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 4 is divided into two major parts: (1) Marriage, and (2) Vocation, each subdivided into sections.

1. Marriage

           Here Wojtyla considers (A) monogamy and the indissolubility of marriage; (B) the value of the institution [of marriage]; (C) procreation and parenthood; and (D) periodic continence: method and interpretation.

           I will be somewhat brief in summarizing A and B and devote more consideration to C and D.

A. Monogamy and the indissolubility of marriage

           Here Wojtyla argues that monogamy and the indissolubility of marriage are required by the personalistic norm, declaring: "Attempts to solve the problem of marriage other than by monogamy [which implies indissolubility] are incompatible with the personalistic norm and fall short of its strict demands in that they put one person in the position of an object to be enjoyed by another" (p. 211).

           After noting that Jesus dealt with this question decisively (pp. 212f) and indicating that attempts to justify the polygamy of the patriarchs of the OT because of the desire for a numerous progeny do not really succeed (p. 213), Wojtyla then argues (pp. 214-215) that the personalistic norm requires that marriage be monogamous and indissoluble once it has come into being despite subsequent desires on part of husband and wife. The basic reason, so it seems to me, is that human choices, made in the light of the truth (cf. p. 214)determine the self, and that in choosing to marry a man and woman freely give themselves the identity of husband and wife, committing themselves henceforth to be utterly faithful to one another: the personalistic norm leads them to the sincere gift of self, to the full affirmation of the personhood of the other. In short, I would interpret these pages by saying that monogamy and indissolubility of marriage are rooted in the being of the spouses, the identity they have given themselves by getting married.

B. The value of the institution [of marriage]

           Wojtyla next argues that the "institution of marriage" justifies the intimate sexual relationship between husband and wife in the eyes of society. Why? It does so because the institution, Wojtyla seems to argue, serves to protect the inter-personal structure of marriage as a community of two persons united or made one by reason of their love. In short, so the argument seems to me, the value of marriage as an institution is that it serves to protect conjugal love or the community of persons made one because of their love and thereby "provides a justification for the sexual relationship between a particular couple within the whole complex of society" (p. 219), or, to put it somewhat differently, "in a society which accepts sound ethical principles and lives in accordance with them...this institution is necessary to signify the maturity of the union between a man and a woman, to testify that theirs is a love on which a lasting union and community can be based" (p. 220).

           I believe his point here could be summarized by saying: marriage as an institution is demanded in order to protect conjugal love.

           It is worth noting that in these pages Wojtyla distinguishes--while intimately interrelating--marriage and family. He stresses that "the birth of a child turns the union of a man and a woman based on the sexual relationship into a family," which is itself "the primary institution at the base of our existence as human beings." The distinct existence, character, and ends of the family must therefore be protected by legislation, and for a society to legislate justly regarding the family it must recognize the rights and duties of marriage, recognizing that "the family is an institution based on marriage." Nonetheless, Wojtyla is at pains to show that marriage must not be regarded merely a means instrumental to the founding of a family but must be recognized as something good in itself. He emphasizes that "the inner and essential raison d'etre of marriage is not simply eventual transformation into a family but above all the creation of a lasting personal union between a man and a woman based on love. Marriage serves above all to preserve the existence of the species...but it is based on love," and as such is something good in itself. It is not a mere instrumental good (pp. 227-218). This is most important. Recall that Augustine (and much of the tradition after him) regarded marriage merely as an instrumental good, a good means to the intrinsic good of friendship, achieved through procreation and education of children, conceived as an end extrinsic to the marriage itself.Wojtyla, to the contrary, sees the marital union itself as intrinsically good and the having and raising of children an end intrinsic to marriage itself, a fulfillment of the marital union.

           Wojtyla then goes on to argue that sexual relations between a man and a woman must be justified not only in the eyes of society (as they are by marriage) but also and above all "in the eyes of God the Creator" (p. 222).

           Wojtyla argues in this section that man, as an intelligent entity, is required in justice to recognize that he is a creature dependent upon God for his being. This helps us understand the "sacramental" character of marriage--first as a "sacrament" of nature and then as a "sacrament of grace" (pp. 223-224).

C. Procreation and parenthood

           Marriage is a "state," a durable institution providing the framework necessary to justify the existence of sexual relations between a man and a woman; moreover, within marriage sexual relations are ongoing, a regular succession of acts. But every such act within marriage must have its own internal justification. The problem here, Wojtyla says, is to adapt sexual relations to the objective demands of the personalistic norm: "it is in this context more than in any other that people must show responsibility for their love. Let us add at once that this responsibility for love is complemented by responsibility for life and health: a combination of fundamental goods which together determine the moral value of every marital act" (p.225).

           Wojtyla then seems to distinguish sharply (while nonetheless integrating) twoorders that "meet" in the sexual union of man and woman: the "order of nature [which must not be identified with the "biological order"], which has as its object reproduction [or better, procreation], and the personal order, which finds its expression in the love of persons and aims at the fullest realization of that love" (p. 226).

           He asserts that these two orders are inseparable and insists that "the correct attitude toward procreation is a condition for the realization of love" (ibid.). Emphasizing that both procreation and love are based on free choice, he then says: "When a man and a woman consciously and of their own free will choose to marry and have sexual relations they choose at the same time the possibility of procreation, choose to participate in creation[for that is the proper meaning of the word procreation]. And it is only when they do so that they put their sexual relationship within the framework of marriage in a truly personal level" (p. 227). He then argues that in marrying and in engaging in the marital act the man and the woman freely choose to accept consciously the possibility of parenthood, of becoming a mother and father. He contends that "when a man and a woman capable of procreation have intercourse their union must be accompanied by awareness and willing acceptance [emphasis added] of the possibility that 'I may become a father' or 'I may become a mother.' Without this the marital relationship will not be 'internally' justified....the union of persons is not the same as sexual union. This latter is raised to the level of the person only when it is accompanied in the mind and the will by the acceptance of the possibility of parenthood" (p. 228).

           Since the deliberate attempt to prevent conception by artificial means entails a refusal to accept this possibility, artificial contraception is immoral and violates the personalistic norm--so the argument advanced on successive pages contends. This does not, Wojtyla argues, subordinate the person to "nature," but rather shows that man dominates nature not by "violating its laws" but "through knowledge of the purposes and regularities which govern it" (p. 229). His principal claim seems to be: "Acceptance of the possibility of procreation in the marital relationship safeguards love and is an indispensable condition of a truly personal union. The union of persons in love does not necessarily have to be realized by way of sexual relations. But when it does take this form the personalistic value of the sexual relationship cannot be assured without willingness for parenthood" (p. 230). Indeed, he claims, "if there is a positive decision to preclude this eventuality sexual intercourse becomes shameless." (p. 231).

           Consequently, the only solution to the problem regarding the legitimate regulation of birth within marriage is continence, which demands control over erotic experiences (ibid).

           Wojtyla rejects the rigoristic, utilitarian view that requires a procreative intent for every marital act (p. 233) because "marriage is an institution which exists for the sake of love, not merely for the purpose of biological reproduction. Marital intercourse is itself an interpersonal act, an act of betrothed love, so that the intentions and the attention of each partner must be fixed on the other, on his or her true good."

           Nonetheless, "the express exclusion of procreation [or to be more exact, the possibility of procreation] is even more so [i.e., incompatible with the true character of conjugal relations]" because "it deprives marital intercourse of its true character as potentially an act of procreation, which is what fully justifies the act....When a man and a woman who have marital intercourse decisively preclude the possibility of paternity and maternity their intentions are thereby diverted from the person and directed to mere enjoyment....By definitively precluding the possibility of procreation in the marital act a man and a woman inevitably shift the whole focus of the experience in the direction of sexual pleasure as such"(p. 234-35).

D. Periodic Continence: Method and Interpretation

           Here Wojtyla’s major claim is that periodic continence is the only way to face the problem of birth regulation because continence is a "condition of love, the only attitude towards a partner in marriage and particularly towards a wife, compatible with affirmation of the value of a person"(p. 237).If husband and wife have good reasons to avoid a pregnancy they must remain continent and abstain from the act that cause the pregnancy. "Those who do not desire the consequence [conception of a child after freely chosen sex] must avoid the cause" (p. 239)..

           But if spouses limit intercourse to infertile times how can they say, when they do engage in intercourse, that they do so with a willingness to become parents? (this is essentially the question Wojtyla raises on p. 240).

           His answer: right interpretation of periodic continence. This entails understanding that it is licit (1) because it does not conflict with personalistic norm---it does not do so because, W argues on p. 241, it "preserves the 'naturalness' of intercourse" (p. 241) (is this "physicalism?") and above all means that "in the wills of the persons concerned it must be grounded in a sufficiently mature virtue" (p. 241)--and (2) is permissible only with certain qualifications, i.e., that it goes along with and not conflict with "a sincere disposition to procreate" (p. 243).

2. Vocation

           The final section of Chapter 4, on vocation, contains four subdivisions: (A) the concept of 'justice toward the Creator'; (B) mystical and physical virginity; (C) the problem of vocation; and (D) paternity and maternity.

A. The Concept of "Justice toward the Creator"

           Here Wojtyla notes that his discussion on the plane of the personalistic norm has focused on "horizontal" justice, i.e., justice among human persons. He now wishes to consider "vertical" justice, i.e, justice of man the creature toward the Creator. He notes that our obligations toward the Creator come under the virtue of "religion," which Thomas identified as a "potential part" of justice--it is potential because justice in the strict sense cannot be given to God--we can never render to him perfectly all that is due to him. But elementary justice toward God, demanded by the virtue of religion, requires "the understanding and rational acceptance of the order of nature," which is at one and the same time "recognition of the rights of the Creator" (p. 246).

           This is more than merely respecting the objective order of nature. It is so because man can understand the order of nature and conform to it in his actions; by doing so, i.e., by understanding it and conforming to it, he "has a share in the law which God bestowed on the world when he created it at the beginning of time," and his intelligent participation in this law is "an end in itself." Hence justice toward the Creator consists precisely in man's "striving in all his activities to achieve this specifically human value, by behaving as particeps Creatoris" (246-247).

           Justice toward the Creator comprises therefore two elements: "obedience to the order of nature and emphasis on the value of the person...This makes possible a correct attitude to the whole of the real world...and is a specific form of love," including love of the Creator, to whom man can be just only "if he loves his fellows" (247). From this it follows that man and woman can be just toward the Creator only if they shape their lives in accord with the personalist norm.

           Wojtyla then argues that sex, which is connected with reproduction, is elevated in man to a personal level. Because husband and wife are persons "they take part consciously in the work of creation and from this point of view are participes Creatoris," and precisely for this reason "the question of justice toward the Creator arises both in married life and in any form of relationship...between people of different sexes." Precisely because the person transcends the world of nature and because the personal order is not fully encompassed by the natural, "a man and a woman who have marital relations fulfil their obligations to God the Creator only when they raise their relationship to the level of love, to the level of a truly personal union" (248-249).

B. Mystical and Physical Virginity

           Justice to the Creator means that I must "offer him all that is in me, my whole being, for he has first claim on all of it." Since it is impossible to give God all that is due him, we cannot render him complete justice. But Christ has offered us a solution--love, for "self giving has its roots in love"; moreover, love does something that justice cannot do: it unites persons (250).

           In light of the love union between God and man, the idea of virginity acquires full significance. Literally, it means "untouched," and its physical sign is that one is untouched from the sexual point of view. Physical virginity is an "external expression of the fact that the person belongs only to itself and to the Creator." In marriage the woman "surrenders" her virginity to her husband and ceases to be a virgin in the physical sense, while the husband ceases to be a virgin by coming into "possession" of his wife, all this, however, understood as a relationship rooted in reciprocal, betrothed love (p. 251).

            Wojtyla then continues: "within man's relationship with God, understood as a relationship of love, man's posture can and must be one of surrender to God" (p. 251; emphasis added). What this means, so it seems to me, is that the relationship of man, male and female, as creature to God the Creator, is analogous to the relationship of female to male: the creature "surrenders" his/her virginity to God the Creator--the uncreated spouse. W continues by emphasizing that this opens up the "possibility of betrothed and requited love between God and man: the human soul, which is the betrothed of God, gives itself to him alone...under the influence of Grace" (p. 251).

           I take it that this is what "mystical" or "spiritual" virginity is and that mystical virginity is possible--and indeed, essential, for married men and women. Wojtyla notes that we do not speak of virginity in the case of married persons who give themselves wholly to God, "although," he continues, "giving oneself to God as an act of betrothed love may be analogous to that which constitutes the essence of virginity" (p. 252).

            Wojtyla then distinguishes between celibacy and spiritual virginity insofar as the former is "merely abstention from marriage, which may be dictated by a variety of considerations and motives," and he continues by noting that the celibacy required of priests in the Catholic Church is on the "border line" between work-required celibacy and spiritual or mystical virginity (p. 252).

           A major point emphasized in this section is that "man has an inborn need of betrothed love, a need to give himself to another" (p. 253). Christ and the Church recognize virginity (physical + spiritual) as a choice for God--for being betrothed to him: "The man who chooses virginity chooses God" (p. 253). But, Wojtyla continues in a very important passage: "This does not mean...that in choosing marriage he renounces God for a human being. Marriage and the betrothed love for a human being that goes with it, the dedication of oneself to another person, solves the problem of the union of persons only on the terrestrial and temporal scale. The union of person with person here takes place in the physical and sexual sense, in accordance with man's physical nature and the natural effects of the sexual urge. Nevertheless, the need to give oneself to another person has profounder origins than the sexual instinct, and is connected above all with the spiritual nature of the human person. It is not sexuality which creates in a man and a woman the need to give themselves to each other but, on the contrary, it is the need to give oneself, latent in every human person, which finds its outlet, in the conditions of existence in the body, and on the basis of the sexual urge, in physical and sexual union, in matrimony. But the need for betrothed love; the need to give oneself to and unite with another person, is deeper and connected with the spiritual existence of the person" (p. 253, emphasis added).

           In the balance of this section Wojtyla then discusses spiritual/physical virginity as a "better" road to God than marriage. In his discussion he is at pains to show that the value of such virginity is not something negative--the rejection of marriage as though marriage were bad--rather it "is to be found in the exceptionally important part which virginity plays in realizing the kingdom of God on earth. The kingdom of God on earth is realized in that particular people gradually prepare and perfect themselves for eternal union with God. In this union, the objective development of the human person reaches its highest point. Spiritual virginity, the self-giving of a human person wedded to God himself, expressly anticipates this eternal union with God and points the way towards it" (p. 255).

Wojtyla in effect then comments on this matter in the next section.

C. The Problem of Vocation

           First of all, only persons have vocations. The term indicates, Wojtyla says, "that there is a proper course for every person's development to follow, a specific way he commits his whole life to the service of certain values" (p. 256). Moreover, each one's vocation requires that he or she fix his or her love on some goal, must love someone and be prepared to give himself or herself for love. Vocation, in short, demands self-giving--and self-giving is central to both marriage and viriginity understood as the full gift of oneself to God, understood, in short, in a personalistic way. In the vision of the NT each of us is summoned to give himself fully in love to God and others; moreover, as this vision makes clear, we cannot do this relying only on our own interior resources. "In calling us to seek perfection, the Gospel also requires us to believe in divine grace"--to rely on God's help (p. 257-258).

           All of us have the vocation to holiness, to perfection. But the Church, in continuity with the NT, speaks of the state of life shaped by virginity based on a vow of chastity and in combination with vows of poverty and obedience. This way of life is referred to as a "state of perfection," because it is conducive toward perfection. Nonetheless, men and women who have not freely chosen this state as their "vocation" but have rather chosen marriage, can, by their love, be closer to the perfection to which we are all called than persons who have chosen virginity.

D. Paternity and Maternity

           The essence of Wojtyla’s thought on this can be summed up as follows. 1. Parenthood, whether fatherhood or motherhood, is rooted in the inner life; it is new way of crystallizing a husband's love for his wife and a wife's love for her husband. 2. Motherhood or maternity seems more "natural," i.e., tied to the nature of the female organism, than fatherhood or paternitiy. 3. Paternity or fatherhood is thus more a result of culture than of nature. 4. Paternity and maternity are deeper than biology and are spiritual in nature: we beget our children in the spirit, and the model parent here is God the Father.    

Next Chapter  Five: Sexology and Ethics

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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