Below is the full transcript of the interview with Peter J. Colosi, who specializes in Theology of the Body. The news item can be found here.
Aqui fica a transcrição completa da entrevista com Peter J. Colosi, especializado na Teologia do Corpo. A reportagem está aqui.
Veja as horas e locais das conferências no fim da entrevista.
So what exactly is Theology of the Body?
It is a series of lectures that John Paul II gave publicly during his Wednesday audiences, outside St. Peter’s. He had actually written them all before this, but over a four year period he delivered 20 lectures. It’s a beautiful catechesis on what it is to be Human, with an emphasis on the theme of Marriage, Family and Sexuality.
People mostly associate this concept with issues regarding sexuality, but there are other aspects as well, correct. He mentions resurrection of the body, for example.
It almost opens like a play. Jesus is speaking at the beginning of Matthew 19 with the Pharisees, who ask him if they can divorce their wives and remarry. They say that Moses let them do this, but Jesus says he did so out of the hardness of their hearts, but at the beginning it was not so. He goes back to Genesis and this is very striking because he divides time into three periods, the original state, the fall and the redeemed state. All three are mentioned in the book of Genesis, but he says you can’t use the fall as permission to sin, because the way Adam and Eve were before the fall, we still have an echo of that in our hearts, and they loved each other fully and even though the fall has happened, we have to love each other like Adam and Eve did before the fall. And the redemption, the resurrection, gives us the grace to do so, even though it is a challenge.
Did these lectures introduce any novelties to church teaching on these issues? Or did they just rephrase them?
The novelty is that John Paul II explains them in a way that everyday people can understand, and live joyfully. Typically, from church teachings on sexuality, everybody knows what the prohibitions are, and what is allowed. But John Paul II decided he wanted to give a rich explanation of what it is to be Human, because if one lives according to church teaching on sexuality it is a source of profound happiness.
He wanted people to make people understand the happiness that can come from living according to church teaching, and that is difficult if you just have a list of yes and no’s.
Were the lectures well received? Were there suspicions at the time?
A lot of people were surprised because there was the Pope talking about human sexuality in a way that was so beautiful, and nobody had heard a Pope speak for four years about these themes. Many were surprised. There were times when the Media really attacked the Pope. For example in one of the audiences he talked about the passage where Jesus says that you can commit adultery in the heart every time you look at a woman lustfully. Then the Pope said that it is possible for married people to commit adultery in the heart with their own spouse, and what he meant by that was that men can still think of their wives as sex objects even if they are married to them, and they shouldn’t, they should think of them as a person who they love. And the media went berserk, because they didn’t want to accept that lust still needs to be overcome in marriage. But in general it was a novelty because a Pope was talking about human sexuality in a way that was full of life and happiness.
This was almost 30 years ago, yet we still have the idea, amongst Catholics, and especially amongst those who are more critical of the Church, that the Church is more about no’s than yes’s and that it has a very negative view of sexuality. Why is this the case?
One reason is because the text is very long and it is very challenging. He was a trained philosopher and, you could also say, a philologist. The footnotes are full of references to ancient languages and to philosophers who people don’t know very much about. But he really presented a metaphysical, theological, scriptural meditation on the meaning of human sexuality. It’s one of these texts somebody like St. Augustine might write, like The City of God, which will take 100 years for the church to interiorize.
This is why I am here in Portugal. Next year, from 13-16 June 2013 we are having a conference in Fátima with many speakers who can really break this down and explain it to people from many different angles, from Theology, from practical life, philosophy, Scripture. So it’s true that it hasn’t been absorbed yet, one reason is because the text is difficult, but there are many people working on trying to make it understandable, which often is the case with texts like this. It took a long time for the Church to absorb Thomas Aquinas’ teachings, and it will be the same with this text.
George Weigel described these teachings as a “timebomb” set to go off in the third millennium; could this really change the face of the Church?
I really think it could. On the one hand it is true that it hasn’t been absorbed yet. On the other hand it actually has. There is a large percentage, maybe more so in America than in Europe, who are hearing talks about this from people who can break it down, or who are taking the time to read it themselves, which is a good thing to do, the passages are very short. And it is changing their lives, there are people who read this and stop watching pornography, there are people who read this and stop using contraception with their spouses and switch to natural family planning. They read this and realise they should respect people more and stop being promiscuous, because this is a source of happiness.
So I think the quote is true, this has the potential to really make people yearn to live according to Church teaching. Maybe because now, after the 60’s and so forth, everybody is so broken by divorce, contraception, using each other as sex objects. Maybe we could say now people are looking for a deeper experience of sexuality, and I think this has a potential to explain it to people.
The prohibitions are still there. No sex before marriage, marriage only between a man and a woman, no contraception, but when people accept why, they are willing to accept the challenge, because they want the beautiful fruit.
What it the main stumbling block, what do people have most difficulty in understanding and accepting?
The anthropology. When John Paul II uses the word anthropology in this book, he just means what it is to be a Human Being; we are a bodily spiritual unity. He often likes to say you are your body, not because he is a materialist, but because your soul is so close to your body, so present in it. Today we separate, people think of their body as separate from themselves, so they can do all these sexual things with their body, they can go and have an abortion, and it isn’t going to affect them.
To get people to realise the profound unity of the spiritual and bodily that we are is the first step which is difficult to explain, because we live in a dualistic society. If a slap or a hug has the power to touch your soul, then how much more so human sexuality.
As you go through the text you get this idea of self-donation, making a gift of yourself. And it is precisely because our bodies and our souls are one, that through Human expression, like a smile or a hug we reveal our souls to each other. And in human sexuality God has set things up where through the conjugal act, by which children come into the world, we are able to give ourselves as a whole gift to the other person, but you need to commit yourself with your will first, through marriage, otherwise it is sort of a lie, with your body.
How do people usually react when you speak about this issue?
I don’t like to be harsh on bishops or priests, I think after the 1960’s it was very difficult for them to understand how to explain Humanae Vitae. But after I give a talk somebody always asks “how come we never hear about this from the pulpit?” They want to hear it.
How should priests address these issues?
One thing would be to try to work through the text itself, or to try to get some of the secondary sources, or to listen to some talks about it. On my website I have some talks that people can listen to, where I break it down, but I do think that maybe the priests and the bishops could be a little bit more courageous than in the 1960’s because we have a way to explain. It was right for them to be afraid, because all they had was the prohibitions, if you just go up and say no, no, no, you lose parishioners. But if you take the time to interiorize this text you get the tools to give you confidence.
There are more and more priests who are, because of this text, finding the courage and the tools to speak. You have to do it pastorally, take time, I always tell the students not to give the homily right away on the prohibitions. Start by talking about sacrifice, self-donation, body-soul unity, some of these themes, and then at the end of the year they will be ready to hear a homily directly about contraception.
Did John Paul II write this on his own? Did somebody help him?
Before he wrote this text he wrote a more philosophical one called Love and Responsibility, and that was published before he became Pope. Then the translator of this book found out that John Paul himself, before he became Pope, had written this entire book. Nowadays Popes write books, but at the time it wasn’t so common, and somebody told him he couldn’t publish it, and he thought he’d get around it using his Wednesday audience. So every week he would take a small section and write an introduction, then a nun would turn it into Italian, and that is what he would read, so yes, he wrote it himself. He seems to have been doing lectio divina when he wrote it, pondering Scripture quietly, in fact he wrote it in front of the Tabernacle, they found out.
There seems to be a war, as some call it, between the Obama Administration and the Catholic Bishops, mainly about the HHS mandate. What is your view on this?
The Health and Human Services is a department of our Federal Government which has a cabinet level secretary whose name is Kathleen Sebelius, and she is a Catholic. What they are doing is forcing all the institutions in America, including the Catholic ones, to pay for contraception, sterilization and the pills which cause abortion. The Church, obviously, says these are intrinsic evils.
This is a violation of the First Amendment, which stipulates that there is Freedom of Religion, which means you should be able to practice your religion publicly and participate in policy debates even from your religious perspective. What is happening now is that the Obama administration is trying to delete that. They are trying to silence the religious voice.
This mandate could close all Catholic hospitals, and these are huge, there are many of them. Sadly, even though many Catholics are using contraception and having abortions, it is different for a Catholic hospital to have a policy that supports it. The bishops in America are fighting this from a religious freedom perspective, to try and build a coalition. But I do think it is interesting that the administration chose contraception for their first attack against religion. Because they know the bishops are a little bit afraid to talk about it, and they are having a little bit of trouble getting a groundswell of support because many Catholics use contraception.
I don’t know what the best approach is. I can see their reasoning for focusing on religious freedom and not on contraception, but Pope Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae, predicted that when contraception became widespread the governments would use it as a tool to try and quash religion. So I think they should, not on TV, but in their dioceses, try and talk more about theology of the body.
You say that Obama is trying to silence the religious voice, yet he explicitly invoked his beliefs when he came out in favour of gay marriage…
In its teachings about homosexuality the Church always begin by saying that everybody has the dignity of the person and needs to be loved. Now the Church does hold the view that to freely choose to act on homosexuality is a sin. The same-sex attraction is a state of somebody’s soul which is disordered. But the people should be loved.
There are many reasons why the Church defends that marriage is between a man and a woman, but the reason why the State has an interest in defending this definition is because that is the best thing for children, to have a mother and a father. The complementarity of men and women is the source of happiness for children, and that is a good for society, and that is the reason why the State has an interest in defining marriage as between a man and a woman, because it is the best thing for children. This is clear in Church teaching and in Scripture, both in the old and new testament.
It is Christian to love people with same-sex attraction, but it is not Christian for the state to define marriage out of existence.
You mentioned that people are thirsty for a deeper understanding of sexuality, yet we see a surge in legislation for same-sex marriage…
It is a war in America. There are many groups fighting to keep the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, so far we have had referenda in about 30 states, and they have all voted to keep it as between a man and a woman. So I’m hoping that trend keeps going, and as I said this is not an attack on people who are homossexuals, it is a desire to keep this definition of marriage for the good of society, because if you redefine marriage out of existence it is going to have delitorious effects.
It is hard to make predictions. I think if Obama loses the next election there will be more resources at the federal level to encourage these States. All these things are supposed to be at the state or local level, and he is taking them to the federal level.
The most importante thing is the grass roots, and I would encourage the bishops and priests to read this and explain it to the people in their parishes, to build up a proper understanding. It would be great to get some federal laws in place, but we really need people at the local level to interiorize the goodness of this teaching, that is the best.
Hoje o professor falará na Universidade Católica às 18h30. Amanhã está prevista uma conferência às 21h30 na igreja paroquial das Caldas da Rainha e na quarta outra, à mesma hora, no seminário de Caparide. Quinta-feira é a vez do seminário de Almada, novamente às 21h30. Todas as conferências são públicas e de entrada livre.