I am just following up on the latest developments of the West controversy in which I have been lately involved (pretty severe content warning).
Christopher West, in the last couple of days has been in the Catholic press–not responding to his critics, mind you. All he says is public relations as far as I can tell.
In Our Sunday Visitor he is quoted as saying:
“Many good people seem unaware of what the great saints have taught about the mystical dimensions of our sexuality. This is where John Paul II’s theology of the body leads us — into the mystical depths of our creation as male and female, and the call of the two to become ‘one flesh.’
In my latest piece, linked to above, I show how West misconstrues St. Louis de Montfort as supporting some kind of holy fascination with the body of the Blessed Mother. I do this not by quoting West out of context, but by actually showing from the text of the saint that he says nothing like what West suggests.
Then the National Catholic Register, reports the following:
West’s struggle to stem the confusion reflected a desire to both defend his reputation and to prevent a backlash against the late Pope’s teachings, which have begun to enter the mainstream of Catholic catechetics with the encouragement of Pope Benedict XVI.
It is not clear how accurately this statement reflects the actual views of Christopher West; however, there is no question that West and his supporters claim that he is the authority on TOB and that his assertions are compatible with the views of John Paul II. The above statement goes so far as to suggest that disagreement with West is tantamount to disagreement with John Paul II. But from the point of the critics the objections have nothing to do with the Holy Father’s teachings, but with the extrapolations of West.
And this is precisely the point of this post. West and his supporter are avoiding to deal with the substantive issues raised in the critiques. They say “The critics should have done it privately.” “They should quote sources.” When we quote sources they say we “are taking everything out of context.” They tell us “West has good instincts; trust him.”
Unfortunately, they are making this worse for themselves. I will do everything in my power to see to it that this remains a gentleman’s disagreement. But I will not be told I am a prude for disagreeing with Christopher West or that I disagree with him because I have a personal animus. I find this methodology and “strategic management” tiresome, to put it mildly.
Dawn Eden records some of the wearying methodology employed by West to deal with objections to his presentation in her latest post. I refer to the incident transcribed by her in my latest contribution on her blog.
I am grateful you are writing about this controversy – I hope to link to you and Dawn Eden in an upocoming post.
It is my belief that Christopher West is not answering because he knows he’s in over his head. He is not a theologian and I suspect that he is feeling quite insecure. I am not saying this to be mean/disrespectful in any way towards West or the sincerity of his work. Unfortunately, by not responding to all of this criticism, he is probably hammering the nails into his own coffin.
Although, as I’ve commented before, I don’t see our American society as being at all prudish (at least during the last few decades), I do think that there are hang-ups that exist that are cultural. In Dawn’s blog, you mention the discomfort of American men watching women nurse their babies and how in other cultures this really doesn’t appear to be an issue. Men don’t think twice about it (or at least, so they say). I have always thought it strange how in many 3rd world countries women are actually topless and no one seems to flinch. It’s cultural. You grow up with it so it doesn’t phase you. So, I suppose I can agree with West that we do have some hangups here but the answer isn’t to just live as the Filipinos do all of a sudden. It would have to be gradual. I suspect as nursing becomes more and more accepted and as little boys are home watching their mothers nurse, those little boys will become men who probably aren’t phased by it. It’s not something that men of our generation will be *freed* from. But, it doesn’t make the nursing mom a risque or immodest woman … we just need to get over it and it will take us some time. (My two-cents)
As for the phallic symbol analogies … goodness, I thought I had seen the last of that stuff when I left high school!! I cannot believe it’s finding its way into the Sacraments or architecture of our Church. For instance, I felt that the church steeples were tall because they were reaching the heavens … and one side was taller than the other for some specific reason that has left me. I guess people can turn anything sacred into something inappropriate if they really want to. You asked for the specific writings that supported this … I pray you’re unable to find them or I will be woefully disappointed.
I also think that people interpret and accept/reject West’s work based on some of their own personal backgrounds … the cultural stuff, as mentioned above, or other prudery/pornographic issues from their past. West himself has admitted to serious pornography battles in his past so this journey of his has possibly helped him come to grips with some of this … but for others who haven’t struggled with this, it could be damaging to them. I’m not a man … I hesitate to think more on this because, quite honestly, I haven’t a clue!! I have to accept that many man take issue with this and to listen to these men that I respect, such as my husband and priests such as yourself, and know this is an issue because these men say it is an issue. I am sort of surprised that Janet Smith isn’t thinking more along those lines.
I do think that Christopher West could come clean if he wanted to. (He needs to move quickly, however.) I think he could humbly accept some direction in all of this and people would respect him for that. My personal opinion.
So, I suppose I can agree with West that we do have some hangups here but the answer isn’t to just live as the Filipinos do all of a sudden.
Can you elaborate?
I was referring to one of the links on Dawn’s Blog that Fr. Angelo referenced. He discussed the *nursing* thing in detail and how we struggle with it in this Country whereas this isn’t the case in other countries. So, having nursed babies and seeing women in other cultures be able to do this more freely, I would say it’s a hangup in our Country! So, we cannot erase these hangups radically … in the case of nursing, it will take some time. But, that is not to say that anything that has to do with the body is a hangup. After all, we were designed as sexual beings and if *discussing* things or looking at persons barely clothed makes that person struggle in sin, then STAY AWAY FROM IT. Period. It’s no different than a person who struggles with alcohol or whatever … if you cannot pass a liquor store without buying a drink and going overboard, then drive the long away around and avoid it at all costs.
I don’t want to put words in Father Angelo’s mouth, athough I believe he’s explained things very clearly. I think Fr. Angelo’s point is that men are visual … they were designed that way. As he said in Dawn’s blog, having been a guy his whole life and having counseled many men, they don’t need more opportunity to dialogue about this nor do they need to be told that they’re just not thinking holy enough thoughts about women. The average guy just needs to avoid the *liquor store*, if you will.
As a female, this is how I understand it … hopefully I made it clear … if not, read the post from Dawn’s blog. It does a better job.
So, after reading your article (great job btw) I just have one question, and please excuse my abhorent catechesis. Did the sexual act come into existence at the time of Original Sin? Am I to understand that husband and wife did not engage in sex before the Fall?
Sorry to be so blunt, and to make you “go there” but that struck me in reading your article and I’ve not heard that before…
I am not sure where I suggested that.
I would have to do more research on it.
I know Chris West claims that John Paul II suggests that before the fall they did consummate their union; however, we know that Eve did not conceive before the fall either. In either case, the teaching of the Church would never suggest that the marital embrace is something that belongs properly to the fallen state only. I will look into this question more.
no, you did not state that specifically. I was just wondering if that was the proper implication from your closing statements. I was confused, and thanks for checking into that for me!
Father, super post on the Dawn Patrol. Thank you for all your research and the time you put into writing it. I am very grateful for your insights.
I thought you might find this interesting. I found it on this website while searching for info on Chris West: http://catholicwifiradio.wordpress.com/2009/04/28/christopher-wests-bedtime-prayer-for-children/
Supposedly this is the prayer Christopher West and his wife pray with their children every night:
“Christopher West’s Theology of the Body
Bedtime Prayers for Children
Thank You Jesus for making Mommy to be a woman.
Thank You for making Daddy to be a man.
Thank You for bringing Mommy and Daddy into the Sacrament of Marriage.
Thank You for bringing (insert name(s) of children here) into the world through Mommy and Daddy’s love.
Help our boys grow into strong men ready to give away their bodies in love.
Help our girls grow into strong women ready to give away their bodies in love.
If they are called into the Sacrament of Marriage, please prepare them for their future spouse.
If they are called to give themselves entirely to Jesus and the Church as a priest or religious, please prepare their hearts for that. Amen +++”
Father, I wish the West family all the best, and God bless them for praying with their children . . . BUT
this prayer, if it can truly be attributed to Chris West and his wife, strikes me as being much too focused on the physical and sadly deficient on the spiritual side of things.
It’s actually more proof, if any were needed, that Christopher West views the cosmos, creation, revelation, exegesis, the Mass,and anything else he can get his hands on through the prism of sex.
I actually do not know what West’s position on the matter is at this point. I know that he once claimed JPII taught that Adam and Eve did consummate the marriage before the fall. I suspect the holy father said something that might be interpreted in this way, but that his point was not to answer this particular question. I don’t have his references to TOB, and right now I don’t have the time to search it out.
The problem is that before the fall there are no children. There are no exceptions to original sin. All men descend from one set of fallen parents. I find it hard to believe that our un-fallen first parents had fertility problems.
The fathers of the Church often drew a antithetical parallel, for example, between the virgin Eve and the Virgin Mary.
This is not to say that the Church has ever taught that the conjugal embrace only came about because of original sin. I am sure one can find stray ecclesiastical writers who say things to that effect, but that does not make it the teaching of the Church.
St. Augustine for example, who is often sighted as the bogeyman for all Catholic sexual hangups (of course, wrongly and, as far as I know, West does not criticize the saint this way) says the following:
Seems to be a fixation.
I believe these matters are prudential. I don’t think they can be resolved by a piling up of rules, whether they are more on the side “prudery” or “TOB.” People need to be left free of over analysis by zealous know-it-alls.
Thanks for this post, Father! You directed me to Dawn Eden’s post about the guy who questioned about the Love and Responsibility quote, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was from somebody from my own home parish in Lancaster, PA asking the question. I clicked on her link to the audio and was even more pleasantly surprised to be listening to the voice of my father! Go Dad!
But my father brings up a very important point, because the context of when West read aloud the quote was during a parish mission he led. This talk wasn’t advertised for just adults, but entire families were encouraged to go to all of the parish mission talks. Children were in the pews as much as any mass!
I actually just looked and saw my dad commented on that post (Tim Quigley, 6/29/09). I recommend anyone who wants to understand the context further to check it out.
Thanks, Timothy. I will check out your dad’s comment.
West strikes me as perhaps another example of Catholic Freudianism, the tendency to consider sex as accounting for everything as Freud did, and seeing the main task of the Church as promoting the right teachings on sex. I first ran across this in the writings of E. Michael Jones and some of the writers he promoted in Culture Wars. That publication once ran an article (by Jones or someone else I don’t remember) claiming that original sin was some act of sexual perversion, as opposed to normal marital relations. I guess I’m really an old school product, but I was always taught that the original sin was one of disobedience to God – my teachers seemed unaware of the sexual dimension. I’m not claiming, by the way that Dr. Jones’s views are identical to those of Mr. West – only that both of them vastly overemphasize the importance of sex and this seems to distort their Catholic faith.
When we quote sources they say we “are taking everything out of context.”
I noticed this in Dr. Janet Smith’s second response to Dr. Schindler. Curiously, she asserts that Dr. Schindler is taking West out of context but then asserts that she does not know the context of Schindler’s citations, and therefore cannot respond. If she does not know the context, then how can she assert that the quotes are out of context? “Out of context” doesn’t mean “without context” – it means that the context is removed to distort the actual meaning of the quote.
I believe that someone might be Fr. Anthony Zimmerman, SVD. I remember him having some very strange ideas about Adam and Eve, and he was often published by Jones. Is that who you are talking about?
No Fr. Angelo, I’m pretty sure I would have remembered if it had been Fr. Zimmerman. I once attended a lecture in which Fr. Zimmerman, under pressure during a Q&A session, at least entertained the possibility that the original sinners might have been a small group of first ancestors of whom Adam and Eve were symbolic. He also has written that he considers spiritual death and not physical death the penalty of original sin. He says human beings would have physically died anyway, original sin or not, but that he would change this opinion if the Church specifically taught that physical death was a penalty for original sin. Do you have references for the specific teaching of the Church on this?
As far as what original sin consisted of, Fr. Zimmerman seemed to be within Catholic tradition in considering it a sin of disobedience. He stated that he had studied creation myths of many primitive cultures and that they had in common a creator, a first couple or small group, a commandment given, a temptation by an evil entity, the command disobeyed, and disastrous consequences for the human race following. He never indicated, at least in the lecture I heard or the articles of his that I read, that there was anything specifically sexual about original sin.
Your comments have mentioned something about which I often struggle. I apologize that it’s off-topic (OT) from Christopher West. However, you state that Fr. Zimmerman studied many ‘creation myths’ all with similar characteristics. I’ve also heard of a number of ‘myths’ when it comes to the baby floating in a basket down the river … long before the story of Moses came to be. How do we, as Catholics, deal with all of these myths and come to any certainty on the fact that OUR *myth* is not a myth but is indeed truth? I am sometimes told that we must have faith but I don’t want my faith to just imply naivete. I would love to see some of the research (without having to spend 20 yrs in study on this) that shows how people have studied these stories and come to be comfortable with the Christian viewpoint on it all.
Maybe I’m having a mini-faith crisis .. in some ways no, in some ways yes.
Thanks for any info!
The origins and developments of various myths is a field of study beyond the scope of faith. I’ve sort of followed the thinking proposed by CS Lewis and others that history is fact without meaning and mythology meaning without fact. The Incarnation, Redemption and Resurection of Christ are where the two intersect – the real historical events which provide the meaning of all the others.
The fact that many myths are quite widespread in my opinion supports the truth of Christianity. We often have premonitions of events that later take place, although not always exactly as we expected them to. I don’t find it strange at all that many ancient peoples thought that the human race had been or would be redeemed by a god-man born of a virgin. This was their little hint, their little private revelation of what God was doing, received and passed on in distorted form pending the arrival of the gospel preached by Christian missionaries.
I will look into it but the absence of a dogma or anathema is not really a good argument for his position. That St. Paul or the Fathers mean physical death when they speak of death coming through sin can be little doubted if at all. Sounds to me like another example of speculative theology untethered and blowing in the wind.
Dear Fr. Angelo,
I responded to on earlier post of yours, simply because I landed there after a Google search for controversial stuff on CW, but I had no idea who the original poster was, who you were, and therefore who “frangelo” was, and ignored your direct comments to me (I was immersed in a glorious battle with our dear friend “Pascendi”). My apologies for appearing to ignore our host.
I just finished reading your post on Dawn’s site titled “Christopher West and the dangers of over-analyzing Mary”. Until reading that excellent post, I really did not understand where you were coming from with the idea of pansexualism in West’s presentations. Now, due to you scholarly work and impeccable logic, I get it. Well done!
I have some thoughts for you to consider concerning Maria Lactans and nursing mothers in general. My wife and I have eleven children. I come from a family with eleven children. My father and mother each came from a family of eleven children (weird, huh?). Anyway, my point about family size is that I have been around nursing mothers my entire life, and the sight of it is about as common as anything else. In a family with eleven children, a mother isn’t able to run off to a bedroom every time a child needs to nurse. It never occurred to me that anyone could have a problem with this until I was about 25 years old. A coworker was at a party that I attended. Apparently, at some point in the festivities, one of the nursing mothers at the gathering fed her child (modestly under a blanket) without leaving the room. The next day this coworker exclaimed, “I can’t believe she sat there and nursed a baby in front of everyone!” I was shocked by his comment. I replied, “She covered herself up,” to which he replied, “So…it isn’t like we didn’t know what she was doing under there. Doesn’t that turn you on?” Again, I was shocked. I thought his question was perverse. I said nothing, but a certain part of me wanted to ask him if he also realized that every person in the room was actually naked under their clothing. Are we responsible for the runaway imaginations of the perverse? Where does it end? Could he also not imagine her nursing a child in the next room? Or imagine anything he pleased?
Some years back, a speaker that I heard explained that, up until the time of St. Francis of Assisi, the emphasis of the Christmas celebration had been very much on repentance and the second coming, but after Francis’ began the tradition of the crib scene, the celebration had shifted much more, at least in the private, non-liturgical sense, toward a remembrance of the birth and infancy of Christ. He further asserted that this was an effort on the good saint’s part to get what had become a perverse, materialistic culture to refocus on children and their importance. I have not heard this said anywhere else and wondered if you had any information about that. If it is true, it is interesting that this is also about the time when we begin to see all of the Maria Lactans paintings appearing. Is it possible that, at least, at a local pastoral level, the Church deemed the contemplation of these images important for turning the culture around? These paintings would, no doubt, have been commissioned, and their subject matter no accident.
On a non-related point, the question of conjugal love before or after the fall came up in this discussion. You quote St. Augustine from “On Marriage and Concupiscense”, noting that Augustine is “often sighted as the bogeyman for all Catholic sexual hang-ups”. In that document Augustine makes the claim that sexual desire is concupiscense, and fallen nature is the result of generation by sexual intercourse. He defeats the logic of the Pelagians and their claim against the doctrine of original sin, but his impeccable logic suffers under the weight of faulty assumptions, assumptions that would be roundly rejected by the Scholastics. Don’t underestimate the effect of those assumptions on the many centuries the lay between the Fathers and the Scholastics, or for that matter, on our Protestant brethren who reject the Scholastics but embrace Augustine.
I believe that Augustine’s assumptions were influenced by his personal experience in the sexual realm, and it is ironic to me that, with all of the discussion about Chris West’s subjective approach to TOB, that there is plenty of poorly applied personal experience on all sides of this subject throughout the history of the Church.
Sorry about the long post, Father. Keep up the good work.
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