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Ethics: Love and Responsibility (Post #12)

Posted Sep. 21, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

To begin his formal ethical analysis of love in Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla sets out two fundamental ways through which to consider ethics: experience or virtue.

Wojtyla starts with the use of experience as a guideline for ethics. Situationalism (or relativism) sees every situation as unique in such a way that there can be no objective rules about behavior. What is right or wrong in a given situation just depends on the situation and the people in it. The people themselves are the only ones who can know (or say) what is good for them. So when it comes to the relationship between a man and a woman, anything goes as long as it “works” for the couple. Hopefully, it is obvious that this kind of ethical system leads to all sorts of problems, not only for the couple themselves but potentially their children, extended families, and friends as well.

In contrast, according to the ethics of virtue, it is a person’s duty to choose what is good. What is good is not decided by the person himself but rather determined by some objective rule or norm. “For the freedom of the human will is most fully displayed in morality through duty,”[1] Wojtyla writes. A duty is discovered, not created, through applying a norm. For Wojtyla, the personalistic norm (i.e. the command to love) furnishes the “should’s” and “should not’s” of the relationship between man and woman. Whatever is done should be done out of love, not lust or emotional manipulation. Wojtyla argues that without ethical completeness (respect, love for the other over oneself, etc.), there is no psychological completeness to love either. In other words, if love as a virtue is not present in the relationship between a man and a woman, it will not even be psychologically satisfying in the end because it is not authentic love.

Consider these two approaches to ethics as if they were applied to eating. Situationalism would say that whatever you eat is fine, if you think it is. Doughnuts every day? Go for it! Only you can know if that is a good breakfast for you. Virtue, on the other hand, requires you to consider the objective nutritional value of the food and act accordingly. That doesn’t mean that you always make the right decision, but that you know there is a right to strive for.

So how do a man and woman grow in the Christian virtue of love/charity? Stay tuned!

[1] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 120.


Integrating Love: Love and Responsibility Series (Post #11)

Posted Sep. 18, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

In this section of Love and Responsibility, the future pope (St. John Paul II) identifies a challenge that is before a man and a woman who seek love: The Problem of Integrating Love.

So far, Wojtyla’s psychological analysis of love has been of sensual or sentimental reactions of a man for a woman and vice versa. In this section, he notes that all these reactions are “strictly individual”[1]—every person and every relationship is different. Love is always “unique and unreproducible,”[2] because it is personal. It has an inner dimension and an outer dimension; it is a drama of “great and absorbing importance”[3] in the lives of the two persons involved. Love between a man and a woman can make other experiences pale in comparison and may reveal parts of the self that the person didn’t even know were there. Love has great psychological power.

Psychology itself, though, confirms that feelings are not enough to sustain love. Two characteristics of a person’s inner life that must enter into the relationship are truth and freedom. These help to “integrate” the couple’s love—to make it the kind of love that thrives in marriage.

Wojtyla comes back, then, to the choice of the will based on knowledge of the other. “The value of the person is closely bound up with freedom, and freedom is a property of the will.”[5] As previously discussed, the commitment of the will to the other person’s good is decisive in true love. Love must be a free choice; one that is unconditional, and this kind of love cannot be promised without knowledge: “A really free commitment of the will is possible only on the basis of truth,” Wojtyla writes. The truth cannot be only the psychological truth (i.e. “We really feel in love with one another”) but also the objective truth that these two are good for one another. This objective, ethical side of love is Wojtyla’s next subject.

[1] Ibid, p. 115.

[2] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 114.

[3] Ibid, p. 114.

[4] Ibid, p. 116.

[5] Ibid, p. 117.


Sentimentality: Love and Responsibility Series (Post #10)

Posted Sep. 14, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

After sensuality, Wojtyla turns in Love and Responsibility to sentimentality. While sensuality focuses on the body, sentimentality focuses on the person as masculine or feminine. Sentiment is an affection for the person in which “a different sort of desire [from that of sensuality] is discernible… the desire for nearness… exclusivity or intimacy, a longing to be always alone together.”[i] A person who is sentimentally attracted is always thinking about the other person and their “love.” In English, infatuation is probably the best term for what Wojtyla means—the stage in a relationship when the couple’s friends say, “Those two just can’t get enough of each other!” Often, these are the people texting each other at every moment, engaging in “PDA’s” and always trying to be together.

Wojtyla notes that there seems to be a marked difference between men and woman in this regard: men are more likely to be tempted into sensuality, women into sentimentality/ infatuation. This is a generalization, of course, but a helpful one. Because of his physiological and psychological makeup, a man is more likely than a woman to experience a desire to use someone’s body for pleasure; this means the man has a responsibility to be aware of this tendency and to guard against it. Sally may see a certain tenderness or other physical contact with Harry as a sign of affection, part of a growing love between them, while Harry may recognize that, for his part, his mind and body have crossed the line into a desire for pleasure or enjoyment. In that case, Harry should communicate this to Sally and they should set boundaries to help ensure that real love has a chance to grow.  

Sentimentality may sound better than sensuality, in terms of weaknesses, but Wojtyla explains why this is not necessarily the case. In infatuation, “a variety of values are bestowed upon the object of love which he or she does not necessarily possess in reality. These are ideal values, not real ones.”[ii] This kind of idealization happens in young love: the other person is just an opportunity for one’s own “perfect” man or woman to be loved. It is a way of using the person emotionally. The other person (usually the man), “is less the object than the occasion for affection.”[iii] In other words, Harry is just the guy who is allowing Sally to “love” someone and be someone’s girlfriend. It could as easily have been Greg. Sally then endows Harry with every good quality she imagines in a man: Harry is smart, strong, confident, funny, kind, etc. Sally doesn’t know that Harry is all these things, but she thinks or decides that he is. This infatuation “feeds” on Sally’s feelings and desires rather than who Harry actually is, so even though Sally wants to be around him all the time, she doesn’t necessarily want to know the real Harry. She doesn’t want to know his insecurities, vulnerabilities, weaknesses, failures, or sins. “This is why sentimental love is very often a cause of disillusionment… The discrepancy between the ideal and the reality often results in sentimental love fading or indeed changing into a feeling of hatred.”[iv] Infatuation may be fun, but it has to mature, or even die, in order to become love.  

Neither sensuality nor sentimentality, then, results in a robust love that is capable of weathering storms. The next section will be about integrating love in order that two people can pledge themselves to one another for life.

[i] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 110.

[ii] Ibid, p. 112.

[iii] Ibid, p. 113.

[iv] Ibid, p. 113.


Sensuality: Love and Responsibility Series (Post #9)

Posted Sep. 11, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

Sensuality as Impression:
In his section on sensuality, Wojtyla looks at what happens when a man and a woman “make an impression” on each other. With this phrase, we are saying more than that Harry and Sally met; We are saying that this meeting left an impression. Harry walked away with a mental picture of what Sally looked like; Sally left with a memory of what Harry sounded like (for example). The impression was spontaneous—it happened to them, they didn’t do it to themselves—but it linked up with an intellectual acknowledgement, such as, “He/she is attractive; maybe we could get together.”

The immediate reaction is what Wojtyla calls sensuality. “Sensuality is not just a matter of male x becoming aware of female y through his senses, or vice versa. Sensuality always implies experiencing a particular value bound up with this sensory awareness. Specifically we are concerned with a sexual value, connected above all with the body of a person of the other sex.”[1] Sensuality by itself, Wojtyla says, has a “consumer orientation,”[i] being aimed at a body and not a person; in this way it can interfere with noticing and knowing the person as they truly are.

Sensual Reaction is Natural:
Wojtyla is quick to point out that a sensual reaction is natural, not evil; it is a “reflex.”[ii] A healthy body reacts with sensuality because of the biological facts of human existence (man + woman = baby) and it is in and through the body that these facts are experienced. Sexual attraction to another person reaches consciousness “where the impression is accompanied by an emotion experienced not only mentally but bodily. Sensuality is connected with the stirrings of the body, especially in its so-called erogenous zones.”[iii] This kind of spontaneous bodily reaction is particularly strong in men. Wojtyla notes that a man’s bodily reactions “would give man all the guidance he needs in his sexual life”[iv] if he were only an animal, driven by instinct to another animal. But man is called to exercise his freedom and self-control.

The sensual reactions of the body can pose a threat to true love when they “devalue the person”[v] by seeing the other as an object. This is why the conscience is often stirred by sensual reactions—a man (or a woman) knows that this reaction does not do full justice to the person in front of them. They may be embarrassed by it. But sensuality can be understood as the “raw material” for love, when it is integrated into a full human relationship.

Wojtyla notes that sensuality, since it is focused only on a body, is notoriously fickle. It turns easily from one person to the next. A man who goes to a bar and “checks out” every woman who walks in the door is a prime example of someone seemingly ruled by sensuality. Wojtyla also notes that a person may react sensually to a body that is not present (consider pornography) and that sensuality may “insinuate itself into [a] situation ‘uninvited,’”[vi] such as when an artist is painting a nude model (and has no intention of using her sexually). These reactions make life complicated!

Lest a person who is naturally more sensual (reacting swiftly or strongly to the other sex) be led to despair, Wojtyla notes at the end of this section that, “An exuberant and ready roused sensuality is the stuff from which a rich—if difficult—personal life may be made.”[vii] An ardent temperament can lead to an ardent love.


[1] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 105.

[i] Ibid, p. 105.

[ii] Ibid, p. 106.

[iii] Ibid, p. 107.

[iv] Ibid, p. 107.

[v] Ibid, p. 107.

[vi] Ibid, p. 109.

[vii] Ibid, p. 109.


Marital Love: Love and Responsibility Series (Post #8)

Posted Sep. 7, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

Betrothed Love:
In this section of Love and Responsibility, Wojtyla looks specifically at the type of love that a husband and wife share, and he calls this “betrothed love.” The phrase in English that better conveys what Wojtyla means is “marital love,” since he means the love in which a man and woman give themselves fully to one another.

Wojtyla reminds us that we must possess ourselves before we can give ourselves. Self-gift is not about passively becoming what someone else wants us to be. Have you seen the movie Runaway Bride (1999)? The main character (Maggie) always adjusted her likes and dislikes according to what her boyfriend or fiancé liked. She wanted to be loved, so she changed herself to match whatever the man she was with liked in a woman. With the hippie, she became a hippie; with the athletic guy, she became a sports fan. After this habit was pointed out to her, Maggie realized that she didn’t know herself.

Most of us can probably relate to this impulse at some level: We fudge our favorite book so that we sound smart, or nod our head when our crush talks about a band we’ve never heard of… if that kind of thing becomes a habit, we might reach a point where we don’t “possess” ourselves and cannot find real love. This is perhaps more common for women than men.

Marriage is to Give
Wojtyla points out that, psychologically speaking, it is usually the woman who feels that her role in marriage is to give.  However, objectively (or ontologically) speaking, both spouses must give themselves to one another, and not just sexually. “Giving oneself only sexually, without the full gift of the person,”[1] is just a form of use, as previously discussed. Husband and wife give themselves to one another even through the mundane activities of daily life.

At the risk of being too movie-heavy in this post, the movie Fireproof (2008), while one of the cheesiest movies ever, does a great job communicating this truth about marriage. Once the husband (Caleb) begins really giving himself to his wife by making her coffee, buying her flowers, and considering her needs before his own (possibly for the first time in their entire marriage), the relationship is transformed. Caleb comes to understand that love is a choice; He recognizes that he has been selfish and that he has not acted with goodwill and friendship.

The Person and Love:
Wojtyla concludes with the note that marital love is not some isolated kind of love, different from every other kind. “Betrothed love, though of its nature it differs from all the forms of love previously analyzed, can nevertheless not develop in isolation from them. In particular, it is essential that Husband and wife give themselves to one another even through the mundane activities of daily life..”[2]

Thus concludes the section on “The Person and Love.” We have looked at attraction, desire, goodwill, reciprocity, friendship, and betrothed love as experiences of the person. In the next section, Wojtyla goes into a psychological analysis of love. Stay tuned!


[1] Ibid, p. 99.

[2] Ibid, p. 100.


Infatuation/Sympathy and Friendship: Love and Responsibility Series (Post #7)

Posted Sep. 4, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

NOTE: While we normally use “sympathy” to describe sharing in someone else’s suffering, Karol Wojtyla uses the word according to its root meaning – feeling the same as another person – to describe the emotional feeling of love that couples experience as they date and approach marriage. I will also use the term “infatuation” for the same phenomenon.

Love as Desire Needs to Becomes Love as Goodwill
In the next section of Love and Responsibility, Wojtyla examines how sympathy matures into friendship. This process is like the earlier one (where love as desire has to mature to love as goodwill). In both cases, emotions come first, and the will follows.

Wojtyla writes that sympathy— infatuation, the “high” that a man and a woman experience when they discover that they like each other romantically—“takes possession of one’s feelings and will, irrespective of the objective worth of the person for whom it is felt.”[1] Studies have shown that the first stage of romance, being “in love,” releases lots of happy chemicals in the brain—it’s even like being on drugs! Infatuation makes a man and a woman feel close to each other and aware of their mutual attraction. It lays a foundation and “creates conditions for friendship.”[2]

Love between a man and a woman must mature into friendship. In friendship, a person chooses the other and wants what is best for him or her. The choice to be friends with someone must be based on who he or she really is, so knowledge and time are crucial. The emotion of sympathy—liking each other—must be supplemented “with an objective knowledge and belief in the value of that person.”[3] “Love at first sight” can spring up in a moment, but becoming friends, “normally demands time and reflection.”[4]

When a priest meeting with an engaged couple asks, “How long have you been dating?” it isn’t just out of curiosity – he’s trying to discern something about the depth of their friendship. It is important information for him to know to accompany them in their discernment of marriage. As Wojtyla puts it, only if a man and woman have a mature friendship that has “objective existence,” over and above feelings, “is it a friendship on the basis of which two people can build a marriage, and share their lives.”[5]

Marriage’s Strong Foundation: Friendship
Infatuation is not enough to keep a couple together over time. It will break down, and, “As soon as sympathy breaks down [the two people] usually feel that love has also come to an end.”[6] A marriage that takes place before a strong foundation is present is a danger; the high divorce rate attests to it. Unless a man and a woman know each other’s characters and have formed a real friendship, if they marry, their marriage will not be on a strong foundation. Their marriage will not survive unless the spouses mature and “grow into” friendship after the wedding day.


Comradeship in Marriage:
At the end of this section, Wojtyla mentions “comradeship,” by which he means that the man and woman are co-workers, partners in a project that is bigger than them. Being co-workers, “rests on such objective foundations as joint work, common goals, shared concerns, etc.”[7] If sympathy/ affection and comradeship/ partnership are present, “the combination is a very promising one.”[8] When two people work together on a project, a certain unity develops around that shared task. For example, “We made a picnic table this weekend” or “We cooked a meal for a soup kitchen last night.” There are simple, practical ways that people need one another and benefit from doing things with other people.[9] Wojtyla says that people who are good at working with others are also well-suited for marriage and family life.

In conclusion, if you’re in a dating relationship, it’s a good idea to ask yourself, “Do I love this person because we feel the same way and enjoy each other’s company, or are we really becoming friends along with everything else?”


[1] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 90.

[2] Ibid, p. 91.

[3] Ibid, p. 92.

[4] Ibid, p. 92. The philosopher Aristotle wrote in Nicomachean Ethics that while the desire to be friends may happen immediately, friendship itself does not.

[5] Ibid, p. 94.

[6] Ibid, p. 90.

[7] Ibid, p. 94.

[8] Ibid, p. 94.

[9] Wendell Berry writes about how men and women used to objectively need one another more in the past (to raise the barn, to harvest the fields, to teach the children all that they needed to know, etc.), and this led to stronger bonds between spouses in marriage and among the community at large.


Desire, Goodwill, Reciprocity: Love and Responsibility Series (Post #6)

Posted Aug. 31, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

Love as Desire:

Desire is of the essence of love,”[i] Wojtyla writes in the next section of Love and Responsibility. Desire originates in a need: men and women need each other. Sex is also “a limitation, an imbalance,”[ii] Wojtyla writes, and the need to be united to someone of the other sex drives people to one another. Wojtyla draws a distinction between the sexual desire active in love and sexual desire that is lustful, which could be satisfied by anyone who happens to be available. Love as desire is a longing for a particular person, not just a body. It gives sexual desire a proper direction.  

Love as Goodwill:
To see how love as desire can grow into a fuller love, Wojtyla explains love as goodwill, which focuses on the choice to love. “Love is an activity.”[iii] Goodwill is synonymous with selflessness in love—a desire for what is best for the other person. Goodwill reveals the unconditional nature of love and can be demonstrated by the ability to let go of the relationship if it is not objectively good. Wojtyla says that the love of man and woman, “cannot but be love as desire, but must as time goes by move more and more in the direction of unqualified goodwill.”[iv] Desire is a beginning for love, but goodwill is necessary for growth.

Love as Reciprocity:
Reciprocity is presented in the next section as a “problem.” We all know the experience of liking someone who doesn’t like us back, and vice versa. Reciprocity—the giving of love for love—is a consideration, not of what is happening in the man or in the woman (as the previous sections have been), but rather what is occurring between them. Reciprocity is the mutual part of love, when a couple moves from “I” to “we.” This occurs, “through a commitment of the will.”[v] Love by its nature is bilateral, shared between two persons.[vi]Here Wojtyla clears up the idea that seeking a return of love is somehow selfish or self-centered. It’s not! Hoping that the other person cares for you as much as, and in basically the same way as, you care for him or her is natural and healthy. “Since reciprocity is in the very nature of love, since the interpersonal character of love depends on it, we can hardly speak of ‘selfishness’ in this context. The desire for reciprocity does not cancel out the disinterested character of love.”[vii] This may be helpful, especially for women who are perhaps more likely to focus on giving love without seeking a return.

Of course, reciprocity depends on what each person brings to love—is it just infatuation, attraction, desire, or is it a virtuous love? Only if both persons bring virtuous love to the relationship do trust, durability, and reliability come along.

Virtuous Love:
Let’s say one of the people is virtuous and the other is not. This is a breeding ground for jealousy, suspicion, and other problems. A person who is not trustworthy cannot form a relationship of trust; in the same way, love between a man and a woman is not mature if either of the persons is not committed to caring for the other above their own desires. That’s not a good foundation for a relationship. Wojtyla’s practical conclusion to this section is: “People should always carefully ‘verify’ their love before exchanging declarations, and especially before acknowledging it as their vocation and beginning to build their lives upon it… They must determine what their reciprocity relies on, and whether it is not apparent rather than real.”[viii]

Before you say, “I love you,” or go to look at rings, ask yourselves, “What is our love based on? Do we both know and desire what is good for the other person? Do we both seek to put the other first? Are we both seeking virtue?”




[i] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 80.

[ii] Ibid, p. 81.

[iii] Ibid, p. 82.

[iv] Ibid, p. 84.

[v] Ibid, p. 85.

[vi] Wojtyla briefly addresses unrequited love in this section, since even if it feels like genuine love, it is not, and it must “die”  because it is incomplete.

[vii] Ibid, p. 86.

[viii] Ibid, p. 88.

[i] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 80.

[ii] Ibid, p. 81.

[iii] Ibid, p. 82.

[iv] Ibid, p. 84.

[v] Ibid, p. 85.

[vi] Ibid, p. 85.

[vii] Ibid, p. 86.

[viii] Ibid, p. 88.

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Love as Attraction: Love and Responsibility Series (Post #5)

Posted Aug. 28, 2017 by DOM 1 comment

In the section entitled, “The Metaphysical Analysis of Love,” Karol Wojtyla discusses a number of aspects that make up the “invisible” side of love, namely attraction, desire, goodwill, reciprocity, and friendship. These are experiences that men and woman have when they meet one another. Today we focus on attraction.

An attraction—a “liking”— happens quite naturally between men and women. An instant or initial attraction occurs, Wojtyla writes, as a result of natural sexual desire, but in order to really like someone on the personal level, we have to know them. Attraction to another person—a man to a woman, a woman to a man—“does not mean just thinking about some person as a good, it means a commitment to think of that person as a certain good, and such a commitment can in the last resort be effected only by the will.”[i] This is a really important point: we have to consent to an attraction before it will really take hold. Feelings may arrive spontaneously, but not a full attraction of one person to another.

Our culture says the opposite: that attraction is a blind force, a passion, that moves people without their consent.[ii] We think that we have to be attracted to so-and-so; we have no choice in the matter.  Wojtyla says that is not true: “At the base of attraction is a sense impression, but this is not decisive in itself. For we discover in an attraction a certain cognitive commitment of the subject, a man, let us say, towards the object, in this case a woman.”[iii]

Let’s say that a man sees a woman at a bar and is struck by her; He thinks she’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. He starts walking over to ask for her number… when he realizes that she’s wearing a wedding ring. If he’s a good man (we’re going to presume that he is), the moment is over. “That woman at the bar” may always be the most beautiful woman the man has ever seen, but he’s not going to nurture an attraction toward her. He knows that being attracted to someone else’s wife is not going to make him happy. (Obviously, if he decided that he had “no choice” but to pursue an attraction to her regardless of her marriage, he’s not a good man!)

Wojtyla also analyzes the unpredictability of attraction, pointing out that every human person is complex and reacts to different qualities in others based on temperament, past experience, family background, etc. You can never tell who is going to like each other! We are all a mixed bag, if you will. (Wojtyla’s phrase is “uneven good.”[iv]) This is why setting friends up on blind dates can be risky (though it’s a risk we encourage you to take!).

Wojtyla writes that an attraction must discover that it is rooted in the truth about the person before it can be called love.  Perhaps Sally thinks that Harry is kind, but then she sees him repeatedly acting in an unkind way. Perhaps Harry thinks Sally is sweet and then finds her kicking puppies. This is when disillusionment sets in: “This person isn’t who I thought they were!” Wojtyla writes, “This emptiness and the feeling of disappointment which goes with [this experience] often produce an emotional reaction in the opposite direction: a purely emotional love often becomes an equally emotional hatred for the same person.”[v] That’s why it’s so important to always seek to know the real person, not the image in your head!

To sum things up: attraction is the beginning of love, but requires knowledge and truth to become the kind of love that marriage can be built on.

[i] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 75.

[ii] Notably, in Dante’s Inferno, the adulterous couple Francesca and Paolo who are in hell because of their sin of lust are battered about by the winds, unable to control their movements forever as they were unable to use self-control in life.

[iii] Ibid, p. 75.

[iv] Ibid, p. 76.

[v] Ibid, p. 79.

[i]Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 75.

[ii] Ibid, p. 75.

[iii] Ibid, p. 76.

[iv] Ibid, p. 79.


Sexual Desire: Love and Responsibility Series (Post #4)

Posted Aug. 24, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

The Human Person’s Sexual Desire:

The second major section in the first chapter of Love and Responsibility is called “Interpretation of the Sexual Urge”—we are going to call this “sexual desire” since that is more familiar. In this section, Wojtyla lays out a few different ways of looking at sexual desire in the life of a human person.

Sexual desire is “instinctual” in the human being in that it is aimed at the survival of the species and is not a result of conscious deliberation. But while instinct implies a blind force that must be obeyed, sexual desire, while it is a natural drive, does not compel a person to obey it. After all, “Man is by nature capable of rising above instinct in his actions.”[1] While bodily reactions occur without a person choosing them, ethics come into play as soon as the person makes a choice.

“Man is not responsible for what happens to him in the sphere of sex since he is obviously not himself the cause of it, but he is entirely responsible for what he does in this sphere.”[2] [Author’s note: Teaching young people the difference between a reaction they are not responsible for and a deliberate choice to consent to the reaction or further it is an important task for parents, youth ministers, pastors, and other trustworthy adults.]

Wojtyla notes that sexual desire is an experience of every human person. “Every human being is by nature a sexual being, and belongs from birth to one of the two sexes.”[3] Being male or a female “means that a person’s whole existence has a particular orientation which shows itself in his or her actual internal development… and in the normal course of things… manifests itself in a certain natural predilection for, a tendency to seek, the other sex.”[4] In other words, we are “oriented” in an objective way: male toward female, female toward male.[5] It is written into our bodies. “Sexual attraction,” Wojtyla writes, “makes obvious the fact that the attributes of the two sexes are complementary, so that a man and a woman can complete each other.”[6] Each of the sexes reveals one of the two ways of being human.

The continuation of humanity depends on individual people “obeying” their natural sexual desire and giving life to new human beings. Wojtyla argues that because sexual desire leads to new persons who have immortal souls, it is not solely of biological significance but existential: “It is bound up with the very existence of the person.”[7] Sexual desire thus gives an objective purpose and a shape to the love between a man and a woman—i.e. it’s important not just for the two of them, but for the world.[8]

The Religious Interpretation of Sexual Desire:
In the next sections, Wojtyla addresses the religious interpretation of sexual desire, followed by two misinterpretations. The religious significance of sexual desire is that it furthers the work of creation: when a married couple use the sexual urge in intercourse, they join “the cosmic stream by which existence is transmitted”[9] and become “the rational co-creators of a new human being.”[10] The two misinterpretations are: 1.) the body is evil and sexual intercourse is only a “necessary evil” for procreation and, 2.) a tendency to see all of human behavior in light of sexual desires and the pursuit of sexual pleasure. Wojtyla shows that neither of these interpretations are adequate.

In his “Final Observations,” Wojtyla writes that the Church has always taught two ends of marriage: procreation and mutual help. These aims will be fulfilled by following the personalistic norm (The only proper response to another human person is love). “Sexual morality and therefore conjugal morality consists of a stable and mature synthesis of nature’s purpose with the personalistic norm.”[11] In other words, knowing what is right and wrong when it comes to sex depends on knowing what nature’s purpose is (sex = babies) and what the loving thing to do is (according to what [who] a human person is). These things together are what give an objective form to love between man and woman.

[1] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 46.

[2] Ibid, p. 47.

[3] Ibid, p. 47. Wojtyla notes here that this fact is not contradicted by persons who are born with ambiguous genitalia and the like, any more than any other disorder or disability puts human nature into question.

[4] Ibid, p. 48.

[5] The term “sexual orientation” today denotes a subjective feeling of attraction, but such a feeling can never change the objective nature and purpose of one’s sexual nature.

[6] Ibid, p. 48.

[7] Ibid, p. 52.

[8] Ibid, p. 53.

[9] Ibid, p. 54.

[10] Ibid, p. 55.

[11] Ibid, p. 67.

Thus ends the section on “The Person and the Sexual Urge.” Next, Wojtyla discusses “The Person and Love.”

[1] Love and Responsibility, p. 46.

[2] Ibid, p. 47.

[3] Ibid, p. 47. Wojtyla notes here that this fact is not contradicted by persons who are born with ambiguous genitalia and the like, any more than any other disorder or disability puts human nature into question.

[4] Ibid, p. 48.

[5] The term “sexual orientation” today denotes a subjective feeling of attraction, but such a feeling can never change the objective nature and purpose of one’s sexual nature.

[6] Ibid, p. 48.

[7] Ibid, p. 52.

[8] Ibid, p. 53.

[9] Ibid, p. 54.

[10] Ibid, p. 55.

[11] Ibid, p. 67.




Use v. Love: Love and Responsibility Series (Post #3)

Posted Aug. 21, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

Between ‘Use’ and ‘Love’:
The first distinction that Wojtyla makes in Love and Responsibility, between “use” and “love,” is one that we understand intuitively. No one wants to be used; It’s a terrible feeling! We commonly learn that pretty early on in life—maybe at the playground, or at a friend’s house—when we realize that the other kid only wants to play with us because we have the latest gadget that their parents won’t get for them. That’s such a small example, but these are real lessons in whether another person likes us for ourselves or only likes us for what we do for them.

We all know that people can be used by others for sexual pleasure. This is not okay, even if the person consents to being used (such as in prostitution). A person has an inherent dignity that should rebel at even the suggestion that he or she should allow someone else to “use” them. But early childhood wounds, insecurity, or other factors may dull a person’s sense of how he or she deserves to be treated. In this section of Love and Responsibility, Wojtyla explains why using another person is incompatible with their dignity.

To use means to employ some object of action as a means to an end—the specific end which the subject has in view.”[1] For example, I use a pencil to write on my calendar. The pencil is a means to the end of writing. My aim is to put something on my schedule; the pencil is just a means to accomplish that. In fact, a pen would do just as well. Chances are, I just picked up the closest tool, the closest object, that would do the job.

Karol Wojtyla’s Personalistic Norm:
When you think of it that way, it’s easy to see that a person shouldn’t be treated the same way as a pencil. Things are interchangeable, but persons aren’t. Wojtyla notes, “The sexual relationship presents more opportunities than most other activities for treating a person—sometimes even without realizing it—as an object of use.”[2] He calls us to be on guard against this tendency, which is in all of us to some extent.

There are lots of reasons why we may be tempted to treat another person as an object—as a means to our own pleasure or happiness. We may be more focused on our own feelings of loneliness or desire than on the actual person in front of us. But part of love is “a readiness to subordinate oneself” to the value of the person.[3] In other words, love means treating someone the way they deserve to be treated. If you love a person, you don’t want to use them—even if they were to mistakenly agree to be used.

So we come to what Wojtyla terms the “personalistic norm”—the way persons ought to be treated: “the person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.”[4] The personalistic norm is essentially the same as God’s commandment to love. You could even think of it as the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. But again, sometimes we mistakenly forget that we are children of God and should be treated with love and respect—sometimes we settle for being treated “okay,” which means we might think treating others just “okay” is fine. Instead, it might help to think about a young child whom you love—whether yours, or one in your family—and how you want them to be treated. This can be clarifying, kind of like when you ask a teenage boy how his little sister should be treated on a date. We often are more protective of others’ hearts than our own.

To conclude: Treating the person with love (and not using them) is a step in fulfilling God’s call to love our neighbor.


[1] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993)p. 25.

[2] Ibid, p. 30.

[3] Ibid, p. 31.

[4] Ibid, p. 41.


Person as Subject and Object: Love and Responsibility Series (Post #2)

Posted Aug. 17, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

As mentioned in the Introduction, Karol Wojtyla (St. John Paul II) is interested in what (who) the human person is. What makes us human? Are there ways of acting that are “less” or “more” human? How do we know?

Person as Subject and Object:
The first section of Love and Responsibility is entitled “The Person and the Sexual Urge,” and the first topic is the person as both the subject (do-er) and the object (done-to) of actions. If I hug you, then I am the subject of that action, and you are the object. That does not make you an object in the sense that I have dehumanized you (we’ll talk about that later), but simply is a way of saying that “every subject also exists as an object, an objective ‘something’ or ‘somebody.’”[i]

Man as ‘Someone’ Not ‘Something’:
But man* is an object in a different way from everything else in the world, because he has an inner life. He is “someone,” not “something.” The term “person” developed out of a desire to express this difference. Animals, for all their individual quirks and affections, are not persons. A person—and here Wojtyla uses Boethius’s definition of “an individual being of a rational nature”—has a spiritual character. He has an inner life that centers around truth and goodness.[ii]

It is this inwardness that makes it even possible to talk about ethics. A person has the power of self-determination. He can choose. “No one else can want for me. No one can substitute his act of will for mine,” writes Wojtyla. [iii]

Self-Sacrifice Found in Human Witness:
Often the most amazing stories we hear and share are stories of people who refuse to want or choose something, even their own life, over another value that they hold dear. For example, St. Maximillian Kolbe wanted life for another prisoner over his own. Or consider the book and movie “Unbroken,” where Louie Zamperini survives a plane crash, floats on the sea 47 days, and suffers in a series of prisoner-of-war camps, but never gives up his desire to live. Or remember Corrie ten Boom, who hid many Jewish people in her home in WWII, knowing that at any moment she could be caught. Only human persons have the capacity for conscious self-sacrifice.

A person’s capacity to freely choose an action is the foundation of all ethics. When the object of a person’s action—that which is directly affected by what a person does—is another person, how much more important it is to know whether that action is good or evil. And since sexual morality almost always centers on the actions of one person with another person, then knowing what a person is, and how a person deserves to be treated, is crucial.

*I’m using “man” in its inclusive meaning of “human being, male or female.” It’s handy, less wordy, and conveys an idea of the common nature that we all share.

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[i] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993)p. 21.

[ii] Ibid, p. 23.

[iii] Ibid, p. 24, emphasis original.


Love and Responsibility Series: Introduction

Posted Aug. 14, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

His Book – Love and Responsibility (1960):
First published in 1960, Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla (St. John Paul II) has never ceased to be relevant as an analysis of the metaphysical and ethical dimensions of love. Wojtyla presented the themes of this work in his university lectures in Lublin. They are the fruit, he tells us, of conversations with and pastoral care of many couples over his years as a priest. “It is… the result above all of an incessant confrontation of doctrine with life (which is just what the work of a spiritual advisor consists of).”[i]

Philosophical Approach to Sexual Morality:
Explaining his philosophical approach to sexual morality, Wojtyla states that his aim is to “justify, interpret, and explain” the norms of Catholic sexual morality on the basis of personhood.[ii] He writes, “Sexual morality is within the domain of the person. It is impossible to understand anything about it without understanding what the person is, its mode of existence, its functioning, its powers.”[iii]

The Human Person – Personalism:
In other words, to understand Catholic sexual morality, you have to understand what
(who) the human person is.[iv] The approach Wojtyla takes in Love and Responsibility is called personalism.

For the next few weeks, MUR will look at Love and Responsibility and its contributions to understanding the dynamic relationship between man and woman.

[i] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 15.

[ii] Ibid, p. 16.

[iii] Ibid, p. 18.

[iv] When we speak of persons, “who” is usually the correct pronoun. But in philosophy we often ask what something is in order to get to the core of it, and it is in this sense that we ask “What is the human person?” We are basically asking, what is the nature of humanity? What is the thing that we all share, that makes us all human persons?

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