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56. The Virtue of Purity Is the Expression and Fruit of Life According to the Spirit
By Pope John Paul II


1. During our recent Wednesday meetings we have analyzed two passages taken from the First Letter to the Thessalonians 4:3-5 and the First Letter to the Corinthians 12:18-25. This was with a view to showing what seems to be essential in St. Paul's doctrine on purity, understood in the moral sense, that is, as a virtue. If in the aforementioned text of the First Letter to the Thessalonians we can see that purity consists in temperance, in this text, however, as also in the First Letter to the Corinthians, the element of respect is also highlighted. By means of such respect due to the human body (and let us add that, according to the First Letter to the Corinthians, respect is seen precisely in relation to its element of modesty), purity as a Christian virtue is revealed in the Pauline letters as an effective way to become detached from what, in the human heart, is the fruit of the lust of the flesh.


Abstention from unchastity implies controlling one's body in holiness and honor. This abstention makes it possible to deduce that, according to the Apostle's doctrine, purity is a capacity centered on the dignity of the body. That is, it is centered on the dignity of the person in relation to his own body, to the femininity or masculinity which is manifested in this body. Understood as capacity, purity is precisely the expression and fruit of life according to the Spirit in the full meaning of the expression. It is a new capacity of the human being, in which the gift of the Holy Spirit bears fruit.


These two dimensions of purity—the moral dimension, or virtue, and the charismatic dimension, namely the gift of the Holy Spirit—are present and closely connected in Paul's message. That is emphasized particularly by the Apostle in the First Letter to the Corinthians, in which he calls the body "a temple [therefore, a dwelling and shrine] of the Holy Spirit."


You are not your own


2. "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own"—Paul said this to the Corinthians (1 Cor 6:19), after having first instructed them with great severity about the moral requirements of purity. "Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body" (1 Cor 6:18). The peculiar characteristic of the sin that the Apostle stigmatizes here lies in the fact that this sin, unlike all others, is against the body (while other sins are outside the body). In this way, we find in the Pauline terminology the motivation for expressions such as "the sins of the body" or "carnal sins." These sins are in opposition precisely to that virtue by force of which man keeps his body in holiness and honor (cf. 1 Thess 4:3-5).


Profanation of the temple


3. Such sins bring with them profanation of the body: they deprive the man's or woman's body of the honor due to it because of the dignity of the person. However, the Apostle goes further: according to him, sin against the body is also "profanation of the temple." In Paul's eyes, it is not only the human spirit, thanks to which man is constituted as a personal subject, that decides the dignity of the human body. But even more so it is the supernatural reality constituted by the indwelling and the continual presence of the Holy Spirit in man—in his soul and in his body—as fruit of the redemption carried out by Christ.


It follows that man's body is no longer just his own. It deserves that respect whose manifestation in the mutual conduct of man, male and female, constitutes the virtue of purity. This is not only because it is the body of the person. When the Apostle writes: "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God" (1 Cor 6:19), he intends to indicate yet another source of the dignity of the body, precisely the Holy Spirit, who is also the source of the moral duty deriving from this dignity.


You were bought with a price


4. The reality of redemption, which is also redemption of the body, constitutes this source. For Paul, this mystery of faith is a living reality, geared directly to every person. Through redemption, every man has received from God again, as it were, himself and his own body. Christ has imprinted on the human body—on the body of every man and every woman—new dignity, since, in himself, the human body has been admitted, together with the soul, to union with the Person of the Son-Word. With this new dignity, through the redemption of the body, a new obligation arose at the same time. Paul writes of this concisely, but in an extremely moving way: "You were bought with a price" (1 Cor 6:20). The fruit of redemption is the Holy Spirit, who dwells in man and in his body as in a temple. In this Gift, which sanctifies every man, the Christian receives himself again as a gift from God. This new, double gift is binding. The Apostle refers to this binding dimension when he writes to believers, aware of the Gift, to convince them that one must not commit unchastity. One must not sin "against one's own body" (ibid. 6:18). He writes: "The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body" (ibid. 6:13).


It is difficult to express more concisely what the mystery of the Incarnation brings with it for every believer. The fact that the human body becomes in Jesus Christ the body of God-Man obtains for this reason, in every man, a new supernatural elevation, which every Christian must take into account in his behavior with regard to his own body and, of course, with regard to the other's body: man with regard to woman and woman with regard to man. The redemption of the body involves the institution, in Christ and through Christ, of a new measure of the holiness of the body. Paul refers precisely to this holiness in the First Letter to the Thessalonians (4:3-5) when he writes of "controlling one's own body in holiness and honor."


One with the Lord


5. In chapter six of the First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul specifies the truth about the holiness of the body. He stigmatizes unchastity, that is, the sin against the holiness of the body, the sin of impurity, with words that are even drastic: "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, 'The two shall become one flesh.' But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him" (1 Cor 6:15-17). According to the Pauline teaching, purity is an aspect of life according to the Spirit. That means that the mystery of the redemption of the body as part of the mystery of Christ, started in the Incarnation and already addressed to every man through it, bears fruit in it.


This mystery bears fruit also in purity understood as a particular commitment based on ethics. The fact that we were "bought with a price" (1 Cor 6:20), that is, at the price of Christ's redemption, gives rise to a special commitment, that is, the duty of controlling one's body in holiness and honor. Awareness of the redemption of the body operates in the human will in favor of abstention from unchastity. It operates in acts for the purpose of causing man to acquire an appropriate ability or capacity, called the virtue of purity.


What can be seen from the words of the First Letter to the Corinthians (6:15-17) about Paul's teaching on the Christian virtue of purity as the implementation of life according to the Spirit is of special depth and has the power of the supernatural realism of faith. We will have to come back to reflection on this subject more than once.


Source:  L'Osservatore Romano


57. The Pauline Doctrine of Purity as Life According to the Spirit - 3.18.1981




Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved