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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.

Agneta Sutton writes on a new book Crossing the Threshold Of Love exploring sexual issues in her regular SCIENCE SCRUTINY column in The Catholic Times, Sunday, 27th June 1999

Crossing the Threshold Of Love. This is the title of a work recently published by Mary Shivanandan from the John Paul Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, in Washington, DC. Focusing on John Paul II's understanding of the human person, Dr Shivanandan has produced a many-faceted study of the Holy Father's teaching on human sexuality, which would be of interest to anyone wishing to learn more about the intellectual development and mind of John Paul II.

In the first part of her book, Dr Shivanandan traces John Paul II's intellectual development from his early days as a young play-writer, and then young priest studying the works of St John of the Cross and Max Scheler, to his writings on human love and sexuality while lecturing at the Catholic University of Lublin in the late 1950s, and then to his papal Wednesday lectures on these issues in the 1980s.

Thus she examines in depth Wojtyla's important work
Love and Responsibility, published in Lublin in 1960, a work defending in philosophical terms a sexual ethics upholding traditional Christian norms, according to which the monogamous faithful marriage is the only rightful setting for human sexual intercourse. Defining nuptial love as the total mutual self-giving of spouses, John Paul II argues, as Shivanandan shows, that contraception is contrary to the principle of total self-giving, since it withholds the procreative potential from the act.

As Dr Shivanandan also shows, the emphasis on subjective human experience in John Paul II's argument derives from the influence of Scheler, while his equally strong emphasis on the human rational will can be traced back to his Thomist schooling. Discussing Wojtyla's understanding of chastity as a reflection of rational self-control in the realm of man-woman relationships, Dr Shivanandan brings to the fore the '
personalistic principle'. This principle, which tells us never to treat
another person as an object but always as a person worthy of love and respect, serves a criterion of right and wrong in
Love and Responsibility.

That the Second Vatican Council played an important role in the development of John Paul II's thinking is also showed by Dr Shivanandan. It was above all
Gaudium et Spes, which he would repeatedly quote in his subsequent writings on marriage and the family. Dr Shivanandan also emphasises Wojtyla's role in the shaping of the council documents; she quotes a number of his interventions in the different preparatory sessions.

According to Dr Shivanandan, the Holy Father's '
personalistic interpretation of marriage' found its way into Gaudium et Spes. She also says that Gaudium et Spes paragraph 24 "became for Wojtyla a key passage which is quoted in many of his works both before and after he became Pope."

The central lines from
Gaudium et Spes, she says, are the following ones:

"Furthermore, the Lord Jesus, when praying to the Father 'that they may all be one... even as we are ones (Jn. 17: 21-22), had opened up new horizons closed to human reason by implying that there is a certain parallel between the union existing among the divine persons and the union of the sons of God in truth and love. 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 himself."

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.

A large part of Dr Shivanandan's book is taken up with the interpretation of the Pope's 'Theology of the Body', a series of Wednesday audience lectures are concerned with the vocations of marriage and virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, both of which are viewed through John Paul II's understanding of our relationship with God, as revealed in the Scriptures, especially in the Book of Genesis, the Gospels and the Pauline letters.

The Pope's theology of the body was developed in the light of Vatican II, says Dr Shivanandan. In the second half of her book Dr Shivanandan discusses other theologians and their debates concerning procreation and personal union as the ends of meanings of marriage. She also speaks about eugenics and about various population controls strategies. Finally, as an advocate of natural family planning, she explains the medical advantage of natural methods over contraceptive methods that interfere with the physiological functions of the woman's body. She also points to the efficacy of natural methods and the beneficial psychological effects on couples who practise it.

This version: 11th February 2003

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