Theology of the Face

The truth of the body is the best weapon to combat the culture of pornography, according to Blessed John Paul II’s Catechesis onShroud of Turin Human Love (popularly known as the Theology of the Body). Our pornified culture teaches that different parts of the body are interchangeable and exist primarily for our own pleasure. The emphasis is placed upon body parts, normally divorced from the face, or at least subtly de-emphasized from the face.  Society says there are certain things which are “hot”.

Ever notice how seldom the “hot” parts include something on the face?  Divorced from the face, body parts on different individuals can be similar. Only through the face is the uniqueness of the human person revealed. If we can say that the body reveals the truth about the human person; then we should say that the face reveals the uniqueness of a special creature created in God’s image.

What does this all mean in regards to the Theology of the Body? When we dig a bit deeper into the Wednesday audiences, we find a theology of the face. During a six month period between 12/9/1981 to 4/28/1982, the Holy Father discusses the Beatific Vision (a.k.a heaven) on nine different occasions. Each time he does so, he speaks of the Beatific Vision as a communion of persons “face to face.”

In a meeting “face to face”, we see the uniqueness and supremacy of God and the uniqueness not just of the race of man, but of every individual as male and female. When we were first created, we were able to see God face to face. When original sin first entered the world, one of the first things we did was to “hide from the face of God,” (Genesis 3:8).  Since then man has been unable to see the face of God. After this moment, the word became symbolic of this lack of communion (Genesis 4:6, Exodus 33:23). While this lack of communion was a source of sadness, it also took on a dimension of signifying complete peace and happiness.  When Jacob and Esau are reconciled after their decades long feud which began in their mother’s womb, Jacob views the peace as if “I should have seen the face of God,”  (Genesis 33:10).

This peace reaches its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. In what could be termed the first general audience of the Pope, the Blessed Apostle Peter equated Christ as the Messiah not just because of his Resurrection, but because once He ascended into Heaven, Jesus beholds the Father face to face (Acts 2:25). Because of Christ’s redemption, we also may look upon the Father face to face.

The question becomes when we can look upon the Father face to face, and it is here the truth of the theology of the body is unlocked. In his first Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul states the following:

We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known, (1 Cor 13:12).

In the theology of St. Paul, we begin our lives as children, foolishly thinking our particular gift is the best.  As we grow older, we realize just how limited our minds are (darkness) in that all things are gifts from the Spirit, and all those gifts point towards God who at the moment can only be faintly perceived.  For St. Paul, there will come a point when all this darkness will fade, and we will know God “just as we are known.”  As sure as I am that my name is Kevin; that is how fully I will know God.

When does this blessed moment occur?  John the Revelator places it at the end of time, when a new heaven and new earth is created.  (Revelation 22:4)  St. John of the Cross describes this full knowledge and communion with God as something that “melts away all my cares”, and indeed melts away everything of this world.   After this, John of the Cross speaks of entering into the rest of the beloved.

While all of this might be interesting, what does it have to do with the Theology of the Body?  To fully understand this, we need to return to the theology of St. Paul.  Before entering into the New Heaven and Earth Revelation describes, something else happens:

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible: and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption; and this mortal must put on immortality  (1 Cor 15:51-54).

In the Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul calls this moment “the redemption of the body,” (Romans 8:23).  When we receive our new glorified bodies, at that moment we look upon Christ as he was meant to be looked, and we enter into the eternal peace.  The body reveals that truth through the face.

This is why our pornographic culture is so evil.  It isn’t that the problem with porn isn’t that it shows too much, but that it doesn’t show enough.  The problem with pornified culture is that it shows nothing about who we are, and what we were meant to be. It is empty, it cannot satisfy, because, like Adam, it seeks fulfillment apart from God. It does this by rupturing that face to face communion, seeking fulfillment apart from the face. The way to find this communion is not through the butt or the breasts or the biceps or the abs, but through the face, since through the face we see the truth of God. image: Shutterstock

Kevin Tierney

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Kevin Tierney is the Associate Editor of the Learn and Live the Faith Section at Catholic Lane. He and his family live in Brighton, MI. Connect with him via FB  or on twitter @CatholicSmark.

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  • Michael Keating

    This sure makes me want to re-visit CS Lewis’ Til We Have Faces. Great thoughts!

  • Karee Santos

    This is an important development in how we should think about the Theology of the Body. Fantastic work!

  • Moniconnects

    Nice analysis, Kevin. I like your clarity.

  • somewhere in silent reverence

    i hear Song of Songs, “with kisses of the mouth”. does that make sense?

  • GregB

    I posted a comment on The National Catholic Register that is related to this subject. It is as follows:

    There seems to be some confusion as to the spiritual difference between
    the heterosexual and the homosexual act. The sex act was created by God
    to model the inner life of the Trinity. The heterosexual union is
    described as the one flesh union. The intimacy of the one flesh union
    models the intimacy of the union between the Three Persons of the
    Trinity, an intimacy that is so complete, total, and perfect that They
    are One in Substance. Eve was made from the rib of Adam so that she
    would be consubstantial with Adam. From a spiritual perspective this
    universe is incarnational, and the heterosexual union is a form of
    living iconography. In the one flesh union of the heterosexual act there
    is an authentic, intimate, physical joining of the husband and the
    wife, where they form one flesh, and are face to face.

    The relationship between God and the Church is said to be spousal. To be
    in intimate, spiritual, divine union with God is the way to most fully
    see God face to face. Only the heterosexual union provides the true
    image and likeness of this face to face union. Every other way is the
    way of the iconoclast, destroying the sacred imagery that God gave the
    heterosexual act.

    **********************************************
    There are a couple of things that can be added. The first one is that it is in the face to face intimate, spiritual, divine union with God that one receives the kiss of God’s mouth where He breaths into the believer the Holy Spirit. The second one is that God, husband, and wife are supposed to constitute a whole new trinity.

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