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Chapter 4: Anthropological Considerations

by Fr Thomas McGovern

Development of a Christian Anthropology

The theology of the body as developed by John Paul II offers many insights which will help priests not only to understand celibacy at a deeper level, but also to preach with more conviction about chastity as a virtue to be lived by every Christian. In addition it offers a clear anthropological vision for dealing with the pastoral aspects of marriage.

The development of anthropology as an individual science or discipline is primarily a modern phenomenon. It was a consequence of the detachment of the study of man from the larger framework of theological and metaphysical inquiry. In addition, Descartes' particular vision of man gave scientific anthropology its definitive direction, which was developed either as a scientific investigation of the human body, or as a humanistic examination of man as a knowing and acting subject. However, 'with the differentiation of scientific methodology and the dissolution of the philosophy of history into a positivistic science of history, discourse about the essence of man increasingly lost its foundation. Besides, with the growing acceptance of the theory of evolution, the essential difference between man and animal became more and more fluid, so that the privileged position of man became ever more dubious.' [1]

In the first half of the twentieth century, in response to this reductionist approach, various attempts were made to re-establish a philosophical anthropology fuelled by the neo-Thomist revival. As a consequence there was a recovery of the need to postulate a unity of man's essence which embraced both his subjectivity and his objectivity, and the ethical consequences which derive from this position.

As Kasper points out, the fact that Vatican II was the first council of the Church to take up the question of anthropology as a subject in its own right has to be seen in this context. This it did in the constitution on the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et spes, articulating the essential relationship between Christology and an authentic anthropology, against a theological background which assumes the unity of the orders of creation and redemption in salvation history.

The Church discovers its doctrine on anthropology in the pages of Sacred Scripture. Beginning with the creation in Genesis, it considers man's essential nature, his capacity to know himself, and to recognise that he has a spiritual and immortal soul. It does not deny his ambivalent response to God's plan, his wounded condition after the fall, his propensity to sin. It also sees that his dignity derives from his capacity to grasp the truth and to be guided in his behaviour by moral conscience. [2]

It proclaims Jesus Christ as the origin and end of true humanity. Or as the conciliar text puts it:

In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear ... Human nature, by the very fact that it was assumed, not absorbed, in him, has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare. For, by his incarnation, he, the son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each man. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin. [3]

This statement of Vatican II is the core of the Church's anthropology, which identifies it not only in a general way as Christian but even more as a Christological anthropology. What binds anthropology and Christology together is the concept of man as imago Dei, image of God. This is because, 'as the image of God, man finds his ultimate and definitive fulfilment and completion only in that intimate communion with God which has appeared in a unique and unsurpassable way in Jesus Christ, the God-man'. [4]

But the Christology of the Incarnation finds its completion in the Christology of the Cross, so that we would be freed from the bondage of the devil, sin and death. By suffering for us, Christ gave us an example and showed us the way to follow 'so that life and death are made holy and acquire a new meaning'. [5] Consequently, the same conciliar document can summarise:

'Such is the nature and the greatness of the mystery of man as enlightened for the faithful by the Christian revelation. It is therefore through Christ, and in Christ, that light is thrown on the riddle of suffering and death which, apart from his Gospel, overwhelms us. Christ has risen again, destroying death by his death, and has given life abundantly to us so that, becoming sons in the Son, we may cry out in the Spirit: Abba Father!' [6]

This is the fundamental truth about our being and existence: we have been created to become children of a God who loves us as a Father, following the way carved out by his Son, and moulded to that pattern by the work of the Spirit. [7]

It is this anthropology which John Paul II takes as his point of departure in his reflection on human sexuality and its purpose in God's plan of creation and redemption. Given that, as a Council Father, while still Archbishop of Krakow, he was one of the main drafters of the text of Gaudium et spes, it is not surprising that he frequently returns to this conciliar document to illustrate his considerations. His very first encyclical Redemptor hominis [8]was a restatement and a development of the Christian anthropology of Vatican II. There he tells us that in Christ 'has been revealed in a new and more wonderful way the fundamental truth concerning creation ... In Jesus Christ the visible world, which God created for man, recovers again its original link with the divine source of Wisdom and Love'. [9] Here he repeats the words of Vatican II: 'Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling'. [10] In subsequent years, in his many documents and addresses, this truth and its implications was to become the central refrain of his pontificate. Only recently he emphasised again the idea that the answers to the deepest questions of the human heart can only be found in Jesus Christ who is 'the key, the centre and the purpose of the whole of man's history'. [11]

John Paul II insists that 'the special attention that must be paid to the human being and to his dignity must not let us forget that God is the goal of our journey."Ambula per hominem et pervenis ad Deum", St Augustine writes, in reference to the holy humanity of Christ, stressing how he is the "one mediator between God and men" (1 Tim 2:5) and how he mediates through man. St Teresa of Jesus, doctor of the Church, echoes him by recalling that, to go to God through Christ, we must pass through the Man whom the Son became, taking our humanity on himself (cf. Libro de la Vida, chap.22)'.[12]

The Nuptial Meaning of the Body

It is not without significance that on the very occasion when Christ most powerfully enunciated his teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, he also affirmed the vocation to celibacy 'for the sake of the kingdom of heaven' (cf. Mt 19:3-12). In reply to his disciples' objection that Moses had allowed divorce, he directed their minds back to man's condition at 'the beginning' (cf. Gen 2:24), to his situation before the fall. Christ was making the point that it is only by reflection on man's identity in the state of original innocence that we can begin to understand the reasons for the indissoluble nature of the marriage bond. The same holds true if we are going to be able to establish an anthropological grounding for celibacy.

As we have already seen, John Paul II makes the challenging affirmation that it is precisely the person who understands the full potential for self-giving offered by marriage who can best make a mature offering of himself in celibacy. Indeed he goes so far as to assert that vocation to celibacy is, in a certain sense, indispensable so that 'the nuptial meaning of the body' may more easily be recognised in conjugal and family life. And this is because the key to the understanding of the sacramentality of marriage is the spousal love of Christ for his Church. [13]

After his election as Pope in 1978, John Paul II turned to the creation accounts in Genesis to establish from Revelation the elements of a Christian anthropology which would attempt to understand and interpret man in what is essentially human. Just as Christ referred his questioners about the indissolubility of marriage to 'the beginning' (cf. Mt 19:4), so the Holy Father returns to the same Old Testament source to draw out of that original human experience many deep insights into the notions of innocence, grace, lust, sin, etc. This 'beginning' is not merely something which refers to the historical past; it is also a sure guide to the knowledge of man in his present condition.

In preparation for the 1980 Synod of Bishops, convoked to study the topic of the Christian Family, he began a series of addresses in his Wednesday audiences on 'the nuptial meaning of the body', which was to run intermittently, in over a hundred sessions, from September 1979 to November 1984. [14]This is rightly regarded as a brilliant, magisterial restatement of Christian anthropology and its implications for sexual morality, related both to marriage and celibacy. In it he brings together a vast range of scriptural and philosophical insights, focused from the perspective of the human person as 'image of God'.

Cardinal Ratzinger, identifying a series of fundamental moral errors which afflict our times, observes that in the culture of the 'developed' world, where the indissoluble link between sexuality and marriage has been broken, followed by a rupture between sexuality and procreation, sex has remained without a locus and has lost its essential point of reference. In this context it follows logically that 'every form of sexuality is equivalent and, therefore, of equal worth', since no other objective justification can be found for it than the subjective one of pleasure. The next stage is that all forms of sexual gratification are transformed into 'rights' of the individual and become an expression of human 'liberation'. [15]

This uprooting of the person from his nature leads to the trivialization of human sexuality by science and technology, because the natural and fundamental connections between sexuality and procreation are destroyed. The vision of man made to the image of God is lost sight of; he is no longer regarded as a person but as a thing. He becomes the object of technical categories and is redefined according to functional requirements, thus stripping him of his individuality and his dignity. [16]

It is precisely because of the crisis of moral values, and especially those related to sexual morality, that the Pope saw it was necessary to reaffirm the fundamental elements of an authentic anthropology if we are to understand the meaning of the Christian virtue of chastity. John Paul II, fully aware of the challenge involved, has over the past twenty years articulated more clearly than anybody else the framework of such an anthropology. Let us examine some of its core ideas.

Old Testament Teaching on Chastity

In his analysis of the first three chapters of Genesis, he affirms that creation is an expression of God's gratuitous love, and hence man's existence is essentially a gift - he is created out of love and also for love. A particular characteristic of the gift of personal existence is that man realises he only exists 'for some one'; he is made for relationship with others in a relationship of mutual gift. [17]

Scripture reveals to us something of the dignity of man when it says that he was made to God's image and likeness. Created in the image of God, with intellect and will, man is capable of knowing and loving his Creator. While this refers primarily to his soul, the body also reflects the divine image. St Thomas tells us that the soul united with the body is more in the image of God than when separate, because in this way it realises its own essence more perfectly. The human soul is in every part of the body and, thus shaped by its spirituality, the body also participates in the imaging of God. [18] It is difficult to appreciate fully the goodness of the body in God's plan in that in our experience it is ultimately subject to death and corruption. However, in John Paul II?s 'theology of the body' the human body is a 'sacrament of the person': 'The body in fact, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible'. [19]

In the Genesis account of creation, man and woman are seen as a gift for each other, which brings about a communion of persons. Man is therefore 'image of God' not only in his humanity 'but also from the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning'. [20]

This communion of man and woman before the fall was meant to mirror God's very life, a communion of love ordered to the gift of life. 'The human body', John Paul II says, 'is not only a source of fruitfulness and procreation, as in the whole natural order, but includes right "from the beginning" the "nuptial" attribute, that is the capacity of expressing love: that love in which the man-person becomes a gift and - by means of this gift - fulfils the very meaning of his being and existence'. [21]

From the Genesis account we are given another fundamental insight into the nature of man in the state of original innocence. We are told that the man and woman 'were both naked, and were not ashamed', which is a statement of the interior freedom of the couple, a freedom which implies self-mastery. This freedom from sexual desire is the freedom necessary to be able to give oneself as a gift to the other. It is by means of this gift that man discovers his true self - that he is the only creature God willed for himself. Freedom from concupiscence lies at the basis of the nuptial meaning of the body, a freedom understood as the self-control essential if man is to be able to give himself, and in this way discover his true self. [22]It is only by reference to this anthropology and theology of 'the beginning' that one can fully understand the condition of historical man after original sin.

Consequences of the Fall

The state of original innocence, where the couple accept each other as gift, is soon replaced by the condition whereby each experiences shame of his body as a result of sin. The body as gift and the physical expression of the person is replaced by a perception of the body as an object of appropriation or lust. This is the antithesis of true love and self-giving. Man then loses the original conviction of the body being the image of God which, as a result, ceases to draw on the power of the spirit; the body in fact becomes a centre of resistance to the spirit, so graphically described by St Paul in his letter to the Romans. [23]This is in fact a state of privation, where man's heart, in the words of the Holy Father, becomes 'a battlefield between lust and love' [24]

As a consequence of original sin Adam and Eve lost the gift of supernatural life, the sharing in the divine life through grace. Not only did they lose grace, but they also damaged themselves as a result of the sin committed. No longer were their bodies easily subject to their wills - they had lost the gift of integrity as a constitutive element of their being. Our first parents were immediately conscious of their lack of integrity through a mutual awareness of their physical nakedness and the sense of shame which they experienced as a consequence of it. They were ashamed, as John Paul II explains, not so much of their bodies, but because of the lustful desires they experienced. Their feelings of sensuality and sentiment were no longer under the control of their wills.

Concupiscence, an after-effect of original sin, undermines the capacity for self-control, and consequently the freedom necessary for complete self-giving. Personal communion, or the communion of love appropriate to the state of innocence, is rendered unattainable. [25]Nevertheless, the redemption wrought by Christ was a redemption of soul and body, thus making it possible for man to recover the capacity to love with purity of heart once more.

Consequently, we can say that the primary purpose of chastity is to free love from a utilitarian attitude towards the person, by controlling sensuality and concupiscence. [26]In this way chastity enables love to be true, because it is the virtue which causes us to respect the other as a person made to the image and likeness of God, in soul and body. The essence of chastity is, then, to affirm the value of the person in everything that relates to the body and sexuality. It does not consist in blind self-control or sexual repression, but in a positive affirmation of the heart in response to God's grace. It is a virtue that draws its resources from a practised orientation of the appetites of the soul under the dynamism of the life of the Spirit. [27]

Adultery of the Heart

John Paul II devotes several addresses to drawing out the implications of Christ's teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: 'You have heard that it was said, "You shall not commit adultery". But I say to you that every man that looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart' (Mt 5:27-28).

This passage has a key meaning for the theology of the body, but one which must be seen in the context of the first three chapters of Genesis. It represents a fundamental revision of the way of understanding the Law of the Old Covenant, particularly as expressed in the sixth commandment, 'You shall not commit adultery'. Christ shifts the focus of the morality of adultery from the external act to the interior dispositions of the heart, and in this way brings to completion the Old Testament teaching.

The lust that man feels in his heart is a consequence of his breaking the original covenant with his Father God, leading to that sense of shame which accompanies all sin (cf. Gen 3:7). That shame is reflected in the need both man and woman felt to hide themselves, but it is something deeper than mere physical shame. It is the sense of nakedness which comes as a result of an awareness of being deprived of the gift of participating in the very life of God, a deprivation of the preternatural and supernatural gifts which were part of man's endowment before sin entered his life.

Man's first response to being aware of his nakedness is an eloquent expression of that interior shame which he feels as a result of lust. The birth of shame in the human heart is associated with the beginning of the threefold concupiscence, but especially the lust of the body. This shame, John Paul II affirms, has a double meaning: it indicates the threat to the intimacy of the body arising from lust, but it is at the same time a means to preserve this intimacy or purity of heart. [28]

Chastity in the Teaching of the New Testament

The words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount also specify the demands of purity of heart which should define the mutual relations between man and woman both inside and outside of marriage. For Christ the heart of man is the source of purity, and also of moral impurity in its most general sense. 'Out of the heart of man', he tells his disciples, 'come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, etc'(Mt 15:18-20; cf. Mk 7:20-23). Christ was here making use of the opportunity to clarify the implications of ritual purity in the Old Testament, which gave rise to a false understanding of moral purity, frequently understood in an exclusively exterior or material sense. [29] At the same time he makes clear that sins of unchastity have their source in the heart, in the will of man.

Based on the teaching of St Paul (cf. Gal 5:16-17), we can say that purity of heart is 'life according to the Spirit'. Paul sees a tension between the demands of the flesh and the demands of the Spirit in the heart of man; it is a struggle between the forces of good and evil at the very core of his being. This tension is developed more fully in his Letter to the Romans. [30]

Paul contrasts the works of the flesh (fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry etc, - cf. Gal 5:19-21) with the fruits of the Spirit (charity, joy, self-control, modesty, continence, chastity, etc - cf. Gal 5: 22-23). These latter are the graces made available by Christ as a consequence of the redemption of the body. But behind each of these realisations are individual acts of the will to choose the life of the Spirit and to reject the demands of the flesh. In the struggle between good and evil, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, man's desire to do good wins out. [31]For Pauline theology the freedom won by Christ has deeper implications than that perceived by contrasting it with the Old Law: true freedom is grounded on the law of charity brought by and articulated by Christ (cf. Gal 5:13). In this context we can say that purity (related to any state in life) is an affirmation of love; it is not 'suspension in nothingness'. It is a response to that appeal which Christ addresses to the heart of each person. [32]

Chastity and the Call to Holiness

In his first Letter to the Thessalonians St Paul speaks about purity in the context of the call to holiness (cf. 1 Thess 4:3-5). It is manifested in the fact that man knows 'how to control his body in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust like the heathen who do not know God' (1 Thess 4:5). He considers purity not only as a capacity of man's subjective faculties, but at the same time as an essential virtue to achieve sanctity, for God has not called us for uncleanness, but in holiness (1 Thess 4:7). [33]Commenting on this text, Blessed Josemaría Escrivá affirms:

We belong to God completely, soul and body, flesh and bones, all our senses and faculties. Ask him, confidently : Jesus, guard our hearts! Make them big and strong and tender, hearts that are affectionate and refined, overflowing with love for you and ready to serve all mankind. Our bodies are holy. They are temples of God, says St Paul. This cry of the Apostle brings to mind the universal call to holiness which Our Lord addresses to all men: 'You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect' (Mt 5:48) ... He demands that each of us, in accordance with his particular state in life, should put into practice the virtues proper to the children of God ... If one has the spirit of God, chastity is not a troublesome and humiliating burden, but a joyful affirmation. Will-power, dominion, self-mastery do not come from the flesh or from instinct. They come from the will, especially if it is united to the will of God. In order to be chaste (and not merely continent or decent) we must subject our passions to reason, but for a noble motive, namely, the promptings of Love. [34]

In his first Letter to the Corinthians St Paul gives us some further insights into the virtue of holy purity. He is speaking about the Church as the Body of Christ and this gives him an opportunity to make some comments about the human body: 'the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honourable we invest with the greater honour, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require' (1 Cor 12:22-24). This Pauline description of the body corresponds to the spiritual attitude of respect for the human body due to it because of the 'holiness' which springs from the mysteries of creation and redemption (cf. 1 Thess 4:3-5, 7-8).[35]

Modesty and Chastity

In Love and Responsibility John Paul II had already analysed in depth the nature of the virtue of modesty in relation to chastity under the rubric of the 'metaphysics of shame'. The phenomenon of shame arises when something, which of its very nature or in view of its purpose ought to be kept private, somehow becomes public. Each person has a particular interiority which gives rise to a need to conceal, that is to retain internally certain experiences or values. Human nature shows a universal tendency to conceal those parts of the body, which determine its sex, from the gaze of others, especially from members of the opposite sex. An essential feature of this tendency is to conceal sexual values in so far as they are 'a potential object of enjoyment' for persons of the other sex, that is in so far as they provoke a sensual reaction in others. This is the origin of modesty, which is connected with the inviolability of the person, and protects the body from being seen as 'an object of use'. Sexual modesty is thus a defensive reflex that protects the value of the person.[36]

Consequently the sense of modesty which keeps the body 'in holiness and honour' is an essential part of the virtue of purity. It is precisely this modesty, which respects the 'weaker' or 'unpresentable' parts of the body (cf. 1 Cor 12:22-25), that restores the exterior harmony, but also the interior harmony of 'purity of heart', enabling man and woman to see each other again as made to the image and likeness of God. [37]

Marriage and Earthly Life

John Paul II devoted several addresses to applying the foregoing anthropological principles to the context of marriage. [38] In reply to the man who had posed the question about the marital status in the after-life of the woman who had successively married seven brothers (cf. Mt 22:15-22; Mk 12:24-25), Christ told him he had misread the Scriptures: 'When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven' (Mk 12:25). For John Paul II this text has a key meaning for the theology of the body. [39]The human body will then have reacquired the fullness of perfection characteristic of a creature made to the image and likeness of God.

Marriage, therefore, belongs to the earthly stage of man's existence because in eternity there will be a completely new state of life. The sense of being male and female will be understood in a different way: 'They are equal to the angels and are sons of God' (Lk 20:36). This implies a spiritualization of man in contrast to the present mode of existence, without at the same time his losing the essential human condition of a creature constituted by body and soul. It does not mean a 'disincarnation' or a dehumanisation of man, but rather a 'divinization' that comes from the definitive realisation of our vocation as children of God.

Man and woman in the beatific vision will enjoy a perfectly mature subjectivity, with no felt need for the completion that comes from conjugal life on earth. Man's gift of himself will be total. The virginal state of the body will then be manifested as the eschatological fulfilment of its 'nuptial' meaning, as the specific sign and authentic expression of all personal subjectivity. [40]This revelation has obviously deep implications for the theology of priestly celibacy. Consequently, a proper theological understanding of the body has two principal co-ordinates - what Christ has revealed to us about man's condition at 'the beginning', and what his definitive status will be in eternity as a child of God.

The words of Christ about the body in the after-life find a deep resonance in the doctrine of St Paul (cf. 1 Cor 15:42-46; Rom 8:19-20) which develops the teaching of Christ and completes it. [41]Risen man will be the completion of the earthly man, and will be endowed with some of the attributes of the risen Christ. Every man bears within himself the image of the first Adam, but he is also called to reflect the image of the new Adam, the Risen Christ. In eternity there will be a restoration of his integrity with the definitive reception of the Holy Spirit. [42]

Marriage in Ephesians

St Paul's text in Ephesians 5:22-33 [43]constitutes a crowning of the other texts from Scripture on marriage which we have considered. As we have already seen, it also has a particular significance for the theology of priestly celibacy.

In this passage the Apostle's words are centred on the body, both in its metaphorical meaning (the Body of Christ which is the Church), and in its concrete meaning - the human body in its masculinity and femininity. These two meanings converge in the Letter to the Ephesians to give us the classic text about the sacramentality of marriage. It is also very illustrative of the spousal dimension of the priestly vocation to celibacy.

Paul goes beyond the merely moral aspects of the marriage relationship to discover therein the very mystery of Christ's relationship with his Church-Bride (Eph 5:22-25), drawing an analogy between the love of husband and wife with that of Christ for his Church. [44] This means that marriage is a Christian vocation only when it reflects the love which Christ the Bridegroom has for his Bride the Church, and which the Church tries to return to Christ. 'This', John Paul II tells us, 'is a redeeming love, love as salvation, the love with which man from eternity has been loved by God in Christ'. [45] It is a love which is transformed into spousal love, Christ giving himself for his Church. Because marriage encloses some element of the mystery of Christ's love for his Church, St Paul can refer to it as the sacramentum magnum (cf. Eph 5.32), a great mystery.

Within the fundamental Pauline analogy - Christ and the Church on the one hand, man and woman as spouses on the other- there is another analogy, that of the head and the body. In marriage there is, as it were, one organic bond between husband and wife which does not at the same time blur the individuality of the spouses, in the same way that Christ the head is united to his body the Church.

It is not without significance that the image of the Church in splendour is presented as a bride all beautiful in her body (cf. Eph 5:27). It is surely a metaphor, but a very eloquent one because it shows how deeply important is the body in the analogy of spousal love. Christ with his redemptive and spousal love ensures that the Church not only becomes sinless, but also that it remains 'without spot or wrinkle', that is, eternally young.

The analogy of the body has rich implications of a moral, spiritual and supernatural significance. The beauty of the body is the beauty of holiness. Love obliges the bridegroom-husband to be solicitous for the welfare of the bride-wife, but it also counsels him to appreciate her beauty and care for it, with a loving desire to find everything that is good and beautiful in her. Husbands have to love their wives as their own bodies, deferring to the moral unity achieved through love. They have to nourish and cherish them in a protective way as Christ does his Church (cf. 5:29). In general this idea helps us to understand the dignity of the body and the moral imperative to care for its well-being. It emphasises a sense of the sacredness of the body in the relationships of husband and wife, in particular for the wife as mother of their children. [46]

In Ephesians 5:37 St Paul recalls Genesis 2:24: 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one', the fundamental scriptural text on marriage. He uses this text to present the mystery of Christ's unity with his Church, from which he deduces the profound truth about the unity of spouses in marriage. In doing so he links the salvific plan of God with the most ancient revelation about marriage, and affirms with a sense of wonder, 'This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church' (5:32), a mystery hidden in God's mind from eternity and revealed in the fullness of time. St Paul affirms a continuity between the ancient covenant established by God constituting marriage as part of the very work of creation, and the definitive covenant by which Christ is united to his Church in a spousal way. This continuity of God's salvific initiative constitutes the essential basis for the great Pauline analogy about marriage. [47]

Old Testament References for Pauline Analogy

The analogy of Christ's love for his Church, and the spousal relationship between husband and wife, has many points of reference in the Old Testament, particularly in Isaiah, Hosea, Ezekiel and the Song of Songs, which would have informed the Pauline doctrine in Ephesians. In Isaiah we see the spousal relationship between God and Israel compared to the love of a man for the woman chosen to be his wife by means of a marriage alliance (cf. Isaiah 54:4-10). There is a continuity regarding the analogy of spousal love in Ephesians 5, but with a deeper theological development. However, the redemptive perspective is clear in both analogies. [48]

The analogy of human spousal love helps us in turn to understand more clearly the total gift of Christ to his Church, and therefore the celibacy of the priest which is an image of that gift. It gives us a new insight into the mystery of grace as an eternal reality in God and as an 'historical' fruit of mankind's redemption in Christ. The 'invisible mystery' of God's plan of salvation is first made visible by Christ in his relationship with the Church, and hence by analogy in the spousal relationship of husband and wife. [49] The celibate priest is the human, historical image of Christ's love for his Church, and is, in this way, a visible guarantee of its endurance through time.

Marriage as originally constituted by God is an integral part of the 'sacramentality' of creation. As a result of original sin it was deprived of the supernatural efficacy which belonged to the sacrament of creation in its totality. Still, in spite of sin, marriage never ceased being the figure of the sacrament which Ephesians 5 refers to as the 'great mystery'.

Marriage as a primordial sacrament constitutes the figure (likeness, analogy) according to which the structure of the new economy of salvation and the sacramental order is constructed, which draws its origin from the spousal gracing which the Church received from Christ, together with all the benefits of the redemption. All the sacraments of the new covenant find, in a certain sense, their prototype in marriage as the primordial sacrament, as St Paul seems to imply in Ephesians, using the word sacrament in its biblical-patristic meaning, that is, with a wider connotation than that in traditional theological terminology. [50]

St Paul brings together the redemptive and spousal dimension of love. Both of these dimensions will permeate the life of the spouses if they learn to discover Christ's saving love for his Church in their married life, in that special communio personarum to which spouses are called. The original image of marriage as a sacrament is renewed when Christian spouses open themselves to the graces of the redemption and are united 'out of reverence for Christ' (Eph 5:21).

On the basis of these considerations, man, John Paul II counsels us, should seek the meaning of his existence and of his humanity by reaching out to the mystery of creation through the reality of the redemption. It is by doing this that we will find the essential answer to the question of the significance of the human body and of the masculinity and femininity of the human person. The union of Christ with his Church permits us to understand in what way the spousal significance of the body is completed by the redemptive significance, and this in different situations and ways of life. This applies not only to marriage but also to celibacy. [51]


In his philosophical approach to the theology of the body, John Paul II blends the truths of Thomism with the insights of phenomenology, an approach which enables him to throw new light on permanent realities and arrive at conclusions fully consonant with the perennial philosophy. [52] John Paul II's 'personalism' means that he places the person at the centre of his ethical analysis in order to see how each of our actions is in keeping with human dignity. The consequences of this approach is that the human person is seen always to merit a response of love, and can never be reduced to an object of use or treated as a means to an end.

The Pope develops the concept of personal subjectivity to arrive at an idea of the structure of the person richer than that achieved by the traditional objective approach alone. [53]He applies to the definition of person the philosophical idea of 'relation' which is fundamental to Trinitarian theology. [54] Hence integral to the reality and definition of the person is the concept of 'gift for other', which for most people finds expression in spousal self-giving through marriage, but for others will be through the betrothed love of celibacy.

The encyclical Veritatis splendor is deeply impregnated with the personalism of John Paul II. Before becoming Pope, he had already affirmed that the metaphysics of human nature according to the Aristotelian tradition ran the risk of failing to do justice to what is distinctive about man, to what makes him a person. For him this understanding needed to be completed by developing a more personalist emphasis, that is, looking at man from the perspective of his interiority and self-giving. But John Paul II never separates 'person' from 'nature', which has the effect of estranging the person from his own body, and inevitably leads to the dualism that is at the root of a permissive sexual ethic.

As the Pope clearly affirms, 'it is in the unity of the body soul that the person is the subject of his own moral acts'. And it is because of this coherence between the person and their sexuality that we understand the inherent moral disorder of certain kinds of sexual activity. When John Paul II articulates his Christian personalism, he is not only defending the radical embodiment of the human person, but is also drawing out the full implications of the Incarnation.[55]

In his development of a theology of the body he concentrates on several fundamental human experiences - the need man has for union with another to complete himself; how this union is achieved in the mutual exchange of the gift of self; the attraction between the sexes; etc. In order to understand himself as a person, man has to be convinced that he can only realise himself fully through self-giving. It is out of such universal human experiences, illuminated by divine revelation, that the Pope constructs his teaching on human sexuality.

One of the basic premises of John Paul II's anthropology is that for man to respond adequately to his present 'historical' situation, he needs to know what his original condition was like 'in the beginning', in a state of innocence. By a deep analysis of specific texts from Genesis, in conjunction with others from the New Testament, he shows how God created man originally to be self-giving. However, this divine design was frustrated by original sin and the disorder introduced into man's desires as a consequence of it. Man lost the freedom to give himself according to his original specification.[56]

Nevertheless, man also needs to know that as a result of the Incarnation he has been redeemed by Christ from the consequences of the fall. This is what gives him the confidence that, with the help of grace, he can regain his original condition through 'self-mastery', the daily struggle to fight against his sinful tendencies in response to the call to holiness addressed to every Christian. It is from this fundamental perspective that a vocation to celibacy is seen as a realisable commitment and a correlative to the vocation to marriage.

1 Walter Kasper, 'The Theological Anthropology of Gaudium et spes', Communio 23, Spring 1996, p. 130.

2 Cf. Gaudium et spes, 12-21.

3 Ibid., no. 22.

4 Kasper, op. cit., p.137. Cf. Gaudium et spes, 12.

5 Gaudium et spes, 22.

6 Ibid.

7 Cf. St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, 23, 2, ad 3.

8 Published 4 March 1979.

9 Ibid., no. 8.

10 Gaudium et spes, 22 (emphasis John Paul II).

11Address, 8 November 1995, quoting Gaudium et spes, 10.

12 Message to the Pontifical Lateran University, Rome, 7 November 1996, no.6. He goes on to remind the Lateran that 'it is called to reaffirm the primacy of God, entering into the debate about the humanum, which has marked a large part of the 20th century, and on which the Second Vatican Council reflected deeply, especially in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes. All this is possible through a continuous conversion to Christ, never separated from the careful study of theology and the sciences connected with it' (ibid.)

13 Cf. Address, 5 May 1982, nos. 3-7.

14 These addresses are available in the weekly English language edition of Osservatore Romano. They are also published in collected form by St Paul Editions, Boston: Original Unity of Man and Woman: Catechesis on the Book of Genesis (1981); Blessed are the Pure of Heart: Catechesis on the Sermon on the Mount and Writings of St Paul (1983); Reflections on Humanae Vitae (1984); The Theology of Marriage and Celibacy (1986).

15 The Ratzinger Report: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, Leominister, 1985, pp. 84-5. The separation of sexuality from procreation has led to the opposite extreme, the nightmare scenario of making procreation independent of sexuality through medico-technical experimentation.

16 Cf. Alice Ramos, 'Man and Woman, the Image of God who is Love' in The Church at the Service of the Family, Stubenville, Ohio, 1993, p. 27 (Proceedings of the Sixteenth Convention of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, 1993).

17 Cf. Address, 9 January 1980, nos. 1 and 2.

18 Cf. De Potentia 5, 10 ad 5, quoted in Ramos, op. cit., p. 35.

19 Address, 20 February 1980, no.4. In this way is revealed the sacramentality of creation and the world as image of God. The body 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 be a sign of it' (idem). Against this background we understand more fully the words which constitute the sacrament of marriage, present in Genesis 2:24 ('A man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh').

20 Address, 14 November 1979, no. 3.

21 Address, 16 January 1980, no. 1. See also Familiaris consortio, 11-16.

22 Cf. Gaudium et spes, 24.

23 'We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?' (Rom 7:14-24).

24 Address, 23 July 1980, no. 3.

25 Ibid, no. 4

26 Cf. Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, London, 1981, p. 170.

27 Cf. ibid., pp 144-6.

28 Cf. Address, 28 May 1980, no. 6.

29 Cf. Address, 10 December 1980, nos. 2 and 3.

30 'For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness'. (Rom 8:5-10) At the same time Paul anticipates the final victory over sin and death as a consequence of Christ's resurrection: 'he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you' .
(Rom 8:11)

31 Cf. Address, 17 December 1980, nos. 4-6.

32 Cf. Address, 14 January 1981.

33 Cf. Address, 28 January 1981, nos. 2-4. Analysing this text (1 Thess 4:3-5; 7-8), John Paul II says that chastity is a practical capacity, a virtue, which makes man capable of acting in a given way, and at the same time of not acting in the opposite way. It is therefore an aptitude rooted in the will, or, as St Thomas specifies, in the appetitus concupiscibilis. Purity is therefore a particular from of the virtue of temperance which controls the impulses of sensitive desire. See Love and Responsibility, op. cit., pp 143-53.

34 Friends of God, Dublin, 1981, no. 177.

35 Cf. Address, 4 February 1981, no. 2-3.

36 Cf. Love and Responsibility, pp 174-180. In an age when modesty is regarded as an outdated virtue, the insight of a secular commentator is not without relevance: 'Modesty in the old dispensation was the female virtue, because it governed the powerful desire that related men to women, providing a gratification in harmony with the procreation and rearing of children .... Diminution or suppression of modesty certainly makes attending the end of desire easier - which was the intention of the sexual revolution - but it also dismantles the structure of involvement and attachment, reducing sex to a thing-in-itself. This is where feminism enters. Female modesty extends sexual differentiation from the sexual act to the whole of life. It makes men and women always men and women. The consciousness of directedness towards one another, and its attraction and inhibitions, inform every common deed. As long as modesty operates, men and women together are never just lawyers or pilots together. They have something else, always potentially very important, in common - ultimate ends, or as they say. "life-goals" ..... Modesty is a constant reminder of their peculiar relatedness and its outer forms and inner sentiments, which impede the self's free creation or capitalism's technical division of labour. It is a voice constantly repeating that a man and a woman have a work to do together that is far different from that found in the marketplace, and of a far greater importance' (Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, London, 1987, pp 101-2).

37 Cf. Address, 4 February 1981, nos. 5-6.

38 Cf. The Theology of Marriage and Celibacy, op. cit., for the Pope's addresses on this subject.

39 Cf. Address, 2 December 1981, no. 2.

40 Cf. Address, 16 December 1981, no. 3.

41 Cf. Address, 27 January 1982.

42 Cf. Addresses, 3 and 10 February 1982.

43 'Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband'.

44 Cf. Address, 11 August 1982.

45 Cf. Address, 18 August 1982, no. 2.

46 Cf. Address, 1 September 1982.

47 Cf. Address, 8 September 1982.

48 'For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called' (Is 54:5); 'Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her' (Eph 5:25).

49 Cf. Addresses, 22 and 29 September 1982.

50 Cf. Addresses, 13 and 20 October 1982.

51 Cf. Address, 15 December 1982.

52 Cf. Janet Smith, Why Humanae Vitae was Right: A Reader, San Francisco, 1993, pp 231-44.

53 Cf. John F. Crosby, 'The Personalism of John Paul II as the Basis of his Approach to the Teaching of Humanae Vitae', in Janet Smith, ibid., pp 200-5.

54 'With the introduction of the notion of person in the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, no.24, as "achieving self by the gift of self", the notion of person as "gift", and hence as relation, has universally and constantly been offered as the core concept in all the papal pronouncements and magisterial offerings of the last 26 years since Vatican II and particularly in the last 13 years of the pontificate of John Paul II. (Robert Connor, 'The Person as Resonating Existential', American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 39, 42 [1992]).

55 Cf. John F Crosby, 'Sins of the Flesh', Crisis magazine, July/August 1997, pp 25-28.

56 Cf. Michel Séguin, 'The Biblical Foundations of the Thought of John Paul II on Human Sexuality', Communio, 20, Summer 1993, pp 266-289.

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