The Theology of the Body

Father Richard Hogan, of NFPOutreach.org, examines the Holy Father's audiences addressing the Theology of the Body.
by Rev.Richard M. Hogan | Source:
A Study

Cycle 1, Segment A


Nos. 1-4, Introduction, Discussion of source material (1st and 2nd account of Creation) and of method (phenomenological analysis of experiences presented in 1st and 2nd accounts of Creation)

These first four addresses of the 1st cycle (nos. 1-23) of the Theology of the Body series constitute an introduction to the 1st and 2nd cycles of John Paul’s addresses. There is a sense that what we read in these addresses (the first two cycles), begun on September 5, 1979, almost twenty-four years ago, was already finished before they were given in the form of the papal audiences. In fact, some believe that these were originally planned by the then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla as a book, a revision, or more accurately, a re-writing of his Love and Responsibility. But, as a new Pope, he did not want to publish the work as a book (a Pope publishing books would come later in his pontificate.)

In the first address, John Paul reminds us of the present-day context. He reminds us (no less than three times) that what he will say in these addresses is a preparation for the Synod of Bishops on the family (to meet a year later in 1980). He is asking the bishops who will attend that synod to listen to what he says so that they will be properly prepared for the discussions on the family which would occur at the synod. He also notes in this first address that Christ, in responding to the Pharisees’ question about divorce references “the beginning” which was clearly understood by the Pharisees as a reference to the very first words of the first the chapter of Genesis: “In the beginning . . .” John Paul also notes that Christ quotes not only the first chapter of Genesis: “male and female He created them,” but also the second chapter of Genesis, “Therefore, a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife.” John Paul takes “his cue” from these words of Christ, and most especially from the quotation of both accounts of Creation.

Especially of note in this first address is the line on p. 26: “We must put ourselves precisely in the position of Christ’s interlocutors today.” One of the recurring themes in John Paul’s works is that since we are all created in God’s image and likeness, we do not know ourselves or how to act unless we know Christ. Christ answers our most profound questions—and He is the only one who can because He alone “reveals man to man himself.” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, no. 22, of the Second Vatican Council as well as John Paul’s first encyclical, Redeemer of Man.” Those who present questions to Christ, such as the Pharisees in this instance, are asking the questions that we all have. Therefore, we can put ourselves in the place of the Pharisees and imagine ourselves asking Him about divorce and re-marriage.

In the second address, John Paul discusses the first chapter of Genesis, the so-called first account of Creation. If one re-reads the first three chapters of Genesis (as everyone should who is participating in this study), it is noteworthy that there are two different accounts of the Creation of the world and of human beings. The first, in the first chapter of Genesis, is set in the seven-day format with Adam and Eve created together toward the end of the sixth day. The second chapter of Genesis beginning with verse 4 gives a second account of Creation with Adam (man) created first and then later Eve is created. The second account (the one in Genesis 2) is older. It is called the Yahwist text because the name of God used in this account is the ancient Yahweh. In the first chapter of Genesis, the more recent text, the name of God uses is Elohim. The first account in the first chapter of Genesis is usually called the priestly account (as opposed to the Yahwist) account because it is thought that the writer as from the circle of priests of the Jewish temple.

The Pope repeatedly makes the point that the first account of Creation (in Genesis 1—the priestly account) is theological and objective. He says much later in the Theology of the Body addresses that it is “from God’s point of view.” This account is a statement of the facts of Creation: the “what, where, when and how of Creation. It clearly separates man from the world. In fact, in a startling phrase, the Pope writes that: “The Creator seems to halt before calling him (man) into existence, as if he were pondering within himself to make a decision” (p. 28). Man is different from the world and the reference to the Creation of the human being as an image of God separates all human beings from the rest of Creation, from the world.

Of vital importance in John Paul’s system of thought is his reference to “value” (p. 29). Value is a phenomenological term, i.e., a term used in the system of philosophy called phenomenology (which John Paul uses in almost all of his works). John Paul II wrote his doctoral dissertation on Max Scheler, a German phenomenologist. Scheler argued that every human experience is connected with a value. We are either attracted to the value or repulsed by it. By studying human experience from the subjective, interior point of view, Scheler believed he could identify values. These values actually existed in the real world. They were concrete and objective, but they were known through subjective, individual experience. Values are objective and real, but only known through the interior perception of experiences. In studying Scheler, John Paul saw that Scheler’s use of phenomenology provided a powerful tool for the study of Christian ethics. If the Christian norms taught by Revelation could be understood as interior norms, i.e., if these norms could be perceived through experience as values, they would cease to have the character of external laws imposed on one from the outside. Further, one could speak about these values in a subjective way appropriate to the modern world. In part, John Paul II’s Theology of the Body addresses, are an analysis of the experiences of Adam and Eve in order to deduce values—the objective norms given in Creation, but known by human beings through their daily experiences.

One further point is essential here. When John Paul II uses the word “subjective,” he does not mean it in contrast with objective truth (as it is sometimes used). He means the individual experiences we each have of the goods and norms given by God in Creation. Through our lived daily experiences, we come to know these norms and goods. We experience them. Since that experience is uniquely ours, it is subjective—i.e., individual. The same good or norm is experienced in a different way by each of us. We each internalize the objective norm in our own way. Therefore, the experience is subjective, but the norm or good is universal.

This point makes the next address understandable. He is speaking about the second account of Creation. He mentions (p. 30) that it is “subjective” and “psychological.” In other words, it is the revelation of the truths of the first account of Creation through the lens of the individual experiences of Adam and Eve. Part of John Paul II’s method in his Theology of the Body addresses is to use the first chapter of Genesis as a “control,” an objective statement of the truths of Creation, which prevents any possible misinterpretation of the subjective, experiential Revelation of those same truths in the second chapter of Genesis.

A further vital point in this third address is towards the end (p. 31). The Pope insists that by his reference to “the beginning,” Christ is expecting all of us to “cross” back over the boundary caused by original sin. We are to live as thought we do not suffer the effects of original sin. One might ask how Christ could give such a command: because He is the ONE who carries the cross. As he states in the fourth address, the Redemption makes it possible to us to live as Adam and Eve did before sin. It does not make it easy—but grace makes it possible.

In the fourth address, we should notice the third paragraph (p. 32) where John Paul talks about the two states of man: before and after sin, and how both these states are “present” in man, “in his inner self, in his knowledge, conscience, choice and decision.” This, of course, is another reference to the phenomenological method of analyzing the experiences of Adam and Eve “from the inside.” The record of these experiences, recorded almost as a philosopher gathering data on human experiences would record them, is found in the second and third chapters of Genesis.

In the fifth paragraph of the fourth address, John Paul uses the phrase “historical man” for the first time. This is his term for all of us who are subject to original sin. He also makes the point again that those who questioned Christ were “stand-ins” for all of us because all of us are “historical” in the sense that we are subjects of original sin. We all, therefore, have the same questions to present to Christ. Most of the remainder of the fourth address, is devoted to the theme that it is impossible to understand our present state (the “historical” state) without reference to the previous state. Thus, a study of the experiences of Adam and Eve in Paradise is essential. Of course, this is particularly true if we are to live as though original sin had not happened, i.e., if we are to follow the command of Christ and “cross the boundary” of original sin and live marriage (and everything else) as though original sin had not happened.

John Paul then quotes the letter to the Romans citing the passage about the “redemption of the body” because without that, it would be impossible to “cross the boundary.” Also of particular note is the paragraph on p. 34 beginning with “In the interpretation . . .” In this paragraph, John Paul again insists that the analysis of human experience, properly undertaken, will reveal the truths and norms given in Creation, i.e., will reveal values.


July 6, 2003
P.S. I have written considerably more than I had planned. However, some of what I have written are preliminary considerations (which I will not have to repeat in such detail). Without some of these points, it seems to me it would be very difficult to understand what the Pope is about in his Theology of the Body addresses.

For more information please visit www.nfpoutreach.org.


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Published by: James M. Essig
Date: 2009-01-01 10:00:00
It is interesting to consider the marvelous mysteries of the human body that constitute the qualities of the human body that make it a human body.

Published by: James M. Essig
Date: 2009-01-01 10:00:00
It is interesting to consider the marvelous mysteries of the human body that constitute the qualities of the human body that make it a human body.

Published by: James M. Essig
Date: 2009-01-01 10:00:00
It is interesting to consider the marvelous mysteries of the human body that constitute the qualities of the human body that make it a human body.

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