Sexual Integrity and the Theology of the Body
By Tony Percy
I would like to approach the issue of sexual integrity by introducing Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body. The name itself is intriguing - the content, even more so. By doing this I do not mean to "Catholicise" my input. I think that all Christians, people of all faiths and people with no faith will be engaged by the late Pope's teaching.
The Theology of the Body is a response, not reaction to, the sexual revolution, which began in the 1920's. It is not a quick fix, but rather tries to help people understand who they are in relation to God, to each other and themselves.
What is the origin of the Theology of the Body?
The Theology of the Body was taught by Pope John Paul II, in Rome, from September 1979 until November 1984. It comes to around 423 pages in the popular edition. The Pope gave this new teaching in the form of public addresses and they can be divided up into two parts.
1.Original Unity of Man and Woman: A Catechesis on the Book of Genesis.
2.Blessed Are the Pure of Heart: A Catechesis on the Sermon on the Mount.
1.Life according to the Spirit:
St. Paul's teaching on the Human Body
The Resurrection of the Body
Virginity for the Sake of the Kingdom
Sacramentality of Marriage
Reflections on "Humanae Vitae."
What is the essence of the Theology of the Body?
The Original Unity of Man and Woman, in my opinion, contains the guts of the teaching. The other sections are of great interest, too, but it is this first section of Part One, which is a thorough going look at the first three chapters of the Book of Genesis, that captivates our attention.
One theological and cultural commentator - George Weigel - says that the Theology of the Body is a "theological time-bomb" waiting to go off. Others have called it a revolution. So what is ticking within the "time-bomb? What is the revolution?
Let me put it this way. If I were to ask you to complete this phrase, how would you respond? The phrase is: Original _____. My guess is that most Christians would respond to the question and say "Original Sin."
The revolution is this. With the Theology of the Body the answer now becomes: Original Solitude, Unity and Nakedness and then, and only then, Original Sin. We can immediately sense the revolution. We start not with sin, but with three fundamentally positive human and original experiences. John Paul II has developed these experiences by using a simple method. He combines sound scriptural interpretation with human experience itself.
The springboard that he uses to start his reflections is the phrase that Jesus Christ used in his talk about marriage with the Pharisees (Matthew 19, 3ff; Mark 10, 2ff). In referring to the practice of divorce, which Moses permitted in the Old Law, Jesus says that this was not the case from "the beginning."
"The beginning" is crucial for the Theology of the Body and for sexual integrity. A beginning implies an end, or an intention, (or the notion of perfection). We begin some project with something in mind. Thus the phrase, "the beginning," is really another way of saying: "What is the original intention for which we were created?" "Why was I created a sexual being?" Etc., etc., etc.
So with the Theology of the Body we have a far more positive and realistic basis on which to understand the meaning of human life, human relationships and sexuality. We start not from Original Sin, but from three other original experiences.
I list below the four original experiences and the four qualities of the human body. They are the key to understanding the Pope's thought.
The Four Original Experiences
The Four Qualities of the Human Body
The four original experiences yield - or help us understand - that the human body is:
Free and then Fallen
The word "symbol" comes from the Greek and means, "to be thrown together." The invisible and visible dimensions of the human person are thrown together in a profound unity. So much so, that the human body is symbolic.
Thus the human body makes present the human person. There is more than meets the eye. As an example, the sense of touch communicates love. The visible makes present the invisible. Touch makes present love. Hence, the profound unity that exists between our bodies and spirits. The implications for sexual integrity are clear. We cannot divorce the sensual from the spiritual. The sexual act then is profoundly sensual and profoundly spiritual. It is a profoundly unified act. Our culture tends to ignore this reality.
The word "nuptial" is clear enough. Our bodies are meant for love. One important ramification for sexual integrity is that erotic energy - which is good - is meant for love, and not lust. Thus the sexual attraction between male and female is fundamentally good. We should not be afraid of it, but should welcome it, but realise that it needs to be channelled and harnessed by human love, which of its very nature is permanent and not transitory. Again, with the proliferation of both pornography and casual sexual encounters, our culture tends to snub its nose at this important personal truth.
Here are just a few thoughts for our reflection.
(If you are interested to know more about the Theology of the Body, than the book "The Theology of the Body Made Simple," by Father Anthony Percy, might help you. It should be out by the end of the year.)