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.
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.
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.