Let me pick up on the theme of the last reflection by quoting the words with which I began this book: the spousal meaning of the body is the body’s “power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and—through this gift—fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence” (TOB 15:1). John Paul re-confirms this deep intuition many times, and in many different ways, even to the point of affirming that the spousal meaning of the body is “the fundamental component of human existence in the world” (TOB 15:5). And this capacity to be gift consists not only in giving but also equally, and indeed in a certain way even more fundamentally, in receiving. As the pope says in more depth:
The human body, oriented from within by the “sincere gift” of the person [Gaudium et spes, 24:3], reveals not only its masculinity or femininity on the physical level, but reveals also such a value and such a beauty that it goes beyond the simply physical level of “sexuality.” In this way, the consciousness of the meaning of the body, linked with man’s masculinity-femininity, is in some sense completed. On the one hand, this meaning points to a particular power to express the love in which man becomes a gift; what corresponds to this meaning, on the other hand, is power and deep availability for the “affirmation of the person,” that is, literally, the power to live the fact that the other—the woman for the man and the man for the woman—is through the body someone willed by the Creator “for his own sake” [Gaudium et spes, 24:3], that is, someone unique and unrepeatable, someone chosen by eternal Love. The “affirmation of the person” is nothing other than welcoming the gift, which, through reciprocity, creates the communion of persons; this communion builds itself from within, while also taking into itself man’s whole “exteriority.” (TOB 15:4)
And these two dimensions, the surrender of self to the beloved and the reception of the gift of the beloved into oneself, are not opposed to one another, but are in fact two facets of a single and indivisible reality of love and the affirmation of the person: “These two functions of the mutual exchange are deeply connected in the whole process of ‘the gift of self’: giving and accepting the gift interpenetrate such that the very act of giving becomes acceptance, and acceptance transforms itself into giving” (TOB 17:4). And this acceptance and gift is always manifested and communicated in and through the body, regardless of the particular contours of a given relationship in which the true affirmation of persons flourishes. Yet lest we interpret the spousal meaning of the body minimalistically as implying merely that, in the natural order of things, the spousal union between man and woman is significant, whereas in heaven and the new creation the spousal meaning of the body will be irrelevant, it is important to say that John Paul affirms the opposite. He insists that the spousal meaning of the body is by no means defined by, or limited to, the specific conjugal act between husband and wife. Rather, the spousal meaning of the body, as I tried to show in the first reflection, refers to the body’s capacity—as the incarnation of our very person, and, in fact, in a true way as our person—to be a gift and to receive the gift of the other person, and thus to enter into the experience of the communio personarum, the communion of persons.
Thus, the spousal meaning of the body is saying nothing else than that the human person—created male or female—has been fashioned to live in conformity with the very inner life of the Trinity. And he or she is called to live this life, not merely in the realm of the spirit, but in the very concreteness of the body and in every moment of created existence, both in the contours of this life as well as in the eternal consummation that awaits at the end of time. In this world, marriage and conjugal union between husband and wife is the normal, paradigmatic expression of the spousal meaning of the body, the primordial sacrament (making-visible) of the mystery of the union of Christ and the Church, and revealing something of the divine life of the Trinity itself. But in the new creation, when history reaches its definitive fulfillment and passes over into the eternal life of God, marriage and sexual expression as we now know them will pass away. And yet the spousal meaning of the body will not pass away. Rather, as John Paul says, it will find its consummation precisely in a non-sexual way, but rather in a virginal way—as a virginal consummation which is, nonetheless, no less bodily than sexual union has been in this life, but is rather more so. Let me quote John Paul here, in the richest text of his entire Theology of the Body, and then try gradually to unpack the significance of what he says. He writes that, in the new creation,
The reciprocal gift of oneself to God—a gift in which man will concentrate and express all the energies of his own personal and at the same time psychosomatic subjectivity—will be the response to God’s gift of himself to man. In this reciprocal gift of self by man, a gift that will become completely and definitively beatifying as the response worthy of a personal subject to God’s gift of himself, the “virginity” or rather the virginal state of the body will manifest itself completely as the eschatological fulfillment of the “spousal” meaning of the body, as the specific sign and authentic expression of personal subjectivity as a whole. In this way, then, the eschatological situation in which “they will take neither wife nor husband” has its solid foundation in the future state of the personal subject, when, as a consequence of the vision of God “face to face,” a love of such depth and power of concentration on God himself will be born in the person that it completely absorbs the person’s whole psychosomatic subjectivity.
This concentration of knowledge (“vision”) and love on God himself—a concentration that cannot be anything but full participation in God’s inner life, that is, in trinitarian Reality itself—will at the same time be the discovery in God of the whole “world” of relations that are constitutive of the world’s perennial order (“cosmos”). This concentration will above all be man’s rediscovery of himself, not only in the depths of his own person, but also in that union that is proper to the world of persons in their psychosomatic constitution. Certainly this is a union of communion. The concentration of knowledge and love on God himself in the trinitarian communion of Persons can find a beatifying response in those who will become sharers in the “other world” only through realizing reciprocal communion commensurate with created persons. … We should think of the reality of the “other world” in the categories of the rediscovery of a new, perfect subjectivity of each person and at the same time of the rediscovery of a new, perfect intersubjectivity of all. In this way this reality means the true and definitive fulfillment of human subjectivity and, on this basis, the definitive fulfillment of the “spousal” meaning of the body. The total concentration of created, redeemed, and glorified subjectivity on God himself will not take man away from this fulfillment, but—on the contrary—will introduce him into it and consolidate him in it. One can say, finally, that in this way the eschatological reality will become the source of the perfect realization of the “trinitarian order” in the created world of persons. (TOB 68:3-4)
The beauty of this eternal destiny reveals precisely the depth of the authentic significance of the “spousal” meaning of the body. It signifies nothing other than the fact that we have been created for intimacy—with the Trinity and with other created persons—an intimacy that occurs in and through the body in its entirety, a body that is lived and experienced, not as an object separated from the person, but precisely as the manifestation of the person in their most intimate truth (in their irreducible solitude/subjectivity). The body is not meant to be “impermeable,” that is, a boundary that separates persons from one another, but rather is meant to be completely permeable: the very vehicle of mutual self-donation in reciprocal communication between person and person. The body is precisely the exteriorization of solitude, the communication of subjectivity, which is made a gift through nakedness in order to allow persons to be drawn together into unity.
And, as such, the body is meant to be “absorbed” into the joy of intimacy, into the intersubjectivity of persons that is tasted already in this life in all authentic communion, and which will find its eternal consummation in the new creation. The body will no longer be experienced as divorced in any way from our innermost subjectivity, from the inner heart of our “I,” but will be integrated and harmonized with it. For body and spirit, ruptured by sin, will be harmonized completely again in the healing of our whole being and nature—and this healing will occur, this complete transfiguration and realization of our subjectivity will blossom, precisely through the full flowering of intimacy with the Trinity. It will occur when our whole being, our entire subjective consciousness, in its entirety—body and spirit inseparably united—is absorbed in the eternal contemplation of God in the inmost heart of his life as Trinity. Yes, and this contemplation is not merely a matter of knowing, or feeling, or seeing; it is rather a co-living with God, in God, and through God the very life that God himself eternally lives in the ceaseless exchange of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
It is precisely in this experience, in this ecstasy of intimacy with God, that our whole being is integrated and made whole again through being restored to (and consummated in) unmediated and direct communion with the Persons of the Trinity. And here precisely is where we come to understand the “virginal state” of the body: it is the complete integration of body and spirit, and of all our faculties, in contact with the Trinity in a ceaseless act of acceptance and reciprocal surrender of self. As John Paul says, this virginal fulfillment is precisely the capacity to live (and the active expression of), the “reciprocal gift of oneself to God—a gift in which man will concentrate and express all the energies of his own personal and at the same time psychosomatic subjectivity.” And this total gift of ourselves to God, the complete act of reciprocal surrender, is born of God’s prior and abiding gift of himself to us—his communication of his very self to us in the Holy Spirit. As a result of this love, we are taken up, in full consciousness and in the entirety of our being, into the living of the Trinitarian life. And what is this life of the Trinity? What is the intersubjectivity of the divine Persons in the heart of God? We can only express it inadequately, with faltering and imperfect words. But we could say that the divine life consists in: 1) the mutual beholding of Persons in the nakedness of complete vulnerability of gift, in which the personal uniqueness of each (solitude) is shared with the others in the atmosphere of utter tenderness; 2), the contemplative delight of each Person in the others, such that they rejoice in their mutual beholding, in both being seen and seeing, in the pure love that each experiences in the gaze of the other; 3) the reciprocal self-giving between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in which they are eternally handed over to one another without reservation, to belong to one another in an intimacy that is not possession, but pure relation, pure cherishing affirmation of the goodness and beauty of each incomparable Person; 4) and, finally, it is the shared intersubjectivity of the three Persons, in which they co-experience together, in a union that is total while also respecting, super-affirming, and fulfilling the distinctness of each Person, the single mystery of the divine life, which is nothing but gratuitous love and intimacy.
And this inner essence of the divine life is precisely the mystery that we have been created and redeemed to live, that each one of us is freely invited to participate in, through sheer grace, for all eternity. This is the virginal state that, harnessing the body in union with the spirit—as both together are utterly penetrated and permeated by the ceaseless current of the divine life, saturated to their very core by the presence and love and knowledge of God—brings about the fulfillment of the body’s spousal meaning. This meaning is realized first of all in relation to God himself, in the most profound intersubjectivity with the very divine Persons in the inner exchange of their divine life. Here, as a human person in the fullness of one’s incomparable subjectivity, one is granted a participation in the very knowledge and love shared by the three divine Persons; and one does so, not apart from the body, but, as the pope says, “in the fullness of one’s psychosomatic [body-soul] subjectivity.” And also, precisely in and through this perfectly realized communion with the Trinity in the whole of one’s being and consciousness, one experiences and lives a perfect communion—a complete mutual intersubjectivity in the very likeness of the Trinity—with all other created persons who share in the life of the new creation.
And this is not all. Not only is the world of persons seen and experienced in the joy of this universal intersubjectivity, this all-pervading communion of persons within the very communion of the Trinity. But the universe itself also reveals its deepest meaning, and attains the utter fulfillment of this meaning, by sharing, in its own way, in this very inner life of personal love and communion. As John Paul says: “This concentration of knowledge (‘vision’) and love on God himself—a concentration that cannot be anything but full participation in God’s inner life, that is, in trinitarian Reality itself—will at the same time be the discovery in God of the whole ‘world’ of relations that are constitutive of the world’s perennial order (‘cosmos’).” In other words, the universe itself reveals its inner “Trinitarian” meaning, which has been present within it from the first moment of creation, but now, in its renewal by the redeeming and recreating grace of God poured out through the Son and the Spirit, comes to fulfillment. What this means is that all things that exist—the whole of created being—becomes so penetrated and permeated by the presence of personal subjectivity (by love and intimacy) that it becomes transparent to the personal mystery of the Trinity in its very nature, and transparent also to the communication of created persons in the life of the Trinity. This seems to mean two things: 1) We will see the life of God manifested in and through creation without any obscurity, such that we behold precisely how each and every created things speaks of God and manifests him; and indeed we will experience this, not so much as a matter of created things revealing or mediating God to us, but rather as God revealing created things to us in the inner nature as pure gift. 2) All non-personal realities in creation will be fully “personalized,” not in the sense that they become directly personal, but in the sense that they will be permeated by the personal knowledge and love of persons: just as all things exist because God himself, as Trinity, knows and loves them in their innate goodness, so too created persons will know and love them as God does, down to their inmost essence. Thus there will be no object—no objective—that is not also already totally subjective, totally known and loved to its very core both by God and by created persons. For objects need a subject to love them for them to be fully what they are. This will be the complete fulfillment of all created things, which find their completion precisely in the consummation of the order of persons, tied up as all created realities are with the destiny of humanity to share in the inner life of God. Each human person, in other words, precisely through the beatific vision of the inner life of the Trinity—through direct participation in the intersubjective life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—will think all things with God, in God, and through God, as God himself thinks them in the light of his own eternal loving vision: and this is the true super-affirmation of the goodness and existence of all things, which confirms and fulfills precisely their own God-intended nature in the context of the eternal intimacy of the new creation.
In the light of this, we can affirm that, already now in this life, this spousal mystery—which we can re-define precisely, in its fullest meaning, as the mystery of intimacy lived in the likeness of the Trinity—permeates the whole of the visible creation as its inner motivating force, as the “perennial attraction” of love, as all things aspire towards the good which brings fulfillment to their nature, and as all creatures are drawn to one another in order to unite, and, from this unity, to bring forth fruit. This mystery utterly saturates the universe, fashioned as it has been on the very inner nature of God’s own life as Trinity—the whole way from the microscopic occurrence of cellular reproduction, through the seed-bearing of plants, through the reproduction of animals, to the sexual embrace of man and woman, to the virginal communion of human persons in the likeness of the Trinity, to the very nuptial embrace between God and the human person, between Christ and the Church, and into the inner heart of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And what is present already now in the realm of time and space will only find its fulfillment when Christ inaugurates the new creation, such that what is latent, now, as desire and promise is utterly realized, then, as eternal consummation: in the communion of each created person with the Persons of the Trinity in complete intersubjectivity, in the complete intersubjectivity of all created persons in the likeness of the Trinity, and in the visible, tangible permeation of the entire created order by the ceaseless circulation of personal love, and the fulfilled intimacy, of divine and human persons. This is precisely the deepest understanding of those beautiful words of Saint Paul when he speaks of our destiny as the “redemption of the body” (Rom 8:23).