Monday, 21 October 2019 12:03

Marriage and the Spousal Meaning of the Body - part 2

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This article is the second of a series of five articles. The five articles together make up a thesis writing on marriage and the spousal meaning of the body. This second article covers the second chapter of the thesis on key concepts of St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Chapter 2: Key Concepts of Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body 

Original Solitude and Original Unity

With the foundation of the reflections of the triptych of Christ’s words in place, one can continue to follow John Paul II in penetrating into the beginning, seeking a greater understanding of the original intent of the Creator in creating man as male and female and calling them to become one flesh (Mt 19:5). John Paul II follows the progression of the creation accounts of Genesis, reflecting upon man in the states of original solitude and original unity.

            Original solitude has a twofold context, “one deriving from man’s very nature, that is, from his humanity, and the other deriving from the relationship between male and female.”[1] With respect to his nature, man (as male and female) is distinguished from the rest of visible creation. With respect to the solitude deriving from the sexes, this solitude is the reality which draws each of the sexes to communion with each other. John Paul II explains that original solitude also sheds light on the personhood of man.

The created man finds himself from the first moment of his existence before God in search of his own being…in search of his own definition…man finds himself alone before God,

above all to express, through a first self-definition, his own self-knowledge as the first and fundamental manifestation of humanity.[2]

Analyzing the text of Genesis, it becomes evident that man, “with the first act of self-consciousness, ‘distinguishes himself’ before God-Yahweh from the whole world of living beings (animalia), how he consequently reveals himself to himself and at the same time affirms himself in the visible world as a ‘person.’”[3] Reflecting upon the commandment regarding the use of the trees of the garden of Eden, particularly the commandment to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17), John Paul II continues to explain that the commandment issued by God to man “adds the aspect of choice and self-determination (that is, of free will)”[4] to the outline of man previously described. This provides a more complete first sketch of man, revealing man as being both self-conscious and having a self-determination, as a person with “subjectivity characterizing the person.”[5]

            The words “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen 2:18), along with the creation story of woman, transition the focus from original solitude into original unity.[6] In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ states that “a man will leave his father and his mother and unite with his wife, and the two will be one flesh” (Mat 19:5). John Paul II explains how in the creation account of woman, the original man enters a sleep in the state of original solitude, desiring a second I, and awakens to find himself male and female.[7] At the discovery of this second I, which man had so desired, man exults in saying, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called ‘woman’, for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken” (Gen 2:23). John Paul II explains that “joy for the other human being, for the second ‘I,’ dominates in the words the man (male) speaks on seeing the woman (female). All this helps to establish the full meaning of original unity.”[8]

Gaudium et Spes would later teach that which came naturally to the first man and woman in this first encounter, the recognition that persons are created as subjects of love, never as objects of use. Man “is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself” and he “cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”[9] John Paul II refers to this as the personalistic norm, the reality that the “person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.”[10]

Original Nakedness

Original nakedness takes its place alongside original solitude and original unity as a key element of the original revelation, allowing the compilation of “the first biblical sketch of anthropology.”[11] Looking at the mention of how the first man and woman were naked but “did not feel shame” (Gen 2:25), the author of the text “intends to describe this reciprocal experience with the greatest precision possible for him.”[12] According to Pope John Paul II, the author is attempting to make an explicit distinction between the anthropological experience of the first man and woman before the fall, and the experience of historical man after the fall; namely, the significant difference of shame. Shame is taken here to be the natural resistance of a person from being made an object of use, along with “the realization that a person of the other sex must not be regarded [even in one’s private thoughts] as an object of use.”[13] Rather, the person was meant to be related to as a subject of love. There is an inherent awareness in the person that is a “defensive reflex, which protects that status [that of an incommunicable person] and so protects the value of the person.”[14] After the fall of the first man and woman there was a radical change which occurred in their consciousness which “directly concerns the experience of the meaning of one’s own body before the Creator and creatures.”[15] This difference is made evident in a following verse, “I heard the sound of your step in the garden, and I was afraid, because I am naked; and I hid myself.” (Gen 3:10)

            In an attempt to re-construct an understanding of original nakedness, Pope John Paul II begins with the experience of historical man, namely that of shame, and attempts to move backwards across this threshold of the original experience of shame. He states that “in the experience of shame, the human being experiences fear in the face of the ‘second I’, and this is substantially fear for one’s own ‘I.’”[16] John Paul II emphasizes that the experience of shame is a lacking of the original fullness which was previously present,[17] explaining that, within the context of the Yahwist passage as a whole, one finds that “man’s original solitude is portrayed as the ‘non-identification’ of his own humanity with the world of the living beings that surround him.”[18] In this way, and as a consequence of man being created male and female, the male’s discovery of the female becomes “the happy discovery of his own humanity ‘with the help’ of the other.”[19]

            The experience of original nakedness, however, is not solely regulated to man’s exterior sense perception, there is a significant interior component which lends itself to a fuller understanding of the interpersonal communion of the sexes. The physical body of man manifests visibly the essence of man, acting “as an intermediary that allows man and woman, from the beginning, to ‘communicate’ with each other according to that communio personarum willed for them by the Creator.”[20] Thus, this “‘exterior’ perception, expressed by physical nakedness, corresponds the ‘interior’ fullness of the vision of man in God.”[21] All this was made possible by man being in the state of grace, without sin.

Communion of Persons

This fullness of the vision of the other mentioned above had a profound effect on the first encounter between the man and woman. In this first encounter the man and the woman find each other and possess the interior freedom to make a disinterested gift of self, reciprocally and freely receiving the gift of the other while making the gift of themselves. They see and welcome each other, created in the image of the Creator, and willed for their own sake.  In this reality “consists the revelation and the discovery of the ‘spousal’ meaning of the body.”[22] The state of original solitude and original nakedness of both the man and woman is precisely that which draws them to rejoice in the discovery of the other and makes possible the communion of persons.[23] This communion of persons “indicates precisely the ‘help’ that derives in some way from the very fact of existing as a person ‘beside’ a person… this fact becomes eo ipso - through itself - existence of the person ‘for’ the person, given that in his original solitude man existed in some way already in this relation.”[24]

                The tendency towards this communion of persons sheds light on the natural ordering of human nature to this communion, the spousal meaning of the body. Understanding the spousal meaning of the body provides a view into what living out this communion of persons was intended to be by the Creator from the beginning. In the beginning, man and woman saw each other with an interior gaze “more fully and clearly than through the sense of sight itself, that is, through the eyes of the body.”[25] They saw and knew each other with a gaze “which creates precisely the fullness of the intimacy of persons.”[26] In this gaze, man and woman “‘communicate’ in the fullness of humanity, which shows itself in them as reciprocal complementarity precisely because they are ‘male’ and ‘female.’”[27]  Coming together as a communion of persons, they “become a mutual gift for each other, through femininity and masculinity. In reciprocity, they reach in this way a particular understanding of the meaning of their own bodies.”[28]

Man is Made for Reciprocal Self-Gift

The first creation account from Genesis reveals God as Creator, one who “calls to existence from nothing and who establishes the world in existence and man in the world.”[29] The account also provides insight into the motive for God’s creating as it repeats how God “saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). Referring to 1 Corinthians 13, John Paul II points out how scripture teaches us that “only love, in fact, gives rise to the good and is well pleased with the good.”[30] Thus, because God created all and found it to be good, and since only love can give rise to the good and be pleased with it, John Paul II uses this as rational for indicating that the motive for God’s act of creation is love. “Consequently, every creature bears within itself the sign of the original and fundamental gift.”[31] What is significant however, is that man stands alone, being made in the image of God, as being able to understand the “meaning of the gift in the call from nothing to existence.”[32] Creation has been made for man.

Later, scripture mentions for the first time that there is a lack of good when it portrays God as stating that “It is not good that the man should be alone” and “I want to make him a helper” (Gen 2:18). John Paul II explains that this verse is an assertion that “alone, the man does not completely realize this essence. He realizes it only by existing ‘with someone’ –and, put even more deeply and completely, by existing ‘for someone.’”[33] Man can only fully realize his essence by living as a communion of persons. “Man now emerges in the dimension of reciprocal gift, the expression of which – by that very fact the expression of his existence as a person – is the human body in all the original truth of its masculinity and femininity.”[34] Beautifully drawing this analysis together, John Paul II sees in Genesis 2:23, 24, and 25 the revelation of a significant relationship. Genesis 2:23 reveals the joy of man coming to existence as male and female, Genesis 2:24 establishes the conjugal unity of the man and the woman, and Genesis 2:25 attests that the two were naked without shame. John Paul II sees in these verses that man (as male and female) is able to joyfully recognize and receive the gift of being created by God, through participation in the reciprocal gift of each other, and that this is testified to by the joint experience of nakedness without shame. The participation of man and woman in conjugal unity allows them to not only glorify the Creator by a recognition of the gift of His creation, but also cooperation in the gift of His creating love through an acceptance of the call to procreation. In this way the sexual act, freely given to one another by the spouses, becomes the physical expression of spiritual communion in the spousal meaning of the body.

The Spousal Meaning of the Body

“The original discovery of the spousal meaning of the body consists in presenting man, male and female, in the whole reality and truth of his body and his sex, and at the same time in the full freedom from all constraint of the body and of its sex.”[35] The mention of the first man and woman being naked without shame indicates a freedom from the constraint of the body and of its sex, “the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and – through this gift – fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence.”[36] This freedom is meant as a self-mastery which makes possible the spousal meaning of the body, showing the intimate correlation between original nakedness and the spousal meaning of the body. “The interior freedom of the gift… lies at the root of nakedness… this gift allows both the man and the woman to find each other reciprocally inasmuch as the Creator willed each of them for his own sake.”[37] John Paul II states that the Yahwist narrative, and specifically Genesis 2:25, helps one to deduce that man and woman were created to enter into the world with this consciousness of the spousal meaning of their own bodies, with a consciousness of their being made for participation in this reciprocal self-gift which both reveals and fulfills the very meaning of their being. John Paul II continues to explain that,

The human body, oriented from within by the “sincere gift” of the person, reveals not only its masculinity or femininity on the physical level, but reveals also such a value and such a beauty that it goes beyond the simply physical level of “sexuality.” In this way, the consciousness of the meaning of the body, linked with man’s masculinity-femininity, is in some sense completed. On the one hand, this meaning points to a particular power to express the love in which man becomes a gift; what corresponds to this meaning, on the other hand, is power and deep availability for the “affirmation of the person,” that is, literally, the power to live in the fact that the other – the woman for the man and the man for the woman – is through the body someone willed by the Creator “for his own sake”, that is, someone unique and unrepeatable, someone chosen by eternal Love.[38]

It is the restoration of the consciousness of the spousal meaning of the body which must be accomplished in order to guide man (male and female) to discover and fulfill himself through a disinterested gift of himself. Though a return to original nakedness is not possible, original nakedness was a state experienced because of the gift of God’s grace, and it is through this same gift of God’s grace that freedom from the constraint of the body and of its sex can be gradually approached; the openness of historical man to the grace of God will allow the purifying work of the Holy Spirit. This is where John Paul II transitions his reflection towards Christ’s words in Matthew 5:27-28 from the Sermon on the Mount; where he sees Christ seeking the conversion of the hearts of men, reordering interior dispositions and perceptions in order to be in line with the good, as it was created to be in the beginning.

The Sacrament and Graces of Marriage

Reflecting on the words of Christ from the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28), John Paul II states that marriage is given to man, in his sin and concupiscence, as the

Sacrament of redemption as grace and sign of the covenant with God – and it is assigned to him as an ethos. At the same time, in relation with marriage as a sacrament, it is assigned as ethos to every man, male and female: it is assigned to his “heart,” to his conscience, to his looks, and to his behavior. Marriage – according to Christ’s words – is a sacrament from the “beginning” itself, and at the same time, on the basis of man’s “historical” sinfulness, it is a sacrament that arose from the mystery of the “redemption of the body.”[39]

Marriage has been designed by God from the beginning as a way of life which orients the heart of man, male and female, towards a reciprocal participation in self-gift. That the spouses might at one and the same time be a gift, and a recipient of the gift of the other. In raising marriage to the dignity of a sacrament of the Church, this way of living becomes a participation in the mystery of redemption. “As a sacrament of the Church, [marriage] is also a word of the Spirit exhorting man and woman to shape their whole life together by drawing strength from the mystery of the ‘redemption of the body.’ In this way, they are called to chastity as to the state of life ‘according to the Spirit’ proper to them.”[40] John Paul II states that this mystery of the redemption of the body corresponds with the everyday hope that is defined in the dimension of marriage, the hope that “one can master the concupiscence of the flesh,” and that through marriage “‘flesh’ itself becomes the specific ‘substratum’ of lasting and indissoluble communion of persons in a manner worthy of persons.”[41] Under sin, the value of the body and the person cannot be sufficiently appreciated, and becomes an object for use and extortion, it is through grace that the value of the other is re-established, and thus the place of the body returns to being a vehicle for self-gift. “Just as ‘concupiscence’ darkens the horizon of interior vision and deprives hearts of the lucid clarity of desires and aspirations, so life ‘according to the spirit’ (or the grace of the sacrament of Marriage) allows man and woman to find the true freedom of the gift together with the awareness of the spousal meaning of the body in its masculinity and femininity.”[42]

Language of the Body

            The language of the body becomes the expression of life according to the Spirit which is proper to marriage, as well as the expression of the spousal meaning of the body. According to John Paul II,

The human body speaks a “language” of which it is not the author. Its author is man, as male or female, as bridegroom or bride: man with his perennial vocation to the communion of persons. Yet, man is in some sense unable to express this singular language of his personal existence and vocation without the body. He is constituted in such a way from the “beginning” that the deepest words of the spirit – words of love, gift, and faithfulness – call for an appropriate “language of the body.” And without this language, they cannot be fully expressed.[43]

Man, male and female, speaks this language on the body, in such a way that the body speaks on the behalf of the person, in “his name and with his personal authority.”[44] The language of the body is meant to be spoken in truth, according to the nuptial vows of the spouses, an expression of their commitment to total self-gift, faithfulness, and fruitfulness. As spouses communicate this language to each other they carry out a conjugal dialogue proper to their vocation. “The couple are called to form their lives and their living together as a ‘communion of persons’ on the basis of this language.”[45] Through the conduct and behavior, actions and gestures of the spouses, they “are called to become the authors of these meanings of the ‘language of the body,’ from which they then build and continually deepen love, faithfulness, conjugal integrity, and the union that remains indissoluble until death.”[46] The vocabulary of the language of the body grows as the spouses continue to learn and develop together new and more refined and intimate expressions of this language, a language which is unique and particular to them. In this way this language of the body becomes the tangible expression of the spousal meaning of the body. This concept will be revisited and further developer in chapter 4 of this paper, in the sub-section entitled, “Guidance for Living According to the Spousal Meaning of the Body.”



[1] John Paul II, General Audience (10 October 1979), trans. Waldstein, 5:2, p.147.

[2] John Paul II, General Audience (10 October 1979), trans. Waldstein, 5:5-6, p.149-150.

[3] John Paul II, General Audience (10 October 1979), trans. Waldstein, 5:6, p.150.

[4] John Paul II, General Audience (24 October 1979), trans. Waldstein, 5:6, p.151.

[5] John Paul II, General Audience (24 October 1979), trans. Waldstein, 5:6, p.151.

[6] John Paul II, General Audience (7 November 1979), trans. Waldstein, 8:1, p.156.

[7] John Paul II, General Audience (7 November 1979), trans. Waldstein, 8:3, p.159.

[8] John Paul II, General Audience (7 November 1979), trans. Waldstein, 8:4, p.161.

[9] Pope Paul VI, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes (7 December 1965), § 24.

[10] Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, trans. H. T. Willetts (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1981), p. 41.

[11] John Paul II, General Audience (12 December 1979), trans. Waldstein, 11:2, p.170.

[12] John Paul II, General Audience (12 December 1979), trans. Waldstein, 11:4, p.171.)

[13] Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, trans. H. T. Willetts (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1981), p. 178.

[14] Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, trans. H. T. Willetts (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1981), p. 179.

[15] John Paul II, General Audience (12 December 1979), trans. Waldstein, 11:5, p.173.

[16] John Paul II, General Audience (19 December 1979), trans. Waldstein, 12:1, p.173.

[17] John Paul II, General Audience (19 December 1979), trans. Waldstein, 12:2, p.174.

[18] John Paul II, General Audience (19 December 1979), trans. Waldstein, 12:3, p.175.

[19] John Paul II, General Audience (19 December 1979), trans. Waldstein, 12:3, p.175.

[20] John Paul II, General Audience (19 December 1979), trans. Waldstein, 12:4, p.176.

[21] John Paul II, General Audience (19 December 1979), trans. Waldstein, 12:5, p.176.

[22] John Paul II, General Audience (16 January 1980), trans. Waldstein, 15:3, p.188.

[23] John Paul II, General Audience (14 November 1979), trans. Waldstein, 9:2, p.163.

[24] John Paul II, General Audience (14 November 1979), trans. Waldstein, 9:2, p.162-163.

[25] John Paul II, General Audience (2 January 1980), trans. Waldstein, 13:1, p.177-178.

[26] John Paul II, General Audience (2 January 1980), trans. Waldstein, 13:1, p.178.

[27] John Paul II, General Audience (2 January 1980), trans. Waldstein, 13:1, p.178.

[28] John Paul II, General Audience (2 January 1980), trans. Waldstein, 13:1, p.178.

[29] John Paul II, General Audience (2 January 1980), trans. Waldstein, 13:3, p.180.

[30] John Paul II, General Audience (2 January 1980), trans. Waldstein, 13:3, p.180.

[31] John Paul II, General Audience (2 January 1980), trans. Waldstein, 13:4, p.180.

[32] John Paul II, General Audience (2 January 1980), trans. Waldstein, 13:4, p.180.

[33] John Paul II, General Audience (9 January 1980), trans. Waldstein, 14:2, p.182.

[34] John Paul II, General Audience (9 January 1980), trans. Waldstein, 14:4, p.183.

[35] John Paul II, General Audience (16 January 1980), trans. Waldstein, 15:1, p.185.

[36] John Paul II, General Audience (16 January 1980), trans. Waldstein, 15:1, p.185-186.

[37] John Paul II, General Audience (16 January 1980), trans. Waldstein, 15:3, p.187.

[38] John Paul II, General Audience (16 January 1980), trans. Waldstein, 15:4, p.188.

[39] John Paul II, General Audience (24 November 1982), trans. Waldstein, 100:7, p.520.

[40] John Paul II, General Audience (1 December 1982), trans. Waldstein, 101:4, p.522.

[41] John Paul II, General Audience (1 December 1982), trans. Waldstein, 101:4, p.522.

[42] John Paul II, General Audience (1 December 1982), trans. Waldstein, 101:5, p.522-523.

[43] John Paul II, General Audience (12 January 1983), trans. Waldstein, 104:7, p.537.

[44] John Paul II, General Audience (26 January 1983), trans. Waldstein, 106:1, p.542.

[45] John Paul II, General Audience (26 January 1983), trans. Waldstein, 106:2, p.543.

[46] John Paul II, General Audience (26 January 1983), trans. Waldstein, 106:2, p.543.

Chris FernandezChris Fernandez was born and raised in south Florida. Chris studied at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL where he obtained a bachelors degree in aerospace engineering. In 2013, Chris received a certification in spiritual direction from Our Lady of Divine Providece, School of Spiritual Direction, in Clearwater, FL. Then in 2019 he received a masters degree in theology, with a concentration in spiritual theology, from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, CT. Chris is a lay member of the Home of the Mother, currently living in Jacksonville, FL with his wife and three children.