Helper in Childbirth

It has been my intention for many years to install a Marian pro-life shrine in our chapel in Griswold, Connecticut. I wanted something very special that would be an exorcism against the culture of death, but would also be beautiful and positive—something truly representative of the Culture of Life.  I spoke about this with an iconographer we have worked with over a number of years, Marek Czarneki, and he was very excited.  He had thought about doing something along these lines also.

He told me about a devotional image used in the Orthodox Church by midwives, The Helper in Childbirth:

This particular image is not altogether liturgical, as Our Lady’ hair is uncovered, a feature which ordinarily has erotic connotations.  This is why, Marek tells me, Eastern Christian tradition permitted unmarried women to uncover their heads as a sign of their availability, but not married women. In the case of this icon, I surmise the uncovered head indicates the Virgin’s recent delivery, which connects it to the labor of those who were blessed by this image during the experience of childbirth.

Parenthetically, I might note that the liturgical canons of iconography indicate a Theology of Clothing rather than one of nakedness.  The nuptiality of the liturgy is not a carnalization of the sacred mysteries, contrary to the mythology of some.

So Marek went to work in order to make this wonderful prototype more fitting for public veneration in a liturgical context.  Here is the result:

See AirMaria for the Blessing of the Icon, last Epiphany Sunday and for an interview with Marek.

The following is Marek’s explanation of the Icon:

While there is only one Virgin Mary, scholars have catalogued more than 1,100 distinct icons of the Mother of God. Spread out in front of us, it is difficult to understand why there are so many.  In their variety, we wonder if they all could possibly represent the same historical individual?  Every icon represents a different part of Our Lady, emphasizing specific facets of her life, personality, and intercession.  Despite the multiplicity of her icons, no single image has captured her fullness or proven adequate.

Some icons are named for shrines and places where miraculous events occurred, like the Virgin of Vladimir, a city in Russia.  Some are titled with words of praise, like the icon called “Life-Giving Spring” or “All Creation Rejoices in Thee”.  Other icons are titled after our own needs, and testify to Our Lady’s intercession.   We know of icons called  “The Mother of God, Confidence of Sinners”, or “She Who Soothes My Sorrows”, or the very beautiful and famous icon called “Perpetual Help”.

This icon of the Mother of God is called “The Helper in Childbirth“.  The first prototypes of this icon appeared in Western Russia, in the early 19th century.  It was made for a very practical and urgent need – the difficulties in conceiving and giving birth.

A variation of the ancient and famous icon of Our Lady of the Sign, this icon differs by showing the Mother of God folding her hands in prayer over her heart, instead of holding them outstretched to the sides.  Under the protective arch of her hands, we can see the newly conceived Christ Child, emanating from inside her womb in an almond shaped-halo of light.  To show He is the “Logos“, or Word of God incarnate, He holds a small white scroll.  She is filled and radiant with light from inside.

Originally, in a time when too many women died in childbirth, midwives carried this icon to help alleviate the pains and dangers of this life-giving process. Because of the practical purpose of this icon, it belonged more to the life of lay people and popular piety than the public, liturgical life of the Church. It would have been unusual to find it venerated in a church, or depicted on a large panel, since it needed to be small enough to carry among the other urgent, portable tools of a midwife’s work.

This icon is a prayer, from one mother to another: “Mother of God, you know my anxiety. Help me in this time of danger and happiness”.  It is an icon of remarkable empathy, from one Birth-Giver to another birth-giver.  Yet an icon cannot be closed in its meaning and use; it must be open to everyone at all times, in all circumstances, as the Mother of God herself is open to us in all our needs.  It is not an icon only for women in labor.

Every pregnancy is a miracle that fills us with joy, awe and dread at the same time. Surely the Mother of God will help us in this need.

We can pray for the difficulty in conceiving; she certainly understands miraculous conceptions, as did her own mother, St. Anne.

We can pray to her in the difficulty in carrying a child to term, and to safeguard us in the all the possible complications; imagine how she prayed, pregnant and riding on a donkey, only to give birth in a stable.

We can pray in front of it in joy and thanksgiving for her protection and guidance in helping us bear and raise children.

We can pray in front of it in the pain of the loss of a child, as the Mother of God herself knew the death of her only Child.

But what use is this icon of Divine Maternity to the single person, or the celibate?  Despite her miraculous conceiving, she still remains a virgin; one Orthodox hymn calls her the “unwedded bride”.

We can all stand in front of her, and pray in thanksgiving for being born; all of us have experienced the mystery of our own conception and birth.  We all have parents, and all are children.

Through her prayers, the Mother of God stands beside us as our midwife and model. In all ways, through our own human will and the grace of God, we all are expected to give birth to Christ into the world. St. Teresa of Avila reminds us, now we must be His hands, to bless and heal.

The icon will remain in the sanctuary of the chapel for forty days after which it will be installed in a special shrine at the side of the chapel.  Our hope is that pilgrims will come to find strength in Her.  It is an image of life through which mothers (and fathers) who have miscarried or who have had abortions might find healing; through which couples who wish to conceive may find a hearing, through which mothers who are carrying a child might find protection for a safe delivery.  It is also an image through which pro-lifers of all stripes might appeal to the Mother and Son for a victory of the Culture of Life.  We will also have a place for flowers near the image to be decorated at will by the Virgin’s clients.

The Queen of Courtesy will Conquer.

Virgin Mother

Happy Feast of the Mother of God!

This is my homily from December 30, but it fits well with today’s celebration:

Here is an appropriate quote from John Saward from His article “Virginity During the Birth“:

In the late fourth century, the doctrine of the virginity in partu was denied by Jovinian, a monk turned playboy, whose attack on the maidenly motherhood of Mary was part of a wider campaign against the consecrated state of virginity. Jovinian’s heresy was condemned by synods held in Rome and Milan. The Synod of Milan, under the chairmanship of St Ambrose, invoked the words of the Apostles’ Creed,natus ex Maria Virgine, which imply that the very act of giving birth to her Son, not just her conceiving of Him, was maidenly in its manner. (13)

The chief objection raised by the heretics to the virginity in partu is that, in the eyes of its adversaries, it makes our Lord’s human birth and thus His human nature itself seem unreal. Does the doctrine not betray Gnostic or Manichean disdain for the flesh? Was it not a Gnostic, Valentinus, who taught that the Son of God merely “passed through” His Mother, as through a channel? (14)

In reply to this objection, we must again invoke the distinction made within the Tradition between what Christ is as man and how He comes to be man: as St Leo says, just because His conception and birth (how He comes to be man) are miraculous, it does not follow that His human nature (what He is as man) is dissimilar to ours. (15) In the manner of His human birth, says St Thomas, Christ wants to reveal the truth not only of His humanity but also of His Divinity. That is why “He mingled marvelous things with humble ones. Thus, to show His body was real, He is born of a woman, but to show His divinity, He is born of a virgin, for, as St Ambrose says in his hymn on the Nativity, ‘Such birth befits the God of all.'” (16) The heretic Valentinus denied that the Son of God took anything from His Mother, whereas the Church confesses that He is man “from the substance of His Mother,” (17) that His flesh is fashioned by the Holy Spirit from His Mother’s pure blood. The virginity in partu is a miracle of the bodily order, a cherishing and beautifying of the Virgin’s flesh. Such a miracle would be of no interest to the Gnostics or Manicheans, who despised the body and sought for it no splendor. The preservation of virginity in partu manifests a God who not only creates the biological realm but also descends to its depths in person. Our Lady’s virginity is a quality of her soul as well as of her body. But the rational soul is the substantial form of the human body, making it to be what it is, the body of a human being. It is therefore fitting that its beauty should be manifested through the beauty of the body. We could even say that the virginity in partu is a kind of divinely instituted sacrament of the virginity in Mary’s soul. The matchless maidenhood is both corporeal and spiritual. As St Bernard says, “She was a virgin in body, a virgin in mind, a virgin in profession, a holy virgin in spirit and body.” (18)

So the erroneous idea that the Virgin Birth takes away from the reality of the humanity of Christ is almost as old as the Church.  It is not a blinding insight from Theology of the Body, but a tired, old decrepit error.

See also, the work of Raphael Brown on the correlation of private revelation with the teaching of the Church on the matter of the Virgin Birth.

War in Paradise: Tonight’s Discussion Group Topic

Update: Post on Tonight’s subject matter added below.

The somewhat adventurous,tumultuous, perilous and thrilling relations between men and women will be the topic of tonight’s discussion. Later in the day I will update this post with my profound insights into the matter.  (It should be a very short post.)

Send me an email so I can hook you electronically in to the discussion beginning at 8:10 pm tonight, or better yet, come to the friary in Griswold for the holy hour at 7:00 Pm, followed by the discussion.  Don’t be discouraged if I don’t email you right back.  I promise you will have the login information in advance of the meeting time.

Should be interesting.  Look forward to seeing you.

(BTW, I will have the next Templar video up tomorrow.)

Update:

Patristic interpretation of sacred scripture, especially in St. Irenaeus, establishes the Garden of Paradise as a kind of paradigm for the whole of human history.  The story of creation, of sin and the promise of redemption is recapitulated and re-circulated over and over at different levels, from type to fulfillment to final consummation and completion.  At the heart of the paradigm is the relationship between man and woman.

There is much to unpack in that paragraph, but for our purpose it is sufficient to point out that all this is summarized in the idea that Christ and Our Lady are the New Adam and Eve, who by means of a parallel but antithetical action undo the disobedience of our first parents by their obedience.

The first paradise was a fortress in which peace reigned until Eve opened the gate to the dragon and, seeing the danger, Adam ran and hid.  That pretty much summarizes it.  Ever since then, the enemy has wrought havoc in the City of God and often seems to be the Lord of the World.

In the first paradise, peace reigned because there was harmony between God and man, between man and woman and between the faculties of man within himself.  In attacking man and overturning his internal integrity and harmony of soul, the serpent assaulted above all man’s relationship with God, but also the human relationships and, most specifically, the relationship between man and woman.  And even while the most extreme effects of the disorder that entered into mankind is witnessed in global dissention and war, our most common and profoundly painful experience is found within marriage and the family.

But this cosmic war, as we know, did not really begin in the Garden.  It began, rather, in the “heavens,” before the creation of man.  The symbolism of Apocalypse chapter 12 concerning the Woman clothed with the sun in battle with the red dragon has been interpreted as a primordial revelation to the angels before any had fallen of God’s plan to send his Son into the world born of a woman.  Thus, Jesus and Mary were the predestined archetypes for all humanity, and when Lucifer’s pride drove him to reject the heavenly King and Queen in anticipation of their coming, he prepared himself to make war on the rest of the Woman’s seed (Apoc 12:17).

We are under attack.  That is the history of our race and while religious persons recognize this truth in respect to their relationship with God and in regard to their own personal integrity, I am not so sure that men and women, husband and wives, realize that their private wars have the Father of Lies as the instigator.

I have touched upon the relations between men and women a number of times before on this blog, in particular, in the posts “Damsels in Distress” and “Ditching the Marital Biases.”  I put a great deal of thought into both of these pieces.  Each time I finished writing, I had learned something myself, but I also had a real experience of dissatisfaction.

It is hard to put a finger on it.  I often perceive myself as being ambivalent in speech and writing on the matter, taking men to task when I speak to them, and women separately, but always saying that it takes two to tango and finally qualifying everything by saying a special burden is placed on men because women are the weaker sex.

A certain narrative has developed because of feminism.  Historical memory, vocabulary, what we choose to talk about and what we choose not to talk about: the narrative of feminists has influenced it all.  The Church has developed an apologetic that speaks to the zeitgeist and is based on an acceptance the assumptions of the feminists if not their conclusions.  And apologetics is always limited in its scope of understanding.  As a method of teaching, apologetics does not seek the deeper meaning of the subject it treats, it only adapts a difficult argument or one that is at odds with the zeitgeist so that it can be more easily accepted.  Inevitably, it involves making generalizations, oversimplifying, avoiding the cans of worms, and accepting the assumptions of the interlocutor whenever possible.  This is called “speaking the language of the people,” or “meeting people where they are at.”  I have no argument with the method, insofar is it is necessary for apologetics.  My problem is that probably most Catholics do not recognize its limitations.

I think many men, even if they want to restore the dignity and importance of fatherhood do not believe the pastors of the Church are wholeheartedly supporting their efforts.  (This is even the experience of many pastors themselves.)  Let’s just say it is a common experience.

Most of the time, it seems that what we hear from pastors is the feminist narrative: that women have been maligned throughout history at the hands of men; that the good men (males) do is due to the support of women, for which women have not been fairly recognized, while  the sins that women commit are often due to the failures of men, for which women suffer unjustly; when speaking of the vocation of women, it is exclusive to women, but when speaking of the vocation of men (males), it is swallowed up in the general vocation of all humanity, i.e. there is no particular vocation of men (males) that does not also include women in the broad umbrella of all humanity.

(This is not my formulation, but one I have heard from another man.  I agree with it and would be interested in knowing the opinion of others.)

This insight is important, because while many of us have woken up to the problem men confront, we are not always sure where the assumptions of feminists are correct and where they are exaggerated.  And in any case, one takes one’s intellectual life into one’s hands if he or she questions any of it.

The fact is that women have a tremendous amount of power, even without ostensible authority.  Men virtually always lose the argument when the battle is fought on the field of the personal and emotional, and of course, this is where women hold their ground, and it is where they insist on fighting.

Rick Varieur, a Catholic psychologist and speaker in Rhode Island, once said that men are like desert fighters and women are like jungle fighters.  Women will step for a moment out of the jungle and taunt the man, and then run back into the jungle.  The worst mistake a man can make is to follow them back into the jungle, which is just exactly what they are tempted to do.  And when men make that mistake, they always get their throats slit.

Of course, this is not a new phenomenon, but it is one that is given validation by the feminist narrative.  I do believe that in societies in which women were expected to be obedient, and in which they had (and have) a real reason to fear abandonment, adultery or abuse, emotional and sexual blackmail are their weapons of choice.  Men, and specifically husbands and those in authority become the whipping boys, whether they deserve it or not.  Women develop the habit of never being satisfied with anything a man does, or reserve their approval until he proves himself to be Prince Charming.

When culture at large accepts the feminist narrative as the only legitimate point of view, then the vice of feminine crabbiness becomes the ingrained habit of an entire culture, indeed the very zeitgeist, the lens through which everything is analyzed.

I really don’t know what the solution is.  Almost anything that is said needs to be qualified by a contrary or at least complementary consideration.  Women belong to the weaker sex and they do need to be protected.  However, unless they learn to accept what they find to be the more impersonal and harder aspects of a man’s character, then they will always something to complain about, either because the man is not sensitive enough, or because he is not a good enough leader.

To the extent that feminist empowerment breeds contempt of men, even among non-feminists, is the extent to which their narrative will define the value of men in the eyes of the culture, and therefore will make it impossible for masculine authority, labor and protectiveness to be accepted without a spirit of hyper-criticalness and cynicism.

All of this is a bit of thinking out loud.  This conundrum brings me back to the original war in paradise and to the cosmic time before when the conflict between the Woman and Her Seed and the Dragon and his seed began.  I really do not have the answers I am looking for, at least not directly.  But the prophetic grace of our age has to do with the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart, and this will be a triumph also within the heart of man, male and female.

This is a war we cannot afford to lose, but we cannot win it if we do not proclaim the Mother of Jesus as Queen.  For some this will seem far off course from the subject, but it is at the heart of Marian Chivalry or any kind of chivalry that can be termed Christian, whether it is practiced by men or women.

For anyone who may think I am being too hard on women, I would recommend you read the two posts I mentioned above (“Damsels in Distress” and “Ditching the Marital Biases”), if you have not already.  I think I give both credit and blame where it is due on both sides.

Ditching the Marital Biases

I recently posted a video under the title “Male Buffoonery from the Christian Media.”  The comedic vignette portrayed in the video humorously critiques men’s lack of appreciation for their wives in terms of the amount of work involved in running a household.  As humor operates by way of exaggeration, the husband in the video comes off as a consummate jerk.

I facetiously commented that such things never happen.  What set me off is that the video is just another example of media stereotype against men, and in this case it comes from a Christian source.  I know there are two sides to this.  I was just trying to make a point.

The reason I am posting about it again is that the video generated an interesting discussion in the comments that I think needs to be addressed.  I don’t mean to single anyone out, but to address erroneous ideas that are very commonly held.

Holy Baloney

The first is that somehow the exercise of legitimate authority is contingent on the personal holiness of the one who presumes to wield authority.  So it often happens that one who is subject to authority thinks they are only obliged to obey if their superior is, in their estimation, worthy of exercising authority.  Another way of putting this notion is “only the one who shows himself to be above the average man is worthy of being superior,” or “the one who is worthy to lead is only that one who morally, intellectually, or by way of popular acclaim, rises above the rest.”

The teaching of the Catholic Church on the matter of authority is that anyone who possesses an office of authority, as long as they act within their competence, and not beyond it, and do not command something contrary to the law of God, exercises authority legitimately regardless of their personal merit, talent, intelligence, holiness, etc.  It is not true, for instance, that a superior must be in the state of grace to legitimately command.  Our Lord Himself, while publically correcting the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, defends their right to command.  He tells the apostles: All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not (Mt 23:3).

All of this applies with respect to the obligation of a wife to obey her husband.  So says the Catechism of the Council of Trent:

[L]et wives never forget that next to God they are to love their husbands, to esteem them above all others, yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience (“Holy Matrimony”).

Later on, I will explain the phrase “yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety,” but first I want to deal with an issue, about which my silence on the matter has been criticized.

Seeing Scarlet

I have dealt with at length the question of women as the weaker sex and their need to be protected, and have emphasized the singular responsibility of men to perform this task, that is, to make sure that women are treated according to their proper dignity.  My blog is about Marian Chivalry, so my emphasis should be understandable.  Yet, as we all know, it takes two to tango. Unquestionably, those who hold authority have a special obligation to avoid its abuse.  However, each of the sexes within marriage is prone to its own particular vices.  Pride and selfishness have their own specifically masculine and feminine dimensions.  If men must not abuse their authority, women, in a particular way, must not use their weakness as an excuse to cultivate the habit of emotional and sexual blackmail.

One of the problems with feminism and the emasculization of men is that the abuse of authority, especially within the family, has given credence to the idea that only those who are holy can exercise authority legitimately.  In fact, men have been emasculated precisely because they have bought into this lie.  They have willingly abdicated their authority because others, most notably their wives, have convinced them that they are not worthy to command.

Without underestimating the problem of the abuse of authority, one cannot neglect to condemn in the most strident terms this pernicious notion that a man must prove himself to be free of his faults (so obvious to his family) before he can be taken seriously.  This notion, quite frankly, is so bogus and destructive that it defies sufficient condemnation.  It is an excuse for willfulness.  It is the ruin of the unity of the family.

A man’s wife is his most brutal critic.  This almost universally true and not altogether a bad thing.  The principle contribution of women to the tradition of Christian chivalry has been the high standard to which women were expected to hold men.  The ever-present cultural and moral influence of Mary on the development of Christian civilization was in fact Her humanizing influence on the male sex.  But the ladies should not forget that most men who love a woman desire to be her hero, even if they know that, more often than not, they fall short.  Traditional women talk all the time about how much they want to have their husbands lead, but then they subject his every choice to microscopic scrutiny, and nag and complain about all his shortcomings.  Emotional and sexual blackmail become tools of the weaker sex to maintain a safe independence, that is, a way of maintaining control, while indulging all her feminine weaknesses.

Mutual Submission

It seems to me that the comment section of the post to which I referred above tended to be one-sided, either asserting that authority is only legitimate where the husband shows himself worthy, or on the other hand, is virtually always exercised legitimately, regardless of what he commands, or at least that the woman should just shut her mouth and do what she is told without question.  And this is the second error that I must address.  Indeed, the Catechism of the Council of Trent affirms that wives are obliged to

love their husbands, to esteem them above all others, yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience.

That phrase is specific, and does not suggest that a woman, who is the “helpmate,” and not slave, of her husband must yield in a mindless and servile obedience to her husband.  Ancient cultures, and some of them Christian, though not thoroughly Christianized, have regarded women as virtually the property of their husbands to be disposed of in an arbitrary way.  However, the famous passage of St. Paul, invoked by traditionalists to put women in their place does not affirm the wife-as-chattel mentality.  In Ephesians 5, St. Paul does indeed mandate the obedience of a wife to her husband, but he also states that husbands and wives are to be subject one to another, in the fear of Christ (22).  St. Paul goes on to explain this mutual subjection in terms of a wife’s obedience to her husband and the husband’s sacrificial love for his wife.  The next chapter (6) goes on in parallel manner to reaffirm the obligation of children to obey their parents, while at the same time, commanding fathers not to provoke their children to anger (1-4).  This makes it pretty clear that an arbitrary or abusive execution of authority within the family finds no mandate in sacred scripture.  No man may presume that his wife and children must swallow the consequences of his capricious will without question.

In fact, Ephesians 5 compares marriage to the love of Christ and His Bride, the Church, and the paradigm for husbandly love is Christ on the Cross.  The abuse of authority within the family is not going to be solved by feminism.  Emasculated men are a plague upon society and the family.  But neither is the problem of feminism and effeminacy going to be solved by ignoring abuses of authority or by absolutizing the rights of husbands.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church and John Paul II placed a great emphasis on the dignity of the human person and the obligations of those in authority to respect that dignity and to command according to the demands of the common good.  The Church regards as particularly pernicious the abuse of authority, because human authority is never absolute but entrusted to individuals specifically for the care of the persons, created in the image and likeness of God.  For this reason John Paul II placed a particular emphasis on the obligation of men toward women, while not at all dispensing from the obligation of obedience of wives to their husbands.  One would think that the need to address the problem of the abuse of authority, as well as the unwillingness to exercise it with legitimate forcefulness for the common good, would be obvious in the light of various modern forms of totalitarianism, fascism and fanaticism.

The Unspoken Issue

Worthy of particular note is a matter that goes largely unuttered when the topic of authority within marriage is discussed but which certainly underlies much of what is said, namely, the marriage debt.  It is a matter of grave obligation for men and women to yield to the reasonable request of their spouse and offer their bodies freely for the conjugal act.  This request is made legitimately where there is no serious reason to refuse (For particulars ask your confessor, and when in doubt, by all means seek counsel.)  In a particular way, this responsibility lies heavily on the shoulders of the woman for obvious reasons.

Again, it takes two to tango:  the man has the power to physically or emotional intimidate the woman into an unreasonable use of marriage, but the woman has the feminine power of turning her sexuality into a tool or into a weapon.  And we all know exactly what I am talking about.  There can be no one-sidedness here.

All this being said, the position of authority of the man and his superior strength and power places a special obligation on the man to respect and protect his wife from his own lusts.   Only women get pregnant and men generally do not have to worry about being abandoned with a child.  One of the greatest fears of women around the world is abandonment by the father of her children.   Women are vulnerable in this matter in way in which there is no comparison in men.  They are also expected to satisfy their husband, and unfortunately, culture has left many men under the delusion that their masculinity is defined by their libido and specifically by their need to have their sexual desires satisfied whenever they want, on demand.  This is to a large extent what many men mean by their expectation of the unquestioning obedience of their wives.

Here is a special notice to men (if the shoe fits, wear it):  Wake up!  Do you wonder why you wife has lost interest in intimacy with you and why you are less and less satisfied with your relationship with her?  It is because you act like a pig, and you keep justifying it because in reality you are insecure in your own masculinity.  Grow up and stop acting like a teenager.

I am particularly irritated by Christopher West’s ambiguity on the question of imperfect sodomy, precisely because it has certainly become an excuse on the part of “demanding” husbands to subject their wives to behavior that is demeaning and sinful.  One of West’s followers in Poland, a priest, asserts that

Attempts to set limits to the expression of love as well as arbitrary exclusion of some ways of experiencing pleasure inhibit spouses and introduce doubt, fear and moral anxiety into their sexual life. This attitude may result in frigidity and lead to serious marital problems.

In spite of the fact that the writer of these words qualifies his statement by the assertion that mutual consent must be part of the decision making, he is foisting a bill of goods on women, who generally are more passive and are expected to consent without argument.  Needless to say, many men will take words like this as justification for subjecting their wives to sins against nature and other demeaning behavior.

I have always considered the Westian interpretation of Theology of the Body to be the lustful man’s boon, notwithstanding all the exalted views of sexuality and the dignity of women.  If men truly wish to find satisfaction within their intimate relations with their wives and to maintain their moral authority, then they had better learn to behave themselves.  That means not only do they need to have a more exalted view of women and sexuality, it also means that they need to be a good deal less attached to eroticism and more willing to love selflessly, by being satisfied with less.  (A lack of sacrifice and generosity on the part of both men and women in this regard can lead to dire consequences within a marriage.)

While it is true that legitimate authority has nothing to do with whether one is holy or not, it is also true that it is better and more effective to lead by example. Such is the example of Christ, who died for his Bride.

Saving Marriage

It takes two to tango.  One-sided answers will get us nowhere.  I have favored the position of women here, because they belong to the weaker sex, but that is no excuse for the ladies to invoke what I say like a club to wield against their husbands.  I know there are really situations in which men are grossly abusive, but there are also many situations in which women can be little manipulative monsters.  Everyone clean your own house.

Christian marriage is about self-donation and self-forgetfulness.  Husbands and wives must bear each other’s burdens.  There is no way around this.  There are no pat answers.  Finger pointing is useless unless we are willing to point the finger at ourselves first.  My purpose here is not to provide the solutions to individual problems, but to point out that if we do not get the theoretical side of the argument right, then our efforts at providing practical solutions are hopelessly wrecked.

We have the whole two millennia of Christian history as our moral experience and if we find ourselves unable to learn from our mistakes the institution of marriage will continue to erode until it becomes something unrecognizable. Effeminate and homosexual men are a plague upon a structured society.  Self-centered and crabby women only exacerbate the problem.  But neither does the restoration of masculine authority involve the institutionalization of the arbitrary exercise of authority by men or the legitimization of husbands treating their wives like prostitutes.

Smashing Dragons

The iconography of heaven referenced in my post for the Immaculate Conception, particularly as it relates to the Miraculous Medal, finds an antecedent in the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that was painted on St. Juan Diego’s tilma by the Virgin Herself.  She is clothed with the sun and is standing on the moon.  Though the artists rendition above includes the serpentine imagery from Apocalypse 12, the actual image on the tilma has no depiction of the serpent.  One might think that any reference to Genesis 3:15 is only indirect by way of the allusion through the commonality of The Woman.

But not so.  In fact, the heavenly iconography of Guadalupe passes from the prophecy of Genesis and the vision of St. John right into the history that it was intended to address.  The image itself is a miracle that manifests and perpetuates the Virgin’s presence.  We see what Juan Diego saw.  Once Our Lady’s command to build a temple was obeyed, the image came to rest on Tepeyac Hill, where formerly, before the conquest of Mexico by Cortes, there had been a shrine to the Aztec goddess Coatlicue (below).

Yes, she is the mother goddess with two serpent heads who wears a snake skirt and human body parts for a necklace.

There is a sense in which this idol (image) completes the iconography of the Virgin, insofar as image of cactus cloth smashes the stone idol. According to Carl Anderson and Msgr. Eduardo Chávez, the glyph for a conquered civilization was a burning temple turned on its side.  The building of a new temple, the original of which was completed within two weeks of the apparitions, was the sign of a new beginning, the founding of a civilization of love.  The serpent is not in the icon because the very icon itself is what crushes his head, through the force of Our Lady’s mediation.

Think about this:  Juan Diego was given a mission to be Our Lady’s instrument to crush the serpent’s head in New Spain.  He simply obeyed in trust and total abandonment.  All he really needed to do was take the message to the bishop.  The result was that the image was produced miraculously and then placed where our Lady wanted it, right over the serpent’s head, over the mockery of truth, life, beauty and motherhood.

Devotion to Mary is smashing dragons.

Click here for a homily of mine for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

In Defense of Purity 1

shy

As promised, here is my first post on Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Purity: The Mystery of Christian Sexuality (originally published as In Defense of Purity).  It is probably longer than will be my other posts on the book.  We will see.  I thought there were some basic ideas about “shame” that I wanted to establish from the beginning.  Part of my work here will be to do a comparative study of von Hildebrand’s writing on Purity vis-à-vis John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Book I: Purity; Part I: Sex; Chapter I: Sex Distinguished from Other Bodily Appetites

There could be no greater mistake than to explain the tendency to conceal sex as exclusively, or even primarily, an endeavor to hide something disgraceful or ugly (Purity 6).

Catholic tradition describes this tendency to conceal sex as “modesty.”  It is a certain kind of shame.  We would do well to understand what it is and what it is not.

The shame of English

In his book, Purity: The Mystery of Christian Sexuality, Dietrich von Hildebrand distinguishes between different kinds of shame.  Some kinds of shame are, in fact, a reaction against what is “disgraceful or ugly.”  Yet not all shame is so.   Some kinds of shame are a form of reverence.  For example the French word pudeur is translated into English as “shame”; however, it has the nuance of “holy bashfulness” for which there is no equivalent in English.

This limitation of the English language is an impoverishment of our ability to speak of this basic human experience in a precise philosophical way.  We call both the fear of the ugly and disgraceful and the awe of the holy and mysterious, “shame.”  In other languages this is not the case.

The particular problem with the English word is that it has a primarily pejorative sense.  Very few people would ever consider using the word “shame” in reference to a reaction which actually positive.   When, for example, we are caught an evil deed we might admit that we are ashamed of ourselves.  However, if someone complemented us in public unexpectedly, most of us would not say that we were “ashamed,” but “embarrassed.”  But even this latter word is ambiguous, because sometimes were are embarrassed also because we look foolish or out of step.

My use of the phrase “shame on you,” in a previous post was meant to underscore the limitation of our use of the English word.  Hence, among English speakers, when we are discussing our reaction to holy things, mysteries and aspects of our lives that are deeply personal and intimate we often use the words “modesty,” and “reverence.”

In matters of sexuality these ambiguities are particularly crucial because of the depth at which we experience our sexuality and, thus, because of the way in which the experience of sexuality, can have tremendously positive and negative values.   We might very well be “ashamed” of sex, because we are intuitively or meditatively aware of how holy and mysterious it is, or we might be “ashamed” of sex because our experience of it has been unspeakably debauched and profoundly disrespectful of God, ourselves and others.  We might also be ashamed of sex—it is true—because in our sinfulness we are no longer able to perceive its beauty and begin to project onto it the disorder of our own heart.  Or finally, we may be ashamed of sex, because we hold the heresy that sex and the body are evil.  Whatever our experience in this regard might be, our heart tells us that the matter in question is profoundly important.   We cannot afford to confuse these various experiences, because they are truly different and touch directly upon our practice of the virtue of purity.

Our Secret

Shhhh

In the first chapter of von Hildebrand’s Purity, he distinguishes sharply the sex drive from other bodily appetites on the basis of the depth at which we experience these various appetites.  Our other bodily appetites such as hunger and thirst are experienced on a relatively superficial level and ordinarily do not become the focus of our deep and serious attention, except when we they become a question of our survival (3).

It is one thing, for example to give one’s attention to the preparation of food in proportion to the general welfare of individuals, say a family and both its nutritional and social needs.  It is another to be obsessed with food and the particulars of its preparation.  It is still another to become profoundly aware of how dependent we are on food, when one is starving to death.  The fact is that we generally experience such bodily desires on a superficial level and only experience them deeply in a moment of crisis.

On the other hand, von Hildebrand says that our sex desire is essentially deep:

Every manifestation of sex produces an effect which transcends the physical sphere and involves the soul deeply in its passion. . .  The positive and negative values attaching to sex belong to a level far deeper than those which attach to the other bodily appetites.  Indeed, these sexual experiences are characterised by a specific character of mystery . . . (4).

Von Hildebrand says that the depth of sexual experience is established by two factors: the uniqueness of the manner in which body and soul meet in the experience of sex; “the particular intimacy of sex.”

In this chapter of the book, he focuses on the second factor and calls sex “the secret of the individual”:

It is something which the person concerned feels to be altogether private, something which belongs to his inmost being.  Every disclosure of sex is the revelation of something intimate and personal.  It is the initiation of another into our secret.  It is for this reason that the domain of sex is also the sphere of shame in its most characteristic sense.  We are preeminently ashamed to unveil this secret to others.  Whether and man is modest or immodest depends first and foremost on his attitude to sex (5-6).

It seems to me that von Hildebrand’s analysis accord’s exactly with universal experience of man and is so close to us that generally most people never examine the causes of our reactions.   But when we hear a wise man like von Hildebrand express the truth of it, we say, “Yes, that’s it.”

The fact is that our sexuality is tied to our deepest identity as a person and to the mystery of what it means to be a person.  We are vulnerable in our sexuality because we are vulnerable as persons who desire to love and to be loved and who never wish to be used.  We “expose” ourselves to others in the degree to which it is appropriate to communicate our person and we leave the most intimate revelations to a select few and in some cases to one alone.  Our secret is ourselves, and in the end it is the only thing we really can call our own.  It is the only real gift we have.

The Spousal Meaning of the Body

JPII cope

Dietrich von Hildebrand’s analysis seems to me to be in full accord with that of John Paul II, though the emphasis is different.  Von Hildebrand emphasized the positive aspect of shame relative to the mystery of the person, whereas John Paul II emphasizes the negative aspect relative to the danger of objectifying the person.

When in the Theology of the Body the pope writes about the “spousal meaning of the body” in the context of original innocence, in which man, male and female, were naked and felt no shame, he is speaking of the fact man, male and female, is created for love and is oriented by creation toward making the gift of himself to the other (14.5).  It is in this way, as Genesis tells us, that man is created in the image and likeness of God (1:26).  In other words the communio personarum (communion of persons) to which man is called is a reflection of the life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinitarian communion of knowledge and love (9.1-3).

This truth is written in the human body, differentiated as male and female, and the bodily union to which man is called in marriage is a sign of the deeper communio personarum of spouses.  That deeper communion is charity and the conjugal embrace, as it was intended from the beginning, is not only its sign but through chaste love and sacramental living it becomes a particular means of achieving it (29.3; 131.2-3).

In the state of original innocence the deep meaning of the body was not distorted by the subordination of the gift meant to be loved to its use for selfish gratification.  The interiority of man shined outwardly in its entire splendor, with no confusion of its meaning.  Not only was the gift unthreatened by the tendencies of fallen nature, but we might also say that for that reason it was less mysterious and more radiant.

Veiling and Unveiling the Mystery

In terms of the importance of this appreciation for the state of original innocence relative to our own state of fallen nature, which we are offered in the Theology of the Body, it is necessary to define and understand the dimensions of the analogy which the Holy Father is using.  There is, of course, the sense that Adam and Even represent universal man, male and female, and are a paradigm for the relation of the sexes in general.   But there is also the sense in which Adam and Eve as two real persons are created male and female for each other personally.  In fact, Eve is specifically created as a person to be the helpmate of the only other human person, Adam.  So, it seems to me, that while the relationship of Adam and Eve can be used analogously to represent the relationship of all men and women in general, they are more properly an analogy of the relationship of husband and wife specifically.  The importance of this is relative to the origin of shame and, what John Paul II (prior to his elevation to the papacy, as Karol Wojtyla) called the “absorption of shame by love” (Love and Responsibility, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1981. 181).

The consideration here is that is that prior to the fall there was only husband and wife, who were, in fact, called to that intimate revelation and communion of persons to which spouses are called.  While we might speculate on what the relationship of the sexes in general might have looked like had our first parents not fallen and then proceeded to propagate the human race, I think we are at somewhat at a loss to know what the lack of shame might have been relative to individuals who were not called to reveal the full mystery of their person to others, e.g. unmarried persons, persons relative to others who were not their spouse, persons called to virginity.

Or on the other hand, in a world before shame, were we all called to reveal ourselves completely to each other, even to others who were not our spouses?  Does the redemption of the body, then, mean that not only is shame resolved relative to the body but that we are also called now to not fear being vulnerable to a lack of privacy regarding our person?

John Paul II’s description of shame, resulting from the fall of our first parents, emphasizes the need to protect the value of the person and to defend it from being objectified.  Shame is, then, a kind of fear, and a “defense reflex” which arises out of our vulnerability caused by the effects of original sin.  Now, while John Paul II analysis does tell us what life would be like for spouses if that vulnerability were absent, it does not tell us what the relationship of the sexes would be like in general, since all men are not all spouses of all women.

By their vocation spouse are called to reveal their person and become an unreserved gift to the one to whom they have vowed themselves.  But that revelation and gift is not meant for everyone.  Since before the fall there were only two people, one male and one female and these two were, in fact, spouses, the state before the fall does not offer us a perfect paradigm for the relationship, say of men and women who are courting, or who may have no relationship at all but must treat each other with the respect of modesty.

While the human body always has a spousal meaning, that meaning as it pertains to my body specifically is not meant to be revealed in the same way to all.  And, therefore, a reluctance to reveal too much to the wrong person is merely defensive of personhood against one who might be disposed to use me; it is defensive of personhood toward one who does not properly belong to that level of intimacy.

Vindicating the Mystery of Personhood

Modesty-Bouguereau

In the Theology of the Body John Paul II seems to recognize that shame is not only a defense mechanism against the possibility of being used, but also a vindication of the mystery of personhood:

A person of developed sensibility crosses the limit of that shame only with difficulty and inner resistance.  This is clear even in situations that otherwise justify the necessity of undressing the body, for example, in the case of medical examinations or operations (61.2).

In no way does this spontaneous and intuitive “inner resistance” represent prudery or Manichaeism or an ignorance of the truths contained in the Theology of the Body.  The Holy Father says that this reaction is found in those of “developed sensibility.”  It is perfectly wholesome and compatible with great virtue.  In fact, in the context of defending this “inner resistance,” the Holy Father says that original shame “is a permanent element of culture and morality.  It belongs to the very origins of the ethos of the human body” (61.3).

According to the Theology of the Body, shame acts as a “veil” over the mystery of personhood in which man discovers himself as the guardian of that mystery and the defender of the “freedom of the gift” (19.2).  This action, it seems to me, is not primarily negative, because wherever something is defended against abuse, there is more fundamentally an affirmation of inherent value.

Interesting to note in this regard is that in Love and Responsibility, which is not a document of papal magisterium but is the work of the man Karol Wojtyla, we find more about this positive element of shame than we do in the Theology of the Body.  One reason for that may be because the specific context of his remarks on shame in TOB is the examination of our first parents before after original sin in the context of sacred scripture; whereas, in Love and Responsibility Karol Wojtyla reflects on human experience in general.

In Love and Responsibility, Wojtyla vindicates the preservation of privacy in certain matters and argues that the desire for this privacy is not primarily motivated by fear, but by a certain “fittingness.”  Fear, indeed, arises when that appropriate privacy is endangered, but it is indirect and secondary (174-175).  He says:

The essence of shame goes beyond such fear.  It can only be understood if we heavily emphasize the truth that the existence of the person is an interior one, i.e. that the person possesses an interior peculiarly its own, and that from this arises the need to conceal (that is, to retain internally) certain experiences or values, or else withdraw with them into itself (175).

Again, this seems to perfectly accord with what Dietrich von Hildebrand says about the interiority of the person, about sex being the “secret of the individual” and the tendency to protect that secret as one that perfectly corresponds to the mysterious and precious nature of the person.

Emotional Shame

Looking DownIn Love and Responsibility Karol Wojtyla makes the distinction between two kinds of shame relating to sexuality:  physical shame and emotional shame.  Physical shame seeks to conceal certain parts of the body to the extent that the value of the person is vindicated and defended from being used, while the sexual values are able to “still be a point of origin for love.”  Emotional shame seeks to conceal “reactions and feelings” that tend to move one to reduce persons to objects of use by way of their body and sexuality.  In particular, but not exclusively, physical shame is the province of women, while emotional shame is the province of men (187).

It is in regard to emotional shame that the popularization of the Theology of the Body has particular resonance, because it is men, more than women, who struggle with issues of sexual temptation.  Karol Wojtyla points out that

[t]his internal ‘shame of feelings’ has nothing in common with prudery.  Prudery consists in the concealing one’s real intentions with regard to persons of the other sex or with regard to sexual matters in general.  A prudish person intent on exploitation tries to make it appear that he has no interest at all in such matters—indeed he is prepared to condemn all, even the most natural, manifestations of sex and sexuality.  Such behavior is, however, very often not to be explained as prudery—which is a particular form of hypocrisy, a way of disguising one’s intentions—but by some prejudice or other, perhaps the belief that everything to do with sex can only be an object for use, that sex merely gives the opportunity for sexual release and does not open the way to love between people (188).

In order to understand what belongs to a healthy reaction of a man to the sexual values of a woman one must appreciate fully what Wojtyla is saying here.  Wholesome shame is to be sharply distinguished from prudery.  And further prudery is not the same thing as the Manichean tendency to devalue or repudiate the goodness of sexuality.

In fact, Wojtyla goes on to say:

True emotional shame cannot possibly be identified with prudishness.  Emotional shame is a healthy reaction within a person against any attitude to another person which disregards that person’s essential value, degrading him or her to the level of an object for sexual use (188).

All this points to the fact that the possible reactions of men to the sexual values of women are many and the psychology of those reactions are complex.  Certainly, there is nothing in the Holy Father’s writings that would suggest that the tendency to conceal sexual values or to practice custody of the senses relative to sexual values is prudery, or that it only belongs to a lower level of moral behavior.  Nor does seem to me that John Paul II says anything to encourage the students of the Theology of the Body to analyze individuals or make generalizations about practical behavior where the individual conscience must be the judge within its own domain.

Voyeurism

phone camera

If I might be indulged for a moment for a bit of cultural commentary, I would say that our age is at particular risk of living shamelessly, not only because of the reduction of people to mere sexual values by so much of culture, but also because the general cultural tendency to keep nothing private.  We are almost constantly broadcasting with cell phones, email, instant messaging, text, picture and video messaging, Facebook, Twitter and reality television.  Is there anything about our persons that we choose not to broadcast to the world anymore?

Please, no angry comments.  This is not a condemnation, just an identification of a risk.

It would be a complex task to unravel the cause and effect relationship.  More than likely, the relationship of sexual shamelessness and, if you will, psychological shamelessness is reciprocal.  Whatever the case may be, the coincidence of these two aspects should send up a red flag.  We are culturally shameless.  I cannot help to point out that the cultivation of purity and a healthy, enlightened and exalted view of the body and sexuality will be undermining itself if it minimizes the role of wholesome and sensible shame.

Victorious Secret

eyes

In a book published much later (1966) than Purity, Dietrich von Hildebrand, writing the original work in English (Purity was original published in German), choose to speak about wholesome shame in with different vocabulary than he had in the past.  In Man and Woman:  Love and the Meaning of Intimacy he writes the following:

Shame wants to hide ugly things, whether they are physical or psychical.  We feel shame when others speak of our cowardice or our weakness.

But shyness, which is often confused with shame, reveals our reluctance to exhibit beautiful and noble things if they are intimate. . . . This shyness, referring to things which we hide not because we believe them to be ugly but because they are intimate and their specific value calls for secrecy, is absolutely the right response to the sphere of sex (Manchester: Sophia Institute Press, 1992. 58).

So, von Hildebrand opts for the use of the word “shyness” to describe that kind of shame which is protective of one’s secret.  That particular word does us the favor of eliminating the connotation of the word “shame” that is so easily identified with prudery and Manichaeism.

Abandoning this kind of shyness is like abandoning mystery.  True, one day the mysteries of God will be revealed, but never fully because they are infinite and eternity is not long enough to exhaust them.  For an even greater reason, then, are these mysteries to big to be fully revealed in this life.  Not even in the great saint, theologian and mystic, Thomas Aquinas, were the mysteries fully revealed, at least not in a way that could be expressed in speech or in a body of teaching.  After an extraordinary mystical experience St. Thomas referred to his great work of theology, the Summa Theologiae, as “so much straw.”

If the truth about sex is such great news, because it is so beautiful and sacred, then this is a reason for holy shyness, not a reason to take everything off in public.  Such unveiling certainly is not the answer to prudery as von Hildebrand writes:

So, we must understand that the true antithesis to Victorian prudery is a reverent attitude towards sex, seeing  in it something great, deep and mysterious, whose existence one should not try to deny, but which by its very nature is intimate, and has the character of a secret (59).

Sex is something deep and mysterious that touches the heart of what it means to be a person and to be called to love and be loved.  Holy shyness or modesty is the vindication of those values, or as Karol Wojtyla wrote in Love and Responsibility:

sexual modesty is not a flight from love, but on the contrary the opening of a way towards it. The spontaneous need to conceal mere sexual values bound up with the person is the natural way to the discovery of the value of the person as such (179).

Dietrich von Hildebrand and John Paul II are kindred spirits.

hildebrand-2

The Art of Feminine Chivalry

eowyn-fighting

A woman should be able to drive a stick shift, fire a Springfield Arms XD accurately, do the family tax return, throw a football 20 yards, and barbecue steaks. However, when men are around, she should allow men to do things for her, even if she can do them better herself. Men should always be asked to do dangerous tasks (shoveling snow, killing spiders, etc.), and they should never be criticized about their performance in front of other people, only in private.

Great post on the art of feminine chivalry.

Click of the heels to Dawn Eden.

Compendium of TOB Posts

The following list provides links to all the posts that I have written either here or on Dawn Patrol about the Theology of the Body. I will update the list if I have missed any, or if, God forbid, I add others.

Update: Missed posts added to compendium (dates in red text).

Further Update:  Added posts (dates in green text).

  • “Hope of the World” (November 11, 2008):  The first reference I made to the “new chastity movement” on this blog shortly after the national election in the context of our lack of will to elect a pro-life president in the United States.
  • “Thinking Like a Man” (April, 16, 2009):  Why it is necessary for men to fight the good fight of chastity, rather than hope to be delivered from temptation by a new and holy fascination with the body, as is suggested in West’s presentation.
  • John Paul the Great and Hugh Hefner the Magnificent” (May 8th, 2009):  My original reaction to Chris West’s Nightline interview with a focus on the problem of prudery.
  • “Christopher West’s blind spot:  TOB has to be seen through Church’s historical teachings” (May 14, 2009):  A response to those who say that the critique is an attack on Christopher West and a closer look at the question of “original innocence” and its relation to the effect TOB can have on our redemption.
  • “Schindler’s list: Sparks fly as JP2 Institute dean raps Christopher West for errors” (May 29, 2009):  An analysis of the responses of Professors Janet Smith and Michael Waldstein to the critique of West by Professor David Schindler.
  • “Virgo redacta:  Christopher West and the dangers of overanalogizing Mary” (June 18, 2009):  An attempt to answer the defenders of Christopher West, by addressing some of the specific problems with his presentation, namely,  the phallic symbolism of the paschal candle  and the way that the Blessed Virgin is eroticized by his presentation.  More generally, I touch upon his problematic use of analogy. (See, notation on new information contained in this post).
  • “To Chris West: Enough Already. How about a Response?” (June 24, 2009):  A critique of the methodology by which critics of West are dealt with by implying prudery or animus as a motivation for the disagreement, or that disagreement with West constitutes disagreement with John Paul II.
  • “St. Agustine and the Theology of the Body” (June 27, 2009):  Comments on and several quotations from Msgr. Cormac Burke’s defense of St. Augustine’s views on marriage.  Another critique of seeing prudery where it isn’t.
  • “The Theology of the Body and Courage: Fighting the Real Fight” (July 14, 2009):  Why it is important for men to focus on agape rather than eros.
  • “Martyrs, Mystics and Rhetoricians” (July 31, 2009):  A response to Father Thomas Loya’s defense of Christopher West, with a focus on the hermeneutic of discontinuity manifested by the new “holy fascination” with the body advocated by Christopher West and his followers.
  • Shame on You.  Amen. (September 1, 2009):  Thoughts inspired by a discussion on The Linde regarding the nature of shame and its relation to modesty, with an emphasis on the cultivation of prudence in the face of the American TOB crusade against prudery.
  • Cardinal and Bishop Support Christopher West (September 8, 2009): Text of Cardinal Rigali’s and Bishop Kevin Rhoades letter of support of Christopher West and his work.
  • In Defense of Purity (September 20, 2009):  Introductory post to my commentary on Dietrich von Hildebrand’s work In Defense of Purity, proposed as a sure way of coming to understand the true meaning of the Theology of the Body.
  • In Defense of Purity I (September 29, 2009):  Commentary on the first chapter of von Hildebrand’s book, focusing on the meaning of shame, particularly in its positive aspect, and distinguished from that shame which seeks to protect the person from use, with a particular reference to its correlation in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
  • A Response to Christopher West (October 30, 2009):  My reply to the response to Christopher West, in which he finally breaks his silence regarding the controversy surrounding his presentation of the Theology of the Body.
  • Theology of the Tango? (November 1, 2009):  An example of the American version of Theology of the Body gone off the rails.
  • Christopher West:  Sexualizing Christianity (February 8, 2010):  A commentary on a 2001/2002 between Dr. Mark Lowery and Christopher West, indicating that the recent objections to West are nothing new, and have gone unanswered for years.
  • Sexing Up Canon Law (February 12, 2010): A response to a commenter’s objection to my previous post on the sexualization of Christianity by Christopher West.  Specifically, I focus on the meaning of the canons governing the dissolution of a ratified but non-consummated marriage and what that means in terms of when sacramental grace is conferred in marriage.
  • Father Peter Damian Fehlner on Ratified, Non-Consummated Marriages (February 13, 2010):  The magisterial and theological tradition concerning this question from a professor of dogmatic theology.
  • Theology of the Body:  Of Sign and Fulfilment (March 4th, 2010):  An explanation of the Churches use of theological analogy and the reason why  Christopher West’s use of analogy is theologically incorrect.
  • Christopher West Takes Sabbatical (April 13, 2010):  The announcement from TOB Institute that Christopher West is taking time off to “reflect more deeply on fraternal and spiritual guidance he has received in order to continue developing his methodology and praxis as it relates to the promulgation of the Theology of the Body.”
  • Toward a Climate of Chastity E-Book (April 20, 2010):  Announcement of Dawn Eden’s publication of her master’s thesis on Christopher West’s work as an ebook.  Links provided.
  • Dawn Eden’s Thesis and Defense (June 15, 2010):  Announcement of Dawn Eden’s re-publication of her master’s thesis on Christopher West’s work as an ebook, and the text of the defense of  her thesis.  Links provided.
  • That for Which We Fight (July 2, 2010):  A commentary on two opposing views of feminism with a special reference to Theology of the Body and a recommendation for a balanced approach.
  • Alice Von Hildebrand’s New Essay on Her Husband and Christopher West (July 21, 2010):  A brief announcement and acknowledgement of this blog author’s contribution to the essay.
  • Good Reason Why Not to Have Someone Live-Tweet a Conference. (August 1, 2010):  Some of the sensational and eyebrow-raising tweets from the TOB conference.
  • Theology of the Body and the Mystical, Magical Train (August 5, 2010):  An analysis of remarks and practices of Father Thomas Loya’s pastoral approach to TOB, including his use questionable images and theories concerning admiration for the naked body.
  • Father Loya: Peer Reviewed:  (August 1o, 2010) A guest post from Christina Strafaci concerning the legitimacy of public critique of the pastoral approach of certain TOB evangelizers.
  • More TOB Discussion (August 11, 2010):   A highlight from a discussion between Genevieve Kineke and Heidi Saxton.
  • Where I am at Right Now with Theology of the Body (September 24, 2010):  An assessment of the Theology of the Body debate impasse.
  • Christopher West’s Translation of John Paul II’s Body Language (October 10, 2010):  A response to Christopher West’s assessment of his critics in the light of his charism to popularize the Theology of the Body.
  • The Way of Ugliness (November 6, 2010):  A critique of an aspect of Christopher West’s multi-media event, “Fill These Hearts,” specifically his use of an anti-Catholic movie to illustrate his point that the Church has been filled with prudery prior to the Theology of the Body.
  • Alternate States of Unreality (February 9, 2011):  A reflection on Christian Occultism and its similarities with the current attempt at popularizing the Theology of the Body in the United States.

Mystics, Martyrs and Rhetoricians

Soap BoxOr the Theology of the Soapbox

What follows in another one of my long expositions on the Theology of the Body.  I have to give a loud content warning at the outset.  There is some frank talk here about sexuality, or rather, my complaints that there is too much frank talk about such matters.  I would have asked Dawn Eden to publish this one, but she has very courageously retired from blogging.  I have to commend her on her decision; however, it is not without regret on my part.

I again want to let those I disagree with know that my intentions are honorable and I do not question their integrity or commitment to the faith.  I can take my lumps if I deserve them.

In a recent apologia for Christopher West, Father Thomas Loya makes grand assertions:

Christopher West is a bit of a mystic—in the best sense of the word. His work, which seems strange to some, is actually that of a pioneer. And like all pioneers, West is taking a lot of arrows for his courage. In the face of much resistance, West is courageous enough to invite all of us to do just what John Paul II invited us to do: to think and talk in spousal categories. Continue reading

9th International Conference on Marian Coredemption

Symposium Fatima

The speakers at the symposium in Fatima:

Back Row (Left to Right):  Father Edward Ondrako, Dr. Mark Miravalle, Father Peter Damian M. Fehlner, Father Stefano Cecchin, Father Stefano M. Manelli, Father Etienne Richer, Father Alessandro M. Appolonio

Front Row:  Father Paulo M. Siano, Father Settimio M. Manelli, Father Angelo M. Geiger, Father Serafino M. Lanzetta

Not pictured here is Msgr. Arthur Calkins who wrote a paper which was read at the symposium but was unable to attend.

God bless all those who contributed and participated in this work in honor of Our Lady.

The published version of the of the  previous symposia can be obtained here under the series title Mary at the Foot of the Cross.  The papers from the latest symposium will be published, hopefully, before the beginning of the new year.

Hat tip to Winston for the photo.