The Catholic University of America

 J. Thomas Petri

Final Examination of Rev. J. Thomas Petri, O.P. 

For the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology

March 5, 2010 9:10 a.m., Caldwell Room 125


John S. Grabowski, Ph.D.


Locating A Spousal Meaning of the Body in the Summa Theologiae: A Comparison of a Central Idea Articulated in the Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II with the Mature Work of St. Thomas Aquinas

This study offers a comparison of the mature thought of St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa theologiae with The Theology of the Body catecheses of Pope John Paul II, specifically concerning the notion of “the spousal meaning of the body” that the pope articulates. The study argues that The Theology of the Body was one of several attempts, and certainly the most elaborate, by John Paul to defend Humanae vitae, the 1968 encyclical on birth control by Pope Paul VI. There are two central premises of this study. First, that the birth control debate was partly the result of an insufficient methodology in moral theology at the time, which overemphasized the exterior structure of human action at the expense of a unified view of the human person. Second, that John Paul sought to reconnect theology with the experience of human persons.

Therefore, this dissertation first offers a historical narrative describing the departure from the theology articulated by St. Thomas Aquinas which yielded that deficient theological methodology of the early twentieth century implicated in the debate surrounding birth control. This study then offers a survey of John Paul’s pre-pontifical work. Through an examination of that corpus, the study has highlighted a certain respect John Paul had for Aquinas even though he was fascinated by the consciousness-based philosophical school of phenomenology.

In his published defenses of Humanae vitae, John Paul argued that since the human body represents the person to the world, the body speaks a certain language. In The Theology of the Body, he would insist that the body has a spousal meaning—a drive for another person to whom one can make a complete gift of self. This spousal meaning of the body is inherent in the constitution of every person.

While John Paul did not offer any positive reference to Aquinas in his Theology of the Body, this study explores Aquinas’s mature work to conclude that his metaphysical anthropology provides a suitable foundation for the notion of the pope’s spousal meaning of the body. At the same time, John Paul’s articulation corrects certain deficiencies in Aquinas’s own thought.