Nella memoria della santa vergine e martire romana Agnese, anche in vista del prossimo Sinodo, riprendo un estratto dall'interessante contributo - in lingua inglese - di don Pietro Leone - su autorizzazione dell'ottimo blog Rorate Caeli, che ringraziamo – su una teologia del corpo in ottica tradizionale, che meriterebbe, a nostro sommesso avviso, grande attenzione, rinviando per il resto al già citato blog per l’intero saggio.
Si puntualizza che il testo edito è parte di un libro che in primavera sarà pubblicato in lingua italiana. Attendiamo impazienti!
“Theology of the Body” explained
- a Traditional Catholic view
Fr. Pietro Leone
‘Theology of the Body’ is the title that Pope John Paul II gave to a series of discourses delivered between September 1979 and November 1984. When we evaluate this doctrine in the light of Tradition, we see that in its principal positions it does not represent a development of Catholic teaching (in the sense of a clarification or deepening of that teaching), but rather a rupture with it, that is to say something novel. For this reason it cannot be described as Catholic doctrine, but rather as a series of personal meditations by the then Pope.
As our source for this chapter we take the book ‘Theology of the Body for Beginners’ by Mr. Christopher West (Ascension Press, 2004), which affords a useful summary of this theory. This lecturer and writer has done much to popularize the said theory on the international level.
The following critique (made in the briefest possible outline) will consist in the main of the application to this theory of the philosophical and theological principles established in the present book. This will involve a certain repetition of material already discussed, in the interests of providing a brief synthesis and analysis of the theory both in detail and as a whole.
We proceed as follows: we evaluate this theory first as a personalist doctrine, then in its understanding of conjugal love in itself, and finally in its understanding of conjugal love in relation to God.
Now the Church teaches that marriage has three finalities: 1) the procreation and education of children; 2) the mutual assistance of the spouses; 3) the remedy of concupiscence (see the Roman Catechism expounded in chapter 10 above). The Church teaches further that the first finality is also the primary finality (see chapter 5 for the relevant declarations of the Magisterium, and for the arguments from Scripture, patristics, and speculative theology).
In opposition to this teaching, certain modern authors hold the view that the good of the spouses (cf. the second finality) is on the same level as, or on a higher level than, the good of the children (cf. the first finality). We refer the reader to chapter 5 of the present book.
This modern view has been condemned by the Magisterium. A Declaration of the Holy See of March 1944 (AAS XXVI p.103) poses the question: ‘Can one admit the doctrine of certain modern writers who deny that the procreation and education of the child are the primary end of marriage, or teach that the secondary ends are not essentially subordinate to the primary end, but rather are of equal value and are independent of it? They replied: No, this doctrine cannot be admitted’. In his Allocution to the Midwives (1951) Pope Pius XII refers to such doctrines as ‘a serious inversion of the order of the values and of the purposes which the Creator has established Himself.’
Despite these declarations, we have seen (in the same chapter 5) how this modern view was re-proposed on the floor of the Second Vatican Council, how it found its way (albeit in covert form) into the texts of Humanae Vitae, and from thence into the New Code of Canon Law, the New Catechism, and Familiaris Consortio, inter alia.
Theology of the Body must be seen against this background. Even if it does not explicitly deny that the procreation and education of children is the primary finality of marriage, it is almost exclusively concerned with spousal love, at best mentioning procreation simply as an adjunct, as when the Pope, in reference to ‘the communion of persons which man and woman form…’ adds: on ‘all this, right from the beginning, there descended the blessing of fertility’ (Nov. 14th1979, West p.25).
As for the particular understanding of conjugal love manifest in Theology of the Body, namely that of reciprocal self-gift, we observe that this understanding was already present in certain of the authors who denied the absolute priority of the procreative finality of marriage. The Declaration quoted above states that certain of these authors take as the primary finality: ‘the reciprocal love of the spouses and their union to be developed and perfected by the physical and spiritual gift of their own person’ and Pope Pius XII in the Allocution quoted above states similarly that some of these authors take as the primary finality of the exercise of the marital right: ‘that the bodily union is the expression and actuation of the personal and affective union’, and adds that: ‘We are face to face with the propagation of a body of ideas and sentiments directly opposed to serene, deep, and serious Christian thought.’ In the following pages we shall see how these ideas are developed in Theology of the Body.
We proceed to offer a detailed critique of Theology of the Body, first in regard to conjugal love considered in itself, and second in regard to conjugal love considered in relation to God.
Conjugal Love Considered in Itself
1. Total Self-Giving Love
Now the foundation of the Theology of the Body is the proposition that the act of conjugal love consists in ‘the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife’ (Familiaris Consortio 32, quoted in the The New Catechism 2370). If this proposition is false, then the whole edifice of Theology of the Body falls.
In chapter 4 of the present book we have argued to the falsity of this proposition: first metaphysically, because the human person is incommunicable; second physically, because the act of conjugal love essentially involves the seeking and taking of pleasure, without which it would indeed be impossible; and third morally, because total self-giving love is commanded (and indeed only possible) to God alone (Lk. 10.27), whereas man is commanded to love his neighbour to a lesser degree, and where conjugal relations are concerned, with modesty and moderation (cf. Roman Catechism on the Use of Marriage). Indeed to love one’s neighbour with a total love would be idolatry.
In Theology of the Body, at least as it is presented by Mr. West, Grace enables men and women to live in the mutual and sincere gift of self (cf. Papal Discourse Jan.30th 1980, West p.42), just as in the beginning man and woman were infused with Grace. Through this Grace, the Holy Spirit impregnates our sexual desires ‘with everything that is noble and beautiful’, with ‘the supreme value which is love’ (Papal Discourse Oct. 29th 1980, West p.43-44). Similarly purity ‘lets us perceive the human body - ours and our neighbour’s – as a Temple of the Holy Spirit, a manifestation of the divine beauty’ (The New Catechism 2519, West p.47).
There is a suggestion here that Grace (albeit in conjunction with mortification, West p.47) enables man to regain the state of his first parents. And yet their state, that of elevated nature, has been irremediably lost by Original Sin, and moreover it differs from our state, that of fallen nature, not only in regard to Grace, but also in regard to concupiscence, that is to say the dominion of the passions over the reason, which is one of the evils consequent on the Fall to which all humankind is subject (with the exception, of course, of the Blessed Virgin Mary. See chapter 2 of the present book). Theology of the Body, intent on presenting the positive side of conjugal love, largely neglects concupiscence, hence giving an incomplete and unrealistic picture of this love. The Church, by contrast, had always recognized and taken seriously this objective disorder in human nature, and has indeed defined the third finality of marriage as ‘the remedy of concupiscence.’
According to the Theology of the Body, the nuptial meaning of the body is the body’s ‘capacity of expressing love: that love precisely in which the person becomes a gift…’ (Papal Discourse Jan.16th 1980, West p.29). In other words the nuptial meaning of the body is the fact that it expreses total self-giving love. The Pope continues: ‘… and – by means of this gift – fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence.’ At another point in the same discourse he describes the nuptial meaning of the body as ‘the fundamental element of human existence in the world.’ In a later discourse (April 28th 1982, West p.74) he adds: ‘On the basis of the same nuptial meaning of (the) body…there can be formed the love that commits man to marriage for the whole duration of his life, but there can be formed also the love that amounts to a life of continence ‘for the sake of the Kingdom.’’ Moreover, those who rise to eternal life will experience ‘the absolute and eternal nuptial meaning of the glorified body in union with God himself.’ (March 24th1982, West p. 61.)
In reply, according to the natural law, the meaning of the body in the domain of sexuality is different from that which the Pope proposes, for according to the natural law (see the beginning ofchapter4), all that one can say of the human body in this domain is that 1) the sexual differentiation of man and woman is oriented towards sexual union; and 2) this sexual union has as its natural outcome the procreation of children.
In regard to the first fact, we have no evidence on the level of the body, that is to say on the purely natural level, that this act of union is characterized by giving, or by taking, or by both. In regard to the second fact, we note that the Theology of the Body, like the Personalism of which it is a part, in its insistence on the subjective realm: on the secondary and intermediate end of sexuality and marriage, which is love, neglects the objective realm: the primary and final end of sexuality and marriage, which is procreation.
As for the Pope’s assertion that the nuptial meaning of the body forms the basis both for marriage and for a life of perfect chastity, it must be said that if, as we have denied, the body expressed the orientation towards total self-giving love, it would not be on the basis of this fact about the body that man undertook a life of perfect chastity, but on the basis of the total self-giving love that it expressed; and that the life of perfect chastity does not involve a love characterized by the body, but rather by the renunciation of such a love.
As for the Pope’s assertion that the nuptial meaning of the body will be experienced in Heaven, we recall that the conjugal union is a sign of Christ’s union with His Church in virtue of the intimacy, benevolence, and holiness of marital love, and not in virtue of bodily union; indeed since the act of conjugal union is ordered towards procreation, it exists only for this world and not for the other, for which reason ‘in the Resurrection they shall neither marry nor be married, but they will be as the angels of God in Heaven.’ (Mt. 22.30.)
Finally, the suggestion that Theology of the Body in general, or the nuptial meaning of the body in particular, somehow reveals or constitutes the meaning of life, we reply as we have done in regard to perfect chastity above, that, even if, as we have denied, the body expressed an orientation towards total self-giving love, what reveals or constitutes the meaning of life is not the Theology of the Body, the nuptial meaning of the body, or indeed anything essentially connected to the body, but rather total self-giving love itself.
4. The Vocation to Marriage or Virginity/Celibacy
In Familiaris Consortio 11 (West p. 65) the Pope writes: ‘Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person, in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy.’ The Pope again has total self-giving love in mind, here as the constitutive feature both of marriage and of virginity/celibacy. We observe that he does not specify here, as he does elsewhere, that this virginity/celibacy is for the Kingdom of Heaven, therefore amounting to the consacrated life. This omission opens his statement to a naturalizing interpretation.
In commentary, whereas the love of spouses cannot be termed total self-giving love, the love for God on the part of those who lead the consacrated life can be so termed, because it constitutes a love with undivided heart (cf.1Cor.7.33 as expounded by Pope Pius XII in Sacra Virginitas 15, 20, 24, 30-1. See chapter 4 of the present book).
As far as vocation is concerned, the concept of vocation to marriage as an alternative to the vocation to the consacrated life is a further instance of naturalization, or, more fully, of the confusion between the natural and supernatural orders, for it involves placing something purely natural on the same level as something purely supernatural. We have analyzed this tendency at the end of chapter 4, where we pointed out that vocation in the traditional, in the most obvious, and also in the deepest, sense of the term signifies: 1) a call, 2) from a person without, 3) id est immediately from God, 4) in order absolutely to transcend the possibilities of human nature; whereas the propensity towards marriage is 1) an instinct, 2) which originates within human nature, 3) and therefore only mediately from God, 4) in order to realize a potential of that same human nature.
We may conclude with the following question: if both states of life involved total self-giving love and both were the object of vocation, in what sense would the life of virginity or celibacy be ‘better and more blessed’ than the married life, as the Council of Trent dogmatically declares?
... the text continues on the blog Rorate caeli ....
 Moderation in the area of sexuality is equivalent to chastity; modesty is a virtue complementary to it (see chapter11).
 At the beginning of this treatment it will be useful briefly to distinguish three basic forms of love which have been enumerated in detail in chapter 2. First there is sensible love (or the passion of love), of which sexual love is an example; second there is rational love (or the virtue of love); third there is Charity, which is that form of rational love which is elevated by Supernatural Grace. In the light of these distinctions, the act of conjugal union in its ideal form is to be understood as an act of sensible love informed by rational love, which enables one spouse to love the other not as an object but as a person, and further informed by Charity, which enables the spouse to love the other in, and for the sake of, God.
 In this connection we refer to his concept of ‚original innocence’ in the address of 26th Sept. 1979, by which he perhaps intends to justify the possibility of a return to the state of our first parents, even if this concept lacks clarity. The Pope speaks of ‚this real innocence of man as his original and fundamental state, as a dimension of his being created in the image of God.’He says in addition that: ‚These situations (‚original innocence’ and ‚original sin’) have a specific dimension in man, in his inner self, in his knowledge, conscience , choice, and decision’; and that they are linked, for the ‚state of sin’ which is part of ‚‚historical man’ plunges its roots, in every man without exception, in his own theological ‚prehistory’ which is the state of original innocence’, At another point he describes Original Sin as a state whereby ‚man has lost his primitive innocence’, and in the address of 12th Sept. 1979 he says that ‚the first account of man’s creation is of a theological nature.’ This doctrine is unclear inter alia because it oscillates between a supernatural and a natural concept of ‚original innocence’. This concept has a supernatural colour in so far as ‚original innocence’is presented as a property which man acquires in the ‚theological’ account of creation, and which man loses by the Fall; it has a natural colour in so far as it derives from creation (in the traditional, Catholic understanding of creation), and in so far as it is presented as persisting as a state in man, indeed in all men.
 One of the criticisms of Mr.West’s account made by Dr. Alice von Hildebrandt in her article comparing this account with her husband’s work in the field, is that he ‚underestimates the effects of Original Sin on the human condition’.
 In fact, since it is the virtue of chastity which combats (carnal) concupiscence, those who pursue this virtue perfectly (through the vow of perfect chastity) resemble our first parents prior to the Fall more closely than spouses.
 in a similar vein the Pope states that the Theology of the Body is…’essential and valid for the understanding of man in general: for the fundamental problem of understanding him and for the self-comprehension of his being in the world.’ (Dec.15th 1982, West p.2.)
 Si quis dixerit…non esse melius ac beatius manere in virginitate aut caelibatu quam iungi matrimonio…Anathema sit (S.24 Can.10).