When Pope John Paul II's pontificate is assessed by future generations, he may well be remembered as the “Pope of the family.”
Indeed, he has provided more teaching on marriage and the family than all previous popes combined.
Much of this teaching was presented at the outset of his pontificate in 129 catechetical addresses termed the “theology of the body.”
In these addresses John Paul did nothing less than redefine the nature of man: “Man became the ‘image and likeness’ of God not only through his humanity but also through the communion of persons that man and woman form right from the beginning. The function of the image is to reflect the one who is modeled to reproduce its own prototype. Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion. He is, in fact, right ‘from the beginning’ not only an image in which there is reflected the solitude of a Person who rules the world but also, and essentially, an image of an inscrutable divine communion of Persons” (Nov. 14, 1979).
When I read this admittedly difficult statement to audiences, I receive many puzzled looks. In it, the Holy Father has placed the mystery of the Blessed Trinity at the very heart of the mystery of man. Nonetheless, we must tackle this mystery if we are to understand John Paul's vision of marriage.
Trinity in Five Steps
I have found that most people's understanding of the Blessed Trinity is limited to the formula “three divine Persons in one divine Being.”
Although the Blessed Trinity is the central mystery of our faith, most Catholics have received no catechesis on the Blessed Trinity outside of that formula. Therefore, I present what I call “the Blessed Trinity in five easy steps” to audiences as a prelude to the Pope's teaching on marriage. I promise them that the effort will be well spent when we apply it to man and woman.
1. The Father is the starting point — the Principle that has no other principle.
2. The Father forms an intellectual image of himself — the Word.
3. The Father and Word form a conception of their love — the Holy Spirit.
4. The Word and Spirit proceed from the Father as a “unity of the two.”
5. The Word is together with the Father the source of the Spirit.
These steps appear more difficult than they really are. The first three simply relate to the three divine Persons. The Father is the starting point. The Word proceeds from the Father according to the divine intellect and the Spirit proceeds according to the divine will. Since the divine intellect and will cannot be separated, the fourth step says the Word and Spirit proceed as a “unity of the two.” Finally, since thought precedes action (intellect precedes will), the Word is, with the Father, source of the Spirit.
You and the Trinity
This basic Trinitarian theology is essential to understanding the story of man's creation in the Book of Genesis. In the first story we read: “God created man in his own image … male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
In other words, God the Father remains the starting point and a human “unity of the two” flows forth from his bosom. In the second story of creation we read: “God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman” (Genesis 2:21ff). In other words, the man is with the Father the source of the woman. Since the woman is taken from next to man's heart, we might even say that God the Father and man form a conception of their love — woman.
From this perspective we do indeed see a profound reflection of the Blessed Trinity. However, we are able to go further.
Since man is with the Father source of woman, we find a unique analogy to the Word. Man is created with a special relationship to the Word, which is why the Word becomes incarnate in a human man. Jesus Christ, and he alone, has lived the life that man was created to live.
Christ specifically identifies this life as the manifestation of the Father: “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Further, Jesus inseparably unites the manifestation of the Father to the issue of life: “As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26). With Jesus, men are to become the manifestation of the Father by becoming the “source of life.”
When they do so, they are given the unfathomable dignity to “reveal and relive on earth the very fatherhood of God” (Fam-iliaris Consortio, No. 25).
Since woman proceeds from the Father through man, we find a unique analogy to the Holy Spirit. Note that I am not saying that the Holy Spirit is feminine, which would be heretical. I am saying that the story of woman's creation as presented in Scripture is analogous to traditional Catholic (Thomistic) theology regarding the procession of the Holy Spirit within the Blessed Trinity.
Therefore, woman has a special relationship to the Holy Spirit, which is why Our Lady is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 1:35). Further, the manifestation of the Father that we have discussed is made through the Word in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the milieu of life: “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Therefore, although life goes forth from man, it is nurtured and sustained in woman.
God the Father is specifically manifested in the union of man and woman, where he gives life through the husband in the wife.
It is the moment that unifies God's final gift to humanity in their innocence with his original blessing — the “one flesh” (cf. Genesis 2:24) union of man and woman is the place where the Father grants the blessing of life (cf. Genesis 1:28). The Holy Father states that this union of man and woman together with God is the primordial sacrament that makes visible the invisible God: “Thus, in this dimension, a primordial sacrament is constituted, understood as a sign that transmits effectively in the visible world the invisible mystery hidden in God since time immemorial” (Feb. 20, 1980).
In reality this is the only vision of man that fulfills the deepest longing of his heart. The desire to make the unconditional gift of self. An offering that is met by the unconditional gift of the other. A union in which total self-surrender is identical to total self-fulfillment. A union that opens to the divine.
This is John Paul's vision of marriage. It is a vision that modern man is desperately seeking. It is a vision that only Christianity — with a triune God who is love (1 John 4:16) — can offer.
Steve Bollman is the founder of Paradisus Dei, a lay organization dedicated to implementing
Pope John Paul II 's teaching on marriage and the family. He may