When I hear the words “Theology of the Body” (TOB) I think almost instantly of Pope Saint John Paul II as well as people who have devoted their lives to making this great treasure of the Church more accessible. I think of the books I have read on the topic and the conversations which have been sparked because of it.
While the Theology of the Body can sometimes be mistaken as what the Church tells us we “can’t” do when it comes to sex, the goal of TOB is to help us understand how our bodies reveal God Himself. It isn’t just for married couples.
Books about the Theology of the Body
The Theology of the Body teaches us what it means to be human and points to our ultimate vocation: a vocation of love. The book list below will explain how.
In The Words of JPII
Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body by John Paul II, translated by Michael Waldstein
The great work of John Paul II himself must be included at the top of any list about the Theology of the Body. This is the pope who delivered one-hundred and twenty-nine papal audiences on the topic, taking him five years to complete. In these addresses, he spoke about Christ’s spousal love for the Church and how this very real and genuine love is actualized through human relationships and through our gift of self.
It’s Not Just About Sex
These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body by Emily Stimpson Chapman
For ten years, I’ve been waiting for someone to write a book about the theology of the body that wasn’t just about sex.
Emily explains why she wrote These Beautiful Bones, a book that speaks to the beauty of the Theology of the Body beyond the bedroom.
In the words of Dr. Scott Hahn, Emily “uses the sacramental lens of the liturgy to explore a wide range of activities in daily life. Whether it’s your eating habits or clothing styles, the dignity of hard work or the pitfalls of pop culture, you will find in this book lots of graceful guidance in living out the physical side of being spiritual.”
As she points out, the Theology of the Body is about treating both ourselves and others around us with love and respect, recognizing that they too are made in the image and likeness of God.
“Magna res est amor!” // “A great thing is love!”
Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love by Dietrich Von Hildebrand
While he doesn’t focus specifically on the words “Theology of the Body,” Von Hildebrand does write about the role of love within marriage and provides an understanding for why God chose marriage as a symbol for His relationship with us. In less than 100 pages, he shares the right motive for marrying, the difference between marriage’s meaning and its purpose, how marriage reveals God’s love for us, and so much more!
He writes that marriage is used as a symbol for God’s love for us:
because marriage is the closest and most intimate of all earthly unions in which more than in any other, one person gives himself to another without reserve…in love the partner we love Christ simultaneously. In the beloved, we love Christ.
My “Three Stages” For Couples
Looking back, I think of three different “stages” of books about the Theology of the Body that my husband and I read throughout our relationship.
I consider this one to be “first stage” because we each read it individually while we were single, and then together when we were dating. It is a wonderful entry-stage book that really takes you into a deep, Catholic understanding of sexuality. In these pages, Christopher West provides the foundation for better understanding Saint John Paul II’s teaching on the Theology of the Body.
It also helped my husband and I come to a greater appreciation of one another, to better understand what we were created for, and to deepen our gratitude for the Church and why she teaches what she does.
In Archbishop Charles Chaput’s foreword of this book he writes, “...it’s not a theoretical work, nor a textbook. Rather, it’s a source of practical nourishment, because it continually shows that dealing honestly with issues of sex and marriage brings us face-to-face with the whole Gospel message and the meaning of our lives.”
My husband and I read this during our engagement and I loved how comprehensive the topics were. Chapters include a focus on:
- Church Authority
- Chastity Outside of Marriage
- Chastity Within Marriage
- Reproductive Technologies
- Same-Sex Attraction
- and more
One of my favorite aspects is the Q&A format of the book. I appreciate how honest the questions are and how thoroughly each is addressed. Questions include why there is a widespread misunderstanding that the “Church is down on sex” as well as questions regarding what the Church teaches when it comes to oral and anal sex, masturbation, impotency, and infertility within marriage.
Holy Sex!: A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving by Gregory K. Popcak, Ph. D.
Now we arrive at the “stage three” TOB book that my husband and I read together during our engagement and it’s one I recommend waiting to read with your significant other until then. Despite the fact that this book remains faithful to Church teaching in regards to sexual union, Popcak goes into great detail about it. And while the book offers helpful questionnaires and quizzes, it is probably best to wait until engagement before diving into those deep and intimate questions together.
Beyond the questionnaires and quizzes, this book shares real life testimonies from couples who talk about their own experience of sexual intimacy. Stories which include feelings of shame and/or fear of vulnerability, and how they found healing from their past and grew in trust of their spouse and their spouse’ intentions. This book provides the answers for so many questions you might be afraid to ask.
What Books about the Theology of the Body Do You Love?
I hope that through one or more of these books, you will come to find a deeper and more full understanding of who God created you to be and how He created you to love.
What is your favorite book on the Theology of the Body?