"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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1. I would like to thank Stratford Caldecott, Nicholas Healy, John McCarthy, and Juan Sara for helpful criticisms of earlier drafts of this essay.
2. The flesh is the hinge of salvation. Tertullian, De resurrectione carnis, VIII, 1, ln. 6.
3. In his article, “The Anti-Theology of the Body” in The New Atlantis 9 (Summer 2005): 65–73, David B. Hart writes: “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.”