What Theology of the Body is Really All About

John Paul II WaveFor the Catholic millennial generation, there is little doubt that one of the most popular works is the Wednesday General audiences of Blessed John Paul II that comprise “Man and Woman He Created Them”, or as they are known to wider audiences, the Theology of the Body. For those 30 and under, it is basically required reading if you wish to interact with your Catholic peers.

Over the past several years, many intelligent minds have debated the meaning of these texts, and how Catholics should get the most out of them.  The conventional wisdom about TOB is that it is a catechesis on sex, and the Pope uses these audiences to give a properly Catholic understanding on sex.  To this school of thought, everything (or almost everything) can be interpreted through the prism of sex.

While I find this view flawed, I don’t think it should be rejected entirely.  Society has some really screwed up definitions about sex (as both an action and a noun), and the Wednesday audiences provide a valuable correction to these faulty views.  Yet if one actually reads the words of the Pope, this isn’t why he gave these talks.  What Catholics today need to do is to return to these documents, and re-orient our understanding accordingly.  When we look at the first audience, we find the Pope saying the following:

Together with them, numerous groups of pastors and laymen are taking part in it, feeling especially responsible with regard to the role which Christ assigned to marriage and the Christian family, the role that he has always given, and still gives in our age, in the modern world.

The cycle of reflections we are beginning today, with the intention of continuing it during the following Wednesday meetings, also has the purpose, among other things, of accompanying from afar, so to speak, the work of preparation for the Synod.

Very little of our debate is centered around this premise, and I think it is a shame.  When we look at the Wednesday audiences primarily from a family-centric perspective, we find a few things:

1.)    The Theology of the Gift actually makes sense

One of the most quoted Church documents in these addresses is Gaudium et Spes, which states that “man can only find himself through a sincere gift of self.”  This is frequently taken to refer to sex, but this interpretation really cheapens the depth of what the Pope and Council are getting at.  Gaudium et Spes gives this quote in the context of emphasizing that the brotherhood of man should be modeled upon the relationship between The Father and the Son: that of a family.  John Paul II’s keen insight here is that this manner of existence is stamped into our very creation as male and female.  When we live our lives as a free gift to another, we are not only living as God wills us to live, we are fulfilling the basic desires of our humanity, because this self-donation is the only way a family works.

2.)     The Theology of the Cross actually makes sense

One of the strongest criticisms of popular TOB evangelists is that through their emphasis on sex, they present the Catholic Church as one gigantic pleasure cruise.  By shifting the emphasis back onto the family (as originally intended), not only do we avoid this, but we discover another reality:  the reality of suffering.  Anyone can be a gift to another when all that is involved is our own pleasure and fulfillment.  It takes a heightened understanding to be a gift when the only thing you are certain to get in return is pain and torment.  Why would Christ suffer so much for people who had rejected Him?  To say “because He loves us” is true, but a pointless cliché.  He loves us because He is part of that same human family by his Incarnation, and as St. Athanasius teaches, became man so that the Father could be revealed to us.  (On the Incarnation, 41).  The beauty of the Gospel is that God is our Father, not just a Deity.  In our earthly lives, our families can only function when we practice the same form of “gift”, self-denial for the betterment of the family.

3.)     The Holy Family Actually Makes Sense

When you limit TOB to primarily something about sex, you run into a glaring problem.  According to Blessed John Paul, the two individuals (outside of Christ) who lived the theology of the body perfectly were Mary and Joseph, and their union was emphatically non-sexual.  (General Audience 3/24/82)  Their understanding of the gift was the only one in human history (again, outside of Christ) which was perfectly focused first and foremost on God (as symbolized by their chastity within marriage), on each other (on account of the numerous sufferings they endured as husband and wife), and finally, on their child (in that all of these sufferings were put towards the raising of their child, and hence transformed into ways to grow in holiness) Jesus Christ.

Throughout this alternative understanding of the Wednesday audiences, you will notice that nowhere did I discount that the audiences provide a greater understanding about sexuality.  They most certainly do, and some of the findings of the popular evangelists have no doubt strengthened the faith of thousands of Catholics.  Yet married couples do more than just spend their lives in the bedroom, and the religious life is a life of the Theology of the Body as well, even if it is emphatically non-sexual.  I think this approach strikes the right balance between a lot of the good these evangelists have presented, but also takes the criticisms offered to heart, and offers a better understanding of the wisdom of Holy Mother Church, which should be at the center of all our actions.


Cover image credit: shutterstock.com

Kevin Tierney


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.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Eliz33

    I have studied a TOB course given by Christopher West and others and realize this teaching to be providential in its timing and message. I want to share it with my 18 year old daughter – it there a program you would recommend for teenagers?

  • Dolorosa

    “From a Catholic perspective, the very term “theology of the body” is problematic.

    Theology [Greek from theós, meaning God and logos meaning discourse],
    in all its form, centers upon God, on God’s attributes, on things
    divine, revealed truths and matters of faith, and not man, per se.
    Regarding the human body, man is one. He is composed of both a
    rationale, spiritual soul and a material body, which gives man his
    personal corporeal identity. The immortal intellectual soul, infused
    into the body at the moment of conception, is the first informing and
    substantial principle which makes the body alive. The body without a
    soul is inert, a corpse. How then can there be such a thing as a “Theology of the Body”? A difficult question, but only one of many such questions that the
    author (Wojtyla) and his supporters have endeavored to answer in defense
    of the “new” and “revolutionary” “development” in Catholic sexual
    catechetics called the “Theology of the Body.”
    That the Theology of the Body makes for difficult reading and even more difficult
    understanding is readily admitted by both proponents and opponents of
    Wojtyla’s work.” Get the book here:


  • Dolorosa
  • Kevin Tierney

    I’m going to go ahead and dissent from this, but hear me out. I would readily acknowledge that people find the text as “difficult”, but I would most certainly object to the idea it is “new” or “revoluationary.” A lot of pop TOB evangelists make that claim, either because they don’t know their church history (and being blunt, most of them just don’t), or they want to sell books/lectures by making it sound more sensational than it is.
    If one reads Leo XIII, you find him stating essentially the same foundational premise JPII does: that man is created for union with God, and the creation of male/female (as well as all creation) demonstrates that fact. It’s all a apart of the Hexameral literature that was very popular during the Early Church, which focused on the first six days of creation in the first two chapters of Genesis (St. Basil the Great, St. Ambrose are two who had popular renditions of these works.) The entire premise of the visible being a manisfestation of the invisible (something which once again is central to the audiences) is Christology 101, as outlined so vividly by Athanasius in On the Incarnation of the Word.
    As far as what a “Theology of the Body is”, I would submit it is the following points:
    1.) Man is created for union with God
    2.) Human beings are called for communion with each other, a communion that is based (with some important differences and limitations!) upon the Holy Trinity.
    3.) Our creation as male and female interacts with these principles in very important ways.
    In short, it is how our creation as male and female deals with the family and with God. So the author you cite is just flat out wrong. Yet this is one of the reasons I wrote this article, and hope to write more about it. I would more or less agree with the idea that the majority of TOB evangelists are doing it horribly wrong. Yet their inability to read something outside the prism of sex and anachronism isn’t the fault of the Pope, or the Wednesday audiences.

  • Kevin Tierney

    I wish I could say I’m an expert…. but really, I’m not. I know some of my colleagues have recomended Jason Evert’s stuff. There are some hangups, but for the most part he treats the subject matter respectfully.
    I really think right now the TOB debate is in an interesting stage. For the longest time, it was assumed that the only viewpoint that was the definitive view of JPII’s texts were those of Christopher West. That’s been challenged now, and you are starting to see a lot more creative approach on the matter, from Fr. Jose Granados (his work Called to Love is Excellent), Dawn Eden, a lot of this work is really new, as people are studying the texts and trying to present not only the texts in a proper manner, but add what was lacking. (John Paul II concluded the series by noting he wasn’t able to cover a lot of things he felt essential, such as how suffering ties into all of this)
    I’d honestly say just work with the basic principles. Would also suggest Dawn Eden’s “Thrill of the Chaste” for young adults (in this case over 18) to read and understand why chastity is such a good thing.

  • Eliz33, there’s a TOB for Teens programme developed by Ascension Press. Some parishes conduct it.

  • parterre

    There is a powerful document that was put together by the Vatican: The Charter of the Rights of the Family. I think people might find it interesting:


  • Chris

    Kevin and Dolorosa,

  • West’s work is fine.
    JPII is the one who first utilized the phrase “theology of the body” in the TOB corpus itself. The term is absolutely coherent with the content of the catecheses, so, while “Catechesis on Human Love” is also fine, there’s really no overriding problem with the name it’s been known by for so long…

  • Actually, the “challenge” re West is not really about his content or his exposition of TOB, which is really spot-on and quite creative.
    Rather, the issue is that West has a specific apostolate in reaching folks whose understanding of their own identities is compromised by the culture. Critics claim this reduces TOB to “sex”, but the claim is inaccurate. Human sexuality, rather, is frequently the initial point of contact made in introducing TOB to those West seeks to reach, but this initial point of contact is not a *stopping* point–it’s a starting point.

  • Chris

    I’ll take Bishop Lafitte’s words over yours. Catechesis on Human Love is not just “fine;” it is the term JPII used and which he specifically asked to be used when presenting the material. Lafitte, though stating it is not outright incorrect, clearly questions the use of the term TOB, and to claim there is no overiding problem is quite a sweeping statement. Lafitte is hardly the first one to criticize this term as well. Again, someone translated, or more accurately roughly paraphrased or interpreted, JPII’s words as TOB in English. He did not give the audiences in English and what are thought to be the original texts are in Polish.

  • Kevin Tierney

    Welcome to the show Jim, I was wondering when you’d show up. Honestly, a few of us took bets. 😉

    I’m really not interested in litigating the past few years of this discussion. I think the position Dawn Eden, Dr. Schindler and various others (to a lesser extent myself) argued speaks for itself, and I would say that things are a lot different on the intellectual front than they were when that whole debate started.

    I’m also not necessarily interested in Mr. West and his cohorts being “right” or “wrong.” I’m just a lot more interested in going in a different direction, as the frequent reference point of sex in regards to the Wednesday audiences actually misses a lot of what those audiences were actually talking about. As I noted in the article, if you are just (or mainly) focusing on sex, you are missing the prime example of how the Theology of the Body was lived: The Holy Family.

    There’s little doubt that for the majority of this debate, these sort of things weren’t talked about, by anyone. So I think its time to have that conversation.

  • Kevin Tierney

    I think we’re running into a semantics issue, and we really should be avoiding semantic issues. From an academic standpoint, if one is citing them, it certainly would be inappropriate to call them “Theology of the Body” as people used to do in various books and papers.
    At certain points in the Wednesday audiences, the phrase “theology of the body” was used and defined. Yet we need to remember that the “theology of the body” was actually a very small part of those Wednesday audiences, and that there is actually a ton more that people miss when all they focus on is the small part known as the “theology of the body.” Sadly, Western culture (including among several Catholic intellectuals) is positively obsessed with sex, and attempts to read everything through the prism of sex, even though Blessed John Paul II explicitly warned against that in the Wednesday audiences.
    Man and Woman He Created Them is also a term that has been used in catholic academic circles, and could also be used right alongside the Catechesis on Human Love. Yet when you are writing for a popular audience who aren’t aware of these terms, you say them, and then say “or as many know them, the Theology of the Body.”

  • Wow–took bets? Cool. And I’m with you on the “different direction” thing. TOB offers a *huge* opportunity to unpack the content in many and varied good ways, yet unexplored. Whether a deeper exploration of suffering, the arts, celibacy for the sake of the kingdom, and family. All good. In fact, you do see West himself moving in a new and creative direction with TOB and the “Fill These Hearts” events which explore creativity and the arts as touched on in the TOB corpus.

  • Chris

    Wow, that seems to be quite a misrepresentation of the criticisms. You may disagree with them but to characterize them as you do is misleading. It is primarily the content and presentation that are at issue. Folks can read for themselves the criticisms of David Schindler, Alice von Hildebrand, Jose Granados, Mary Shivanandan, Bishop Jean Lafitte, Dawn Eden, Fr. Gregory Gresko, etc. Schindler, for example, one of the foremost authorities on JPII’s material, has stated that West “significantly misrepresents” JPII’s teachings and has a “disordered approach to human sexuality.” That sounds like a problem with content to me! Here are some links so that people can see this for themselves if they wish: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/christopher_wests_ideas_on_sexuality_ignore_tremendous_dangers_alice_von_hildebrand_says/

  • You mean, I presume, the same Bishop Lafitte who said: The Theology of the Body “is not a wrong expression, on the condition that we see the intention of John Paul II”?
    So the Bishop says it’s not a wrong expression if it’s correctly understood, right?

  • Kevin Tierney

    Then I really don’t see what the big issue is, and we can re-litigate questions long ago settled some other time. 🙂

  • I’ve tried to put the best face upon the misunderstanding West’s critics have with his work. The unfortunate truth is that the opinions of those you mention are not only largely misdirected, misstated, and in most cases provably false (as they miss key elements to a proper understanding of West’s corpus, not to mention JPII’s), they do remain a distraction to a more forward-looking pursuit of the beauty and meaning of the TOB corpus as proposed here by Kevin….

  • Well I never thought there was a big issue to be litigated–just offering two cents on why I think West got misunderstood…

  • Harry Flynn

    It is my suspicion that not a few of those who are dedicated to defending the “popular” interpretation of JPII’s “Human Love in the Divine Plan” have had serious sexual issues happen to them. Defending this interpretation is not just a past-time, it’s an imperative as their own “conversions” are at stake.

    Thus it seems to me that there is a great need for serious pastoral sensitivity in this subject. Kudos to Mr. Tierney in his attempt to throw a vivid beam of light onto an erstwhile narrowly-minded understood writing.

  • Harry Flynn


    Since when has it become fashionable to refer to an opus by its subtitle?

  • Can you elaborate? Not sure what you mean…

  • Harry Flynn

    If you have to ask, there is no hope for me to explain it to you.

  • There seems to be a pretty simple explanation as to why this series became widely known as “The Theology of the Body”.

    It’s because JPII used the term “theology of the body” in his general audiences at least *22* times between September 12, 1979 and April 2, 1980.

    So at the beginning of the delivery of this content, this was the term that captured what the Holy Father’s ongoing project was.

    It wasn’t until *after* the delivery of all the content in 1984, when in 1985 the newly formed entity associated with the Pontifical Council for the Family was charged with the task of collecting the catechesis into one volume that the term “Catechesis on Human Love” also became publicly associated with the content, as far as I could tell.

    I couldn’t find any reference to JPII himself publicly using the term “Catechesis on Human Love” in the content itself, as delivered from 1979 to 1984…but I might have overlooked something…

  • Wanted to point out two chunks of the concluding audience, 28 Nov 1984:

    ***1. As a whole, the catechesis which I began over four years ago and which I am concluding today can be summed up under the title: “Human love in the divine plan,” or more precisely, “The redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage.”****

    So, it would seem the “more precise” titled for the corpus, in JPII’s words, is immediately above.

    However, he does go on to add this:

    ****The catechesis of the first and second parts repeatedly used the term “theology of the body.” In a certain sense, this is a “working” term. The introduction of the term and the concept of the theology of the body was necessary to establish the theme, “The redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage,” on a wider base. We must immediately note that the term “theology of the body” goes far beyond the content of the reflections that were made. These reflections do not include multiple problems which, with regard to their object, belong to the theology of the body (as, for example, the problem of suffering and death, so important in the biblical message). We must state this clearly. Nonetheless, we must also recognize explicitly that the reflections on the theme, “The redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage,” can be correctly carried out from the moment when the light of revelation touches the reality of the human body (that is, on the basis of the theology of the body). This is confirmed, among other ways, by the words of Genesis: “The two of them become one body.” These words were originally and thematically at the basis of our argument.****
    Readers should carefully read this last paragraph.
    It would seem that the term “theology of the body” is actually not too *narrow*, but too *broad*. The term “TOB” goes “far beyond” the reflections JPII offered (e.g. the problem of suffering and death belongs to TOB as well). And, the “more precise title” JPII himself recommends above also rests on “the theology of the body.”

  • Russell Grigaitis

    Another thing that helps understand the teachings of Karol Wojtyła the philosopher is to study where most of his ideas came from, Dietrich von Hildebrand. Pope Pius XII informally called him “the 20th Century Doctor of the Church,” and his widow, Alice von Hildebrand, has been busy correcting those that have misinterpreted the work of Pope John Paul II.

  • JPII, while valuing von Hildebrand’s work, did not get “most of his ideas” from him. Far from it. And Alice, at the time she was supposedly “correcting” West (in a collaborative essay that was not well-executed), originally only went so far as to publicly affirm that she knew the “gist” of JPII’s TOB corpus, which might lead some to conclude that she had not actually read the whole corpus…
    If you want to know from where JPII’s “philosophy” emerges, go to the sources in sanjuanism, Thomism, phenomenology, and personalism….

  • Kevin Tierney

    And Dietrich Von Hildebrand was a pioneer in the latter two you mentioned. With all due respect Jim, you try to make an argument about everything. It’s not very becoming of you.
    Nor is your attempt to slight someone you disagree with.
    Personally I’d request you and others who want to relitigate the past to do it elsewhere, and focus on the actual text of this article. Otherwise it just wastes the time of people who are coming here trying to read and interact about the subject.

  • Russell Grigaitis

    Karol Wojtyła defended his doctoral thesis based on the system of Max Scheler in 1954. At that time, Dietrich von Hildebrand was the most prominent student of Scheler and Edmund Husserl (both of whom were dead) in the school of phenomenology. Given that von Hildebrand had already done a great deal of work in the same area that Wojtyła would eventually do, even before Wojtyła had even been ordained to the priesthood, and the fact that von Hildebrand was the greatest living expert on that subject, it would be foolish to think that Wojtyła would not learn from the most accredited source. Add this to the influence of von Hildebrand on the Church, which is clearly evident by the words of the popes from Pius XII to Benedict XVI, including John Paul II. However, it is when you read both Wojtyła (John Paul II) and von Hildebrand that the influences becomes very clear. As well, the difficult to understand philosophy of Wojtyła becomes much clearer.

    Whether or not Alice von Hildebrand had read the whole corpus of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body does not really matter as she was well acquainted with the subject before Wojtyła became pope and gave his 129 lectures during his Wednesday General Audiences.

    Looking at John Paul II’s Theology of the Body without all of it’s sources will not produce accurate results. Lex parsimoniae is at odds with Thomism.

  • A couple things–let’s not forget JPII’s other doctoral dissertation, which has a part to play in his formation.
    Also, the TOB corpus isn’t exactly derivative of Dietrich. It’s unique, substantially, to JPII. So, for Alice to offer public comment on the corpus’ interpretation without having more than the “gist” of the content is worth noting as it diminishes confidence in her interpretation of the evidence…
    Kevin asks for less attention to all this, though, so I’ll leave it at that…

  • At the risk of arguing your point :-), I really don’t try to make an argument of everything. And I’m not slighting anyone. I’m just trying to offer a bit of a corrective to the idea that JPII’s originality is somehow beholden to DVH for “most of” JPII’s ideas. DVH is a great resource. But, frankly, it’s worth pointing out that DVH and JPII are two distinct resources, and that Alice’s familiarity with one does not automatically make her expert in the other, as the weaknesses of her collaborative essay critiquing West make clear…
    But for readers not familiar with “the past” on this issue, I’d heartily recommend reading DVH’s volume “Purity”, which dovetails beautifully with West’s presentation of the TOB corpus…

  • Russell Grigaitis

    1. What is there to misunderstand about the encouragement of something that has always been held as disordered and immoral? Societal acceptance of this act between men and women, especially within marriage, was a leading cause of the acceptance of this act between persons of the same sex.

    2. What is there to misunderstand about the discouragement of the example of a multitude of saints to ward off sexual temptation in favor of distorted example of a couple saint?

    There is no such teaching in the work of John Paul II or any other saint (I’m guessing December 8th)?

  • Russell Grigaitis

    Nihil sub sole novum. John Paul II’s teaching is just a reiteration of centuries of Catholic thought. The most unique quality of this reiteration is the use of the modern tool of phenomenology as it is more easily accepted by modern western culture than the Aristotelian approach used in scholasticism. Of course, one cannot truly understand later developments without studying the former groundwork that led to them. John Paul II’s reiteration is a solution to a handicap in the thinking of modern secular culture.

  • So as not to “re-litigate”–what is there to misunderstand?
    I would say there is plenty to misunderstand….

  • Russell Grigaitis

    Where did this re-litigation take place? The only thing I am aware of is scholarly correction of West, and personal attacks on the scholars by disciples of West. I am unaware of West saying anything significant on the subject. I could be wrong as I haven’t paid any attention to the matter for a number of years. All I know is that the whole affair has reflected badly on John Paul II for those who have not read his work, but are only familiar with the misinterpretation of it and assume discontinuity between John Paul II and his sources.

  • Well then what you are describing is a *twofold* problem: some folks apparently neither know the JPII corpus *nor* the West corpus.
    Those who know both can cite chapter and verse to make clear that West gets JPII absolutely right.
    My reference to “re-litigation” was in deference to Kevin T’s request that the West stuff not be re-hashed here….

  • Kevin Tierney

    This one time I”ll make an exception, and I hope CE will let me make this another column. 🙂

    When one says the ideas in the audiences are unique, substantially, to JPII, that’s just not the case. The Wednesday audiences are, if nothing else, Hexameral literature, that is literature on the 6 days of creation. This line of thought has a looooooonnnnng tradition in the Church, from Ambrose, Basil, Augustine, Aquinas, Bonaventure, etc etc.

    The idea that we are created for union with God, and that this is written into the very creation of man (as well as the whole universe) Leo XIII developed substantially, and he also quite clearly outlined the idea of the Trinity as a family, and how male and female are meant to be an image (however imperfect) of said Trinity.

    As Mr. Grigaitis points out, John Paul II developed, using modern language, things that were always the teaching of the Catholic Church, and to say that we shouldn’t be studying those sources if we want to understand the Pope’s teaching (as a lot of pop TOB evangelists do) is one of the reasons we are missing a lot of really good stuff out of these audiences.

  • Kevin Tierney

    And as a traditionalist, that’s why I wrote this article. The Wednesday audiences are something that traditionalists should gravitate towards naturally. It highlights the nuclear family as the building block of civlization, contraception and fornication as evil because it undercuts the family, and says the things of this world point to the eternal.

    There is a lot in those statements traditionalists can love.I don’t want to relitigate whether or not West and friends were right or wrong. I think we argued that case to death 3 years ago. But I do want to point out that right, wrong, or indifferent, their ideas are not the be all end all of this discussion, and there’s some really cool stuff they either haven’t considered, or haven’t touched upon enough.

  • But in context, my remark was meant to make clear that JPII was not merely derivative of DVH. Of course there is no question that TOB is in complete continuity with the most ancient teaching of the Church. I’ve never heard anyone who knows the material say otherwise. But this is a “both/and”–JPII most definitely gives us a unique and unprecedented lens through which to see these most ancient truths, not becuase he uses “modern language” but rather because he brings his unique philosophical framework–which, btw, is *also* in continuity with what has come before it–to the content…

  • Russell Grigaitis

    Citing one source in the 20th century does not make you absolutely right. Citing multiply credible source throughout the 2000 year history of the Church makes you possible right.

  • Russell Grigaitis

    I completely agree with your intent; although, I disagree with your use of the word “traditionalist” as that implies discontinuity. With those that do see discontinuity, I try to approach the topic by looking at the sources of John Paul II’s work, Dietrich von Hildebrand being the most modern one. Of course von Hildebrand’s comments regarding the Novus Ordo help with this, as does the fact that a fellow student of Husserl, Edith Stein, was martyred 16 years before the end of the pontificate of Pius XII. Her being canonized by John Paul II can also be useful.

    I find when I’m with a Novus Ordo crowd, I have to defend John Paul II from being labeled too conservative. When I’m with a 1962 Missal crowd, I have to defend John Paul II from being labeled too liberal. Of course, both labels are irrelevant as being liberal or conservative does not really matter as long as one is an orthodox Catholic.

  • Harry Flynn

    Thank you for that…unnecessary history lesson.

  • You’re welcome. Yes, while the phrase “theology of the body” runs throughout the corpus, JPII doesn’t himself use “Catechesis on Human Love”….

  • Why do you reference DVH as a “source” of JPII’s work? I am asking because DVH is never mentioned, for example, in either “Love and Responsibility” or the TOB corpus. So, I’d really be curious about any textual examples you’d offer to support the claim. I’d like to find some evidence of a clear “linear” relationship between the writing/thought of DVH and that of JPII…

  • Kevin Tierney

    I think among a lot of traditionalist circles, that discontinuity is accepted as a preconceived notion. Part of that comes from not liking some of what JPII did, some of it is some not liking vatican II, but I think a lot of it is they didn’t read the actual texts, but rather read what many of the pop evangelists did. They have every bit as much an agenda about Vatican II (everything before Vatican II sucked, and you need to hear that at every opportunity), and this sadly drives some of my traditionalist brethren away.
    So I try to do my own little thing to change that. I also don’t see the usage of the phrase “traditionalist” to imply any discontinuity, but that’s a discussion for another time. Come visit my blog or contact me personally and we can go a few friendly rounds. 😉

  • Lauretta Sesock

    As usual, I am entering the conversation late in the game. I find it interesting that so much discussion centers around the appropriate name for John Paul II’s teaching. I am confused as to why Mr. Tierney would seem to think that the name Theology of the Body is going to make people think the teaching is all about sex. Personally the name” The Catecheses on Human Love” would tend to make me think it is about sex much more than the term Theology of the Body. Our culture today equates human love with sex whereas the term theology brings one’s mind immediately to God.

    Some of the most profound things I learned in the beginning from Christopher West’s presentations were about the human body, distinct from its involvement in the sexual act. A substantial amount of time in CW’s first presentations was spent informing people of the goodness of the human body, as opposed to the dualistic mindset prevalent in Protestantism which tends to demonize the physical, including the human body. I am paraphrasing heavily here but he talked about the fact that the human body is a reflection of the soul of the person so that an individual could not claim to be a “good” person whose body just does bad things at times.

    We used CW’s presentation, “One in Christ Engaged Weekend”, in our marriage preparation for several years. One man, who was in his 50’s at the time, said that he learned more about his Catholic faith from those 8 talks and the ensuing discussion than he had learned in 16 years of Catholic schools. He would have graduated from college about the time of Vatican II so we cannot blame the council and its repercussions on his lack of Catholic education.

    This teaching is not in any way new material. The Pope merely used a different philosophical method to present the teaching that has always been a part of the Church. I think there have been times when the full understanding of marital love has not been expressed as well as others in the history of the Church.

    In talking with some who claim to be traditional Catholics, I have found some shocking understandings of married life. One man told me that if a husband requests the marital act, that his wife is obliged to comply, even if, in the extreme example I gave, she was dying a painful death at the time the request was made. One group of traditional Catholics is obliged to have as many children as possible unless their pastor gives them permission to use NFP to space their children. That is so very against the freedom of the individual, and couple, that John Paul II was so strong to defend.

    I think that if people would take the time to read a complete in depth presentation of CW and compare it to what that Pope said, they would find very little to find conflict with. Too many people merely read “sound bites” of his teaching and reject the totality of what he says.

  • Kevin Tierney

    Hello Lauren,
    As I said before to Mr. Russell, I’m really not that interested in litigating the past. One is free to look at the works I’ve written for the criticisms I’ve made that have stood up well three years later.
    I think we can also find some stunningly ignorant Catholics on both sides of the discussion. I can find Pro-West sources who saw no problem with nudist colonies and who thought the act of God creating Adam and Eve was a sexual act. Doesn’t really do much to further intelligent discussion though. It just shows some people got some really screwed up ideas. the idea that a dying wife would be forced against her will into sex under pain of mortal sin is completely absent from Catholic morality, just as the idea that God creating Adam and Eve was a sexual act is absent from the teachings of a lot of TOB evangelists myself and names far more insightful than I have criticized.
    That these teachings have done some good is also true, but utterly irrelevant to the point I was making. I even explicitly mentioned where I see their usefulness. I just find that usefulness limited, and missing the main point of the Wednesday audiences, which were a defense of the family, and how that plan for the family is stamped throughout creation.
    I also nowhere said that “Theology of the Body” is going to make people think about sex. I use the term, and I’m okay with people using it. I instead said that the way people present the Wednesday audiences makes it a glorified catechesis on sex, which it isn’t. When people say “sex is the key to the Christian mystery”, that’s just not true. God is not sexual. The key to the Christian mystery is instead the family, because it is based on the image of the Trinity, which is a family. that isn’t to say sex (either the embrace or the male/female distinction in the body) is pointless. It’s actually pretty darn important. It just isn’t the be all end all grand unified theory of everything a lot of TOB evangelists make it out to be.
    With all due respect, I would suggest you read what I wrote again, and interact with the ideas I present, rather than your favorite caricature of what people you don’t agree with you advocate.

  • Lauretta Sesock

    Kevin, I am so sorry to be so slow in replying to your comments. Summer is a busy time here on the farm!

    You are right, I should focus on your initial premise–that of the family. I agree with you, that is what much of theology of the body is about. From what I understand, the reason that Pope JPII became interested in this topic in his youth was because of the horrors he saw occurring around him during WWII. He wanted to know how one human being could do such horrendous things to another. After much prayer, study and reflection, he came to the conclusion that the fate of the world, in a sense, depended on who man is for woman, and who woman is for man.

    I read that and, at first, didn’t understand exactly why that might be. After some reflection, I came to see that it is in the relationship between man and woman that each of us comes to understand what love is. And as we know, God is Love. So, if the relationship between man and woman, mother and father, is not healthy, then the children of that union will grow up with a distorted understanding of what love is, and consequently of who God is. And, if the distortion is severe enough, we can see as a result the minds that can bring about a Holocaust.

    The thing that makes a HUMAN family a family in essence is the sexual act. It is through this act that children come into being. So, in a sense the marital act holds a core place in the family. So, if the relationship between man and woman is unhealthy in this core area, we have the beginnings of the distortions that can lead to holocausts. Hence, the need for a theology of the body.

    God gave us the sexual act to manifest in a physical, bodily way, that which is taking place within the Trinity–the giving and receiving of love. That is why it is so VERY important that we live this great gift in the manner that God designed it to be lived. The world is in a sense “seeing God” in the relationship between man and woman since that is the place we primarily think of love as being manifested. (Ah, THEOLOGY of the body, hmmm!) An extension of that would be the love between parent and child, but the love between husband and wife precedes that, and so is primary.

    Many people have said that the Pope’s work Love and Responsibility is a kind of prologue to TOB. He wrote it in the 1950’s after meeting for years with young married couples. If you read it, you can see that he spoke with those couples about very intimate topics. He discusses mutual climax, etc. These are pretty raw, sexual topics, but he saw them as important parts of a healthy marital relationship. The wounds that can occur in this part of the marital relationship can go so very deep because it is in this part of our marriage that we make ourselves the most vulnerable to the other.

    So, no, sex is not the only thing that is important in marriage or the family, but if we get this core part of the relationship wrong, its effects will be felt throughout the whole of family life and beyond.