Workshop (6) – The Spousal Meaning of the Body

At long last we get to the theology of the body. Dr. Waldstein leads us to the basic concept of the spousal meaning of the body and the key passages in the talks given by Blessed John Paul II on January 2, 9 and 16 of 1980. In the Waldstein text (Man and Woman He Created Them) they are found of pages 178-189. On the Vatican website the first talk may be found here:
January 2, 1980

Look at paragraphs 7 and 8 of the Jan 2 talk:

par 7: The Bible texts contain the essential elements of this anthropology, which are manifested in the theological context of the “image of God.” This concept conceals within it the root of the truth about man. This is revealed through that “beginning,” which Christ referred to in the talk with the Pharisees (cf. Mt 19:3-9), when he treated of the creation of the human male and female. It must be recalled that all the analyses we make here are connected, at least indirectly, precisely with these words of his. Man, whom God created male and female, bears the divine image imprinted on his body “from the beginning.” Man and woman constitute two different ways of the human “being a body” in the unity of that image.

Waldstein explained that the image of the Trinity stands at the back of this passage (Gaudium et spes 24:3) because the image of God imprinted in the body — not just in the spiritual powers of man — is the image of self-giving as signified in sexual differentiation and the recognition of the gift of existence and love. The body of the male and the body of the female are made for giving in love. Thus, par 8:

Now, it is opportune to turn again to those fundamental words which Christ used, that is, the word “created” and the subject “Creator.” They introduce in the considerations made so far a new dimension, a new criterion of understanding and interpretation, which we will call “hermeneutics of the gift.” The dimension of the gift decides the essential truth and depth of meaning of the original solitude, unity and nakedness. It is also at the heart of the mystery of creation, which enables us to construct the theology of the body “from the beginning,” but demands, at the same time, that we should construct it in this way.

We cannot get around the gift character of existence as signified in our very bodies.We can live disembodied, or abstractly, in denial of our vocation to love. But the denial, nay the refusal of mystery, is the very definition of rationalism, as we learn from Newman. Waldstein insightfully s this passage on the hermeneutics of the gift  with John Paul II’s Letter to Families:

How far removed are some modern ideas from the profound understanding of masculinity and femininity found in Divine Revelation! Revelation leads us to discover in human sexuality a treasure proper to the person, who finds true fulfilment in the family but who can likewise express his profound calling in virginity and in celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Modern rationalism does not tolerate mystery. It does not accept the mystery of man as male and female, nor is it willing to admit that the full truth about man has been revealed in Jesus Christ. In particular, it does not accept the “great mystery” proclaimed in the Letter to the Ephesians, but radically opposes it. It may well acknowledge, in the context of a vague deism, the possibility and even the need for a supreme or divine Being, but it firmly rejects the idea of a God who became man in order to save man. For rationalism it is unthinkable that God should be the Redeemer, much less that he should be “the Bridegroom”, the primordial and unique source of the human love between spouses. Rationalism provides a radically different way of looking at creation and the meaning of human existence. But once man begins to lose sight of a God who loves him, a God who calls man through Christ to live in him and with him, and once the family no longer has the possibility of sharing in the “great mystery”, what is left except the mere temporal dimension of life? Earthly life becomes nothing more than the scenario of a battle for existence, of a desperate search for gain, and financial gain before all else.

In the mystery of life the gift of existence is a sure point of orientation; we may not be able to explain it adequately (our life or our love) but gratitude wells up as a response. Waldstein explains that the gift must be received and we must respond. Do not we respond one way or another? We respond either with thanks and blessing or with anger and curse. Is there really any other alternative? (I understand better now the message of Mary at LaSalette — she warned us about the sinful habit of taking God’s name in vain. Such is the refusal of the gift) But here is the concluding point — we have the capacity to understand the gift character of existence (in reason and in faith I would say) and we must respond one way or another, with the language of gift and self-giving or with the language of self sufficiency and self-demand.

As the “image of God,” man is capable of understanding the meaning of gift in the call from nothingness to existence. He is capable of answering the Creator with the language of this understanding. [the language of “gift”] Interpreting the narrative of creation with this language, it can be deduced from it that creation constitutes the fundamental and original gift. Man appears in creation as the one who received the world as a gift, and it can also be said that the world received man as a gift.

From this fundamental understanding of creation as gift AND the image of gift imprinted in the very body of man and woman we shall come to appreciate the full theology of the body..

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