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  • Gift & Communion: John Paul II’s Theology of the Body by Jarosław Kupczak, O.P.
  • Perry J. Cahall
Gift & Communion: John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. By Jarosław Kupczak, O.P. Translated by Agata Rottkamp, Justyna Pawlak, and Orest Pawlak. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2014. Pp. xxiv + 230. $65.00 (cloth). ISBN: 978-0-8132-2595-1.

Kupczak is the director of the Center of Research on the Thought of John Paul II at the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow. Gift & Communion was originally published in 2006 in Polish, the native language of the author and the language in which John Paul II’s theology of the body was originally penned.

The author’s purpose is to provide an assessment of John Paul II’s theology of the body in light of the larger Catholic theological tradition. Kupczak succeeds in his goal of showing that the theology of the body makes significant contributions to Christian ethics, the theology of marriage and family, and theological anthropology. He situates John Paul II’s theology of the body in the context of the pope’s other philosophical and theological writings and thought, and he explores the breadth and depth of the theology of the body to provide evidence for the significance of this work as an important stage in the development of Catholic theology.

The book is divided into five chapters with an introduction and some final remarks, and includes a foreword by Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus. The introduction provides a brief overview of the structure of the book as well as the structure of the theology of the body. Kupczak overviews some of the praise that the theology of the body has received, and asks why this theology has not been more widely treated in scholarship or made more widely available on a popular level in homilies, sermons, and retreats. Answering this question, he notes the need for an instruction manual to help navigate the difficult texts of the theology of the body. The complexity of the theology of the body stems from the language in [End Page 620] which John Paul II’s reflections were written and the method he employed in his reflections, a method that includes “a phenomenological description of human experience and subjectivity,” a “constant dialogue with Western philosophical and theological traditions, as well as with contemporary achievements in biblical exegesis, philosophy, and theology,” a “‘philosophical exegesis’” of Scripture, and a lack of “sufficient scientific” apparatus like “footnotes, explanations, [and] references” (xx–xxi, partly quoting Marian Grabowski). Gift & Communion is offered as a guide to deal with these complexities and to make the theology of the body more accessible.

The first chapter presents the theological method of the theology of the body, focusing on two terms that John Paul II used to describe this method: “adequate anthropology” and “hermeneutics.” Kupczak shows that the method of John Paul II’s theological anthropology is opposed to René Descartes’s method of understanding man. After briefly explaining Cartesian dualism, he describes how John Paul II sought to overcome this reductionistic vision of the human person by crafting an adequate anthropology. Key to this adequate anthropology is biblical revelation. John Paul II interpreted biblical texts with the assistance of insights from modern philosophy in order to search for elements of essentially human experiences that differentiate man from the rest of the natural world. This philosophical exegesis weds accurate observations from phenomenology and metaphysics. Opposing Descartes, John Paul II explained that man’s corporeality is important for his growth in self-consciousness, yet the pope also rejected biological reductionism in his theology of the body. Kupczak relates the adequate anthropology of the theology of the body to the insights in John Paul II’s (Karol Wojtyła’s) work Love and Responsibility, and he situates the pope’s philosophical and theological anthropology in relation to the writings of other Polish philosophers and theologians. The second part of the first chapter focuses on the hermeneutical dimension of the theology of the body, with attention to what John...


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