Theology

(article) human love in the divine plan

If there was one essential point to the Theology of the Body that Pope John Paul II gave in his Wednesday Audiences over the period of five or so years, that I could distill out and give to you today, it would be this: the whole person, soul and body, is caught up in the beautiful and divine drama of love and life.

Love is more than just feelings, than a stirring of the senses and the thrill of physical touch. It is so much more than that, but it sure wouldn’t be the same without all that! God did not create us to be angels, but man, male and female. We have bodies, with goose-bumpy skin, responsive nerve endings, and hormone tidal waves that could overwhelm a giant.

I mean, sheesh, there are a lot of Christian writers out there who will tell you that love is not about emotion, but commitment; that sensuality only clouds judgment; and that your hormones are best to be suppressed by cold showers and a part-time job after school.

But not Pope John Paul II, a man who never knew the marriage bed. He tells us the truth.

Human love was always a glorious and mysterious thing for him. It involved the whole person, so any attempt to “keep it spiritual” would be crass and vulgar to him. No, we are not angels, dis-embodied spirits that have not nerves, skin, nor lips. We are human beings, embodied, fleshy- a union of body and soul. We are not just souls. We are not just bodies. And that is the bedrock of the Theology of the Body.

Human love is unique in all creation because the union between body and soul is unique. The human body, or rather the human bodies of male and female in union with one another, tells a specific part of the story of humanity that nothing else can tell. The body has its own language, and the Pope is asking us to shut up and start listening to this dignified language of the body.

Lust is the noise that overwhelms our capacity to hear the harmonies, the music, the lyrical word of the human body. And prudishness, that devil, strives to mute the melodious nature of human love in the divine plan by making one's heart deaf to its rhyms. 

Truly the most common experiences of genuine love receives its first utterance through the language of the body, through the postures and qualities of our incarnate selves. The way she smiles, laughs, sings- these “earthly” things draw, entice, to the point of seeming to usurp our freedom. We don't propose in syllogisms. We are rational animals, not just rationalities floating around. So we have to get away from this common and poisonous idea: the body is just a shell.

In reality it is the other half of our true, whole self. The soul, that higher part, animates the body, but it is to the body that reveals the soul. The material is the plain of communication. It is the pages and ink and binding of the book that allows the story to be told, to be communicated. The body tells the story of us. It was Orwell who said that at 50 years old, everyone has the face he deserves. For him, 50 years of frowning away at the risks, paradoxes, and adventures of life will produce those indelible wrinkles on a person’s face, displaying a timid, cynical soul within.

But our bodies do more than just reveal our own souls and display our moral characters. The pope invites us to push the concept further, and further still. Not only is the body a “good thing”, not only is marital love a blessed union, not only is the union of man and woman a life-affirming, creation-continuing, act of bliss, but the language of the body reveals to us the pinnacle of all knowing.

The human body reveals the divine heart.

God’s love is creative, generous, free, and fruitful. His love is infinite, overflowing, overwhelming. There is never a time when the eternal Father is not eternally loving His eternal Son. There is never a time when the Son, the Beloved One, is not eternal receiving this gift - receiving, not taking - and eternally returning this gift of love back to His eternal Father. This Love of Father and Son, Son and Father is so real, so intense, so eternally divine, that it is the Second Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. God is the Lover, the Beloved, and the Love that unites them together.

This Trinitarian union tells us the most important datum that we need to understand the most interesting puzzle of the human condition: what is love, really?

The inner life of the Blessed Trinity demonstrates that love is nothing less than self-gift, self-donation. Love is the giving of your Selfhood away to your beloved, for your beloved’s benefit. Love always seeks the betterment of the other, the increase of blessings for one’s beloved, even at great cost to oneself. The fancy word for this is benevolence, which means “willing the good”. This is why in any great love story there is at the center of it all a perpetual self-sacrifice. Lovers ought to rush to give themselves away to their Beloved. The same is true of the divine. God’s love is the “prior art.” Ours is the knockoff, cheaply made and mass produced.

God the Father never stops giving Himself to His Son. His Son never stops receiving that gift of self from the Father and reciprocating it with His own gift of self. And this reciprocating, living, breathing, self-giving love is the Holy Spirit, the bond of love that unites the Father to the Son, that unites us to the Trinity in the form of grace. The divine life is the essence of love. In clearer terms, “God is love”.

You and I were made “in the image” of this divine self-giving love affair. Now, unlike God, we are not perfect, infinite, eternal spiritual beings. We are limited, finite, stretched out in time, and our spiritual souls are welded to our flesh-and-blood bodies. We are still made in His image. We’re simply made out of different stuff. Thus, the divine is reflected in the human, Creator reveals His face in the creature, and the Author of life is writ large upon the parchment of human nature.

Now we have arrived at the Theology of the Body. This inner life of God as a communion of divine Persons who are caught up in the eternal life-giving love weaves this dynamism into the very structure of our being. The body does not just make known the secrets of the soul, but also the secrets of God. “It is not good for man to be alone” since we are made in the image and likeness of a God who is not a solitary monad, is no lonely deity, but a community, a Tri-unity. We are made for love, in love, by Love Himself. And it is this self-donating love that becomes the language of the body.

The naked male body in front of the naked female body exclamations with all loudness (if we have ears to hear it!) the glory of God. It shouts “I am not meant to be alone! I am not a solitary island, content and complete without another. I need my other self, my beloved one, to be in communion with, to share this life with, to be the destination to which I give my very Self away forever.” The nakedness tells us that we are not alone, nor are we meant to be alone. The nakedness tells us, quite literally, that “I am made for you. We fit together.”

But we cannot have just the body without the soul. They go together. They are inseparable. What it means to be human means to be a composite of body and soul, a union of supposed opposites in the self, and then for that self to be fulfilled, this union of opposites must itself find union in another. God created the individual human person, male or female, structurally incomplete in both spirit and body. We need each other. We are created for each other, to be in love with one another.

Human loves begins with the body but it cannot, should not, remain there. The senses might be stirred, emotions clamour, and hormones dance wildly in one’s veins at the mere sight of her passing by, but love must be more than the sensation. Human love is incarnated, but it never ceases being spiritual. Love is fake, false, pretend, if it only stays on the surface, if it only remains at the place of sensation. You may have only lust, or at best, infatuation, but it is no longer love. For it to be true, it must continue.

Love works its way through the body to the heart, the seat of human emotions. The heart, if it is a good heart, drives the will to act on this new found springtime that is the beloved. And here is where the spiritual qualities of things like goodness, truth, commitment, union, intimacy, courage, faithfulness all come in to play. Your freedom, which at first seemed hopelessly lost at the sight of her, is emboldened, enlivened, stretched, and elevated to a higher sort of existence. Your freedom serves creativity for love is always creative, always fruitful, always seeking ways to serve, to be generous, to give your Self away. The emotions remove any bitterness from self-sacrifice. The goose-bumpy skin helps, too.

In sum we can confidently say that the human person is a union of body and soul and the only way we get to the soul is through the body. The body reveals the soul underneath it all. But since every human person is made in the image and likeness of God, the body reveals the God who made it as well. Seeing the beauty and drama of love as self-gift, and that “God is love”, we know that it truly “is not good that man should be alone” but that we have, from the hand of God, the other half of our wandering selves. And just as the Trinitarian life-giving love spills out in the generosity of Creation, we too are called, in imitation of our Creator, to engage with our whole embodied nature to “be fruitful and multiply”, to let love be what it was always meant to be: creative.

The moment love ceases to be creative and bear that good fruit for the beloved, we know that it has turned inward. Someone for some reason stopped giving the gift, or else, instead of receiving joyfully they only took it for themselves. The freely given character of love becomes distorted if not all-out destroyed. Free, fruitful, faithful, and total are the qualities of human love in the divine plan. If you are missing any of these four, you have not love.