Introduction to Theology of the Body

What is Theology of the body and what relevance does it have?
Theology of the body (TOTB) is a reference to 129 lectures that Pope John Paul II gave between 1979 and 1984. The work covers a variety of different issues but is mainly centred on God’s plan for life and love and the truth about God’s design for human sexuality. One of the most important points John Paul makes is that the body alone is capable of making the invisible visible, and thus spiritual qualities are made visible by the body. Philip Larkin stated that sex was invented in 1963. With the change in attitudes towards sex that happened during the twentieth century, the TOTB attempts to bring a fresh perspective and understanding of Christian sexual ethics. Many Christians perceive sexual ethics to be based on legalism and prudery rather than liberty. TOTB challenges this notion and in a new language shows how Christian ethics corresponds with the deepest longings and yearnings of the human heart. Through scriptural exegesis, John Paul seeks to answer what it means to be human and how to live a life of happiness and fulfillment. He looks at the origin, history and destiny of the human body and the influence of original sin. John Paul looks at marriage and celibacy, explaining the vocations as the living out of ‘who we are’ in the most profound way. He explains how marriage, when lived to the full, is free, faithful, total and fruitful. This is an image of how God loves and it anticipates heaven and the ultimate union with God. This analysis has provided us with a new context for understanding Catholic sexual morality. It’s an invitation to accept our own greatness, God like dignity and to live with the love that we were created for.

What is so exciting about theology of the body?
As the first non Italian Pope in 455 years, John Paul II spent the first 5 years of his pontificate and Wednesday audiences largely talking about marriage. He perhaps said more about marriage and sexuality than all the other previous Popes combined. Either this was a prophetic and timely gesture or it was a huge blunder. Since the sexual revolution in the 1960s, the institution of marriage and traditional values have been under immense threat. If total love between a man and a woman is one of the least inadequate ways of describing God’s love, then the devil will be the first to attack the splendour and beauty of marital love. The theology of the body is one of the biggest movements to happen in the Catholic Church to date, especially in the United States. It is transforming lives and teaching people about the wondrous plan that God has for each man and woman. Now that the teaching has been suitably adapted to be understood by ordinary laypeople, it is easier to learn how to build beautiful relationships built on respect, sacrifice and honour. The

wednesday audiences that make up the theology of the body include over 1000 Scripture references! The teaching is changing people’s understanding of the Church from legalistic thinking to more of a beautific vision. Two of the most effective ways of teaching are by witness and story. Most people do not learn from a straight diet of theological teaching. Theology of the body dismisses the idea that Catholicism has a starvation approach to sexuality: moderation and modesty are promoted and articulated. The degradation of marital life in the last 40 years has created a wealth of social, economic and spiritual problems. This teaching seeks to transform our culture to stand for life, unconditional love and a return to family values. So when a true message about the body is taught, conversions happen and lives are changed. What is the theology of the body? Theology is the study of God. St Anselm said that it was faith seeking understanding. The theology of the body is the study of God as revealed through the body. Our bodies are made in the image of God. They are something that are good in and of themselves. Only our bodies are capable of making visible what is invisible and to bring new life into the world. The ability to have a positive understanding about the nature and dignity of the human body is a foundation for happy marriages and relationships. God invented sex (both the noun and the verb). He creaed desire and also gave us a plan for our lives. Our hearts are a battlefield between love and lust. We all have a strong desire for love. This word is abused in modern usage. People will happily say they ‘love pizza’ and at the same time they ‘love’ their spouse. Mother Theresa said that life cannot be lived except for as a gift for others. John Paul said that man cannot live without love because he remains a being that is incomprensible to himself. These are some of the positive effects of studying the theology of the body: •What it means to be a human person •A beautiful teaching about love and life •The original beauty of God’s plan for humanity and its application towards our lives. •An understanding of the beauty and goodness of the body •A positive message of the gift of sexuality •Understanding the relationships between love and sex and the difference between love and lust. •Hope and redemption in Christ. •What the Church teaches about sexual morality. •Train in faithfulness, building marriages for the future. •Help to discern your vocation and calling in life. •What God’s purpose is for the body. •A clear understanding about chastity. •Learn about faith and what God has planned for your lives. New found hope about fiath and life.

•Dating with purpose and purity. The theology of the body is a journey from the head to the heart. When we learn to love properly we see how to desire what is best for the other person. What would society be like without selfishness in relationship? We are called to love as God loves. Love is not merely a feeling but a choice, an act of the will that consists of preferring in a constant manner, the good of others to the good of oneself. Lust is the disordered desire for inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. It is sexual desire apart from God’s love. God saw that it was not good for man to be alone and so he made a helper fit for him. Pope John Paul described love in 3 different ways. He talked of love as attraction (seeing the good and beauty of another). He said that love was desire (wanting a good for yourself, desiring goodness and happiness) and he also saw love as goodwill (willing the good of another). The only proper attitude towards another person is love. When we have self knowledge by knowing ourselves, we are able to remain confident in who we are. Adam and Eve. In the beginning, God created our bodies to be very good (Gn 1:31). They had a pure relationship with each other full of love, generosity and passion. God blessed them with fertility and gave them the tremendous gift of caring for all his creation. There was no such thing as shame because they had perfect love. There was no need to cover themselves because there was no fear of being seen as an object to be used. The original sin of Adam and Eve brought humanity into a new world of selfishness, suffering, shame, lust and death. If we can understand the beauty of God’s original plan and the barren reality of original sin, we can appreciate the amazing benefits of following God’s plan for our lives rather than our own. John Paul calls the time before the first sin of Adam and Eve: Original Man. After original sin, the era is called historical man. Adam’s experience of isolation (being without Eve): Original Solitude. When God originally designed us, sexual desire was the desire to love in the image of God: this original nakedness with original innocence allowed Adam and Eve to be naked without shame. (Gn 2:25). Adam and Eve were called to make a gift of themselves to each other. This is what is called the nuptial meaning of the body. Adam and Eve saw that their bodies literally fit together, they knew they were made for a communion that was sacred. By being a gift to one another, Adam and Eve were able to mirror the very life of God. After God created man in his image and likeness, he gave them the first command, “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Gn 1:28). The trinity is a communion of persons just as a family of love is a communion of persons. In the story, the serpent (Satan) manages to trick Adam and Eve to question the motives and generosity of God. Satan convinced Adam and Eve that if God had things His way, they would live miserable lives. Following his laws would bring sadness, not joy. This lead Adam and Eve to lack trust in God.

Shame John Paul said that Purity was the glory of the human body before God. Many people today have a sense of hatred for their own bodies. Eating disorders, cutting and steroid use are symptoms of self loathing. Many of us feel inadequate. Pride is present when we compare ourselves to others. Shame only came with original sin. John Paul says that only true love is capable of absorbing shame. Shame is “Swallowed up by love, dissolved in it, so that the man and woman are no longer ashamed.” Blessed Mother Teresa said, “The devil may try to use the hurts of life, and sometimes our own mistakes, to make you feel it is impossible that Jesus really loves you, is really cleaving to you. This is a danger for all of us. And so sad, because it is completely the opposite of what Jesus is really wanting, waiting to tell you. Not only that He loves you, but even more, He longs for you. He misses you when you don't come close. He thirsts for you. He loves you always, even when you don't feel worthy. When not accepted by others, even by yourself sometimes, He is the one who always accepts you. Only believe, you are precious to him. Bring all you are suffering to His feet, only open your heart to be loved by Him as you are. He will do the rest.”

An exegesis on chastity as explained by the truth and meaning of human sexuality.
The document ‘the truth and meaning of human sexuality,’ (TMHS) written by the pontifical council for the family in 1995, is a guideline for education within the family. In this masterly document there is a considerable amount of ink spilled on exactly what chastity is and how to live it. It describes chastity to be found within the virtue of temperance as a spiritual energy capable of defending love from selfishness and aggressiveness. It is not meant to be understood as repressive, but it cannot exist without a capacity to renounce self, to make sacrifices and to wait. As we are not able to give what we do not possess, the gift of human live has been given to us as a gift by God in order then to be given as a gift (cf. Evangelium Vitae n.92). When we grow in chastity we grow in love through self mastery. This is when we are in control of our feelings, passions and emotions. This brings a certain sense of harmony to a person, through maturity and inner peace. The catechism describes this self control as “an apprenticeship in self mastery which is a training in human freedom.” (CCC 2339). We are especially free when we are in possession of our own actions and not dominated by sin or lust. Thus, the freedom that is manifested in chastity helps one to discover self respect and makes us able to respect others, because we see them as sons and daughters of the living God, created in his image and deserving of reverence and grace filled lives. Through this premise chastity requires that we reject certain thoughts, words and sinful actions because they offend God and his creation.

All Christians are called to chastity, even those living within marriage. Parents that are living a chaste life are in a stronger and more authentic position to educate their children on this issue and to help them grow in holiness. The virtue of chastity helps to form respect between the sexes, compassion, tolerance, generosity and sacrifice. These virtues are indispensable for forming foundations for a strong and fruitful marriage. By giving way to each other in love with the pillars of sacrifice, patience and affection, married couples show the beauty of the design of marriage. Tertullian summarizes this well when he states, “How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined together by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father....They are both brethren and both fellow servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or flesh....Christ rejoices in them and he sends them his peace; where the couple is, there he is also to be found, and where he is, evil can no longer abide". (cf. Tertullian, Familiaris Consortio 13). TMHS continues and states that chastity is closely linked to the development of all other values, and especially Christian love. This love, occasionally manifested by respect, altruism and service is called charity. Chastity education must be put in the broadest context of education for love. The Second Vatican Council noted the need for an education in love. It stated, "It is important to give suitable and timely instruction to young people, above all in the heart of their own families, about the dignity of married love, its role and its exercise; in this way they will be able to engage in honourable courtship and enter upon marriage of their own." (Gaudium et Spes n.49). This education must be positive and prudent, clear and delicate. Marriage and conjugal love in the Bible is a symbol and image of God’s love for humanity. Sex is a great gift of God. He gave us the chance to become co-creators of new human life with us. Woman have the extraordinary capacity to have two or more souls within their bodies at any one time when pregnant! As God has shared this wondrous creative power with us, it is of utmost important that a new generation has strong consciences formed about the truth of God’s plan. A disordered use of sex gradually destroys a person’s capacity to love. Given the widespread use of contraceptives, the misuse of the media, the omnipresence of confusion, subjectivism and erroneous personal opinion on this issue, the danger of trivializing human sexuality (even as a consumer object) is immense. Chastity therefore cannot be relegated to a definition of the action or non-action of external acts. Rather it is intimately linked to nature and grace and our relationship with God. An atmosphere of decency, modesty in speech, action and dress is one where chastity will flourish. Overall, chastity is certainly possible in one’s state in life and contrary to popular opinion, it is a virtue that brings joy. Sustained with the help of God’s grace and mercy,

through the sacraments we are able to live chastity well so that we can give God glory and love him and our neighbour to the best of our ability.

Theology of the body resources:
Here are some further resources should you be interested in studying the topic further. FREE ONLINE COURSES: TOB on the street, Taught by Father Samuel Medley SOLT. Christopher West full course on Annunciation Parish in Ottawa’s website (very good). BOOKS A pure heart create for me: theology of the body today by Robert Colquhoun collection of recommended books. You can find these books easily on Amazon.co.uk: Carl Anderson: Called to Love Jason Evert: Theology of his/her body Chrisopher West: Theology of the body for beginners or theology of the body explained Jason Evert/Brian Butler: Theology of the body for teens Articles: Catholic Exchange articles Youtube: Christopher West on youtube

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