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Theology of the Body, Made Simple

Interview With Father Anthony Percy

GOULBURN, Australia, SEPT. 29, 2006 (Zenit) - Pope John Paul II responded to the sexual revolution with his innovative teachings on human sexuality, says the author of a new book on the theology of the body.

Father Anthony Percy is the author of "Theology of the Body Made Simple," published in Australia by Connorcourt Publishing, by the Daughters of St. Paul in the United States, and by Gracewing in Great Britain. It is being translated into Chinese, Spanish, Italian and German.

In this interview with us, Father Percy speaks of John Paul II's contribution to the Church's teaching on human sexuality.

* * *

Q: Some say that since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the Church has been challenged in a way it has never been before to defend its teachings on sexuality. In what way?

Father Percy: Most cultural commentators would agree that the sexual revolution began in the 1920s. In fact, G.K. Chesterton said of the sexual revolution that there was "more madness coming out of Manhattan than there was out of Moscow!"

He perceived that the next heresy the Church would have to deal with would be of a sexual nature. We, now living in the 21st century, surely have no problems in recognizing the immense challenge before us.

But "today" is our starting point and not "yesterday" or "tomorrow" -- what might have been or what might be. And the starting point -- or so it seems to me -- is this wonderfully intriguing and inviting teaching called the theology of the body.

Q: What role has John Paul II's theology of the body had in this rising to this challenge?

Father Percy: In my opinion, what John Paul II has bequeathed to us is something similar to what Pope Leo XIII handed on to us with his groundbreaking encyclical letter "Rerum Novarum" in 1891.

The Industrial Revolution began in the mid-18th century, but it took the Church at least a century to respond to the problem. Also, the Church tends to respond to critical changes in society and tries to avoid reacting to changes.

This is what Leo XIII did and so, too, John Paul II. With his background in philosophy; with his frequent dealings with many married couples in Poland as a young priest and bishop; with his deep faith and with his brilliant and creative mind, the Pope put together the theology of the body.

John Paul II gave his theology of the body addresses under the form of Wednesday catechetical talks in Rome, from 1979 until 1984.

Q: John Paul II didn't change any of the teachings of the Church on sexuality, so what is so new about the theology of the body?

Father Percy: The approach the Pope takes is rather innovative. The modern mind does not accept easily what we might call deductive reasoning. People in the modern age don't tend to start from principles and move to conclusions.

Rather -- because, no doubt, of the influence of science -- we tend to think inductively. That is, we gather up all the information from our human experience and begin to think about it all and thus reach conclusions about how we should behave, for example.

This is the approach of John Paul II. He is very sensitive, because of his pastoral sensitivity and because of his philosophical background, to human experience.

If you read Pope Paul VI's document "Humanae Vitae," you can see that the approach is different. It argues from principles to conclusions. John Paul II, however, appeals to experience and then finds a conclusion. We can immediately see that this approach will be attractive to the modern mind.

Secondly, and I think quite importantly, John Paul II has quite an original insight into sacred Scripture, and because the Church these days is more focused on the word of God, this too, is very important in rising to the challenge of the sexual revolution.

The word of God does shed light, not only on God and who he is, but it also sheds light on who we are and how we are to relate to each other.

Q: What is the key idea of John Paul II on human sexuality?

Father Percy: The sexual revolution, like all "isms," takes things out of their proper context. The sexual revolution takes sex out of the context of human relationships and simply focuses on the pleasure of sex -- the thrill of it.

But John Paul II places sex right within the context of human relationships. He says, quite radically, I think, that our human bodies are "more relational than they are sexual."

In other words, sex is supposed to serve lasting and fruitful relationships. Through the unitive act of a man and woman in marriage, both husband and wife are meant to come to a new and fresh realization of who they are as creatures made in the image and likeness of God.

Sex thus serves human relationships. Sex is ...

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