Theology of the Body: Part 3


Man’s original solitude is a starting point for understanding the theology of the body, and JP II sees in it and the corresponding words of Genesis 2 (“it is not good that the man should be alone”) a sort of “prelude” to the creation of the woman and the ‘original unity’ of man as male and female.

JP II contrasts the account in Genesis 1 with that of Genesis 2 in that man’s solitude is not mentioned in the more theological account of Genesis 1; rather, man is simply said to be made in the image of God as male and female. The account in Genesis 2, however, begins with original solitude and from there develops the sexual dualism of man as male and female, the latter being the lens through which we must ultimately think of man and approach man in the theology of the body. The embodied nature of man is such that the distinction in sex between male and female is something that each man carries in himself by nature as a constituent facet of his being, whether male or female:

Although in its normal constitution, the human body carries within itself the signs of sex and is by its nature male or female, the fact that man is a “body” belongs more deeply to the structure of the personal subject than the fact that in his somatic constitution he is also male or female. (TOB 8.1)

JP II’s point here is that one cannot meaningfully distinguish the physical sex of a person’s body from that person himself; there is no duality here between a sexual body and sexless soul, but rather that sex is something that is not only deeper but in someway even constituent of the person in himself. And since a person is his body, the person as male or female is in priority the origin, so to speak, of that person’s sexual nature as male or female. The body itself, JP II argues, bears the stamp by nature of the person’s sexual nature as male or female. In other words, the body’s sexual nature as male or female is not in some way ancillary to the person as male or female but is wholly wrapped up in that in that it bears that nature within itself.

Because of this, JP II sees original solitude as prior to original unity since

the latter is based on masculinity and femininity, which are, as it were, two different “incarnations,” that is, two ways in which the same human being, created “in the image of God” (Gen 1:27), “is a body.” (TOB 8.1)

In the account of the creation of the woman, the Genesis text tells us that Adam’s “torpor” follows his realization of solitude. Prior to this he has named all the animals and discovered that he is alone; there is no other living being that understands the world as he does or which can go out from himself so as to be able to name at all. There is no ‘help’ for him, and thus he can only exist in a state of solitude, as mentioned earlier. But the creation of woman is the solution, as it were, to this state which is described as “not good.”

Importantly, Adam’s torpor is something induced by God, demonstrating that a suitable help can not come from himself or his own searching but must be the act of God which needs be graciously received. JP II understands Adam falling into his torpor in a sort of preparatory state; after finding himself alone he prepares to sleep and does so in hopes of finding his help. When he awakens, of course, he discovers that his solitude has been shattered, for

the first man awakens from his sleep as male and female. (TOB 8.3)

JP II indicates that for many ancient cultures the ‘bones’ were a stand-in for one’s very being, one’s life. This, the man’s exclamation that “she is flesh from my flesh and bones from my bones” bears the unmistakable marker that the woman shares the same being as the man, bears the same nature, and that in some manner the two of them in their sexual distinction form not only the image of humanity, but even more deeply the image of God. Being from being, of course, is no stranger to theological language, being used too describe the relations between the persons of the Trinity. Thus, in some way, the creation of man and the creation of woman image the eternal relations in the Trinity, and even in the body describe in some sense what is true of God and his own inner life.

The full weight of man’s original unity is also seen in these words, for the discovering of another occasions delight and rapture; the ‘other’ is not a threat to one’s existence or self-estimation but is rather the one who vindicates and validates one as a body. In awaking from solitude as male and female man discovers that

Their unity denotes above all the identity of human nature; duality, on the other hand, shows what, on the basis of this identity, constitutes the masculinity and femininity of created man. (TOB 9.1)

JP II understands this ontological understanding of man as providing an additional “axiological” meaning, in that the man begin for the woman and the woman for the man underscores the value of each in as far as they exist for each other. This “circle of experience” is what JP II describes as the first “overcoming of the frontier of solitude.” By finding in the other another to be like unto oneself, the solitude which constitutes each man in himself is laid aside and can even paradoxically become the bridge into unity. This, at least, is the beginning to which Christ appeals, and is the experience of man in his first experience as male and female.

To find oneself alone among living things is the original solitude, but also furnishes the opportunity to discover one’s transcendence from the rest of the world or living things. It is this discovery, in fact, which made the experience of solitude palpable for man in the beginning. JP II also sees this as forming the basis of discovering the necessity of

an adequate relation “to” the person, and thus as opening toward and waiting for a “communion of persons.” (TOB 9.2)

It is this ‘communio’ which is

the “help” that derives in some way from the very fact of existing as a person “beside” a person. (TOB 9.2)

The upshot is that the communion of persons presents the complete picture of humanity as it is realized in man as male and female. Man as a being closed in on himself is not complete nor definitive; in fact, his own experience of solitude makes him aware that he is alone and that this is “not good.” Man is meant for communion, and humanity as male and female allows for the “circle of experience” which flows of of original solitude to find unity. The body, thus, bears within itself as male or female the image of humanity in that its openness to communion is evident by nature of what it is. Man in his solitude is an incomplete image, but when he arises from his torpor as male and female his finds the image complete and born unmistakably within himself and his own body:

Man becomes an image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion. He is, in fact, “from the beginning” not only an image in which the solitude of one Person, who rules the worlds, mirrors itself, but also and essentially the image of an inscrutable divine communion of Persons. (TOB 9.3)

As such, each man as male or female has within himself the evidence of unity, and even the theological image of the Trinity in his very body as male or female. The implication of this unity is that “the body reveals man.” Man as male and female speaks to not only what pertains to humanity in its own nature but also to what in man is similar to God as his image.

JP II understands masculinity and femininity as being

two “incarnations” of the same metaphysical solitude before God and the world- two reciprocally completing ways of “being a body” and at the same time of being human- as two complementary dimensions of self-knowledge and self-determination and, at the same time, two complementary ways of being conscious about the meaning of the body. (TOB 10.1)

To-be-male (masculinity) thus “finds itself” in to-be female (masculinity), and it is the sexual differentiation in itself which not only unifies male and female as human but also confirms each one’s own uniqueness as male or female. The unity which their share is metaphysical but is also realized physically and in the body, both as each bears its ‘finding itself’ in the other and in the procreative act by which the two are connected to “the very mystery of creation.” (TOB 10.2) Sex- both in its realization as male and female and is the consummation of their unity-

expresses an ever-new surpassing of the limit of man’s solitude, which lies within the makeup of his body and determines its original meaning. This surpassing always implies that in a certain way one takes upon oneself the solitude of the body of the second “I” as one’s own. (TOB 10.2)

This unity, JP II, argues, assumes the presence of a choice, for whereas each of us belongs to a family by nature and generation, we come into this unity as male and female by choice. Importantly, is is this “beginning” to which Christ appeals as normative, and thus we are in the position of recognizing that what pertains to original unity in man’s first moments still has force today. Our experience in the body and as a body leads us down this path, for

The body, which through its own masculinity and femininity helps the two (“a help similar to himself”) from the beginning to find themselves in a communion of persons… becomes in a particular way the constitutive element of their union when they become husband and wife… Procreation is rooted in creation, and every time is reproduces in some way its mystery. (TOB 10.3, 10.4)

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Jason Watson

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