To God, who gives me life, enlightens my understanding, and moves my sentiment.

Author’s note: For the past couple of months, reading Love and Responsibility by Pope John Paul II marked part of a reflection on core values, and a return to them. Love and Responsibility is described as a “defense of the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage from a new philosophical standpoint.” I wish I had read it in my younger years, and hope that introducing the philosophy of the book can help others navigate their thoughts.

The Biography of Karol Wojtyła

Karol Wojtyła was born in 1920 in Wadowice, a small town in Poland. In his high school years, he stood out for being bright and open and generous to his classmates. At the age of 9, he lost his mother. His older brother Edmund died from an infection sometime thereafter. 

While he was young, he had an aptitude for athletics and enjoyed acting and poetry. He has been described as someone who was very social and fun, a leader, but never bossy, rather someone who listened. He did his military service in Kraków’s university legion, but refused to fire a weapon. 

After he came back to student life, Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 and shut down the university. In the midst of the devastation of the war, he heard God’s call to the priesthood. He took a job in a quarry and worked as a laborer in a factory in Kraków to avoid deportation. Within these years his father died, leaving him alone. 

The four years of work in the factory were important for the Pope, who remembered them with emotion and considered them more useful to his formation than the PhD in theology. He was, at times, both a workman but also a “clandestine” seminarian. Many times his fellow workmen helped him out, covering his 8-hour shift so he could study, partly out of kindness but also admiration. 

Karol Wojtyła was ordained a priest in 1946. Within these years communists took Poland and attempted to persecute and silence the Church. With a sense of creativity, he constantly invited his young parishioners during these years to hike in the mountains and appreciate God in nature. They called him “uncle Karol” to protect him from the communist government. 

In these hikes, he would often talk about the theology of the body, human love, the meaning of freedom, and responsibility. In one of such many outings with young people, he received a telegram appointing him Bishop of Kraków in 1958. He was appointed Archbishop of Kraków in 1963. 

He supported with totality opening up Catholicism to the modern world and exalted the love between husband and wife as a gift from God. He fearlessly confronted communist authorities in Poland and defended religious freedom. He was made a Cardinal in 1967.

He was elected as the first non-Italian Pope in over 400 years in 1978 and blessed as John Paul II. For the next 26 years, he led the Catholic Church in a memorable and remarkable way.

Among his most important accomplishments, John Paul II entrusted an international commission of theologians to study deeply each and every mistake made by the Catholic Church along its history, a serious historical study that led to various formal apologies on over 100 occasions. He believed in being true to the past mistakes of the Catholic Church – not apologetic – to preach with legitimacy. He apologized for the injustices against Galileo Galilei. He acknowledged the reasons that led Luther to rebel against the corrupt Church. He apologized for the Inquisition and condemned all forms of anti-semitism. He apologized for the sacking of Constantinople in Athens and apologized for the slave trade in Goree Island. 

John Paul II insisted on a ceremony of global petition of forgiveness, leading the Catholic Church to produce a global Mea Culpa for all the injustices committed. Such a petition included a resolution not to sin again with neither excuses, nor justifications. The Catholic Church committed not to resort again to the logic of violence. John Paul II also offered forgiveness to all those who persecuted Christians throughout history.

John Paul II cared about spiritual unity in the world and sought to build a strategic alliance between religions to bring peace. He called for the first inter-religious gathering in 1986 for a common prayer for peace. He improved relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church, becoming the first Pope who visited Romania, a predominantly Orthodox country, since the East-West Schism in 1054. He sought a reconciliation between Christianity and Judaism and became the first pope to enter a synagogue. He referred to Judaism as intrinsic to Christianity, and often referred to Jews as “our older brothers.” John Paul II’s mission reached Muslim countries, leading him to become the first Pontiff to enter a mosque. 

Following Jesus’s message to the apostles to “go out and preach to the whole world,” John Paul II travelled to 129 countries and embarked on 104 international trips during his papacy, one of which included Guatemala in 2002 and I remember seeing him.

John Paul II died in 2005. 

(Source: John Paul II – A Pope Who Made History.)

Book Review: Love and Responsibility by John Paul II

John Paul II was always concerned about the youth, and the problems and possibilities of married love and family life. During his time at the Catholic University of Lublin, he wrote Love and Responsibility where he talks about the person’s call to love. Love and Responsibility finds its origin in what became the experience of its author as he co-experienced, as their pastor and friend, the experience of many people on their most intimate matters. (According to the author, the reflections of Love and Responsibility first found its expression as lectures in the late 1950’s, before they acquired the form of a book published in 1960.) Love and Responsibility aims, in the words of John Paul II, to “substantiate the norms of Catholic sexual ethics by appealing to the most elementary and undeniable moral truths and to the most fundamental values or goods.” The book is strongly analytical – the themes are objects of analyses and not of descriptions. The goal is to explicate the rationale to which the rules and norms of the Catholic “sexual” ethics owe their reason to be. The character of the work is philosophical for ethics, according to John Paul II, is and can only be a part of philosophy.

The reflections contained in Love and Responsibility possess a personalistic character. For John Paul II, the personal order is the only plane proper to all reflections in the field of sexual ethics. He presupposes that sexual ethics is a domain of the person and nothing in it can be comprehended without understanding the person, his being, action, and rights. The person is the fundamental unit of Love and Responsibility.

One thought before we start: Our lives are short within the timespan of human history and the times still yet to come. Ideas come and go, like mere trends. The “ideas of the time” we hold most strongly by mere custom may not have been held equally by previous generations, and may not receive any merit by future generations. But the human heart strives for the truth. That is the reason to be of all reflections: we must make an effort to dig deeper behind the ideas of our time to find our truth. And if the truth is not timeless, it cannot be the truth. A connotation of timelessness is deep rooted in the world’s oldest and largest continuously functioning international institution. If the Catholic faith is to speak any truth on the most fundamental value, which is love, it should overcome confrontation – because the truth only benefits from the fiercest confrontation. For Jesus said: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Analysis of the Verb “to use”

The person as the subject and object of action

Object” signifies what is posited in relation to some “subject.” In the context of the philosophy of John Paul II, both words are used to signify “a being.” The crucial nuance is that the subject denotes a being that exists and acts.

John Paul II proposes that we live in a world with many objects (and we may say also many subjects). He emphasizes the simple and elementary division between the world of persons and the world of things: “man is objectively a “somebody” – and this distinguishes him from the rest of the beings of the visible world, the beings that are objectively always merely “something”” (emphasis added). A thing is any inanimate object deprived not only of reason, but also life.

John Paul II also acknowledges the insufficiency to describe a human as another animal, as just a mere individual of the species Homo Sapiens: “The word “person” has been coined in order to stress that man cannot be reduced wholly to what is contained in the concept of a “specimen of the species,” but has in himself something more, some particular fullness and perfection of being” (emphasis added). 

The goal of John Paul II is to emphasize the distinctness of the person. The first and most proper reason, he argues, is that the person possesses reason and is a rational being. This undeniable and remarkable fact cannot be stated about any other being of the visible world. The person is the only subject of its kind. 

Such a distinctness is concentrated in the interiority of the human person. Unlike animals, we possess an interior life. From this specific life, functions such as cognition and desire, or even striving, emerge. John Paul II says that cognition and desire take on a “spiritual character” and “contribute to the formation of the true interior life.” This does not occur in animals. John Paul II affirms that “the interior life is the spiritual life” and “it focuses on the true and the good.” Such an interior life also asks: “what is the final cause of everything, and how to be good and possess the fullness of the good.” The former engages cognition, and the latter engages desire and striving.

For John Paul II, it is remarkable that through this interiority the human person relates to the external world in a way that is characteristic to the human person. This is another manifestation of the distinctness of the person: “man not only appropriates the content that reaches him from the external world and reacts to it in a spontaneous or even downright mechanical manner, but in all his relation to this world, to reality, he attempts to make his mark, to state his “I” – and he has to act this way since this is demanded by the nature of his being” (emphasis added). 

John Paul II writes about the powers of the nature of the person:

“Man has a fundamentally different nature from animals. His nature includes the power of self-determination based on reflection and is manifested in the fact that, while acting, man chooses what he wants to do. This power is called free will” (emphasis added).

These powers – self-determination and free will –  form the basis of the relations between persons in the sense that the person is also a master of himself. They constitute a boundary between persons, where the person is nontransferable (“No one can substitute his act of the will for mine”) and incommunicable (“I cannot want what he wants me to want”). For John Paul II, all human interactions are based on this presupposition.

The previous development in the introduction of the analysis of the verb “to use” has one goal: to consider the case that the human person is not only the subject of action, but also at times is its object. We all relate with the fact that, at times, acts occur that have another person as their object. Within the theme of Love and Responsibility, sexual morality, John Paul II speaks of such acts, and reflects on the ethical problems that concern such acts.

John Paul II writes:

“In the relations between persons of different sex, and specially in sexual intercourse, a woman is constantly an object of some action of a man, and a man, an object of a woman’s action.”

Because the subject and object of actions are persons, Love and Responsibility sets sail to consider what the principles are that the action of a human person must comply with when the object of such an action is another human person.

The first meaning of the verb “to use”

If there is an end, it suggests the existence of means. John Paul II writes: “To use means to employ some object of action as a means to an end, namely the end for which the acting subject strives” (emphasis added). 

The means is subordinated to the end, and to the one who acts. John Paul II puts it this way: “the very expression suggests a subordinate and, so to speak, “servile” relation of the means with respect to the acting subject: the means serves both the end and the subject” (emphasis added).

John Paul II acknowledges that the human person in his diverse activity makes use of the whole created world. We must hold this truth to be self-evident. The human person takes advantage of the world’s inanimate nature and animate nature.

John Paul II defends that “the problem begins when a relation to another man, to another human person is concerned.” He questions whether “it is permissible to treat this person as a means to an end and use him in this manner.” This possesses a broad scope, but the focus of Love and Responsibility is the sexual sphere. Our goal is to answer questions on sexual ethics.

John Paul II questions:

“Does not a woman in sexual intercourse serve for a man as something of a means for him to attain various ends of his, precisely those ends that he seeks to realize in sexual intercourse? Similarly, does not a man serve for a woman as a means of attaining her own ends?”

John Paul II proposes that a person should not be merely a means to an end for another person. But why? He believes that this is excluded due to the very nature of the person, due to what every person simply is. But we must ask: “why is this excluded due to the very nature of the person?” The crucial idea lies in the unique characteristics of the human person, of which John Paul II writes: “For the person is a subject that is thinking and capable of self-determination – these are two properties that first of all we discover in the interiority of the person” (emphasis added).

The idea of John Paul II is that if I am treated by another person exclusively as a means to an end, then the person is violating what belongs to my very essence (“I am a being with the capacity of thinking and self-determination and free will”), and at the same time constitutes my natural right (“I am not a mere tool and a means to an end”).

We must ask: “why can’t the end just be sheer mutual pleasure?” Because that does not satisfy the moral imperative, which demands not using a person as a mere tool. To consent to be used as a means to an end does not solve the ethical problem. The nature of the person demands more. (To put it another way: “You may tell me that you have the freedom to tell me to treat you like a thing, but it is my belief that the freedom of man, properly comprehended, demands that I cannot treat you like a thing.”)

For John Paul II, this elementary truth is so important that not even God the Creator may use a person as a means to an end. John Paul II writes: “(…) giving a rational and free nature to the person, [God] decided that the person himself will define the ends of action and will not serve as a tool for the ends of others” (emphasis added).

When John Paul II defends that a person should define his ends himself, he does not speak of any ends. John Paul II defends: “It is clear that it must be demanded from the person, as a thinking individual, that those ends be truly good, for striving for evil ends is contrary to the rational nature of the person” (emphasis added). When John Paul II refers to ends, he refers to true ends. We are not interested in evil ends. We are seeking the truth: true goods as ends of action.

John Paul II regards this elementary truth –  “the person may not be a means of action as opposed to all other objects of action, which are not persons” (emphasis added) – as the exponent of the moral order. He quotes the formulation of Immanuel Kant of this moral imperative: “Act in such a way so that the person is never a mere means of your action, but always an end.”

But John Paul II believes that a better formulation of this moral imperative and elementary truth is the following one:

“Whenever the person is an object of action in your conduct, remember that you may not treat him merely as a means to an end, as a tool, but [you must] take into account that the person himself has or at least should have his end.”

Love demands more, and the nature of the person demands love.

Love as the opposite of “using”

John Paul II regards love as the opposite of using. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an “opposite” is what is “diametrically different (as in nature or character),” or what is “contrary to one another.” Black-white, day-night, big-small, early-late, down-up, easy-hard, far-near, intelligent-dumb, full-empty, beautiful-ugly, and evil-good, are all examples of opposites. The intuition for this is not hard to get: the more you would say you are just “using” a person, the less you would dare say you “love” the person; the more you claim to “love” a person, the less you would want to realize you are actually just “using” the person. But we need more than intuition. 

John Paul II goes one step further to understand what constitutes the essential core of every love. He talks about striving for a common end, one that also unites the acting persons “from within.” This common good has a “personalistic character”: it determines a community and its reason to be.

John Paul II writes:

“For it is evident that I can strive for the other person to will the same good that I will. Clearly, this other person must recognize this end of mine and acknowledge it as a good; he must make it his own end. Then between myself and this other person a particular bond is born: the bond of a common good and a common end, which binds us.”

If two persons say, “we proclaim we really love each other at the same time we use each other for our pleasure,” such persons must ask themselves whether such a “love” is based on a common end that binds them. (The notion of end is necessarily about the ultimate end, and therefore it is proper to question the true end.) A constant theme in Love and Responsibility is to be careful of the trap of harmonized egoisms.

This made me realize a key idea: Love is the opposite of using the person because love demands the common end that binds two persons together in their interior, creating a community that has a direction, as opposed to using the person for one’s ends (and each other’s ends) in one’s own direction (and each other’s separate directions). Love is truly the opposite of using.

John Paul II writes:

“When different persons consciously choose an end together, this makes them equal to each other, thereby excluding subordination of one person to another” (emphasis added).

Therefore, for John Paul II, love is unthinkable without a common end. He considers love to be the positive solution to the ethical problem of the proper relation to the person. He regards that “love is the only distinct opposite of using the person in the role of a means to an end or of a tool of one’s own action” (emphasis added). (John Paul II also argues that, at the simplest level, we are all bound by the common end that is “humanity,” the value of the person itself, and should love one another based on that common good too.)

I thought John Paul II could have started to introduce here his conception of love a little more thoroughly. But I understand why he didn’t do it. To contrast love more strongly with using, a critique of utilitarianism is very pertinent. (Love and Responsibility is a 101 on tearing down the lies of the world about love.) 

Critique of utilitarianism

I learned that utilitarianism as a philosophy falls short in two senses. It fails as a descriptor of human action by not differentiating between the maximization of pleasure and happiness (and other kinds of goods, e.g., spirituality). It also fails as a guide of human action by not acknowledging that, through reflection and self-determination, the human person strives for the self-giving and self-sacrificing love that transcends desire.

John Paul II starts by commenting that the name itself relates to the Latin uti (to use, to take advantage) and the adjective utilis (useful). He says that utilitarianism emphasizes usefulness. The useful is what brings pleasure (and excludes pain). In this philosophy of life, to live happily means to live pleasantly. He recalls that its famous “principle of utility” proclaims the maximum of pleasure for the greatest number of people (with the simultaneous minimum of pain).

Although attractive, John Paull II states that the “essential error lies in the recognition of pleasure alone as the only or the greatest good, to which everything else in the action of man and of human society should be subordinated.” It may not be the only norm of action nor the principle to assess what is morally good. John Paul II argues: “For it is known that sometimes what is truly good, what morality and conscience command me, is accompanied precisely by some pain and demands forgoing some pleasure.”

The opponent of utilitarianism, Immanuel Kant, stated that when we act we should never treat a person as a means to an end, but always as an end. John Paul II considers that this demand exposes one of the weakest points in utilitarianism: “if pleasure is the only and indispensable good and end of man, if it alone constitutes the whole basis of moral norms in human conduct, then consequently everything in that conduct must be treated as a means to an end. So even the human person, both my own as well as any other, every one must be presented in that role.”

The perspective of John Paull II on utilitarianism is very well summarized like this:

“If I accept the presupposition of utilitarianism, I must look at myself as a subject that wants to have as many sensations and lived-experiences possessing a positive emotional-affective charge as possible, and at the same time as an object that may be used in order to evoke these sensations and lived-experiences. As a result, I also must look at any other person besides myself from the same point of view, that is, inasmuch as he is a means to attain maximum pleasure” (emphasis added).

John Paul II states that this line of thinking threatens the sexual sphere, for “it is not clear how the relations between persons of different sex can be placed on the plane of true love, thus liberated by love both from from using the person (…) and from treating the person as a means to an end.”

John Paul II recognizes, besides the subjective good (pleasure), the objective good (marriage): “The only way out of this inevitable egoism is to recognize besides a purely subjective good, i.e., besides pleasure, an objective good, which can also unite persons – and then it acquires the characteristics of a common good. This objective common good is the foundation of love, and the persons choosing this common good together at the same time subordinate themselves to it.”

Can pleasure in the sexual sphere by itself be the common good to look for between persons? John Paul II argues that consistent utilitarianism can (and has to) counter this objection only with some harmonization of egoisms. He agrees this can be done according to the principle of “maximum pleasure for each of the two persons,” but that nevertheless the realization of this principle will never lead out of egoism. The person would remain merely a means to an end.

John Paul II states:

“Utilitarianism introduces in their mutual relation the following paradoxical relationship: each person (…) fundamentally disposes himself toward securing his own egoism while at the same time agreeing to serve the egoism of the other person, because this gives him a chance to gratify his own egoism, but of course only inasmuch as this chance is given. (…) This implicates some logically indispensable and penetrating necessity: I must treat myself as a means and a tool since for my own sake I treat the other in this way. This is the reverse, as it were, of the commandment to love.”

This helped me understand that I am not a tool. I am an object of love. Other persons are also not a tool and a means to my ends, but an object of my love. 

The commandment to love and the personalistic norm

John Paul II believes the commandment to love of the Gospel remains indirectly in opposition to utilitarianism, for utilitarianism is incapable of ensuring love. This is because, for utilitarianism, pleasure is the only or the highest value. A different system of values is needed as the proper ground of the commandment to love in the Gospel. John Paul II refers to this as a different “axiology,” a different “fundamental principle and norm.” He is talking about the personalistic norm.

John Paul II states that, as a principle formulated negatively, “this norm states that the person is a kind of good that is incompatible with using, which may not be treated as an object of use and, in this sense, as a means to an end.”

John Paul II states the positive formulation of the personalistic norm: 

The person is a kind of good to which only love constitutes the proper and fully-mature relation” (emphasis added).

For John Paul II, the commandment to love of the Gospel “brings out” the positive formulation of the personalistic norm. In a way, the personalistic norm (which we have developed philosophically) is contained and substantiates the commandment to love of the Gospel.

In this section of Love and Responsibility, John Paul II helped me understand that the ground of the commandment to love lies in a different system of values than the system of utilitarianism, “one in which the value of the person is always higher.” As John Paul II explains, this defines and commends a certain way of relating toward persons, an attitude that is in conformity with what the person is, and the value the person represents. He speaks of a way of relating that is honorable.

John Paul II states about the relationship between honorableness and utility:

“Honorableness is superior to utility alone (which is the focus of the principle of utilitarianism) even though it does not cancel utility, but only subordinates it: everything that is honorably useful in relation to the person is contained within the scope of the commandment to love.”

For John Paul II, this way of relating presupposes not only honorableness, but justice. It is always just to render what is rightly due to someone. It is rightly due to the person to be treated as an object of love.

Personally, I find the first chapter of the book (The Person and the Drive), and part one in particular (Analysis of the Verb “to use”), to be a masterclass on tearing down the lies of the world about love. John Paul II starts by rigorously establishing the distinctness of the person among all beings and how his unique characteristics generate the fundamental boundaries between persons. After considering the contexts in which the person may be both the object and subject of action, he goes on to analyze the meaning of the verb “to use” and the ethical problems related to it. From this, the moral imperative about the relation between persons – behind the formulation of the same elementary truth stated by Immanuel Kant centuries before – arises. After contrasting why love is indeed the objective opposite of using, he goes on to derive the positive formulation of the personalistic norm to solve the ethical problem of the proper relation to the person and substantiate the commandment to love of the Gospel on proper philosophical grounds – the commandment which is to “love persons” (not to “use persons”). (The section Critique of Utilitarianism just finishes killing whatever remained of the lies.) I have only omitted one section of part I of this chapter – which is The Second Meaning of the Verb to Use – where John Paul II extends on why the capacity of the human person to choose deliberately conscious ends (and be aware of them) generates morality in the sexual sphere, even though we share emotional-affective reactions with animals. But I absolutely recommend the reader to review the complete chapter, including part II where John Paul II talks about the interpretation of the sexual drive as a property of the individual.

I want to jump right away to review what I consider to be the most exciting part of Love and Responsibility, the second chapter (The Person and Love). As the reader may already guess, this chapter of the book is about the timeless question of the human heart: “What is love?”

The (General) Analysis of Love

Love as fondness

We relate to the notion of fondness when we say we feel we have a “crush” on someone, but fondness is more than the feeling of having a “crush” on someone. Fondness is not identical to infatuation, which is an intense but short-lived passion or admiration for someone. Fondness, in the words of John Paul II, “means a commitment of thinking about this person as a certain good, and this commitment can be brought forth ultimately only by the will.” Fondness involves a higher degree of introspection of our cognition to decide whether we will value the characteristics of someone’s personhood as a good in our field of vision. Although the emotional-affective reactions that come from feeling butterflies for someone are the start, fondness involves committing the will to appreciate someone as an object of fondness.

What we will seek and value in another person varies from person to person. John Paul II says that “the value to which Y reacts depends not only on the fact that it resides in X, that X possesses it, but also on the fact that Y is particularly sensitive to it, particularly inclined to perceive and experience this value.” Someone can be fond of a person in various ways: “When, for instance, a concrete Y [he] is capable of reacting only or simply first and foremost to sensory-sexual values, then all his fondness towards X [her], and indirectly all his love for her, will be formed different than when Y is more capable of a lively reaction to the spiritual or moral values of the other person, for example, to her intelligence or virtues of character.”

John Paul II highlights a crucial difficulty: Emotional-affective reactions play a considerable part in fondness, but by themselves do not have cognitive power and, therefore, are not the whole content of fondness. In the words of John Paul II, “the difficulty exists in the relation of lived-experience to truth.” Because affection may appear in a spontaneous way, we may say that fondness toward a person may arise suddenly and unexpectedly. The issue is that this is likely “blind,” in the sense that affection does not grasp the truth about the object. Truth is a task for reason.

For John Paul II, the value of every fondness “lies in the fact that the good to which it turns is truly the good that is sought.” We may all relate to this idea when we wonder if our committed fondness toward a person is an illusion (it is fondness toward an “idealized” version of the person), or a reality (it is fondness toward the truth of who a person is).

It can be very dangerous for love to be fond of an illusion. The emotional-affective reaction tends to fluctuate and may pass away. John Paul II argues that an “affective reaction of opposite coloring” is often born out of the sense of disappointment and vacuum linked to it: “a purely affective love often turns into an affective hate toward the same person.” We must make an effort to unify the truth of our affections with the truth of our fondness to establish proper grounds for truly educated and truly good love.

The discussion of fondness would be incomplete without touching on beauty, and interior beauty. For John Paul II, “the beautiful finds its place precisely in fondness.” A person who is the object of our fondness presents at the same time to us as beautiful. In the words of John Paul II, “the lived-experience of beauty goes hand in hand with the lived-experience of value, as if each of them contained an ‘additional’ aesthetic value.” “Charm,” “glamour,” “enchantment,” “charisma,” “eloquence,” these and many other words may describe the beautiful, and the perception of the beautiful is an important moment of the love of persons.

But the human person is determined by “interiority.” Besides exterior beauty, in the words of John Paul II, “we must also know to discover the interior beauty of man and be fond of each other in it, or perhaps even know how to be fond of each other first and foremost in it.” This is the truth of the love of persons: “fondness, upon which this love is based, cannot be born merely from visible and sensual beauty, but should completely and thoroughly take into account the beauty of the person.”

Love as desire

John Paul II acknowledges that the human person is a “limited being, and not self-sufficient, and therefore needs other beings.” He says that “what is crystallized in this love [love of desire] is merely an objective need of a being directed to another being, which is a good and object of pursuit.” Love of desire proceeds from a need and aims at finding the missing good. In the Catholic Church, it is a central tenet of the faith that there is intentionality by the Creator in the complementariness between the different nature of a woman and a man. On objective grounds, John Paul II argues that the human person is a woman or a man, and sex is a certain limitation that implies a one-sidedness: “Thus, a man needs a woman as if to complement his being, and in a similar way she needs a man. This objective, ontic need is manifested through the sexual drive.” Desire is part of their love, and it grows on the grounds of this drive.

For John Paul II, love of desire is as much an element of the essence of love as love of fondness. While love of fondness emphasizes a deliberate and willing appreciation toward a person, love of desire emphasizes the wanting and longing for a person. “Love of desire (amor concupiscentiae),” John Paul writes, “comes to light also in love of God, for whom man can long and does long as the good for himself.”

By love of desire, John Paul II does not talk about desire (concupiscentiae) alone:

“Desire goes hand in hand with this longing, though it rather remains, so to speak, in its shadow. The loving subject is conscious of its presence and knows that it is in a sense at his disposal, but if he works on his love for the other person, he does not allow desire alone to prevail; he prevents it from overpowering all that is above it and belongs to his love. For even if he does not understand, he nonetheless feels that this predominance of desire would in a certain way deform love and deprive them both of it.”

Thus, true love of desire should never turn into a utilitarian attitude. To be beneficial, to be a good, is different from being an object of use. We must recall that the relationship between honorableness and utility is not to cancel utility, but to subordinate it to what is true and good.

For John Paul II, it is fundamental not to see in sensual desires (alone) the full equivalent of love of desire. It is also fundamental not to think that the essence of love is exhausted (completely) in love of desire. The key idea is to regard it as a very important aspect or element of the content of love, while comprehending with precision that the full essence of the love that a human person is capable of in relation to another human person goes far, far beyond it.

Love as benevolence

The human person has the potential to love. It is the philosophy of John Paul II that the actualization of this potentiality to its fullest develops his existence and perfects the human person: “Love is the fullest realization of the possibilities that dwell in man.” This must be true love. True love means a love in which the true essence of love is realized. It means a love that “turns to the true (and not merely apparent) good in a true way, that is, the way that corresponds to the nature of the good” (emphasis added). For John Paul II, “it is not enough only to desire the person as a good for oneself, but in addition – and above all – it is also necessary to desire his good” (emphasis added).

John Paul II writes:

“Benevolence is simply disinterestedness in love: ‘I do not long for you as a good,’ but ‘I long for your good,’ ‘I long for what is good for you.’ A benevolent person longs for this without any thought of himself, without any regards for himself. Therefore, benevolent love, amor benevolentiae, is love in a more absolute sense than love of desire. It is love that is most pure.”

John Paul II acknowledges that a man’s love for a woman and hers for him cannot be but love of desire. The crucial nuance is that it should move in the direction of becoming more and more complete benevolence. There is a connection (as opposed to a seeming contradiction) in the sense that the person we desire must be a good to be a good for us, but benevolence alone should still separate itself from any self-interest. This is why John Paul II defends that “through benevolence we come as close as possible to what constitutes the ‘pure essence’ of love.”

False love, on the other hand, turns to an apparent good or turns to some true good in a way that does not correspond to the nature of the good and is contrary to it. For John Paul II, this may be at times the love between a man and a woman either in its assumptions or – even despite apparently good assumptions – in its particular manifestations and realization. False love is evil love. John Paul II writes that “the love of a woman and a man would be evil, or in any case incomplete, if it did not transcend desire.” Love of one person for another must be benevolent to be true love. Love that is not benevolent is, in fact, not love at all, but egoism.

For John Paul II, the person finds in love the greatest fullness of his being and his objective existence. He believes that love of benevolence, in particular, perfects its object the most. This love develops most fully both our experience and the existence of the person to whom we turn it. John Paul II says that the love between a woman and a man, particularly in marriage, should tend to love of benevolence in every state and in every manifestation of their coexistence and interaction.

I agree and want to emphasize the use of the adjective “objective.” Unlike love of fondness and love of desire, amor benevolentiae implies wanting the good for another person disinterestedly and that is, without doubt, the most objective form of love there is.

It is therefore proper to add one last quote from John Paul II on amor benevolentiae:

“(…) true love of benevolence can go hand in hand with love of desire, and even with desire alone, as long as the latter does not overpower all else that is contained in the love of a man and a woman, or does not become its exclusive content and sense.”

From sympathy to friendship

John Paul II recalls the etymological Greek roots of “sympathy,” which consists of the prefix syn (together with somebody) and the stem pathein (to suffer). He then states that this quite literally means as much as “co-passion.” What he is trying to get at is that, with the word “sympathy,” some form of “togetherness or community” is implied, and a moment of “passivity or suffering” (“suffering” in the broader sense of the word, “to feel”). The idea is that sympathy signifies all that “happens” between people and their affections. He means “that through which emotional affective lived-experiences unite people” (emphasis added).

John Paul II believes that “people yield to it [sympathy] in a way that is sometimes incomprehensible to them.” For so, he says that “sympathy is a manifestation of passion rather than of action.” The notion of “sympathy” that John Paul II holds is that what “happens” to persons, as opposed to being the fruit of deliberate acts of the will.

John Paul II writes:

“(…) the will is pulled into the orbit of emotions and affections, which bring two people closer to each other regardless of whether or not one of them chose the other consciously as an object of love. Sympathy is purely affective love, in which the decision of the will and the choice do not yet play a proper role. At best, the will consents to the fact of sympathy and to its direction” (emphasis added).

We would be lost if we depended only on purely affective love. Sympathy is a very beautiful stage of the love between persons, as subjective as it may be, but if properly nurtured, it can gradually grow into a more objective appreciation.

John Paul II writes:

“(…) this “plus” of the person that is based only on sympathy can turn gradually into a thorough conviction about the person’s value”

However, at the same time, there lies the weakness of sympathy: in its hint of subjectivism. For if there’s no actual value behind the object of sympathy in the first place, then there is no potential for it to grow into anything that is worthy. (This is similar to part of the discussion on Love of Fondness, but the focus of this section is the start of the process and the affections involved).

John Paul II writes:

“The weakness of sympathy lies in the fact that sympathy takes into possession man’s affection and his will, often independently from the objective value of the person to whom it turns.”

But we would have to be like machines to fall in love based on an objective analysis of the person’s value. John Paul II emphasizes that “the subjective force of sympathy confers on human loves their subjective vividness” (emphasis added). 

John Paul II writes:

“By itself the rational acknowledgment of the value of the other person, even if most genuine, does not yet constitute love (…). Only sympathy has the power to bring people closer together in a way perceptible to them, in an experiential way. For love is experience and not deduction only” (emphasis added).

With this understanding, the idea of sympathy comes across as one of the most vivid experiences of life. It is truly beautiful. Because of it, John Paul II writes that “one can “feel,” so to speak, the other’s whole personhood.” I agree with him that sympathy is an experiential and perceptible manifestation of love.

John Paul II writes:

“Thanks to this sympathy they feel their own reciprocal love, and without it they in a sense lose this love and remain in some vacuum, one they can perceive. Therefore, it seems to them that once sympathy breaks off, love ends as well.”

The last sentence of the last quote is not to be taken lightly. For sympathy may be an experiential and perceptible manifestation of love (that is important), but by no means it constitutes in the least the whole of love. John Paul II knows this and he compares it, in a way, to the fact that emotion and affection are not the whole interior life of the human person (but only one of its elements).

For John Paul II, the love between a man and a woman cannot remain on the level of sympathy, but it must become friendship. He believes this in the sense that a much deeper and much more fundamental element of the interior life of the person is the will (which he says is a power called to form love).

John Paul II writes:

“For in friendship – unlike in sympathy itself – the participation of the will is decisive. I want the good for you as much as I want it for myself, for my own “I.” (…) As is evident, it contains benevolentia… (…) it [the word “friendship”] manifests moments of the personal union that friendship brings” (emphasis added).

Friendship is then seen as a union, but not any union: a willing union. Friendship differs from sympathy in the sense that sympathy is based exclusively on emotion and affection (the will merely consents). John Paul II states that, in friendship, “the will commits itself.” He calls this “the objective force of friendship.”

John Paul II writes:

“(…) friendship really takes possession of the whole man, it is his work, it contains in itself a clear choice of the person, of the second “I” to which it turns, while all this has not yet taken place within the limits of sympathy” (emphasis added).

For John Paul II, an important takeaway of the previous discussion is to see friendship and sympathy as complementary. He says that, although sympathy is not yet friendship, it creates the conditions for friendship to come into existence. And that once existing, the objective friendship may possess its subjective vividness and affective warmth (its “climate”). In a way, John Paul II is implying that amor benevolentiae would be cold without affection.

I regard the next text as one of the most insightful of Love and Responsibility:

“From the point of view of education of love a clear postulate emerges here: sympathy must be transformed into friendship, and friendship complemented with sympathy. This postulate, as we see, develops in two directions. Sympathy alone still lacks an act of benevolence, without which there can be no true love. So, although sympathy can already seem to be benevolence (indeed, even something more than benevolence), nonetheless this entails a certain measure of illusion. In analyzing fondness we have already paid attention to this subjectivistic feature of affection, namely to the fact that affection shows a tendency to “divert truth” from an object and to turn it as much as possible toward itself. This tendency also results in taking sympathy and affective love already for friendship, and even for something more than friendship. And therefore such facts as marriage, which objectively speaking can be based only on friendship, are often based only on sympathy. As has been stated, friendship consists in a mature commitment of the will in relation to the other person with regard to his good. Consequently, a problem exists regarding the maturation of sympathy into friendship, and under normal circumstances this process demands reflection and time. Specifically, the point is to complement the value of affection itself – as the relation to the person and to his value within the limits of sympathy alone is based above all on affection – with objective knowledge of that person’s value and with conviction about that value. For the will can actively commit itself only on this basis. Affections alone can commit the will, but only in a passive and rather superficial way, with a certain measure of subjectivism. Friendship, however, demands a genuine commitment of the will with as much objective justification as possible” – John Paul II (emphasis added)

Personally, I realize that this is why discussing themes such as core values (and reflecting on them) early is important if one must seek such an objective justification beyond the shared-lived experiences that are spontaneous. (“It’s what mom always said, I should’ve listened!”)

However, one should not forget the second direction of the postulate: friendship must be complemented with sympathy. It has already been stated that without sympathy, friendship would remain cold and, as John Paul II says, “incommunicative.” (Although, at the end, in the words of John Paul II, “only what possesses a full justification in conviction and in free will can acquire full value” (emphasis added)).

I find that the best way to think about this is as a guide about the stages of the love between persons. I agree with John Paul II that uneducated love can make a lot of mistakes in the early stages of a human personal relationship. Sympathy may be a treasure, like an opportunity, but is rather fragile – and it is obviously not love. But if it is worth it, then it is worth considering to consciously elevate the sympathy to a friendship. But this should take enough time and patience, for most likely going beyond friendship overnight is not really anything more than intense sympathy. As John Paul II says, even a marriage may be based on mere sympathy (a real recipe for disaster indeed). To put it another way, the problem is that anything more than friendship that is based on mere sympathy (and not true friendship) will carry with it the fragility of sympathy.

It is worth quoting another text from John Paul II on this very important idea:

(…) sympathy often happens to be vivid from the beginning, whereas friendship is at first pale and weak. The next step is to form a reciprocal friendship while taking advantage of the affective situation that sympathy produces, thereby conferring a thorough and objective meaning on sympathy itself. A mistake often made in human love, specially concerning the love between X and Y, consists in not forming friendship consciously from it but leaving it, in a sense, on the level of sympathy. A consequence of this mistake is also a belief that once sympathy breaks off, love also ends. This belief is very dangerous for human love, and this mistake is one of the fundamental gaps in the education of love” – John Paul II (emphasis added).

To clarify, the idea of John Paul II is not to “use up” sympathy. Love is not about that. For John Paul II, love “consists in the thorough transformation of sympathy into friendship” (emphasis added). He says that “by its nature is something creative and constructive, and not something to consume.” (Finding an “outlet” in sympathy, which often comes with sexual “relief” according to John Paul II, is not love.)

Therefore, in the philosophy of John Paul II, sympathy must strive after the solid ground of friendship, the solid ground for love; on the other hand, friendship must be complemented with the climate and temperature of sympathy. John Paul II says this is like an art.

John Paul II argues that the previous is “greatly opposed by the type of conduct in which sympathy obscures the need of creating friendship and prevents it in practice.” To clarify, he means specifically the type of conduct that is “vivid specially in the man-woman relation,” where a “sensual-bodily drive accompanies it.” It is not hard to relate what is meant by this. He believes that this is “frequently the cause of various disasters and failures to which human love is exposed” (emphasis added).

A sense of tragedy enters my body after the realization of those beautiful opportunities of the past that got consumed in ephemeral passion, as opposed to being nurtured with tenderness and patience in the right direction, the one that affirms and focuses on the value of the person. To consume and overwhelm the potential for the beautiful, the fragile spontaneous sympathy that blossoms from impressions and shared lived-experiences in mysterious ways, before it matures into true friendship consciously committed to the true value of the person, is tragic. From the reflections in the book, I learned that it is not possible to grow and nurture the true love between persons when the sensuality that comes from affection, although delightful, has deformed genuine affection and transformed the persons into objects of use, even unknowingly.

So, for John Paul II, love cannot remain in its subjective profile (sympathy): “love cannot be mere sympathy but must be friendship,” which is its objective profile. One may prove this first and foremost by whether or not friendship is solely based on emotional-affective moments.

John Paul II writes:

“The maturity of friendship between X and Y can be proved, among other ways, by whether sympathy accompanies friendship, and even more by whether or not friendship is completely dependent on sympathy (on emotional moments and affective moods alone), and whether besides these it possesses its distinct objective being in the person and between persons. Only then may marriage and the life of two people be built on it” (emphasis added).

John Paul II finishes the section From Sympathy to Friendship with one key idea: companionship. He believes that companionship can play an important role in the development of love. According to John Paul II, companionship differs from both sympathy and friendship. It differs from sympathy in the sense that it does not reach the emotional-affective sphere, but is based on objective bases such as common work, common objectives, and common interests. Companionship differs from friendship in the sense that, John Paul II argues, “this ‘I want the good for you as if for my own ‘I’ does not yet come to light in it.” John Paul II says that what is characteristic of companionship is “the moment of community caused by some objective factors” (emphasis added).

John Paul II writes:

“People attend the same class, work in the same class, work in the same scientific laboratory, serve in the same military company, or their interests lie in the same field (in philately, for instance) – and this makes them companions.”

The idea is that sympathy alone is incomplete because it unites people only in a subjective way, and for so companionship offers the opportunity to help bring the objective profile of love, which is necessary for love (otherwise it will always be incomplete). As John Paul II says, “affections themselves are rather changeable, as experience demonstrates, and therefore they cannot durably and exclusively determine the relation between two people” (emphasis added).

Companionship is not yet friendship, it is not yet an intimate union (that is, many people at the same time may be linked through companionship but not as many through friendship), but they share an objective sense of “we” and link people through an objective sense of community. What is the important characteristic about companionship from the get-go, John Paul II says, is that it creates an environment.

This environment is very important if the love between persons is to “mature for marriage and become the cornerstone of a new family,” John Paul II states. Because, according to him, “People who are capable of living in an environment, who are capable of creating it, are rather well prepared to confer on the community of the family the character of a cohesive environment in which a good atmosphere of shared life prevails” (emphasis added).

At this point, if someone gets the idea that pleasure and desire are seen as “bad things” in the values of the Catholic faith, they would be missing the whole point. What I realize myself is that the whole philosophy of the love between persons of John Paul II is based on love that transcends desire. The subjective vividness of emotional-affective moments is seen as a perceptible manifestation of such reciprocal love, that is complementary and provides the warmth and its climate, and that in turn must have an objective profile at the level of the interior of persons and their conscious free will, which is what truly binds them to form a real personal community with a common end that is both person’s common good. The delight of conjugal intercourse is – and must be – grounded in love, spousal love.

Spousal love

In Love and Responsibility, John Paul II seeks to analyze the essence of every love. Love of fondness, desire, and benevolence form part of the love that is formed inside of the individual, but love, in the words of John Paul II, “finds its full being not merely in an individual subject only but in an inter-subjective, interpersonal relation” (emphasis added). (John Paul II talks about a synchronization of fondness, desire, and benevolence as the starting point.) We may say that love without reciprocity cannot be love because love is something that grows between persons. (Unrequited “love” that leads to gradual agony finds its grounds in obstinacy and is not love.)

John Paul II states:

“Love – especially the one that interests us in this book – is not only a striving, but is far more of a meeting, a uniting of persons” (emphasis added).

However, John Paul II argues that spousal love is something else than everything analyzed up to this point in Love and Responsibility. Spousal love is about giving one’s own person. Not in the physical sense, as it’s the case of a mere possession, but in the moral sense (and supra-physical sense) and order of love. Hence, for John Paul II, it “constitutes at once something other and something more than fondness, than desire, and even than benevolence” (emphasis added). John Paul II refers to the reciprocal self-giving of persons.

John Paul II states:

The fullest and so to speak the most radical form of love consists precisely in the fact of giving oneself” (emphasis added).

We must recall that it is the philosophy of John Paul II that we perfect ourselves through love (and “together with love”). What is then paradoxical for John Paul II is twofold: 1) that one can give one’s person in this way; and 2) that by giving one’s own “I,” one does not devalue oneself, but develops and enriches oneself. John Paul II finds detailed and bold instructions in the Gospel: “Whoever wants to save his soul will lose it, and whoever loses his soul for my sake will find it” (Mt 10:39). (This, John Paul II says, finds an interpretation in both the reciprocal self-giving between persons and the complete self-giving to God, for self-giving love in both senses is related. I recommend the reader to review Chapter IV of Love and Responsibility, which touches on the idea of Justice with Respect to the Creator regarding the relationship of ownership between a creature and its Creator, and the meaning of marriage as a union allowed and made by God that must live up to self-giving love.)

John Paul II writes:

“Self-giving as a form of love is formed in the interiority of the person on the basis of a mature perception of values, and on the basis of the readiness of the will capable of committing itself precisely in this way.”

John Paul II believes that, for giving ourselves, “we must find a particular proof of possessing ourselves” (because, let’s face it, what are you giving if you don’t possess yourself?). But this is not meant in a purely sexual or sexual-psychological way, but in a personalistic way. (The philosophy of John Paul II starts and ends with a personalistic character.) To illustrate this, from this idea what emerges is the proper philosophical grounds to substantiate a series of important consequences, e.g., monogamy. John Paul II argues that “the self-giving of a woman to a man the way it occurs in marriage excludes – morally speaking – the simultaneous self-giving on his or her part to other persons in the same way” (emphasis added). (I recommend the reader to review the chapter of Love and Responsibility that extends on monogamy and builds upon this and relates it to the idea of not using the person.) The concept of spousal love, however, does possess a key meaning for establishing norms for sexual morality. John Paul II argues that “the sexual moment plays a particular role in the formation of spousal love” (emphasis added). 

John Paul II writes:

“Sexual intercourse causes it to be restricted only to one couple, although at the same time it gains specific intensity. Only in being so restricted can this love all the more fully open toward new persons who by nature are fruits of spousal love between a man and a woman” (emphasis added).

The previous statement finds additional support in the following quote of John Paul II: 

“A very particular link certainly exists between sexus and the person in the objective order, to which corresponds in the order of consciousness a particular awareness of the right for personal possession of one’s own “I.” (…) Consequently, out of the question is a sexual self-giving that would not mean a self-giving of the person and would not enter in some way into the orbit of these demands, which we have the right to make of spousal love” (emphasis added).

There is so much nuance in the previous quote (yet it is so clear), particularly in the first sentence (which I did not bold). John Paul II argues that a “very particular link certainly exists between sexus and the person in the “objective order.”” The “objective order” for John Paul II involves a sense of realism, for his philosophy starts based on what the objects are. In this case, John Paul II claims that a “very particular link certainly exists between sexus and the person in the objective order.” He says that, from this very particular link that certainly exists, there is and “corresponds in the order of consciousness a particular awareness…” (emphasis added). But not any awareness, but a particular awareness: “…an awareness of the right for personal possession of one’s own ‘I’” (emphasis added). Consequently, we are consciously aware of the particular sense of possession that in objective reality corresponds to our sexus. Therefore, someone cannot claim to comprehend what the meaning is of personal self-giving in spousal love if he claims that sexual self-giving must not be necessarily linked to it. For, as a result of the reasoning that anteceded the previous sentence, “out of the question is a sexual self-giving that would not mean a self-giving of the person (emphasis added). 

To finalize the section on Spousal Love of Love and Responsibility, John Paul II makes a few more remarks about the relation between spousal love and love of fondness, desire, and benevolence. He says that although it differs in essence from all the forms of love previously analyzed, it cannot be formed in separation from them.

John Paul II writes, almost as a piece of advice to close the section:

“It is especially indispensable for it [spousal love] to be closely bound with benevolence and with friendship. Without this interrelation spousal love may find itself in a very dangerous vacuum, and the persons involved in it will feel helpless in the face of interior and exterior facts, which they improvidently permitted to come into being within and between themselves” (emphasis added).

John Paul II did not cover this idea in this section (and I haven’t found it so explicitly stated in Love and Responsibility), but I find a big connection between Christ dying for us and the idea of self-giving love – can there really be a form of self-giving love that is greater than dying for someone else? If the commandment to love is to love like he loved us, Christ is meaning self-giving love. So, that’s why I like to think that the human heart strives for self-giving and self-sacrificing love as the most perfect form of love to realize the fullness of the possibilities that dwell in oneself. (I recognize that maybe this interpretation is not completely right, or lacks the necessary nuance of touching upon very different contexts, for John Paul II may be trying to differentiate – or focus on and describe – the type of love that grows between a man and a woman in the context of marriage, spousal love, which is the section of the book we just reviewed. In this case, probably what I meant to say with self-sacrificing love would mean something quite different than self-giving love in the context of spousal love. True benevolence is certainly found as part of love in any of the contexts – although John Paul II asserted that self-giving is even more than benevolence. Perhaps, the way to think about it is that self-sacrificing love should eventually become also a part of self-giving spousal love, an important element contained in it. The connotation of “self-giving” would approximate one of giving your personhood as a gift for a chosen person that is reserved only to that person, and “self-sacrificing” one of being willing to give your life in a more general but important sense. Then, the idea of self-giving love seems to find a better analogy, or even a close equivalence, in the self-giving love to God only – it implies a nature of ownership -, which is what John Paul II chose to explain in this section of the book; whereas self-sacrificing love has its example in the passion of Christ dying for everyone and for so is more broadly applicable. I could be willing to potentially sacrifice for many persons, but I can only give the essence of my whole self to one person, and God. And, because I already gave myself to God, I must seek his approval to give myself to such a person in the future.)

The section on Spousal Love finishes the general analysis of love in Love and Responsibility. This general analysis (Metaphysical Analysis of Love) corresponds to Part One of Chapter II (The Person and Love). Chapter II is completed by two remaining parts: Part Two (Psychological Analysis of Love); and Part Three (Ethical Analysis of Love). They are as exciting and high-quality as the first part, but I have chosen to cover only the first in this review. I dare hope the first part has been life-changing enough for my reader, for it was for me.

I only omitted one section of Part One of this chapter: The Problem of Reciprocity. In this section, John Paul II expands on the understanding of love as something that constitutes an interpersonal relationship. It is something that grows between persons. The other day a friend told me that “true love is the one when it is hard to love again” – I vehemently disagreed. For I had learned in Love and Responsibility that such a thing is “unrequited love,” that is well-known to lead gradually to pain and suffering, to gradual agony. I commented earlier that such a phenomenon – that is not love – is grounded in obstinacy, and I learned that very well from this section of the book. I used to see love as something that must be built with certain intentionality and deliberacy (like a bridge that unites people), and although there may be some truth in that (if any), I believe now that it’s better to see it as something that grows between persons and may be – or may not be – nurtured (like a plant that is growing slowly in between and is alive – but could also die, before it matures and takes roots). The idea is that the type of love that Love and Responsibility talks about is the one that exists between persons and is never something that exists only in one person or two persons completely separately. It is a whole, a community of interiors walking towards a direction. (Having said that, I invite the reader to check this section out, where John Paul II provides a less romantic and more objective analysis for this than the one I provided.)

I will continue to review selected sections of the remaining chapters of Love and Responsibility. I admit this article is an overview and commentary of selected themes of Love and Responsibility. It should be taken as a collection of the themes that I have considered to be the most impactful and special to me, and that I feel I want to explain and share.

Justice with Respect to the Creator and Virginity

The subtitle is deliberate in the sense that the book introduces the topics separately, but I find them too complementary not to review them together. There is a case to be made for virginity and intactness alone based on the previous philosophical developments of the book that defend the idea of love as the opposite of “using” and the discussions of marriage as a union of persons with a common end. But, at a personal level, I have found the greatest source of joy and strength on two ideas: the idea of love toward the Creator above all things, and the idea of the relationship of ownership that there is between a creature before its Creator. The former is well known as it is central to the catechism of the Catholic Church (and Christianity in general), but the book has made a difference in my life by philosophically developing the latter one with thorough arguments.

Justice with respect to the Creator refers to the union of persons and self-giving love. It is my faith that as a being made in the image and likeness of God, I own myself. It is my faith that as a creature of God, he owns me. Because I love him above all else, I give myself to him first. If I choose to love and give myself to a person, this must come with the necessary permission of my Creator. Marriage as a union made by God fulfills this.

John Paul II writes:

“The concept of “creature” entails a particular kind of dependence on the Creator, namely dependence for existence (to be created means to be dependent on for existence). In turn, this dependence is the basis for a special right of ownership with respect to all creatures (dominium altum) that belongs to the Creator.”

John Paul II writes about the reciprocal self-giving between a man and a woman:

“If each of these persons is at the same time a possession of the Creator, then he also must give him to her, and her to him, or in any case he must approve their reciprocal self-giving that is contained in the institution of marriage.”

Therefore, virginity as a virtue is contained in the previous idea. John Paul II writes: “What is therefore born here is the twofold need to justify the sexual intercourse of a man and a woman by the institution of marriage. For the fact of intercourse makes a person become in a certain way a possession of another person, and this at the same time occurs in the opposite direction.”

Why does “intercourse make a person become in a certain way a possession of another person”? This is emphatically connected to the understanding of conjugal intercourse as an act of love, but not any love: spousal love that is self-giving love. (It may be argued that, within an axiology that does not regard spousal love as self-giving love, this reasoning does not make sense. But not to regard spousal love as self-giving love is what does not make sense.) 

It is vital to remark that self-giving love is much more than intercourse, but intercourse – based on these arguments that aim to substantiate the teaching of the Catholic Church – is contained as an important part of such self-giving. It is not the whole of self-giving love, but it should be an act of self-giving love. As such, justice with respect to the Creator (regarding the relationship of ownership between a creature and its Creator) justifies the idea of virginity before the sacred union of marriage made by God.

Tenderness and Sensuality

The idea of tenderness in the philosophy of John Paul II is grounded on a notion of empathy. John Paul II says that we are “filled with tenderness for the various beings with which we feel joined in such a way that we can, in a sense, empathize with their inner state and experience” (emphasis added). He argues tenderness contains an “interior ability to co-feel,” a “sensitiveness to the other’s lived-experiences.”

However, John Paul II emphasizes that the essence of tenderness does not only contain all of the previous. The idea of tenderness, for John Paul II, involves some degree of communication: “Tenderness (…) expresses the tendency to embrace the other’s lived experiences and the states of the other person’s soul with one’s own affection” (emphasis added). Notice the emphasis is on the word “expresses,” for John Paul II argues that tenderness is “expressed outside,” for, according to him, “there is a need to communicate to the other ‘I’ my concern for his lived-experiences or interior states.” It seems to be intrinsic to the essence of tenderness to wish the other being to be aware of our concern, that we share and feel the other’s experience.

John Paul II believes that tenderness co-feels and communicates actively one’s own closeness, a closeness that he says proceeds from affective commitment. I have not covered the analysis of affectivity of John Paul II, but, in this case, he recalls in Tenderness and Sensuality that “affection by nature draws people together.” The idea is that tenderness expresses in exterior deeds that, ideally, would be reflecting certain nearness. (I’ve said “ideally” because, as we will discuss later, expressions of tenderness may also proceed from other sources.)

The so-called exterior deeds that strive to express tenderness are quite varied, but we all get the idea, e.g., holding the other person, supporting him by the arm, walking hand in hand, some forms of kissing, etc. John Paul II calls these “active manifestations of tenderness.”

John Paul II writes:

“A readiness for receiving them [active manifestation of tenderness] does not yet fully prove the reciprocity of affection, but only proves that no affective opposition exists toward that person who in this exterior ways shows an expression of his tenderness.”

The crucial thought is this one: one thing is the exterior manifestations of tenderness, and another thing is the reciprocity of tenderness in the interior. But one must wonder: “why can this be the case and what does it mean?”

Before answering such a question, it is worth it to continue emphasizing the idea of John Paul II in different ways – because it’s quite important to make the distinction before we get at the concept of sources. John Paul II says that (true) tenderness lies in the interior affective relation and not in the mere exterior manifestations. He says that it’s “something personal, interior, one’s own.” So, tenderness is something interior with important and necessary exterior manifestations that communicate it.

The thing – or may I say the problem – is that the equivalent exterior manifestations of tenderness, oftentimes, do not come from a source that is tenderness, but something else. This is what John Paul II is trying to get at.

John Paul II writes:

“It is necessary to draw a very distinct boundary line between tenderness, with its various exterior forms, and various forms of satisfying sensuality. The sources from which the former and the latter proceed are completely different, and they concern different things” (emphasis added).

The previous is not really, in a way, a comment about sensuality itself yet. It is rather just a logical distinction between exterior manifestation, interior source, and therefore true meaning. (At a personal level, what may be relevant here is to ask ourselves what we are really looking for when we find ourselves in these contexts.)

John Paul II writes:

“By nature sensuality is disposed toward the “body as a possible object of sexual use” and naturally tends to satisfy this need to use, and this is when we speak about having a sexual outlet. Tenderness, on the other hand, proceeds from affectivity and its characteristic reaction, the reaction to the “human being of the other sex.” What is expressed in it is not desire, but rather benevolence and devotion to the other” (emphasis added).

It’s hard to emphasize how insightful the previous quote is. The same exterior manifestation of an interaction may have different sources and meaning. (Obviously, this is likely to be the most disastrous when two individuals are not on the same page. The so-called “I thought it meant something to you!” can only come from being overly uneducated on this idea – tenderness and sensuality – or, perhaps equally likely, not being clear to oneself about what is being looked for and how to actually find, seek, and grow it. Communication may help to avoid misunderstandings, but tenderness, properly comprehended, seems unlikely to grow overnight – but that’s my take.)

But the idea of manifestations, sources, and meaning does not stop at differentiating two different colors between tenderness and sensuality. But there is also some nuance in tenderness, there are different shades of it. One may say, and John Paul II acknowledges this very well, that tenderness may also be looking to satisfy something, not in the sensual sense and the will for sexual use, but in the sense of satisfying affectivity. John Paul II suggests that tenderness may be related to a need to satisfy “lived-experience of closeness.”

However, John Paul II argues that “(…) tenderness can be completely disinterested when it is above all marked by a regard for the other, for his interior situation” (emphasis added). This is not to say that a need for the “lived-experience of the closeness” is a “bad thing.”

John Paul II writes:

“Certain “self-interest” does belong to human love, although without canceling at all its proper character, as has been demonstrated by its metaphysical analysis. Every man is a limited good, thus capable only of limited disinterestedness.”

Love and Responsibility has the ambitious goal of actually educating people properly on love. One may say it ought to have such a philosophical character of such a unique nature because it will substantiate things people often do not want to hear – in this case: the problem of educating tenderness involves discussing the problem of abstinence.

I am aware of my audience, and I wonder to what degree the concept of abstinence, at different levels, rings true in them when they hear it. I wonder if they think it is a synonym of “fun.” In a way, I hadn’t really covered the idea of abstinence in its fullness, for the discussions about virginity had a different character. What will be surprising to my reader is that, in the philosophy of John Paul II that substantiates the teaching of the Catholic Church, abstinence can be a powerful vehicle to nurture the true love between persons

For what are we looking for here? Tenderness. We are looking to nurture the tenderness between persons. Or at least we are looking to make sure it has the chance to grow, if I happen to share that goal with my reader. Sensuality is delightful, but sensuality that is grounded in tenderness is better. Sensuality that consumes tenderness is tragic. 

John Paul II writes:

“This problem [educating love and tenderness] falls within the problem of abstinence. For tenderness demands some vigilance, so that its diverse manifestations do not acquire a different meaning, so that they do not become merely forms of satisfying sensuality and of a sexual outlet. Therefore, tenderness cannot do without a cultivated interior self-mastery (…)” (emphasis added).

John Paul II speaks of a self-mastery that “in this context becomes an exponent of interior subtlety and delicacy with regard to the person.” He criticizes that “sensuality alone pushes toward the use.”

At this point, I may have persuaded my reader about the previous point or not. I did my best to explain the philosophy of John Paul II (either way I recommend reading the whole chapter of Love and Responsibility.) I may share that I agree and wish I had seen these ideas earlier with clarity. For there are certainly ways to interact with true tenderness that are both meaningful and fulfilling. Ways that are more likely to build up the friendship on solid grounds over the long term if patience and self-mastery help understand that there is a time for everything. And also virtues that help oneself understand the priorities: a good time? a sexual outlet for pleasure? or a relationship growing the lasting love between persons? I realize that experience is overrated and helpless if it remains ignorant in the education of love.

John Paul II writes:

“Whereas sensuality alone pushes toward the use, so that the man who is wholly seized by it does not even see that there can be another sense and another “style” of the interaction between a man and a woman” (emphasis added).

The previous has been just one of the key points that John Paul II makes about Tenderness and Sensuality. The section actually continues and covers other very important points, such as the idea of “exaggerated tenderness.” (Think of some forms of the so-called“teenage love,” which has a tendency to be too dull and mean nothing to the extent it tends to lack a mature objective profile; or the kind of behavior that reflects “neediness” or egoism in terms of the “need for affectivity” without the genuine disinterested profile that true tenderness demands. Or, it can be the case, he speaks of even dishonest exterior expressions of tenderness that only seek to take advantage, to use, to deceive through seduction.) The idea of John Paul II really is, in the end, that tenderness must be grounded in love. He speaks of a “right to tenderness” that must have this substratum. Otherwise, whatever the reciprocal manifestation, or even its one-sided expression, remains in a vacuum, for tenderness must develop into an interior co-feeling that includes the objective profile of love and resides in both persons, not only in one.

The Absorption of Sexual Shame by Love

Phenomenology is a good place to start the analysis of experience but objective metaphysics is a good place to end the philosophy – and ethics – in the human sexual sphere, for it is a sphere of persons with interior lives, rational beings. Hence why the philosophy of John Paul II has a personalistic character with the person as the fundamental unit: his being, his actions, and his rights.

The analysis of (sexual) shame in this chapter of Love and ResponsibilityMetaphysics of Shame – closely starts and follows what phenomenologists have to say. But it brings together and builds the philosophical/metaphysical interpretations and ethical justifications at the level of persons. For, as we said, we can only fully make sense of human sexual ethics at the level of persons.

Under this light, John Paul II argues that there are solid reasons why shame is a natural manifestation that relates to a natural instinct to protect the objective value of the person, to emphasize it over the value of sexus.

John Paul II writes:

“What is essential in this shame is the tendency to conceal the sexual values themselves, first and foremost inasmuch as they constitute in the consciousness of the given person “a possible object of use” for persons of the other sex.”

Only humans can reason among all beings in the visible world. Only humans can feel sexual shame. Only humans can love. Love is an idea with an essence that goes beyond the sexual experience. Love is an idea which we have demonstrated already has an objective profile and must regard the value of the person over the value of sexus if it is to become that which only humans can experience.

John Paul II writes:

“In no way can the essence of shame be comprehended without firmly emphasizing the truth that the person is an “interior” being, i.e., that he possesses interiority proper only to him, whence is born the need for concealing (that is, keeping inside) certain contents or certain values, or for retreating inside with them.”

John Paul II argues that shame is so closely linked to the person and the development of the personhood that we can appreciate the fact that, not only does it not occur in animals, but it does not occur in children. He says that this is because their “sphere of sexual values does not yet exist; their consciousness has not yet opened to these values” (emphasis added).

We share with animals emotions like fear and anxiety, which are related to the idea of shame. But what is the most objective definition of conscious sexual shame only humans can experience?

John Paul II answers:

“(…) the phenomenon of shame occurs when that which by reason of its essence or its purpose should be interior leaves the sphere of interiority of the person and becomes in some way exterior” (emphasis added).

John Paul II believes that instinctive sexual shame defends the value of the person. He argues that human beings deep within long for evoking love and long for experiencing love – true love.

John Paul II writes:

“Only the person can feel shame, because only the person by his nature may not be an object of use (…). Sexual shame is in a sense a revelation of the supra-utilitarian character of the person, both when the person (e.g., X) feels shame for the sexual values linked to his body, and when he (e.g., Y) feels shame for his relation to these values in persons of the other sex, for his attitude only to use them” (emphasis added).

John Paul II refers explicitly to a lived-experience of inviolability: “(Y[she]: ‘You must not touch me  even with the interior desire itself’ – Y[he]: ‘I must not touch her even with the interior will to use; she may not be an object of use’)”

My goal in this part of the review is to get at the idea of the absorption of shame by love – because how do we go past the natural sense of sexual shame? Do we achieve it through shamelessness that destroys the value of the person by focusing on the value of the sexus, or through love that absorbs the sexual shame and affirms the value of the person over the sexus?

The previous take sounds quite romantic, but the philosophy of John Paul II is quite more objective on this. The philosophy of John Paul II considers a series of facts: 1) sexual shame has an objective reason to be only in the world of persons – to constitute a natural self-defence against descending or being pushed into the position of an object of sexual use; 2) the longing for love or experiencing love is ultimately determined by the reciprocal relation to the value of the person (for love is and must be a personal union of persons); and 3) sexual shame can, in a way, “pave the way to love,” for by its very essence it procures the exaltation of the value of the person.

That is, with our instinct for sexual shame we reflect the tendency to conceal sexual values to exalt the value of the person, the plane where true human objective love grows and lives, something we all long for. Whether one adheres to Catholic values or not, at the end of the day, it seems to be our nature to want to be appreciated for who we are as persons more than for the value of our sexus. John Paul II says that Catholic sexual ethics are objectively grounded in the natural order.

It’s not that sexual shame goes away. John Paul II believes that “all the more does love sharpen the sense of this shame in a man and a woman, for it is realized in full while mostly fully preserving this shame.” He argues that “(…) it [love] takes advantage of the proportion between the value of the person and the values of sexus that shame introduces into the reciprocal relation (…)” (emphasis added).

It’s not hard to relate to this idea: Shamelessness destroys the natural self-defense (in a way it means that, the destruction of the natural self-defense). A natural self-defense for what? We mean a defense for not descending into the position of an object of sexual use. So, in a way, shamelessness is some sort of acceptance to be an object of sexual use. That’s the overly obvious way to jump this natural self-defense, by completely getting rid of it: hence the word shamelessness. Love, instead, works around it in a different way. It does not eliminate this natural self-defense to avoid descending into the position of a sexual object. Love preserves the natural self-defense between persons, hence we say it “absorbs” sexual shame, in the sense that love is the idea which affirms the value of the person. People “absorb” such self-defense through their love – that is real – simply because they know that they can feel safe. When people love each other, they know they are not being used as sexual objects, but are rather being treated as objects of love. (No need to destroy the natural self-defense that helps to preserve that in the first place, for our dignity is kept safe by true love.)

Therefore, John Paul II demonstrates quite well that, as he writes in Love and Responsibility, “in such a natural way shame opens to love” (emphasis added).

The previous idea explains why Catholic values regard shame as an important concept and property of the individual, as a value to cultivate for it is a natural defense of our interior, something to be respectful of, for there is an objective reason why we don’t share it with animals. The complete destruction of sexual shame works at the detriment of love.

I must clarify a common confusion: The idea of sexual shame does not talk about ways to dress at all, a rather contentious topic when people discuss the so-called “conservative values” (whatever that means anywhere). Catholic values are not conservative values but timeless universal values. Sexual shame is an interior and natural awareness with related sensations that we all share as rational beings. The concept has ethical implications, but the feeling is something rather personal. Dress is a personal choice influenced by our personalities, cultural backgrounds, tastes, likes, surrounding climate, latest trends we follow, curiosity, individual sense of artistic expression, and even sense of expression of our own beauty. Because to want to express all your marvelous beauty – interior and exterior – is okay, is very wonderful. What Catholic values encourage, properly comprehended (even by practicing Catholics), is to understand this interior instinct that is a timeless characteristic of human nature and certainly exists, and what it should mean for each of us at a personal, ethical, and spiritual level. (Please read section The Problem of Shamelessness of Love and Responsibility for an objective analysis and its relationship to the idea of dressing and contexts, for there is nonetheless a necessary relationship.) Interior sexual shame has its objective reason to be, and to encourage and instill a personal understanding of it in young people is really good for their spiritual growth. The exterior subjective manifestations do not have an objective reason to be – they cannot by principle – and therefore anything that has to be with rigid rules of dressing is nonsense. I don’t think my grandmother would have dressed like the girls I’ve dated when she was young and that’s 100% okay and normal, all I’ve loved for who they are as persons and all have certainly wanted that in their interior, to be loved as persons, never objects. That’s what Catholic values emphasize to cultivate and it’s a timeless truth.

John Paul II writes a very powerful text in Love and Responsibility:

“What is essential for love is above all the affirmation of the value of the person; by being based on it, the will of the loving subject tends to the true good of the beloved person, the good that is full and complete, the good “in every respect” – this good is identified with happiness. This attitude of the will in the loving person is completely contrary to any attitude of the will to use” (emphasis added).

As such, here lies the stunning logic of the absorption of shame by love:

“With such an attitude [love], then, there is no reason for shame, that is, for concealing the values of sexus as the ones that obscure the value of the person, which strike at the person’s incommunicability (alteri incommunicabilitas) and inviolability by reducing him to the position of an object of use.”

Reproduction and Parenthood

We may say that nature is a reality first, we think about it thereafter, and finally we choose to embrace it with our actions or rebel against it with our power of self-determination. The point here is not the why yet, but the metaphysical fact that this description is true because it cannot be any other way. There are facts in the order of nature that are objective and therefore we can either accept or neglect. And because God is the first cause of the order of nature, it follows that we either embrace God’s intentions with our actions or rebel against God’s intentions with our power of self-determination. Even though we are part of nature, it is self-evident that we are the only beings who can do that among all beings in the visible world – it’s the undeniable mark of our distinctness. But why should I care about embracing the order of nature if I have the freedom to rebel against it? What are the objective reasons to choose one way over the other if after all we have free will? After all, I am a libertarian, which means that I will defend your powers of self-determination and free will as long as you respect the ones of others and mine as well, but that’s another topic. This is not politics, but ethics that seek what is true and good at the personal spiritual level. For the deepest logic of revelation, says John Paul II, is for God to let man know the true ends such that he can, through his reason, understand them and make them his own, through his power of self-determination and free will. If God is the truth and the good, then his intentions are the true and good ends. The question is why that is the case, how to understand it, and how to live it with the conviction and happiness that comes with clarity. Truth is a task for reason, and we are the only beings endowed with reason.

In the philosophy of John Paul II, the idea that sexual (conjugal) intercourse demands the readiness for parenthood is not only argued from a standpoint of responsibility, but also for what is philosophically more radical: a standpoint of love. John Paul II argues that the readiness for parenthood unites persons at a different level in conjugal intercourse, and that hence it must be seen as a good in itself for the love between persons.

For a child is a burden, but also a joy, that’s for sure. But the point is not even that one right now. The point right now is to consider the readiness, the possibility not the necessity, not even the intention yet – and what it means for the love between persons. For even if a child is a burden and parenthood may not be sought after with necessity, nurturing the love between persons is undeniably a true good in itself. The implications of the readiness for parenthood in the philosophy of John Paul II, properly comprehended, have ethical considerations that are crucial but also conform a sort of tip, a suggestion, a guideline, an advice, a hint, a recommendation, a pointer, a guidance to nurture, and even strengthen, the love between persons, in itself.

John Paul II writes:

“The sexual intercourse of a man and a woman in marriage possesses its full value of a personal union only when it contains the conscious acceptance of the possibility of parenthood” (emphasis added).

During his life, John Paul II always exalted the love between a man and a woman as a gift from God, the Creator.

John Paul II writes:

“When a man and a woman within marriage consciously and freely choose sexual intercourse, then together with it they choose at the same time the possibility of procreation; they choose to participate in creating (to apply the proper meaning of procreatio). Only then do they place their sexual intercourse within marriage on the truly personal level, when they consciously unite in their conduct the one and the other” (emphasis added).

I recommend my reader to listen to the same music I am as I write this. This is an idea that simply enamors the soul. There is a beauty in it that is just divine. We are talking about the single most marvelous miracle of all existence, the possible creation of a being that is a person, and that happens through love, self-giving spousal love. And at the same time, the participation in procreating a person nurtures, nourishes, and strengthens this true love between persons, it unites the one and the other on a different level. The truly personal love between a woman and a man is truly a gift from God the Creator. The beauty of the true ends is incomparable. The sex between a man and a woman is the lasting love of persons. This love is the gift that blossoms into the greatest miracle.

John Paul II states: 

“There is no victory over nature in the sense of violating it. Mastery of nature can result only from a thorough knowledge of its finality and the regularity that governs it. Man masters nature by the fact of ever more fully taking advantage of the possibilities hidden in it. (…) When he violates nature, he also “violates” the person by making him an object of use instead of an object of love” (emphasis added).

John Paul II boldly quotes a text from Mahatma Gandhi’s Autobiography in this chapter of Love and Responsibility:

“In my opinion the statement that the sexual act is an unprompted activity similar to sleeping or satisfying hunger is a summit of ignorance. The existence of the world depends on the act of reproduction, and due to the fact that the world is a realm governed by God and constitutes a reflection of his power, the act of reproduction should come under the control that has the development of life on earth as its end. Whoever understands this will strive by all means to master his senses and will arm himself with knowledge, which is indispensable for the physical and spiritual flourishing of his progeny, and he will bestow the fruits of this knowledge on posterity and for its benefit” (emphasis added) – Mahatma Gandhi.

I am enamored. I must be enamored. No matter how much logic and thought I put into it, the beauty of the miracle of procreation takes my soul away. And it should.

But I must clarify that the position of John Paul II is not to require the spouses to positively will procreation in every act of conjugal intercourse. His position is to embrace the readiness both in the ethical sense of responsibility and respecting the order of nature, and in the sense that it is a good in itself for love, as it has already been explained. John Paul II writes that “Conjugal intercourse proceeds and should proceed from reciprocal spousal love. It is needed for love, and not only for procreation. Marriage is an institution of love, and not only of fertility” (emphasis not added). 

The point, in his words, is not the attitude: “We perform this act exclusively in order to be parents.” John Paul II says that the following attitude is perfectly sufficient: “By performing this act we know that we can become a father and a mother, and we are ready for it” (emphasis added). Procreation is entangled in it in the sense that the readiness must be embraced, but John Paul II defends that the conjugal act is “an act of love, an act of uniting persons,” and not merely a “tool” or “means” of procreation. To put it another way: By embracing the readiness of the possibility of procreation, even if not seeking its necessity, husband and wife are united through the special love that is enabled by the shared-lived experience.

Under this light, the so-called practice of periodic abstinence acquires a completely different meaning. It is not only a “method,” a “technique” to regulate conceptions, but it also constitutes a vehicle to nurture love. This is a bold claim. But the philosophy is consistent. Both in the sense of appreciating the conjugal act as an act of uniting persons – for it is an act of love – and in the sense of mastering nature – for the idea of Love and Responsibility is that man masters nature by fully taking advantage of the possibilities hidden in it. (I believe artificial contraceptives achieve their goal well and make sense on a practical level, even more outside of Catholicism where spiritual goals are different (if any) and practical considerations matter more, but I also now believe they miss the beautiful opportunity Love and Responsibility talks about on the basis of uniting persons through the special love that is enabled by the shared-lived experience of embracing the readiness for parenthood within a marriage. It should be evident that Love and Responsibility regards understanding, respecting, and mastering the order of nature as an essential spiritual goal. Love and Responsibility proposes to understand God’s intentionality and make it our own, for that is good in itself and there are hidden possibilities in it where we can find much joy and happiness.)

John Paul II advocates for responsibility for procreation, and also for responsibility for love. John Paul II believes they are closely linked. He writes that “Parental readiness in the conjugal act guards love and is an indispensable condition of a truly personal union” (emphasis added). The idea of John Paul II is that “Parental readiness serves here the purpose of breaking bilateral egoism (…) behind which always hides the use of the person” (emphasis added). This is another bold statement, but it cannot be said that the philosophy of Love and Responsibility is not consistent from start to finish, but quite the contrary. The idea here is to respect the formulations of the personalistic norm developed in the first chapter even within marriage. Because a person shall never be an object of use, only an object of love.

John Paul II writes:

“Responsibility for love – to which we paid particular attention in these reflections – is bound most closely with responsibility for procreation. Therefore, by no means can love be separated from parenthood, the readiness for which constitutes a necessary condition for love.”

A Remark on the Work

There is a quote in the editor’s introduction to the polish edition (1979) that I have found to be valuable: “(…) Love and Responsibility does not need to be apprehensive about anything that can provide its credentials by experience. Experience that is properly interpreted is not threatened by any further experiences. Truth can only benefit from this confrontation.” (I acknowledge the last sentence served as inspiration for the introduction of this article.)

Love and Responsibility is not really an exposition of the teaching of the Catholic Church. John Paul II described it as the fruit of constant confrontation of such a doctrine with life. The teaching of the Church in the field of “sexual” morality, he reminded, is based on the Gospel and the statements on that topic are both concise and sufficient. In the introduction of the first edition of Love and Responsibility (1960), he wondered how a system so complete can be built on the basis of so few statements.

Compiling the norms of Catholic ethics regarding “sexual” morality is easy, but John Paul II wrote Love and Responsibility having in mind that there is a need at every step to substantiate such norms. There lies the great accomplishment of Love and Responsibility. I have done my best reading and introducing the contents of Love and Responsibility, but I totally invite the reader to read the extended arguments. (I must acknowledge that I did not cover all themes.) It is not a list of norms, but a rigorous argumentation to substantiate such norms. For so, anyone – whether raised with Catholic values or not – may benefit from reading Love and Responsibility. At the end, as an intrinsic part of its content, Love and Responsibility aims to also answer the timeless questions of the human heart: “how can I find happiness in love and what does true love mean?”

(Please write to [email protected] if you want me to send you back the PDF of the latest English translation of Love and Responsibility. It fits greatly when sent to Kindle devices.)

The Why of This Article

I wrote this article with love and happiness. I say happiness, the one that comes with understanding and clarity. I say love, the one that moves the heart to empower the boldest action. Because not even a single word would have been written did I not feel the love that moves me: the love for God above all else, and the appreciation for the benevolent being who I strive to let know of a different angle, an angle that shows there can be much more.

But I also feel great anger. I feel anger not over persons who have not been explained any better. I feel anger over the great amount of evil lies we’ve been persuaded by – the so deceiving gates of hell. Because the intrinsic value of the interiority of the person is incommensurable, there can’t be any truth in “fooling around” and treating people as objects of use that are rather disposable things. Because the human heart seeks to be fulfilled, there can’t be any truth behind the seeming “fun” that remains rather empty: To become numb in the long-term – i.e., deprived of the power of sensation – toward the most beautiful and tender feelings that life has to offer is the sad consequence of choosing to clean the conscience in the short-term by not taking responsibility over the value of persons (including oneself). A clean conscience that is false because it consists in telling lies to oneself and, therefore, creates great fear of thorough reflection. 

Aristotle said about anger:

“Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry (…) to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not easy.” – Aristotle

Righteous anger is not the one that comes with uncontrollable ire and is affectionate and takes away peace and is most likely to harm persons. This anger is the one that has a logical character and is objective and gives serene conviction. It’s the one that must be channeled in a truly honorable and compassionate way. It’s anger that can give certain strength to love. Because anger over the lies that provoke people to disrespect – and even harm – the value of persons, who can only be objects of love, is righteous.

I realized I wasn’t an adult yet until the past couple of months when I deeply reflected upon what my core values are and why. I was just a kid. Because an adult is not the one who has a college degree, a job, a house, money, etc. An adult is the one who has reflected upon his core values and knows them. Kids, instead, will generally just accept “what everyone says.” An adult wants to find the truth, live by it, and is confident. A kid would rather ignore it for the sake of “fitting in.” An adult must be responsible. Kids, thinking they are closer to being adults the more “experienced” they think they are, have the tendency to be rather irresponsible. An adult is appreciative and grateful of the blessings he has (“for what do we have that we haven’t received?”). Kids are known to be more likely to be spoiled and take things for granted. No question why an adult would care more about showing justice with respect to the Creator than a kid. (Indeed, there are people who never stop being kids.)

A Personal Conclusion

We study philosophy not because an argument is important. We study philosophy to know what is true. After my reflections, I choose to believe that love is the only relation to the person that is proper to the nature of the person. To treat a person as a means to an end is not proper to the nature of the person. 

I agree with St. Thomas Aquinas who said that faith is a belief on the basis of divine authority, which we learn from revelation. It is my faith that I am a being created in the image and likeness of God. The distinctness of the person shines among all beings in the visible world, and for so a sense of sexual morality below the level of persons is below our nature. The remarkable abundance of our interior lives demands more. 

I must find joy and hope in the beauty of the gift of giving oneself. I must find happiness in the lasting love between persons that transcends desire, and not in the ephemeral maximization of pleasure. Through truly educated and truly good love as fondness, love as desire, and love as benevolence, I may work in my love for a person and learn to plant the seed that has the potential to grow to the fulfillment of spousal love. Through the lessons about reciprocal sympathy in friendship, tenderness and sensuality, virginity and intactness, and the absorption of sexual shame by love, I may know how to choose to nurture a human relationship in the direction that affirms the value of the person throughout its different stages. After deepening my faith, I realized that by keeping his commandments with self-giving and self-sacrifice, I find conviction and happiness in loving God.

I regard conjugal intercourse as an act of love that demands responsibility and the readiness for parenthood. May the world keep trying to tell me otherwise, because I have thought through my core values.

This piece is a PERSPECTIVES piece. It was reviewed to ensure that it adheres to our content guidelines and category definitions. If you believe that it has violated a content guideline, please reach out by completing this form. If you have any other feedback, please get in touch by emailing [email protected]