Mary Shivanandan

Book Review

"Crossing the Threshold of Love" by Mary Shivanandan.

Reviewed by Dr John J. Billings

This book, which presents a new vision of marriage in the light of John Paul H's anthropology, is clearly the result of industrious scholarship and Professor Shivanandan of the John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and the Family, Washington, D. C. U. S. A., is well qualified to have undertaken it; it has clearly been a labour of love.

During his days in high school the young Karol Wojtyla had exhibited an interest in the stage and at the age of 19 wrote his first play. With the onset of World War II and the occupation of Poland by Soviet forces the theatre was forced to go underground. He continued to write plays which were remarkably mature and were described as presenting a "vision of man's place on earth and in the Divine plan of creation."

He was ordained a priest in 1946 and in the 1950s taught philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin, Poland, continuing an association with this philosophy Department even after he was elected a bishop in 1960. During those years he had already manifested his superb intellect, his ability as a playwright and poet and his concern for the dignity of each individual human being, always with special emphasis on the welfare of women.

During the war the invasion of Poland by Nazi and Soviet armies had given him considerable experience of the fruits of totalitarian government and this observation of the suffering continued with the Russian occupation of Poland for many years afterwards. He became Archbishop of Krakow when Poland was still under the domination of the Soviet Union, within the Communist bloc in eastern Europe.

During 1959 at the University of Lublin he gave a series of lectures which were later published in a book entitled "Love and Responsibility", which made a great impression world-wide; it anticipated much of the thinking of Pope Paul VI in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae published in 1968.

Professor Shivanandan has provided a comprehensive list of references as she details the progressive philosophical and theological development which occurred. These references include not only texts written before and after Pope John Paul was elected to the papacy in 1978,but also references from books and articles which had been written about him; she has added to their value by the commendable practice of quoting significant passages from them.

The deep Catholic faith of Pope John Paul was based on the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas and was strengthened and exercised by his study of the writings of St John of the Cross. This constituted his doctoral thesis following two years study at the Angelicum in Rome from 1946 to 1948 where he came under the influence of Fr Garrigou-Lagrange, an eminent Dominican theologian who had made a special study of the life and writings of St John of the Cross. These studies deepened Karol Wojtyla's understanding of human personality and love, including marital love.

Other important encounters occurred during his participation in Vatican Council II during which he helped to write one of the most important documents produced by the Council, Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope). It was at this time he directed his attention to the encyclicals Casri Connubii (Of Chaste Marriage) of Pope Pius XI and Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) of Pope Paul VI.

After becoming Pope he presided at an international Synod of Bishops in Rome in 1980, attended by a few hundred bishops from all around the world. The Synod was called to consider "The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World"; this was the first such Synod to which a group of lay people was also invited to participate.

Thereafter in a Weekly Catechesis at the public audience in Rome each Wednesday he began to explore the meaning of being a man or a woman in the one-flesh communion of marriage. The scriptural basis of the Church's teaching on marriage and family was begun with the accounts of Creation in the book of Genesis. It was here that he defined men and women as self-determining beings in a unique relationship with God, what he called the "original solitude", seeing this as an essential foundation of personhood.

This "alienation" was overcome by their relationship with God and also by a relationship with another human person when God had seen that it was not good for the human to be alone. He went on later in these catecheses to explore what he called the "Nuptial Meaning of the Body" which is not expressed if fertility is withheld, as men and women are alienated from each other in their marriage by contraception which leads to the rejection of the child.

St John of the Cross helped him to understand that religious faith makes God known to the intellect in a way which no other created thing can experience, the union of the human person with God giving "a new birth" brought about and increased through grace and love. Love determines the degree of transformation, progress in love depending on uniting the will to God. Love operating in the will draws the whole person to the object love.

Human beings are persons because of their rational nature and they have an inner life which is spiritual, concerned with truth and goodness. The sexual urge then becomes oriented to the attributes of masculinity or femininity in the particular human person. This creativity extends beyond the biological because it involves the education of the children in spiritual and moral fidelity.

It is soon clear that he was echoing words of Humanae Vitae where Pope Paul VI wrote,"Whoever truly loves his marriage partner loves not only for what he receives, but for the partner's self, rejoicing that he can enrich his partner with the gift of himself."

Pope John Paul II sees the greatest evil of contraception in the withdrawal of their fertility, the precious gift which husband and wife make to one another; this is a fundamental difference from natural family planning which is not "contraception" in any sense. Withdrawal or rejection of the spouse's fertility makes this gift of self no longer perfect, with inevitable damage to conjugal love and so often destruction of the marriage itself.

Chastity, Pope John Paul II tells us, increases the power of self-determination and self-possession of the man and woman, so that they are able to give themselves to each other more freely. In true conjugal love a man must have profound respect for the equal dignity of his wife; he fulfils his own fatherhood by love for his wife and children. His task in the family gives the father a unique and irreplaceable importance and reveals the very fatherhood of God.

In his writings Pope John Paul II acknowledges the influence he experienced from a study of the theology of the Incarnation and the
communio personarum of the Holy Trinity. Within the context of the interpersonal communion of marriage there occurs the integration of what is masculine with what is feminine.

It is only through becoming a sincere gift to another that a man or a woman can attain self-realization. Motherhood and virginity are seen as two distinctive aspects of the feminine personality, both of which are united in the mother of God. Although the contribution of both parents is essential for the upbringing of the child, the mother's part is decisive in the very early years.

The father has to learn his fatherhood from the mother. "In this sense", says the Pope," the woman's motherhood presents a special call and a special challenge to the man and to his fatherhood"; this statement was written in Pope John Paul II's Mulieris Dignitarem (On the Dignity of Woman).

The final chapter of this excellent book deals with social science and contemporary family planning. It makes reference to early studies of factors which influence the willingness of the couple and of the husband and the wife individually to use methods of fertility regulation, and draws attention particularly to the matter of inter-spousal communication.

There are comments on the fact, which the couples quickly discover, that natural family planning introduces a new and intimate form of communication and this has proved to be of singular benefit to the marriage. Research studies have indicated that "natural family planning couples are more open to another child, value and experience an increased sense of self-possession and tend to be more religious and/or spiritual", all characteristics identified by Pope John Paul II as "essential attributes of original solitude in the Communion of Persons".

Many impressive testimonies are quoted from couples who have come to understand themselves and their relationship better, to have experienced a growth of love and security within the marriage of benefit to themselves but especially also to their children. Many have also expressed the conviction that living according to nature has helped them to feel more strongly the presence of God in their lives. St John of the Cross taught Karol Wojtyla that the essential character of love is to subject the lover to the beloved.

Note: The text of the book "Crossing the Threshold of Love" occupies 306 pages together with an additional 16 pages for an index of Names and Subject Index. It was published in 1999 by T&T Clark Ltd, 59 George SL Edinburgh, Scotland and is available in Australia from "The Open Book",110 Gawler Place, Adelaide 5000, South Australia, price $Aust.44.95 plus postage.]

Reproduced from: Bulletin of the Ovulation Method Research and Reference Centre of Australia
Vol. 26, No. 3; September 1999

The Bulletin is published quarterly by the Ovulation Method Research and Reference Centre of Australia from the Billings Family Life Centre, 27 Alexandra Parade, North Fitzroy, Victoria 3068. Subscriptions $15 per annum in Australia, $20 per annum for overseas subscribers. For further information phone (03) 9481 1722 or Fax (03) 9482 4208. Freecall (Australia only) 1800 335 860.


Marriage and the Philosopher-Pope

Crossing the Threshold of Love: A New Vision of Marriage by Mary Shivanandan (The Catholic University of America Press, 1999, 324 pages, $24.95)


Mary Shivanandan's new book Crossing the Threshold of 1ove should establish her as a recognized scholar, theologian and expert on Pope John Paul II's anthropology.

Don't let the clever title fool you. This is not light reading. Shivanandan, who holds a doctorate in theology from the John Paul II Institute, where she also teaches, offers one of the most scholarly assessments of the Pope's anthropology ever written. A difficult read for most, but a gold mine for students of John Paul's thought.

Beginning with the plays he wrote as a young man, Shivanandan traces the evolution of Karol Wojtyla's anthropology through his life's work. Included are such sources as his dissertation on St. John of the Cross, his critique of philosophers Immanuel Kant and Max Scheler and his book Love and Responsibility. His understanding of man found full flowering in his "theology of the body," which he presented to the world after becoming Pope John Paul II.

In retracing Wojtyla's steps, one wonders, "Is this really a book about marriage?" But like any fullgrown tree, John Paul's new vision of marriage has deep roots. Shivanandan uncovers those roots, allowing the reader to see the masterful mind of this future Pope in the making.

She quotes Henri Bergson: "The great philosophers have only one word to say and spend their whole life saying it." "For Wojtyla," she adds, "that one word is person."

In this century, phenomenology - a philosophical approach which examines human experience in order to understand man as a personal subject - has allowed philosophers such as Wojtyla to extend our understanding of the human person to include relationality.

While medieval philosophers developed a relational notion of the Persons in the Trinity, they did not translate this into their anthropology. With the shift from a philosophical to a theological anthropology inspired by Vatican II, Wojtyla makes this neglected translation with ease. Gaudium et Spes, 24, marks Wojtyla's turning point: "Man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself."

"New horizons closed to human reason" (Gaudium et Spes, 24) are discovered through faith in God's revelation that he created man in his own image as male and female (Genesis 1:27). Here John Paul takes us beyond the traditional understanding that man's imaging of God is seen in the fact that the human person is "an individual substance of a rational nature" (Boethius). For John Paul, "man became the 'image and likeness of God' not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning" (General Audience, Nov. 14, 1979).

The union in "one flesh" makes visible the invisible mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and becomes a sign of it. This is the mystery of God's own life and of his plan for man to share in this life through Christ. As St Paul says, the union of man and wife in "one flesh" is a profound mystery that refers to Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32).

This is why John Paul can speak of a theology of the body. As he explains, "Through the fact that the Word of God became flesh the body entered theology through the main door" (General Audience, April 2, 1980). This brings us to the other key text of Vatican II for Wojtyla: "Christ fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling" (Gaudium et Spes, 22).

As Shivanandan points out, the significance of John Paul's contribution is that he roots this "most high calling" of man in the body. The body has a nuptial meaning because we can only fulfill ourselves through the "sincere gift of self." This is lived out either in the sacrament of marriage, or in celibacy "for the kingdom" (Matthew 19:12). In the resurrection, the nuptial meaning of the body is lived out "in the meeting with the mystery of the living God . . . `face to face"' (General Audience, Dec. 9, 1981).

Tragically, because of original sin this truth of the body has become habitually threatened. Contraception is one such threat. Rather than speaking the truth of God's life and love, contracepted intercourse actually speaks a lie. Shivanandan notes, "the interplay of experience, the human sciences, and biblical and philosophical reflection has enabled John Paul II to place in a whole new context the Church's perennial teaching on the inseparable connection between the procreative and unitive dimension
of conjugal love

In part two of her book, Shivanandan demonstrates how the research of social science on the regulation of births is critically affected by differing anthropologies. In a materialist view, such research is not concerned with who man is as a person made in the image of God, but only with the easiest and most effective ways to limit births. Contraception, then, becomes a "logical" solution to a host of social problems.

She contrasts this approach to methods of research that give greater recognition to the subjectivity of the person and the legitimacy of experiential learning. Actual research shows - as Shivanandan demonstrated in her landmark 1979 book, Natural Sex - that the lived experience of natural family planning fosters mutual love. It enables married couples to speak the "language of their bodies" in truth.

This is an exceptional study. Shivanandan not only offers a tour de force of the evolution of John Paul's thought, but also demonstrates its far-reaching implications for the lives of couples, families and whole societies. She unmasks the deception of our "safe-sex" society by demonstrating that only when we come to see the body and sexual intercourse as the expression of the transcendence of the person will we be able to "cross the threshold of love."

Christopher West is the director of the Office of Marriage & Family Life for the Archdiocese of Denver.



Crossing the Threshold of Love by Mary Shivanandan
Catholic University of America Press, $24.95

Pope John Paul 11's thought and teaching on human sexuality evolved over a couple of decades, and Professor Mary Shivanandan unpackages this thought carefully and extensively. John Paul lI's thinking penetrates to the fundamental question of what it means to be human, what constitutes the human irreducible core, to borrow the term of Saint John of the Cross.

This question of what it means to be human is a timely one for our age. We are caught up in a culture war and in a confusion of thinking on this basic question that has brought us to a collapse of the family as a nurturing and stabilizing influence on modern society.

As Shivanandan notes, the questions raised by the Church's teaching on responsible parenthood are what moved John Paul II to seek in philosophy and Scripture "the meaning of man and woman in their one-flesh communion." His search brought out of Tradition a more positive view of sexuality and a new vision of marriage, confirming our convictions about the dignity of human persons, male and female.

In presenting John Paul II's thought, Mary Shivanandan brings a thorough grounding in philosophy and a theological education. She also has twenty years of experiential learning in the matter of Natural Family Planning and what this can bring to communion in one flesh.

A full index of subjects as well as a generous bibliography enrich this work.

James J. Higgins,C.Ss.R.

This version: 10th February 2003


Mary Shivanandan