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  • Writer's pictureDom Dalmasso

Sexual Purity and Dulia in Paul

Below is a collage of passages [with my additions in brackets] taken from Pope Saint John Paul II’s audiences on the Theology of the Body (from audiences 54 to 57).

St. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from unchastity; that each one of you knows how to keep his own body with holiness and reverence, not as the object of lustful passions” (1 Thess 4:3-5). […] The task of purity emphasized [by Paul…] is not only […] abstaining from “unchastity” […], but at the same time, keeping one’s body, and indirectly that of the other, in “holiness and reverence.” […] These two functions, “abstaining” and “keeping,” are strictly connected and dependent on each other. Since it is in fact impossible to “keep the body with holiness and reverence” without this abstinence “from unchastity” […], one can assume as a consequence that keeping the body (one’s own and that of the other) “with holiness and reverence” gives an appropriate meaning and value to this abstinence. […] The reverence born in man for everything bodily and sexual, both in himself and in every other human being, male and female, turns out to be the most essential power for keeping the body “with holiness.” […] It is precisely this interior power [of reverence] that gives full dimension to purity as a virtue.


[… Paul later applies this to the communion of the Church. Indeed we read in 1 Cor 12:18 that] “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them as he willed,” [and in 1 Cor 12:22-25] “on the contrary, the members of the body that seem weaker are more necessary, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we cloth with greater reverence, and our unpresentable members are treated with greater modesty; whereas our more presentable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the members that lacked it, so that there may be no disunion within the body, but the members may have care for one another.” […] While in 1 Thessalonians he writes about keeping the body “with holiness and reverence,” in the passage just quoted from 1 Corinthians he wants to show this human body as deserving reverence or respect. […] One can certainly say that this description would not be possible without the whole truth of creation; nor without the truth of the “redemption of the body,” which Paul professes and proclaims [Rom 8:23, notice in that verse the reference to the Holy Spirit].


One can say that the Pauline description of the body corresponds precisely to the spiritual attitude of “reverence” for the human body that is due to the “holiness” that wells up from the mysteries of creation and redemption. […] If in the text quoted from 1 Thessalonians one can observe that purity consists in temperance, nevertheless in this text and also in 1 Corinthians, the aspect of “reverence” is emphasized as well. […] Purity is precisely an expression and fruit of life “according to the Spirit” […], that is, a new ability of the human being in whom the gift of the Holy Spirit bears fruit. […] “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” […] Paul asks the Corinthians (1 Cor 6:19) after having instructed them with much severity about the moral demands of purity. […] According to him, a sin against the body is also a “profaning of the temple.” […] Christ has inscribed in the human body—in the body of every man and every woman—a new dignity, because he himself has taken up the human body together with the soul into union with the Son-Word. From this new dignity, through the “redemption of the body,” a new obligation was born at the same time.


[…] The fruit of redemption is indeed the Holy Spirit, who dwells in man and his body as in a temple. […] This Gift […] makes every human being holy. […The awareness of this gift is what motivates Paul] to convince [Christians] not to commit “unchastity,” not to “sin against their own bodies” (1 Cor 6:18). [… Indeed, in the mystery of the Incarnation] the human body became the body of the God-Man. […] This has the effect of a new supernatural elevation in every human being, which every Christian must take into account in his behavior toward “his own” body and obviously also toward another’s body. [… As a matter of fact, in 1 Cor 6:15 Paul adds:] “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?”


[In summary…] the Apostle shows how the mystery of the “redemption of the body” achieved by Christ is the source of a particular moral duty that commits Christians to purity, to the virtue that Paul defines elsewhere as the need to “keep one’s own body with holiness and reverence” (1 Thess 4:4).


Yet, we would not discover the full depth of the richness of thought contained in the Pauline texts if we did not notice that the mystery of redemption bears fruit in man also in a charismatic way. The Holy Spirit, who according to the Apostle’s words enters into the human body as into his own “temple,” dwells there and works with his spiritual gifts. Among these gifts, […] the one most congenial to the virtue of purity seems to be the gift of “piety” (eusebeia; donum pietatis). If purity disposes man to “keep his own body with holiness and reverence,” as we read in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, piety as a gift of the Holy Spirit seems to serve purity in a particular way by making the human subject sensitive to the dignity that belongs to the human body in virtue of the mystery of creation and of redemption. Thanks to the gift of piety, Paul’s words “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” […] (1 Cor 6:19) take on the convincing power of an experience and become a living and lived truth in actions.


Paul ends his argument in 1 Corinthians 6 with a significant exhortation: “therefore glorify God in your body” (v. 20). Purity as a virtue or ability of “keeping one’s own body with holiness and reverence,” allied with the gift of piety as a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s dwelling in the “temple” of the body, causes in the body such a fullness of dignity in interpersonal relations that God himself is thereby glorified. Purity is the glory of the human body before God. It is the glory of God in the human body, through which masculinity and femininity are manifested. From purity springs that singular beauty that permeates every sphere of reciprocal common life between human beings and allows them to express in it the simplicity and depth, the cordiality and unrepeatable authenticity of personal trust.


[The text has the following footnote at the bottom]: “In the Greco-Roman period, eusebeia or pietas generally referred to the veneration of the gods (as ‘devotion’), but it still preserves its original and wider meaning of reverence for the vital structures of life. Eusebeia expressed the mutual behavior of relatives, relations between spouses, and also the attitude owed by the legions to Caesar or of slaves to their master. In the New testament, only the later writings apply eusebeia to Christians; in the earlier writings, this term characterizes ‘good pagans’ (Acts 10:2, 7; 1723). Although the Hellenistic eusebeia, like the ‘donum pietatis,’ refers undoubtedly to the veneration to the divine, it has a wide base in connoting interhuman relationships. See W. Forester, ‘Eusebeia,’ Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 2:177-82.”

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