Where I Am at Right Now with Theology of the Body


Well,  I have to admit that I have just about run out of steam with the Theology of the Body debate, which, God help us, is not preventing me from posting once again.  I suppose I should say something about the end of Christopher’s West’s sabbatical.  He has returned.

I don’t know that we are getting anywhere, unfortunately.  Christopher West, for example, says he is always learning from his critics, but he still maintains that we have misrepresented him in a number of “serious” ways.  And I am still waiting to find out what he considers we were right about.  Just to remind everyone: the objections were not all about style and presentation.  Well, at least he admits he lacked balance.  I am not sure what that means, but look forward to finding out what his new approach will be.

Unfortunately, this debate runs the risk of turning into a propaganda war.  Much of the criticism of one of my most recent pieces was that I was not nice.  But I already knew that.  Mea culpa.  Pray for me.  But also, please tell me why I am wrong about the doctrines contained (or not contained) in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Well, anyway.  I have said just about all I have to say for now.  I am not making any promises though.  Christopher West says he will be addressing the criticisms he has received in a number of articles.  He thanked his critics in that context, but then went on to speak of how his ideas have been misrepresented.  Again, I look forward to finding out both the reasons he has to thank his critics and the reason why he thinks they are wrong.  I do not plan to comment on each of his articles.  What interests me in view of avoiding a propaganda war is patterns verified by facts.

I will just leave you all with several thoughts.  One thing that neither side has talked about in all this is the element of the diabolical, and especially the way in which the evil one uses sexuality as a snare.  I only know of one article aside from the ones in which I have linked to it which comments on this phenomenon. I would be interested in what Christopher West has to say about this.

Another point to consider is it is absolutely incontrovertible that Christopher West’s version of Theology of the Body, along with that of Father Loya’s, minimizes the role of modesty.  In this view, modesty is relative and primarily interior, necessitated by a lack of domination over concupiscence, but not fitting in itself.  Where it does not fall away in the interests of a Christian regard for the body acquired by a growth in virtue it turns into prudery.  Think about diabolical influence in this context.  (In this vein, take a look at Father Loya’s defense of the paschal candle-as-phallus assertion and compare with my essay and the thesis of Dawn Eden.  You decide.)

You should all take a look at Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve’s critique of Dawn Eden’s thesis.  From Sister’s essay, one gets the impression that the critics of Christopher West have completely misunderstood his work, and would not be able to properly assess it unless they had followed all his circumlocutions over the last fifteen years and more.  Sister Lorraine asks:

Does any fair-minded observer really think it’s possible to accomplish this project in a master’s thesis of under 100 pages?

Huh?  No one could possible critique West in a master’s thesis of less than 100 pages?  I guess that means no one could possibly understand him at all unless they were capable of writing more than a 100 pages on what they had learned from him.  People have brought up the same issues with West since the beginning. See West’s Open Letter answering an early critic who had approached him privately.  Dawn Eden has not catalogued all the changes West has made over the years because she is interested in the positions West currently holds with which she disagrees.  Or is Sister Lorraine claiming that at this point West and Eden have nothing really to disagree about?

This is like arguing that no one can really say anything intelligent on the matter unless they have read everything West has ever done and then attended all his public appearances and have done a textual analysis of all the content from a strictly technical point of view before one decides to agree or disagree with him.  Until then, we should just all be obedient sheep and rely on episcopal approbations.  West’s work has been effectively canonized.  I have been a part of this debate for some time.  I know how West’s disciples interpret him.  Dawn Eden is not putting an adversarial spin on West’s work.  She is criticizing West on the basis of the way he is being understood by those who support him.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard from disciples of West something to the effect that “we shouldn’t cover women up because that is to treat the female body as evil.”  That is just one example.

Sr. Lorraine’s critique covers the whole of Dawn Eden’s thesis.  I will let you compare and contrast.  I would just suggest that before you accept anyone’s interpretation of John Paul’s text, that you read it for yourself.  Whenever someone quotes one sentence, or paraphrases, or includes multiple incomplete sentences as quotes in a single paragraph, or inserts the telltale ellipsis (. . .), read the whole paragraph in the pope’s writings carefully, or better, read the whole general audience.  I submit that what you will find is that the Westians are often hyper-sexualizing the text, making it do work for which it was never intended.

Here is an example from Sr. Lorraine’s critique.  The first paragraph a quote from Christopher West, quoting the Holy Father.  The second is Sr. Lorraine quoting directly the Holy Father:

“As John Paul shows us, the question of sexuality and marriage is not a peripheral issue. In fact, he says the call to “nuptial love” inscribed in our bodies is “the fundamental element of human existence in the world” (General Audience 1/16/80). In light of Ephesians 5, he even says that the ultimate truth about the “great mystery” of marriage “is in a certain sense the central theme of the whole of revelation, its central reality” (General Audience 9/8/82).” . . . . [Yes, please check out the text to see what I am leaving out with the ellipsis.]

But there’s one more thing. What does Pope John Paul say about this issue? Referring to the spousal analogy in Ephesians 5, he says: “Given its importance, this mystery is great indeed: as God’s salvific plan for humanity, that mystery is in some sense the central theme of the whole of revelation, its central reality. It is what God as Creator and Father wishes above all to transmit to mankind in his Word” (TOB 93:2)

I will now provide you with the actual texts of the Holy Father:

For the present we are remaining on the threshold of this historical perspective. On the basis of Genesis 2:23-25, we clearly realize the connection that exists between the revelation and the discovery of the nuptial meaning of the body, and man’s original happiness. This nuptial meaning is also beatifying. As such, it manifests in a word the whole reality of that donation which the first pages of Genesis speak to us of. Reading them, we are convinced of the fact that the awareness of the meaning of the body that is derived from them—in particular of its nuptial meaning—is the fundamental element of human existence in the world.

This nuptial meaning of the human body can be understood only in the context of the person. The body has a nuptial meaning because the human person, as the Council says, is a creature that God willed for his own sake. At the same time, he can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself (General Audience 1/16/80).

******

In the overall context of the Letter to the Ephesians and likewise in the wider context of the words of the Sacred Scriptures, which reveal God’s salvific plan “from the beginning,” one must admit that here the term mystérion signifies the mystery, first of all hidden in God’s mind, and later revealed in the history of man. Indeed, it is a question of a “great” mystery, given its importance. That mystery, as God’s salvific plan in regard to humanity, is in a certain sense the central theme of all revelation, its central reality. God, as Creator and Father, wishes above all to transmit this to mankind in his Word (General Audience 9/8/82).

It seems to me that the sense of these texts is that the nuptial meaning of the body points to the fact that God created us for Himself and that we find our true identity in self-giving.  This self-giving of Christ is the central theme of all revelation and is expressed in the language body.  It is the “nuptial meaning” of the body, not the body itself or sexuality that constitutes the “great mystery.”  In other words, God gives us the body in order to point to Christ, He does not give us the body in order to point to itself.  There is a real difference.  And the difference is expressed, for example, in one’s willingness or unwillingness to simulate a sex act in the Easter Liturgy.  For those who see the nuptial meaning of the body as central, such a thing is pornography.  For those who see bodily sexuality itself as central, such is liturgical prayer.

I am not sure whether West still holds the following position, but I do remember that in the first edition of the “Naked without Shame” tape series, he claimed that it was important to understand the “revelation” of the nakedness of Christ on the cross.  I am not here going to take up the question as to whether the loin cloth is historical.  I remember West claiming that it was not.  What is important to me is that he stated that while most people would not be able “to handle” the nakedness of Jesus, they miss out because of it.  To me this is theological madness.

Yes, West may have “evolved,” but the tenor of his work has not.

And this leads me to Mark Shea’s latest piece on theology of the body.  Shea sees what everyone else with open eyes sees, namely, that the TOB team USA is presenting TOB as a theory of everything.  He sums up his points in the following way:

If you do smell something amiss, don’t panic or declare it to be the fruit of somebody’s monstrous will to subvert and destroy the Faith. Assume “blunder” before “diabolical plot.” Conversely, if you find something fruitful, good, and beautiful in the TOB, don’t run off and declare it a revolution in Catholic thought that will provide an All-Explaining Paradigm of Everything in Time, Space, and Eternity. It’s a human school of thought, not the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith.

In a word, relax. It’s just somebody’s opinion, not the End of the World or the Consummation of All Things.

Earlier in the essay he makes the point that the corpus of TOB is not magisterial because it is only a series of general audiences, and not an encyclical.  I am not sure I would refer to it as “not magisterial,” but I certainly agree that it is essential to place this single corpus of general audiences in the context of the whole teaching of the Church, and give to it a relative importance and not an absolute authority.  The problem with so much of this TOB enthusiasm is that  it is being presented as a theory of everything and the absolute trump card for every possible objection.

I would just say that I find it odd that Mark Shea hovers over the controversy and declares it to be relatively unimportant, when in fact West, Father Loya and others are presenting TOB as the theory-of-everthing-trump-card.  That is not a small matter because it is the sexualization of Christianity and more akin to the pagan religions that Christianity replaced than to the historical reality of Christian faith.

I imagine this game of theological ping-pong will continue until Rome intervenes.  I had hoped that would not be necessary.  What I see in this unwillingness to place the Theology of the Body in the larger context of Church teaching looks more like the pagan worship of sex than it does the Christianization of marriage and sexuality.  It is time to abandon the sex-obssession and to stop trying to baptize it.

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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.

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

Ditching the Marital Biases

I recently posted a video under the title “Male Buffoonery from the Christian Media.”  The comedic vignette portrayed in the video humorously critiques men’s lack of appreciation for their wives in terms of the amount of work involved in running a household.  As humor operates by way of exaggeration, the husband in the video comes off as a consummate jerk.

I facetiously commented that such things never happen.  What set me off is that the video is just another example of media stereotype against men, and in this case it comes from a Christian source.  I know there are two sides to this.  I was just trying to make a point.

The reason I am posting about it again is that the video generated an interesting discussion in the comments that I think needs to be addressed.  I don’t mean to single anyone out, but to address erroneous ideas that are very commonly held.

Holy Baloney

The first is that somehow the exercise of legitimate authority is contingent on the personal holiness of the one who presumes to wield authority.  So it often happens that one who is subject to authority thinks they are only obliged to obey if their superior is, in their estimation, worthy of exercising authority.  Another way of putting this notion is “only the one who shows himself to be above the average man is worthy of being superior,” or “the one who is worthy to lead is only that one who morally, intellectually, or by way of popular acclaim, rises above the rest.”

The teaching of the Catholic Church on the matter of authority is that anyone who possesses an office of authority, as long as they act within their competence, and not beyond it, and do not command something contrary to the law of God, exercises authority legitimately regardless of their personal merit, talent, intelligence, holiness, etc.  It is not true, for instance, that a superior must be in the state of grace to legitimately command.  Our Lord Himself, while publically correcting the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, defends their right to command.  He tells the apostles: All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not (Mt 23:3).

All of this applies with respect to the obligation of a wife to obey her husband.  So says the Catechism of the Council of Trent:

[L]et wives never forget that next to God they are to love their husbands, to esteem them above all others, yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience (“Holy Matrimony”).

Later on, I will explain the phrase “yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety,” but first I want to deal with an issue, about which my silence on the matter has been criticized.

Seeing Scarlet

I have dealt with at length the question of women as the weaker sex and their need to be protected, and have emphasized the singular responsibility of men to perform this task, that is, to make sure that women are treated according to their proper dignity.  My blog is about Marian Chivalry, so my emphasis should be understandable.  Yet, as we all know, it takes two to tango. Unquestionably, those who hold authority have a special obligation to avoid its abuse.  However, each of the sexes within marriage is prone to its own particular vices.  Pride and selfishness have their own specifically masculine and feminine dimensions.  If men must not abuse their authority, women, in a particular way, must not use their weakness as an excuse to cultivate the habit of emotional and sexual blackmail.

One of the problems with feminism and the emasculization of men is that the abuse of authority, especially within the family, has given credence to the idea that only those who are holy can exercise authority legitimately.  In fact, men have been emasculated precisely because they have bought into this lie.  They have willingly abdicated their authority because others, most notably their wives, have convinced them that they are not worthy to command.

Without underestimating the problem of the abuse of authority, one cannot neglect to condemn in the most strident terms this pernicious notion that a man must prove himself to be free of his faults (so obvious to his family) before he can be taken seriously.  This notion, quite frankly, is so bogus and destructive that it defies sufficient condemnation.  It is an excuse for willfulness.  It is the ruin of the unity of the family.

A man’s wife is his most brutal critic.  This almost universally true and not altogether a bad thing.  The principle contribution of women to the tradition of Christian chivalry has been the high standard to which women were expected to hold men.  The ever-present cultural and moral influence of Mary on the development of Christian civilization was in fact Her humanizing influence on the male sex.  But the ladies should not forget that most men who love a woman desire to be her hero, even if they know that, more often than not, they fall short.  Traditional women talk all the time about how much they want to have their husbands lead, but then they subject his every choice to microscopic scrutiny, and nag and complain about all his shortcomings.  Emotional and sexual blackmail become tools of the weaker sex to maintain a safe independence, that is, a way of maintaining control, while indulging all her feminine weaknesses.

Mutual Submission

It seems to me that the comment section of the post to which I referred above tended to be one-sided, either asserting that authority is only legitimate where the husband shows himself worthy, or on the other hand, is virtually always exercised legitimately, regardless of what he commands, or at least that the woman should just shut her mouth and do what she is told without question.  And this is the second error that I must address.  Indeed, the Catechism of the Council of Trent affirms that wives are obliged to

love their husbands, to esteem them above all others, yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience.

That phrase is specific, and does not suggest that a woman, who is the “helpmate,” and not slave, of her husband must yield in a mindless and servile obedience to her husband.  Ancient cultures, and some of them Christian, though not thoroughly Christianized, have regarded women as virtually the property of their husbands to be disposed of in an arbitrary way.  However, the famous passage of St. Paul, invoked by traditionalists to put women in their place does not affirm the wife-as-chattel mentality.  In Ephesians 5, St. Paul does indeed mandate the obedience of a wife to her husband, but he also states that husbands and wives are to be subject one to another, in the fear of Christ (22).  St. Paul goes on to explain this mutual subjection in terms of a wife’s obedience to her husband and the husband’s sacrificial love for his wife.  The next chapter (6) goes on in parallel manner to reaffirm the obligation of children to obey their parents, while at the same time, commanding fathers not to provoke their children to anger (1-4).  This makes it pretty clear that an arbitrary or abusive execution of authority within the family finds no mandate in sacred scripture.  No man may presume that his wife and children must swallow the consequences of his capricious will without question.

In fact, Ephesians 5 compares marriage to the love of Christ and His Bride, the Church, and the paradigm for husbandly love is Christ on the Cross.  The abuse of authority within the family is not going to be solved by feminism.  Emasculated men are a plague upon society and the family.  But neither is the problem of feminism and effeminacy going to be solved by ignoring abuses of authority or by absolutizing the rights of husbands.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church and John Paul II placed a great emphasis on the dignity of the human person and the obligations of those in authority to respect that dignity and to command according to the demands of the common good.  The Church regards as particularly pernicious the abuse of authority, because human authority is never absolute but entrusted to individuals specifically for the care of the persons, created in the image and likeness of God.  For this reason John Paul II placed a particular emphasis on the obligation of men toward women, while not at all dispensing from the obligation of obedience of wives to their husbands.  One would think that the need to address the problem of the abuse of authority, as well as the unwillingness to exercise it with legitimate forcefulness for the common good, would be obvious in the light of various modern forms of totalitarianism, fascism and fanaticism.

The Unspoken Issue

Worthy of particular note is a matter that goes largely unuttered when the topic of authority within marriage is discussed but which certainly underlies much of what is said, namely, the marriage debt.  It is a matter of grave obligation for men and women to yield to the reasonable request of their spouse and offer their bodies freely for the conjugal act.  This request is made legitimately where there is no serious reason to refuse (For particulars ask your confessor, and when in doubt, by all means seek counsel.)  In a particular way, this responsibility lies heavily on the shoulders of the woman for obvious reasons.

Again, it takes two to tango:  the man has the power to physically or emotional intimidate the woman into an unreasonable use of marriage, but the woman has the feminine power of turning her sexuality into a tool or into a weapon.  And we all know exactly what I am talking about.  There can be no one-sidedness here.

All this being said, the position of authority of the man and his superior strength and power places a special obligation on the man to respect and protect his wife from his own lusts.   Only women get pregnant and men generally do not have to worry about being abandoned with a child.  One of the greatest fears of women around the world is abandonment by the father of her children.   Women are vulnerable in this matter in way in which there is no comparison in men.  They are also expected to satisfy their husband, and unfortunately, culture has left many men under the delusion that their masculinity is defined by their libido and specifically by their need to have their sexual desires satisfied whenever they want, on demand.  This is to a large extent what many men mean by their expectation of the unquestioning obedience of their wives.

Here is a special notice to men (if the shoe fits, wear it):  Wake up!  Do you wonder why you wife has lost interest in intimacy with you and why you are less and less satisfied with your relationship with her?  It is because you act like a pig, and you keep justifying it because in reality you are insecure in your own masculinity.  Grow up and stop acting like a teenager.

I am particularly irritated by Christopher West’s ambiguity on the question of imperfect sodomy, precisely because it has certainly become an excuse on the part of “demanding” husbands to subject their wives to behavior that is demeaning and sinful.  One of West’s followers in Poland, a priest, asserts that

Attempts to set limits to the expression of love as well as arbitrary exclusion of some ways of experiencing pleasure inhibit spouses and introduce doubt, fear and moral anxiety into their sexual life. This attitude may result in frigidity and lead to serious marital problems.

In spite of the fact that the writer of these words qualifies his statement by the assertion that mutual consent must be part of the decision making, he is foisting a bill of goods on women, who generally are more passive and are expected to consent without argument.  Needless to say, many men will take words like this as justification for subjecting their wives to sins against nature and other demeaning behavior.

I have always considered the Westian interpretation of Theology of the Body to be the lustful man’s boon, notwithstanding all the exalted views of sexuality and the dignity of women.  If men truly wish to find satisfaction within their intimate relations with their wives and to maintain their moral authority, then they had better learn to behave themselves.  That means not only do they need to have a more exalted view of women and sexuality, it also means that they need to be a good deal less attached to eroticism and more willing to love selflessly, by being satisfied with less.  (A lack of sacrifice and generosity on the part of both men and women in this regard can lead to dire consequences within a marriage.)

While it is true that legitimate authority has nothing to do with whether one is holy or not, it is also true that it is better and more effective to lead by example. Such is the example of Christ, who died for his Bride.

Saving Marriage

It takes two to tango.  One-sided answers will get us nowhere.  I have favored the position of women here, because they belong to the weaker sex, but that is no excuse for the ladies to invoke what I say like a club to wield against their husbands.  I know there are really situations in which men are grossly abusive, but there are also many situations in which women can be little manipulative monsters.  Everyone clean your own house.

Christian marriage is about self-donation and self-forgetfulness.  Husbands and wives must bear each other’s burdens.  There is no way around this.  There are no pat answers.  Finger pointing is useless unless we are willing to point the finger at ourselves first.  My purpose here is not to provide the solutions to individual problems, but to point out that if we do not get the theoretical side of the argument right, then our efforts at providing practical solutions are hopelessly wrecked.

We have the whole two millennia of Christian history as our moral experience and if we find ourselves unable to learn from our mistakes the institution of marriage will continue to erode until it becomes something unrecognizable. Effeminate and homosexual men are a plague upon a structured society.  Self-centered and crabby women only exacerbate the problem.  But neither does the restoration of masculine authority involve the institutionalization of the arbitrary exercise of authority by men or the legitimization of husbands treating their wives like prostitutes.

A Response to Christopher West

In his long-awaited reply to his critics, West honestly admits that he did not want to say anything until he had received the all clear from the bishops, a boon given in abundance by Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Rhoades.  While the bishops’ endorsement is significant, it does not mean that West’s teaching is magisterial or that it is on the level of those who themselves hold the teaching office of the Church. Even a theologian who has gained the endorsement of a pope, such as Hans Urs von Balthasar or Cardinal Walter Kasper, is not considered above respectful criticism when he articulates views that may legitimately be shown to be difficult to reconcile with the Church Fathers and Doctors.

West is gracious for thanking his supporters, but his reference to the “profound consolation” proffered by the faithful is a bit off-putting.  He has chosen the path of controversy of his own volition, and for him that it is a matter of truth.  Speaking the truth has its consequences, as does making mistakes as a teacher.   It must be difficult to the focus of so much criticism, so I do pray for him. Nevertheless, he is considered, the authority on Theology of the Body, even more so now that he has been so strenuously defended.  Constructive criticism is in order.

The Pivotal Obfuscation

In my opinion, his concentration on the question of concupiscence is, for the most part, a straw man.  It seems evident that since Cardinal Rigali has blessed his entire work without qualification, West considers it is sufficient to reply to what he considers the central issue of contention.  Thus, he conspicuously omits any discussion his crusade against prudery or of any of the practical matters that have been dealt with at length by the critics (e.g. the phallic symbolism of the paschal candle, his treatment of interlocutors, his interpretation of his writings of the saints).  I will even grant that the question of concupiscence is central to the discussion.  However, West mischaracterizes the objections of his critics. Continue reading

In Defense of Purity

Fight

Thanks to Therese, I am now reading Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Purity:  The Mystery of Christian Sexuality, originally published under the title In Defense of Purity by Sheed and Ward in 1938. I have decided to blog a bit on the book as I read it.  I thought I might publish a post on each chapter.

In fact, I believe that von Hildebrand’s contribution is extraordinarily important for the proper understanding of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.  When I received von Hildebrand’s book, I was elated to find the following endorsement on the back by Dr. Josef Seifert, who helped to clarify some points about shame when I was engaged in a discussion on The Linde several weeks ago:

When first published, von Hildebrand’s books on marriage and purity rediscovered the essence of the true Catholic understanding of sexuality and thereby revolutionized the dominant view of sexuality, which was almost 2000 years old and which was often negativistic and puritan.

Today, von Hildebrand’s thoughts on the spiritual meaning of sex and love are also a key to understanding Pope John Paul II’s grandiose and audacious theology of the body.

This book opened the eyes of countless young people to the mystery and fulfillment of spousal love—and to the horror of impurity which desecrates the mystery.

Together with the theology of the body of Pope John Paul II, von Hildebrand’s writings on purity and sexuality may merit for the Twentieth Century the title of greatest century in Church history with respect to the philosophy and theology of marriage.

Von Hildebrand’s lively and fascinating analysis of love and sexuality will strike you by their beauty and depth, as much today as when the young von Hildebrand wrote this book, which already has made Church history.

If you are looking for an utterly positive understanding of love and sex, which throws into light the great virtue of purity and the greatness of marriage as love-community, this is the book for you.

Interestingly, Dr. Seifert acknowledges and revolutionary quality to both the work of von Hildebrand and John Paul II.  However, of course, the meaning of the word “revolution” as it is used here can only be understood in a Catholic sense, as I am sure Dr. Seifert meant it, that is, in the context of the development of doctrine or the hermeneutic of continuity.  This is an important point and it is essential for the understanding of the difference between virtue and vice relative to human sexuality and between true modesty and prudery.  I am looking forward to a prayerful reading of this masterpiece of a pure and reverent mind.

I will be reading from the 1989 edition, published by Franciscan University Press, Steubenville, under the title Purity:  The Mystery of Christian Sexuality.  The work is divided into two books, the first having three parts, the second, two:

Book I:  Purity

  1. Sex (3 chapters)
  2. Purity (3 chapters)
  3. The Attitude of the Pure in Marriage (3 chapters)

Book II:  Virginity

  1. The Nature of Consecration (2 chapters)
  2. Why the Virgin is the Bride of Christ (6 chapters)

Of particular note, von Hildebrand gives his reason for considering purity and virginity in the same work:

The reason for uniting in one study purity and virginity is of a practical nature.  Although virginity represents in its significance and value something completely new and autonomous with respect to purity, its inmost nature is only intelligible when we have understood that of the person, which is also the decisive factor for purity.

I will provide parenthetical references to page numbers in my posts.

An Evening Dawn (Updated)

We had the privilege of interviewing Dawn Eden at the friary Tuesday night.  One of the AirMaria friars had presence of mind to interrupt her prayers discreetly and ask her for a little time.  She most graciously consented and we are most grateful.

AirMaria has the complete interview and Dawn has posted the YouTube uploads (3 parts) to her blog.  The whole interview is well worth the watch.

I have known about her story for some time, but I did not realize how Marian and, in particular, how Kolbean she is.  That being said, I am blogging separately here on Dawn’s interview because I was deeply struck by what she said about the Blessed Mother and chastity.  The point in question is in the third part of the interview, below, where Fra Roderic asks Dawn a question about her work at 2:25.

I learned that very often people who have such an anger toward Christianity, anger towards the Church, anger towards people who promote chastity–this anger comes out of a fear of being judged, and the fear of being judged often manifests itself in a real aversion to Mary and Marian purity because they believe that the purity judges them.  .  . I myself had that fear of Mary.  It’s something that in a sense I am still working on, even though intellectually I know that there is nothing to fear. Continue reading

Little Disney Feminists

Much to my chagrin, the post on this blog that has received the most hits is the one in which I linked to an article by a feminist on the evils of the Disney Princesses. I barely even commented on the article; I just provided the link. Over the last couple of months the hits have gone out of sight. I have no idea why and would be really interested to know why.

In my search for the reason, I have come across a better known article on the subject that was published in The New York Times in December, 2006 by Peggy Orenstein, entitled “What’s Wrong with Cinderella?” Seems the feminists have a love hate relationship with Cinderella and her cohorts. What would probably be more of concern to the regular readers of Mary Victrix is the way in which young girls are being hyper-sexualized and the way in which the story’s minimize fatherhood; what concerns the feminists, however, is the do-nothing, girlie-girl image of the Princesses (Mulan and Pocahontas, excepted).

In spite of her uneasiness with pink dresses and tiaras for toddlers Orenstein wonders if the current Princess-mania is part of the third wave of feminism. Women are claiming their “right” to have it all: to be one of the boys and a princess at the same time.

The first wave of feminism was the “fight for suffrage.” During the 60s and 70s of the women’s movement saw its second wave, which “fought for reproductive rights and economic, social and legal equality,” and which eschewed gender image altogether, especially that which made women subject to men, either by way of authority or sexuality. The third wave of feminism, according to Orenstein has reclaimed “sexual objectification as a woman’s right.” In other words the new feminists see nothing wrong with being a sex-object as long as it is on their own terms.

Now that “reproductive rights” are fairly secure, men are not entirely to be exiled from the midst of the Amazons. Now the game of exploitation can be engaged in on a much more level playing field. Now feminists are teaching girls to use their sexuality to secure their independence even further and have fun at the same time. They still remain concerned about issues of equality and the culture which puts so much pressure on girls to look like models and Hollywood actresses, but God forbid anyone teach chastity. They are worried about “age-inappropriate” exposure to the culture of lust, but not about the consequences of an unchaste spirit itself.

Without being paranoid, one would think that in this age of pedophilia,  the feminists would be less fearful of chastity and do more to reexamine the dictates of common sense.  One can still hope.

Disney is not the worst of it, for sure, what with Bratz dolls and fashions like Abercrombie & Fitch. Still, what remains particularly distressing about Disney is the target age of little girls and the relative “wholesomeness” of the Disney reputation in main-stream culture.

There seems to be a great deal of latent anger against men who have neglected and abused their wives and abandoned their children. We have much work to do in order to restore respect for the institution of fatherhood. Fathers have a tremendous amount of work to do in order to teach their sons to respect their mothers and sisters and to teach girls that not all male attention is exploitative and selfish.