I’m no stranger to reflection. I think my life would be very different if I were not such an introspective person by nature. I can point to a few specific moments when my habit of thinking deeply before acting has actually changed my life. Generally, though, I trust my own thoughts more than anyone else’s, even a trusted advisor.
I’m also no stranger to the theology of the body (TOB). It’s a buzzword around modern Catholic circles. In a nutshell, the theology of the body is a teaching based on a series of talks given by Blessed John Paul II before and while he was pope. The crux is that our bodies, male and female, and particularly the sexual union of spouses teach us about God: it’s a theology (a way to think about God) based on our bodies. I’ve read a number of texts that attempt to break down JPII’s original thoughts, including Theology of the Body for Beginners, by Christopher West (which I reviewed here at Austin CNM), and JPII’s own play The Jeweler’s Shop. Despite my having no formal training in the TOB, I consider myself reasonably familiar with it.
Therefore, I approached my reading of The Love That Satisfies: Reflections on Eros and Agape with an open but already well-informed mind. I’m familiar with the TOB, particularly as taught by Christopher West. I know his style. This book is organized as an extended reflection on the first half of Deus Caritas Est, B16’s first encyclical (which I think is the third encyclical I ever read), so I knew the background information.* I had never directly sought to connect the TOB with that encyclical, though, so I gave it a shot.
Frankly, I was underwhelmed. My particular combination of background knowledge made this book seem like just a rehashing of previous reading. I found myself more miffed by the book’s only covering the first half of the encyclical than anything else. If B16 wasn’t finished with his ideas, why should West be finished with his? If the TOB is so widely applicable (which I agree that it is), why didn’t West apply it to the rest of the encyclical? The Love That Satisfies seemed like the same thing all over again.
That brings me to the book’s primary strength: presenting old ideas in a new way. I haven’t looked at my annotations in my printed PDF copy of Deus Caritas Est in a while, but something tells me that it doesn’t say much about the TOB. I haven’t even dipped back into TOB study in a while. And I know a title like Theology of the Body for Beginners does not sound particularly appealing to the average (probably Catholic) reader. The prospect of satisfying love probably does, though. The idea that God has a plan for human love and that it relates to divine love is intriguing. Even the cover images on my edition—Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, and a young man wooing a pretty young lady—speak to the modern and relevant contents. If “theology” and “encyclical” sound like the last way you’d want to spend your free time, West might have the antidote to the sticker shock of understanding the true freedom of following God’s plan for human life, love, and relationships. After this book has whet your appetite, I’ve got plenty of recommendations for digging deeper.
*If you’ve never read an encyclical, I recommend starting with Humanae Vitae, by Pope Paul VI. It’s short, and it will blow your mind.
Up next: Hail, Holy Queen, a Marian love letter from Scott Hahn