- Holy Eros: A Liturgical Theology of the Body by Adam G. Cooper
Holy Eros: A Liturgical Theology of the Body
Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2014
iv + 109 pages. Paperback. $14.95.
Toward the end of his catecheses on the theology of the body—in the very last audience—Pope John Paul II remarked that “the term ‘theology of the body’ goes far beyond the contents of the reflections” on marital love presented in Man and Woman He Created Them. In Holy Eros, Adam G. Cooper develops this theology of the body in relation to the liturgy. The result is a rich and thought-provoking study, which, for its size, is of surprisingly broad scope. Holy Eros does not purport to be an interpretation of Saint John Paul II’s catechesis on human love and marriage. Nor is it an attempt to derive a theology of liturgy from Man and Woman He Created Them. Indeed, one finds relatively few direct references to John Paul II’s text. Rather the author explores the “deep connections between the theology of the body and the liturgy” (1) suggested by Saint John Paul II himself.
The conceptual key to this work is the “spousal” character of the relationship between Christ and his Church, a character that is realized or fulfilled especially in the liturgy, where Christ’s gift of himself to his people and for their salvation is fully realized. In his teachings on human love, Saint John Paul II had argued that through its sexual differentiation as male and female, the human body is a sign of love—its meaning is spousal—and as such is the principal analogate for the relationship between God and his people. Cooper takes this principle and develops its implications for understanding the liturgy. Just as marital love cannot exist without the bodily complementarity of man and woman, so too the realization of the dynamic of Christ’s gift of himself and his people’s response in the liturgy can be neither understood nor realized except in bodily terms. Implied by this is the essential character of receptivity, of potentiality. In his theology of the body, Saint John Paul II argues that because it was “not good” for the man to be alone (Gen 2:18), the human being must be “receptive”, that is, open to and in need of another human person. The gift is essential to human personhood because the image of God is, in a way, incomplete in the individual. This receptivity and gift-character flows from God’s own Trinitarian being as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The importance of this is that the [End Page 221] liturgy is formed by this dynamic of receptivity, such that God’s work in the liturgy is primary. The Church’s role is necessarily receptive.
This dynamic of receptivity and gift enables Cooper serenely (that is, non-polemically) to address neuralgic issues arising from sexual differentiation, particularly with regard to the ordained priesthood. If the Church is the Bride of Christ, then her role is feminine, which is characteristically receptive. Indeed, precisely here is one neuralgic issue among certain feminist thinkers, for whom the notion of receptivity entails passivity and hence inferiority. And yet, argues Cooper, this capacity for receptivity is precisely that which enables the Church (as feminine) to receive God’s love in Christ. The role of the priest is, consequently, marked by paradox. Acting in the person of Christ, who is male, the priest is male, but he also belongs to the Church–Bride, whose response is feminine. Without drawing attention to the fact, Cooper presents this entire discussion in a context devoid of considerations of power and authority. Rather, the governing concepts are those of nuptiality, gift, and love.
Central to and underlying this analysis of the liturgy, of course, is the notion of sacramentality. In his theology of the body, Saint John Paul II remarked that because of the Incarnation, the body enters into theology “through the main entrance.” Cooper takes this seriously and insists on the corporality of all that pertains to the liturgy which does not only represent spiritual realities, but sacramentally constitutes...