When talking about the Theology of the Body we generally assume that it explores the topic of sexual ethics, however this is not what the Theology of the Body is exclusively about. Rather Theology of the Body is about me, you, us and the whole of humanity. It is a study of ourselves since we have been created with a body. Although sexuality is a part of the Theology of the Body, since it is connected to the body and the human person, it is not the whole.
Narrowing the scope of the Theology of the Body to sexuality would be a mistake, albeit an honest one since Pope John Paul II did give his teachings of the Theology of the Body within the context of sexuality. This was not to limit the teachings to sexuality but more due the contextual necessity of the time, as it is now, to give a thorough explanation of sexuality and the human person. Such themes allowed for an easy entry point into the Theology of the Body since this is one of the strongest functions of the body.
Losing the Culture
The problem with such a narrow application of the Theology of the Body is that the many other findings that are essential for the understanding of ourselves are excluded and also weaken the teaching on sexuality. For a holistic understanding of sexuaity one needs to know the whole anthropological background. This vision of humanity needs to be communicated clearly. The attempt to teach this background within the context of sexuality cannot be sufficient. Changing hearts and minds is a tall order on a topic as strongly contested and that close to the core of the individual person as sexuality. For people informed by the mainstream culture the requirements for personal change in this area seems inconceivable. The idea of complete sexual freedom and the mentality of sexual relations being only subject to mutual consent are deeply ingrained in our way of thinking. It is therefore not realistic to hope for openness towards the truth and people being ready to seek it in this area.. Giving in here costs too much as it demands change in the last area our culture deems “sacred” and untouchable.
Getting the Whole Picture
The scope of the question needs to be broadened into it’s full potential. This can be achieved by bringing the theology aspect to the foreground of the Theology of the Body. Theology in its most basic formulation is the study of the relation between God and man. A true Theology of the Body needs to deal with all these elements. It needs to seek understanding of God based on the fact that we have a body. It needs to explain the implications of our bodies towards relationships and what our body tells us about ourselves.
In Theology we find many implications from the fact that we are both spiritual and bodily beings. Liturgy serves as an example of how are bodies are an integral part of our person; we cannot just pray in our “hearts”, but need to pray together and aloud, with singing, kneeling, standing, sitting, raising our hands up in the air and sometimes lying face down on the floor.
When we explore the implications of the body in regards to ourselves we enter into the realm of Anthropology the study of humanity. Here we ask questions about our own nature. What does it mean to be a being with a body? How does it affect who we are? How do we use our body?
John Paul II outlined that the main point of this Anthropology is that we are relational beings and need our bodies to come into relation. We cannot communicate directly from consciousness to consciousness, but by using our bodies to show, talk, see and listen. In addition, to achieve anything worthwhile we need our bodies. Good intentions are empty without putting them into practice through our body. To love someone is meaningless, unless we show it - express it - with our body. I could not write this to you without a body to type it into the computer. Even if we can develop technology to read our brains and thereby control input to a computer, it is still through the brain within the body.
The Theology of the Body shows the folly in ideas and views of the person that separates us from our bodies: Our body is so much a part of ourselves, we as humans are inseparable from it. In fact, the separation from the body is called death.
Reaching the Specific Disciplines
From this general study of humanity flow other fields of study and again just a few examples are enough to show how the teaching reaches many diverse fields.
Theology of the Body can shed light on sociological questions. Why do we live in communities and generally need social interactions? More specifically, in this area we might look how the Theology of the Body shows work as a fundamental part of being human. John Paul II himself wrote an extensive treatise on this in his encyclical Laborem Exercens. In the encyclical the body is always present in being the means with which man transitions its work from his inner subjectivity towards the physical world surrounding him.
Important fields to understand through the lense of the Theology of the Body are Pedagogy, Psychology and Medicine, as they are all closely linked to our body in scope or methodology.
An acute example in which an ever-increasing importance and need for understanding of implications is the new media. Increasingly digitised communication in effect takes our bodies away from the communication and the content. The body hides behind screens and data connections. This “bodiless information” poses new problems; How do we interact online when we easily forget a person exists behind the screen on the other side? What does it mean for us, when we can be at different places more or less simultaneously, chatting from Europe to America, doing a Skype call from Frankfurt to Sydney, or even circumventing time by experiencing the Apollo 11 mission in a Virtual Reality environment?
Call to Action
To work on all of those diverse questions, we need a general understanding of the Theology of the Body, only then can we properly understand ourselves in an integrated way. If you work in any of the fields of human activity, I invite you to study the Theology of the Body through the lens of your field. A holistic understanding of the human person can only increase the meaning of our lives. Also please share your insight with all of us.
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