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Guest Article (Used With Permission):

'Theology of the Body'

Warning: Contains adult material & some offensive references

Important Notice: Items herein do not necessarily represent our views. We make no guarantee regarding any item herein. We are not liable for any occurrence which may result from using this site. By using this site you agree to all terms. For more terms information, click here.

'Theology of the Body' (Q & A)

By John Salza of (

What do you think of the "theology of the body"?

Mary: John, what do you think of Pope John Paul II's "theology of the body"? I have heard some very disturbing explanations by people who purport to be Catholic theologians, things that I have never heard of before in my over 50 years of being Catholic.

J. Salza: Mary, you are referring to the 130 audience addresses that Pope John Paul II gave regarding his view of human sexuality. I have not studied these speeches in any depth and have gleaned most of my knowledge from TB from the so-called "experts," so my opinions are not based on Pope John Paul II's writings, but on what others say that he wrote. Nevertheless, because these people claim to be authoritative interpreters of TB, it is fair to evaluate what they have to say. Based on what I have seen and heard from these experts (most of them lay evangelists), I have serious reservations that TB, at least the way it is being presented by these lay people, is an authentic development of Catholic Tradition. And it is not just because it fails to meet the objectivity and precision of Thomism (which is my preferred approach to theological questions) that I am skeptical. There are other reasons for my skepticism.

First, I sense in the explanations of these apologists a subtle denigration of traditional Church teaching on human sexuality. TB apologists often refer to TB as a great "advantage" over pre-Vatican II teaching, which was too "formulaic" and "arcane." It's as if the Church were a sleep at the wheel regarding Catholic sexuality for 1950 years until the TB apologists came on the scene to enlighten us of this "new vision" of John Paul II. They fail to mention that the pre-conciliar documents Arcanum Divinae Sapientiae by Pope Leo XIII and Casti Connubii by Pope Pius XI are the bedrock encyclicals that express the Church's "vision" of marriage and procreation. Thus, any teaching on the "theology of the body" - which is an undefined and seemingly self-contradictory term - must be harmonized with the teachings of these two great popes. Certainly, there may be developments in the doctrine of the Church, but as St. Pius X taught, these developments must proceed from the same genus of teaching, with the same sense and understanding. It is difficult to reconcile TB with pre-conciliar teaching when pre-conciliar teaching is almost never mentioned. And that might be because TB, which has never been defined by the Church, is a departure from the Church's tradition on human sexuality, at least what I have heard from the "experts."

Second, much of the TB catechesis is anthropocentric (it focuses on man and his "self-fulfillment"), and exaggerates the role that sexuality should play in one's life. TB apologists even attempt to argue that the conjugal act is a supernatural means of sanctification, as if it is some type of quasi-sacramental act. Thus, TB advocates equate the natural good of the conjugal act with supernatural goods. Certainly, because we are both flesh and spirit, there is a spiritual component to our sexuality. But trying to explain the supernatural by means of the natural is an error called Reductionism, and it permeates TB thinking. This is why many TB proponents deny that the husband has true, God-given authority over his wife*. They see the natural only. They don't view the husband as the "Christ" of the family who has been given supernatural authority over his wife and children as he leads them to heaven.

Treating the conjugal act as a supernatural means of sanctification has no basis in Catholic Tradition. Such a teaching would certainly be news to many modern saints like St. Therese and St. Maria Goretti, not to mention Jesus, Mary and Joseph. In fact, the truth is just the opposite. That is, abstaining from the pleasures of the flesh helps one grow in holiness. St. Paul teaches this clearly in 1Corinthians 7:1,7. As St. Paul says, the flesh is at war with the spirit, and we are able to grow in the spiritual life only by taming the corporeal passions. The conjugal act is a passing natural good, not an eternal supernatural good. In heaven, there will be no conjugal relations, or marriage for that matter, for we will all be like the angels of heaven. This is why faithful celibate priests and virginal nuns, who have renounced the pleasures of the flesh, are already living a life of closer union with God.*

Third, the manner in which many of these "experts" (and, in some cases, perverts) speak of conjugal love is profane and offensive to pious ears. Speaking openly about the conjugal act, especially in mixed company, defies the sensus Catholicus. Such lurid speech deviates from the Catholic sense of modesty. I have heard and read incredible things come out of the mouths of these TB apologists - comparing the physical act of conjugal relations, for example, to the internal life of the Holy Trinity, and even (I hate to say this), the Sacrifice of the Mass. In fact, there are some proponents of TB who actually profess that non-consummated sodomy - an unnatural act and one of the four mortal sins which cry to heaven for God's vengeance - is a permissible prelude to "lovemaking." I have heard other filth but I will stop here. Needless to say, this kind of teaching should be condemned, not praised. I am certain that Pope John Paul II never said or wrote such things. One wonders who is monitoring these TB apologists?

Fourth, in light of the comments on sodomy, there is a de-emphasis in TB on the risk of committing mortal sins when exercising human sexuality, even within marriage. But as Our Lady revealed to Blessed Jacinta at Fatima, "the sins which send most people to hell are the sins of the flesh." The fact is, married couples have more risk of committing mortal sins than those who have renounced marriage for the kingdom of God. They have to constantly struggle with kindled concupiscence, an overindulgence in or disordered focus on sexual pleasure, contraceptive acts and the like, which endanger their souls. Priests and nuns do not face these same temptations. TB apologists would do well to promote a holy fear of hell and damnation for those who choose to indulge in sins of the flesh. Since salvation is the supreme law of the Church, this is a glaring omission in the TB catechesis.

Fifth, TB proponents twist the meaning of the dignity of the human person. They often focus on the body as giving dignity to the person, and back it up by referring to the Incarnation as perfecting the body's dignity. This is not Catholic Tradition. The traditional teaching of the Church is that we receive our dignity when we have sanctifying grace in our souls, which commences at baptism. That is how our bodies become Temples of the Holy Spirit. It is not the Incarnation which gives us this grace, but the Passion and death of Our Lord. Christ came to save us from hell, not to raise our dignity (which we didn't possess until baptism). It is true that we are made in God's image and likeness because we have an intellect and a freewill, but our dignity comes from God's grace which makes us His Sons and daughters. In a state of grace, we are dignified children of God. In a state of mortal sin, we are alienated from God and have no dignity (without regard to our intellect and freewill).

Sixth, TB advocates invariably promote Natural Family Planning (NFP). It never fails. It is as if NFP is the sine qua non of healthy marriages. Deliberating trying to avoid pregnancy runs counter to God's divine command to "be fruitful and multiply." While Pope Paul VI did teach in Humanae Vitae that married couples could abstain from the marital embrace for "grave motives," the Church has never taught that couples can regulate the size of their families at will, especially by charting fertility cycles and other such measures. This is a novelty that cannot be attributed to John Paul II. In fact, the late pope lamented the low birthrates and contraceptive mentality in the West (Ecclesia in Europa, No. 8, 2003). Advocates of NFP show a disregard for Divine Providence and put their trust in the fallible judgments of sinful man.

Again, I reiterate that these criticisms are based upon what I have read and heard from TB apologists. These are not criticisms of John Paul II, for I have not studied his speeches on this subject in any depth, and highly doubt his writings convey the foregoing. Instead, my criticisms are based on the "crib notes" version of the most popular TB apologists, who claim to speak authoritatively for TB, but surely have mutilated the message. It is not my practice to name names on my website; I simply want to arm my patrons with the information and the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church. I also presume the good intentions of the TB apologists and consider them brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, as I have said, some of the TB message is very good, such as abstaining from pre-marital intercourse and denouncing pornography. But when I see teaching that opposes our Catholic tradition, I am duty-bound to respond. Thank you, Mary, for raising this very important issue. I hope my reflections are helpful.

Instaurare omnia in Christo!

John Salza

Used With Permission

Please Note: We have added links above which are not part of the original article. We have also added * references above for 'refreshers' (see below).

* Refreshers...

Primacy of Husband: "But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ." (St. Paul, 1 Cor. 11:3) [More...]

Superiority of Celibacy: "If any one saith that the marriage state is to be placed above the state of virginity or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity or in celibacy than to be united in matrimony; let him be anathema." (Council of Trent) [More...]

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