THEOLOGY OF THE BODY MADE SIMPLE
By Anthony Percy, Connor Court, $18.95
Reviewed by Ray Campbell
JOHN L. Allen, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter in the United States, in a recent column commented: “No area challenges the Church today with greater urgency than the moral and doctrinal dilemmas surrounding sexuality, marriage, the family and human life …”
The context of Allen’s comments was his report on a conference in Rome titled, “Loving Human Love: The Heritage of John Paul II on Marriage and the Family”, sponsored by the John Paul II Institute on Marriage and the Family.
At the conference, Cardinal Angelo Scola argued that Pope John Paul II had in effect laid a new conceptual foundation for the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage and sexuality.
Much of this new “conceptual foundation” is to be found in the lengthy catechesis of John Paul II from September 1979 to November 1984 generally grouped together under the title “Theology of the Body”.
Unfortunately this theology remains a closed book to most Catholics.
One volume which brings the catechesis together is an imposing 600 pages and contains many unfamiliar terms.
We need a “way in”, a doorway to this theology to help us to grasp its basic concepts.
This is what Fr Anthony Percy offers us in this concise and very clear introduction to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
Fr Percy does not attempt to analyse the whole of John Paul II’s catechesis. Rather he focuses on the very first section of the catechesis, referred to as “The Original Unity of Man and Woman”.
In this section we learn of the four “original experiences” – Original Solitude, Original Unity, Original Nakedness and Original Sin. We are all familiar with the last.
John Paul II’s originality is displayed in his introduction of the other three original experiences before original sin.
The strength of Percy’s book is that he gives us a clear understanding of what is meant by these three “experiences”, what it means to go back to “the beginning” and the significance for us.
Reflection upon these original experiences reveals to us qualities of the human body deepening our understanding of the human person.
In Chapter 2, Fr Percy unpacks the meaning of these four qualities – symbolic, nuptial, free and fallen and redeemed.
In Chapter 3 he goes on to expound the implications of these realities for our understanding of various forms of sexual activity.
Fr Percy’s explanation highlights that the Church’s teaching on all kinds of sexual activity is grounded in an understanding of the human person and sexuality viewed “from God’s perspective”.
At the heart of this vision is the understanding that we are made for relationships of self-giving love, imaging our Triune God.
The book concludes with a short chapter on forgiveness and trust.
This book will not answer all your questions about the “theology of the body”, but it is a great doorway to help people understand the fundamentals and to entice them to explore further.
It is not just a commentary. It is an excellent catechesis in its own right.
I highly recommend it for anyone wishing to begin to understand this “new conceptual foundation” for the Church’s teaching.
Ray Campbell is the director of the Queensland Bioethics Centre.