Did you know that the Jordan River Valley is actually the deepest valley on earth? In Christ’s Baptism, creation opens at her depths to receive her Creator; the heavenly Bridegroom “espouses” the earth to himself, filling (“impregnating”) her waters with the power to “bring forth sons to a new and immortal life.”
Christopher West pornifies the Baptism of Our Lord.
God help us.
God help Christopher West. May he be brought to the holiness he received at his own Baptism.
I dislike his whole take on the Theology of the Body. I find that his text book and especially the videos on TOB for teens to be in the vein of “I was an American slut, and now I’m a reborn virgin.” He seems to miss the point, while doing a disservice to teens in general.
Ugh. Please, not these images at dinnertime! I’m nauseous, now.
What makes people think like this all the time?! Why equate everything to a carnal level? And it has such a pagan “gaia” kind of feel to it, as well as the pornographic one. Prayers for him and for all that he leads astray…
Read what Dr. Alice von Hildebrand has to say about Mr. West’s ‘ideas’.
For all of his claims that he is a faithful expositor of John Paul II, why can’t I ever seem to find John Paul II saying this stuff?
West and Fr. Loya like to claim they are simply bringing back the Eastern fathers and the “mystical” experience into contemporary Catholicism. Yet why can’t they ever find Eastern Fathers preaching this stuff?
There’s nothing “heretical” in what West is saying here. Yet just because something isn’t heretical doesn’t mean it isn’t completely stupid. He really misses a lot of the gorgeous symbolism of the Jordan River, and why Christ goes to the Jordan River. If he spent more time reflecting on his Old Testament and the culture of Israel instead of his own harebrained theories about sex, he might discover them.
Call me a heretic if you will, but I actually find this image quite beautiful. He is our life-source, and it is through the waters of baptism that we are brought to new life in Him.
And I find Christopher West to be very relatable. Most people who have heard West speak will say that he is effective, and I think he is bringing many young people to know the beauty of Theology of the Body. I, for one, would not have any more than a cursory knowledge of it were it not for West.
I’d be hard-pressed to find a diocese in my part of the world that isn’t promoting West’s sex-saturated embellishments of TOB. They love it — in the schools and in the evening parish programs for teaching and discussing aspects of the Catholic faith.
As a high school religion teacher I can tell you that the religion department in my school does not love Christopher West’s TOB. We do all we can to avoid teaching from it. I don’t use any of the videos, and barely any of the content from the text. “Somehow” we still manage to teach TOB – er possibly because John Paul II spoke and wrote so eloquently.
Allison @ January 13, 2014 at 11:30 pm:
You are not a heretic.
My take on this is that is it would be just plain silly, if it weren’t for the fact that West remains so influential, being, as you say, so relatable and in many ways very effective.
The brief remark has a context, which is the fact that West is wearing sex-colored glasses, creating a vision which has been aptly described by Dawn Eden as “phallocentric.”
The Bible contains some rather explicit sexual references (especially in The Song of Songs, of course) – so reading it, constantly wearing “sex-colored glasses”, is indeed porno and consequently spiritually fruitless.
Concerning (inter alia) the Baptism of Our Lord : Knowing that in aramaic, the word “Holy Spirit” is feminine (Ruah), can -according to me- be spiritually fruitful (it is neither phallocentric nor porno…)
@frangelo, I do enjoy your Blog and still pray for you and your Institute.
Thank you very much.
There are several differences between Bl. John Paul II’s treatment of the Song of Songs and West’s:
1) JPII does not make reference to symbolic simulations of the conjugal act. West does. West says he has never called the Paschal Candle a phallic symbol. Nevertheless his description of the Blessing of the baptismal water at the Easter Vigil involves ritual simulation of the conjugal act, as does the above description of Our Lord’s Baptism, though only obliquely. I call that pornography and phallocentric.
2) John Paul never uses the regard of the scriptural spouses for each other’s bodies as a pretext to create a mystagogy around men’s preoccupation with sex. I am completely on board with the Catechesis on Human Love and its presentation of a primarily positive vision of marriage and human sexuality. But I do not believe that the “mysticism” of human love justifies men just taking it all in outside the context of marriage and pretending to turn it in to prayer. It is one thing for spouses to fully enjoy the sexual values of each other and perceive a higher meaning and value in so doing. It is another to use that right as a pretext to for men to freely enjoy the sexual values of women not their wives (Westianism).
Fr. Angelo, spousal imagery is the Church’s dogma. If you consider that to be “pornified”, then God help you when you read the Canticle of Canticles – or the Apocalypse of St. John. Or “The Dark Night of the Soul.”
This blog has become a waste of my time. Unsubscribing.
I happy to be criticized. Just please criticize what I actually said.
But if that is a waste of your time, then fine.
I did criticize what you said. I criticized your reference to nuptial imagery as “pornification”. There is nothing more shocking here than what you will read in St. John of the Cross, or the quite explicit eroticism of the Canticle of Canticles, or of the spiritual nuptials described by Hadewijch, or St. Bernard, or St. Teresa.
It is not the same thing. West has famously referred to the Song of Songs as “the centerfold of the bible.” Even if you want to be very generous with that metaphor, the fact is that every paper doll, whether, pictorial or verbal, is by nature anonymous and depersonalized. The Song of Songs is about Bridegroom and Bride, and none of the sources you mention, not Sacred Scripture, the saints, or the soon to be Saint John Paul II, use that relationship as a pretext to purify and justify unrestrained exaltation in the sexual values of those who are not one’s spouse. West does this continually and so do his disciples.
All of us should understand marriage and human sexuality in the highest and most exalted way, but the eroticism to which you refer is spousal. It is not a pretext for anything. It is a Catechesis on Human Love.
Furthermore, West’s description of the Easter blessing of the baptismal water proposes that the ritual is a simulation of the sex act, something that you will not find in any of the sources to which you refer. Here is one example of West’s description, quoted in Dawn Eden’s thesis:
If you want to have a discussion of the Paschal Candle, or of the validity of recognizing and appreciating beauty in someone who is not your spouse, then by all means. But it is completely irrelevant to your post, which contains some mild, bland spousal imagery that does absolutely nothing to “pornify” Christ’s Baptism. I criticized your post here, not some hypothetical criticism of something West might say somewhere else.
There is nothing anonymous or depersonalized in the spiritual marriage of Christ with the soul – far from it. And that spiritual marriage does include our sexuality as truly and as really as any other part of our body. To quote the language – quite shocking to our prudish modern ears – of the revered saint and theologian of the Greek Church, St. Symeon the New Theologian said, “we become members of Christ – the arm Christ and the foot Christ – do not say I am blaspheming – and my finger Christ and my penis Christ.” That’s much more closer to “phallocentrism” than anything we’ve seen here, and it comes from one of only three men to be given the title “Theologian” by the Church.
Discussion of sex was quite frank and matter-of-fact in the first-millennium and early medieval Church, which did a marvelous job overcoming the Gnostic heresies. Modernity’s revulsion against it and reaction of disgust to any mention of sexuality (cf. comments above) is a recent innovation.
I have done that at length. But one point needs to be added to the list what you consider “irrelevant” points, namely, that West claims the Theology of the John Paul II as his source.
But, in fact, none of it irrelevant to my post. It is why I posted. I am criticizing Christopher West by name and doing so in the context of the history of this blog, of which you may be unaware and I apologize for that.
I am well aware of the medieval habits in this matter and have no dispute with them. Context is everything.
Seraphim seems to completely miss the point that West’s interpretation of Christ’s baptism and of the scriptural passages relaying it has no precedence. The justification offered is that because spousal imagery is “dogma” then applying it to anything/everything that one can, such as Christ’s baptism, must be legitimate, an obvious error on many levels. There is the further erroneous inference that any description can be justified under the nuptial “dogma” and therefore to question an application of it means questioning many other such references by saints and spiritual writers, and therefore one must be a prude, puritanical, etc. In essence, a straw man and an ad hominem attack which we have all heard before. This precisely exposes the whole point: how West and disciples read such imagery into everything even when there is no direct justification for it. For, how does conjugal imagery come to be associated with Christ’s baptism unless someone externally imposes that upon it, and especially without any such prior interpretation. And if someone is seeing conjugal matters in everything what does that reveal?
Perhaps it reveals that I’m a happily married man, not a prude. Why the shame in conjugal imagery? Why the need to find direct justification for any specific application of conjugal imagery when the whole of salvation history is a marriage, and the whole of the spiritual life (as per St. John of the Cross) is a romance?
Conjugal and coital are not synonymous. Read sex into everything just because? Why not? How about why?
You have proven the points: you engage in name-calling/ad hominem attacks when someone critiques your ideas: they are just prudes. And Fr. Angelo rightly asks, why do you have to read conjugal imagery into everything? To think that such imagery can be applied to everything and therefore needs no justification reveals a one-track mind and is also a straw man argument: the false premise it is latent in everything and thus needs no explanation. When someone sees only one overarching theme/image in everything, whatever it may be, and reads it into everything, the alarm bells should be going off. It is also perhaps no accident that you are a male. To a woman your reading such imagery into everything would be very transparent and superficial.
“Conjugal and coital are not synonymous. Read sex into everything just because? Why not? How about why?”
(a) Marriage and coitus are inseparable. You can’t preserve nuptial imagery if you object to “coital” imagery.
(b) I answered why – because everything IS a nuptial, unitive process. Because in Holy Scripture the Holy Spirit has revealed the whole of salvation history to us to be the wedding feast of the Lamb, the romance of the Canticle of Canticles (a book which is a metaphor for the WHOLE of the spiritual life, not just one part). Because the saints describe the process of sanctification in this way. Why do I read conjugal imagery into everything? Because the Bible and the saints describe everything – literally, the whole of the spiritual life and the corporate process of salvation history – with conjugal imagery.
“When someone sees only one overarching theme/image in everything, whatever it may be, and reads it into everything, the alarm bells should be going off.”
Yet we have no problem doing this with the imagery of salvation as medicinal/healing, or with the legal/forensic imagery of redemption and salvation, or with the many other pervasive metaphors used in Christian theology.
” It is also perhaps no accident that you are a male. To a woman your reading such imagery into everything would be very transparent and superficial.”
I’m mild compared to my wife. Or to St. Teresa of Avila, Mechtilde of Magdeburg, Hadewijch, and the rest of the very rich tradition of female mysticism in Catholic theology.
Why exactly do you find nuptial imagery “superficial”?
I ask again – why the shame in conjugal imagery? Why the shame in *coital* imagery? Is it dirty, or bad, or impure, or superficial?
St. Mark 12:25
This topic is unnecessary for one’s salvation. Nuptial imagery….coital imagery….are you serious??
Faith and works….epistle of St. James.
~written by a wife and mother
If it is unnecessary for salvation, then why were entire books of Scripture written with nuptial, coital imagery?
(Also, nota bene: There wasn’t any “coital” imagery in the passage quoted in this post. The words “impregnate” and “espouse” and “receive” were used. On the other hand, the Canticle of Canticles 4:10 is entirely coital, by which I do not mean to imply that I accept the possibility of a separation between the ‘coital’ and ‘nuptial’: “Sweet, sweet are thy caresses, my bride, my true love; wine cannot ravish the senses like that embrace, nor any spices match the perfume that breathes from thee.” Or Canticles 7:8-9, “Thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes. I said: I will go up into the palm tree, and will take hold of the fruit thereof: and thy breasts shall be as the clusters of the vine: and the odour of thy mouth like apples. Thy throat like the best wine, worthy for my beloved to drink, and for his lips and his teeth to ruminate.”
If God deemed it necessary for our salvation to read about a man fondling his wife’s breasts as a symbol and icon of the spiritual life, then you have no business using the word “pornify” to condemn a passage for containing the words “impregnate” and “espouse”.
If the spiritual life is not the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, it is not a spiritual life at all. We do not get to Heaven by assenting to intellectual truths and then “doing good works” – we get to Heaven by becoming saints, by growing in divine intimacy, by becoming one with Christ. That is a nuptial relationship. It is always a nuptial relationship, just as the process of repentance and healing is always a medicinal and purifying process, and the process of sanctification – insofar as it involves conformity with the moral law – can be spoken of as always being a “legal” process. You do not have any problem with those metaphors being used pervasively. You should not have a problem with the nuptial metaphor being used pervasively. And it was God who used it pervasively; we only follow His example.
Praying for you…..
1. I repeat, conjugal and coital are not synonymous. They just aren’t.
2. Just for the record, marriage and coitus can be separated. Today the Franciscan Order celebrates the Feast of the Espousals of Mary. The marriage of St. Joseph and Mary was a real marriage and it was virginal. Christ’s relationship to His Bride the Church is also virginal. (None of this, of course, invalidates either conjugal or erotic imagery).
3. Why not just take your logic the whole way to justify “tasteful” pornography? If everything is coital as you seem to be saying, why should we not make the conjugal act part of public ritual, which of course, is done in some religious movements?
4. The shame of modesty and the shame of prudery are two different things. Prudery attributes evil to even the most innocent expressions of physical attraction. Modesty is an acknowledgment of the relationship between sexual values and the dignity of the human person. Some values of the human person are veiled most of the time and only revealed to one other person within a sanctuary, not because they are shameful, but because they are holy, and because they are a full revelation of the person and of the supernatural value of divine/human love.
5. Nuptial and coital are not synonymous either.
1. How does my logic say anything about pornography or ritual prostitution?
2. Extraordinary cases aside, that which is nuptial is also coital. A marriage would be declared invalid if it weren’t consummated in RCC.
3. You still haven’t shown that there was even anything “coital” about the passage you found offensive. The words “espouse” and “impregnate” were used, to which you responded that Christ’s Baptism had been “pornified”.
(If it were some other passage you found offensive, you should have quoted it instead. As you say, context is everything.)
1. How does it not? (BTW the question is not about prostitution. “Conjugal act,” refers to sex within marriage.
2. See this link. Non-consummated marriages are never by necessity declared invalid. Valid, sacramental, non-concummated marriages by way of exception for a just cause (other than non-consummation) may be dissolved by the power of the Church (not to be confused with a legal declaration of nullity). The followers of West make this mistake all the time. (I am not suggesting that you are a follower of West. I just think it is worth pointing out.)
3. I am not going to argue the obvious. It is right there for all to see. Let everyone judge for themselves.
How does it not? Quite simply. The nuptial relationship between husband and wife is not the same “marriage” as the marriage of God with the soul. The words are being used analogically, symbolically, iconographically, and sacramentally. Nothing I have said has implied that one should have sex as part of a “public ritual”; that really was a pot shot, kind of like asking “so why don’t you follow your own logic about statue-worship and offer human sacrifice to them?” since your church uses statues in your prayer and worship. (I’m Orthodox; we don’t use statues.) The question was unfair, and sets up a straw man.
And, once again, I’m not the one introducing nuptial imagery; Scripture is, and the saints are.
You still haven’t answered my question, which I’ve asked three times, about how the quote you gave in your OP is “coital” rather than “nuptial”. It uses the words “impregnate” and “espouse”; that’s nuptial imagery.
The question is not a straw man. It is a thought experiment designed to examine and test principles. From your answer it would seem that you agree that at some point and time a veil ought to be placed over sexual values. We just disagree at what point and time, and perhaps for what purpose. The real validity of my question, however, lies in the fact that if everything is coital as you claim why should there ever be a veil at all? It is a serious question.
I am sure we will both agree that at least there ought to be a veil when the intention of the imagery is to produce lust. But what if the intention of the images is not to produce lust? What if it is produced by and delighted in by those who are more spiritual and illumined–not by ignorant prudes or elitist puritans–and the whole reason to do this is that “everything is coital” and points to its supernatural end in God? What then? Why not, instead of just using a river valley as an analogy for female genitalia and Christ as an analogy for male genitalia–why don’t we ritually simulate coitus as West suggests Catholics do at the Easter liturgy?
Okay, that was a fair question.
I’m going to answer by repeating what I said about the imagery being sacramental, analogical, and iconographic. Salvation history is not literal sexual intercourse – it is certainly not literal sexual intercourse with one’s spouse. And a ritual or exhibitionist demonstration of sexual activity for religious symbolism is clearly “false” – it violates the privacy of the marital intimacy between husband and wife. That’s the problem with it (and with pornography). When we are dealing with sacraments and signs, language is used analogically. But the one is still the symbol of the other (and St. Gregory of Nyssa teaches that the higher is a symbol of the lower – so it’s not that we’re using imagery of sex and marriage to symbolize the Christian life, but more appropriately that the drama of salvation is a symbol of marriage).
I’m not sure if you asked this directly, but one could ask if we might use non-pornographic phallic symbols in the objects and rituals of the Liturgy, without actually engaging in or graphically simulating sex – in other words, something like the “phallic” Pascha candle, or the Hindu yoni/lingam symbolism. And my answer is that yoni/lingam imagery is simply not a part of the tradition. West sees it in the Pascha candle. (*You* were the one who read his gloss on the Baptism as positing Christ as being a phallus and the Jordan a yoni – that simply isn’t in the words you quoted, and I didn’t see it that way until your last comment. West simply says the earth “receives” Christ, as a bride receives her groom – a thoroughly nuptial reality that is expressed in the conjugal act, but which lies deeper than it. Any “pornification” was only in your own mind, reading it into the text. Honni soit qui mal y pense.) I do not have a problem with West seeing lingam/yoni symbolism, although I would not call it the principle or primary symbolism intended.
The Liturgy is not a public act of ritualized simulated sex. And yet, the Old Testament, the Gospels, the letters of St. Paul, and the Apocalypse all agree in using nuptial, conjugal imagery to represent salvation (or, more properly, they all agree that salvation represents and is the archetype of nuptial life). Such language and symbolism is proper and appropriate. Salvation IS a marriage – more nuptial than earthly marriage itself, the archetype reflected and mirrored in our marriages and romances. Marriage and romance are holy, not shameful or embarrassing or dirty or disgusting, because they are reflections or types of the wedding of God with Israel, the marriage of the soul with wisdom. And nuptial, conjugal, erotic, and even coital imagery have had their rightful place in describing this mystery – whether we are talking about the quite explicit eroticism in the Canticle of Canticles, or St. John of the Cross’ “Dark Night of the Soul”, or the “wedding feast of the Lamb” in the Apocalypse, or the wedding at Cana – the beginning and type of Christ’s entire ministry – or spousal imagery in Christ’s sanctification of matter in His institution of the Sacraments.
I will be brief for now. In the morning I may say more.
1. You have equated “conjugal,” “nuptial” and “coital.” Everything is coital, according to you. So the issue of the veil is simply a matter of privacy between husband and wife? Why is privacy so compelling and only in that instance? If everything is sex then why privacy between husband and wife?
2. What do you mean the higher is a symbol of the lower? In the case of the sacraments the lower visible elements are the signs of a higher invisible reality. This is the nature of signs and symbol. What is more easily understood (the lower) points to something that transcends it (the higher).
3. We are not arguing over nuptial imagery. But then again, you seem to equate nuptial and sexual. Where is the sexual or coital imagery in the Apocalypse, just to be clear?
4. As for the ad hominem, I will let the readers be the judge of what I am reading or not reading into the text. What exactly was the point in mentioning how deep the Jordan valley is? Do you have any idea? When, for example, West denies he ever called the the Paschal Candle a phallic symbol, he is just equivocating on the imagery he chose to use and the analogous response that is natural to the symbol. Remember you are the one who said everything is conjugal and coital.
5. Lastly, the more primary relationship between God and man is not marriage but filiation. Just for the record. Baptism is rebirth. Salvation makes us literally the children of God.
1. Not that everything in a marriage is sex, but that everything relates to a sexual relationship. A sexual relationship is not “separable” from a marriage. You can’t endorse nuptial imagery and reject coital imagery and maintain consistency, especially when you take words like “espouse” and “impregnate” to be “coital” and therefore “not nuptial”.
2. You’ll have to ask St. Gregory that, but I think he was being Platonic.
4. Apocalypse 19:9
5. There’s no contradiction or tension between filiation and nuptial imagery (or between the equally primary image of God’s grace as healing, and medicinal).
You transposed 4 for 3 and omitted your answer to 4, which I am sure was an oversight. I would like an answer to my questions.
I don’t know what the point was of saying that about the Jordan, since it isn’t the deepest valley, by a long shot (the Kali Gandaki Gorge holds that honor, according to wikipedia). I don’t think it need imply specifically “yoni” symbolism, but perhaps it does.
It’s not obvious to me, at any rate, and before I made my first comment a few days ago I showed my wife the post to make sure I wasn’t completely delusion, and she was confused as to what was sexual or “pornified” about the quotation as well.
If West intended that deliberately, then it’s the same sort of situation as the Paschal candle. Explicitly phallic and womb imagery, but I still don’t really see why this is so offensive. Hinduism and most pre-Christian thought systems are full of lingam/yoni symbolism, and one can easily turn to Jung to find arguments for their universality in the human psyche. Why shouldn’t Christ sanctify and allude to natural archetypes and symbols? He came to redeem nature, to redeem the human mind and the way the human person thinks and lives, not to destroy it.
It is interesting that you should mention Jung, who believed that the gnostics had grasped Christianity far better than the apostolic Church. Not all gnosticism is pessimistic in respect to materiality and the human body. The whole of western esortericism is largely indebted to the more optimistic strain of gnosticism, which by nature claims to have a more enlightened and positive view of human sexuality.
For Jung religious symbols have value, not because they have their origin in some truth about God, but because religious symbols are particularly potent archetypes. Whether you talk about Hindu symbolism or Christian (and you do talk about both), according to Jung the symbols are the common archetypes belonging to the collective unconscious. And those belonging to the sexual sphere are particularly important to the traditions of esotericism of which Jung is a modern representative.
For the modern gnostic everything is “sacred marriage” because everything is sex, the coniunctio and the coincidence of opposites. Christ is important, not because of his sacrificial ministry, but because he is the Almighty Chymist, archetype of the individuated man, who has overcome all the opposites (such as body and soul, lust and love).
The argument here has never been about nuptial imagery (Apoc 19:9, for example, is irrelevant to our discussion). We have no argument about these images.
You equivocate on the terms conjugal and coital, as well as provide no reason for any modesty or privacy, though you appear to believe that a modicum of these are necessary. You also resort to ad hominems. You are not clear on what you believe, except that those who disagree with you are prudes.
I am all for the exalted meaning of marriage and sexuality, but I will have none of the sex mysticism. That is the dividing line between the Canticle of divine love and the pornification of Chritsianity.
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