October 16, 2009

Review: Man and Woman - He Created Them

Pope Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is comprised of 129 addresses he gave over the first five years of his pontificate during his weekly Wednesday audience. In Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body respected biblical scholar Michael Waldstein presents the Holy Father’s vision of the human person with meticulous scholarship and insight.

George Weigel called the Theology of the Body, "one of the boldest reconfigurations of Catholic theology in centuries." Weigel observed that Saint John Paul’s thought is difficult to read and understand; hence, a secondary literature capable of translating John Paul's thought into accessible categories and vocabulary was needed. Waldstein’s contribution answers the concerns of Weigel and others. One shortcoming of prior English-language translations is that different translators were used at varying times over the duration of the audiences. Occasionally, the same term would be translated differently from one talk to the next. L'Osservatore Romano, published the homilies, thus resulting in an inconsistent transcript when compiled as a whole. Man and Woman He Created Them has corrected this problem.

This seminal work of 20th century Theology contemplates the mystery of love that flows from the Trinity, through Christ’s spousal relationship with the Church. That same love is realized in human relationships and in a concrete way in the human body. In so doing, Saint John Paul II restores man firmly at the center of reality, making moral absolutes essential. Like Augustine and Aquinas before him, he confirms the fundamental harmony between faith and reason. Using phenomenology and Sacred Scripture, the pontiff affirmed objective moral truth and the dignity of persons, who are shaped by and responsible for their actions. John Paul synthesizes the wisdom found in Scripture with the personalistic norm which holds that the person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.

The fruit of this synthesis, the Theology of the Body, is a reflection on our nature and life as persons made in the image and likeness of God, conjugal love, the meaning of celibacy, and the beatitude to which every human being is called. This is the Holy Father’s catechesis for a culture where sex is an obsession, marriage and families are endangered, and the dignity of persons is denied. Teaching about human sexuality using language subjective, inductive, experimental minds can understand, the Theology of the Body is a light in darkness, guiding us toward an authentic vision of the person as divine gift.

I highly recommend this translation. The preface and introductory essays are illuminating unto themselves. This is not summer reading, however, or for the theologically faint of heart. For those unfamiliar with it, I recommend reflecting on one address at a time. With patience and persistence, a thoughtful reading will bless and reward those seeking to understand Saint John Paul’s wisdom.

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