Theology of the Body

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Theology of the Body is the topic of a series of 129 lectures given by Pope John Paul II during his Wednesday audiences in St. Peter's Square and the Paul VI Audience Hall between September 5, 1979, and November 28, 1984. It constitutes an analysis on human sexuality. The complete addresses were later compiled and expanded upon in many of John Paul's encyclicals, letters, and exhortations.


In Theology of the Body, John Paul II intends to establish an adequate anthropology in which the human body reveals God. He examines man and woman before the Fall, after it, and at the resurrection of the dead. He also contemplates the sexual complementarity of man and woman. He explores the nature of marriage, celibacy and virginity, and expands on the teachings in Humanae vitae on contraception. According to author Christopher West, the central thesis of John Paul's Theology of the Body is that "the body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus to be a sign of it." [1]

At present the Theology of the Body has been widely used and included in the curriculum of the Marriage Preparation Course in the Catholic dioceses of the United States. [2] [3]

Preceding developments in the history of ideas

The series of addresses were given as a reflection on the creation of man as male and female, as a sexual being. They sought to respond to certain “distorted ideas and attitudes” fundamental to the sexual revolution. [4] Pope John Paul II addresses how the common understanding of the human body which analyzes it as a mechanism leads to objectification, that is, a loss of understanding of its intrinsic, personal meaning. Pope John Paul's thought is influenced by his earlier philosophical interests including the phenomenological approaches of Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler, and especially by the philosophical action theory of Thomas Aquinas which analyzes human acts in the context of what is done, freely chosen, and felt, while presupposing that those acts are made possible due to the substantial union of soul and matter as required by hylomorphism. Key pre-papal writings on these topics include Love and Responsibility, The Acting Person, and various papers collected in Person and Community. These themes are continued in John Paul II's theological anthropology, which analyzes the nature of human beings in relation to God. The Theology of the Body presents an interpretation of the fundamental significance of the body, and in particular of sexual differentiation and complementarity, one which aims to challenge common contemporary philosophical views. [5] Nevertheless, the pope's personalistic phenomenology is "echoing what he learned from St. John of the Cross" [6] and is "in harmony with St. Thomas Aquinas". [7]

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon was an early empiricist who focused on problems of knowledge. In his Great Instauration , he argued that the current state of knowledge is immature and not advancing. [8] His purpose was for the human mind to have authority over nature through understanding and knowledge. Bacon argued against Aristotle's final and formal cause, stating that "the final cause rather corrupts than advances the sciences." [8] He thought that focusing on formal causality is an impediment to knowledge, because power is gained by focusing on matter that is observable and experienced, not just a figment of the mind. His emphasis on power over nature contributed to the rise of an understanding of nature as mechanism and the claim that true knowledge of nature is that expressed by mechanical laws. Pope John Paul II saw Bacon's conception of knowledge and its proper object as the beginning of the split between person and body, which is his goal to reconcile. [5]

René Descartes

René Descartes furthered a mathematical approach to philosophy and epistemology through skepticism and rationalism, emphasizing the practical value of power over nature. In his Discourse on Method , Descartes said, “we can find a practical [philosophy], by which knowing the nature and behavior of fire, water, air, stars, the heavens, and all the other bodies which surround us…we can employ these entities for all the purposes for which they are suited, and so make ourselves the masters and possessors of nature”. [9] In addition to the importance of power over nature, Descartes (like Bacon) insisted upon dismissing final cause, stating that “the entire class of causes which people customarily derive from a thing’s ‘end,’ I judge to be utterly useless”. [10]

Descartes’ practical philosophy also proposed a dualism between the mind and the physical body, based on the belief that they are two distinct substances. The body is matter that is spatially extended, whereas the mind is the substance that thinks and contains the rational soul. [11] Pope John Paul II responded to this dualism in his Letter to Families in 1994: “It is typical of rationalism to make a radical contrast in man between spirit and body, between body and spirit. But man is a person in the unity of his body and his spirit. The body can never be reduced to mere matter”. Pope John Paul II maintained that the stark Cartesian opposition between body and spirit leads to human sexuality as an area for manipulation and exploitation, rather than wonder and unity as he addresses in the Theology of the Body lectures. [5]

Immanuel Kant

Pope John Paul II admitted that the work of Immanuel Kant was the “starting ground” of many of his reflections. [12] Kant, like Bacon and Descartes, believed that natural science can only progress through the mathematical-materialist determinist study of nature. [5] However, Kant saw danger in those laws of nature if God is excluded because morality and religion are called into question. [13] Kant's solution to that danger was to insist that theoretical reason is limited in regards to morality and religion. Reason and sense-data should not be used to try to answer the question of God. [5] Kant stated, “I had to do away with knowledge to make room for faith”. [13] That faith led to the development of Kant's personalism. In his Critique of Pure Reason , Kant said, “the conviction [of faith] is not a logical but a moral certainty; and because it rests on subjective bases (of the moral attitude), I must not even say, It is morally certain that there is a God, etc., but I must say, I am morally certain, etc." [13] That ideology allows each person to choose their own terms for reality and morality, because they cannot be argued against using theoretical reason. [14]

Kant's personalism extends from faith and applies to moral dignity, autonomy, and freedom. Pope John Paul II agreed with some aspects of personalism but criticized Kant as believing in “anti-trinitarian personalism,” which removes the relational character of the Trinity to focus on an autonomous self. [5] Kant's views on the autonomous self placed each human's conscience acting as a personal “lawmaker” for subjective morality, but John Paul II argued that a human's conscience cannot create moral norms, rather it must discover them in objective truth. [15]

The difference between Kant's view and Pope John Paul II's view of personalism is made clear throughout the Theology of the Body in arguments about sex, marriage, and polygamy. Kant had two principles of sexual ethics: that one must not “enjoy” another person solely for pleasure and that sexual union involves giving oneself to another. [5] Pope John Paul II agreed on those principles, yet disagreed on the meaning and reasoning behind the principles. Kant believed that people lose their autonomy and dignity in sexual acts, because they are reduced to things being used for pleasure. Marriage resolves that by giving the spouses “lifelong mutual possession of their sexual characteristics”. [16] However, Kant's explanation of marriage still does not transform the objectifying nature of sex, it merely permits it as legal. On the other hand, Pope John Paul II explains the sexual act in marriage as fulfillment of the natural law of spousal love. Rather than objectifying and depersonalizing, it is enriching for a person because it is a sincere gift of the self in love. [4] Pope John Paul II highlights conjugal love, whereas Kant does not acknowledge it.

John of the Cross

Pope John Paul II's basic beliefs on love, when he was establishing his Theology of the Body, was derived from Saint John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz), a Spanish mystic and Doctor of the Church. Karol Wojtyla—before he became Pope John Paul II—defended his doctoral dissertation, later translated in a book titled Faith According to Saint John of the Cross, in June 1948 at the future Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas. In that work, John of the Cross's influence is shown in his belief that relationship with God is a unifying process in which its elements actuated dynamically. Other influence is that he values love over faith, and that love "draws the person into a real ontological and psychological union with God". [17] :97

The "Sanjuanist triangle" of love consists of three points: 1) Love is self-giving; 2) Filial love to God and conjugal love in marriage are the self-giving paradigm; 3) Relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit within the Trinity is the model of self-giving love. [18] Through pure love, a person experiences God in the "mutual exchange of self-donation". [6] :35

Thomas Petri O.P. writes, "We may also note Wojtyla's observation that for John of the Cross, God is objective but not objectivizable to the intellect, which naturally lends itself to the personalistic norm that will eventually hold pride of place in Wojtyla's thought. Like the person of God, no human person can ever be a mere object of our actions but must be understood in relationship." [17] :97


Theology of the Body is the topic of a series of 129 lectures given by Pope John Paul II during his Wednesday audiences in St. Peter's Square and the Paul VI Audience Hall between September 5, 1979 and November 28, 1984. It constitutes an analysis on human sexuality, [19] and is considered as the first major teaching of his pontificate. Denis Read, O.C.D. says that, by means of the Theology of the Body, "John Paul II gave the Church the beginning of a mystical philosophy of life." [19] The complete addresses were later compiled and expanded upon in many of John Paul's encyclicals, letters, and exhortations.

The delivery of the Theology of the Body series did have interruptions. For example, the Wednesday audiences were devoted to other topics during the Holy Year of Redemption in 1983. [20]


The work covers such topics as the unified corporeal and spiritual qualities of the human person; the origins, history and destiny of humanity; the deepest desires of the human heart and the way to experience true happiness and freedom; the truth about man's need and desire for loving communion derived from the revealed understanding of humanity in the image of a Triune Creator; the truth about God's original design for human sexuality and thus the dignity of the human person, how it was distorted through sin, and how it has been restored and renewed through the redemption of Jesus Christ; and Catholic teachings about the sacramentality of marriage.

The central thesis of John Paul's Theology of the Body, according to author Christopher West, is that "the body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus to be a sign of it." [1]

The work consists of two halves and five cycles. The first half, entitled "The Words of Christ" consists of three cycles in which John Paul II establishes an "adequate anthropology." Cycle 1 looks at the human person as we were created to be "in the beginning" (original man); Cycle 2 addresses human life after original sin, unredeemed and redeemed (historical man). Cycle 3 treats the reality of our life at the end of time when Christ comes back again and history reaches its fulfillment (eschatological man). John Paul II also places his reflections on virginity for the kingdom within the context of Cycle 3. In the second half, entitled "The Sacrament" (which refers to the sacrament of marriage), John Paul II addresses the sacramentality of marriage in Cycle 4 and the responsible transmission of human life in Cycle 5.

Some consider the first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est (God is Love), with its exposition of the relation between agape and eros, to be the culmination of John Paul II's Theology of the Body.[ citation needed ]

The Theology of the Body Papal Audiences [21]
11Of the Unity and Indissolubility of MarriageSeptember 5, 1979
21Biblical Account of Creation AnalysedSeptember 12, 1979
31The Second Account of Creation: The Subjective Definition of ManSeptember 19, 1979
41Boundary Between Original Innocence and RedemptionSeptember 26, 1979
51Meaning of Man's Original SolitudeOctober 10, 1979
61Man's Awareness of Being a PersonOctober 24, 1979
71In the Very Definition of Man, the Alternative Between Death and ImmortalityOctober 31, 1979
81Original Unity of Man and WomanNovember 7, 1979
91Man Becomes the Image of God by Communion of PersonsNovember 14, 1979
101Marriage One and Indissoluble in First Chapters of GenesisNovember 21, 1979
111Meaning of Original Human ExperiencesDecember 12, 1979
121Fullness of Interpersonal CommunicationDecember 19, 1979
131Creation as a Fundamental and Original GiftJanuary 2, 1980
141Revelation and Discovery of the Nuptial Meaning of the BodyJanuary 9, 1980
151The Man-Person Becomes a Gift in the Freedom of LoveJanuary 16, 1980
161Mystery of Man's Original InnocenceJanuary 30, 1980
171Man and Woman: A Mutual Gift for Each OtherFebruary 6, 1980
181Original Innocence and Man's Historical StateFebruary 13, 1980
191Man Enters the World as a Subject of Truth and LoveFebruary 20, 1980
201Analysis of Knowledge and of ProcreationMarch 5, 1980
211Mystery of Woman Revealed in MotherhoodMarch 12, 1980
221Knowledge-Generation Cycle and Perspective of DeathMarch 26, 1980
231Marriage in the Integral Vision of ManApril 2, 1980
242Christ Appeals to Man's HeartApril 16, 1980
252Ethical and Anthropological Content of the Commandment: You Shall Not Commit AdulteryApril 23, 1980
262Lust is the Fruit of the Breach of the Covenant With GodApril 30, 1980
272Real Significance of Original NakednessMay 14, 1980
282A Fundamental Disquiet in All Human ExistenceJune 2, 1980
292Relationship of Lust to Communion of PersonsJune 4, 1980
302Dominion Over the Other in the Interpersonal RelationJune 18, 1980
312Lust Limits Nuptial Meaning of the BodyJune 25, 1980
322The Heart a Battlefield Between Love and LustJuly 23, 1980
332Opposition in the Human Heart between the Spirit and the BodyJuly 30, 1980
342Sermon on the Mount to the Men of Our DayAugust 6, 1980
352Content of the Commandment: You Shall Not Commit AdulteryAugust 13, 1980
362Adultery According to the Law and as Spoken by the ProphetsAugust 20, 1980
372Adultery: A Breakdown of the Personal CovenantAugust 27, 1980
382Meaning of Adultery Transferred from the Body to the HeartSeptember 3, 1980
392Concupiscence as a Separation From Matrimonial Significance of the BodySeptember 10, 1980
402Mutual Attraction Differs from LustSeptember 17, 1980
412Depersonalizing Effect of ConcupiscenceSeptember 24, 1980
422Establishing the Ethical SenseOctober 1, 1980
432Interpreting the Concept of ConcupiscenceOctober 8, 1980
442Gospel Values and Duties of the Human HeartOctober 15, 1980
452Realization of the Value of the Body According to the Plan of the CreatorOctober 22, 1980
462Power of Redeeming Completes Power of CreatingOctober 29, 1980
472Eros and Ethos Meet and Bear Fruit in the Human HeartNovember 5, 1980
482Spontaneity: The Mature Result of ConscienceNovember 12, 1980
492Christ Calls Us to Rediscover the Living Forms of the New ManDecember 3, 1980
502Purity of HeartDecember 10, 1980
512Justification in ChristDecember 17, 1980
522Opposition Between the Flesh and the SpiritJanuary 7, 1981
532Life in the Spirit Based on True FreedomJanuary 14, 1981
542St. Paul's Teaching on the Sanctity and Respect of the Human BodyJanuary 28, 1981
552St. Paul's Description of the Body and Teaching on PurityFebruary 4, 1981
562The Virtue of Purity Is the Expression and Fruit of Life According to the SpiritFebruary 11, 1981
572The Pauline Doctrine of Purity as Life According to the SpiritMarch 18, 1981
582Positive Function of Purity of HeartApril 1, 1981
592Pronouncements of Magisterium Apply Christ's Words TodayApril 8, 1981
602The Human Body, Subject of Works of ArtApril 15, 1981
612Reflections on the Ethos of the Human Body in Works of Artistic CultureApril 22, 1981
622Art Must Not Violate the Right to PrivacyApril 29, 1981
632Ethical Responsibilities in ArtMay 6, 1981
643Marriage and Celibacy in the Light of the Resurrection of the BodyNovember 11, 1981
653The Living God Continually Renews the Very Reality of LifeNovember 18, 1981
663The Resurrection and Theological AnthropologyDecember 2, 1981
673The Resurrection Perfects the PersonDecember 9, 1981
683Christ's Words on the Resurrection Complete the Revelation of the BodyDecember 16, 1981
693New Threshold of Complete Truth About ManJanuary 13, 1982
703Doctrine of the Resurrection according to St. PaulJanuary 27, 1982
713The Risen Body Will Be Incorruptible, Glorious, Dynamic, and SpiritualFebruary 3, 1982
723Body's Spiritualization Will Be Source of Its Power and IncorruptibilityFebruary 10, 1982
734Virginity or Celibacy for the Sake of the KingdomMarch 10, 1982
744The Vocation to Continence in This Earthly LifeMarch 17, 1982
754Continence for the Sake of the Kingdom Meant to Have Spiritual FulfillmentMarch 24, 1982
764The Effective and Privileged Way of ContinenceMarch 31, 1982
774Superiority of Continence Does Not Devalue MarriageApril 7, 1982
784Marriage and Continence Complement Each OtherApril 14, 1982
794The Value of Continence Is Found in LoveApril 21, 1982
804Celibacy Is a Particular Response to the Love of the Divine SpouseApril 28, 1982
814Celibacy for the Kingdom Affirms MarriageMay 5, 1982
824Voluntary Continence Derives From a Counsel, Not From a CommandJune 23, 1982
834The Unmarried Person Is Anxious to Please the LordJune 30, 1982
844Everyone Has His Own Gift from God, Suited to His VocationJuly 7, 1982
854The Kingdom of God, Not the World, Is Man's Eternal DestinyJuly 14, 1982
864Mystery of the Body's Redemption Basis of Teaching on Marriage and Voluntary ContinenceJuly 21, 1982
875Marital Love Reflects God's Love for His PeopleJuly 28, 1982
885The Call to Be Imitators of God and to Walk in LoveAugust 4, 1982
895Reverence for Christ the Basis of Relationship Between SpousesAugust 11, 1982
905A Deeper Understanding of the Church and MarriageAugust 18, 1982
915St Paul's Analogy of the Union of Head and BodyAugust 25, 1982
925Sacredness of the Human Body and MarriageSeptember 1, 1982
935Christ's Redemptive Love Has Spousal NatureSeptember 8, 1982
945Moral Aspects of the Christian's VocationSeptember 15, 1982
955Relationship of Christ to the Church Connected With the Tradition of the ProphetsSeptember 22, 1982
965Analogy of Spousal Love Indicates the Radical Character of GraceSeptember 29, 1982
975Marriage Is the Central Point of the Sacrament of CreationOctober 6, 1982
985Loss of Original Sacrament Restored with Redemption in Marriage-SacramentOctober 13, 1982
995Marriage an Integral Part of New Sacramental EconomyOctober 20, 1982
1005Indissolubility of Sacrament of Marriage in Mystery of the Redemption of the BodyOctober 27, 1982
1015Christ Opened Marriage to the Saving Action of GodNovember 24, 1982
1025Marriage Sacrament an Effective Sign of God's Saving PowerDecember 1, 1982
1035The Redemptive and Spousal Dimensions of LoveDecember 15, 1982
1045The Substratum and Content of the Sacramental Sign of Spousal CommunionJanuary 5, 1983
1055The Language of the Body in the Structure of MarriageJanuary 12, 1983
1065The Sacramental Covenant in the Dimension of SignJanuary 19, 1983
1075Language of the Body Strengthens the Marriage CovenantJanuary 26, 1983
1085Man Called to Overcome ConcupiscenceFebruary 9, 1983
1095Return to the Subject of Human Love in the Divine PlanMay 23, 1984
1105Truth and Freedom the Foundation of True LoveMay 30, 1984
1115Love Is Ever Seeking and Never SatisfiedJune 6, 1984
1125Love Is Victorious in the Struggle Between Good and EvilJune 27, 1984
1135The Language of the Body: Actions and Duties Forming the Spirituality of MarriageJuly 4, 1984
1146Morality of Marriage Act Determined by Nature of the Act and of the SubjectsJuly 11, 1984
1156The Norm of Humanae Vitae Arises from the Natural Law and the Revealed OrderJuly 18, 1984
1166Importance of Harmonizing Human Love with Respect for LifeJuly 25, 1984
1176Responsible ParenthoodAugust 1, 1984
1186Faithfulness to the Divine Plan in the Transmission of LifeAugust 8, 1984
1196Church's Position on Transmission of LifeAugust 22, 1984
1206A Discipline That Ennobles Human LoveAugust 28, 1984
1216Responsible Parenthood Linked to Moral MaturitySeptember 5, 1984
1226Prayer, Penance and the Eucharist: Principal Sources of Spirituality for Married CouplesOctober 3, 1984
1236The Power of Love Is Given to Man and Woman as a Share in God's LoveOctober 10, 1984
1246Continence Protects the Dignity of the Conjugal ActOctober 24, 1984
1256Continence Frees One from Inner TensionOctober 31, 1984
1266Continence Deepens Personal CommunionNovember 7, 1984
1276Christian Spirituality of Marriage by Living According to the SpiritNovember 14, 1984
1286Respect for the Work of GodNovember 21, 1984
1296Conclusion to the Series: Redemption of the Body and Sacramentality of MarriageNovember 28, 1984

Man and woman "in the beginning"

In this first cycle, beginning on September 5, 1979, Pope John Paul II discusses Christ's answer to the Pharisees when they ask him about whether a man can divorce his wife. [20] Christ responds "He said to them: Because Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so" (Matthew 19:8). John Paul II draws attention to how Christ's response calls the Pharisees to harken back to the beginning, to the created world before the fall of man and original sin. The pope dives into the experience of original man through the book of Genesis, and identifies two unique experiences: original solitude, and original unity. Original solitude is the experience of Adam, prior to Eve, when he realizes that through naming the animals there is something intrinsically different about himself. He is unable to find a suitable partner. This self-realization of a dignity before God higher than the rest of creation is original solitude. Original unity is drawn from man's first encounter with woman, where he exclaims "This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man" (Genesis 2:23). Prior the Fall, the pope accounts, man and woman's desire for one another was perfectly oriented in a Sacramental way that pointed them toward God's ultimate plan for humanity: the marriage of Christ the bridegroom with his bride the Church. Throughout Sacred Scripture, the most common reference that Christ uses when speaking of heaven is that of a wedding feast. Thus, marriage is intended to be a union that draws us deeper into the mystery of our creation and provides a foretaste of the heavenly marriage between Christ and his Church, where man and woman are no longer given in marriage. In heaven, the eternal wedding feast, men and women have now arrived at their ultimate destination and no longer have need of the Sacrament (or sign) of marriage.

Man and woman after the Fall

This second cycle focuses on Christ's remarks on adultery in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:27–28): [20]

You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Pope John Paul II explains this as looking at another person, even at his/her own partner, to desire them in a reductive way, that is they are viewed as merely an object of desire. Pope John Paul II says this seems to be a key passage for theology of the body. [22]

Man and woman after the Resurrection of the Dead

The third cycle analyzes Christ's answer to the Sadducees when they come to him and ask him about a woman who had married seven brothers. [20]

Celibacy and virginity

The fourth cycle is a meditation on celibacy and virginity. [20]

Pope John Paul II stated that continence for the sake of the Kingdom is not opposed to marriage. He noted that when arguing with the Pharisees about whether is it licit to divorce and Jesus' disciples inferred that it was better not to marry, Jesus did not address whether it was expedient or not to marry, but pointed out that there are "eunuchs" and some are so willingly for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. [23]

Sacrament of marriage

The fifth cycle discusses the sacrament of marriage. [20]


Pope John Paul II began his discussion of contraception on 11 July 1984 with the 114th lecture in this series. This section of the lecture series, the sixth and final part, is largely a reflection on Humanae vitae , the 1968 encyclical of Pope Paul VI. In it, John Paul continued his emphasis on the design of the human body revealing God's truths. It is explained and reaffirmed that the fundamental structure of males and females, which causes sexual intercourse between them to result in both greater intimacy and the capability of generating new life, demonstrates a morally inseparable connection between these two functions.

The authority of the Magisterium (teaching authority of the Church and those who hold the office) to interpret the divine intention (in this context, through the structure of the body), is emphasized. Although not all of the Church's teachings on sexuality are present in a literal reading of the biblical text, John Paul gives examples of how they are part of longstanding Church tradition — a tradition that was created in the context of scriptural teachings.

The ability of the human body to express truth through the sexual union of married couples is acclaimed. The moral wrongness of using artificial means to manipulate such a significant aspect of the created body is explained. Dominion over outside forces, and also self-mastery through discipline, are integral human drives. However, the language expressed by bodies, in this context the language expressed during sexual intercourse, is so damaged by the use of artificial contraception that the conjugal act "ceases to be an act of love... [or] communion of persons" but rather is a mere bodily union.

On the other hand, the licitness of natural family planning (NFP) methods is held to be evident from the structure of the human body, which has natural periods of fertility and infertility. The morality of these methods was literally designed into the body, and use of them, unlike use of artificial contraception, can actually improve the dialog between couples which is expressed through the language of the body. Throughout these speeches the main emphasis is on the intrinsic goodness of the marital act. The power of love between spouses is said to both lead to and be nourished by the moral use of the conjugal act. Thus, moral exercise of sexual intercourse uses the form of the body to reveal the love of God toward Creation.

While following the rules of NFP does not guarantee a truly spiritual sexual relationship between husband and wife, understanding the theology that makes NFP acceptable can foster the maturity needed by the couple to attain that level of spirituality, living life by the Holy Spirit. Also, Pope John Paul II warns couples against "lowering the number of births in their family below the morally correct level." Responsible parenthood is greatly encouraged, however it is emphasized that while this sometimes means limiting family size, responsible parenthood can also mandate couples to increase their family size. This is because of the good that children bring not only to their immediate family, but also to their society and Church.

The seriousness of a couple's decision to maintain or increase their family size is discussed. John Paul refers to Gaudium et spes , a document issued by the Second Vatican Council, which emphasizes the importance of couples' having their conscience guided by the law of God. The difficulty inherent in and endurance required to consciously regulate births with these methods is discussed, although largely in the context of the integral part played by the burdens of life as Christians follow the "hard way" through the "narrow gate". In fact, the kind of discipline necessary to practice periodic continence is claimed to impart licit conjugal acts with deeper meaning, as well as bringing out the ability of a married couple to express love through non-sexual acts.

John Paul states many other benefits claimed for moral use of NFP, some from Humanae vitae. These include an increase of marital peace, less spousal selfishness, increased and more positive influence over their children (5 September 1984), and increased dignity of person through following the law of God. Use of NFP is also said to increase appreciation of children, by fostering respect for what is created by God.


By Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II's last book, Memory and Identity , mentions the importance of the Thomistic philosophy and theology of the prominent doctor of the Catholic Church St. Thomas Aquinas to come to a deeper understanding of the Pope's personalist (phenomenological) presentation of Humanae vitae in his Theology of the Body catechesis, since he saw the limitations of a strictly phenomenological approach. [24] He wrote:

If we wish to speak rationally about good and evil, we have to return to St. Thomas Aquinas, that is, to the philosophy of being. With the phenomenological method, for example, we can study experiences of morality, religion, or simply what it is to be human, and draw from them a significant enrichment of our knowledge. Yet we must not forget that all these analyses implicitly presuppose the reality of the Absolute Being and also the reality of being human, that is, being a creature. If we do not set out from such 'realist' presuppositions, we end up in a vacuum. [25]

By George Weigel

George Weigel has described Theology of the Body as "one of the boldest reconfigurations of Catholic theology in centuries." He goes on to say it is a "kind of theological time bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church." Weigel believes that it has barely begun to "shape the Church's theology, preaching, and religious education" but when it does "it will compel a dramatic development of thinking about virtually every major theme in the Creed." [26]

Weigel also realizes major obstacles to the theology of the body. The Pope is very hard to read and understand: "The density of John Paul's material is one factor. A secondary literature capable of translating John Paul's thought into accessible categories and vocabulary is badly needed." And, Weigel believes, the dominant liberal views on such issues as women's rights, birth control, abortion and divorce are also obstacles to the "theology of the body" becoming known or accepted. [26]

Many of Weigel's concerns with respect to being able to understand the set of Wednesday General Audiences on the Theology of the Body have been addressed in the new translation, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (2006, Michael Waldstein, translator). One of the drawbacks of the prior English-language versions is that different translators were used at varying times over the long period that the Audience talks were given. Hence, it happened occasionally that the same term would be translated differently from one talk to the other. The new translation has corrected that problem in addition to being confirmed by having had access to John Paul's original notes in Polish, rather than merely the Italian used in the Audience talks.

By Christopher West

In his Theology of the Body Explained Christopher West, who has been teaching John Paul's theology of the body since the late 1990s, wrote, "John Paul's TOB is most often cast as an extended catechesis on marriage and sexual love. It certainly is that, but it is also so much more. Through the mystery of the Incarnate person and the biblical analogy of spousal love, John Paul II's catechesis illumines the entirety of God's plan for human life from origin to eschaton with a splendid supernatural light." [27]

Philosopher-theologian Alice von Hildebrand, widow of 20th century philosopher-theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand, has severely criticized West's approach. [28]

By John Cornwell

In his account of the reign of John Paul II, author John Cornwell says of the Theology of the Body: "This work, which constitutes, in the view of some keen papal supporters, John Paul's vital legacy to the world, has been perhaps his least influential." [29]

By Charles Curran

Dissident Catholic moral theologian Charles E. Curran, writing in his book The Moral Theology of Pope John Paul II, says the pope's Wednesday audiences are unlikely to have been understood by many of those present at the time: "Quite frankly, the talks do not seem appropriate for the occasion. They are somewhat theoretical and too detailed for a general audience. In addition, because each individual talk is part of a larger whole, it is difficult to understand the full meaning of any short talk without seeing the whole picture. I am sure that most of those in attendance at the audiences did not follow what the pope was saying." Curran also makes the point that such talks have "little or no importance from the viewpoint of authoritative teaching," and that the pope appears to be unaware of contemporary biblical scholarship and makes no mention of any contemporary scholars of any type.

Curran also believes the Theology of the Body "clearly cannot serve as a theology for all persons and all bodies", and that "there are many people for whom the 'nuptial meaning' of the body he develops are not appropriate. As with many utopias, the elderly are missing. But also most obviously the unmarried - people who are single, people who are widowed, and homosexuals. The pope at one point tries to show how virginity and celibacy can be understood within the terms of his ideas about the 'nuptial meaning' of the body, but these arguments are unconvincing." On the positive side, Curran says the pope "strongly supports the equality of men and women in marriage and expressly opposes any subordination of the woman to the man." [30]

Thomas Petri, O.P. says, "Charles Curran can be excused for his criticism to the contrary since it was made before the publication of Waldstein's translation." [17] :162

By Kenneth L. Woodward

The religion editor for Newsweek , Kenneth L. Woodward, has described John Paul's Theology of the Body as "a highly romantic and unrealistic view of human sexuality". [31]

By Sebastian Moore, OSB

Benedictine Sebastian Moore, a controversial Catholic moral theologian who often criticizes some Catholic teachings, expresses his disagreement openly with the Theology of the Body. [32] Moore criticizes what he regards as a lack of connection to real people in their real lives. Specifically he notes that while the pope reflects on the essential incompleteness of the body in its maleness and femaleness and on the mystery of the union of two in one flesh, he does not talk specifically about the various concrete experiences of the sexual act itself. Moore also argues that in his protracted discussion of the "shame" of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden when they become aware of their nakedness, the pope fundamentally misunderstands what the story is saying. In the Genesis account, according to Moore, "it is shame that sets the stage for lust", but "in the pope's account, it is the other way round: lust generates shame." [33]

By Georg Schelbert

Theologian Georg Schelbert, of the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, is critical of the Theology of the Body for its highly selective use of Scripture. Schelbert argues that it is clear that the biblical stories of the patriarchs in the Old Testament clearly permit polygamy, in contradiction of John Paul's statement that polygamy "directly rejects the plan of God as revealed in the beginning." He also notes that, in John Paul's discussion of divorce, "not a single word is said about the so-called Pauline privilege (or about the extension of that privilege, which for a long time was falsely called 'Petrine') which relaxes these rigorous conclusions". [34]

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  1. 1 2 West, Christopher (2004). Theology of the Body for Beginners. Ascension Press. p.  5. ISBN   1-932645-34-9.
  2. Susan Klemond (June 30, 2011). "Marriage Preparation 2.0". National Catholic Register.
  3. "Dating & Engaged - Marriage Prep Resources". For Your Marriage, USCCB. Retrieved January 1, 2018.
  4. 1 2 John Paul II (2006) [1986]. Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body. Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media. pp. xxiii–xxx. ISBN   0-8198-7421-3.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Waldstein, Michael (2006). A Theology of the Body: Translation, Introduction, and Index. Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media. pp. 17, 34–55, 94–99. ISBN   0-8198-7421-3.
  6. 1 2 West, Christopher (2003). Theology of the Body Explained: A Commentary on John Paul II's "Gospel of the Body". Gracewing Publishing. ISBN   0852446004.:43
  7. "Waldstein Links Pope John Paul II to St. John of the Cross". Christendom College. September 28, 2004.
  8. 1 2 Francis Bacon (1960). The New Organon and Related Writings. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill. pp. 3–4.
  9. Descartes, Rene (1993). Discourse on Methods and Meditations: 3rd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett.
  10. Descartes, Rene. Meditations, in Discourse in Methods and Meditations. Adam and Tannery.
  11. Robinson, Howard. "Dualism". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Winter 2012 Edition. Edward N. Zalta.
  12. Wojtyla, Karol (1979). The Acting Person. Sprinter.
  13. 1 2 3 Kant, Immanuel (1902). Critique of Pure Reason. Berlin: Königlich- Preubische Akademie der Wissenschaften.
  14. Schmitz, Kenneth (1993). At the Center of the Human Drama: The Philosophical Anthropology of Karol Wojtya/Pope John Paul II. Catholic University of America Press. p. 136. ISBN   978-0813207803.
  15. Santos, Gustavo (2011). "Karol Wojtyla's personalism and Kantian idealism: parallel avenues of reason within the tension towards the ground of existence" (PDF). American Political Science Association. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-03.
  16. Kant, Immanuel (1785). The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.
  17. 1 2 3 Petri, O.P., Thomas (2016). Aquinas and the Theology of the Body: The Thomistic Foundations of John Paul II's Anthropology. The Catholic University of America Press. ISBN   9780813228471.
  18. John Paul II (2006) [1986]. Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body. Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media. pp. 23–34, 78–79. ISBN   0-8198-7421-3.
  19. 1 2 Read, O.C.D., Denis (2007). "The Influence of the Carmelite Mystical School". In Culligan, O.C.D., Kevin (ed.). A Better Wine: Essays Celebrating Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. ICS Publications. p. 308. ISBN   9780935216417.
  20. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Hogan, Richard M. (February 25, 2003). "An Introduction to John Paul II's Theology of the Body". Natural Family Planning Outreach. Retrieved 2017-01-17.
  21. "General Audiences: John Paul II's Theology of the Body" . Retrieved March 30, 2018.
  22. See John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (in reference list).
  23. John Paul II. "Virginity or Celibacy for the Sake of the Kingdom". EWTN. Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  24. Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., STD. "Aquinas and the Theology of the Body".CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  25. Pope John Paul II (2005). Memory and identity: Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium. New York: Rizzoli. p. 12. ISBN   0-8478-2761-5. OCLC   474590433.
  26. 1 2 Weigel, George (October 1999). Witness to Hope (First ed.). Harper Perennial. pp.  336, 343, 853. ISBN   0-06-018793-X.
  27. West, Christopher (2007). The Theology of the Body Explained. Pauline Books & Media. p. 14. ISBN   0-8198-7425-6.
  28. Dietrich von Hildebrand, Catholic Philosopher, and Christopher West, Modern Enthusiast: Two Very Different Approaches to Love, Marriage and Sex"
  29. Cornwell, John (2004). The Pontiff in Winter: Triumph and Conflict in the Reign of John Paul II. Doubleday. p.  139. ISBN   0-385-51484-0.
  30. Curran, Charles E. (2005). The Moral Theology of Pope John Paul II. Georgetown University Press. pp. 4, 5, 46, 168, 188. ISBN   978-1-58901-042-0.
  31. Kenneth L. Woodward, The New York Times, 18/12/2005
  32. Schiffer, Kathy (March 9, 2014). "Dom Sebastian Moore's "Poor Little Who"–I Don't Get It!". Patheos.
  33. Sebastian Moore OSB, "The Crisis of an Ethic without Desire", in Rogers, Eugene F. Jr., ed. (2002). Theology and Sexuality: Classic and Contemporary Readings. Blackwell. pp. 162–3. ISBN   0-631-21276-0.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  34. Georg Schelbert, "Defaming the Historical-Critical Method", in Küng and Swidler (1986). The Church in Anguish: Has the Vatican Betrayed Vatican II?. Harper & Row, San Francisco. pp.  106–124. ISBN   0-06-254827-1.

Further reading