Saturday, February 15, 2014

The "deepest substratum of human ethics and culture"

Last week in my post, "Teaching the truth about marital love," which was subsequently picked up and published by Il Sussidiario (an on-line publication to which I am an occasional contributor), I mentioned two authors whose works, in my opinion, aide us greatly in understanding our sexuality from a positive Christian perspective: Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, particularly chapter five of his outstanding book What is the Point of Being a Christian?, entitled "The Body Electric," and Bl. Pope John Paul II's years-long catechesis, known now as "Theology of the Body," but originally conceived by him as a book bearing the title Man and Woman He Created Them.

I am currently re-reading the magnificent work of Bl. John Paul II, which he intended, even as he was working on the book while still serving as Archbishop of Kracow, Poland, as an in-depth treatment of what Venerable Pope Paul VI had laid out so succinctly in Humanae Vitae. This morning I read the forty-fifth installment of the catechesis called "Theology of the Body," which Wojtyla delivered 22 October 1980.

In this presentation, Bl John Paul II sought to distinguish between the Manichaen "anti-value" of the body and the genuinely Christian value of our bodies, which is a sacramental understanding of the human body. He does this by seeking to make a distinction between sexual desire, which is part and parcel of being human, and concupiscent desire (i.e., lust). The latter being the deformation of the former. Referring to the "ethos" laid down by Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:27-28 ("You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart."), the Holy Father asserted that the "ethical meaning" of the Lord's words "has nothing in common with Manichaean condemnation" of the human body. Instead, he insisted the ethical meaning of Christ's words "is deeply penetrated by the mystery of the 'redemption of the body,' about which St. Paul writes in Romans (see Rom 8:23)."

In contrast to the Manichaean understanding, "ontological evil" is not "a constitutive attribute of the human body." Rather, the need for the redemption of our bodies asserts humanity's "sinfulness, by which [we have] lost, among other things, the clear sense of the spousal meaning of the body," in which the "dominion and freedom of the spirit expresses itself." As a result, any "Manichaean attitude" would inevitably lead to seeing "an annihilation of the body," as in Eastern religions (which is one of the things that renders Eastern practices suspect from a Christian standpoint), as not just necessary to, but the fulfillment of human redemption, with its insistence that redemption is the liberation of the spirit from the prison of matter, which is the body. Of course, this has major implications for the value of human sex.

What John Paul II sought to combat, not just by writing Man and Woman He Created Them, but in his earlier book, published in English as Love and Responsibility, was addressed forthrightly by Fr. Karl Rahner in his 1962 essay, “The Theology of the Restoration of the Diaconate.” Hearkening back to my treatment of marriage in my master's thesis, Making Up for What Was Previously Lacking: The Importance for the Church of the Dual Sacramentality of Married Permanent Deacons, I employed Rahner's sage observations about marriage, which he made just prior to the opening of the first session of the Second Vatican Council in regard to celibacy and the restored diaconate, to argue for the genuine sacramentality of matrimony.

Writing about the Church's view of marriage, which was given, due in large part to the efforts of Rahner and then-Bishop Karol Wojtyla, in Gaudium et spes, Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (see the first chapter, paragraphs 47-52), a more personalist, or theological exposition, as opposed to a strictly juridical, or canonical, one, Rahner insisted that the church must move beyond viewing marriage as merely a concession to human weakness. Up-front, the problem with the church’s then-current view of marriage was it turned human sexuality into something inherently unclean. In a parenthetical aside, Rahner called such a reduction of marriage "an almost manichaean intellectual undercurrent in the Church." By insisting that precisely because marriage is a sacrament, Rahner, no doubt alluding to the fifth chapter of Ephesians, wrote that it must be viewed as "the concrete and real representation and living example of the mystery of Christ’s union with the Church."

Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ

Pope John Paul II vehemently insisted that the Christian view of what it means to be human in light of Christ's bodily resurrection must be asserted over and against this persistent gnostic tendency to devalue the human body. Hence, "the Christian ethos is characterized by a transformation of the human person's consciousness and attitudes, both the man's and the woman's, such as to express and realize the value of the body and of sex according to the Creator's original plan [bear in mind the creation of woman and the command for the man and woman to become one flesh, along with the command to multiply, were given prior to the fall], placed as they are at the service of the 'communion of persons,' which is the deepest substratum of human ethics and culture."

It is precisely the transformation of our consciousness and attitudes, that is, a complete change of heart, or that simple word, too seldom used today, conversion, that Venerable Pope Paul VI called for in his triptych of Populorum progresso, Humanae vitae, and Evangelii nuntiandi. How many people could tell you that his penultimate encyclical (Humanae vitae being his ultimate, or final one) was on priestly celibacy, or that John Paul II gave just as rich, if not as deep, a theological account of the value of celibacy for the sake of God's kingdom in Theology of the Body? Paul VI's next-to-last encyclical was, in fact, Sacerdotalis caelibatus. John Paul II dedicated an entire series in his Theology of Body to "Continence for the Kingdom of Heaven."

This seems to me a more-than-fitting post-Valentine's Day subject.

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