Imagine a heart pendant. On one side, it has an image of you. It is complete on this side and no one can tell that something is missing. Yet on the other side, half the face is gone. You only show this side to people you trust. The majority of the time, people see only the side that is whole. When you find your spouse, the partial face he or she has fits the missing half that you possess. Sometimes, it takes a while before they are a perfect fit. Still… the complete image is God.
That missing half is by design. John Paul II (JPII) teaches in the Theology of the Body that our Original Solitude (cf. Gen 2:18) reveals our uniqueness as a creation, represented by the side with the complete image on the heart pendant. When we examine our interior life through contemplation, prayer, or deep discussions with close friends, we are examining that half-missing face. Seeing the irreplaceable value of that side of the pendant is what Original Solitude is all about. Yet, our journey doesn’t stop there. Beyond the beauty of truth in our aloneness is our completeness through a sincere gift of ourselves (cf. Gaudium et Spes 24:3). This sincere gift of ourselves might mean giving oneself to a religious community, becoming a priest, being a celibate secular apostle (i.e. Opus Dei) or, like for most people, getting married.
When we find the half that completes our image of God, we experience what JPII calls our Original Unity and exclaim with joy “at last!” (cf. Gen 2:23). The implication for marriage is nothing less than participating in the inner life of God Himself:
Man becomes an image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion. He is, in fact, “from the beginning” [cf. Mt 19:3-9; Mk 10:1-12] not only an image in which the solitude of one Person, who rules the world, mirrors itself, but also and essentially the image of an inscrutable divine communion of Persons. (TOB 9:3)
The “inscrutable divine communion of Persons” is the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Just as the Father and the Son fully gave Themselves to each other and resulted in the Third Person (the Holy Spirit), similarly man and woman give themselves totally to each other to create children. Since a man and woman’s ability to create new souls is deeply linked to the Trinitarian life, that special relationship is elevated to the level of Sacrament (outward, visible sign of an inward, invisible reality). Marriage, sex and procreation are sacred because they constitute a paradigm for the inner life of God:
… right from the beginning, the blessing of fruitfulness descended, linked with human procreation (cf. Gen 1:28). (TOB 9:3)
If creation is a gift given to man… then its fullness and deepest dimension is determined by grace, that is, by participation in the inner life of God himself, in his holiness. (TOB 16:3)
In talking about Original Solitude and Original Unity over with my wife, we came up with a short-hand way of explaining how marriage mirrors the inner life of God:
Man + Woman + spirit of procreation
= Father + Son + Holy Spirit
=> The Holy Trinity
=> Power of Creation
=> Inner Life of God
Sex, as our modern age has redefined it, is cheapened when compared to its original meaning found in Genesis 2:24. God doesn’t just tell us to only have sex with our spouses (the ethical dimension), He also reveals to us, as JPII shows, that sex is deeply linked to knowledge of God’s life (the sacramental/theological dimension):
[The phrase “and the two will become one flesh” has two dimensions:] “an ethical dimension, as is confirmed by Christ’s response to the Pharisees in Matthew 19 (see also Mk 10), and also a sacramental dimension, strictly theological, as confirmed by the words of Paul to the Ephesians, that likewise refer to the traditions of the prophets (Hosea, Isaiah, Ezekiel).” (TOB 9:5)
JPII describes the sacredness of the sexual act in a way that only a holy bishop can: untainted by the world’s redefinition, illuminated by God’s original intentions…
When they unite with each other (in the conjugal act) so closely so as to become “one flesh,” man and woman rediscover every time and in a special way the mystery of creation, thus returning to the union in humanity (“flesh from my flesh and bone from my bones”) that allows them to call each other by name, as they did the first time. This means reliving in some way man’s original virginal value… they discover their own humanity… sex expresses an ever-new surpassing of the limit of man’s solitude. (TOB 10:2)
Genesis 2:24… thereby indicates… that each union of this kind renews in some way the mystery of creation in all its original depth and vital power. Procreation is rooted in creation, and every time it reproduces in some way its mystery. (TOB 10:4)
Saying “sex is sacred” is a platitude. It’s sacred by definition if we say “sex within marriage allows us to relive our original virginal value at Creation” or “sex allows us to discover our true humanity” or “sex, each time, allows us to surpass the limits of Original Solitude.” I’m sure it’s been said elsewhere, the procreative act of sex mirrors the Creative act of the Holy Trinity.
The beauty of JPII’s Theology of the Body is that it’s not just about sexual morality. He develops other ideas and I’m excited to explore them. Next up, Original Nakedness.
- Original Unity of Man and Woman (ewtn.com)
- Theology of the Body in a Nutshell (ellengable.wordpress.com)
- Is Mary Missing from the Theology of the Body? (catholicexchange.com)