Theology of the Body is the subject of a series of 129 lectures given by Pope St. John Paul II during his Wednesday audiences in St. Peter’s Square and the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall between September 5, 1979 and November 28, 1984. It was the first major teaching of his pontificate. The complete addresses were later compiled and developed in many of John Paul’s encyclicals, letters, and exhortations.
In Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II teaches that man and woman were created, so that together they would reveal fully the “Image of God.” In this course of study the Holy Father examines humanity before the “Fall,” after it, and at the Resurrection of the dead. He reflects on the sexual complementarity of man and woman. He explores the nature and purpose of marriage, “The Fall,” celibacy, virginity and resurrection. He expands on the teachings of Humanae vitae which addresses God’s intention for husbands and wives, in fact for all human life.
Underlying Theology of the Body is the understanding that individual human beings are to be seen “holistically.” (Note the ironic and intentional connection with the word “holy.”) In other words the Body and the Soul/Spirit cannot be viewed strictly as separate entities.
St. John Paul harkens back to Manichaeism…which sprang up in the Orient from Mazdean dualism, that is, outside the biblical sphere. [It] saw the source of all evil in matter, in the body, and therefore condemned all that is bodily in man. And since bodiliness manifests itself above all through (one’s) sex, the condemnation was extended to marriage and conjugal life and to all the spheres of being and acting in which bodiliness expresses itself.” (Theology of the Body 44:5) For Christians there is no such dualism; holiness includes both body and soul.
The Holy Father puts particular emphasis on the physical body. For example the Apostles’ Creed affirms that there will be a “resurrection of the body.”
The Holy Father writes: The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible, the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the invisible mystery hidden in God from time immemorial, and thus to be a sign of it. (John Paul II General Audience Feb. 20. 1980)
These and other topics will be the subjects of this cursory reflection on St. John-Paul’s very important insights into the human condition. It must be emphasized that his work is highly sophisticated and well- nuanced and this course will only offer a brief rudimentary, cursory, and rather unsatisfactory glimpse.
St. John Paul begins with an encounter between Jesus and a group Pharisees:
(Mt. 19:3-8) 3 Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” 4 He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” 7 They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?” 8 He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so…
The reference “from the beginning” indicates the importance of God’s original intent, over against what the Church now calls “concupiscence” or the innate tendency to sin as a result of the “Fall.” This ongoing tendency to sin lead Moses to capitulate in several instances, including divorce, probably out of frustration. But this was never God’s intention. Jesus was arguing against changing that which God originally intended for human beings.
The reference in this passage from Matthew to a more perfect situation “from the beginning” recognizes that much of the Old Testament treatment of sexuality and marriage has taken place within the setting of a fallen human race and of consequent concessions to human sinfulness. In Theology of the Body the pope reflects on scriptural narratives that provide some revelatory clues to the original created status of humans (i.e., as “very good”—Gen. 1:21) before the contemporary fallen and impaired situation that resulted from their sin.
The Pope writes:
Reflecting on the ancient text of Genesis proves to be irreplaceable. It constitutes really the “beginning” of the theology of the body. The fact that the theology includes the body should not astonish or surprise anyone who is conscious of the mystery and reality of the Incarnation. Through the fact that the Word of God became flesh, the body entered theology—that is the science that has divinity for its object—I would say, through the main door. The Incarnation, and the redemption that flows from it, has also become the definitive source of the sacramentality of marriage…(TOB 23:4)
The Holy Father refers to the two creation accounts:
(Gen. 1:26-27; 2:24)Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth. 27God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them…2:24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body”
This is a statement of “original intent.”
The Pope then addresses the second creation account:
Genesis 2:4-8, 15-25
This is the story of the heavens and the earth at their creation. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens 5there was no field shrub on earth and no grass of the field had sprouted, for the LORD God had sent no rain upon the earth and there was no man to till the ground, 6but a stream was welling up out of the earth and watering all the surface of the ground 7then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
(There is a pun here in the Hebrew text. The word for man is “Adam” and the word for dust is “Adama;” man is created from the dust of ground.)
8The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom he had formed. 9 Out of the ground the LORD God made grow every tree that was delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…
15The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. 16The LORD God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden 17except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.
18The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him. 19So the LORD God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name. 20The man gave names to all the tame animals, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be a helper suited to the man.
21So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22The LORD God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. When he brought her to the man, 23the man said:
“This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man this one has been taken.”
[From the footnotes in the USCCB Bible: The man recognizes an affinity with the woman God has brought him. Unlike the animals who were made from the ground, she is made from his very self. There is a play on the similar-sounding Hebrew words (ishsha “woman,” “wife” and ’ish “man,” “husband”). The man gives his wife a more specific name than (“woman”) vs. 2:23 The Hebrew name hawwa (“Eve”) is related to the Hebrew word “hay” (“living”); “mother of all the living” points forward to the next episode involving her sons Cain and Abel.]
24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.25The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.
The pope notes two things: original solitude, and original unity. Original solitude is the experience of Adam, prior to the creation of Eve, when he realizes that through naming the animals there is something intrinsically different about himself. He is unable to find a suitable partner among the animals. This self-realization of a dignity before God that is higher than the rest of creation is original solitude.
This is key: When God-Yahweh says, ‘It is not good that man is alone’ (Gen.2:18), he affirms that ‘alone,’ the man does not completely realize his essence. He realizes it only by existing “with someone” and, put even more deeply and completely, by existing “for someone.”…They point out how fundamental and constituitive the relationship and the communion of persons is for man. (TOB 14:2)
Original unity is drawn from man’s first encounter with woman, where he exclaims “This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man” (Gen. 2:23). This also includes human sexuality, which is a central theme of St. John Paul’s teaching. The pope’s basic tenant is that the contemporary expression of sexuality, especially since the so-called “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s, is fallen and distorted, and not revelatory of God’s creative intention.
The Pope strives to recover in God’s revelation in Genesis the primordial created goodness and meaning of sexuality, before human rebellion and the consequent debasement of sexuality from its original goodness in God’s created order.
The unity between Adam and Eve, our first parents, speaks to a mutual belonging. Because sexuality is a gift from God’s original intent, then along with procreation, sex was and is intended for sacramental mutual bonding, mutual belonging.
In contrast, St. John Paul wrote that, lust, objectifying the other person, distorts this sense of mutual belonging. In the language of love, ‘my’ refers to the guarded gift. In the language of lust, ‘my’ refers to an object of possession. (Theology of the Body in Simple Language. P72). This deep, intimate sharing of mutual belonging is part and parcel of God’s original intent.
Prior to the “The Fall,” the pope teaches that man and woman’s desire for one another was perfectly oriented in a Sacramental way that pointed them toward God’s ultimate plan for humanity: the marriage of Christ the bridegroom with his bride the Church.
Throughout Sacred Scripture, the most common reference that Christ uses when speaking of heaven is that of a wedding feast. Thus, marriage is intended to be a union that draws us deeper into the mystery of our creation and provides a foretaste of the heavenly marriage between Christ and his Church, where man and woman are no longer given in marriage. In heaven, the eternal wedding feast, men and women have now arrived at their ultimate destination and no longer have need of the Sacrament (or sign) of marriage.
Prior to the Fall, there was no fear, no anxiety, no anger, no competition, no need to dominate nor coerce. All things were harmoniously in balance. Nothing had to either suffer or die in order for something or someone else to live.
Gen. 2: 21-24 21So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22The LORD God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. When he brought her to the man, 23the man said: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man this one has been taken.” 24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.
The Holy Father observes that it is in this state of “Original Solitude” that depicts Adam’s yearning for companionship. The creation of the woman after the man does not imply the subordination of women to men. Rather, the Lord’s creation of woman from man emphasizes the close connection between them and lays the groundwork for sacramental marriage.
The point of verse 24 is that men are to be different from the males of the animal world who regularly mate and move on to the next partner. A man wishes his wife to be with him always. Promiscuity is thus a degradation of God’s intentions in creating human beings male and female. Although polygamy was rampant at the time of the writing of this account of creation, it indicates the ideal Edenic condition is monogamy.
An aspect of this is that the man and the woman were both unashamedly naked.
(2:25) The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.
Shame has to do with being “self-conscious.” To understand this more fully, the Holy Father reminds us of man’s original solitude, his aloneness among the other living creatures. This solitude and the consequent creation of his co-equal, the woman, prepared the way for Adam and Eve’s joy in discovering their shared humanity. And it is important to point out that this discovery was made possible by their bodies. The naked body of each was the visible source of this realization which established their unity.
God’s intent is for man and woman to use their bodies to express their interior selves into a complete, holy communion. Original nakedness can only be understood in terms of communion. It is a full disclosure to one another, just as we are fully disclosed to God. As the author of Hebrews states: No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account. (Heb. 4:13)