John Paul II’s New Vision of Human Sexuality, Marriage and Family Life(2)

Theology of the Body

B. Theology of the Body

"Man and woman have been created, which is to say, willed by God: on the one hand, in perfect equality as human persons; on the other, in their respective beings as man and woman. 'Being man' or 'being woman' is a reality which is good and willed by God: man and woman possess an inalienable dignity which comes to them immediately from God their Creator. (Cf. Gen. 2:7, 22.) Man and woman are both with one and the same dignity 'in the image of God.' In their 'being-man' and 'being-woman,' they reflect the Creator's wisdom and goodness." (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 369.)

"As an incarnate spirit, that is a soul which expresses itself in a body and a body informed by an immortal spirit, man is called to love in his unified totality. Love includes the human body, and the body is made a sharer in spiritual love. . . . Consequently, sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is by no means something purely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such." (See John Paul II, The Apostolic Exhortation on the Family, Familiaris Consortio, no. 11.)

Human beings are the only earthly creatures God created in His image and likeness. As human beings we are different from the animals because we are persons, beings endowed with the capacities of thinking and choosing. Our bodies are to express or manifest our persons: what we know and choose. Further, since we are created in God's image and likeness, our bodies can and should express or manifest God. In other words, our bodies are to make visible the "mystery hidden since time immemorial in God." (See John Paul II, "Man: A Subject of Truth and Love," L'Osservatore Romano, [English Edition], [February 25, 1980], vol. 13, no. 8, no. 19 in the Theology of the Body series.) We are also different from the angels. They are created in God's image and likeness, but they do not have bodies and cannot make visible what has been hidden in God. Created in God's image and likeness, we are called to act like Him. We are called to love because He loves. In fact, love is God's activity. Our bodies, especially, in their masculinity and femininity, are to express this act, this divine love: a self-gift of one person to another.

The most important principle of the theology of the body is that human beings, body and soul, have a dignity and value unparalleled and unequaled on earth. The body participates in the dignity and value that we all have as images of God because the human body is the expression of the person. However, each human body is different, not only in the differences of masculinity and femininity, but also each man is different from every other man and each woman is different from every other woman. This is because each human being is a "special order". Each one of us is an unrepeatable being: each and every human being who has existed, is living, or will exist is unique. No two people are alike. We all share some common characteristics, but we are all distinct, separate, individuals. Our differences originate partly in our family backgrounds, in our ethnic and national heritage, and in our varying environments. However, the primary cause for the differences among us is that God has created each and every one of us as individuals, as unique and unrepeatable beings. None of us will ever be duplicated. Even identical twins are different in important ways. Each of us reflects God somewhat differently than all others. Although made in His image, God did not make us identical because no one of us, or two of us, or even a million of us, can ever completely and accurately mirror or reflect the infinite God.

As the physical expression of our persons, the body can be said to be a sacrament. (Of course, this is not one of the "seven" sacraments given to us by Christ. The general definition of a sacrament is: a visible sign of an invisible reality.) The body becomes a physical sign of who I am and, when I act as an image of God, it becomes a sacrament of how God acts. As the expression of the person, a sacrament, the body is not merely an attachment human beings carry around with them. The body cannot be separated from the human person. If we do something to someone's body we do it to that person. When we shake hands with someone, we touch the person. Therefore, there is no possible way that we can use someone's body and not use the person. Since we cannot use human beings (because human beings are created for their own sakes), we should never use someone's body or treat it like a thing. The human body should never become an object of use. To use the body is to use the person.