Saturday, January 28, 2012

Aquinas and Theology of the Body

Today is the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. He was a giant-literally-in Catholic theology. Dubbed the "Dumb Ox" by his fellow friars in the Dominican order, Aquinas had intellectual gifts rarely seen here on earth. It was not an easy life. His parents locked him up in a room when they heard he wanted to join the Order of Preachers. They even sent in a prostitute to sway him from his desire to live a life following Christ's footsteps. What made Aquinas so unique was his ability to synthesize ideas. For instance, the basis for his theology was the great philosopher Aristotle. Aquinas essential took Aristotle's thoughts and baptized them into Catholicism. This is a very important point. In Rome there is a large obelisk in the center of St. Peter's square. People who are opposed to the Catholic church often look at that and say "See! the Church is pagan-they have a large pagan symbol right at the heart of their most important Church!" What they fail to see is the cross on the top of the obelisk. This is a very important teaching tool. The cross on top of the obelisk symbolizes how Christ came into the world and conquered paganism with the cross.

This is also Aquinas' approach to theology. He takes what is true, good, and beautiful in the world and brings it to Christ. To this very day the Summa Theologica is the standard and norm by which theologians approach their study of God. Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body followed the same approach. He often takes two seemingly opposed objects and brings them to a synthesis in Jesus Christ-male and female. The series of his catechesis that formed the basis of Theology of the Body were his talks entitled "The original unity of man and woman." Fascinatingly the Pope uses the biblical account of creation in Genesis to support his thesis. He has some pretty profound things to say. For example, "the call to nuptial love revealed through our sexuality is the fundamental element of human existence in the world." (January 16, 1980). If that is the case then sex and sexuality is no insignificant issue.

The other very important thing to St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope John Paul II is their epistemology (fancy word for how we know that something is true). In contrast to some philosophers who said that the human person was nothing more than a "ghost in a machine", Aquinas and Pope John Paul II both stress the importance of the human body. It is through sense experience that we first come to our knowledge of the truth. We don't start with our ideas or thoughts because there is no tangible proof. This is a direct rebuke of the philosophy of Descartes who said " I think therefore I am." I can think that there is a pink elephant in front of me all I want but without sense experience (see, taste, touch, smell, hear) to confirm it, there is no proof. So we begin with sense experience. For this reason Pope John Paul II stressed the importance of the body. We use our body to act morally or immorally. The actions of the body reveal who we are. We are more than just thought. This underlines the key principle that gets to the heart of his pro-life teachings as well: the dignity of the human person. It is through human bodies that a married couple reveal their love to one another. The human bodies of the original male and female (Adam and Eve) are how we image God. It is in the complementarity of male and female that we understand God and if we realize that God, from the beginning of time wanted to "marry" the human race in Jesus Christ, we see the tremendous importance of marriage, sex, and family.

Heavy stuff, I know. The importance of Aquinas is what we want to emphasize today. He takes some fundamental truths from nature and the world of philosophy and shows how Christ brings it unity. Pope John Paul II takes the "war of the sexes"-all the joys, love, but also heartache and pain in the relationships of men and women and brings them to a unity in Jesus Christ. God takes to very different human beings-a male and female-and brings them to a unity in Jesus Christ. This unity comes about in marriage where "the two become one", where "two hearts beat as one" and where, as Tony and Maria sing in West Side Story God "makes of our hearts, one heart makes of our lives, one life." Two lives become one in marriage. No one understood this better than St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope John Paul II.

To be continued....

1 comment:

  1. well said Father. I'm looking forward to Part 2

    Dan F.