Difficult Questions, Deep Answers

Today I am going to summarize and review everything I’ve written so far as we conclude the audiences about “the beginning.” We have now covered the first of six major parts of Theology of the Body, which is also roughly a sixth of the audiences. (Today I will cover #23 of 133.) So if you’ve been following along, you are now familiar with the content of a significant part of TOB! This might be a good time to read or reread my overview post to see where we’ve been, and where we’re going. The single audience for this post is also short, easy to read and compelling, so feel free to read it for yourself.

First, some content summaries.

Original Experiences
Original Solitude: Man’s experience of being distinct from animals, or, more essentially, the personal, subjective nature of man
Original Unity: Man’s realization that he is made for communion, and the reality of two different (masculine and feminine) manifestations of humanity
Original Nakedness: The way that Adam and Eve related saw one another before sin, naked without shame; they saw a whole person through his/her body, accepted him and loved him
Original Innocence: The perfect alignment of the human will with the will of God before sin, seeing and approving creation as God did, particularly the other person
Original Happiness: The happiness before sin which resulted from all above original experiences and meant experiencing and living humanity as it was designed

Got all of that? How about these?

Meanings of the Body:
Spousal/Unitive Meaning of the Body: The body itself signifies that each person is created as a gift for himself, for the world, and for his/her spouse, and through the body this gift is given and actually experienced
Generative/Procreative Meaning of the Body: The body itself indicates that each person has the potential to be a father or a mother, physically and spiritually, and through the body we experience begetting, as well as being loved by a father and mother

Now, recall that all of this is drawn from an analysis of the first three chapters of Genesis. Going one step further back, we analyzed these chapters because Jesus directed the Pharisees (and us) to do so when he was asked about divorce. “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed this, but in the beginning it was not so.”

We have a lot of questions, not only about divorce, but about marriage and sexuality. Just think of all of the questions and situations that are currently important – divorce, remarriage, cohabitation, contraception, adultery, pornography, “free” or “open” marriages, domestic abuse, single parents, homosexuality, gay marriage, gay parents, hooking up and no marriage, intentional and unintentional sterility, abortion, artificial insemination, surrogate motherhood….and I’m sure you can think of many more. How does Christ respond to all of these questions and situations? “I think that among the answers Christ would give to the people of our times and to their questions, often so impatient, fundamental would still be the one he gave to the Pharisees. In answering these questions, Christ would appeal first of all to the ‘beginning.’ … At any rate, Christ would not be ‘surprised’ by any of these situations.” (TOB 23.2)

How do we, as Christians, think about these questions? How do we offer the world an adequate answer to them? Not a quick answer in a tweet or a meme, not an impersonal, dictatorial moral answer or a “because the Church said so!” Christ would never sell the world so short. Nor can an answer from science, history, anthropology or philosophy alone be sufficient. There is no 5-point argument to take down gay marriage, no scientific study to shut down contraception, and no program to prevent divorce. What we can do, what we must do, what we are called to do is much bigger, better and more difficult. We have to continue to an “integral vision of man.” Science is good, but man isn’t just a body. Theology is good, but man isn’t just a soul. Politics is good, but man isn’t just a pawn in society. Charity is good, but man isn’t just an object. Jobs are good, but man isn’t just a worker. I’ll stop there. What I’m saying is that our job is to hold up a mirror for modern man, who has forgotten (or never learned) who he is. And before we can show our our family, our friends, our enemies and our world, we have to take a long look in that mirror ourselves. That’s what Theology of the Body is about.

We are trying to plumb the depths of the human person. We want a complete view of who and what a human person is. This includes the physical, spiritual, intellectual, subjective, decisive, capable, productive, relational, communal, religious, eternal, sinful, redeemed, sexual, spousal, fertile and parental aspects of man. In so many different ways, modern society mistakes one interesting aspect of man for the whole man. And that’s never going to be good enough, because it necessarily ignores major parts of every truly human question.

As I said in my post on context, the particular goal of Theology of the Body is to give a foundation for answering questions about marriage and sexuality. We’ve done some major groundwork in laying that foundation. Some things we’ve learned:

  • Man is personal – he is not just physical or biological, and can never completely be explained in the material
  • Man is made for relationships and communion
  • Man is made for marriage
  • Man is made to be a parent
  • Being male or female is not only physical, and it is not a small or accidental aspect of any person
  • The body is meant to give us a view of a whole person, not just a potential sexual object for ourselves
  • We need to be loved and accepted by other people, affirmed in our inherent goodness, particularly in our nakedness and by the opposite sex
  • We wear clothes and hide ourselves (physically and emotionally) to keep others from treating us as an object, rejecting us, or failing to see our greatness
  • We are created to be happy, and we find happiness by living humanity as God designed it

“Those who seek the fulfillment of their own human and Christian vocation in marriage are called first of all to make this ‘theology of the body,’ who ‘beginning’ we find in the first chapter of Genesis, the content of their lives and behavior.” (TOB 23.5) Theology of the Body is a gift from God, through his faithful servant St. John Paul II, to everyone trying to find fulfillment in an imperfect marriage with an imperfect spouse. It is our job to take the time and effort, first to learn Theology of the Body, then to try to live it out ourselves, and finally, to share this gift with all the other struggling married couples, engaged couples, and single people who are male and female and have an imperfect, fallen sexuality. (i.e. everyone.) When Jesus answers with “the beginning,” he invites us to retrieve the dignity of humanity which precedes and goes deeper than sin.

This is all nice and good, you might say, but what about the fact that I’m not perfect? That this isn’t “the beginning” anymore? What about original sin, and my actual sins? Excellent point, my virtual friend! Our foundation for thinking and answering questions about marriage is not complete. We need to analyze historical, actual man, with his sinful tendencies, and we need to study redeemed man and the life of grace, because both of those are very much a part of our day-to-day experience of marriage, sexuality and humanity. That is where we’re going next. In the next post we will begin The Second Chapter of The First Part of Theology of the Body, where Christ Appeals to the Human Heart.

If you’ve been reading along, even if you’ve only read one or two posts, I would love to hear your thoughts at this point. Are you enjoying the series? Are you learning anything? What suggestions do you have for improvement? Should I be more scholarly, or more practical? Shorter or longer? Am I covering a good amount of audiences/material in one post? Even if you just post to say, “I’ve been reading and I like the blog,” that would be encouraging. I put several hours into reading, thinking and writing for each post and I’m not sure if many people actually read them or get anything out of them.

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3 thoughts on “Difficult Questions, Deep Answers

  1. I’ve been reading and and I really like the blog! I just found it today and have been reading three blog post so far. I love how you can balance both a scholarly and practical approach to this topic. You write so clear and concise and it is very easy to follow your line of thought! Thank you for writing these post!!! I LOVE THEM! You are an answer to my prayers!!!! Everything that you have written on so far, have been exact thoughts I have been reflecting on within the last couple of weeks!

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