The Body's Messages
John Paul II., beatified a couple weeks ago, intoduced new themes in his traditional two-hour-long Wednesday catechisms, not long after his election in 1979. Many were surprised by these lectures, mostly because of the choice of topics. However, he became more and more popular as people started to understand this new kind of theology. The most valuable aspect of these lectures is that the newly elected pope presented these theological themes concerning the problems of everyday life at spectacular scientific standards and a high level of sensibility. Touching on many topics, he held speeches on the significance of the human body, the relation of body and soul, the merits of virginity and purity, and love.
Some of the speeches is already available in Hungarian under the tiles "Férfi és nő" ("Man and Woman") and "Az emberi szív" ("The Human Heart") and this time, Kairosz published three additional major parts of the collection. This book presents the lectures held between December 17, 1980 and July 21, 1984. The first seven lectures in the book are the ones somehow left out of the second volume ("The Human Heart"). I believe, these pieces are essential for understanding the whole series, particularly for the interpretation of the third part. The first seven chapters deal with Christ's words in his Sermon on the Mount. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28) This statement can be explained by introducing the term 'reductive lust' which John Paul II. interprets as a theological reality that is experienced by every 'historical' person, that is, everybody who asks themselves what they 'can' and what they 'have to' do whithout knowing Christ's relevant words. So, here, the word 'reduction' means sort of an impression that is related to us, our own 'hearts'. Do we feel obliged to act right, or is the heart fundamentally 'made to act right'? When Christ talks about the body's lust, his words really mean that moral sensibility depends on the words of one's personal conscience. Interpreting the Christ's words, John Paul II. tries to reach their original debth and simplicity, and rid them of the misunderstandings that attached to them throughout the years. I think this attempt makes it significantly easier for the reader to understand the latter chapters.
The volume is made up of four parts: the first one, presenting the seven chapters missing from the second volume, is followed by the first major unit which includes Saint Paul's more important teachings. The following part holds reflections on the body's resurrection, while the closing unit deals with the topic of virginity and celibacy. To me, the focus of the whole work is on the theologically dominant part, analysing the teachings of Saint Paul. The most important element of Saint Paul's theology is the teaching of justification through faith, in which John Paul II. discovers the opposition of 'living by body and living by soul', since personal justification is only possible in the 'inner human', the human of the soul. This contemplation serves as a logical base to the next part which presents the series of lectures on the resurrection of the body. Saint Paul teaches the ultimate victory over sin and death, thus the resurrection of Christ. John Paul II. analyses resurrection as well as the renunciation from a conjugal way of life in order to reach heaven, from a theological-anthropological aspect. "When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage..." (Mark 12:25)
According to the interpretation of John Paul II., the truth on resurrection is in a way the foundation of the importance of the unity of body and spirit. One's eschatological bliss can not be understood as a purely spiritual state, strictly separated from the body. I believe, this is the most important message of the work. Body and soul have to form a perfect unity, as on its own, neither can reach a state of perfection, that is bliss, that every human being strives for.
In all, the book is a result of excellent editing and translation. Reading the texts of John Paul II.'s speeches, you feel like being part of these exceptional Wednesday hearings, and the collection of this valuable series of lectures brings you closer to understanding the theology of the former pope, while at the same time, through his words, it offers answers to questions you probably wouldn't expect.
John Paul II., The Theology of the Body, Kairosz Kiadó, Budapest, 2008.