What is the Theology of the Body?
The "rich patrimony" of Blessed John Paul II's teaching "has not yet been assimilated by the Church. My personal mission is not to issue many new documents, but to ensure that his documents are assimilated."- Pope Benedict XVI, Interview on Blessed John Paul II's Legacy, October 16, 2005.
Blessed Pope John Paul II devoted the first major teaching project of his pontificate – 129 short talks between September of 1979 and November of 1984 – to providing a profoundly beautiful vision of human embodiment and erotic love. He gave this project the working title “theology of the body.”
George Weigel, author of Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, calls this papal study of human sexuality “one of the boldest reconfigurations of Catholic theology in centuries” – a “theological time-bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences ...perhaps in the twenty-first century.” At this point the Pope’s vision of sexual love “has barely begun to shape the Church’s theology, preaching, and religious education.” But when it does, Weigel predicts, “it will compel a dramatic development of thinking about virtually every major theme in the Creed” (pp. 336, 343, 853).
Far from being a footnote in the Christian life, the way we understand the body and the sexual relationship “concerns the whole Bible” (TOB 69:8). It plunges us into “the perspective of the whole Gospel, of the whole teaching, even more, of the whole mission of Christ” (TOB 49:3). Christ’s mission, according to the spousal analogy of the Scriptures, is to “marry” us. He invites us to live with him in an eternal life-giving union of love.
This is what the union of the sexes is meant to proclaim and foreshadow – the eternal union of Christ and the Church. As St. Paul says, quoting from Genesis, “‘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 is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:31-32).
By helping us understand this profound interconnection between sex and the Christian mystery, John Paul’s theology of the body not only paves the way for lasting renewal of marriage and the family; it enables everyone to rediscover “the meaning of the whole of existence, the meaning of life” (TOB 46:6).
Please click here to view Pope John Paul's 129 Wednesday Audiences, which comprise his Theology of the Body.
*TOB Man and Woman He Created Then: A Theology of the Body, John Paul II's general audience addresses on Human Love in the Divine Plan, Michael Waldstein translation (Pauline, 2006)