How does John Paul II’s personalism represent the key to unlocking his theology of the body? In the first place, his personalism reveals that the theology of the body is firmly anchored in Western theological and philosophical tradition. Ever since coming to know the writings of St. John of the Cross as a young man, Karol Wojtyla considered the Spanish mystic to be a friend and mentor. The works of St. John of the Cross, especially his poetry, represent “the living flame” of John Paul II’s “Trinitarian personalism of self-gift.”
Karol Wojtyla’s thought was also strongly grounded in the realist epistemology and metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas. This solid foundation enabled the Polish saint to confront thinkers such as Max Scheler and Immanuel Kant. Wojtyla was able to make his own some of their profound intuitions, while rejecting elements of their thought contrary to basic human experience.
Wojtyla’s mature personalism, expressed with great depth in his major work, Person and Act, flowed naturally into his theology of the body. The human person as a free, conscious subject, capable of both horizontal and vertical self-determination, comes to discover the true meaning of his existence only through making a gift of himself. This gift of self, along with receiving the self-gift of another, to form a communion of persons, is the very definition of love. Only love, which ultimately leads to communion with the three Persons of the Trinity, can satisfy the deepest aspirations of the human heart.
Father Walter Schu, L.C. grew up on a small farm in southwestern Minnesota, the second of seven children. In 2019 he celebrated twenty-five years as a Legionary of Christ priest. He now teaches at Divine Mercy University near Washington, D.C.