Theology of the body general discussion thread

This thread is to discuss anything and everything related to John Paul II’s theology of the body. I’ve written an introduction to the historical trends that led to the TOB and a handful of related topics. I offer this only as background information. As anyone familiar with the TOB knows, the original experiences of Adam and Eve that John Paul speaks of might be possible starting points (“original solitude,” “original unity,” "original nakedness,’ and “original innocence.”) The following introduction is divided into sub headings so you don’t have to read the whole thing. Feel free to jump in.

Introduction to the Theology of the Body

Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is comprised of 129 addresses he gave over the first five years of his pontificate during his weekly Wednesday audience. It is generally divided into six cycles according to subject:

Original Unity of Man and Woman
(23 catecheses, September 1979 to April 1980)

Purity of Heart and Concupiscence
(27 catecheses, April 1980 to December 1980)

Eschatological Man (Our Life in Heaven)
(13 catecheses, December 1980 to April 1981)

Celibacy for the Kingdom
(23 catecheses, November 1981 to July 1982)

The Sacramentality of Marriage
(27 catecheses, July 1982 to July 1984)

Reflections on Humanae Vitae
(16 catecheses, July 1984 to November 1984)

Prior to the thirteenth century, the dominant school of thought in Catholic theology was that of St. Augustine. Early in the fifth century, Augustine refuted the heresy of Pelagianism. A neo-Platonist, Augustine uses the philosophy of Plato, together with the deposit of faith, to oppose Pelagianism and create a new way of looking at everything.

The resulting synthesis, Augustinianism, is objective. It acknowledges truth, including moral truth, as outside of us, not a matter of personal opinion. We can know truth through Revelation, right reason, and the Church.

Thomas Aquinas

In the thirteenth century, when better translations of Aristotle’s works came to the attention of European scholars, new questions emerged. The dissemination of these works along with doctrinal disagreements threatened to divide the Church.

St. Thomas Aquinas prevented a rift between traditionalists and modernists. His theology, Thomism, is a synthesis of Aristotelian philosophy and Revelation.

Cartesian Philosophy

The Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, and Scientific Revolution caused social upheaval, cataclysmic shifts in thinking, and the democratization of knowledge, making all that came before seem antiquated, authoritarian, incomplete, or irrelevant. Of particular note is French philosopher René Descartes. Published in 1637, his treatise, Discourse on the Method, attempts to establish a set of principles that are certain beyond doubt.

Descartes observes that sometimes our senses deceive us. Because our senses are fallible in his search for certitude Descartes employs “hyperbolical doubt.” In other words, for Descartes nothing is certain.

The fact that he can doubt, however, means something or someone exists to do the doubting. His mind thinks, in this case about doubt. Consequently, Descartes arrives at the first certainty, his famous “Cogito ergo sum,” “I think therefore I am.”

The foundation of Descartes’ philosophical system is man. Man or man’s mind is the ultimate source of everything. Man determines morality, knowledge, meaning, and reality, to the extent it can be known.

After Descartes, truth is no longer objective. It resides in and is established by the individual. Morality, therefore, cannot be universal. Each person decides for himself what is right.

Moral relativism replaced moral absolutes. Science, technology, material affluence, sexual permissiveness, and the threat of nuclear annihilation brought new concerns. Increasingly, the person was seen as a “something,” not a “someone,” to be indoctrinated, exploited, or used. A new synthesis of faith and reason would respond to these developments.


At the beginning of the twentieth century a new school of thought, phenomenology, would reestablish the link severed by Cartesian philosophy between man and the world at large. Phenomenologists use the subjective experiences of persons to understand reality. Two in particular, Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler, would influence later thinkers responding to totalitarianism, Marxist ideology, genocide, materialism, war on an unprecedented scale, and more.

Broadly speaking, phenomenology (from the Greek phainómenon, “that which appears” and logos, “to study"), sees objects and events around us as understandable only through the person’s consciousness. By examining human consciousness (the collective experience of persons), an awareness of the world (objective reality), in which persons exist and act could emerge.

Descartes tears man out of objective reality, making moral absolutes impossible. Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope John Paul II), restores man firmly at the center of reality, making moral absolutes essential. Like Augustine and Aquinas before him, Wojtyla confirms the fundamental harmony between faith and reason. Using phenomenology and Sacred Scripture, he affirms objective moral truth and the dignity of persons, who are shaped by and responsible for their actions.

The fruit of this synthesis, John Paul’s Theology of the Body, is a reflection on our nature and life as persons made in the image and likeness of God, conjugal love, the meaning of celibacy, and the beatitude to which every human being is called. This is the Holy Father’s catechesis for a culture where sex is an obsession, marriage and families are endangered, and the dignity of persons is denied. Teaching about human sexuality using language subjective, inductive, experimental minds can understand, the Theology of the Body is a light in darkness guiding us toward an authentic vision of the person as divine gift.

This is part 2 of my introduction to the theology of the body…

The Inner Life of the Trinity

To the early Church Fathers the idea of *perichoresis *(the exchange of Persons in the Trinity), was indispensable to understanding God. This concept is central to John Paul’s Theology of the Body. The inner life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is unmistakably reflected in the beauty of the conjugal embrace, the nuptial meaning of our bodies, and the echo of original innocence that resides in the human heart.

We must first understand that God’s perfection is to exist. Something that exists is more perfect than the mere conceptualization of that thing. Before Leonardo Da Vinci painted the *Mona Lisa *he envisioned it in his mind. What resulted from his creative powers and artistry continues to fascinate, inspiring legions of impersonators, and bring joy to beholders. Had he not painted it his masterpiece would have disappeared along with his imagination. The *Mona Lisa *hanging in the Louvre is superior in every way to the unrealized concept.

As the perfection of all that is, God the Father’s knowledge of Himself is perfect. The perfect self-knowledge of the Father exists. It is God the Son. Since Jesus is the perfect self-knowledge of the Father, the Person of Christ has always existed. God the Father and God the Son have no beginning and no end, a truth acknowledged in the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.

The love of the Father for the Son is total. God the Father empties Himself completely, holding nothing back from the Son. The love of the Son for the Father is total. God the Son empties Himself completely, holding nothing back from the Father. The love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father exists. It is God the Holy Spirit. The love that is the exchange of Persons between Father and Son is the Life that is the Spirit, with no beginning and no end. The Creed affirms that the Third Person of the Trinity is coequal to and proceeds from the Father and the Son:

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the prophets.

The love of the Holy Spirit for the other Persons of the Trinity is total. God the Holy Spirit empties Himself completely, holding nothing back from the Father and the Son. The love of the Father and the Son for the Spirit is total. God the Father and God the Son empty themselves completely, holding nothing back from the Spirit. This exchange of Persons that is the inner life of the Trinity is the first family. Before God created the world there was only the Divine Family. But the life-giving love of the Trinity is spiritual not sexual in nature.

Mirroring the Trinity, man and woman consummate their love in marriage through a free and total self-donation of their persons in the intimacy of sexual union. Pope John Paul’s exhortation to couples that a man should give himself completely in a receiving way to his wife, and a woman should receive her husband completely in a giving way, reflects this. (Something contraception prevents entirely)

Our Lord raises marriage to a sacrament. The words of Jesus confer on matrimony a dignity befitting its purpose: “…from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Mark 10:6-9, also Matthew 19:4-6)

Christ is referring to the first covenant, in Genesis, between man and man’s Creator. It is a marriage covenant. God’s command to Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it,” calls attention to a profound truth. Only persons can know and choose. Because they know and choose persons alone can love. Only the human person is able to bring into this world another person capable of still more love. The gift of human sexuality allows married persons to grow in intimacy and holiness, give themselves more completely to their spouse, and be co-creators with God in the procreation, raising, and education of children.

Marriage and Celibacy as Icons

Iconography, pictures of Divine Persons and saints, are signs, images, or likenesses that embody and make present what they portray. God, the author of creation, uses physical realities to make present spiritual realities beyond us. Sex is sacred because, as a life-giving exchange of persons, it images the exchange of persons in the Trinity. Husband and wife participate in the Divine Life of God by being a family. Human families are icons of the Divine Family.

Like marriage, celibacy is a total gift of self that points to a spiritual reality. Jesus’ answer: "At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage… " (Matthew 22:30, also Mark 12:25, and Luke 20:35), in response to the Sadducees’ question about the seven times widowed woman, reveals our life in Heaven.

Sex and matrimony are icons of Divine Love. In Heaven we will see God face to face. This intimate (re)union will be an unrivaled joy, surpassing even the ecstasy of sexual fulfillment. There will be no need for such signs, images, or likenesses in the life of the world to come. God will walk in our midst and be present to us. We will receive Him fully in glory without sin or selfishness.

The celibate is a witness to the happiness we will experience in Heaven. Those who are chaste for the Kingdom can still practice life-giving love in emulation of Christ. Whatever our vocation or circumstance, we are all called to be “midwifes to souls.”

Thank you for doing this. I don’t have anything to contribute except interest. Yet.


Thanks for the summary! The inner life of the Trinity was remote until I read your essay. For starters let’s talk about JP2’s discussion of “Original Solitude” in the TOB:

When Adam named all the animals in the garden he realized he was alone. In otherwords, he realizes that he is the only “person” in the visible world. He experiences what John Paul II in his Theology of the Body calls “original solitude.” This original solitude has two senses.

The first sense of original solitude has to do with Adam’s relationship with God. In “the beginning,” Adam quickly began to understand that he had a unique relationship with the creator. He alone could talk with God. He alone could have a personal relationship with God. None of the other creatures in the garden could do this.

It naturally follows that only man has an interior life. Only man is capable of loving. Adam/man is the Hebrew word for “mankind” as mentioned previously. Adam and Eve together experience original solitude. This is key to understanding the Theology of the Body. Mankind experiences original solitude in all its senses, both male and female. Adam and Eve both experience original solitude - not just Adam the male.

So smackbean, what do you think?

Jamesson and RSD,

Thank you both. RSD, interest is all that’s needed. Don’t be put off by the semi-technical language the Pope employs. I have tons of questions which is part of the reason I started this thread.

Jamesson, I agree with everything you said about “Original Solitude” Tomorrow I’ll publish more about the first cycle of addresses.

Peace - Smackbean

I think it is worth pointing out as long as we’re talking about original solitude that Adam before the creation of Eve was genderless. He truly repressented “mankind” or “humankind” in this sense and was not a “male” in the male/female sense. This is why John Paul II says original solitude is the common inheritance of every human person.

Just wanted to clarify that.

I think the posts above have some of the same problems as Christopher West’s work:

There is too much emphasis on the marital act. The whole of marriage is much greater than marital relations, and yet this type of popularized theology of the body (pop-TOB) moves very quickly from a few positive comments about marriage, to exalting the sexual act to become ‘sacred,’ even being compared to the Trinity. We can compare the Sacrament of Marriage to the Trinity; we can compare the family to the Trinity.

But comparing the marital act to the Trinity is a sacrilege. A sacrilege treats the profane as if it were sacred, or the sacred as if it were profane. Sexual relations is one of the goods of marriage, but it is not the highest good of marriage; it is not what makes marriage sacred.

The Sacrament of Marriage is sacred; it is a Sacrament. But the whole of married life is part of that Sacrament; the Sacrament of Marriage is lived. Marital relations is only one part of married life, and it is far from the most important part.

True spiritual love in the family is the height of marriage. Joseph and Mary had a marriage and a family that should be an example to all Christians. They never had marital relations, because this physical act is not the highest good of marriage. True spiritual love of God, and of family, is the highest good of marrige.

Virginity and celibacy are better than marriage. This type of pop-TOB pays some lip service to virginity and celibacy, but then goes on to exalt sex within marriage as if it were the height of contemplative prayer. What is said about marital relations is greatly exaggerated and spiritualized, so that at least the impression is given that marital relations is the best part of marriage, and that marriage is better than virginity or celibacy. Such ideas are contrary to Catholic teaching.

"The marital act is overemphaised’

Look as fast as you can to go to a “Living in Love” meeting. It was developed by a devoutly Catholic couple and their Priest. My Wife and I have been married 26 years with a good stable marriage but without the hoorays of the first 5 to 10 years. Living in Love reminds you of why (especially for the man) you fell in love, and reminds you that if you affirm your spouse everyday as you should you will reap the benefits of a lasting relationship.

In defense of Christopher West:

Pope John Paul said that man and woman in marriage, in sharing life giving love, that is at once unitive and procreative, mirrors the inner life of the Trinity. This is not to say they ARE the inner life of the Trinity. That would be profane.

We can speak of analougus things without saying they are the same. The three-leaf clover used in religion classes to explain the mystery of three Divine Persons in one God does not begin to penetrate the incomparable majesty, boundless love, and total communion, which the Church in her Tradition and creeds ascribes to the Godhead.

This is what I had to cut out of my post to get it down to 6000 characters:

"Before continuing, the term “person” should be defined. A person has an intellect, with which to know and a will, with which to choose. As a result, a person is always a “someone,” never a “something.” Animals are not persons. Their intellects are governed by instinct and they do not have free will. Only persons can freely choose.

There are three types of persons: Divine Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), angelic persons (angels), and human persons (human beings). God alone possesses the Divine Nature that is the Divine Intellect and the Divine Will. As Persons, each member of the Trinity has a Divine Intellect and a Divine Will, separate from and in accordance with each other. Christ incarnate also possesses a human intellect and a human will. Angels are persons because they know and choose, as do human beings. This is what it means to say we are made in the image and likeness of God. Our personhood images the Divine Personhood of the Trinity."

To say there are human persons and that there are Divine Persons is not to say that those two things are the same. Yet, we can study what is common to both while acknowledging the vast differences between them.

I have little time for Christopher West personally. I prefer Father Richard Hogan, William May, and Mary Shivanandan.

The marriage relationship as a whole, and the family as a whole, can be compared to the Trinity. The love between the husband and wife, which is a true spiritual love in cooperation with grace, can be compared to the Trinity. The mere physical sexual act should not be compared to the Trinity, nor should the sexual act be exalted as if it were in itself sacred. I notice that this type of talk about the marital act exalts sexual pleasure and the mere sexual act, but seldom even mentions grace, or true spiritual love, or the limited and ordered place that marital relations should have within the whole marriage relationship. This type of distortion does grave harm to marriages.

Catholic teaching is that God is truly and absolutely simple (both Augustine and Aquinas have taught this point emphatically). And the Three Persons are distinct, but not separate. Claiming that they each have a separate intellect and a separate will is not accurate. We could say that will in God is three yet one. It would be an error to claim either that there is no distinction, so that there is only one will, or that there are three separate wills, so that there is no unity. And the same is true for intellect, since in God intellect and will are the same.

In God, existence, intellect, will, love, justice, mercy, and all that truly describes the Divine Nature, is One. God knows and God wills and God exists are one and the same in God.

I stand by what I’ve written.


In John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, he compares and contrasts the three states of man; “Original Man,” mankind before the Fall or first sin, “Historical Man” man after the Fall, (our current state,) and “Eschatological Man,” man following Christ’s second coming, (our life in heaven).

Original Man

The state of original man concerns two human beings – Adam and Eve. They viewed each other with, “all the peace of the interior gaze.” God walked in their midst, suggesting an intimacy with their creator we can only imagine. Adam and Eve’s lives were untouched by sin. Vice, depravity, and despair were foreign to their experience.

The boundary line between the state of original man and historical man is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is key. Man was the only person in the garden. The animals were not persons. They could not choose like Adam could. They could not till the ground or tend to the garden as human beings were called to do.

We have a choice. We can love God or reject God. We can be good stewards or bad stewards. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents this choice.

Two Accounts of Creation

The book of Genesis features two accounts of creation. Detractors of Christianity, and even some Christians, claim these stories contradict each other by telling different versions of the same event – namely, when God created the world. The two creation accounts also pose a challenge to fundamentalists who hold a literal interpretation of the Bible. Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body, shows how the two creation stories in Genesis are complimentary, not contradictory.

The first creation account (Genesis 1:1-2:9) is called the Elohist account since the term used for God is “Elohim.” It is chronologically newer than the second creation account starting at Genesis 2:4. The second creation account is called the Yawhist account since the name used for God in that story is “Yahweh.”

The Elohist account or first creation story is creation from God’s point of view. God separates the light from the darkness, divides the waters, creates the sun, moon, and stars, land, vegetation, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea and so on. Before creating man God pauses as if pondering a momentous act. He makes man in his image, that is to say, in God’s own image. In this way, human beings – men and women – are different from everything else in creation.

The second creation account, the so-called Yawhist account, is creation from Adam’s point of view. The second creation account is the story of creation through Adam (and Eve’s) experience. In other words, the second creation account is creation seen through the eyes of the first humans. In this sense, the Yawhist account is subjective - based on experience.

At first, Adam is alone without Eve. The Hebrew word for Adam in the Bible before the arrival of Eve is man meaning mankind. Adam before Eve is genderless. Only later does Adam the male appear with the first woman Eve. The Theology of the Body puts it this way:
The Bible calls the first human being “man” ('adam), but from the moment of the creation of the first woman, it begins to call him “man” (ish), in relation to ishshah (“woman,” because she was taken from the man—ish).

Our personhood - being a subject before God - is more fundamental to who we are than even our gender. In the Bible our personhood, our dignity before God, comes before gender differentiation. (We will discuss gender more fully in a future post.)

God brings all the animals of the Garden to Adam to name. After naming all the animals Adam realizes he is alone. John Paul calls this “original solitude.” It is through the experience of original solitude that Adam comes to realize that he is a person. Furthermore, after naming all the animals Adam is aware there are no other persons like him. (Adam knows that even the most human like animals are not persons.) He longs for an other to relate to and love. God waits for Adam to have this self-revelation before making Eve. As a loving creator, he never acts before Adam is ready.

Original solitude has two senses and paves the way for “original unity.”

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