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Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Naked Truth

Hat tips to Marie Pitt-Payne, Dawn Eden, who notified me about this. Link is on

Recently, Joanna Krupa claimed that her topless poses were inspired by John Paul II's Theology of the Body audiences.
"I think worrying about going topless in a photo shoot or film is really ridiculous," Krupa told in an exclusive interview. "And the fact is Pope John Paul said, since we were born naked, it is art, and it's just showing a beautiful body that God created."
Now, a lot of things could be said about this, the first being very straightforward - she isn't the only person to misunderstand the TOB audiences. Very well-known promoters of TOB have said extremely stupid things about it, including making recommendations about the use of public or semi-public nudity that are virtually indistinguishable from Joanna Krupa's. Statements averring that the saints lack clothes in heaven, that the Blessed Virgin herself is nude, are made with an air of assurance that the interlocuter seems to have acquired from the Pope himself.

It doesn't go without saying (or I wouldn't be writing this) that such statements make a complete hash of JP II's actual statements. Far from making any statement in support of the idea that the saints are nude or that we should be too, the Holy Father was quite clear on the need for modesty in dress in order to preserve chastity in spirit.

In fact, John Paul II reminds us that photography, especially television and film, tends to make the body an anonymous object (#5 of 15 April 1981 - The HumanBody: Subject of Works of Art, his first talk in the series concerning art and the human body)

Clearly, he was not too fond of any attempt at art, especially attempts at visual art, which depersonalized the subject. Anything which tends to make the person "an anonymous object" is inappropriate. His talk two weeks later, (29 April 1981 - Art Must Not Violate the Right to Privacy), begins with a very clear statement in the second article:
#2 At this point it is not possible to agree with the representatives of so-called naturalism.
Note that he entirely condemns naturalism, nudity, the idea that we are born naked, therefore the human body is beautiful and should remain unclothed in public or semi-public settings. Naturalists argue that anyone should be able to look at a living naked woman or naked man in front of them without lust.

Naturalists are wrong.

The Pope not only says he doesn't agree, he says it is impossible to agree with such a position. He goes on, in article #3, to discuss not only the problem of naturalism, but nudity in any setting whatsoever, including . The problem comes because we don't know how it will be received. We have to consider the possibilities:
#3 The [naked] human body... is a problem which is not only aesthetic, but also ethical. That "element of the gift" is ... suspended in the dimension of an unknown reception and an unforeseen response... [I]t may become an anonymous object of appropriation, an object of abuse. ... The truth about man... creates here precise limits which it is unlawful to exceed.

#4. These limits must be recognized and observed by the artist... [No one has] the right to demand, propose or bring it about that other people, invited, exhorted or admitted to see, to contemplate the image, should violate those limits...
Is it possible to use nakedness in art? The Holy Father comments on this in the very next article:
#5. ...[T]here are works of art whose subject is the human body in its nakedness. The contemplation of this makes it possible to concentrate, in a way, on the whole truth of man, on the dignity and the beauty... of his masculinity and femininity.... [which] leads the viewer, through the body, to the whole personal mystery of man. In contact with these works, where we do not feel drawn by their content to "looking lustfully"...
Art can be used to contemplate the human person as he stands before God. In this kind of artwork, the body is not changed into an object to be used or enjoyed. Instead, it represents an encounter with mankind.
6. Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae Vitae emphasizes the "need to create an atmosphere favorable to education in chastity" (n. 22). With this he intends to affirm that the way of living the human body in the whole truth of its masculinity and femininity must correspond to the dignity of this body and to its significance in building the communion of persons. 6 May 1981 - Ethical Responsibilities in Art
What does this all mean?

It means the art of the Sistine Chapel, the nude rendition of David, the multiple artistic representations of the Blessed Virgin Mary nursing the infant Jesus, these images are possible precisely because their subject is our relationship with God. Adam is naked on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel precisely because God sees him as he is, God reaches out to him.

It is to be noted that, while countless religious paintings represent naked bodies, none represent those bodies engaged in sexual conduct. Rather, in every case, the nakedness the artist renders for us highlights the person's relationship with God - the person who stands fully revealed before Him in the glory of virtue or fully revealed in the shame of sin.

We may indeed see Susannah at her bath with the lecherous elders looking on, but their very lechery highlights the fact that Susannah would sooner die than commit the sin of having sexual relations outside of marriage.

Truly, we are born into this world naked, but it is no less true that God Himself wove our first clothes of skin for us (Genesis 3:21).

Though we came into the world physically naked, we are not meant to be naked.

Adam and Eve were clothed with supernatural and preternatural grace.
When we lost the clothing of grace, God then gave us the clothing of skins.

No matter how you look at it, we need clothes.
Someone needs to look Joanna in the eye and let her know.

1 comment:

Brendan said...

You are right, JP II is difficult to understand.