This is the second of a series of articles outlining Pope St. John Paul II’s thought on human embodiment and sexuality. You can read the first installment here.
As a consequence of the nature of the human person as an embodied spirit, as also of the nature of human love itself, personal sexual love is an intense psychological and emotional experience. Love permeates all layers of the human person’s spiritual and bodily structure and resonates especially vividly in the psychological and emotional sphere. Consequently, the psycho-emotional manifestation of love is something lively and powerful, and accounts for much of the bright joy of the experience of human love, as also the tragic anguish when failure or death cut short the mature realisation of love. By better understanding this psycho-emotional dimension of love, we will be better able to understand the true interior character and contours of the love that can form on the basis of the sexual drive.
Psychological experiences begin in impression—in the basic imprinting of the objects of the external world upon our faculties of perception—and are completed in emotion—in the emotional response to the value of the objects so perceived. (For this and the following, see Love and Responsibility 84-86) The impressions of the objects of experience are constantly received by the exterior senses and crystallised in the imagination before their availability for consciousness. In this way we receive the basic cognitive content of reality. Naturally following upon this reactivity of impression is the responsivity of emotion. In contrast to bare impression, emotion is our affective response to the value of the objects received via impression. In this way, we receive the basic goodness of reality. This emotional response to reality varies in the experiencing subject according to both depth and intensity, so that the experiencing subject becomes more or less acutely aware of the objects given in perception, and more or less acutely aware of their goodness, that is, the value they hold for him. Obviously then, this being-moved by the good comprises a particularly important dimension of our interior life and is foundational for our experience of the goodness of the world around us.
Importantly, Wojtyła says that ‘it is precisely because impression is accompanied by emotion’ that we can ‘experience the other person as a value.’ (LR 86) In other words, the cognitive appreciation of the value of the beloved is formed on the basis of the lover’s emotional response to the good of the beloved, through the bodily and human good that emotionally moves him in various and diverse ways. This emotional response to the various values of the person of the other has two distinct dimensions, that of sensuality and affectivity. (For this and following, se LR 87-96) Sensuality is an emotional response to sexual value of the body of the other—the distinctive value of the masculine or feminine body—whereas affectivity is an emotional response to the sexual value of the whole human being of the other—the distinctive value of masculinity and femininity as such. Obviously, affectivity runs deeper and encompasses a larger range of goods than mere sensuality in isolation, yet both dimensions of emotional response are significant in the appreciation of the full value of the beloved and in the formation of personal sexual love. The combination of these two forms of emotional response bring to love its rich subjective profile, wherein the consciousness of the goodness of the beloved fills the psycho-emotional experience of the lover.
However, both forms of emotional response also latently contain a threat to truly personal love. Because of the power of emotional response, the subjective experience of love can deform personal sexual love by eclipsing the true value of the person of the beloved, as well as the true character and status of the relationship of the lovers. Sensuality can lead to an objectification of the beloved by motivating the lover either to identify the value of person with the sexual value of the body alone, or by motivating the dissociation of the sexual value of the body from the personhood of the other. In a different way, affectivity too can deform love, first, through potentially hiding mere sensuality under the guise of affective tenderness, then, through leading to a disproportionate account of the value of the other—and thereby the subjective idealisation of the beloved, and likely consequent disillusionment of lovers. Affectivity can become less about the object of love, the beloved person, and more about the subjective experience of love, and thus descend into a using the other as the proximate occasion for the intense experience of love. Yet, despite the dangers posed by both sensuality and affectivity, Wojtyła argues convincingly that both forms of affective response to the good of the beloved are themselves essentially good, and both are necessary for a full and mature appreciation of the various goods found inhering in the person of the beloved.
Personal sexual love is an intense and vivid psycho-emotional experience, yet such love cannot be reduced to its psycho-emotional manifestations in isolation. Rather, the sensual and affective elements of love demand integration in the interior depth of the person and with spiritual dimension of love. If sexual love is to retain its true personal value, sensuality and affectivity must be integrated in a complete and mature relation to the beloved person, and must, through sublimation, be elevated by and permeated with personal love. Simply, the psychological manifestation of love must be subordinated to love as virtue. (For this and following, see LR 102-107)Love as virtue is ethical love, since it is directed to the affirmation of the value of the person above all other values. The proper object of love is the person of the beloved, whole and complete, a unique and unrepeatable existing human individual, and thus a being of incommensurable worth, someone of dignity. Therefore, all other values experienced through sensuality and affectivity must be firmly imbedded in the experience of the value of the beloved herself and bound to this preeminent value. True love must reach the person as such and contain within itself the affirmation of true value of the person of the beloved, as also the seeking of the true good of the beloved in a true way. Ethical love is personal love, and as such is the perfection of love. Such ethical love is realised in the sexual sphere only through the virtue of chastity, the virtue that liberates sexual love from all love’s counterfeits, for ‘only a chaste woman and a chaste man are capable of true love.’ (LR 156)
To achieve love as virtue is to achieve the mature objective profile of love. The objective profile of love is the true reality of love, a love that is a being moved by the true good of the beloved, and a corresponding determined willing of her true good. The subjective profile of love so vividly manifest in the emotional experience of the lovers becomes and remains a truly good love only if it is accompanied by its objective profile, realised through the thoroughgoing affirmation of the person of the beloved.vi Indeed, Wojtyła argues that the subjective profile should ideally be the emotional register of the objective profile of love in the interpersonal sphere. In other words, the subjective profile of love should be the interior mirror that reflects the objective profile of love. Sensuality and affectivity are then patterned on the true objective value of the other and maintained in their proper proportion to the true good of the beloved. In this way, the sensual and affective experience of love becomes the psycho-emotional resonance of the true reality of love. Only then does the subjective profile represent something true, and only then does the subjective profile of love flower and flourish properly according to its nature—it then becomes something powerful yet peaceful, ecstatic yet grounded, passionate yet pure.
Evidently, such ethically coherent love does not seek to efface the sexual value of the body or attempt to destroy the sensual and affective manifestations of love. Rather, ethical love simply seeks their integration with the value of the person—it seeks to integrate the sensual and emotional experience of love with the full and mature affirmation of the value of the person. To achieve this integration, love born of the will must embrace the sensual and affective dimensions of love and make them part of its own dynamism, thereby elevating them to the level of the free and personal. Wojtyła shows that the specific weight of the person is carried in the will, and it is only with the creative engagement of the will that the person is engaged from his depth, and it is only here in the commitment of the will that love in its full and proper sense comes into existence. Moreover, for this creative willing to be fully realistic and genuinely free, the commitment of the will must be firmly rooted in truth. Freedom is conditioned by truth, and so too, therefore, is love. (See esp. LR 105, 112-3, 117) Love demands objectivity and truth and seeks the fullest engagement of the mind—love is not blind, but seeing. The lover’s gaze must reach for the interior core of the beloved for the love to become and remain properly free and truly anchored. In this vein, Wojtyła says, ‘Love is always an affair of interiority and of spirit; in fact, to the degree it ceases to be an affair of interiority and of the spirit it also ceases to be love.’ (LR 99)
In the next article, we continue towards understanding the proper objective profile of love through an analysis of love as a reciprocal relation of persons—love as something that has its being not only in the lovers but also between the lovers, as friendship—thereby transforming the two ‘Is’ into one ‘we.’
Robert McNamara is an adjunct professor of philosophy at Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio, on their European study abroad campus in Gaming, Austria. He was educated at the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) and Maynooth (NUIM), where he studied physics and applied science, and philosophy and theological studies, respectively, and at the International Theological Institute, Austria, where he completed a master’s degree in the theology of marriage and family. He is currently engaged in research studies at Liverpool Hope University towards a doctorate in philosophy, and is writing his thesis on the human person as understood by St. Edith Stein in her reading of St. Thomas Aquinas. Robert is an associate member of faculty at Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, U.K., and a founding member of the Aquinas Institute of Ireland, for which he currently holds the position of secretary, and at whose summer and winter schools he tutors. Robert is originally from Galway, Ireland.
Karol Wojtyła, Love and Responsibility (Boston: Pauline, 2013).