Workshop (7) A Primordial Sacrament – The Heart of the Matter

In the seventh workshop Dr. Waldstein reached the goal, the heart of the matter, for understanding the theology of the body. It is the astounding and exhilarating idea that the human person, embodied as male and female, provides the primordial sacrament of God’s good creation. Here is a key passage from the audience of February 20, 1980:

Thus, in this dimension, a primordial sacrament is constituted, understood as a sign that transmits effectively in the visible world the invisible mystery hidden in God from time immemorial. This is the mystery of truth and love, the mystery of divine life, in which man really participates. In the history of man, original innocence begins this participation and it is also a source of original happiness. The sacrament, as a visible sign, is constituted with man, as a body, by means of his visible masculinity and femininity. 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 be a sign of it.

Sacrament requires a physical sign; what could be more fundamental and more important than the human body, in its sexuality, as the visible sign of the invisible God. It is a sign of the gift of creation in a double sense because man receives existence as a gift and can participate in the giving of gift. “Man appears in the visible world as the highest expression of the divine gift, because he bears within him the interior dimension of the gift.”

So the very sacramentality of creation, the sacramentality of the world was revealed in a way, in man created in the image of God. By means of his corporality, his masculinity and femininity, man becomes a visible sign of the economy of truth and love, which has its source in God himself and which was revealed already in the mystery of creation.

The economy of “truth and love,” is that which makes the human distinctly human. The original source for the awareness and perfection of the human is the beauty of marriage. Waldstein explains that the economy of truth and love also refers to the economy of salvation in Christ and the Holy Spirit, as the two processions of the Son and Spirit. But the astounding notion here is that “the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God,” is manifest originally in the embodied human being. John Paul ends this talk with the reaffirmation that the “consciousness of the meaning of his own body, man, as male and female,” provides the primordial entry into “the world as a subject of truth and love.” Perhaps we can readily understand the body as a sign of love, but truth also? It is the truth of the gift, the truth of creation, the primoridal truth denied by so many in the modern world of technology and reductionism.

He says that in “the original fullness of the experience of the nuptial meaning of the body” we encounter “a feast of humanity, which draws its origin from the divine sources of truth and love in the mystery of creation,” a feast of celebration and joy over the truth and goodness of creation.  But he ends with a warning: “the horizon of sin and death will be extended over that original feast (cf. Gn 3).” But we can continue to “draw a first hope, that is, that the fruit of the divine economy of truth and love,” in the mystery of creation.  We find in the creation of male and female, the “call to glory” (cf. Rom 8:30).

In his Letter to Families, John Paul II will explain how the horizon of sin and death press more tightly over modern consciousness because of the loss of the truth of creation (see section §19).  The reduction of man to matter and the dualism of body and spirit raise the specter of a new Manichaeism. We have “given up the attempt to be a ‘civilization of love’.” We are alienated from God and ourselves:

The modern age has made great progress in understanding both the material world and human psychology, but with regard to his deepest, metaphysical dimension contemporary man remains to a great extent a being unknown to himself. Consequently the family too remains an unknown reality. Such is the result of estrangement from that “great mystery” spoken of by the Apostle.

With the the destruction of the integrity of marriage through contraception and divorce, and the very denial of  marriage as between male and female, we stand on “the brink of a dreadful ethical defeat.” 
The theology of the body offers a ray of hope. John Paul II was fully inspired to develop the theology of the body through his meditation upon Gaudium et spes 22 and 24: “The richest source for knowledge of the body is the Word made flesh. Christ reveals man to himself. In a certain sense this statement of the Second Vatican Council is the reply, so long awaited, which the Church has given to modern rationalism.”.

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