Daily Archives: December 6, 2009

The Point JPII Misses in _Theology of the Body_.

From what I’ve read of Pope John Paul II/Cardinal Karol Woytyla’s writings–from Love and Responsibility to Familiaris Consortio to Theology of the Body–I always feel that, while he has achieved something fantastic, he’s missing something.  In an interview after her divoce, Bai Macfarlane answered the $1 million question regarding her husband’s frequent promotion of JPII/Vatican II Catholic family ideals, and how they’d so obviously fallen short.  She said that a great danger in the recent emphasis is that JPII tends to create such an ideal of marriage and the family that it is hard to live up to.  I’ve seen others make similar comments, that sometimes it comes off as, “if you’re not doing this just right, you’re bad, bad, bad.”

A recurring theme of all these works is the idea of gift himself.  While commentators like Scott Hahn, Peter Kreeft and Chris West draw analogies between Christ/the Paschal Mystery/The Eucharist and marriage–and while JPII himself does it a bit in Familiaris Consortio, the Theology of the Body, at least as far as I’ve read over the past few days, has yet to raise the Eucharistic analogy.

His Holiness repeatedly speaks about how spouses are to engage in a total giving of self–this is the positive reason behind the ban on contraception, that contraception holds back from total self giving (I draw the analogy here to spitting out the Host right after Communion).

However, in his emphasis on sex-as-gift, JPII tends to underemphasize the fact that a gift could be received.   In trying to argue against the mentality of treating the opposite sex as a pleasure object, he still hints at the same attitude expressed by some of the Fathers and early Popes which seems to say it’s wrong to feel pleasure in intercourse at all.  Particularly, in Theology of the Body, he emphasizes the need for disinterestedness, for a disinterested desire to give oneself to the other.

I’m going to be breaking this study down over several posts as I proceed thorugh the book.  However, I just want to start by pointing out that a gift, to be a gift, needs to be received.  He emphasizes that Adam receives Eve as opposed to taking her.  He also emphasizes that one must not “reduce” a the spouse to “merely” an object.  I’ll get more into this later, but something seems missing there, especially in terms of practical experience.

However, in building to understand *what* he’s missing, I found an oversight that underlies several of his arguments.  Starting with Jesus’ response to the Pharissees on divorce, JPII goes back to Gen. 1-4 and philosophically explicates, in great detail, various key versus that point to the nature of man and the nature of marriage.

He spends a great deal of time on what it meant to be “Naked but not ashamed,” and his views on this verse are summed up at the end of his address on February 13, 1980:
“If the man and the woman cease to be a disinterested gift for each other, as they were in the mystery of creation, ten they recognize that ‘they are naked’ (cf. Gn. 3).  Then the shame of that nakedness, which they had not felt in the state of original innocence, will spring up in their hearts.”

Basically, his view is that, prior to the fall, the human person was fully integrated.  The spiritual part had full control over the material part.  Everything was in balance, as Plato would argue in The Republic. 

When I was in high school, I wrote a paper for an ethics class on sexuality, drawing from what I’d read in C. S. Lewis (whom some have argued is a major influence on JPII) and various morality texts.  Not sure if I even knew the term “theology of the body” at that point, and it’s been a while since I’ve reread that paper.  However, I was pondering the same question of original innocence, and argued thusly (again, borrowing largely from Lewis):

Adam recognizes Eve as being uniquely for him. My contention was then, and is now, that, had the fall never happened, no one would even desire another person unless that person was intended for him/her.

Now, let’s get back to JPII.  He says that Adam and Eve, before the fall, were “disinterested.”  Basically, he means they were incapable of lust.  They saw each other as God’s gifts to one another, and their union at that point was unspoiled by lust.

Much of his analysis seems to imply that Adam and Eve felt shame in each other’s presence.  At first, they were naked and not ashamed.  Later, they were naked and ashamed.  This is what he emphasizes.  Yet, after careful analysis of so many verses in these 4 chapters, he overlooks two crucial verses: 3:7, when, right after taking the fruit, they realize that they are naked and make the infamous fig leaf loincloths, and 3:10, when Adam tells God he hid because he was naked (in spite of the loincloth) and ashamed.

At this point, Adam and Eve have no real reason to be ashamed in each other’s presence.  They are already married, and Scripture has already implied marital relations.  

Pope John Paul seems to indicate that they feel this sudden shame because, for the first time, they feel lust for one another; their pure love has been tainted by self-interest.  Perhaps so, but the greater shame only comes into play when God shows up: then they hide in the bushes.

They are embarrassed at being seen by someone else.

Put another way, in the hypothetical “what if there was no fall” scenario, there’d have been a whole race running around naked.  Only one of two things could have resulted from this: monogamy wasn’t required (which Jesus clearly says it was), or else monogamy was enforced, as John Paul repeatedly says, by seeing that one person as being a unique gift of God.

It is interesting that JPII says “disinterested,” because Agape is disinterested love.  It is the love one has for a painting.  In an unfallen world, the beauty of the human body could be appreciated in a distinterested way, they same way we appreciate the beauty of a tree or a painting or a sunset.

OK, thus far, I’m with JPII.  But where I diverge from him is that applies to other people!

I really find it hard to believe that Adam, when he exclaimed, “This at last is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone” is totally disinterested, but he is responding to the totality of Eve, not just her body as such.

Barring the kind of hang-ups Christopher West argues against, or barring the question of how to deal with times in marriage where abstinence is required, there is no reason for married couples to feel shame in each other’s presence.

Once the spousal relationship is established, shame comes not from each other but from “What if someone catches us”? 

Now, part of this may be a question of audience.  As West points out, John Paul is trying to reclaim certain values that have been forgotten by an overly Puritanical viewpoint.  Part of his point is precisely to tell married couples that they have no need to feel shame in each other’s presence.  OK, though he hasn’t explicitly said any such thing to the point I’ve read so far.

He implies that fallen married couples can feel shame because they have the capacity for lust: the wife is worried her husband may take advantage of her in her nakedness; the husband feels compelled towards his wife.  The husband is afraid his wife may be aware of his arousal; the wife is afraid of her husband judging her looks.  So they cover each other with “fig leaves.”

OK, I call follow that, but the greater sense of shame really comes from the worry of being seen by someone other than the spouse, and I think the Biblical text validates that point. 

At first, Adam and Eve are like, “Hey! We just lost control of our self-control!”  But they’re still only covering themselves with strategically placed leaves, and hardly dressing in complete modesty.  So that is consistent with the kinds of insecurities I listed above as occurring between couples.  And even then, they’re not completely alone: remember that the serpent is still around.  It is the awareness of someone else seeing them–in this case, God–that sends them into the bushes.

So, it’s not really a flaw in John Paul’s thought as in his expression of that thought, I think, but something is just missing in his explanation of that scenario.   JPII says that, in the unfallen state, the proper response of a man to *any* woman, including his wife, qua woman, is disinterestedness.  I would contend that that is true of all women except the wife.  An unfallen man would *have* to be specifically interested in his wife’s body as such (along with her personality, spirit, etc.) to choose her from among all women as the unique gift for him that JPII empahsizes so rightly.

Fallen man, as I would phrase it, has developed an “interest” in all women, and thus cannot see the unique appeal of his wife without emphasizing her soul over her body.

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