What is the Theology of the Body (TOB) of St John Paul II?
This is the collection of the 129 talks given by Pope St John Paul II between 1979 and 1984 at the weekly Wednesday General Papal Audience at St Peter’s Square in Rome. It was given every week consecutively except for two breaks, one in 1981 after the attempted assassination of the Pope on 13 May 1981 and the other being Holy Year in 1983, whereby the Pope followed the 1983 Holy Year theme for the talks.
The title “Theology of the Body” (TOB) was used by the pope to refer to the entire series of the talks, and in his original unpublished work “Man and Woman He Created Them”. The work was sometimes popularly subtitled “Human love in the divine plan”. The Pope described the work as a biblical reflection of human embodiment, love, marriage and sexuality.
Consisting of two parts, part one entitled “The Words of Christ” covers the Christian anthropology of man, as seen through these three sections or dimensions of humanity, also popularly called Original Man, Historical Man and Eschatological Man. Part two is entitled “The Sacrament”, or The Sacramentality of Marriage in two sections; Marriage in the Dimension of Covenant and Grace, and Marriage in the Dimension of Sign. The final part entitled “He Gave Them the Law of Life as their Inheritance”, is a reflection of the teachings of St Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, considered by many as infallible and also the most controversial teaching of the Catholic Church in the modern era.
The Pope revealed that the teaching in Humanae Viate is not merely a final part to the TOB but runs throughout the entire work. In fact the Pope said that the TOB could be described as an amplified commentary, a sort of defence of the teaching in Humanae Vitae.
Many has seen the TOB as the “greatest reconfiguration” of Catholic theology in history, requiring a rewriting of almost every major theme in the creed. Proceeding from a synthesis of a faith experienced through human sexuality that is both masculine and feminine, and complementary, TOB employs the philosophy of phenomenology and traditional Thomistic scholasticism. In so doing, Catholicism or Christianity is presented or proclaimed not merely as a message (a good news) or a divine revelation to be heard and accepted, but as also as an encounter that can and should be experienced bodily. The gospel is not merely believed but lived out through an incarnational spirituality. It is a very bodily (fleshy) religion, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes as: “The flesh is the hinge of salvation” (Tertullian, De res. 8, 2: PL 2, 852). We believe in God who is creator of the flesh; we believe in the Word made flesh in order to redeem the flesh; we believe in the resurrection of the flesh, the fulfillment of both the creation and the redemption of the flesh.
At the heart of the Gospel, is the Great Mystery of our Redemption in Christ. This is imaged by St Paul in Ephesians 5:31 as the two in one flesh of man and woman, or in the conjugal intercourse of the spouses in marriage. The human marriage of Adam and Eve is merely an icon, a foreshadowing of the deeper reality of the divine marriage of the New Adam and the New Eve, Christ and his Bride, the Church. The first marriage is the sacrament of Creation while the second is the sacrament of Redemption. The spousal meaning of the body prefigures the redemptive meaning of the body. With this nuptial perspective, our ultimate destiny is the eternal wedding feast of the lamb, called heaven, where we can be with our Divine Bridegroom Messiah for eternity.