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

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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.