The principal Church documents on seminary formation employ the concept of “affective maturity.” While the documents offer non-exhaustive lists of various qualities that characterize affective maturity, they do not comprehensively explain affective maturity within the complex dynamics of human growth. Seminary formators must look elsewhere to understand the concept of affective maturity. This study contributes to a better understanding of affective maturity by investigating the place and function of emotions within Karol Wojtyła’s personalistic vision of integral human growth. Wojtyła’s analysis of the person and act discloses the structures of integration and transcendence that delineate the person’s growth toward mature affectivity.
In recent decades, the Catholic Church has advanced a comprehensive vision of priestly formation. The ground-breaking Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (John Paul II, 1992) and the principal priestly formation documents after it (USCCB, 2006; Congregation for the Clergy, 2016) speak of priestly formation as a four-dimensional process involving human, intellectual, spiritual, and pastoral growth. Within this fourfold dynamic, human development is seen as the necessary foundation for other areas of growth (John Paul II, 1992, §43). Ultimately, the priest is to reflect in himself “the human perfection which shines forth in the incarnate Son of God” (John Paul II, 1992, §43).
Attending to the human dimension of formation, the principal Church documents utilize the concept of affective maturity. Saint John Paul II called affective maturity “a significant and decisive factor in the formation of candidates for the priesthood” (John Paul II, 1992, §43). In its 2016 document on priestly formation, the Congregation for the Clergy stated that “it would be gravely imprudent to admit to the sacrament of Orders a seminarian who does not enjoy free and serene affective maturity” (Congregation for the Clergy, 2016, p. 48). Similarly, the most recent edition of the Program of Priestly Formation concludes that “the various dimensions of being a human person—the physical, the psychological, and the spiritual—converge in affective maturity” (USCCB, 2006). But what is affective maturity?
Pastores Dabo Vobis lists several characteristics of affective maturity. Affective maturity presupposes an awareness of the central role of love in human life, “a love that involves the entire person” and which is expressed in the “nuptial meaning” of the human body (John Paul II, 1992, § 44). Affective maturity requires a “strong training in freedom” and “education of the moral conscience” (§ 44), needed to renounce affections and instinctive impulses that are contrary to the charism of celibacy. Finally, it is to be marked by personal love of Jesus Christ (§ 44).
Program of Priestly Formation defines affective maturity as “the ability to live a true and responsible love” (USCCB, 2006, §92). It goes on to identify the following signs of affective maturity: “prudence, vigilance over body and spirit, compassion and care for others, ability to express and acknowledge emotions, and a capacity to esteem and respect interpersonal relationships between men and women” (USCCB, 2006, §92). At another place, the US Bishops describe a person of affective maturity as someone
whose life of feelings is in balance and integrated into thought and values; in other words, a man of feelings who is not driven by them but freely lives his life enriched by them; this might be especially evidenced in his ability to live well with authority and in his ability to take direction from another, and to exercise authority well among his peers, as well as an ability to deal productively with conflict and stress (USCCB, 2006, §76).
As can be seen, the Church priestly formation documents connect affective maturity with several other human characteristics, and they list numerous marks by which the presence of affective maturity can be discerned. However, they do not offer any comprehensive explanation of the concept of affective maturity within the overarching dynamics of human growth. Seminary formators must look elsewhere for a theory of human affectivity that can satisfactorily account for various features of well-functioning affect registered in the priestly formation documents. In what follows, I briefly introduce Karol Wojtyła’s integral vision of the human maturation advanced in his Person and Act (1969/2021) and present his analysis of the place and role of emotions in human fulfillment. I argue that his integral vision of human growth offers a normative anthropological framework capable of accommodating and explaining the descriptive references to affective maturity quoted above. Thus, Wojtyła’s anthropological project supplies a needed conceptual depth to our understanding of affective maturity.
Affective Maturity According to Wojtyła’s Person and Act
Person and Act, first published in 1969, constitutes Wojtyła’s most extensive exposition of his personalistic vision of human maturation. Wojtyła’s starting point is his basic intuition that the act manifests the person. It manifests the person in a uniquely advantageous way. In act, man experiences himself as the object and the subject of his action. Thus, the subjective and objective dimensions of thinking come together in reflecting on the person and act. Man’s subjective experience reveals objective structures of his being. The philosophy of being and the philosophy of consciousness enter reciprocal relativization.
Wojtyła’s intellectual path sheds light on the type of questioning he undertakes in Person and Act. Starting with his 1948 doctoral study of the experience of faith in Saint John of the Cross (Wojtyła, 1948/2000), Wojtyła turns to the world of human interiority, looking there for the mystery of the human person. Soon after, Wojtyła analyzes the ethical system of Max Scheler (Wojtyła, 1959). He finds Scheler’s turn to the phenomenological analysis of human experience indispensable to any future study of morality, even if Scheler’s system as such falls short of providing objective grounds for normative ethics. In his subsequent writings, Wojtyła criticizes modern philosophy’s tendency to identify man with his consciousness and postulate man’s freedom as complete independence. Such a view is too subjectivistic. It needs to be corrected by the metaphysical conception of man proposed by Thomas Aquinas (Wojtyła, 1961; Półtawski, 2013). Wojtyła provides such a correction in Person and Act. There, his fascination with interiority, his skillful employment of phenomenological analysis, and his commitment to metaphysical realism come together in an original synthesis (Pérez López, 2012).
Wojtyła’s argument in Person and Act is not linear. Instead, his thought circles over the reality of the human person by exploring the experience of man who acts all the way down to grasping the reasons that explain it. His argument moves “by way of increasingly deep entry into experience” (2021, p. 109), spiraling into the same content with an ever more perceptive and comprehensive vision of the person in act. To do justice to Wojtyla’s method, I shall begin by presenting an overview of his entire argument and then dive into the aspects that have the most immediate bearing on the question of affectivity.
Wojtyła’s Anthropological Project
Wojtyła divides his study into four sections: “Consciousness and Efficacy,” “The Transcendence of the Person in the Act,” “The Integration of the Person in the Act,” and “Participation.” As to the final chapter of Wojtyla’s work, the theory of participation is not fully developed. It is only outlined as a distinct dimension of the “man acts” experience. Wojtyła’s focus in the first three parts remains the experience of the act. Faithful to the dynamic of this experience, Wojtyła begins with the analysis of consciousness. For Wojtyła, the act of man is more than just a content constituted in consciousness. It is a reality that, while appearing through consciousness, reveals the person as its efficacious subject (p.114). Man’s efficacy, in turn, reveals his transcendence. Transcendence is a key term in grasping the nature of man.
Transcendence of the person is made visible in the acts of knowing and willing. Wojtyła notes that although cognition and volition are irreducible to each other—in cognition an object is introduced into the subject, in willing there occurs a going out toward an object—they both resemble each other in that in both the subject crosses its own boundaries by turning toward the object (p.229). Wojtyła calls this type of transcendence a horizonal one. For the purposes of his analysis, though, another type of transcendence—a vertical one—is more revealing of the relationship between man’s subjectivity and efficacy. Man transcends himself in action because in willing to do this or that (horizontal transcendence) he chooses to become the kind of person who wills this or that (vertical transcendence). “Man ‘creates himself’ through the act” (p. 171). In act, man stands above himself as the creator of his own subjectivity. However, as he shapes himself, he does not do it in a vacuum but in response to the truth about the good. This moment of response constitutes an intensely personal, untransferable relation to truth which Wojtyła understands precisely as transcendence:
Freedom is expressed in efficacy, and efficacy entails responsibility. Responsibility manifests the subordination of freedom to truth and the dependence on it: this is what constitutes the proper sense of conscience as the deciding factor of transcendence of the person in his acts. In this way, transcendence defines the particular structural feature of man as a person: a specific superiority in relation to oneself and one’s own dynamism. (p. 283)
For Wojtyła, truth does not restrict creativity. It makes creativity possible by allowing the man to surpass himself in response to truth.
From the discussion of man’s transcendence, Wojtyła moves, in the third part of Person and Act, to the analysis of the integration of the person in the act. The transcendence of the person in the act and the integration of the person in the act are two complementary moments of the same act. Wojtyła sets the stage for understanding their complementarity in the first part of his book when he notes the distinction between that which happens in man and that which man does. He declares: “our starting point is the ascertainment of the experiential difference that occurs in the totality of man’s dynamism between ‘man acts’ and ‘something happens in man’” (p. 168). When man acts, he experiences himself as the agent of his acts and, consequently, the subject. But he also “experiences himself as the subject of all that merely ‘happens’ in him” (p. 297).
The two dynamisms—“man acts” and “something happens in man”—and the corresponding structures of man’s efficacy and his subjectivity “run through the phenomenological field of experience” (p. 177). Their unity is accounted for on a metaphysical level. “The man-person is their synthesis” (p. 177). It is the fact of their ultimate unity that explains why these two dynamisms are not simply opposed to each other but rather mutually correlated. The richness of that which happens in man—on somatic, sensory, and affective levels—is never simply left behind in the transcendence of the person in the act. It is integrated into a higher unity:
For the human act is not only a simple summation of those dynamisms [proper to somaticity and the psyche] but also a new and superior dynamism in which they acquire new content and new quality: the content and quality that is properly personal. (p. 304)
The person is not a collection of psycho-somatic experiences. Rather, it is the person who, in the act, draws various psycho-somatic aspects of experience into the unity of his personhood. This mechanism will stand at the basis of the mature use of affectivity.
Transcendence and integration of the person in the act become two principal concepts through which Wojtyła grasps the mystery of the person. As a free and responsible agent, I stand above—transcend—my psycho-somatic subjectivity when I undertake a personal decision vis-à-vis truth about the good. Through this personal act, I create myself as good or evil by integrating or disintegrating the complexity of my subjectivity.
Integration of Emotions in Responsible Action
It is while analyzing the lived-experience of integration of the person in the act that Wojtyła attends to the place and role of emotions in human fulfillment. He begins by noting that affections have their specific content—anger, joy, love, sorrow—that belongs to them “not in a cognitive or appetitive way, but precisely in an emotive way” (p. 354). They are original psychical facts. When we experience various affections or passions, we often become vividly aware that feeling is not something we do but rather something that happens in us. Affections reveal our subjectivity as distinct from our efficacy. Their autonomy, however, does not by itself cause disintegration of the person in the act, as if reason had to be divorced from emotions to guide our actions responsibly. There is a tension between emotions and reason, between the emotivity of the subject and personal efficacy. This tension, however, is creative. Man, who—as Wojtyła often says—creates himself through his actions, encounters the tension between his subjectivity and efficacy as a creative task. This task calls for an effort. This effort, in turn, is “the effort of human interiority most proper to man” (p. 356).
To repeat, Wojtyła is very careful to display the distinctiveness of our emotional life. Emotions belong to that which happens in man, and in this sense do not arise to the level of man’s efficacious action. Nevertheless, the superior dynamism of man’s transcendence integrates them and endows them with personal quality. Emotions are not left behind but rather drawn into man’s responsibility towards truth. To account for this integrative—and creative— process, Wojtyła goes on to explain two factors: relationship of emotions to values and the habituation of emotions through virtuous action.
For Wojtyła, the force of affection, and the distinct possibility of creative integration of affections in personal action, emerges from the fact that emotions constitute a lived-experience of value. “Human emotional stirrings and affections always remain in relation to value; they are born out of this relation” (p. 360). Although emotions in themselves do not cognize nor desire the value, they indicate it in a way that brings us into maximum closeness with the values. At the same time, by being rooted in the subject, emotions create in us a sense of emotional fulfillment, of being in oneself. This emotional fulfillment is “a particular fulfillment of the very subjectivity of the human ‘I’” (p. 361). In other words, when affections are integrated in personal action they are not just subordinated to the truth about the good. They make our relationship with truth subjectively fulfilling.
Ultimately, the subordination of emotive energy to responsible action is realized most fully by virtues. Moral habits, that is, virtues aim to subordinate subjectivity to the efficacy of the person by taking maximum advantage of the emotive energy. The process of working on oneself, of habitually subordinating the spontaneity of emotional life to the demands of truth, gradually leads to the situation in which “the will—guided by the light of intellectual cognition—knows how to appropriate, in the spontaneous relation of emotion, in spontaneous attraction or repulsion, what is truly good and to choose it” (p. 365). Spontaneity, Wojtyła states, “is also a feature of habit” (p. 365).
This final statement brings us to an important point that has to do with the habituation of emotional spontaneity. As noted above, the spontaneous emotive energy, with its orientation towards the values, is to be subjected to the self-determination of the “I.” Sometimes, when emotionally felt value is recognized as inadequate to what we know to be truly good, the tension between emotive energy and truth becomes very acute. Each self-transcending adherence to truth overcomes this tension not by eliminating it but by making it one’s own through a superior integrative dynamism complementary to self-transcendence. In transcending himself toward the truth, man creates himself not just because he rises above that which simply “happens in him” but also because that which “happens in him” is now reconfigured by being drawn into a superior dynamic unity. If in self-transcendence man stands above himself as the creator of his own subjectivity, his subjectivity is altered. The field of emotive energies is reframed. In his Love and Responsibility, Wojtyła acknowledges it very directly: “Affection can develop and adjust to what man consciously forms with his will” (2013, p. 135). There is certain plasticity to our emotions. Their spontaneous energy can be channeled along the paths trodden by responsible action.
Emotions, then, present a man with a creative task. Complementarity of the personal structures of transcendence and integration entails that, next to the primary task of subordinating the emotional spontaneity to the demands of truth about the good, man is also called to cultivate and deepen his own capacity for emotive responsiveness to values. Emotions are to be integrated, not suppressed. In being integrated, they are allowed to energize the will while becoming themselves habituated to the will’s choices. In the end, man “governs himself all the more fully and possesses himself all the more maturely the more truly he feels all values, the more thoroughly the order occurring among values in reality is reflected in his lived-experience of them” (p. 346).
Wojtyła explores our lived experience with the goal of substantiating the truth about the good accomplished by human free and conscious actions. As he traces the dynamics of our moral development, Wojtyła attends to human emotivity, positing it as a distinct psychical realm. He explores the tension—crucial to our personhood and morality—between the psychical immanence and personal transcendence, and accounts for its function within the overall task of integration of the person in the act. Human emotivity is both appreciated for its contribution to the lived experience of values—our subjective closeness to them and the depth of self-integration that ensues—and evaluated on account of its correspondence to the true ordering of values. Affective maturity emerges as a creative task in which emotive energy is not suppressed but integrated. In being integrated, it is not just subordinated to the truth about the good but also allowed—through gradual work on oneself—to confer greater vividness on the efficacy of the person.
Priestly formation documents list the ability to relate to authority, deal with conflict, or live the charism of celibacy among the areas that manifest affective maturity. The world of human relations is filled with values—love, friendship, loyalty, obedience, the common good—vividly indicated by rich emotive experiences that arise as we interact with others. Relating to authority, dealing with conflict, and living the charism of celibacy represent some of the most challenging moments in the task of integrating the person in the act. However, that same challenge makes them the most creative moments in the task of transcending ourselves in response to truth about the good. Wojtyła’s anthropology grounds, illuminates, and motivates the creative work of conforming one’s affectivity to the truth about the good.
Psychological research is not familiar with the concept of affective maturity. It uses instead the constructs of emotional intelligence and emotional competence (Kappler et al., 2020). According to psychology, emotional intelligence can be both measured and improved (Kotsou et al., 2019). Interestingly, in various interventions used to improve emotional intelligence, training aimed at understanding emotions features prominently (Kotsou et al. 2011; Nelis et al., 2011). Wojtyła provides a solid ground for understanding the place and role of emotions in the complex and dynamic unity of the human person. In fact, he offers a normative perspective—accounting for the objectivity of the truth about the good—often missing in descriptive and functional approaches that dominate emotional intelligence research. Naturally, Wojtyła’s work does not account for many of the emotion management skills discussed and explained in contemporary psychological research and practice. Nevertheless, it offers an anthropological framework that can properly accommodate detailed practical insights.
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