23 June 2010

The Conjugal Covenant

General Audience of November 21, 1979

Last time I read, John Paul introduced the theological significance of sex. He talked about how, in sexual union, male and female become one flesh. Their unity “is a powerful bond established by the Creator through which they discover their own humanity, both in its original unity and in the duality of a mysterious reciprocal attraction” (167). Sex therefore allows man to surpass original solitude by taking on both his own solitude and the solitude of the body of the ‘second I.’

Those insights come from Genesis 2:23, when man wakes from his stupor and recognizes that woman is bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. The next verse, Gen 2:24, is also very significant. It says, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” This verse tells us that the unity that male and female were created for, by definition, derives from a choice. By generation, a man belongs to his father and mother. By choice, he unites with his wife (or she with her husband). This choice is the basis of the conjugal covenant between man and woman.

This is so interesting to me because we see imagery of a conjugal covenant so many times in the Bible. God and Israel are wedded, as are Christ and the Church. There is also the Song of Songs, an entire book of the Bible that details married love! I think it is very telling that the relationship between a man and a woman is so often used to illustrate the relationship between man and God. Everyone can relate to stories about a relationship between men and women. So too can everyone relate to God. I think it’s also important that the conjugal covenant is based on a choice. We must choose God. He is always there for us, waiting for every single human being that ever walked the Earth. It is us who have to respond and choose Him.

But that is all off-topic for now. After introducing Gen 2:24, the next thing JP2 talks about is the universality of the Genesis story. He looks at the question of why what the Bible says for Adam and Eve applies to all of us. He answers that, because they are formed in the beginning and in the image of God, Adam and Eve form a model of the communion of persons that all men and women form when they engage in sex and become one flesh. The body, which from the beginning differentiated man as male and female and thereby helped Adam and Eve find themselves in a communion of persons, becomes the constitutive element of Adam and Eve’s union as husband and wife (168).

We also see that this union takes place through a reciprocal choice: A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body (Gen 2:24). Male and female become one flesh only through the choice that one makes to leave his parents and join his spouse (168). This choice establishes the conjugal covenant. The fact that it is a choice is important because choice rests on free will and self-consciousness. A person makes a choice about what his self means when he chooses to enter a conjugal covenant. I think it’s also clear that engaging this covenant should presuppose an understanding of the theological significance of the body and of sex. This is a total aside, but that’s one of the reasons that I think the Church’s Pre Cana classes are so important.

Thinking about the conjugal covenant and how central understanding it is to our ability understand our selves as solitary beings that can participate in a communion of persons makes me a little sad about how misused sex is in our society. We’re starting to see in ToB that a proper understanding of the body can lead us to a deeper understanding of our Triune God. But I don’t see how that message could ever be mainstream in a society where sex is treated as casually as it is today. It is also sad because people who don’t treat sex casually often earn uncomplimentary labels and start to feel bad about their decisions, even when they know that their choices are right in the grand scheme of things. I know that the quest to make a greater respect of the body commonplace begins one person at a time, and I try to be optimistic about that and live my values as best I can. After all, if I found ToB then lots of other people can too.

13 May 2010

The Metaphysics of Sex, Part 2

General Audience of November 21, 1979

Yesterday I read about how sex is intrinsically linked to the part of the creation mystery when man goes to sleep and wakes up as two, male and female. John Paul II says that the fact that, during sex, male and female become one flesh “is a powerful bond established by the Creator through which they discover their own humanity, both in its original unity and in the duality of a mysterious reciprocal attraction” (167). It seems strange, at first glance, to think that sex unlocks our humanity. But what I think John Paul is getting at is the idea that our humanity stems from the fact that we are part of a community of persons, a fact that is made clear in the Bible when we read about original solitude and the solution God gives us for this solitude.

12 May 2010

The Metaphysics of Sex, Part 1

General Audience of November 21, 1979

It has been far too long since I’ve posted. This lapse started innocently enough. First we went out of town. Then my grandmother died. After that my husband had finals. And suddenly, it’s been over a month since I wrote a proper post. I’d read more, but I hadn’t had time to reflect and write.

The last thing I learned from John Paul II in ToB is how the community of persons in Genesis foreshadows our understanding of the Trinity. Exciting stuff! The next thing I read about is also tied to the community of persons, although a bit more subtly. This week JP2 gets a bit more intense. He starts to talk about sex.

06 May 2010

It Just Might Be Crazy Enough

I think I found the poster song for ToB during my drive into work today!

Crazy Enough, by Mercy Me.

I can't find the song anywhere online yet, but I did find a fantastic website for the album it's on, The Generous Mr. Lovewell. I love this idea of life as loving.

08 April 2010

A Communion of Persons

General Audience of November 14, 1979

Today I read about what the duality of human nature shows us. I learned last week that man is created as two beings in unity – male and female. This was an idea that really spoke to me. This week, John Paul II tells us that while “their unity denotes…the identity of human nature; duality…shows what, on the basis of this identity, constitutes the masculinity and femininity of created man” (161).

29 March 2010

Holy Week Prayers

Today I came across a website done by Creighton University that has a different prayer for each day of Lent. I'm a little late to the party considering it is the last week of Lent now, but here are the Holy Week prayers.

A Second I

General Audience of November 7, 1979

This morning I read about the creation of woman. When he talks about the first woman, John Paul II discusses an idea I’ve never heard of called “original unity.” It is really, really neat.

JP2 says that when man names the animals and discovers his body, consciousness, and original solitude, he is just a human being. The original word for this man is 'adam. Then, because he finds no help similar to himself, God puts 'adam into a “torpor” – a very deep sleep. When he wakes up, he finds another human being (a female) and is pleased to have found a being similar to himself. He says, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23). God made 'adam a “second I” (159).

25 March 2010

Feast of the Annunciation

Happy Feast Day! Thank you, Mary.

Eternal Day

I am not sure who wrote this poem, but I came across it yesterday and thought it beautiful.

Eternal Day

In our sorrows, Lord,
We taste your suffering
And in our loneliness
That garden dark
Where all are silent,
Lost or sleeping
Save you alone, dear Lord
With aching heart.

In our joy, dear Lord,
We savour wholeness
In your rising we are raised up
When all of beauty
And all of goodness
Is poured abundantly
From passion's cup.

In our living, Lord,
We walk in shadow
Your presence with us
Along life's way
And in our giving, Lord
We build the kingdom
That opens up for us
Eternal day.

22 March 2010

An Aside: St. Thérèse of Lisieux

I read this today and liked it far too much not to post it: The Little Way of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

What a beautiful way to live.

19 March 2010

The Visible and Invisible, Death and Immortality

General Audience of October 31, 1979

Adam continuously distinguished himself from all of the other living beings in the world by cultivating the garden and by naming everything and finding nothing the same as himself. The first is a bodily action, and the second is metaphysical. Once again, we see the body and the spirit at play. In his original solitude, man is both a bodily actor and a metaphiscal thinker. He is the complete picture of human-ness only when his body and his spirit are both present. The visible and the invisible determine man.

With this understanding of his humanity, Adam must contemplate the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and God's words about it. As a backdrop to this contemplation, Adam is also aware of himself as the subject of the first covenant with the Creator. That's a lot to take in all at once!

At this point in time, could Adam even understand the enormity of what was before him? Could he understand death? Death is the antithesis of all he had experienced thus far. He lived in the primeval garden, suffused with knowledge of God and surrounded by life. What could death mean?

Mind Over Matter?

General Audience of October 31, 1979

When did Adam become conscious of his body?

I think this is an important question, because it speaks to a need we all have to understand our selves and our bodies. Where does one start and the other end? Are they even different things? Human beings are the only beings out there that are both physical and spiritual. I remember getting into a huge argument in one of my seminars when we read where Jung says that our feelings are a product of the physical - i.e., that we feel sad because we cry, instead of we cry because we feel sad. This claim led to a lot of impassioned debate, with people seeming almost insulted that their bodies could have such control over their spirit. I was one of these people! And it's no wonder - we hear things all the time that support the idea that the body's power is negligible. Mind over matter.

16 March 2010

Original Solitude

General Audience of October 10, 1979

The next big concept that John Paul II tackles is original solitude. This is not a term I had ever heard before ToB. Original solitude is pinpointed in the Bible in Genesis 2:18: "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a suitable partner for him." God-Yahweh applies this concept to man before he creates woman and distinguishes human beings as male and female, so even though the text says "man," original solitude applies to mankind as a whole.

According to JP2, original solitude has two meanings.
  1. Deriving from man's very nature
  2. Deriving from the relationship between male and female
So the question is, how do we know these meanings?

02 March 2010

The Perspective of Redemption

General Audiences of 5, 12, 19, and 26 September 1979

At the same time that man falls into sin he also begins to live in the theological perspective of redemption.

This is a particularly interesting and novel thought for me. JP2 says “He [man] is thus not merely shut out from original innocence due to his sinfulness, but also at the same time open to the mystery of the redemption realized in Christ and through Christ” (144). Mankind participates not only in the history of human sinfulness due to our inheritance from Adam and our own actions. We also participate in the history of salvation, as both its subject and co-creator. This is an awesome idea, that we partially author our salvation by exercising our free will to sin. It gives us both a lot of culpability and a lot of credit.

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning, a Very Good Place to Start

General Audiences of 5, 12, 19, and 26 September 1979

John Paul II introduces the Theology of the Body by talking about beginnings. He starts in the Gospel of Matthew.

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?" He said in reply, "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate." They said to him, "Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss (her)?" He said to them, "Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” Mt 19: 3-8

In his response Jesus mentions “the beginning” twice. Since anything that Jesus says twice is clearly very important, JP2 wants to know what this “beginning” is, and what it means.

As any of us would guess, the beginning is found in Genesis.


I realized that I should get my bibliography out of the way. All Scripture quotations on this blog are taken from the New American Bible. All page numbers for ToB are taken from the following edition:

Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body
Translator: Michael Waldstein
Publisher: Pauline Books and Media, Boston 2006

21 February 2010


Welcome to A Call to Love. My name is Emily, and I am a Theology of the Body enthusiast. My goal is to read at least one new section of Man and Women He Created Them: A Theology of the Body each week and post about it. This is week one, which means I have not started reading yet. I have set my blog up, though, and will begin reading tomorrow. See you soon!