September 3, 2015

Saint John Paul II’s Threefold Vision of the Human Person

St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body discusses three states of man. Man before the first sin (Original Man), man after the Fall (Historical Man), our current state, and our life with God in heaven following Christ's Second Coming (Eschatological Man).

Original Man 

The state of original man concerns two human beings – Adam and Eve. They viewed each other with, "all the peace of the interior gaze." God walked in their midst, suggesting an intimacy with the creator we can only imagine. Adam and Eve’s lives were untouched by sin. Vice, depravity, and despair were foreign to their experience.

The boundary between the state of original man and historical man is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man was the only person in the garden. The animals were not persons. They could not till the ground or tend to the garden much less choose, contemplate, and love as human beings were called to do.

Before the first sin, the entire world was a temple in which human beings worshiped the one true God. Man fully possessed original goodness and original justice. With Adam’s sin, the world at large stopped being a temple. Paradise was lost.

St. John Paul II begins his reflections on "Original Man" by examining Mathew 19:3-8, where the Pharisees question Jesus about the permissibility of divorce. Christ responds that divorce was not in God’s original plan for human beings. Jesus starts and ends his answer by referring to "the beginning". This exchange shows that there was a time ("the beginning") in which humans did not need divorce, just as God intended.

Historical Man

After the Fall, sin entered human existence and with it concupiscence and death. The world at large ceased being a temple. It became necessary to build a temple where God could be worshiped. Furthermore, man had to sanctify or purify himself before entering this sacred space. Everything in the created world was profaned including human nature, our relationship to beauty, truth, and goodness, our relationship with the natural world, our relationships with each other, and our relationship with God.

In his reflection on "Historical Man" St. John Paul II considers Christ’s words: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'  But I say to you: Whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Mt. 5:27-28).

Jesus’ admonition remind us that adultery violates the personal covenant between husband and wife and is the opposite of conjugal faithfulness. The conjugal act between spouses is a "truthful sign" of covenantal love ― promising the unity of body, mind, and soul exclusively to the other. The sin of adultery (or any act of extra-marital sex) ruptures the unity that accompanies the sacred, deeply personal, human expression of love that is the conjugal embrace. Having sex outside of matrimony, the adulterous couple commits a lie with their bodies.

Throughout history, some have seen Christ’s teaching about adultery as a condemnation of the flesh. St. John Paul II clarifies our Savior's meaning. Properly understood, Christ's words are a call to the heart enjoining us to love selflessly, not a condemnation of man and the material order.

Eschatological Man

In the time of Christ, Levirate marriage was mandated. If a Jewish woman was widowed and childless, then a brother of her deceased husband was obligated to take her as his wife in order to provide an heir. The Sadducees attempted to trap Jesus with a question concerning such marriages (Mark 12:20-27). If a repeatedly widowed woman enters into Levirate marriage six times, leaving her with seven husbands, to whom will she be married in the afterlife? Jesus responds that those who rise from the dead "neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like angels in heaven" (Mark 12:25). Our resurrected bodies will retain their maleness or femaleness, but there will be "a spiritualization that is different from that of earthly life." With this spiritualization will come freedom from the "opposition" of mind and body, and a return to a perfecting harmony between the two.  It will be a realization of God’s self-communication in his very divinity, not only to the soul, but to the whole of man’s psychosomatic unity – body, mind, and soul. St. John Paul II notes that in the resurrection Marriage and procreation lose their raison d’être.

Following the Last Judgment, "Historical Man" will give way to "Eschatological Man" ; the good will enjoy the Beatific Vision, see God face to face, and experience perfect happiness. Salvation history will cease, having achieved its ultimate purpose, love will triumph over evil, and darkness will be no more.

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