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Self-Giving, Self-Mastery

St John Paul II on Men, Women and Conjugal Chastity

Alan O'Sullivan OP

The dignity of the person has always been a key theme of Pope John Paul II. Perhaps less well known is his emphasis on self-mastery as intrinsic to such dignity. In the love of man and woman, such mastery paves the way to self-giving and provides a richer, deeper experience of the union of persons. It also gives a new sensitivity to the beauty of masculinity and femininity as sexuality is seen in its original holiness: that is, by sharing in the Creator’s vision of the body. In this book, the author traces this daring portrait of human love back to the early writings of Karol Wojtyła.

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Karol Wojtyła is a philosopher of the “body”, one who writes of man’s splendour in actu – through his body. In his writings on sexuality he combines the wisdom of age-old truths and new personalistic insights into man’s acting, seeing, and reflecting. With a flair for literature, a sense of the lived experience of men and women, he gives a rare glimpse of what it means to be sexual in its fullest personalised, communitarian sense: a “body” in touch with the beautiful design of the Creator. During his pontificate he reworked many of his earlier insights into a reshaped biblical anthropology: the “theology of the body”.1 This is a work almost fifty years later which remains at the cutting edge of sexual ethics in today’s world. There is much to learn from it, and much to live by in its rigorous reflection on man’s embodied self.

The moral landscape of the mid-twentieth century was in flux regarding human sexuality. Wojtyła was aware of this: the social activism in favour of birth control; the softening of the luminaries of the medical profession; the popularity of Freud, Kinsey and the boldness of Hefner; the new apple of pornography and the pill. He carved out new criteria for speaking of sexual activity: personal dignity, hierarchy of values, a revamped Kantian norm, sexual self-control, a non-utilitarian attitude, a chaste way of seeing. In his personalism he centred on what modern man was in danger of losing: the inviolability...

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