Joseph W. Koterski, S.J. of Fordham University reviews:
Crossing the Threshold of Love: A New Vision of Marriage in the Light of John Paul II's Anthropology. By Mary Shivanandan. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1999. pp. 324. Paper $24.95.
UFL member Mary Shivanandan's new book examines the scientific data as well as the philosophical and theological analyses that undergird John Paul II's teachings on marriage and sexuality. She has produced a brilliant, thorough, and charming study.
A professor at the John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and the Family in Washington, D.C., she has already published extensively in the areas of natural family planning and sociology. The current volume brings those skills to bear along with a sophisticated understanding of the theatrical and academic interests of Karol Wojtya before and after he became Pope John Paul II. Even those who have found phenomenology a bit foggy or the Thomism too technical will appreciate her lucid exposition of his idea of the human person and her analysis of his distinctive contributions, especially in the articulation of a theology of the body.
The five chapters that constitute the first part of the book treat the development of John Paul's anthropology. His early plays (The Jeweler's Shop, for example, or Radiation of Fatherhood) already exhibit a special concern for the nature of marital love and the challenges to be overcome in living out married life. Wisely relying on two of the better books recently published on his thought (Kenneth Schmitz, At the Center of the Human Drama, CUA Press, 1993, and Rocco Buttiglione, Karol Wojtya: The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II, trans. by Paolo Guietti and Francesca Murphy, Eerdmans, 1997), Shivanandan delicately exhibits the complex thought first elaborated in the theological dissertation on John of the Cross and in the philosophical thesis on Scheler's ethics, and subsequently developed in the 1960 volume Love and Responsibility.
While keeping his evolving notion of the person in central focus, she deftly explains just what it is he takes from Thomistic realism, what comes from Kant's formalism and from Scheler's notion of subjectivity, and what is new and distinctive in Wojtya's own synthesis. After explaining the stimulus he received by Vatican Council II and some of his own decisive contributions to the Council as a young bishop, she pays special attention to the quartet of volumes that emerged early in his papacy as the Wednesday Catecheses. In these talks there gelled his ideas about original solitude and original unity, original nakedness and original shame, that integrated so much of his earlier thought about the personalistic norm in ethics and the significance of embodiment. Chapters four and five on the theology of the body and on the communion of persons are alone worth the price of the book.
In the second part Shivanandan reviews some of the most influential contemporary currents in the understanding of marriage and sexuality and compares them with John Paul II's personalism. Particularly telling is her exposition of the anti-personalism latent in the liberalism and utilitarianism at the root of the eugenics and population control movement, and the faulty personalism of the feminist and sexual liberation movements (despite the highly personalist rhetoric in which these ideologies cloak themselves). The chapter on the diverse types of anthropology used in the methodology of contemporary social science helps enormously in clarifying the importance of having an adequate anthropology and the biases and blindness of approaches which are inadequate for appreciation of the person (e.g., the statistical reduction of the mystery of the person to a mere number). The chapter on NFP not only explains the reason why it so deeply accords with the Pope's insight about the nature of the human person but also shows the tremendous correlation between the experiential learning that tends to take place in spouses faithfully using the method and the growth in love and commitment that is frequently observed among these spouses.
Shivanandan's book is a rich resource for many purposes: for understanding marriage and sexuality, for appreciating some of the better currents in sociology and family planning, and for grasping the distinctive concept of the person at the core of John Paul II's philosophical and theological anthropology.
Commenting on his passage and what it means for the Pope, she writes that he has shown that "the categories of person, gift and communio are essential for understanding marriage" and that real and total personal self-gift and communion within marriage entails openness to the
possibility of parenthood.