Christopher West’s Translation of John Paul II’s Body Language

Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Rhoades stated in their letter of support for Christopher West that “John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is a treasure for the Church, indeed a gift of the Holy Spirit for our time.”  They also rightly point out that the “scholarly language” of the pope’s texts “needs to be ‘translated’ into more accessible categories if the average person is to benefit from it.”  To that end, finally they affirm their belief “that Christopher West . . . has been given a particular charism to carry out this mission.”

Discerning the Spirits

It is the place of the pope and bishops to discern the presence of true charisms in the Church.  The Spirit blows where He wills and moves with renewing graces those who are caught up in His wind.  Nowadays, we generally think of more extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit as the object of the word “charism,” such as tongues or prophecy of future events.  But anyone who has been moved by the Spirit to begin a movement within the Church can be said to have received a charism, if that fact has been so determined by the pope and the bishops.

John Paul II has written that the power of these kind of gifts “is not subject to any antecedent rule, to any particular discipline or to a plan of interventions established once and for all.”  The Church is both institutional and charismatic, and what happens through the Spirit sometimes happens outside the box.  By that I do not mean that the Holy Spirit contradicts revelation or the authority of the Church.  That would be absurd.  Only that some things happen outside the present structures in ways that are not anticipated and then need to be assimilated under the authority of the Church.

The catechism represents what is inside the box (Creed, Code, Cult).  And while John Paul II affirms that “one can never expect to impose rules and conditions” on the Holy Spirit, he also says that the Christian community “has the right to be informed by its pastors about the authenticity of charisms and the reliability of those who claim to have received them.”  There is a real necessity to keep what originates a bit outside the box from undermining its own certain and unfailing foundation, namely, what is inside the box.

In this way a true charismatic is both inside and outside the box.  His or her particular task will be to maintain a balance, which because the Holy Spirit works His power in vessels of clay, can become, at times, very problematic.  Even authentic charismatic persons or movements can go off the rails, as is the case in Father Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ.  In that particular case, many question, with good reason if a true charism existed in the first place.  I do not mean to make a direct comparison between Father Maciel and Christopher West.  I only want to point out that ecclesiastical approval is no guarantee of infallibility, let alone of impeccability.

West as Charismatic

On the very face of things Christopher West is both inside and outside the box.  The question is, whether he has found the right balance. His work has the curious nature of creating all kinds of images, never used by the pope (outside the box), but presumably supported by the pope’s text (inside the box?).

For example, West brings together the colloquial appeal of the Phallic interpretation of the Paschal Candle (outside) with the claim that it is consistent with the pope’s teaching (inside?).  His success at this feat is a testimony to his extraordinary ability.  Even though to this day he has not cited the patristic or magisterial evidence for the assertion he has not retracted it.

But true success at making the pope’s work more understandable is not only a matter of “translating” TOB into “more accessible categories,” for the “average person,” but of interpreting the “scholarly language” correctly so that the “categories” chosen (outside) actually correspond to the magisterial teaching (inside).  Otherwise, the average person may become very enthusiastic about what they receive, but it won’t be the teaching of the Holy Father.

I believe this problem is further complicated by the fact that grace builds on nature.  Grace both makes use of natural gifts and can be hindered by them, depending on the docility and prudence of the human instrument.  In the case of Christopher West, he not only has a charism, but he also has some extraordinary talents.  Frankly—and I do not mean this derogatorily—he is an entertainer.  It is just a fact.

West as Artist

Most recently he has thrown himself into his pre-sabbatical road show with the musician Mike Mangione, called “Fill These Hearts.”  This is performance art: music, visual art and the leading commentary of Christopher West.  It is very powerful, as it should be.  West argues eloquently in support of this venture (18:20):

As a teacher of theology I am always looking for ways to get complex theological truths to register, not just in the intellect of my students, but in their hearts.  Theology that just stays in the head and is just an intellectual exercise is really a dead letter.  It not only has to inform us intellectually, it has to transform us.  And the real gift of art is that–like I have an image of a coin going into a fountain or something: it’s that kerplunk, where these truths can really go kerplunk.  The heart opens up, the coin goes in, if you will, the truth goes in and it rests there, it finds a place there.

Music is, really you could say, music is God’s language.  God is singing to us.  He is singing a song.  He is singing a love song.  Scripture calls it “the greatest song ever,” “The Song of Songs.”  God is singing to us.  There is something about music that opens the heart to the love of God.  As St. Augustine said, when you sing, you are praying twice.  To sing itself is a prayer.

Mike as a musician is someone who I really respect, who has allowed these truths to register in his own heart, and so, as he was saying earlier, it is reflected in his music.  And he and I in conversation over the years thought: “how could we combine this, how could his art be something that comes into my presentations, and my presentations something that comes into his art in the way that we have an integrated presentation of message that registers, yes, in the intellect, but then can also open you up in the heart?

Mike’s music is not entertainment at a Christopher West lecture.  That’s the wrong way to look at it.  It’s an integral part of the presentation of the message.

I am not going to minutely analyze this statement.  I will just say that I can appreciate it very much and have reflected long and hard from a Scotistic perspective on the relation of the intellectual and artistic, of the abstract and concrete.  The area of aesthetics is a very interesting aspect of philosophy for me.  In particular, in this context, we might ask what the relation is between artistic inspiration and actual or specifically charismatic graces.  How does one discern between the two?

Smuggling Spirits

In fact, the relation between intellectual truths and images (literary, visual or audible) is always very powerful.  Lex orandi, lex credendi.  Liturgical music, for example, can be used exactly in the way Christopher West described to promote the most sublime truths or the most pernicious heresies.

West speaks of art and its function of making the invisible, visible.  In that case, the identification of what we see or hear is a matter of the discernment of spirits.  And if the difference between artistic and charismatic inspiration is not always easy to determine, or if perhaps they are integrated, or on the other hand, contaminated by the world, flesh or the devil, then we had better make sure we have a firm grip on the inside of the box.  Both Christopher West and Father Thomas Loya throw around the term “mystical” pretty freely, as “making the invisible visible.”  West says that this is also the function of art.  The question of the relation between art and mysticism is a very interesting one, but also one fraught with difficulty.  I am reminded of something once said by Father Benedict Groeschel:  “Mysticism begins in mist and ends is schism.”

I am posting below my transcription of a recent interview of Christopher West and Mike Mangione, from which I gleaned the quote above.  The long section I give below begins toward the end of the interview (46:50 on), and concerns the critics of West.  It is the most direct response I have seen from West, since the publication of his response, released shortly after the letter of Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Rhoades became public.  In fairness, I will present his response without interlinear interruption, and reserve my comments for the end:

“Interview with Christopher West and Mike Mangione” (Fill These Hearts):  Bishop Sheridan Presents (Diocese of Colorado Springs)

Guest hosted by Bill Howard (Editor of Colorado Catholic Herald)

September 18, 2010 Pikes Peak Center

(In-text numbering is mine.)

Bill Howard:  . . . Before we ended, I wanted to just touch on something we had talked about earlier, how when you first discover the Theology of the Body it can come across as a radical message, but then after you start living it, it obviously, it just makes sense . . .

Christopher West:  Why does it raise so much controversy?

Bill Howard: Yeah.

Christopher West[1] First, I want to acknowledge that the first perfect evangelist ascended into heaven two thousand years ago.  So, you know, my critics, I’ve always listened to them.  They’ve helped me fine tune my presentations over the years, and I’ve admitted this on many occasions, that when I started this work, 12 or 15 years ago, I was really green, I was really green.  I had all this enthusiasm.  I wanted to share this message.  But I did not know how to do it.  I didn’t know the right language to use.  So, yea, I don’t take any issue with the fact that critics have pointed out things in the past that needed some real work.  It has been a process of trial and error to find the right language, images, anecdotes, to get some really dense theology out to a popular audience.

[2] At the same time, I think we have to acknowledge that a lot of Christians are uncomfortable talking about their sexuality.  We are really uncomfortable in our own skin.   And maybe we have overreacted to the license out there, the pornographic ridiculousness that is going on in the culture, which is so sad, and is destroying so many lives.  Sometimes we overreact and go to another extreme, and end up rejecting the body.  It is easier to reject the body than it is to look long and hard at the deep wounds and hurts and issues in our lives that cause us to reject the body.

[3] But that rejection of the body is the age-old heresy called Manichaeism, which basically says:  “Spirit good, body bad.”  That is not Christianity.  So when you start talking about the body and human sexuality in the intimacy of husband and wife and the marriage bed, as something holy, as something sacred: when you take seriously what St. Paul says in Ephesians 5, that the one flesh union is a mystery refers to Christ and the Church, well people who are not used to thinking that way or talking that way, it is going to cause some discomfort, it is going to ruffle some feathers.

[4] A wise priest once said to me, you know:  “If the sinners are flocking to hear you, and the scholars are up in arms about what you are saying, then there is a pretty good chance you are preaching the gospel, cause that is what happened to Jesus.”

[5] And that is not to say that I do it perfectly; I don’t.  So my critics have their points.  But you can see that going on:  the sinners, the sexually broken are flocking to this message, and the scholars, meantime, are having lots of very heated arguments and debates about it, I think that’s kind of par for the course when you are going to bring the gospel out to the world. It is to be expected. Jesus told us it was to be expected.

Bill Howard:  Yeah, I think that one of the most unfair criticisms of Theology of the Body is when people say:  “They’re just portraying this as ‘Theology Below-The-Waist.'”  And sometimes even with the way you present, it’s never really hit me that way at all.  I’ve always found everything pretty integrated.  But, I mean, is that something that you have encountered?

Christopher West[6] Oh sure. I hear all kinds of—I hear, not Theology of the Body, but “Theology of the Bawdy,” that it is all very bawdy.  You know, those kind of insults I don’t think are very helpful.  But it does reveal how uncomfortable–even that expression “below-the-waist,” we need all these euphemisms to talk about our actual bodies as God made them.

[7] Why are we so afraid of the way God made us?  God made us in our masculinity and femininity, and it is not a side issue.  John Paul II says that the mystery of our sexuality, our being created mail and female, is the fundamental fact of human existence.  It’s the fundamental fact.

[8] The most important question a man can ask himself is what does it mean to be a man.  The most important question a woman can ask herself is what does it mean to be a woman.  And let’s acknowledge those are sexual questions.  By that I mean questions about our sex-uality [West’s deliberate intonation], our being created male and female.  We’re so quick to reduce sexuality to sexual activity.  And I am very quick to point out that sex is not first an action word.  It’s not first a verb.  It’s a noun.  It’s an identity.  It’s who we are.  “Haven’t you read,” Jesus says, “that in the beginning God made them male and female and called the two to be one flesh.“

[9] There is so much confusion in the world about this today.  The Church has the answer.  The Church has the solution to the sexual crisis going on in the world.  We need to be courageous enough to talk about it.  If we cannot talk about it then pornography is going to continue to be what people go to answer their questions about sexuality, and that is absolutely unacceptable.

END OF TRANSCRIPT

MY COMMENTARY

(Refer numbers below to the in-text numbering of the West’s transcript.)

1) On West’s assertion that his pioneering led to mistakes and that he has always been willing to listen to his critics:

Fair enough.  The guy is on fire.  Good for him and for us.  Critics are good for someone with enthusiasm.  But West here admits, if only implicitly, that he only listened on points of “language, images [and] anecdotes,” which is what we have been saying all along.  He has not really listened on points of substance.

Actually, I am least concerned about the language he uses, though, to be sure I am with Dr. Von Hildebrand on the matter of reverence.  I know that the “charismatic” apologist is going to have to be given some room to exercise prudence in the evaluation of his audience.

2) On West’s assertion that disagreements with him on more substantial issues than “language, images [and] anecdotes” is an overreaction against the pornified culture:

So here we get to substance, and it is where West has not been listening to his critics.  He assumes a historical assessment in regard to the problem plaguing Christianity’s teaching on chastity.  He implies that the very fact that there are Christians who criticize anything more than his style is proof that repression is a big problem within the Church.  This is where a fast-talking entertainer gains control over the argument.  He does not offer any evidence.  He is a prophet.

I will simply say that West, here lumps together modesty, reverence, prudery, scrupulosity and Manichaeism.  Anyone who disagrees with him on anything more than “presentation,” according to him, has a hang up.  Father Loya has taken this tack as well, in his most recent defense of the Phallic interpretation of the Paschal Candle:

There are a variety of reasons why phallic imagery–any “sexual,” or rather, “spousal” imagery of the art, liturgy, mysticism and theology of the Church—causes some people grief.

The fundamental reason why Fr. Loya, thinks the critics are “grieved” by the sexualization of Catholicism (notice he criticizes what he considers an emotional reaction, not an intellectual one), is because, he says, the critics believe that “anything sexual somehow must be lesser, dirty — never to be associated with things ‘holy.’”

I personally am not convinced that Christopher West or Father Loya can read hearts, especially when they do not appear to have read the arguments of their critics.

3) On the assertion that the critics reject the body and are guilty of Manichaeism:

West rhetorically blurs all distinction between modesty and heresy.  The reason is, I believe, because he does not consider modesty to be a form of reverence.  He believes it is only a defensive measure.  He has enough moral authority, as an episcopally confirmed depository of the TOB interpretation charism, to throw around the name Manichaean and make it stick.  He does not even suggest there is a difference between modesty and Manichaeism.  This is just plain name-calling.

He says our “feathers” are “ruffled,” and we are experiencing “discomfort” because he is calling conjugal relations “holy,” and “sacred,” because he is taking Ephesians 5 seriously.  Frankly, I think that statement is irresponsible.  After all that has transpired, he makes an assertion about his critics’ position for which he provides no evidence, because there is none to provide.  He is not investing in an argument here.  He is spending his capital as a charismatic.

4-5) On West’s comparison of himself with Jesus:

I don’t think it is too bold to say that this is a bit presumptuous.  Christopher West is a rock star, not Jesus.  Indeed, this interview is about his TOB performance art road show.  The masses flock to Oprah on a daily basis, even when she is promoting something as preposterous as The Secret.  Would West’s test apply there also?

This brings to mind an unrelated but analogous topic.  I have been reading up on the Harry Potter debate.  One of the advocates argues vehemently that the numbers of books sold proves that there is something cathartic about reading Harry Potter, and that character is bestowed on it by its Christian message.  So this defender of Harry Potter is claiming some kind of charismatic grace for the artist, J.K. Rowling.

In fact, it is not only the fundamental message of TOB that is at work in the promulgation of the movement.  Indeed, talent, personality and marketing explain a great deal, as does subject matter itself.  What could be a more effective tag line than “The Good News of Christian Sexuality”:  man’s favorite topic dished as the best thing possible for his moral and spiritual life.  How could that not sell, especially when a charismatic entertainer is the one selling it?

Furthermore, West once again rhetorically blurs all distinction when it comes to the scholars who are giving the “teacher” a hard time.  It is not only scholars who have been trying to get West to substantially change his presentations.  He has admitted this himself by responding at great length to a lay woman who objected to statements he made in his early “Naked without Shame,” presentations.  Personal interventions with him by ordinary lay folk have been going on for years.  Furthermore, being a scholar today does not put one in opposition with Jesus, anymore than it did in Our Lord’s own time.  The problem with the scholars then, or at least the majority of those who were knowledgeable of the Mosaic law and with whom Jesus had contact, was not that they were scholars, but that they were hypocrites.  Or is West suggesting that scholarship and charismatic graces are in opposition?

I am no scholar, and I am not complaining about the good West does.  I disagree with his repudiation of modesty as reverence.  It is as simple as that.

As for his comparison to Jesus, it infers his acknowledgment of his giftedness, which is fine, but one can easily presume too much.  A true charismatic should beware, lest he fall.

Heresies have often spread like wildfire against the tide of scholarship and generally originated in charismatic personalities, some of whom claimed to be possessed by Jesus or the Holy Spirit.  Furthermore, perfectionism in Christianity is nothing new, nor are its sexual overtones.  In discussing certain medieval heresies, Msgr. Ronald Knox mentions the Beghards, who

looked upon decency and modesty as marks of inward corruption, as the characters of a soul that was still under the dominion of the sensual, animal, and lascivious spirit, and that was not reunited to the divine nature.” This was the account they themselves gave of their promiscuous lodging and the nudism practiced in their assemblies (Enthusiasm, c. 7).

6-8) On West’s contention that being created male and female is the fundamental fact of human existence:

In her critique of Dawn Eden’s Thesis, Janet Smith defends West’s continued use of this quotation from TOB (Feb 13, 1980).  But neither West, nor Smith provides the context of the remarks.  Here is the quote in context:

In the mystery of creation, man and woman were “given” in a special way to each other by the Creator. That was not only in the dimension of that first human couple and of that first communion of persons, but in the whole perspective of the existence of the human family. The fundamental fact of human existence at every stage of its history is that God “created them male and female.”

One must be careful when attempting to translate this “scholarly” language into “more accessible categories” not to go beyond the meaning of the original author.  In the context of this interview—and I would assert that this is his consistent interpretation—West is addressing what he calls “fear of the body,” and “discomfort,” with sexuality. But John Paul II is not talking about the verb “sex” when he says that the “fundamental fact of human existence at every stage of its history is that God ‘created them male and female.’”  He is speaking of the noun “sex” as is clear both from the words themselves and from the context of the general audience in which they are spoken.  John Paul II’s discussion here has nothing to do with sexual repression.

West claims that he puts his emphasis on the noun, not the verb.  But he wants to have it both ways, because he argues that the fundamental fact of the differences between men and women somehow translates into a mandate to be fascinated with genitals and with sex (verb).  The whole point of his long answer here is to defend his unveiling of the body and its function in the marital embrace.

No one, among his noteworthy critics, is uncomfortable with Ephesians 5, or the holiness of the marriage bed, or with the nuptial meaning of the body.  But the nuptial meaning of the body is in the first place, as West suggests, a noun, not a verb, and as such is related to Christ’s love for the Church as the primary analogue.  In other words, the nuptial meaning of the body is discovered, not by contemplating with holy fascination the body and sex, but by studying Ephesians 5.  Such a study ought to inspire in one a sense of mystery in regard to the body and sex, and a sense of reverence.

West has had contact with many people over the years who have had real experiences of sexual repression.  I do not doubt that.  But he has misconstrued John Paul II in regard to the relation of the Theology of the Body to its application.  In fact, the corpus of TOB is fundamentally theoretical.  It provides the orthodoxy but not a developed orthopraxy.  That is left for the interpreter to work out.  But a theoretical error in regard to the “scholarly language” can lead to some serious heteropraxy.  West now assumes that anyone who disagrees with his enthusiasm for unveiling sexuality (nakedness and the verb sex) at every opportunity is repressed and Manichaean.  This is based largely upon his misunderstanding of the Holy Father’s text.

In her critique of Dawn Eden’s Thesis, Janet Smith, claims that West is not proposing TOB as a theory of everything.  But it is precisely West’s convoluted use of the text of TOB over many years and not accepting correction on the matter, that reinforces this interpretation of his use of phrases like “fundamental fact of human existence,” Weigel’s “theological time bomb,” “revolutionary,” etc.  And as far as TOB constituting a development of doctrine and corrective is concerned, there would simply be no reason for West and Smith to put so much emphasis on this one series of general audiences, if that was not precisely what they considered it.  They present themselves as having the balanced view, but in reality they have put all the emphasis on abandoning modesty and labeling their critics prudes.  At the very least, this is revolutionary, considering they are the innovators.

9) On West’s contention that his critics want him to stop talking about sex:

I would be happy if Christopher West would just clear up the matter of modesty.  I will concede, there is a kind of practical dilemma.  The world is hyper-sexualized.  Modesty has already been abandoned.  Is it really possible or desirable simply to “sanctify” the current situation, or does modesty have a positive role to play because it belongs properly to the metaphysics of human personhood?  The way back to modesty is difficult, but it is not impossible.

Christian apologetics to an unchaste age will certainly have to adapt the exigencies of the times, but it will have to include a way back to modesty, not a mythological way out of needing it.  No one has ever said that West needs to stop talking about sex.  Anyone who has read the critics knows this.

In a recent critique of West, David H. Delaney indicates that West errs on the matter of concupiscence “when he leaves JPII’s explicit words to concretely apply TOB.”  This is exactly what I have been saying.  In his effort to construct an orthopraxy in keeping with his understanding, he bends the text.  West has clearly resolved upon a path that minimizes modesty and sees in it no real positive reverential power apart from an aspect of imperfect continence.  He has not accepted correction on this point.  That is a simple fact.

Looking for Answers

I recently wrote Father Thomas Loya a long commentary on his recent defense of the Phallic interpretation of the Paschal Candle.  This was after I received from him an offer to appear on his radio show, an offer that I declined.  I have not heard back from him, and am considering publishing the commentary I sent him here.  I also wrote Christopher West some months ago about something he had written on the message of Fatima to which I took exception.  He wrote me back very kindly and thanked me for having addressed my concerns to him directly, after having published other critiques on my blog.  As he always does when he receives criticsm, he thanked me for my input and let me know that he appreciated his critics.  He did not, however, address any of my concerns: not one. . . at all.  I just hope he will from now on go light on the connection between his interpretation of TOB and Fatima.

In the interests of clarity, I will propose to Mr. West some of the same questions I proposed to Father Loya.  I mean them seriously and respectfully. In all honesty, by the logic of their teachings, I cannot imagine how Mr. West or Father Loya could answer these basic questions in the negative:

Would it ever be appropriate for the conjugal act to be performed in the presence of an audience for the purpose of fostering a Catholic and integrated view of marriage and sexuality?  Let us hypothetically establish that this would be arranged among close friends, all of whom are well-versed in TOB and intend only to exalt God’s intentions for marriage and sexuality.  If this would not be appropriate, please tell me why.

Would nudism ever be appropriate among those who have advanced in the Theology of the Body, say, at a Mass in order better express the unity of the languages of the body and the liturgy?  If not, would this only be because of the danger of participation by someone not properly prepared or, perhaps, because of the possibility of misunderstanding.  Or, on the other hand, would this violate some fundamental moral principle or otherwise be contrary to Catholic orthodoxy and orthopraxy?  If so, why?

Don’t Forget the Box

Sometimes charisms are hard for the comfortable Catholic to understand.  Sometimes it takes a great deal of work to integrate them into the life of the Church.  But any innovative approach to Catholic life will ultimately have to resolve itself with what we know to be foundational and certain, namely, what is inside the box.

I give thanks for Christopher West’s charisms and talents.  They are, to say the least, a bit outside the box.  Let us hope, however that certain of his enthusiasms remain in continuity with the box and do not tend to produce a rupture.

65 thoughts on “Christopher West’s Translation of John Paul II’s Body Language

  1. “A wise priest once said to me, you know: ‘If the sinners are flocking to hear you, and the scholars are up in arms about what you are saying, then there is a pretty good chance you are preaching the gospel, cause that is what happened to Jesus.'”

    I don’t think that priest is all that wise. In the 12th Century, the “sinners” were flocking to the “Albigensian” and “Waldensian” heretical preachers against opposition from the Catholic “scholars”. When the Shepherds starve the sheep (1965-present), people will “eat out of the theological dumpster” to satisfy their hunger, and will often go after teachers who are in error because it is better than what the bishops are giving them.

  2. I do not like the way West responds to his critics here.

    In [4], he used one of his “stumpers”, his “argument-enders”. How can one respond to this? It is a valid comparison. Now, above I just showed how it was an invalid argument, because it is a double-edged sword. However, the “average layperson” will “fall for” this, and that is who he is trying to “convince”.

    In [6], once again, he dismisses his critics with the charge of “prudishness” or “manichaean dualism”. This is a fallacy, and many good critiques regarding the substance of his work have been brought up and not responded to. However, once again, the average layperson will just accept his dismissal of the critics on account that they are just “prudish” and thus their criticisms are not valid.

    [8] The most important question a man can ask himself is “what does it mean to be a ‘human being’?” The most important question a woman can ask herself is “what does it mean to be a ‘human being’?”

  3. Here’s something I wrote over at Dr. Delaney’s blog, and I think it captures my overall frustration with West, and his understanding of modesty:

    “ndeed, men are visual creatures, nobody denies this. (Even if I think a lot of people overdo it in their classification.)

    While one should indeed have “continence of the heart”, to take West in a different direction, you can’t separate the body from the heart.

    One cannot gain custody of their heart by constantly looking. Everyone agrees, in those instances, one should “turn their eyes.”

    When men like myself (and I would say my colleagues who have criticized West) see immodesty in a woman, our primary feeling is not even that of shame, of ourselves, our bodies, or the immodest woman, and her body. Our sense of sorrow is from the fact that she twists what was originally meant to be a gift, and turns it into a snare.

    We are indeed called to advance beyond this. Yet this understanding is never replaced. If anything, as one grows in an appreciation of modesty and of purity, it is intensified. We know that the mystical doctors West likes to reference (but never quote) also spoke of an in-depth assault of sexual temptation, and they were repulsed by it. (St. Therese comes to mind.) They weren’t told this repulsion came from a misunderstanding of their bodies. They were told (if one accepts their private revelation) that this feeling of repulsion was given to them by God, so that they could better understand not only what purity was, but the intense sacrifice that a mature purity entails.

    West’s mature purity is not about sacrifice I would say, but rather indulgence.”

  4. Kevin,

    I agree, and I would add that whatever the relative power of TOB to translate continence into a more perfect form of temperance, that is, some measure of liberation of concupiscence—and I do not side with West in his understanding of what this means—none of this takes account of the way that the enemy of our souls uses sexuality as a form of aggressive, malicious temptation. It is not an exaggeration to say that sometimes men are assaulted with violent, diabolical temptations against chastity, for which only modesty, mortification, humility and devotion to Our Lady are sure protections.

  5. I would SO love a Polish person to truly translate to C.W. the real meaning of PJPII’s writing. There is such a mis-understanding so often of his works, as Polish was his first language, has such a greater depth than English…

    I so appreciate your perspective on this…and pray C.W. scales fall from his eyes with regards to his mis-teachings on this most important and holy topic. Jesus never concerned himself with being *popular*

  6. “It is not an exaggeration to say that sometimes men are assaulted with violent, diabolical temptations against chastity, for which only modesty, mortification, humility and devotion to Our Lady are sure protections.”

    And it does not go away with age either – believe me.

  7. Dang, Terry, and I had prayed that it would. I’ve been under an assault of concupiscence from my own base desires and, I think, some external source for a few weeks, and it’s tiring, but the fight will go on.

  8. What is the continued need to make this distinction between “scholars” and “average” people?

    Isn’t it a tad bit discriminatory and offensive? Is it not the same as saying that scholars don’t know how talk to people other than fellow scholars?

    I can’t help but think that even Dan Brown took a lot of scholarly materials and slapped them together into the salacious story called “the Da Vinci Code.”

    All that glitters isn’t gold.

    -Kevin Symonds

  9. I found that letter West wrote to the woman pretty interesting. It clarifies more about his thinking about the Easter vigil. I think West’s critics are a little off here.

    For one thing, as far as I know, West never says that the Easter candle is a phallic symbol. That is language that his critics are using, not him. The criticism implies that West is insisting that the Easter candle must be viewed as a symbol of the male sexual organ.

    But I don’t see that here. What I see is West pointing out that fertility is part of the analogous meaning of the Easter vigil ceremony. That’s not wrong. St. John himself uses fertility imagery for the Church when he alludes to the Paschal mystery with the image of the grain of wheat falling into the earth. Earth (or soil), water, and womb are all inter-related symbols. I don’t think anyone would want to suggest that St. Paul and St. John are sexualizing Christianity.

    It’s true that the Easter candle is not a literal symbol of male sexual organs, and the blessing of the water is not a literal symbol of human sexual intercourse. But human sexuality is a sign of Christ and the Church, and so it’s meaning overlaps with liturgy. Sex is connected with liturgy via the Nuptial Mystery which we might say is the mystery of God himself. It’s through this nuptial mystery that sex is connected with liturgy, they are not connected directly with each other on a literal basis.

    I do think West and some others sometimes manage to at least appear to reverse the symbols and so fail to ‘passover’ to what the sign signifies. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, which in this case is the analogy of faith and the analogy of being.

  10. Brian,

    Don’t, please don’t split hairs. Here is his statement from the “Letter to a Concerned Listener”:

    truly, the symbolism of the blessing of the baptismal waters at the Easter Vigil is that of Christ impregnating the womb of the Church from which many children will be “born again.”

    Christopher West has not denied his intention in this matter, and his principle defender, Janet Smith, has continued to defend the phallic interpretation of the candle, as has Father Thomas Loya.

    Also, here is West in Heaven’s Song:

    The high point of the Church’s liturgical year is the Easter Vigil, and perhaps the high point of the Easter Vigil—next of course to the Eucharist itself—is the blessing of the baptismal font. And in this ritual the priest takes the Christ candle and plunges the Christ candle into the baptismal font. What is happening here? The baptismal font is the womb of the Church, from which many children will be born again. And the symbolism of that candle, that Christ candle being plunged into this baptismal font, is Christ the Bridegroom impregnating virginally, mystically of course, impregnating the Church, the Bride, from which these children will be born again.

    I think that is pretty clear. This is not just an argument for the symbolism of a generic “fertility,” of the Church. It is most definitely sexual (pertaining to the verb), and in the context—which, of course, is vitally important to consider—it is the whole point of directing our attention to the symbolism.

    I think you are ignoring the obvious.

  11. Brian,

    Also, in the old edition of the “Naked without Shame” tapes, the one to which the letter you reference was attached, West was much more explicit about the Easter Liturgy being a fertility rite and the candle being a phallic symbol. Perhaps he has chosen to drop the word “phallic,” but he has not changed the meaning of his presentation.

    This is a good example of how West does adapt language on the basis of criticism, but does not, at least in this case, change the substance of his presentation.

  12. With regards to phallic symbolism of the Paschal candle, the quote by Fr. Hugo Rahner from the 50’s is well worth pondering, as well. It is on page 30 of Dawn Eden’s thesis.

    **************
    Hugo Rahner’s words, although written several years before the revision of the liturgy, neatly summarize the theology behind the Consilium’s revision: “What we witness here [in the candle immersion] is a symbol of Christ crucified giving to the water the illuminating power of the Spirit[,] and those who insist on seeing a phallic symbol in the candle appear to be completely oblivious to what not only the Roman, but all other liturgies have to declare on this particular point, of what, in point of fact, they declare with considerable emphasis. It is that the baptismal font is immaculatus uterus, and that, like Mary, the Church bears her children solely by the power of the Spirit.”

    *******

    Source: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/DawnEdenThesis.pdf

  13. Seems like Catholic Exchange has moved a lot of their posts around. Fr. Loya’s article defending the “phallacy” of the Easter Candle can now be found here:

    http://catholicexchange.com/2010/09/13/135139/

    Of course the comments originally posted on the article are now gone.

    It also appears that Dr. Smith’s original response to Dawn Eden’s thesis is now gone.

  14. dcs: “It also appears that Dr. Smith’s original response to Dawn Eden’s thesis is now”

    Not entirely. There is a clone of it at Freeze Page which allows for snapshots. Perhaps Catholic Exchange is still reorganizing its site and it will find itself back up soon. There was some good dialogue which is also found in the cloned copy.

    Copy and paste it into your URL bar.
    http://www.freezepage.com/1286241471SSNJDAGRQM
    http://www.freezepage.com/1286241471SSNJDAGRQM

  15. Diane, they don’t always restore those comments. I know that from my experience with a “debate” I had with Mark Shea. Good know that you found those links! Someone please save the texts!

  16. It is not nice to break a link.

    I agree, especially since one of the simplest things in configuring a web server is to set up a redirect so that old links don’t break.

    Particularly bad timing.

    Indeed, their timing tends to give the impression that they are trying to silence critics of West and Fr. Loya.

    I had saved an HTML version of Dr. Smith’s article (as she had asked for it to be deleted once she revised it), but I did not think to save a version of Fr. Loya’s article. Granted, the article is still there but the critical comments are gone. I am sure I am not alone in wanting to repost the comments I already posted there. My account also seems to be gone. I am guessing that they installed a new instance of their software and imported the articles from the old instance, but nothing else.

  17. It kind of looks like comments are not available on the TOB page – but elsewhere I was able to view them. Very curious…
    Fr. Angelo, I’m glad you didn’t take Fr. Loya up on his invitation to the radio. That’s not the place for meaninginful, substantive discussion, and it seems to indicate an inability to engage and answer your questions. Very sad.

  18. Thanks for another great post on the matter Fr.!

    I am greatly disturbed by West’s dismissal of his critics as prudes. It is nothing of the sort! I think the reason he has got some bishops on his side too is that he has convinced the world that prudery was a hallmark of Catholicism, when it in fact wasn’t!

    If people are looking for a good polish perspective on the aspect of JP II’s theological anthropology, I would highly recommend the following book by Fr. Jaroslaw Kupszcak

    http://www.amazon.com/Destined-Liberty-Person-Philosophy-Wojtya/dp/0813209854/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1286918421&sr=8-3-fkmr0

    I was blessed to have him give a few lectures at a course I took in Poland a few years ago. They were insightful and illuminating, and I think he is one of the best Polish experts on JP II’s theological anthropology.

    I do think that there is another issue that is forgotten a lot in the heat of the CW debate: the notion of sexual catechesis. The Vatican, in 1986 I believe, gave norms for the role of sexual catechesis. After giving it a quick read, I noticed a principle that seemed to underline the entirety of the document: the more intimate the matter, the more private it ought to be discussed. So, when talking about specific issues in terms of marital relations, these ought to be done on a person to person basis. Also, the document gives priority of catechesis to the family and not pop-catechists. It would do well for Bishops to refer to the document when discerning the value of CW. I think he breaks many of the norms of the document and crosses the line on more than one occasion. I don’t think, either, that the Vatican is being prudish here…

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_19831101_sexual-education_en.html

    -Harrison

  19. As time allows, I think I am going to be giving time to researching this issue and will be putting something together to engage it.

  20. Brian,

    The analogues for the blessing of the baptismal water are the virginal conception of Our Lord, the Baptism of Our Lord in the Jordan and the Resurrection.

    In regard to the virginal conception, read the prologue of St. John, where the reference to the power of God alone being responsible for the rebirth of the children of God finds its archetype of the incarnation. Mary is Virgin and Mother. The Church is Virgin and Mother. That is why the baptismal font is a womb—the gestational womb, the one we talk about in the Hail Mary.

    The Christ Candle descends into the water, as Christ descends into the Jordan in order to make the waters holy for regeneration. The candle does not impregnate the waters. Christ humbles himself to be baptized in order that the sacrament is life-giving.

    The Candle is lowered into the water of the font three times at the invocation of the Trinity, once for each Person. This is exactly the way we are baptized (especially when it is done by emersion, the ancient way). In both cases, the lowering in the water symbolizes the death of Christ, and the rising from the water symbolizes resurrection.

    The idea that the rite symbolizes procreative fertilization is modern invention that has nothing to do with the analogues that form the rite itself. And as I say, if the rite could not be construed by the innovators to simulate copulation, West and company would never have brought it up. Context is everything.

    In fact, you are the first person I have heard who has suggested that West’s approach had nothing to do with phallic symbolism.

    I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but I think it is time for the supporters of West just to let this one go, and for West to retract.

  21. “Seems like Catholic Exchange has moved a lot of their posts around. Fr. Loya’s article defending the “phallacy” of the Easter Candle can now be found here:

    http://catholicexchange.com/2010/09/13/135139/

    Of course the comments originally posted on the article are now gone.

    It also appears that Dr. Smith’s original response to Dawn Eden’s thesis is now gone.

    So DCS, your telling me the audience at Catholic Exchange no longer gets to see us in action? LOL.

    Twas a shame. But given the fact their “TOB” section is buried deep within their site now, I’ll take that as an acceptable tradeoff. Fewer people will have their minds distorted by this nonsense, which I am quite comfortable with.

    Ajnd as far as the phallic symbolism stuff, yeah, defenders of west should let this one go. There’s no way they can “win” in that discussion, the evidence not only isn’t there, but the contrary evidence (including the fathers of the Second Vatican Council frowning on it) is overwhelming.

    We even have Fr. Loya’s much mocked (and rightly so) comment that to prove that the understanding is part of the tradition of the Church (especially the East), this doesn’t require having to cite any sources in that tradition.

  22. Off topic, Father. My copy of ARN – Knight Templar arrived. Top flight film: a “small” epic, but faithful to Our Lady to the end and a right spirit in our hero, Arn. A true inspiration. Best/blessings

  23. I think the reason he has got some bishops on his side too is that he has convinced the world that prudery was a hallmark of Catholicism, when it in fact wasn’t!

    Which would lead one to think that the clergymen who have supported West view the modern teaching of the Church as a “rupture” with the past teaching of the Church (for good or ill).

  24. I repost my offense taken that the sexual sinners ” get it” and only the academics object. ( see following quote)   “the sinners, the sexually broken are flocking to this message, and the scholars, meantime, are having lots of very heated arguments and debates about it”. The flocking mentioned by CWest is short lived but does show a thirst for proper catechisis. Can I represent the uncatechised who are thirsting for the truth and humbly request that those “in the know” of JPIIs Marian heart first and foremost to please offer a more beautiful and pure depiction of these now sacred audiences by JPII. I really would love to know what The Holy Father has to say about this. One other note picking up on a Fr. Geiger’s mention of Harry Potter. My analogy is that if one looks closely at the world of young married Catholic parents who would make up the “JPII” generation and thus the lifeblood of the church. There is I can assure you a great attack there in trying to live that vocation. What are the two most divisive things that are threatening this group? Disagreements on Harry Potter and Christopher West. Both HP and CW have such die hard disciples that they become very obstinant ab these materials. I see this division as very sad and so easily fixed by holding these works up to the Church teachings across the ages and through the eyes of Our Lady. Both are great cures for blindness and “mass emotional movements”. Still waiting for him to denounce his mistakes specifically bc there are many souls which have been all in from the beginning with him.

  25. Elisabeth,
    “I would SO love a Polish person to truly translate to C.W. the real meaning of PJPII’s writing. There is such a mis-understanding so often of his works, as Polish was his first language, has such a greater depth than English…”

    I second your thought. I am Polish, born and raised there, married to an American. When I started to look into TOB for teens, I got a strange feeling that something there was not right. First, I couldn’t point it out exactly. I thought: culture – Americans are raised that way. That elevated language of JP2’s message is just not translated well into this culture, they (Americans) can’t get the nuances and the depth of it. Something did not fit. Then I read A.v. Hildebrand’s criticism and I could verbalize it better. West’s approach seems to me that it is not just a cultural adjustment, it is diversion.

    Few weeks ago I had opportunity to listen to Dawn Eden on her thesis . She was right on.

    Blessings.

  26. iwka,

    Thanks for mentioning the TOB for teens. I’ve been wondering if anyone had looked at the teen one yet and whether it had been translated more accurately or whether it was also a West product. I think Jason Evert is the presenter.

    Thx.

  27. One can read a sample of the TOB for Teens workbook here:
    http://www.tobforteens.com/images/downloads/TOBTsample.pdf

    Some of the points made seem to echo West: the Church is/was repressive about sex, TOB frees us from repression, comparing the sacrifice of the Cross with married sex, claiming that marital act is a “foreshadowing of the union that we will all experience in heaven” (i.e., reducing married love to sex).

  28. The following is something I wrote a few months ago for a teacher who was being asked to use TOB for Teens in a classroom setting. This might be particularly helpful for Jen:

    I sat down with the book recently and reviewed it contents–not thoroughly but sufficiently to comment intelligently, based on what I already know of the TOB evangelists.

    I will admit that Mr. and Mrs. Evert are more careful with their audience than CW.  Even so, I have concerns.

    My main concern would be that TOB is being presented as the whole of the Church’s teaching on chastity.  I scanned the endnotes to review the sources that the Everts’ used and found that almost every work cited is not older than 1980, the oldest being the single source that is earlier than the 80’s (1961). The only magisterial sources that were used are either from JP II or Vatican II. I am not one to criticize either, mind you, but this makes the whole presentation very narrow and a bit presumptuous, in my view.  They don’t even cite or source Casti Connubii or any of the allocutions given by Pius XII to newlyweds.

    This concern about sources may not seem like much, especially since the sources used are sound.  However the problem with sources is translated into assertions in the text that I believe are fundamentally skewed.  In the first pages of the book a scenario is presented in which novelized teenagers are confronted with the paradoxes of their sexuality and given no help by there parents, or more accurately, are hindered by their parents, rather than helped to know the truth of their sexuality:

    Plenty of us have felt confused in similar ways.  In the words of one musician, “Life in Lubbock, Texas taught me two things: One is that God loves you and you’re going to burn in hell.  The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love.”

    Sound familiar? (page 2).

    The Everts then go on to present JP II’s TOB as “revolutionary teaching,” that will teach the student how to “express your sexuality without repressing it” (emphasis in original, page 3).

    This is the classic Westian approach to the presentation of a catechesis on chastity, which from that point of view begins and ends with the Theology of the Body, because the real problem in the Catholic world has been prudery, and the only adequate solution has been the teaching of John Paul II.

    What the text does not seem to acknowledge is the fact that the Church’s approach to “sex education” for young people is quite different. (See this survey of the Church’s teaching.  What follows is a partial summary of principles laid down in Educational Guidance in Human Love, Sacred Congregation for Catholic, Education, November 1, 1983.)

    In the first place such education is the responsibility of parents especially where it regards its more intimate aspects, and thus should take account of the individual child’s specific needs.  Where the parents deem it appropriate for their own teaching to be supplemented by that of an school educator, they should be aware of the content and manner of the presentation and preferably be involved.  It has also been the practice of the Church to keep chastity education within the context of religious education in general so that it is experienced as part of the general formation of virtue.  Special precautions must be taken before such education is presented to mixed groups and should only be done in “strict collaboration with the family,” and according to guidelines laid down by the bishop.

    Thus, the care the a parent or educator might exercise so as not to treat each child the same in matters of chastity education, or unduly speak of the intimate sphere before it is appropriate or in a manner that is not appropriate, is mandated by the Church and should never be interpreted as prudish or Manichaean.  This fact is important whether the child in question has been kept relatively free from the impurity of the culture or not.  For the child who still lives under the veil of innocence, care must be taken to make sure that organic spiritual development takes place, so that the mind is elevated to the truth of human sexuality without concupiscence being unnecessarily inflamed.

    For the child who has been exposed to the pornified culture, the problem is not a conviction that the body or sex is evil, but that the passions have been inflamed and that the sanctuary of the child’s memory and imagination has been violated.  In either case the veil of modesty and reverence must be shown to be the appropriate attitude.  In the one case it needs to be protected, in the other it needs to be restored.

    In my view, the assumption that parents and educators within the Church prior to JP II did not know what they were doing, or that the major issue in chastity education that needs to be confronted is prudery are complete misestimations of the real problem at hand (though I would never disregard prudery as no problem at all).  The other assumption at work in presentations like that of the Everts, is that much talk about the exalted nature of the body and sexuality is the very essence of reverence for the subject.  In my opinion, a proper Catholic education in matters of chastity will have to achieve a delicate balance between communication of the the exalted view and reverential silence.

    For this reason it seems almost impossible to engineer a turnkey curriculum to be presented to any and every classroom of students, in particular where that class is mixed.

    I will be perfectly honest and say that it is quite easy for me to pontificate from an ivory tower on this subject, as right now all I have really said is why I have not up until now participated in classroom programs.  I also admit that to the question “what ought to be done, then?” I can only answer with the principles I have provided.

    In particular, I am acutely aware of the special needs of students who come from families in which the parents are living unchaste lives or in which they have little or no involvement in their children’s education.  I know that it is a common experience of teachers, especially in inner cities, to have students whose parent’s refused to be involved.  In matters of sex education, ideally the pastor should be talking to the parents and helping them to become better formators, and collaborating with them to provide supplementary and often individualized help.  I realize that in many cases this is out of the question, and good children are left at sea.

  29. dcs,

    You do realize that St. Paul compared spousal union (one flesh) with the Paschal Mystery don’t you? And that St. John made an explicit comparison of the same mystery to the fertility of the Earth (grain of wheat), thus emphasizing the Eucharistic element.

    West and others do get pretty sloppy with their language, and so are responsible for the effects of their words and the over-reactions from some folks. But hey, let’s not forget the very biblical nuptial analogies.

    I think sometimes that people get a little too literal minded and that contributes to the confusion and an inability to understand some points West is trying to make.

    Not that he always successfully makes those points, but there is a grain of truth to much of it. Again, let’s not throw the baby of the nuptial analogy out with the tainted bath water.

  30. Brian,

    Did you read the post? I mention Ephesians 5, and have commented on the passage many times on this blog. See, e.g., this post.

    Agrarian fertility and the simulation of the sex act are two completely different things.

    Why does meditating on the nuptial mystery in Ephesians 5 mean we have to think pornographically?

  31. Brian,

    There’s no doubt a lot of nuptial analogies are used within the Scriptures. I think a lot of us have a problem with West when he defines “nuptial” as “sexual” or that sex is the height of “nuptual love.” It most certainly is not in either case.

    This isn’t to say one is “bad”, but that there is good, and better. The Holy Family practiced the theology of the body perfectly in JPII’s eyes, and their union was not sexual.

    I think DCS’ point is a sound one. West and friends, for whatever reason, make everything about sex sex sex.

    While the marital embrace is meant to only be shared within the married life, it isn’t the height of the married life. While it is a “foretaste” of heavenly love, it is a limited one.

    Nuptial love involves true self-sacrifice (the real point of Ephesians 5), and that self-sacrifical act is brought out in marriage in ways far more explicitly than the marital embrace.

    The opinions of West et al I think really does run into problems when one considers the Holy Family, or why celibacy is the “superior” vocation for “those who can accept it.”

    In today’s sex-filled culture, JPII spent some time talking about how to properly view sexuality and the marital act, but more importantly, how there are certain aspects of life which are greater than sex. I honestly think this line of thought is absent from West.

  32. You do realize that St. Paul compared spousal union (one flesh) with the Paschal Mystery don’t you?

    I don’t think St. Paul makes specific reference to the Paschal Mystery, but I admit that I could be mistaken. The chief issue, I think, is the one enunciated by Mr. Tierney, above, as well as Fr. Angelo Mary — the reduction of the spousal union to the sex act. I don’t have a problem with nuptial analogies. My problem is when West & Co. analogize everything to sex.

    Coincidentally, when I started reading comments from West’s defenders equating the self-sacrificial love that St. Paul writes about in Ephesians 5 with married sex, I happened across a link discussing a man whose actions really embodied self-sacrificial love:

    http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2010/sep/10091604.html

  33. DCS,

    As someone who used to report on the industry Mr. Wood worked for, the story was inspiring indeed. (Mr. Wood was a video game developer.)

    that being said, I don’t have a problem with equating “self-sacrifical love” with “married sex”, provided a few caveats are issued. It is ultimately limited in scope, and there are things far above the marital embrace.

    Sometimes we can talk about theological points all we want, but a simple swerve of the wheel demonstrates the truth far more powerfully.

  34. I don’t have a problem with equating “self-sacrifical love” with “married sex”

    Well, I don’t mean that the marital embrace can’t fall under the heading of self-sacrificial love (ideally, though I think fallen man often falls short of the idea), only that we ought not to assume that when the Pope or any other theologian talks about self-sacrificial love in the context of marriage that he’s necessarily referring to the marital act. Marital relations are a part of marriage after all (for most people, at least), and an important part at that. But they are not the sine quibus non of marriage. After all, Our Lord said, “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

  35. Fr. Angelo,

    Why is sex and fertility a nuptial, cosmic, and ecclesial analogy with St. Paul and St. John, but for everyone else it’s pornography?

    Sex and fertility exists on the same continuous plane of analogy as the baptism and cross of Christ. They are related to each other like marriage is related to celibacy. The relation is one of sign to what is signified. Sex signifies the same mystery that is symbolized by the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil – the baptism and cross of Christ. This the mystery that St. Paul calls “Christ and the Church”.

    Analogy means unity in difference. Of course all these realities are different, but they are one in their significance. If God reveals a human reality to be a sign, then it’s our right to use it (prudently) as a sign.

    I can’t help but think that what you call pornography is actually analogy that is taken literally.

  36. @Brian,

    I’m sorry but I simply don’t see the marital analogy in the passage of St. John to which you seem to be referring (12:24-25). Nor do I see how St. Paul is making an analogy to the marital act in particular as opposed to marriage in general. At issue is the fact that West et. al. are reducing married love to sex. Truth be told, I think if one took a survey of married couples, sex would not be high up on the list of the sacrifices that they have made out of love. If I could speak from personal experience for a moment, I would say that the biggest sacrifices my wife and I have had to make all involved our friends and family members being unsupportive of the way we’ve raised our children and lived and worshiped as a family. Choosing between Our Lord and our friends here on earth isn’t easy, and I can’t say that my wife and I have always made the right decisions. But these are the sacrifices we’ve made out of love for one another and our children. They might seem small and, in retrospect, I suppose they are. But they are true sacrifices, ones for which we won’t be rewarded in this life, but hopefully in the next.

  37. dcs,

    The fertility of the Earth is analogous to human sexuality. Both can be said to be part of the same mystery–that of life seemingly coming from death.

    This natural mystery could be called the primary religious mystery of creation. It’s also the mystery of the Church (new life coming from death). Is it any wonder then, that St. Paul and St. John see this primary religious mystery of the cosmos revealed definitively in the death and resurrection of Christ? The Church reveals the real spiritual meaning of these signs.

    I like the image from Genesis of ‘one flesh’ because it signifies more than sex, but can not exclude it (conceptually, not practically). Instead, the sexual part seems to be symbolizing the whole rest of the sphere of marital life. That’s not to say that sex is the most important part of marriage, or that nuptial love can be reduced to sex. But can you provide an image more suggestive of the whole and entire meaning of marriage than that simple and brilliant ‘one flesh’?

    It’s the flesh that clarifies that the ‘one’ is the unity of love. Likewise, it’s the ‘one’ that signifies that the flesh points to something other than itself. It signifies the whole web of nuptial relationships that transcend mere flesh.

    Kind of like the relationship between marriage and celibacy no?

  38. Brian,

    Sorry, I don’t remember seeing a simulated sex act in St. Paul or St. John’s writings. Could you remind where I would find those instances?

    Is there an analogy between agrarian fertility and human sexuality? Sure. So what?

    Are you saying that since such an analogy exists that if one affirms that the simulation of a human sex act is pornography so is the placing of a seed in the ground? I don’t think so.

    West would have no interest in Paschal Candle Baptismal Font copulation idea if only generic fertility was being symbolized.

    In fact, in this case, as it is alleged, the Paschal Candle and Baptismal Font are not so much symbols as place holders for male and female genitalia, respectively. What takes place is not so much a symbolic gesture but an actual simulation of the sex act, or so it is asserted.

    Please tell when else in Catholic practice, liturgy, devotion, or any other category of Catholic life is the sex act simulated as an expression of faith. I know of no other instance. The only things that come close to such a gesture, I learned at school–unfortunately. Such gestures, how ever performed, were never wholesome or chaste.

    So are we to believe because the intention within the liturgy is wholesome and chaste, that that changes everything? If that is the case, then why shape the candle exactly like the male organ? Or why not insert into the liturgy all kinds of overtly sexual references?

    The reason I believe that we don’t do such things, is because West is seeing things where he wants to see them, even though he does so on the basis of no evidence.

    And just to repeat myself. We would not be having this discussion at all, if West was not claiming that the blessing of the font is a simulated sex act.

  39. Dear Fr. Geiger,
    In dealing with these matters with regards to children I believe a mission statement would be necessary as a starting off point which is your bullseye:
    ”  In the one case it needs to be protected, in the other it needs to be restored”
    and both of these scenarios are very delicate and beautiful like Our Lady. Why did God choose a Virgin to bring Jesus into the world? Why can’t we spend more time meditating on the beauty of what she did and of Joseph’s self sacrificial love? ( who was NOT conceived without sin nor was he a priest). I find that mystery as a married person to be intensely amazing. All of the practical advice and worldly language can not compete with a serious meditation on this. Do you have thoughts on why we don’t discuss this gift of self in sacriice more often?

  40. “Do you have thoughts on why we don’t discuss this gift of self in sacriice more often?”

    I’m not Fr. Geiger, but I think sacrifice is something in general ignored. After 50 years of rampant self-indulgence by society, they care nothing of sacrifice. This thinking has infected the Church.

    JPII tried to remedy this with TOB. Yet his own admission he left out “suffering”, ends up hampering his work. What we need is someone to combine JPII’s work with a more in-depth teaching on sacrifice, suffering, etc.

    In the history of the development of Christian thought, this sorta stuff happens all the time.

  41. Might I add that is why I view this debate so valuable, since for the first time, you are beginning to see a robust alternative to West in the popular conception. It’s still in its infancy, but more and more speak about it each day.

    Now whether or not these views can co-exist, or if there will be inevitable strife between it, is for those like Mr. West to choose.

  42. Honestly, I think there is much more work to be done on this notiion of sacrifice, and its relationship to the gift of self. I think there is a real need to recover our sense of the *Seasons* – the Liturgical Seasons, that is. We need a rediscovery of asceticism and fasting. What does it really mean that we fast or abstain from certain foods at certain times? What is God trying to draw our attention toward in these practices – and in the flow of the change in Liturgical seasons? This is an element sorely missing from the discussions of TOB – and discounting it leads, I believe, to some of the errors we are seeing related to modesty, “veiledness,” and understanding the difference betwwen prudery and prudence.

  43. Ann this is a beautiful concept yes I can see how that would be very helpful especially because with matters regarding the body and creation there are the seasons and if they were met with the self-sacrificial love as modeled by the Holy Family coupled with the litergical year imagine the catechesis which would naturally flow from such an approach. I am praying you will materialize this teaching. Also I am very interested in a very basic innocent based “theology of the Body for children” as a natural and beautiful way to bring that education in wonder to my children. Please God that it will be released by a source other than the current options available. If we could move off of the current “immediate gratification” quick fix, I do believe there will be much more long term fruit that will be reflected in the “exit polls” to Heaven. JMJ

  44. Ps. Kevin thank you for your post. Yet another vote (further solidified by Fr. Geiger’s brief analysis of J Everett) for exploration of ancient church writings in the persuit of presenting modern ideas. As JPII famously said “there are no new ideas, only reminders” -on the message of Our Lady of Fatima.

  45. Wow! I can’t even keep up with all the comments that get added to this post each day.

    Thanks for the thoughts on the TOB for teens. It sounds like it’s better than West’s but that I should still probably avoid it. I was trying to find something that could help parents explain things to their teens. We’ll stick with just the parents! The world is so LOUD in this area that it’s nice to have others also singing your song to them and talking in a more ‘hip’ way.

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