Exclusive interview with Philippe Bordeyne, president of the Rome-based John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences
When Pope Francis called Mgr. Philippe Bordeyne to Rome in March 2021 to be the new president of what is commonly known as the John Paul II Institute on the Family, he wanted the French moral theologian to help give new momentum to his process of reforming the institute that was established in 1981.
Francis had issued an apostolic letter in 2017 called Summa familiae cura, to begin steps toward renewing the institute’s mission by making better use of the human sciences in facing the complex situations facing today’s families.
And, naturally, that has meant that the 63-year-old Bordeyne, formerly rector of the Institut Catholique of Paris, has had to help the John Paul II institute steer a new approach towards understanding and utilizing its founder’s “Theology of the Body“.
Mgr. Bordeyne spelled that out in this exclusive interview with La Croix’s Élodie Maurot.
La Croix: More than four decades after its formulation, how do you view John Paul II’s Theology of the body?
Philippe Bordeyne: This very personal, biblical, phenomenological and spiritual research must be placed in its historical context. It is part of a context marked by sexual liberation, but also by Polish communism, with its scientism and its control over bodies, by contraception and abortion.
Today, with the benefit of hindsight, we can say that this teaching carries an ambivalence. On the one hand, there is a real response to the instrumentalization and trivialization of sexuality. On the other hand, there is a real idealization, which has served and can still serve to protect a world of religion with a strong identity.
Our role at the John Paul II Institute is to recall that changes in culture are also an opportunity for encounter with God.
What cultural changes invite a broadening of perspective?
I would identify three.
The first concerns contemporary romanticism, which conceals a great epicureanism of the body, of feelings, of the pleasure of loving and being loved. The second is linked to the way in which the body is now caught up in technologies: the biology of passions, digital love, procreation technologies… The third upheaval concerns relations between men and women, but also questions about gender identity, sometimes sexual identity. With a strong ambivalence between the fear of the sexual relationship and an immense desire for connection.
What is at stake in the renewal of Christian reflection on the body?
One cannot do theology in Christianity without confronting the question of history. Because there is a historicity of Revelation and because there is a historicity of access to the meaning of the body and of sexuality. It is therefore essential to give the human and social sciences their full place in moral theology.
It is also important to link the theology of the body to a theology of relationship. The mystery of the difference between the sexes is not only a mystery of difference – something the Magisterium tends to insist on. In the Genesis account, what appears to be given is not a difference for the sake of difference, but a difference for the sake of relationship. It is the relationship that comes first.
How does research displace or complement the Theology of the Body?
To me, the work of theologian Xavier Thévenot [1938-2004] seems essential. It forces us to take into account the gap between desire and reality. To forget it, by avoiding the question of frustration, makes the bed of all misfortunes and all manipulations.
By confronting psychoanalysis and listening to many people, Xavier Thévenot developed the idea that all sexuality is made up of vulnerability, frustration, aggressiveness, a feeling of absurdity at times, alongside feelings of fulfillment and pleasure.
Another field of research concerns the rereading of biblical texts, which is necessary to revisit the history of male-female relations, during which women have always been diminished. The works of Anne-Marie Pelletier and Simona Segoloni Ruta come to my mind.
Finally, with regard to questions related to the body and technology, there are theologians such as Lisa Cahill who are interested in the social creativity of couples and families, in order to grasp their full potential.
Reproduced with permission from La Croix International.