The Theology of the Body (TOB) is a compilation of teachings and writings which depict how our physical bodies are designed and created to reveal the glory of God on this side of heaven. In many ways, TOB is a mission statement for married couples—a spiritual foundation to understand the human heart, to grow in relationship, and to embrace our deepest desires for unity.
Saint John Paul II presented his work on TOB in 129 “general audiences” during his papacy; countless theologians, teachers, and artists expand upon his work and share these truths in schools and communities today.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, ”Christian iconography expresses in images the same Gospel message that Scripture communicates by words.” In collaboration with several TOB educators, four icons which reveal the Gospel message through the lens of Theology of the Body and the vocation to married life are shared below.
The Holy Family
An icon of the Holy Family reveals the physical fruit of love between two humans who each offered their bodies entirely to the will of God. Though each called to self-sacrifice, man and woman participate in very different acts of cooperation with the spirit. As we gaze at the Holy Family, we recall how Mary, completely united with the Holy Spirit, trusted an angel and conceived the son of God with pure receptivity. Joseph upheld his masculine dignity and self-control through his entire life as he abstained from physically uniting with his earthly spouse. Joseph’s body was his source of leadership to provide, protect, and defend his family and his home.
Like Mary and Joseph, every bride and groom is called to offer her or his body in unique acts of service for the sake of their marriage and family. Whether in receptivity, abstinence or offering, a surrender of the physical body in collaboration with God is fruitful and holy.
The Ecstacy of St. Teresa of Avila
The passionate union of man and woman in holy matrimony is meant to be a foretaste of the passionate union the holy person will experience with God in heaven. St. Teresa of Avila mystically experienced the ecstacy of this love in her life on Earth, as depicted in this image. Her heart was struck by the love of God and she was never the same. Her expression reveals the longing of every human heart for the ultimate union with God in heaven.
“And it is an experience that God wants to share with all of us, in some fashion anyway. While it may be true that relatively few experience this level of divine ecstasy in this life, something like this (and far beyond) is destined to be ours for eternity – if we say “yes” to God’s marriage proposal, that is.”
Joachim and Anne in the Immaculate Conception
The icon entitled “The Immaculate Conception” depicts the moment of holy union between Mary’s parents, Saints Joachim and Anne. They stand next to their marriage bed in a loving embrace. The imagery and symbolism in this icon is rich with truth about the Theology of the Body and the pure union between man and woman. As we know, their union was so pure, so holy, that the fruit of their union was Mary, immaculately conceived without sin. Beyond the literal event of the image, “...this icon leads us to consider the possibility of real holiness and virtue in the marital embrace, not only as an intellectual idea, but as a lived experience.” This image teaches us about the our destiny for unity between man and woman, the masculine and feminine, and for the trinitarian love of bride, groom and God.
The Wedding Feast at Cana
The Gospel reading of the Wedding Feast at Cana is a common selection for Catholic weddings. Jesus’ first public miracle at this wedding offers many points of reflection. It emphasizes the celebration of marriage and covenant as a holy union. It reveals a dynamic of the relationship between man and woman, as depicted between Mary and Jesus. It highlights the intoxicating effects of abundant wine and of pure love shared with others.
The icon depicting this event is a reminder of this miracle’s glory and how its truth applies to marriages today. Through the lens of TOB, we recognize that holy union is a cause of great celebration; saying “yes” to fruitful love through the marital covenant yields an abundance of holy and joyful celebration from God.