02 March 2010

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning, a Very Good Place to Start

General Audiences of 5, 12, 19, and 26 September 1979

John Paul II introduces the Theology of the Body by talking about beginnings. He starts in the Gospel of Matthew.

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?" He said in reply, "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate." They said to him, "Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss (her)?" He said to them, "Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” Mt 19: 3-8

In his response Jesus mentions “the beginning” twice. Since anything that Jesus says twice is clearly very important, JP2 wants to know what this “beginning” is, and what it means.

As any of us would guess, the beginning is found in Genesis.

Genesis begins with two creation stories, one told in chapter 1 and the other in chapters 2 and 3. These creation stories are distinguished by their authors, so the beginning in chapter 1 is called the Elohist account and the beginning in chapters 2 and 3 is called the Yahwist account. Jesus references both of these beginnings in his dialogue with the Pharisees.

Christ initially references the Elohist account when he mentions “the beginning,” but then quotes the Yahwist account about man and woman becoming one flesh. In his quote from the Yahwist account, Christ literally brings us to the boundary between man’s primeval innocence and original sin, the last verse of chapter 2.

The Yahwist account of creation highlights the two states of man – the state of integral nature and the state of fallen nature (status naturae integrae and status naturae lapsae). When Christ refers the Pharisees to the beginning (Gen 2:24), he orders them to pass beyond the boundary between these two states, between primeval innocence and original sin, and back to God’s dictate that man and woman will be one flesh.

When Christ orders the Pharisees back to the beginning he indicates that God’s order has not lost its force, even though man has lost his primeval innocence. Man and woman will STILL be one flesh. Christ even adds to the dictate found in Genesis by ordering that “what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mk 10:9).

The fact that Christ brings the Pharisees back to God’s original order and then strengthens that order by explicitly stating that it is still in effect tells us that original sin did not completely sever man’s tie to his original innocence. There are parts of our status naturae integrae that persist, even though we have entered a state of historical sinfulness. This seems like a very important point to me, one that might come back later in ToB. It seems like a very important point too for a discussion about what our fallen state is and how original sin tainted our original innocence. But I digress! Maybe JP2 will pick that point up later.

Christ’s words allow us to find an essential continuity in man and a link between the two states of man. After all, we cannot even talk about man’s fall from grace without referencing his original grace. Man’s historical sinfulness makes no sense unless it is compared with his original innocence. That is something that I think people forget a lot.

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