In this section of Love and Responsibility, Wojtyla analyzes what concupiscence is and what it’s not. It’s not a sin, but it is a challenge to the growth of mature love between a man and a woman. “Concupiscence is a consistent tendency to see persons of the other sex through the prism of sexuality alone, as ‘objects of potential enjoyment.’” Wojtyla points out that overcoming this tendency does not mean becoming “a-sexual” or “blind to the value of ‘the body and sex,’” but rather that it is integrated into love of the person, the whole person, which includes his or her body. (There’s a sweet song about this kind of integration called “You Wouldn’t Mind” by Colleen Nixon.)
Wojtyla writes that this integration is a struggle within every person, a battle between the tendency to “enjoy” and the call to love. He emphasizes again that concupiscence is only the “germ of sin,” not sin itself, since it is not a choice. Our reactions toward one another are “muddied” because of original sin, so that “it is not altogether safe to put one’s trust in the reactions of the senses” or emotions. That is hard! We want to just relax and go with our desires and feelings, but that’s not always a good plan.
Wojtyla points out that because of original sin, human beings tend to desire others sexually even if they don’t “love” them at all—concupiscence pushes people in that direction. Therefore, for concupiscence to become lust, “passive acquiescence suffices.” In other words, if one does not actively guard against lust (the sin), one will most likely lose the battle. Concupiscence will win. At the same time, one shouldn’t mistake concupiscence for the sin of lust. It’s the will that determines whether we sin or not. “As soon as the will consents,” Wojtyla writes, the desire becomes something that the person is “actively doing” rather than something that is “happening to” him or her.
Some people (perhaps all!) have a hard time finding that boundary between what is just happening in them and what they are choosing. Wojtyla says that since concupiscence pushes the human being toward lust, the person may mistake this push for the choice. But just because a person feels something doesn’t mean they will or choose it. In fact, “an act of the will directed against a sensual impulse does not generally produce any immediate result… [the sexual reaction] general runs its full course even if it meets emphatic opposition in the sphere of the will.” If you didn’t choose it, it’s not a sin.
So far in this section, Wojtyla has been focused on sensual reactions, but now he turns to emotions. He reiterates that love cannot be reduced to emotion and that sin comes when “the will puts emotion before the person.” He notes that, “Authenticity of feeling is quite often inimical to truth in behavior.” In the footnote to this statement, Wojtyla notes that on should treat one’s feelings, “with a certain distrust,” noting that often, someone’s being “true to their feelings” is used to justify bad actions, like leaving one’s spouse for another. “The particular danger of ‘sinful love’ [lust] consists in a fiction: immediately, and before reflection, it is not felt to be ‘sinful,’ but is, above all, felt to be love… it makes the sin more dangerous.”
Lust is dangerous because it is not experienced as what it is: wrong, a sin. The persons justify it by a false idea of love as emotion. Instead, the will must “demand of reason a correct vision of love and of the happiness which love can bring to a woman and a man.” It is the will that guards the person against a “sinful love” and if the will guards one person, it simultaneously protects the other.
 Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 159.
 Ibid, p. 159.
 Ibid, p. 160.
 Ibid, p. 161.
 Ibid, p. 161.
 Ibid, p. 162.
 Ibid, p. 162.
 Ibid, p. 163.
 Ibid, p. 163.
 Ibid, p. 302.
 Ibid, p. 165.
 Ibid, p. 166.
“Emotion can develop and adapt itself to the shape which a man consciously wills”[i] Wojtyla writes at the beginning of the next section of Love and Responsibility. Human beings can mold their feelings, gradually, by conscious thoughts and choices. If you’ve ever gone to therapy, you’ve experienced this: thinking about something differently changes how you feel about it. “The integration of love requires the individual consciously and by acts of the will to impose a shape on all the material that sensual and emotional reactions provide.”[ii] So even if a man and woman are strongly attracted to each other (bodily and emotionally), it is their choices that will determine whether love will grow.
Wojtyla makes a quick distinction here. Subjectivity is just a fact of human life and experience. A person experiences the world from the “inside,” i.e. with one’s distinct point of view. Subjectivism is when subjectivity is raised up as the only or the highest criteria by which to evaluate love. In other words, as long as two people feel in love, that’s all that matters. While it’s absurd, Wojtyla says, to think of love without emotion, it is equally absurd to reduce it to emotion alone. In fact, “emotion has its dangers,” he writes, and “may affect one’s apprehension of the truth.”[iii] Emotion may blind a person to facts; he or she gets caught up in the feelings of love and judges the relationship’s goodness based on these feelings. When this happens, Wojtyla warns that emotion may be detached from realty (“He’s so wonderful… okay, he hit me that one time, but…”), and the objective rules of behavior may be replaced by “authenticity” (i.e. since we really love each other, we can have sex even though we’re not married yet). “Genuine emotion,” writes Wojtyla, “may inform an act which objectively is not good.”[iv] When it comes to the relationship of man and woman, true and strong (and good!) feelings can lead to actions that are not truly loving. They do not correspond to the value of the person and their ultimate happiness. Just because it “feels right” doesn’t mean it is right. This is what Wojtyla means by the subjectivism of values. “Pleasure becomes the only value, and the only scale by which we measure values.”[v] It is not hard to imagine what would happen in a world where everyone just looked for pleasure at the expense of everything else. It ain’t pretty.
This is how egoism grows in a relationship, Wojtyla writes. An egoist only cares about himself or herself, and this means that an egoist cannot love. The crazy thing is that, as Wojtyla points out, there can be a “bilateral accommodation between egoisms,” because egoism “permits calculation and compromise,” even while it excludes love.[vi] So there could easily be a relationship that looks pretty good from the outside but is really still based on two egoisms: two people who are both self-centered but want to be “in a relationship” enough to make certain concessions. Pleasure is really the only goal of each of them, whether sensual or emotional. Perhaps surprisingly, Wojtyla notes that, “Emotional egoism can be the cause of unchastity in a relationship between the man and woman just as surely as sensual egoism, though in a different way.”[vii] (The book Emotional Virtue touches on this!)
Wojtyla ends this section with an exhortation to always seek to integrate the objective and subjective sides of love, even though this takes “special effort.”[viii]
[i] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 153.
[ii] Ibid, p. 153.
[iii] Ibid, p. 154.
[iv] Ibid, p. 154.
[v] Ibid, p. 155.
[vi] Ibid, p. 157.
[vii] Ibid, p. 158.
[viii] Ibid, p. 158.
Wojtyla begins this section on carnal concupiscence (Definition: the tendency toward sin in the area of sexuality) in Love and Responsibility by noting that, in the relationship between man and woman, the subject of an action is a person of one sex and the object is the other sex, and “only love blurs this relationship,”[i]—i.e. the two persons see each other as “another self,” and therefore not a totally separate individuals. Even if the two persons really do feel like a “we,” a joint, single subject, “This feeling, however, does nothing to alter the objective fact that they are in reality two different beings and two different subjects of action,”[ii] Wojtyla writes. Often the actions of each person affect the other in a way that is more intense than in friendship or other more casual relationships. Wojtyla uses the word “actions” here to include thoughts and feelings which are “internal actions” only known to the person him- or herself.
Wojtyla turns to the Ten Commandments, pointing out that the two Commandments that have to do specifically with the relationship of the sexes cover both external actions (“Thou shalt not commit adultery”) and internal actions (“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife”). In both cases, the object of the action is a person of the other sex. Carnal concupiscence, Wojtyla writes, is closely related to sensuality but it is not the same. Sensuality is the first reaction to a body of the other sex, as a possible “object of enjoyment,” but this reaction is not a sin. Concupiscence, like lust, is in the second movement—the movement of the will—to actively seek enjoyment out of the other person. The “obvious ease”[iii] by which a person moves from a reaction to this choice “is the source of great tensions in the inner life of the person,”[iv] Wojtyla writes.
Sensuality easily turns into concupiscence or lust; the body’s reaction pushes the person in that direction. Wojtyla turns here to the famous philosopher and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas, who distinguishes these two movements of the soul as desire and the urge to act. Our feelings tend toward one or the other (thirst is an example of desire, anger of an urge to act). When sexual desire, focused solely on a body, is taken into the will and embraced, that is lust. The lustful person seeks bodily pleasure without regard to the person. In such a case, as soon as this person achieves the bodily release that he or she craves, his or her attitude toward the other person changes completely. Consider one night stands as one clear way that this plays out in people’s lives. If Harry and Sally meet at a bar and “hook up,” it’s likely that Harry and Sally will look at each other very differently the next morning (or even just a short time later). “Sensuality is ‘expended’ in concupiscence,”[v] Wojtyla writes. If bodily desires are the only thing bringing two people together, and those desires are satisfied (at least temporarily) by the sexual act, then the two persons no longer have any reason to be together afterwards. This is normal in the animal world but a serious moral problem for human beings.
Lust, or carnal love, substitutes the body and sex for the person. The person is reduced to an object for use. The persons may feel love because of it— they may experience a powerful feeling of closeness and intimacy that comes from the release of hormones during sex—but this is a trick of nature. Lust drives people to have sex but it does not unite them as persons. Casual sex is not love but its opposite. It may even damage people’s capacity to love, since it teaches them to use others, to have a “consumer” attitude; to use and discard another human being.
Wojtyla notes that emotion (sentimentality) can act as one safeguard against carnal concupiscence or lust but it is not enough—the virtue of chastity is the only real security against being used and using others.
[i] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 147.
[ii] Ibid, p. 147.
[iii] Ibid, p. 148.
[iv] Ibid, p. 148.
[v] Ibid, p. 149.
This whole next section of Love and Responsibility is entitled, “The Rehabilitation of Chastity.” This is a strange title, no? Why would chastity need to be rehabilitated? Did it hurt itself?
“Rehabilitation restores [a person or thing]’s good name and right to respect,” Wojtyla writes. When it’s put that way, it doesn’t take much consideration to see that the virtue of chastity does need rehabilitation in our culture. Is there any other virtue (i.e. objectively good quality) that is as ridiculed on television, movies, magazines, or music? Is there any other virtue that people are ashamed of embarrassed to own in mixed company? Can you imagine a party, for example, where someone says, “Yeah, I’m pretty disciplined, like, I get up at 7 every day, even on weekends because I know it’s good for me,” and another person says “WHAT? Are you KIDDING? That is so lame! You’re a loser,” and then points it out to others as a freakish quality? I don’t think so.
We see in our culture a serious resentment of chastity. People laugh at it. They don’t see it as a positive value; they don’t want to attain it. In fact, some people can’t even comprehend people who do. What these people know is that it is not easy, and the fact that some (albeit, few) people do strive for it is a judgment on their own actions. “So in order to spare ourselves the effort, to excuse our failure to obtain this value, we minimize its significance, deny it the respect which it deserves, even see it as in some way evil.” Consider how Cosmo or even Seventeen encourages sexual experimentation as “natural” or “healthy” even while ignoring objective evidence that it is harmful and often leads to profound unhappiness. Consider how one man’s confession that he really tries hard never to look at pornography can make other men feel angry at him.
People make arguments against the goodness of chastity in a way that they don’t about any other virtue. One argument is physical—that it is “unhealthy” to “repress” your sexuality. News flash: no one ever died from not having sex! Another argument is that chastity is the enemy of love; that love cannot grow between a man and a woman if the sexual expression of it is reserved for marriage. “It is arguments of this sort that particularly encourage the growth of resentment,” Wojtyla notes. This argument, when it takes root, makes the person who is striving for chastity feel guilty or selfish. Think about the classic line, “If you really loved me, you would…” How many teenagers (or adults, for that matter!) have succumbed to this false argument and regretted it? Real love doesn’t ask anyone to do something that is not good for them.
Sex does not somehow “produce” love. On the contrary, if the desire of the man or woman is simply to “possess” the other person (sexually or emotionally), love will be stunted; it will not grow. “Love develops on the basis of the totally committed and fully responsible attitude of a person to a person.” It is a deep and serious thing. “Only the correct concentration of particular sensual and emotional elements around the value of the person entitles us to speak of love,” Wojtyla says. Everything has to come together—this is the miracle!—attraction, emotion, and the will (or commitment). This is only possible when the persons have attained the virtue of chastity. “The word ‘chaste’ (‘clean’) implies liberation from everything that ‘makes dirty,’” Wojtyla writes. Seeing a person as an object or using him or her for the sake of pleasure is what makes a sexual action “dirty” (i.e. unworthy of the persons committing it). Chastity is the specific virtue that guards the person in this vulnerable sphere of sexuality, where the effects of original sin (a tendency toward selfishness) are so strong.
 Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 143.
 Ibid, p. 143.
 Ibid, p. 144.
 Ibid, p. 145.
 Ibid, p. 146.
 Ibid, p. 146.
Young people may scoff, Wojtyla notes in this section of Love and Responsibility, at the idea that love must be educated, or learned. But the love that a scoffer is are thinking of is the psychological aspect of love, its emotions and desires, not the mature love on which a marriage should be based. Desire and emotion are not learned, but just happen; Mature love is learned and worked on. “For love is never something ready made, something merely ‘given’ to man and woman,” Wojtyla writes, “It is always at the same time a ‘task’ which they are set.” Love is like a mission, “Should you choose to accept it” (Mission Impossible). Wojtyla writes that love is always “only ‘becoming’,” not complete. The couple can never brush their hands together and declare, “Okay, now we love each other perfectly! What shall we do next?”
Man and woman must continually be creators of their love. They may be given, by God, their past experience, and their natural inclinations, the raw material of attraction or infatuation, but they must make their love by choosing it, over and over. Love takes work and it is not easy. “Such a great love can only be the work of persons and… the work of Divine Grace.” Wojtyla notes that sometimes love “follows tortuous ways,” but, “Grace has the power to make straight the paths of human love.” This is the hope that couples can cling to in difficult times. God is with them.
Wojtyla concludes his “Ethical Analysis of Love” here by noting that there is, in the relationship and man and woman, “an insidious possibility of disintegration” (i.e. separation of the desires and emotions from the real choice of the person) which must be countered by developing the virtue of chastity. This is the topic of the next chapter.
 Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 139.
 Ibid, p. 139.
 Ibid, p. 140.
 Ibid, p. 140.
 Ibid, p. 140.
“Only true knowledge of a person makes it possible to commit one’s freedom to him or her,”[i] Wojtyla writes at the beginning of this section of Love and Responsibility. While giving up or limiting one’s freedom sounds unpleasant (especially to American ears), Wojtyla notes that, “Freedom exists for the sake of love.”[ii] In fact, human beings want to use their freedom to love—and not just to love for a little while but to love in a permanent, irrevocable way. “Forever” is implicit in “I love you,” not something added on. If someone said, “I love you today, but I’m not sure about tomorrow,” the other person would rightly respond, “Then you don’t love me at all.”
Wojtyla notes that the choice of loving another person—keeping in mind that love is the affirmation of the person—must be free. It cannot be made out of coercion or even passion. Wojtyla says that a person’s will “is usually the arena for a struggle between the sexual instinct and the need for freedom.”[iii] Someone may have to conciously struggle against their bodily desires and emotions in order to see the other person clearly and to treat them as a person, not an object. “Willed love expresses itself above all in the desire of what is good for the beloved person,”[iv] Wojtyla writes.
While sexual desire and infatuation, even though they involve another person, are focused on oneself, the will can focus on the other. One can can desire happiness for the other in an unselfish way—and not just momentary happiness but the ultimate happiness of heaven. “[Love in the will] desires the absolute good, the unlimited good, happiness for that person, and in this way compensates and atones for the desire to have that other person, a person of the other sex, for itself.”[v] Rather than denying that the body and emotions are driving someone toward relationships with the other person, the will acknowledges it and seeks to shape and form what is happening into mature love.
Sexual desire and emotional infatuation want to take; love wants to give. This is the “divine aspect of love,”[vi] the fact that to love someone, “is really to desire God for that person.”[vii] In your relationships, can you say that you desire God for the other person? Wojtyla notes that “only people of profound faith”[viii] see this truth. Wojtyla notes that it is sometimes a great discovery when a person realizes that he can put another person first, freely and joyfully. A person who loves may sacrifice much without thinking too much about it. Think of parents who constantly put their children’s needs before their own. “Love is indeed the highest of moral values. but one must know how to transfer it to the ordinary affairs of everyday life. This is where the problem of educating love arises.”[ix] This ability to love in action shows a person’s capacity for greatness, but this greatness is often manifested in small gestures of tenderness or sacrifice: getting up before one’s spouse to start the coffee, complimenting him or her, etc. Marriage means doing “small things with great love” (as St. [Mother] Teresa of Calcutta would say).
[i] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 135.
[ii] Ibid, p. 135.
[iii] Ibid, p. 136.
[iv] Ibid, p. 137.
[v] Ibid, p. 137.
[vi] Ibid, p. 138.
[vii] Ibid, p. 138.
[viii] Ibid, p. 138.
[ix] Ibid, p. 139.