FR. WALSH: John Paul II’s Theology of the Body reveals the meaning of marriage . . .
One of the most descriptive definitions of man in Catholic tradition is that he is “capax Dei” or “capable of God.” Saint Augustine writes, “The mind is the image of God, in that it is capable of Him and can be partaker of Him” (De Trinitate, XIV, 8:11).
Augustine is saying that among all the creatures on earth, man is unique because he was created with a rational soul. Therefore, unlike any other earthly creature, he is capable of receiving God! We love our pets, but we don’t take our dogs to church with us on Sunday nor do we invite them to receive Holy Communion because dogs simply are not capable of receiving God in the way that we are; they do not possess rational souls.
You don’t pour gas into the wheel well of a bicycle. You put it into your car’s gas tank because your car was made to receive it. By analogy, on the face of the earth, man alone is “capable of God” in that He is able to receive the gift of sanctifying grace, the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity, the gift of God Himself.
Another way of expressing this truth is that man alone is the imago Dei. The sacred author of Genesis 1:27 says: “God made man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” You will not find this or any similar statement in Scripture about God’s other creatures.
The rest of creation does indeed reflect the glory of God. In their own humble way, even the beasts of the field give glory to their Creator, but we alone are capable of living in eternal communion with Him. This is God’s free gift to us — namely, to invite us to intimate communion with Him. For even though we are made in the divine image, there is no way on our own that we could be filled with God’s presence and hope to one day enjoy the beatific vision unless God Himself had willed through Christ that it be so.
After man sinned, he experienced a darkening of the intellect. He was no longer able to see and comprehend the mystery of God as he once had, and so he fell into idolatry. It is telling that when God chose to reveal himself to Israel, he forbade the Israelites to fashion graven images of himself because man had to relearn the truth that God had already made an image of himself in our human nature: “In the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.”
In making man in his image, however, God did not simply recreate the spiritual beings we call angels. No, unlike the angels, he made us “body persons,” as St. John Paul II would say in the corpus of his teaching known as the Theology of the Body. Our whole being is made in God’s image, body as well as soul. God thus reveals himself to us in the language of the body and specifically in the nuptial meaning of the body.
Both faith and reason confirm that the union of man and woman in marriage — and the issuance of children from that union — is the clearest image of God on earth. That is why John Paul spoke of marriage as the primordial sacrament. If we don’t get marriage right, we will not comprehend who God is, for he is a communion Personarum, a “communion of Persons” — Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each Person equal in dignity and yet distinct.
The language of the body and the body’s nuptial meaning implies that in the permanent, faithful, and life-giving union of man and woman in marriage, we see the triune nature of God himself reflected and revealed. Indeed, a trinitarian “communion of persons” comes into existence with every Christian marriage. Christ revealed this in becoming man and in sacrificing himself for his bride, the Church.
On Calvary, the union of Jesus and his bride was consummated, and we are the children of that union. The form and function of the human body then, male and female, is no mere accident; it is a sign of the spiritual nature of man, which in turn is a reflection of God himself. By creating us in his image, God has defined marriage once and for all.
FR. MILES WALSH is the chaplain of Legatus’ Baton Rouge Chapter and pastor of Holy Sacred Heart Parish in Baton Rouge, La.