The Meaning of the Body
I believe in God the Father almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried …
On the third day He rose again. and ascended into Heaven... I believe in … the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
Countless Christians have repeated this same affirmation of faith daily for nearly two millennia. According to legend, the twelve statements in the Apostles’ Creed were composed by the twelve Apostles. In any case, this Creed (called a Symbolum) is the earliest such statement of faith, and, like the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, it affirms truths that were challenged by contemporary heresies -- beliefs or opinions that opposed authoritative Christian doctrine.
The Apostles’ Creed contradicts Gnostics, who held that there are two opposed principles, a dualism of good (associated with spirit) and evil (associated with matter, the body), that God did not create the “evil” physical universe, and that Christ did not take on a human body. The Apostle’s Creed addresses these errors directly by stating emphatically and in stark terms that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, took actual flesh, and like all men, He was born, suffered, truly died and was buried -- but unlike us, He arose from the dead and ascended bodily into Heaven.
The intrinsic worth and meaning of the human body as created by God is fundamental to the Christian faith. However, it is also true that the meaning of the body and of human life itself has been a perennial conundrum throughout human history -- and remains so today.
Pope John Paul II responded to this problem very soon after he became pope, by expounding his “theology of the body” especially focused on the “spousal meaning of the body” expressed in marriage and family in his Wednesday audiences from 1979-1984, as well as in his apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, and by establishing the Pontifical Council for the Family (whose 2006 statement on marriage appeared in our last issue).
An important newly revised translation of Pope John Paul’s profound teaching on the meaning of the body, Man and Woman He Created Them, is reviewed in these pages.
Pope Benedict XVI reaffirms this teaching of Pope John Paul. In this issue of Voices is Pope Benedict’s recent address to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota (the Vatican office that deals with marriage issues), on marriage and natural law. In this address he observes that “the expression ‘truth of the marriage’ loses its existential importance in a cultural context that is marked by relativism and juridical positivism, which regard marriage as a mere social formalization of emotional ties”.
The pope also addressed a meeting of the International Congress on Natural Law on February 12. In this address he warns of the confusion about the nature of being itself, which “creates a sense of disorientation that renders the choices of daily life precarious and uncertain”, and he observes that this disorientation especially “strikes the younger generations who must, in this context, find the fundamental choices for their life”.
The natural law, the pope said, “has as its first and general principle ‘to do good and to avoid evil’”. From this truth, “which imposes itself on everyone … flows the other more particular principles that regulate ethical justice on the rights and duties of everyone”.
One of the concrete applications of the natural law is to protect the innate dignity of all human life -- from ideologies that devalue human lives, and from technology that, the pope said, “reduces the human being to an object of experimentation”. Another application, he notes, is the family, “the intimate partnership of life and love which constitutes the married state … established by the Creator and endowed by Him with its own proper laws” (Gaudium et Spes 48).
Therefore, said Pope Benedict, “No law made by man can override the norm written by the Creator without society becoming dramatically wounded in what constitutes its basic foundation. To forget this would mean to weaken the family, penalizing the children and rendering the future of society precarious”.
Clearly, our two latest popes understand acutely the particular manifestations today of the denial of the intrinsic meaning of our bodies, and the deep and widespread destruction of human life and of civilization that results. Indeed, we have seen in our lifetimes terrible examples of how society has been “dramatically wounded” by this denial.
Eastertide -- the season of the year when the Church observes in a particularly intense way the self-giving love of our Savior, Jesus Christ, in His human suffering and death for our redemption, and also His bodily resurrection and ascension -- is an especially appropriate time for us to ponder these things anew.
May God bless you and your family.
Helen Hull Hitchcock
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