Friday, July 06, 2007


I first heard about the Theology of the Body (TOB) a few years back during my early conversion to Catholicism. Wonderful stuff. I still think so, although I have some misgivings about its emphasis and reception.

I was talking to one of my friends about it last night and he pointed out that John Paul II (JPII) was known for emphasizing the positive. In an age when the image of sex had been turned on its head by the Sexual Revolution, perhaps JPII was trying to do some marketing. Making the sexual teachings of the Church appear beautiful and desirable to a modern mentality is a tall order. TOB is really the ideal avenue for this kind of marketing. It presents the Truth of the Catholic faith and leaves a passion for pursuing this ideal.

But, as I was saying last night to my pal, I long for the days when the saints of the Church regarded sex as something dirty and troublesome. In a meditation designed to remind readers of their humility, St. Bernard encourages them to remember the nature of their origin; namely that they were created through the sexual act. My friend pointed out Augustine's assertion that the marital act always contained some venial sin. To this day, the married priests of the Orthodox churches of the East abstain from sex before the celebration of the Holy Mysteries.

I think TOB can give an idealized vision of human sexuality that doesn't prepare couples for the vicissitudes of the reality. Surviving these vicissitudes takes more than an intellectual grasp of an ethos like TOB. It requires character, which is built slowly over time. I suppose TOB can be the door, but living in the reality of a human sexual relationship is another road entirely. And the terrain of this road isn't discussed very often.


pjdm said...

Cool. I think I did check out your old blog a while ago. I like your new posting. Your friend in the article seems to be a very smart guy. And good looking.

One complaint: You speak of the vicissitudes of the sexual relationship, but do not elaborate nor mention at all what these vicissitudes are or might be. And although it may be up there with the prettiest words in the English language, I would venture to guess that most people don't know what it means.


This Liberal said...

Good point, Paul. Thanks for posting; dialogue is so much more fun than monologue.


Well, practically speaking the sexual urge is the highest natural desire that our bodies are subject to. Classical moral literature seems more "aware" of the urgency of this desire, and the violence necessary to subdue it. TOB can give the impression that it is a purely intellectual exercise, i.e., I understand what it is I have to do, and why, so I will just do it.

TOB gives the impression that two amorous young people are walking into an angelic discussion of theology, where the classical literature would describe a war zone.

Not that the theology doesn't help...

pjdm said...

For the sake of full disclosure, I am the friend you speak of in your original post on TOB. That's why I jokingly said he sounded smart.. and good looking.

Did you know that the word "syphilis" was once voted the most asthetically pleasing word in the English language? Not its meaning, but its sound. I think vicissitudes has it beat by a longshot!

John Paul II, in my opinion, was the pope of the positive message. His charism was to elucidate the beauty in Catholic doctrine to make it more attractive to modern man; to clear away false presumptions in order for the beauty and splendor of truth (the name of his great encyclical) to shine through. But in this respect you are right - the good news is that Jesus won us salvation to know and live the truth, but the bad news is that we are sinners whose lower nature continues to militate against truth and goodness. The great spiritual war against the self and the world has been emphasized by many other popes as well as saints, and should always be added to the positive message of JPII.

TOB speaks of the message of Scripture on human being and human love, which is highly important for today's utter blindness when it comes to sex. But we must ALWAYS remember we are members of the Church Militant, in daily spiritual battle with the world, flesh, and the devil. This is particularly true with the great procreative urge which, since the fall, has been divorced from the full governance of reason. By the way, if I'm not mistaken TOB mentions this, by virtue of how sexual relations were transformed from full openness and trust between man and woman to lust and domination as a result of original sin. Hence the fig leaves.

Cooperating with grace and living the truth is a continual battle that takes sacrifice and the sacrament of Penance when we fall, and this should always be presumed to be the accompanying dimension of TOB that is not explicitly emphasized.