An Augustinian Heart (catholic_heart) wrote in christianity,
An Augustinian Heart

Theology of the Body - The Meaning of Original Nakedness

It's been over two months since my last post in this series, but I would like to resume the reflections on Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body. If anyone is interested in the series but has not been following up to this point, they are all tagged, so hopefully that can help. Up to this point in his General Audiences on the Theology of the Body, the Holy Father has been reflecting on the foundational experiences of man as described in the opening chapters of Genesis. He does this because of the discourse in the Gospel between Jesus and the Pharisees regarding divorce. When asked a question, Christ appeals to the beginning, in Genesis, and so the Holy Father recognizes that this is so because that experience points to the purpose and design for which God created man. So far the Pope has reflected on the meaning of original solitude, the meaning of original unity, and beginning with the General Audience of December 12, 1979, he will reflect on the meaning of original nakedness.

There is a profound anthropological importance to the opening chapters of Genesis, in that they speak of man's original experience, and as such carry a deep foundational significance. These experiences bear a deep ontological character, for the experiences of the first man are at the root of every human experience. "That is true even though, in the unfolding of ordinary human existence, we pay little attention to these essential experiences. Indeed, they are so interwoven with the ordinary things of life that we generally do not realize their extraordinary character." The previous analyses carried out by the Holy Father enable us to realize in these opening chapters of Genesis the "revelation of the body," the manner in which man's discoveries of his own nature and his place in the world came through the body. "Revelation (the original revelation)…takes into consideration precisely such primordial experiences that show in a nearly complete way the absolute originality of what the male-female human being is inasmuch as he or she is human, that is, also through the body."

From these introductory reflections the late Pontiff turns to Genesis 2:25, and these previous reflections build a foundation that allows us to define the meaning of original nakedness. Genesis 2:25 says, "Now both were naked, the man and his wife, but they did not feel shame." The Holy Father says that while a first glance at this verse may make it seem somewhat out of place, a deeper analysis reveals that it "presents one of the key elements of the original revelation, just as decisive as the other elements of the text (Gen 2:20,23) that have already allowed us to determine the meaning of man's original solitude and original unity." To these two elements, we can now add the meaning of original nakedness. This entire text from Genesis presents "the first biblical sketch of anthropology," and in this sketch, the meaning of original nakedness is not something merely accidental. Rather, it is fundamental for a true and comprehensive understanding of man as he is revealed in these opening chapters of Genesis.

In analyzing the meaning of original nakedness, which presents a specific contribution to the theology of the body which the Holy Father says cannot be left out of consideration, we must "link the reflections on the theology of the body with the dimension of man's personal subjectivity," that is, man's role as a subject in relationship with the other, with humanity, with the natural world, and with God. As was discussed in an earlier audience, it is in the sphere of man's developed consciousness about his dimension of personal subjectivity that the consciousness of the meaning of the body unfolds. Or rather, it was through the body that man realized the dimension of personal subjectivity, which in turn led to an understanding of the meaning of the body. The Holy Father writes, "The statement according to which the first human beings, the man and the woman, "were naked" but still "did not feel shame" undoubtedly describes their state of consciousness." The assertion that they did not feel shame makes clear that their situation was not such that they were unaware of their nakedness, but rather they were fully aware, and this awareness was no cause for shame. This is important, the Holy Father says, because in their consciousness of the body, by being aware of their nakedness there existed a reciprocal experience of the body, meaning that man was able to experience "the femininity that reveals itself in the nakedness of the body," and the woman reciprocally shared in the analogous experience of masculinity. In their nakedness, man (male and female) developed a certain anthropological consciousness of the total human being, and could do so only because their nakedness was not cause for shame.

The experience of "historical" man, who is burdened by the inheritance of sin, nevertheless has its point of departure in the state of original innocence. The late Pontiff again reminds us that by appealing "to the beginning…Christ indirectly establishes the idea of continuity and connection between the two states, thereby allowing us to go back, as it were, from the threshold of man's "historical" sinfulness to his original innocence. Precisely Genesis 2:25 asks us in a particular way to cross that threshold." Thus, this verse represents what the Holy Father refers to as a "boundary experience," since the experience of shame is what primarily separates the consciousness of the body in the state of original innocence versus the state of original sin. It is only a few verses later that the author of Genesis writes, "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they realized that they were naked; they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths" (Gen 3:7). He goes on, "The adverb 'then' indicates a new moment and a new situation that followed the breaking of the first covenant." The original covenant made with man, connected with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and was man's first test of obedience, "that is, of hearing the Word in all its truth and of accepting Love according to the fullness of the demands of the creative Will." The breaking of this covenant created a new situation of man (the state of original sin), and with it brought a new experience of the body, where no longer could they say, "they were naked, but did not feel shame." This shame then is not merely one of man's original experiences, but it is also a "boundary" experience.

In continuing this exegesis on Genesis, the Holy Father makes clear that the transformation witnessed by the biblical text concerning the experience of shame (about which Genesis speaks again, particularly in 3:10-12), "takes place on a level that is deeper than the pure and simple use of sight." In other words, it would be a mistake to posit that because Gen 3:7 indicates that they then "realized that they were naked" that they were not thus aware prior to eating of the tree. He writes, "A comparative analysis of Genesis 2:25 and Genesis 3 necessarily leads to the conclusion that it is not a question of passing from "not knowing" to "knowing," but of a radical change in the meaning of original nakedness of the woman before the man and of the man before the woman. This change emerges from their consciousness as a fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." This change also directly concerns the meaning of one's own body before the Creator and creatures (again, as he pointed out earlier, this meaning of original nakedness takes place directly in the sphere of man's personal subjectivity). Man says to the Creator, "I heard the sound of your steps in the garden, and I was afraid, because I am naked; and I hid myself" (Gen 3:10). The change that occurs in man's consciousness of the body, and the shame that now exists in the face of nakedness, also concerns directly, and dramatically, the relation between man and woman, between femininity and masculinity.

Here Pope John Paul II concludes his audience. In the forthcoming audiences he will begin to attempt to reconstruct the original meaning of nakedness, "which constitutes the proximate context in Genesis of the doctrine of the unity of the human being as male and female." In order to attempt this reconstruction he will "take as a point of reference the experience of shame as it is clearly presented in the ancient biblical text, namely, as a 'threshold' experience."

Grace and Peace in Christ,


[P.S. Sorry if the format is a bit weird, with all the spacing and whatnot. I'm working with publishing directly from Microsoft Word, so I'm figuring things out still]
Tags: anthropology, theology of the body

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