Theology of the Body: Part 2

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After looking at the somewhat paradoxical relationship between the two situations of historical man- that of original innocence and his subsequent fallen-ness- JP II drew out an even deeper link between the situation of fallen-ness and the mystery of redemption that is inherent to historical man in and of himself, both objectively as being created in the image of God and in his own subjectivity viz-a-viz his historical situation. This forms the content of the ‘beginning’ that Jesus appeals to in response to his interlocutors’ questions about marriage and divorce.

Continuing on to eventually arrive at this “original unity” between husband and wife, JP II stops to briefly consider what he calls man’s “original solitude,” what I like to call a sort of ‘pre-beginning.’ He draws once again on the differing accounts of the creation of man in Genesis, here focusing primarily on the second account. In the first account we find no mention of man’s ‘original solitude:’

The problem of solitude shows itself only in the context of the second account of the creation of man. There, man is created in a single act as “male and female,” (God created man in his image… male and female he created them,” Gen. 1:27). The second account- which, as we have already mentioned, speaks first about the creation of man and only afterward about the creation of woman from the “rib” of the male- concentrates our attention on the fact that “man is alone,” and this turns out to be a fundamental anthropological issue that is in some way prior to the issue raised by the fact that man is male and female. (TOB 5.3)

As alluded, this insight is drawn from the second account of the creation of man- the so-called ‘Yahwist’ account- in which mankind’s creation is in some way prior to the creation or division of mankind into male and female. The term used for man before this distinction- adam– is used without reference to either male or female, whereas once the creation of woman from man occurs we find that issa (woman) is brought forth from is (male). In JP II’s words:

It is further significant that the first man (adam), created from the “dust of the ground.” is defined as “male”(is) only after the creation of the first woman. Thus, when God-Yahweh speaks the words about solitude, he refers with them to the solitude of “man” as such and not only to that of the male.

The upshot of this is that man (male and female) was created in a state of original solitude, and that this solitude is not only representative of a male without a female but rather speaks to something deeper and actually points to something that is constituent of the nature and ontology of every man whether male or female. JP II goes further and understands this solitude as originating not only in man’s own nature, but also evidenced in the relationship between male and female. As such, the sexes of male and female are to be understood not as something ancillary to man’s nature (and thus to each historical man’s nature as he experiences it both objectively and subjectively) but rather issuing forth from that nature itself. Both the nature of man as it is in itself and as it exists in the relation between male and female point to this original unity in which man finds that it is not good for him (adam) to be alone.

In considering this original solitude and its implications for the theology of the body, JP II continues by noticing its meaning in respect to man’s original vocation. In the same text the creation of man is linked with the original state of the earth as such where there was no one to cultivate it. JP II sees this as being related to the first account’s description of man’s vocation to subdue the earth and rule it. Here we find the essence of man’s original happiness, in that

man is the object of the creative action of God-Yahweh, who at the same time, as Legislator, sets the conditions of the first covenant with man. Already this divine act underlines man’s subjectivity. (TOB 5:4)

What he is getting at here is that by entering into a covenant with God (by virtue of deriving his existence from God), man now exists in relation to not only the God who created him and is the objective source of his being, but also in relation to his own happiness and his own interaction with the world God has given him and the duties placed upon him. This subjectivity, we read, is further refined as man comes into relationship with the animals, wherein they are brought before him to “see what he would call them.” JP II sees this as an examination of man before God, wherein he can discover both his relation to the rest of creation as a part of it, but more importantly his own superiority and transcendence from it. It is this latter relation which man eventually finds through the naming of the animals, for we read that he “did not find a help similar to himself.” (Gen. 2:20)

In his own subjectivity man thus discovers the meaning of his original solitude, and finds that while he is a part of creation, there is an aspect of his own nature that is in some way dissimilar from the rest of creation. He is not meant to merely exist in this world, but is given the charge to ‘cultivate the ground’ and realize his own distinction from it as being made in God’s image:

Thus, the created man finds himself from the first moment of his existence before God in search if his own being, as it were; one could say in search of his own definition; today one would say in search of his own “identity.” The observation that man “is alone” in the midst of the visible world and, in particular, among living beings, has a negative meaning in this search, inasmuch as it expresses what man “is not.” (TOB 5.4)

However, even those this original solitude has a negative meaning is this respect, it also carries a positive one in that man must realize that the definition he gives to other things- the names he bestows upon them- is not final definition of himself; to find his true definition, to conclude the search for his own being, he must look beyond the animal (although he shares that as part of himself) and discover both what- and finally- who he really is.

This search for his own being- which is part and parcel of his own subjectivity- signals that he is clearly distinct from the rest of creation and the rest of living things which he has been able to name. His ability to know not only the world outside of himself but even that within him through self-knowledge affirms his dissimilarity from all other living things but more importantly allows him to go outside of himself, as it were, and in doing so “reveals himself to himself in all of the distinctiveness of his being.” (TOB 5.4) The realization of this distinctiveness carries a two-fold meaning for original solitude. Firstly, he is not alone merely because of his ontology or even because of his subjectivity. As JP II states:

Solitude also signifies man’s subjectivity which constitutes itself through self-knowledge. Man is alone because he is “different” from the visible world, from the world of living things. (TOB 5.4)

In a somewhat paradoxical fashion, it is this original solitude which forms the ground of man’s very personhood. For in discovering that he is alone by being different from the world of living things, he sets himself off from all creation in this act of self-revealing and discovers in his own subjectivity not only that he is alone, but that he is alone because he is himself. So while he certainly has an animal body like the other animals he has already named, in his search for his own definition he has discovered- through his original solitude no less- that he is first and foremost a person, and this being-a-person or being-himself is at bottom the primary definition of man.

The narrative in genesis about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil adds an additional element to man’s subjectivity and personhood- that of self-determination and choice. This becomes integral to man’s original solitude in that the need for a ‘help’ cannot be excised from this self-determination. In other words, inasmuch as original solitude is constituent to man ontologically, so to be in relation is woven into this as a natural consequence of solitude. Man exists originally and primordially in covenant with God, and in this is evinced his dependence on God both for his being and for his own self-definition:

Man is “alone”: this is to say that through his own humanity, through what he is, he is at the same time set into a unique, exclusive, and unrepeatable relationship with God himself. The anthropological definition contained in the Yahwist text in its own way approaches the theological definition of man that we find in the first creation count )”Let us make man in our image and our likeness,” Gen. 1:26)

The body which man finds himself to not only be ‘in’ but to actually ‘be’ is part and parcel of this original solitude, as seen in how man, although like the animals and other living things in some manner, is nevertheless ‘alone.’ JP II speculates that it is the very reality of the body that may have led man to the realization of his solitude. Indeed, instead of coming to the conclusion that he was like all the other animals, he came to the opposite conclusion that he was actually more unlike them, which in itself contains a seed of the notion that perhaps he is more like God, which we know from the earlier account to be theologically true. The meaning of man’s body, both in its physicality and in its transcendence as being a part of his ‘him-ness’ which goes beyond other living beings, comes to be that in man’s solitude he is not meant to be alone but rather to have a help, both as he stands in relation to himself, to God and to another who will be like him. Here again we find a hint of the mystery of redemption mentioned earlier, and how the seeds of it are contained ‘in the beginning.’

This meaning of the body has a further implication for the unity of man in himself in that he realizes his own identity not only because of realities such as self-determination and free will but also because of his own body. As aforementioned, even though his body is like other bodies and in a world of other bodies, his relation to his own body gives rise to the understanding of his own solitude and self-determination, and thus within the unity of that which is purely body like all other beings and that which is himself in a distinct sense we find the person himself, so unified that he can say that he is his body, rather than he merely has a body. The theological meaning of his body- both in being formed from the dust of the ground and in having life breathed into him- is thus not simply a metaphysical notion to be contemplated by minds but a concrete reality concretely realized in his own subjectivity as a body.

As we come back to the tree of knowledge, JP II argues that

The original meaning of man’s solitude rests on the experience of the existence he obtained from the Creator. This human existence is characterized precisely by subjectivity, which also includes the meaning of the body. (TOB 7.3)

The death warned against by God in respect to eating from the tree would thus appear to man as “a radical antithesis of all that man had been endowed with.” (TOB 7.3) The man realizes in himself the dependence of his existence, and the (perhaps) startling revelation that he could very well not be. The even more startling revelation is that, due to his endowment with free will and self-determination, the continuation of his existence and fellowship with God is up to him and him alone. This naked vulnerability before such a terrible choice marks his original solitude as well:

He should have understood that this mysterious tree concealed within itself a dimension of solitude that was unknown to him up to this point, a dimension with which the Creator had endowed him in the midst of the worlds of living beings, of the animals to which he, the man, had “given names,- in the presence of the Creator himself- so as to come to understand that none of them was similar to him. (TOB 7.3)

JP II closes out the discussion of original solitude by noting that this choice between life and death is not something ancillary to our nature, sprung up us by our fallen-ness, but is rather part and parcel of our nature, the corollary of having a body, of which death has particular relevance:

The alternative between death and immortality has entered from the very beginning into the definition of man and [it] belongs “from the beginning” to the meaning of his solitude before God himself. (TOB 7.4)

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Jason Watson

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