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John Paul II's Theology of the Body

The text of John Paul II's 129 talks (from September 5 1979 to November 28, 1984) that constitute his presentation of the Theology of the Body, are posted on the EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) website:

The compiled text in print form, called The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan, was published by Pauline Books and Media ( in 1997.

The following valuable review of the book appeared on the editorial page of The St. Louis Review (the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis) on October 10, 2003, and was posted in the archives of the web version (St. Louis Review Online). For additional information about this resource, visit:

The Theology of the Body: John Paul II's revolution

In 1960, 18 years before Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, he published "Love and Responsibility" in Polish, and thus began a revolution in Catholic theology of family, marriage and sexuality. Since his election as Pope, he has continued to contribute to this renewal of Catholic thought with works that are unparalleled in significance for our times, including important documents such as "Familiaris Consortio" (The Role of the Family in the Modern World) and "Mulieris Dignitatem" (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women). The collection of his homilies from Wednesday papal audiences titled "The Theology of the Body" (Daughters of St. Paul, 1997) contains the entire corpus of his splendid catechesis on the body.

The first thing one observes about the theology of the body is that it is a biblical theology. One finds it difficult to adequately capture the salient points of the Pope's theology of the body, much less conceive of the potential that it holds for the future of Catholic thought. Still, after even a brief presentation of some of the currents of his thought, one senses the transformative power that is there. It relies heavily upon the words and actions of Jesus, especially those we read about in His encounters with various figures in the Gospels. These episodes, in turn, refer us to the Old Testament texts which teach us about "the beginning," where man and woman are created in God's image and likeness equally and are called to form a communion of persons which represents God himself, the pre-eminent communion of persons.

Within the description and elaboration of a teaching on the meaning of the creation of man and woman and the institution of marriage, the Pope identifies and describes a number of original human experiences such as innocence, solitude, equality and union. All of these are profoundly meaningful human experiences which, after the fall of mankind's destructive impact, undergo a renovation in Jesus' Gospel of Redemption.

As one studies the theology of the body, it is necessary to reflect upon the original experiences of the human person from creation in order to fully appreciate the meaning of the ethos of redemption of the body. Here, man and woman regain their equal dignity and receive the beatifying gifts which make it possible to live out their vocations of self-gift and communion as reflections of the Blessed Trinity.

The characterization of the work as a theology of the body is appropriate because it emphasizes the way that man and woman are persons in the world. They are persons in and through their bodies, male and female.

Thus, the body is not seen as a mere dwelling for the soul. Rather, the human person is a composite of body and soul. Consistent with the biblical teaching on the subject, the Pope's teaching sees both body and soul, together, as the image of God. This is a pivotal point for the articulation of authentic Christian teaching wherein the body has true moral significance. Coupled with the basic element of the dignity of man and woman in creation and the communion to which they are called, the Pope speaks of the nuptial meaning of the body. The nuptial meaning of the body, rooted in creation by an intelligent act of God, means that one cannot simply ignore the natural consequences of actions taken in and through the body or the data seen within the human body itself.

While these are but a few of the major points of John Paul II's teaching, they help to illustrate the revolutionary impact that this teaching is having in Catholic theology. First, there is a new and developing generation of Catholic theologians who are studying and applying the powerful insights of this great Pope.

They are finding new, engaging ways of communicating the message of the Gospel through the language and concepts which the Pope has articulated with such clarity. Secondly, the biblical theology that the Pope has articulated resonates with many scholars and members of various Christian churches which allows for more fruitful dialogue in areas such as the dignity of the human person, Christian anthropology, authentic family life, sexual morality, justice and medical ethics. Thirdly, the theology of the body of John Paul II outlines an exquisite refutation of the pragmatic and utilitarian form of ethics that had become ubiquitous even in many Catholic schools of theology. It represents a return to the splendor of the authentic beauty and truth about the human person from the beginning of creation but now restored by the grace of Jesus Christ. In that sense, the theology of the body is an authentic revolution.