«Retr ieving the Tradition A MEDITATION ON GIVENNESS1 JOHN PAUL II “[I]n creating man as man and woman, God imprints on humanity the mystery of that ...»
Retr ieving the Tradition
A MEDITATION ON GIVENNESS1
JOHN PAUL II
“[I]n creating man as man and woman, God imprints
on humanity the mystery of that communion which
is the essence of his interior life.”
1. CR E ATION A S GIF T
Can one man2 say to another, “God has given you to me”? As a
young priest, I once heard my spiritual director say to me: “Perhaps God wills to give that person to you.” These were words of
encouragement, urging me to trust God and accept the gift one man becomes for another. I suspect it didn’t immediately dawn on me that these words also hide a profound truth about God, man, and the world. The world, the very world in which we live, the human world... is the setting of an ongoing exchange of gifts—gifts given and received in many different ways. People live not only alongside one another, but also in manifold relationships.
They live for each other; relating to one another, they are brothThis meditation was originally signed on 8 February 1994 (six days after Pope St. John Paul II signed Letter to Families), but was not printed until 2006 (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 98, no. 8 [4 August 2006]: 628–38). Reprinted and translated with permission. The following footnotes are by the translator.
2. In this meditation, the term man is used to translate both człowiek (homo Communio 41 (Winter 2014). © 2014 by Communio: International Catholic Review 872 JOH N PAU L II ers and sisters, wives and husbands, friends, teachers, students....
It may seem that there is nothing extraordinary in this; it is just the normal pattern of human life. In certain places, this pattern intensiﬁes, and it is there, at those points of “intensiﬁcation,” that this gift of one person for another becomes most real.
When two people join with one another, not only do they give themselves to each other, but God also gives them to one another. In this, God’s creative plan is enacted. As we read in Genesis, God created the visible world for man, told him to subdue it (see Gn 1:28), and subjected the whole world of lower creatures to man’s dominion. However, his dominion over the created world must take account of the good of individual creatures. The book of Genesis reminds us that God saw that all creation was good. Creation is a good for man so long as man is “good” for the creatures around him: the animals, the plants, as well as inanimate creation.
If man is good to them, if he refrains from unnecessary damage or thoughtless exploitation, then this creation forms a natural environment for him. Creatures become his friends. They enable him not only to survive but also to ﬁnd himself.
God, in creating, revealed his glory and gave the whole richness of the created world to man; he gave it to man for him to rejoice in it, to rest in it. For the poet Norwid—to rest, to restore, to reset, to renew—to od-poczywać3 —denotes to be conceived anew, to be reconceived. God gave the world to man for him to ﬁnd God in it and so also to ﬁnd himself. Nowadays, we often speak of “ecology,” i.e., concern for the natural environment. The foundational basis for such ecology, however, is the mystery of creation, which is a great and incessant stream of giving all the goods of the cosmos to man—both those goods he encounters directly as well as those he only discovers through research and experiments utilizing the various methods of science. Man knows more and more about the riches of the cosmos, but at the same time he sometimes fails to recognize that these come from the hand of the Creator. However, there are times in Latin) in some places, and in other places mężczyzna (vir in Latin). The two uses should be easily distinguishable depending on context.
3. The Polish poet and author Cyprian Kamil Norwid (1821–83) noted that the Polish term for rest—od-poczywać—shares the same root as the words for “conceive”—począć, and “beginning”—początek.
A M E DITAT ION ON GI V E N N E S Swhen all men, even nonbelievers, glimpse the truth of the givenness of creation and begin to pray, to acknowledge that all is a gift from God.
In the book of Genesis, we read that on the last day of Creation, God made man: “man and woman he created them” (1:26–28). “He created”—in this instance this means, even more profoundly, that God gave them to each other, mutually. He gave to man the womanhood of the woman who is of his kind, a “helpmate like unto him,”4 and also gave man to the woman.
So, since the very beginning, man has been given to the other by God. If we read the text of Genesis carefully, we ﬁnd in it the very beginning, as it were, of this giving.
Man, as man, feels lonely among creatures that are not of his kind, and as such is confronted by a being who is like unto him. In the woman whom he receives from God, he ﬁnds a helpmate like himself (Gn 2:18). We must understand the term “helpmate” in its most basic meaning. Woman is given to man so that he can understand himself, and reciprocally man is given to woman for the same end. They are to mutually afﬁrm each other’s humanity, awed by its dual richness. On ﬁrst beholding created woman, man must surely have thought: “God gave you to me.” He said as much, though in different words—but he said as much (Gn 2:23). Awareness of gift and givenness is clearly written into the biblical Creation account. For man, woman is ﬁrst an object of awe and wonder. With her appearance, the world ﬁrst encounters what Gertrude von Le Fort termed “das ewig Weibliche”: the eternal feminine.
“God has given you to me.” As is apparent, these words I heard in my youth were not a mere random remark. God does indeed give people to us; he gives us brothers and sisters in our humanity, beCf. Wednesday Audience Catecheses by John Paul II of 7 November 1979 and 14 November 1979 (John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. and ed. Michael Waldstein [Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2006]).
5. The Polish term zawierzenie can denote both entrustment in the sense of 874 JOH N PAU L II ginning with our parents. Then, as we grow up, he places more and more new people on our life’s path. Every such person, in some way, is a gift for us, and we can say of each: “God has given you to me.” This awareness becomes a source of enrichment for each of us. We would be in grave danger were we to be unable to recognize the richness in each human person. Our humanity would be in peril were we to shut ourselves up only in our own selves and reject the broad horizon that opens out to the eyes of our soul as the years go by.
Who is man? Genesis afﬁrms at the very beginning that man is in the image and likeness of God. This means that a special fullness of being resides in man. As the Council teaches us, man is the only creature on earth whom God willed for itself (Gaudium et spes, 24). At the same time, he is the only creature that can fully ﬁnd himself only through a sincere, disinterested gift of self (ibid.).
Thus, there is a very deep connection between being for oneself and being for others. Only someone who has dominion over himself can become a sincere gift for others. This holds true to God’s being in the ineffable mystery of his interior life. Man has also been called, from the beginning, to such a likeness in being. That is why God created him male and female. In creating woman, in bringing her to man, God opened man’s heart to an awareness of gift, givenness. “She is from me and she is for me; through her I can become a gift because she herself is a gift for me.” I have often drawn attention to the fact that in woman is contained, as it were, the ﬁnal word of God, our Creator.6 For womanhood denotes the future of man. Womanhood denotes motherhood, and motherhood is the ﬁrst form of entrustment of one man to another. The word “entrustment” is especially important here. “God wants to give another person to you” means that God wants to entrust that other person to you. And to entrust means that God believes in you, trusts that you are capable of receiving guardianship, placing the other into one’s care, and in the sense of conﬁding in another or trusting in him or her. Over the course of this meditation, its meaning is explored at a series of levels. John Paul II writes of zawierzenie in relation to both Cain’s question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and the angel’s words to Joseph: “Do not be afraid to take Mary to yourself.” As the translator of this meditation into French, Pascal Ide has noted that in each of these uses, entrustment opens up to communion (see footnote 1).
6. Cf. Mulieris dignitatem and Letter to Women.
A M E DITAT ION ON GI V E N N E S Sthe gift, that you are capable of embracing it with your heart, that you have the capacity to respond to it with a gift of yourself. In this way, in creating man as man and woman, God imprints on humanity the mystery of that communion which is the essence of his interior life. Man is drawn up into the mystery of God by the fact that his freedom is subjected to the law of love, and love creates interpersonal communion.
God, man’s Creator, is not only the omnipotent Lord of all that exists, but is also a God of communion. This communion is where that special likeness between man and God is played out.
Through man, this likeness should radiate out to all of creation so that it becomes the “cosmos”—man’s communion with all that is created and creation’s communion with man. St. Francis of Assisi is one such ﬁgure in whom the truth about the communion of creatures found a special expression. The right and ﬁtting place for communion, however, is ﬁrst and foremost man—man and woman whom God has called from the beginning to be a sincere gift of self for one another.
3. A PPR ECI ATION OF BE AU T Y
Love has many facets. It seems that the ﬁrst of these is a disinterested predilection, partiality, or liking: amor complacentiae. God, who is Love, bestows this form of love, above all other forms, upon man—a loving predilection. The eyes of the Creator, though embracing the whole created universe, rest especially on man, who is the object of his special liking. They rest on both man and woman as he created them. Perhaps that is why Genesis emphasizes that they were both naked and felt no shame (Gn 2:25).7 Elsewhere, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes: “And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (4:13).
God embraces man and woman in the whole truth of their humanity. He rests his creative and fatherly favor, predilection, in this truth. He grafts this disinterested liking, this prediCf. The detailed discussion of the phenomenon of shame in John Paul II’s Wednesday Audience Catecheses of 12 December 1979, 2 January 1980, 14 May 1980, and 30 July 1980, and earlier in Karol Wojtyła’s Love and Responsibility (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2013).
876 JOH N PAU L II lection into their hearts. He makes them capable of mutual love, of a liking for one another. In man’s eyes, the woman is a special synthesis of the beauty of all creation, and he too, similarly, in her eyes. Their nakedness is in no way a source of shame. It is deeply transformed by the love the Creator has for them. One can speak here of a certain special absorption of shame by love,8 this time by the love of God himself. This love lets them interact with one another and rejoice in the gift of each other in all simplicity and innocence. It allows them to experience the givenness of their humanness, which always retains that dual modality of male and female.
It is worth noting that the words that institute marriage are not the ﬁrst words the Creator speaks to man and woman.
These ﬁrst words speak rather of the bodily union of man and woman in marriage, as it were, from the vantage point of their future choice: man is to leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, become one ﬂesh with her, and give beginning9 to new life (Gn 2:24). From the very beginning, the preservation of humankind is connected with this order of God’s creation.
This very preservation, however, already presupposes a loving predilection. Within themselves, man and woman must ﬁrst ﬁnd a mutual predilection and discover the beauty of being human, and then their hearts beget the need to give new life—to transmit the gift of humanity to new beings whom God, in his own time, may give to them.
Anyone who judges that the biblical account of man’s creation is dominated by biology is in great error. The Creator says:
“Be fruitful and multiply so you ﬁll the earth and subdue it” (Gn 1:28), only after ﬁrst having created within their hearts an interior space of loving predilection that is especially governed by beauty.
One may say that in this way, in creating woman, God triggers that great aspiration for beauty which will become the subject of man’s creativity, art, and much else.... There is a certain quest for beauty in every spiritual creativity, a certain quest for yet new forms of incarnation, new sources of wonder, which is as indisThis is one of the chapter subtitles in Wojtyła’s Love and Responsibility.
9. Dać początek could also be translated as “engender,” “beget,” or “transmit,” but the lesser-used phrase “give beginning” was chosen to better encapsulate both the giving, and the beginning in time, borne out by the Polish original.