THEOLOGY OF THE BODY IN A NUTSHELL

Vom 15. bis 19. November 1980 besuchte Seine Heiligkeit Papst Johannes Paul II. die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Auf Einladung von Bundespräsident Karl Carstens hat der Papst seinen pastoralen Besuch mit einem offiziellen in Bonn verbunden. Am 15. November gab der Bundespräsident einen Empfang zu Ehren Seiner Heiligkeit auf Schloß Augustusburg in Brühl bei Bonn. Dort führte Papst Johannes Paul II. auch ein Gespräch mit Bundeskanzler Helmut Schmidt. Gleichzeitig traf Bundesaußenminister Hans-Dietrich Genscher mit Kardinal-Staatssekretär Casaroli zusammen. Im Anschluß an den offiziellen Teil begab sich der Papst auf den Bonner Münsterplatz, um dort eine Ansprache zu halten. Ferner bestand der pastorale Teil aus Besuchen in Köln, Osnabrück, Mainz, Fulda, Altötting und München. In allen diesen Städten hielt Papst Johannes Paul II. die Heilige Messe. Eigentlicher Anlaß seines Aufenthaltes in der Bundesrepublik war der 700. Todestag von Albertus Magnus (1193-1280), dessen Grab der Papst in Köln besuchte. Bundespräsident Karl Carstens und Papst Johannes Paul II. auf Schloß Augustusburg in Brühl.

“Man, whom God created male and female, bears the divine image imprinted on his body ‘from the beginning.’ Man and woman constitute two different ways of the human ‘being a body’ in the unity of that image.” (Saint Pope John Paul II)

The Resurrection of Jesus provides a wonderful platform upon which to discuss Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body – this because Jesus in His divinity did not return to the Father as a disembodied Spirit but as a human being fully reunited to His resurrected and Glorified body which – get this – he then introduced into the very life of the Trinity.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it like this:

“The Father’s power “raised up” Christ his Son and by doing so perfectly introduced his Son’s humanity, including his body, into the Trinity.”  (no. 648)

The human body, by way of revelation and Catholic theology, therefore has an infinite worth as a partaker in the Eternal Life merited by Jesus Christ.

Theology of the Body is an attempt to heal the alienation which sometimes exists between body and spirit – an alienation which did not exist prior to sin. An example of this alienation is pornography which disregards the person-hood and dignity of the participants in favor of pecuniary gain and carnal pleasure. Even in marriage there can be body-lust, body-shame and body-alienation due to our fallen nature and the violation of Pope John Paul II’s “personalistic norm” which states that the human person is the kind of good that does not admit of misuse and cannot be treated as an object of use and as such a means to an end. According to the Pope, “the general problem of sexual relationships between a man and a woman cannot be solved in a way that contradicts the personalistic norm” (see pages 41 and 65 of Love and Responsibility).

Sexual love therefore has a profound “nuptial” meaning because it is only within the framework of sacramental marriage that there can be a complete gifting of self – body and spirit – which supports “the total physical, moral, psychological and spiritual well-being of the woman and the man” – all of which serves to nurture an “enduring covenant” of love.

The nuptial meaning of the human body is affirmed in creation because both the man and the woman, although different, are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Therefore there is a profound complementarity between the body of the man and the body of the woman which shows they were made for each other and for the complete donation of self – in the fulness of their totality as beloved persons – in life-long marriage. The grace given in the Sacrament of Marriage therefore heals the dualistic sexual alienation caused by sin (which Pope John Paul II calls a violation of the personalistic norm, a principle he fashions from the philosophy of phenomenology).

In short, because every man and every woman is a body-person with inherent dignity and infinite worth, human sexuality finds its authentic and “life-giving” expression in sacramental marriage where the exchange of sexual intimacy can be “integrated into a total self-donation made in the will.” In this way the husband and wife mirror in the grace given to them the very LIFE of self-donation which is the essence of God’s Trinitarian existence.

“Those who seek the accomplishment of their own human and Christian vocation in marriage are called, first of all, to make this theology of the body, whose beginning we find in the first chapters of Genesis, the content of their life and behavior. How indispensable is a thorough knowledge of the meaning of the body, in its masculinity and femininity, along the way of this vocation! A precise awareness of the nuptial meaning of the body, of its generating meaning, is necessary” (Saint Pope John Paul II).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

 

References: 

Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla. A good article (I have relied on) summarizing this topic can be found in Our Sunday Visitor’s Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine. It is Saint Pope John Paul II’s strong belief that artificial birth control violates the personalistic norm by objectifying sexual  pleasure as an end in itself. It is noteworthy that the high rate of divorce coincides with the introduction of the contraceptive pill, along with other factors. The two quotes from Pope John Paul II compiled by Constance Hull at catholic-link.org

Photo attribution: The lead photo above is by Lothar Schaack, November 15, 1980, under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license (found at Wikipedia).

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