Paperback, 70 pages
REVIEW: From the Catholic Leader
JOHN L. Allen, the Vatican correspondent for
the National Catholic Reporter in the United States, in a recent column
commented: "No area challenges the Church today with greater urgency than
the moral and doctrinal dilemmas surrounding sexuality, marriage, the family
and human life ..."
The context of Allen's comments was his
report on a conference in Rome titled, "Loving Human Love: The Heritage of
John Paul II on Marriage and the Family", sponsored by the John Paul II
Institute on Marriage and the Family.
At the conference, Cardinal Angelo Scola
argued that Pope John Paul II had in effect laid a new conceptual foundation
for the Church's traditional teaching on marriage and sexuality.
Much of this new "conceptual foundation"
is to be found in the lengthy catechesis of John Paul II from September 1979 to
November 1984 generally grouped together under the title "Theology of the
Unfortunately this theology remains a closed
book to most Catholics.
One volume which brings the catechesis
together is an imposing 600 pages and contains many unfamiliar terms.
We need a "way in", a doorway to
this theology to help us to grasp its basic concepts.
This is what Fr Anthony Percy offers us in
this concise and very clear introduction to John Paul II's Theology of the
Fr Percy does not attempt to analyse the
whole of John Paul II's catechesis. Rather he focuses on the very first section
of the catechesis, referred to as "The Original Unity of Man and
In this section we learn of the four
"original experiences" - Original Solitude, Original Unity, Original
Nakedness and Original Sin. We are all familiar with the last.
John Paul II's originality is displayed in
his introduction of the other three original experiences before original sin.
The strength of Percy's book is that he
gives us a clear understanding of what is meant by these three
"experiences", what it means to go back to "the beginning"
and the significance for us.
Reflection upon these original experiences
reveals to us qualities of the human body deepening our understanding of the
In Chapter 2, Fr Percy unpacks the meaning
of these four qualities - symbolic, nuptial, free and fallen and redeemed.
In Chapter 3 he goes on to expound the
implications of these realities for our understanding of various forms of
Fr Percy's explanation highlights that the
Church's teaching on all kinds of sexual activity is grounded in an
understanding of the human person and sexuality viewed "from God's
At the heart of this vision is the
understanding that we are made for relationships of self-giving love, imaging
our Triune God.
The book concludes with a short chapter on
forgiveness and trust.
This book will not answer all your questions
about the "theology of the body", but it is a great doorway to help
people understand the fundamentals and to entice them to explore further.
It is not just a commentary. It is an
excellent catechesis in its own right.
I highly recommend it for anyone wishing to
begin to understand this "new conceptual foundation" for the Church's