Archive for the ‘Theology of the Body’ Category

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The Anti-Theology of the Body –David Bentley Hart

September 6, 2011

I occasionally check out the David Bentley Hart Appreciation Page to see what has surfaced. This is a splendid review of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, with a focus on the Trans-humanists in our midst (elsewhere I call them Diabolists, recalling G.K. Chesterton’s view of the situation) As is my custom, I have added paragraphs and bolded portions for those of us who read (or is browse?) on the web.

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To ask what the legacy of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body might be for future debates in bioethics is implicitly to ask what relevance it has for current debates in bioethics. And this creates something of a problem, because there is a real sense in which it has none at all — at least, if by “relevance” one means discrete logical propositions or policy recommendations that might be extracted from the larger context of John Paul’s teachings so as to “advance the conversation” or “suggest a middle course” or “clarify ethical ambiguities.”

Simply said, the book does not offer arguments, or propositions, or (thank God) “suggestions.” Rather, it enunciates with extraordinary fullness a complete vision of the spiritual and corporeal life of the human being; that vision is a self-sufficient totality, which one is free to embrace or reject as a whole. To one who holds to John Paul’s Christian understanding of the body, and so believes that each human being, from the very first moment of existence, emerges from and is called towards eternity, there are no negotiable or even very perplexing issues regarding our moral obligations before the mystery of life.

Not only is every abortion performed an act of murder, but so is the destruction of every “superfluous” embryo created in fertility clinics or every embryo produced for the purposes of embryonic stem cell research. The fabrication of clones, the invention of “chimeras” through the miscegenation of human and animal DNA, and of course the termination of supernumerary, dispensable, or defective specimens that such experimentation inevitably entails are in every case irredeemably evil.

Even if, say, research on embryonic stem cells could produce therapies that would heal the lame, or reverse senility, or repair a damaged brain, or prolong life, this would in no measure alter the moral calculus of the situation: human life is an infinite good, never an instrumental resource; human life is possessed of an absolute sanctity, and no benefit (real or supposed) can justify its destruction.

In a wider sense, though, I would want to argue that it is precisely this “irrelevance” that makes John Paul’s theology truly relevant (in another sense) to contemporary bioethics. I must say that what I, as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, find most exhilarating about the Theology of the Body is not simply that it is perfectly consonant with the Orthodox understanding of the origins and ends of human nature (as indeed it is), but that from beginning to end it is a text awash in the clear bright light of uncompromising conviction.

There is about it something of that sublime indifference to the banal pieties and prejudices of modernity that characterizes Eastern Orthodoxy at its best. It simply restates the ancient Christian understanding of man, albeit in the somewhat phenomenological idiom for which John Paul had so marked a penchant, and invites the reader to enter into the world it describes. And at the heart of its anthropology is a complete rejection — or, one might almost say, ignorance — of any dualism between flesh and spirit.

It is something of a modern habit of thought (strange to say) to conceive of the soul — whether we believe in the soul or not — as a kind of magical essence or ethereal intelligence indwelling a body like a ghost in a machine. That is to say, we tend to imagine the relation between the soul and the body as an utter discontinuity somehow subsumed within a miraculous unity: a view capable of yielding such absurdities as the Cartesian postulate that the soul resides in the pituitary gland or the utterly superstitious speculation advanced by some religious ethicists that the soul may “enter” the fetus sometime in the second trimester.

But the “living soul” of whom scripture speaks, as John Paul makes clear in his treatment of the creation account in Genesis, is a single corporeal and spiritual whole, a person whom the breath of God has awakened from nothingness. The soul is life itself, of the flesh and of the mind; it is what Thomas Aquinas called the “form of the body”: a vital power that animates, pervades, and shapes each of us from the moment of conception, holding all our native energies in a living unity, gathering all the multiplicity of our experience into a single, continuous, developing identity. It encompasses every dimension of human existence, from animal instinct to abstract reason: sensation and intellect, passion and reflection, imagination and curiosity, sorrow and delight, natural aptitude and supernatural longing, flesh and spirit.

John Paul is quite insistent that the body must be regarded not as the vessel or vehicle of the soul, but simply as its material manifestation, expression, and occasion. This means that even if one should trace the life of the body back to its most primordial principles, one would still never arrive at that point where the properly human vanishes and leaves a “mere” physical organism or aggregation of inchoate tissues or ferment of spontaneous chemical reactions behind. All of man’s bodily life is also the life of the soul, possessed of a supernatural dignity and a vocation to union with God.

The far antipodes of John Paul’s vision of the human, I suppose, are to be found at the lunatic fringe of bioethics, in that fanatically “neo-Darwinist” movement that has crystallized around the name of “trans-humanism.” A satirist with a genius for the morbid could scarcely have invented a faction more depressingly sickly, and yet — in certain reaches of the scientific community — it is a movement that enjoys some real degree of respectability.

Its principal tenet is that it is now incumbent upon humanity to take control of its own evolution, which on account of the modern world’s technological advances and social policies has tragically stalled at the level of the merely anthropine; as we come to master the mysteries of the genome, we must choose what we are to be, so as to progress beyond Homo sapiens, perhaps one day to become beings — in the words of the Princeton biologist Lee Silver — “as different from humans as humans are from…primitive worms” (which are, I suppose, to be distinguished from sophisticated worms).

We must seek, that is to say, to become gods. Many of the more deliriously visionary of the trans-humanists envisage a day when we will be free to alter and enhance ourselves at will, unconstrained by law or shame or anything resembling good taste: by willfully transgressing the genetic boundaries between species (something that we are already learning how to do), we may be able to design new strains of hybrid life, or even to produce an endlessly proliferating variety of new breeds of the post-human that may no longer even have the capacity to reproduce one with the other. (For those whose curiosity runs to the macabre, Wesley Smith’s recent Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World provides a good synopsis of the trans-humanist creed.)

Obviously one is dealing here with a sensibility formed more by comic books than by serious thought. Ludicrous as it seems, though, trans-humanism is merely one logical consequence (if a particularly childish one) of the surprising reviviscence of eugenic ideology in the academic, scientific, and medical worlds. Most of the new eugenists, admittedly, see their solicitude for the greater wellbeing of the species as suffering from none of the distasteful authoritarianism of the old racialist eugenics, since all they advocate (they say) is a kind of elective genetic engineering — a bit of planned parenthood here, the odd reluctant act of infanticide there, a soupçon of judicious genetic tinkering everywhere, and a great deal of prudent reflection upon the suitability of certain kinds of embryos — but clearly they are deluding themselves or trying to deceive us.

Far more intellectually honest are those — like the late, almost comically vile Joseph Fletcher of Harvard — who openly acknowledge that any earnest attempt to improve the human stock must necessarily involve some measures of legal coercion. Fletcher, of course, was infamously unabashed in castigating modern medicine for “polluting” our gene pool with inferior specimens and in rhapsodizing upon the benefits the race would reap from instituting a regime of genetic invigilation that would allow society to eliminate “idiots” and “cripples” and other genetic defectives before they could burden us with their worthless lives. It was he who famously declared that reproduction is a privilege, not a right, and suggested that perhaps mothers should be forced by the state to abort “diseased” babies if they refused to do so of their own free will.

Needless to say, state-imposed sterilization struck him as a reasonable policy; and he agreed with Linus Pauling that it might be wise to consider segregating genetic inferiors into a recognizable caste, marked out by indelible brands impressed upon their brows. And, striking a few minor trans-humanist chords of his own, he even advocated — in a deranged and hideous passage from his book The Ethics of Genetic Controlthe creation of “chimeras or parahumans…to do dangerous or demeaning jobs” of the sort that are now “shoved off on moronic or retarded individuals” — which, apparently, was how he viewed janitors, construction workers, firefighters, miners, and persons of that ilk.

Of course, there was always a certain oafish audacity in Fletcher’s degenerate driveling about “morons” and “defectives,” given that there is good cause to suspect, from a purely utilitarian vantage, that academic ethicists — especially those like Fletcher, who are notoriously mediocre thinkers, possessed of small culture, no discernible speculative gifts, no records of substantive philosophical achievement, and execrable prose styles — constitute perhaps the single most useless element in society. If reproduction is not a right but a social function, should any woman be allowed to bring such men into the world? And should those men be permitted, in their turn, to sire offspring? I ask this question entirely in earnest, because I think it helps to identify the one indubitable truth about all social movements towards eugenics: namely, that the values that will determine which lives are worth living, and which not, will always be the province of persons of vicious temperament.

If I were asked to decide what qualities to suppress or encourage in the human species, I might first attempt to discover if there is such a thing as a genetic predisposition to moral idiocy and then, if there is, to eliminate it; then there would be no more Joseph Fletchers (or Peter Singers, or Linus Paulings, or James Rachels), and I might think all is well. But, of course, the very idea is a contradiction in terms. Decisions regarding who should or should not live can, by definition, be made only by those who believe such decisions should be made; and therein lies the horror that nothing can ever exorcise from the ideology behind human bioengineering.

Transhumanism, as a moral philosophy, is so risibly fabulous in its prognostications, and so unrelated to anything that genomic research yet promises, that it can scarcely be regarded as anything more than a pathetic dream; but the metaphysical principles it presumes regarding the nature of the human are anything but eccentric. Joseph Fletcher was a man with a manifestly brutal mind, desperately anxious to believe himself superior to the common run of men, one who apparently received some sort of crypto-erotic thrill from his cruel fantasies of creating a slave race, and of literally branding others as his genetic inferiors, and of exercising power over the minds and bodies of the low-born. And yet his principles continue to win adherents in the academy and beyond it, and his basic presuppositions about the value and meaning of life are the common grammar of a shockingly large portion of bioethicists.

If ever the day comes when we are willing to consider a program, however modest, of improving the species through genetic planning and manipulation, it will be exclusively those who hold such principles and embrace such presuppositions who will determine what the future of humanity will be. And men who are impatient of frailty and contemptuous of weakness are, at the end of the day, inevitably evil.

Why dwell on these things, though? After all, most of the more prominent debates in bioethics at the moment do not actually concern systematic eugenics or, certainly, “post-humanity,” but center upon issues of medical research and such matters as the disposition of embryos who will never mature into children. It is true that we have already begun to transgress the demarcations between species — often in pursuit of a medical or technological benefit — and cloning is no longer merely a matter of speculation. But even here issues of health and of new therapeutic techniques predominate, and surely these require some degree of moral subtlety from all of us.

Am I not, then, simply skirting difficult questions of practical ethics so as to avoid allowing any ambiguity to invade my Christian absolutism? Perhaps. But it seems to me that the metaphysics, dogma, and mysticism of “transhumanism” or Fletcherite eugenics hide behind, and await us as the inevitable terminus of, every movement that subordinates or sacrifices the living soul — the life that is here before us, in the moment, in all its particularity and fragility — to the progress of science, of medicine, or of the species. That is to say, I dwell upon extremes because I believe it is in extremes that truth is most likely to be found. And this brings me back to John Paul II’s theology of the body.

The difference between John Paul’s theological anthropology and the pitilessly consistent materialism of the trans-humanists and their kith — and this is extremely important to grasp — is a difference not simply between two radically antagonistic visions of what it is to be a human being, but between two radically antagonistic visions of what it is to be a god.

There is, as it happens, nothing inherently wicked in the desire to become a god, at least not from the perspective of Christian tradition; and I would even say that if there is one element of the trans-humanist creed that is not wholly contemptible — one isolated moment of innocence, however fleeting and imperfect — it is the earnestness with which it gives expression to this perfectly natural longing. Theologically speaking, the proper destiny of human beings is to be “glorified” — or “divinized” — in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, to become “partakers of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4), to be called “gods” (Psalm 82:6; John 10:34-36). This is the venerable doctrine of “theosis” or “deification,” the teaching that — to employ a lapidary formula of great antiquity — “God became man that man might become god”: that is to say, in assuming human nature in the incarnation, Christ opened the path to union with the divine nature for all persons.

From the time of the Church Fathers through the high Middle Ages, this understanding of salvation was a commonplace of theology. Admittedly, until recently it had somewhat disappeared from most Western articulations of the faith, but in the East it has always enjoyed a somewhat greater prominence; and it stands at the very center of John Paul’s theology of the body. As he writes in Evangelium Vitae:

Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God. The loftiness of this supernatural vocation reveals the greatness and the inestimable value of human life even in its temporal phase.

John Paul’s anthropology is what a certain sort of Orthodox theologian might call a “theandric” humanism. “Life in the Spirit,” the most impressive of the texts collected in the Theology of the Body, is to a large extent an attempt to descry the true form of man by looking to the end towards which he is called, so that the glory of his eschatological horizon, so to speak, might cast its radiance back upon the life he lives in via here below.

Thus, for John Paul, the earthly body in all its frailty and indigence and limitation is always already on the way to the glorious body of resurrection of which Paul speaks; the mortal body is already the seed of the divinized and immortal body of the Kingdom; the weakness of the flesh is already, potentially, the strength of “the body full of power”; the earthly Adam is already joined to the glory of the last Adam, the risen and living Christ.

For the late pope, divine humanity is not something that in a simple sense lies beyond the human; it does not reside in some future, post-human race to which the good of the present must be offered up; it is instead a glory hidden in the depths of every person, even the least of us — even “defectives” and “morons” and “genetic inferiors,” if you will — waiting to be revealed, a beauty and dignity and power of such magnificence and splendor that, could we see it now, it would move us either to worship or to terror.

Obviously none of this would interest or impress the doctrinaire materialist. The vision of the human that John Paul articulates and the vision of the “trans-human” to which the still nascent technology of genetic manipulation has given rise are divided not by a difference in practical or ethical philosophy, but by an irreconcilable hostility between two religions, two metaphysics, two worlds — at the last, two gods. And nothing less than the moral nature of society is at stake.

If, as I have said, the metaphysics of transhumanism is inevitably implied within such things as embryonic stem cell research and human cloning, then to embark upon them is already to invoke and invite the advent of a god who will, I think, be a god of boundless horror, one with a limitless appetite for sacrifice. And it is by their gods that human beings are shaped and known. In some very real sense, “man” is always only the shadow of the god upon whom he calls: for in the manner by which we summon and propitiate that god, and in that ultimate value that he represents for us, who and what we are is determined.

The materialist who wishes to see modern humanity’s Baconian mastery over cosmic nature expanded to encompass human nature as well — granting us absolute power over the flesh and what is born from it, banishing all fortuity and uncertainty from the future of the race — is someone who seeks to reach the divine by ceasing to be human, by surpassing the human, by destroying the human. It is a desire both fantastic and depraved: a diseased titanism, the dream of an infinite passage through monstrosity, a perpetual and ruthless sacrifice of every present good to the featureless, abysmal, and insatiable god who is to come.

For the Christian to whom John Paul speaks, however, one can truly aspire to the divine only through the charitable cultivation of glory in the flesh, the practice of holiness, the love of God and neighbor; and, in so doing, one seeks not to take leave of one’s humanity, but to fathom it in its ultimate depth, to be joined to the Godman who would remake us in himself, and so to become simul divinus et creatura. This is a pure antithesis. For those who, on the one hand, believe that life is merely an accidental economy of matter that should be weighed by a utilitarian calculus of means and ends and those who, on the other, believe that life is a supernatural gift oriented towards eternal glory, every moment of existence has a different significance and holds a different promise.

To the one, a Down syndrome child (for instance) is a genetic scandal, one who should probably be destroyed in the womb as a kind of oblation offered up to the social good and, of course, to some immeasurably remote future; to the other, that same child is potentially (and thus far already) a being so resplendent in his majesty, so mighty, so beautiful that we could scarcely hope to look upon him with the sinful eyes of this life and not be consumed.

It may well be that the human is an epoch, in some sense. The idea of the infinite value of every particular life does not accord with instinct, as far as one can tell, but rather has a history. The ancient triumph of the religion of divine incarnation inaugurated a new vision of man, however fitfully and failingly that vision was obeyed in subsequent centuries. Perhaps this notion of an absolute dignity indwelling every person — this Christian invention or discovery or convention — is now slowly fading from our consciences and will finally be replaced by something more “realistic” (which is to say, something more nihilistic).

Whatever the case, John Paul’s theology of the body will never, as I have said, be “relevant” to the understanding of the human that lies “beyond” Christian faith. Between these two orders of vision there can be no fruitful commerce, no modification of perspectives, no debate, indeed no “conversation.” All that can ever span the divide between them is the occasional miraculous movement of conversion or the occasional tragic movement of apostasy. Thus the legacy of that theology will be to remain, for Christians, a monument to the grandeur and fullness of their faith’s “total humanism,” so to speak, to remind them how vast the Christian understanding of humanity’s nature and destiny is, and to inspire them — whenever they are confronted by any philosophy, ethics, or science that would reduce any human life to an instrumental moment within some larger design — to a perfect and unremitting enmity.

 

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Doctrine Of The Resurrection According To St. Paul — Pope John Paul II

June 9, 2011

As part of his catechesis on The Theology of the Body John Paul II also touched upon Christ’s revelation of the future resurrection titled Doctrine Of The Resurrection According To St. Paul during the general audience in the Paul VI Hall on Wednesday, 27 January.

Paul’s Meeting With The Risen Christ
During the preceding audiences we reflected on Christ’s words about the other world, which will emerge together with the resurrection of bodies. Those words had an extraordinarily intense resonance in the teaching of St. Paul. Between the answer given to the Sadducees, transmitted by the synoptic Gospels (cf. Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:35-36), and Paul’s apostolate there took place first of all the fact of the resurrection of Christ himself and a series of meetings with the risen Christ. Among these must be included, as the last link, the event that occurred in the neighborhood of Damascus. Saul or Paul of Tarsus who, on his conversion, became the Apostle of the Gentiles, also had his own post-paschal experience, similar to that of the other apostles. At the basis of his faith in the resurrection, which he expresses above all in the First Letter to the Corinthians (ch. 15), there is certainly that meeting with the risen Christ, which became the beginning and foundation of his apostolate.

God Is Not Dead
It is difficult to sum up here and comment adequately on the stupendous and ample argumentation of the fifteenth chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians in all its details. It is significant that, while Christ replied to the Sadducees, who “say that there is no resurrection” (Luke 20:27), with the words reported by the synoptic Gospels, Paul, on his part, replied or rather engaged in polemics (in conformity with his temperament) with those who contested it. Among the Corinthians there were probably movements of thought marked by Platonic dualism and neo-Pythagoreanism of a religious shade, Stoicism and Epicureanism. All Greek philosophies, moreover, denied the resurrection of the body. Paul had already experienced in Athens the reaction of the Greeks to the doctrine of the resurrection, during his address at the Areopagus (cf. Acts 17:32).

In his (pre-paschal) answer, Christ did not refer to his own resurrection, but appealed to the fundamental reality of the Old Testament covenant, to the reality of the living God. The conviction of the possibility of the resurrection is based on this: the living God “is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Mark 12:27). Paul’s post-paschal argumentation on the future resurrection referred above all to the reality and the truth of the resurrection of Christ. In fact, he defends this truth even as the foundation of the faith in its integrity: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…. But, in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 20).

God Of The Living
Here we are on the same line as revelation. The resurrection of Christ is the last and the fullest word of the self-revelation of the living God as “not God of the dead, but of the living” (Mark 12:27). It is the last and fullest confirmation of the truth about God which is expressed right from the beginning through this revelation.

Furthermore, the resurrection is the reply of the God of life to the historical inevitability of death, to which man was subjected from the moment of breaking the first covenant and which, together with sin, entered his history. This answer about the victory won over death is illustrated by the First Letter to the Corinthians (Chapter 15) with extraordinary perspicacity. It presents the resurrection of Christ as the beginning of that eschatological fulfillment, in which, through him and in him, everything will return to the Father, everything will be subjected to him, that is, handed back definitively, “that God may be everything to everyone” (1 Corinthians 15:28). And then — in this definitive victory over sin, over what opposed the creature to the Creator — death also will be vanquished: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Imperishable Soul
The words that can be considered the synthesis of Pauline anthropology concerning the resurrection take their place in this context. It will be opportune to dwell longer here on these words. We read in the First Letter to the Corinthians 15:42-46 about the resurrection of the dead: “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being'; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual.”

Historical Experience
Between this Pauline anthropology of the resurrection and the one that emerges from the text of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:35-36), there exists an essential consistency; only the text of First Letter to the Corinthians is more developed. Paul studies in depth what Christ had proclaimed.

At the same time, he penetrates the various aspects of that truth which had been expressed concisely and substantially in the words written in the synoptic Gospels. It is also significant for the Pauline text that man’s eschatological perspective, based on faith in the resurrection of the dead, is united with reference to the beginning as well as with deep awareness of man’s historical situation. The man whom Paul addressed in the First Letter to the Corinthians and who (like the Sadducees) is contrary to the possibility of the resurrection, has also his (historical) experience of the body. From this experience it emerges quite clearly that the body is perishable, weak, physical, in dishonor.

Mystery Of Creation
Paul confronts such a man, to whom his words are addressed — either in the community of Corinth or also, I would say, in all times — with the risen Christ, the last Adam. Doing so, Paul invites him, in a way, to follow in the footsteps of his own post-paschal experience. At the same time he recalls to him the first Adam. That is, he induces him to turn to the beginning, to that first truth about man and the world which is at the basis of the revelation of the mystery of the living God. In this way, Paul reproduces in his synthesis all that Christ had announced when he had referred, at three different moments, to the beginning in the conversation with the Pharisees (cf. Matthew 19:3-8; Mark 10:2-9); to the human heart, as the place of struggle with lusts within man, during the Sermon on the Mount (Cf. Matthew 5:27); and to the resurrection as the reality of the “other world,” in the conversation with the Sadducees (cf. Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:35-36).

Enlivening Of Matter
It belongs to the style of Paul’s synthesis that it plunges its roots into the revealed mystery of creation and redemption as a whole, from which it is developed and in the light of which alone it can be explained. According to the biblical narrative, the creation of man is an enlivening of matter by means of the spirit, thanks to which “the first man Adam became a living being” (1 Corinthians 15:45). The Pauline text repeats here the words of Genesis (2:7), that is, of the second narrative of the creation of man (the so-called Yahwist narrative). From the same source it is known that this original “animation of the body” underwent corruption because of sin.

At this point of the First Letter to the Corinthians the author does not speak directly of original sin. Yet the series of definitions which he attributes to the body of historical man, writing that it is “perishable…weak… physical… in dishonor…” indicates sufficiently what the consequence of sin is, according to revelation.

Paul himself will call it elsewhere “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21). The whole of creation is subjected indirectly to this “bondage to decay” owing to the sin of man, who was placed by the Creator in the midst of the visible world in order to subdue it (cf. Genesis 1:28). So man’s sin has a dimension that is not only interior, but also cosmic. According to this dimension, the body — which Paul (in conformity with his experience) characterizes as “perishable…weak…physical…in dishonor” — expresses in itself the state of creation after sin. This creation “has been groaning in travail together until now” (Romans 8:22).

However, just as labor pains are united with the desire for birth, with the hope of a new child, so, too, the whole of creation “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God…” and cherishes the hope to “be set free from its bondage to decay, and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21).

Try To Understand
Through this cosmic context of the affirmation contained in the Letter to the Romans — in a way, through the “body of all creatures” — let us try to understand completely the Pauline interpretation of the resurrection. According to Paul, this image of the body of historical man, so deeply realistic and adapted to the universal experience of men, conceals within itself not only the “bondage of decay,” but also hope, like the hope that accompanies labor pains.

That happens because the Apostle grasps in this image also the presence of the mystery of redemption. Awareness of that mystery comes precisely from all man’s experiences which can be defined as the “bondage of decay.” It comes because redemption operates in man’s soul by means of the gifts of the Spirit: “We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). Redemption is the way to the resurrection. The resurrection constitutes the definitive accomplishment of the redemption of the body.

We will come back to the analysis of the Pauline text in the First Letter to the Corinthians in our further reflections.

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The New Threshold — Pope John Paul II

June 8, 2011

As part of his catechesis on marriage titled New Threshold of Complete Truth About Man John Paul II also touched upon Christ’s revelation of the future resurrection during the general audience in the Paul VI Hall on 13 January.

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IN THE PREVIOUS WEEK I had posted Robert Spaemann’s meditation on Modern Death which linked the experience of beauty to death and meaninglessness. Reiner Kunze’s poem:

“You’re nothing special
It’s just that you cling to beauty
Knowing you’ve got to leave it all.”

It echoes something I had heard in one of my Anthem Poems:

“Say rather, two great gods, in a vault of starlight,
Play ponderingly at chess, and at the game’s end
One of the pieces, shaken, falls to the floor
And runs to the darkest corner; and that piece
Forgotten there, left motionless, is I…
Say that I have no name, no gifts, no power,
Am only one of millions, mostly silent;
One who came with eyes and hands and a heart,
Looked on beauty, and loved it, and then left it.”
Conrad Aiken, Tetélestai

The knowledge that there is an end is what first opens up for us the dimension of meaning, which is the condition for having anything like the feeling of meaninglessness in the first place. Spaemann reminded us that beauty is something that has its point in itself.

Next came the three part post of Jörg Splett’s The Gift Of Life — Why There Is No Right To Die” which led us through a reflection on life which showed us the wrongfulness of euthanasia. It got me to thinking more of the Catholic anthropology that forms our beliefs in our bodily resurrection and life after death. These three reflections by John Paul II

  1. New Threshold of Complete Truth About Man
  2. The Pauline Anthropology Of The Resurrection
  3. The Risen Body Will Be Incorruptible, Glorious, Full Of Dynamism, And Spiritual

will lead us further along the path, I feel.

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The Future Resurrection
When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven (Mark 12:25; cf. Matthew 22:30). They are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection (Luke 20:36).

The words in which Christ refers to the future resurrection — words confirmed in an extraordinary way by his own resurrection — complete what we are accustomed to call in these reflections the revelation of the body. This revelation penetrates the heart of the reality that we experience, and this reality is above all man, his body, the body of historical man.

At the same time, this revelation permits us to go beyond the sphere of this experience in two directions — first, in the direction of that beginning which Christ referred to in his conversation with the Pharisees concerning the indissolubility of marriage (cf. Matthew 19:3-8); then, in the direction of the future world, to which the Master addressed the hearts of his listeners in the presence of the Sadducees, who “say that there is no resurrection” (Matthew 22:23).

Theological Reconstruction Of Christ’s Revelation
Neither the truth about that beginning of which Christ speaks, nor the eschatological truth can be reached by man with empirical and rationalistic methods alone. However, is it not possible to affirm that man bears, in a way, these two dimensions in the depth of the experience of his own being, or rather that he is somehow on his way to them as to dimensions that fully justify the meaning of his being a body, that is, of his being a carnal man?

As regards the eschatological dimension, is it not true that death itself and the destruction of the body can confer on man an eloquent significance about the experience in which the personal meaning of existence is realized? When Christ speaks of the future resurrection, his words do not fall in a void. The experience of mankind, and especially the experience of the body, enable the listener to unite with those words the image of his new existence in the “future world,” for which earthly experience supplies the substratum and the base. An adequate theological reconstruction is possible.

I Believe In The Resurrection Of The Dead
To the construction of this image — which, as regards content, corresponds to the article of our profession of faith: “I believe in the resurrection of the dead” — there greatly contributes the awareness that there exists a connection between earthly experience and the whole dimension of the biblical beginning of man in the world. If at the beginning God “created them male and female” (cf. Genesis 1:27); if in this duality concerning the body he envisaged also such a unity that “they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24); if he linked this unity with the blessing of fertility, that is, of procreation (cf. Genesis 1:29); if speaking before the Sadducees about the future resurrection, Christ explained that “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” — then it is clear that it is a question here of a development of the truth about man himself.

Christ indicated his identity, although this identity is realized in eschatological experience in a different way from the experience of the beginning itself and of all history. Yet man will always be the same, such as he came from the hands of his Creator and Father. Christ said: “They neither marry nor are given in marriage,” but he did not state that this man of the future world will no longer be male and female as he was from the beginning.

It is clear therefore that, as regards the body, the meaning of being male or female in the future world must be sought outside marriage and procreation, but there is no reason to seek it outside that which (independently of the blessing of procreation) derives from the mystery of creation and which subsequently forms also the deepest structure of man’s history on earth, since this history has been deeply penetrated by the mystery of redemption.

Unity Of The Two
In his original situation man, therefore, is alone and at the same time he becomes male and female: unity of the two. In his solitude he is revealed to himself as a person, in order to reveal, at the same time, the communion of persons in the unity of the two. In both states the human being is constituted as an image and likeness of God.

From the beginning man is also a body among bodies. In the unity of the couple he becomes male and female, discovering the nuptial meaning of his body as a personal subject. Subsequently, the meaning of being a body and, in particular, being male and female in the body, is connected with marriage and procreation (that is, with fatherhood and motherhood).

However, the original and fundamental significance of being a body, as well as being, by reason of the body, male and female — that is precisely that nuptial significance — is united with the fact that man is created as a person and called to a life in communione personarum. Marriage and procreation in itself do not determine definitively the original and fundamental meaning of being a body or of being, as a body, male and female. Marriage and procreation merely give a concrete reality to that meaning in the dimensions of history.

The resurrection indicates the end of the historical dimension. The words, “When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mark 12:25), express univocally not only the meaning which the human body will not have in the future world. But they enable us also to deduce that the nuptial meaning of the body in the resurrection to the future life will correspond perfectly both to the fact that man, as a male-female, is a person created in the “image and likeness of God,” and to the fact that this image is realized in the communion of persons. That nuptial meaning of being a body will be realized, therefore, as a meaning that is perfectly personal and communitarian at the same time.

The Man Of The Future World
Speaking of the body glorified through the resurrection to the future life, we have in mind man, male-female, in all the truth of his humanity: man who, together with the eschatological experience of the living God (the face to face vision), will experience precisely this meaning of his own body. This will be a completely new experience. At the same time it will not be alienated in any way from what man took part in from the beginning nor from what, in the historical dimension of his existence, constituted in him the source of the tension between spirit and body, concerning mainly the procreative meaning of the body and sex. The man of the future world will find again in this new experience of his own body precisely the completion of what he bore within himself perennially and historically, in a certain sense, as a heritage and even more as a duty and objective, as the content of the ethical norm.

Mutual Communication
The glorification of the body, as the eschatological fruit of its divinizing spiritualization, will reveal the definitive value of what was to be from the beginning a distinctive sign of the created person in the visible world, as well as a means of mutual communication between persons and a genuine expression of truth and love, for which the communio personarum is constituted.

That perennial meaning of the human body, to which the existence of every man, weighed down by the heritage of concupiscence, has necessarily brought a series of limitations, struggles and sufferings, will then be revealed again, and will be revealed in such simplicity and splendor when every participant in the other world will find again in his glorified body the source of the freedom of the gift. The perfect freedom of the children of God (cf. Romans 8:14) will nourish also with that gift each of the communions which will make up the great community of the communion of saints.

Difficult To Envisage
It is all too clear — on the basis of man’s experiences and knowledge in his temporal life, that is, in this world — that it is difficult to construct a fully adequate image of the future world. However, at the same time there is no doubt that, with the help of Christ’s words, at least a certain approximation to this image is possible and attainable. We use this theological approximation, professing our faith in the resurrection of the dead and in eternal life, as well as faith in the communion of saints, which belongs to the reality of the future world.

A New Threshold
Concluding this part of our reflections, it is opportune to state once more that Christ’s words reported by the synoptic Gospels (cf. Matthew 22:30; Mark  12:25; Luke 20:34-35) have a decisive meaning not only as regards the words of Genesis (which Christ referred to on another occasion), but also in what concerns the entire Bible. These words enable us, in a certain sense, to read again — that is, in depth — the whole revealed meaning of the body, the meaning of being a man, that is, a person incarnated, of being male or female as regards the body. These words permit us to understand the meaning, in the eschatological dimension of the other world, of that unity in humanity, which was constituted in the beginning, and which the words of Genesis 2:24, (“A man cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh”) — uttered in the act of man’s creation as male and female — seemed to direct, if not completely, at least especially toward this world.

Since the words of the Book of Genesis are almost the threshold of the whole theology of the body — the threshold which Christ took as his foundation in his teaching on marriage and its indissolubility — then it must be admitted that the words reported by the Synoptics are, as it were, a new threshold of this complete truth about man, which we find in God’s revealed Word. It is indispensable to dwell upon this threshold, if we wish our theology of the body — and also our Christian spirituality of the body — to be able to use it as a complete image.

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A Myopic Bookworm Digests No Good

February 1, 2011

The original was not as cute nor eager to learn...

I’ve been debating with Homosexualists recently, presenting Church Teachings and bearing their withering responses (“Medieval bigot,” one of the gentler replies). The problem, as the debate wore on, was that one side is presenting individual/rights arguments (fairness) while my comments are in a more obscure vein. Understanding the Church’s position on homosexuality requires the ability to process nuanced argument based on Aristotelian -Thomist thought and Church Teachings. Point that out to anyone and you provoke them to identify you as an insufferable arrogant twit, no matter how much truth is in your proposition.

Backed into a corner with a group of these fellows one of them finally wrote: If my comments here are always OFF TOPIC (always with civil rights and fairness – he even posted this sick video of a GLEE-like coming out of a high school lesbian.), what IS the topic, he wrote exasperatingly? What do you consider the role of gays in the Catholic Church?

With that I presented to them a quintessential problem that demonstrated how a Gay Catholic considered his faith. I explained to them some Catholic Teachings on the resurrection of the body and meaning of sin as it injures our eternal souls, and how Catholics regard themselves as “embodied souls.” I gave them a wonderful David L. Schindler piece on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body where he elaborates on the six principles contained in the late Pontiff’s teachings. Here is a shortened version of the six principles he presents from the TOB:

1. The soul is “the principle of unity of the human being, whereby it exists as a whole — corpore et anima minus — as a person” ( Veritatis splendor, 48). “It is in the unity of body and soul that the person is the subject of his…acts” (VS, 48). “The human person cannot be reduced to a freedom which is self-designing (this is what MyopicBookworm has done with his gender based constructions and comments here), but entails a particular spiritual and bodily structure” (VS. 48).

These statements, first of all, affirm the unity of the human being as a dual, or differentiated, unity of body and soul. The soul as it were lends its spiritual meaning to the body as body, even as the body simultaneously contributes to what now becomes, in man, a distinct kind of spirit: a spirit whose nature it is to be embodied

2. This second point is complex. It begins with this dogma: “The likeness with God shows that the essence and existence of man are constitutively related to God in the most profound manner. This…relationship…is therefore not something that comes afterwards and is not added from the outside” {109, emphasis original; see CCC, 356, 358}. And further: “The relationship between God and man is reflected in the relational and social dimension of human nature. Man . . is not a solitary being but ‘a social being . . . “ {cf. Gs, 12j} and then explores six “elaborations” (which I will take up here A through F):

a. It establishes “constitutive relatedness among human beings” which implies that we are, in our original and deepest meanings, persons who are ordered toward God and others.

b. We bear a constitutive order toward generosity that always-anteriorly participates in the generosity we have received and are always-already receiving — from God and other creatures in God. Although sin weighs down and profoundly skews this constitutively generous order of being, sin can never destroy the integrity of this order as naturally given. What a marvelous statement: no matter to what depths of despair we sink in battling sin, God knows that we cannot be destroyed. Jesus will help us. It recalls Matthew 19.

c. Man “is a being whose innermost dynamic is… directed toward the receiving and giving of love.” The relation to God, and to others in God (the constitutive relatedness among human beings), that establishes our individual substance in being is generous. The relation itself makes and lets us in our substantial being be.

d. The relationality of the human person introduced by love is first the relationality characteristic of the child as the one who is absolutely from the Other — God — and from other beings in God, even as he is thereby simultaneously also for the Other, and for other beings in God. It is for this reason that Pope Benedict XVI has stated that the child in the womb provides the basic figure for what it means to be a human being and why the Catholic Church wars against abortion.

e. “The account of Genesis 1 does not mention the problem of man’s original solitude: in fact, man is ‘male and female’ from the beginning. The Yahwist text of Genesis 2, by contrast, authorizes us in some way to think first only about man inasmuch as, through the body, he belongs to the visible world while going beyond it; it then lets us think about the same man, but through the duality of sex.

Bodyliness and sexuality are not simply identical. Although in its normal constitution, the human body carries within itself the signs of sex and is by nature male or female, the fact that man is a ‘body’ belongs more deeply to the structure of the personal subject than the fact that in his
somatic
constitution — he is also male or female.

For this reason, the meaning of original solitude, which can be referred simply to ‘man,’ is substantially prior to the meaning of original unity; the latter is based on masculinity and femininity, which are, as it were, two different ‘incarnations,’ that is, two ways in which the same human being, created ‘in the image of God’ (Genesis 1:27), ‘is a body” (John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them, 157).

Original solitude, as understood by John Paul II, is the absolute priority of the whole man’s being ordered to God in a relation of prayer and adoration. It is in just this priority of the whole man as originally made for God alone that forms the priority of virginity (purity) already in the order of creation.

f. As Genesis makes clear, the relationality is double in a sense: reference to other beings is begins with a relationality with another being who is fully human while at once embodying a different way of being human, that is either male or female. The sexual differentiation of mankind into man and woman is much more than a purely biological fact for the purpose of procreation. It is unconnected with what is truly human in mankind. In it there is accomplished that intrinsic relation of the human being to a Thou, which inherently constitutes him or her as human, the very basis of our personhood . . The likeness to God in sexuality is prior to sexuality, not identical with it.

It is accomplished by the person. The doctrine of the imago Dei is, in the first place, that man is capax Dei [vocab: a yearning for that which human nature cannot by itself attain]: it is the relation to God that originally constitutes each person, and this relation immediately expresses itself in and as relation also to others, which is realized in a privileged way through relation to another who is the same kind of being as myself, differently: through the relation of two beings who share a common humanity in the different ways termed male/masculine and female/feminine.

Thus there is in the structure of the human person a second dual unity latent within the person as he stands in his original “solitary” unity before God, and that is the one expressed in the ordering of each person toward a unity between persons, between a one and an other.

3. The body, always-already informed by soul or spirit and actualized by esse, thus exhibits an order of love. But what is crucial to see here is that this sign of the creature’s constitutive relation to God and others takes a new form qua body. The body, in other words, indicates a distinctive way of imaging God and love, in its very order as a body, as personal — creaturely flesh.

4. The human body, marked with the sign of masculinity or femininity, “contains ‘from the beginning’ the ‘spousal’ attribute, that is, the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and — through this gift — fulfills the very meaning of his being and his existence. In this, its own distinctive character, the body is the expression of the spirit…“Sexuality characterizes man and woman not only on the physical level, but also on the psychological and spiritual, making its mark on each of their expressions.”

John Paul II’s theology of the body, in a word, is about God and being as love, and about the body and the sexual difference insofar as these are a sign and expression of this theologically ontologically-anthropologically prior love, even as the body precisely in its sexual difference provides a new and just so far enriched and deepened understanding of this prior love.

5. Man and woman each contain the whole meaning of the person, but in a different order. It is from within the substantial wholeness of each as human that the man and woman bear differently a dual reference from and toward others that is ordered differently in each.

6. In the human being, physics and biology become personalized, even as the person takes the shape of a body. Thus the human person — after Christ and in Christ — becomes the mediator (analogatum princeps) for the whole of creation. In and through the human being, the cosmos itself properly realizes its destined participation in worship of God and fruitful service to God and others.

What I was hoping in my posting this topic was an engagement by Homosexualists on these six principles. I wasn’t asking them to embrace them but to empathize with the Catholic Homosexual who believes in them and identifies to his core with John Paul II’s teachings in the TOB. On the other thread the very attempt was ridiculed or parodied and the Homosexualist assault on the Church as being homophobic continued hell-bent (pardon the pun). There were very few attempts to thoughtfully engage, I believe.

I doubt the Catholic Homosexual would find any solace in an answer that essentially rejects the teachings. While the answer is clever and ballsy to the extent he distorts the words of St. Paul, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, gender arguments are not to be confused with the theological. Anyone who reads the six principles that Dr. Schindler enumerates and I have summarized here should recognize in them the very essence of personalism that undergirds so much of our western thought and culture.

Jesus would never have said “Repent the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” had he not been speaking to the idea of resurrection for us all (and which he demonstrated). Take away the resurrection and you have taken away the whole point of Christianity. As Flannery O’Connor once said: “If all the resurrection is, is just a symbol, then I say the hell with it.” It doesn’t get off the ground without the very well thought out and crafted theological response called the “embodied soul.”

Well, despite the attempt, more opprobrium rained down but one fellow, named myopicbookworm, took me up on the challenge and posted an answer. It was an amazing piece of casuistry, even quoted Benedict XVI and John Paul II in an attempt to legitimize homosexual acts. I congratulated him on his chutzpah.

Here I would like to deal with his opening salvo:

“Natural-born intersex individuals are a standing refutation of any anthropology which requires of necessity that all human beings are physically either male or female. The existence of these intersex persons, and those which psychology recognizes as suffering from gender dysphoria (including transsexuals) would also indicate that the connection between biological sex and psychological sex may not be a necessary one. To put it bluntly, the human race does not consist simply of persons who are straightforwardly either male or female, whether biologically, psychologically, or (by extension) spiritually.

This is despite the neatness of the arrangement, and its convenience for human mythologizing or philosophizing. Much persecution of homosexuals probably does not arise simply from emotional distaste for or moral disapproval of same-sex physical relations: even chaste homosexual people, in their non-“normal” desires and tendencies, disturb the patterns and symmetries by which human beings collectively rationalize their world. They transgress the religio-social categories with which people protect their accustomed ways of life and thought.

The male-female duality can therefore not be fundamentally and essentially bound up with the existence of the human person as an embodied soul…”

My reply begins with a recalling of Edward Feser’s argument on this site concerning essence and properties:

“It is the essence of a thing that determines what will be true of it in every possible world, not what is true of it in every world that determines its essence. Moreover, as Aristotelian-Thomists use the term, a “property” is not part of the essence of a thing, but a feature that flows from its essence. Simply noting that a thing has some feature in every possible world ignores this distinction, and is for that reason too an inadequate way to characterize a thing’s essence. For example, rationality and the capacity to learn languages are both features human beings have in every possible world (if you want to put it that way), but the latter capacity presupposes rationality and is therefore less fundamental than it. While rationality is part of our essence, then, the capacity to learn languages is not, but is rather a “property” — something proper to us in that derives necessarily from our essence.

“Property” as used by contemporary philosophers ignores this distinction, and is applied indiscriminately to what is part of a thing’s essence, to what is not part of its essence but is nevertheless “proper” to a thing, and to what is neither part of a thing’s essence nor proper to it but merely some contingent feature it has (e.g. the fact that such-and-such a human being was born in Los Angeles or has a blog).

But might some human being not lose his rationality or capacity to learn languages due to brain damage or the like? Doesn’t that mean the former is not really part of his essence and the latter not really a property? No, that doesn’t follow at all, because to be impeded in the exercise of a power does not entail that one doesn’t have it. From an Aristotelian-Thomist point of view, every single human being — including one in a so-called “persistent vegetative state” — necessarily has rationality, the capacity to learn languages, etc.

Terri Schiavo was a severely damaged rational animal, not a non-rational animal; a human fetus is a rational animal that has not yet been fully formed, not a non-rational animal; and so forth. Restore Terri Schiavo to perfect health and you get someone who can once again exercise her rationality. Restore a rose bush or a dog to perfect health and you still have something that can never exercise reason. Let a human fetus develop fully and you get something that can exercise rationality. Let a rose bush or a dog develop fully and you never get something that can exercise rationality. Thus it is erroneous — not to mention absurd and morally obscene — to compare the likes of Terri Schiavo or a human fetus to a plant or a non-human animal. And thus does bad metaphysics lead to the rationalization of grave immorality, even murder.”

In myopicbookworm’s writings here we have less an example of bad metaphysics as bad thinking. His introductory sentences above provoke the question, “Do birth defects create new beings and new essences?” In other words, is an “intersex individuals” a new sex? In this case we encounter the political agenda of the Homosexualist lobby to label “intersex individuals” a new sex rather than a simple disorder of sexual development, an impedance to an inheritance of a sexual property, male or female. For you see, if androgyny is a new sex, then the Homosexualists have found the “gay gene” without going to all the scientific work to actually prove something.

Note the dripping condescension in this accusation: “They [Homosexuals] disturb the patterns and symmetries by which human beings collectively rationalize their world. They transgress the religio-social categories with which people protect their accustomed ways of life and thought.” You would be hard come as a Catholic to be hit with a gentler velvet fist labeled “Medieval Homophobic Bastard” than that.

The hypocrisy is breath-taking of course. It is Homosexualists after all who urge the grim doctrine that homosexuality is simply a matter of fate (“Yep, born homosexual, another one of those intersex kids, poor bastards”), and the dehumanizing idea that one’s core identity is determined by one’s sexual desires or orientation. As Catholics we know that we are more, immeasurably more, than our sexual desires. We embrace our essence as embodied souls secure in the knowledge that what we find impossible to overcome in our sinfulness, God will help us to overcome:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
[Matthew 19:23-26]

This is the Sunday we listened to the beatitudes (Blessed are the poor…Blessed are the grieving, those who mourn..etc.). I love Fr. Barron’s preaching on them and whenever my parish priest gives a homily on these difficult to understand passages and blows by what everyone is probably thinking (What’s so great about poverty and crying your eyes out over your dead husband or sister? What’s HE SAYING????!!!!! C’mon Father!!!!) I feel as though another Obama Teachable Moment has gone down the drain.

Catholics know that morally disordered desires are hardly limited to homosexuality or to sexual desires of any kind. We know that those who succumb to homosexual desires are, like all sinners, are to be loved and assured of the transforming power of God’s forgiveness and His power to help us by trusting in Him. In law and social practice our Church teaches we should fight alongside homosexuals to combat unjust discrimination. But we also know that the practices that define “the gay community” or the evil of homosexualism should never be put on a social or moral par with the union of man and woman in marriage.

Blessed are the homosexuals. Following Fr. Barron’s teaching: you are makarios (blessed, lucky perhaps, or envied, from the Greek) to be a homosexual, it will teach you humility and the power of chastity. Or will you choose the Homosexualist path and pretend you are without sin and act like your mindless heterosexual brothers and sisters who never question their party urges (Time to “hook up”)?

And would you be rich also and not have to work? How lucky to be poor and never tempted by material things … how your rich brother struggles, what a cross he bears: it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Have you ever heard someone say how money can be a curse?

How wonderful to be happy, addicted to good feelings and never have to grieve because you’ve never lost anyone who was decent, kind and loving? Let’s face it, feeling happy is just as much a false god as wealth or power. “It is, in itself, only an emotional state, a fleeting and insubstantial psychological condition that cannot possibly satisfy the deepest yearning of the soul; yet it is sought with as much compulsive frenzy as any other drug. We feel the “rush” of pleasure and then, when the thrill fades, we try at all costs to reproduce it at a higher pitch. It is in this context that the addictive use of drugs, alcohol, and artificial stimulants, as well as the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure in sex and gluttony at the table are to be understood.” How blessed to be hungry…The person who lives in the center, the place of detachment, escapes these traps. Oh yes, he may pay for it with bouts of anxiety or depression but he is blessed, make no mistake about it.

Homosexualist liberal Catholics (myopicbookworm says he’s not Roman, but Catholic) like myopicbookworm project a profoundly disturbing anthropology of their fellow man and their understanding of the human person leads to the worst kind of perversion of Catholic teaching.

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Reading Selections from The Embodied Person As Gift by David L. Schindler

July 13, 2010

“We are not our own. . . Belonging to ourselves at its root is always anteriorly a belonging to God and to others, to the entire community of being.” I am always reminded of Michael Novak’s comment on those who view themselves as “atheists:”

“Gathering force over many years, one discovery has hit me with the force of a law: If you make mistakes about your own nature, you will make as many mistakes about God, and quite properly then, reject what your inquiries put before you. The god you fantasize will appear to you not very great, a delusion, a snare from which others ought to be freed. You will despise this god.”

I can think of nothing more fundamental to the understanding of who we are (from a Christian anthropological point of view) than the idea that we are Embodied Persons. When speaking with an atheist, I often try to enquire as to who they think they are, what their essential nature is. Do you have a soul?

John Paul II Theology of the Body is a remarkable vision. Schindler begins an essay by defining six characteristics of it which I have separated out and present here:

Seeing In The Body A Theology
The body in its physical structure as such bears a vision of reality: it is an anticipatory sign, and already an expression, of the order of love or gift that most deeply characterizes the meaning of the person and indeed, via an adequately conceived analogy, the meaning of all creaturely being. This is the burden of John Paul II’s seeing in the body a theology, which indeed implies an anthropology or, better, a metaphysics rooted in the personal.

An Original Memory Of The Good And True
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in his God and the World, says that

Man is constructed from within, in the image of God, to be loved and to love. In the Trinity, Love’s own essence portrays itself Man is in God’s image and thereby he is a being whose innermost dynamic is likewise directed toward the receiving and giving of love.
from “God and the World”

Elsewhere Ratzinger, referring to the scholastic understanding of conscience in terms of the two levels indicated in “synderesis” and “conscientia,” suggests that synderesis be replaced with the Platonic concept of anamnesis (recollection), which, he says, “harmonizes with the key motifs of biblical thought and the anthropology derived from it.” He says this term “should be taken to mean exactly that which Paul expressed in… his letter to the Romans” regarding the law written on the hearts of the Gentiles and on their conscience that also bears witness. Ratzinger says that the same idea is also “strikingly amplified in the great monastic rule of Saint Basil. Here we read: “The love of God is not founded on a discipline imposed on us from outside, but is constitutively established in us as the capacity and necessity of our rational nature.”

Ratzinger goes on:
This means that the first so-called ontological level of the phenomenon of conscience consists in the fact that something like an original memory of the good and true (they are identical) has been implanted in us, that there is an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine…This anamnesis of the origin, which results from the god-like constitution of our being, is not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents. It is, so to speak, an inner sense, a capacity to recall, so that the one whom it addresses, if he is not turned in on himself hears its echo from within.

The Ground For Mission:
The possibility for and right to mission rest on this anamnesis of the Creator, which is identical to the ground of our existence. The gospel may, indeed must, be proclaimed to the pagans, because they themselves are yearning for it in the hidden recesses of their souls (see Isaiah 42:4)

In this sense Paul can say that the gentiles are a law to themselves — not in the sense of the modern liberal notions of autonomy, which preclude transcendence of the subject, but in the much deeper sense that nothing belongs less to me than I myself. My own “I” is the site of the profoundest surpassing of self and contact with him from whom I came and toward whom I am going.

Ratzinger says that Paul’s proclamation thus “encountered an antecedent basic knowledge of the essential components of God’s will, which came to be written down in the commandments, which can be found in all cultures, and which can be all the more clearly elucidated the less an overbearing cultural bias distorts this primordial knowledge.”

My presentation first (I-VI) shows the sense in which this love and anamnesis of God is reflected in the embodied person and implies a metaphysical anthropology of being as gift.

First principle
The soul is “the principle of unity of the human being, whereby it exists as a whole — corpore et anima minus — as a person” ( Veritatis splendor, 48). “It is in the unity of body and soul that the person is the subject of his…acts” (VS, 48). “The human person cannot be reduced to a freedom which is self-designing, but entails a particular spiritual and bodily structure” (VS. 48). 

These statements, first of all, affirm the unity of the human being as a dual, or differentiated, unity of body and soul.

But, secondly, in light of the teaching of St. Thomas (following Aristotle), this unity, rightly understood, presupposes the primacy of the soul within the mutual relation of body and soul The soul gives the body its first meaning as a body, although, given the unity of soul and body, the causal relationship between them is always mutually internal, albeit asymmetrical.

The body accordingly is never, after the manner of Descartes, simply physicalist “stuff’ that somehow has its own “organization” prior to and independent of the order provided by the sou1. Thus the body, in its very bodyliness, can participate in the imago Dei. The body in its distinctness as a body indicates a new way of being in the world, a distinct way of imaging God and love.

In sum: the soul as it were lends its spiritual meaning to the body as body, even as the body simultaneously contributes to what now becomes, in man, a distinct kind of spirit: a spirit whose nature it is to be embodied.

Second Principle
In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church [CSDC] we read: “The likeness with God shows that the essence and existence of man are constitutively related to God in the most profound manner. This…relationship…is therefore not something that comes afterwards and is not added from the outside” (109, emphasis original; see CCC, 356, 358). And further: “The relationship between God and man is reflected in the relational and social dimension of human nature. Man . . is not a solitary being but ‘a social being . . . “ [cf. Gs, 12j (110, emphasis original).

Six Elaborations on the Second Principle

  1. Thus the social dimension of human nature, or again the communion of persons toward which each person is ordained, is a matter of constitutive order. It is an order that is first given to the creature, and enacted by the creature only and always qua [vocab: In the capacity or character of; as] anteriorly given.
    What the constitutive relatedness among human beings implies, in sum, is that I am in my original and deepest meaning as such a substantial individual who is ordered at once front and toward God and others.
  2. My being thus bears the character of gift: of a “what” that is given and received. Indeed, my reception is a response to the gift, a response that, in its very character as receptive-responsive, already participates in the generosity proper to gift-giving. I bear a constitutive order toward generosity that always-anteriorly participates in the generosity I have received and am always-already receiving — from God and other creatures in God.
    Note that this constitutive order of generosity bears a dual meaning, characterizing both what is proper to man in his being qua natural and his call to share in the Trinitarian life of God himself in Jesus Christ. The constitutive creaturely order of generosity, in other words, bears a properly natural meaning even as it also always is open, however unconsciously, to participation in God’s own generosity. Although sin weighs down and profoundly skews the constitutively generous order of being, sin can never destroy the integrity of this order as naturally given. The upshot, in sum, is that I cannot but always, in some significant sense, implicitly and from my depths, tend toward and desire generosity, and this tending is already a participation in a natural generosity that is in search of participation in God’s own generosity as revealed in Jesus Christ.
  3. It is important to see, thirdly, that constitutive relatedness does not undermine the traditional notion of the person as an individual substance of a rational nature. For it is the very relation to God, which relation always already includes relation to all other creatures, that establishes each person in. his individual substantiality.
    The crucial point, in a word, is that the relation to God, and to others in God, that establishes the individual substance in being is generous. The relation itself makes and lets me in my substantial being be. This “letting be” implies a kind of primordial, ontological “circum-incession,” or “perichoresis,” of giving and receiving between the other and myself. What I am in my original constitution as a person has always-already been given to me by God and received by me in and as my response to God’s gift to me of myself — indeed, has also, in some significant sense, been given to me by other creatures and received by me in and as my response to their gift to me.
    The substantial unity characteristic of the traditional notion of the person, therefore, while reaffirmed, is nevertheless now conceived from within the order of love. Each individual substance possesses a substantial unity (esse in) while bearing from its beginning and in its depths a dynamic reference from (esse ab) and toward (esse ad). This dynamic reference, given already with the being (ens: esse habens) of the person, indicates the ontological beginning of the receiving-giving that characterizes the primitive meaning of human action and is (thereby) meant to be realized in every human action. In the words of Cardinal Ratzinger cited above: man “is a being whose innermost dynamic is… directed toward the receiving and giving of love.”
  4. The logic of gift characteristic of creaturely being is best described as filial. My being in its substantial unity is constitutively dependent on God and on others in God. It is for this reason that Cardinal Ratzinger has stated that the child in the womb provides the basic figure for what it means to be a human being. And indeed it is important to recall in this connection what is perhaps the central emphasis in his Christology, summed up in the claim that “Son” is the highest title of Jesus Christ. Thus the basic logic of our being as creatures is disclosed in the child: the obedience, humility, and dependence characteristic of the child disclose creaturely being’s deepest and most proper symbolic nature.
    In a word, each of us as originally constituted is a sign and expression of the relation to God that is always first granted to us by God in and through the order of being: a sign and expression, in other words, of God’s relation to (in difference from) the world that is mediated through the “ontological difference” indicated in the distinction between esse and ens (essentia). What this means concretely is that I am always first granted entry into the generosity of God and of the order of being in relation to God. I am never the origin or source of generosity but always a participant in generosity: I am the origin of generosity only-always qua recipient of generosity, a generous giver but only-always qua receiver of generous giving.
    In sum: the relationality of the human person introduced by love is first the relationality characteristic of the child as the one who is absolutely from the Other — God — and from other beings in God, even as he is thereby simultaneously also for the Other, and for other beings in God. For this reason, worship and service most basically characterize the order of creaturely being, with worship of God providing the anterior form of what is meant by service, to God and to others.
  5. It is important to take note of the structure of human-creaturely being implied in the foregoing: a unity that is differentiated, a dual unity. Each substantial being at once possesses its own substantial unity and does so coincident with relationality to God and to other creaturely beings, and this constitutive relationality at once presupposes and always already “causes” a reference within each person to God and others.
    The relationality characteristic of each person in his substantial unity as a creature, in other words, signifies and expresses what is the triplex unity-in-duality of the person already, as it were, in his “original solitude,” his filiality, before God. In his original substantial “aloneness” as one, the human person bears a double reference from and toward God.
    See here the statement by John Paul II: “The account of Genesis 1 does not mention the problem of man’s original solitude: in fact, man is ‘male and female’ from the beginning. The Yahwist text of Genesis 2, by contrast, authorizes us in some way to think first only about man inasmuch as, through the body, he belongs to the visible world while going beyond it; it then lets us think about the same man, but through the duality of sex. Bodyliness and sexuality are not simply identical. Although in its normal constitution, the human body carries within itself the signs of sex and is by nature male or female, the fact that man is a ‘body’ belongs more deeply to the structure of the personal subject than the fact that in his somatic constitution he is also male or female. For this reason, the meaning of original solitude, which can be referred simply to ‘man,’ is substantially prior to the meaning of original unity; the latter is based on masculinity and femininity, which are, as it were, two different ‘incarnations,’ that is, two ways in which the same human being, created ‘in the image of God’ (Genesis 1:27), ‘is a body” (John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them, 157).
    My colleague, Father José Granados, first drew my attention to the link of original solitude, as understood by John Paul II, with the absolute priority of the whole man’s being ordered to God in a relation of prayer and adoration. It is in just this priority of the whole man as originally made for God alone that forms the priority of virginity already in the order of creation. It is important to see that this original “virginal” relation to God must he recuperated in all relations between spouses — even as the spousal relation can then deepen the meaning of virginity itself. On this ‘‘circum-incession’’ of the inner meaning of the two states of life (consecrated virginity and marriage), see David Crawford, “Christian Community and the States of Life: A Reflection on the Anthropological Significance of Virginity and Marriage,” Communio: International Catholic Review 29, no. 2 (2002):337-65.
  6. Further then, as already suggested, this substantial unity cum double dynamic reference to God is at once, albeit consequently, a substantial unity cum double reference also to other beings. As Genesis makes clear, the relationality implied in this double reference to other beings is first relationality with another being who is fully human while at once embodying a different way of being human. Thus the text cited from the CSDC [Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church ]states that “the relationship between God and man is reflected in the relational and social dimension of human nature.” And, as Joseph Ratzinger points out in his commentary on Gaudium et spes,“the sexual differentiation of mankind into man and woman is much more than a purely biological fact for the purpose of procreation but unconnected with what is truly human in mankind. In it there is accomplished that intrinsic relation of the human being to a Thou, which inherently constitutes him or her as human. . . The likeness to God in sexuality is prior to sexuality, not identical with it. It is because the human being is capable of the absolute Thou that he is an I who can become a Thou for another I. The capacity for the absolute Thou is the ground of the possibility and necessity of the human partner. Here too, therefore, it is most important to pay attention to the difference between content [inhalt] and consequence [Folge]“The point is that the content of the doctrine of the imago Dei is, in the first place, that man is capax Dei [vocab: a yearning for that which human nature cannot by itself attain]: it is the relation to God that originally constitutes each person, and this relation immediately expresses itself in and as relation also to others, which is realized in a privileged way through relation to another who is the same kind of being as myself, differently: through the relation of two beings who share a common humanity in the different ways termed male/masculine and female/feminine.
    Thus there is in the structure of the human person a second dual unity latent within the person as he stands in his original “solitary” unity before God, and that is the one expressed in the ordering of each person toward a unity between persons, between a one and an other. In the substantial (differentiated-)unity of my own person, I am ordered simultaneously toward unity with an other, toward what may be called a communion of persons. I am ordered toward a unity of two — a dual unity. But a unity of two implies transcendence into a “we” that is more than simply the sum of parts; this differentiated unity indicates in some significant sense a new “third” beyond myself and the other. This unity of two that transcends itself into a “third” is, according to Genesis and the text from Ratzinger cited above, expressed in the spousal relation that presupposes the common filial relation of the partners to God and that is fruitful, most concretely in the procreation of the child.

Third principle
The constitutive order of human being as gift or love, according to John Paul II, is signified and expressed in the body. “Human nature and the body [are not merely] presuppositions or preambles, materially necessary for freedom to make its choice, yet extrinsic to the person, the subject and the human act. [On the contrary,] their functions . . . constitute reference points for moral decisions, because the finalities of these inclinations [are not] merely ‘physical’ goods, called by some pre-moral” (VS. 48). The body bears “the anticipatory signs, the expression and the promise of the gift of self, in conformity with the wise plan of the Creator” (VS, 48). It exhibits a “primordial sacrament[ality] … understood as a sign that efficaciously transmits in the visible world the invisible mystery hidden in God from eternity.” The body, always-already informed by soul or spirit and actualized by esse, thus exhibits an order of love. But what is crucial to see here is that this sign of the creature’s constitutive relation to God and others takes a new form qua body. The body, in other words, indicates a distinctive way of imaging God and love, in its very order as a body, as personal — creaturely flesh.

Fourth principle
As the CSDC says, “the fact that God created human beings as man and woman is significant” (110). “Man and woman have the same dignity and are of equal value, not only because they are both, in their differences, created in the image of God, but even more profoundly because the dynamic of reciprocity that gives life to the ‘we’ in the human couple is an image of God” (111). The human body, marked with the sign of masculinity or femininity, “contains ‘from the beginning’ the ‘spousal’ attribute, that is, the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and — through this gift — fulfills the very meaning of his being and his existence. In this, its own distinctive character, the body is the expression of the spirit…“Sexuality characterizes man and woman not only on the physical level, but also on the psychological and spiritual, making its mark on each of their expressions.”

By the nuptial or spousal attribute of the body, then, John Paul II refers to the body’s capacity for expressing love, as realized especially in the body’s sexual difference.

But let me emphasize: the importance accorded by John Paul II to the sexual-gender difference, and thus to what he terms the “nuptial” or “spousal” body, does not overturn the traditional emphasis on the human spirit as the primary locus of the image of God in the human being. The human person is, qua embodied, a new image of what it means to be a person conceived in terms of God’s creational love: an image which, as at once new and of the person, enriches and deepens in its very difference as a body what is in some significant sense already, and indeed more basically and properly analogically, inherent in the reality of person-spirit as such.

John Paul II’s theology of the body, in a word, is about God and being as love, and about the body and the sexual difference insofar as these are a sign and expression of this theologically ontologically-anthropologically prior love, even as the body precisely in its sexual difference provides a new and just so far enriched and deepened understanding of this prior love.

Aptness for fatherhood and motherhood thus are not “accidental” to the human person conceived as a substantial unity constitutively related to others. On the contrary, fatherhood and motherhood specify in a unique way the aptness for receiving and giving characteristic of the human, embodied person’s relationality; they are a realization in the flesh of the imago Dei that originates and abides in the person’s filial relation to God.

Fifth Principle
It is important to note that man and woman each contain the whole meaning of the person, but in a different order. It is from within the substantial wholeness of each as human that the man and woman bear differently a dual reference from and toward others that is ordered differently in each. Needless to say, even with its rejection of a fragmentary understanding of the sexual-gender difference, the unified polarity of man and woman indicated here, along with the filial meaning of both indicated earlier, meet with strong resistance in the current cultural situation. It is important to take note of the assumptions that drive this resistance. These seem to me above all three, involving, first, the role of the biological in interpreting the meaning of the personal; second, the nature of unity and distinction and hence equality and difference; and, third, the idea of receptivity, with its related ideas of obedience and dependence.

(1)  Following John Paul II, I have proposed that the physical-sexual difference, precisely in and as physical-sexual, symbolizes an ontological-spiritual and also psychological difference. The language of giving and receiving and fruitfulness, for example, in their physical meaning as applied to the body — in the consummatum, conception, and the like — signify and express qua body what is characteristic of a spiritual act or activity in its most basic meaning as an order of love. This language, in other words, symbolizes in bodily form what is termed the giving and receiving, and indeed just so far what may be termed the “transcendence” and “immanence,” necessary for personal love in its full and proper meaning. A common contemporary objection is that this use of terms characteristic of the sexual-physical weights the latter with a human-spiritual and indeed ontological significance all out of proportion to what is typically today viewed as simply biological. It suffices here simply to note that this objection presupposes, however unwittingly, a Cartesian idea of the body.

(2)  Regarding the second: using language that indicates a unity within difference creates difficulties because the dominant culture is accustomed, again, to making distinctions in an unwittingly Cartesian manner: if x is truly distinct from y, x must just so far share nothing in common with y.

It seems to me difficult to exaggerate the significance of this modern-“Enlightened” idea of unity and distinctness. Such an idea precludes a priori any unity between x and y that is inclusive, precisely qua unity, of real difference between x and y, and hence of any asymmetry in the mutual relation of x and y. And it precludes any difference between x and y that is inclusive, precisely qua difference, of any real unity hence equality between x and y. In a word: insofar as x andy are equal, they are necessarily the same; and insofar as they are different, they are necessarily unequal, lacking the unity that would render them equal.

(3)  Regarding the third assumption: human agency as typically conceived in modern culture, after the manner, say, of Francis Bacon (and Descartes), is characterized by a primacy of originary power. This idea of human agency, in other words, precludes the possibility of any kind of power in which the agent is essentially a participant, and thus is anteriorly receptive and dependent and indeed obedient, in his original power. On this dominant post- Enlightenment understanding, an original receptivity in the agent would indicate a passivity that is eo ipso defective.

The understanding of the human person-body developed in this article in the light of creation and the “ontological distinction” demands receptivity and dependence for its integrity. A person who is constitutively from God is “rich” in the very “poverty” of the receptiveness that enables his full and substantial being as a creature; and his obedient dependence is itself always already a creaturely participation in God’s generosity and thus at once an image of that generosity. Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI deepens the point here in Christological terms, stressing repeatedly in his work that Christ’s unconditionally obedient fidelity to the will of God is an integral sign and expression of his being united with God — his being Son of God. Obedience and receptivity at their root are thus “perfections” of what it means to be human, indeed of what it means to be in a filial sense. And unity and equality, while affirmed, are nevertheless now differentiated into an order of service and just so far “subordination” to an other. This “subordination” is not dehumanizing, but on the contrary humanizing in the fullest sense, given the constitutive reality of human being as created in love and for love. In a word, unity on a Christian understanding is never the mono-unity required by Descartes’s logic of the machine, but always the dual unity (which, as fruitful, is in fact a tri-unity) required by the constitutively creaturely logic of love.

The errors carried in above “Enlightened”-liberal assumptions can be given names: for example,

  • gnosticism, which fails to recognize the giftedness proper to creation and its penetration down through the order of the body, such that the body is good already qua ens (being) (intrinsically good) and not only quia factum (qua being [re-]made by humans) (good qua instrument of humans), and that the body thus participates in the “transcendental” meaning of being as at once true, good, and beautiful.
  • Deism and Pelagianism, both of which fail to recuperate divine-fatherly origin as an immanent presence informing the original-constitutive meaning of human being and acting.
  • Nominalism, which denies the singular being, in its very singularity, any inherent symbolic reference to another; or again which permits no complex or differentiated unity and thereby reduces the singular always and everywhere to a “mono-unity” exclusive of a dual unity that is fruitful. And so on.

Such errors, again, entail denial of the distinctly ontological meaning of the human being as a creature. Having abstracted from the concrete, filial-spousal, order of love established by God in the act of creation, the dominant “Enlightened” vision of reality eliminates adoration and service as the fundamental order of man’s being — an order that is inclusive of his body — even as it tends of its inner logic to reduce the body to a merely “empirical” reality, freedom to a purely formal exercise of choice, sexual-gender difference to a more or less inconsequential physical difference, and receptivity and obedience to dehumanizing passivity. It is important, in light of the foregoing argument, to see that, though the fullness of what is meant by adoration and service as the fundamental order of man’s being can be understood finally only in light of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, this order is manifest in principle, in some significant sense, in the creature already in his being as a thing of “nature,” and is just so far accessible in principle to reason (anamnesis).

Sixth Principle
My argument, in sum, is that being, viewed at once in light of creation and of the “ontological,” or “real,” distinction between esse and ens (essentia) that gives creation its first and basic “natural” meaning is gift, and that this giftedness is signified and expressed in a uniquely privileged way in the body: in the filial and spousal fruitful relations that constitute marriage and family. The suggestion that being is gift or love does not indicate the invention of a new “transcendental” called love, in addition to unity, truth, goodness, and beauty. On the contrary, it affirms these latter anew, understanding them now analogically (analogatum princeps) in terms of the filial-spousal-fruitful relationality constitutive of human persons vis-à-vis God and others. It is the love proper to persons in this sense, in other words, that properly realizes the depth and breadth of being as such in its “transcendental” truth and goodness: realizes fully, in a truly analogical way, what it means for cosmic entities to be and to act and indeed to interact. In a word, it is in persons so understood that meta-physics takes its proper form as at once meta- anthropology.

What all this implies for our cultural-“worldly” task can be put in terms of Maximus the Confessor’s understanding of the order of creaturely being as a “cosmic liturgy” — which we might amplify, in light of our argument, as a cosmic liturgy unfolding at once into “cosmic service.” Every creaturely being is a gift from and toward God and other creatures in God, a gift that is as such ordered constitutively to worship and service of God, and service of others. Every cosmic entity is a gift that participates, via its creaturely receptivity and each in its own (analogical) way, in the gift-giving of God and in the generosity of being itself. According to Maximus, the human being is the mid-point, as it were, of the order of creation. In the human being, physics and biology become personalized, even as the person takes the shape of a body. Thus the human person — after Christ and in Christ — becomes the mediator (analogatum princeps) for the whole of creation. In and through the human being, the cosmos itself properly realizes its destined participation in worship of God and fruitful service to God and others.

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Reading Selections from Christopher West’s Theology of the Body by David L. Schindler

July 12, 2010


Professor Schindler is Provost/Dean and Gagnon Professor of Fundamental Theology at the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. As someone who has referenced Mr. West’s work here on Paying Attention to the Sky, I was saddened to read this:

West’s Intention Of Fidelity To The Church
Let me stress that I agree with those who vigorously defend West’s intention of fidelity to the Church. Certainly he has had positive results in drawing many Catholics into a deeper understanding of their faith. As for myself, I do not initiate anything about West in my classes, but only respond when asked a question. Then I begin by emphasizing West’s intention of orthodoxy. As I have often put it, “he would throw himself in front of a bus for the Church.” It is important to understand, however, that good will is not synonymous with sound thought; and I must say, not without reluctance, that West’s work seems to me to misrepresent in significant ways the thought of John Paul II.

A Disordered Approach To Human Sexuality
The following examples have been verified by persons directly involved or by things written by West himself (and I regret the necessary adoption of West’s own language).

West’s work has involved suggesting that a man and woman bless their genitals before making love; blessing the ovaries of women in his classes; advising young men in college and the seminary to look at their naked bodies in the mirror daily in order to overcome shame; using phallic symbolism to describe the Easter candle; criticizing “flat-chested” images of Mary in art while encouraging Catholics to “rediscover Mary’s … abundant breasts” (Crisis, March 2002); referring to the “bloodied membrane” of the placenta as a “tabernacle” (Colorado Catholic Herald, 12/22/06); stating that, while “there are some important health and aesthetic considerations that can’t be overlooked,” “there’s nothing inherently wrong with anal penetration as foreplay to normal intercourse,” (Good News About Sex and Marriage, 1st ed., emphasis in original), though qualifying this in the revised edition and stressing the subjective dangers of lust in such activity; and, on Nightline, praising Hugh Hefner for helping rescue sex from prudish Victorian attitudes, saying that there are “very profound historical connections between Hefner and John Paul II,” while emphasizing that John Paul II took the sexual revolution further and in the right direction.

I offer these examples not merely because they are vulgar and in bad taste, not to mention sometimes bordering on the just plain silly, but because they indicate a disordered approach to human sexuality. An objective distortion in approaching sexuality does not cease to be such simply because it is theologized. West to be sure will point toward the “orthodox” intentions and context of the examples, but my criticism bears on the substance of his preoccupation as reflected in the examples. (As a Thomist friend of mine used to say: pay attention to a man’s subjects, not his predicates.)

Objections To West’s Theology

  1. First, West misconstrues the meaning of concupiscence, stressing purity of intention one-sidedly when talking about problems of lust.
    When I first pointed this problem out to him several years ago, his response was that he refused to limit the power of Christ to transform us. My response is that concupiscence dwells “objectively” in the body, and continues its “objective” presence in the body throughout the course of our infralapsarian (vocab: A doctrine held by certain Calvinists holding that, while the fall of man was inevitable, the identities of the elect and the reprobate were not known until after the fall) existence; and that we should expect holiness to “trump” temptations or disordered tendencies in the area of sexuality exactly as often as we should expect holiness to “trump” the reality of having to undergo death.
  2. Second, West has an inadequate notion of analogy. He conceives love in a reductive bodily-sexual sense, then reads the Christian mysteries as though they were somehow ever-greater and more perfect realizations of what he emphasizes as key in our own experience, namely, sex.
    But sex is not even the most important part of human love, let alone the key to the Christian mysteries–the Eucharist, for example. Missing in West’s work is an adequate idea of the radical discontinuity (maior dissimilitudo ) between the divine love revealed by God–and indeed the (supernatural) love to which we are called–and sexual love or intercourse. To be sure, the spousal love between man and woman is central in man’s imaging of God, and the gendered body and sexual relations are an integral sign and expression of spousal love, which also includes what John Paul II calls all the other manifestations of affection. However, as Joseph Ratzinger says, it is only because man has a capacity for God that he also has a capacity for another human being. The former indicates the “content,” the latter the “consequence,” of man’s likeness to God.
    In the end, West, in his disproportionate emphasis on sex, promotes a pansexualist tendency that ties all important human and indeed supernatural activity back to sex without the necessary dissimilitudo.
  3. Third, West’s treatment of shame and reverence is marred by a too-male vision of things–not only too much maleness but distorted maleness. If we could just get over our prudishness and sin-induced guilt, he seems to think, we would be ready simply to dispense with clothes and look at others in their nakedness. He has no discernible sense of the difference between what might be a feminine as distinct from masculine sense of unveiling. He (thus) lacks a reverence for the body entailing a modesty not reducible simply to shame, or again a patient reverence presupposing the “veiledness” proper to what essentially contains mystery. His work is preoccupied with what is external to the detriment of the interiority proper to persons. In this context, we can say that West’s theology ultimately lacks a Marian dimension: not in the sense that he fails to make references to Mary, but because his work is not adequately formed, in method or content, in Mary’s archetypal feminine-human sensibility.
  4. Fourth, a style of preaching is not merely a matter of “style”–a difference in personality or taste. It is always-also a matter of theology itself. West often tends to treat resistance to the content of his lectures, for example during the question periods, as matters of resistance to the Holy Spirit (to the Spirit now speaking in and through West’s “charism”), urging questioners to pray to overcome the fear induced in them by their bad theological-spiritual formation. Well-balanced persons have spoken of how West makes them feel a sense of guilt, of resistance to the Holy Spirit, if they experience uneasiness about what he is saying.

West and Hugh Hefner
Regarding Hefner: West fails to see that Hefner at root does not correct but misconceives and then only continues the error of America’s Puritan Protestantism. For both Puritanism and Hefner, the body is merely a tool, though to be manipulated differently: by the former exclusively for reproducing children and by Hefner for pleasure. It is not only Puritanism but also Hefner that fails to understand properly the body and bodily desires in their natural meaning as good.

Deflecting People From The Beauty And Depth Of John Paul II’s Anthropology Of Love
In sum, West’s work provides a paradigm of what is most often criticized today in connection with John Paul II’s theology of the body–and rightly criticized, insofar as that theology is identified with West’s interpretation: namely, that it is too much about sex and too romantic.

West presents a problem for the Church, not because he lacks orthodox intentions, but because his unquestionably orthodox intentions render his theology, a priori, all the more credible. His work often deflects people from the beauty and depth of what is the authentic meaning of John Paul II’s anthropology of love, and thus of what was wrought in and through the Second Vatican Council. It is scarcely the first time in the history of the Church that abundant good will did not suffice to make one’s theology and vision of reality altogether true.

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False Complementarity and the Semblance of Real Intimacy

July 7, 2010

I’ve added a new page to those that deal with topic of Homosexuality and the Church. It’s a topic often misunderstood or wrongfully attributed to a homophobic predisposition in the Church by its modern homosexualist detractors.

This particular page is an article by Fr. José Noriega, Vice-Chancellor of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. Fr. Noriega specializes in sexual ethics and is a professor of moral theology. He examines homosexuality not from the point of view as an act against nature but in the light of a moral theological perspective: can homosexual behavior and the inclination at its origin be ordered toward a good life, a life that is complete, fulfilled, and happy?

Married couple’s (male/female) sexual relation can be instrumentalized for the sake of pleasure. Yet the Church seems to view those relationships different from the “instrumentalized” relations of gay couples, which it condemns vigorously. What is the difference between the dormant procreative nature of an infertile couple and those of two gay men or women?

We are, in our Catholic beliefs, embodied souls or ensouled bodies. In John Paul II’s Theology of the Body we learn that “body expresses person.” Fr. Noriega walks us through the homosexual relationship and the nature of the intimacy lived out between two people in a homosexual relationship: “Because the sexual difference is not included as a constitutive element of the persons’ identity, or of the possibility for personal communion, it is in reality only the semblance of real intimacy. It opens up a space for the other, a space that is also physical, but within a false complementarity, because it is not built on the significance of the bodily differences (which are structurally denied from the beginning), but on the satisfaction the two may attain through genital activity.”

False complementarity….a semblance of real intimacy: Christians are called upon to be truth-tellers and Fr. Noriega explains what the truth of homosexuality is here. Unfortunately, the source is Communio and they do not offer the article online but you can purchase the volume of the journal for $12.

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Reading Selections: Man Becomes The Image Of God By Communion Of Persons — Pope John Paul II

June 21, 2010

As I seek to understand more of what constitutes a person and the importance of the male-female relationship, I found this wonderful reflection by John Paul II which has become part of the Theology of the Body, which is the topic of a series of 129 lectures given by Pope John Paul II during his Wednesday audiences in the Pope Paul VI Hall between September 1979 and November 1984. It was the first major teaching of his pontificate and the complete addresses were later compiled and published as a single work by the same name. This particular topic was taken from his General Audience of Wednesday, 14 November 1979.

I always thought God created man and then created woman. However following John Paul II’s analysis here I begin to see that God created man which was the creation of a unity of two beings: man and woman. It is that communio personarum that is key. Marriage is the celebration of that communio personarum which can only be achieved by a man and a woman.

The Creation Of Man In Genesis
Following the narrative of Genesis, we have seen that the “definitive” creation of man consists in the creation of the unity of two beings. Their unity denotes above all the identity of human nature; their duality, on the other hand, manifests what, on the basis of this identity, constitutes the masculinity and femininity of created man. This ontological dimension of unity and duality has, at the same time, an axiological (vocab: The study of the nature of values and value judgments) meaning. From the text of Genesis 2:23 and from the whole context, it is clearly seen that man was created as a particular value before God. “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). But man was also created as a particular value for himself — first, because he is man; second, because the woman is for the man, and vice versa, the man is for the woman.

While the first chapter of Genesis expresses this value in a purely theological form (and indirectly a metaphysical one), the second chapter, on the other hand, reveals, so to speak, the first circle of the experience lived by man as value. This experience is already inscribed in the meaning of original solitude and then in the whole narrative of the creation of man as male and female. The concise text of Genesis 2:23, which contains the words of the first man at the sight of the woman created, “taken out of him”, can be considered the biblical prototype of the Canticle of Canticles. And if it is possible to read impressions and emotions through words so remote, one might almost venture to say that the depth and force of this first and “original” emotion of the male-man in the presence of the humanity of the woman, and at the same time in the presence of the femininity of the other human being, seems something unique and unrepeatable.

Unity In “Communion Of Persons”
In this way the meaning of man’s original unity, through masculinity and femininity, is expressed as an overcoming of the frontier of solitude.
At the same time it is an affirmation — with regard to both human beings — of everything that constitutes man in solitude. In the Bible narrative, solitude is the way that leads to that unity which, following Vatican II, we can define as communio personarum.( 1) “But God did not create man as a solitary being, for from the beginning “male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Their companionship produces the primary form of interpersonal communion” (Gaudium et Spes 12).

As we have already seen, in his original solitude man acquires a personal consciousness in the process of distinction from all living beings (animalia). At the same time, in this solitude, he opens up to a being akin to himself, defined in Genesis (2:18, 20) as “a helper fit for him.” This opening is no less decisive for the person of man; in fact, it is perhaps even more decisive than the distinction itself. In the Yahwist narrative, man’s solitude is presented to us not only as the first discovery of the characteristic transcendence peculiar to the person. It is also presented as the discovery of an adequate relationship “to” the person, and therefore as an opening and expectation of a “communion of persons.”

The term “community” could also be used here, if it were not generic and did not have so many meanings. Communio expresses more, with greater precision, since it indicates precisely that “help” which is derived, in a sense, from the very fact of existing as a person “beside” a person. In the Bible narrative this fact becomes eo ipso — in itself — the existence of the person “for” the person, since man in his original solitude was, in a way, already in this relationship. That is confirmed, in a negative sense, precisely by this solitude.

Furthermore, the communion of persons could be formed only on the basis of a “double solitude” of man and of woman, that is, as their meeting in their distinction from the world of living beings (animalia), which gave them both the possibility of being and existing in a special reciprocity. The concept of “help” also expresses this reciprocity in existence, which no other living being could have ensured. All that constituted the foundation of the solitude of each of them was indispensable for this reciprocity. Self-knowledge and self-determination, that is, subjectivity and consciousness of the meaning of one’s own body, was also indispensable.

Image Of Inscrutable Divine Communion
In the first chapter, the narrative of the creation of man affirms directly, right from the beginning, that man was created in the image of God as male and female. The narrative of the second chapter, on the other hand, does not speak of the “image of God.” But in its own way it reveals that the complete and definitive creation of “man” (subjected first to the experience of original solitude) is expressed in giving life to that communio personarum that man and woman form. In this way, the Yahwist narrative agrees with the content of the first narrative.

If, vice versa, we wish to draw also from the narrative of the Yahwist text the concept of “image of God,” we can then deduce that man became the “image and likeness” of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning. The function of the image is to reflect the one who is the model, to reproduce its own prototype. Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion. Right “from the beginning,” he is not only an image in which the solitude of a person who rules the world is reflected, but also, and essentially, an image of an inscrutable divine communion of persons.

In this way, the second narrative could also be a preparation for understanding the Trinitarian concept of the “image of God,” even if the latter appears only in the first narrative. Obviously, that is not without significance for the theology of the body. Perhaps it even constitutes the deepest theological aspect of all that can be said about man. In the mystery of creation — on the basis of the original and constituent “solitude” of his being — man was endowed with a deep unity between what is, humanly and through the body, male in him and what is, equally humanly and through the body, female in him. On all this, right from the beginning, the blessing of fertility descended, linked with human procreation (cf. Genesis 1:28).

The Body Reveals Man
4. In this way, we find ourselves almost at the heart of the anthropological reality that has the name “body.” The words of Genesis 2:23 speak of it directly and for the first time in the following terms: “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones.” The male-man uttered these words, as if it were only at the sight of the woman that he was able to identify and call by name what makes them visibly similar to each other, and at the same time what manifests humanity.

In the light of the preceding analysis of all the “bodies” which man has come into contact with and which he has defined, conceptually giving them their name (animalia), the expression “flesh of my flesh” takes on precisely this meaning: the body reveals man. This concise formula already contains everything that human science could ever say about the structure of the body as organism, about its vitality, and its particular sexual physiology, etc. This first expression of the man, “flesh of my flesh,” also contains a reference to what makes that body truly human. Therefore it referred to what determines man as a person, that is, as a being who, even in all his corporality, is similar to God.(2 The dualistic contraposition “soul-body” does not appear in the conception of the most ancient books of the Bible. As has already been stressed (cf. L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, November 5, 1979, page 15, note 1), we can speak rather of a complementary combination “body-life.” The body is the expression of man’s personality, and if it does not fully exhaust this concept, it must be understood in biblical language as pars pro toto; cf. for example: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father…” (Matthew 16:17), that is, it was not a man who revealed it to you.)

Meaning Of Unity
We find ourselves, therefore, almost at the very core of the anthropological reality, the name of which is “body,” the human body. However, as can easily be seen, this core is not only anthropological, but also essentially theological. Right from the beginning, the theology of the body is bound up with the creation of man in the image of God. It becomes, in a way, also the theology of sex, or rather the theology of masculinity and femininity, which has its starting point here in Genesis.

The original meaning of unity, to which words of Genesis 2:24 bear witness, will have in the revelation of God an ample and distant perspective. This unity through the body — “and the two will be one flesh” — possesses a multiform dimension. It possesses an ethical dimension, as is confirmed by Christ’s answer to the Pharisees in Matthew 19 (cf. Mark 10). It also has a sacramental dimension, a strictly theological one, as is proved by St. Paul’s words to the Ephesians (“For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes it 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” (Ephesians 5:29-32). This refers also to the tradition of the prophets (Hosea, Isaiah, Ezekiel). And this is so because that unity which is realized through the body indicates, right from the beginning, not only the “body,” but also the “incarnate” communion of persons — communio personarum — and calls for this communion right from the beginning.

Masculinity and femininity express the dual aspect of man’s somatic constitution. (“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”), and indicate, furthermore, through the same words of Genesis 2:23, they indicate the new consciousness of the sense of one’s own body: a sense which, it can be said, consists in a mutual enrichment. Precisely this consciousness, through which humanity is formed again as the communion of persons, seems to be the layer which in the narrative of the creation of man (and in the revelation of the body contained in it) is deeper than his somatic structure as male and female. In any case, this structure is presented right from the beginning with a deep consciousness of human corporality and sexuality, and that establishes an inalienable norm for the understanding of man on the theological plane.

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Reading The Theology Of The Body Into Wendell Berry’s Remembering

May 26, 2010

NATHAN SCHLUETER is an assistant professor of political science at Hillsdale College. In this essay he reads Wendell Berry’s novel Remembering in terms of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. I think taking a philosophical work and being able to link its concepts to a literary piece is a wonderful gift and Dr. Schlueter’s accomplishment here is no mean feat: “By making detailed what is spare in the myth of the fall, and making concrete what is abstract in the Theology of the Body, Remembering by Wendell Berry brings us tangibly in touch with the primordial memory of wholeness that slumbers in every human heart.” A lengthy read but well worth the time.

Introduction
Wendell Berry’s short novel Remembering is about a man who has lost his right hand to a machine in a farming accident. But the “hidden wound” of my title also refers to Wendell Berry’s collection of essays, The Hidden Wound. The subject of this book, its “hidden wound, is presumably racism, but Berry writes in the Afterword to the 1989 edition that “the root of our racial problem in America is not racism. The root is our inordinate desire to be superior to our condition.” This inordinate desire, Berry suggests, is the real hidden wound, lurking beneath the surface not only of racism but of every form of injustice.

Berry’s description of the hidden wound subtly but ineluctably calls to mind The Hidden Wound, Original Sin, which was caused by Adam and Eve’s refusal to accept their condition and by their inordinate desire to “be like God, knowing good and evil.” The Christian account of original sin not only provides a “first cause” explanation of human perversity, it also identifies through a rich narrative the archetypal pattern for every sin. When this narrative is reduced to a formula there is a risk that original sin will become merely a fact to be accepted or rejected, rather than a fecund source of self-understanding that provides better motives for belief

How stories can convey truth in ways that elude ordinary rational thought is a question worthy of great wonder and meditation. But if stories in general have this power, myth is characterized by stories that deliver truth in the most refined and compact narrative form. There is therefore no tension between myth and truth. As John Paul II writes, “the term ‘myth’ does not designate a fabulous content, but merely an archaic way of expressing a deeper content.” The myth of the fall has this quality. Much great imaginative literature is merely an articulation and ramification of this myth, deepening our understanding of its meaning and of ourselves as well.

Remembering provides a marvelous illustration of this point. Moving in its own right, when the story is read in light of the myth of the fall it takes on a singular power to bring before us in our ordinary lives the ever — present pattern expressed in the myth of the fall. That power is even greater when we bring to it insights from what is arguably the greatest commentary on the myth of the fall in the last five centuries, John Paul II’s Wednesday lectures, now collected under the title The Theology of the Body, as well as elaborations on that teaching found in the Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem (“On the Dignity of Women”), the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), and the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio (“On the Christian Family in the Modern World”).

I should make clear that in the argument that follows I am not making a claim of influence. Wendell Berry can be described as an ambivalent Protestant Christian of Baptist upbringing, and to my knowledge he has never read John Paul II’s Wednesday lectures. Nevertheless the parallels between the Theology of the Body and Berry’s fiction should not be surprising, indeed would not be surprising to that sometime thespian and playwright John Paul II. He was convinced of the singular power of artists to perceive and to reveal the depths of the created order, a point he makes in the opening sentence to his Letter to Artists: “None can sense more deeply than you artists…something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands.”

The Theology of the Body
The governing principle of the Theology of the Body is what John Paul TT has called the “hermeneutics of the gift” (Theology, 2 January 1980, 58): self-gift is God’s very identity as a communion of persons, a fact manifested in the gift of creation and expressed most profoundly in God’s gift of himself on the cross in the person of Christ. It is “through a sincere gift of himself” therefore, that man not only “finds himself” but also most completely becomes “the image and likeness of God.” Man’s vocation to self-gift, according to John Paul II, is inscribed into the very language of the human body, especially in the sexual differentiation of man and woman, and so conjugal love, the two-in-one flesh communion of persons, is an icon of the Trinity, the very archetype of the communion of persons rooted in self-gift. (Theology, 22 Apr11 1981, 221)

It is important to understand that the Theology of the Body is not exclusively a teaching about sex, or even about human sexuality, though it has much to say about these things. Because it holds that God as Gift is written into the very fabric of his creation, there is nothing it does not touch: politics, work, technology, economics, culture, education — all are subject to illumination by the “hermeneutics of gift.” It is with good reason, therefore, that George Weigel, Pope John Paul II’s official biographer, has described the Theology of the Body as a “kind of theological time bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church.”

While the Theology of the Body feeds on a structure of theological analogies, it is derived from a rich and penetrating exegesis of biblical passages involving the body. That exegesis in turn draws deeply from three sources: (1) metaphysics and metaphysical anthropology; (2) phenomenology and human experience; and (3) the larger theological tradition of the Church. (See for example Theology, 13 February 1986), 72-73)

Phenomenology, a philosophical method dedicated to the exploration and articulation of the objective structure of human consciousness, was the subject of John Paul II’s second doctoral dissertation and deserves special attention here. At every step of his biblical exegesis John Paul II takes special care to show how the story of the fall expresses and clarifies basic human experience. For him, the “basic significance” of the story is not its “distance in time,” or the fact that it belongs to man’s “prehistory,” but rather that the “experiences” expressed there “are always at the root of every human experience,” even if they “are so intermingled with the ordinary things of life that we do not generally notice their extraordinary character.” (Theology, 12 December 1979, 51) This means that even in their condition after the fall human beings are still in some sense linked to that original condition by nature, experience, and memory, and that the original condition still provides a normative guide for human self-understanding and behavior. It “is indispensable in order to know who man is and who he should be, and therefore how he should mold his own activity. It is an essential and important thing for the future of human ethos.(Theology, 13 February 1980, 74. See also January 1980, 66 and 2 April 1980, 88)

There is no space here to explicate the full meaning of John Paul Il’s exegesis, or to review the ever growing edifice of commentaries upon it, but in this paper I would like to identify and discuss three of its core aspects that appear in the commentary on the creation accounts of Genesis: original solitude, original unity, and original nakedness. (These three basic elements are emphasized by John Crabowski in his introduction at 17, and by John Paul II on 12 December 1979, 52) Along the way, however, the reader should never forget that for John Paul II the mystery of Creation is never far from the mystery of Redemption.

The Meaning Of Original Solitude
John Paul II discovers in the creation accounts of Genesis a divine pedagogy, a process in which God reveals himself to man, and man to himself. The instruction begins with man’s original solitude. God creates Adam first, and brings before him the animals to see what lie will name them. Through observing and naming the visible, corporeal world Adam comes to the awareness that he is dissimilar from the rest of creation and therefore that he is in some sense alone. This solitude of Adam has a twofold and somewhat paradoxical significance. On the one hand it reveals man’s dignity as a person, his “subjectivity, which is constituted through self-knowledge.”(Theology, 10 October 1979, 37) It is also the ground of his superiority over the rest of the natural world:

“Man can dominate the earth because he alone — and no other of the living beings — is capable of ‘tilling it’ and transforming it according to his own needs,” John Paul II writes. (Theology, 24 October 1979, 39) It thus confirms, in part, the biblical declaration that man is made “in the image and likeness of God.”

On the other hand, man’s Original solitude, and his awareness of it, reveals to him his lack of self-sufficiency, his ultimate incompleteness. “But for the man there was not found a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:20). This experience is reinforced by God’s warning to Adam against eating the forbidden fruit: “You shall die.” According to John Paul II, “The words of God-Yahweh addressed to man confirmed a dependence, in existing, such as to make man a limited being and, by his very nature, liable to nonexistence.” (Theology, 31 October 1979, 41)

The Meaning Of Origina1 Unity
By itself this second dimension of original solitude might result in an angst-ridden existentialism, but for John Paul II the experience of “double solitude” has a positive end: it points to man’s fundamental vocation to and identity in a communion of persons. Theology, 14 November 1979, 46) After bringing Adam to an awareness of his difference from the rest of creation, and thus to the awareness of both his dignity and his neediness, God puts Adam into a deep sleep and forms Eve from one of his ribs. Upon seeing Eve for the first time, Adam ecstatically declares in what is both the first human voice and the first poetic utterance in Sacred Scripture, “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 3:23). Immediately after which the Bible says, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother, clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

This two-in-one-flesh communion of persons illuminates the meaning of Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” In other words, man images God not only in the individuality of his original solitude, but also and perhaps especially as a community of persons: for John Paul II these two features, solitude and communion, are intimately connected, but solitude is ordered to communion: “Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion. Right ‘from the beginning,’ he is not only an image in which the solitude of a person who rules the world is reflected, but also, and essentially, an image of an inscrutable divine communion of persons.”(Theology, 14 November 1979, 46)

The integral relation of solitude and communion in Genesis provides the ground for one of John Paul II’s favorite and most frequently quoted phrases from Section 24 of Gaudium et Spes: “Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” Further, in revealing man as a communion of persons, Genesis “could also be a preparation for understanding the Trinitarian concept of the ‘image of God.” (Theology, 14 November 1979, 46) This, he suggests, “perhaps even constitutes the deepest theological aspect of all that can be said about man”( Theology, 14 November 1979, 47)

It would be easy to conclude from the second creation account that human persons are principally ordered to one another, but a careful reading of the text points to the more fundamental communion of persons between human beings and God. Even in his original solitude man is in relationship with his Creator: “Man is ‘alone.’ That means that he, through his own humanity, through what he is, is constituted at the same time in a unique, exclusive, and unrepeatable relationship with God himself.” (Theology, 24 October 1979, 38) Moreover, this relationship includes both male and female. As John Paul II points out, the Hebrew word for Adam (‘adam) generically includes all of mankind; the differentiation of man into male (‘is) and female (‘issah) does not occur until after the creation of Eve. Thus, “Man is ‘male and female’ right from the beginning.”(Theology 7 November 1979, 43) From this he concludes that “the meaning of ‘original solitude,’ which can be referred simply to man, is substantially prior to the meaning of original unity. (Theology, 7 November 1979, 43)

The Meaning Of Original Nakedness
The Genesis treatment of original nakedness deepens our perspective on original solitude and original unity. Nakedness figures largely in this story. Before the fall Adam and Eve “were both naked, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25), and shame at their nakedness is the very first result of their disobedience (Genesis 3:7). Thus a “radical change of the meaning of the original nakedness” occurs between Genesis 2:25 and Genesis 3. (Theology, 12 December 1979, 53)

According to John Paul II the absence of shame in original nakedness does not represent a privation or lack of self-awareness, but a fullness of vision: “Nakedness signifies the original good of God’s vision. It signifies all the simplicity and fullness of the vision through which the ‘pure’ value of humanity as male and female, the ‘pure’ value of the body and of sex, is manifested,” (Theology, 2 January 1980, 57) Alternatively, “shame brings with it a specific limitation in seeing with the eyes of the body. This takes place above all because personal intimacy is disturbed and almost threatened by this sight.”(Theology, 2 January 1980, 58) 

In describing man’s original condition in this way John Paul II rejects an essentially deontological (Deontological ethics or deontology (from Greek δέον, deon, “obligation, duty”; and -λογία, -logia) is an approach to ethics that judges the morality of an action based on the action’s adherence to a rule or rules. Deontologists look at rules and duties.) and legalistic reading of man’s original condition and the fall. Creation is ordered by love, and the “beautifying awareness” of this love calls forth a response of love from man. (Theology 9 January 1980, 61 and 20 January 1980, 69) For this reason, John Paul IT writes that “Man should have understood, that the tree of knowledge had roots not only in the garden of Eden, but also in his humanity.” (Theology, 31 October 1979, 41) 

Original disobedience, and indeed every sin, is therefore best understood as the refusal to recognize and accept with gratitude the fundamental “giftedness” of creation on its own terms. Every sin involves an “objectification” of the good, a reduction and wrenching of it from the context of its ground in gift. On the plane of human relations, this manifests itself as “a reduction of the other to an ‘object for myself (an object of lust, of misappropriation, etc.).” (Theology, 6 February 1980, 70)

Nowhere is this pattern more evident than in the story of the fall itself: Eve abstracts the sensitive and spiritual goods of the apple from their larger moral context within the created order (“the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes,” etc.), and as a consequence both Eve and Adam abstract the sensitive goods of one another from their larger moral context within the good of the person (“and they knew that they were naked”). This reduction by abstraction is the specific quality of pornography, and of obscenity more generally. The problem with pornography, John Paul II suggests, is not that it shows too much, but that it shows too little of the full truth about man. (See discussion in Theology, 218-29 (15, 22, and 29 April and 6 May 1981) Indeed, such a reduction may be the very form of every sin.

Creation In John Paul II And Wendell Berry
The Theology of the Body therefore is rooted in a notion of “Creation as a Fundamental and Original Gift.” (This is the title of the remarks given 19 December 1979) This fact has an important bearing on artists, who are in some sense co-creators with God. John Paul II brings out this point in his “Letter to Artists,” which has for its epigraph a verse from Genesis 1:31 (“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good”). In Section 15 he writes the following:

The Spirit is the mysterious Artist of the universe …Every genuine inspiration, however, contains some tremor of that “breath” with which the Creator Spirit suffused the work of creation from the very beginning. Overseeing the mysterious laws governing the universe, the divine breath of the Creator Spirit reaches out to human genius and stirs its creative power. He touches it with a kind of inner illumination which brings together the sense of the good and the beautiful, and he awakens energies of mind and heart which enable it to conceive an idea and give it form in a work of art. It is right then to speak, even if only analogically, of “moments of grace,” because the human being is able to experience in some way the Absolute who is utterly beyond.

Wendell Berry seems to share John Paul II’s understanding of creation and the role of the artist. He begins Remembering with the following invocation/prayer, written in blank verse:

Heavenly Muse, Spirit who brooded on
the world and raised it shapely out of nothing,
Touch my lips with fire and burn away
All dross of speech, so that I keep in mind
The truth and end to which my words now move
In hope. Keep my mind within that Mind
Of which it is a part, whose wholeness is
The hope of sense in what I tell. And though
I go among the scatterings of that sense,
The members of its worldly body broken,
Rule my sight by vision of the parts
Rejoined. And in my exile’s journey far
From home, be with me, so I may return.

 

By this stirring invocation Berry signals to his readers the epic theme of his narrative. Like John Milton and Dante Alighieri, two poets who figure largely in the story, he chooses a classical idiom in which to associate his narrative with the Christian account of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. From the outset, therefore, readers are invited to consider the events of Remembering on a much larger scale than they might otherwise do. That scale involves nothing less than a right attitude toward Creation. Indeed, no word appears more often in Berry’s corpus than “creation” and its cognates.

The Meanings Of The Wound In Remembering
The centrality of the body to the action of Remembering is reflected in its title. Remembering plays on several inter-related meanings. The most obvious meaning is the faculty of memory itself. But this meaning should not be taken lightly, for it conjures up the entire mythical, epistemological, and theological edifices of the Muses, daughters of Memory, Plato’s anamnesis, and perhaps most importantly the memoria of Book X of Augustine’s Confessions, also a meditation on creation. More subtly, “Re-Membering” also draws upon the archaic but theologically rich biblical analogy of the parts of the body to the communion of persons in Christ. “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:4-5 and 1 Corinthians 12:12). It thus captures another notion that pervades Berry’s moral imagination, membership. The title of Remembering expresses the central action of the novel: the epic journey from brokenness and despair through memory into wholeness.

“It is dark.” This lapidary sentence begins Remembering. At the beginning of the story the protagonist, a despairing Andy Catlett, finds himself lying alone, far from his home in Kentucky, in the mid-morning darkness of a hotel room in San Francisco. A journalist turned farmer, Andy has recently lost his right hand in a farming accident involving a corn picker. Andy’s wounded body is both the cause and visible sign of a much deeper interior wound. Frustrated, resentful, and angry, he has struck out at and wounded the community that sustains him, his friends, his family, and most significantly, his wife Flora.

The wound in Andy’s body reverberates into his interior life and through his relationships, especially his marriage. The intimate relationship between Andy’s wounded body and his spiritual response to that wound is central to the story, arid encourages reflection upon what it means to be a person in a body.

The complex of meanings in Andy’s wounded body is suggested in the following passage:

He remembered with longing the events of his body’s wholeness, grieving over them, as Adam remembered Paradise. He remembered how his own body had dressed itself while his mind thought of something else; how he had shifted burdens from hand to hand; how his right hand had danced with its awkward partner and made it graceful; how his right hand had been as deft and nervous as a bird. He remembered his poise as a two-handed lover, when he reached out to Flora and held and touched her, until the smooths and swells of her ached in his palm and fingers, and his hand knew her as a man knows his homeland. Now that hand that joined him to her had been cast away, and he mourned over it as over a priceless map or manual lost forever.

Most concretely, the loss of Andy’s hand means limits. From the most mundane activity like buttoning a shirt to the intimate caresses of his wife’s body, Andy is now hampered. He can no longer care for himself, Flora, or his children as he once could, and he is painfully aware that the favors he receives from others cannot be repaid in kind. In Andy’s bodily wound Berry figures the essential condition of all human beings. We are by nature incomplete and dependent beings, a fact most evident in our mortality, our liability “to nonexistence.”

In his frustration at this new dependency, however, Andy fails to recognize that his limits are only a vivid extension of the limits that all human beings must face, whether crippled or not. “I feel like I’m no account to anybody,” he tells flora. To which she responds, “Well, unfortunately that’s not for you to decide.” Andy’s wife Flora sees the point, though Andy does not. She tells him, “You must accept this as given to you to learn from, or it will hurt you worse than it already has.” But Andy refuses to accept this. instead “he raged, and he raged at his rage, and nothing that he had was what he wanted.”

Andy’s wound also represents the punishment, if not the actual choice, of original sin. Andy significantly compares his loss to Adam’s loss of Paradise by the fall. The figure is strengthened by the comparison of his hand to a “priceless map or manual lost forever,” a fitting image for the wound of original integrity, which harms mankind’s ability to know and follow the good. That Andy loses his hand in a machine compounds this agony, for technology represents the meager human effort to remedy the effects of the fall. The clothing of our first parents (“they sewed fig leaves together”) is a remarkable reminder of this fact, and also a warning, for Adam and Eve’s first use of technology is motivated by a desire to conceal their fault, to remedy its consequences rather than correct its cause.

The fact that God later provides better clothing to Adam and Eve is evidence that technology is good when it is informed by a proper understanding of the created order as a prior and original gift. However, technology can also be rooted in an attempt to escape from this order, or to dominate it tyrannically. Motivated by this understanding of creation, technology becomes infernal. (Immanuel Kant’s interpretation of the myth of the fall in Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History provides a perfect illustration of the infernal justification for unlimited technology.) John Paul II warns against this false attitude towards technology in Centesimus annus: “Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray.” Well before his accident Andy had gained a reputation for opposing the industrialization of farming, and he dreams with terror of bulldozers leveling all he has known and loved: “Bulldozers pushed and tramped the loosened, disformed, denuded earth, working it like dough toward some new shape entirely human conceived. The fields and their names, the farmsteads and the neighbors were gone; the graveyards and the names of the dead, all gone.” Andy is therefore particularly humiliated by the “hook” that has become his right hand, and in his frustration and anger he throws it into the wastebasket, saying “Lie there where you belong, you rattledy bastard!”

Hidden at the deepest level, however, Andy’s wound is a figure for human sexuality. At first glance this may seem like a surprising claim, but upon closer examination it bears rich fruit. Recall that in order to create Eve, God draws a rib from Adam’s side and then closes it up with flesh. It is important to see that this act constitutes a wound, and although it causes no real injury to Adam it does involve a real loss to his bodily integrity and independence. This hidden wound is also the origin of the sexual differentiation of man into male and female, and therefore is mysteriously linked to human sexuality. Human sexuality involves a mark upon the human body which forever testifies to the futility of the human quest for autonomy. As John Paul II points out, human sexuality, expressed in the somatic division between masculinity and femininity, reveals and expresses our intrinsic ordering to an “other.” Human beings cannot “have sex” alone any more than they can reproduce alone, and both sex and reproduction are ordered to the two-in-one-flesh communion of persons.

It is notable that classical mythology also figures Love as a wound, and that the word “Sex” is derived from the Latin secare which means both “to cut,” and “to cut off’ or “amputate.” (In classical mythology Eros/Cupid is the mischievous son of Venus who shoots his arrows of love into unwitting victims. The action of Eros is nowhere more powerfully represented than in the story of Dido and Aeneas in book four of the Aeneid. Benedict XVI picks up on this theme in the second chapter of his book On the Way to Jesus Christ, which is entitled “Wounded by the Arrow of Beauty.” See also the remarkable passage on love as a healing wound by St. Columban in Reading 9 of the Office of Readings for Ordinary Time.) It is with good reason therefore that the poet Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium describes the sexual division at the root of Eros as a wound inflicted on the bodies of originally unified human beings by the Olympian gods as punishment for their pride (189e-194e). This myth captures well the experiences of suffering, limit, loss, and dependency that are central to Eros, but it also circumscribes the scope of Eros to the horizontal plane, to the sphere of human relationships. In reply Socrates argues that Eros is an arrow of love pointing to Transcendence. Though set in motion by the beauty of concrete, sensible objects, Eros leads the soul up the ladder of love to the universal and immaterial Beauty Itself: “This is what it is to go aright, or to be led by another, into the mystery of love: one goes always upwards for the sake of this Beauty, starting out from beautiful things and using them like rising stairs.”

Whereas Aristophanes and Socrates provide contrasting accounts of Eros in The Symposium, John Paul II’s interpretation of the “double solitude” in the myth of the fall preserves, unifies, and deepens both of them together. The unity of male and female in ‘adam captures that primordial unity of human beings in Aristophanes’ account, but rather than a punishment, this division and separation of ‘adam into ‘is-’issah, male and female, is a gift that reveals to man his deepest identity and vocation to self-gift in a communion of persons. On the other hand, ‘adam’s original unity and solitude in relationship to God points to the transcendent ordering of Eros that we find in Socrates’ account.

Human sexuality is so basic to human experience that its deepest meaning is easy to overlook. As John Paul II remarks, sexuality is one of those things that is “so intermingled with the ordinary things of life that we do not generally notice [its] extraordinary character.” (Theology, 12 December 1979, 51) Like the myth of the fall and Plato’s Symposium, Berry’s Remembering seeks to draw out the deeper meaning hidden in the mysteries of human solitude and sexuality. By figuring human sexuality in the loss of a hand, Berry reveals the extraordinary meaning hidden in this ordinary reality.

The Human Response To The Wound
At some level all human beings experience the hidden wound of solitude and dependency. What is their response? Andy’s first response to his wound is rebellion. Berry alludes to this fact in the title of the first chapter, “Darkness Visible.” The phrase is from Milton’s graphic description of Satan’s first view of hell in the early lines of Paradise Lost:

At once as far as angel’s ken he views
The dismal situation waste and wild,
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace flam’d, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That conies to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulfur unconsumed. (I.59-69)

Milton’s Satan perfectly expresses the root principle behind the modern quest for autonomy:

The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n. (I.255)

In his representation of Satan Milton also shows that this quest is rooted not in a heroic defense of truth, but rather in resentment against and a rejection of the created order, and by extension the body, which is part of that order. Satan’s principle relies on the claim that the “mind” is all, despite the obvious and ever-present reminder of his own tortured body.

In the first part of Remembering Berry translates Satan’s principle into a contemporary American idiom. He thereby reveals the root cause that lurks behind the “boomer” impulse in the American historical experience, as opposed to the competing “sticker” tradition of building and homemaking. (Berry borrows these terms from the novelist Wallace Stegner.) Andy Catlett experiences the two dominant temptations associated with boomers: the impulse to recreate one’s identity from scratch, and the impulse always to be on the move. These impulses, like the infernal technological impulse noted above, underlie the quest for autonomy, and ultimately reflect a desire to escape the body and its limits. Each of them involves a kind of dualism that results in a dismembering. Berry also shows through Andy a way out of the predicament.

Andy’s temptation to recreate himself begins with a decisive rejection of his identity. His formal reason for traveling to San Francisco was to deliver a talk at a local college. But when the greeter from the college approaches him at the airport, Andy unaccountably denies he is himself and walks away. Berry describes the experience in striking terms reminiscent of Satan’s rejection of the body:

When he’d answered, “No maam,” to the young woman waiting to meet him at the airport gate, he had felt the sudden swing and stagger of disembodiment, as though a profound divorce had occurred, casting his body off to do what it would on its own, to be watched as from a distance, without premonition of what it might do.

Andy’s rejection of his identity is reinforced in the cold anonymity of his hotel room, that icon of American displacement:

The feel of the bed, the smell of the room seem compounded of the strangeness of all the strangers who have slept there: salesmen, company officers, solitary travelers, who have entered, shut the door, set down their bags, and stood, weary and silent, afraid to speak, even to themselves, their own names. A man could go so far from home, he thinks, that his own name would become unspeakable to him, unanswerable by anyone, so that if he dared speak it, it would escape him utterly, a bird out an open window, leaving him untongued in some boundless amplitude of mere absence.

But Andy cannot abide the agony of this solitude. In his pain and need he leaves the hotel for a walk through the early-morning streets of San Francisco. This turns out to be an epic journey, the significance of which is suggested by the inscription from Dante’s Commedia that Andy finds on a Catholic church as he passes. The inscription reads: “LA GLORIA DI COLUI CHE TUTTO MUOVE PER L’UNIVERSO PENETRA E RESPLENDE.”

These are the first lines of Paradiso, translated “The Glory of the one who moves all things / penetrates the universe with light” Andy is a latter—day Dante, but before he reaches his Paradise he must complete his travel through the lower regions which are as distinctly American as Dante’s were Florentine.

There is a reason Berry sets Remembering in the westernmost part of the continental United States, and in a city historically associated with the most intentional attempts at self-invention. “He wants to reach the city’s edge,” Ben-y writes. “He longs for the verge and immensity of the continent’s meeting with the sea.” Andy’s pilgrimage takes him through the footsteps of American history. In Berry’s telling, the persistent, pervasive, and restless American desire to “move west” is best understood, at root, as the attempt to escape from the body and its limits. The final frontier of this impulse is biotechnology, whose governing principle is the ultimate victory over suffering and death.

Here at the edge of the world Andy has left the encumbrances of family, history, indeed his very identity, in the search for something better. Here he experiences the final temptation:

Where might he not go? Who knows where he is? He feels the simplicity and lightness of his solitude…Other lives, other possible lives swarm around him…All distance is around him and he wants nothing that he has. All choice is around him, and he knows nothing that he wants.

Just as he is fantasizing about the possibilities of his new self, Andy is called back to himself in memory by the voice of his grandmother, Done Wheeler. This memory takes him back to a time even before his childhood, when first “the shuttle flung …though the web of his making.” There he sees distant relatives reenacting the rites that made him, until he arrives at the home of his grandmother Dorie Wheeler, where, gathering eggs together in the evening, she looks down at him smilingly and says, “Oh, my boy, how far away will you be sometime, remembering this?” The memory brings Andy to tears. The lines are worth quoting at length, both for their pathos and their beauty:

He is held, though he does not hold. He is caught up in the old pattern of entrances: of minds into minds, minds into place, places into minds. The pattern Innits and complicates him, singling him out in his own flesh. Out of the multitude of possible lives that have surrounded and beckoned to him like a crowd around a star, he returns now to himself a mere meteorite, scorched, small, and fallen. He has met again his one life and one death, and he takes them back. It is as though, leaving, he has met himself already returning, pushing in front of him a barn seventy-five feet by forty, and a hundred acres of land, and six generations of his own history, partly failed, and a few dead and living whose love has claimed him forever. He will be partial, and he will die; he will live out the truth of that. Though he does not hold, he is held. He is grieving, and he is full of joy. What is that Egypt but his Promised Land?

Andy’s decision to return home is a decision to accept the goodness of the created order and the goodness of his body, including the limits, partiality, suffering, and death they bring with them. In his powerful dramatization of this decision, Berry challenges and reverses the poisonous Romanticism that is almost coterminous with novelistic form, and that drips into the heart of contemporary American culture. Notably, now reconciled to his condition, Andy recovers the “hook” of his right hand from the waste-basket. “It is not a hand. It is not a substitute for a hand. It is only a tool, only a tool. His hand is gone. Sometime, somewhere behind him, his hand has left him. It has died, and is at peace.”

Berry adds something to his account that is only implicit, and never fully developed in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. According to John Paul II, “Sex decides not only the somatic individuality of man, but defines at the same time his personal identity and concreteness…This concreteness means both the uniqueness and unrepeatability of the person.” (Theology, 5 March 1980, 79)  Man’s somatic “concreteness” means that he is necessarily implicated in a “partial” history, tradition, and memory that are not of his own making.

These partialities provide the context within which human beings must live and choose, and therefore they have ethical implications as well. For Andy this means the return to “a barn seventy-five feet by forty, arid a hundred acres of land, and six generations of his own history, partly failed, a few dead and living whose love has claimed him forever.” His decision to remain in his body, to return home, is also a choice for Place, a choice of being responsible to the narrative he has been given with all of its work, suffering, and joy. “What is that Egypt but his Promised Land?” The next two chapters of Remembering, “A Long Choosing” and “A Place Known and Dreamed,” are an elaboration of this observation.

So powerful is this climax of Remembering that one almost forgets that it occurs less than halfway through the story. Andy’s journey home, which is described in the latter half of the novel, is equally powerful. Like St. Augustine of the Confessions or Dante the Pilgrim, Andy now begins to pray along his way, recalling his own history and offering meditations born of his new-found wisdom. The principal subject of his meditations is wonder at the mystery, beauty, and meaning of being in a body, with its own partial history, memory, tradition, and community. He also laments the costs of repudiating these things. For example, as he passes through the “Gate of Universal Suspicion” (a prescient pre-9/11 coinage) at the airport he observes the crowd of individuals hurrying about:

He has heard the tread of his own people dancing in a ring, the fiddle measuring time to them, a voice calling them, through the steps of change and absence, home again, the dancers unaware of their steps, which only the music, older than memory, remembered. Now that dance is broken, dismembered in the Land of Universal Suspicion, where no face is open to another. Where any may be dangerous and none may be trusted, all must live in conflict, the fire of the world’s death prefigured in every heart.

Shall we disappear with our longing, dismembered, in the annihilating flame?

Spare us, O Lord, the logical consequences of our folly.

Healing The Hidden Wound
The final two chapters of Remembering, “Bridal” and “The Hilltop,” reinforce the parallels to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body that I have been suggesting above. In “Bridal” Berry returns the reader to the theme that has been implicit throughout the novel: the intimate relationship between Andy’s wound and his marriage. He thus suggests once again that Andy’s wound in some sense figures human sexuality and the community of persons to which it is ordered. Earlier in the story Andy remembers the wholeness he once had in his marriage to Flora:

They were two longing to be one, or one dividing relentlessly into two…It was as though grace and peace were bestowed on them out of the sanctity of marriage itself which simply furnished them to one another, free and sufficient as rain to leaf. It was as if they were not making marriage, but being made by it, and, while it held them, time and their lives flowed over them, like swift water over stones, rubbing then) together, grinding off their edges, making them fit together, fit to be together, in the only way that fragments can be rejoined.

In revolting against his wound, however, Andy also strikes against the very same things that once brought wholeness to his marriage. His reaction to his wound also wounds the unity of his marriage, dividing and separating him from Flora: “[His marriage] was no longer about duality, but about division, an infinite cold space that opened between them.”

In “Bridal” Berry describes with great accuracy the ever-present tension in the human soul between the meanings of “nakedness” before and after the fall. Even after his decision to return home Andy remains vulnerable to the objectifying glance of human beings after the fall. He notices “beautiful women” everywhere, “in summer dresses beautifully worn, flesh suggesting itself, as they move, in sweet pressures against the cloth.” Berry emphasizes the role of the body in Andy’s experience: “He lets them disembody him, his mind on the loose and rambling, envisioning unexpectable results, impossible conclusions.” And again, “Loving them apart from anything he knows, or might know, he is disembodied by them: no man going nowhere, or anywhere, his mind as perfectly departed from his life as a lost ghost, dreaming of meetings of eyes, touches, claspings, words.”

In making this connection between fantasy/lust and the body, Berry brings out the close connection that always exists between lust and abstraction. Lust is not only a reduction of the other, it is also a reduction of the self and thus., despite appearances, always involves an escape from what it means to be a person in a body. It is fitting, therefore, that Berry juxtaposes Andy’s out-of-body fantasizing with his flight on the airplane, for flight is a powerful representation of the human effort to transcend the limits of tile body. “To Andy, the air is an element as dangerous to mind as to body. For wingless creatures, it is the element of abstraction: abstract distance and speed, abstract desire.”

Berry also makes clear that Andy’s fantasizing is a result of his profound loneliness. At the deepest level he longs to make contact with concrete human persons, to meet their eyes and notice their faces. He wonders, “if they were going down, would the woman sitting beside him be willing to hold his hand?” In this loneliness, he meditates upon his marriage to Flora and on the trust it requires:

In twelve years they have given it a use and a life; a beauty has conic to it that is its answer to their love for it and their work; and it has given them a life that belonged to them even before they knew they wanted it. And all has depended on trust. How could he have forgotten? How could he have failed to understand?

Marriage is not a rational contract between two individuals for their private ends, but a community of persons based upon a self-gift which in turn recreates those persons. This self-gift requires trust, for there can never be enough knowledge of the other person and of the future to provide a certain ground for the decision. “How could he have imagined that it would be different? How could he have imagined that he might ever know enough to choose?” And then in language reminiscent of John Paul II, Andy observes that “To trust is simply to give oneself; the giving is for the future, for which there is no evidence. And once given, the self cannot be taken back, whatever the evidence.”

Such trust between two imperfect persons inevitably requires much forgiveness. “He knows the duality in those years, the imperfection in them both, and the grief and longing of their imperfection…He must have his own forgiveness and hers and the children’s, and the forgiveness of everyone and everything from which he has withheld himself.” In this realization, Andy imagines Flora coming to him again,

a bride, dressed all in white, as innocent as himself of the great power they were putting on, frightened and smiling — a gift to him such as he did not know, such as would not be known until the death that they would promise to meet together had been met, and so perhaps never to be known in this world.

He is awakened from this vision by the woman next to him, “who to his astonishment is patting his arm.” “Are you alright?” she asks. “Yes, I’ve been all right before, and I’m alright now.” This is the fitting conclusion of “Bridal.”

The ordinary Romance novel, if it ever got this far, would conclude somewhere around this point. For what can be more important or more beautiful than love between two human beings? But Berry’s imaginative vision reaches much fbrther than this, directing our attention to the higher eschatological meaning of marriage that is implied in the double solitude of man before the fall.

In the final chapter, “The Hilltop,” Andy has returned home. Flora is not home, and so he leaves her a note, “Can you forgive me? I pray that you will forgive me,” before going out for a walk on his land. This is in fact the third journey related in the novel, the first being his walk in San Francisco and the second being his flight home. If we follow the allusions to Dante, the first two journeys correspond to the Inferno and Purgatorio respectively. The themes of transgression and repentance in these two journeys seem to bear the interpretation. This final journey would then correspond to Dante’s Paradiso. Here again the parallel fits, for Andy is granted here a mystical vision of something like heaven.

Andy walks through the woods on his property, which lead to a high place overlooking Port William. While in the woods, he stops to rest and falls into a sleep reminiscent of the “deep sleep” of Adam, for it is like death: “He has entered the dark, and it is such darkness as he has never known. All that is around him and all that lie is has disappeared into it. He sees nothing, remembers nothing, knows nothing except a hopeless longing for something he does not know, for which he does not know a name.” He is awakened by a man, “dark as shadow,” touching his shoulder, and arises to find himself in the same place, which, “though it is familiar to him, is changed.” Somehow he recognizes the man as his guide, and he begins to follow this dark Virgil through the woods, which are now filled with a mysterious, singing light. Andy recognizes that “he has entered the eternal place in which we live in time” and would like to stay, but the man leads him on to the top of the hill overlooking Port William.

Andy looks and sees the town and the fields around it, Port William and its countryside as he never saw or dreamed them, the signs everywhere upon them of the care of a longer love than any who have lived there ever imagined. . And in the fields and the town, walking, standing, or sitting under trees, resting and talking together in the peace of a sabbath profound and bright, are people of such beauty that he weeps to see them. He sees that these are the membership of one another and of the place and of the song or light in which they live and move.

He sees that they are dead, and they are alive. He sees that he lives in eternity as he lives in time, and nothing is lost.

In Andy’s vision of a redeemed Port William, one cannot help recalling the verse of Revelation 21:2: “And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” The communion of persons in marriage is not man’s highest end. It is only a sacrament, a visible and efficacious sign, of the higher, more lasting, and more real communion of persons in Christ. It is our participation in this final “membership” that ultimately makes us whole, a fact beautifully expressed in the final lines of the novel, in terms softly evocative of Psalm 137:

He has come into the presence of these living by a change of sight, by which he has parted from them as they were and from himself as he was and is.
Now he prepares to leave them. Their names singing in his mind, he lifts toward them the restored right hand of his joy.

In Remembering Wendell Berry helps to heal the hidden wound of our fallen nature. He reveals in a powerful way the latent tendencies in our fallen nature and in our culture more generally toward Romanticism, Gnosticism, Manichaeism, and every other form of dualism that rejects the gift of Creation and the body. He also shows the terrifying costs of this great rejection. Moreover, by making detailed what is spare in the myth of the fall, and making concrete what is abstract in the Theology of the Body, Remembering brings us tangibly in touch with the primordial memory of wholeness that slumbers in every human heart. Above all, Remembering imprints a “beautifying awareness of the meaning of the body” (Theology, 30 January 1980, 69) into our own memory, giving us hope as we groan with all of creation for the redemption of our bodies.

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The Theology of the Body Debate: The Pivotal Question by Christopher West

October 28, 2009

pope_john_paul_ii_in_prayer1Christopher West, one of the popularizers of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, has followed up a controversial appearance on Nightline with an essay that captures some of the key points of understanding John Paul II’s marvelous series of teachings. West’s approach has been criticized by Dawn Eden. Her comments here.

Reading selections follow:

Of Which Man Are We Speaking?
The pivotal question as I see it is this: What does the grace of redemption offer us in this life with regard to our disordered sexual tendencies? From there, the questions multiply: Is it possible to overcome the pull of lust within us? If not, what are we to do with our disordered desires? If so, to what degree can we be liberated from lust and how can we enter into this grace? Furthermore, what does it actually look like to live a life of ever deepening sexual redemption?

It is abundantly clear from both Catholic teaching and human experience that, so long as we are on earth, we will always have to battle with concupiscence – that disordering of our passions caused by original sin

Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence”. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle. Catechism of the Catholic Church 405

“When we made our first profession of faith while receiving the holy Baptism that cleansed us, the forgiveness we received then was so full and complete that there remained in us absolutely nothing left to efface, neither original sin nor offenses committed by our own will, nor was there left any penalty to suffer in order to expiate them. . . . Yet the grace of Baptism delivers no one from all the weakness of nature. On the contrary, we must still combat the movements of concupiscence that never cease leading us into evil “
Catechism of the Catholic Church  978

“Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, “the tinder for sin” (fomes peccati); since concupiscence “is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.” Indeed, “an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1264

Conversion to Christ, the new birth of Baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Body and Blood of Christ received as food have made us “holy and without blemish,” just as the Church herself, the Bride of Christ, is “holy and without blemish.” Nevertheless the new life received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin that tradition calls concupiscence, which remains in the baptized such that with the help of the grace of Christ they may prove themselves in the struggle of Christian life. This is the struggle of conversion directed toward holiness and eternal life to which the Lord never ceases to call us.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1426

A Fierce Battle
The battle with concupiscence is fierce. Even the holiest saints can still recognize the pull of concupiscence within them. Yet, as John Paul II insisted, we “cannot stop at casting the ‘heart’ into a state of continual and irreversible suspicion due to the manifestations of the concupiscence of the flesh… Redemption is a truth, a reality, in the name of which man must feel himself called, and ‘called with effectiveness’” (TOB 46:4).

Many people seem to doubt this “effectiveness” and thus conclude that the freedom I hold out is beyond the realm of man’s possibilities. From one perspective, these critics are correct. “But what are the ‘concrete possibilities of man’?” John Paul II asks. “And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ” (Veritatis Splendor 103)? For those dominated by lust, what I hold out is impossible. But those who enter the “effectiveness” of redemption discover “another vision of man’s possibilities” (TOB 46:6).

The Cry of the New Evangelization
I humbly invite all those who question what I teach about liberation from concupiscence to take a closer look at the teaching of John Paul II on the matter (see especially TOB 43:6, 45:3, 46:4, 46:6, 47:5, 48:1, 48:4, 49:4, 49:6, 58:7, 86:6-7, 101:3-5, 107:1-3, 128:3, 129:5). It is a point of utmost importance. Indeed, in a very real way, debates about what we are capable of in the battle with concupiscence take us to the crux of the Gospel itself. “This is what is at stake,” John Paul II maintained, “the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence” (Veritatis Splendor 103).

Oh, what a powerful proclamation! If we listen carefully to it, it seems we can almost sense John Paul II’s participation in the potency with which Christ proclaimed the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, … to comfort all who mourn, … to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair” (Isaiah 61: 1-3; see also Lk 4:18-19). John Paul II, it seems, was precisely the herald “anointed by the Lord” to bring the good news of liberation to our sexually enslaved world. Let all who are thirsty come – come and drink the water of life (see Rev 22:17).

What is the alternative to an effective sexual redemption? If man remains bound by his lusts, is he even capable of loving with a pure heart? Marriage, in this view, comes to be seen and lived as a “legitimate outlet” for indulging our disordered desires and the celibate life comes to be seen and lived as a life of hopeless repression. And we end up “holding the form of religion” while “denying the power of it” (2 Tim 3:5). “Ne evacuetur Crux!” – John Paul II exclaims, “Do not empty the Cross of its power!” (see 1 Corinthians 1:17). “This,” he said, “is the cry of the new evangelization.” For “if the cross of Christ is emptied of its power, man no longer has roots, he no longer has prospects: he is destroyed” (Orientale Lumen 3).

Mature Purity
The teaching of John Paul II is clear: liberation from concupiscence – or, more precisely, from the domination of concupiscence (John Paul II used both expressions) – is not only a possibility, it is a necessity if we are to live our lives “in the truth” and experience the divine plan for human love (see TOB 43:6, 47:5). Indeed, Christian sexual ethos “is always linked . . . with the liberation of the heart from concupiscence” (TOB 43:6). And this liberation is just as essential for consecrated celibates and single people as it is for married couples (see TOB 77:4).

It is precisely this liberation that allows us to discover what John Paul II called “mature purity.” In mature purity “man enjoys the fruits of victory over concupiscence” (TOB 58:7). This victory is gradual and certainly remains fragile here on earth, but it is nonetheless real. For those graced with its fruits, a whole new world opens up – another way of seeing, thinking, living, talking, loving, praying. But to those who cannot imagine freedom from concupiscence, such a way of seeing, living, talking, loving, and praying not only seems unusual – but improper, imprudent, dangerous, or even perverse.

Why, we should ask ourselves, does such a cloud of negativity and suspicion seem to hover over the realm of sexuality? The distortions of sin are, of course, very real. But through the grace of redemption, can our sexuality not become in our practical, lived experience the realm of the sacramental and the holy? Can it not become the realm of a truly sacred conversation? “To the pure all things are pure,” St. Paul said (Titus 1:15). But to those bound by lust, even the pure seems impure. Oh, how tragic when we label as ugly that which is beautiful!

Some people say the redemption of the body is something reserved only for the resurrection at the end of time. While it is certainly true that the fullness of our redemption awaits us only in the final resurrection, John Paul II insists that the “‘redemption of the body’ …expresses itself not only in the resurrection as victory over death. It is present also in the words of Christ addressed to ‘historical’ man … [when] Christ invites us to overcome concupiscence, even in the exclusively inner movements of the human heart” (TOB 86:6).

And here we enter the tension of what theologians call the “already – but not yet” of redemption. The not yet aspect means we must be cognizant of the many distortions of our fallen nature and the ease with which we can be lured into temptations. The already aspect means there is also a power at work within us which is able to do “far more than we ever think or imagine,” as St. Paul said (see Ephesians 3:20). Both truths must be held together.

When it comes to questions of sexuality, it seems that many teachers and spiritual advisors focus almost exclusively on the not yet. We can hear so much about the “dangers” of sexuality that we conclude there is no escape from the ever present risk of sin. John Paul II is very critical of this kind of “determinism in the sexual sphere,” as he called it in a pre-papal essay. Such determinism tends “to limit the possibility of virtue and magnify the ‘necessity of sin’ in this sphere.” John Paul II’s approach, however, entails “the opposite tendency,” as he himself wrote. It upholds “the possibility of virtue, based on self-control and sublimation [which means to raise up, make sublime]” (“The Problem of Catholic Sexual Ethics,” Person and Community, p. 286).

The Journey of the Interior Life
Virtue, however, in the full Christian sense of the term, is only possible as we journey through the “purgative” way of the interior life and into what the mystical tradition calls the “illuminative” and “unitive” ways. It is here, in these further stages of the journey, that we discover “mature purity.” In the purgative stage, purity basically means “avoiding the occasion of sin” by “gaining custody of the eyes.” This is a very important step on the journey. But it is an essentially “negative” step, John Paul II says, in as much as it involves learning how to say no to lustful passions and learning how to abstain from unchastity. John Paul II, in keeping with the authentic tradition of the Church, teaches that there is much more to the virtue of purity than this.

In the language of St. Thomas Aquinas, a person who can successfully restrain himself from sin is “continent” but not yet virtuous. Continence falls short of virtue since virtue presupposes a right desire, and this is lacking in the continent person (see Summa, Prima Secundae, q. 58, a. 3, ad 2). As the Catechism observes, “The perfection of the moral good consists in man’s being moved to the good not only by his will but also by his ‘heart’” and even “by his sensitive appetite” (CCC 1770, 1775). Human virtues do not suppress or tyrannize our passions. They “order our passions… They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life” (CCC 1804).

“The task of purity,” as John Paul II observed, “is not only (and not so much) abstaining from ‘unchastity’ and from … ‘lustful passions’.” In the illuminative and unitive stages of the journey, we discover “another function of the virtue of purity… another dimension – one could say – that is more positive than negative” (TOB 54:3). In this “positive” dimension, we come to experience “a singular ability to perceive, love, and realize those meanings of the ‘language of the body’ that remain completely unknown to concupiscence itself” (TOB 128:3). We “come to an ever greater awareness of the gratuitous beauty of the human body, of masculinity and femininity” in such a way, John Paul II wrote, that other people “not only regain their true light … but, so to speak, they lead us to God himself” (Memory and Identity, p. 30).

This is “the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21) to which Christ invites us all. Admittedly, it is a very different vision than that with which many Catholics are familiar. Perhaps it’s simply that “unfamiliarity” that causes some to doubt its authenticity. For those who have been formed to think primarily in terms of the “dangers” of sexuality and the “constant risk of sin,” I invite you to meditate prayerfully on the following hope-filled words of John Paul II. Of course, they refer not only to the sexual sphere, but are certainly inclusive of that sphere, as he indicates.

With the passage of time, if we persevere in following Christ our Teacher, we feel less and less burdened by the struggle against sin, and we enjoy more and more the divine light which pervades all creation. This is most important, because it allows us to escape from a situation of constant inner exposure to the risk of sin – even though, on this earth, the risk always remains present to some degree – so as to move with ever greater freedom within the whole created world. This same freedom and simplicity characterizes our relations with other human beings, including those of the opposite sex… Christ, supreme Teacher of the spiritual life, together with all those who have been formed in his school, teaches that even in this life we can enter onto the path of union with God… [This union allows us to] find God in everything, we can commune with him in and through all things. Created things cease to be a danger for us as once they were, particularly while we were still at the purgative stage of our journey. (Memory and Identity, pp. 29-30)

Theology of the Body Is Nothing New
The fundamental message of the TOB is nothing new. In essence, it’s what the saints and mystics have been telling us for centuries about the “great mystery” of Christ’s infinite love for his Bride, the Church. Yet John Paul II has penetrated that same Mystery with new clarity, new insight, new depth – giving us a new language with which to reach the modern world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Still, relatively few in the Church know enough about John Paul II’s “new language” to employ it in their efforts to communicate the faith

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