life of continence or virginity does better. He writes: “I tell you this, brothers, the time is already short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none....” And then: “...those who buy, as though they had no goods; those who deal with the world, as though they had no dealings with it, for the form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties...” (1 Cor 7:29-32).
2. The last words of the text just quoted show that in his argumentation, Paul is also referring to his own experience, which makes his reasoning more personal. He not only formulates the principle and seeks to justify it as such, but he ties it in with personal reflections and convictions arising from his practice of the evangelical counsel of celibacy. The individual expressions and phrases testify to their persuasive power. The Apostle not only writes to his Corinthians: “I wish that all were as I myself am” (1 Cor 7:7), but he goes further when, referring to men who contract marriage, he writes: “Yet they will have troubles in the flesh, and I would want to spare you that” (1 Cor 7:28). However, this personal conviction of his was already expressed in the first words of the seventh chapter of the same letter, referring to this opinion of the Corinthians, in order to modify it as well: “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote, it is well for a man not to touch a woman...” (1 Cor 7:1).
3. We can ask here, what “troubles in the flesh” did Paul have in mind? Christ spoke only of suffering (or “afflictions”), which a woman experiences when she is to deliver a child. However, he emphasized the joy that fills her as a reward for these sufferings after the birth of her child, the joy of motherhood (cf. Jn 16:21). Paul, rather, writes of the “tribulations of the body” which spouses expect. Would this be an expression of the Apostle’s personal aversion with regard to marriage? In this realistic observation we must see a just warning for those who—as at times young people do—hold that conjugal union and living together must bring them only happiness and joy. The experience of life shows that spouses are not rarely disappointed in what they were greatly expecting. The joy of the union brings with it also those “troubles in the flesh” that the Apostle writes about in his letter to the Corinthians. These are often troubles of a moral nature. If by this he intends to say that true conjugal love—precisely that love by virtue of which “a man...cleaves to his wife and the two become one flesh” (Gn 2:24)—is also a difficult love, he certainly remains on the grounds of evangelical truth. There is no reason here to see symptoms of the attitude that later was to characterize Manichaeism.
4. In his words about continence for the sake of the kingdom of God, Christ did not in any way try to direct his listeners to celibacy or virginity by pointing out to them the troubles of marriage. We see rather that he tried to highlight various aspects, humanly painful, of deciding on continence. Both the social reason and reasons of a subjective nature led Christ to say about the man who makes such a decision, that he makes himself a eunuch, that is, he voluntarily embraces continence. But precisely thanks to this, the whole subjective significance, the greatness and exceptional character of such a decision clearly springs forth. It is the significance of a mature response to a particular gift of the Spirit.
5. In the letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul does not understand the counsel of continence differently, but he expresses it in a different way. He writes: “I tell you this, brothers, the time is already short...” (1 Cor 7:29), and a little later on, “the form of this world is passing away...” (1 Cor 7:31). This observation about the perishability of human existence and the transience of the temporal world, in a certain sense about the accidental nature of all that is created, should cause “those who have wives to live as though they had none” (1 Cor 7:29; cf. 7:31). At the same time it should prepare the ground for the teaching on continence. At the center of his reasoning, Paul places the key phrase that can be joined to Christ’s statement, one of its own kind, on the subject of continence for the sake of the kingdom of God (cf. Mt 19:12).
6. While Christ emphasized the greatness of the renunciation, inseparable from such a decision, Paul demonstrates above all what the kingdom of God must mean in the life of the person who has renounced marriage in view of it. While the triple parallelism of Christ’s statement reaches its climax in the word that signifies the greatness of the renunciation voluntarily made (“...and there are others who have become eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”: Mt 19:12), Paul describes the situation with only one word: the “unmarried” (agamos). Further on, however, he expresses the whole content of the expression “kingdom of heaven” in a splendid synthesis. He says: “The unmarried person is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord” (1 Cor 7:32). Each word of this statement deserves a special analysis.
7. The context of the word “to be anxious” or “to try” in the Gospel of Luke, Paul’s disciple, indicates that one must truly seek only the kingdom of God (cf. Lk 12:31), that which constitutes the better part, the unum necessarium, the one thing necessary (cf. Lk 10:41). Paul himself speaks directly about his “anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:28), about his search for Christ through his concern for the problems of the brethren, for the members of the Body of Christ (cf. Phil 2:20-21; 1 Cor 12:25). Already from this context the whole vast field of the “anxiety” emerges, to which the unmarried can totally dedicate his mind, his toil, his heart. Man can “be anxious” only about what is truly in his heart.
8. In Paul’s statement, the unmarried person is anxious about the affairs of the Lord (ta tou kyriou). With this concise expression, Paul embraces the entire objective reality of the kingdom of God. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” he himself will say a little further on in this letter (1 Cor 10:26; cf. Ps 24:1).
The object of the Christian’s concern is the whole world! But Paul, with the name “Lord,” describes first of all Jesus Christ (cf. Phil 2:11). Therefore the “affairs of the Lord” signify in the first place the kingdom of Christ, his Body which is the Church (cf. Col 1:18) and all that contributes to its growth. The unmarried person is anxious about all this. Therefore Paul, being in the full sense of the term the “Apostle of Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:1) and minister of the Gospel (cf. Col. 1:23), writes to the Corinthians: “I wish that all of you were as I myself am” (1 Cor 7:7).
9. Nevertheless, apostolic zeal and most fruitful activity do not yet exhaust what is contained in the Pauline motivation for continence. We could even say that their root or source is found in the second part of the sentence, which demonstrates the subjective reality of the kingdom of God: “The unmarried person is anxious...how to please the Lord.” This observation embraces the whole field of man’s personal relationship with God. “To please God”—the expression is found in ancient books of the Bible (cf. Dt 13:19)—is synonymous with life in God’s grace and expresses the attitude of one who seeks God, of one who behaves according to his will so as to please him. In one of the last books of Sacred Scripture this expression becomes a theological synthesis of sanctity. Saint John applies it only once to Christ: “I always do what is pleasing to him [the Father]” (Jn 8:29). Saint Paul observes in his letter to the Romans that Christ “did not please himself” (Rm 15:3).
Between these two observations all that makes up the content of “pleasing God” is contained, understood in the New Testament as following in the footsteps of Christ.
It seems that both parts of the Pauline expression overlap. In fact, to be anxious about what “pertains to the Lord,” about the “affairs of the Lord,” one must “please the Lord.” On the other hand, one who pleases God cannot be closed in upon himself, but is open to the world, to everything that is to be led to Christ These evidently are only two aspects of the same reality of God and his kingdom. Paul nevertheless had to distinguish them in order to show more clearly the nature and the possibility of continence “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”
We will try to return to this subject again.
12.  EVERYONE HAS HIS OWN GIFT FROM GOD, SUITED TO HIS VOCATION
GENERAL AUDIENCE OF WEDNESDAY 7 JULY
1. During last Wednesday’s meeting, we tried to investigate the reasoning St. Paul uses in his First Letter to the Corinthians to convince them that whoever chooses marriage does well, while whoever chooses virginity (or continence according to the spirit of the evangelical counsel) does better (cf. 1 Cor 7:38). Continuing this meditation today, let us remember that according to Paul, “the unmarried person is anxious...how to please the Lord” (1 Cor 7:32).
“To please the Lord” has love as its foundation. This foundation arises from a further comparison. The unmarried person is anxious about how to please God, while the married man is anxious also about how to please his wife. In a certain sense, the spousal character of “continence for the sake of the kingdom of God” is apparent here. Man always tries to please the person he loves. Therefore, “to please God” is not without this character that distinguishes the interpersonal relationship between spouses. On the one hand, it is an effort of the man who is inclined toward God and seeks the way to please him, that is, to actively express his love. On the other hand, an approval by God corresponds to this aspiration. By accepting man’s efforts, God crowns his own work by giving a new grace. Right from the beginning, this aspiration has been his gift. “Being anxious how to please God” is therefore a contribution of man in the continual dialogue of salvation that God has begun. Evidently, every Christian who lives his faith takes part in this dialogue.
2. However, Paul observes that the man who is bound by the marriage bond “is divided” (1 Cor 7:34) by reason of his family obligations (cf. 1 Cor 7:34). From this remark it apparently follows that the unmarried person would be characterized by an interior integration, by a unification that would allow him to dedicate himself completely to the service of the kingdom of God in all its dimensions. This attitude presupposes abstention from marriage, exclusively for the sake of the kingdom of God, and a life uniquely directed to this goal. In a different way the “division” can also sneak into the life of an unmarried person. Being deprived of married life on the one hand, and on the other, of a clear goal for which he should renounce marriage, he could find himself faced with a certain emptiness.
3. The Apostle seems to know all this very well. He takes pains to specify that he does not want to lay any restraint on one whom he advises not to marry, but he gives this advice to direct him to what is worthy and keeps him united to the Lord without any distractions (cf. 1 Cor 7:35). These words bring to mind what Christ said to his apostles during the Last Supper, according to the Gospel of Luke: “You are those who have continued with me in my trials [literally, ‘in temptations’], and I prepare a kingdom for you, as the Father has prepared for me” (Lk 22:28-29). The unmarried person, “being united to the Lord,” can be certain that his difficulties will be met with understanding: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning” (Heb 4:15). This allows the unmarried person not so much to immerse himself exclusively in possible personal problems, but rather to include them in the great stream of the sufferings of Christ and of his Body, the Church.
4. The Apostle shows how one can be “united to the Lord”: what can be attained by aspiring to a constant remaining with him, to a rejoicing in his presence (eupáredron), without letting oneself be distracted by nonessential things (aperispástos) (cf. 1 Cor 7:35).
Paul explains this thought even more clearly when he speaks of the situation of the married woman and of one who has chosen virginity or is widowed. While the married woman must be anxious about “how to please her husband,” the unmarried woman “is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, in order to be holy in body and spirit” (1 Cor 7:34).
5. In order to grasp adequately the whole depth of Paul’s thought, we must note that according to the biblical concept, holiness is a state rather than an action. It has first of all an ontological character and then also a moral one. Especially in the Old Testament it is a separation from what is not subject to God’s influence, from what is profane, in order to belong exclusively to God. Holiness in body and spirit, therefore, signifies also the sacredness of virginity or celibacy accepted for the sake of the kingdom of God. At the same time, what is offered to God must be distinguished by moral purity and therefore presupposes behavior “without spot or wrinkle,” “holy and immaculate,” according to the virginal example of the Church in the presence of Christ (Eph 5:27).
In this chapter of his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle touches upon the problems of marriage and celibacy or virginity in a way that is deeply human and realistic, keeping in mind the mentality of his audience. Paul’s reasoning is to a certain extent ad hominem. In the ambiance of his audience in Corinth, the new world, the new order of values that he proclaims must encounter another “world” and another order of values, different even from the one that the words addressed by Christ reached.
6. If Paul, with his teaching about marriage and continence, refers also to the transience of the world and human life in it, he certainly does so in reference to the ambiance which in a certain sense was programmed for the “use of the world.” From this viewpoint, his appeal to “those who make use of the world” is significant, that they do it “as though they had no dealings with it” (1 Cor 7:31). From the immediate context it follows that in this ambiance, even marriage was understood as a way of “making use of the world”—differently from how it had been in the whole Jewish tradition (despite some perversions, which Jesus pointed out in his conversation with the Pharisees and in his Sermon on the Mount). Undoubtedly, all this explains the style of Paul’s answer. The Apostle is well aware that by encouraging abstinence from marriage, at the same time he had to stress a way of understanding marriage that would be in conformity with the whole evangelical order of values. He had to do it with the greatest realism—that is, keeping before his eyes the ambiance to which he was addressing himself, the ideas and the ways of evaluating things that were predominant in it.
7. To men who lived in an ambiance where marriage was considered above all one of the ways of “making use of the world,” Paul therefore expresses himself with significant words about virginity or celibacy (as we have seen), and also about marriage itself: “To unmarried persons and to widows I say, ‘It is good for them to remain as I am. But if they cannot live in continence, let them marry. It is better to marry than to burn’“ (1 Cor 7:8-9). Paul had already expressed almost the same idea: “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote, it is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of the danger of incontinence, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Cor 7:1-2).
8. Does the Apostle in his First Letter to the Corinthians perhaps look upon marriage exclusively from the viewpoint of a remedy for concupiscence, as used to be said in traditional theological language? The statements mentioned a little while ago would seem to verify this. However, right next to the statements quoted, we read a passage that leads us to see differently Paul’s teaching as a whole, contained in the seventh chapter of his First letter to the Corinthians : “I wish that all were as I myself am, [he repeats his favorite argument for abstaining from marriage]—but each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind, and one of another” (1 Cor 7:7). Therefore even those who choose marriage and live in it receive a gift from God, his own gift, that is, the grace proper to this choice, to this way of living, to this state. The gift received by persons who live in marriage is different from the one received by persons who live in virginity and choose continence for the sake of the kingdom of God. All the same, it is a true gift from God, one’s own gift, intended for concrete persons. It is specific, that is, suited to their vocation in life.
9. We can therefore say that while the Apostle, in his characterization of marriage on the human side (and perhaps still more in view of the local situation that prevailed in Corinth) strongly emphasizes the reason concerning concupiscence of the flesh, at the same time, with no less strength of conviction, he stresses also its sacramental and charismatic character. With the same clarity with which he sees man’s situation in relation to concupiscence of the flesh, he sees also the action of grace in every person—in one who lives in marriage no less than in one who willingly chooses continence, keeping in mind that “the form of this world is passing away.”
13.  MAN’S ETERNAL DESTINY-THE KINGDOM OF GOD, NOT THE WORLD
AUDIENCE OF 14 JULY 
1. During our previous considerations in analyzing the seventh chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians, we have been striving to gather together and understand the teachings and advice that St. Paul gives to the recipients of his letter about the questions concerning marriage and voluntary continence (or abstention from marriage). Declaring that one who chooses marriage does well and one who chooses virginity does better, the Apostle refers to the passing away of the world—that is, of everything that is temporal.
It is easy to see that the argument from the perishable and transient nature of what is temporal speaks with much greater force in this case than reference to the reality of the other world. The Apostle here expresses himself with some difficulty. Nevertheless, we can agree that at the basis of the Pauline interpretation of the subject of marriage-virginity, there is found not so much the very metaphysics of accidental being (therefore fleeting), but rather the theology of a great expectation, of which Paul was a fervent champion. The world is not man’s eternal destiny, but the kingdom of God. Man cannot become too attached to the goods that are linked to a perishable world.
2. Marriage also is tied in with the form of this world which is passing away. In a certain sense, here we are very close to the perspective Christ opened in his statement about the future resurrection (cf. Mt 22:23-32; Mk 12:18-27; Lk 20:27-40). Therefore according to Paul’s teaching, the Christian must live marriage from the point of view of his definitive vocation. Marriage is tied in with the form of this world which is passing away and therefore in a certain sense imposes the necessity of being locked in this transiency. On the other hand, abstention from marriage could be said to be free of this necessity. For this reason the Apostle declares that one who chooses continence does better. Although his argumentation follows this course, nevertheless he decidedly stresses above all (as we have already seen) the question of “pleasing the Lord” and “being anxious about the affairs of the Lord.”
3. It can be admitted that the same reasons speak in favor of what the Apostle advises women who are widowed: “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I have the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 7:39-40). Therefore, she should remain a widow rather than contract a new marriage.
4. Through what we discover from a thoughtful reading of the Letter to the Corinthians, especially chapter seven, the whole realism of the Pauline theology of the body is revealed. In the letter the Apostle proclaims: “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you” (1 Cor 6:19). Yet at the same time he is fully aware of the weakness and sinfulness to which man is subjected, precisely by reason of the concupiscence of the flesh.
However, this awareness in no way obscures for him the reality of God’s gift. This is shared by those who abstain from marriage and also by those who take a wife or husband. In the seventh chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians we find clear encouragement for abstention from marriage, the conviction that whoever decides on this abstention, does better. But we do not find any foundation for considering those who live in marriage as carnal and those who instead choose continence for religious motives as spiritual. In both the one and the other way of living—today we would say in one and the other vocation—the “gift” that each one receives from God is operative, that is, the grace that makes the body a “temple of the Holy Spirit.” This gift remains, in virginity (in continence) as well as in marriage, if the person remains faithful to his gift and, according to his state, does not dishonor this temple of the Holy Spirit, which is his body.
5. In Paul’s teaching, contained above all in the seventh chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians, we find no introduction to what will later be called Manichaeism. The Apostle is fully aware that—insofar as continence for the sake of the kingdom of God is always worthy of recommendation—at the same time grace, that is, “one’s own gift from God,” also helps married couples. It helps them in that common life in which (according to the words of Gn 2:24) they are so closely united that they become one body. This carnal common life is therefore subject to the power of their own gift from God. The Apostle writes about it with the same realism that marks his whole reasoning in the seventh chapter of this letter: “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise, the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does” (verses 3-4).
6. It can be said that these statements are a clear comment in the New Testament on the words scarcely recorded in the Book of Genesis (cf. Gn 2:24). Nevertheless, the words used here, especially the expressions “rights” and “does not rule,” cannot be explained apart from the proper context of the marriage covenant, as we have tried to clarify in analyzing the texts of the Book of Genesis. We will attempt to do it even more fully when we speak about the sacramentality of marriage, drawing on the Letter to the Ephesians (cf. Eph 5:22-33). At the proper time it will be necessary to return to these significant expressions, which have passed from Paul’s vocabulary into the whole theology of marriage.
7. For now we will continue to direct our attention to the other sentences in the same passage of the seventh chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians, in which the Apostle addresses these words to married couples: “Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer. But then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control. I say this by way of concession, not of command” (1 Cor 7:5-6). This is a very significant text, and it will perhaps be necessary to refer to it again in the context of our meditations on the other subjects.
In all of his argumentation about marriage and continence, the Apostle makes a clear distinction, as Christ does, between the commandment and the evangelical counsel. It is very significant that St. Paul feels the need to refer also to a “concession,” as to an additional rule, above all precisely in reference to married couples and their mutual common life. St. Paul clearly says that conjugal common life and the voluntary and periodic abstinence by the couple must be the fruit of this gift of God which is their own. He says that the couple themselves, by knowingly cooperating with it, can maintain and strengthen that mutual personal bond and also that dignity conferred on the body by the fact that it is a “temple of the Holy Spirit who is in them” (1 Cor 6:19).
8. It seems that the Pauline rule of “concession” indicates the need to consider all that in some way corresponds to the very different subjectivity of the man and the woman. Everything in this subjectivity that is not only of a spiritual but also of a psychosomatic nature, all the subjective richness of man which, between his spiritual being and his corporeal, is expressed in the sensitivity whether for the man or for the woman—all this must remain under the influence of the gift that each one receives from God, a gift that is one’s own.
As is evident, in the seventh chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul interprets Christ’s teaching about continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven in that very pastoral way that is proper to him, not sparing on this occasion entirely personal accents. He interprets the teaching on continence and virginity along parallel lines with the doctrine on marriage. He keeps the realism that is proper to a pastor, and at the same time the proportions that we find in the Gospel, in the words of Christ himself.
9. In Paul’s statement we can find again that fundamental structure containing the revealed doctrine about man, that even with his body he is destined for future life. This supporting structure is at the basis of all the Gospel teaching about continence for the sake of the kingdom of God (cf. Mt 19:12). But at the same time there also rests on it the definitive (eschatological) fulfillment of the Gospel doctrine on marriage (cf. Mt 22:30; Mk 12:25; Lk 20:36). These two dimensions of the human vocation are not opposed to each other, but are complementary. Both furnish a full answer to one of man’s fundamental questions, the question about the significance of “being a body,” that is, about the significance of masculinity and femininity, of being “in the body” a man or a woman.
10. What we usually define here as the theology of the body is shown to be something truly fundamental and constitutive for all anthropological hermeneutics. At the same time it is equally fundamental for ethics and for the theology of the human ethos. In each one of these fields we must listen attentively to the words of Christ, in which he recalled the beginning (cf. Mt 19:4) or the heart as the interior, and at the same time historical place of meeting with the concupiscence of the flesh. But we must also listen attentively to the words through which Christ recalled the resurrection in order to implant in the same restless heart of man the first seeds of the answer to the question about the significance of being flesh in the perspective of the other world.
14. ) THE MYSTERY of the BODY’S REDEMPTION
GENERAL AUDIENCE OF 21 JULY 
“We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we await...the redemption of our body” (Rom 8:23). In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul sees this redemption of the body in both an anthropological and a cosmic dimension. Creation “in fact was subjected to futility” (Rom 8:20). All visible creation, all the universe, bears the effects of man’s sin. “The whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now” (Rom 8:22). At the same time, the whole “creation awaits with eager longing the revelation of the sons of God” and “nourishes the hope of also being freed from the slavery of corruption, to obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:19, 20-21).
Object of hope
2. According to Paul, the redemption of the body is the object of hope. This hope was implanted in the heart of man in a certain sense immediately after the first sin. Suffice it to recall the words of the Book of Genesis, which are traditionally called the proto-evangelium (cf. Gn 3:15). We could therefore also call them the beginning of the Good News, the first announcement of salvation. The redemption of the body, according to the words of the Letter to the Romans, is connected precisely with this hope in which, as we read, “we have been saved” (Rom 8:24). Through the hope that arises at man’s very origin, the redemption of the body has its anthropological dimension. It is the redemption of man. At the same time it radiates, in a certain sense, on all creation, which from the beginning has been bound in a particular way to man and subordinated to him (cf. Gn 1:28-30). The redemption of the body is therefore the redemption of the world. It has a cosmic dimension.
3. Presenting in his Letter to the Romans the cosmic image of redemption, Paul of Tarsus places man at its very center, just as “in the beginning” he had been placed at the very center of the image of creation. It is precisely man who has “the first fruits of the Spirit,” who groans inwardly, awaiting the redemption of his body (cf. Rom 8:23). Christ came to reveal man to man fully by making him aware of his sublime vocation (cf. Gaudium et Spes 22). Christ speaks in the Gospel from the divine depths of the mystery of redemption, which finds its specific historical subject precisely in Christ himself. Christ therefore speaks in the name of that hope that had already been implanted in the heart of man in the proto-evangelium. Christ gives fulfillment to this hope, not only with the words of his teaching, but above all with the testimony of his death and resurrection. So the redemption of the body has already been accomplished in Christ. That hope in which “we have been saved” has been confirmed in him. At the same time, that hope has been opened anew to its definitive eschatological fulfillment. “The revelation of the sons of God” in Christ has been definitively directed toward that glorious liberty that is to be definitively shared by the children of God.
4. To understand all that the redemption of the body implies according to Paul’s Letter to the Romans, an authentic theology of the body is necessary. We have tried to construct this theology by referring first of all to the words of Christ. The constitutive elements of the theology of the body are contained in what Christ says: in recalling “the beginning,” concerning the question about the indissolubility of marriage (cf. Mt 19:8); in what he says about concupiscence, referring to the human heart in his Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5:28); and also in what he says in reference to the resurrection (cf. Mt 22:30). Each one of these statements contains a rich content of an anthropological and ethical nature. Christ is speaking to man, and he is speaking about man: about man who is “body” and who has been created male and female in the image and likeness of God. He is speaking about man whose heart is subject to concupiscence, and finally, about man before whom the eschatological prospect of the resurrection of the body is opened.
“Body”, according to the Book of Genesis, means the visible aspect of man and his belonging to the visible world. For St. Paul it means not only this belonging, but sometimes also the alienation of man by the influence of the Spirit of God. Both the one meaning and the other are in relation to the resurrection of the body.
Sermon on the Mount
5. Since in the previously analyzed texts Christ is speaking from the divine depths of the mystery of redemption, his words serve that hope which is spoken of in the Letter to the Romans. According to the Apostle, ultimately we await the redemption of the body. So we await precisely the eschatological victory over death, to which Christ gave testimony above all by his resurrection. In the light of the paschal mystery, his words about the resurrection of the body and about the reality of the other world, recorded by the synoptic Gospels, have acquired their full eloquence. Christ, and then Paul of Tarsus, proclaimed the call for abstention from marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, precisely in the name of this eschatological reality.
6. However, the redemption of the body is expressed not only in the resurrection as victory over death. It is present also in Christ’s words addressed to historical man, when they confirm the principle of the indissolubility of marriage as a principle coming from the Creator himself, and also when, in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ called man to overcome concupiscence, even in the uniquely interior movements of the human heart. The key to both the one and the other of these statements must be to say that they refer to human morality, that they have an ethical meaning. Here it is a question not of the eschatological hope of the resurrection, but of the hope of victory over sin, which can be called the hope of every day.
Strength to overcome evil
7. In his daily life man must draw from the mystery of the redemption of the body the inspiration and the strength to overcome the evil that is dormant in him under the form of the threefold concupiscence. Man and woman, bound in marriage, must daily undertake the task of the indissoluble union of that covenant which they have made between them. But also a man or a woman who has voluntarily chosen continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven must daily give a living witness of fidelity to that choice, heeding the directives of Christ in the Gospel and those of Paul the Apostle in First Corinthians. In each case it is a question of the hope of every day, which in proportion to the normal duties and difficulties of human life helps to overcome “evil with good” (Rom 12:21). In fact, “in hope we have been saved.” The hope of every day manifests its power in human works and even in the very movements of the human heart, clearing a path, in a certain sense, for the great eschatological hope bound with the redemption of the body.
Victory over sin
8. Penetrating daily life with the dimension of human morality, the redemption of the body helps first of all to discover all this good in which man achieves the victory over sin and concupiscence. Christ’s words spring from the divine depths of the mystery of redemption. They permit us to discover and strengthen that bond that exists between the dignity of the human being (man or woman) and the nuptial meaning of the body. They permit us to understand and put into practice, on the basis of that meaning, the mature freedom of the gift. It is expressed in one way in indissoluble marriage and in another way through abstention from marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God. In these different ways Christ fully reveals man to man, making him aware of his sublime vocation. This vocation is inscribed in man according to all his psycho-physical makeup, precisely through the mystery of the redemption of the body.
Everything we have tried to do in the course of our meditations in order to understand Christ’s words has its ultimate foundation in the mystery of the redemption of the body.