Introduction to Crossing
the Threshold of Love,
by Mary Shivanandan
In writing this book I have drawn on four important learning experiences, two academic and two
experiential: a classical education with a grounding in philosophy from Newnham College, Cambridge (the facility
in Greek and Latin required for the doctorate mercifully survived the years); and a theological education from
the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage & Family where I now teach. I owe much to both academic
Without a fellowship I could not have studied at the Institute so that I am deeply indebted to
the Knights of Columbus and hope this book serves as some reward for their investment. Dr. Carl Anderson, both
Assistant Supreme Secretary of the Knights of Columbus and Vice-President and Dean of the Institute is to be thanked
for his vision in establishing the Institute and for his many contributions to its success and to my own professional
I owe much to all the Institute professors, but especially to Dr. Kenneth Schmitz, Rev. Msgr
Lorenzo Albacete, Dr. William E. May, Rev. Augustine DiNoia and Rev. Francis Martin. Dr. Schmitz, who blazed the
trail with his McGivney lectures in interpreting the pope's thought for an English-speaking audience (later published
as At the Center of the Human Drama), proved an invaluable guide and critic. He helped clarify difficult points
grasping immediately and encouraging the unusual interdisciplinary approach of the work. He was at all times an
Two "experiential learning"
environments have also gone into the preparation of the book, 20 years of engagement in the marriage, family and
natural family planning field and more than three decades of married life. As those who persevere to the end will
discover, "experiential learning" is
gaining increasing legitimacy as a distinct source of knowledge which complements rather than competes with academic
and/or technical expertise. Without anticipating what is in the text, I simply wish to acknowledge here the great
debt I owe to the many professionals and couples in the natural family planning (NFP) field who shared so generously
their expertise and "lived experience"
as we have explored together over the years the riches of the Church's teaching on marriage and family.
I have had the good fortune to work for several years with Dr. Thomasina Borkman, Professor of
Sociology at George Mason University, a pioneer and leading expert in experiential learning. We have co-authored
some papers on natural family planning and she has contributed valuable insights and key concepts in NFP. The chapters
on social science method and family planning could not have been done without her guidance. I must add that the
theological views expressed in those chapters are mine and any flaws in the social science are also mine alone.
The second "experiential learning" environment has been my own marriage and family. Our marriage combines East and West, the arts
and the sciences and, thanks to my husband, has been truly universal in character. While he has explored outer
space and the secrets of physical nature, I have wrestled with the meaning of the human person and the communion
of persons in the microcosm of the family. I am profoundly grateful for my husband's encouragement and support
even when it meant spending time on different continents to complete the writing.
I also wish to thank other family members and the many friends who provided a listening ear and
prayers for the book's success. Special thanks and acknowledgement go to the Institute librarian, Mr. James Riley
and to Suzanne Shaffer for her friendship and for the many tasks she so ably performed to bring it to publication.
Pope John Paul II is regarded by many in the West as an enigma. While he is seen as a champion
of human rights and is credited with a major role in bringing down the "iron
curtain," he is castigated for being a rigid reactionary in the area of morals,
especially sexual morality. It is little understood that his concern for the dignity of the human person and what
he calls, after Vatican Council II, the communion of persons of marriage and family flow from the same source.
Indeed, they are so intertwined that it is not possible to say which has been more salient in his life and work.
Dominican philosopher, Abelardo Lobato, cites Bergson's statement that great philosophers have
only one word to say and spend their whole life saying it. For Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) that one word
is person. In corollary, friend and fellow Pole, Mieczyslaw Malinski, writes that the pope's interest in human
"gave direction to his academic studies. Above all
he was interested in the supreme experience, which is love-both love in general, if one may put it so, and particular
forms of it such as married love."
Wojtyla's early plays show how deeply he penetrated the joys and sorrows of married love, depicting
with compassionate understanding the alienation leading to divorce. From the beginning of his pastoral ministry
he was challenged particularly to understand and apply the Church's teaching on responsible parenthood. This went
hand in hand with the experience of man's dehumanization first under the Nazi, then the Communist dictatorships.
In the brief autobiography of his priesthood he confirms this link:
The two totalitarian systems . . . I came to know so to speak, from within.
And so it is easy to understand my deep concern for the dignity of every human person and the need to respect human
rights, beginning with the right to life. This concern was shaped in the first years of my priesthood and has grown
stronger with time. It is also easy to understand my concern for the family and young people. These concerns are
all interwoven; they developed precisely as a result of those tragic experiences.
Philosopher Karol Wojtyla expresses the common thread linking both dimensions when he states:
"The central problem of life for humanity in our times, perhaps in
all times, is this: participation or alienation." Both participation and alienation
are linked to man's personal subjectivity. Man is alienated when, without ceasing to be a member of the human species,
he is not considered a personal subject. In his work, The Acting Person, he sees a greater need for what he calls participation in the communities of being of the family and
the nation, because it is there that the greatest deviations have occurred.
To get at the root of modern man's alienation he turned to philosophy, particularly the Thomist
tradition. His earlier immersion in the phenomenology of consciousness of Max Scheler enabled him to incorporate
the notion of experience in the ethical act. The actus humanus (human act) of Aquinas became the act of the personal
subject. But to plumb the depths of who man is, the philosopher turned-or rather returned-to theology. Only in
Christ is the mystery of man made clear. The Vatican Council II document, Gaudium et Spes gave him the insights
on which his mature anthropology would be based, particularly nos. 22 and 24.
From his earliest plays Wojtyla had viewed man in the light of his eternal destiny. His participation
in Vatican Council II brought this out more. But it was precisely the questions raised by the Church's teaching
on responsible parenthood from Pope Pius XI's encyclical Casti Connubii to Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae
that led him to seek in philosophy (Love and Responsibility,
1959) and in Scripture (the Wednesday Catechesis) the meaning of being a man and a woman and their one-flesh communion.
Christ, himself, in responding to the Pharisees on the question of divorce had referred them "back to the beginning." Under the stimulus of the 1980 Synod
of the Family John Paul II began a series of catecheses in his regular Wednesday audiences on the Scriptural bases
of the Church's teaching on marriage and family beginning with the creation accounts in Genesis.
In the second, Yahwist account of creation John Paul II discerns that man and woman in their
subjectivity are each created as a "solitude"
before God. Each is a self-determining being in a unique relationship with God. He calls this "original solitude," an essential foundation of personhood.
Yet God saw that it was not good for man (Adam) to be alone and so created a "helper" fit for him, Eve. Together they formed the first communion of persons.
When both sinned by eating the fruit of the tree of good and evil, they suffered a three-fold
alienation, becoming alienated from God and each other and experiencing opposition between their spiritual and
physical powers. The alienation originates precisely at the level of the personal subject and from there extends
through all relationships, beginning with the intimate I-you communion of husband-wife, mother-child. The temptation
is always to treat the other as an object and not as a freely willed gift. Redemption also takes place at the level
of the personal subject through transformation in and through Christ. Only in relationship first with God and then
with another human person in complete self-giving is alienation overcome.
Wojtyla was acutely aware of the problem of atheism not so much in the aspect of an intellectual
denial of God but in relation to the internal state of the human person. "The
atheistic man," he says "is a man persuaded
of his final--that is to say--'eschatological' solitude." On the other hand the
"religious man in his own intimate relationship
to God shows himself as one not alienated, but on the contrary most at home with himself and the world from this
relationship with God. And here is the aspect and indeed the end of great moment for the Church in the world of
A New Discourse
This "eschatological solitude"
before God permeates every aspect of post-modern culture. It has become clear that a new discourse is necessary
both in theology and the human sciences to dialogue with a culture that is fundamentally atheistic. Carl Anderson
cites Henri Lubac's comment of nearly 40 years ago that modern atheism, which is characteristic of our contemporary
culture has not simply rejected belief in God but is anti-theist citing Nietzsche's statement, "It is our preference that decides against Christianity--not arguments." When the Enlightenment philosophers proclaimed human reason as the sole criterion for truth and
morality replacing the unifying power of religion, they only partially altered the discourse with Christianity.
But the very skepticism that called into question the validity of transcendent truth through faith came to be applied
to modern rationalism itself. Nietzsche claimed that the confidence of reason to ascertain objective truth was
an illusion. When man ascribes to an objective order of truth outside himself he is bound to something other than
himself and so is not free. The attack on divine Truth had become an attack on all truth because the truly free
man cannot depend on anything outside himself. What is now called postmodernism has radically changed intellectual
discourse by accepting Nietzsche's rejection of modern rationality.
Anderson calls the encyclical on responsible parenthood, Humanae
"one of the last great magisterial documents addressed
to the intellectual and cultural conditions of Modernity."
It presupposed a discourse based on the validity of human reason to arrive at a consensus on
moral truths. He does not believe that discourse on the encyclical, which might have been possible immediately
after its release, is now possible. Any discussion on the issues raised by the encyclical must now address first
the very foundations of modern culture. A new discourse can no longer be based on a consensus on words or concepts
employed. "It must be a living discourse, a new evangelization carried
on as a way of life." Christ himself as the Word is the "living discourse."
As philosopher, Karol Wojtyla, and as pope, John Paul II not only understands the need for a
new discourse but he has been developing such a discourse from his earliest years in Poland. The pope did not follow
a straight line, as it were, in developing his anthropology. It is remarkable that even in his earliest plays the
main concepts can be discerned but their articulation took many years of pastoral experience, philosophical and
theological study. Wherever he felt the need he also consulted the fields of psychology and sexology, believing
that they have a vital if subordinate role to play in illuminating an adequate anthropology.
He was particularly challenged to find a new discourse for the Church's teaching on responsible
parenthood. In seeking a Scriptural foundation as recommended by Paul VI, he has developed a theology of the body
centered on its "nuptial meaning."
The human person can only "find himself" by making a sincere gift of himself " in a communion of
persons. (Gaudium et Spes, no. 24) Masculinity and femininity
are the primordial sign of this gift which is expressed in creation by the one-flesh union of marriage from which
flows both the indissoluble communion of persons and procreation. When this gift is not total, if, for example,
it takes place outside marriage or the spouses withhold their fertility from each other, the body no longer expresses
the "nuptial meaning."
This has provided the Church with a framework for understanding more deeply not just the teaching
on responsible parenthood itself but also the "lived experience" of couples who follow the Church's teaching. It has underlined the conviction that natural family
planning and contraception are irreconcilable approaches to the human person, marriage and sexuality. Part Two
of the work focuses on questions specifically related to family planning, showing how two different anthropologies
underlie the development of both contraception and natural family planning. While holding out the promise of "liberation" particularly of the woman, the "culture of contraception" alienates man from woman. Each
begins to treat the other as an object, leading to a breakdown of the communion of persons of the husband and wife
and the rejection of the child. Natural family planning, on the contrary, through the periods of abstinence, has
the capacity to aid the spouses in self-mastery leading to self possession so that they may give and receive each
other completely as a gift . It fosters dialogue, appreciation of masculinity and femininity and acceptance of
the child. In other words it promotes participation not alienation.
This difference between the two approaches extends much further than the technical aspects of
the methods themselves. It extends to the whole enterprise of researching and evaluating the methods. Traditional
positivist methods which promote objectification and distance from the researcher and have been primarily used
in contraceptive research cannot do justice to the subjectivity of the person. The so-called "participatory methods," which are more suited to revealing
the person as subject, it has been found, are more fitted to capturing especially the NFP experience. This work
is unique in addressing from a theological-perspective both the methodology and most recent findings of the social
sciences related to responsible parenthood.
In developing what he calls an "adequate" anthropology, John Paul II has extended our understanding of the human person and contributed profound
insights into the nature of man and woman and marriage. He goes so far as to say that man and women, even in the
bodily dimension of their masculinity and femininity image the communion of Persons in the Trinity. They reveal
in the world the mysterious plan of God by which humanity is destined to participate in divine Trinitarian communion.
It becomes clear that an "adequate" anthropology such as John Paul II has developed, which affirms the subjectivity of the person and
an essential orientation towards communion with God and with another human person, must be the foundation of all
approaches including the scientific, if they are to reveal and advance the truth about the human person and the
communion of persons.
The Work as Textbook
A distinctive feature of this work is to show the unity between theology, philosophy and the
human sciences. There are several ways to use it as a text. First of all it can be a straightforward guide to the
development of John Paul II's thought on the person and the communion of persons, beginning with the experiential
foundation, then moving to the philosophical and finally the theological. Such a course would comprise the whole
of Part I: the plays, the dissertation on St. John of the Cross, the critique of Kant and Scheler; Love and Responsibility, the Lublin Lectures and The
Acting Person; the Council, the communion of persons and the first part of the Wednesday
Catechesis; the theology of the body; and chapter five
which shows how he applies his anthropology in his encyclicals and apostolic exhortations.
Secondly it can be a basic text on "the irreconcilable
differences" between contraception and the Church's teaching on responsible parenthood.
Such a course would begin with Part Two: 20th century developments in birth control, ideology and birth control
and the Church's response; move to Part One: chapter four (the theology of the body), and two sections in chapter
three (marriage and family as a communion of persons); then return to Part Two: chapters two and three (social
science and birth control) and end with the"The Final Word."
A third approach is to focus on the contribution John Paul II has made to contemporary discourse
by integration of a philosophical phenomenology of consciousness as such with the metaphysical-theological notion
of incommunicability and the biblical-theological concept of original solitude (chapter five); identification of
original solitude with personal subjectivity, whole in itself and yet only coming to full self realization through
relationship with another "thou"(chapter
two); a theology of sex and masculinity and femininity which contributes to the ongoing dialogue on the meaning
of being a man and a woman; (chapters three and four ), all of Part One; finally the emphasis on experience which
accords with contemporary retrieval of personal reality in psychology and the social sciences (chapters two and
three of Part Two and chapter one of Part One).
It can also be used in conjunction with a course on the Wednesday Catechesis. In fact it has
already been used in this way. The author hopes that the work will play a small part in making available the great
riches of John Paul II's philosophical and theological anthropology.
Copyright ©; T & T Clark Ltd, 1999
This version: 11th February 2003