Lumen Christi

I

Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.
O King of Israel:
Hosanna in the Highest! (Antiphon, Palm Sunday, cf. Mt 21:9;).

Hypocrites, well hath Isaias prophesied of you, saying:  This people honoureth me with their lips: but their heart is far from me (Mt 15:7).

The sacred liturgy offers us an opportunity, in this most holy of weeks, to enter into the history of our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection.  Our presence at the Sacred Triduum is a proclamation of our faith in that the Christ of History and the Christ of Faith are one and the same.  Some scripture scholars have the tendency to demythologize the gospel accounts, and, inversely, some commentators on the liturgy have the tendency to mythologize the Easter liturgy.  In fact, the gospels are historical and the liturgy brings us into contact with that sacred and sacramental history.

Christopher West, as I have mentioned many times before, has tended to sexualize the liturgy.  Most recently, he reposted his Easter commentary on St. Augustine’s reference to the Cross as a marriage bed.  Of course, the patristic analogy is fine.  It is the agenda with which I have a problem.   Inevitably liturgical eroticism connects Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with Hieros Gamos, which is Jungian and best and Wiccan at worst.  It is where myth meets alchemy and shamanism.

Gnostics, liturgical wreckers and liturgical reformers alike have treated the liturgy like magic: “Just do it like this and everything will get better.”  “Change it” or “Don’t you dare change it,” has only served to confirm, however wrongly, what our enemies have said all along, that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is hocus pocus.

Our liturgy is not a gnostic play, an allegorical wedding that symbolizes human life on a psychological, or on some universally valid “spiritual” or “mystical” level.  Our mysticism, our mystagogy is based on real history, otherwise we are of all men most miserable. (1 Cor 15:19).

The Sacraments are neither magic nor mythology.  Alchemy is a lousy metaphor for Christian transformation, but it is a good metaphor the reduction of spirituality to human manipulation. A “chymical wedding” is paradise calculated, prognosticated and resolved upon, and left unrealized.

Some of the liturgical magicians look to the Easter liturgy for an occult answer to even the misery of impurity. Liturgical eroticism is not the answer because sensuality and the imagination gives too free access to demonic.  The Angelic Doctor made distinctions.  The Demonic Doctor makes an infinite amount of distinctions.  His eros is never the impure kind:  “The lumen Christi takes care of that.  Just think sublimely, mystically.  Spiritual marriage is never impure.”  In fact, the Sacraments lead to bliss only by a harder road: the one Jesus took.

But Catholics should not be Roman Missal thumpers either, who think humanity’s problems will be solved simply by the black and red of missal older than 1962.  The Sacred Liturgy is not a wand to be waved over the post-conciliar Church, but a mystery to be assimilated.  The Tree of Life has not been transplanted from paradise.  The old tree points to the new, and the new is a bridal bed of pain.  Why should the liturgy not be painful?  We can be like teenagers who don’t like going to Mass because we don’t get anything out of it.

The Sacred Liturgy is not an academic exercise any more than it is mythological drama.  The unity of the Church depends in a very great part upon the liturgy, and the average Catholic has a real life to live.  He is not a monk.  He is not a scholar, liturgist or controversialist.  He just wants to go to Mass.  He has no agenda, and He probably is not visionary in his outlook.  He is just trying to make it through the week.  He needs to identify with Christ, not with the brocade on a dalmatic.

True mysticism passes by way of real, practical and concrete ascetism that bears down upon the will.   The saint is not an austere superman, but one who has broken his stubborn and incalcitrant will.  There is a big difference.  Liturgical precision and reverence should be a given.  Respect for tradition and an understanding that neither antiquarianism nor novelty are valid principles in liturgical reform must be presumed.  But the fastidious and academic preoccupation, the pained observations of everything than does not conform with the ideal resolved upon, is a sign of a will that is very much like that of the liturgical innovator.  Lest this assessment itself becomes excessively academic, I should just summarize by saying our hope should be that the liturgy break the selfish will.

Holy Week is the Way of the Cross and it is a hard road.  It resists euphemisms and cannot tolerate self-serving stupidity and effeminate mystagogery.  Our passion play is reality.  “Hosanna in the highest!” and “Crucify him!” come out of the same mouths.  It is supreme irony that we solemnize our fickleness, the fact that our piety so often misses the point.  It is a harsh reality we need to face:

I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spit upon me. The Lord God is my helper, therefore am I not confounded: therefore have I set my face as a most hard rock, and I know that I shall not be confounded (Isaias 50:6-7).

Our Lord was like a Lamb, silent before His sheerer (53:7).  Our face is set like flint when our mouths are closed and our hearts are open.  Christ is our High Priest and Victim, not a magician.  The grace is there for us even in the demystified, lowly Novus Ordo.  We should stop deflecting our attention from the real problem by indulging a magical way of thinking and set our face like flint against our selfish will.

II

A new commandment I give to unto you:
That you love one another,
As I have loved you,
Saith the Lord. (Antiphon, Holy Thursday, Mass of the Last Supper, cf. Jn 13:34).

Where charity and love are, there is God (Antiphon, Ibid.).

The small band of apostles in the upper room was not a narrow sect united by an ideology or by a personality.  Our Lord was neither.  The Word of Truth that lived and breathed was the Incarnate Son of God.

He comes among us a one who serves:  and He serves lepers.  He bends down and washes our filthy feet.  He kisses our sores.

He did it more truly in His passion in the Garden and on the Cross, but during the Last Supper He did it ceremonially as an example to His priests, and by way of them to the rest of us.

The ceremony is symbolic.  There are much worse things than dirty feet.  There is not one among us that is not a moral leper.  If we think otherwise we will not leave the Sacred Triduum justified (cf. Lk 18:14).

We do not need to wait for others to get it.  Those who go to the Novus Ordo Mass should not be presumed to be ignorant and backwards.  This is such a huge presumption that reveals a profound ignorance of the reality of human perfection and defect.  It is a calculation that is facile, narrow and conveniently isolated in spiritual fantasy.  We have not gotten it yet if we are convinced the real problem is someone or something else.

We too easily write off those we do not understand, or who, in one way or another, do not measure up to our ideal, and yet this is one of the faults Our Lord most often corrected.  He at with sinners and gave the Pharisees a hard time.   There are silent sufferers who have been making daily communions since before the Second Vatican Council, and they are presumed to be backwards by the liturgical know-it-alls because they don’t understand and do not want a Latin Mass?  One can be too pastoral it is true.  But one can also be too academic.

Truth is objective.  The Sacred Triduum and the liturgy in general enshrine real history—objective revelation and dogma.  We need to fight for the truth, to be sure.  Many are rightly wearied of the fatherless Church.  The problem is that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah is also the Lamb that was slain.  The objective truth is that our militancy must be Christ-like, even if the Church is a mess.

The ideal of the Christian Knight is the One seated on the White Horse, who is called Faithful and True, whose eyes are flames of fire, who wields a double-edged sword from his mouth and rules the nations with an iron rod (Apoc 19:11-15).  Historical chivalry is a poor substitute for the paradox that is the redemptive Incarnation.  The ideal was one thing, the reality another.  Literary chivalry was never entirely Christian.  It was laced with the same erotic Gnosticism that is repackaged today under the title of Theology of the Body (not a criticism of the soon to be Blessed Pope John Paul II, but rather of some of his self-proclaimed disciples).  Military chivalry had the function, and still does, of making a bad situation less bad.  The military vocation is a fine and noble calling, but try making a profession out of killing people, and then see how many of those who wield the sword remain knights in shining armor.  This is not to denigrate the honorable service of our heroes, only to note that military honor is not an easy matter, especially when the ideal is Christ Himself.

This is why in the end, St. Francis, who had sought after nobility with such avidity, rejected status and power.  He got off his horse and gave away his armor to a poor knight.  And then he got off his horse again to kiss a leper.  Christ the Knight is Christ the Leper: Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted (Isaias 53:4).

How many of us have experienced the paradox of a real Christ in our life, who loves in truth and speaks the truth in love?  There is no magic wand for bringing all souls into the embrace of Holy Mother Church.  The only problem with the Church is its members.  And so, we lepers must remember that He says to us:  as I have done to you, so you do also (Jn 13:15).  There is no missal or grimoire that will make that happen.  Sacramental life is a far more ascetical reality.

III

Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Savior of the world (Good Friday, Adoration of the Cross).

O my people, what have I done to thee? Or wherein have I afflicted thee? Answer me. (Reproaches, Ibid.).

Public Scandal is a horrible thing.  A sacrilegious communion piled on top has the makings of hell on earth. Advocacy for child murder and the re-crucifixion of Jesus in a sacrilegious communion is the “matter and form” of a potent curse.  It has been pronounced over our country countless times.  Piled onto to this is the even worse scandal and plague of the abuse of children by priests.  St Christina the Astonishing is reported to have attended Holy Mass many times a day, and upon perceiving a priest in the state of sin approaching the altar, would levitate from the choir loft to the sanctuary and beat him back into the sacristy.

Good Friday is both a curse and a blessing.  The Pharisees made a religious procession of their denial of Christ and consummated it with human sacrifice—indeed with deicide.   It was a pagan execution orchestrated by Satan and given religious significance by the guardians of the law.  He was made a curse for us (for it is written: cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree) that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Christ Jesus: that we may receive the promise of the Spirit by faith (Gal 3:13-14).

How many of those who reviled the Lord on Good Friday had made themselves Satan’s puppets, his acolytes in the unholy rites of hell.  But the foundations of the netherworld itself were rent asunder by the inversion of sin, crafted by our Savior.  The curse became a blessing.  The sign of death became the sacrament of life—the exorcism of the world, the regeneration of souls.

In Graham Greene’s novel The Heart of the Matter, the main character, Scobie, slowly but surely spirals into moral depravity, all the while experiencing remorse without true repentance.  He eventually finds himself approaching the altar rail for Holy Communion in the state of sin because he is not prepared to deal with the deception in which he finds himself.  Not having the heart to look up he sees only the skirt of the priest’s cassock “like the skirt of the medieval warhorse bearing down upon him: the flapping of feet: the charge of God. If only the archers would let fly from ambush . . .”  But God does not intervene and Scobie receives the Eucharist sacrilegiously.  He prays that his damnation will, through his offering, be the salvation of others.

In the light of this power, the great and small, the sinner and saint process down the aisle to eat and drink unto life or condemnation.  We put our trust in the power, but we also sometimes presume on it, as though Christ will turn our indifferent Communions into grace.  It is absurd to offer up our damnation.  How awful it is that we can be so eager to deceive ourselves.

Our Lord at the altar does not discriminate.  He remains silent under the form of bread and wine.  We bring upon ourselves a blessing or a curse.  He is the “hound of heaven” or the “warhorse bearing down.”

Public sacrilege is a curse upon the Church for which those responsible, and those responsible for allowing it to continue, will render an account.  Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh (Mt 18:7).

But the dirty little secret is that the Church does not need pro-abortion politicians or pedophile priests to profane the house of God.  The Lord has long suffered betrayal from his friends.  St. Margaret Mary asked him why thorns surrounded His Sacred Heart.  He replied: “My enemies put a crown of thorns around My head, and my friends have put a crown of thorns around My Heart.”

Reparation for sins committed against the Sacred and Eucharistic Heart of Jesus is particularly necessary for the outrage of sacrilegious Communions.  On Good Friday the liturgical order is reduced to a state of desolation:  a bare altar, and empty tabernacle, adoration of the Cross, communion without a consecration.  We are desolate without Jesus.

The priest prostrates and begs forgiveness for his sins and those of the people.  We own Good Friday.  We own the desolation.  It is what our sins deserve.

“For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”  We cry for mercy.  The Precious Blood pleads on our behalf.

It is never a public scandal to refrain from Holy Communion.  What is a scandal is cueing up for Holy Communion and neglecting the Sacrament of Penance.  The door of mercy is always open.  The Good Shepherd welcomes back the lost sheep.

The state of a person’s soul is between him or her and God.  If someone refrains from receiving Holy Communion, cast your eyes down and keep your mouth shut—even if it is your own child.  You don’t know what is going on and you don’t need to know.  Let the Holy Spirit do his job and never allow yourself to facilitate a sacrilegious communion.

IV

Christ yesterday and today,
The Beginning and the End,

The Alpha and Omega,

All times are His,
And all the ages.
To Him be glory and dominion,
Through all ages of eternity.
Amen (Easter Vigil, Blessing of the Paschal Candle).

May the Virtue of the Holy Ghost descend into all the water of this font,
And make the whole substance of this water fruitful for regeneration (Easter Vigil, Blessing of Baptismal Water).

The incorruptible flesh of Christ cannot be bound by death.  The Virgin born escapes the tomb without breaking the seal.  The Fathers of the Church speak of the incorruptible Virginity of Mary as unprecedented miracle of Divinity of Christ.  The incorruption of the Resurrection is the unprecedented miracle of the Redemption:  Incorruption is not the expected outcome of Good Friday, and it is for this reason that we experience a kind of bliss at Easter.

Some object to referring to the “incorruption” of virginity as though it implied that marriage and motherhood were something dirty.  But that is to miss the point entirely.  A woman is not corrupted by marriage, but her virginity is.  And the virginal state is a value unto itself, both before marriage and especially when it is consecrated to God for life.   Its joy is the inverse of what the world expects, or what the human mind may calculate.

Both motherhood and virginity are values, different and mutually exclusive values.  Only in one case were both values realized, namely, in the person of the Blessed Virgin, but this includes the Church as well.  Mary as archetype of the Church, and the Church, of which Mary is the preeminent member, are both Virgin and Mother.  Neither Mary, nor the Church is impregnated.  They conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is a miraculous power that shakes the foundations of the earth and changes history forever.

The Virgin Born who is also the First Born of the Dead breaks the incomprehensible blackness of sin, pride and calculation, “bravely burning
to dispel the darkness of this night” (Easter Praeconium).  Carried aloft, His truth brings about a conformation of our lives to His death, so that His life might overcome our death.  This is power is beyond the will or manipulation of man.  It is the cause of our joy.

Baptism is a virginal mystery, precisely because it belongs to the order of the Incarnation and Resurrection, precisely because, like the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, it accomplishes a miracle of the first order.  It makes a child of wrath a child of God.  There can be nothing more fundamental to the origin of our relationship to God than our divine filiation.  Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration.  The fundamental metaphor is rebirth, not marriage, because this birth is not a function of marriage but of virginity.

Drawing a comparison between the Easter Vigil and pagan fertility rites is to prefer magic to sacrament.  They are not the same.  The unfortunate association of paganism with this Feast by means of “Pascha” having been englished “Easter,” only underscores the struggle between light and darkness, just as the Feast of All Saints becomes associated with the Druidic witchcraft and struggles, so to speak, to maintain its identity.

Magic is based on the presumed relationship between the macrocosm and the microcosm, between the larger world of cosmos and spirit and the little world of man.  Sacred Marriage in the pagan tradition is power because by it man wills to align the psychic energy of ecstasy with the world spirits to produce some effect in the world or the soul.

Sex is not a sacrament, even if a non-consummated marriage can be, in certain cases, dissolved.  It does not produce a sacramental effect.   Sacraments are not based on an alignment of our psychic experience with God, but on the alignment of matter and form with intent to do with the Church intends in celebrating the sacraments.  It is the will of God and His power, His infinite power that effects sacramental grace.  It is a covenant, not a biological process or a psychic experience that accomplishes the sacramental transformation, because in Christ we are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn 1:13).  The efficacy of the sacraments would not be expected except that God has willed it so.

Christian marriage is not natural marriage.  Grace builds on nature, but it also transcends it.  There is no return to the Garden.  Grace is supernature, not preternature.  There is and will be no earthly paradise during our time of trial.  Chastity is supernatural, an unexpected turn from the natural course of a fallen world.

During the Wedding Feast of the Lamb we find the Bridegroom on His White Horse, with fiery eyes and the sword of His word.   The matrimonial ritual is a resistance to opposition, the casting down of the beast and the false prophet and the slaying of the enemies by the sword of him that sitteth upon the horse, which proceedeth out of his mouth (Apoc 19: 7-9, 11-15, 19-21).  It is not exactly parallel to earthly experiences.  Our experience points up and its meaning is informed by the mysteries we celebrate.  But natural ecstatic experience elevated by knowledge, what Renaissance philosophers called “natural magic,” is not an experience of grace.

The power of Easter is entirely unexpected, not the function of a predetermined process.  It is a turn of the tide, a “eucatastrophe,” as Tolkien has written:

it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief (On Fairy Stories).

The joy of Easter is tied precisely to its character of being unexpected.  No one expects a virgin to become a mother.  No one expects a crucified man to rise from the dead.  No one expects one who deserves hell to be reborn into innocence.  No one expects the fallen to be chaste.

The signs of the Knight of the White Horse and the Woman in Travail and Clothed with the Sun are the signs of the “high tide and the turn.”  The passion of the Church is a night “thrice over us,” and sometimes the thunderclouds of vicissitude are like an “iron cope,” that shuts out the light of heaven.  But Christ is yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and Omega. 

He is the Light of the World, in a world that needs an illumination.  At the Vigil the new fire and the light of the Paschal Candle will cause a visual illumination that corresponds to an enlightened regard for the meaning of Our Lord’s suffering and death.

We must choose death to see God.  St. Bonaventure says:  “My soul chooseth hanging, and my bones, death.  He who loves this death can see God, for it is absolutely true that Man shall not see me and live.”  We must pass through the Passion of the Church.  We rightly say in liturgical language:  “Say the black.  Do the red.”  But Catholic life cannot be reduced to rubricism or magic formulas.  We must wait in patience for the “high tide and the turn,” the “wind of the ships and lightning of Lepanto.”

Lumen Christi.  Deo Gratias.

Alternate States of Unreality

As I have mentioned before, I have been researching the subject of the occult with a special focus on the Christian esotericism of the Renaissance.  Before I started the research, I really was not aware how syncretistic historical magicians have been.  I assumed they were mostly self-proclaimed apostates, or simply hid their occultism behind the shear underclothing of Christian trappings in order to hide their real intent.  The reality is more complex, but not less diabolical.

Christian Occultism?

The origins of Western occultism are largely connected with the Christian Gnostic writings pseudonymously attributed to a pre-Christian magician by the name of Hermes Trismegestus.  The writings are largely mythological and philosophically connected with neoplatonism, an amalgamation of both Christian and pagan ideas.

The context of my research is the formulation of a critique of the Harry Potter series, a matter about which I have thought for more than ten years.  During that time I have been reading the books, and, for reasons I will mention in my own book on the subject, have until now remained silent.

One of the principle defenses of the Harry Potter series by Christians who are thoughtful readers is based on J.K. Rowling’s assertion that her own research for Harry Potter concerned, not magic, but alchemy.  This defense goes on to assert that alchemy was not principally about the transmutation of metals or the acquisition of the Elixir of Life, but about the purification and transformation of the soul.  According to this argument, the alchemical transformational process is consistent with Christian mysticism.  I do not accept this argument and will explain why in my book.

Magic and Mysticism

The specific matter of this present post is the modern non-Christian approach to mysticism, which is not really modern at all and shares much in common with Eastern forms of pagan mysticism.  The fact is that Eastern meditation, New Age attempts to acquire altered states of consciousness, and classic Western occultism are bosom buddies.  It may indeed be that the magical tradition of the West is only thinly veiled with Christianity, meaning, that it only has the benefit of Christian trappings. However, this tradition is longstanding and deep veined.

I have been reading a particular occultist take on Harry Potter that relates alchemical, mystical transformation to the tradition of shamanism. The word “shaman” is of Turkic origin, the original meaning of which is not clear.  It has been assumed into the English language as an anthropological term that refers to the practitioner of communication with the spiritual world.   The term “shaman” is of universal connotation, that is, it is a general term that refers to the spiritual leaders of many different cultures and religions, such as those belonging to Native American tribes, African and Asian cultures, and even, as some claim to Celtic tradition.

The word “shaman” is generally used to identify a member of the priestly cast of various pagan cultures who act as intermediaries between men and the spiritual world in order to obtain guidance, solutions to community problems and healing.  Shamans can also use their powers to obtain knowledge of the future, and to adversely affect targeted individuals.  They perform these functions by means of their ability to contact the spiritual world through a trance or an altered state of consciousness.

In other words shamanism is a form of witchcraft that operates by means of a state of consciousness through which the shaman is an open channel to occult powers.  From this we come to understand that spiritual channeling is the substance of pagan mysticism.

Hipster Spirituality

In postmodern Western society, which has largely rejected the dogmatic approach to morality and spirituality, and which has been spiritually starved for two generations, this approach has a great deal of appeal.  Postmodern society has rejected ultimate meaning and metanarratives that attempt to explain origins and destinies in terms of doctrines and laws.  It has also rejected the whole concept of spiritual authority.  Not only has authority become the universal enemy, but so has the adult.  Adolescent rebellion against authority epitomized in the ideals of “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll is the philosophy of postmodernism.  The geriatric, burned-out icons of rock culture, such as Ozzy Osbourne, proclaim the triumph of the philosophy of Peter Pan.   In this context the mysticism of the altered state of consciousness, induced variously by drugs, sex, the occult, and various combinations of the three, is the preferred short-order spirituality of postmodernism.

But, as I have said this is nothing new.  It is in fact the tradition of shamanism, rooted in pre-Christian societies and dolled-up in the form of Renaissance Christian esotericism.  What might actually be new is the fact that the Rule of Esotericism, that is, the practice of keeping the arcane hidden, is no longer needed to protect the “great mysteries” from the prying eyes of the unworthy.  Secrets are always fun for their characteristic ability of supplying ambiance and mystique.  However, postmodernism is incapable of attributing enough meaning to something so as to consider it sacred or worthy of keeping it hidden.  No, our society throws everything to the swine.  We strip mysticism down to its raw, tender and sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly nakedness, exploit it for all its worth and throw the rest in the compost heap.

Fringe

The particular occultist take on Harry Potter mentioned above, as I said, relates alchemical transformation to shamanism.  Indeed, alchemy, as a spiritual process of purification and transmutation, is an alignment of spiritual, psychic and material powers, of which the alchemist is the mediator.  The particular author I am referring to prefers to identify this psychic state as an “alternate state of consciousness,” rather than an “altered state of consciousness.”  The latter expression implies that the mystical state is other than normal, whereas the former implies nothing concerning normality, nor does it provide a point of reference.  This is because, for the author, the mystical state involves neither knowing nor willing, but “awareness.”  The author refrains from using any more specific term, like “contemplation,” “trance,” or “ecstasy,” because the practitioner alone is able to both find the way and attach meaning to the experience.

As a side note, my research has brought me to a number of sources, including the specific one mentioned here, that make reference to modern science, especially, quantum physics.  It seems to be a popular brand of secular spirituality and hinges on the idea that the universe is not explainable except through imperfect models, and that the observer of the universe is as much a giver of meaning as the things observed themselves.  I do not pretend to understand quantum physics.  But associated with it, in the opinion of some, is the existence of parallel or alternate universes in which the same persons and things can exist simultaneously under different circumstances and with different outcomes.  In this connection, alternate states of consciousness are in part movement between universes.

Awareness as an alternate state of consciousness, and one opposed to knowing and willing, is posited on the basis of the rejection of any radical distinction between the knower and the known.  What is common to Eastern spirituality, shamanism and Western witchcraft is the rejection of objective thinking in respect to spirituality, that is, the rejection of dogma.  The shaman, the witch, wizard or alchemist is an open channel to the universe and has tuned himself or herself to the spiritual powers that will to communicate.  In other words the occult mystic is an open door the hidden powers of the universe.

It really makes no difference what nature the shaman attributes to the spirits.  Definitions are counterproductive.  I well believe that the vast majority of occultists consider the discussion about what is and is not satanic to be irrelevant.  Marilyn Manson, for example, believes he is bigger and badder than Satan and has no commitment to any particular form of the occult, even though he is a high priest of the Church of Satan (content warning).  I honestly doubt that most satanists and occultists have embraced enough metanarrative to draw any stable conclusions about much of anything.  They are lost, quite contentedly, in a maze of perpetual ambiguity.  They are seekers, not finders, who repudiate definitions and points of departure.  They live in various states of consciousness, all of them alternate and none of them normal.

Magicians

Another interesting connection to the occult and alternate states of consciousness is the prevalence of sex magick within various traditions that seek mystical transformation through psychic experience.  Recently, I became aware that Hieros Gamos (Sacred Marriage) made famous by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code is the most important of all the rites in Wiccan witchcraft.  In Wicca Hieros Gamos is known as The Great Rite.

For those of you who spared themselves of Dan Brown’s potboiler, Hieros Gamos is a kind of “sacred” play in which a high priest and high priestess act out the union between god and goddess, by means of sexual intercourse, and symbolize the coincidence of opposites, as in alchemy and psychology.  In Wicca the Great Rite may be performed “in token,” that is symbolically by means of the penetration of chalice by a blade, or “in truth” through the actual commerce of the high priest and priestess.

Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern Wicca casts The Great Rite in terms of a heightened and magical state of consciousness that is not focused on sex but on the intended object of transformation.  It is, according to him, an aid to “The Great Work,” that is, whatever transformation is the object of Wiccan magic (ultimately wisdom and personal transformation).  Gardner writes that the mind of the participants in The Great Rite “must seize and mold the power generated, and redirect it to the desired end with all the force and frenzy of the imagination.”  So this is sex as mysticism and personal transformation via a sex induced alternate state of consciousness.

Interestingly, the term “The Great Work” is also a Hermetic/alchemic expression for the transmutation of metals and most especially, the transmutation of the soul.   This alchemical process is conceived as a marriage of opposites.  The fundamental alchemical text is named Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz.  Alchemy and sex magick are familiar bedfellows, so to speak.

Aleister Crowley, who is also defended from accusations of Satanism, was a pioneer of modern sex magick, as well as an experimenter in recreational drugs.  He placed a special emphasis on working with prostitutes and considered in the highest form of magick to be achieved by means of homosexual acts.  Crowley, the Great Beast himself, inducted the founder of Wicca, Gerald Gardner, into the former’s Ordo Templi Orientis, shortly before Crowley died.  Gardner took up the torch and carried the flame.

Kumbaya

Also interesting to note is that the only critique of Dan Brown’s work to draw out the Wiccan connection to Hieros Gamos, is that of Steve Kellmeyer.  Carl Olsen’s and Sandra Meisel’s The Da Vinci Hoax, says surprisingly little about Hieros Gamos, even though in the novel its full revelation by Robert Langdon to Sophie Neveu is also the full revelation of the “Holy Grail” to the reader of the novel.  It is kind of the whole point.

Even more interesting is Sandra Meisel’s rather soft critique of Wicca, which seems to be me more ecumenical than warranted.  There she is careful to distinguish the ancient “fertility rites” antecedent to Wicca from Satanism and to hold Christianity responsible for misinterpreting pagan intentions.  And while she touches upon the sexual license of Wiccans, Meisel never mentions The Great Rite at all, and instead recommends sexualized method to evangelize them:

Catholic responses to paganism would be stronger if we could recover that sense of incarnational “bodiliness” the Middle Ages knew. The common perception that Catholicism itself is somehow puritanical — to say nothing of the sad fact that some Catholics are puritanical — needs to be addressed. On the positive side, the late-Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body offers a bold new understanding of human sexuality that would startle pagans, especially in its popular exposition by Christopher West.

In fact, in his first edition of audio recordings, Naked without Shame, Christopher West referred to the Catholic Easter Vigil as a “fertility rite.”  I have not heard that language from him since he made that series more than a decade ago.  However, the substance of his presentation has not changed with respect to the phallic interpretation of the Easter Candle.

BTW, what the “hell” is this image taken from subliminal soft-pornographic flash animation on Father Loya’s Theology of the Body site:

There is something genuinely creepy about all this.

Playing with Fire

Sex as mysticism is an inherently dangerous idea, not because sex has no orthodox theological meaning, but because eroticism and sexual ecstasy are simply not the same thing as prayer.  It really can only be identified with the contemplative life by means of the inversion involved with occultism.  It is true that grace builds on nature, and that the sexual experience is a sign.  But nature and grace are not identical.  Sex is not prayer.

In respect to this particular problem, the Theology of the Body popularizers would do well to remember that in the domain of sexuality, when compared to the Prince of this World, they are amateurs.  The Old Boy has been at it for a long time.

It is good to avoid prudery, but as one writer points out:

the danger lies in stripping us of the inhibitions and sublimations that occasionally protect us from harm.  Insofar as [Christopher West] and [Hugh] Hefner recommend to us more “exposure” both are misguided.  Between the beautiful and the demonic there is no clinically neutral middle.  Our sexuality is anything but “harmless.”  As Donald Keefe has said, there is no common ground between yes and no. Sexual love in marriage, he would note, is the occasion for blissful joy, not simply the elements of fun.  Any attempts by West or Hefner to domesticate the beautiful, to make the holy into something manipulable, even manageable, will be about as successful as rap music has been in lowering the crime rate.

I have posed several questions to the Theology of the Body gurus that have remained unanswered for a long time (Under the heading “Looking for Answers”).  Perhaps the popularizers are insulted by the questions or otherwise do not take the questions seriously.  But I am dead serious.  I think they are very good questions and they need to be answered.  I really want to know how I am to distinguish Christopher West  & Co.’s defense of shamelessness from advocacy for liturgical sexuality.

Knowing and Loving

Personal transformation via alternate states of consciousness is not Christian mysticism.  It is not the goal of the contemplative life to make oneself a channel of the spiritual, but rather to converse with God.  Knowing and willing, objective thought and personal love must never be abandoned, though if one clings to Christ and his Word (objective truth) the Shepherd may open the Sheep’s Gate so that the soul can pasture in the fields planted by His own hand (cf. Jn 10:9).  In the Catholic tradition, contemplative knowing and loving does at times presuppose a suspension of the ordinary functioning of the faculties of the soul, but this is never a generic awareness, something other than knowing and willing.  Contemplatives should never make it their goal to induce alternate states of consciousness or to make themselves open channels to the spiritual world for the sake some experience of the transcendent.

What can and cannot be formally identified as Satanism is of little importance when compared with the satanic elements that run clean through every form of the occult.  Satan uses both ambiguity and overly fine distinctions imbed himself in peoples consciousness.

Beautiful Lies

Satanic alternate realities are being sold to us as an aesthetic experiment and marketing ploy.  Ozzy is recast as a pious God-invoking do-gooder who just happens to adopt dark, gothic outer clothing.  In his melodic “Dreamer,” his honest yearnings are sanctified with the presence of angels, albeit dark, gothic, child angels:

Your higher power may be God or Jesus Christ
It doesn’t really matter much to me
Without each others help there ain’t no hope for us
I’m living in a dream of fantasy
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah

If only we could all just find serenity
It would be nice if we could live as one
When will all this anger, hate and bigotry …
Be gone?

I’m just a dreamer
I dream my life away
Today
I’m just a dreamer
Who dreams of better days
Okay
I’m just a dreamer
Who’s searching for the way . . .

Yes, Ozzie is “living in a dream of fantasy.”  He is a searcher and a dreamer, a drug-driven shaman, singing into the great void for an end of hatred and bigotry.  It is generic “awareness” that summons up the conviction that what we need is an end to the equally generic “hatred and bigotry.”  What the occult urges us to do is to open our minds ever wider to subjectivity and embrace universal brotherhood, without conviction in a metanarrative like the one connected to “God or Jesus Christ.”  Christ condemns sin by name and closes the door to it.  But alternate states of consciousness encourage us to open the door wide to alternate realities and alternative lifestyles.

There actually is a normal state of consciousness, and this is not it.  Wicca and gothic, postmodern, occult culture is not in the least harmless.  Good faith has nothing to do with it.  The question of overt Satanism has little to do with it either.  The choice for Christ is not compatible with contemplative experimentation and Christian esotericism, because the light is not compatible with the darkness, and Christ can have no concord with Belial (cf.2 Corinthians 6:15).  We have allowed the bruised egos of the likes of  Ozzie Osbourne and Marilyn Manson to keep us making the most refined distinctions in regard to what actually belongs to the satanic.  This is the reasoning championed by Freemasonry, because the Craft is essentially militant occultism in a popular form.  Satan is king of the convoluted.

Just for the record, I have chosen not to draw any conclusions here with respect to Harry Potter.  That will come in due time along the lines of a reasoned argument which is not the burden of this post.  For now we can just say that Rowling deals with these issues and she takes them seriously.  Harry Potter is a serious work and not just a cartoon-like children’s story.  The issues at hand are about life and death.  May we all choose life and close the door to the spirits of darkness.

The Way of Ugliness

It has come to my attention that Christopher West’s multi-media event, “Fill These Hearts,” has been designed to up the ante in our dispute over the Theology of the Body. He talks at great length in his recent interview about the power of beauty to convey the truth, to “make the invisible visible” (his definition for both art and mysticism).  So “Fill These Hearts” is all positive energy, showing forth the beauty of the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.  Right?

Wrong.

No, Mr. West can’t get through the show without taking some pretty bitter swipes at the Church’s pre-TOB catechesis, in a rather ugly way.

I have not seen the show, but I have confirmed the accuracy of what is reported below.

“Fill These Hearts,” is a multi-media event that makes use of music, sacred art, video clips and, of course, Christopher West’s running commentary. Its tag line is

GOD, SEX AND THE UNIVERSAL LONGING: AN EVENING OF BEAUTY AND REFLECTION ON JOHN PAUL II’S THEOLOGY OF THE BODY.

Art has the power of reinforcing ideas.  It is a particularly powerful tool for creating and perpetuating myth.  The meta-narrative of the American TOB movement is that chastity education in the United States prior to TOB was the product of “prudish Victorian morality,” and that this single corpus of Wednesday general audiences rescued the Church from the “Manichaean Demon.”  The treatment of TOB as a kind of self-contained panacea for the sexual revolution is justified on the basis of this mythology.

Myths make use of the fantastic in order to deliver their effect.  In them the good is idealistically perfect and the evil almost unimaginably infernal. Beauty must be juxtaposed with the hideously ugly in order to make its deepest impression on the imagination.  So perhaps a better version of the second part of West’s tag line might read:  AN EVENING OF MORTAL CONFLICT BETWEEN BEAUTY AND UGLINESS IN THE SERVICE OF PROMOTING CHRISTOPHER WEST’S VERSION OF JOHN PAUL II’S THEOLOGY OF THE BODY.

I am not arguing that the Church was without problem regarding chastity education, or that there was no excesses along the lines of prudery.  But this is the way that West consistently chooses to characterize the Church’s stance prior to John Paul  II.  This meta-narrative is necessary as a marketing tool for TOB. We are led to believe that prior to TOB the Church was simply crippled in regard to handing on the truth about marriage and sexuality.  West does not look for continuity, but for rupture, and he is willing to go over to the dark side to find it.  It is necessary, as a matter of the means adopted for a specific end, to harp on the defects of pre-TOB catechesis and to exaggerate them.

In “Fill These Hearts” he uses the following clip from the 1985 comedy-drama “Heaven Help Us,” a.k.a “Catholic Boys,” about an all-boys Catholic high school set in 1965 Brooklyn, New York.  Please be advised by this WARNING that there is sexual content.  Now, watch the dear Father Abruzzi put the fear of God into the boys and girls:

The movie is a gloomy, morbid look at Catholic life around the time of Vatican II.  Even Roger Ebert, who is no friend of the Church, was put off by it:

Because “Heaven Help Us” does not have the slightest ambition to be a serious movie about Catholic high schools, I can’t understand why the classroom scenes are so overplayed. As the sadistic teaching brother (Jay Patterson) slams his students against the blackboard, all we’re really watching is a lapse in judgment by the moviemakers. The scenes are so ugly and depressing that they throw the rest of the movie out of balance.

Ebert was more than willing to have a little fun at Catholics expense, but as the scene above developed he changed his mind:

The strange thing about the movie is the way the moments of inspiration raise our hopes, and then disappoint them. Take the scene where the school plays host to the nearby Catholic girls’ school at a dance. The boys and girls are lined up on opposite sides of the room, and then an earnest little priest (Wallace Shawn, from “My Dinner with André”) stands up on the stage and delivers a lecture on The Evils of Lust, gradually warming to his subject. The idea of the scene is funny, and it has a certain amount of underlying truth (I remember a priest once warning my class, “Never touch yourselves, boys” – without telling us where). But Shawn’s speech climbs to such a hysterical pitch that it goes over the top, and the humor is lost; it simply becomes weird behavior.

Weird behavior?  No, the priest in question is the mythical incarnation of quintessential prudery. He is obsessed with sex and and projects that obsession onto innocent children.  The only thing the actor didn’t do in the service caricaturing a priest with the 1960’s “Catholic attitude” toward sex is drool.

The writer of the film, Charles Purpura, in an interview from the early 2000s, revealed his sentiments in respect to the Church. He had previously been a member of a band, Front Porch, and had written a song called “Only You Lady,” which he said

is about Mary, the mother of Jesus. I think. It should be clear to you by now that at the time I was still heavily influenced by my Catholic upbringing. As the Jesuits say, ‘Give us their first seven years, and we’ll have them forever.’ In any event, I’m better now.

West’s meta-narrative will tell us that poor Charles Purpura left the faith and made an anti-Catholic movie for the same reason Hugh Hefner became the king of porn: because puritanical functionaries of the Church let them down and burdened them with hatred for their bodies.

Ugliness packs almost as much wallop as beauty.  But not quite as much, because it is only a privation of beauty.  However, when you put the two ideals in opposition, ah, that is the stuff myths are made of.

Some myths are true.  This one is not.

On another note, it appears that all Father Loya’s articles have been taken down from Catholic Exchange (check the links).  What’s up with that? It is not nice to break links and then not explain oneself.  Perhaps I should look on the bright side and believe that the TOB train is changing tracks. One may hope.

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

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

Discerning the Spirits

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

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

Continue reading

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.

More TOB Discussion

Genevieve Kineke and Heidi Saxton have published in interesting conversation about Heidi’s article on Alice von Hildebrand’s critique of Christopher West.

I think Heidi goes too far in attributing the controversy to differences in background and the difference between the work of a philosopher and that of and evangelist.

For example:

The fact that AVH took such exception to CW describing TOB as “revolutionary” is a good example of the tension between ideas and finding points of connection. She interpreted “revolution” to mean a destruction of past Church teaching—which I do not believe CW believes.

Actually, from a philosophical point of view, I think that AVH has shown West to mean exactly what he says he means.  “Revolution,” “theological time bomb” may be the terms of an evangelist, but they have implications in matters of truth.  Either the philosophy and the popular message work together or they do not, and then one of them must be false.  In any case, whether Heidi wants to believe that West sees TOB as a destruction of earlier Church teaching or not, both AVH, Dawn Eden and others have shown West to be innovating in ways that have no basis in the tradition. Hence when she says the following:

There is room for both schools of thought—so long as each is willing to be led by the Spirit, with humility and openness to change. . .

I have to say that she is ignoring the evidence, humility and openness to change notwithstanding.

I will agree that manner and content will differ to some extent between philosophers and evangelists, but the difference between AVH and West cannot be reduced to that or to differences in background.  Put bluntly, West is inventing and AVH is not.

Interestingly, Christina King has attached an irrelevant comment to the discussion in opposition to Dawn Eden, for some reason, trying to distance the Theology of the Body Institute from Christopher West.  That is a tough one to sell.  I would like to know, how many of the speakers or board members of the Institute have spoken or published a critique of West’s work.  On the other hand, how many speakers and organizers at the recent conference have publically defended his teaching?

Father Loya: Peer Reviewed

The following is a guest post from Christina Strafaci, who works in the Diocese of Phoenix and emailed me with a proposed comment to my last post in response to Father Thomas Loya’s comment there.  Christina thought her comment might be too long, so she wanted to run it by me first.  I believe it is worthy to be a separate post, especially since it comes from someone who has a graduate degree from the JPII Institute and who teaches Theology of the Body.

Since this post falls into the category of a “response” to the “TOB…Train” article, let me begin by offering my sincerest thanks to you, Fr. Geiger, for your straight-forward insights into this “discussion” that, while not new, has reached fever-pitch over the course of the last twelve months. While I have much more to say on this subject, I will try to restrict my comments to addressing to Fr. Loya’s response to Fr. Geiger’s article – at least in the beginning.

I have a Masters of Theological Studies from the JPII Institute, I have read and studied the series of Wednesday audiences popularly known as the “theology of the body”, I’ve spent five years teaching the audiences to high school seniors each spring, and since last year, I have read every substantial post related to this “discussion” about Christopher West, both critique and defense. (I must add here that I am also grateful for the thesis completed by Ms. Dawn Eden.) I offer this information as evidence that I am not new to the discussion, that I have listened carefully, and that I realize much more is at stake than what has been addressed in the blogosphere.

What I glean from Fr. Loya’s response is that he is proud of Tabor Life’s website, both the medium and the message, particularly its ability to capture visitors’ attention, choir-members and wayward-onlookers alike. Therefore, I’ll cut to the chase: May we not claim that the site’s offering of “one-minute meditations” and “freaky” “flash images” is itself guilty of the same reductionism for which Fr. Geiger is now accused? Fr. Loya defends the intro images to be “a very tiny part” of Tabor Life, and yet this “part” is what first attracts – dare I say, baits – the visitors’ vision. Yet, once again, we’re hearing the defense of having been taken out of context. The site hopes to draw in visitors using sensational headlines, images, etc., not unlike the flat-screens flashing ads in shopping malls. What happens when visitors discover that the real “theology of the body” (versus an interpretation of it) is hundreds of pages of complex reading, requiring prayer, meditation, the Holy Bible and a dictionary? Does this site employ the same “partial representation, selective emphasis and soundbite style” – here, a “technique” applied to the content of the Wednesday catecheses? Examining the images and headlines of the Tabor Life website communicates to visitors that the “theology of the body” is a theology of sex, and it – rather than Christ – is the answer to every question in life. Indeed, (too) many popularizers of the “theology of the body” have selectively chosen what is most popular in the Wednesday audiences – most popular to a secular culture – in order to appeal to listeners, unfortunately to the detriment of the whole. I will not restate here what those more eloquent have already observed on this issue. I would like now to broaden the scope of my comments beyond addressing Fr. Loya’s response and his website.

As Ann Hanincik astutely recalled from Ms. Eden’s thesis, the Wednesday catecheses “cannot be taken apart from the whole Tradition” nor treated as a magic bullet to overcome the very real and deeply-felt effects of concupiscence. But let me go one step further to examine this “taking apart” and its effect on JPII’s catechesis. Recently, I was discussing the audiences with a popularizer (also an Institute grad) who referred to the audiences as “TOB” – pronounced “tobe” to be sure. Now, I am not unfamiliar with the trend of referring to the audiences as “T-O-B”, but this new(er) development captures the essence of my concern: What are the (bitter) fruits of reducing JPII’s five-year-long catechesis in such a way? In all the ways that we see being done today? Is it not the very nature of pornography – as we see every day in this “pornified world” according to Fr. Loya – to fragment the whole, reduce it into little pieces, dissociating the fragments to be objects of use, separate from the unified and meaningful integrity of the whole? Some of my classmates engaged in the work of marriage preparation will protest such a plea for a more holistic approach with the claim that there is not enough time or willingness in their listeners, that “reduction” is absolutely necessary in light of the precious few opportunities they have with engaged couples. This doesn’t change the evidence that in the distillation process applied to the audiences during the past decade, important elements have been lost.

For example, Dr. David Schindler has noted two elements (among others) missing from what has become popular catechesis: the question of filiality and the Marian-feminine dimension. First, the spousal meaning of the body cannot be taken apart from the original, filial meaning of the body:

sexual love as understood in the work of John Pope II must be inserted within a love between spouses that itself takes its most radical meaning from filial relation to God. Sexual-spousal love participates in this more original filial relation to God as its sign and expression, but does so only as consequent to and distinct from this more original filial relation.

It sounds very much like we quickly move past “solitude” in order to get to “unity” as if the former is to the detriment of the latter in the eyes of our students. Second, studying the audiences cannot be taken apart from contemplating the virginal-fruitful embodiedness of Mary, and indeed, must be more thoroughly considered in light of her and what is “revealed” by the feminine:

The third of my criticisms meant to indicate the sense in which the Church’s Marian mystery, and also the feminine dimension, are central for the theology of the body. After Christ, Mary reveals to us most profoundly the “original” meaning of body that needs to remain present within sexual-marital love. In her fiat, we discover the contemplative meaning of the body (Mary “pondered these things in her heart”). In this light, contrary to what is assumed in the dominant culture, women have a naturally more profound sense (than do men) of the implicit, and of interiority or of what develops slowly-organically and from within. Women have a naturally more profound sense of mystery and thus of what is entailed in the unveiling of the body–for example, an organic in contrast to mechanical sense of time, and consequently a different idea of the meaning and significance of nakedness itself.

Is it sufficient to ask for Mary’s protection and intercession, to post an icon of her on one’s website, or even to palliatively mention her fiat and purity in a discussion about the sexual union and then in the same breath, claim that one fully appreciates this Marian-feminine dimension? (It is only on Fr. Geiger’s site and in Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s writings that I have read an adequate probing of the question of veiledness since the question was raised last year.) Our culture disregards, dismisses as weak, and holds in contempt interiority, silence, and contemplation. How has this affected even our own approach to the audiences?

As I stated earlier, I have taught the “theology of the body” and will continue to teach it. Like West, Loya, and catechists across the nation, we are trying to teach calculus to a classroom full of students that never learned how to do basic math. Translation: We expect students to understand the spousal meaning of the body and sacrificial self-gift before they understand their own unique identity as God’s creation, made for union with Him. Praise God for all the good fruit that has already and will continue to come from our efforts, but if consequences of a certain reductionism are coming to light today, why are we – all of us, myself included – reluctant to address and correct our missteps?

In all honesty, I am tired of the hackneyed claim that those who have raised serious concerns, pointed out errors of interpretation, and/or offered constructive criticism are somehow being uncharitable – lacking “charity” in the tenor of their voice, choice of words, whatever. Really? Are we all so thin-skinned? Are we all that full of pride? How many times does the caveat need to be set forth that no one in these discussions attributes to West, Loya, et. al. anything but the desire to bring persons closer to Christ? When will the faithful see demonstrations of humility rather than defensiveness? When are the real discussions going to happen? As much as I dislike this ubiquitous expression, it is time for us to move forward. The content of this response notwithstanding, I have very little interest in devoting my spare time to critiquing Tabor Life, Christopher West, or the current trends of popular catechesis on the Wednesday audiences. I think we’ve all got more work to do, I’m confident that we can do better, and I’d rather be working together with all of these dedicated teachers rather than in spite of them: “I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose” (1 Cor 1:10). Praise God for the gifts of inquiry, intellect, and discernment that He has bestowed upon us. Ad Jesum per Mariam.

Theology of the Body and the Mystical, Magical Train

Recently, the Theology of the Body Institute conducted its first national congress, during which the triumphal march of the new chastity catechesis pressed forward–in spite of the fact that the movement’s avatar, Christopher West, was absent, presumably to reflect upon his method of presenting the Theology of the Body.  Perhaps I was naïve, but I thought West’s sabbatical meant that his critics had made some headway.  Such progress, unfortunately, did not seem to be reflected at the congress.  Dr. Janet Smith, for example, stated the following:

The 1st thing we need to know is God is chasing us down like a lover. Every lover is a pathological stalker. God is a stalker.

Am I quoting out of context?  I would like to know in what context the comparison of God to a pathological sexual deviant would be appropriate.  Please note that the above statement was published as a tweet by the congress organizers themselves.  So this is what they themselves decided to feed the public. Continue reading