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What Is Theology of the Body?

By Jennifer Voight
Updated May 23, 2024
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The theology of the body was a series of teachings given by Pope John Paul II from 1979 to 1984. These teachings used Christian Biblical scripture to explain how the human body is a physical manifestation of God’s message of redemption and hope for humankind. Many of the talks attempted to explain the purposes of human sexuality, relationships, and how the human body reflects truths about the universe. The human body is seen as a physical representation of invisible concepts, while the marital relationship illustrates truths about human beings' relationship with God, each other, and the universe.

A primary focus of teachings on theology of the body is on the Biblical view of human sexuality and how the marital relationship is a reflection of God’s love for human beings, whom Christians believe are made in the image of God. The theology of the body teaches that the image of God does not just include the human mind and emotions, but includes the human body as well. Although marriage is imperfect on earth, the theology of the body attempts to explain from a Christian view how the human body is a metaphor and foreshadowing of Christ’s return and eventual perfect marriage with the church, referred to in the Christian Bible as God’s bride.

In opposition to this view is the secular view of the human body as a means of experiencing pleasure and as a vehicle separate from the mind and emotions. Whereas theology of the body teaches that the body’s role in the human experience is in conjunction with the mind, will, and emotions, these teachings claim that the secular view falls short of the truth. The theology of the body teaches that this distorted view of the body’s purpose is responsible for such problems as pornography addiction, divorce, and abuse.

The theology of the body also purposes to explain why humans are male and female and to explain the differences between them. Again, the relationship between the sexes is seen as a microcosm of humans' relationship to the divine. These teachings claim that, when the theology of the body is studied and understood, human relationships can be improved when men and women see themselves as gifts to each other, just as God is a gift to human beings. Human relationships, the theology teaches, are made up of two sexes because each is incomplete without the other but both together make a complete whole.

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