Theology of the Body

'Theology of the Body' (TOB) is the term commonly used to refer to a body of teaching by Pope St John Paul II on the nature of sexuality. How does the approach taken in "Man+Woman" Magazine relate to the 'theology of the body'?

What is the 'theology of the body'?

A good introduction can be found on Wikipedia:

Theology of the Body is the topic of a series of 129 lectures given by Pope John Paul II during his Wednesday audiences in St. Peter's Square and the Paul VI Audience Hall between September 5, 1979 and November 28, 1984. It constitutes an analysis of human sexuality, and is considered as the first major teaching of his pontificate. The complete addresses were later compiled and expanded upon in many of John Paul's encyclicals, letters, and exhortations.

In Theology of the Body, John Paul II intends to establish an adequate anthropology in which the human body reveals God. He examines man and woman before the Fall, after it, and at the resurrection of the dead. He also contemplates the sexual complementarity of man and woman. He explores the nature of marriage, celibacy and virginity, and expands on the teachings in Humanae vitae on contraception. According to author Christopher West, the central thesis of John Paul's Theology of the Body is that "the body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus to be a sign of it."

If you want to find out more about theology of the body a web search will quickly bring up many sites on the topic. It has been popularised by a number of speakers, most prominently by Christopher West, and by educational initiatives such as the Theology of the Body Institute.

How does TOB relate to 'Man+Woman'?

The body of thought being developed here at "Man+Woman" had a different starting point from TOB but is consonant with it. I am not aiming to duplicate what has been, and is being, done by those specifically promoting Pope St John Paul II's teaching.

The term 'theology of the body' can of course be used in a general sense to mean all the various dimensions of the significance of the body in the Christian faith. However, in its current usage it refers to a specific set of teachings by St John Paul. In its more general sense there is still a great deal of potential in the Christian notions of the body and sexuality that is yet to be drawn out.

At the present time the typical presentations of TOB are quite 'compact'. That is, there is a great deal of significance condensed into the key ideas, and this will take a long time to permeate the understanding of Christians generally. Over time we could expect the presentation of such theology to be drawn out in more detail, making clearer how the key ideas can throw light into more and more areas.

I see "Man+Woman" as part of this larger project of elaborating the Christian, and more specifically the Catholic, understanding of sexuality and complementarity. Its focus is not the theology so much as the associated fields that need to be developed so as to help people connect the fundamental ideas to the details of trying to live as men and women trying to understand each other better.