INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW OF THE THEOLOGY OF THE BODY
“As a young priest I learned to love human love... If one loves human love, there naturally arises the need to commit oneself completely to the service of ‘fair love,’ because love is fair, it is beautiful.” -Bl Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 123
In the first talk I would like to discuss two questions: first, why is there a need for a theology of the body? second, what is the theology of the body? In the second talk I will discuss priestly spirituality and the theology of the body and its practical uses in the daily ministry of a priest, especially in proclaiming and living the Gospel of life to those entrusted to our care. The Need for Priests to be Formed in the Theology of the Body
The last forty-some years since the Second Vatican Council has seen major paradigmatic shifts in the way that the Church beholds and presents the mystery of the human person and his dignity, the holiness of marriage and family life, and the truth and meaning of human sexuality. This is partly because there has been such a brutal and unrelenting attack on the sanctity of human life, the indissolubility of the one-man, one-woman marital union, mixed together with widespread unbridled hedonism. In this environment, to borrow an image from St Louis Marie de Montfort, priests are called upon by the Lord to, with one hand, tear down the kingdom of the devil, his culture of death and civilization of lust, and with the other hand, build the reign of Jesus Christ, his culture of life and civilization of love. In order to do this well, it has been clear that there needed to be not only a deeper training of priests called for by the Council, 1 but also aiding priests in parishes to shepherd their flocks amidst their very real and complex social and familial problems. As in every age, the priest today is called to be an alter Christus, another living replica of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. Intellectual formation in both Christ’s divinity and his humanity here are important if the priest is to help make the immutable divine truth of Christ present to the people of our time in all their human needs. Intellectual formation in Christ’s divinity could be said to consist of the speculative intellect’s penetration into the divine science―sacred theology. The Council recommended that men be formed with the methodology of St Thomas Aquainas.2 Intellectual formation in the humanity of Christ could be said here to consist of theology’s practical penetration into our humanity. The Council recommended that men acquire a sound anthropology, a Christo-centric view of man. Where would we find a view of man, an anthropology that would acknowledge the metaphysical aspect of the being man that we find in thomistic realism yet be open to integrate the empirical, scientifically measurable facts and datum of human existence? Modern science has not yet recovered from a kind of Cartesian schizophrenia, the dualism that tends to oppose body and spirit introduced by the philosopher who said, “cogito ergo sum”―I think therefor I am.3 The result, as
Second Vatican Council, Optatum Totius, 13-18
Ibid. 16 Interesting to note that he was the only Church Father who was recommended by the Council. Also, he has been the only author in human history to hear from the Lord, “Bene scripsisti de me, Thomae” - you have written well of me. Christ did not say that to any evangelist or other sacred author. Could priests nowadays do with some improvements in articulation of theology especially as Aquainas put it, “to express oneself with eloquence and charm”?
was noted by Karol Wojtyła in his work, Love and Responsibility (1960), “the habit widespread among intellectuals of confusing the order of nature with the biological order,” a kind of divorce of metaphysics from empirical sciences or speculative truth from empirical fact. As we all know, this rupture in science and philosophy has even reached into the study of the sacred theology, resulting in those mistakenly divide the Christ of faith from the Jesus of history. Hegelian and Heideggerian foundations of theology also have this rupture present and have spawned the denial God’s divine power working in human history in miracles such as the parting of the Red Sea, the multiplication of loaves, and even the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Christian morality is greatly effected by a division between divinely revealed moral absolutes from historical and personal acts, giving rise to erroneous methodologies such as proportionalism, consequentialism, and the fundamental option, which falsely purports that a person’s intention to choose fundamentally the good overrides the morality of any personal act that is opposed to the good. This flies in the face of the dogmatic teaching of the Council of Trent that one mortal sin separates a soul from God and from the possession of the good and that sins must be confessed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation in kind and number. It is also the reason why there is a “loss of the sense of sin”4 and why the lines to the confessional are so short. In the area of bio-ethics, this dualistic dichotomy has caused a rather damaging divide between man as a moral being, and the biology of the human body. Much of moral theology on life issues and human sexuality is better termed immoral theology because it presents the conclusions of this division: -the body’s biological processes determine the goodness of the moral act, not the person acting to submit their body to human reason and the precepts of the natural law -a couple may choose to use contraception because a doctor will falsely assert that it regulates the woman’s body -a baby with a disease may be removed from the womb based on it’s “quality of life” -an elderly person’s life may be ended because the physical pain compromises their body’s ability to enjoy life This is perhaps why we have to insist to the people whom we serve to get a second or third medical opinion from a doctor or nurse who is pro-life. In the area of human sexuality, this dualism has spawned what Bl Pope John Paul II calls a Neo-Manichaeism expressed as it was in St Augustine’s day in either a rigorist puritanism or in selfgratifying hedonism. Both of them are a denial of the dignity and meaning of the human body and of our sexuality. We will talk about why this is later bur first a more important topic that must be broached before diving into the substance of the text. Misrepresentations There are some that would say that Blessed Pope John Paul II started a kind of sexual revolution. Mostly this is said to grab people’s attention the way an advertisement would, or a catchy blog title might attract readers. It is true that his fundamental thesis about human sexuality as the expression of being made in the image and likeness of God is quite revolutionary. However, there are some that take this kind of “grab value” too far and exploit it. The most famous example is when Christopher West on the Nightline Show compared Bl Pope John Paul II to Hugh Heffner and
Post-synodal exhortation of Pope John Paul II, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 6
said that both men had revolutionized human sexuality. Another problem is a certain kind of misrepresentation of what Blessed Pope John Paul II said that could be classified in one phrases as philosophical equivocation. This happens when two metaphors are mixed that the Holy Father never intended. No where in the TOB did he say or even hint that heaven’s ecstasy is comparable to an sexual orgasm, yet this is a common image that is given when the TOB is presented. Another problem is theological. It is the question of the eschatology of redemption, where it is assumed that in this life one can reach back to original integrity and thus remove any kind of fig leaves that cover the nakedness of the human condition. In fact, in his book, Love and Responsibility, the Pope said that there is a necessary kind of shame that ought to shield man still struggling with concupiscence. Finally the most popular catholic “Star,” if you will, of the TOB, Christopher West was asked by his local ordinary to take a leave of absence for a year in order to rethink his presentation. He did for a some weeks and started teaching the same thing he had been presenting. It is to be noted that he is a very gifted speaker and is capable of doing great things to forward the popularization of the TOB, however, I think there are priests and good faithful catholics who resist the theology of the Body because it has often been associated with this kind of presentation. I was at the international TOB conference last summer in Philadelphia and not a few people who were supposedly in positions of teaching or facilitating in their parishes and diocese were asking me , “If I had read Christopher West’s theology of the body.” They did not even know that it was authored by Blessed Pope John Paul II. Please! Do not let this deter you. Please read the original text. It is amazing and it will transform your life. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit for our time and priests of our time would be very well equipped to face the challenging complexities of family and social issues that are on the forefront of the pro-life battle. The Philsophical Background of Bl Pope John Paul II As a seminarian, Karol Wojtyła studied the Summa Theologiae with his Emminence Cardinal Sapieha, who often tutored him in his philosophical and theological development. He was ordained a priest and was sent to the Angelicum in Rome, where the ecclesiastical tradition was to unite Thomistic realism with the experience of the Carmelite tradition. He wrote his dissertation on the understanding of faith in St John of the Cross’ works. He taught university in Lublin and Krakow where he encountered a rereading of Aquainas that sought to answer modern and post-modern philosophical problems. In order to teach in Poland he had to write a Habilitationsgeschift, a habilitation thesis. He attempted to ask if phenomenology could be used as the basis of Christian ethics. Here he was interested in bridging the dualistic gap of Descartes, while addressing Max Scheler’s critique of the ethical puritanism of Kant using the intuitive experiential realism of phenomenology. He found phenomenology to be lacking as a sound investigation of ethics, but if it were so to speak, galvanized in a thomistic foundation it could form the basis of evaluating man’s moral acts. What developed in him was a kind of Lublin Thomism that has been penned Wojtyłan Personalism, in which he attempts to show the acting person’s experience of reality, even the reality of his own existence and being, as a solid basis for the investigation of truth, even metaphysical being. This is the philosophy which you will encounter not only in TOB but also in his papal encyclicals. The Pastoral Background of the TOB At the universities in Krakow and Lublin he began to encounter young people who were asking the burning questions that occupies young people, “Am I lovable? Am I capable of loving and being loved?” He said in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, “As a young priest I learned to love human love... If one loves human love, there naturally arises the need to commit oneself completely to the service of ‘fair love,’ because love is fair, it is beautiful.” It was the secondary pastoral
experience of human love that he gained from spiritual direction, confession, and the pastoral accompaniment that comes from being a university chaplain, that he started to discover the need for a better articulation of the Church’s sexual ethics. With this in mind he wrote in the 1950’s Love and Responsibility. This wasn’t enough. It was clear, especially during the Second Vatican Council that there was an inadequate explanation of a Christian anthropology that underlies Christian sexual morality. With Pope Paul VI he co-authored the Encyclical Humanae Vitae during which time he was formulating and writing in Poland the Theology of the Body. When he became Pope, it was clear to him that Church deeply needed to be given this gift as a magisterial teaching. Part of the reason for this was the widespread rejection and confusion regarding the Encyclical, Humanae Vitae. He said that the TOB is a kind of commentary on Humanae Vitae. This becomes very clear in the last section of the TOB which he shows the direction the reading had been led - to understand the sanctity of human sexuality and the marital act so that there can be a proper understanding of the Church’s teaching regarding it. What is the Theology of the Body The TOB is a series of 129 Wednesday Audiences given during the first six years of his pontificate. He said that it is biblical reflection on the theological meaning of the human body. As we recall from St Thomas, the proper object of theology is God. Theology of the Body therefore must be the study of God in the human body. Corrected Translation When it was originally delivered there were a total of six different intermittent translators and the was a lack of consistency in the use of key terms. For example, the pivotal term, “Spousal Meaning of the Body” was translated 7 different ways: nuptial meaning, nuptial significance, matrimonial significance, conjugal meaning, conjugal significance, spousal significance, and finally spousal meaning. Because it was translated piecemeal, week by week, the original titles and structure of the holy father was lost. Michael Waldstein in recent years has published a corrected translation in which the original Polish manuscript was consulted and matched along with the official Italian text and because the holy father was still alive at the time, he was personally consulted in the process. The best translation to use is called, “Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body” translated by Michael Waldstein that came out in 2006. As we know, a “General Audience” is the genre by which the Insegnamenti series identifies the regular Wednesday discourses of the sovereign Pontiff. These are catecheses, which as Vatican II in Christus Dominus stated, has “pride of place” for a bishop, especially for the bishop of Rome. Because the intended audience is the Church universal, we must pay attention to how these teachings ought to be received by the faithful, especially by the authenticated teachers of the faith, bishops and their co-workers, the priests. It can be said that since the Pope speaks to the universal Church, in the form of teaching central to his office of bishop, on a topic that regards faith and morals, that the TOB must be received with “religious submission of mind and will.” The holy Father recognizes that “Scripture is the soul of sacred theology” and the TOB is merely reflections or a commentary on what the scriptures mean with regard to our bodies. The holy father interpret scripture in a very full sense: in both the literal and spiritual senses, using historical and cultural human hagiographers and their intention in writing to penetrate deeper into the allegorical, moral, anagogical senses of the Word of God. With a lively faith, the holy father tells us that the TOB is really a living encounter with Jesus, who has a living dialogue with each person about their body. It is the voice of the Master that one ought to hear when reading the TOB, for it is the same voice that can be heard in the depths of the human heart making the TOB a very personal experience and encounter with God in one’s own body.
Structure There are two major divisions of the TOB, the are divided very much like the Mass. Part One: the Words of Christ and Part Two: the Sacrament. The first part is then divided what the holy father calls a tryptych - three parts that all compose one kind of picture. The way I like to explain this part is by an analogy of a life experience that happened to me when I was training boy scouts how to use a map and compass. Three small scouts and myself were in a kind of swampy forest and they were asked to find there way to the other side. I showed them where the starting point and the ending point were and they began the trek. It wasn’t soon before they were lost. They began to panic when I asked them three simple questions: Where did we come from? Where are we going? Where are we now? They began to look at the topographical signs, hills, streams, and it wasn’t long before they were able to triangulate where we were. The theology of the body is like this. The first part shows where we come from: Christ appeals to the beginning. The second part is where we are now: Christ appeals to the human heart - this is man’s situation in history. The third part is where we are going: Christ appeals to the resurrection - the eternal destiny of our bodies in the glory of God. You could also say that this is a kind of trinitarian triangulation that Christ has with each person. He shows them that the Father has created them “in Christ before the world began” revealing to them the primordial meaning of the body that are revealed by our first parents. Then Christ shows them that he knows exactly where they are right now in the state of fallen man, battling with concupiscience and their own personal tendency toward sin calling man to fight the battle of redemption for his body. Finally he shows the distance between who the Father created them to be and exactly where they are at right now - to reveal the Holy Spirit filling in this gap and calling them to their eschatological destination. The second part is really about the Great Sacrament, the Magnum Mysterium of Christ and in two parts: the dimension of the covenant of God with Man as a revelation of the dimension of the conjugal covenant of Christian marriage and the second part that is a discussion of the rite of holy matrimony, a kind of liturgical exegesis on the dimension of the sacramental sign and what it means. After all this, then the very tail end the holy father is ready to talk about Humanae Vitae and this composes the last part of the work. Let me share here what Cardinal Schönborn said where the three major contributions of Bl Pope John Paul in the Theology of the Body: 1. The image of God is found in man and woman above all in the communion between them, which reflects the communion of love between the persons of the Trinity 2. In God’s design, the spousal union of man and woman is the original effective sign through which holiness entered the world. 3. This visible sign of marriage “in the beginning” is connected with the visible sign of Christ’s spousal love for the Church and is thus the foundation of the whole sacramental order In the Beginning We begin with the conversation Jesus has with the Pharisees in Matthew 19, where he says that Moses permitted divorce because of our hardness of heart, but in the beginning it was not so. Here we enter into dialogue with Jesus who walks us through primordial man, the first few chapters of Genesis. Here the pope gives one of his greatest insights to the TOB and really to his papacy and our epoch we live in now: man is created in the image and likeness of God for communion not only with God, but to live out this communion with God in communion with each other, particularly in the one-man and one-woman union. Now the old penny catechism asks the question, “Is the image and likeness of God primarily in the body or in the soul?” In the soul is the answer. This notion of man and woman’s union does not change that but only shows that it is not only in the soul, but a communion of body and soul, primarily of the soul. I say this because some people struggle understanding what appears to be a redefinition or shift of Christian doctrine, when in reality it is only a deepening. Animals live a male-female union and if we reduce this to a bodily union we might
as well say that they live in the image and likeness of God the same way we do, but the holy father is referring her to the union of the whole person, body, soul, and spirit. Just as the Father and Son love each other and the name of that Love is called the Holy Spirit, man and woman love one another in fruitful communion and bear life that becomes another human person. Then the holy father takes us on a journey through the second account of creation that shows man’s original experience of his own body first through his solitude, elevation above visible creation, awareness of his own self-consciousness and self-determination, and that he finds that no other creature can satisfy his need for communion. Then when God creates for him his other self, i.e. for woman he discovers the love of God realized in the gift woman and sees himself as a gift to her, discovers his own complimentarity, and find himself in a communion of persons. Next the holy father talks about man’s primordial experience of his body as naked without shame before God and before woman, with complete openness and vulnerability. This leads us to another key topic in the TOB: the Spousal Meaning of the Body, that the body itself is revealed as a gift to the other, man can only find this meaning and love in a disinterested gift of self to the other. The Spousal Meaning of the Body “constitutes the fundamental component of human existence in the world” and is expressed either in the conjugal covenant of marriage or in the gift of oneself for the Kingdom of heaven. Christ Appeals to the Human Heart The next section is based on Christ’s comments in the sermon on the mount, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Here Jesus shows that he “knows what is in man” and that he knows exactly what man is going through. The value of this chapter is this: exactly as you are right now, Jesus knows and accepts where you are and if you are honest with him and yourself he is willing to take upon your misery and transform it for his glory. Jesus loves you as you are! He knows and understands you. This is of the utmost importance for what the holy father says next - to recover this interior glance of the heart so that it can begin to look upon the human body to behold the mystery of God. This is where he gives his definition of purity: “To behold the mystery of God through the gift of the human body.” Then Jesus takes us through the 3rd chapter of Genesis - the fall, and not only our first parents but begins this discussion with each person so as to reveal to them their need for redemption. The other important insight of this section is that Christ doesn’t accuse the heart but calls it to a higher life. He ends this section with a discussion of purity as life in the Spirit. Christ Appeals to the Resurrection This section begins with Christ speaking to the Saducees who ask him whose spouse the seven brothers wife will be in the resurrection. This is really a silly question. Hearkens back to the catechetical question that kids ask, did Adam and Eve have belly buttons or something of this sort. Jesus’ answer is clear: “Have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” Jesus points out here that the body is made for resurrection and eternal communion with God. Here the holy father gives another pivotal term: the Virginal Meaning of the Body. While the Spousal Meaning of the body signifies that the body is made for communion, the virginal meaning of the body points out that the body is made ultimately only for God. Those who live in a gift of celibate love gift their body totally to Christ now to be an eschatological sign of what is to come. He concludes this section and the entire first part with the a call to the redemption of the body, to which Christ calls each of us, pointing out that this primarily a work of God and calls for man’s vigorous participation. Part Two: The Sacrament
The Dimension of Covenant and Grace The holy father begins the next half of the TOB with a discussion on Ephesians 5, especially talking about the Great Sacrament, the Magnum Mysterium of Christ and the Church. His monumental insight here is that the union of man and woman signifies what is the source of all grace to mankind - God’s covenant with man, Christ’s marriage to the Church, and in every Sacrament this covenant is revealed and gifted once again to man. Here he introduces an idea of the language of the body that is essential later in his commentary on Humanae Vitae. He speaks about Christ saying to the Church and man saying to woman, “This is my body, which is given up for you.” The Dimension of the Sign The next section he does a kind of liturgical exegesis on the rite of marriage explaining how in the rite itself is revealed the theology of indissolubility. The other interesting thing he does here is show how the Song of Solomon talks both about man’s love for woman and therefore of Christ’s love for the Church. Third and Final Part: He Gave them the Law of Life as their Inheritance The final part is perhaps the most important. He shows the final destination of these reflections as explaining the sexual ethics behind being open to life in every marital act as speaking an honest language of the body in interpersonal communion, and how there can be an ethical regulation of fertility only inasmuch as this language of the body remains open and transparent. He ends with a brief section on conjugal spirituality, that would make excellent substance for a marital retreat, for here he talks about ascesis, prayer, frequent reception of the Sacraments as a means to keeping the language of the body and marital relations reflective of the trinitarian communion. CONCLUSION The Holy Father’s great work on the Theology of the Body, remains to most a mystery, not because it is very difficult to understand or that it is out of reach of people, or because it is sometimes misrepresented, but because it is simply not read. I highly recommend to use this for spiritual reading, meditation, and for use especially for pro-life activities in the service of marriage and family. The founder of my community told me a long time ago that the people of our time desperately need this gift and it calls for priests to interiorize the TOB to make it fruitful in the Church of our time.