‘The Jeweler’s Shop’ — Karol Wojtyła’s Meditation on Love

“Man is freed,” wrote the future Pope St. John Paul II, “only through the experience of love.”

A couple sits together in front of a statue of Pope St. John Paul II at Maria Auxiliadora church in Monterrey, Mexico, on Jan. 18, 2020 — their 50th wedding anniversary.
A couple sits together in front of a statue of Pope St. John Paul II at Maria Auxiliadora church in Monterrey, Mexico, on Jan. 18, 2020 — their 50th wedding anniversary. (photo: Monica Garza 73 / Shutterstock.com)

Love is not an adventure. It has the taste of the whole man.
It has his weight. And the weight of his whole fate.
It cannot be a single moment.
Man’s eternity passes through it.
 —The Jeweler’s Shop, Karol Wojtyła

The greatest of Karol Wojtyła’s poetic works, The Jeweler’s Shop (1960), is “a meditation on one of the most dramatic aspects of human existence, expressed in love and marriage.”

The author explains: “The divergence between what lies on the surface and the mystery of love constitutes precisely the source of the drama. It is one of the greatest dramas of human existence. The surface of love has its current — swift, flickering, changeable. A kaleidoscope of waves and situation full of attraction. This current is sometimes so stunning that it carries people away — women and men. They get carried away by the thought that they have absorbed the whole secret of love, but in fact they have not yet even touched it.”

In The Jeweler’s Shop, according to the Italian author and philosopher Rocco Buttiglione, “the thought is harmonically expressed in simple and quiet rhythms, so polished that its depth is an occasion not of difficulty but of perpetual wonder. The problem which text poses to a facile understanding is the same as that which life offers; no one moves easily from meditation on the text to meditation on the enigma of one’s own destiny — its drama and its mysterious profundity.”

Wojtyła introduces three couples: Teresa and Andrzej, Anna and Stefan, and Monica (the daughter of Stefan and Anna) and Christopher (Andrzej and Teresa’s son). As far as the first couple, their love was terminated prematurely because the husband was killed in a war. Krzysztof is a posthumous fruit of their deep love. In contrast, Stefan and Anna faced a chronic marital crisis that impacted their daughter Monika, who recoils from commitment. Ultimately, however, Krzysztof facilitates the reconciliation of her parents. He also helps Anna and Stefan find the lost truth of their love, and he returns the faith in spousal love and unity to Monika.

Wojtyła explains that love is the decisive factor on the road to destiny where a man and a woman meet. He further posits: “Man is similar to a butterfly imprisoned in a cocoon. He is freed only through the experience of love. Meeting with another human allows this to become apparent which was contained in the subject and of which he was unaware himself. Namely, he who never experienced such a meeting shall die never emerging from his cocoon. Thus, he shall never fully realize his greatness.”

At a crucial point, all protagonists meet in front of a jeweler’s store. The Jeweler’s serves as the bond between the three love relationships. The Jeweler is an artisan. “What a strange craft. To produce objects that can stimulate reflection on fate.” The Jeweler is also a voice of conscience. As Boleslaw Taborski, poet and critic, marvels: “Przed sklepem jubilera, literally means “In front of the jeweler’s shop.” The jeweler sees our thoughts and actions through the shop window, which is also the window of our conscience. … After all, what God knows our consciences ought to know.”

The Jeweler’s shop points to the sacrament of marriage and empowerment of conscience which affords its stability and conclusiveness. A wedding ring symbolize the faithfulness of the spouses, their acceptance of an unknown destiny in which they will grow together. The nuptial rings embody their obligations of marriage. “The weight of these golden rings is not the weight of metal, but the proper weight of metal, the proper weight of man, each of you separately and both together… It is the weight of constant gravity, riveted to a short flight. The flight has the shape of a spiral, an ellipse — and the shape of the heart. … And in all this — love, which springs from freedom, as water springs from an oblique rift in the earth.”

There’s also a priest, Father Adam, who plays a significant part in The Jeweler’s Shop. As his name indicates, Adam has experienced the history of man from the beginning and he knows the Truth. He knows the truth of sin. He also knows the truth of hope which God gave to men despite sin. Thus, in this particular literary iteration, Father Adam becomes a mentor and a voice of wisdom who reminds the protagonists that “when two lives meet in the sacrament, they remain marked by their mutual promise. There is no extra space in life in which one carry out another competing responsibility. It is necessary to persevere also in sorrow, so that the common salvation for which one married may be fulfilled,” according to Buttiglione.

The message of The Jeweler’s Shop is obvious. Love is the power that does not impose itself upon man from the outside but it is born inside of him, in his heart, as his most innermost possession. It is “a transformation into a companionship which lifts the man out of his existential solitude and allows him to picture the bridge which will join his own unfathomable personal depth with that of the other.” Finally, love is a journey of man to God. It is the “ordinary road through which one may enter into the divine reality, to be assimilated to it through a continual prayer, a perpetual recollection of God.”

As Karol Wojtyła says, “Love is a constant challenge, thrown to us by God — thrown, I think, so that we should challenge fate.”

The future depends on love.