Keeping Love Alive: A reflection on Karol Wojtyla’s “The Jeweler’s Shop”

Mary TeckYear of the Pilgrim

By R. Mary H. Lemmons

Years before the surge in divorces made long lasting marriages seem remarkable, Karol Wojtyla wrote a play about married love called The Jeweler’s Shop. This play, billed as a meditation, explores the love of three couples and raises the question about why the love of some couples endures while others perish.

To guide our meditation on these questions, Wojtyla focuses our attention on the thoughts of Andrew and Teresa whose love dies only to be rekindled at the end of the play. Let us begin with Andrew. Wojtyla uses the character of Andrew to describe the loneliness and the blindness of those who live by their sense or lustfully; these find not true love but only islands. The objectification of typical lust makes one unable to see and to value the personhood of the other. Years later, after Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, he wrote in an apostolic letter called On the Dignity and Vocation of Women that lust explains the male domination of women. He also argues that it was Christ who revealed that women were equal to men in dignity and pershonhood. Hence, in

This is complementarity at its most personal level and it is the reason why Teresa describes her life before dating Andrew as being so off-balance that it was difficult to live. To find someone who complements onself is to find another self whom one can love as totally as oneself in the most perfect expression of the Golden Rude (treat others as one would be treated, i.e., with loving kindness). To so act is really to follow the Precept of Neighborly Love (Love neighbors as thyself). This then is the first great requirement of enduring love; To act with a loving kindness and treasure the other’s personhood and equality over desires for self-gratification. Cherish and nurture the other’s spirit as one would one’s own according to the Golden Rule and the Precept of Neighborly Love.

Those who reject this requirement doom their love as shown by the married characters Anna and Stefan. In The Jeweler’s Shop Anna had fallen in love with Stefan and had married him on the basis of her strong emotions because she was convinced that whatever one feels most strongly is the truth. And so when Stefan hurt her feelings and treated her indifferently, she began to school herself to be likewise indifferent. Eventually, her feelings of love stopped painfully smoldering and wen out like an exhausted oil lamp. This is to be expected: indifference smothers affection. Yielding to grievances and failing to give what the other need always kills loving feelings, even when the marriage was not based on a false belief.

On the other hand, acts of attentive kindness, even when one does not feel like doing them, nurture love and give us our second great requirement of enduring love: always be attentively kind. Attentive kindness requires a free commitment of the will to be dedicated to seeking the other’s well being. And this is the way in which the will creates true love. As Wojtyla puts it in The Jeweler’s Shop, “Love … in man becomes thought and will: the will of Teresa being Andrew, the will of Andrew being Teresa”

This spousal unification of wills reaches into the inner depths of man and woman in thought and deed thereby tying their love to the entirety of their persons: body and soul, mind and heart. When a person is thus loved: her sexual and emotional attractiveness is subordinated to their personhood. At this point, physical oneness can embody the fullness of love. It now becomes possible for spouses to create a harbor for thought and love in the body. Hence the third great requirement of enduring love uniquely belongs to spouses: namely, to live spousal oneness, especially through exchanging physical signs of tenderness, for instance, through holding hand.s Such acts of tenderness prioritize the marriage and express the enriching oneness of thought, will, and body so important for enduring spousal love.

These three requirements of enduring spousal love, however, are not enough for true love to never die. In The Jeweler’s Shop, St. John Paul the Great points out another reason why love dies, namely, a lack of humility. Without humility, spouses refuse to respect the inadequacies of human beings. Or as The Jeweler’s Shop reminds, “Man will not endure in man and man will not suffice.” Every human love is thus doomed apart from divine intervention.

Divine providence also makes it possible to resurrect love. Wojtyla makes this point through the character of the alienated wife Anna. On the day that Anna had decided to leave her husband Stefan she providentially encounters the Bridegroom and he looks like the now hated Stefan. With this encounter, The Jeweler’s Shop makes and explicit appeal to the Christian identification of Christ as the Bridegroom. By so doing, Wojtyla is making two claims.

First, he is claiming that the way in which one treats one’s spouse is the way in which we treat Christ. This claim is not an innovation because Christians already know that the way we treat the least of our brothers is the way we treat Christ (Matt. 25.40). If the estranged spouse can see the hated spouse with the face of Christ, then the estranged spouse can extend kindness and care to that spouse as Christ. And on that basis, and only on that basis, spousal love can begin anew – as put by Wojtyla, ” A new love could begin only through a meeting with the Bridegroom.” However, since Christians also know that Christ is God, it is possible to argue that spousal love could begin anew whenever loving the hated spouse is undertaken for the love of God. For Christians also know that whoever loves God and hates his brother is a liar (1 John 4.20). Thus, Christians know that they must not let estrangement choke their kindness to the hated spouse; they must love as Christ has loved (John 13.34).

The second claim that Wojtyla is making by giving the Bridegroom the face of the hated Stefan is that marriage is not a conditional contract based on whether the other behaves properly. Rather marriage establishes a permanent link between persons that remains the vector for developing one’s life and determining one’s eternity. To meet with the Bridegroom, that is with Christ, is to be reminded that marriage is a vocation that involves the commitment of one’s entire being. In the words of The Jeweler’s Shop:

Love is not an adventure. It has the taste of the whole man. It has his weight. Man’s eternity passes through it. That is why it is to be found in the dimensions of God, because only He is eternity.

Perhaps, this is the key reason why the love of the fist couple could endure Andrew’s death: Teresa saw herself as eternity bound and knew that she would be reunited with Andrew. Perhaps also it is the reason why Anna did not leave Stefan. Her encounter with the Bridegroom reminded her that how one conducts oneself in marriage affects one’s eternal destiny. As the Jeweler says, his scale weighs ring by weighing a person’s entire being and fate, and to sell one’s wedding ring is to break one’s life. Even if the love is gone. In such cases, the wedding ring is to remind one to return to the place from which his existence grows. And where is that place? In the heart of God.

So Wojtyla by giving us the dramatic image of the Bridegroom wearing the hated face of Stefan is urging an alienated spouse to continue to be lovingly kind by seeing those acts of kindness as directed to Christ. Focusing on Christ enables one to rise above hurt feelings and to continue to be lovingly kind and thereby to reflect Absolute Existence and Love. Eventually, such acts o love melt the coldness of heart so characteristic of alienation. And makes the rebirth of love possible. This then is the fourth great requirement for enduring love as well as the key to regenerating alienated love, namely, spouses must refuse to look inwards towards disappointments in order to choose to look outwards – towards being attentively kind to the other as a person, towards reflecting Absolute Existence and Love. Failure to follow this requirement occurs when one does not make time to frequently contemplate God and His love. It also occurs when pleasure tempts one to discount the importance of an action and to ignore its eternal significance. The Jeweler’s Shop warns us that we must avoid being for the moment only, and cut oneself off from eternity. To avoid such mindlessness, we must be like teenagers eager to begin their future lives; we must keep our eyes on the prize of eternal life with God.

We must also be like children confident that true love never dies. That confidence bolstered by faith gives the courage and the confidence to always be lovingly kind even when the other is not reciprocating. Spouses must dare to love without ceasing, as God does. Only then can spousal love never die. As Stefan exclaims at the end of The Jeweler’s Shop “What a pity that for so many years we have not felt ourselves to bee a couple of children. Anna, Anna, how much we have lost because of that!”

In conclusion, The Jeweler’s Shop proposes a vision of enduring love that taps into the wisdom of the playwright who became St. John Paul II. This wisdom proposes that enduring spousal love has these four basic requirements:

  1. To treasure the other’s personhood and equality over desires for self-gratification by practicing the Golden Rule to the fullest degree through the Precept of Neighborly Love whereby the other’s spirit is cherished and nurtured.
  2. To persist in acts of attentive kindess
  3. TO live spousal oneness especially through physical signs of tenderness, and;
  4. To frequently contemplate God and reflect Absolute Existence and Love by being lovingly kind at all times.

R. Mary H. Lemmons, Ph. D. is wife, mother, and professor of philosophy. She also serves as co-director of the Siena Symposium for Women, Family, and Culture.