I wrote the other day about Bishop Robert J. Baker, Bishop of Birmingham. I’ve been on a quest to learn more about him. I found out that Bishop Baker used to be a professor of sacramental theology. (I hope to find out more about that later.) I found two of his writings on the Birmingham Diocesan website. While he was still in Charleston, Bishop Baker wrote a pastoral letter, “The Redemption of Our Bodies, The Theology of the Body and Its Consequences for Ministry in the Diocese of Charleston.” I’ve been studying the Theology of the Body myself, so I was delighted to see that Bishop Baker has been studying—and teaching—it too.
Christ’s presence in the world first took the form of a human body; and through his institution of the
Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, his presence was to be continued through the Body and Blood of the Eucharist. Christ wanted us to experience his presence bodily, even after his death and resurrection.
Hopefully the readers of this Pastoral Letter will see the connection between the great teachings by Pope
John Paul II, entitled the “Theology of the Body,” and the redemption of our bodies that is fostered by the
Eucharistic Body and Blood of the Lord. —From The Redemption of Our Bodies, 2005 pastoral letter by Bishop Baker.
I also found Bishop Baker’s speech I mentioned in the other post, The Theology of the Body and the Dignity of Women, his speech to the Catholic Medical Association in 2007. Apparently it was transcribed by someone and it’s in all-caps, which I found somewhat distracting. I’m in the process of making it easier on the eyes for my own reading. But that’s a minor quibble and the speech itself is worth reading. I’m glad to know our bishop has been speaking this way to those in the medical profession. And I’m glad to know that (some, at least) medical professionals are listening.
“You are no doubt familiar with the Catholic theologian and papal biographer George Weigel’s description of the Theology of the Body of John Paul II as ‘one of the boldest reconfigurations of Catholic theology in centuries—a kind of theological time-bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences—perhaps in the 21st century.’ Weigel predicts that his teaching ‘will compel a dramatic development of thinking about virtually every major theme in the Creed” (Witness to Hope, pp. 336, 853).
This teaching of Pope John Paul II was given in a time of need both within the Church and the larger society for an updated understanding of the human person. St. Thomas Aquinas summarized and integrated the tradition of his day, having heavy recourse to the philosophy of Aristotle, a tradition which is still relevant for our time. Pope John Paul II was a student of the Thomist Tradition, in which he completed a doctoral dissertation under the direction of one of the greatest Thomists of the twentieth century, Father Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange, O.P. He was also a student of the thought of St. John of the Cross. The Scholastic Tradition gave the Pope a thorough framework in the objective order, while his Carmelite studies made him a master in the mapping of the interior life.
As a serious philosopher of the school of phenomenlogy, John Paul was able to integrate the subjective and objective worlds and be part of the philosophical recovery from the schism between the two, which Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant had imposed upon two centuries of philosophical thought. It is a hallmark of the theology of the body, as well as of its author that it is well-integrated, embracing human experience as well as the most sublime of theological considerations. The Thomist integration, while significant for all time, did not fully describe the experience of the passion for love, not the meaning of the dynamics of that human exchange. Pope John Paul II accomplishes that in his theology of the body. — From The Theology of the Body and the Dignity of Women, Speech to the CMA given by Bishop Robert J. Baker, 2007.
- Any mistakes in the quotes above are my own. In the case of the document in all-caps, I had to make certain decisions, so I did.
- More about Bishop Robert J. Baker of the Diocese of Birmingham.
- Theology of the Body and the Dignity of Women, 2007 speech to the CMA.
- The Redemption of Our Bodies: The Theology of the Body and Its Consequences for Ministry in the Diocese of Charleston, 2005 pastoral letter.
- Witness to Hope: the Biography of Pope John Paul II by George Weigel.
- The Theology of the Body in John Paul II: What It Is and Why It Matters by Fr. Richard Hogan, a really good introduction to the subject. See also the EWTN series with Fr. Hogan and Katrina Zeno, available as a free audio download in 13 parts.
- Theology of the Body: The original 129 addresses given by Pope John Paul II from 1979 to 1984 available to read online or download free at EWTN.