The beauty of the body

Beauty will save the world

They say the truth is beautiful and beauty attracts. I think there will be very few people who will disagree with this statement. To this, we must add another adjective that is from Perogrullo: “good.” In other words, the truth is beautiful and good. I already know that I am not doing anything other than citing the transcendental and in a very simple and unacademic way. But what is interesting at this moment is something else: the beauty of Adam’s look at Eve and Eve’s look at Adam before they disobeyed God’s command. Because it is that moment that sets the border between what Saint John Paul II calls the “original man” and the “historical man.” What did this look like? Was this a “true” look? Did Adam see the natural goodness in Eve? And I feel seduced by that gaze capable of contemplating the other in their nakedness and without shame, the result, among other things, of sharing the same condition. Please do not let the reader believe that I am going to make a literal interpretation of the text. What interests us are his teachings, not his historicity, since we know that the language used in the Book of Genesis is symbolic.

Adam saw with delight, not morbid, but full of virtue, someone similar to him, who was able to succinctly reveal to him who God was. Eve was like a window through which Adam could look to contemplate the Creator himself and his creation, a creation perfectly ordered and eloquent in itself. Adam would be left breathless, and would only be able to say, “This is indeed flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones” [1]. From Adam’s words, we cannot deduce any descriptive characteristic of Eve’s beauty. And yet, they are full of Theological content. What is beauty? Can we affirm that Eve was beautiful? Under what parameters? Was she a beauty in the style of those displayed in fashion magazines, or the “likes” that certain Instagram stereotypes attract? Well, I think that, without a doubt, we can affirm that Eva was beautiful, without having a photograph and without having any description of her morphological features. Eve’s beauty was what gave her dignity as a person created in the image and likeness of God, that is, created in the image and likeness of Love. Saint John Paul II tells us that “[the] fullness of “external” perception, expressed through physical nakedness, corresponds to the “inner” fullness of man’s vision in God, that is, according to the measure of the image of God” [2] The rest? Does not matter.

From here, we can then move on to the next question: Is what I am saying about Adam’s gaze true? For sure. Because Adam’s look at Eve was a look that expressed a deep love, an uncorrupted love. And I am not wrong in affirming that the greatness of the human being, when given to the task of what is essential for happiness, which is to love and be loved, is expressed in all its dimension: When one loves, one is expressing the truth of who he is called to be. And Eve in paradise, like Adam, felt deeply loved and attracted by love at the sight of the naked other, because that other, who in some aspects was so similar to her, and in others so different, reflected her. God. In this dynamic lies the possibility of fulfillment in this life. Because we cannot conceive any realization where there is lie and deception. Facades sooner or later wobble and fall.

Finally, was Adam capable of perceiving the natural goodness that was hidden in Eve in that gaze? Again, we have to answer in the affirmative. The Book of Genesis was written in Hebrew, and at the end of the first chapter, it uses the word tov (טוֹב) to tell us that everything he had created was very good. That same word can also be used to describe beauty. Thus, so simply, in some way good and beautiful become the same word, a description in the truth of what God has created, out of nothing, when he has deigned to make a participant in his being, whom he has not made merits to deserve it. God wanted, in this act of supreme Love, to capture the good, the beautiful and the true in a being, that is, he wanted to shout out who he is, and he wanted us to know it in the evidence of our masculinity/femininity.

Adam’s gaze on Eve described in Genesis reminds us that the human being is beautiful, simply for that reason, because he is a human being. His dignity does not come from meeting standards of skin color, height, weight, eye color, or even gestation time… The human being is beautiful, regardless of his condition, his age, his productivity, because “the body expresses the person in his concrete, ontological and existential being.”[3] In the Play “The Symposium”, Diotima, priestess of Eros, reveals to Socrates the secret of true beauty, that which stands towards the divine:

“[Whoever has fallen in love] must come to understand that the beauty found in anybody is the sister of the beauty found in all others… Once penetrated with this thought, our man must show himself to be a lover of all beautiful bodies, and stripping oneself, as if of a despicable smallness, of all passion that is concentrated on only one.” [4]

Dostoevsky said that “beauty will save the world.” And this forces us to guard the most beautiful thing in all creation: ourselves. I hope we can all recover that look, that of Adam on Eve, the one that any human being deserves.

And, to help with this arduous, but possible task, we have launched from the Development and Person Institute of the Francisco de Vitoria University the Third Edition of the Expert Program in Theology of the Body 100% online. With this course, for 10 weeks, we deepen the catechesis of Saint John Paul II on the Theology of the Body with the help of international experts on the subject.

Registration will be open until March 15 and the course will begin at the end of March.

Complete information about the course, syllabus, prices, teachers, can be found here:

Rafael Gil – Academic Director of the Theology of the Body Program, UFV

[1] Gen 2, 23

[2] HM 12, 4

[3] HM 12,4

[4] Plato, Complete Works, edition of Patricio de Azcárate, volume 5, Madrid, 1871, Discourse of Pausanias, page. 348​