Philippa Martyr: Sex refers to Christ and His Church

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Christopher West speaking at Seymour Centre in Chippendale in 2016. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Christopher West speaking at Seymour Centre in Chippendale in 2016. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

This is a remarkable little book, and I have to admit that this is the first full length book by Christopher West I’ve ever read.

I’d dipped in and out of some of his more lively texts some years ago, but I’d never really applied myself because I found his writing style a bit grating.

What makes this book remarkable is that it’s a ‘translation’ of the Theology of the Body for Protestants and other non-Catholics.

The foreword by American church historian and popular author Eric Metaxas, who is an Episcopalian, and it has other back-cover endorsements from non-Catholic writers and thinkers.

As such, it’s solidly Biblical in its orientation, and uses the Biblical bases of St John Paul’s unpacking of the human body in its relationships, weaknesses and glories.

Beginning with the original Edenic plan for human sexuality, West takes his readers through the fall and redemption of sex.

Most of the non-Catholic communities lost or abandoned the idea of celibacy at the Reformation, and many have never recaptured it.

Christopher West, Our Bodies Tell God’s Story: Discovering the divine plan for love, sex and gender. Brazos Press, 2020.
Christopher West, Our Bodies Tell God’s Story: Discovering the divine plan for love, sex and gender. Brazos Press, 2020.

Celibacy is seen with some suspicion in many of these communities to this day. For this reason, West has emphasised marriage and the covenant throughout; celibacy is barely mentioned.

But everything else is. I think West really hits his stride in Chapter 4, Will There Be Sex in Heaven? The chapter title sounds facile, but the content definitely isn’t.

West develops the idea of the heavenly covenant, the marriage literally made in heaven between Christ and the individual soul, as well as Christ with the Church. I think the book steadily improves from this point onwards.

Chapter 5, This is a Profound Mystery, is absolutely gorgeous, and has the most wonderful explanation of the much-criticised passage in Ephesians 5, ‘Wives, submit to your husbands … Husbands, love your wives’.

I had never noticed before how much of this passage is actually about the responsibility of the husband towards the wife.

This is also the chapter which begins with the humiliating anecdote of how West went home and bragged to his wife that he’d been asked to write a book about good husbanding, called Loving Her Rightly.

His wife of (then) 10 years drew a deep breath and began what turned into a long series of conversations about how he was the least qualified person in the world to write a book about that.

Philippa Martyr never noticed before how much of the passage from Ephesians 5 is actually about the responsibility of the husband towards the wife. PHOTO: Josh Applegate
Philippa Martyr never noticed before how much of the passage from Ephesians 5 is actually about the responsibility of the husband towards the wife. PHOTO: Josh Applegate

West ended up not writing the book, but he got a first-hand education about how hard it was for his wife to live with the ‘Theology of the Body Guy’. He has put that knowledge to good use in this book as well.

Chapter 6, Sex Refers to Christ and His Church, is a beautiful exegesis on Tobit and Songs – again, I’d never thought of the story of Tobit as being analogous to that of Christ, although both of them have to stare death in the face as they consummate their marriages.

This book offers lots of useful Biblical insights for Catholics who want to know more about the Scriptural basis of the Theology of the Body.

It would be helpful to anyone who wants to share Catholic teachings on sexuality with non-Catholics, especially those who are struggling with the idea of not using artificial conception.

It would also be good for anyone instructing converts from other Christian denominations, especially married couples.

Christopher West, Our Bodies Tell God’s Story: Discovering the divine plan for love, sex and gender. Brazos Press, 2020.