Friday, May 29, 2015

Understanding The Spousal Meaning of the Body

Is it possible to describe somebody without any indication of gender? Certainly there would be aspects of that person’s personality that transcend masculinity or femininity. Personality, however,
would be of little help if attempting to locate that person in a crowd. Outer indicators, such as clothes or hairstyle, could help as well, but these aspects are superficial and subject to change. At some point words such as “male”, “female”, “boy”, “girl”, “man”, or “woman”, are going to come into play. It is likely that this will happen sooner rather than later. While “male” and “female” are adjectives describing gender, “man” and “woman” are nouns identifying who a person is. This is not a negligible fact. Masculinity and femininity are integral parts of our being and a biological fact. While the procreative nature of our respective genders is only but a fraction of who we are, it is much of it. Humanity without gender is not only impossibility, it is inconceivable. While philosophers, humanitarians, and others have entertained the idea of a society without religion, science, possessions, or boundaries, none have been able to envision a genderless world. Gender is such a primordial virtue of creation that it is found in the very first book of the Bible. “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NRSVCE, Gen. 1:27). In the very next line God the Father Almighty instructs mankind to “Be fruitful and multiply” (NRSVCE, Gen. 1:28). God’s creation of man and woman, gendered in His image, is absolutely essential to understanding His intent for us; to love and be loved in His most holy name. Only through both masculinity and femininity are we able to fulfill and understand “the spousal meaning of love”, or as Pope John Paul II so succinctly puts it: “the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and—through this gift—fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence” (Theology of the Body 15:1).

There are several factors that contribute to the notion of nuptial love found in the Pope’s groundbreaking series of lectures collected in Theology of the Body (TOB). Fittingly, it is with Genesis in mind that the Pope begins his address on the spousal meaning of the body. Just as the first chapter of Genesis reveals the creation of man and woman in the imago Dei; the second chapter establishes a more nuanced aspect of the relationship between man and woman. Seeing Adam’s loneliness, despite his idyllic environment, God took his rib and created Eve. Adam’s joyful exclamations at having the opportunity for true companionship are shortly followed by the Scripture which lays the foundation for nuptial love and the family model: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed” (NRSVCE, Gen. 2:24-25).  According to Pope John Paul II, the two accounts of man’s creation serve to enable us to understand several different aspects of humanity at its inception. This “allows us to establish the original meaning of solitude, unity, and nakedness…it allows us to establish… understand and interpret man in what is essentially human” (Theology of the Body 13:2). Man’s creation, and subsequent deliverance from solitude into a state of communion with another, is a gift. It is this gift that informs humanity’s role in the cosmos. Created in God’s image, as we were, we are innately called to give freely of ourselves and, ultimately, our love. “As an action of God, creation thus means not only calling from nothing to existence and establishing the world’s existence as well as man’s existence in the world, but, according to the first account it also signifies gift, a fundamental and ‘radical’ gift, that is, an act of giving in which the gift comes into being precisely from nothing” (Theology of the Body 13:3). This gift contains several facets. Once we consider that Adam’s solitude is only satisfied through God’s creation of Eve, we are able to see this same solitude and need for communion evidenced in our own lives. There comes a time in every person’s life where he or she yearns for a relationship that exceeds that of mere friendship. Our solitude mirrors that of Adam. When we find the one with whom we choose to give ourselves the thirst of loneliness is quenched in the well of that spousal communion:
 The body, which expresses femininity “for” masculinity and, vice versa, masculinity “for” femininity, manifests the reciprocity and the communion of persons. It expresses it through gift as the fundamental characteristic of personal existence. This is the body: a witness to creation as a fundamental gift, and therefore a witness to Love as the source from which this same giving springs. Masculinity-Femininity – name, sex – is the original sign of a creative donation and at the same time the sign of a gift that man, male-female, becomes aware of as a gift lived so to speak in an original way. This is the meaning with which sex enters into the theology of the body (Theology of the Body 14:4).

In recognizing the primordial nature of the spousal meaning of the body, we must also take into consideration aspects of life prior to and following the fall that have served to inform the essence of love as we know it; “original nakedness” and “original innocence”. To do so we must, again, recall Genesis 2:25 “…the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed” (RSVCE). This passage is vital to understanding man’s original state. After falling prey to the machinations of the serpent, Adam and Eve not only lost sanctifying grace, but they also lost a state of life where nakedness was unaccompanied by shame. John Paul II illustrates how this loss of “original nakedness” serves to color the relationship between man and woman. Original nakedness, at its core, is the knowledge of shame that accompanies sin and consequent alienation from God. The fearless unconsciousness of nudity that Adam and Eve enjoyed prior to the fall indicates a certain purity that was lost upon eating of the fruit. In turn, the recognition of nakedness, as it is now perceived, as an agent for, almost exclusively, sexual expression is one of the most prominent themes of TOB. “The original reciprocal nakedness, which was at the same time not weighed down by shame, expresses such an interior freedom in man. Is this freedom a freedom from ‘sexual drive’? The concept of ‘drive’ already implies an inner constraint, analogous to the instinct that stimulates fruitfulness and procreation in the whole world of living beings” (Theology of the Body 14:6). This wound to the spousal meaning of the body is evidenced in man’s struggles with lust, adultery, fornication, deviancy, and any number of sexual sins. By God’s grace there is a solution to this sexual concupiscence, and it is rooted in love, and ultimately, Christ. “In his time, Christ was to be a witness to this irreversible love of the Creator and Father, which had already expressed itself in the mystery of creation and in the grace of original innocence” (Theology of the Body 16:3). It is this concept of original innocence, and the “beatifying immunity from shame as the result of love”, which holds the key to happiness (Theology of the Body 16:2). In the spousal relationship man finds the capacity for freedom from the shame of original sin, and is able to participate in and appreciate the masculine and feminine in a way similar to that of original innocence. “This innocence belongs to the dimension of grace contained in the mystery of creation, that is, to that mysterious gift made to man’s innermost [being] – to the human heart – to the human heart – that allows both, the man and the woman to exist from the ‘beginning’ in the reciprocal relationship of the disinterested gift of self (Theology of the Body 16:3). The spousal meaning of the body creates an environment in which the shame of nakedness is cast aside and man and woman are free to give of themselves in every way. In discovering this aspect of ourselves, this hidden heart, we are able to return to that state of life prior to the fall and enjoy the “revelation and discovery of the whole dimension of conscience… original righteousness” (Theology of the Body 16:5).

Masculinity and femininity truly transcends the precepts of biology and spirituality. Just as Christ’s dual nature is both earthly and divine, so must our relationships with each other reflect the knowledge of this reality. The spousal meaning of the body is both procreative and revelatory; it is both sanctifying and salvific. In giving of ourselves, freely and unencumbered, we open ourselves up to God’s plan of love and the sacrament of marriage. Pope Paul VI’s groundbreaking treatise on the role of the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et Spes, laid the ground work for Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, and the seeds of his commentary on the spousal meaning of love:
Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, "that all may be one . . . as we are one" (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God's sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes 14)
The Church’s recognition and acceptance of the body as an integral aspect of our humanity sets it apart from other denominations who perceive the flesh as a source of sin and moral corruption. Understanding the spousal meaning of the body allows us to fully appreciate the gift bestowed upon us, and the fruits to be had in freely giving that gift to another. Man– male and female– are parts of a greater whole. We exist to participate in God’s creation and our bodies are a testimony to that fact.

Works Cited

John Paul II and Michael Waldstein. Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body. Boston, MA: Pauline  & Media, 2006. Print.

New Oxford Annotated Bible with The Apocrypha. 4th ed. Ed. Coogan, Michael D. OxfordUniversity Press, 2010. Print.

Paul VI. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World - Gaudium et Spes. Vatican: The Holy See. N.p., 7 Dec. 1965. Web. 02 May 2014.

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