The Personalist Project

To round out my case in favor of belief in soulmates (begun here), I'll add three more closely-related ways in which the concept is truer and richer than the alternative. Then I'll return to my long-neglected post about the problem of idealization in marriage. After that, it's on to the rest of Amoris Laetitia.

5. It highlights the gift character of conjugal love.

Those who have had a chance to study John Paul II's theology of the body are familiar with the terms "hermeneutics of the gift" and "the nuptial meaning of the body." It's no exaggeration to say that the key to grasping the deep truth about human sexuality and marriage, as he has revealed it to us, is to understand both as gifts of God's love. We are made from love and for love. Though we are created "for our own sake," we are yet incomplete in ourselves, and ordained toward communion with another, by making a gift of ourselves and receiving the other as a gift. Our bodies as male or female bespeak our incompleteness—our being destined for and called into a union and communion of life-giving love. And that visible reality of the body incorporates—incarnates—the still deeper and more important spiritual complementarity of man and woman. 

But it's not only true on the general level; it's even more true on the personal and individual level. If we have even a little bit of of self-awareness, we feel the incompleteness and made-for-otherness not only of our body, but of our specific personality. We want companionship; we feel our need for it. And not just any companionship, but a true partnership of heart and mind and soul—a spouse who "gets us", who helps us be ourselves, who keeps us centered and grounded, who can draw out our individual potential make us fruitful in the world. And when we actually find someone who does all that, we are amazed—stunned with gratitude that he (or she) exists and has come into our life, and "wonder-of-wonders, miracle of miracles" feels the same about us!

Those who fall deeply in love in that distinct "soulmate" way profoundly experience their love as a gift. We could almost say that amazement-at-the-gift is the essence of the soulmate experience.

It's very different with the alternative conception of courtship and marriage, where rational "compatibility discernment" is the focus, and where the search for a spouse is approached as a prudential undertaking—a process we "master," rather than a mystery we enter. It's less a gift we receive than a task we assign ourselves—a goal we set out to achieve.

6. It highlights the reality of the divine in our lives.

In his little gem of a book, Leisure the Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper talks about certain moments in life that lift us out of the workaday world and allow us to experience ourselves as the quasi-divine beings we are—immortal souls capable of dwelling among the gods. He is riffing off Plato, who distinguishes two types of madness: the madness of the insane and "divine" or holy madness. Falling in love is the latter kind—a kind where normal human experience is transcended, and we feel ourselves taken up to a higher plane of existence. Like a profound religious experience, it is at once humbling and exalting. We feel simultaneously that our life is in our hands and that it utterly beyond us. We understand, however inarticulately, that we come from God and belong to Him, and that His provision for us is greater than we can ask or imagine.

If we conceive of courtship as a rational "mate selection process," though, all of that glory is missed. .

7. It highlights the importance of affectivity.

Somewhere along the way in western experience (was it Aquinas? was it the Enlightenment? Was it Kant?), Christians developed a terrible tendency to denigrate the emotions, treating them as if they are essentially irrational and needing to be strictly controlled by reason. It's gone so far that some actually pride themselves on a lack of affectivity.  This is bad for human life generally, but when it comes to courtship, it's disastrous. I have heard priests teach, "Feelings don't really matter; feelings come and go." I once heard a young woman say in a talk to college students about how to find a spouse: "We girls tend to be emotional, but It's not about emotion; it's about logic." This is a grotesque misunderstanding, for which von Hildebrand's book on The Heart is a great corrective. In it he distinguishes among different types and levels of emotions, and shows that the heart is a "spiritual center" in the person, fully on par with the intellect and the will.

To have the soulmate experience is to immediately and intuitively grasp the centrality of the affective sphere in human life. We realize effortlessly and spontaneously that love is the whole meaning and purpose of everything. And to realize that is to aspire to live it, which is the beginning actually living it.

Comments (4)

Sam Roeble

#1, Nov 21, 2016 4:07pm

Hi Katie,

According to Fr. Giertych, it was St. Bonaventure who thought emotion had to be overcome with will-power while Aquinas located the dynamism of emotion in both reason and the will.  I discuss it here: [url=][/url]


Katie van Schaijik

#2, Nov 21, 2016 4:17pm

I love Fr. Giertych's version of Thomism. But, alas, it's not the only one out there.

Sam Roeble

#3, Nov 21, 2016 5:26pm

Is the other version Garrigou-Lagrange?  How prevalent is that version...I thought Fr. Giertych's prevailed, especially in the publication of Fr. Pincaer's work on Ethics?

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Nov 21, 2016 5:52pm

I have in mind particularly what goes by the name of "textbook Thomism" that was the normal stuff of moral theology and philosophy classes in Catholic colleges and seminaries for decades and decades. No doubt it didn't do justice to Thomas's real views. Text books rarely do justice to deep thinkers.

But they do influence and shape the thinking of students.

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