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Chemistry, for the ancient Greeks, dealt not with 92 natural elements, but
with a mere four: earth, air, fire, and water. Yet there was an added mystery
to their chemistry. They believed that the stars were composed of an imperishable
element. Beyond their quartet of perishable elements, then, was a fifth,
or a quinta essentia, which soared majestically above the world
representing a higher kind of being and a visible image of immortality.
This fifth essence, therefore, was the quintessence, or the purest
manifestation of anything that existed.
Shakespeare's Hamlet spoke masterfully and metaphorically when he said of
the human being: "What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! how
infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action
how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world!
the paragon of animals!" And then, at the climax of his panegyric, framed
him in a most exquisite paradox as the "quintessence of dust."
"Quintessence of dust" embraces the most disparate poles of that creature
whom Medieval philosophers called "homo duplex" and Genesis described
as both made in the image of God and compounded of dust. Man is a mixture
of starlight and earthdust. His being is a synthesis of the uncreated and
the created. He is eternal like the stars and as ephemeral as dust. He bears
within himself a tension that establishes both his drama and his destiny.
"Truth consists of paradoxes," wrote the American poet Carl Sandburg, "and
a paradox is two facts that stand on opposite hilltops and across the intervening
valley call each other liars." Throughout history, man has oscillated between
polarities that seemingly contradict each other. He aspires to angelic status,
but all too often descends to the realm of the bestial. His soul takes flight;
his body remains below. He is an enigma, claiming to be both the special
creation of God and the accidental product of chance. His ancestry is either
sovereignty or slime. It is small wonder that human sexuality, that demands
the integration of both the creative and the corporeal, has so long been
a source of confusion and one-sidedness. Indeed, of exasperation and shame!
The "sexual revolution" of the sixties was more an enslavement to the flesh
than a liberation from moral constraints. Pope Paul VI's encyclical, Humanae
Vitae, not surprisingly, was greeted, by and large, with indifference,
incomprehension, and hostility. Paul VI's statement that birth regulation
must be understood in the light of the "total vision of man" (n.7) meant
little, if anything, to most people. A world that embraced specialization,
convenience, and simplistic solutions was hardly disposed to grasping the
paradoxes inherent in this "total vision."
John Paul, understanding both the fundamental importance of this "total
vision" and the rift in the Church that followed Humanae Vitae, was
determined to set things right. From September 5, 1979 to November 28, 1984,
Pope John Paul II delivered to Wednesday audiences in Rome a series of 130
allocutions that presented this total vision of man, applying it to the
nature of the human person, sexuality, masculinity and femininity, and marriage.
Altogether, the totality of these talks constitutes the Pope's "Theology
of the Body," "Theology of Masculinity and Femininity," or "Theology of
George Weigel has stated that "If it is taken with the seriousness it deserves,
John Paul's Theology of the Body may prove to be the decisive moment
in exorcising the Manichaean demon and its deprecation of human sexuality
from Catholic moral theology." There is nothing "conservative" or "moralistic"
in the notion of human sexuality that the Pope elaborates. Men and women
are embodied persons. The human body is an integral feature of their concrete
personhood. The body is not a container or an inferior apparatus for the
"soul" of the person, as some contemporary separatists claim. It is that
through which men and women express who they are and enact their existence.
The human being is a psycho-somatic entity, an integrated, self-possessed
John Paul, who has a great love for languages, emphasizes the meaning of
the Hebrew words in Genesis that describe humanity, the man and the
woman. In the Priestly text in Genesis, which is the first account
of the creation of the human being, the word 'adam is used: "God
created man ('adam) in His own image; in the image of God He created
him; male (zakar -masculine) and female (uneqebah - feminine)
He created them" (Gn 1:27). Here the Hebrew term 'adam expresses
the collective concept of the human species, "corporate personality," or
In the term 'adam and 'dama (soil, ground) there is an evident
play on words, a practice the Bible shares with other ancient literature.
In no way is this an instance of punning. To the Hebrew mind names were
not merely identification labels, but symbols, magic keys, as it were, that
opened to the essence of the beings they signified. The humble origin suggested
by the notion of being molded from the earth, from dust ('apar),
conveyed a seal of humility that man would ignore at his own peril. Human
beings are, indeed, "earthlings."
According to the second or Yahwist account of the creation of the first
human beings, God creates Adam initially and then the woman. "It is also
significant," states the Holy Father, "that the first man ('adam,
created from 'dust from the ground') is defined as 'male' ('ish)
only after the creation of the first woman" ('ishshah). In Genesis
2:23, we find for the first time the distinction between 'ish
(man) and 'ishshah (woman). "We can conclude," John Paul writes,
"that the man ('adam) falls into that 'sleep' in order to wake up
'male' and 'female'."
Human creation is not complete, then, until man and woman stand in loving
partnership with each other. The image of God is reflected in the mutual
self-giving that man and woman express to each other. The nuptial or marital
significance of the body is an icon of the Law of Gift built into the core
of human personhood that reflects the inner dynamism of God's own life.
Through love and gift, dust attains its quintessence.
There is never the remotest hint of prudery in the Pope's discussion of
the body. "The human body," he state, "oriented interiorly by the sincere
gift of the person, reveals not only its masculinity or femininity on the
physical plane, but reveals also such a value and such a beauty as to go
beyond the purely physical dimension of sexuality."
Nor does he ever associate human sexuality with rules. He wisely repositions
the discussion of sexual morality within the context of the human person
as set forth in Genesis and then reaffirmed and broadened in the
New Testament. The question is not so much, "what must I avoid doing?" but
"how do I express my sexuality in a way that is consistent with my dignity
as a person and as an image of a loving God?"
George Weigel believes that the Pope's 130 catechetical addresses "constitute
a kind of theological time bomb set to go off, with dramatic consequences,
sometime in the third millennium of the Church." The "Theology of the
Body" is, indeed, faithful to the "total vision of Man" that inspired it.
It integrates and harmonizes the Yahwist and Priestly accounts in Genesis,
the Old and New Testaments, subjective experience with objective reality,
theology with philosophy, faith with reason, the masculine with the feminine,
and anthropology with ethics. It makes plausible the paradox that dust and
diamond, dirt and divinity, characterize the essence of the same being.
"Earthlings though we are," writes Ralph McInerny, "unimaginable without
feet and arms and ears, all of which will one day turn to dust, we are diamonds
whose facets give off light and darkness." Or, as Gerard Manley Hopkins
expresses it in his own inimitable way:
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond, Is
 Act II, Scene 2.
 George Weigel, Witness to Hope (New York, NY: HarperCollins,
1999), p. 342.
 John Paul II, The Theology of the Body (Boston, MA: Pauline Books
& Media, 1997), p. 35.
 Ibid., p. 44.
 Ibid., p. 65.
 Weigel, op. cit., p. 343.
 Ralph McInerny, "Persons and Things," Crisis, Jan/Feb 1997.
 Gerard Manley Hopkins, "That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the
Comfort of the Resurrection."
This article originally appeared in the January/February
2002 issue of The Catholic Faith.
Donald De Marco, Ph.D., is a Professor of Philosophy at St. Jerome's
College in Ontario.
He is also the author of several books, including The
Heart of Virtue and (with Benjamin Wiker) Architects
of the Culture of Death. Read an interview with Dr. De Marco and
Dr. Wiker here.
Architects of the Culture of Death
by Donald De Marco and Benjamin Wiker
410 pages. Paperback. $16.95.
The Culture of Death has become a popular phrase, and
is much bandied about in academic circles. Yet, for most people, its meaning
remains vague and remote. DeMarco and Wiker have given the Culture of Death
high definition and frightening immediacy. They have exposed its roots by
introducing its architects. In a scholarly, yet reader-friendly
delineation of the mindsets of twenty-three influential thinkers, such as
Ayn Rand, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, Alfred Kinsey, Margaret
Sanger, Jack Kevorkian, and Peter Singer, they make clear the aberrant thought
and malevolent intentions that have shaped the Culture of Death.
Still, this is not a book without hope. If the Culture of Death rests on
a fragmented view of the person and an eclipse of God, hope for the Culture
of Life rests on an understanding and restoration of the human being
as a person, and the rediscovery of a benevolent God. The Personalism
of John Paul II is an illuminating thread that runs through Architects,
serving as a hopeful antidote.
An action-packed, riveting and educational exposé
that reveals little-known facts that are shocking and incredible. You
will not want to put this book down...
Judie Brown, President, American Life League
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