Teacher and Pastor

Carl Olson recommends Father Richard Hogan’s The Theology of the Body in John Paul II


What It Means, Why It Matters

by Rev. Richard M. Hogan

The Word Among Us Press, 2006

223 pages, $12.95

To order: 1-800-775-9673


Father Richard Hogan met Pope John Paul II in 1985 and, he says “was privileged to hand the Pope a copy of Covenant of Love.” It was one of the first in-depth books on the Pope’s Wednesday audiences given from September 1979 to November 1984.

“While shaking hands with John Paul, I thanked him for his theology of the body addresses,” Father Hogan writes in the introduction to a helpful new commentary on the theology of the body.

Over 20 years later, of course, the term “theology of the body” is well-known among many Catholics and non-Catholics alike, thanks in part to the work of Father Hogan and others, including Janet Smith and Christopher West.

In the oft-repeated words of biographer George Weigel, John Paul’s theology of the body is a “theological time bomb set to go off” in the third millennium. Part of the explosive potential in the 129 addresses by John Paul is the subject matters: the human person, the human body and sex.

Another aspect, as Father Hogan states, is that “this new synthesis of the faith will speak to modern-day people in a way that older presentations of the faith no longer can.”

Father Hogan has studied the theology of the body and John Paul’s other writings for many years, and his mastery of material that is often complex and daunting is evident.

In the first chapter, for example, he shows how John Paul’s use of the philosophical approach called phenomenology is a new one for expressing doctrine but is used to build upon the perennial philosophies of Sts. Augustine and Thomas.

“The challenge is to take the jewels of the faith — the revelation of Christ — and present them in a new way with a new philosophical system without changing their content.” John Paul’s genius, Father Hogan proposes, is that he was able to do just that, placing “the jewels of the faith into a new setting.”

The opening chapter is an excellent overview and introduction to key terms and ideas, especially in showing how John Paul’s distinctive approach was not limited to the theology of the body, but can be seen in his works on ecclesiology, human work and the mercy of God.

The book follows the structure of the original addresses, which are structured in six sections, or cycles. The first focuses on the human person in the Garden of Eden and delves deeply into the opening chapters of Genesis. Others examine the effects of sin, especially sexual sin; the resurrection of the body; celibacy and virginity; the meaning and purpose of marriage, especially in light of Christ’s love for the Church, his holy bride, and Humanae Vitae (The Regulation of Birth).

Throughout, Father Hogan demonstrates his skills as teacher and his heart as pastor, giving concrete examples and expression to theological teachings that are often dense and abstract.

In writing about the body and the anti-human belief that it is a type of machine, he draws upon depictions found in popular movies and television programs, and in writing about the human person as the subject of art, provides examples of how art should portray the human body. The tone is informal, as though the reader is part of a small class.

As such, it makes for an illuminating and sure-handed guide for those wishing to learn about the theology of the body.

Carl Olson writes

from Eugene, Oregon.

Thomas’ Promises

Christopher Wolfe co-directs the Ralph McInerny Center for Thomistic Studies at Notre Dame. But now he is setting off on a new venture: starting a college that will give students a “unified, integrated conception of reality” based on the scholarship of Thomas Aquinas. By Monta Hernon.