The Body and Human Dignity

“Sown Psychic, Raised Spiritual”: The Lived Body as the Organ of Theology

Adrian J. Walker

"The lived body is the prime organ of theologizing."

1. A novel thesis1


John Paul II is the first pope to have produced a “theology of the body.” The late pontiff’s teaching on the subject is both a timely reminder of the venerable Christian conviction that caro salutis est cardo,2 and a highly original rendering of Christian anthropology in terms of what the Risen Christ, the full revelation of man to himself, brings to light about the meaning and significance of the body.

In the Wednesday Catecheses, John Paul II presents the body as the touchstone of a christocentric anthropology based on the Resurrection that places a literally ultimate value on the integrity of the human being, corpore et anima unus. John Paul is, of course, realistically aware of the manifold forms of dis-integration—of “corruption” in New Testament language—that threaten man’s wholeness. But, looking to the Risen Christ as the full embodiment of what he calls the “truth about man,” he can insist that the last word about man’s being is not corruptibility, but incorruption—though the promise of incorruption is yet to be (completely) fulfilled at the “revelation of the sons of God” (Rom 8:19) in the Resurrection. What is at stake in John Paul II’s theology of the body, then, is a theological account of man as finding his deepest wholeness only in God along the pathway of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.3 This view of man does not deny the stability of human nature, but only insists that it includes a sort of motion within its changeless rest. This motion, however, is no longer simply Aristotle’s intra-worldly “actualization of a potency as a potency,” but a world-transcendent relation to the Creator that makes creaturely being a being-underway-to-God. At the core of creaturely being, en-stasy and ec-stasy, stability and fluidity, are one.


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