Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Original Conjugal Act

In Genesis 2:24, we hear of the two becoming "one flesh". JP II states that this one flesh union is realized through the conjugal act. It is this act, this loving nuptial embrace, in which the one flesh union is both expressed and realized in. "One flesh" is a phrase infused with profound meaning.

The first thing to notice is that this union between man and woman is one that happens before the fall. This has 2 implications:

1) That the institution of the one flesh union is something endowed to humanity from the beginning by the Creator. This unity is realized through the communion of persons between man and woman in their bodies.

2) That this is in the state of Original Innocence, in the prehistory of humanity. Thus, the Pope is very careful to affirm the fact that this Original Unity between man and woman is shrouded in mystery and that we cannot put forth our common experiences as a result of the fall onto this time of history in which the fall had not yet taken place. Therefore, this "one flesh" union between mand and woman is profoundly different then the one we experience today, and thus JP II does not say what it would have been like, because we can't due to our fallen nature. What he is expressing here is that this Original Unity is one experienced through the body and is not some purely spiritual experience, but is in fact a spiritual reality expressed and experienced through the body.

And so, we approach JP II's definition of what the term "virgin" means. It does not necessarily mean an absence of a bodily union. Instead, it means the integrity of body and soul. He even states that when a husband and a wife come together in the conjugal act, they are "reliving, in a sense, the original virginal value of man". But what does that mean?

Well, it seems there is a dual meaning of virginity. The first one is the proper unity of body and soul. The second is the common one we know nowadays, the absence of a unity of persons. Thus, when sin entered the world, lust entered with it. That perfect loving communion that was a part of man's original experience was torn apart because of sin. That body-soul unity that once lived in perfect harmony was now at rift, and so to was love. Instead of a loving communion, an exterior self-giving relationship, man turned interior, into selfish desires, into a taking relationship. This is why Eve covers up! She knows the value of her body as an expression of the reality of God, but she sees it being threatened to lust. This is why they "were ashamed" after the fall. Before the fall, there was no shame, because they both understood and respected that deep inner value of the body as an expression of God. Thus, that lust of man's heart comes about through sin, that body-soul integration that was once perfectly held together through love is lost, thus man loses that original virginal value.

This is the beauty of marriage. Through the sacrament of marriage, a husband and wife receive the grace to grow back to that original virginal value of man. Through the experience of the conjugal act, through that one flesh union between husband and wife, they are able to experience each time the Original virginal value of Original Man. They grow in holiness in that marriage, they grow closer to Christ. They do so out of being a sincere gift to each other. They cannot grow in holiness if they use that most loving conjugal act as a means for fulfilling lustful desires. The conjugal act is one of giving, not taking, and only when we give do we open ourselves to God's grace more fully. Of course, a minor point, we cannot give ourselves without God's grace in the first place. In other words, through the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage, man and woman re-orientate themselves to that original virginal value, they re-orientate themselves to a closer union of body and soul. Through this loving communion, the love expressed seeks to increase the circle of communion, the bringing about of new life.

This is the reasoning behind the Church's teaching on contraception. Using contraception is a cheapening of the gift of love. When one is loving, they want to give themselves fully to another and the same for the other. By using contraception, the couple are saying "I don't love you enough because I am not willing to give myself fully over to you." Their bodies, which have a language as well, are lying, they are cheapening their value. People are saying that promiscuous sex helps humanity "find the fullness of the meaning of sexuality". This is not the case, in fact, it shows that we as human beings do not see the full value of sex. Sex isn't meaningless, it's meaningful! I will be discussing this more in the future.

The next post will discuss a minor theological differentiation between Catholic and Protestant theology on sin with regards to the purpose of marriage.


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