The Personalist Project

My introduction to philosophy came through a Nature of Love course featuring texts by von Hildebrand and Wojtyla.  The insights I gained in it changed everything for me. Lacking the leisure to write a more substantive article, I at least want to share a few of them, as a way of offering some relief from the moral darkness and confusion presently overwhelming our society.

1) Conjugal love is a unique form of love, a form perfectly embodied in the life-giving conjugal act. 

2) Conjugal love is not reducible to a commitment of the will; it's not reducible to "feelings"; it's not reducible to the sexual urge; it's not to be confused with "friendship plus sex." It is not the same as eros. It is, primarily, a gift, and a great spiritual good.

3) Conjugal love is rooted in a free, affective response to the value of the unique individual selfhood of the beloved.  It is eminently personal.  

4) Conjugal love has everything to do with the sexual complementarity of men and women.  While sexual desire is possible between two men or two women, conjugal love is only possible between a man and woman.

5) In and through it we come to recognize the "nuptial meaning" of the human body.  Each of us, while fully an individual self, is plainly made-for-union with another—an "other" of the opposite sex.  

6) Conjugal love, in its inner essence, aspires to totality and to exclusivity. It can only reach fulfilledment in the sacred, life-long commitment of marriage.

7) No act that offends the dignity of the human person or that objectifies and misuses ourselves or another or that damages the body and spreads disease is compatible with conjugal love, which always aims at the good of the beloved.

8) The self-oblating, other-receiving, life-giving union and communion of love that is marriage is the adequate earthly icon of the Holy Trinity.

Comments (10)

Rhett Segall

#1, Mar 30, 2013 9:35am


I'm not sure how to post this on the home page and wonder if you might do so.

McQuaid High School is a Jesuit High School in Rochester NY. Fr. Salmon, S.J. is the principal. Two Junior boys want to go to the Junior prom as a couple.They have Fr. Salmon's blessing which he contextualizes with references to Pope Francis and Church documents. What I find disingenuious is the following statement by Fr. Salmon:

"I am not encouraging nor am I condoning homosexual activity just as I do not encourage or condone heterosexual activity at a dance."

But I think he is setting up an environment that would encourage the boys to do just that. The decision to welcome the teen boys as a couple is in my judgment a tacit approval of the gay life style.

I would appreciate some critical reflections on the issue.


Brian E

#2, Mar 31, 2013 7:05am

Katie, I'm new to your interesting website. You've said in other posts that to argue against SSM in the current milieu will require showing that same-sex acts are no more like conjugal acts than "a slap is like a kiss." I think that argument will be hard to make on phenomelogical grounds, which seem important to any personalist approach.

To examine the meaning of same-sex love or acts in phenomenological terms is to start with the experience to the participants and then to interpret to the more general structure of the experience.Homosexuals who say "we experience a deeply meaningful, bonding love" have phenomenological grounds for that and have usually developed their understanding in dialogue with heterosexuals about the structure of their experience. But I don't see how the writings on SSM on this website emerge from any dialogue with homosexuals about *their* experience.

A "slap is not a kiss" is so dismissive of experience that I wonder how personalist it can be. But I'm still learning. What I'd like to understand in relationship to this post is how "plainly made-for-union" is known, and why not having the biological complentarity of body parts a priori removes #1-3, 5-8 from same-sex couples. Thanks.

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Mar 31, 2013 8:44am

Rhett, I hadn't seen that story.  Thank you for bringing it my attention.  I agree with you that the principal's decision and the words he uses to defend it are deeply problematic and likely to sow discord and confusion.

1) He implies that to have prohibited it would have been unloving.

2) He implies that there is an equivalence between homosexual and heterosexual activity.

3) He acknowledges no problem with the public acceptance at a Catholic school of a homosexual couple as a couple.

I can't help hoping this won't be the end of the story.  Maybe the bishop will intervene. Maybe faithful Catholic parents at the school will respond somehow.

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Mar 31, 2013 9:03am

Brian, welcome and thanks for commenting.

Brian E

To examine the meaning of same-sex love or acts in phenomenological terms is to start with the experience to the participants...

This is not quite how I understand phenomenology.  

For one thing, it seems to me artificial and unphilosophical to try to start with someone else's experience rather than my own.  Each of us only has his or her own experience.  And then, what is important philosophically is not our subjective impressions, but the objective reality that discloses itself in experience.

I find clearly given in experience that the made-for-each-otherness of the male and female bodies is an essential feature of conjugal love.  The bodily dimension incarnates a spiritual complementarity.

Woman is, body and soul, framed to receive man.  And when they are joined they become a life-giving whole, a new font of life in the world.

The radical difference between this union and sodomy, which abuses the body and defies its design, is plain.

Consider just this one point: the conjugal union is a face-to-face, person-to-person union.  

Sodomy is not.  It's not an exchange of selves.  It's something—a harmful something—one person does to another.

Katie van Schaijik

#5, Mar 31, 2013 9:35am

Perhaps the prime reality of love in all its forms is that it wants to do good for the beloved.  It follows, as a matter of both logic and experience, that one who loves never inflicts harm on the beloved to give or receive pleasure.  Love readily sacrifices pleasure, love willingly undergoes even terrible suffering, in order to do good for the beloved.  

The tragedy of same sex attraction is that it wants to express feelings of love in acts that are objectively harmful.  They are harmful both physically and spiritually.   

Hence, the person with SSA has a terrible cross to bear.  He is called to a particularly challenging path of renunciation.  

The good news is—we realize it especially today on this Easter Sunday—renunciation for love leads to victory—the everlasting victory of Love over corruption and death.

Rhett Segall

#6, Mar 31, 2013 10:09am


Thank you for explicating Fr. Salmon's presuppositions in welcoming the homosexual couple to the Junior Prom at McQuaid Jesuit High School. I agree completely with your analysis and I plan to use those principles in a constructive response to Fr. Salmon.

One further observation: I think the high school dance is a sexual ritual meant to facilitate a maturing of the relationship between  boys and girls, much like the giame of "spiin the bottle"  for tweens.(Is that still played?) Done wisely it can be very helpful. Done unwisely it can devolve into a situation where the teens learn to exploit each other.

It all depends on the wisdom of the sponsors of the dance, n'es pas?



Katie van Schaijik

#7, Mar 31, 2013 11:44am

Brian, after a conversation with Jules, I want to qualify my earlier comment.  

For one thing, it seems to me artificial and unphilosophical to try to start with someone else's experience rather than my own.  Each of us only has his or her own experience.  

The reason it's unphilosophical is that to start with someone else's experience is to begin philosophizing with an act of faith—viz. faith in the truthfulness and reliability of another person's description.  This is improper in the philosophical mode.  Also, I then make the other person's report rather than "the thing itself" the center of my attention.

Second point: Each of us has direct access only to our own experience.  But there is of course a wider sense of moral experience, which is also important in philosophy.  And this is where listening and dialogue and reading come in. 

So, the testimony of persons who engage in homosexual acts should be taken into account—including both those who say they experience bonding and intimacy through it and those who say they experienced it as abusive, degrading and alienating.

A just, true, and complete account of the morality of same sex acts will comprehend all of it.

Rhett Segall

#8, Apr 1, 2013 5:55pm

Katie and Brian:

I appreciate your exchange. It helps me to think about the nature of phenomenology. It reminds me of an experience of DvH regarding contraception. Before his conversion to Catholicism he could not grasp the objection the Church had to it. With his conversion, however, he saw things differently. He realized then that submission to authority was necessary for a true grasp of the fundamental givens of existence.

This tells me that the "givens" that phenomenology deals with is much broader then our immediate experience.

Chris Ramsey

#9, Apr 17, 2013 4:28pm

Hello, and Happy Easter!  It's been a long time since I've offered comment on this site.  I look in from time to time, but this particular article and the associated comment thread caught my attention.  I live in Rochester NY, and know a few graduates from McQuaid Jesuit.

I'm sitting here trying to compose this, and find myself sighing deeply, and repeatedly - I don't even know where to begin!  Rhett mentions that "the high school dance is a sexual ritual meant to facilitate a maturing of the relationship between  boys and girls", and that very idea was running through my mind as well.  Dancing is most definitely a highly stylized form of social contact which is intended to allow a "give and take" strongly suggestive (too strongly, in most cases) of sexual union.  To put it bluntly, dancing is not a typical behavior between friends. I've never asked a male friend to dance.

Rhett didn't mention that McQuaid is also an all-boys school.  Can someone remind me of the purpose for all-boys and all-girls schools?  Another deep sigh.

Rhett Segall

#10, Apr 17, 2013 5:54pm


Here is a snippet of their philosophy:

"McQuaid Jesuit provides an environment where the developmental issues of adolescent males are addressed. A successful boys’ school embraces a peer culture where young men feel free to be themselves, pursuing their interests and talents regardless of social stereotyping" click

I myself went to an all boys Catholic high school and I agree with the points made in their web site. Presently I teach at a co-ed Catholic high school. In the balance I think co-ed is better.

I agree that"dancing is not a typical behavior between (boy) friends"  and feel Fr. Salmon, the Principal, has made a poor judment.

Sign in to add a comment, or register first.

Forgot your password?