Friday, 27 September 2019 11:45

Marriage and the Spousal Meaning of the Body - part 1

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Traditionally, the majority of the human population has chosen to live life in a married state. There is a more recent phenomenon of the commitment to marriage growing less popular amongst the young adult population, whereby many are choosing to simply cohabitate, however, overall, most of humanity pursues marriage. Tragically, in our fallen state there is much confusion as to the appropriate role of human sexuality, and human dignity within the context of relationship between the sexes. Even amongst those who understand marriage as a covenant, and pursue being a husband or wife as a vocation, there is still confusion about what this was most designed by God to be like.

In approaching the writing of my master’s thesis in theology, my desire was to research and compile a writing which explained key ideas of St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, culminating in an explanation of the spousal meaning of the body, in order to illustrate that the spousal meaning of the body is key to understanding the Divine plan for human sexuality and the spousal relationship; I also wished to provide concrete guidance and examples for how living in accordance with the spousal meaning of the body would look in daily life. I have broken up my finalized thesis into a series of five articles, in order to make them more accessible to others, and share them with the Home of the Mother. The footnotes have been left in place in case any reader would like to pursue reading any of the source materials. I pray that the following articles are found beneficial to any who may read them, and that the Lord might use the writing as He most pleases.

This first article covers the thesis introduction, as well as the first chapter on the Biblical foundations of the Theology of the Body.


The state of the culture is in moral decline; individuals are increasingly ignorant of the great dignity they have as human persons, and as sons and daughters of God. They turn from the gift of the Creator, creation and the communion He most wills to enter into with them. Instead, they turn towards lesser goods, grasping disorderedly at what they perceive will satisfy their hearts, self-indulging their passions. In various degrees, individuals live enslaved to their passions, living out of a false notion of freedom. At the core of the disorder is a perverse understanding of the call to communion which has been stamped into human nature. This call to communion was created by God to draw humanity unto a self-donative love amongst one another, image the love of the Trinity, and become a sign which draws humanity into communion with God. However, distorted by sin and woundedness, this call to communion has become an insatiable ache which leads many into confusion and despair; they are caught in a cycle of self-indulgence that can never satisfy. Unaware of how to be receptive to the love of God, individuals become incapable of loving one another in an ordered way.

This dynamic is evident in marriages. Without the appropriate understanding of God’s plan for spousal relationship even the most well-intentioned spouses suffer the grip of lust, living out a marriage which is crippled. Spouses become turned in on themselves, against one another, and unable to receive the fullness of grace which God desires for their marriage. These wounded marriages produce wounded children as parents are incapable of modeling and passing on the proper example of self-donative love and living as part of a communion of persons. Marriage becomes a sign askew, no longer pointing to loving communion with God, and the children of these wounded marriages grow and perpetuate the cycle; each person aching, lost and confused. This cycle has resulted in a growing ignorance of identity; individuals unaware of their dignity, their purpose, and the meaning of what it is to live as a son or daughter of the King.

A turning back to God’s plan for living as a communion of persons, through self-donative love is required. This conversion will bring healing to spouses and their children, and restore the ordered understanding of the communion of persons, that spouses might become an image which turns the hearts of humanity back towards God. The theology of the body of St. Pope John Paul II is instrumental in “reminding” individuals of their identity; their call to live as sons and daughters of God, in a communion of persons. The reality of each individual having been created for communion is understood and lived out through what John Paul II refers to as the spousal meaning of the body. 

The aim of this thesis is to highlight how spouses might be brought to better live out their marital vocations, according to the Divine plan, through a growth in understanding of the spousal meaning of the body. Relying on the guidance of St. Pope John Paul II, namely the compilation of a number of his Wednesday audiences in a book entitled Man and Woman He Created Them, this paper will discuss the Biblical foundations of this teaching, key concepts of the theology of the body, the continuity of the theology of the body with historical Magisterial teaching, and then draw the insights of the teaching together as an aid for spouses in living out their marital vocation.

Chapter 1: Biblical Foundations of the Theology of the Body

The theology of the body of St. Pope John Paul II is the fruit of prayer and deep reflection on Sacred Scripture. Each exposition of an insight begins with a review of a passage from Sacred Scripture to stand upon the firm foundation of Divine revelation. While there are several scripture passages cited in the pope’s reflections, there are three main scripture passages which constitute what the pope refers to as “the triptych of Christ’s own statements, the triptych of words that are essential and constitutive for the theology of the body.”  This triptych of scripture passages will be the focus of this chapter, as they will lay the foundation for the understanding of the theology of the body, and more specifically, the spousal meaning of the body. 

Matthew 19:3-8

The pope begins his reflections with Matthew 19:3-8, the account of the Pharisees questioning Jesus regarding whether or not it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Jesus responds to the Pharisees, saying, Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator created them male and female and said,For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and unite with his wife, and the two will be one flesh’? So it is that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined let man not separate …Because of the hardness of your heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so (Mt 19:3-8).

According to John Paul II, this mention of the beginning is being used by Christ to point back to the account of Genesis 2:24 to establish Divine Revelation as the authority for answering the Pharisees’ question, and sets this primordial law as the proper normative meaning for understanding marriage.  Marriage was created as “the embodiment of the divine purpose for human sexuality and its proper use.”  By reflecting upon this primordial law one can “penetrate into the ‘beginning’”  and discover the original intent of the Creator in creating man as male and female and calling them to become one flesh, living according to the spousal meaning of the body. Where, according to John Paul II, the spousal meaning of the body is the body’s “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.” 

Matthew 5:27-28

The reflections next dwell upon the state of man after the fall, with Christ seeking to turn the hearts of men back towards God. John Paul II looks at Christ’s words from Matthew 5:27-28, in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you: Whoever looks at a woman to desire her [in a reductive way] has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” John Paul II emphasizes that, like Christ’s words concerning the beginning, the greater context of these words will be greatly significant for the theology of the body. “This statement is one of the passages of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus brings about a fundamental revision of the way of understanding and carrying out the moral law of the Old Covenant.”  Christ does not abolish the law through this revision, but invites man to recognize, on the one hand, the importance “of adhering to the meaning that God, the Legislator, put in the commandment ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ and, on the other hand, of fulfilling the justice that should ‘superabound’ in man himself, that is, that should reach its specific fullness in him.”  This revision is a growth from the simple understanding of the Law as an ethic, to an ethos, a conversion of the interior perception of values, and what is good. John Paul II describes this conversion, saying that “the fulfillment of the law by the ‘superabounding’ of justice through subjective vitality – is formed in the interior perception of values, from which duty is born as an expression of conscience, as an answer of one’s own personal ‘I.’”  Concerning what the fulfillment of the Law entails, Christ shifts the focus and understanding from simply the exterior act to the disposition of the heart: “Whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28). This conversion of the heart, the reordering of interior dispositions and perceptions to be in line with the good, as it was created to be in the beginning, will be key to understanding and living according to the spousal meaning of the body. Conversion of heart will allow man to begin to recognize the dignity of the other, for man to see that the other is not an object for one’s use, but a subject equal in dignity, meant for communion.

Mark 12:19-27

The third component of this triptych is the conversation between Jesus and the Sadducees from Mark 12:19-27. The Sadducees present Jesus with a case which they intend to demonstrate the problem with the possibility of the resurrection. Jesus responds, pointing out the error of their case, as well as their ignorance of the Scriptures. Knowing their hearts, Jesus continues to address the possibility of the resurrection being denied by the Sadducees. “And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Mk 12:26-27). John Paul explains that

One can only understand this key statement, in which Christ interprets the words addressed to Moses from the burning bush, if one admits the reality of a life that does not end with death… Correctly rereading Scripture, and particularly God’s words just quoted, means knowing and welcoming with faith the power of the Giver of life, who is not bound by the law of death, which rules over man’s earthly history. 

There is a call to revisit, to reread Scripture within the context of the resurrection. If Christ invites the Sadducees to this rereading while only invoking the authority of the Old Testament writings, how much more then are Christians, witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, called to reread Scripture within the greater context of the resurrection. The Christian’s task is to understand how this reality of the resurrection has an impact on how man is to live in this life as male and female.

It is clear that in the resurrection man and woman will regain their bodies with their masculinity and femininity. However, according to Christ, “when they rise from the dead, they take neither wife nor husband, but are like angels in heaven” (Mk 12:25). Marriage between the sexes and procreation are thus proper only to this world, to this side of heaven; man will experience a new constitution of masculinity and femininity.  The body will experience a spiritualization, a “new submission of the body to the spirit,”  free from the opposition and war which fallen man experiences amongst his members (Rom 7:23). The body will also experience a divinization as each Christian is made a child of God (Lk 20:36). John Paul  states that there will be a participation in the divine nature, participation in the inner life of God himself, penetration and permeation of what is essentially human by what is essentially divine, will then reach its peak, so that the life of the human spirit will reach a fullness that was absolutely inaccessible to it before. 

There is a clear nuptial theme in this description of man’s ultimate fulfillment in Heaven, echoed by Ephesians 5:22-23. “There is an unfathomable bond between Christ (the Bridegroom) and the Church (the Bride) which is a sign of the nuptial bond between man and woman.”  According to John Paul II, this perfect communion with God will bring about a perfectly mature subjectivity in each individual and help bring about the fulfillment of the reciprocal communion which is most proper to created persons, ultimately realized in the communion of the saints.  With each person experiencing a perfect reciprocal communion with the Trinity, the perfect intersubjectivity of all men with God becomes a reality; a reality which is “the true and definitive fulfillment of the spousal meaning of the body.”  Understanding what man is intended to be by God in the beginning, together with the experience of historical man (man after the fall), and the ultimate fulfillment of man in heaven, produces a fuller theological image of man.

[1] Pope John Paul II, General Audience (11 November 1981), in Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books, 2006), 64:1, p.380.

[2] John Paul II, General Audience (5 September 1979), trans. Waldstein, 1:2-4, p.132-133.

[3] James P. Hanigan, “The Centrality of Marriage: Homosexuality and the Roman Catholic Argument,” The Ecumenical Review 50, no. 1 (1998), 55.

[4] John Paul II, General Audience (5 September 1979), trans. Waldstein, 1:5, p.133.

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

[6] John Paul II, General Audience (16 April 1980), trans. Waldstein, 24:1, p.226.

[7] John Paul II, General Audience (16 April 1980), trans. Waldstein, 24:2, p.227.

[8] John Paul II, General Audience (16 April 1980), trans. Waldstein, 24:3, p.228.

[9] John Paul II, General Audience (18 November 1981), trans. Waldstein, 65:3, p.384.

[10] John Paul II, General Audience (2 December 1981), trans. Waldstein, 66:2, p.387-388.

[11] John Paul II, General Audience (2 December 1981), trans. Waldstein, 66:5, p.389.

[12] John Paul II, General Audience (9 December 1981), trans. Waldstein, 67:3, p.392.

[13] Ferdinand Nwaigbo, “Homosexuality, A Distortion of Christian Marriage,” AFER 46, no. 4 (2004): 327.

[14] John Paul II, General Audience (16 December 1981), trans. Waldstein, 68:2, p.394.

[15] John Paul II, General Audience (16 December 1981), trans. Waldstein, 68:4, p.396.

[16] John Paul II, General Audience (16 December 1981), trans. Waldstein, 68:4, p.396.

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.