Among the troubling legacies of John Paul II is the cottage industry of conferences and literature spawned by his “Theology of the Body.” Next month yet another “International Symposium” on the subject is being held in London, featuring the discredited TOB guru Christopher West [see CO, 2009]. In response, we offer this brief reflection upon male involvement in John Paul’s sexual juggernaut. The author leaves reflections on the involvement of women to those better qualified.
The popular movement known as “Theology of the Body” can only gain access and achieve acceptance where there has occurred an emasculatization of the male intellect and male spirituality. The word “emasculate” is, of course, not usually considered to be a word with exact connotations. That is not true concerning its use here. Its meaning, as established in the next couple of paragraphs, is quite precise.
There is a reason why the actual Fall of mankind did not take place until Adam had acquiesced to the initial disobedience of Eve. Adam bore the ultimate responsibility before God for maintaining the order established by God – the authority of God over man, of man over woman, of spirit over flesh, and of the intellect over all the other faculties and passions of man and woman. When man fails to exercise this responsibility, and participates in any of the myriad of ways in which this order can be inverted or perverted, then he truly becomes emasculated.
The lives of all men (and here I speak of both men and women) are oriented by nature towards the ultimate attainment, after this life, of the Beatific Vision – that intellectual vision by which man, aided by the “Grace of Glory,” is enabled to actually see the essence of God. But this ultimate destiny of the human being is also reflected in this life through the primacy of the contemplative dimension of human existence. It is therefore the fundamental spiritual responsibility of men, both laymen and priests, to structure all of human life in such a way as to reflect and defend this primacy of value of the contemplative life over all other secondary ends and values. Any surrender of this hierarchy of values is a fundamental act of self-emasculation.
This does not at all mean that these secondary ends do not possess value, or their own proper sphere of activity. It simply means that they are to be rightly subjected by the intellect and will to the modest place ordained for them within their sphere of human activity, and that they not be allowed to claim a status or prominence which perverts the interior order and structure of human values. St. Thomas writes:
Simply stated, the sexual act is in no way sinful in its God-given nature, but it is also in no way to be confused or identified with spiritual union with God, from which it “withholds” both man and woman.
St. Thomas’ words clearly leave no room for exaltation of the married act to the status of any kind of profound spiritual experience. No one will deny the intensity of the marriage act, but this is an intensity of the lower passions, and not of any sort of spiritual or contemplative union. To attempt to identify or confuse the two is a manifest perversion. Nor is it permitted to identify the marriage act itself with the fullness of that ontological reality by which the marriage of man and wife image Christ’s relationship to the Church. This “image” is not to be found in the sexual act itself, but in the virtue of fidelity between man and wife, and in their bringing forth and rearing of children.
The very phrase “Theology of the Body” is, if nothing else, an inappropriate pomposity. It certainly is legitimate to speak of “moral theology” as being a “science of God” which studies the ways in which human actions are ,or are not, in accord with God’s Will. As such, anything involving actions done in the body, and especially those actions involving human sexuality, certainly fall under this science. But to designate a separate “theology” specifically assigned to human sexuality amounts to an exaltation of this sphere of human activity which implicitly masks a serious disorder.
The defining characteristic of this disorder is the exaltation of the sexual act itself to a spiritual experience, and even to the aberrant claims of some that it is constituted as a participation in the interior life of God, and of mystical union. Such an inversion confuses flesh with spirit, elevates sensual pleasure over the intellectual vision of Truth and Beauty, and denies the fundamental structure and responsibility of manhood.
This process of emasculatization has become endemic throughout the entire life of the Church. It is especially evident in most offerings of the New Mass. The Mass is the infinite act of God designed to draw all men and women into contemplative union with God through Christ’s Sacrifice. It is the pre-eminent act of male responsibility on this earth to protect the Mass from any practices or forms of aberrant worship which detract from this vertical dimension. The New Mass is redolent with these detractions: the failure of the priest to kneel at the foot of the altar and recite the Judica Me (Psalm 42) and the Confiteor Deo; the turning of the altar and priest away from God and towards the people; the abandonment of a sacred language (Latin) set aside and consecrated to the worship of God; the presence of women lectors and altar girls in the sacred place of the male priesthood; communion in the hand and standing; the banality of modern music substituted for sacred music; the devastatingly de-spiritualized architecture of modern Churches; the destruction of traditional statuary and art; etc.
It is, in fact, the New Mass which has had the effect of disemboweling Catholic men of their traditional Catholic faith and masculinity, and precipitating their fall into the disgrace that is TOB, and into all those forms of spirituality and intellectual life which are worthy of neither God nor man.
I wish to leave the discussion of how all of this has affected women to others. It only remains to say that none of the above reflection has anything to do with male versus female spirituality. I can only reflect here on the fact that there is no “emasculatization” in any way to be found in the likes of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, or Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. And it should go without saying that the same is pre-eminently true of Mary, the Mother of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ.