Love and Responsibility Summary Continued

by William E. May


  1. Analysis of the Verb "to Use"
  2. Interpretation of the Sexual Urge


  1. Metaphysical Analysis of Love
  2. The word "love"
  3. Love as attraction
  4. Love as desire
  5. Love as Goodwill
  6. The problem of reciprocity
  7. From sympathy to friendship
  8. Betrothed love
  9. Psychological Analysis of Love
  10. Sensuality
  11. Sentiment and love
  12. The problem of integrating love
  13. The Ethical Analysis of Love


  1. The Rehabilitation of Chastity
  2. The Metaphysics of Shame
  3. The Problems of Continence


  1. Marriage

    1. Monogamy and the indissolubility of marriage
    2. The value of the institution [of marriage]
    3. Procreation and parenthood
    4. Periodic Continence: Method and Interpretation
  2. Vocation

    1. The Concept of "Justice toward the Creator"
    2. Mystical and Physical Virginity
    3. The Problem of Vocation
    4. Paternity and Maternity

Chapter  Five: Sexology and Ethics

  1. Marriage and Marital Intercourse (pp. 270-278)
  2. The Problem of Birth Control (pp. 278-285)

Chapter 3 contains three major parts, of which the first is devoted to the rehabilitation of chastity, the second to the "metaphysics of shame," and the third to the subject of continence and the difference between continence and chastity. Wojtyla sees shame and continence as "components" of chastity.

1. The Rehabilitation of Chastity

           Wojtyla begins by noting that today there is hostile resentment even to talk about chastity. This results from a distorted sense of values as well as from human laziness (resentment is linked to the cardinal sin of sloth or laziness). Faced with this hostile environment it is necessary to "rehabilitate" chastity, and to do so it is first necessary to "eliminate the enormous accretion of subjectivity in our conception of love and of the happiness which it can bring to man and woman" (p. 144).

           He recapitulates some of the material from the previous chapter regarding the truth that love must be firmly based on the affirmation of the value of the person; our emotional responses, along with our sensuality and erotic sensations, must be integrated into love:"Love develops on the basis of the totally committed and fully responsible attitude of a person to a person, erotic experiences are born spontaneously from sensual and emotional reactions" (p. 145).

           If we look at matters in this light we can see that chastity, far from being hostile to love, in fact enables us to love rightly for it frees us from "everything that makes 'dirty'" and is rooted in an "attitude toward a person of the opposite sex which derives from sincere affirmation of the worth of that person" (p. 146).

           Wojtyla again affirms the absolute need for self-giving love for an authentic man-woman relationship, one uniting them in such wise that "their wills are united in that they desire a single good as their aim, their emotions in that they react together and in the same way to the same values." They are as it were a "single subject of action" (both internal and external) even while remaining two distinct persons and subjects of action (p. 147).

           He then devotes two sections to the subjects of "carnal concupiscence" (pp. 147-153) and of "subjectivism and egoism" (pp. 153-158). In my opinion he summarizes quite masterfully the essence of these sections (and of his previous discussion of "sensuality" and "sentiment" or "emotionalism") in the following section which is devoted to the "structure of sin" and to "sinful love" (pp. 159-166). Hence I will center attention on what he has to say there. I will simply provide a series of texts on which readers can reflect.

            ...sensuality and emotionalism furnish the "raw material for love," i.e., they create states of feeling "within" persons, and situations "between" persons favorable to love. None the less, these "situations" are not quite love. They become love only as a result of integration, or in other words by being raised to the personal level, by reciprocal affirmation of the value of the person (p. 159).

            Concupiscence is a consistent tendency to see persons of the other sex through the prism of sexuality alone, as "objects of potential enjoyment." Concupiscence, then, refers to a latent inclination of human beings to invert the objective order of values. For the correct way to see and "desire" a person is through the medium of his or her value as a person. We should not think of this manner of seeing and desiring as "a-sexual," as blind to the value of the "body and sex"; it is simply that this value must be correctly integrated with love of the person....hence the distinction between "love of the body"[which is good] and "carnal love" [which is not] (pp. 159-160).

            Concupiscence is then in every man the terrain on which two attitudes to a person of the other sex contend for mastery....Concupiscence...means a constant tendency merely to "enjoy," whereas man's duty is to "love." This is why the view formulated in our analysis of love--that sensuality and emotion furnish the "raw material" of love--needs some qualification. This happens only to the extent that sensuality and emotional reactions are not swallowed up by concupiscence but absorbed in true love....Sensuality is the capacity to react to the sexual value connected with the body as a "potential object of enjoyment," while concupiscence is a permanent tendency to experience desire caused by sensual reactions (p. 160).

           Wojtyla then stresses that neither sensuality nor carnal desire is itself a sin and that Catholic theology sees in concupiscence (which result from original sin) not sin as such, but the "germ" of sin. Sin enters in only when the will "consents" (note that on p. 162 there is talk of the will "assenting"; the proper word, however, is "consent," since "assent" is an act of the intellect; I assume that this is a mistranslation). Wojtyla on pp. 160-163 is in essence reaffirming the traditional Catholic teaching so well expressed by Augustine centuries ago.

           Wojtyla can then accurately describe "sinful love." He says: "'Sinful love' is often very emotional, saturated in emotion, which leaves no room for anything else. Its sinfulness is not of course due to the fact that it is saturated with emotion, nor to the emotion itself, but to the fact that the will puts emotion before the person, allowing it to annul all the objective laws and principles which must govern the unification of two persons, a man and a woman. 'Authenticity' of feeling is quite often inimical to truth in behavior" (p. 163). The final sentence of this passage is absolutely superb! The result is that one is led to the false judgment that "what is pleasant is good." Moreover, "the particular danger of 'sinful love' consists in a fiction: immediately and before reflection, it is not felt to be 'sinful,' but it is, above all, felt to be love. The direct effect of this circumstance, it is true, is to reduce the gravity of the sin, but indirectly it makes the sin more dangerous. The fact that very many 'acts' in the association and cohabitation of man and woman occur spontaneously, under the influence of emotion, does not in the least alter the fact that the personalistic norm exists and is also binding in relations between persons. Only on the basis of the principle embodied in it can we speak of the unification of two persons in love, and this is equally true of married love (emphasis added), in which the union of man and woman is complemented by sexual partnership" (p. 165). "We can see then that sin in 'sinful love' is essentially rooted in free will. Carnal desire is only its germ. For the will can and must prevent the 'dis-integration' of love--prevent pleasure, or indeed emotion, from growing to the dimensions of goods in their own right, while all else in the relationship of two persons of different sexes is subordinate to them. The will can and must be guided by objective truth" (p. 166).

           All this was necessary to prepare the way for a positive presentation of "The True Meaning of Chastity" (pp. 166-173). Wojtyla begins with a brief summary of the Aristotelian-Thomistic understanding of the virtues perfecting human persons, with the four "cardinal" virtues of prudence (perfecting the practical intellect), justice (perfecting the will), fortitude (perfecting the 'irascible' appetite), and temperance (perfecting the 'concupiscible' appetite). In this schema chastity is linked to the cardinal virtue of temperance or moderation. Temperance "has its immediate subject [that is, is seated in, is a perfection of] in man's concupiscene (appetitus concupiscibilis), to which it attaches itself in order to restrain the instinctive appetites for various material and bodily goods which force themselves upon the senses. Sensual reactions (erga bonum sensibile) must be subordinated to reason: this is the function of the virtue of moderation....for a reasonable being such as man is to desire and strive for that which reason recognizes as good" (p. 168).

           Wojtyla, in describing the function of the virtue of chastity in this Thomistic framework, first stresses that it (chastity) is "simply a matter of efficiency in controlling the concupiscent impulses." This is more than the ability but means constant effectiveness: "Fully formed virtue is an efficiently functioning control which permanently keeps the appetites in equilibrium by means of its habitual attitude to the true good (bonum honestum) determined by reason" (p. 169). He gets to the heart of the matter when he says that "Chastity can only be thought of in association with the virtue of love," and that "its function is to free love from the utilitarian attitude" (p. 169). "The virtue of chastity, whose function it is to free love from utilitarian attitudes, must control not only sensuality and carnal concupiscence, as such, but--perhaps more important--those centres deep within the human being in which the utilitarian attitude is hatched and grows...the more successfully the utilitarian attitude is camouflaged in the will the more dangerous it is...To be chaste means to have a 'transparent' attitude to a person of the other sex--chastity means just that--the interior 'transparency' without which love is not itself" (p. 170). This does not mean that chastity is negative; it is rather positive, a yes to the value of the human person, a yes to raising all reactions to the value of 'the body and sex' to the level of the person (pp. 170-171). I think we could sum Wojtyla up by saying that chastity is the virtue enabling a person to come into possession of his sexual desires and feelings, not to be possessed by them, so that he can give himself away in love to others, particularly to persons of the other sex.

           Wojtyla then turns attention to what he calls the two components of chastity, namely shame and continence.

 2. The Metaphysics of Shame

           This is a fascinating section of Wojtyla's book (ideas are later developed in his Wednesday audiences as Pope in his reflections on the "spousal" meaning of the body, nakedness and shame).

           He first examines and analyzes the phenomenon of shame, then discusses the absorption of shame by love, and finally treats of the problem of shamelessness. According to him shame arises "when something which of its very nature or in view of its purpose ought to be private passes the bounds of a person's privacy and somehow becomes public" (p. 174). Because the existence of a person is an interior one, revealed only to those to whom one freely chooses to reveal it, a person is naturally shamed or experiences shame when his or her interior is exposed to the view or leer of others. Since sex is so deeply rooted in the being of men and women--pertaining to their inmost being (do we not call our sex organs our "private parts"?), a person feels shamed when his or her sexuality is regarded as an object of enjoyment, of consumption. It is for this reason that there is need for sexual modesty, which follows a somewhat different course in males than in females. Modesty indeed is "a constant eagerness to avoid what is shameless" (p. 177).

           The experience of shame, Wojtyla writes, "is a natural reflection of the essential nature of the human person" as incommunicable, inalienable. "The feeling of shame goes with the realization that one's person must not be an object of use on account of the sexual values connected with it, whether in fact or only in intention" and "with the realization that a person of the other sex must not be regarded [even in one's private thoughts] as an object of use" (p. 178). The function of shame is "to attitude to the person incompatible with its essential supra-utilitarian nature" (p. 179). For this reason, sexual modesty, which conceals what is meant to be private, "is not a flight from love, but on the contrary an opening of a way towards it"; it is a "defensive reflex, which protects that status [that of an incommunicable person] and so protects the value of the person"; indeed, modesty "reveals the value of the the context of the sexual values which are simultaneously present in a particular person" (p. 179).

           It is important to recognize that Wojtyla clearly understands that modesty can take different forms in different cultures and that nakedness is compatible with modesty in some primitive tribes.

           Shame, a natural form of self-defense of the person, can be "absorbed" by love. Its absorption does not mean that it is eliminated or destroyed; it is rather reinforced for only where it is preserved can love be realized. But it is "absorbed" inasmuch as love affirms the person and is unwilling to view the person's sexual values as commodities to be enjoyed or used (pp. 182-183). Spouses, for instance, are not afraid that their spouses will lust after their sexual values, for they are united in a person-affirming love. Thus Wojtyla says that "sexual intercourse between spouses is not a form of shamelessness legalized by outside authority, but is felt to be in conformity with the demands of shame," unless, as he wisely notes, "the spouses themselves make it shameless by their way of performing it" (p. 183).

           The point is that true love eliminates the "reason for shame, or for concealment of the values of sex, since there is no danger that they might obscure the value of the person or destroy its inalienability and inviolability, reducing it to the status of an object for use" (p. 184). Wojtyla subsequently emphasizes that only true love, one rooted in the will to affirm the value of the person, can absorb shame: he is not speaking of the sentimental, romantic pseudo-version of love, which leads to shamelessness.

           He then takes up the problem of shamelessness, distinguishing between "physical" and "emotional" shamelessness. The former describes "any mode of being or behavior on the part of a particular person in which the values of sex as such are given such prominence that they obscure the essential value of the person," whereas the latter "consists in the rejection of that healthy tendency to be ashamed of reactions and feelings which make another person merely an object of use because of the sexual values belonging to him or her" (pp. 187-188). In connection with all this he has some very worthwhile remarks to make about dress and, in a passage well worth pondering says: "Man, alas, is not such a perfect being that the sight of the body of another person, especially a person of the other sex, can arouse in him merely a disinterested liking which develops into an innocent affection. In practice, it also arouses concupiscence, or a wish to enjoy concentrated on sexual values with no regard for the value of the person" (p. 190). He concludes this section with important comments on pornography.

3. The Problems of Continence

           In this final section of the chapter Wojtyla treats of another component of chastity--a component, not the true virtue--namely continence or self-control. A continent person is the one who can control his sexual desires, and this is necessary if love is to flourish (pp. 194-195). Continence, efficiency in curbing the lust of the body by the exercise of the will, is indispensable for self-mastery (p. 197), but it is not enough for the full virtue of chastity. It requires that one recognize the superiority of the person over sex and it opens the person up to the transcendent value of the person. But for the full virtue of chastity to exist "the value of the person must be not merely understood by the cold light of reason[as the continent may well understand it] but felt," a fuller appreciation of the value of the person which we may achieve with the help of elements inherent in sentiment once they are integrated into love (p. 199).

           Tenderness, which originates in sentiment, is the "tendency to make one's own the feelings and mental states of another person," and "whoever feels it actively seeks to communicate his feeling of close involvement with the other person and his situation" (pp. 201-202). It is thus quite distinct from sensuality, which is oriented to the body as a possible object of enjoyment, because it is oriented to a human being of the other sex (p. 202-203). But it needs to be educated lest it remain purely emotional, and it must be educated by continence, which is rooted in the will: only this can give tenderness a certain firmness. It thus must be united with continence (p. 207).

           In the conclusion of this chapter Wojtyla, after once again noting the consequences of original sin, points out that only the self-sacrificial love revealed in Christ can enable men and women to be fully chaste (p. 208).


William E. May was a Theological Advisor to Catholics for the Common Good Institute, emeritus Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C., and Senior Research Fellow of the Culture of Life Foundation.

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