16 March 2010

Original Solitude

General Audience of October 10, 1979

The next big concept that John Paul II tackles is original solitude. This is not a term I had ever heard before ToB. Original solitude is pinpointed in the Bible in Genesis 2:18: "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a suitable partner for him." God-Yahweh applies this concept to man before he creates woman and distinguishes human beings as male and female, so even though the text says "man," original solitude applies to mankind as a whole.

According to JP2, original solitude has two meanings.
  1. Deriving from man's very nature
  2. Deriving from the relationship between male and female
So the question is, how do we know these meanings?

We know about original solitude derived from man's nature from the exercise in which God brings all of the animals before Adam and has him name them. The Bible says that Adam named all of the animals, but did not find a suitable partner (Gen 2:18-20). In this exercise, Adam sees he is not the same as any other creation on Earth. He gives all other creatures names and, in doing so, affirms his own dissimilarity from them. In naming the animals, he affirms his solitude.

In the same exercise, we see Adam exhibiting self knowledge. He knows enough about himself to know that he is not the same as the creatures before him. John Paul II calls this "knowledge with respect to the visible world" (150). I like this idea, because it implies that our senses are valuable on our quest for knowledge. I remember reading Descartes' Discourse on the Method in college and thinking how absurd the argument about not being able to trust your senses was. That argument turned out to be a rhetorical device for Descartes and he eventually concluded that our senses can be trusted, but it was an interesting point to consider. JPII isn't answering any Cartesian debate here in ToB, but I think the idea of self knowledge with respect to the visible world is part of the same conversation. It affirms our human experience and partly validates how a theology can be based on the body.

We also see another big thing happen in this Bible scene. Right before God tells Adam to name the creatures, God tells Adam about the trees in the garden - specifically, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2: 15-17). At this point we see choice and self-determination added to the outline of man. This means that the concept of original solitude includes both self-consciousness and free will. All this from one little paragraph, where Adam is shown the garden and names the animals! It's amazing how much is packed into little bits of the Bible.

John Paul II summarizes the information we get from the naming exercise thus: "This process...leads to the first delineation of the human being as a human person, with the proper subjectivity that characterizes the person" (150). We have self knowledge, free will, and the ability to discern. I wonder what comes next!

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