Theology of the Body


Young adults in Johannesburg, South Africa with Jason Evert

Theology of the Body is Pope John Paul II’s integrated vision for the human person – one where body, soul and spirit are truly united. He seeks to explain what the body means as a sign of the person, how it shows the person’s call to be a gift, as well as how it reveals the nature of God and His plan for mankind. He explains that the physical human body has a specific meaning and is capable of revealing answers regarding fundamental questions about us and our lives…

  • Is there a purpose to my life? If so, what is it?
  • Why did God make us male and female? Does this make any difference?
  • What is love?

The Theology of the Body is the working title which was given by Pope John Paul II to his first major teaching project which he gave between September 1979 and November 1984 during 129 short talks at his Wednesday Catecheses in St Peter’s Square. Pope John Paul II’s teachings are based on Scripture and help us understand how God has created us and calls us to live. It reveals to us how each person is created with dignity and worth, which means that all people are deserving of love. Various scholars generally break these talks down into sections. Fr Roger Landry breaks it down into seven interrelated sections:

  1. The Original Unity of Man and Woman as found in the Book of Genesis
  2. Purity of Heart versus Concupiscence: Catechesis on the Sermon on the Mount
  3. St. Paul’s teaching on the Human Body: Life according to the Spirit
  4. Marriage and celibacy in light of the resurrection of the body
  5. Virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven
  6. The sacramentality of marriage based on Ephesians 5:22-33
  7. Reflections on Humanae Vitae based on the redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage

Theology of the Body is not a new doctrine in and of itself, it is part of an effort to provide us with a Christian anthropology of love that helps us to understand what the Church teaches. George Weigel, author of Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, calls this study “one of the boldest reconfigurations of Catholic theology in centuries” – a “theological time-bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences …perhaps in the twenty-first century.” He also says that the Pope’s vision of sexual love “has barely begun to shape the Church’s theology, preaching, and religious education.” But when it does, Weigel predicts, “it will compel a dramatic development of thinking about virtually every major theme in the Creed” (pp. 336, 343, 853). (Quote from the Theology of the Body Institute) Theology of the Body not only for Catholics; it is for everybody. Theology of the Body is a reflection on the meaning of the human person male and female; If you are human this Theology of the Body is for you. It demonstrates for us the meaning of our bodies. We are not just results of some meaningless biological evolution. Our bodies are not only biological but also theological. Ed Mechmann summarises this in his blog post about Theology of the Body: “While some popular presentations of the Theology of the Body may seem to focus exclusively on sex, the reality is that the Theology of the Body actually involves a much larger discussion of the nature of the human person and the nature of human love, all in the light of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God. To get a sense of this broader project, I would suggest that people read Pope John Paul’s presentation of the Theology of the Body in Part Three of Mulieris Dignitatem, and Benedict’s discussion of the nature of love in Part One of Deus Caritas Est. An excellent book that puts it all in context is Men, Women and the Mystery of Love by Dr. Edward Sri.”

“Brace yourself! If we take in what the Holy Father is saying in his Theology of the Body, we will never view ourselves, view others, view the Church, the Sacraments, grace, God, heaven, marriage, the celibate vocation…we will never view the world the same way again.” – Christopher West

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