Overview of Theology of the Body

Theology of the body was delivered as audiences, orally, on Wednesday afternoons in Rome. But most of it was written by Karol Wojtyla, before his papal election, as a book with a lot of structure. (Read about the context here.) Considering the language, I doubt it was very well-comprehended by listeners in the square when it was originally delivered!

The book (I will call it a book for simplicity) has two major parts. The first might be called a history of human sexuality. It’s not a chronological history, starting with cave people and going through the sexual revolution, although that would be interesting. Rather, John Paul begins with humanity as God originally designed us, before original sin, moves into an analysis of the fallen, “historical” man and the sexual distortions of concupiscence, then concludes with men redeemed by Christ, united in the Church, on the road to Heaven. This history can also be read as a description of the layers of humanity each one of us experiences individually. We are fundamentally good in our creation, with a goodness deeper than sin. We experience concupiscence, brokenness, temptation, perversion – every one of us. If we are baptized, we also experience grace, the healing action of God working with us to recover what was lost, drive out sin, and reach a full goodness beyond even what we had originally.

The second part of the book is about the sacrament of marriage. John Paul analyzes marriage first as a covenant between spouses, the way spouses should see one another. He discusses natural marriage and Christian sacramental marriage, with the grace of God and the redemption of Christ. He explains what it means for marriage to be a sign of the love of God and the eternal marriage of Christ and the Church. Finally, he comes to the reasons that contraception is unacceptable and how natural family planning, or periodic abstinence, can help spouses discover a rich spirituality of marriage.

Theology of the Body is deeply biblical, and most sections are structured as an extended analysis of a passage of scripture. It was evident to me in reading that this work is a fruit of St. John Paul’s contemplation of the words of Christ. Sometimes, when we were analyzing every single word of a verse at great length, I joked to my husband that this is what happens when you have too many long holy hours with one passage, but it is really beautiful and profound. In fact, he intended his style of biblical analysis as an example for the direction of theology in the church: always return to revelation for answers. In the outline below, I include the major scripture passages analyzed. The structure of the outline and the section titles are original to the written manuscript, and are taken from the table of contents of the book.

Part One: The Words of Christ
Chapter One: Christ Appeals to the “Beginning” [Mt 19:3-8]
Beginning: Why we return to the creation accounts for ethical questions
Original Solitude: Man is not an animal; man and woman are created for each other Original Unity: Two people become “one flesh”
Original Nakedness: We were created without shame
Man and Gift: Creation is a gift, man is a gift; original innocence
“Knowledge” and procreation: Begetting children is an essential human experience Conclusion: Christ would appeal to ‘the beginning’ more than ever for questions about marriage raised in our day.

Chapter Two: Christ Appeals to the Human Heart [Mt 5:27-28]
Sermon on the Mount: Impure desires, not actions, are the fundamental disorder
Concupiscence: Original shame, sexual objectification, loss of free gift of self
Ethics: The shift from “do not commit adultery” to “do not lust”
The “Heart”: The body and sex express the spirit, and eros/desire have their place Redemption: We can still rediscover sex as the spousal self-giving it was meant for Purity and Spirit: By purifying sexual desire, we redeem the dignity of the body Yesterday and Today: Christ’s ethical teachings are timelessly applicable, feasible Appendix: Art and Media: Beautiful nude art v. pornography

Chapter Three: Christ Appeals to the Resurrection [Mt 22: 24-30]
Future World: The spirit, sharing in divinity, will fully permeate the body in Heaven Continence: Voluntary continence, chosen for “the kingdom,” finds spiritual fruitfulness and participates in the redemption of the body

Conclusion of Part 1: In hope, we can reclaim the goodness and freedom of the body.

Part Two: The Sacrament of Marriage”
Chapter One: The Dimension of Covenant and Grace
Ephesians 5:21-33: Husbands and wives submit to one another after Christ’s model Sacrament and Mystery: Christ presents our destiny to divine “marriage” Sacrament and Redemption: The call to Christian marriage –  redemption of purity, redemption of love

Chapter Two: The Dimension of Sign
Language of the Body: Man freely “speaks” of God, love and redemption using his masculinity and femininity as a language, particularly in the marriage vows
Song of Songs: A masterful description of purely human love, the mystery of femininity, and the restless longing of the human heart for beauty and love
Liturgy and Tobit: The prayer of Sarah and Tobias demonstrates response to God’s call to committed communion; marriage liturgy is founded on the male/female body

Chapter Three: He Gave Them the Law of Life as Their Inheritance
Ethical Problem: Contraception lies; virtuous cooperation with a woman’s body Conjugal Spirituality: The grace of love will fortify spouses in their difficult vocation; cooperating with the Holy Spirit, their spirits, desires and bodies will be reoriented to complete self-gift

Conclusion: Questions about contraception bring us back to revelation and illuminate the mystery of redemption and the sacramentality of marriage.

I expect that each of those sub-topics will take 1-3 posts, depending on how long the text is. In my next post, I will dive into the project from the beginning. (Get it?)

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