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.

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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

Christopher West: Sexualizing Christianity

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

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

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Compendium of TOB Posts

The following list provides links to all the posts that I have written either here or on Dawn Patrol about the Theology of the Body. I will update the list if I have missed any, or if, God forbid, I add others.

Update: Missed posts added to compendium (dates in red text).

Further Update:  Added posts (dates in green text).

  • “Hope of the World” (November 11, 2008):  The first reference I made to the “new chastity movement” on this blog shortly after the national election in the context of our lack of will to elect a pro-life president in the United States.
  • “Thinking Like a Man” (April, 16, 2009):  Why it is necessary for men to fight the good fight of chastity, rather than hope to be delivered from temptation by a new and holy fascination with the body, as is suggested in West’s presentation.
  • John Paul the Great and Hugh Hefner the Magnificent” (May 8th, 2009):  My original reaction to Chris West’s Nightline interview with a focus on the problem of prudery.
  • “Christopher West’s blind spot:  TOB has to be seen through Church’s historical teachings” (May 14, 2009):  A response to those who say that the critique is an attack on Christopher West and a closer look at the question of “original innocence” and its relation to the effect TOB can have on our redemption.
  • “Schindler’s list: Sparks fly as JP2 Institute dean raps Christopher West for errors” (May 29, 2009):  An analysis of the responses of Professors Janet Smith and Michael Waldstein to the critique of West by Professor David Schindler.
  • “Virgo redacta:  Christopher West and the dangers of overanalogizing Mary” (June 18, 2009):  An attempt to answer the defenders of Christopher West, by addressing some of the specific problems with his presentation, namely,  the phallic symbolism of the paschal candle  and the way that the Blessed Virgin is eroticized by his presentation.  More generally, I touch upon his problematic use of analogy. (See, notation on new information contained in this post).
  • “To Chris West: Enough Already. How about a Response?” (June 24, 2009):  A critique of the methodology by which critics of West are dealt with by implying prudery or animus as a motivation for the disagreement, or that disagreement with West constitutes disagreement with John Paul II.
  • “St. Agustine and the Theology of the Body” (June 27, 2009):  Comments on and several quotations from Msgr. Cormac Burke’s defense of St. Augustine’s views on marriage.  Another critique of seeing prudery where it isn’t.
  • “The Theology of the Body and Courage: Fighting the Real Fight” (July 14, 2009):  Why it is important for men to focus on agape rather than eros.
  • “Martyrs, Mystics and Rhetoricians” (July 31, 2009):  A response to Father Thomas Loya’s defense of Christopher West, with a focus on the hermeneutic of discontinuity manifested by the new “holy fascination” with the body advocated by Christopher West and his followers.
  • Shame on You.  Amen. (September 1, 2009):  Thoughts inspired by a discussion on The Linde regarding the nature of shame and its relation to modesty, with an emphasis on the cultivation of prudence in the face of the American TOB crusade against prudery.
  • Cardinal and Bishop Support Christopher West (September 8, 2009): Text of Cardinal Rigali’s and Bishop Kevin Rhoades letter of support of Christopher West and his work.
  • In Defense of Purity (September 20, 2009):  Introductory post to my commentary on Dietrich von Hildebrand’s work In Defense of Purity, proposed as a sure way of coming to understand the true meaning of the Theology of the Body.
  • In Defense of Purity I (September 29, 2009):  Commentary on the first chapter of von Hildebrand’s book, focusing on the meaning of shame, particularly in its positive aspect, and distinguished from that shame which seeks to protect the person from use, with a particular reference to its correlation in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
  • A Response to Christopher West (October 30, 2009):  My reply to the response to Christopher West, in which he finally breaks his silence regarding the controversy surrounding his presentation of the Theology of the Body.
  • Theology of the Tango? (November 1, 2009):  An example of the American version of Theology of the Body gone off the rails.
  • Christopher West:  Sexualizing Christianity (February 8, 2010):  A commentary on a 2001/2002 between Dr. Mark Lowery and Christopher West, indicating that the recent objections to West are nothing new, and have gone unanswered for years.
  • Sexing Up Canon Law (February 12, 2010): A response to a commenter’s objection to my previous post on the sexualization of Christianity by Christopher West.  Specifically, I focus on the meaning of the canons governing the dissolution of a ratified but non-consummated marriage and what that means in terms of when sacramental grace is conferred in marriage.
  • Father Peter Damian Fehlner on Ratified, Non-Consummated Marriages (February 13, 2010):  The magisterial and theological tradition concerning this question from a professor of dogmatic theology.
  • Theology of the Body:  Of Sign and Fulfilment (March 4th, 2010):  An explanation of the Churches use of theological analogy and the reason why  Christopher West’s use of analogy is theologically incorrect.
  • Christopher West Takes Sabbatical (April 13, 2010):  The announcement from TOB Institute that Christopher West is taking time off 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.”
  • Toward a Climate of Chastity E-Book (April 20, 2010):  Announcement of Dawn Eden’s publication of her master’s thesis on Christopher West’s work as an ebook.  Links provided.
  • Dawn Eden’s Thesis and Defense (June 15, 2010):  Announcement of Dawn Eden’s re-publication of her master’s thesis on Christopher West’s work as an ebook, and the text of the defense of  her thesis.  Links provided.
  • That for Which We Fight (July 2, 2010):  A commentary on two opposing views of feminism with a special reference to Theology of the Body and a recommendation for a balanced approach.
  • Alice Von Hildebrand’s New Essay on Her Husband and Christopher West (July 21, 2010):  A brief announcement and acknowledgement of this blog author’s contribution to the essay.
  • Good Reason Why Not to Have Someone Live-Tweet a Conference. (August 1, 2010):  Some of the sensational and eyebrow-raising tweets from the TOB conference.
  • Theology of the Body and the Mystical, Magical Train (August 5, 2010):  An analysis of remarks and practices of Father Thomas Loya’s pastoral approach to TOB, including his use questionable images and theories concerning admiration for the naked body.
  • Father Loya: Peer Reviewed:  (August 1o, 2010) A guest post from Christina Strafaci concerning the legitimacy of public critique of the pastoral approach of certain TOB evangelizers.
  • More TOB Discussion (August 11, 2010):   A highlight from a discussion between Genevieve Kineke and Heidi Saxton.
  • Where I am at Right Now with Theology of the Body (September 24, 2010):  An assessment of the Theology of the Body debate impasse.
  • Christopher West’s Translation of John Paul II’s Body Language (October 10, 2010):  A response to Christopher West’s assessment of his critics in the light of his charism to popularize the Theology of the Body.
  • The Way of Ugliness (November 6, 2010):  A critique of an aspect of Christopher West’s multi-media event, “Fill These Hearts,” specifically his use of an anti-Catholic movie to illustrate his point that the Church has been filled with prudery prior to the Theology of the Body.
  • Alternate States of Unreality (February 9, 2011):  A reflection on Christian Occultism and its similarities with the current attempt at popularizing the Theology of the Body in the United States.

On Peace Patrol

My latest contribution to the peace process.

In the context of the Holy Father’s remarks it appears to me that this “real and deep victory” concerns the refusal to consent to lust of thought, recognizing its intrinsic evil, but without the transference of the evil of that act onto its object, namely the body of a woman. And the danger of not winning that victory, in Manichaean terms, would be to excuse the sin of lust on the basis that one is overcome by the evil of a woman’s body. At least in this context, there does not seem to me to be a mandate to have a “fascination at the human sexual-body,” just an urging not to allow our rejection of lust to become a rejection of the goodness of the human body.

Thanks Dawn.

More Back and Forth on Christopher West

Professor Janet Smith Responds to Professor David Schindler.  (Extreme Content Warning.)

Just a couple of comments:

First of all, I think it a bit melodramatic to mention crucifixion.  Why would anyone be publishing books and tape series and traveling the country talking everywhere if he did not have thick enough skin to take some criticism?  As for those who are attacked ad hominum online:  it happens to everyone who has anything important to say. That is not an excuse for bad behavior, just a reminder that it is not a crucifixion.

As one who blogs on chivalry, I put a premium on courtesy, but let’s not get carried away. Vigorous debate is a good thing.

From what I have read of the various blog posts and comments, many persons have approached West before about their concerns, such as the concerns I have raised in my posts.  I have read, for example, West’s response to criticisms about his “Naked Without Shame” tape series” that I found inserted in the tape case. People have been raising these concerns for a long time.  Some of his views are inherently controversial.  One of West’s defenders on this blog argues that West legitimately uses “provocative arguments,” in order to attract the sex-saturated masses.  Chris West is a big boy and can handle himself.  Let’s not make him a victim.

Secondly, my own critique (1, 2, 3, 4) is not at all dependent on West’s comparison of John Paul II to Hugh Hefner, nor on my disagreement with West’s sometimes under-dressed, over-exposed discussions.  The substance of my own remarks remain unanswered–not that I expect to be on Professor Smith’s radar.

****

West has placed the following statement up on his website:

Dear Friends,

I am aware of the recent criticisms that have been published online over the last week.  I am currrently traveling, but pleased be assured that a prayerful and considerate response is forthcoming.

Sincerely in Christ,

Christopher West.

Hat tip to T. Chan for the West announcement.