What Is Theology Of The Body?

What is the theology of the body? Theology of the body is a phrase coined by Saint John Paul II. It is the idea that every human being has been created for love, to be given and received in love, and to be loved with a passionate love. By that, he means physical love – the expression of sexuality. In his general audience talks in 1980 and 1981, Pope John Paul II discussed in depth what it means to live a “theology of the body” – that we are bodies and soul at once, and that our bodies are important part of our identity. The truth of this notion is represented in the body of Christ, where the human and divine are united – a body in which soul and body are one.

What does theology of the body have to do with sex? Theology of the body gives an entire new meaning to sex and intimacy – not just as a transitory pleasure, but something which should unite two people for life in fidelity. This helps people to understand why sexual intimacy has so much to do with the will to create families. Pope John Paul I said: “Every union between a man and a woman becomes human love when it is open and faithful, when it is fully committed to building up another person’s life. In this way, sex is not an evil or deficient but a totally necessary good.”

The Church teaches that sex is one of the most powerful and important parts of a relationship, and because it is so powerful it demands that we find a way to couple this with our faith in God. This means we have to find a way for the theology which gives meaning to our lives (Christian theology) to be applied in our sexuality.

In this way, we must realize that the Catholic Church has not condemned sex but has said it is only acceptable when it is “mutually agreed” and adds that “…each partner must consent with a genuine and sincere will to the act in conformity with the meaning which you have given it.” So if we were to take these teachings on their own terms they would still allow for pleasure. They would not allow for pre-marital sexual relations and they would not provide any clear status for those who want to remain chaste.

The ugly side of sexuality – violence, exploitation, oppression – is not consistent with this concept. It’s one of the reasons why this concept should continue to develop and nourish families in our society today. This idea is difficult for some people to understand. Our society right now is very uncomfortable with it: it clashes with certain stereotypes about sex, particularly those which are so deeply engrained in our culture that they seem natural. The Church has made a strong effort over the years to explain what it means and how you can apply it in your life.

Pope John Paul II spoke of the theology of the body as a challenge for all members of the Church, whether they are young or old, married or single. His 1981 letter, Familiaris Consortio (On Family Planning) contains an important invitation: “The Church is deeply concerned to see married couples living out their vocation in all its fullness. Therefore she asks everyone to help her in this task.” The Church also asks single people to live this vocation faithfully and responsibly by seeking God and one another. It is also important for people who have been divorced not to give up on finding that essential relationship with God and other human beings.

There are many practical ways that people can implement the theology of the body, including fidelity in marriage and chastity outside of it. The Church also wants to help people understand how this perspective can affect their ideas about sexuality. This could happen through deliberate reflection, for example by looking at scripture through this new lens. Religion is not something which has to be forced on people; it’s something which they find themselves naturally drawn to because it gives them healing and hope for their lives. It’s possible that this may be a good time for young people to start thinking and talking about the theology of the body at an earlier age than they have done hitherto. It’s also likely to be a good time for those who are not in a relationship, to think about it. There must always be some sort of preparation before people embark on any new sexual relationship.

If there is one thing that the Catholic Church can say today about the theology of the body, it’s that living this teaching will bring healing and hope for many young men and women who feel trapped by their sexuality. It will empower them in their search for love and fulfilment, by providing them with a clear doctrine which will help them to understand themselves better as people created for love.

The theology of the body is not limited to describing love as physical or emotional. It is a rich and complex way of thinking about sex, and it can help other religions to see what makes the Catholic moral teaching different from those which they may have learnt from other sources.

How is this doctrine being applied in the world today? In many ways. There are signs which the Church sees as important that will help to interpret this teaching, such as when Pope John Paul II said: “As long as a man is not properly disposed to receive the Eucharist, he cannot be admitted to Holy Communion,” or when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) says in his book Truth and Tolerance (Ignatius Press, New York, 2006), “That we do not ‘have’ sex but ‘do’ love, makes all the difference.” Or if you want to look at some of the symptoms of an issue or difficulty, there’s always a question about what it means. The way we think about sex says a lot about how we think about ourselves, our relationships, and God.

It also seems to have a strange effect on the world. We live in a culture in which pornography and sexual violence are major industries. This is something which has developed rapidly over the last 10 to 20 years. In this kind of environment, the theology of the body teaches us that sex is not just physical or emotional but spiritual too; sex should be free from violence, exploitation, and oppression. Christianity can help us to understand why sexual intimacy has so much to do with marriage and family life; it’s not just an extension of what happens in the bedroom but an expression of who we are as people created for one another.

It can also help us to understand why children are important. Children, as Pope John Paul II always emphasized, are not simply a tool for their parents to use or a possession for their parents’ families. Their loving care is a gift to the world and a way of putting into practice what Jesus Christ taught about how we should love God and others.

The theology of the body is an idea which many people may find difficult to understand and explain. It’s not a subject which only critics of the Catholic Church have thought about. In recent years, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists and medical experts have all come to think that this teaching is important. John Paul II was not the first Pope to address these issues.

Theologians have always appreciated the importance of this teaching as a way of interpreting people’s lives and building their understanding of themselves as children of God; it will probably always be there as one way that our theology can develop. But it seems that we need more reflection on its relevance for today and what we can do to apply it in our lives.

It would be an exaggeration to say that every Christian should learn the theology of the body, but it might be helpful both for individual Christians and the Church as a whole to have greater understanding of how we understand sex and sexuality. It’s important to note that it’s not just one view; different Catholics have different views about these matters, but for some time now there has been a general consensus about the teaching which is summed up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The catechism states that: “All sexual acts, whether natural or artificial, whether complete or incomplete, committed or tentative, are to be evaluated according to their nature and purpose. The will of the person concerned determines the moral quality of any sexual act.”

In other words, we should interpret this teaching in a way which helps us to understand what we are doing when we have sex. This is something which people often don’t understand; it’s not as simple as having sex with someone because you want to do so; it’s a complex issue and we need help from God and our pastors when we try to understand what is meant by what we are doing.

Gene Botkin

Gene is the director of the Theosis Christian Project. He studied physics and military science before founding the Project. Gene is currently pursuing his doctorate in systems engineering at an engineering college in the Ozarks. The Theosis Christian Project is his attempt to expand Holy Orthodoxy in America.

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