Well, I have to admit that I have just about run out of steam with the Theology of the Body debate, which, God help us, is not preventing me from posting once again. I suppose I should say something about the end of Christopher’s West’s sabbatical. He has returned.
I don’t know that we are getting anywhere, unfortunately. Christopher West, for example, says he is always learning from his critics, but he still maintains that we have misrepresented him in a number of “serious” ways. And I am still waiting to find out what he considers we were right about. Just to remind everyone: the objections were not all about style and presentation. Well, at least he admits he lacked balance. I am not sure what that means, but look forward to finding out what his new approach will be.
Unfortunately, this debate runs the risk of turning into a propaganda war. Much of the criticism of one of my most recent pieces was that I was not nice. But I already knew that. Mea culpa. Pray for me. But also, please tell me why I am wrong about the doctrines contained (or not contained) in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
Well, anyway. I have said just about all I have to say for now. I am not making any promises though. Christopher West says he will be addressing the criticisms he has received in a number of articles. He thanked his critics in that context, but then went on to speak of how his ideas have been misrepresented. Again, I look forward to finding out both the reasons he has to thank his critics and the reason why he thinks they are wrong. I do not plan to comment on each of his articles. What interests me in view of avoiding a propaganda war is patterns verified by facts.
I will just leave you all with several thoughts. One thing that neither side has talked about in all this is the element of the diabolical, and especially the way in which the evil one uses sexuality as a snare. I only know of one article aside from the ones in which I have linked to it which comments on this phenomenon. I would be interested in what Christopher West has to say about this.
Another point to consider is it is absolutely incontrovertible that Christopher West’s version of Theology of the Body, along with that of Father Loya’s, minimizes the role of modesty. In this view, modesty is relative and primarily interior, necessitated by a lack of domination over concupiscence, but not fitting in itself. Where it does not fall away in the interests of a Christian regard for the body acquired by a growth in virtue it turns into prudery. Think about diabolical influence in this context. (In this vein, take a look at Father Loya’s defense of the paschal candle-as-phallus assertion and compare with my essay and the thesis of Dawn Eden. You decide.)
You should all take a look at Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve’s critique of Dawn Eden’s thesis. From Sister’s essay, one gets the impression that the critics of Christopher West have completely misunderstood his work, and would not be able to properly assess it unless they had followed all his circumlocutions over the last fifteen years and more. Sister Lorraine asks:
Does any fair-minded observer really think it’s possible to accomplish this project in a master’s thesis of under 100 pages?
Huh? No one could possible critique West in a master’s thesis of less than 100 pages? I guess that means no one could possibly understand him at all unless they were capable of writing more than a 100 pages on what they had learned from him. People have brought up the same issues with West since the beginning. See West’s Open Letter answering an early critic who had approached him privately. Dawn Eden has not catalogued all the changes West has made over the years because she is interested in the positions West currently holds with which she disagrees. Or is Sister Lorraine claiming that at this point West and Eden have nothing really to disagree about?
This is like arguing that no one can really say anything intelligent on the matter unless they have read everything West has ever done and then attended all his public appearances and have done a textual analysis of all the content from a strictly technical point of view before one decides to agree or disagree with him. Until then, we should just all be obedient sheep and rely on episcopal approbations. West’s work has been effectively canonized. I have been a part of this debate for some time. I know how West’s disciples interpret him. Dawn Eden is not putting an adversarial spin on West’s work. She is criticizing West on the basis of the way he is being understood by those who support him. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard from disciples of West something to the effect that “we shouldn’t cover women up because that is to treat the female body as evil.” That is just one example.
Sr. Lorraine’s critique covers the whole of Dawn Eden’s thesis. I will let you compare and contrast. I would just suggest that before you accept anyone’s interpretation of John Paul’s text, that you read it for yourself. Whenever someone quotes one sentence, or paraphrases, or includes multiple incomplete sentences as quotes in a single paragraph, or inserts the telltale ellipsis (. . .), read the whole paragraph in the pope’s writings carefully, or better, read the whole general audience. I submit that what you will find is that the Westians are often hyper-sexualizing the text, making it do work for which it was never intended.
Here is an example from Sr. Lorraine’s critique. The first paragraph a quote from Christopher West, quoting the Holy Father. The second is Sr. Lorraine quoting directly the Holy Father:
“As John Paul shows us, the question of sexuality and marriage is not a peripheral issue. In fact, he says the call to “nuptial love” inscribed in our bodies is “the fundamental element of human existence in the world” (General Audience 1/16/80). In light of Ephesians 5, he even says that the ultimate truth about the “great mystery” of marriage “is in a certain sense the central theme of the whole of revelation, its central reality” (General Audience 9/8/82).” . . . . [Yes, please check out the text to see what I am leaving out with the ellipsis.]
But there’s one more thing. What does Pope John Paul say about this issue? Referring to the spousal analogy in Ephesians 5, he says: “Given its importance, this mystery is great indeed: as God’s salvific plan for humanity, that mystery is in some sense the central theme of the whole of revelation, its central reality. It is what God as Creator and Father wishes above all to transmit to mankind in his Word” (TOB 93:2)
I will now provide you with the actual texts of the Holy Father:
For the present we are remaining on the threshold of this historical perspective. On the basis of Genesis 2:23-25, we clearly realize the connection that exists between the revelation and the discovery of the nuptial meaning of the body, and man’s original happiness. This nuptial meaning is also beatifying. As such, it manifests in a word the whole reality of that donation which the first pages of Genesis speak to us of. Reading them, we are convinced of the fact that the awareness of the meaning of the body that is derived from them—in particular of its nuptial meaning—is the fundamental element of human existence in the world.
This nuptial meaning of the human body can be understood only in the context of the person. The body has a nuptial meaning because the human person, as the Council says, is a creature that God willed for his own sake. At the same time, he can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself (General Audience 1/16/80).
In the overall context of the Letter to the Ephesians and likewise in the wider context of the words of the Sacred Scriptures, which reveal God’s salvific plan “from the beginning,” one must admit that here the term mystérion signifies the mystery, first of all hidden in God’s mind, and later revealed in the history of man. Indeed, it is a question of a “great” mystery, given its importance. That mystery, as God’s salvific plan in regard to humanity, is in a certain sense the central theme of all revelation, its central reality. God, as Creator and Father, wishes above all to transmit this to mankind in his Word (General Audience 9/8/82).
It seems to me that the sense of these texts is that the nuptial meaning of the body points to the fact that God created us for Himself and that we find our true identity in self-giving. This self-giving of Christ is the central theme of all revelation and is expressed in the language body. It is the “nuptial meaning” of the body, not the body itself or sexuality that constitutes the “great mystery.” In other words, God gives us the body in order to point to Christ, He does not give us the body in order to point to itself. There is a real difference. And the difference is expressed, for example, in one’s willingness or unwillingness to simulate a sex act in the Easter Liturgy. For those who see the nuptial meaning of the body as central, such a thing is pornography. For those who see bodily sexuality itself as central, such is liturgical prayer.
I am not sure whether West still holds the following position, but I do remember that in the first edition of the “Naked without Shame” tape series, he claimed that it was important to understand the “revelation” of the nakedness of Christ on the cross. I am not here going to take up the question as to whether the loin cloth is historical. I remember West claiming that it was not. What is important to me is that he stated that while most people would not be able “to handle” the nakedness of Jesus, they miss out because of it. To me this is theological madness.
Yes, West may have “evolved,” but the tenor of his work has not.
And this leads me to Mark Shea’s latest piece on theology of the body. Shea sees what everyone else with open eyes sees, namely, that the TOB team USA is presenting TOB as a theory of everything. He sums up his points in the following way:
If you do smell something amiss, don’t panic or declare it to be the fruit of somebody’s monstrous will to subvert and destroy the Faith. Assume “blunder” before “diabolical plot.” Conversely, if you find something fruitful, good, and beautiful in the TOB, don’t run off and declare it a revolution in Catholic thought that will provide an All-Explaining Paradigm of Everything in Time, Space, and Eternity. It’s a human school of thought, not the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith.
In a word, relax. It’s just somebody’s opinion, not the End of the World or the Consummation of All Things.
Earlier in the essay he makes the point that the corpus of TOB is not magisterial because it is only a series of general audiences, and not an encyclical. I am not sure I would refer to it as “not magisterial,” but I certainly agree that it is essential to place this single corpus of general audiences in the context of the whole teaching of the Church, and give to it a relative importance and not an absolute authority. The problem with so much of this TOB enthusiasm is that it is being presented as a theory of everything and the absolute trump card for every possible objection.
I would just say that I find it odd that Mark Shea hovers over the controversy and declares it to be relatively unimportant, when in fact West, Father Loya and others are presenting TOB as the theory-of-everthing-trump-card. That is not a small matter because it is the sexualization of Christianity and more akin to the pagan religions that Christianity replaced than to the historical reality of Christian faith.
I imagine this game of theological ping-pong will continue until Rome intervenes. I had hoped that would not be necessary. What I see in this unwillingness to place the Theology of the Body in the larger context of Church teaching looks more like the pagan worship of sex than it does the Christianization of marriage and sexuality. It is time to abandon the sex-obssession and to stop trying to baptize it.