Thursday, August 25, 2016

"Theology of the Body" Founders on Settled Teaching, Scripture

Theology of the Body” Founders on Settled Teaching

By Father Kevin M. Cusick

The growth and popularity of the Theology of the Body (TOB) as promulgated by Saint John Paul II has increased and, now, with the canonization of its champion will doubtless find new adherents.

Many orthodox and engaged Catholics, parents and youth group leaders, have reached for this body of teachings on sexuality and marriage in order to encourage and form young people in chastity and better prepare them for marriage in particular.

Don Pietro Leone’s book on marriage and family, “The Family Under Attack”, portions of which are published exclusively on Rorate Caeli ( is available for purchase through Amazon. In his book he makes a bombshell claim: the series of discourses delivered by JPII and later collected as “Theology of the Body” do not constitute development of Church teaching but, rather, a rupture with it:

“‘Theology of the Body’ is the title that Pope John Paul II gave to a series of discourses delivered between September 1979 and November 1984. When we evaluate this doctrine in the light of Tradition, we see that in its principal positions it does not represent a development of Catholic teaching (in the sense of a clarification or deepening of that teaching), but rather a rupture with it, that is to say something novel. For this reason it cannot be described as Catholic doctrine, but rather as a series of personal meditations by the then Pope.”

What are some of the reasons for this “rupture” which means this work must be considered not teaching but personal meditations?

I have long considered the language of TOB lyrically beautiful in the way it describes the love of man and woman in marriage. It calls for the “total mutual self-gift of the spouses” in the marital act and in all of the expressions of love possible for man and woman in holy matrimony. However, when inspected in the light of Revelation, in the entire tradition of our Faith, cracks begin to appear in the TOB edifice.

There is not sufficient space here to cover all the objections that Leone posits in his book. I will offer a few as limits permit but refer readers to the Rorate Caeli article as a further introduction to the book. 

More from Leone:

“As our source for this chapter we take the book ‘Theology of the Body for Beginners’ by Mr. Christopher West (Ascension Press, 2004), which affords a useful summary of this theory. This lecturer and writer has done much to popularize the said theory on the international level.”

The finalities of marriage as taught in settled Catholic doctrine are one of the areas in which the personalist approach favored by JPII in TOB is set on a collision course with the Faith:

“Now the Church teaches that marriage has three finalities: 1) the procreation and education of children; 2) the mutual assistance of the spouses; 3) the remedy of concupiscence (see the Roman Catechism expounded in chapter 10 above). The Church teaches further that the first finality is also the primary finality (see chapter 5 for the relevant declarations of the Magisterium, and for the arguments from Scripture, patristics, and speculative theology).

“In opposition to this teaching, certain modern authors hold the view that the good of the spouses (cf. the second finality) is on the same level as, or on a higher level than, the good of the children (cf. the first finality). We refer the reader to chapter 5 of the present book.”

“This modern view has been condemned by the Magisterium. A Declaration of the Holy See of March 1944 (AAS XXVI p.103) poses the question: ‘Can one admit the doctrine of certain modern writers who deny that the procreation and education of the child are the primary end of marriage, or teach that the secondary ends are not essentially subordinate to the primary end, but rather are of equal value and are independent of it? They replied: No, this doctrine cannot be admitted’. In his Allocution to the Midwives (1951) Pope Pius XII refers to such doctrines as ‘a serious inversion of the order of the values and of the purposes which the Creator has established Himself.’ “        

Leone discusses the related problems presented by the innovations of TOB in the light of sacred Tradition:

“Theology of the Body must be seen against this background. Even if it does not explicitly deny that the procreation and education of children is the primary finality of marriage, it is almost exclusively concerned with spousal love, at best mentioning procreation simply as an adjunct, as when the Pope, in reference to ‘the communion of persons which man and woman form…’ adds: on ‘all this, right from the beginning, there descended the blessing of fertility’ (Nov. 14th 1979, West p.25).”

In the second area of concern Leone treats the TOB theme of “Total Self-Giving Love”.
“Now the foundation of the Theology of the Body is the proposition that the act of conjugal love consists in ‘the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife’ (Familiaris Consortio 32, quoted in the The New Catechism 2370). If this proposition is false, then the whole edifice of Theology of the Body falls.

“In chapter 4 of the present book we have argued to the falsity of this proposition: first metaphysically, because the human person is incommunicable; second physically, because the act of conjugal love essentially involves the seeking and taking of pleasure, without which it would indeed be impossible; and third morally, because total self-giving love is commanded (and indeed only possible) to God alone (Lk. 10.27), whereas man is commanded to love his neighbour to a lesser degree, and where conjugal relations are concerned, with modesty and moderation [1] (cf. Roman Catechism on the Use of Marriage). Indeed to love one’s neighbour with a total love would be idolatry .[2]”

Pastors are urged to share this critique in total with parish personnel who may be using TOB in faith formation, youth and marriage prep programs. We are setting our faithful up for failure if we call them to live out ideals that are unachievable as well as in conflict with God’s law to “love your neighbor as yourself” in marriage as well as all the vocations.


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