Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Theology of the Body Debate II: Critique of Christopher West and Synthesis

IV. Critique of Christopher West

A. Thesis:

Now, I would like to begin my critique of Theology of the Body (which I will at times refer to as “TOB” for short) as presented by Christopher West and others like-minded TOB speakers and presenters (ie. Gregory Popcak, Fr. Thomas Loya, et al.)

I will begin with my thesis:

West's approach is good for the particular audience he is catering to. However, West's approach is not suited to the “spiritually mature” or those with a firm grasp of Catholic doctrine. These Catholics can get some good things out of it and enjoy it, but they can also be rightly bothered by some of the things he says and see them as problematic.

These Catholics need rather to be "feeding at the banquet", to use West's own analogy. West is feeding people with banquet food, but he is tossing it in a picnic basket and carrying it off to the back alleys, which by the time it gets there is not as “good”, not as “pure”.

West must over-simplify and he must also speak the lingo of the man eating out of the dumpster. But eventually those people should be led to a point in their spiritual journey where they too find that language vulgar and offensive.

This argument was really a non-argument from the start. Both Dr. Schindler and Dr. Smith are right. What they both missed was this: West is excellent for those immersed in our secular culture. West is problematic for those who have attained a spiritual and sexual maturity and a fully Catholic understanding of sex and marriage.

The problem is, the Bishops did not properly discern this, and thus they believed that West was suitable and even perfect for all audiences.

This is the key point which I will ask the reader to keep in mind as he reads.

B. Theology of the Body: What it is and What it is Not

1. A Specific Approach and Particular Presentation, Not a Compendium

One of the main problems in this whole controversy is that we have an erroneous understanding of the place of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in the grand scheme of things. Many if not most of its presenters, teachers, and “fans” (for lack of a better term) believe that Theology of the Body is something more than it really is. They believe that it is the compendium, the greatest and most comprehensive work of the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, thus making it a sufficient (and in fact the ideal) resource in itself for a proper catechesis on this subject wherever and to whomever catechesis is done.

However, this is not so. I will let my online friend Rachel explain, as she does a splendid job: “‘Theology of the body’ refers to a very specific approach to human sexuality and theological anthropology, as it was set forth by JP2, who in turn drew from his background in ‘personalist’ philosophy in the 20th century. He formulated and taught the TOB in the way he did because he saw a need for it in the Church--not that the doctrine itself was lacking, but that it had not been fully explored in some areas and was not being best explained to Catholics in marriage prep and preaching on the topic. ‘Theology of the body’ does NOT refer to the whole of the Church's teaching on human sexuality, marriage, or contraception.” (I will avoid posting links to the CAF as a way to help protect the anonymity of the posters, who almost all use pseudonyms but often leave enough clues to their identity that some can figure out who they are. If you care to do so, you can search for these posts and threads). Theology of the Body is essentially the Church’s traditional teachings about marriage and sexuality with a personalistic “twist” and a few modern applications.

John Paul II’s catechesis was never meant (nor is it) a compendium of the Church’s teachings on this subject. It was a presentation that was tailored to a particular time and a particular place with an specific audience in mind.

2. An Apology for Humanae Vitae

Essentially, Theology of the Body was intended to be an apology for Humanae Vitae. This is what he basically says in his last catechesis, the General Audience of November 28, 1984: “We can even say that all the reflections ... seem to constitute an ample commentary on the doctrine contained in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae [para.3] ... The catechesis dedicated to the Encyclical Humanae Vitae constitutes only one part, the final part, of those which dealt with the redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage. ... Questions come from it which in a certain sense permeate the sum total of our reflections. It follows that this last part is not artificially added to the sum total but is organically and homogeneously united with it. In a certain sense, that part which in the complex arrangement is located at the end is at the same time found at the beginning of this sum total. This is important from the point of view of structure and method [para.4]” [emphasis in italics his; emphasis in bond mine].

Two things must be said here.

(1) If this is an apology, then the intended audience was obviously those who were either dissenting from Humanae Vitae or at least had doubts and difficulties with the doctrine contained therein, especially that of contraception. John Paul II seems to indicate this was the case when he says, “This commentary seems quite necessary. ... The reflections we made consist in facing the questions raised with regard to the Encyclical Humanae Vitae. The reaction that the encyclical aroused confirms the importance and the difficulty of these questions. [para.3]” [emphases mine]

(2) If this was his intended audience and his intention, then he obviously selectively chose to use (and deliberately left unused) aspects of the Catholic Tradition which were most helpful in this regard. Thus, although beneficial to those Catholics who did assent to the doctrine and who did have a fully “Catholic” worldview and understanding of marriage and sexuality, although they may have found it beneficial in some respects, would have also found that it was lacking in other respects. We will cite examples shortly. For now, we will allow John Paul II himself to speak of its limitations: “We must immediately note that the term ‘theology of the body’ goes far beyond the content of the reflections that were made. These reflections do not include multiple problems which, with regard to their object, belong to the theology of the body (as, for example, the problem of suffering and death, so important in the biblical message).” (p.2) This includes the problem of suffering with regards to marriage as well (not just to life in general), as we will also see later.

3. A Fallible Theological (not Dogmatic) Work

That said, another problem I think we run into is that the “the original”, John Paul II’s Theology of the Body itself, has come to be regarded as being beyond criticism, almost being elevated to the practical status of dogma. We must remember that (a) Theology of the Body was not even written by a Pope, but by a Cardinal – Cardinal Wojtyla, though it was publicly presented after he became Pope; (b) it is not infallible; (c) it is a theological work by a theologian who happened to also be a Pope, meaning it is not an authoritative Papal document or declaration, and (d) it does have some critics, even among orthodox theologians and bishops. Personally, I like John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and agree almost entirely with it. However, I also have some concerns and reservations about it. I will get into this shortly as well.

4. Misunderstanding Perpetuated by Presenters and Presentations

In part because Theology of the Body is made out to me more than it really is, those who present it and those who take in the presentations have been led to believe that what they are teaching or receiving is greater than what it really is.

As Rachel said in our CAF exchange – in fact it was her main point on this issue, “‘Theology of the body’ does NOT refer to the whole of the Church's teaching on human sexuality, marriage, or contraception”. My response to her was this: “the problem is that most Catholics who attend West’s lectures are NOT aware of this fact, and that West does NOT make this clear to his audiences. His audience is largely in the dark about the fact that ‘Theology of the body refers to a very specific approach to human sexuality and theological anthropology, as it was set forth by JP2, who in turn drew from his background in ‘personalist’ philosophy in the 20th century’. They should leave his lectures realizing very clearly this very fact you mention, and they should leave seeing Theology of the Body as only one piece of a larger pie that they should also immerse themselves in. How clear does West make this? A brief mention of it once in a while or a reminder that they should go to the recommended reading is not sufficient – especially when he plays up the importance of Theology of the Body at so many other points.”

I am tending more and more to side with Steven Kellmeyer when he says Theology of the Body is perhaps somewhat “overrated”. John Paul II in a sense does “re-invent the wheel” – very little of what is found in his work has not already been taught by the Fathers or Doctors of the Church. I believe part of the problem is that those who have marketed it have made it out to be something greater than it is, because that is what good marketers do – they convince consumers that their product is essential, that “everybody who is anybody” will be into it. And Catholics, who when push comes to shove are really no different from people in the “world”, often enough give into the “peer pressure” and get into TOB because “everyone else is”, and if they do not, they feel “left out”. And Catholics are really no different when it comes to people of the world when it comes to their level of interest in sex (as much as we like to call the world “obsessed” with sex we are just as “obsessed” or even more so). Due to the fact that I have a natural aversion to anything that is “the rave” or “the latest thing”, I am probably over-reacting to what I should see as an excellent theological work that deserves my further study.

Fr. Angelo pejoratively referred to it as a “new ‘theory of everything’”, and unfortunately that is what it is being marketed as – a cure-all for society’s every ill.

C. Main Deficiency: A Hermeneutic of Discontinuity and the Failure to Cite and Remain Rooted in Pre-Vatican II Sources

5. Failure to Use Pre-Vatican II Sources

This gets me to the main deficiency I see in these presentations of Theology of the Body, and it is a deficiency I see in many presentations of all of the Church’s other teachings today – namely, a failure to use “pre-Vatican II” or “pre-conciliar” sources. Almost all of the citations given by Theology of the Body presenters come from one of three sources: John Paul II, Vatican II, or The (New) Catechism. It is like anything written on the subject before 1962 is either "outdated" or worthless because it was "included" in John Paul II’s TOB (neither of which is true).

It is a problem I saw on a broader basis when I took Catechetics at Steubenville. What was modeled to us was this: stick close to what The Catechism says and buttress it with Scripture and other recent Magisterial statements. Today, most just look at the new Catechism, the teachings of Vatican II, and the writings of the last five Popes, and that is the end of the road for them. Of course, this is a serious and dangerous error and runs contrary to the Catholic Tradition. We have to take care not to form our opinions exclusively based on what has been written since 1962. All too often, there are certain emphases and de-emphases on things that need to be “balanced out” by pre-conciliar (pre-1962) documents and writings. I will cite an example shortly.

6. Hermeneutic of Continuity

This is why Dawn Eden’s thesis is aptly subtitled “Bringing Catechesis on the Theology of the Body Into the Hermeneutic of Continuity” [emphasis mine] – because Theology of the Body must be understood in light of the broader Tradition, and that Tradition must be constantly brought to bear upon it. This allows a fuller and more complete understanding of the human person, marriage, and sexuality than what the Pope gives us in his Theology of the Body. It also prevents Theology of the Body from “taking on a life of its own” by being isolated from that which grounds it in authentic Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic understanding.

The term “hermeneutic of continuity” was coined by Cardinal Ratzinger (who is now, of course, Pope Benedict XVI). He said it in reference to the misinterpretations of Vatican II, which he spoke about at length in chapter 2 of The Ratzinger Report (Messori, Vittorio, ed., The Ratzinger Report [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985]). There he said the following: “Vatican II is upheld by the same authority as Vatican I and the Council of Trent, namely, the Pope and the College of Bishops in communion with him, and that also with regard to its contents, Vatican II is in the strictest continuity with both previous councils and incorporates their texts word for word in decisive points …. It is [therefore] impossible (‘for a Catholic’) to take a position for or against Trent or Vatican I. Whoever accepts Vatican II, as it has clearly expressed and understood itself, at the same time accepts the whole binding tradition of the Catholic Church, particularly also the two previous councils”. (pg. 28)

Therefore, Trent and Vatican I are part of the same Tradition as Vatican II and thus both retain their relevance to our day. It also follows from Ratzinger’s statement that since certain excerpts from both Trent and Vatican I were “incorporate[d] ... word for word” on “decisive points”, that much of what is contained in Trent and Vatican I is essential because it was not incorporated into Vatican II.

This is precisely what Pope John XXIII said in his speech when opening the Second Vatican Council: “The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church which has repeatedly been taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which is presumed to be well known and familiar to all. For this a Council was not necessary. But from the renewed, serene, and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council". [emphasis mine] In other words, we are not repeating what Trent or Vatican I said because it has already been stated, it still applies, and thus there is no need. This is why The Roman Catechism (otherwise known as The Catechism of the Council of Trent) should sit next to The Catechism of the Catholic Church (the “New Catechism”) on the desk of every catechist and theologian – there are aspects of the former that are not contained in the latter, and vice versa.

7. Omissions in Theology of the Body

Something similar happened with regards to John Paul II and Theology of the Body. Certain things are “omitted” regarding sex and marriage. As we said before, John Paul II had a purpose for writing TOB, and an intended audience and culture in mind, and some of those things did not fit into this project, nor was it possible to reproduce everything that had been said by all the Fathers, Doctors, Councils, and Popes on this subject. But he was not concerned that certain things were omitted, because he knew knowledgeable Catholics would approach his work with that “hermeneutic of continuity” and thus be able to “buttress” what he said with their background knowledge of Sacred Tradition. There is much more to the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage and many excellent points brought up by Church Fathers, Doctors, and Magisterial documents (Popes and Councils) that must be referenced for a fully "Catholic" (and "catholic") understanding and approach to all of this. Thus, when it comes to presenting the Church’s teaching on this subject in its fullness, Theology of the Body may not quite be enough.

For instance, I have written a manuscript on Vatican II. There are many things I omit regarding the Council too. However, that is because some things are not relevant to the point I am trying to make. If I included everything, my bookshelf would not hold all the volumes I would have to write. And if someone was to teach a college course on Vatican II, he would be foolish to use my book as his only resource – it was not written for that purpose and for that audience and would thus have deficiencies that would need to be supplemented by other resources.

Unfortunately, many Catholics who do study their faith have that same “deficiency” and have immersed themselves heavily or even exclusively in post-Vatican II sources on this issue – something John Paul II, in my humble opinion, may not have clearly foreseen and made provisions for. John Paul II, for his part, did footnote pre-Vatican II sources heavily – thus demonstrating how his thought conformed to and was in line with Sacred Tradition. However, he did not issue cautionary notes to those who would bring his work to the masses – such as the fact that the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage is broader than Theology of the Body, and that various pre-conciliar sources found in our Catholic Tradition are essential in a modern catechesis on this subject. The result is that most Theology of the Body speakers, presenters, promoters, and teachers today neglect to cite, for instance, Pius XII’s encyclical on Sacred Virginity (Sacra Virginitas), or the teachings of the Council of Trent or its Catechism on this subject, or St. Francis de Sales treatment of the marital privilege in his classic on lay spirituality, Introduction to the Devout Life, etc. The “democracy of the dead”, to quote Chesterton, has been largely excluded from their thinking and certainly their presentations (just like in the thinking of most Catholics today and the presentation of most Catholic teachers today, unfortunately). But Theology of the Body cannot be read in a vacuum – it must be read in light of what has been said on this subject over 2,000 years.

8. “Cherry-Picking” and Selective Quotations from The Saints

On the CAF, a supporter of West pointed out to me that West often quotes St. Augustine, St. Bernard, and St. Teresa. This is true – with a “but”. And that takes me to my next point.

My response to this poster was that Christopher West, in my opinion, seems to “cherry-pick” St. Augustine, St. Bernard, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Louis Marie de Montfort, and others. Quotes from St. Augustine are limited only to statements he made about how our desires are ultimately fulfilled only in God – including the oft-repeated “our hearts are restless until they rest in God”. St. Teresa of Avila is limited to descriptions of her experiences of “spiritual marriage” and mystical experiences that were in some ways akin to sexual ecstasy. St. Bernard is used only for his interpretation of Song of Songs. St. de Montfort is often used for his quote of a mystic who saw a vision of the Virgin Mary and commented on the intensity of her physical beauty as well as other references to her beauty, fertility, and “romantic” (mystical) connection with God. However, when it came to the many things St. Augustine said about marriage and celibacy, he is not cited. St. Bernard is disregarded when it comes to what he said about celibacy vis-a-vis married life. Bernard was all about religious life – it has been stated that women used to keep their sons and even their husbands from going to hear him preach because they feared they would leave them for the monastery! Yet only his allegorical interpretations of the erotic love poetry that is the Song of Songs is referenced.

9. Divorcing Theology of the Body from Sacred Tradition and Projecting Back Faulty Understandings

This “cherry-picking”, this using of certain quotes that are in line with one’s view while ignoring the others, amounts, I would say, to “proof-texting”. He does not seem to actually use the writings in toto to shape his thoughts. And I believe this has happened for the following reason: It seems that Theology of the Body was removed from the hermeneutic of continuity which resulted in some erroneous conclusions, perspectives, and understandings. This was not only due to the fact that Mr. West did not remain fully anchored and rooted in the totality of Sacred Tradition, but also because he had been heavily immersed in (and tainted by) our sexually-saturated and sex-obsessed culture (as we all have been to greater or lesser degrees - more about this later). Mr. West’s skewed understanding of John Paul II’s work was then projected back onto the Tradition, which resulted in his cherry-picking from the Saints. His non-use of St. Augustine or St. Bernard regarding their teachings on marriage and celibacy was in part due to the fact that they did not really “jive” with his understanding of Theology of the Body. And if they did not “jive” with his understanding, then his conclusion was not that his understanding was wrong, but because these particular Saints and Doctors and Fathers and Popes were tainted by our Church’s Manichaean and prudish past. This is what happens when one believes, as Dawn Eden pointed out, that the pre-Vatican II Church was “prudish”: everything from the Tradition that does not seem to jive with one’s understanding of Theology of the Body is labelled “prudish” and thus discarded. It also leads to another problem – if St. Bernard is wrong regarding his views on celibacy and marriage, then will this not taint his interpretation of the Song of Songs, which is an allegory of these same things? If this is so, then why does Mr. West use it?

10. Projecting onto John Paul II and Theology of the Body

Not only this, but West’s understanding has been projected onto John Paul II’s Theology of the Body as well. That is why he does not personally see how he is misinterpreting or misunderstanding the Pope’s thoughts while others do, and why at times he actually disagrees with the Holy Father as can be seen in his Theology of the Body Explained.

From there, the misunderstandings get passed onto the listeners or readers, who are also immersed in the sex-saturated culture. Mr. West does advise his audience to read John Paul II for themselves. However, West knows that most will not end up reading the original – they will stop at what Mr. West says and writes. Granted, West includes some excerpts from John Paul II – but they too will project West’s meaning onto John Paul II. Mr. West does so in good faith – he believes they will approach Theology of the Body through the same lens he does and thus come to the same understanding of it he has and thus find that his teachings line up with the original.

11. First Example: The Dogma of the Superiority of Celibacy over Marriage

Pope Pius XII stated: “This doctrine of the excellence of virginity and of celibacy and of their superiority over the married state was, as We have already said, revealed by our Divine Redeemer and by the Apostle of the Gentiles; so too, it was solemnly defined as a dogma of divine faith by the holy council of Trent [57], and explained in the same way by all the holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Finally, We and Our Predecessors have often expounded it and earnestly advocated it whenever occasion offered. But recent attacks on this traditional doctrine of the Church, the danger they constitute, and the harm they do to the souls of the faithful lead Us, in fulfillment of the duties of Our charge, to take up the matter once again in this Encyclical Letter, and to reprove these errors which are so often propounded under a specious appearance of truth” (Sacra Virginitas [On Holy Virginity], 32 [Pius XII, 1954]).

The footnote [57] cites Session XXIV, Canon 10 from the Council of Trent, which reads: “If anyone saith, that the marriage state is to be placed above the state of virginity, or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in matrimony; let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, Session 24, Canon 10). True, encyclicals are not infallible, but Canons from Councils are, and become de facto dogmas of the Church.

Have things changed since Vatican II? When this question is asked, the correct answer is almost always “No” (even though the popular answer is usually “Yes”). In this case, as usual, the answer is “No”. Vatican II states the following: “Students ought rightly to acknowledge the duties and dignity of Christian matrimony, which is a sign of the love between Christ and the Church. Let them recognize, however, the surpassing excellence of virginity consecrated to Christ, so that with a maturely deliberate and generous choice they may consecrate themselves to the Lord by a complete gift of body and soul” (Vatican II, Optatam Totius [Decree on Priestly Training], 10).

John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body, during his general audience of April 7, 1982, says this in paragraphs 5 and 6: “In his pronouncement, did Christ perhaps suggest the superiority of continence for the kingdom of heaven to matrimony? Certainly, he said that this is an exceptional vocation, not a common one. In addition he affirmed that it is especially important and necessary to the kingdom of heaven. If we understand superiority to matrimony in this sense, we must admit that Christ set it out implicitly. However, he did not express it directly. Only Paul will say of those who choose matrimony that they do ‘well.’ About those who are willing to live in voluntary continence, he will say that they do ‘better’ (1 Cor 7:38). ... That is also the opinion of the whole of Tradition, both doctrinal and pastoral.” Once again, general audiences are not infallible. However, if there had been a “change”, John Paul II would have been aware of it. Instead, he says that this “superiority” (he uses this term too, just as Pius XII did) is “also the opinion of the whole of Tradition”.

(Note, this does not mean that the celibate will be holier than the married person – but his state of life is most conducive to holiness. However, if he does not respond to the graces he is given, he could be less holy than others not vowed to celibacy – and unfortunately this is far too common).

This is the Church’s “forgotten dogma”, which practically makes "material heretics" out of probably about 95 percent of orthodox Catholics. If you polled orthodox Catholics on whether or not celibacy is superior to marriage, only about 1 out of 20 would probably answer “Yes”. The rest would say “No”. This, to me, is an incredible statistic: I do not know how this crept into orthodox Catholicism and became such a widespread notion, especially since Vatican II taught the superiority as well. It is hard to believe how well-entrenched this belief is: I have had to correct seminarians, priests, religious, and even an orthodox religious professor at an Ex Corde Ecclesiae university who has a doctorate in catechetics (the teaching of Catholic doctrine) on this issue, and I could have corrected some bishops on it as well as some bishops are even unaware of this teaching (I have heard or listened to this come from some of them as well); and even when I have corrected people and cited Magisterial documents, many continue to disagree!

Some will acknowledge the dogma but then try to “minimize” and heavily qualify it, such as differentiating between “subjectively” and “objectively” better (however, this is a distinction that cannot be found in our Tradition - the Church has only spoken about “general” and “particular” vocation). Often, it gets so heavily qualified that it is reduced to a veritable equality, such as saying the “superiority” is merely “symbolic” (reminiscent of how certain Protestant Reformers reduced the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist to that of a mere “symbol”). It is as though such Catholics truly do believe (or want to believe) they are equal, but hampered by the Church’s dogma that runs contrary to this, they must take all the “sting” out of the latter so as to make it support as much as possible the former. This often happens with regards to Protestants and their interpretation of passages from Scripture that explicitly teach distinctive Catholic doctrines. For instance, when Christ teaches about the power of priests to forgive sins in John 20:22-23 (“whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven”), Protestants reduce this to a mere “proclamation” of the forgiveness of sins, so that when Christ says “whose sins you shall forgive”, He is really saying, in an awkward way, that when they preach the Word and someone prayers the “sinner’s prayer”, the forgiveness they preached is theirs.

What is usually said in response to this is that “the greatest call for me personally is marriage, because that is what God called me to”. In a sense that is true to some degree, but I would not completely agree with this. There has been a great deal of confusion in recent years. The Church teaches that the evangelical counsels are "recommended" to ALL. In other words, we all have the "choice" to be religious. St. Teresa never felt the call to be a Sister - but because she believed it was the surest way to save her soul (which it was), she joined a convent. I know a priest who did the same - he has been a priest for almost 50 years now (and he's a good one). The popular belief is that God calls someone from the time they are conceived to either be religious or married - His call one way or the other is determined at that very moment, when in reality, it is not so clear cut. God is always calling - and He calls ALL to at the very least “consider” religious life. Ultimately, He leaves the decision up to us, but His persistence in calling us to religious life is to some degree based on how well we do (or do not) respond to his grace, and based on things that happen in this fallen world (like my dad losing an eye before Vatican II - that was once an impediment). Those who are rooted heavily in what Sacred Tradition says on these issues do not usually make the arguments above in response to the citing of this “dogma” and the quotations given.

12. Second Example: The Practice of Continence within Marriage

The practice of temporary abstinence for spiritual reasons is still held in high regard by the Church. It is like a “fast” from sex, and just like fasting from food, it is highly encouraged. In fact, the Catechism of the Council of Trent called for sexual continence for three days before receiving Sunday Communion, and for longer periods of continence throughout Lent. http://www.cin.org/users/james/ebooks/master/trent/tsacr-m.htm (scroll to bottom: "The Use of Marriage").

This strikes many Catholics as odd, and certainly as “outdated” (after all, it is not in the Catechism – but then again the rule to abstain from meat or the substitution of another penance in lieu of this on Fridays is not in there either). However, that is because many Catholics do not understand the premises behind religious life – the fact many believe celibacy and marriage have an equality is a sign and symptom of that, and in fact the virtue of temporary continence flows from that dogma.

The Church makes a distinction between marriage and sex being “good” and celibacy (refraining from marriage) and continence (refraining from sex even if one is married) being “better” (even though most today wrongly believe this is "Pre-Vatican"). So, if you are not "able" (in the sense that St. Paul says in 1Corinthians 7:8-9 in reference to marriage, “It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion”), it is not a bad thing, because sex and marriage are still good. Applying these principles to continence within marriage, if you cannot abstain during weekdays of Lent, it is better to come together than to “burn with passion”. And making love during Lent is not a sin - it is good (though abstinence would be better, the more “recommended” path).

Remember, the whole point of this chapter is to warn the Corinthian community about biting off more than they could chew. Because celibacy is the higher call, a lot of Corinthians wanted to do it. However, the result was disastrous, because they could not handle it. Thus, they committed sexual sin of various kinds and became angry, grumpy, etc - it did not bring them closer to God. St. Paul was warning them that only those who were able and were called should embrace continence, and that for those who were not able, it would be wrong to do anything other than continue to live a regular sex life.

Also keep in mind that NFP is just another form of temporary abstinence. All the reasons that have been given for how it can actually benefit a marriage are the same reasons given in our Tradition for why mutually agreeing to temporary abstinence was of spiritual benefit to the couple. This is why John Paul II stated in Love and Responsibility that “the love of man and woman loses nothing as a result of temporary abstention from erotic experiences, but on the contrary gains”, which is why it is not only for reasons of family planning that couples should do so but also for “religious reasons” (pg. 241). It is therefore erroneous to teach or even imply that the more sex one has, the more that person mediates God – in a way they could not do without sexual union.

This is not to say sex is not important. It is. I am not saying sex is not a gift. It is. Having frequent and even daily sex is good - but God is better. Just like my playing baseball is good - but God is better. I have to always be careful that I don't take greater joy in baseball than God, and that if God asked me to give up baseball, I would do it in a heartbeat. And it is easy for me to put baseball above God and to love it more - it serves as a constant temptation. It would be better for me to “abstain” from baseball from time to time, as a sacrifice pleasing to him, and as a way to detach myself from my dependence on it. If I do not, my playing baseball is still good, but it becomes more of a temptation and I am more likely to get "inordinately attached" (a fancy term the Catechism always uses) to it.

Now, regarding the directive from Trent, this obviously had to be reconsidered when Communion became more frequent (at the time of Trent, many people only received Communion once or twice a year). If anything, this is now only a recommendation - and not the abstaining three days before Communion so much as abstaining during Lent. However, the moral force behind this rule - the goodness of abstaining from time to time, just as we do from food (fasting) and other good things, especially in Lent - remains.

It should be mentioned that John Paul II, in his desire to hold up models of Christian marriage in the Church, canonized a married couple that decided at age 41 to live a continent, Josephite marriage. Their names were Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi. Not only were they continent, but three of their four children entered religious life, while the other remained single. Of course, John Paul II does not envision most people embrace continence in their marriage once they get past child-bearing years. However, that is still the ideal. But if you cannot do it, if it leads you further from God, then it is not good, and continuing to come together sexually is still good. This is why John Paul II and Benedict XVI would probably agree with Trent’s advice, as well as praise couples who embraced temporary continence. They would probably not recommend everyone do it, but for those who are able, they would no doubt give their definite approval.

That recommendation from Trent is very controversial today - because doctrinally, our Church is in confusion. As I said, there are bishops - and probably even cardinals - who aren't even aware of the superiority of celibacy. I would say most priests do not even know (based on my own encounters). In fact, the chief author of the Catechism, Cardinal Schonborn (who it should be added got in trouble for promoting Medjugorje) is probably in the dark about some of this too. That is how widespread all this is.

13. Omissions in the New Catechism Require the Use of the Catechism of Trent

I would say that our Catechism itself contributes to the problem. The Catechism does not explicitly teach either of these things; rather, they are merely implied. In fact, the implication is even given (which is why I just said what I said about Cardinal Schonborn) that there is an equality. Now, there are various reasons for this exclusion. Although it was a part of Catholic teaching from the time of Trent (and before), some of what was in the Catechism of Trent made it into the new Catechism while some did not. For instance, Trent spoke about the four qualities of sorrow: that it must be Supreme, Intense, Universal, and Supernatural. The Catechism only spoke about the "Supernatural". That is one example. Also, the Catechism speaks in general terms. It cannot deal with every specific, like certain liturgical practices or sacramental rites. Most of these you have to turn to liturgical law to find. Canon Law also says much that is not mentioned in the Catechism. Thus, too, you also do not have much written about the permanent diaconate. There is much that the Church outlines concerning the duties and privileges of the diaconate, just as there is on the duties and privileges of married couples. But the Catechism cannot possibly begin to talk about the deacon's priorities of putting family first, job second, diaconate third, or the primacy of charity in his duties, etc. Also, the New Catechism, like Vatican II, had to receive a broad consensus and be generally universally applicable. As another example, the Eucharistic fast rule did make the new Catechism, but the rule that we must abstain from meat on Friday or substitute that for another penance did not. The Catechism is really random that way.

But because of the tendency to stick squarely with what the new Catechism teaches and isolate it from the rest of the Tradition (including the Catechism of Trent), a poster in the CAF, when I mentioned the dogma about the superiority of celibacy, disagreed and quoted paragraph 2349 from the Catechism, which is often the quotation used in response when one cites the dogma. It reads [with her emphases included]: “People should cultivate chastity in the way that is suited to their state of life. ... Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence. There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses, the second is that of widows, and the third is that of virgins. We do not praise any of them to the exclusion of the others.” (2349)

My response was this: “The problem with the quote as you are using it is that St. Ambrose is speaking not about celibacy vis-a-vis marriage, but about chastity (the virtue of sexual rectitude). This is not dependent upon the state of life, but how well one fulfills the state he is called to. However, this quote is very frequently cited in relation to the former, when in reality it does not address it.” It should be added that St. Cyprian, writing one-hundred years earlier, clears up the confusion left by St. Ambrose: “But chastity maintains the first rank in virgins, the second in those who are continent, the third in the case of wedlock.” (Of the Discipline and Advantage of Chastity, no.4). St. Thomas Aquinas taught the same (Summa Theologica, II-II, q.152, a.5), speaking of the “hundredfold” reward from Matthew 13:23 as virginity, the “sixtyfold” as committed widowhood, and the “thirtyfold” as chastity within marriage. It is apparent, then, how the Catechism de-emphasises the “superiority” of celibacy to such a degree that it almost reduces it to an equality.

Because this implication is so widespread, even when the dogma is taught explicitly (as it is in Theology of the Body), the sheer quantity of the implications often outweighs the few explicit mentions of the dogma, leading many to either deny the dogma, or as I said before, minimize it. However, However, one who refers to the teachings and Catechism of Trent will not make that mistake, for there this dogma is taught clearly. This is why we must remain grounded in pre-Vatican II sources.

As another example, Patrick Madrid posted an article in which he came out strongly against mixed marriages. A convert, citing her own personal example as having been a Catholic married to a non-Catholic who converted, and sticking squarely with what the Catechism said, disagreed with him. She posted a response on her own blog and Mr. Madrid and her got into a debate in the comments section. It became clear to me that the reason these two did not see eye to eye was this: Mr. Madrid was interpreting the Catechism in light of everything the Church taught through Sacred Tradition (the sources of which he was well-immersed in), while his opponent had isolated Vatican II from that Tradition and interpreted it without the pre-Vatican II sources as a hermeneutical guide and safeguard. The same has happened with the Vatican II documents, and the same has happened with Theology of the Body.

14. Both Examples of Errors are Perpetuated by West

These are misunderstandings that Mr. West himself might have (although he teaches the “superiority” of celibacy, he does heavily qualify it, and also subscribes to the “objective and subjective” call theory, which can be problematic in this regard), and it is something he does not stress. In fact, he calls celibacy and marriage “another way” of living out our call to self-giving, which to the post-Vatican II ear, translates into “an equal way”, which as we said is heresy. He fails to cite pre-Vatican II sources to “balance” this out. Thus, in his presentations, he is just as guilty as the Catechism of perpetuating the confusion.

15. Hermeneutic of Discontinuity and Seeing the Doctors and Fathers as “Prudish”

The problem with his presentation and his choice of emphases is that his disciples and students end up concluding that pre-Vatican II sources which speak of this issue are also tainted with “prudishness”. Thus they interpret the past with the same hermeneutic of discontinuity. For instance, many will read St. Francis de Sales’ admonition to married couples regarding the marital privilege and accuse him of prudery. Here is what he writes: “Married people ought not to keep their affections fixed on the sensual pleasures of their vocation, but ought afterwards to wash their hearts to purify them as soon as possible, so that they may then with a calm mind devote themselves to other purer and higher activities. In this way they will perfectly carry out St. Paul's excellent teaching that they who have wives should be as though they had none [1 Cor. 7:29]. St. Gregory the Great says that a husband or wife carries out this instruction by taking bodily consolation with the spouse in such a way as not to be turned aside from spiritual demands. St. Paul also says, ‘Let those who use the world be as though they used it not’. [1 Cor. 7:31]. Everyone should use the things of this world according to his calling, but in such manner that he does not engage his affection in it, but rather remains as free and ready to serve God as if he did not use it. We should place our joy in spiritual things, but only use corporal ones. When we make bodily pleasures our joy, our rational soul becomes debased and brutish” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 39: “The Sanctity of the Marriage Bed”). This is all right in line with what we said in the section on temporary continence – and in line with what our Tradition teaches in this regard. However, it is jarring to a disciple of West, and strikes such a student as being a bit “prudish”.

The same could be said in regards to the issue of the superiority of celibacy over marriage. Read what St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote in his spiritual classic The Spiritual Exercises: “we must praise highly religious life, virginity, and continency; and matrimony ought not be praised as much as these”. (no.356); and also “if a person thinks of embracing a secular life, he should ask and desire more evident signs that God calls him to a secular life than if there were question of embracing the evangelical counsels; for Our Lord Himself has evidently exhorted us to embrace His counsels, and, on the other hand, He has evidently laid before us the great dangers and difficulties of a secular life; so that, if we rightly conclude, revelations and extraordinary tokens of His will are more necessary for a man entering upon a life in the world than for one entering the religious state.” (Quoted in Matrimony, Virginity, The Religious State, and Marriage by An Anonymous Vincentian Father. New York: Benziger Brothers, 1897) To this we could add St. Bernard’s comparison of the religious to the married, that “they live more purely, they fall more rarely, they rise more speedily, they are aided more powerfully, they live more peacefully, they die more securely, and they are rewarded more abundantly” (Ibid). We could also add a similar comparison made by St. John Chrysostom – often cited in relation to his praise of marriage – who said “among seculars shipwrecks are more frequent and sudden, because the difficulties of navigation are greater; but with anchorites storms are less violent, the calm is almost undisturbed. This is why we seek to draw as many as we can to the religious life” (Ibid).

16. Reconciling and Harmonizing the Teachings of West with the Catholic Sources of Tradition

I would challenge Mr. West (and his disciples) to reconcile and harmonize what St. Francis de Sales says here with some of his more enthusiastic statements and views regarding the value and place of sexual union in the life of the Christian couple. I would also ask him to harmonize what Trent said about temporary continence with those of his teachings which seem to contradict this. I would ask him to harmonize John Paul II’s canonization of Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi - who lived as "brother and sister" in continence for most of their married lives (after she ceased childbearing) - and his promoting them as a model for married couples today. I would like him to harmonize the fact that almost all of the Saints canonized in history, as well as in the pontificate of John Paul II, were priests, religious, consecrated single people, and married people who embraced a life of continence. I would ask him to harmonize what St. Bernard and St. Ignatius and St. John Chrysostom and other Church Doctors and Church Fathers have written and stated on these issues.

I would also like him to stress this in his presentations as well, and remind the people of a truth he ended his book Good News About Sex and Marriage with. To quote Dawn Eden in her thesis who paraphrases John Paul II, “‘the mystery of the perfect communion of persons, of Man and Woman in the conjugal covenant’ finds its highest representation not in sexual ecstasy, but in the union of Mary and Joseph, whose ‘continence for the kingdom of heaven’ ... served the most perfect ‘fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit’ in the history of salvation. The centrality to this insight to his theology of marriage is made clear by the fact that [John Paul] repeats it in his Letter to Families: ‘What Saint Paul will call the ‘great mystery’ found its most lofty expression in the Holy Family.’” (no.4) (
emphasis hers)

I would like to challenge him to not only harmonize these and incorporate these in his presentations and stress them as much as is necessary to correct the misunderstanding of his listeners (these “correctives” should constantly loom over his presentations) , but to do so without leveling the charge of “prudishness” against these Church Doctors or Council Fathers.

17. “Chronological Snobbery”: Contemporary Extremes

For if they were Manichaean or prudish, then what are we? Does Mr. West believe today’s Church and contemporary theologians have not gone to any extremes? Does he believe that only in 2010 have we finally come to see clearly on the issue of sexuality?

My guess is that in 100 years, theologians and bishops are going to be saying Mr. West was too far to the other extreme, due to the fact that he was a product of his times – a hyper-sexualized culture that led to Catholic thinkers over-sexualizing Christianity. They will see him as extreme. We must remember that every era makes judgments on previous eras and rightfully so. It is hard to judge your own era when you are in the midst of it. We only see clearly in hindsight, which is why Church historians years from now will be the most accurate judges of what we do, say, and teach today, just as we are in a better position to evaluate what previous eras did right and what they did wrong.

This is why I see a certain “pride” here, a “chronological snobbery” of sorts. Every era has its extremes. The Council of Trent reacted against the excesses of the Protestant Reformers, which resulted in an over-emphasis on certain distinctly Catholic things, such as the nature of the Mass as a sacrifice and the special presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Vatican II brought some “balance” in this area by stressing the nature of the Mass as a community meal and the presence of Christ in His Word and in the community as well. Today, we have our own extremes because Vatican II made it a priority to reach out to the modern secular world. As a result, we will inevitably reach a bit too far sometimes and become a bit too worldly in the process. So in our attempt to reach out to a sexually-saturated society, we end up placing too great an emphasis on sexuality and end up to some degree “sexualizing” our faith or some of the truths of our faith more than is appropriate or correct.

To conclude this section, I would like to quote a poster who was arguing with me about the above issues (the superiority of celibacy and the good of temporary continence in marriage) in the thread on the CAF regarding. After I responded to his many objections with solid arguments and quotations from the Church’s Tradition, this poster, who revealed that he has studied Theology of the Body as well and has used it as his basis for understanding the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage, concluded with the following: “This thread has me questioninng [sic] what I've been told, what I believe,and what I've experienced. It seemed to me that all were unanimous - sex is not unimportant, sex is a gift, and there is nothing wrong with (and lots of things right with) frequent, even daily sex among Catholic husbands and wives. It may be that I've been decieved. I'm certainly guilty of putting too high a priority on pleasing myself.” To this poster’s credit, most became silent after I responded competently to their angry objections. I bowed out of the thread after a poster accused me of “setting myself up as an authority” and using “intellectual intimidation”.

D. Excessive Focus on Pleasure, Glory, and Happiness to the Exclusion or Minimization of Pain, Sorrow, and Penance

18. The Problematic Idealism of Chastity and TOB Speakers

It has been said by some keen observers that one of the most dangerous things that our young girls have been exposed to is the Disney movie Cinderella. Did you laugh? Let me explain: My friend Aaron speaks about how most girls have been dreaming about their wedding from the time they were four. That would also be about the time they watched Cinderella (or another movie along the same vein). The problem with this movie (and others like it) is that it paints a picture of romance that is not realistic, that is impossible to realize in the “real world”, and thus it sets up unrealistic expectations that women continue to believe are possible and thus strive towards while ignoring the realities that will render these expectations unrealizable. Such a picture omits any mention of the trials, simply leaving it at “they lived happily ever after”, without mentioning all the sadness and pain, the anger and frustration, and the struggles and suffering that Cinderella and her Prince would have no doubt experienced. They are too “idealistic”, in part because they do not speak of the “realistic” challenges and trials that often play out in practice if not in theory.

Chastity speakers, for instance, speak about how great a couple’s sex life will be, and even how great their marriage will be, if they both wait until they are married before they have sex. Statistically speaking, and all things being equal, this is true, and if the couple’s sexual past was the only factor affecting the marriage they would have it made. But there are many other factors besides their virginity which will determine the quality of their relationship. If the man, for instance, is a virgin when he marries but cannot hold down a job, or spends money he does not have on his “toys” or slot machines, or gets drunk every night, their marriage will be a living hell, and may very well end in divorce. If the man is a virgin when he gets married but has exposed himself to a great deal of pornography, once again, their sex life (and their marriage) may not be good at all. Even when two virgins marry, they each have their baggage, and marriage will most likely be a struggle for them – perhaps even an unbearable one. But chastity speakers spend little time on this. It is understandable considering their audience and their intent. But it does not change the fact that they promise something that will not be delivered.

Theology of the Body speakers often fall prey to the same pitfall chastity speakers do – they paint a beautiful and rosy picture of certain things that often never materializes in real life. This is where the argument that has been the strongest one against Mr. West comes in – namely, his failure to warn about the extent of concupiscence and the reality that only the Saints have really triumphed over it, and that the rest of us struggle with it and continue to fail until “five minutes after you die”, according to the story told by my spiritual formator in seminary about the young seminarian who asked the elderly priest when the lustful inclinations cease. Ms. Eden identified his response to this criticism: “his answer [remains] the same as the one Schindler says he gave years ago: He refuses to limit the transforming power of Christ”. (pg.31) How can anyone argue with this? This is one of those arguments designed to win the debate, similar to the argument that “if you are uncomfortable with me telling you to bless your genitals, or if you blush when I tell you to stare at your body in front of a mirror, then you must pray about why you felt uncomfortable and ask God for healing”. I cannot agree because there are numerous things wrong with this argument, but I cannot disagree because if I do I am denying the power of the Cross. The response to this argument is to call it what it is – a fallacy – and then go on to explain (but that takes time – it is not as simple as a “soundbite” like “I refuse to limit the power of Christ”).

This is one of those areas where John Paul II could rightly be critiqued – he was too optimistic. He sees the potential in all of us to overcome concupiscence and truly believes it can become an actuality en masse. However, human history has shown that this seldomly becomes reality. More often than not, people will not achieve this triumph over concupiscence. That is just a fact of life. Yes, some will overcome it, and everyone of us could be among them. And yes, we should not limit the transforming power of Christ – but on the other hand, we should realize how much we can (and do) limit His power to transform us through the abuse of our free will.

A commenter on Fr. Angelo’s blog by the name of Connie Scozzare speaks very well to this point: “It seems to me that in our culture, we have grown accustomed to being sold on that which is neatly packaged and cleverly marketed. Westian TOB has serious flaws; yet many, even those who are critical thinkers, are so enthusiastic about solving, in one fell swoop, (that’s the American way!) the problem of concupiscence that they are willing to ignore these flaws even when they are large and looming. We are all burdened with this thorn in the flesh – this triple concupiscence – and no amount of wishing it away will make it go away entirely. We must live with it – we must keep it at bay; thus, we must work out our salvation in fear and trembling. This is the truth – that none of us want this concupiscence – but all of us are infected with it. As for me, I can personally see the value of concupiscence. It keeps us humble and connected to the Sacraments and to the Rosary for help in this battle. To know your weakness is an invaluable defense against the enemy. Many of us would be less likely to keep going to the Source of our Salvation if we felt inclined to easily intellectualize our plight by buying a ticket and getting on the TOB train.” (She referred to it as the “TOB train” because Fr. Angelo had called the problems regarding the Theology of the Body presentations “a runaway train”).

19. Exclusive Focus on Triumphs to the Exclusion of Failures

In fact, to these points, consider personal examples West himself uses. Ms. Eden spoke about the time Mr. West found himself distracted in church by a beautiful red-headed woman, but how he used this occasion of sin to transform his attraction into a greater appreciation for the Church that the woman was a symbol of. I would guess that for every triumph and situation like that he cites, there are 10 instances of failure where he gave way to temptation, sinned (at least venially), and brought it to confession. Why do I say that? Because in my own teaching I have sometimes done the same – not necessarily with sexual purity, but other issues. Perhaps Mr. West has fully conquered concupiscence. But since progress in sexual purity is often proportionate to progress in the other virtues (ie. humility, charity, detachment, etc.), and since I do not personally know Mr. West, I cannot make any judgment about this.

20. Excessive Focus on the Pleasures and Glories of Marriage Over the Pains and Sorrows

Ms. Lasseter said on Fr. Angelo’s blog: “Today is the Transfiguration — Glory revealed in Our Blessed Savior. It occured [sic] to me that the experience of the Glory of our humanity, as revealed in Christ in the Transfiguration, may be the moment that Peter wants to enshrine on the holy mountain. Does the TOB want to enshrine that honeymoon event of marital embrace as a life-time goal? Peter said, ‘It’s good, Lord, to be here.’ And so it is, yet Jesus forbade this enshirement [sic] of the Glory to take place. The suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection were just ahead; they could not stay. Weddings show, and are meant to show, the glory of man and woman in the Sacrament — similar in shared glory to the Transfiguration. But there is another side to the Theology of the Body — the suffering of married life, the trials that are ahead as the couple moves deeper into the sacrament and life. What about aging, disease, death? Will the TOB philosophy not make aging women feel useless — just fat and ugly — because they no longer image receptivity/fecundity? ... Marriage is a long journey, and there can be joy in Christ, but not without suffering, too, which I do not see taught in the TOBI [Theology of the Body Institute, where West works]. Those long-married report that there can be respect, love and dignity, but the glory of the honeymoon gives way to reality, taking a much lower rank to the Corporeal Works of Mercy, which are also part of the Love that is intended to be lived out in the Body. I can testify that there is nothing erotic about the self-giving of twelve years of cancer care or of having your beloved husband die in your arms, but it can be beautiful, if united with Christ. Is it possible that real appeal of TOBI is that it seems to promise glory without suffering? Redemption without repentence? And so without forgiveness?” I would say that the TOBI does not promise this, but it does focuses too inordinately on the glory of marriage and sexuality while giving little attention to the crosses. It is also problematic that TOB speakers and talks can tend towards an inordinate dwelling on the pleasures of the sexual act and teach others to do likewise.

Speaking of Humanae Vitae, Dr. Von Hildebrand wrote in her critique, in line with the comment from Ms. Lasseter, “that encyclical links continence with repeated, compassionate acknowledgements of the ‘difficulties’ of married life and the ‘great endurance’ required of couples to live according to the moral law (issues that are also present in the TOB, but are largely overshadowed by John Paul’s emphasis on the joys of married love). Those expressions, in turn, link Humanae Vitae back to Pius XI’s 1930 encyclical Casti Connubii, which, in upholding conjugal chastity, noted the sufferings that are a natural part of married life: ‘through their devout love and unwearying care, the home, though it suffer the want and hardship of this valley of tears, may become for the children in its own way a foretaste of that paradise of delight in which the Creator placed the first men of the human race.” (I.4-5) [emphasis mine]. Like Dr. Von Hildebrand, Ms. Eden also pointed out that “the topic of suffering is nearly absent from the Theology of the Body catecheses”, (pg.72) which it must be pointed out is a deficiency found in the work of John Paul II himself. Before Vatican II, it was taught that although marriage was good, it had its dangers (vis-a-vis the religious life, which it was taught was the surest path to salvation) and certainly its trials. John Paul II, on the other hand, eliminated any discussion of these dangers and trials and in fact largely failed to mention them. He said, “marriage is good” and left it at that, period. This is fine if you are interpreting John Paul II with a heremeneutic of continuity and presenting the subject in such a way that you provide those balances, but if you do not (and most TOB speakers do not, as we have already pointed out, nor do most listeners attend those presentations with much of a grasp on the hermeneutic of continuity), this is problematic.

21. Failure to Teach or even Denying the Place of Asceticism

I believe Ms. Lasseter’s comment points also to another related problem in these presentations and perhaps even in the understandings or theologies of the promoters – namely, the role of asceticism in the Christian journey and in the married life. Besides a lack of emphasis on sacrifice, there is also a failure to speak of the place of asceticism. St. Francis rolled around in the snow to battle concupiscence, while St. Benedict threw himself in the rosebush. John Paul II himself, like many seminarians and priests who were trained in his era, used “the discipline” – a little whip designed for self-flagellation. Are we to believe that now, with our “new way” of seeing things that the TOB lens provides, we are able to overcome concupiscence by self-persuasion and prayer alone? Are we to believe that if only St. Francis and St. Benedict had Theology of the Body (which in a sense they did, by the way), they would never have had to practice penance in order to “mortify the flesh”? Can we now dispense with these “barbaric” and “archaic” practices now that we have this theological weapon? The answer is “No”, as everyone interpreting TOB with the hermeneutic of continuity instinctively knows.

Ann Hanincik offered this insight as well as some more examples on Fr. Angelo’s blog: “Some ‘popular’ formulations of TOB simply allow the world’s categories to be preserved with a kind of ‘Catholic veneer;’ thus, I can look at a naked person as long as I ‘see’ him/her with the eyes of Christ. This isn’t the peace of the interior gaze the Holy Father talked about; it’s a near occasion of sin. St. Moses the Black fled to the desert to atone for his sins and avoid temptation; St. Mary of Egypt was troubled by lust and threw herself facedown on the ground, often for hours, until the temptation passed; the Bishop Nonnus, captivated by Pelagia’s beauty, accepted her into the Church, but then refused to be her confessor and sent her away to a monastery, so as not to be tempted. We are not better than these great saints.”

22. Failure to Issue the Proper Caveats Regarding Omissions and Deficiencies

The bottom line in all this is that West needs to issue many more caveats to his lofty claims about sex and marriage and the joys and pleasures it promises. Yes, that would get in the way of a dramatic presentation and compromise the impact of the punchlines, but it would be more accurate and be more in line with reality and truth.

Ms. Hanincik sums up this section nicely: “I think we would all do well to acknowledge that John Paul II gave us much food for thought and meditation with his Wednesday catecheses, and it is good for us to study it. But it cannot be taken apart form the whole Tradition, nor can it be seen as a kind of panecea [sic] for the world’s problems. Theology of the body IS NOT the answer to the world’s problems. JESUS CHRIST IS!! This fact, unfortunately, is often forgotten when we get so caught up in ‘what TOB has done for me.’ If study of TOB – or the writings of Thomas, or the Fathers, or any of the saints – do not lead us to a deeper friendship with Christ, they are worthless. I hear very little about Jesus, but lots about ‘TOB’ and ‘JP II said.’ Without a deep conversion of heart, no amount of teaching, reading, or studying will do us any good.”

E. The Proper Place of Sex

23. Sexuality Given too Central a Role in the Catholic Faith and in Existence

Sex has its place in the grand scheme of things, in the totality of the universe and in our spiritual lives and in our Catholic faith. But there is more our humanity, more to our spirituality, and more to our Catholicism than the sexual – which goes without saying. However, it can happen that certain aspects of our faith are made out to be or presented as being more central than they really are or should be. I would submit that Mr. West seems to give sexuality a more central place than the Catholic Tradition has. The Church Doctors and Fathers have not allegorized the sexual to the degree West has nor have they used the sexual so centrally as a basis for spiritual growth and healing as West has. Many others can be added to this list, but we will end here.

24. God’s Love Broader than the Romantic

There are many types of “love” as the Greeks and Romans showed us (considering their many different words for “love”). There is romantic love, yes, but also love of friends, brotherly love, paternal and maternal love, etc. The problem with TOB presenters is they only really focus on one: romantic love, and speak of our relationship with God as being akin to a romantic relationship. However, God’s love encompasses all of these – all of these loves are akin in different respects and in various ways to God’s love. God’s love is in a sense “romantic”, yes, but in some ways it is primarily “paternal” or “maternal”, or at other times “fraternal” (as Christ’s), or as “friendly” (as in “love of friends”), which is pointed out in many places in Scripture. God as “Father” (the primary metaphor in the Gospel of Matthew), God as friend (John 15), God as kinsmen or brother (especially in the Prophets), etc. To think of God’s love only in terms of the romantic is to skew our understanding of God’s love and thus even skew our understanding of God. Thinking of God only as “Spouse” or “Lover”, which is what Mr. West’s book Heaven’s Song does, without also thinking of God as “Father” or “Brother” or “Friend” can stunt rather than aid spiritual growth and lead to a skewed or deficient understanding of not only God but also Man and our Catholic Faith.

There are two objections to this. The first is that many of the spiritual masters primarily thought of God as Spouse, and many nuns often speak about Christ as their Bridegroom and their Lover. The problem here is that most of us are not in the seventh spiritual mansion like St. Teresa of Avila was, and most of us are not nuns. If you have first of all forsaken earthly marriage in order to have your desire for spousal love met by God alone, as the nuns have done, then naturally and expectedly “God as Spouse” is likely going to be primary. If you have grown so much in your spiritual journey that you are in a sense “spiritually betrothed” or “spiritually married” to Christ, then of course “God as Spouse” is going to be primary. But I for one am not in the seventh mansion – rather, I am barely in the third if that, and I am not a nun but a lay person who is still hoping to marry a woman and thus take a human wife. Yes, in the eschaton we will be “married” to Christ, but it is the nuns, not married lay people, who are living the eschaton in the present – for the rest of us, it remains something in our futures, in the “next life”, that which we are slowly working towards. For us to now focus so heavily on God as Spouse rather than also as Father or Brother or Friend (which nuns continue to do, by the way), is almost to “grab for ourselves” (to use an expression from West) something that is meant for us only at a later time. We are trying to “force” a spousal relationship, just as we often try to “force” higher states of prayer (like if I tried to “force” my way into the fourth mansion, or “force” my way into the gift of infused contemplation when I am merely ready for simple meditation) before being truly ready or before the time allotted by God. If you are not called to spiritual marriage yet, then you should not focus on God as Spouse to the degree those in the seventh mansion do – it will hurt not help your spiritual growth. That is why the book Heaven’s Song is problematic, misleading, and potentially harmful or dangerous.

The second objection is that Heaven’s Song is appropriate because Mr. West was intending to write a work which focused only on that aspect without denying the others, and that to write about the others would have been out of his scope. The other aspects, goes the objection, are treated very well elsewhere, so people could just go to those. The problem with this objection is that practically it does not work out that way. Many who read Heaven’s Song will end up concluding that “God as Spouse” is and should be the primary focus (even perhaps to the exclusion of the others). The problem is that Mr. West does not make this clear anywhere in the book or in the prologue (which is absolutely essential considering how many will get the wrong idea). Both of these objections, though valid, are red herrings and are thus misplaced.

25. Celibacy Downgraded in TOB Presentations Contrary to John Paul’s Work

The fact that sexuality and marriage is given pride of place in these presentations can be seen by the fact that sexuality and marriage is not even central in Theology of the Body itself! Celibacy, in fact, is the “pinnacle” of this work. It is the “culmination” of the entire catechesis on sex and marriage in that it is the ultimate “gift of self” and the ultimate “end” of all the elect – who without exception will be living the celibate vocation in heaven for all eternity, marriage being just the earthly sign which must “give way”. The section on celibacy is in actuality the “centerfold” of Theology of the Body!

Unfortunately, although Mr. West alludes to the fact that marriage is the “sign” while celibacy is the “living here and now” what we are all called to live in heaven, there is little to no indication that the latter is “superior” thereby – a fact we have previously covered. Yes, in Good News about Sex and Marriage, he admits there is a “superiority”, but heavily qualifies it. But this is often drowned out in his presentations due to the fact he place such a strong emphasis on the profundity of sexual union and ecstasy. Of course, this makes sense considering his audience – a fact that bookmarks these critiques. However, as we will see, it remains problematic for the reasons that will be given.

On the whole, many TOB presenters do a poor job with celibacy, in part because they stick exclusively with what John Paul II says (and cherry-pick that as well) and do not dig into the wealth of our Catholic Tradition on the subject, and in part because they are usually married themselves, they love being married, they love having sex, and they cannot imagine being or doing anything but. Like many other Catholics, they have no real desire for that life especially considering what they would have to “give up” (the sex life and marriage they love). Although of course these speakers do acknowledge the fact some are given the gift, it is not something they can personally relate to, and their personal love for a celibate life pales in comparison – they are glad some live it and appreciate some have the gift, but they find little to no personal attraction to it (which they should, because celibates are living the way we are all called to live in heaven – namely, alone before and with God in a spousal relationship).

Mr. West in one of his articles complained that he heard about a single woman who declined to come to his conference because she was single and Theology of the Body was “for married people”. He said this is wrong – Theology of the Body is for everyone! After I read this, I responded by writing his TOB Institute an email with the critique that I could see how this single woman would conclude that if she had clicked onto the website, because 14 of the 15 pictures featured on the home page are of couples or families, and only 1 is of a priest. No single people, no religious, etc. I received no response, and nothing was changed. I later wrote West himself a letter, and brought up this same point - and I did get a response, with him agreeing with me and saying he expressed a similar complaint in the past. However, I would say that the selection of pictures represents the general tone of the presentations, despite the fact Mr. West often repeats that TOB is for everybody. The fact he speaks about the glories and ecstasies of marriage without speaking of the trials and crosses specific to that state or the greater glory to be found in celibacy (which single people in a sense live) also contributes to this impression.

That is why many priests have not embraced Theology of the Body, and why it is primarily lay people who delve into this wholeheartedly. Priests should fall madly in love with TOB, because it has such a profound relevance to their own lives and to their own ministries. But they, like many, have received the impression, mainly from the "popular presentations", that TOB is about the glories of sexual ecstasy and marital union, and thus is primarily for married folk, not celibates. I personally do not know anyone who does a great job teaching the joys and glories of celibacy through TOB and uses it as their centerpiece (which I do and did when I taught it at the Bible College – my section on “celibacy” was longer than my section on ``marriage`` [sorry for this shameless tooting of my own horn!]). As a result, most priests do not use it in their own personal spiritual journey, and if they get into it at all, it is usually to teach married people, not to benefit personally from it themselves.

26. The Place of Sexuality within Marriage Overrated

As Von Hildebrand pointed out, citing John Paul II: “any attempt to overevaluate the role of sex, ‘particularly in conjugal life,’ leads ‘modern man’ to devalue ‘conjugal union and the true meaning of love in the mutual relationship of persons of the opposite sex.’” Ms. Eden also speaks to this point: “In his TOB catecheses, John Paul II likewise made every effort to convey the point that, contrary to the mythology of a culture fascinated with sexual “power,” the dynamic force that impels marital unity draws its strength from chastity. If the key element of the spirituality of the spouses and parents—the essential ‘power’ that the spouses must continually draw from their sacramental “consecration”—is love, this love, as the text of the encyclical makes clear (Humanae Vitae, 20), is by its nature linked with chastity, which, in turn, manifests itself as self-mastery or continence”. (pg.71)

And love between a couple consists in thousands of things besides sexual union.
In a thread on CAF about whether there were an inordinate number of posts about sex, one poster opposed those of us who said “Yes” by saying that when there are problems in a couple’s sex life, it greatly affects the relationship, and therefore, a good sex life is essential to a healthy relationship. My response was this: “So is money. So is experiencing good and wholesome activities together. So is raising children together and the challenges and joys that go along with that. And so is praying together. So is our common life of worship. So is the spiritual reading we do, the Saints we read about, the Scriptures we are called to read on a daily basis, and the Catholic Faith that tells us about every aspect of our lives and everything about our world. Why when there is so much that goes into a marriage do we tend to be inordinately focused on that aspect over the others. Please notice the word "inordinate" to avoid misinterpreting - and look up the definition if there is any lack of clarity (because I can see already that this will happen without the proper caveat issued). This is the key word in that statement.”

I would like to reproduce in full what a poster by the name of “Rapunzel” said on CAF as she says it as well or better than I could. “West, in my opinion, takes the exaltation of sexuality found in secular society and adapts it to Catholicism by exalting sex within marriage. Certainly, marital relations is one of the goods of marriage. But there are many other goods and many higher goods in marriage, beyond the mere physical sexual act; these receive much less attention from West. ... Due to the influence of secular society, many Catholics give excessive importance to marital relations and to sexual pleasure within marriage. West's message plays to this bias, and so it is very popular. Many Catholics read West, but few read the actual TOB lecture series by JP2. ... Alice von Hildebrand is right to criticize West for his lack of understanding of modesty, self-denial, self-restraint, shame, and the dangers inherent in exalting sexual pleasure, even within marriage, beyond the limits of its place in the scale of values.”

27. Sexuality and Idolatry

Sometimes we can also become a bit too "in love" with that one "part" of our lives as well, and it can become an obsession. Even for Christians. All things must be put in their proper place - if God is calling us to spend 10 percent of our religious reading time on sex-related material, we should not spend 20 percent. The amount will vary. But if one is, for instance, going to the CAF and spending 90-100 percent of his time on sex-related such threads, chances are such a person is focusing too much on sex.

I know first-hand that this happens. I knew of a student in a Christology class who was really into TOB, and when it came to his paper topic in Christology class, he wanted to do bridegroom imagery in John. He was warned by the professor that the direction he wanted to take it was not strictly Christological, but he insisted on doing something related to Jesus as Bridegroom. One of our other classmates told me, "it's understandable - he recently got married, and loves being married". So my question, of course, is that perhaps it is the creation and not the Creator that he has a strong affinity for? The Creator is broader than bridegroom imagery - why can he not do something that is not at all related to "Christ as Bridegroom"?

It is easy to love anything for the wrong reasons. Money and Possessions are good - but they can become idols (see CCC 2113). So can sex and even marriage.

28. Danger of Using TOB as a Way to Legitimize our Over-Glorification of and Inordinate Attachment to Sex and Marriage

In fact, it can happen that our study of TOB can be a way for us to "legitimize" our over-glorification and over-attachment (and it can become an over-glorification and over-attachment) to it and continue to indulge it under the guise that it is "a sign of the divine" and under the guise of devotion. Satan is very subtle.

A poster on CAF spoke to this point when he said “there are a lot of ways to get sexually stimulated. Obviously looking at provocative images is one way. But just talking or hearing about sex can do the same thing to a lesser extent. Again, even for married people is it really necessary to encourage people to think about sex so much? I think our bodies and our culture get us primed for it enough already.”

I would add that TOB speakers can get a sexual high or sexual enjoyment or satisfaction or titillation from discussing it, and they can get a sexual high from rooting it in God and showing how central it is to their (and our) existence! It can “turn them on”. And the same can happen to the people in the audience. Such a reaction can be sinful or at least harmful (one may, say, rush to “go out and land a husband” – which usually does not turn out well when women do this).

It should concern us that some Catholics spend more time reading Theology of the Body than they do the Bible. It should concern us that many students at Steubenville cite Song of Songs rather than the Gospel of John or one of the other Gospels or Epistles as their favourite book in the Bible. It should concern us that for some Catholics, "studying the faith" consists in large part of listening to TOB CDs, and reading books on sex and marriage, and almost exclusively attending conferences and talks and frequenting forums that deal only with this topic.

With Christopher West himself, what concerns me is that his life's work consists strictly of sex and marriage. When a person does this full-time, the danger is that sex can become greater in his mind than it is in reality (which is the case with anything – we often need to step back from that which we are engaged in and “re-focus” and “re-balance” by putting it in perspective). It can also become far too central to one’s life and spirituality. When he talks about how his secretary next door hears him groaning, and that it was because he just read something profound in TOB, that concerns me. If she heard him groaning over a beautiful insight on faith from Isaiah, then I would be fine with that. But if one’s Bible reading consists heavily or almost exclusively of the sexual and marital analogies one finds there, that is concerning, because the Bible is much broader than this.

Now, if one specializes in this subject, it is understandable that one’s studies will focus on this (though I would ask what led such a person to specialize in this to begin with – some had good motives, I am sure, but no doubt some did not). However, if those same TOB speakers focus to that same extent or degree in their own personal lives of prayer and study, then that, I would say, would be a problem. I don't know if any do - and I am not going to speculate on that.

29. Inordinate Focus on and Love for the Song of Songs

This is where I see another problem – namely, the inordinate focus placed on the Song of Songs. It is concerning to me that at Steubenville, an exceptionally large number of students (especially those who are big into Theology of the Body) will cite "Song of Songs" as their favourite book of the Bible. Once again, this just proves to me that we Christians have too influenced by our sex-saturated society and tend toward the same exaltation of it that they do. Personally, a lot of other books of the Bible strike me more profoundly with the beauty and intensity of God's love than Song of Songs, especially (but certainly not only, lest there be any misunderstanding) considering its obscure allegories and archaic concepts and cultural references. So why is it that the Bible's "centerfold" (as Christopher West puts it), this explicitly-erotic book (please refer to the proper definition again - that of "eros" or "erotic" to avoid misunderstandings) is so many people's favourites out of 73 incredible books?

Apologist Jimmy Akin speaks to this point very well on his blog. He first of all quotes the press release by the TOB Institute after the Nightline segment. That press release reads in part: “The Song of Songs is of great importance to a proper understanding of Christianity. Indeed, the saints and mystics of the Catholic tradition have written more commentaries on the Song of Songs than any other book in the Bible. It is in the very center of the Bible for a reason.” Mr. Akin responded, “Song of Songs is not ‘of great importance to a proper understanding of Christianity.’ It is of very limited importance, as illustrated by the fact that it is one of the Old Testament books that is not quoted in the New Testament, that the readings of the liturgy only contain one reference to it--seven verses that appear as an optional reading--and by the fact that throughout Christian history more attention has been paid to the spiritual sense of the text (i.e., allegorizing it into a treatise about Christ and his Church) than its literal sense (Hebrew love poetry). It is almost certainly untrue that the saints and mystics of the Catholic tradition have written more commentaries on the Song of Songs than any other book in the Bible. More than Genesis? More than Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John?” (http://www.jimmyakin.org/moral_theology/page/2/)

It should also be added that, as we alluded to before, mystics would no doubt relate better to Song of Songs than the average Christian due to the fact they were actually dwelling in the sixth and seventh mansions and thus the “spiritual marriage”. For most of us, our attraction to the Song of Songs is more carnal than it is spiritual, to be frank. It is not our favourite book for the same reason it was for St. John of the Cross or St. Teresa of Avila. Rather, it is because we love sex and marriage, and through Song of Songs, those things we love are “Christianized” and made “religious”. It also allows us to continue to make our erotic desires and experiences central in our lives of faith and even our lives in general. That is why Rachel hit the nail on the head when she observed that “there is a reason the Church Fathers said that livingthe study of the Song of Songs ought to be reserved for Christians who are mature in their faith!” [emphasis mine]. To this we should add Dr. von Hildebrand’s excellent observation that “a beautiful, sacred book like “the Song of Songs,” which draws parallels between God’s love and romantic love-, is bound to be misinterpreted by the modern, sex-obsessed mind.” (II.1.b)

30. Failure of Married People to Foster a Personal Desire for Celibacy

Rachel brought up a good point with the heavy focus on sex and marriage in TOB presentations, which was the fact that “there is a larger or more eager audience for them than there is for the topic of celibacy”. Personally, I would consider a bit (not greatly) problematic, because celibacy is what we are all called to for all eternity, and all Catholics should be seeing in celibates an eschatological sign, a flesh and blood example of the life they are called to live forever. If they are not interested in the call to celibacy, I would say this is problematic, because this is what eternity will be like for them, and what they should be striving and preparing for. Their “hearts should be in heaven”. That is why the calls are “complementary” - celibates see in married people a more concrete realization of what the spousal relationship they are living with God, while married people see (or are supposed to see) in celibates the relationship their own earthly marriage is supposed to gradually lead them towards, even in this life. Ideally, Catholics should be led to [this] understanding. ... Yes, most are not ready for it yet, but we should also strive to lead them toward this. I don't think many TOB speakers even strive to do this.

Unfortunately, as it is with most Catholics, this is not the case – the focus is marriage and celibacy never receives much thought, other than the occasional rumination on “how do they do it?” or “I am so glad God called them and I am so glad they embraced that call”. Instead of seeing a priest or nun and saying, “Wow, what a great call! I feel a yearning to have what she does”, we instead say to ourselves, when we really picture ourselves living that life instead and vividly meditate on that, “I am so glad that she devoted her life to God and to the Church like that, but I personally wouldn't want to live that life and am glad I am married instead!”.

It must be noted here, to ward off some objections, that there is a difference between seeing their call as beautiful and appreciating it, and actually desiring it for ourselves. Orthodox Catholics almost without exception acknowledge and assent to the first, but I would say a rather small number experience the second, at least with any depth or length of time (and even turn their backs on the first when a family member decides to enter – as we will soon see). This is problematic – even after men and women are married, they should continue to experience a desire for priesthood or religious life. As Dr. Hahn says, and I think he is correct, if any Catholic man or woman does not desire priesthood or religious life, he or she does not understand it, and if they look at it and see heartache and loneliness in it for them, they are not looking at it properly. (CD Series on Matthew, Exegesis on Chapter 19 Verse 29)

Listen to what one poster wrote in the CAF: “My sister in law, whom I am very close with, just told us of her plans to join the cloistered life. I am struggling to understand it all. It is not appealing to me in the slightest, and all my children are so young, and she will miss out on their lives.” [emphasis mine]. Of course, it should be appealing to her, she should find the religious life alluring, because that is what she is ultimately called to (though she will probably not fully live it until she arrives in heaven). Her marriage and family life is but a sign of the ultimate reality God is calling her to for all eternity. Sex always remains a sign of the greater unity we are called to with God. That is why celibacy is better - it is living now what we are called to live in heaven – and it is also why we as Christians should be attracted to it personally.

Now, the impression left by Theology of the Body teachers is that “we will enjoy what celibates already live when we get to heaven. But in this life, marriage is our vocation, and that is where our focus is”. I disagree with this first statement and the implication in the second. We are actually supposed to begin to embrace and even live (but at the very least meditate on and pray about) this life here on earth. Heaven is supposed to be a smooth transition – not a drastic change of states. God does not intend us to be having sex on a daily basis until the day we die and then suddenly switch to a celibate love in heaven.

As I pointed out to a poster on CAF, “God designed us in such a way that as we age, sex becomes less and less frequent until it ceases completely. When speaking about consecrated widows, [St. Paul] said no one younger than 60 was to be enrolled, because sexual / marital desire is too likely to overtake them [1Timothy 5]. This was less a temptation past 60 (as people aged). Yet, as time goes on, we are also called to love our spouses more and more, until the day comes where we are ready to ‘consummate’ our relationship with Our Lord in the ‘Wedding Banquet of the Lamb’. In other words, sex is important, but only as a means to an end, and should give way as time goes on to the spiritual. It is God's design. This applies to other things too, such as our work. As time goes on, we work less and less, and we realize that the ‘real work’ is the work of worship, of the ‘Sabbath rest’.” One poster responded to this by accusing me of “Gnosticism”, pointed out that sex was “spiritual”, said that some continue to work full-time until they die, and said there was no indication in our Catholic teachings that sex was supposed to become less frequent as time went on. My response was this: “(1) To say the temporal, the things of this world, are supposed to give way to the things of heaven as we get closer to meeting our maker, is not ‘dualistic’. To say they are evil, would be dualistic. To say they are ‘good’ and should be enjoyed as good, but that heaven is ‘better’, is not dualistic. (2) Sex is not spiritual per se. Animals have sex, but are not spiritual. However, among humans, sex can communicate grace (as can many other things in a marriage). Marriage is a sacrament, after all. (3) There will always be exceptions to God's designs [notice the choice of words]. (4) As for there being ‘no indication that sex is to end as married couples get older’, I disagree. No, perhaps not in the dogmas (then again, there are a lot of things not found in the dogmas that are generally regarded to be so), but the spiritual masters have long taught about the ideal being a ‘weaning off’ the marital privilege as time went on.” I know of a couple that had a Jesuit priest before Vatican II instruct them about this.

F. Other Issues

31. Christopher West and John Paul II: Two Different Mindsets

I would submit that between John Paul II and Christopher West, there are two different mindsets. Mr. West was corrupted by our sex-saturated post-sexual revolution culture (as he himself admits), indulged in sexual sin as a teenager, developed habits and vices that he is probably still not completely over, and as a married man who speaks and writes widely about sex and marriage, he obviously loves sexuality and having sex. John Paul II, on the other hand, cultivated the virtue of purity from an early age in a heavily Christian environment (Poland), embraced celibacy, developed a deep and rich (and probably mystical) prayer life, and rejoiced in and basked in the love of God rather than sexual or spousal love, which he sacrificed for the greater good. It is said that Pope John XXIII was never tempted sexually, and most likely Pope John Paul II probably also achieved a high degree of self-mastery in this regard as well. It is not surprising, then, if Mr. West projected back onto the words of John Paul II some of his own perspectives, and perhaps could not really grasp or fully understand where John Paul II was really “coming from”, as his mindset was different. It is possible for one to properly grasp John Paul II, but only if he is reading him according to the hermeneutic of continuity, which Mr. West seems to lack, as has already been shown. That is the big difference between the two – John Paul II operated from that hermeneutic and took care to show that throughout his work; Christopher West lacked that hermeneutic and it shows throughout his work.

Now, it must be said that it is quite possible that Mr. West is indeed giving sex and marriage the proper (the “ordinate”) amount of attention, and that his disciples are doing the same. However, I would submit that is not the case, and I suppose we will have to wait for the Church to make that evaluation when the time is ripe.

32. Elevation of Theology of the Body Presenters to Position of De Facto Authorities on Sex and Marriage

Now, as I said in my thesis, these presentations (which includes the neglect of Vatican II sources and the cherry-picking of Saints) are sufficient for the particular audience West primarily has in mind. The problem is that these Theology of the Body writers and speakers (especially West and Popcak) have become the de facto authorities on all questions of sexuality and marriage, while Pius XII, Trent, St. Francis de Sales (and others not quoted by West and others) are ignored, or seen as "archaic", or regarded as no longer relevant or important to reference since we “now have Theology of the Body”. Their writings and CDs have become THE sources for Catholic teaching on sex and marriage, with sparse and brief proof-texts from the sources of Tradition.

V. A Synthesis: Harmonizing West’s Critics and Supporters

Now, I am about to seemingly contradict everything I have just said by way of critique. I did a similar thing in the last chapter of my manuscript, An Acceptable Sacrifice – it was as though I threw the previous eleven chapters right out the window. However, there as in here, there is complete harmony although the two positions seem at odds. What I am about to do is validate both the critics and supporters of West, and bring their arguments into a synthesis.

Let me re-state my thesis at this point:

West's approach is good for the particular audience he is catering to. However, West's approach is not suited to the “spiritually mature” or those with a firm grasp of Catholic doctrine. These Catholics can get some good things out of it and enjoy it, but they can also be rightly bothered by some of the things he says and see them as problematic.

These Catholics need rather to be "feeding at the banquet", to use West's own analogy. West is feeding people with banquet food, but he is tossing it in a picnic basket and carrying it off to the back alleys, which by the time it gets there is not as “good”, not as “pure”.

West must over-simplify and he must also speak the lingo of the man eating out of the dumpster. But eventually those people should be led to a point in their spiritual journey where they too find that language vulgar and offensive.

This argument was really a non-argument from the start. Both Dr. Schindler and Dr. Smith are right. What they both missed was this: West is excellent for those immersed in our secular culture. West is problematic for those who have attained a spiritual and sexual maturity and a fully Catholic understanding of sex and marriage.

The problem is, the Bishops did not properly discern this, and thus they believed that West was suitable and even perfect for all audiences. ...

1. Evangelism, Catechesis, and Theology

A supporter of West responded to criticism about his theological errors by stating, “West isn’t a theologian, he’s a popularizer”. This is well stated and captures the real charism of Mr. West and many other TOB popularisers and speakers. What Dr. Smith and Dr. Waldstein are saying is that Mr. West’s approach (with his over-simplifications and with the emphasis he places on that which our culture is saturated in – namely, the sexual) is necessary in order to attract, engage, and win over a secular audience. To that I widely agree. That is what makes him an “evangelist”. What Ms. Eden and Dr. Von Hildebrand are saying is that Mr. West has made some serious theological errors and catechetical blunders which has rightly scandalized and upset many of the faithful. To this too I widely agree. That is what makes him a mediocre or even poor “theologian” or “catechist”.

This is essentially the “three-step process” in the conversion process – evangelism, catechesis, and theology. It all begins with “evangelism”, which necessitates, as Vatican II said, an “inculturation” of the Gospel and naturally an “over-simplication”, a “meeting people where they are at”, which of course tends towards theological problems. One does not begin to try to convert heathen nations through “catechesis” or even “theology” – it just will not attract them, they will not understand, nor will they be willing to embrace it. However, once a person experiences metanoia – or makes a decisive “conversion” – then is the time to teach that person the faith he has decided to embrace. Only at that point are they ready for “theology” – faith seeking understanding – whereby they probe ever deeper the mysteries of our Faith and the Person (or Communion of Persons) which our Faith binds us into a relationship with.

So St. Patrick preached to the Irish pagans by finding “types” and “partial fulfillments” in the superstitious practices he found there, just as the Church transformed pagan practices into Christian ones by replacing the pagan practices with Christian meanings. From there, St. Patrick used the three-leaf clover to explain the Trinity and thus help the pagans understand the very difficult concept of the Trinity. As time went on in Ireland and as people were converted more deeply, this rudimentary illustration of the Trinity gave way to a “fuller”, more accurate (and more spiritual) understanding. For those who have grown deeper in the mysteries of the Christian faith, the shamrock is no longer useful, and in fact can be dangerous – it can “stunt” one’s spiritual growth or even cause regression.

The same holds true for Mr. West. He is an “evangelist”, and he is quite effective in engaging the secular audience. However, he is a poor “theologian”, because theologians must keep the often-paradoxical truths of the faith in a delicate tension and also remain faithful (and show how they remain faithful) to the Catholic Tradition. West does neither very well. He is also an irresponsible “catechist”, because catechists must take extreme care to ensure they use the precise formulas found in the Magisterial documents, and to ensure that their teachings do not “stray” into “speculative theology” (especially controversial speculations). Once again, West does neither very well.

2. West Must “Hand Off” After He “Brings In”

Listen to what Ms. Eden herself says in her thesis, as I believe this proves what I am saying here, and also speaks to my thesis: “Christopher West’s gifts as a popular presenter helped get me through the Church’s doors—as they have for numerous other Catholics, and I will always be grateful for God’s using his work in that way. However, as I got deeper into Catholic faith and practice, I began to discover discrepancies between his presentation and the teachings of the Magisterium—discrepancies that, however unintentional, appeared to be impacting the faithful in disturbing ways.” (pg.7)

I would also like to quote what Fr. Angelo says as it too speaks to my thesis: “One of the concerns I have raised for a long time is the way in which this particular interpretation of TOB argues from two mutually exclusive points of departure, depending on what sort of objection is raised. On the one hand, it is argued that such an approach is necessary in order to meet “those hearts who may not be members of the ‘choir,’ but on the other hand, when those who are more serious about practicing chastity are approached with the message, their reticence to countenance such an approach is met with the suggestion that they have not yet experienced the full message of redemption of the body. So which is it?”

I would answer that it is “both”. “Those hearts who may not be members of the choir” I believe need West’s approach. However, “those who are more serious about practicing chastity”, who have thus “matured” and grown “deeper” in the Faith and “immersed” themselves in the Catholic Tradition should not continue to listen to or read West as a primary source – they should have moved past that. The problem here is that mature Catholics who should be seeking catechesis and theology are looking for these things and expecting to find them in an evangelistic presentation. The problem is not that Mr. West was booked as a speaker. The problem is that those who booked him as a speaker assumed he was good for all audiences, including all Catholic audiences, and he is not.

Therefore, although Mr. West should certainly continue to do “evangelism”, he should not be doing “catechesis” or “theology”. And he should make it clear that he is an “evangelist” – and make it equally clear that he is not a “theologian” or a “catechist” and is doing neither theology or catechesis. Unfortunately, he has been hired as a speaker by too many people who were unaware of this distinction.

I would like to reproduce what Rachel said on CAF, as I believe it speaks also to my points: “‘Theological rigor’ and ‘pastoral need’ are always in tension in these kinds of presentations, but it seems to me that this is asking a bit too much, asking something that will probably only distract from the final ‘message’ of his work, and asking something that quite honestly West is not even setting out to do when he presents JP2’s theology of the body to contemporary lay audiences. West is trying to reach contemporary Catholics with the message that JP2 designed for them. ... It almost seems to me that some people have expectations that are too high for West ... expecting that he extensively cite St. Augustine or Pius XII in his presentation to Catholics who just need to be evangelized regarding the Church's teaching regarding premarital sex, lust, contraception, etc.?” I agree with this.

Therefore, to seemingly contradict myself (without actually doing so), I will state this: in the beginning some of the skewed or even erroneous concepts, teachings, and impressions or views perpetuated by Mr. West and other TOB popularisers are fine considering that once they have come into the Church, as Ms. Eden did, those skewed or erroneous first impressions and beliefs can be purified and corrected through catechesis and immersion in the sources of Catholic Tradition, just as we have done with the catechumens for almost two-thousand years in the Church. If someone experiences metanoia through a Christopher West presentation, I have no problem if for the time being he believes marriage and celibacy are “equal”, or if he does not see any value in mutually abstaining from sexual relations periodically for spiritual reasons, or if he sees marriage as all blessings and no crosses (or crosses that are “sweet” to behold), or if he thinks asceticism is for unfortunate prudes from pre-Vatican II days who resorted to these practices merely because they did not have the benefit of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, or thinks sexuality is more central to Christianity than it really is, or believes the Easter Candle is a phallic symbol. The reason I am saying I am okay with these is that (a) without some of these emphases (and de-emphases) and over-simplifications, many of them may have never come into the Church (just like previous evangelists used certain over-simplifications and a different set of emphases and de-emphases to lead people into the Church), and (b) through catechesis – the next stage in the process – these converts can be corrected on some of their earlier misunderstandings (while being re-inforced in much of what they did get right), and taught that there actually is a superiority to celibacy in some respects, that temporary abstinence can be beneficial at times, that marriage does have its share of crosses which will seem at times unbearable and not at all sweet, that asceticism still has a place in the Church, that sexuality is perhaps not quite as central as they have understood it to be, and that the Easter Candle has a rich symbolism apart from anything sexual. It is not a difficult adjustment to make for converts once they have embraced the idea that the Church is the Body of Christ on earth and teaches infallibly. It is a “process” of learning and assenting – one that begins with evangelism, slowly continues through catechesis, and is ever more refined through theology. I still have misunderstandings that I am constantly being corrected on, through books or presentations, or by God in the many ways He speaks and works in my life. And that is all part of the process of salvation.

I would like to quote Jimmy Akin regarding his opinion on the Nightline piece – because I agree with his evaluation. “Even the ABC piece, as flawed as it was, should do more good than harm on balance. Despite the Hefner-related flaws and the ‘centerfold’ business, it communicated the ideas that (1) the anti-Christian sex stereotype is wrong, (2) that sex is a good thing, (3) that people should admire and take seriously the Church's teachings on sex, (4) including its teachings on contraception, sex only in marriage, and heterosexual marriage, and (5) it had testimonies from couples and individuals saying how these messages turned their lives and marriages around. Chris's critics should be honest enough to admit that the piece nudged more audience members in the right direction than the wrong one. And they should rejoice in that.” If such people experience a conversion and come to RCIA, some of their misconceptions can be cleared up then.

3. “Vulgarity”?

Also, I must address one more issue that goes to this point – namely, that of “vulgarity”. One poster on CAF objected to my thesis (which I also posted there) by saying this: “If West is problematic for some, he is problematic for all. If he is vulgar, he is vulgar.” My response was the following: “There is nothing wrong with ‘vulgar’ per se (see dictionary definition). But used in the wrong context, it is at best imprudent and at worst dangerous. Language varies based on audience - that holds true in daily life and in the Church's mission to evangelize. I can say "how's it goin, homey'" to my best friend when he pops over for a brewskie. I would never say it to the queen at Buckingham Palace with the media present and the cameras rolling. I would be thrown out on my ear and rightfully so.” The fact is, his “vulgarity” will make the audience he is catering to feel quite at home and more than willing to listen. However, more “mature” Christians will find some of what he says offensive, and rightfully so. Furthermore, more “mature” Christians will find his presentations to be more “fluff” than “substance” – as I heard from a friend who heard him here when he came to Saskatoon. It was an audience of mature Catholics, and they needed a “theologian”, not an “evangelist”.


  1. Good post, but one major, glaring, insuperable difficulty that really trashes everything you said. And that's your close.

    According to John Paul II, in Catechesi Tradendae, "26. Since catechesis is a moment or aspect of evangelization, its content cannot be anything else but the content of evangelization as a whole."

    So, catechesis is NOT separate from evangelization. What is said in catechesis has to map one-to-one with what is said in evangelization.

    It CANNOT be the case that what West is doing is good for getting people in the door, but bad for people already in the room. That's a contradiction of what the Church understands about Herself.

    If it were true, then the Church could mis-represent Herself to the crowds in order to accomplish the good of conversion. Ends cannot justify means.

    John Paul II actually stresses this at several points in the apostolic exhortation:

    "22. It is useless to play off orthopraxis against orthodoxy: Christianity is inseparably both...Nor is any opposition to be set up between a catechesis taking life as its point of departure and a traditional doctrinal and systematic catechesis."

    And further

    "30. a disciple of Christ has the right to receive "the word of faith"(76) not in mutilated, falsified or diminished form but whole and entire, in all its rigor and vigor. Unfaithfulness on some point to the integrity of the message means a dangerous weakening of catechesis and putting at risk the results that Christ and the ecclesial community have a right to expect from it."

    He says in #6 "[A catechist] will not seek to keep directed towards himself and his personal opinions and attitudes the attention and the consent of the mind and heart of the person he is catechizing."

    If this is true of a catechist, it is also true of an evangelist.

    Precisely because West's work is so filled with error, it is not appropriate for ANY stage of evangelization or catechesis. It does not accurately lead people to Christ.

    Insofar as people get to Christ after listening to West, it is DESPITE his evangelization and teaching, not because of it.

    If you don't agree, you'll have to take it up with JP II - he's the one who lays out the principles in "Catechesis In Our Time."

    I strongly advise you to read it.

  2. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for reading and for posting this comment.

    I read the first few sections of Catechesi Tradendae last year – it was required reading for my Catechetics course. But I had to go back and re-read (thanks for making me hit the books again – NOT).

    You make a good point and I must issue a corrective: the content of the evangelistic message must be essentially the same as the content of catechesis. There must be nothing “false” said in evangelism. Therefore, some of what West says in his attempt to evangelize IS “problematic” and should be corrected.

    However, I would also say that the errors West has made in EVANGELISM (not speaking of his attempt at catechesis or theology here) are, on the whole, not as big an issue as some have made it out to be. If some people found their way into RCIA believing the Easter Candle was a phallic symbol, this is, in my opinion, rather minor in the grand scheme of things, even if this misunderstanding is never corrected (which it should and hopefully will be).

    Keep in mind too that everyone who undergoes conversion will have his share of misunderstandings that he will bring into RCIA and beyond, such as things he misunderstood in the initial presentation of the Gospel, things he picked up in the past from the secular media, or from Hollywood, or from his anti-Catholic uncle, etc.

    So I will say that Christopher West is “good” for a secular audience, but not “perfect”. He is also “effective”, but could be “more” effective. And he SHOULD correct those portions of his presentation which are erroneous.

    But I disagree with this statement: “It CANNOT be the case that what West is doing is good for getting people in the door, but bad for people already in the room.” Someone can be an effective evangelist but a poor catechist. Take me for instance – I am a good writer, but not much of a speaker. I am “good” for people who want a nice written reflection; I am “bad” if you want someone to give a dynamic presentation to restless teenagers.

    As for this statement, “Insofar as people get to Christ after listening to West, it is DESPITE his evangelization and teaching, not because of it,” I think this is too extreme – as is your statement that what I said at the end “trashes everything” I said before.

  3. Walter,

    I think if you read through Catechesis in Our Time carefully (a document which you admit you are not very familiar with), you'll find that John Paul II is not very much in favor of your conclusion.

    You seem to be willing to allow West to mis-represent the Church to the crowds in order to accomplish the good of conversion.

    An "evangelist" is one who proclaims "the Evangelion" i.e., the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Your comparisons of evangelists and catechists are comparisons of emotional appeal, not of Gospel delivery.

    A good evangelist/catechist is one who accurately presents Christ and His Church "it is therefore to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God's eternal design reaching fulfillment in that Person."

    It cannot be the case that someone can mis-represent Christ and still be a good evangelist or catechist. It's a contradiction in terms.

    As an RCIA director, I know full well the number of misconceptions that people carry into the Church. That's why evangelization and catechesis MUST both be painstakingly accurate - we have a duty not to add to that burden of misunderstanding, but always to remove it.

    You made some good points in your essay, but as you yourself point out (with more accuracy than you are willing to admit), your conclusion really does trash everything that goes before.

  4. Steve,

    I agree with what you say here, which is reflected in my second full paragraph in my first response to you.

  5. Interesting post, Wade. I am finding it intriguing that people are using Church Tradition to, in your case, say that the marital embrace is a small part of marriage and should ultimately give way to continence and stating that TOB presenters are not getting this point across while others, such as dcs, state that one spouse must ALWAYS acquiesce to a request by their spouse, even if said spouse is dying, and TOB is wrong to try to say anything else. So, from listening to you and dcs, I have the opinion that TOB presenters are simultaneously making too big of a deal about the marital embrace AND giving people the mistaken idea that sometimes to abstain is an act of love. Which is it?

    I have to tell you that my husband and I have been listening to Mr. West a lot over the past several years because we are presenting TOB through his tapes to engaged couples and others. I have heard him on numerous tape series discuss the fact that he and his wife have periods of abstinence "just because" and that he misses those times if they have not engaged in them for awhile. He is quite adamant about the necessity of mastering oneself and that this will take suffering and uniting oneself to Christ on the Cross. His teaching was instrumental in my husband overcoming his disorder in this area and it has done much for our marriage.

    I have heard from people who have attended Mr. West's week long presentations that priests and religious come away with a renewed appreciation for their vocation and a joy about living it. Our own pastor is anxious to be able to attend one of the seminars and has spoken with other priests who have attended. So, I really don't know if your exposure to Mr. West's teaching is all that comprehensive.

    One of Ms. Eden's complaints about TOB presenters is that they give the impression that one must have mastery of self before marrying which is denying the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage to change a couple. This, she says is causing people to delay getting marriage because they haven't reached that state of perfection. Is that not basically the opposite of what you have been saying in this article? From reading all of the critics of TOB and Mr. West in particular, I am coming to the conclusion that he must be presenting a pretty balanced picture since people on both sides of the spectrum are unhappy with him.

    My husband and I have learned much about the faith through TOB and we had one gentleman tell us that TOB taught him more about the faith than he had learned in 16 years of Catholic education. TOB discusses creation, the fall, redemption, sacraments, eschatology and a broad range of issues of faith. I look at it as catechesis as much as a teaching on sexuality.

  6. Also, don't you think that since our culture has so degraded sexuality, both by puritanism and by sexual license, we need people out there who are redeeming sexuality from these distortions? I know from talking with many, many people, Catholic and non-Catholic, tradional and liberal, that almost no one has a healthy attitude about sexuality. One man stands out to me as a perfect example of someone who thought he had a grasp on everything and was a quite devout traditional Catholic. We were presenting Christopher West to a group preparing them to mentor engaged couples and this man was not happy with some of the material. He stated that he felt as though he was attending a sexaholics anonymous group every time he came. Finally one day he blurted out that all of this would be no big deal if he didn't have to sleep next to his wife every day and that priests and religious had it easy because they didn't have these trials. I have watched many people who thought that they had it all together come to realize that they had pretty unhealthy attitudes, and often, beneath their veneer of orthodox Catholicism was a struggle with lust that had not been overcome.

    So much of the talk on TOB devolves into a talk on modesty in dress. This is discouraging to me since that does not address the issue of mastery of self within marriage. Even if everyone in public was quite modestly dressed, if one has not mastered oneself, the marital bedroom is going to have problems because of what the gentleman I quoted above stated. Are you aware that some "mature" Catholics think that spouses should never be naked in front of one another? I can't imagine having to have a barrier such as that between my husband and myself. Mr. West has talked about counseling orthodox, traditional Catholic women who were struggling because they were trying to live the Church's teaching on contraception while living with husbands who had no mastery of self and consequently could not abstain so the woman was having baby after baby that she was not ready for and finding it terribly overwhelming. I know of a town which has many "orthodox" Catholics in it and many have the attitude that being a good Catholic means having as many children as possible and not even practicing the periodic abstinence necessary while using NFP. So, I guess I am saying that many of those who would, as you use the term, call themselves mature Catholics can also have pretty skewed ideas about sexuality.

    I know that for myself I was put off by some of Mr. West's methods at first but I trusted that the message was OK since he was working for Bishop Chaput at the time. I kept listening to the talks and ultimately came to realize that I had some rather puritanical, unhealthy ideas on sexuality. So, if I had gotten offended at the message or messenger and ceased to listen, I would not have come to realize this about myself.

    I am sorry to go on so long but you seem to have a more balanced perspective than most, so I thought I would share some of my thoughts and experiences with you. I will be anxious to hear your response!

  7. Hi Lauretta,

    Thank you for your posts. I believe I have seen you post on this issue on other blogs?

    1. I would not say that “people are using Church Tradition” to say these things. I would say the “Church Tradition already says these things”. In which case, Theology of the Body “Would” be wrong to say anything else.

    2a. I did not say the “marital embrace” was a “small” part of marriage. It is an essential part. However, I do not think it is as “large” a part as many TOB presenters make it out to be. They seem to have an “inordinate” focus or give it an “inordinate” place beyond that which it truly has. So when you say, “from listening to you and dcs, I have the opinion that TOB presenters are ... making too big of a deal about the marital embrace”, I agree with this.

    2b. Regarding what dcs says , I think you are misconstruing his position. It is called “the marriage ‘debt’” for this reason. However, I think there is some “give and take” there. Normally, yes, if one partner wants to make love, the “loving” thing for the other is to agree to make love even if he/she does not “feel” like it. On the other hand, it is not “loving” to ask one’s partner to “make love” when, for instance, he/she is dying. I doubt you could cite too many real life examples where a husband or wife asked his/her dying and painfully-suffering spouse for “the marriage debt”. So, when you say, “that sometimes to abstain is an act of love”, I would agree with this. It is “both/and” not “either/or”. (However, I would also say that sometimes abstaining [or more accurately, turning down the other’s request for sex – “abstaining” implies a mutual decision] is ‘not’ an act of love).

    2c. I don’t think West should ever say he and his wife abstain “just because”. He should give a Catholic explanation for temporary continence. “We abstain because ... the Church teaches that sometimes it’s good for couples”. “We abstain because ... sometimes life just dictates we do”. Brief, one sentence, short and to the point. But “just because” is, I think, is too open-ended and potentially misleading.

    3. I am glad you and your husband have benefited from listening to Mr. West. So have I. I would only issue the following caution: I find that many of West’s “defenders” in this debate do so because his work has helped them, sometimes greatly. Many of these people refuse to see anything but good in West’s presentations for this reason. It is like a blind adherence to everything he says because “he has done wonders for me”. I find the same thing with Medjugorje – those who have experienced profound conversions there are no longer able to consider any evidence to the contrary.

    4. You say, “I really don't know if your exposure to Mr. West's teaching is all that comprehensive.” What do you base this on? You say this after citing the “fruits” of West’s presentations. I don’t disagree with those fruits – I spoke of it in my blog.

    5. I don’t see how I am teaching the opposite of Eden in my article. Like her, I agree that “remedy for concupiscence” is a clear indication that the Church admits people will not have gained complete mastery before marriage and that marriage will help them achieve this. If one was completely pure, I would question his decision to marry in the first place – I would tell such a person that his/her vocation is probably celibacy and would be wise to choose that path instead.

  8. 6. Yes, we need people redeeming others from these distortions. Please refer back to Part V: Synthesis, where I said West has a valuable role to play in this regard.

    7. By “spiritually mature”, I did not mean a man who is “pietistic” by praying his daily rosary and attending daily Mass. Many daily Mass attendees are “very” spiritually “IMmature”. By “spiritually mature”, I mean a person of integrity, a person who “Lives the Virtues”, who puts into practice what he believes and prays. A man who cannot be “naked” in front of his wife is “Not” spiritually mature. I should have taken care to “define terms” – this has been a common misunderstanding.

    8. You are correct about modesty and mastery of self – both are necessary.

    9. As far as “having as many children as possible”, I would actually agree that this is the ideal. As I said in my article, it is “Best” if a couple can go throughout their entire married life “Without having to practice” NFP. I believe most of the time NFP is used, it is not being used for the “just reasons” Paul VI and Pius XI stated must be present.

    10. You say, “I know that for myself I was put off by some of Mr. West's methods at first but I trusted that the message was OK since he was working for Bishop Chaput at the time. I kept listening to the talks and ultimately came to realize that I had some rather puritanical, unhealthy ideas on sexuality. So, if I had gotten offended at the message or messenger and ceased to listen, I would not have come to realize this about myself.” This is where I issue extreme caution. Are you sure it is always “puritanical, unhealthy ideas on sexuality” that “turn Catholics off” when listening to West? Or is perhaps a “Healthy” sense of shame, purity, respect for the sacredness of sexuality, etc.? Perhaps your “Not” having a problem with anything he says now is an indication that you now have “unhealthy” “Lack” of shame, a lack of proper respect for the holiness of sex and the delicacy with which we speak of it, etc.

  9. Wade, I am writing a response but have NO time until tomorrow to finish it. I beg your patience.

  10. 2a. To me to say that you can make too big of a deal about the marital embrace is to say that you can make too big of a deal about the sacraments. The marital embrace, lived in its fullness, is the sign of what is to come. We will experience in heaven with God and each other a total pouring out of oneself and receiving the total self-sacrificing love of the other. How can you make too big of a deal about that?

    2b. This is a hot button issue for me since I have seen the meaning so very distorted. The marriage debt is something that can only work if both parties are living their lives for the betterment of the other. I have been told that a woman should agree to her husband's request if he states that he is in danger of committing sin. I think that might be plausible under very limited circumstances but they are quite limited. A person, according to JPII is NEVER to be used as an object and that statement is certainly turning her into an object of use. The marital embrace is to take place because both are desiring to make a gift of themselves to the other and they have taken the other's welfare into account, as well as the welfare of any child that may come from the act. The marital embrace is the thing that we do that brings us into the realm of being co-creators with God. It is very important. One aspect I don't think that many people take into account is the rights of the child. The child has the right to be conceived as the fruit of total self-giving love on the part of his parents. Some day they are going to know about their conception. How will we as parents feel if our "marital embrace" was merely and act of lust or selfishness?

    2c. Mr. West doesn't say that he abstains "just because". That was my term meaning that they were not abstaining in order to space children. He explains that he wants to test his heart and make sure that he is truly loving his wife and not inadvertently slipping into something less.

    3. I understand what you mean but that is not my situation. I check out things that he says on occasion and really cannot find any conflict with what John Paul II said. So, until the Church condemns TOB I am assuming that Mr. West's teaching is all right. I may not agree with every analogy or story that he makes, but that is merely a matter of personal preference.

    4. I made that statement because you didn't seem aware of the many priests and religious who have heard Mr. West and been greatly helped by his message. Not to mention that you seemed to indicate that he was against periodic abstinence for spiritual reasons which , as I showed before, he is very much in favor of. Many think that he ignores the difficult parts of marriage but he does discuss that--calling it the fourth ring that marriage entails. He talks about the necessity of getting on the cross and staying until one passes over into redemption in regard to sexual matters.

  11. 5. The reason that I thought you and Ms. Eden were in opposition to one another is because she chastised Mr. West for expecting couples to have too much mastery of self before marriage while you indicated that you thought total continence by forty was to be attained. I would like to think that Ms. Eden's thoughts on the grace of marriage was truly what took place but I would guess that the lived experience of most couples is much different than that. There had to be a reason why the Pope wrote so much on this area of life which would indicate to me that he heard that things were not going all that well between husbands and wives. Since much of his teaching is about self-mastery, not lusting, not using the other person as an object, I have to assume that these were issues he encountered frequently in his talks with married couples. These were Catholic couples who I assume were receiving the Sacraments since the Pope was talking with them. I know that personally the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage nor of Reconciliation was enough. We had to have things explained to us in a way that we clearly understood what was expected and how to go about doing it. Not to mention that to hear another man say that he had overcome these things made it seem possible to accomplish. By the way I am glad you used the term remedy for concupiscence rather than relief. The latter term is often misused by people, it seems to me.

    7. I am glad you defined your term, that helps. However, there are many who THINK they are spiritually mature who really aren't and struggle very much with issues of lust and using their spouses as objects, etc. They have rationalized to themselves that since they know so much about the faith and are so orthodox that what they are doing is really what the Church is saying. Those people still need to be reached by the message of TOB but rather than hearing what is being said and converting, they hide behind their knowledge and either shoot the messenger or accuse TOB of not being faithful to Tradition.

    9. I agree that there are people who are using NFP for selfish reasons, however, I don't think that having as many children as physically possible is wise in these days. I don't think many people realize how difficult it is for mothers in the culture in which we live. In past centuries people lived in small communities with many extended family members nearby. Parenting was much less grueling since there was always someone who could watch the children and give the mothers a break. Today, however, that is not the case. I want you to try to imagine what it would be like to have six preschool children that you had to care for every day by yourself, always having a baby that keeps you up at night with no one nearby who could give you a break. Most husbands work long enough hours that they almost don't see the children except, if they are lucky, for dinner and bedtime. That is a burden that I think is excessive for most women. A very few could handle that stress but not very many. I certainly would not have been able to do it.

  12. 10. No, Wade, that is not the case for me. I did have some negativity that needed to be purged. I guess I have a difficult time understanding some of the concern about how we speak about sexuality when we don't think about that when speaking of Holy Communion. To me, in reality, Communion is as intimate as a marital relationship but I am just not spiritually mature enough to experience that. Some of the mystics were commanded under obedience to write about their mystical experiences and they were quite intimate. I remember a few years ago presenting TOB using Mr. West's tapes to a group. One of the members of the group was a sweet single woman who was very serious about her faith and seemed to have a real innocence about her. I was concerned that she might be offended at the manner of presentation but she was not. She loved it and was one of those who seemed to immediately have a grasp of what TOB was saying. The people who have given us the most difficult time were men who, I believe, were struggling with some things and didn't like being confronted about them in such a direct way.

    Thank you, Wade, for taking the time to read my comments. I hope we can continue the discussion.

  13. 2a. I disagree with your analogy. Christ has “recommended” that His “ideal” for us is that we “all” abstain from sexual union in favour of continence (the evangelical counsels are recommended to ALL). He has designed sex in such a way that it becomes less frequent as time goes on. On the other hand, Christ has “recommended” that the Eucharist be received “every day” and that if anything our reception of the Sacrament of Sacraments should “increase” as we age. I have ministered to old people on and off for years now, and many of them receive Holy Communion a lot more now than they did as healthy young adults.

    You say that the marital embrace is a “sign”. That is correct – it is a “sign” that must give way to the “reality”. You can make “too big a deal” about it because it can become an idol. So can money, power, pleasure – all good things, but they can easily become idols. West himself said married people are in danger of making it an idol. It might be best to refer to my Medjugorje article where I discussed this. It can be found in the first portion of the article found at this link: http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2010/08/discerning-spirits-vi-satans-motives.html

    You seem to contradict yourself when you say “I know that personally the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage nor of Reconciliation was enough.” If that is so, couldn’t we say that men who believe the grace of the sacraments is sufficient for them to conquer lust is guilty of “making too much of the sacraments?” A priest at Steubenville used to say, “you guys just figure if you pray enough conversion will just happen automatically. Well you have to put that grace into practice, work at the virtues, etc.” We can “hang the sacraments on a hook that cannot bear its weight”. That’s an analogy West uses to caution against expecting too much of marriage, or sexual union, etc.

    2b. Just because a Catholic teaching has been “abused” and “distorted” doesn’t mean we should stop teaching it. The problem with your explanation is that it tends to the opposite abuse – namely, that all kinds of things can become excuses for “withholding” the marriage debt. A woman can say, “you didn’t help me with the dishes. You are therefore not being loving, and I will not allow you to use me as an object like that”. This opens up a can of worms.

    2c. Glad to hear West supports periodic abstinence. But I think it is one of those things he “just throws in” once in a while, and I don’t think most in his audience come away with a clear understanding of the Church’s teaching on temporal continence and the reasons for it.

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  15. 3. I am glad you are an exception to this. I would say it is an “exception”. I would not assume anyone’s teaching is “all” right. The closest I think anyone gets is Dr. Hahn, but there are still about 2 points in the hours of audio tapes I have listened to that I do not fully agree with.

    4. I know priests and seminarians have been helped by West. When I was in the seminary at St. Louis, Dr. Hahn and Christopher West were in town the same weekend. Two of us went to listen to Dr. Hahn, and about 20 went to West. Many of them were very impressed with the talks.

    5. “Continence” is completely abstaining from sexual relations. “Chastity” is sexual purity. I said “continence” by the end of child-bearing years (no more sex), not “chastity”. Just so you are clear – you seemed to be thinking “chastity” when you said “continence”.

    9. I don’t know if I agree with this. In my Saskatchewan heritage book, there are a lot of immigrant families with 12, 15, sometimes as many as 21 children. They did not have extended family to help them – they were all back in the “old country”. I don’t think “these days” are any more difficult – the difficulties are different, but on the whole it is not “more difficult”. Perhaps it is more difficult because our society has made people “soft” and probably more “selfish” too. Most of what you describe was the case back in those days too. You’d be surprised how much people can handle when they rely on grace!

    10. Glad to hear that was not the case for you. I wouldn’t be too quick to call Dr. Alice von Hildebrand a “prude” or “Manichaean”, though. You are right about the intimacy of Holy Communion – nuns call Mass their “nuptial bed”.

    My only caution regarding your use of Christopher West is not to make him out to be some kind of celebrity or superstar. He is an average ordinary Christian like you and me. We all have a role to play. As God sees it, West is probably no greater in his eyes than a LOT of ordinary nobodies in your own parish. The way students at Steubenville treat Dr. Hahn is scandalous. Someone is a good speaker and we take this as being the epitome of holiness – which is false. Speaking ability is a “charism” that has nothing to do with holiness. I spoke about this “cult of celebrity” among Catholics and “Catholic celebrities” in my article series on Medjugorje too. The “Catholic speaking circuit” is a marriage of Hollywood and the Catholic Church.

    That is really my biggest problem with his supporters in this whole controversy - they give him the kind of enthusiastic praise we should be giving to the holy, hidden, humble nuns who are keeping this world going, without who West would be powerless to even reach a single soul. They are the real heroes, not West. He is a “minor player” – at least as God sees it, not fallen man.

  16. Oh, the delay was not a problem - I was gone on retreat anyway! Thanks for your detailed response. Please feel free to continue this discussion - I have enjoyed it.

  17. 2a. I think that both continuing to come together in the marital embrace and choosing to live a life of continence together can be good and one is not necessarily more holy than the other. If a couple comes to experience the beauty of God's love through their total self gift of one to the other that is great. And the same for continence if they have grown together in their ability to experience God's love in a more mystical way. It would seem that life would tend toward continence in old age with the onset of menopause and the many issues that men face as they get older. But, I think both options are still good, valid, and holy.

    You are right, I did sound like I contradicted myself because of my poorly worded sentence! That's what happens when I rush through writing without taking enough time to reflect. What I was trying to say was that the sacraments alone were not sufficient without the consequent knowledge to go with the grace-- very much what you were saying. My point is that we have to have the knowledge of what to strive for and how to go about mastering some of these things before we can accomplish the task. Kind of like St. Francis rebuilding the Church--God had to kind of redirect his zeal away from masonry to heart surgery, if you know what I mean!

    2b. I can tell you with all honesty, Wade, that if a woman is truly loved she will not treat the marriage debt in that way. What most men don't understand is that we women can tell after a while whether we are being loved for ourselves or are being used for our spouse's gratification. This conflict usually arises when a man has not mastered himself sexually and is a slave to his passions, for whatever reason. It is a huge issue, at least among the people we are around. That is why the marriage debt idea needs to be qualified. A man requesting because he is powerless to control himself I'm sure is just cause, according to JPII, for a wife to say no. To me it is like giving an alcoholic a drink--you are only adding to his disorder.

    5. I understood you correctly but thanks for the clarification anyway. Defining terms is a very important part of this whole discussion.

  18. 9. Yes, I know that people have done amazing things in the past but yes, things are different now. For one thing, in the example you gave, if they were farmers, the children from the time they were six or eight would have been out helping dad on the farm. That is not the case today. Dad is a very minor figure in family life because of the way that the Industrial Revolution has taken them out of the home. Plus parents these days no longer have the option of just letting their children go out and play--particularly if they live in town. That is no longer allowed at least in this country. They have to be supervised at all times by an adult--which I believe is a great deprivation for the children, but that is another subject. We have never experienced anything like this in history. And, interestingly, a counselor told my father once that due to the isolation, etc. from rural living, there were many women who were suffering from psychological problems. That pioneer life was not ideal and not, I believe, the way we are meant to live. People are meant to live in community and families suffer when that doesn't happen.

    10. I have my own thoughts on Dr. von Hildebrand but it is not pertinent to this talk and I don't want to be uncharitable. Thanks for the comment about the nuns and their nuptial bed. I hadn't heard that before but I am glad to hear that they understand that beautiful part of their vocation.

    Thank you for the advice about Christopher West. I know that I may sound like a cheerleader for him, but truly I am not. I am defending his teaching because, like you said, it hits secular people where they are at and has done amazing things. I don't want the power of TOB to be drained by people who are uncomfortable with concepts they have not heard before. There are enough wonderful people on both sides that I believe there must be some misunderstanding going on, and at times I wonder if part of it is that the rational West has a difficult time understanding the mysticism of the East. I hope that soon this is resolved so that the fullness of the truth and beauty of this teaching can be transmitted to as many people as possible. Our world is so in need of this message. God bless you, Wade.

  19. Lauretta,

    You make some good points regarding 2b and 9. I am still not sure I agree with 9, but I will have to think and study more about this.

    Regarding 2a, "continence" does have a "superiority" to "marital relations". But I agree with everything else you said. I would also say that not only "knowledge" is essential to the effectiveness of the sacraments, but also "asceticism" - something West has been criticized for due to the fact he says little to nothing about it.

    Regarding Dr. von Hildebrand, the two charges against her have been (a) she is prudish, and (b) she is jealous that her husband has not gotten the credit she feels he was due for his work on marriage. These might be true, but I do not think we can just throw out everything she says because she might be jealous. That would be an ad hominem fallacy.

    I am glad you do not fall for the cult of personality regarding Mr. West. Many do, and it is sad. A lot of posters on comboxes speak in such glowing terms that should never be said about anyone other than holy contemplative nuns who no one ever sees and simple hidden laypeople who are quietly building a great place in heaven for themselves.

  20. My main concern about Dr. von Hildebrand was from the fact that she was speaking from ignorance. She admittedly has never read TOB nor listened to or read Mr. West's works. To me that disqualifies her as someone who can give a critique of either of those things. I believe her name was used to give credibility to a certain mindset and it was unjust to all.

  21. Oh yeah, I forgot about that one. I think that is a valid criticism. It is bad scholarship to rely on second-hand sources without referencing the originals.

    And yet, many of her criticisms are valid. I think too many people are ready to "write off" Everything she says from the get-go because she is not that familiar with West. I think that too is an error. A lot who "write her off" are those who do not want to believe there is anything wrong with West's presentations. It is a convenient way to dodge valid criticisms, to just say, "well this person has no credibility to speak of this issue, so I will disregard everything this person says".

  22. Hi, Wade. I started to post a comment last night but my computer did some strange thing so I decided to wait until this morning!

    The first thing that put me off about Dr. von Hildebrand as a credible critic for this discussion was a comment that she made soon after Mr. West's debut on national TV. She made the comment that is was blasphemous to even mention Hugh Hefner and the Pope in the same sentence. I think that is rather silly and not something that I believe the Pope would approve of either. I read her critique and believe that she misunderstood Mr. West on several points.

    I listen to Mr. West all the time as we present his videos to individual couples and groups quite frequently. I don't hear the same things that a lot of people claim he is saying and the people we work with don't seem to come away with those impressions either. I would like to sit down with one of his critics and watch his presentations and critique them as we go--particularly his series that he does for engaged couples. It would be interesting if we even heard the same thing!

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  24. Lauretta, Dr. von Hildebrand did not say it was "blasphemous". She said the "mere mention" of Hefner was "in her mind" an "abomination", not "blasphemy". These are two very different words. And she no doubt does feel disgust (that is the definition of "abominable") when she hears the name "Hugh Hefner".

    Lost in all this is that Dr. von Hildebrand made some excellent points in that interview which West supporters fail to acknowledge. Once again, the silence speaks volumes.

    I would be curious to know where you believe von Hildebrand "misunderstood" Mr. West? I did not notice "several points" but only one. So if you could please share a couple of these "several points" I would be interested in going back and having a look at them.

    If Dr. von Hildebrand was to sit through West's lectures with you, I have a feeling she would certainly be critiquing him as you both went. She would probably come to see he is not as bad as she thought, but on the whole, she would still be a critic.

  25. I am very slowly reading through these posts, and will say up front that I lack a great deal of the knowledge necessary to understand them fully. :)

    But I do have one question. Wade, you wrote: "What is usually said in response to this is that “the greatest call for me personally is marriage, because that is what God called me to”. In a sense that is true to some degree, but I would not completely agree with this. There has been a great deal of confusion in recent years. The Church teaches that the evangelical counsels are "recommended" to ALL. In other words, we all have the "choice" to be religious. St. Teresa never felt the call to be a Sister - but because she believed it was the surest way to save her soul (which it was), she joined a convent. I know a priest who did the same - he has been a priest for almost 50 years now (and he's a good one). The popular belief is that God calls someone from the time they are conceived to either be religious or married - His call one way or the other is determined at that very moment, when in reality, it is not so clear cut. God is always calling - and He calls ALL to at the very least “consider” religious life. Ultimately, He leaves the decision up to us, but His persistence in calling us to religious life is to some degree based on how well we do (or do not) respond to his grace, and based on things that happen in this fallen world (like my dad losing an eye before Vatican II - that was once an impediment). Those who are rooted heavily in what Sacred Tradition says on these issues do not usually make the arguments above in response to the citing of this “dogma” and the quotations given."

    While I do agree with the idea that celibacy (as lived in the priesthood or religious life) is a superior state to marriage, I also think that some of our recent scandals have been due to men entering the priesthood who never, ever should have (I think particularly of Fr. Maciel of the Legion, but there are many examples).

    (continued below)

  26. So I'm a bit confused here. If God never stops calling us to the religious life (or priesthood, for men), but we selfishly choose marriage instead, aren't we personally guilty of the sin of failing to choose the higher state? On the other hand, though, if some people really can't live lives of sexual purity outside the state of marriage, aren't they committing a sin of pride to think that ordination to the priesthood (or entry to the convent, etc.) will "fix" things and they will no longer be troubled by lustful thoughts or deeds afterward?

    All religious orders require that proposed members spend a great deal of time in discernment, and they move very slowly toward any sort of vows. If God really wants every person to be a priest, brother, or nun, though, then aren't the religious orders themselves failing to do God's will by not immediately administering vows to anyone who shows up? And didn't the Legion, which told all the very young boys in its schools that God had destined each of them to be priests and that turning their backs on this great call would place their souls in grave danger of being lost, have the right idea?

    It would seem clear that the Church doesn't think so--that she, instead, requires careful discernment from those considering the priesthood or religious life, and that she imputes no sin at all to those who, upon that journey of careful discernment, discover in themselves traits, temperaments, or even temptations incompatible with the life they are considering--and that she refuses to ordain, or administer vows to, candidates who either show themselves incapable of living the life, or even those who are there because of some deep scrupulous fear that any other choice will leave them damned.

    So--what am I missing, here? I sincerely don't understand how anyone can actually have the freedom to choose the vocation to marriage under the framework which you've outlined; it seems that the choice to marry is always merely a proof of the great failure on the part of the soul to force himself or herself to live a life which may, indeed, be incompatible with his/her talents or temperaments, or a source of greater temptation to sin, etc.--but he/she is supposed to ignore that and enter the religious life anyway? Of course, he or she might be rejected by a diocese or order, but there are so many to choose from that he or she could spend his or her entire life in the novitiates of different orders--and that is preferable to God than that he or she should marry, live that vocation, and cooperate with God to bring new souls into the Kingdom?

    I'm sure you can clarify this for me, because right now my thinking on it is extremely muddled--and I appreciate any clarity you can bring.

  27. Hi Red,

    Thanks for taking the time to plow through all this (it is very lengthy, I know).

    I'll do my best to reply to your questions.

    1. First, regarding the "sin" of choosing the "wrong" state:

    (a) We are not sinning by failing to choose a higher state because God has placed no obligation on us to choose the higher state - He gave us the free will to choose. He did state that it was His preference for us to embrace the evangelical counsels and that doing so was best for our souls, but in the end, if we choose the "good" of marriage over the "better" call of celibacy, that is still a "good" choice.

    (b) God has promised that all who enter religious life and make the vows will be given the "grace" to be faithful to those vows. It is possible that someone who is really not suited to priesthood or religious life is recommended for ordination or vows, and although the grace is there, it is more difficult for that person (requires more "work") to be faithful to those vows. There could be some "presumption" there, but that is not always the case. We must remember that if seminarians or those in religious formation are honestly seeking God's will and they are transparent and open to the formation team, such people who perhaps will 'burn with shame' if they become a priest rather than marry or who are otherwise unsuited will be asked to leave. But unfortunately, not all seminarians are transparent!

  28. 2. I think the key to understanding my point was this statement of mine: "His persistence in calling us to religious life is to some degree (a) based on how well we do (or do not) respond to his grace, and (b) based on things that happen in this fallen world".

    a. We all sin. However, the more one sins, the more one drowns out the voice of God, and the more one develops an attachment to creatures which makes religious life difficult if not impossible to embrace, and certainly not desirable to the person. Many of these have, because of their sin, compromised their ability for God to call them to religious life. In a more practical example, a woman who has a child out of wedlock will end any hopes of a religious vocation because she has chosen the vocation of physical motherhood and that vocation is incompatible with religious life.

    (b) Things happen to us in this fallen world that keep us from being religious or priests. When a young boy, for instance, loses his hand in a farming accident, he can no longer be a priest (missing a hand is an impediment to priesthood). I have depression - it is why I left seminary and why they would not let me back in when I tried to re-enter. Hence, my illness has created an impediment to religious life, and as long as God allows that illness to remain, He cannot call me to that life. And I respect that decision on the part of my formators. Therefore, I am not going to "bounce from novitiate to novitiate" until I find a formator who has a different opinion from the one who refused to let me back.

    So, to conclude, failing to embrace religious life "can" be a failure on the person, or it can be due to the fact we live in a fallen world and "garbage happens", or it could be due to a combination of the two.

    You say that the Church "requires careful discernment from those considering the priesthood or religious life, and that she imputes no sin at all to those who, upon that journey of careful discernment, discover in themselves traits, temperaments, or even temptations incompatible with the life they are considering--and that she refuses to ordain, or administer vows to, candidates who either show themselves incapable of living the life, or even those who are there because of some deep scrupulous fear that any other choice will leave them damned."

    I agree with you. However, how many Catholics actually do a good job of discerning? Most just hit puberty and decide "marriage is my vocation" because their feelings and hormones tell them so. Religious life goes out the window after their first kiss.

  29. Wade - I don't know if you'll be notified of this, but are you aware that Maria Beltrame Quattrochi would have probably DIED if she got pregnant again? This is from Joseph Bolin over at the "Paths of Love" vocations blog:

    "The Quattrochis are said to have given up sexual intercourse after 20 years of marriage for the last 25 years. I wasn't able to entirely verify this, which is one reason I didn't mention it in the post. It may also be connected to the fact that Maria had complications during her fourth pregnancy (Placenta previa according to one biography), was given a 5% chance of survival if she continued with the pregnancy, and was recommended to have an abortion (the doctors apparently also considered the chances of the baby surviving very low, but I haven't seen an estimate). She refused, gave birth to a healthy baby, and survived. It may be that the couple gave up sexual relations at that time for the sake of Maria's life and the good of the family (which would also be sometimes recommended by spiritual directors now in similar cases–if a potential pregnancy were to surely involve almost certain death for the mother, it would almost always be better, if possible, to abstain from intercourse rather than to seek to avoid pregnancy by NFP), and only later made a decision to do so for the rest of their marriage for a more immediately spiritual motive."

    That seems to be a very special case, and still a heroic decision, no less. Like Fr. Angelo said, this is a very sticky issue, and it seems to be likely to lead to more grief than holiness. There's also the example of many early and medieval saints who did this but who, in their writings, seem to express obvious disdain for the marital embrace and the pleasure therein, almost treating it like a "stain" on their spiritual lives (Sts. Gregory of Nyssa & Bridget of Sweden, for example). The problem is that taking such saints as role models will often lead to miserable marriages and miserable views of marital relations.

    I think this is something that the Church is only now beginning to address.

  30. The motive may have originally been as you say. However, why did they not resume relations after childbearing years? Is it, perhaps, because permanent continence was more of an ideal in the Christian tradition?

    Also, if "taking such saints as role models will often lead to miserable marriages and miserable views of marital relations" is something the Church is "only now beginning to address", why would JP2 canonize the Quattrochis? Doesn't that just perpetuate the problem?

    Also, the Council of Trent did recommend married couples practice sexual abstinence for at least three days before receiving Holy Communion and throughout the weekdays of Lent. If we are to say the Fathers of Trent said this only because they were "Manichaean" rather than because they were teaching what was in the Catholic Tradition, what does that imply about the reliability of what the Church gives us in councils and universal catechisms?

  31. I meant taking the view or marital relations as a "stain on holiness" would lead to misery. I also meant that making a blanket statement that all married couples "should" at some time give up relations would lead to anxiety in many people's cases - in most individual marriage in fact.

    I also meant that it seems like some saints did not give up relations as sacrificing a great good, but shedding a tolerable evil.

    There is certainly value in periodic continence for spiritual reasons. I can see that giving up the marital embrace for Lent would be a powerful sacrifice, and could even strengthen a marriage if it's done for the right reasons (not "this time is too holy for that kind of thing", but "let's sacrifice a great joy in the spirit of authentic penance") I'd like to ask though, how often lay people received communion at the time of the council of Trent. Many devout couples receive the Eucharist daily nowadays.

    While I don't think West's "Manichaeanism" is the culprit, there DO seem to be VERY negative currents about human sexuality in the writings of some Saints and doctors. It would be folly to proclaim that there hasn't been development here - do you really think John Paul II and St. Gregory the Great would have seen eye to eye on the issue of marriage? How about St. Peter Damian?

    As for the Quattrochis, you are right - they could have resumed after child-bearing years, but they chose to make a sacrifice they were forced to make into something perpetual. The sacrifice was obviously bearing spiritual fruit for them.

    Wade, I do not pretend to understand any of this. church tradition seems to overwhelmingly indicate that advancement in the spiritual life is not possible without perfect continence, yet most churchmen would deny that. If this is true, then it is true - it doesn't matter if anyone likes it. It seems that the record of the saints proves that the normal use of marriage is indeed an impediment to sanctity. But if that is the case, why is that denied by almost everyone, including the most orthodox of catechists and church leaders?

  32. I'm fully aware that my scrupulosity is interfering with my understanding. I simply do not understand, however, how any married person could feel okay with their sexual relations if they were to even glimpse at Church tradition (small 't') in this regard. I do not see how anyone could even want to be married if they plan on holiness. And the more I read the Saints and Doctors, the worse I feel.

    But I'm just a scrupulous amateur with a heavy load I've made for myself. I even have a hard time praying for a restoration of the state of life I've vowed myself to, because I'm afraid it's not good enough. I'm sorry for mucking up your comment board.

  33. First Of all the so called superiority of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom over marriage is not Dogma.A concilliar canon ending with anathaema sit is not dogma,that was just the style of the old days.Many infallible teachings like Christ^s divity have a anaetheama sit connected to it & some disciplinary teachings with anaethaema sit have been discarded.The term Dogma as a infallible divinely revealed truth as we know it didn^t come until well after Trent,it was adopted by Vatican I .What determined infallibilty before & affirmed at Vatican II was reception by the people.Pius the IX before issuing the dogma of immaculate conception polled the bishops to see how the teaching was being recieved.After nicae Pope liberius & most bishops embraced the heresy of Arianism.But the People at large rejected this & the hierrchy listened to the people(who are also the church). Pius XII stating that was a dogma does not necvessarily mean it is.There are NO AGREED LISTs of Dogma.As u get farther out from the central tenets of faith it gets more harder.Trent based that teaching On Paul,but advanced Scholarship shows Paul preferred celibacy over marriage because of the belief Christ was too return quickly 1 Cor 7:29-31. As far as pre vatican II takes on sexuality,generally the Church(hierarchy) not the Church(people) hailed sex in marriage as a necessarry evil tainted with sin(pope gregory great,Innocent III,Gregory 16,sixtus etc) this is all a hangover from the early church Fathers who held the same belief(one called Origen cut off his sexual member to make his point).Fortunately The Church(the people) reject these views like they rejected condemnations of democracy,freedom of press,slavery as moral,usury under any circumstance etc in the past.Then the old Revision by a Pope or Council takes place

  34. I want to make a above correction---The Divinity of Christ teaching did not have a anathaema sit connected to it simultaneously Dogmas are rare & few between

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  36. kalbertini, here is the problem: if I respond to your argument by demonstrating that the Church teaches any conciliar statement on faith and morals with an anathema attached is "ipso facto" a dogmatic one, you will argue that the source I cite is not authoritative. And so we are at a standstill.

  37. Nonetheless thank you for posting this alternative viewpoint.