Recently, there has been criticism of Christopher West’s interpretation of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. I would have to agree with the criticism and I am surprised that it has taken so long to come about (I say this with the full affirmation that, as one commentator has noted, West is incredibly loyal to Holy Mother Church and intends to serve her and would even give his life for her. Yet, devotion to the Church does not excuse an erroneous presentation of the faith). I have long thought that West reduces the Theology of the Body down to sex. It is so much more though! The Theology of the Body is not merely about Marriage or sex in Marriage. It is rooted in a Trinitarian and Christological view of the human person who is endowed with inherent dignity by God as one of his creatures. It affects how man and woman relate with each other and how they think of themselves. This means that the Theology of the Body is just as valid for single people as it is for married. For my part, I would recommend two things:
1) Read John Paul II’s Theology of the Body from the source. It isn’t that difficult to understand. See what the source says and not what someone interprets it to be. (Here one might argue that West’s is meant to be a popular presentation so it is more accessible. Yet, John Paul’s presentation is also meant to be popular! That’s why it was presented at his audiences and not in a theological treatment meant for academics alone.)
2) Read the passage below from St. John Chrysostom (You will get much more out of it then anything you will get from West). He is talking about Marriage as a mystery (based on St. Paul’s writings) referring to Christ and His Church. Yet, what he says doesn’t merely apply to married couples, but to all people made in the image of Christ. Always remember, the Fathers know best!
“What, then? Is marriage a theater? No! It is a mystery and a symbol of something mighty. Even if you don’t show it honor, then honor what it symbolizes. “This mystery,” says St. Paul, “is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:32). It is a symbol of the Church and of Christ. The two come together, and they make one. When two come together, they do not make a lifeless image, or the image of anything on earth, but of God Himself. Two come to marriage, about to be made one body. See again a mystery of love! If the two do not become one—if they remain two—they do not make many. But when they unite, then they make many.
What do we learn from this? That the power of union is mighty. The wisdom of God, in the beginning, divided the one in two; but He wanted to show that it remained one even after division. So He made it impossible for either alone to be enough for procreation. For neither can be one until united with the other. Each is only half. Each alone can produce no children.
Do you see the mystery of marriage? He made one from one; and after He made these two into one, He made one, so that now, also, children are produced from one. For husband and wife are not two, but one. This may be confirmed from many sources; for instance, from the words “male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27). If he is the head and she the body, how are they two? From the very fashioning of the body, one may see that they are one, for she was made from his side, and they are two halves.
And how do they become one flesh? As if she were pure gold receiving pure gold, so the woman receives the man’s seed. She nourishes it and cherishes it and adds her own share, the two fused by pleasure. And so she gives it back as a child!
The child is a sort of bridge, so that the three become one flesh, the child connecting, on either side, each to the other. Two cities, though divided by a river, become one if a bridge connects them. How much more, then, if the very bridge is formed of the substance of each.
Why are you blushing? Leave that to the heretics and pagans, with their impure and immodest customs. For this reason I want marriage to be thoroughly purified, to bring it back again to its proper nobility. You should not be ashamed of these things; if you are ashamed, then you condemn God who made marriage.
So I shall tell you how marriage is a mystery of t he Church. The Church was made from Christ’s side, and He united with her in a spiritual union. For one man said: “I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband” (2 Cor. 11:2). And he goes on to say that “we are members of His body” (Eph 5:30).
Think about all these things, then, and let’s not cast shame upon so great a mystery. Marriage is a symbol of the presence of Christ. Tell me: If you saw an image of the king, would you dishonor it? By no means.”