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.
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 part of Love and Responsibility is perhaps the crux of Wojtyla’s argument in the book—“Choice and Responsibility.” A human person has a “responsibility for one’s own love,” he says, and this responsibility is “immense.” It is only recognized as such by someone who understands the value and worth of the human person—a person is a child of God, worth the blood of God’s Son! A person who knows this will be careful about how he or she approaches relationships. Wojtyla notes that a man (or a woman) who does not understand the worth and dignity of others, “will complicate his own life and that of others by letting the reality of love, its true ‘relish,’ escape him.” Someone who never sees the deeper reality of what love is, is bound to hurt other people.
When I read the above, I think of my friend Sally’s[*] father. He left her and her mom when Sally was three; remarried and divorced again when Sally was in elementary school; remarried and divorced again when she was in college… to say that this man “complicated his own life and that of others” is perhaps an understatement. Sally was hurt by every one of those changes and reasonably questions whether marriage can ever be permanent, whether she ever wants to be married. Her father never seemed to care about the effects of his choices on his daughter. He is an example, to me, of a person who does not feel responsibility for other people. Wojtyla says, “The greater the feeling of responsibility for the person the more true love there is.”
Relationships involve choices. Before a man and a woman can pledge their love to one another, “each face the choice of the person on whom to bestow the gift of self. Its consequences makes the choice a weighty matter.” Marriage is (obviously) not a decision to be taken lightly. Dating and engagement ought to be a time of discernment, asking and then verifying that one’s choice of spouse is the right one. Choosing one’s partner in marriage, “is as though one were choosing another ‘I,’ choosing oneself in another, and the other in oneself… in order not merely to live with another but to live by and for that other person, he must continually discover himself in the other and the other in himself.” One’s spouse must be like another self.
No one can really explain why one person chooses another, Wojtyla notes. Certainly sexual attraction plays a part, but only the choice of this person (not this body) can be considered valid for marriage. “True love is one in which we choose the person for the sake of the person,” not for the sake of having sex, having children, or in order not to be alone. Whether one has chosen wisely will be discovered as time goes by. “Life will determine the value of a choice and the value and true magnitude of love.”
Love will be tested in marriage. Sexual interest may fade and fatigue set in; two people who once vowed to be all to one another may feel like strangers. “Nothing then remains except the value of the person, and the inner truth about the love of those concerned comes to light,” Wojtyla writes. “If their love is a true gift of self, so that they belong each to the other, it will not only survive but grow stronger, and sink deeper roots… only when love between human beings is put to the test can its true value be seen.” If life was always easy, we would not really find out how real our love is.
I see an elderly couple at Mass sometimes; the woman is in a wheelchair and she cannot speak. Her husband appears to take such good care of her, pulling her up to the front of the church, fixing her cardigan so that she won’t get cold, and smiling at people who come up to greet them. That is what true love looks like; it’s not easy, but it’s beautiful.
While emotions and desires change and fluctuate, a love which has matured within the subject frees itself from this anxiety by its choice of person.” True love, based on the value of the person, “makes us feel emotional love for the person as he or she really is, not for the person of our imagination, but for the real person.” At a certain level, this love is not dependent on the person’s virtues and lives on in spite of his or her faults. The strength of love shows itself most when the loved one fails in some way (makes mistakes, even sins). “One who truly loves does not then withdraw his love, but loves all the more, loves in full consciousness of the other’s shortcomings and faults, and without in the least approving of them. For the person as such never loses its essential value.”
More on how this choice happens next time!
[*] Not her real name.
 Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 130.
 Ibid, p. 130.
 Ibid, p. 131.
 Ibid, p. 131.
 Ibid, p. 131.
 Ibid, p. 134.
 Ibid, p. 134.
 Ibid, p. 134.
 Ibid, p. 134.
 Ibid, p. 135.
 Ibid, p. 135.