The Theology of the Body is a series of teachings by St. John Paul II that explore human identity, the role of our bodies, and the purpose of our sexuality. Delivered from 1979 to 1984 over 129 papal audiences, these talks delve into biblical representations of the human body and marriage, offering a detailed theological framework that addresses questions about human dignity, sexuality, and relationships.

Theology of the Body is divided into two main parts: Scripture (with an emphasis on the words of Christ) and the sacrament of marriage itself. We can think of these two parts as resembling an open book with two halves, holistically aiming to give a comprehensive view of human sexuality and relationships from creation to the coming of the Kingdom.

The Theology of the Body begins with reflections on the state of humanity in the book of Genesis before the fall from grace. This part discusses how humans originally understood themselves and their unfettered relationships with God and each other, highlighting a natural state of being that includes an inherent call to connect with others, and the original harmony between man and God and between man and woman.

A key concept in these teachings is the 'nuptial meaning' of the body. St. John Paul II suggests that the human body is capable of expressing love that goes beyond the physical aspect, reflecting spiritual and sacramental meanings. The body is not just a biological entity; it is a key part of how we express and understand spiritual truths. This perspective challenges the common separation between body and soul, emphasizing, instead, their unity. The teachings then address the impact of original sin, which distorted human interactions with their bodies and sexuality. This sin introduced shame and discord, altering the pure and intended nature of human bodies. St. John Paul II then discusses Christ’s redemption covering the entire human person, including our sexuality and physical selves. This redemption is seen as a return to the original dignity of the body, elevating it to fulfill God’s plan.

An important part of the Theology of the Body is the view of marriage as a reflection of God’s love and a fundamental way through which people can understand their call to come together. Marriage is more than a legal contract; it is a sacred commitment that mirrors the relationships found within the Trinity, having a likeness to the Divine Triune reality; a self-gift of Person’s and the Divine exchange of love. The perfected love between spouses is meant to reflect Christ's selfless love for the Church.

St. John Paul II emphasizes the transformative power of love within marriage. In this view, marital love between spouses is not only shared but serves as their vocational path to holiness. This emphasizes that marital love extends beyond companionship and mutual support; it also significantly contributes to each spouse's spiritual growth and salvation. In marriage, each person has a responsibility to help the other reach heaven, cooperating with the sacramental graces that the union provides to achieve this spiritual goal.

Today, where discussions about the nature of marriage, sexuality, and human dignity are common, Theology of the Body offers a counter cultural perspective that elevates these discussions to consider divine intentions. It shifts the focus from individual desires to mutual self-giving and respect. St. John Paul II’s teachings urge a view of human sexuality that respects each person and recognizes the profound potential within human relationships. The Theology of the Body provides a comprehensive approach to understanding the human body and sexuality in light of faith. This framework helps individuals apply their faith in contemporary society, promoting a deeper respect for the body as a gift from God and what the aim of authentic marital looks like.

Jeremy Lezniak — SFA Theologians Guild Member