Between communio and altérité : the place of the body in the theological anthropology of Karol Wojtyła and Emmanuel Lévinas
Item statusRestricted Access
Zimmermann, Nigel Kris
This thesis argues that a close reading of Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II) and Emmanuel Levinas reveals a common phenomenological and ethical interest in the embodied human person. Attention is also given to points of disagreement that are theological in character. Despite different religious commitments, their treatment of the body provides the basis for an overlooked dialogue in which both emphasise the giftedness of the embodied human subject, the ‘other’. In the postmodern context, the body is a key theme and the focus of much debate, yet little has been said of observations made by both Wojtyla and Levinas about each other’s work, or how this relates to their own development. This is surprising given their huge contribution to philosophy, ethics and theology in the 20th century. Levinas' mature philosophical works build on his ongoing interest in phenomenology, but the body remains problematical. For him, incarnation is questionable, because he refuses an incarnational avatar. There is no escape from commitment or responsibility and the theme of alterity is absolute. Yet, communio is the necessary objective of the human situation, in which bodies do not simply make incarnate presence possible, but are fragile, wounded and vulnerable. This is crucial: bodies can be violated and even crucified. Wojtyla addressed this paradox in his Wednesday audiences in what became known as his ‘theology of the body’, which in turn shaped his principle paradigm of alterity, the nuptial mystery. There is an irreconcilable difference in these two views of the body, in which Wojtyla’s nuptial mystery contrasts strongly with Levinas’ alterity. With this important variation in mind, it is demonstrated that the thread of agreement between Levinas and Wojtyla is the logic of the gift; that the body speaks a language of gift-exchange that is fundamentally ethical and theological.