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Voices Online Edition -- Vol. XXII, No. 1
Eastertide 2007

Book Review:

Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body

A New Translation Based on the John Paul II Archives
Pope John Paul II, Translated and introduced by Michael M. Waldstein; Boston: Daughters of St. Paul – Pauline Books & Media.
Paperback $29.95 (

One of the most significant events in Catholic publishing recently is the newly re-translated, definitive version of Pope John Paul II’s “catechesis” on the meaning of marriage and the nature of the human body, called “theology of the body”. This “catechesis” was the subject of the pope’s Wednesday audiences, beginning in 1979 and ending in 1984. These reflections first appeared in L’Osservatore Romano, the quasi-official newspaper of the Holy See, and English versions were then published in separate books. The first, The Original Unity of Man and Woman: Catechesis on the Book of Genesis, was published in 1981, followed by three others (Daughters of St. Paul).

Pope John Paul clearly regarded the subject as of great urgency. During the first years of his pontificate the Holy Father had called a Synod of Bishops on the subject of the family in 1980. The apostolic letter following that Synod, Familiaris Consortio, was published in 1981, and that same year, Pope John Paul established the Pontifical Council for Family. In 1983, the Charter of the Rights of the Family was released.

This edition, Man and Woman He Created Them, is the work of Michael M. Waldstein, professor of New Testament at the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria. (Dr. Waldstein and his wife, parents of eight children, are members of the Pontifical Council for Family.)

Dr. Waldstein began his study of Pope John Paul II’s work in 1981, as a doctoral student at the University of Dallas. He found the existing translations of the Wednesday audiences inconsistent (unsurprising, as they had been done by different translators over a period of several years). But there was much more than translation to the project. It amounted to restoration of the original work, as conceived by its author.

In 2006, Waldstein and a friend found in Vatican archives the original outline of this immense work, an original typed version in Italian, along with a Polish version -- the original manuscript -- which had been written before 1978 by the then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who brought the completed manuscript with him from Krakow to Rome when he became pope.

The discovery provided John Paul II’s original plan for this historic work on the “spousal meaning of the body”, its essential and most original and significant concept. It also revealed the pope’s original chapters, headings, sections and sub-sections, which Waldstein incorporated.

Research also revealed additional “reflections” (on the Song of Songs and the Book of Tobit) that had not been included in earlier editions. Portions of the pope’s work that had been omitted from the texts as delivered at the audiences are also incorporated -- and even some handwritten notes appear in facsimile, and are translated word for word.

One of the most significant things about John Paul’s “theology of the body” is the human person in the concept of marriage. “In comparison with much theological writing about marriage in the Catholic tradition, which approached marriage often from the point of view of law -- to help confessors and those who had to judge marriage cases -- John Paul II’s approach is decidedly ‘personalistic’ and focused on the actual experience of love”, Michael Waldstein observed in an interview with Zenit in June 2006. “He himself helped to form this fresh vision of love during Vatican II and it is the predominant form of his thinking in the theology of the body”.

Waldstein’s extensive introduction usefully locates the insights of John Paul II’s “theology of the body” in the history of philosophy and theology -- from John of the Cross to Immanuel Kant and Max Scheler -- and provides a helpful guide to the structure and progression of the pope’s work.

At the conclusion of the entire “catechesis” (on Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae) Pope John Paul wrote:

The rooting of the teaching proclaimed by the Church in the whole tradition and in divine revelation itself is always open to the questions raised by people and also uses the instruments most in keeping with modern science and today’s culture. It seems that in this area the intense development of philosophical anthropology (in particular the anthropology that stands at the basis of ethics) meets very closely with the questions raised by Humanae Vitae regarding theology and especially theological ethics. […] The analysis of the personalistic aspects leads to the conviction that the fundamental problem the encyclical [HV] presents is the viewpoint of the authentic development of the human person; such development should be measured, as a matter of principle, by the measure of ethics and not only of “technology”.

(Conclusion 133:3,4, p 661, 662. Original emphasis.)

The moral and ethical challenges involving the human person have only intensified since these words were written. The appearance of this English edition could not be more timely. Like the Catechism, the “theology of the body” is a profoundly important gift of Pope John Paul to the world. Dr. Waldstein earns our gratitude for making it fully accessible.

— Helen Hull Hitchcock

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