Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Noodling the Theology of the Body

By Mark Shea

http://culinaryculture.com/image/3/700/Spaghetti_and_Meatballs.png"...The first thing we all need to know about the Theology of the Body is that, while interesting, it is not magisterial teaching. In short, the whole argument is about a fascinating and potentially useful constellation of ideas that do not form part of the essential teaching of the Faith. John Paul articulated the TOB in the early 1980s in a series of audiences. What is notable about this is that, having done so, he never returned to the subject in his magisterial teaching. There is no encyclical on the TOB. That should command our attention, because it means that the quarrel is about something that, while interesting, is not particularly binding on anybody as a Catholic.

Now, I don't believe in Minimum Daily Adult Catholicism, so I don't think we have to play the game of "If it's not magisterial, we should just ignore it." I think the late Holy Father has some interesting and profound things to say in his teaching on the TOB and that we can profit from it. But precisely because it is not magisterial, I also think we can dial back the rhetoric about Who's a Bad Catholic if there is controversy and ferment concerning this teaching. It could be (and I think obviously is) the case that people on all sides of the argument about TOB are typically good Catholics, all trying to live and practice the Faith.

So what does the TOB say? An excellent question, and one that pertains directly to the passionate partisanship of the arguments, since (ahem) very few of the people who are zealous proponents and opponents of the TOB in the comboxes of St. Blog's have actually read John Paul II. What they've read (or heard about) is Christopher West's presentation of the TOB.

That's the first big problem. If we haven't read John Paul's description of a boojum and have never seen a boojum ourselves, we are powerless to know if Christopher West is accurately describing a boojum. The most we can do is say, "I like that boojum Christopher West describes," or "I hate that boojum Christopher West describes." Or, we can say, as I do, "I'm largely indifferent to that boojum Christopher West describes, though West seems to be trying to serve the Church, albeit imperfectly, as do we all."

The TOB, as near as I can tell, made no impact on Catholics for nearly two decades after it was articulated by the pope. What seems to have brought it to people's attention was the enthusiasm of George Weigel, who described the TOB in his biography Witness to Hope as "one of the boldest reconfigurations of Catholic theology in centuries," declared it a "kind of theological time bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church," and prophesied that it had barely begun to "shape the Church's theology, preaching, and religious education," but that when it does, "it will compel a dramatic development of thinking about virtually every major theme in the Creed."

That's heady stuff. And he may be right for all I know. But here's the thing: Once again, we are looking at the opinion of a layman. And it's that opinion, reverberating through the world of Catholic media after the publication of Witness to Hope -- not some magisterial teaching of the Church -- that largely accounts for the fact that a lot of Catholics began to get interested in the TOB early in the third millennium..."

Noodling the Theology of the Body 


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