Spousal Friendship

Spousal Friendship

This is the third of a series of articles outlining Pope St. John Paul II’s thought on human embodiment and sexuality. The preceding article may be found here.

Love lives not only within the lovers—as two numerically and psychologically distinct loves—but also between lovers. Wojtyła says, ‘love is always some reciprocal relation of persons… based on a relation to the good.’ Love is always an act of the human individual, yes; but love also seeks its proper maturation in the unity of two individuals, having its being as the bond that unites two distinct individuals, transforming two ‘I’s’ into the unity of a ‘we.’ And so, for human love to reach its full and adequate maturity, the unilateral love of individuals must also become the reciprocal love of two individuals loving together. Mature reciprocal love is the love of friendship—amor amicitiae. In friendship the basic dynamisms of all personal love—fondness, desire, and benevolence—are taken into and absorbed in a reciprocal commitment of both to each another. In so doing, the lives of the lovers are interwoven in a stable state of love that encompasses many areas of life, and through the course of an extended period of time.

Friendship often begins in an emotional affinity between persons, where two individual persons affectively respond to the value of one another and have a commonality of affective response to the diverse values of the world. This affective response establishes the foundation for an emotional co-experiencing, and with this, an emotional commonality and emotional harmony. Wojtyła calls this emotional co-experiencing ‘sympathy,’ and under this term gathers everything that makes up the vivid and intense lived-experience of human relationships. Such a shared emotional lived-experience is significant for the course of friendship precisely because it brings people closer and creates the space for the development of the characteristic tenderness and openness of friendship. Like sympathy, companionship also plays an important role in creating the space for friendship by providing for the possibility of a common good. Companionship is brought about through the sharing of some common goal—a common work, common objectives, or common interests—which creates a suitable foundation for the development of friendship by disposing two ‘I’s’ to becoming a ‘we,’ precisely through their sharing of a common good of valuing and activity.

Yet, friendship is not merely companionship; and nor is it simply something emotional. Rather, friendship is brought about only through the ‘participation of the will’ since the freedom of the will is the decisive factor in all personal love. The mutual commitment of the will to the good of the other, the good for the other, and the good together with the other, is that which decisively establishes friendship in being. And though sympathy and companionship dispose two persons to make such a freely chosen commitment, it is only through their mutual commitment to the good that sympathy and companionship are ‘transformed into friendship.’ Consequently, friendship has two dimensions, the first of which involves a turning toward one another in a recognition and affirmation of the good of one another—which establishes the structural dimension of friendship—and the second, a turning toward a common good together with one another, a good that they seek together and for one another—which establishes the content-based dimension of friendship. Thus, friendship is not merely an act of love, but the stable state of personal love united in the pursuit of the good. Evidently, the common good sought together plays a central role in the formation and durability of friendship. And indeed, for Wojtyła, friendship is entirely specified by this shared common good, whether the pleasurable, useful, or honourable—the bonum delectabile, bonum utile, or bonum honestum. The more noble the common good sought together, the more noble the friendship; the greater and deeper the goodness sought together, the greater and deeper the friendship.

In consequence of this turning toward the good of one another, and their further turning toward the common good together with one another, friends come to dwell interiorly with one another in intimate knowledge, deep affection, and mutual good-will. The friends are interiorly united by the good recognised together, the good affectively perceived in tandem with one another, and the good sought together with one another by the freedom of the will. Wojtyła calls this interior unity of friendship the essence of friendship and describes it as a ‘doubling’ of the ‘I’ in the formation of a ‘we,’ where—in the words of St. Thomas—friends come to mutually indwell in one another. Given this understanding of friendship, one can readily see why Aristotle maintained that ‘without friends no one would choose to live.’ Yet, spousal love is still something more, something different, something greater. One could say that the highest and most intensive form of love is spousal love—amor sponsalis. Though spousal love implicitly includes the commitment of friendship, and contains the loves of fondness, desire and benevolence, it moves beyond the stable state of friendship, and beyond the distinct dynamisms of love, to a totality of reciprocal commitment.

Spousal love is the love of self-gift realised through the taking of a vow, a vowed gift that involves all of the self and for all of time. This act of vowed self-gift whereby spousal love is realised is the preeminent act of love. In the promise to be perpetually given to the beloved, and to perpetually receive the gift of the beloved, the will and its freedom is engaged to the highest degree—one could say, the human person is so free, he can promise his future to a chosen other. The whole of the lives of the spouses now bear reference to one another in an intimate form of friendship that encompasses all dimensions of life, both body and soul. Wojtyła says, ‘The essence of spousal love is giving oneself, giving one’s ‘I.’ … the fullest and so to speak most radical form of love consists precisely in the fact of giving oneself, of making one’s own nontransferable and incommunicable “I” someone else’s possession.’ Evidently, this is quite an extraordinary kind of personal love, and a remarkable kind of friendship. In this form of love, the full ‘specific weight of the person’ is held, since the will is engaged in the good to the upmost of its power, taking-in hand and embracing all other dimensions of the human person, body and soul, and doing so perpetually through time. Consequently, in spousal love, the true value of the human person is most manifestly revealed, and the fundamental laws of the person, the laws of gift and ecstasy, are most fully realised.

Now, the ultimate and complete personal giving of self is finally to be found completed in the self-giving of the human person directly to God, the supreme object of the desires of the human heart and the consummation of all love. Yet, this gift of self to God can be realised in its proper completion only in the fullness of time, only in eternity with the blessed who enter into God’s presence. Here and now, the orientation of the human person toward personal self-gift has an earthly and horizontal dimension that can be realised either, extraordinarily, directly and immediately in consecrated celibacy—where one lives for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven—or, more ordinarily, indirectly and mediately, in marriage—where one lives for one’s beloved spouse and children. In both these states of life we discern that human existence is a ‘prepositional existence,’ where, according to the laws of gift and ecstasy, every human person is destined to live with and for the beloved other—either with and for Christ and the children of the Kingdom of Heaven, or with and for one’s spouse and natural children.

Of course, the ordinary form of spousal love is marriage. In marriage the spouses have stepped beyond the confines of their own individual existences, and live a radical form of common life, a communion of persons united through their being radically with and for one another. Yet, their spousal union is also destined to surpass the confines of its limited existence. In the consummation of their self-gift in sexual union the spouses not only live the joy of their ‘one flesh’ union, but, at one and the same time, enter into the cosmic stream of existence. Their union is the place wherein they potentially participate with the Creator in the creation of a new person, their child. In the conception of the child, the fundamental laws of love, the laws of gift and ecstasy, are again fulfilled, but now in the most complete act of giving, that of giving life to their child. This new life then becomes for the couple the greatest of shared common goods: the good that is the human person, the person of their child. In procreation, the couple ‘bestow humanity’ upon their child, and in the educational mission that inherently follows upon this procreative mission, the couple are tasked with bestowing a ‘full maturity of humanity,’ the virtue of love, upon their child. In this act of procreation and education, the couples’ spousal form of friendship is incomparably deepened through the shared common good of the life and person of their child that now comes to define their relationship as father and mother. Their personal spousal love deepens and widens to include the child, ‘flesh of their flesh, bone of their bones,’ as the most noble of common goods, the good of the person.

In the next article, we will resume this reflection upon spousal love with an outline of the nature of the institution of marriage and its essential orientation to God the Creator.



Notes: See Karol Wojtyła, Love and Responsibility, trans. by G. Ignatik (Boston: Pauline, 2013), pp. 38-41, 44-5, 57-8, 67-78, 78-83, 84-100, 107-12, 281-5, esp. 38-41, 57-8, 72-4, 78-83. Wojtyła assumes the classical understanding of friendship that traces its roots through St. Thomas (Summa Theologiae, Ia IIae, q. 28) to Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. VIII, Ch. 1-3, 8, Bk. IX, Ch. 12). See also Karol Wojtyła, ‘Parenthood as a Community of Persons’ in Person and Community, Selected Essays, trans. by Teresa Sandok (New York: Peter Lang, 1993), pp. 332-5; and Joseph Ratzinger, ‘Truth and Freedom’ in Conscience (San Francisco: Ignatius), p. 11.


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