Spousal Meaning: The Body Expresses Love

If you recall, we are ultimately discussing the question of divorce. Jesus directed us back to the beginning, and we analyzed original solitude, original unity, and original nakedness. We’ve learned a lot about the first man and woman, and about ourselves. We’re people, with consciousness and free will. We are made for communion. Our bodies facilitate this communion and are the only way we know one another. Now it’s time to add another layer: the gift. John Paul technically calls it the hermeneutic of the gift, which basically means a lens for or aspect of scriptural interpretation in which we look at creation as a gift.

Man, who is the only creature on Earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself. ~Gaudium et Spes 24

Creation is a Gift

Have you ever wondered why God created the universe? Did he create it for his own pleasure, because he likes watching sunsets and baby penguins and imploding stars? (See Psalm 104:26!) Maybe he does, but God didn’t need to create anything for himself. If God had just stopped after the first five days of creation, there would have been no purpose for him in creating at all. God is love, and everything God does comes from love. That means that if God makes something, he makes it for someone – it is a gift. He doesn’t create for himself, because he is self-sufficient and doesn’t want or need anything. For whom does the universe exist as a gift? For humanity. For Adam and Eve, you and me, for scientists and carpenters and painters and philosophers everywhere and at all times to enjoy. Without us, no one would receive the gift, understand the gift, enjoy the gift or thank God for the gift. It is our original solitude, our personhood, that makes us eligible to receive a gift.

From reading Genesis, can we figure out whether Adam experienced creation as a gift? (The philosophy of St. John Paul II is really big on experience.) In fact, the initial description of Adam’s experience is not that he was happy with this giant cosmic gift, but that he was alone, and being alone was not good. Not only does Adam receive creation as a gift, Adam is a gift himself. “Gift” is part of the essence and definition of being a person. So for whom is Adam a gift? Well, now we see the problem. Because Adam is alone, he has no one to exist for. And if he can’t exist for anyone, he can’t fully realize his essence and his personhood, and he is not really happy.

Every Person is a Gift

Happily, God knows just what to do. He creates Eve. The first meeting between Adam and Eve is the beginning of happiness on Earth. (Think about that – billions of years to get to the first moment of happiness!) Now, finally, everything is “very good.” To exist fully as happy human persons, it is necessary to exist as male and female. Why? Now masculinity exists for femininity, and femininity for masculinity. Adam exists for Eve, and Eve for Adam. Each is a gift with a recipient. It is their bodies, male and female, which show that each is a gift, that they exist for each other. The body, specifically in masculinity and femininity, is a witness to creation as a gift, and therefore, it is a witness to love. John Paul says that for theology of the body, this is the definition of sex/gender/masculinity-femininity: it is a sign of a gift.

Together with one other element, this is the spousal meaning of the body. The other element is experience.
spousal meaning of body = sign of gift + experience as gift
How does man experience the body as a gift? The next verses of Genesis point to the answer. “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and they were not ashamed.” (Gn 2:24-25) You guessed it – the conjugal relationship is the original experience of the spousal/gift meaning of the body, along with our old friend, nakedness-without-shame.

Sexuality Expresses the Gift

The original human sexuality was one of complete freedom. As persons with a free will, humans are free from the “sexual instinct” that drives animals to mate and further the species. Adam and Eve were free to give themselves completely to one another. Their eyes, undimmed by sin, were able to see each other in their full humanity, and they were secure knowing that the other would receive and reciprocate their gift. In other words, they had the freedom of the gift. Because they are male and female, and because they are persons, human bodies have the power to give themselves to one another as a gift and to express love.

The power to express love and to be a gift is the spousal meaning of the body. When we talked about original solitude, we realized that the human body is special not primarily because of its physical makeup, but because there is a person experiencing it. Similarly, being male and female is not unique to humans, but it is unique for humans because there are people experiencing it.

In order to freely give himself, man must have control over himself. He must have self-mastery. If he doesn’t, he is simply acting on sexual instinct like an animal and his body loses its uniquely human capacity to express love and be a gift. Because they were free from any degradation of lust, Adam and Eve were able to experience nakedness without shame and enjoy the whole truth of their humanity, as good as God created it. Adam was created for his own sake, and Eve is able to discover and enjoy him. Eve was created for her own sake, and Adam is able to discover and enjoy her. In finding each other and giving themselves to each other, they also find themselves. Each realizes, “I am a gift.” We find ourselves back at the quote we started with, hopefully with a deeper understanding: “Man, who is the only creature on Earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”

The goodness and beauty of human sexuality, existing as male and female for one another as a gift, is much deeper than the physical level. The spousal meaning of the body points to “power and deep availability for the ‘affirmation of the person,’ that is, literally, the power to live the fact that the other is someone willed by the Creator ‘for his own sake.'” (TOB 15.4)

The Gift Always Remains

What can we say about this spousal meaning of the body for ourselves? We aren’t blessed with original happiness, original nakedness or original innocence. John Paul calls our perspective of the meaning of the body the “historical perspective,” because it’s the one experienced by everyone in history. Throughout history, this spousal meaning of the body remains the deepest level, even though it is covered up and distorted by many levels of confusion and hurt. That is why it is so fruitful for us to reflect on the way things were originally. Every human person today is created for his own sake, as a gift, and finds himself only through a gift of himself.

Even in modern man, we find love. We are created by love, for love, and we perceive love “in all its dimension and its contours in created things and, above all, in man.” (TOB 16.1) The original man came from love and he loved in his turn; this was the basis of his original happiness. The beginning of love is irrevocable. Christ is a witness to it, and we are invited back to it in the redemption.

In the next post we will look again at this subject of original sin and redemption in the mystery of original innocence.

Discussion: Could Three be Naked Together? What would original nakedness mean if we still had it today?

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