by Nicholas DiMarzio
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
This is first in a series on Theology of the Body.
As bishop, I have noticed one particular area today that seems to be misunderstood, even within church-going Catholic circles, is the human person and sexuality as seen from Sacred Scripture. Over the next few weeks, I will discuss the dignity of the human person and will take my inspiration from John Paul II’s teaching on Theology of the Body, which he introduced in weekly audiences from 1979 to 1984.
It is hard to argue with the Word of God in the Sacred Scripture. We can begin to understand the human person by going to the beginning: the Book of Genesis and the creation of man and woman. It is here that we see the original unity of man and woman in their original innocence, and how this was destroyed by sin.
In Genesis, we find Adam is viewed by God as incomplete, and that he should not be alone. So God created them in His own image, male and female. From the rib of Adam, He created Eve to be his helpmate. Adam and Eve are made for one another as partners, to be fertile and to bring new life into the world. It is no less than the image of God that is invoked by Scripture to explain the true dignity of man and woman. Theology of the Body can also be understood as the theology of sex for masculinity and femininity because we find in our understanding of the human person the true value of sexuality in the personality of man and woman.
In a beautiful homily on the occasion of the rededication of the Sistine Chapel, Blessed John Paul II said, “It seems that Michelangelo, in his own way, allowed himself to be guided by the evocative words of the Book of Genesis which, as regards the creation of the human being, male and female, reveals: ‘The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame’ (Gn 2:25). The Sistine Chapel is precisely – if one may say so – the sanctuary of the theology of the human body.”
Several years after Michelangelo’s work was originally finished, a new pope from Holland, Adrian VI, ordered that loin cloths be painted over most of the images in the Sistine Chapel. Today, the loin cloths have been removed and the true beauty of Michelangelo’s understanding of the human body is revealed. No one looks upon his masterpiece, The David, and believes it is pornographic. Our problem today is that our sense of sin and shame has been corrupted. We no longer understand what sin is about.
The two pillars on which Blessed John Paul II built his Theology of the Body are the Sermon on the Mount and St. Paul’s teaching on the human body. In the Sermon on the Mount, the greatest sermon preached by Jesus, we see the teaching of purity of heart.
We see in Our Lord’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well that He demonstrates an understanding of human weakness and the many obstacles to living a life of grace. As with the woman caught in adultery, Jesus neither condones her actions nor condemns her. Rather, he tells her to go and sin no more.
Today, in our own society, unfortunately, the phenomenon of open marriages and promiscuity contradicts the commandment not to commit adultery. When there is a lack of appreciation for the dignity of the human person, sex is reduced to a means of pleasure. Adultery becomes, for too many, an inconsequential action.
However, it can destroy a relationship between a couple where human forgiveness of such actions is nearly impossible.
St. Paul’s teaching on the human body is the other pillar of John Paul II’s teaching on the Theology of the Body. It is best characterized as life according to the spirit. St. Paul has been mischaracterized as one who did not appreciate human sexuality. In fact, the opposite is true. When St. Paul speaks of life according to the spirit, the perennial conflict between the flesh and the spirit is always at work. In his view, the fruits of the spirit compliment the true understanding of human sexuality.
Still, St. Paul also did not shy away from listing the works of the flesh, the cardinal sins, or also known as the seven deadly sins. He condemns them, yet the words he uses to those to whom he writes are “To live by the spirit, for our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit.”
St. Paul’s understanding of the Incarnation gives a basis for an understanding of the human body beyond the Old Testament terms because now the body of the God Man becomes the image of every human person.
It is hard to do justice to the wonderful teaching of Blessed John Paul II on the Theology of the Body. However, in this brief synopsis, I have put out into the deep and, hopefully, what has been said by way of précis has not been misunderstood.
Obviously, there is no substitute for reading the Theology of the Body for oneself. It is available under the title “Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology Of The Body,” translated by the internationally renowned biblical scholar Michael Waldstein in 2006 by Pauline Books and Media.
Another book by Christopher West entitled, “At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization” is another good explanation in light of the needs of the New Evangelization and how this theology can be applied.