The theology of the body (as many tend to call it; I prefer the phrase “theology of the human person”) is based on a large number of Wednesday Audiences that Pope John Paul II gave over the first 5 years of his Pontificate. They are very rich and can help us understand what it means to be a human person created in the image and likeness of God.
There have been many people, especially in North America, who have discovered this teaching and have jumped on it as an exciting new adventure into the realm of theology. It very much is that. When one reads the very dense Wednesday audiences, one gets a sense of a theology that speaks to the core of the human heart: what John Paul II says in relaying the tradition to us resonates with the heart. We see a truth that we know is true for us, and we want to live it.
This excitement, then, is to an extent well deserved. Yet I am of the opinion that the excitement ought to be a sober excitement. That is to say, we ought to approach it with zeal, but look at it through the lens of scripture and tradition and see how it either reformulates or rediscovers lost elements of the tradition. We must also see how it adds to the already existing tradition, for it does indeed offer new insights that may not be there in the spoken tradition, though they are obviously there in the deposit of tradition.
Anyways, I say all this because, if you are not aware, there is a debate going on about the proper means of promoting the Theology of the Body. Some people, for example, believe that people such as Christopher West and Fr. Loya and others are not following the Church’s guidelines for sexual catechesis (which, to sum up, states that the more intimate the matter is meant for a more intimate conversation), they mis-interprate and misrepresent JP II’s theology (West, for example, often misquotes JP II in order for his quotes to say something they don’t), they focus on the “already” of redemption while forgetting the “not yet”, they lack a Christology, etc etc. I must say that I myself fall into this camp.
I say this because the presenter whom I encountered today was, to put it briefly, someone who made Christopher West like mild and well-mannered. I ended up leaving the talk early for a variety of reasons:
- He made generalized, sweeping, and definitive statements about John Paul II and his theology. For example, he said that John Paul II was John Paul the great because he fundamentally changed and fixed the concept of person that Augustine and Thomas Aquinas had. He said that John Paul II inaugerated a new way of seeing man as unique by virtue of the fact that he shares in begetting, which is something only God can do. I had never heard this before (and I have read JP II’s audiences a couple of times now). Perhaps I am missing something. Even if I am, he promotes a sense of rupture with JP II’s TOB that makes me uneasy.
- The vulgarity of his language was too much to bear. He had a language that was desacralized, vulgar, and crude. He was speaking about things that ought not to be spoken about with large groups of people, and how he half-hazzardly treated the human body as something to constantly joke around about made me, ultimately, leave early.
- He said that JP II’s TOB is at the highest level of the ordinary magisterium and that it is pretty much infallible because it is simply interpreting Christ’s words, Who, in turn, is interpreting Genesis. He says we have to hold to these things in a certain and definite manner. That is magisterial fundamentalism, though.
- He constantly argued that redemption is a “now” and not a “later” thing. He said we can live the fullness of redemption now. The problem with this is that it is contrary to the tradition which tends to hold a balance between the “already” and “not yet”.
- He said a lot without saying anything at all (for example: he spoke about Nietzsche, Hegel, and Freud, each with their own PowerPoint slide, in 10 seconds each. Waste of time!)
- Ultimately, and I have talked about this, it was the crudeness that this priest was speaking that made me uneasy and completely unable to stay around. He was obsessed in speaking about sex, which I found odd, because theology of the body is really a LOT more than just sex. I will not give examples because they are that inappropriate.
These complaints are complaints people hold against people such as Christopher West, Fr. Loya, etc. I hold those too.
I say all this because, if anything, I want to encourage the readers to have a discerning ear. I remember when I first heard West at his conference in Victoria in 2005. I was totally blown away and sucked in. I had never heard this before, I wanted more! But, as the years went by, I began to grow a bit more suspicious. Then Dr. David Schindler publicly addressed what he felt were issues in West’s approach, theology, presentation, etc. I found in him someone who gave voice to my suspicions. The theology of the body is a wonderful thing, but it is not meant to be something to be taught in isolation. Instead, it is meant to be incorporated into the larger corpus that is our 2000 year old tradition of theology. It is meant to be brought into dialogue with the vast array of material that has been produced by theologians.
I told someone today in an e-mail how disturbed I am by the way Theology of the Body has taken off in North America. You don’t see it being promoted like this anywhere else in the world. It is a uniquely North American phenomenon (which brings me to wonder whether or not the real issue is more of a cultural one than simply just a theological one). Why is it, for example, that dioceses are attempting to set up TOB offices? It is like saying they want to set up Offices of Thomistic Studies or Offices of Communio Theology. It is an odd phenomenon. It is being assimilated too quickly without giving it the time necessary to germinate in the soul of the Church. That is why you don’t see this overly enthusiastic reaction in other Catholic countries. Yes, it is being taught. Yes, it is being assimilated. But not like this. It has turned into pop theology, into a product that is to be sold. It becomes all about image and marketing and has very little to do with changing the hearts of those who hear it. If you look at, for example, the products put out by Ascension Press, things are airbrushed, the people in the pictures look perfect, etc. It fundamentally goes against the basic principles of the theology of the body.
So please, if you can, attempt to think things through for yourself. Enter into discussion with others and do not always take things as the Gospel Truth, because many times they are not.