Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Love and Friendship

In what is perhaps the least interesting approach to the topic, the BBC breathlessly reported that Pope John Paul II had an "intense friendship with a woman"! "There is no suggestion the Pope broke his vow of celibacy," the Beeb reports, with a gentle tinge of journalistic regret that there are not actually any concrete salacious details to report about the former Karol Wojytła and Dr. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka other than that it is possible that she might have felt for him an unreciprocated romantic affection based on certain passages in his letters which seem to gently turn discussions of friendship toward a spiritual basis.
In one, dated September 1976, he writes: "My dear Teresa, I have received all three letters. You write about being torn apart, but I could find no answer to these words." 
...The letters reveal that Cardinal Wojtyla gave Ms Tymieniecka one of his most treasured possessions, an item known as a scapular - a small devotional necklace worn around the shoulders. 
In a letter dated 10 September 1976 he wrote: "Already last year I was looking for an answer to these words, 'I belong to you', and finally, before leaving Poland, I found a way - a scapular." He said it allowed him to "accept and feel you everywhere in all kinds of situations, whether you are close - or far away".
There are many excellent things to say about real, intense friendship between men and women (or, a man and a woman, because all friendship is personal), but first, the historical context, since in this case if you can't wade through the dry philosophical contretemps, you don't deserve to wallow in the purported salaciousness.

The name of Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, so titillating to the BBC, is not unfamiliar to those of us who spent the spring of 1999 taking Human Anthropology (working text: The Acting Person by Karol Wojytła, edited most densely by Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka), or who spent spring of 2001 writing our thesis on the theater of Karol Wojytła, aided by George Weigel's biography of Pope John Paul II. From the footnotes on pages 174-175 of Witness to Hope by Weigel:
The most serious problems [of the translation of Person and Act, the Polish title of The Acting Person] were with the English translation and edition of the work. 
Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, a former student of Roman Ingarden living in Boston and active in world phenomenological circles, had published several articles of Wojytła's in Analecta Husserliana, the yearbook of phenomenology she edited, thus helping to bring his work to the attention of philosophers around the world. Much impressed by the first Polish edition of Osoba y czyn, she proposed publishing a revised and elaborated text of the work in English. Cardinal Wojytła agreed and worked through numerous revisions and elaborations with Dr. Tymieniecka. The result, according to virtually everyone involved, was a much-improved text. This revised Polish text was then translated into English by Andrzej Potocki and sent to Dr. Tymieniecka in the United States for publication. Several knowledgeable persons close to the process claim that, at this point, Dr. Tymieniecka significantly changed the Potocki translation, confusing its technical language and bending the text toward her own philosophical concerns, to the point where the reader is, on occasion, not really in contact with Wojytła's own thought. These problems only surfaced after Wojytła had been elected Pope. At that juncture, he had not time to check through hundreds of pages of text, and appoint a commission... to review and correct the revised English translation text that had been prepared by Dr. Tymieniecka. But she refused to take corrections from anyone other than Wojytła, and, moreover, was eager to publish the book quickly to capitalize on the author's election as Pope. Dr. Tymieniecka also claimed that she had Wojytła's, agreement to publish her retranslation as the "definitive text of the work established in collaboration with the author by Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka," although why a truly "definitive text" would (like the edition Dr. Tymieniecka proposed to publish) have two chapter sevens, one of which is labeled "unrevised", was not made clear. In any case, Dr. Tymieniecka went ahead with the publication of the text she had prepared, to the intense aggravation of many of Wojytła's philosophical colleagues and students. Years of private argument ensued between the Holy See's publishing house, the Libreria Editrice Vaticana, which hold the rights to all of Wojytła's pre-papal work, and Reidel, the Dutch house that had published the English edition. These resulted in an agreement to publish a corrected English edition. The corrected edition was prepared but has never appeared. Dr. Tymieniecka continues to insist that hers is the "definitive" edition of Osoba y czyn, a claim that no serious student of Wojytła's work accepts. The author himself, whose relative indifference to the fate of his published work is as striking as his unfailing charity, insists, whenever the subject is raised, that Dr Tymieniecka "must be given credit for initiating the translation." 
The very English title, The Acting Person, suggests something of the problem with Dr. Tymieniecka's work. Osoba y czyn is translated, literally, Person and Act: a title that retains the tension between subjective consciousness and objective reality in which Wojytła is trying to work. "The Acting Person" places most of the stress on the subjective, or phenomenological, side of Wojytła's analysis -- which is the criticism most frequently leveled against Dr. Tymieniecka's reworking of the text. Every other language edition of Osoba y czyn retains the tension in the Polish original... .

This background seems to support the idea that Wojytła and Tymieniecka had a friendship founded in their shared philosophical interests, and that although she may have expressed her affection intemperately, he valued the friendship enough not to break the bruised reed or crush the dimly burning wick through harshness or condemnation, always redirecting her expressions of attraction back to the source of all Love.

 Bill Donaghy of the Theology of the Body Institute writes about holy friendship in a hypersexualized world:
Ironically, the language in this interview reveals to viewers and readers of this breaking story the deepest scandal of all, which has nothing to do with St. John Paul II. It is the scandal that all too many men and women today are incapable of imagining an intimate relationship that does not somehow involve some sort of sexually romantic overtone. 
In truth, the Church has a long history of examples of men and women who have formed intimate and affectionate relationships that did not involve sexual relations. They were known as friendships (this is a wonderful word we should restore to the modern lexicon). In fact, St. John Paul II had numerous friendships with women that lasted decades and included letters, phone calls, shared meals, and walks together. The BBC footage seems to imply that this particular relationship with Dr. Tymieniecka was isolated and the meetings exclusive. But the fact is, they were not. St. John Paul II was a magnanimous figure who loved people deeply, and was rather transparent about his friendships. He was also prudent, meeting men and women together for those private meals and taking vacations with friends or families together. In the image of St. John Paul II and Dr. Tymieniecka standing beside a car, one should realize a third person took the photo. I imagine it was her husband.
Pope John Paul II, in Love and Responsibility, formulates the positive personalist principle thus: "the person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love", or, "A person is an entity of a sort to which the only proper and adequate to relate is love" (pg. 41). And indeed, the world needs more examples of friendships between men and women precisely because men and women need to be able to relate to each other in love in the totality of their being, without reducing that interaction to intercourse, as it were. We are embodied spirits, and our bodies matter. Men and women have to relate to each other as sexual beings with different and complementary urges, even when they're not in sexual relationships.

If the "nuptial meaning" of the body is that men and women embody in complementary ways the creative energy of God, and participate most directly in that energy by becoming co-creators of new human life, then surely that has implications for non-sexual friendships between men and women. Even without joining bodies, friendship between men and women must have a creative power and potential that is different from friendships between just men or just women, since God has endowed masculinity and femininity with different facets of his life.

So why aren't there more examples of spiritual friendships? Possibly because deep friendship between men and women is often accompanied by attraction, and so men and women who are able often move from just friendship to a physical consummation in marriage. Perhaps that's why our strongest models of male/female friendship are between those who have clear boundaries for sexuality: Francis and Clare (both consecrated religious), St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal (priest and widow), Pope John Paul II and Dr. Tymieniecka (priest and married woman). And we look to these, because the friendship of marriage is a perilous, too-intimate model for non-sexual friendships.


I have been honored over the years to have a good number of male friends, and those friendships have been a joy for me, offering new perspectives and a low-drama camaraderie that's not as common in friendships between women. Most of those friendships have been purely fraternal. A few, however, have been able to thrive because of the strength and security of my 18-year attachment to Darwin, which safeguards me from tensions elsewhere. I don't think that's shocking. We're all more compatible with some people than with others. That's why good models of spiritual friendship are so valuable: to give us a taste of the friendship of heaven, in which there is no marriage nor giving in marriage.


mandamum said...

It is a poverty that close M/F friendships are viewed with this kind of suspicion. Someone (at least one) has pointed out that as same sex relationships have risen in acceptance, male-male friendships have suffered some of the same suspicions. It's too bad that the tendency to view all things through a hypersexualized lens is impoverishing our realm of friendship, of looking in the same direction together, enjoying the same loves and cheering each other on toward worthy goals. Thank God that sibling relationships have not yet been overshadowed by social acceptance of incest, to destroy them as well....

Agnes said...

I have more thoughts on this (the dual subject of male-female friendship and the relationship of he pope with a woman) and I admit I have not enough knowledge of the whole situation. But based on what you also quoted, I can't view this relationship as a model for spiritual friendship between people of opposite sex. Any woman who writes to a consecrated priest the words "I belong to you" (if she indeed wrote them) is so clearly in the wrong. Even if there should awaken feelings like this in her, she should not verbalize them and strive to keep the spiritual friendship from temptation

Anonymous said...

The taboo against close m/f friendships with married people who aren't spouses is there to protect families. I wish I could say that I'm so sophisticated that I would be able to rise above the chemistry, or that my husband is so sophisticated that he wouldn't be hurt. But some friendships will have to wait for heaven, where there is perfect unity and intimacy. I can wait.

MrsDarwin said...

Yes, of course emotional infidelity and/or emotional affairs are damaging and unhealthy. Fortunately, a friendship is not an emotional affair. I do think that Dr. Tymieniecka was overstepping the bounds of prudence, from what we can tell from the Pope's replies to her (although not seeing her letters, its's hard to say what the context was). Agnes, I quite agree with you that if the context for that line was her expressing a sexual longing, she was wrong to write it. But I am so glad to see the Pope's gracious handling of that situation, as an example of how to turn inappropriate desires (any inappropriate desire) back to the source of all desire.

Anon, I also agree that anyone who finds that chemistry with another person is an insurmountable temptation would do well to avoid that temptation. But I also think that the value of a m/f friendship (as opposed to a relationship that is oriented toward consummation) is that it challenges us to put those urges in the proper context within the hierarchy of loves. I agree that the joy of heaven is worth sacrificing everything for, and yet God has proclaimed everything he made "good", and since each person is a unique facet of God's creative power, each person gives a unique window onto God's own goodness, and I find that for myself, friendships have a spiritually strengthening value which gives me extra impetus to rightly order my own loves. But I agree that each person must make his or her own decision in prudence about each particular friendship.