Friday, December 18, 2009

The Tob 5 Sanctification And Purity Of Heart

The Tob 5 Sanctification And Purity Of Heart
In this post, I want to look at John Paul II's teaching on sanctification and life in the Spirit. This was one of the aspects of his theology that most surprised me as an Evangelical when I read it for the first time. He sounds just like an Evangelical calling for personal holiness and grounds his appeal in Galatians 5 and the work of the Spirit in the hearts of Christians.

In Chapter Two, Christ Appeals to the Human Heart, John Paul II bases his teaching on Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount where he says that the lustful look is committing adultery in the heart (Matt. 5:27-28). But instead of understanding this verse negatively only, John Paul II also sees in it not merely condemnation of the sinful heart of man, but also a call to purity of heart.

This focus on the attitudes toward the woman and not merely on external actions opens up the possibility of having a change of mind and heart in which we no longer objectify a woman for her potential to gratify our desires, but rather relate to her as a person whom we love for her own sake. Instead of fearing or loathing erotic desires, John Paul II follows St. Augustine in seeking to discipline them and re-direct them into marriage. This is the opposite of Manicheanism because it links purity of heart with the love of the spouse, rather than with the suppression of desire. One of his section headings reveals this emphasis: "Purity - 'Keeping the Passions Away' or 'Keeping the Body with Holiness and Reverence'?" (p. 340)

In Part 6 "Purity as Life According to the Spirit" John Paul II deals with the meaning of "body" and "Spirit" in Paul's writings and concludes that what Paul means by "flesh" in Gal. 5 is not the bodily part of man with its passions, but rather the "man 'interiorly' subjected to the world" (331), that is, the man whose heart is subject to the "concupiscence that comes from the world." (330) He writes: "The man who lives 'according to the flesh (sarx)' is the man disposed only to that which comes 'from the world': he is the man of the 'senses,' the man of the three-fold concupiscence." (331) It is not merely a matter of the fact of the bodily passions existing, rather it is a matter of the inner man, in his "heart," desiring to live sinfully by giving in to bodily passions against the will of God or, in John Paul II's terms drawing on Paul, going against "what the Spirit wants." (332)

John Paul II sketches out how it is the power of Jesus Christ himself working through his Spirit that enables the Christian to live a life of integrity and victory over sin. The life in the Spirit is a matter of what John Paul II calls "the anthropological and ethical realism of the redemption brought about by Christ, whic Paul... also calls the 'redemption of the body.'" (335) It is significant that in talking about the works of the flesh which are overcome by the Spirit's power, Paul mentions many sexual sins including fornication, impurity, licentiousness, etc. These are actually, says John Paul II, sins of the human spirit, rather than sins of the flesh and the work of ths Spirit sets us free from slavery to them.

In his discussion of the fruit of the Spirit, John Paul II says "we should consider and above all realize evangelical purity, that is, purity of the heart according to the measure of that freedom for which Christ 'has set us free.'" (338) One aspect of this freedom that will become significant in the discussion of natural family planning is the fruit of the Spirit called "self-control." John Paul II equates "self-mastery" with "continence" and "self-control." Although Paul does not refer to the Greek virtue of temperance, nevertheless the meaning of purity in Paul's thought as a result of the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer is very close to the meaning of temperance in the tradition. (341)

One last quote: "Since 'purity' should be understood as the right way of treating the sexual sphere, depending on one's personal state of life (and not necessarily absolute abstinence from sexual life, such 'purity' is doubtlessly included in the Pauline concept of 'mastery or enkrateia." (341) Here John Paul II clarifies and deepens the traditional understanding of sex within marriage as being in no sense a concession or venal sin, but rather as inherently good in and of itself. Therefore the married person can be sanctified just as much as the consecrated celibate and the participation in sexual union with one's lawful spouse in no way compromises or reduces purity of heart - which is what Jesus calls for in the Sermon on the Mount and what Paul teaches is the work of the Spirit in Galatians 5.

My previous post on the Theology of the Body can be accessed here:

The TOB #1: Teaching John Paul II to Evangelicals

The TOB #2: The Rejection of Modern Dualism

The TOB #3: Comparing TOB to Evangelical Theology

The TOB #4: Scripture and Metaphysics