Those of you familiar with John Paul II's "Theology of the Body" and/or its apologists will be familiar with its central argument regarding the sacredness of the human body and, therefore, the sacramentality of marriage. It runs something like this:Married love embodies the Love of God in the Trinity. (“Let US make man in OUR image, in the likeness of OURSELVES…MALE AND FEMALE he created them.”) There seems to be a connection between the plural-ness of the genders to the plural-ness within the Trinity. Like the Father and the Son, the man and woman (should) love each-other with complete mutual submission, offering the entirety of their person to the other. And like the Father and the Son, the love between the man and the woman creates a third person: the child. Any action between them (man and woman) that would shut down the possibility of the child also destroys the divine (Trinitarian) unity of their love.
Based on the above theology, the union of man and woman is sexual union. When Christ says in the Gospel of Mark that "for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife," JPII is specifying that this uniting only
occurs in the marital embrace. If the man and woman don't give the entirety of their persons to one another, there is no unity and, thus, there is no share in Divine Love. So much stress is placed upon procreation in the "Theology of the Body" that there's no room to suggest that such unity can occur outside of the marital embrace. From one side of the mouth, JPII recognizes two ends of sexual love, unitive intimacy and procreation; however, from the other side of his mouth he declares that if procreation is blocked, not only that end has been canceled but also the unitive end as well.
So concentrated on defending the encyclical Humanae Vitae
, it seems that the late pope not only attempts to restrict what "true love" is but also where it can occur, and also, by syllogism, where God can be. For if God is love, as Scripture plainly says, then where there is love is God. There is no scriptural qualification which states that God is love only in the form of sexual union. Even the current pope has stated in his first encyclical "Deus est Caritas (God is Love)" that not too much emphasis should be made on the distinction between the two types of love in the Bible: eros
In philosophical and theological debate, these distinctions have often been radicalized to the point of establishing a clear antithesis between them: descending, oblative love—agape—would be typically Christian, while on the other hand ascending, possessive or covetous love —eros—would be typical of non-Christian, and particularly Greek culture. Were this antithesis to be taken to extremes, the essence of Christianity would be detached from the vital relations fundamental to human existence, and would become a world apart, admirable perhaps, but decisively cut off from the complex fabric of human life. Yet eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized. (DC 7)
It seems to me, then, that in addition to espousing a shallow sacramental theology of marriage, the late JPII also engages in cataphatic theology to the point of positive exclusion.
I just happen to be someone who has read John Paul II's reflections on the theology of the body, and I find the above summary inaccurate and misleading, particularly within a Roman Catholic context. Of course, JP believes that procreation is an essential end of the marital union--that's just traditional Latin teaching. Agree with it or not. But the Pope's great contribution here is that he interprets the sexual union within the union of mutual self-giving and love. The sexual bond is something deeper than the making of babies. And that virtually amounts to a revolution within Roman Catholicism.
Do Orthodox have anything to learn from JPII's reflections on the sacramentality of the conjugal union. You betcha! John Paul's Man and Woman He Created Them
is not easy reading, but it is well worth the investment of time and energy, if one is interested in this subject. The long-standing anti-sexuality tone that one finds in St Augustine is hardly restricted to the Latin Fathers. JPII decisively overcomes the anti-sexuality tone by asserting of the nuptiality of the body. And while Orthodoxy may not wish to interpret the summons to procreate along the lines of natural law (and all the complicated "natural" family planning that seems to entail), it most certainly believes that procreation is an essential good of the marital union. As Fr John Meyendorff writes:
Childbirth and raising of children are indeed a great joy and God's blessing. There can be no Christian marriage without an immediate and impatient desire of both parents to receive and share in this joy. A marriage where children are unwelcome is founded upon a defective, egoistic and fleshly form of love. In giving life to others, man imitates God's creative act and, if he refuses to do so, he not only rejects his Creator, but also distorts his own humanity; for there is no humanity without an "image and likeness of God," i.e., without a conscious, or unconscious desire to be a true imitator of the life-creating Father of all. (Marriage, p. 66)
Perhaps Fr John had the following passage from St John Chrysostom in mind when he wrote the above:
The procreation of children in marriage is the 'heritage' and 'reward' of the Lord; a blessing of God. It is the natural result of the act of sexual intercourse in marriage, which is a sacred union through which God Himself joins the two together into 'one flesh.' The procreation of children is not in itself the sole purpose of marriage, but a marriage without the desire for children, and the prayer to God to bear and nurture them, is contrary to the 'sacrament of love.' (Homily on Ephesians 20)
And let's not forget that contraception existed in the ancient world and the Fathers were typically opposed to it.