Saturday, April 26, 2014

"Let's Talk about Sex" Sells Better than "Let's Talk about Marriage"

The word "marriage" occurs 597 times in the online translation of JP2's Theology of the Body.  The word "nuptial" occurs 126 times: that's 723 references to marriage by name alone, not counting the overall context, for the concept marriage permeates this work, even when the word "marriage" or "nuptial" is not being used.  In fact, the official title of John Paul II's Wednesday Audiences is The Redemption of the Body and Sacramentality of Marriage.

By contrast, the word "sex" occurs 161 times, and the vast majority of those times the word "sex" is used to mean "gender", "sex" in the sense of "male" or "female".

When it comes to "sexual activity", the phrase "conjugal act" or "marital act", meaning sexual intercourse between spouses, are used a combined 42 times.  The contrasting concept, sex which violates the bond of marriage, is "adultery", and this word appears 233 times, with most of these occurrences being either JP2 quoting Jesus on "adultery in the heart" (Mat. 5:28), or talking about "adultery" as an Old Testament metaphor for lack of fidelity to God.  "Fornication" (sexual activity outside of marriage) occurs 12 times, and all of those times either as direct quotations of St. Paul, or used in reference to Paul's use of the word.  In all occurrences, sexual activity is referred to in relation to the sacrament of marriage.

And so by word frequency alone we can see that The Real Theology of the Body is about MARRIAGE, not about SEX.


Here is one of the key sentences in all 129 Theology of the Body lectures given by John Paul II over a five year period ...

It can be said that marriage is the meeting place of eros with ethos and of their mutual compenetration in the heart of man and of woman, as also in all their mutual relationships.

Translation: the longing of man for something greater, a longing which includes sexual desire (both elements constitute eros) and the realm of proper behavior informed by a selfless love (which JP2 calls ethos, the foundation of which he calls agape) are joined in this life in one remarkable place: Marriage.  Not, as Christopher West and the Westians would have it, in "mature purity" that proudly gawks at naked bodies, not in bravely challenging your lust by engaging it, not in a strange "new ethos" that can be found only by picking up on hidden codes in the Wednesday Audiences.

The Real Theology of the Body is about the very thing its pop-Catholic popularizers almost never mention: not SEX, but MARRIAGE.




Marriage permeates the Real Theology of the Body.  It is the teleos, the natural and supernatural end or goal of the body, so much so that the lifelong renunciation of it (for priests, religious and consecrated virgins) is a kind of "marriage to Christ" (which, of course, can also be the case spiritually for those who are single or widowed).  Marriage is the key that unlocks the mystery of the body.  Not sex.  Marriage.  Marriage includes sex, but it is much more than sex: in fact it gives sex meaning.  Sex only makes sense within the confines of a lifelong relationship of love that includes babies: a family.  Sex creates an institution, as Chesterton noted, and that institution is the not-so-sexy thing that sustains us all: the family.

Marriage is the sacrament of love.  More than that: it is, in John Paul II's words, the "primordial sacrament"!  It is "primordial" both because it was given "in the beginning" (thereby, in a sense, completing creation), but also because it affects the very heart of what it means to be human: it addresses the first thing about us.  It is primordial in both senses.

When John Paul does address sex and sexual desire in these lectures, he often acknowledges how dangerous sexual desire is for fallen man, how easily simple libido becomes outright lust - disordinate desire.  And lust is a problem that needs to be dominated.  John Paul II is very clear about this.  Lust gets in the way of marriage; lust disturbs the proper relationship of man and woman.  This is because lust seeks to appropriate or possess the other person.  Lust seeks not to give, but to take.

If this "world passes," and if with it the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life which come from the world also passes, marriage as a sacrament immutably ensures that man, male and female, by dominating concupiscence, does the will of the Father. And he "who does the will of God remains forever." (1 Jn 2:17)

"Marriage .... ensures that man ... by dominating concupiscence does the will of the Father" and "remains forever".

This domination does not come through "thought experiments" with sexual situations, it does not come by daring yourself to stare at naked ladies so that you reach the esoteric way of the "illuminative life", it does not come from having "new eyes" that can visually perceive the "good" that's in pornography, it does not consist in lauding the Prodigal Son not for his repentance but for his indulging in the sin that led to his repentance (all of which are things West and his followers are saying) ... the domination of concupiscence comes from Marriage - not just marriage as a way of putting out the fire, but marriage as a Sacramental gift that fulfills our destiny and that helps us do the will of the Father.

As the primordial sacrament, and at the same time as the sacrament born in the mystery of the redemption of the body from the spousal love of Christ and of the Church, marriage "comes from the Father." It is not from the world but from the Father.

Thus the Sacrament, and even its renunciation for the sake of the virginity that will be all of ours in the Kingdom, helps lead us (by the grace of God, which it communicates) to eternal life.


Anonymous said...

One, you cannot get to the Illuminative Way unless you get through the Purgative Way first. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange writes: "After this first conversion, if the soul does not fall again into mortal sin, or at all events if it rises from sin without delay and seeks to make progress, it is then in the purgative way of beginners." -Three Conversions in the Spiritual Life, pg. 83

On page 85 he then writes that to get through into the Illuminative Way, one has to go through a second conversion- a passive purgation of the senses. One can't do that while looking at porn.

Dr. Eric

√Čamonn said...

One small quibble: telos is the Greek word for end qua goal, rather than teleos which you have in this post. Thanks for the all the info on St John-Paul II's catecheses on human love - very valuable and informative.