Grondelski John M. ,
Miscellanea: Elements of Vatican II in John Paul Ifs pre-papal writings on sexual morality,
Antonianum, 71/4 (1996) p. 721-728
RIASSUNTO: Gli scrìtti pre-papali di Papa Giovanni Paolo II sull'etica sessuale incorporano diversi elementi del magistero del Concilio Vaticano II, di cui lo stesso Karol Wojtyla è stato un Padre. Gli insegnamenti del Concilio sull'idea di communio personarum, la partecipazione dell'uomo nel triplex munus Christi e la necessità per la teologia morale di considerare la persona umana nella sua integrità sono tutti elementi presenti negli scritti di Wojtyla. La comprensione della persona umana considerata nella sua integrità offre a Wojtyla una base per la difesa della fecondità come elemento essenziale dell'atto dell'amore coniugale.
In 1963 a young poet-bishop from Krakow attending the sessions of the Second Vatican Council, published a poem entitled «Posadzka». Gazing at the Vatican, at the immensity of St. Peter's Basilica with ali its breadth and its chapels and niches, the poet-bishop expressed confidence that, even though each person wends his own way in this Church, none goes astray as long as he finds meaning and oneness... (in) the floor that guides us. It joins the spaces of this great edifice and joins the spaces within us, who are aware of our weakness and our defeat.
Our poet-bishop does not, of course, find that unity in the mere mar-ble floor. That unity instead comes from another Rock, on which the Church Universal is built:
Peter, you are the floor, that others may walk over you. ... You guide their steps... You want to serve their feet that pass as rock serves the hooves of sheep.1
The poet-bishop who wrote those lines was Karol Wojtyla. The verse provides an insight into the understanding of the papacy and its role in Catho-lic unity held by a man who himself would exercise the Petrine Office.
Over three decades have passed since the Second Vatican Council ad-journed. Over half of that time has been taken up by the pontificate of John Paul II, himself one of the Council's Fathers and whose own theolo-gical efforts have sought conscientiously to implement the teaching of that Council. This article seeks to examine the impact of the Second Vatican Council on John Paul's pre-papal writings in sexual ethics, i.e., his writings through 1978. It does not intendto treat his pontificate, since that phase of Wojtyla's life is stili ongoing and because the material is sufficiently acces-sible for others to examine. Scholarly concern with Wojtyla's rich pre-papal corpus, however, remains a rich field of inquiry to a large degree not well-explored in the English-speaking world. Given the profound continuity of Wojtyla's prepapal and papal thought the rewards of exploring that background, even as they can enable us to understand the mind of the incum-bent pontiff, are also intrinsically worth the effort.
As was noted above, Wojtyla participated in ali the sessions of the Council2. He made a number of interventions at the Council and especially in its various commissions (including the commission charged with prepar-ing Schema XIII of Gaudium et spes)3. He wrote a number of articles deal-ing with the Council's work on specific subjects4 as well as a full-length book on the same subject.5
The preceding material from Wojtyla's corpus largely deals with topics of direct interest to systematics/dogmatics, especially theological anthro-pology. While the concern of this article is moral theology, the material just cited is relevant for a moral theology renewed according to the wishes of Vatican II. As Josef Fuchs notes:...the council recognizes the fundamental importance oidogmatic theology for moral theology and is at pains to point out that the many and various prob-lems of humanity find their solution in the light of the revealed eternai truths expounded by dogmatic theology. Moreover, the Council expressly States that the study of the Bible ought to be the very soul of ali theology...6.
Wojtyla could certainly share Fuchs' perspective on the relationship of dogmatics and morality in Vatican II since he sees Vatican II as simulta-neously both a «pastoral» and «doctrinal» Council. Indeed, these two qual-ities of the Council are reciprocai:
The doctrine of faith and morals... is the content of the teaching of the pastore of the Church, so that on the one hand doctrinal acts of the magisterium have a pastoral sense, while on the other pastoral acts have a doctrinal signifi-cance deeply rooted as they are in faith and morals7.
What elements of the Council's teaching leave a mark on Wojtyla's prepapal writings on sexual ethics? We might identify at least three: the notion of the communio personarum; the concept of human participation in the triplex mu-nus Christi; and the necessity of moral theology to focus upon the human per-son integrally considered.
Wojtyla repeatedly invokes the final sentence of article 24 of Gaudium et spes:
It follows, then, that if man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake, man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself8.
That the human person can fulfil himself only through disinterested self-giving of himself is a notion to which Wojtyla would regularly appeal in his writings. This notion of self-giving is not new to Wojtyla's thought: ai-ready in 1960 he spoke about marriage as involving «a lasting union of per-sons»9. But the specific notion of marriage and sexual intercourse as theo-logically involving a communio personarum seems to be an idea Wojtyla owes to the Council. The notion of communio personarum readily blends with the main lines of Wojtyla's earlier philosophical thought. In Love and Responsibility, for example, Wojtyla speaks of human relationships as being ultimately reducible to one of two patterns: love or use10. While Love and Responsibility was an explicitly philosophical study and, indeed, many of Wojtyla's writings on sexual ethics were first argued from a philosophical perspective, an explicit and sharper theological focus becomes evident after the Council. Indeed, the notion of communio personarum itself acquires a distinctively theological orientation because the Council saw in the self-giv-ing of human persons a reflection of the primordial Communio Personarum which is the Trinity11.
The Communion of Persons of the Trinity itself derives from the Fa-ther's Act of absolute, self-giving Love, a Love which from ali eternity gives life to the Son. God's giving of Love and of Life are one and the same act. Inasmuch as man is made in the image and likeness of God his love is called to imitate the Divine Love, in manner simultaneously «creative and exemplary»12, procreative and unitive. The life-giving creativity and unity of the Persons of the Trinity are inseparably joined together. Cer-tainly, then, the coming into being of human persons, made in the imago Dei, should likewise reflect this life-giving act of the self which is, after ali, at the heart of the Trinity. Openness to the transmission of life, therefore, is no more respect for physical structures13 nor does it reflect concern for issues tangential to the faith14. Rather, it reflects a fundamental fidelity to the primordial origins of Love and to its responsible embodiment in human activity.
Wojtyla thus maintains that there is an essential harmony between Gaudium et spes and Humanae vitae. The Conciliar constitution and the papal encyclical are complementary, not contradictory15. Wojtyla admits that Gaudium et spes does not lend itself to a «search... for concrete Solutions» concerning the specifics of maritai morality like contraception, but it does maintain that the Constitution sketches the larger lines within which those solutions must be sought. He also holds that Rumane vitae reached its conclusions in fundamental harmony with Gaudium et spes16. Wojtyla maintains that it is precisely the understanding of love which serves as the bridge linking Gaudium et spes with Humanae vitaeA1. The Council teaches that the person discovers himself only by a sincere gift of himself, i.e., by loving. What characteristics define that loving? Humane vitae offers a list: «total, faithful and exclusive, and fruitful». Love is hardly love unless it is total, unless it gives itself unreservedly. It is not love unless it is committed in a permanently faithful way, binding this man and this woman. Nor can love be said to be love unless it is open beyond itself to the giving of life, to the expansion of the communio personarum beyond these two concrete persons, on the model of the Trinity itself. There is ampie foundation in Gaudium et spes to maintain this position. The Constitution, for example, includes divorce and illicit practices against generation among the factors threatening the dignity of contemporary marriage18. The family is pre-sented as naturally derivative from marriage19. Finally, two entire para-graphs of the Pastoral Constitution deal with fruitfulness in marriage and these articles do not conflict with the subsequent teaching of Humane vitae20. While the Council may not have addressed the question of contra-ception directly (since Pope Paul VI had removed the matter from their considerations) it did maintain the fundamental nexus between married love and procreation.
One might maintain that the upshot of Wojtyla's position is the en-slavement of the human person to mere physical structures. Wojtyla would not concur in that conclusion because he would not agree that respect for fertility implies mere physicalism21. He does recognize that the Council placed a great deal of emphasis on the doctrine of creation and of human dominion over the world. Wojtyla insists, however, that both the Council's teaching as well as Catholic tradition hold that creation involves not just an ontological but also an axiological order22 and that human dignity lies in being aware of and accepting that order of value.
The way to this goal (of human dominion over creation) leads through a specific subordination of human knowledge and activity to that reality which lies in every created being. This method of knowing and acting... already con-stitutes a certain encounter with (God the Creator)...23
Wojtyla had echoed similar thoughts in his earlier work, Love and Re-sponsibility: wherever man dominates «nature» it is by adapting himself to its inner dy-namic. Nature cannot be conquered by violating its laws...24
The human person does not only create values, he also encounters them. Creation is already suffused with value by virtue of God's creative work. When the human person seeks to break out of the boundaries of value and objective truth already present in creation he casts aside collabo-ration with his Creator in favour of alienated autonomy25.
Man is not called, however, to alienated autonomy. He is instead in-vited to a fuller participation in the mystery of Christ, especially in the threefold office of Christ (trìplex munus Christi): priest, prophet, and king. Another element from the teaching of the Second Vatican Council promi-nent in Wojtyla's writings is his emphasis upon the trìplex munus Christi. Spouses exercise the priestly office of Christ when, as fully initiated mem-bers of the Mystical Body of Christ, they minister the sacrament of matri-mony to each other. This ministering need not be understood in a static sense, because married persons exercise their priestly office in every act of authentic disinterested self-giving, Le., in every act of love which they share (since this is, in fact, their maritai vocation)26. Indeed, the Christian exer-cises his share in Christ's sacerdotal office whenever «he commits himself and the world to God27». Since the world already contains moral value, a participation in Christ's priestly office calls for a respect of those values already present in creation. Such a perspective is bound to have implications for sexual morality. Spouses realize their share in Christ's prophetic office whenever they bear witness to the truth about Christian marriage and fam-ily life, even when that testimony may be countercultural and at odds with the prevailing ethos28. A couple actuates their share in Christ's regal office to the degree that they turn from sin and grow in self-mastery, because it is to this degree that they possess the freedom they need to be truly sovereign persons29 as well as children of God30. Spouses are hindered from bringing their communio personarum to its fullest possible expression to the extent that sin, selfishness, and egocentricity impede their fullest disinterested gift of themselves to each other. Since maritai love is permanently called to grow in breadth and depth, only to the degree that one surmounts those things which inhibit one's self-giving does one come to enjoy the royal free-dom of a disciple of Christ who is living the maritai vocation31.
In the final analysis the heart of Wojtyla's sexual ethics lies in its con-ception of the human person. Vatican II spoke of the necessity of measur-ing maritai morality in conformity with... objective... criteria drawn from the nature of the human person and human action, criteria which respect the total meaning of mutuai selfgiving and human procreation in the context of trae love...32.
In Rumane vitae Pope Paul VI insisted upon evaluating sexual morality in light of an «integrai vision of the person». Wojtyla, whose scholarly engagement since the early 1950s has been ethics (including sexual ethics) and anthropology, maintains that contemporary Catholic sexual ethics does meet the test of Vatican II: objective criteria based upon the nature of the person integrally considered, who is called to give himself and to give life within a loving context. Wojtyla's approach to sexual ethics is fundamen-tally rooted in his notion of the person. The person already encounters a world of value, including the existential value of the sexual urge. The sexual urge is not merely a biological finality. It rather serves the fundamental and basic good of human life: human existence itself33. Contrary to the revisionisi assertion against orthodox Catholic teaching, man is not called to a mere static conformity to biological facticity. Rather, he is summoned to a conscious appropriation of that existential value as his own. Likewise, be-cause that existential value is part of the reality of the partner himself -and marriage calls us to a total giving and accepting of the spouse - Wojtyla can see that fruitfulness and mutuai unity are but two aspects of the same reality of spousal love so that rejection of one does not mean preference for the other but rather the exclusion of both. For Wojtyla, sexual ethics is important because it reveals a certain conception of the human person whom we are called to love, not merely to use. For Wojtyla, sexual ethics involves much more basic notions of the human person and whether the person is treated with the love that is his due. These matters certainly are not and cannot be peripheral to Catholic faith. That is why, analyzing the argumentation in Wojtyla's pre-conciliar work Love and Responsibility Joseph O'Leary could write that «the principles (that book)... puts forth so rationally and persuasively are unlikely ever to be surrendered by its author34».
There is a logicai consistency to the development of Wojtyla's thought, a thought enriched by the Council. It is certainly unfair to claim that Wojtyla's notions of the person and of love, solidly rooted in the Church's theological tradition (especially its Thomistic expression) represent an «id-iosyncratic use of personalist terminology35». Wojtyla presents an interpre-tation of sexual ethics which explicitly invokes the Council and which con-sciously seeks to preserve past and present Catholic teaching in this sphere. To date, this author knows of few English-language studies (and no study by critics of Wojtyla's perspective) which seriously and consciously explore the logie of Wojtyla's arguments, much less refute them36.
Those who would criticize Wojtyla for supposedly reneging on the development of moral theology in the light of the Second Vatican Council can do so only if they assume two things, i. e., that the Council's teaching can be legitimately expressed in terms of a revisionist theological anthro-pology and that it can be legitimately expressed in terms of a proportion-alist methodology in moral theology. It is precisely these assumptions which are rejected by the Church and which He at the core of contempo-rary controversies. To address such dissent properly - which Wojtyla has done as Pope in Verìtatis splendor31 - one would have to develop the vision of Wojtyla's anthropology and ethics in their entirety and then bring them to bear critically on revisionist models in anthropology and ethics. Such a mission is far beyond the possibilities of this essay, whose mission was much more modest: to sketch out what concepts from the Council play an important role in Wojtyla's sexual ethics.