Theology (of the Body) on Tap
BODY AND GIFT: REFLECTIONS ON CREATION
by Sam Torode
Philokalia Books, 2003 72 pages, $10.95 To order: (866) 333-6392 www. philokaliabooks. com
Nearly 25 years have passed since Pope John Paul II lit the fuse of what George Weigel has described as a “theological time bomb” — the Holy Father's Theology of the Body. Consisting of 130 general audiences between 1979 and 1984, the Pope's unprecedented — even revolutionary — reflections on the meaning of the human body, marriage, gender, sexuality and morality will offer scholars and laity alike a wealth of material to study and contemplate for years to come.
One of the challenges of reading Theology of the Body is the dense, difficult language often used by John Paul as he delves into the mystery of the human person. This challenge, coupled with misinformation about the content of the Theology of the Body, has caused some to criticize the Pope's work as simply being obsessed with sex or overly concerned with body parts. Sadly, such misguided claims ignore or miss altogether the insights and riches of John Paul's theology — wisdom badly needed in a culture so prone to disbelief, immorality, divorce and death.
As Christopher West states in the introduction of this slim book by Sam Torode: “[T]he theology of the body is not only about marriage and sexual love. Because the communion of the sexes is so intertwined with life i itself, the Pope J observes that his 1 talks aim at 'the I rediscovery of the meaning of the whole of existence, the meaning of life.'”
Body and Gift is the first of four books i seeking to translate (so to speak) the theological complexity of the Theology of the Body into concise, accessible English. It accomplishes that goal with impressive clarity. Body and Gift masterfully distills the essence of the first 23 of the Pope's teachings on the subject, which are a catechesis on the Book of Genesis, focusing on the original unity of man and woman. This opening section introduces key themes, including original innocence, original solitude and original nakedness. These provide the underpinnings for later insights into celibacy, virginity, and the resurrection of the body.
Torode writes in the second chapter, titled “In God's Image”:
“Ultimately, man can only be understood in relation to God. This great mystery of creation — that we are created in God's image — is the key reference point for understanding all aspects of humanity, including our sexuality…. The first chapter of Genesis is the basis for a Christian understanding of man — it tells the truth about who we are as human beings. It is of the utmost importance to all theology, especially the theology of the body.”
A strength of this book is that although written in a simple style, it is not a simplistic “theology of the body for dummies.” Not yet in his 30s, Torode understands and appreciates the depths of the Holy Father's ife work, and his grasp of its complexities makes this book a true translation, not merely an edited, abridged version.
Torode, along with I wife Bethany, has also authored Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception (Eerdmans, 2002), a book that stirred up a bit of controversy in evangelical-Protestant circles and drew praise from many Catholics. The Tor-odes are now Eastern Orthodox, and so are in the unique position of being former Protestants popularizing the work of the Pope while not in full communion with the Catholic Church.
It bodes well that Body and Gift has been endorsed by some evangelical Protestants, including J. Budziszewski, one of the foremost experts on natural law in the Protestant world.
As the power and truth of John Paul's theological vision are recognized by more people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, his theological time bomb moves closer to sparking a potentially explosive revolution aimed at transforming the culture of death into a culture of life, holiness and authentic love.
Carl E. Olson is editor of Envoy magazine and author of Will Catholics be 'Left Behind'?