Understanding Love and Responsibility - Richard A Spinello - ebook

Understanding Love and Responsibility ebook

Richard A Spinello



In his preface, Dr. Richard Spinello states, "Quite simply, Love and Responsibility is not an easy book to read." Karol Wojtyla's classic work is even more relevant today, but the language is often high and theoretical.
Based on the new English translation of Love and Responsibility, Dr. Spinello's thoughtful commentary will enable you to discover the beauty of Saint John Paul II's timeless work and, through it, the magnificence of human relationships and our God-given need to give and receive love.

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Understanding Love and Responsibility

A Companion to Karol Wojtyła’s Classic Work


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Spinello, Richard A.  Understanding Love and responsibility : a companion to Karol Wojtyla’s classic work/ by Richard A. Spinello.      pages cm  ISBN 978-0-8198-7805-2 -- ISBN 0-8198-7805-7  1. John Paul II, Pope, 1920-2005. Milosc i odpowiedzialnosc. 2. Sex--Religiousaspects--Catholic Church. 3. Love--Religious aspects--Catholic Church. 4. Sexualethics. 5. Catholic Church--Doctrines. I. Title.  BX1795.S48S65 2014  241’.66--dc23                                                         2014006784

The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Cover design by Rosana Usselmann

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

“P” and PAULINE are registered trademarks of the Daughters of St. Paul.

Copyright © 2014, Richard A. Spinello

Published by Pauline Books & Media, 50 Saint Pauls Avenue, Boston, MA 02130–3491.

Printed in the U.S.A.


Pauline Books & Media is the publishing house of the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation of women religious serving the Church with the communications media.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9                                                             18 17 16 15 14

For SusanVous et nul autre




CHAPTER 1Who Is Karol Wojtyła and Why Read Love and Responsibility?

CHAPTER 2The Human Person

CHAPTER 3The Personalistic Norm

CHAPTER 4What Is the Sexual Drive?

CHAPTER 5The Essential Ingredients of Love

CHAPTER 6The Psychological and Ethical Aspects of Love

CHAPTER 7Interlude

CHAPTER 8Chastity

CHAPTER 9Marriage

CHAPTER 10Justice to the Creator

CHAPTER 11Concluding Thoughts

Further Reading


Long before he was installed as Pope John Paul II, Bishop Karol Wojtyła composed a carefully reasoned reflection on sexual ethics that was aptly titled Love and Responsibility. This brilliant account of sexual mores and norms is far more relevant today than when it was composed in the more tranquil cultural milieu of the late 1950s. Anyone who picks up this book will be impressed by its directness, originality, and profound insights into entangled ethical issues. In contrast to his other famous work on the morality of sexual relations known as Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, this book is more concise and compressed. Wojtyła presents a sustained, penetrating philosophical argument that pivots on the dichotomy between love and use in sexual relationships. He shows how easy it is for those relationships to become depersonalized when the purpose and meaning of human sexuality become obscured. Ethereal notions of love that occupy the moral landscape are sensibly discounted. Wojtyła also carefully presents a personalist argument against the contraceptive mentality that has shadowed so much of contemporary married life. Yet he never wavers from exalting the power of sensuality and the beauty of marital intimacy. In its convincing conclusion, this book demonstrates why marriage is a moral reality, so that attempts to redefine it are contrary to reason and the natural order

Love and Responsibility has been understandably eclipsed by the Pope’s engaging work on the theology of the body. While there is considerable overlap between these two books, Love and Responsibility has a nuance all its own, and it deserves a much wider audience than it has yet received. John Paul II’s reflections on the theology of the body were delivered as 129 catecheses at his Wednesday papal audiences from September 1979 through November 1984. These talks deal with human love in the divine plan and are inspired by Sacred Scripture, especially the first few chapters of Genesis.1Love and Responsibility, on the other hand, is a work of philosophy, inspired to some extent by the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant, which helped to open Wojtyła’s eyes to the value of personalism. The book’s density and occasional complexity, which make it rather opaque at times, probably account for its being neglected. Quite simply, Love and Responsibility is not an easy book to read, and rarely does its author give concrete examples to illustrate his arguments. Even Wojtyła’s fellow academicians have struggled. Halina Bortnowska, one of the Pope’s former students, describes Love and Responsibility as his most readable book, yet one that is difficult and challenging.2 Despite its demanding prose, the book is not an academic exercise in abstraction. When properly understood, its universal vision of sexual morality enlightens us through its wisdom and moral prescription.

This serious problem of inaccessibility has been compounded because there is a dearth of secondary sources available to serve as thorough and reliable commentaries. With some notable exceptions, few scholars and teachers have given the book the concentrated attention it deserves. I hope that Understanding Love and Responsibility will fill this conspicuous vacuum. I have written it as a companion piece for anyone setting out to understand the main ideas of Love and Responsibility. Such a modest effort can serve as a dependable guide for readers attempting to navigate the deep riches and occasional rigors of Wojtyła’s book.

Another help to readers is a new English translation of Love and Responsibility that makes Wojtyła’s work more readable and accessible. This new translation by Grzegorz Ignatik offers welcome precision and clarity, and it is used throughout this commentary. Each chapter of Understanding Love and Responsibility is collated as closely as possible with the text of the Ignatik translation.3

I do not intend Understanding Love and Responsibility to be an intricately detailed or exhaustive study, nor an in-depth scholarly analysis. Rather, it sketches out the bold lines of Wojtyła’s thought and clears away some of the conceptual difficulties for the serious reader. For the most part, I do not adopt a critical attitude, since I am simply trying to shed light on the coherence of Wojtyła’s extended argument. In the closing pages, however, I offer a brief defense of that argument and point out some of its particular strengths.

Those who do take up the challenge of carefully reading Love and Responsibility will be amply rewarded. Its pertinence and intellectual vitality are indisputable. Wojtyła’s ambitious project succeeds in evoking the question of sexual morality in the most radical terms. The appeal of his approach lies in its reliance on the incomparable value of the human person as the unyielding criterion for evaluating sexual mores and attitudes, and for resolving the peculiar paradoxes of erotic love. The study of Love and Responsibility is also indispensable for fully appreciating the legacy of Saint John Paul II, one of the most charismatic and influential popes of the twentieth century. Several of the central themes articulated in this work reappear in his papal encyclicals and other later writings.4 John Paul II’s teachings were a rare voice in the world when he was Pope, but they will continue speaking through books like Love and Responsibility.


This book owes much to the supportive environment for research and writing at Boston College. I also owe a debt to my colleagues and students at Saint John’s Seminary in Boston with whom I have discussed some of the key ideas in this book. I would like to extend my thanks to the priests and parishioners at Saint Mary of the Assumption Parish in Dedham, Massachusetts, where Pope John Paul II is held in the highest esteem. I am indebted to our Youth Minister, J. P. Manning, for organizing a parish seminar on Love and Responsibility, and to those parishioners who attended and gave me such perceptive feedback. Also I would like to offer a special word of thanks to our pastor, Father William Kelly, and his assistant, Father Paul Sullivan.

My deepest gratitude goes to the editors at Pauline Books & Media for their professionalism, editorial skills, and astute suggestions. I am especially grateful to Christina M. Wegendt, FSP, for her confidence in my work and for her wise counsel and encouragement. Marianne Lorraine Trouvè, FSP, also deserves special mention; her insightful comments and deft editorial hand have improved almost every page.

Finally, I am especially indebted to my wife, Susan T. Brinton, for reading and editing the first draft of this book. Her constant encouragement and moral support have been immeasurably beneficial to me during the solitary hours spent writing three books on the late Holy Father’s works. She first introduced me to the writings of John Paul II, and her passion for this subject matter matches my own. It is a great privilege to dedicate this book to her.


Totus Tuus

February 11, 2014

Chapter 1

Who Is Karol Wojtyła and Why Read Love and Responsibility?

(Author’s Introductions, pp. xxi–xxviii)1

Karol Wojtyła and the philosophy of personalism

After his ordination to the priesthood, Karol Wojtyła’s energies were absorbed with writing and speaking about the subject of romantic love between a man and a woman. His play The Jeweler’s Shop, written in 1960 amid the social turbulence of post-war Poland, also dealt with this theme of marital intimacy. A character in the play remarks that “love is a constant challenge, thrown to us by God.”2Those who come together as a “one-flesh” union overcome the existential loneliness of Adam before Eve’s creation, but must confront many obstacles in this fallen world.

Wojtyła also taught popular courses on sexual ethics at the Catholic University of Lublin, where he occupied the Chair of Ethics from 1956 until his election to the papacy in 1978. During his tenure at the university Wojtyła developed his commitment to the philosophy of personalism. The whole Lublin faculty viewed its mission as a vocation to defend the special dignity of the human person against obstinate ideological opponents.3 The chief opponent during the 1950s was atheistic Communism. But today personalism has many other enemies, such as materialism—a misguided philosophy that reduces the person to mere matter, a being determined in his actions by the imperatives of biology. Materialism continues to grow in popularity and has been called the new religion of modern man.4 The essence of personalism, instead, is the conviction that the human person is not determined by history or biology and enjoys complete superiority over all other creatures. But the Lublin brand of personalism had a certain Thomistic and existential flavor. It emphasized the person as master of himself (dominus sui), with a spiritual center of activity able to shape his identity through the choices he makes.5

Wojtyła believed that the philosophy of personalism could help us discern the requirements and contours of marital love. But he was not just a philosophy professor who wrote about these matters from some secluded ivory tower. In a later memoir he described how young people had opened his eyes to the wonders of romantic love. Father Wojtyła said that when he was still a young priest he learned to love human love, and that became one of the fundamental themes of his priesthood. He knew that young people always seek the beauty in love, and they want to experience beautiful love. 6

Some may see this as an odd interest, since Wojtyła himself was celibate, a man who could never enjoy romantic love with a woman. How could an unmarried man understand the sacrifices involved in married life, its daily trials, and its “constant challenge”? How could he possibly know anything about the meaning of sexual love or the romantic life of married couples? Wojtyła insisted that this lack of direct personal experience was not a hindrance, because priests have a rich indirect experience in this area derived from their extensive pastoral work. In that work they encounter a wide variety of situations that enriches their experience. Wojtyła spent a good deal of time with young married couples, encouraging them and instructing them about the faith. He recognized that marriage and family life are the primary road to happiness and fulfillment for most people. He firmly believed that the family is a communion of love and the pathway for the Church.7 Yet at that time an understandable cynicism existed in Poland about all social institutions, including marriage. Beyond Poland, marriage was endangered by the rising ethos of individualism. In his writings and pastoral ministry, Wojtyła was anxious to demonstrate that marriage was neither a decaying institution nor one that was ready to be refashioned, no matter how some individuals were conducting their romantic lives.

Karol Wojtyła certainly had the practical experience and intellectual background to make the case for a traditional understanding of marriage and conjugal love. He was ordained to the priesthood at Wawel Cathedral in Kraków in 1946, and immediately went to Rome to pursue doctoral studies in philosophy at the Angelicum. Father Wojtyła studied under the famous Thomist philosopher, Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, who was also a professor of spiritual theology. Wojtyła wrote his dissertation on Saint John of the Cross, a powerful mystic who became the inspiration for his understanding of spousal love as mutual and total self-giving. Shortly after returning to Poland in 1948, Father Wojtyła was assigned to begin a student chaplaincy at Saint Florian’s Church near Kraków’s Old Town. At this parish he held conferences for students, conducted retreats, and instituted marriage preparation courses for engaged couples. All of that was a novelty at the time. In his popular retreats he spoke often about marital love and about how sexual desire cannot be severed from charity and mutual self-donation.8

The origins and purpose of the book

Love and Responsibility gestated during those happy years when he worked as a parish priest at Saint Florian’s and later as a teacher at Lublin. The book is based on some of the lectures he delivered at the university as part of a comprehensive course on ethics. Several years prior to its publication, Father Wojtyła took a group of university students to the Mazurian Lakes district of northeastern Poland. There he circulated drafts of his manuscript among his eager students. Early each morning, as the mist still shrouded the lakes, one member of the group would be assigned to read material on a particular topic, such as spousal love or chastity. That student would diligently work throughout the day on his or her presentation, and the whole group would assemble in the evening for a lively discussion on this topic. Wojtyła hoped to ensure that his arguments were not only logically sound but also resonated with a young audience. This is no surprise given the complexity of the topic and the difficulty of expressing these issues in practical terms.9

In 1958 Father Wojtyła was appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków to assist Archbishop Bazniak. However, he still remained committed to working with young married couples. During his episcopal visits to different parishes in the diocese, he blessed many married couples and their families. He described this experience as one that touches the bond of the human community, which is shaped in the Church and which in turn helps to shape the Church.10

Two years after Wojtyła’s ordination to the episcopacy, the original edition of Love and Responsibility appeared in Polish. This publication was not prepared by a major European publishing house but by the obscure Academic Society of the Catholic University of Lublin. The original version was quickly succeeded in 1962 by a revised and expanded edition, published by the more prestigious Znak publishing house. The final and definitive Polish edition was published in 2001.

The original publication of Love and Responsibility coincided with a time of great anticipation in the Catholic Church, which was eagerly awaiting the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) called by Pope John XXIII. The Council recommended a renewal of moral theology, but it addressed the issues of marriage and sexual morality only briefly in documents such as Gaudium et Spes. The Council Fathers deferred discussion on one of the most contentious issues at the time, which was contraception. They directed that a special commission be set up to deal with this issue, which Pope Paul VI finally resolved in his 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae. Wojtyła’s conclusions in Love and Responsibility anticipated the Pope’s claim that the marital act must always retain its intrinsic connection to the procreation of human life.11

When Wojtyła published his book, the sexual revolution of the 1960s was on the horizon. This ferment would radically transform the cultural landscape and challenge the book’s fundamental ideas. In 1960 no one would have predicted the scope and breadth of that “revolution,” which continues to evolve in unpredictable fashion at the hands of various progressive ideologies. Its bitter fruits have been rampant promiscuity, abortion, divorce, same-sex marriage, widespread pornography, an escalating tolerance for polyamory (multiple sexual relationships), and a burgeoning hookup culture on college campuses. Even gender has become “flexible,” no longer considered as an integral aspect of our embodied personhood, but something to be chosen or altered at will.

Wojtyła had not yet come to public notice in the early 1960s. This changed to some degree at the Second Vatican Council, which he attended as part of the Polish delegation. He had not traveled outside of Poland since his student days in Rome, so he relished the opportunity to take part in the Council sessions and to meet other bishops and theologians from around the world. The Polish bishops had a hand in crafting one of the Council’s major documents, Gaudium et Spes, which lays out an anthropological vision similar to what we find in the opening pages of Love and Responsibility. It was also during the Council that Wojtyła was named Archbishop of Kraków.

Although Wojtyła’s reputation had grown in both Poland and the wider Church, Love and Responsibility received only limited attention. It was soon translated into French, Italian, and Spanish, but interest in all of Wojtyła’s writings languished until he was elected to the papacy in 1978. Love and Responsibility finally appeared in English in 1981. Despite this translation and the book’s wider dissemination, it continues to be overshadowed by John Paul II’s immensely popular work on the theology of the body.

Both works are complementary, of course, and together they serve to illustrate the intimate cooperation of faith and reason. While Man and Woman He Created Them is a theological work, Love and Responsibility has a “philosophical character,” so it seeks to persuade through human reason rather than rely exclusively on the dogmas of faith (p. xxii). However, even some of Wojtyła’s most ardent supporters misconstrue the aim of this work. According to George Hunston Williams, for example, Love and Responsibility is a book composed almost exclusively for Catholic young people, especially those who are in love and aspire to be married.12 On the contrary, this book is intended to appeal to a much broader audience than Catholic youth. Wojtyła sought to rely on reasoned reflection as a way of putting Catholic sexual doctrine on a firm intellectual foundation. If that foundation is secure, it is quite possible to develop a well-grounded sexual ethic that is universal in its appeal rather than unique to Catholic teaching. This is a book for all young people and for anyone else anxious to learn about the nature of love and about moral ideals like marital fidelity and chastity.

Obviously, Wojtyła’s book has a special appeal to reflective Catholics because it gives them reasoned arguments for the Church’s teachings on human sexuality, which are enunciated in a small number of Scripture passages, such as Mark 10:1–12 and Matthew 19:1–13. Wojtyła believed that it was not enough to just stipulate the norms that forbid certain behaviors, but it was also essential “to substantiate, interpret, and explain” (p. xxii). His hope was that people would more freely follow Jesus’s teaching once they appreciated its logic and wisdom. By coming to know that the moral norms governing sexual behavior protect the dignity of the person and contribute to human flourishing, those norms cease to be perceived as a burden that constrains our freedom. As Wojtyła explains later in the book, it is not enough for man to restrain errant sexual desires, he “must know ‘why’ he restrains them” (p. 183).

In his revised Introduction, the Pope explains that these Gospel texts on conjugal morality provide an “incentive for philosophical reflection” (p. xxvi). He is indirectly affirming the unity of truth, whether it comes from the light of Revelation or reason. If the statements of Jesus bear the mark of truth, which they must, we are inspired to discern the rational arguments that support these ethical truths. Those arguments, which reflect an immutable moral order, can be a bulwark against the ethical falsehoods and prejudices of secular humanism. Honest, rational inquiry confirms the moral truths enunciated in Sacred Scripture about the sanctity of life, sexual complementarity, and the indissolubility of marriage.

Thus, Love and Responsibility is really a work of philosophical theology, since it draws from both sources to bear witness to the truth about human sexual morality. Wojtyła certainly believed that in Sacred Scripture God revealed a natural pattern for human sexuality, but this book is primarily a treatise on ethics, a rational justification that must stand or fall on its own philosophical merits. Like any philosophical endeavor, it relies on a disciplined method, precise logical reasoning, and careful distinctions to expose the universal meaning of love and human sexuality.

Importance of Love and Responsibility

No philosophy book is easy to read and this one is surely no exception. As a result, many people are put off by the challenge of grappling with such a demanding work. But the benign neglect of this extraordinary book is unfortunate. Wojtyła’s treatise is a magisterial and intriguing attempt to define a sexual ethic focused on the dignity of the whole embodied human person. While other books have plowed similar furrows, few have the intellectual coherence, reverberating subtleties, and sensitivity found in Love and Responsibility. For many decades Catholic sexual morality was captive to the so-called “manualist” approach. Moral theology was taught from manuals based on legal and canonical authorities, and it seemed to be only remotely related to Sacred Scripture. This focus on moral laws and exceptions to those laws appeared to separate the virtue of love from sexual love, leaving the latter in a confounding obscurity. As Wojtyła explained, it is necessary to bring about the “introduction of love into love,” to reintegrate sexual and romantic love with the virtue of charity (p. xxiii). Marital love should always be a delicate blending of eros and agape. Wojtyła’s clear insight and originality in accomplishing this task is deftly combined with his supple awareness of sensuality’s positive power, provided it is integrated through reason. The result is a fluent and provocative book, well ahead of its time and yet deeply enriched by the resources of the ancient Catholic tradition.

Those scholars who have read and studied Wojtyła’s work recognize both its philosophical strengths as well as its potential pedagogic impact. Many theologians have effusively praised the book over the years. John Grondelski considers it to be a masterful work, while Janet Smith believes that Love and Responsibility belongs on the list of Great Books of the Western World. She predicts that many generations to come will read this book and ponder what it has to say about human relationships.13 Moral theologian William May also acclaims the book as a “profound” work of moral reasoning that prepares the way for the theology of the body.14 Philosophers like John Crosby have relied heavily on this work to develop their own personalist approach to sexual morality. Crosby believes that Wojtyła was given a rare and special gift for understanding the dynamic of conjugal love.15 Even the eminent theologian Father Henri De Lubac, S.J., was quick to defend the book when it was criticized in the 1960s for its audacity and frankness. In his Preface to the French edition, De Lubac writes that Wojtyła’s treatment of sexual ethics stands out for his careful analysis and rigorous thought, along with his concern to integrate these problems and all their aspects into an overall vision of human reality.16

Why do these noted philosophers and theologians esteem this book so highly? They appreciate Love and Responsibility’s eloquence and carefully woven arguments, meant to persuade even the most cynical minds that the unleashing of our sexual desires is not the path to authentic human flourishing. These philosophical arguments, though not complex, follow a logical structure that shapes the entire book. Wojtyła first describes the nature of the human person. He then presents and defends a primary ethical principle consistent with that nature, which he calls the “personalistic norm.” On this stable foundation, he constructs a theory of sexual morality that is difficult to dismiss if we are sincere about fostering a moral outlook that respects our bodily personhood. The whole purpose of the book is to demonstrate how one person can relate to another person in a sexual manner without using or mistreating that person as a mere object of pleasure. Wojtyła shifts the axis of discussion about sexual issues away from a legalistic perspective and toward the person, who is the radiating center of love and responsibility. While sensitive to the discoveries of modern science, he refuses to let psychology and medicine have the last word on these issues because “sexual ethics is a domain of the person” (p. xxiv).

Contrary to popular wisdom, few contemporary philosophical works deal with the issues of sex or sexual politics. While a consensus is emerging in universities and other cultural institutions about the moral suitability of extramarital sexual relations or homosexual activity, there is no single, prominent theory of sexual ethics that justifies those beliefs. As G. J. McAleer observes, although Plato reflected on this theme, we cannot find a major twentieth-century philosopher, like a Martin Heidegger or a Ludwig Wittgenstein, who has crafted a comprehensive sexual ethic.17 Perhaps a notable exception is the distinguished work of Dietrich von Hildebrand, whose treatise, called The Nature of Love, has recently been translated into English. Like von Hildebrand, Karol Wojtyła has thought and written extensively on this issue in order to develop a theory of sexual morality that has continuing relevance for current debates about contraception, reproductive technology, and redefining the nature of marriage. We know that Wojtyła/John Paul II fully supported the Catholic Church’s clear norms on sexual morality. However, he was not content to rely only on Revelation, even though it allows us to formulate “quite clear views on the given topic” (p. xxii). Rather, he also wanted to employ wise moral arguments, easily grasped by our natural human intelligence, to confirm these norms as the basis for a common understanding of sexual morality that does not depend solely on religious beliefs.

The need for this book is far more urgent now than when it first appeared over fifty years ago. Since the 1960s, when the sexual revolution began sweeping across the world, absolute sexual freedom and unlimited autonomy has become a surrogate for acceptable sexual behavior. The appeal of subversive doctrines such as “free love” or “love without responsibility” is not hard to understand. In addition, there is widespread misapprehension about sexuality and the true nature of human love. For decades young men and women have been taught that casual sex is morally permissible and even a liberating experience that satisfies the longings of one’s “inner self.” As a result, many people do not know what romantic love is anymore. Its meaning has been gradually submerged by perverted cultural symbols and progressive attitudes. Love is often equated with sensuality and the rhapsodic delights of emotional attachment. This stereotype is popularized every day in popular television shows and movies. Many people, including Catholics, fail to grasp that the marital act must be a full bodily gift of self to one’s spouse in order to consummate a real personal union. The once clear distinctions between love and lust, or between authentic sexual fulfillment and indulgence, seem to have become hopelessly obscured.

However, as the sexual revolution intensified, it became swiftly apparent that the promise of emancipation from the responsibilities of sexual behavior could never be fulfilled. While many have steadfastly refused to believe that this harmful moral transformation that reduces sex to recreation causes ill-effects, those effects have been well documented by sociologists like Mary Eberstad. She unmasks the dream of “carefree sex” as a chimera and presents empirical data showing that monogamous marriage is far better for a person’s happiness and well-being than a series of casual sexual relationships.18 The novelty of endless promiscuity is no match for the romantic stability of a sound marriage.

The sexual revolution, however, now manifest on college campuses in the form of the ubiquitous but dehumanizing “hookup” culture, has exposed many young adults to various pathologies including a rampant disregard for the well-being of women. In this permissive environment, saturated with alcohol and drug abuse, 19 percent of college women report that they have been the victims of some form of sexual assault.19 Consensual hooking up, of course, is no substitute for a real relationship and can only lead to isolation and dissatisfaction. Moreover, the heralded birth control pill has not liberated women as once predicted, but has legitimized male promiscuity and exposed women to its devastating psychological effects.20 Another consequence of this moral transformation is that cohabitation, casual sex, and divorce have destabilized marriage and family life.

Finally, the scourge of pornography, which relentlessly depersonalizes both men and women, continues unabated thanks to the encroachment of the Internet and other technologies, which make this material so readily accessible even to young children.

The rise in reckless promiscuity and abortion that has accompanied the sexual revolution was boldly predicted in Humanae Vitae, which reaffirmed Catholic teaching on the impermissibility of contraception. That encyclical also warned that the deliberate sterilization of the sexual act would lower moral standards, reduce respect for women in society, and lead to an increase in marital infidelity. All of these predictions have been strikingly confirmed by ample sociological data.21

Before writing this prophetic encyclical, Pope Paul VI wanted input from moral theologians and Church leaders, and so he appointed a papal commission to study the matter. The author of Love and Responsibility, Bishop Wojtyła, was a logical choice for this commission, but he could not attend the meetings due to passport problems. Nonetheless, Wojtyła created a diocesan commission that issued its own report, “The Foundations of the Church’s Doctrine on the Principles of Conjugal Life.” These principles were based to a great extent on Wojtyła’s reflections in Love and Responsibility, which are anchored in a personalist approach to conjugal morality. That report was sent on to Rome for the Pope’s review. We are also told that Pope Paul VI was reading Love and Responsibility when he composed Humanae Vitae, and that he was profoundly influenced by Wojtyła’s arguments.22

Although themes from the Kraków report and Love and Responsibility can be found in Humanae Vitae, the encyclical did not frame its primary arguments in a personalist context. The encyclical left no doubt that each marital act must be oriented to procreation, since the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act cannot be disconnected. However, Paul VI does not defend this proposition in personalist terms, preferring instead to emphasize that such teachings are deeply rooted in Revelation. Arguably, this deficiency in Humanae Vitae left the Church vulnerable to accusations that it was still bedeviled by the shadowy residue of Manichaeism and the denigration of sexuality.23

Love and Responsibility, especially when read in conjunction with Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, elucidates in personalistic terms why marriage can only be understood in terms of an unconditional sharing and total union at the bodily level that creates an intimate community centered on children.24 It demonstrates that the sexual act must express that union based on reciprocal self-donation in order to preserve the generous character of love. Positive contraception, on the other hand, means that the conjugal act cannot express a loving personal union precisely because it is anti-unitive. Wojtyła’s book also provides an inspiring and edifying vision of spousal love to those who have been deceived by the false promises offered by the radical feminists and elites, who have been in the forefront of reshaping our attitudes about human sexuality. Wojtyła unveils the universal meaning of conjugal love and dispels the idea that each culture can create its own moral universe by refashioning sexual ethics to suit its arbitrary desires. He directs convincing arguments against the thin intellectual framework of hedonistic utilitarianism, which proposes pleasure or satisfaction as the source of happiness. By reading this book and meditating on its more challenging passages, those who have been led astray by the ideological myths and seductive arguments of our ambient culture can retrieve a proper understanding of conjugal love and sexuality through the lens of personalism.

However, aside from marriage, Love and Responsibility does not delve into specific issues or explicitly prescribe acceptable conduct compatible with the proper moral norms. It does not articulate easy formulas nor make any elaborate incursions into moral casuistry. Rather, this book “attempts to create an integral vision of the problem,” recognizing that particular solutions can be deduced from that vision (p. xxviii).

Pope Paul VI made Bishop Wojtyła a cardinal in 1967. Despite his expanding duties in the Church, the young cardinal remained intensely interested in marriage preparation and family issues. The rapid development and dissemination of reproductive technologies was becoming a major concern. During a retreat given to the papal household in 1976, two years before his election to the papacy, Cardinal Wojtyła warned that the “man of progress” was becoming unjust to his Creator.25 To those in the audience who had read Love and Responsibility, these would have been very familiar words. We can only restore that justice in the sexual sphere by rediscovering the natural meaning and purpose of human sexuality as the provident Creator designed it.

Chapter 2

The Human Person

(Chapter I: Part One)

As a book about ethics, Love and Responsibility addresses questions such as: “What must I do?” or “How should I live?” In general, we must pursue what is good for ourselves and for others. Basic human goods worthy of our choices include life and health along with marriage, friendship, and worship of God. But this question about the good cannot be satisfactorily answered unless we understand the nature of this “I” who seeks out these goods. The anthropological question, “Who is man?” must logically precede any discussion of morality. It stands to reason that we cannot determine what is good for the human person unless we come to terms with his nature and how that nature is fulfilled.

Hence the opening chapter of Love and Responsibility addresses this vital theme of anthropology and serves as a foundation for the ethical analysis that follows. Wojtyła realizes that mistakes about the nature of the person can easily lead to flawed ethical judgments. The misconception that the person is a disembodied self just using a body has produced enormous confusion in the area of sexual morality. A person who experiences same-sex attractions, for example, might argue that a person’s body and its gender is irrelevant when it comes to engaging in sexual relations with another individual. “It doesn’t matter what we do with our bodies,” he might say, “so long as we care about each other and respect everyone’s freedom.” At the same time, it is wrong to endorse the now popular materialist view that the person is just a body without a spiritual soul, because this notion fails to esteem man highly enough. It fails to account for his spiritual capabilities, such as his capacity for conceptual thinking. If man is only a physical body with limited horizons, perhaps transient sexual pleasure is a worthy aspiration.

The value of the person

However, unlike many of the materialists and secularists who want to topple the human person from his pedestal, Wojtyła argues for each person’s intrinsic worth and supreme value. Moral theologians point to the biblical notion of man made in God’s image as the source of man’s dignity. As we first learn in Genesis, each person bears within himself the image of his Creator (Gn 1:26–27). Wojtyła does not elaborate on this biblical witness to man’s dignity in this context, although he enthusiastically endorses the doctrine of man as imago Dei in many of his other writings. Rather, in keeping with the “philosophical character” of this work, he pursues a more logical approach based on the insights of natural reason rather than revelation.

Wojtyła accepts the premise that all human beings belong to the same species and therefore share in a basic equality. If we were not all essentially alike we couldn’t talk about our “humanity,” and it wouldn’t even make sense to say that Jesus Christ assumed a human nature. This common humanity makes possible a common morality instead of a situation ethics, where each situation supplies its own “norm of action” (p. 101). However, while species membership is important for our basic equality, it is inadequate to account for the moral dignity and the exceptional qualities of the human person. “It is not sufficient,” writes Wojtyła, “to speak of man as an individual of the species Homo sapiens” (p. 4).

The term “person” signifies that there is something more to man than belonging to a species, that there is “some particular fullness and perfection of being” (p. 4). In his essay “On the Meaning of Spousal Love,” Wojtyła has explained that the person is uniquely gifted with