In contrast to the Platonic philosophy that has permeated the Western canon throughout most of European and American history, the body and soul of a human being is intricately woven like a fine hand-made, or in this case, God-made garment. To separate them or pull out their threads is to kill the body, thus ruining the garment of life. Both need each other as Adam needed Eve. This is why one of the most interesting teachings of the Catholic Church is on the Resurrection of the body, presumably at the end of time.
Personally, I don’t know why we have to wait for the end of the world to be reunited with our bodies. Very few people can understand or even imagine what it would be like to exist as a pure spirit. The human body acts as the vehicle for the activities of the soul’s will and should be raised at the same time that the soul is. John Paul II was emphatic when he wrote in his book, Love and Responsibility, that it cannot be forgotten that our bodies will be resurrected in the end.
In his writings, Pope John Paul II discussed what role our masculinity and femininity will play in the afterlife, especially since procreation will not be part of it. It may be a little difficult to imagine what our heavenly bodies might look like but ESPN’s special photo shoot on world-class athletes gives a brief hint.
Our bodies were not only created to be in union with another human person but also to share in spiritual union with God, which is the ultimate goal of human existence. I know many people, especially women, might shutter at the thought of having their bodies visibly exposed in eternity. Theologians speculate that our bodies will be glorified. The imagery often projected is that we will wear flowing robes that will make it hard to distinguish men from women. That seems to contradict everything in our understanding of both Eden and Heaven.
I have come to believe that Heaven has nude beaches, precisely for the ideas in the Theology of the Body. On these warm and sunny beaches we can freely wander without fear of harassment, skin cancers or sunburns. We can swim in the ocean, breathe in the air and exhilarate in the beauties of God, nature and our fellow men and women without any fabric restrictions.
I know my imaginative view differs immensely from the ideal and highly mysterious vision of Heaven in the Book of Revelation, which is arguably the most difficult of all the books of the Bible to fathom. But just maybe Heaven, as in beauty, is always in the eye of the beholder.
The human body has always been the subject for admiration, art and reverence. I cannot believe that all of a sudden these beauties have to be shrouded in Heaven. Even before ESPN, the human body attracted many creative people from the first time man learned to capture stick figures on a wall, through the fine arts of European painting, and sculpture.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir celebrated the gift of feminine beauty with his many nudes of voluptuous women in the late 19 century. In each attempt the artist was trying to capture the beauty and truth of his model’s inner soul–the invisible soul of the material human body.
Leonardo da Vinci was one of the best at trying to present the perfect human body in all of its divine proportions. Da Vinci drew The Vitruvian Man circa 1490. The drawing is based on the correlations of ideal human proportions with geometry described by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius in Book III of his treatise De Architectura. He believed the workings of the human body were analogous to the workings of the universe.
God so designed the human body that the face, from the chin to the top of the forehead and the lowest roots of the hair, is always a tenth part of the whole height. The open hand from the wrist to the tip of the middle finger is just the same while the head from the chin to the crown is an eighth, and with the neck and shoulder from the top of the breast to the lowest roots of the hair is a sixth.
In his book, Da Vinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image, author Toby Lester pointed out that da Vinci’s drawing corresponds in nice ways to existing descriptions of Leonardo that exist. Lester believes that the drawing of The Vitruvian Man was actually a self-portrait. His opinion rests on the reports of many of da Vinci’s contemporaries, who described him as being very finely built, strong, very beautiful with locks of hair that curled and went down to his shoulders.
My favorite work of art has always been The Thinker, a bronze sculpture on a marble pedestal by Auguste Rodin, whose first cast of 1902 is now in the Musée Rodin in Paris. It was originally named The Poet and is alleged to have been Dante, in the act of contemplation. Some critics believe The Thinker was originally intended to depict Dante at the Gates of Hell, pondering his great poem. Perhaps he was thinking about where he left his clothes.
Since the human body is the pinnacle of God’s creation, we can expect in Heaven a return to that Sixth Day when God did his best work. To me this is just an added incentive to make the celestial grade. However, I found out as a young man that there were all kinds of heavenly bodies on earth.
It was in 1966 when I first encountered that term. I was preparing to visit a friend in New Orleans when some of the gentry in the small town where I was teaching suggested I look at the heavenly bodies on Bourbon Street. Someone else had to explain this to me. Unfortunately, the human body of women has often been used for pornographic imagery, which is designed to unsettle normal relationships between men and women. It has reached epidemic proportions in this country and around the world. As a result, moral society has been reflexive in its encounter with any kind of female or even male nudity because of the pornographic abuse of freedom in the United States.
Pope John Paul II was valiant in his attempt to put the nude human in its proper moral perspective. Because God created it, the human body can remain nude and uncovered and preserve intact its splendor and its beauty. Nakedness should not be equated with shamelessness. According to the late pope, immodesty is present only when nudity plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person. The human body in itself is never shameful. Shamelessness is a function of the interior of a person.
With regards to viewing nudity, it’s clear that there’s a spectrum of appropriateness. On one hand, it may be appropriate for a man to view his wife’s or baby’s unclothed body. During routine examinations, a male physician may be within his right to view a woman’s unclothed body. On the other hand, it’s never appropriate for a man to view a woman, even his wife, with lustful desire in his heart, whether she is clothed or unclothed. By definition, lust is the desire to use another person like an object for one’s own sexual gratification. Treating people like objects is always morally wrong. Sinfulness occurs only when nudity plays a negative role with respect to the value of the person.
This is where most sin starts–with disrespect for our own bodies and ultimately the bodies of others. America has always had a strong sense of pragmatism, utilitarianism and moral relativism that always contradicted traditional morality. To millions of men, women have no greater use than a quick bump in the night. Thanks to the Feminist Movement, women often use men in the same way.
The Playboy Philosophy underscores their main belief that women exist primarily for the pleasure for men and should serve at man’s beck and call. Patriarch Hugh Heffner has always been the living embodiment of this narcissistic philosophy. They are no more important than tissue paper, used to wipe one’s nose and toss in the waste can.
The late pope warned that concupiscence often creates a tangible sexual tension that surrounds relations between the sexes. In these situations the person must make a strong inner effort to avoid any utilitarian attitudes toward nudity in any form. Appreciation and not desire has always been my rule in such situations. The human body per se is not impure, nor is the reaction of sensuality, nor sensuality itself
St. Francis of Assisi, the pope’s namesake, who stripped totally naked in the town square to renounce all his worldly goods, had a profound respect for his human body. He was quoted in Omer Engelbert’s eponymous biography as saying that spiritual joy is as necessary to the soul as blood is to the body. What Francis missed here was the fact that due to the body’s meticulous make-up bodily hormones can transport feelings of heavenly ecstasy through the blood to every inch of the body and even the soul. A strong balance between both body and soul is what the world needs.