That for Which We Fight

Over the last week or so my attention has been drawn to two articles that touch upon the subject of the “feminine genius.” Both of them tend to underscore, in different ways, the problem I mentioned in my recent post, “War in Paradise.” To reiterate what I wrote there: The feminist narrative has dictated our presentation of sex relations in such a way that fatherhood has been left to hang out to dry.

The Thinking Housewife has rejected John Paul II’s use of the feminine narrative outright, in particular, where he seems to overcompensate for historical discrimination against women by asserting that every woman, by the “simple fact of being a woman,” makes the world a better place.
The Thinking Housewife responds.

This is not true. Every women [sic] is not good, nor is any woman entirely good. All women do not enrich the world’s understanding by their sheer existence. John Paul II was a holy man fulfilling a complex role. These words are grave missteps on his political journey. It is no exaggeration to say that these particular words are anti-Christian. No human being is to be exalted for the sheer fact of being human. We are born in sin and error.

On the other hand, Bill Donaghy from the Theology of the Body Institute, sets up a hypothetical dichotomy between the Petrine and Marian principles of the Church, which he never entirely resolves. Mr. Donaghy uses the familiar caricature of St. Peter as the archetype of the masculine side of Catholic spirituality: plodding “impetuous, lovable, ‘open mouth, insert foot.’” And on the feminine side the spectrum he posits Our Lady as the “the primordial way, the first way, the fundamental posture for those who thirst for the Holy Spirit.”

I believe these two very different perspectives highlight the extent which gender confusion has made a mess of sex relations.

In fact John Paul II did ascribe a certain primacy to the Marian principle over the Petrine:

This Marian profile is also—even perhaps more so— fundamental and characteristic for the Church as is the apostolic and Petrine profile to which it is profoundly united. In this vision of the Church Mary precedes the People of God who are still pilgrims. . . .

Mr. Donaghy rightly points out that

The Marian Way is receptive, it waits, receives and is still. It listens to words and contemplates the Word. By no means, incidentally, is it to be confused with passivity.

Unfortunately, he goes no further with his rejection of passivity as to affirm “active listening and eager expectation.” From here he proceeds to the familiar “impregnation” analogy typical of the school of Christopher West. There is more to active receptivity than listening and expectation and it has nothing to do with being “impregnated.”

Without question, the Marian principle enjoys a certain priority over the Petrine on the basis on the consent of Our Lady upon which our salvation was conditioned. However, it is necessary that this be stated precisely.

First off, John Paul II states that Mary is the “archetype of the Church” on the basis of the “divine maternity,” because the Church is called to be both “mother and virgin.”

For this reason, I believe the hyper-eroticism of the school of Christopher West is fundamentally misguided. God did not impregnate Mary. She conceived virginally by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The analogy to be used is not sexual reproduction. Mr. Donaghy says to men that the Marian dimension is “NOT an affront to our manhood,” but then goes on to suggest that in the spiritual life we are all impregnated by God. Personally, I am not particularly interested in being impregnated, and I am quite convinced that the vast majority of men feel the same way—for good reason.

Incidentally, Dawn Eden has shown in her thesis that the phallic interpretation of the Easter Candle is completely misguided, confirming much of what I have written on the subject. She has shown by means of more extensive research that is certainly no patristic basis for asserting any phallic interpretation, and that, on the contrary, it is of modern origin and connected to pagan interpretations of the liturgy. Furthermore, Dawn has shown that when the Easter liturgy was revised as mandated by Vatican II, those responsible deliberately undertook the work so that the triple immersion of the candle would not be construed to be symbolizing the sexual act.

The insistence on using the sexual analogy to represent the bridal aspect of spirituality has the curious effect of exalting male eroticism on the one hand and of making female submissiveness the definitive archetype of spirituality on the other. This promotes the worst kind of chivalry. One extreme of historical chivalry idealizes sex by way of the worship of the goddess. Another—not entirely unrelated to the first—reduces the noble behavior of men to purpose of serving women.

But if all this is problematic, in what sense dose the Marian principle hold primacy over the Petrine? Or in what way do we begin our journey in receptivity without being purely passive?

I believe that the answer lies in understanding that adult faith is expressed in a particular way by that virtue and—more importantly—gift of the Holy Spirit known as fortitude. Confirmation is the Sacrament that strengthens us to become soldiers for Christ, and this is principally a matter of fortitude. In the first place, it is constituted by a kind of receptivity, which is endurance in the face of fear. Hence, fortitude helps us to overcome fear of death on the battlefield and even to count it as our greatest honor, as in the case of the martyrs. However, fortitude also concerns, secondarily, a moderate assertion of daring in order to overcome the aggressor. Spiritually, the aggressor is Satan, but in the social order, there are temporal evils that must be opposed.

Hence, “receptive but not passive,” means that grace is always primary and is first of all a matter of resisting a spiritual enemy through endurance. But it also means that we will have to actively oppose what is dishonorable and contrary to the common good.

This is true for both men and women, but, in a particular way, fathers will be called upon—not to be impregnated, but to fight the good fight. It is, therefore, telling that Mr. Donaghy uses the caricature of St. Peter to represent the masculine and never once mentions fatherhood in connection with the Petrine principle.

It is also understandable, then, that The Thinking Housewife has had enough of the feminist narrative and has tired of the “feminine genius” being construed as the supreme archetype. On the other hand, all women do represent something by means of their femininity, even if they do not realize it in their persons.

Bob Hope was right in what he used to say to the fighting men when he visited them on his USO tours. He would bring a starlet out on stage and say: “I just wanted to remind you what you are fighting for.” While there is much to criticize about this, there is also a grain of truth to it. Sorting it all out is never easy.

The most fundamental archetypes of the Christian life are not Peter and Mary, but Jesus and Mary. Our Lord was a fighting man and ultimately answered only to His Father. But He also condescended to become the Child of Mary and asks us to have the humility to do the same.  By reflecting on this, we may learn to redeem the relationship between man and woman, but it is unlikely that we will ever redeem feminism.  Or as Dawn Eden has written:

The Word who saves us was, like the woman who brought Him forth, immaculately conceived. Not so with the word feminism — which is why it cannot save, and should not be saved.

The real mysticism of the Church is not eroticism or worship of the goddess, but the heroism that unites authority and power with the willingness to die in battle for those one loves.  Instead of advocating a new feminism and asking men to imagine themselves as being spiritually impregnated we need to examine more closely what I have called Marian Chivalry.

Dawn Eden’s Thesis and Defense

The following is cross-posted here from Dawn Eden’s blog.

My master’s thesis is now available for purchase

Today, in response to requests, I am making my master’s thesis available for purchase by the general public as an eBook. At the same time, it is available for free to priests, seminarians, and lay catechists who work in an official capacity for the Church (e.g. for a parish, diocese, or religious order).

It is titled “Towards a ‘Climate of Chastity’: Bringing Catechesis on the Theology of the Body into the Hermeneutic of Continuity.” (I had made it available briefly before, but decided to pull it until after making my defense, so that I might revise it to incorporate the official readers’ suggestions.)

The 81-page, heavily footnoted thesis is a critique of Christopher West’s presentation that reveals the substance behind recent criticisms of his approach, contains new information (including how the fathers of Vatican II condemned the Jungian phallic interpretation of the Easter Candle ritual), and makes positive suggestions for improving instruction on the TOB.

Those who qualify for a free copy of my thesis are invited to write to request one to be sent by e-mail. Others who would like to read it are asked to donate $10 or more to a fund I have created to finance my doctoral studies in moral theology at the Catholic University of America this fall. Click here to donate, and I will e-mail you the eBook (PDF file).

(Some requests for free copies have come in from people who do not work for the Church, but are “starving students.” I ask them to consider prayerfully the possibility of aiding this “starving student”‘s education by donating the cost of a pizza in exchange for her hard work.)

I greatly appreciate the support of those who read this blog during the years when I maintained it, and of all who have encouraged me in my studies. Your prayers and encouragement keep me going as I begin the long road towards a doctorate and, Deo volente, my further goal of teaching at a small Catholic college.

Following is the speech that I delivered when defending my master’s thesis at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C., on May 19, 2010:

Good evening. I am here tonight to defend my master’s thesis, which is a critique of Christopher West’s presentation of Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body. By “Christopher West’s presentation,” I mean not only his own personal presentation, but also, more generally, the presentation that he promotes through his Theology of the Body Institute, which trains priests and lay catechists to teach his particular interpretation of John Paul II.

I chose this topic, first, because the issues it encompasses—the promotion of the Catholic vision of marriage and family—are close to my heart, and second, because it is highly topical, given that West’s presentation has recently been the subject of public debate among theologians.

In fact, after I completed my thesis, the subject became even more topical with West’s unexpected announcement at the end of March that he was taking a six-month sabbatical, effective immediately. The Theology of the Body Institute, which is the nonprofit created to promote his presentation of the theology of the body, stated that West was taking this leave “to attend to family needs, and to reflect more deeply on fraternal and spiritual guidance he has received in order to continue developing his methodology and praxis as it relates to the promulgation of the Theology of the Body.”

This is noteworthy because it marks the first time West has ever publicly affirmed a willingness to reflect upon his presentation, something that his critics have asked of him for nearly ten years.

My thesis is titled, “Towards a ‘Climate of Chastity’: Bringing Catechesis on the Theology of the Body into the Hermeneutic of Continuity.”

The first half of the title, “Towards a ‘Climate of Chastity,'” is a reference to Humanae Vitae. In that encyclical, Pope Paul VI called attention to “the need to create an atmosphere favorable to the growth of chastity so that true liberty may prevail over license and the norms of the moral law may be fully safeguarded.” That passage was a key text for John Paul II in his Wednesday catecheses on the theology of the body.

The second half of the title, “Bringing Catechesis on the Theology of the Body into the Hermeneutic of Continuity,” refers to a central point of my thesis. Christopher West asserts that the theology of the body is “revolutionary” because “previous generations of Christians” grew up under the burden of a “repressive approach” to sexual issues. His intention is to counter a popular myth—the idea that the Church is, as he puts it, “down on sex.” However, in countering the one myth, he inadvertently fuels another—the idea that, in the wake of Vatican II, we are “building a new Church,” a Church that is fundamentally different from that which preceded it. His praise on Pope John Paul II is predicated on the repeated assumption, sometimes explicit, that the preconciliar Church was stodgy and prudish. While he no doubt intends to promote charity and unity, his approach effectively encourages division and disdain for our past.

That is why I argue that his presentation on theology of the body needs to be reconciled with the “hermeneutic of continuity.” That expression is drawn from the 1985 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, which stressed that the Second Vatican Council “must be understood in continuity with the great tradition of the church, and at the same time we must receive light from the Council’s own doctrine for today’s Church and the men of our time. The Church is one and the same throughout all the councils.”

Having said that, the very use of the words “hermeneutic of continuity” in my thesis title reflects a paradox inherent in applying theological analysis to popular catechesis and apologetics. West himself almost never resorts to language as obscure to non-theologians as “hermeneutic of continuity.” He directs his words to the ordinary people in the pews. The one who dares to critique him on an academic level risks pretentiousness or even self-parody–like the Times of London music critic who praised a song from the Beatles’ first album for its “Aeolian cadence.”

Nonetheless, I am willing to take that risk, because Christopher West does not present himself as a mere apologist, seeding the ground for faith via rational arguments. Nor does he present himself as merely engaging in catechesis, which, as the Holy See has stated, consists of “transmitting the Gospel, as the Christian community has received it, understands it, celebrates it, lives it and communicates it in many ways.” Rather, Christopher West presents himself as the definitive interpreter of teachings of John Paul II—teachings which, as I will explain shortly, he claims “will lead to a dramatic development of thinking about the Creed.” He is essaying apologetics and catechesis and theology itself. As such, his approach merits serious critical analysis by theologians—especially in light of its overwhelming popularity.

Along with West’s undeniable talent as an author and speaker, there is an element of marketing genius at work. As I noted, he presents himself as the definitive interpreter of Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body. Until last year, when his then-ordinary Bishop Kevin Rhoades and Cardinal Rigali issued a public endorsement of his work, the main evidence that he offered for his teaching authority was that he was fulfilling an imperative laid out by George Weigel in his 1999 biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope.

Weigel wrote that the theology of the body was a “theological time-bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences … perhaps in the twenty-first century.” He added, “John Paul’s portrait of sexual love as an icon of the interior life of God has barely begun to shape the Church’s theology, preaching, and religious education. When it does it will compel a dramatic development of thinking about virtually every major theme in the Creed.”

From the start of his public career, Christopher West has marketed himself as carrying out this mandate. One sees this most recently in the promotional material for the upcoming TOB Congress sponsored by the Theology of the Body Institute, which was formed to promote West’s presentation. The promotional material states that the conference is “building on the words of papal biographer George Weigel—that this teaching ‘will affect every major theme of the Creed.'” The congress’s workshops are structured around that same premise; the one on catechesis is actually titled, “Catechesis and the Creed in Light of the Theology of the Body.” The overriding implication in that title—and with West’s entire presentation—is that that the Creed is something to be viewed in light of the theology of the body, rather than vice versa.

Having explained why Christopher West’s presentation of the theology of the body merits a theological critique, I will now summarize my thesis.

Chapter One begins with some biographical background on West. As mentioned, a foundational point of his presentation of the theology of the body is that John Paul II’s teachings are “revolutionary” because “previous generations of Christians” grew up under the burden of a “repressive approach” to sexual issues. Because he uses his own experiences to support this point, it is relevant here to explore those aspects of his upbringing that informed his understanding of the attitudes he believes are ingrained in “most Christians.”

West’s understanding of what constitutes a normative Catholic upbringing may be shaped from his experiences during his late teens and early 20s living with his family in the Mother of God Community, a Catholic community in Gaithersburg, Maryland. At that time, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the community’s leaders exercised puritanical control over members’ lives—including their dating. Eventually, in 1995, James Cardinal Hickey, the Archbishop of Washington, would order reforms to the community to correct its abuses of power. But those changes came too late for West, who, during his time in the community, was subject to its strict rules.

Christopher West told the Washington Post that, after spending years living in the community and submitting to its leaders’ control of his social contacts, his work, and his studies, he realized, “It’s a cult. I’ve been living in a cult.”

Now, one certainly doesn’t have to grow up in a cult to appreciate the dangers of a puritanical approach to sexuality. However, I have found in my research that West’s experiences in the Mother of God Community appear to come into play in his interpretation of John Paul II’s teachings on continence. I will return to this point when I describe the particulars of West’s presentation.

The rest of Chapter One is taken up with a list I compiled, comprising ten major themes of West’s presentation of the theology of the body. In Chapter Two, I examine the criticisms that his presentation has engendered, as well as his responses to those criticisms, and add my own critique. I conclude my critique in Chapter Three, identifying the aspects of West’s presentation that I believe are in most serious need of modification, and recommending specific positive correctives.

I will now briefly list the ten major themes of West’s presentation that I identify in Chapter One:

1. The TOB is an all-encompassing theology that requires theologians and religious educators to recontextualize “everything” about Christian faith and life.West says, “Indeed, a ‘holy fascination’ with our bodies as male and female is precisely the key that opens the holy door to the divine bridal chamber, allowing us to experience what the mystics call ‘nuptial union’ with God.” He also says, “Sex plunges us headfirst into the Christian mystery.”

2. The “sexual revolution” was a “happy fault.” West praises the sexual revolution because, as a reaction against generations of repression and prudery, it “got us talking about our hunger.” What Pope John Paul II did was redirect the discussion in the right direction. So, West says, “The Church looks at the sin of Adam and proclaims, ‘Oh happy fault that won for us so great a redeemer.’ We can look at the error of the sexual revolution and say ‘Oh happy fault that has won for us so great a theology of the body.'”

3. “Dumpster” vs. “banquet.” West likens using pornography to eating out of a “Dumpster,” whereas the joys of sex according to the theology of the body is the “banquet.” West says, “Why was [Playboy magazine founder] Hugh Hefner a successful ‘evangelist’?” West asks. “Because eating fast food is a lot better than starving to death.” Whereas Hefner was “just going to the wrong menu to feed the hungry,” the TOB offers “the banquet of love that truly satisfies.”

4. The nuptial analogy is the primary means by which the faithful should understand their relationship to God—and “nuptial” is to be envisioned in sexual terms. This leads to—

5. “[T]he whole reality of the Church’s prayer and sacramental-liturgical life is modeled on the union of spouses.” In participating in the liturgy, “we are called to deep, intimate, ecstatic joys with Christ the bridegroom.” The faithful who “have eyes to see” are called to be “inebriated,” getting “drunk in the Spirit” on the “new wine” of the “wedding feast of the Lamb.” “In this ‘blessed death’ of holy intoxication, sexual desire passes-over [sic] from lust to an immeasurable love.”

In this regard, West says that the Paschal Candle is intended to be a phallic symbol. I write, later in my thesis, that I was unable to find any source for this in Tradition. Since completing my thesis, I have found evidence that this interpretation is of secular origin and was condemned by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council. [N.B. The revised edition of my thesis that I have made available contains background on the Council’s condemnation of the Paschal Candle “phallacy.”]

6. “The joy of sex—in all its orgasmic grandeur—is meant to be a foretaste in some way of the joys of heaven.”

7. “God created sexual desire as the power to love as he loves.”

8. “Mature purity” enables “liberation from concupiscence.” I will have more to say about this assertion shortly.

9. “The Song of Songs is of great importance to a proper understanding of Christianity.” It shows “[h]ow we come to see the sexual embrace, the deep intimate erotic love of husband and wife, as a passageway into deep transforming intimate union with God.”

10. The meaning of marriage is encapsulated in “intercourse.”

These themes, taken in their entirety, imply that God’s spousal love for His Church should be envisioned by the faithful in an explicitly sexual manner.

Now, there are certain elements of truth in these interpretations that cannot be ignored. To use a favorite phrase of John Paul II—”in a certain sense”—the liturgy is spousal. Likewise, in a certain sense, the sexual union of spouses may be said to image Trinitarian love. If West’s theology stopped there, one could enter into discussion with him over the extent to which, in this day and age, it benefits the faithful to have explicitly sexual imagery introduced into their prayer life. One could also discuss how, in comparing the sexual union of spouses to the beatific vision, one might avoid the risk of either overselling sexual pleasure, or underselling heaven.

The problem, as I see it, is that West doesn’t stop there. He believes that the true message of John Paul II’s theology of the body is that sexual desire necessarily mediates desire for God.

The key word here is “necessarily.” I am not denying that sexual desire can mediate desire for God. For West, however, there is no other way. This is why University of Dallas Professor Mark Lowery, back in November 2001, wrote in the National Catholic Register that, while West’s intention clearly was to convey the truths of the faith, “his overarching lens or perspective” led to “the lurking danger of conveying that Christianity really is all about sex.” In other words, as Lowery put it, instead of Christianizing sexuality, West risked “sexualizing Christianity.”

The implication that sexual desire necessarily mediates desire for God is an undercurrent throughout West’s oeuvre. One sees it particularly in his repeated insistence that every opportunity to sublimate sexual desire is an opportunity for holiness. I cover this in detail in my thesis. The Church has traditionally stated that chastity education should include instruction on avoiding occasions of sin. West states, by contrast, that mature purity is found only in those who are willing to “risk” concupiscence so that they might reap the benefits of “union with Christ and his Church.” By “risking,” he means specifically that men who struggle with lust should practice looking at beautiful women so that they might learn to raise their thoughts and feelings from lust, to joy at encountering the image of God in female beauty.

Now, borrowing a page from West himself—who is known for quoting classic rock songs in his talks—I would call this the Harry Nilsson approach to overcoming lust. Nilsson wrote and sang the hit song “Coconut,” in which a woman puts the lime in the coconut, drinks them both up, and then calls the doctor to complain of a bellyache. The doctor’s prescription is to put the lime in the coconut and drink them both up. The cause is the cure. So it is with Christopher West’s prescription for men who lust after beautiful women: Look at beautiful women.

West’s implication that sexual desire necessarily mediates desire for God also appears clearly Heaven’s Song, his 2007 book that is directed primarily toward aiding the reader’s “sexual healing and integration.” There, West insists “sexual love is the earthly key that enables us to enter into heaven’s song.” He elaborates, “[T] he road to holiness passes by way of sexual healing and integration. The way we understand our bodies and the union of man and woman has a direct bearing with the way we understand Christ’s body and his union with the Church. Hence, if we are to enter in to proper union with Christ and his Church, the diseased images and ideas we have about our own bodies and sexual union must be healed. It can be a long and painful journey—and there is no detour.”

What concerns me is West’s insistence that the “long and painful journey” of sexual healing and integration has to precede holiness. As Mark Lowery noted back in 2001, sexual healing comes from grace—not the other way around.

Moreover, in a point also made by Lowery, grace does not always heal us of everything from which we would like to be healed. It is not a zero-sum game. Self-control is possible with the gift of the Holy Spirit, but, as Paul learned, God does not remove every thorn in the flesh.

A major concern of my thesis is the divergence between West’s presentation and John Paul II’s teachings with regard to continence. I mentioned earlier that West says mature purity is found only in those who are willing to “risk” concupiscence so that they might reap the benefits of “union with Christ and his Church.” To underscore the importance of taking this “risk,” he attacks the notion that an engaged couple wishing to stay chaste should “never spend any extended time alone together.”

Now, the concern that engaged couples may be too chaste seems anachronistic in the wake of the sexual revolution. But remember that West spent his late teens and early 20s living in a community where engaged couples were in fact barred from spending time alone together. So this is a very real concern for him, and he is understandably eager to point out that Catholic teaching permits individuals a certain amount of latitude to responsibly exercise their freedom.

Unfortunately, in his desire to counter puritanical attitudes, West ends up promoting an ideal that has the net effect of promoting puritanism. I discuss this in detail in my thesis, and explain how it is based upon a misinterpretation of both John Paul II and St. Thomas, whose theology is the basis for John Paul’s discussion of the virtue of continence. Essentially, West says that not only must an engaged couple be continent, they must possess the virtue of perfect chastity prior to marriage. That is, they should have no fear of being alone together, because they should have no lust for one another. West said in a talk just last year that an engaged couple who are merely continent cannot be called virtuous because “[t]here is no magic trick on the wedding day that suddenly makes what you do that night an act of love. If you could not be alone together the day before you got married and not sin, there is no magic trick, there is no waving at the wand at the altar, that suddenly makes your sexual behavior beautiful, true, good, lovely, and pure.”

What is wrong with this picture? As I explain in my thesis, what is wrong is, (A) the implication that continence is an insufficient preparation for marriage, and (B) the claim that the sacrament of marriage in no way affects the development of virtue. In fact, the Church does not expect perfect chastity of couples before marriage, precisely because she recognizes that the grace of marriage is what enables couples to transform their imperfect virtue of continence to the perfect virtue of chastity. All that is required of an engaged couple is that they control themselves “in holiness and honor,” as St. Paul writes in First Thessalonians.

By raising the bar so high, to the point where any feeling of lust is proof that one is not ready for marriage, West is effectively promoting the very angelism that he decries. In an age when Catholics—along with singles in general—are marrying later and later, such a misinterpretation of Church teaching has real pastoral implications. I see them when speaking on chastity to young adults. Twice when I have spoken in Manhattan, someone in the audience has asked me, “Why are Catholics in New York City so afraid of dating?”

I was last asked that when I spoke at Columbia University in March. The questioner added, “Catholics here in the city think that they can’t date before marriage—they can only be friends. And these are Catholics who know the theology of the body.”

Young Catholics who are told that they are not ready to marry until they have not only continence, but perfect chastity, are simply avoiding the rituals of courtship. I have since discussed this problem with others, including a priest who is a vocations director, and am confirmed that it is a genuine pastoral issue.

Towards the conclusion of my thesis, in suggesting positive correctives to West’s presentation of the theology of the body, I emphasize the need for catechists to incorporate into the theology of the body the Church’s teachings on suffering. Pope John Paul II himself said, in his final Wednesday address on the theology of the body, that catechesis on the topic would not be complete without addressing “the problem of suffering and death.” If catechists do not account for this—if they present a vision of married life that is all about couples’ sharing in Trinitarian communion, without articulating how they also share in Christ’s sufferings on the Cross—then their words will be like those in the parable of the sower, that fall on rocky ground. As Our Lord said, “Those on rocky ground are the ones who, when they hear, receive the word with joy, but they have no root; they believe only for a time and fall away in time of trial.”

I think it is significant that in 1984, the same year he would complete his catechesis on the theology of the body, John Paul produced his great Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, “On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering.” In that encyclical, he wrote, “The eloquence of the parable of the Good Samaritan, and of the whole Gospel, is especially this: every individual must feel as if called personally to bear witness to love in suffering.” It is the task of the catechist to seek out the connection between that witness to love mandated by Salvifici Doloris and the witness to love mandated by the theology of the body.

Would you like to read my entire thesis? Please click here to donate $10 or more towards my doctoral studies, and I will e-mail you the eBook.

Towards a Climate of Chastity E-Book

Dawn Eden has just published an e-book version of her master’s thesis through Bridegroom Press:

In this downloadable e-book, Dawn Eden, author of The Thrill of the Chaste, explores the strengths and weaknesses of Christopher West’s presentation of the theology of the body. She examines West’s theological background, his lectures and published works, and points of contention which surround his work.

This work is a must-read for every Catholic interested in how the Church approaches human sexuality. Whether you are new to the Church’s teachings or not, this comparison and contrast of West’s work with the traditional teachings of the Magisterium will inform your understanding of the debate that currently surrounds this subject.

Requests have poured in for an officially published version of this work ever since the author mentioned it on her Dawn Patrol blog. It was originally written to fulfill the thesis requirement for a master’s degree in theology from Dominican House of Studies.

If you work for parish or diocese, you may obtain this work free of charge. Contact Dawn Eden directly by using her contact form.

An excellent, balanced, charitable and necessary work for anyone who wants to place the Theology of the Body in the context of the Church’s perennial teaching.  A great deal of work has gone into the production of this thesis and is a tremendous contribution that clarifies the issues under debate, and offers sound alternatives to the pop-catechesis of Christopher West.

Christopher West Takes Sabbatical

From the Theology of the Body Institute web site:

Institute Research Fellow Christopher West recently began a six-month sabbatical from teaching and travel for personal and professional renewal. The Institute’s Board of Directors and Christopher have mutually agreed to the time away.

While the Institute regrets this interruption to upcoming 2010 events, we will continue with our roster of education and outreach programs, and will offer other faculty members and Theology of the Body instructors for teaching during this time.

Christopher is taking this leave to attend to family needs, and to reflect more deeply on fraternal and spiritual guidance he has received in order to continue developing his methodology and praxis as it relates to the promulgation of the Theology of the Body (Emphasis mine).

Pray for Mr. West.  I believe this hiatus from teaching and speaking is a good thing that may be very profitable to him and to those over whom he has an influence.  I would submit, however that it is not only his “methodology and praxis” that he needs to reflect on.  His content needs some review as well.

Hat tip, Steve Kellmeyer.

Theology of the Body: Of Sign and Fulfillment

I wish to return to my discussion of Theology of the Body, and the exchange between Dr. Lowery and Christopher West.  Specifically, I wish to discuss the topic of theological analogy, because it is so central to the argument and because it is easily misunderstood.

In answering the charge of Dr. Lowery that he is sexualizing Christianity, West turns to the topic of analogy and says that it works both ways:

Of course, it’s an analogy to speak of the marriage of Christ and the Church. Analogies are always inadequate. Yet John Paul believes the spousal analogy is the least inadequate since “in the very essence of marriage a particle of the mystery is captured” (Aug. 18, 1982).

Hence, the Pope says we’re justified in applying the spousal analogy in two directions. Primarily, God reveals the truth about nuptial union (Christian nuptiality). But in some way nuptial union also reveals the truth about God (nuptial Christianity).

In practical matters, West has worked this analogy both ways, not only from the top down, but from the bottom up, that is, from earthly marriage to the divine union, by saying that heaven is like the ultimate climax, that the Holy Spirit inseminates and impregnates Mary with Jesus, that the Easter liturgy is a fertility rite, and that a woman’s womb is like the Holy of Holy’s or the Eucharistic tabernacle.  This is the habit of mind that moves, I believe, Dr. Lowery to say that West is sexualizing Christianity.

Now, in the quote from West above he makes reference to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body Wednesday audience from August 18, 1982.  (I am linking to the original translation but will quote from the more recent Waldstein translation, 90.3-4.)  It is true, as West says, that the Holy Father does indeed say that the analogy works both ways.  However, once again, West latches onto to the Holy Father’s precise philosophical language and then uses it to proclaim all kinds of things the Holy Father never said.

I will not quote at length, but I recommend a careful reading of sections 3 and 4, so that one can verify my interpretation.

First of all, regardless of the inherent logic involved, the Holy Father speaks only of the analogy that St. Paul presents in the fifth chapter of the letter to the Ephesians, namely, Wives, be subject to your husbands . . . as the Church is subject to Christ, and You, husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church (vv. 25, 24).  St. Paul is simply not talking about body parts or sexual acts, and neither is the Holy Father.  They are certainly not using sexual language to describe heavenly or supernatural realities realities.

But what does John Paul II actually mean when he says that “this analogy works in two directions”?  The Holy Father says:

While [this analogy] allows us, on the one hand, to understand better the relationship of Christ with the Church, it permits us, on the other hand, to penetrate more deeply into the essence of the marriage to which Christians are called.

This statement and the Holy Father’s explanation is much more modest than West suggests by means of his practical and erotic applications.  John Paul II merely wants to point out that the analogy allows us to obtain, both a “deeper understanding of the Church,” and a “deeper understanding of marriage.”

But while there is this reciprocal movement in two directions, it is not identical in both instances.  John Paul II says that we must keep in mind “that at the basis of the understanding of marriage in its very essence stands Christ’s spousal relationship with the Church.”  So, in other words, Christ’s relationship to the Church is the foundation of our understanding of marriage.  He goes on to say that “marriage becomes a visible sign of the eternal divine mystery, according to the image of the Church united with Christ” (emphasis in original). Thus, while the relationship of Christ and His Church is the foundation of our understanding of marriage, marriage itself is a visible sign of the mystery of Christ and His Church.  This is the sense in which the analogy works both ways—and only in this sense.

What this means precisely can be elucidated if we further describe the workings of theological analogy.  This is made possible, in a particular way, if we remember the relationship of type and anti-type in sacred scripture, which is a particular use of theological analogy.  Old Testament types such as the Paschal Lamb, in relation to Christ, or the Ark of the Covent in relation to Our Lady, or even marriage (as a sacrament of creation) in relation ship to Christ and the Church, are foreshadowings and signs of something more perfect that is to come.  The Old Testament pre-figurements are the “types,” and the New Testament fulfillments are the “anti-types.”

Yet, no one would suggest that Christ is something like a furry animal or that Our Lady is something like a gold-plated wooden box.  Yes, these analogies work in two ways, but the foundation of our understanding of the Paschal Lamb is Christ as Our Lady is of the Ark of the Covenant.  And Lamb and the Ark are signs of Jesus and Mary, respectively.  The analogy does not work backwards in exactly the same way that it does forwards.

Thus, the way that these analogies work is from the higher to the lower.  We call it exemplarism.  The higher, invisible realities define and illumine the meaning of the lower, and the lower are visible signs and faint hints of the higher.  The anti-types (Jesus and Mary) are the examplars or archetypes of the lower realties (Lamb and Ark).  Yes, these analogies work both ways, but not in the same manner both ways.

But this explanation is not sufficient to deal with the particular analogy that St. Paul uses in the letter to the Ephesians, because the “sign” that St. Paul writes about, namely, marriage is not an Old Testament type, but the New Covenant Sacrament, instituted by Christ, and in itself is a higher reality than the original sacrament of creation.  In fact, both the relationship of Christ and the Church, and of man and woman in the Christian Sacrament are kinds of fulfillments, but they also both point to higher realities.  The Christian Sacrament points to Christ and His relationship to the Church, and the love of the Christ the Bridegroom for His Bride the Church on the Cross points to communion of the Father Son and Holy Spirit.

So we rightly say that analogies work in two directions, the higher, more perfect, and sometimes invisible reality defining and illuminating the meaning of the lower reality, and the lower reality remaining a visible sign and hint of the fuller reality that we are yet to experience or which is experienced in a more hidden way.  Hence, in our experience in this life of Christ’s love for the Church we often find our faith challenged because the interior life, which is Christ’s presence within us, most often goes on without our perception, yet faith tells us that the union can lead to a bliss, concerning which Christian marriage only offers a faint hint.

None of this even begins to suggest that theological analogy in general, or St. Paul’s analogy specifically, justifies our using sexual imagery to explain supernatural realities.  In any case, once again, the Holy Father simply does not make the claim Christopher West suggests he does.  Even more, the imagery in Ephesians five, when taken in the context of what Our Lord has to say of marriage belonging only to this life, drives home the fact that the more perfect must inform the less perfect and not vice-versa.  The less perfect (marriage) being closer and more familiar to us is a sign and helps us to look up to the higher reality which we do not perceive so readily.  In heaven there will be spousal love, but not sex, and even in this life that exclusive and blissful love of spouses can be had without sex.

We should be careful to not introduce more confusion into our sex-saturated world as we attempt to evangelize the masses.

Snake Oil and Circus Tricks

Here is latest from Father Thomas Loya.  It is a rather brazen, if not unusual example of what has become part of the “tradition” for many of the American propagators of that pungent and turbid concoction that is mislabeled Theology of the Body.

Content Warning.

With defenders like Father Thomas Loya, does Christopher West need critics?

Father Peter Damian Fehlner on Ratified, Non-Consummated Marriages

Posted supplementary to my two previous posts (1 and 2):

When are the sacramental graces of marriage received?  It has recently became fashionable to state, categorically, that no such sacramental graces are received until a sacramental marriage is consummated, as though a non-consummated marriage is not fully a sacramental marriage.  This is simply false.  The essence of a sacramental marriage consists in the contract, both as to the celebration of the sacrament and to the permanent state following on that celebration.  The first is known as marriage “in fiere” and marriage “in facto esse”.  Use has nothing to do with constituting the essence of marriage.  This is certainly very logical, whereas the new proposal is hardly that.  The conferral of sacramental graces is a presupposition for the holy fulfillment of marriage rights and duties, including use of the marriage act or sexual intercourse.  Hence, it is only logical that it be conferred before use of the marriage act.  If the sacrament is celebrated worthily, viz., the spouses are in the state of grace, an increase of sanctifying grace follows immediately on the administration of the sacrament, together with the effecting of the marriage bond with the rights and duties which this entails.  It is the marriage bond or “vinculum” which is the essence of the marriage state or permanent marriage contract, not the use of the marriage rights.  The right to actual graces in order to carry out the duties of the married state which are many besides the use of the marital act is rooted in the vinculum which constitutes a kind of proximate disposition for their conferral at the appropriate time and circumstances.  This is clearly the teaching of St. Thomas and is concurred in by St. Bonaventure.  Although a few modern theologians consider the vinculum a kind of quasi sacramental character, the majority of theologians prefer to abstain from the use of this terminology.  (Cf. F. Sola, SJ. Sacrae Theologiae Summa, volume 4, Madrid 1953, pp. 837-843 for magisterial and theological authorities.)  The principal magisterial authorities for this teaching are Leo XIII (Arcanum divinae sapientiae) and Pius XI (Casti Conubii).

Why is the petrine privilege limited to sacramental marriages “ratum sed non consummatum”?  A recent opinion claims that this restriction is related to the relative imperfection or incompletion of such a sacramental marriage.  Only the consummation of a sacramental marriage makes it fully sacramental, so the theory goes.  But this contradicts the long standing explicit teaching of the Magisterium for over a millennium.  Any marriage, but especially a “matrimonium ratum”, if intrinsically and fully indissoluble.  Intrinsically means that those united permanently by the marriage bond cannot end that bond, nor can the existence of spiritual or psychological frustrations on the part of the spouses, sometimes described as the “death” of a marriage, effect a dissolution of bond.  But this has never been meant in the teaching of Christ and of the Church to exclude the possibility of dissolving or ending a marriage by legitimate authorities apart from the spouses.  This authority belongs to God because he is the one who instituted marriage and defined the nature of the contract.  His authority extends to all marriages, sacramental or merely natural, all of which by his disposition end with death.  In one instance, that of the so-called “Pauline privilege” he has when certain conditions are fulfilled decreed the end of a natural marriage “in favor of the faith” in one of the spouses who converts to belief in Christ and is baptized, but the other refuses to live in peace with the converted spouse.

In some special cases Christ has conferred on the successors of St. Peter to dissolve non-consummated sacramental marriages in particular and relatively rare instances.  The reason for this delegation is to be found, not in the incompleteness of such a marriage as marriage, but in the imperfect clarity of the sacramental sign, the same rationale underlying the Pauline privilege, the only difference being that in the case of the Pauline privilege the dissolution is effected directly by God himself  (no delegation for this has been given either to civil or ecclesiastical authorities).  The rationale is this: in these cases the sign value of marriage is either not clearly present (natural marriage) or only partially in the case of a non-consummated sacramental marriage.  According to the teaching of Casti connubii, this sign value is twofold: that of Christ with the Church and by extension with souls (a spiritual union) and that of the Divine Word with his human nature (a physical union).  The first is realized immediately on celebration of the sacrament, the second only with consummation.  The vicarious power to dissolve the bond granted by Christ to the Pope in regard to non-consummated sacramental marriages is limited to those instances where “spiritual death” has occurred (e.g., solemn profession in a religious order) or where this is postulated by the spiritual need of one or the other spouse.  But with consummated sacramental marriages the sign value is such that Christ reserves all questions of dissolution of the bond to himself because of the perfection of the sign.  Evidently the perfection of the sign is not the equivalent of perfection of the marriage, which must be decided on other criteria, particularly when the virginal marriage of Mary and Joseph is taken into consideration. (cf. the treatise cited above, pp. 826-827; 830)

Sexing up Canon Law

In response to my last post, “Christopher West: Sexualizing Christianity,” one of his supporters posted a lengthy comment, defending the sexy assertion that the sacramental grace proper to marriage is not confered through the wedding vows but through the act of the consummation of the marriage, so that no sacramental marriage really exists until the spouses engage for the first time in the marital embrace.  He (or she) also claims that sacramental grace is also conferred every and each time the spouses engage conjugal act “in a human fashion.”

Since this is so interesting and crucial to the argument, I have chosen to reproduce the comment here and answer it below. Continue reading

Christopher West: Sexualizing Christianity

I recently became aware of an exchange between Dr. Mark Lowery and Christopher West that took place in around the turn of the year 2002.  Dr. Lowery’s assessment of Mr. West’s work was fair.  Like many today, he commended the Theology of the Body apologist for his flair getting across to audiences around the country the reason why “the bedroom needs the Church.”  And like many today, he expressed his reservations about the way in which West “sexualizes Christianity.”  Lowery intimates that a kind of inversion has taken place in West’s understanding of the relationship between sexuality and Christianity:

Put another way, so clearly does he see how sexuality must be taken up into Christianity that he can give the impression that Christianity has been taken up into sexuality.

Continue reading