Question: Is the Theology of the Body in line with traditional Thomistic teaching on marriage?

It seems to me that the love of husband and wife is sometimes brought to the level of adornment which only belongs to God and that sometimes marriage is put on the same level of perfection as virginity.

Note: I am not an expert on Pope John Paul II’s teaching, but I am acquainted with his theology of the body via many popular presentations (so I hope they did not an error).

  • "sometimes marriage is put on the same level of perfection as virginity" I'm not a Catholic, but I would sure hope so! Marriage is a symbol for the union between Christ and his church.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 1 '19 at 23:33
  • The difficulty in talking about Theology of the Body is its breadth of topics and sources. Narrowing the question may therefore be helpful. Is there a particular author or idea in Theology of the Body that you are thinking of? Are you simply asking whether it elevates marriage too highly?
    – zippy2006
    Jul 2 '19 at 2:05
  • Pope John Paul II wrote his his thesis under the direction of Fr. Réginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange OP, who taught at the Dominican Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelicum, in Rome from 1909 to 1960. He was commonly surnamed as the Sacred Monster of Thomism. Perhaps the most famous of his students was the future Pope John Paul II, who was supervised by Garrigou-Lagrange for his doctoral research in the mid-1940s at the Angelicum, and whose encyclical Fides et Ratio is attributed to his training under the learned Dominican. Thomistic theology influence it.
    – Ken Graham
    Jul 7 '19 at 12:43


"Theology of the Body," originally called "Catechesis on Human Love," is based on the philosophies of phenomenology and personalism (basically humanism), contradicting Thomistic teaching on several points:

  1. Against Summa Theologica II-II q. 151 a. 1 co., which says

    Chastity takes its name from the fact that reason "chastises" concupiscence […] the essence of human virtue consists in being something moderated by reason
    , John Paul II thought St. Thomas incorrectly classified chastity as a virtue of temperance (Petri, O.P. p. 114n118). Cf. ibid. p. 166n12, which cites ToB no. 54: John Paul II "disagrees with Aquinas's conception that purity 'consists above all in holding back the impulses of sense-desire.' See also ibid., no. 130."

  2. Against Summa Theologica III q. 64 a. 1 co. (which pairs the sacrament of "Matrimony," "a remedy against concupiscence in the individual", "to Temperance, being ordained against concupiscence"), John Paul II thinks the remedium concupiscentiæ end of marriage is outdated. Cf. ToB no. 84 §8:

    Does the Apostle in 1 Corinthians see marriage only from the point of view of a "remedium concupiscentiae [remedy for concupiscence]," as one used to say in traditional theological language?

  3. Against Summa II-II q. 152 a. 4 co. (cf. Trent sess. 24 can. 10), John Paul II thinks the state of virginity or celibacy is not superior to that of marriage (ToB no. 78):

    Christ’s words reported in Matthew 19:11–12 (like Paul’s words in 1 Cor 7) give us no reason for holding either the "inferiority" of marriage or the "superiority" of virginity or celibacy on the grounds that by their very nature the latter consists in abstaining from conjugal "union in the body."
    cf. Gustavo Daniel Corbi, “Jovinian '82: The Resurrection of a Heresy,” trans. J. S. Daly, ICTION, Buenos Aires, 1982., whose appendix analyzes ToB no. 78.

John Paul II himself even noted ToB's limitations (Memory & Identity p. 12):

If we wish to speak rationally about good and evil, we have to return to St. Thomas Aquinas, that is, to the philosophy of being. With the phenomenological method, for example, we can study experiences of morality, religion, or simply what it is to be human, and draw from them a significant enrichment of our knowledge. Yet we must not forget that all these analyses implicitly presuppose the reality of the Absolute Being and also the reality of being human, that is, being a creature. If we do not set out from such 'realist' presuppositions, we end up in a vacuum.

cited at the end of Petri, O.P.'s talk Aquinas & the Theology of the Body; cf. his book of the same title

  • Excellent as usual +1 Jul 2 '19 at 19:15
  • 2
    Good answer, technically, but I think you're wrong at the root to equate personalism with humanism or say that they're not compatible, they're both rooted in the Natural Law, anybody who reads anything about the Theology of the Body sees that over and over again. The personalistic norm, comes from thinking hard about the Golden Rule and the rest of the Theology of the Body seems to come from applying the Natural Law to genesis 1 and 2 and the Gospels.
    – Peter Turner
    Jul 2 '19 at 21:09
  • 1
    I also think it is technically an informative answer, but I find it problematic that your primary source directly contradicts the conclusion you've reached here. To quote Petri from the video referenced, "The major themes of Theology of the Body are in fact in direct continuity with the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas."
    – zippy2006
    Jul 4 '19 at 16:58
  • @Thom See "Dispute on Wojtyła's Personalism." Personalism derives from Husserl's phenomenology and existentialism / "Existentialist Thomism."
    – Geremia
    Jul 14 '19 at 4:18
  • @Thom Benedict Ashley, O.P., a proponent of Aristotelian-Thomism, discusses personalism passim in The Way toward Wisdom: "personalist approaches to knowledge present epistemological difficulties that must be carefully handled if Metascience is not to be diluted by an excessive subjectivism and introspectionism. For Aristotle and Aquinas, we do not first come to our knowledge of ourselves as persons by introspection, but by everyday sensible experience of the things of the material world around us."
    – Geremia
    Jul 15 '19 at 3:03

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