Friday, October 22, 2010

TOB: Second Response to Dr. Janet Smith

Introduction and Outline

As I said in response to Dr. Smith’s critique of von Hildebrand’s essay, I too noticed a number of errors, poorly-made arguments, and straw men in the essay. Part of this, I believe, is that she relied too heavily on arguments made by others – specifically, others who worked from a bias that led them to make some invalid critiques. Part of this, too, is that von Hildebrand, admittedly, has little familiarity with West and his work, although despite that, I believe that, contrary to Dr. Smith’s statement that “many of us who have heard and read West do not find the West we have come to know in von Hildebrand’s depiction of him”, von Hildebrand does in large part properly understand West.

1. However, although I agree with much of what Dr. Smith says in this essay, there are certain arguments I disagree with. I would like to respond to these briefly.

2. I also said the following in my combox response: “I also noticed some excellent points in von Hildebrand’s essay that I believe remain valid and applicable. These are points you did not address here, which makes sense considering your focus was on that which she had wrong.” As a result, what I would like to do after responding to selected arguments made by Dr. Smith, is highlight (reprint) some points in von Hildebrand’s essay that I believe are strong and that bear repeating and which I also believe demand a response. Those who have followed the debate on my blog or in various comboxes I have contributed to know that one of my main points of contention is that a number of excellent arguments and critiques have not received responses, sometimes repeatedly.

Part I: Response to Selected Points from Dr. Smith

1. Dr. Smith states: “Some fail to see that West has made considerable changes in his presentation of the Theology of the Body over the years. Some examples: he rerecorded his DVD/CD series on the Theology of the Body and altered language some have found offensive; he has revised his book Good News about Sex and Marriage to clarify a few matters some found problematic; and he laboriously rewrote his Theology of the Body Explained upon the publication of Michael Waldstein’s Man and Woman He Created Them.

The question is, does he change his problematic views, or does he just stop presenting those views? If the former is true, than this is good and bodes well for West. However, if the latter is more the case, then this is not enough.

2. Dr. Smith: “Because I respect von Hildebrand and others who have criticized West’s work, I have read their critiques carefully. I have tried to see whether my enthusiasm for his work has led me to overlook flaws or truly objectionable elements (as opposed to matters of taste).

I still believe that Dr. Smith continues to overlook some serious flaws in content (not just style or tone). I will get to these later.

3. Dr. Smith: “Furthermore, von Hildebrand’s essay in some sections has the unfortunate tone of some of those whom she thanks as her advisors rather than the scholarly tone one typically associates with the von Hildebrands.

I do not find her tone any more “unfortunate” than her husband’s tone in Trojan Horse in the City of God. Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand had some very strong language in that work. His wife comes across as a pussy cat in this essay compared to her husband in that work.

4. Dr. Smith: “She even seems to suggest that West is akin to Havelock Ellis, that West thinks ‘pleasure’ rather than God should be the ‘King of the Bedroom.’ If she had read West, von Hildebrand would know that he absolutely thinks that God is the King of the Bedroom—and when He is, spouses experience greater pleasure, the greater pleasure that happens when sexual intercourse is an expression of self-gift rather than an act of self-indulgence.

Of course, West believes God is King of the Bedroom. But in West’s presentation it seems as though the “King” wants us to experience “maximal” pleasure. It is almost like the “self-gift”, in West’s conception, is the means to the end that is “maximal pleasure”. Hence why he speaks about St. Teresa looking like she is having an orgasm in paintings which show her in mysical union. What is conveyed is this: “the pleasure that comes from loving is great and what we all desire; but you have to make a self-gift to get it”. In other words, “pleasure” is what we are after. What von Hildebrand is saying is that this is the wrong goal. The proper goal is that we love – not in order to experience “pleasure”, but because God has called and willed us to love. Our goal is to desire what God wants of us, which is to love without any consideration for the reward of “pleasure” or anything else. Of course West believes this; but it does no good for a speaker to believe something if it is not conveyed through his presentations. Of course he stresses “self-gift”, but he almost does so as though it is a means to the end of “the heavenly orgasm”, as he referred to it in Good News About Sex and Marriage.

Also, what von Hildebrand was saying is that “pleasure” is not something we should “seek” to “maximize” but rather “accept” as a “gift”. As long as West is making this clear to his audiences and not leaving the impression that as married couples they should be trying to maximize their sexual pleasure, then I am sure Dr. von Hildebrand would have no cause for disagreement.

Perhaps Dr. von Hildebrand was confused by the subtitle of Popcak’s book Holy Sex!, which is, “Your Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving”. That full book title seems to cry out “maximize your pleasure” to me! The euphemism “toe-curling, mind-blowing” is used by secular maganizes that print articles on how to “maximize orgasmic pleasure”. I will not cite examples here – the reader can look for himself the next time he goes to the checkout counter to pay for his groceries.

5. “She believes that West is implying that anyone who hasn’t read Popcak’s book (such as St. Elizabeth of Hungary) could ever have a happy marriage.

I believe that von Hildebrand’s issue is that Popcak’s book is seen as a sine qua non for any Catholic, because the author has become, along with West, the de facto authority on the Catholic teaching on sex and marriage. The impression left is that in order to have the greatest possible marriage you can have, one must read West, Popcak, or JP2’s TOB, because without one or all of these, the Church before Vatican II just didn’t provide a good enough teaching for married couples. I would challenge anyone who believes such rubbish to look at the marriage of Zelie and Louise Martin and tell me how JP2 could have “improved” their marriage, when it was clear they were already living everything he taught!

6. Dr. Smith: “Von Hildebrand mentions that her husband, instead, would have praised books like St Augustine’s Confessions and St Francis De Sales Introduction to the Devout Life. The implication seems to be that West would prefer Popcak to them. But what is the evidence for this implication?

The evidence for this implication is that I have never heard West cite De Sales. His classic on lay spirituality contains some excellent advice and teaching regarding marriage and sex. But because West probably believes he is tainted with Manichaeism (Sr. Lorraine just spoke about this in her latest blog article: http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/10/janet-smith-responds-to-alice-von.html, Comment #27), he is not one of the Saints he quotes when he “cherry-picks” from the Tradition (as I spoke of in my own critique).

7. Dr. Smith: “Talking about sex is always problematic: people have very different comfort levels for what is appropriate speech and action in this area.

That is true. But the fact is, there are also some objective standards and lines that one should not cross irregardless of where some people’s comfort zones might be.

8. Dr. Smith: “I don’t understand what von Hildebrand means when she says that ‘West follows Freudian thought, looking for understanding in the lower rather than the higher.’ To what is she referring? West, following John Paul II, believes that the human body, made as it is in the image and likeness of God, reveals something to us both about God and man.

If St. Francis de Sales can be tainted by Manichaeism, West can be tainted by Freudianism. It is the same logic.

9. Dr. Smith: “Von Hildebrand and others object to West’s reference to the Easter Candle as a phallic symbol—again, an issue that is in no way central to his presentations.

Any time a defender of West in part agrees with a critic of West, the response is often, “it is not central to his teaching”. (1) First of all, West defenders should rather simply admit there are (or may be) some problematic aspects to his presentation without having to qualify or minimize it. (2) As I told Sr. Lorraine, some of the things West says only once impress themselves on the memory and consciousness in such a way that those “peripheral” portions become very “central” in the minds of his listeners, and something they never forget and remain very vivid and in the forefront.

10. Dr. Smith: “Von Hildebrand’s response to West’s likening the birth of his son to the birth of Jesus is curious. She believes it is incorrect to think that Mary may have expelled a bloody placenta. Pregnant wombs have placentas. Did not Mary’s? Would it be wrong to think it might have been bloody? Christ’s body was covered with blood when he died, was it not? Scripture itself makes reference to Mary’s womb and breasts; is the placenta really so objectionable that it could not be mentioned? West has good company in his thinking. St Jerome argued: ‘Add, if you like, Helvidius, the other humiliations of nature, the womb for nine months growing larger, the sickness, the delivery, the blood, the swaddling-clothes. Picture to yourself the infant in the enveloping membranes. Introduce into your picture the hard manger, the wailing of the infant, the circumcision on the eighth day, the time of purification,… We do not blush, we are not put to silence.’” (St. Jerome, The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary Against Helvidius) http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf206.vi.v.html)

I am not sure St. Jerome is the best source to cite when it comes to drawing up the standard for sensitivity. Furthermore, Dr. Smith “cherry-picks” St. Jerome here. In that same document, Jerome denigrates marriage by saying: “Then come the prattling of infants, the noisy household, children watching for her word and waiting for her kiss, the reckoning up of expenses, the preparation to meet the outlay. On one side you will see a company of cooks, girded for the onslaught and attacking the meat: there you may hear the hum of a multitude of weavers. Meanwhile a message is delivered that the husband and his friends have arrived. The wife, like a swallow, flies all over the house. She has to see to everything. Is the sofa smooth? Is the pavement swept? Are the flowers in the cups? Is dinner ready? Tell me, pray, where amid all this is there room for the thought of God? Are these happy homes? Where there is the beating of drums, the noise and clatter of pipe and lute, the clanging of cymbals, can any fear of God be found?” He also says sexual union is a barrier to holiness: “I do not deny that holy women are found both among widows and those who have husbands; but they are such as have ceased to be wives, or such as, even in the close bond of marriage, imitate virgin chastity.

I cannot tell you how many times I have read Catholic blogs and articles ridiculing St. Jerome for stating these things. Now, if St. Jerome could be wrong about the quotations I gave, surely he can be wrong about the quotation given by Dr. Smith. This example does not prove Dr. Smith`s point. I believe she must choose another.

11. Dr. Smith: “Repeatedly, von Hildebrand asserts that West `puts too much emphasis on the body in a culture in which everything is body-centered.` Does he?

Yes, I believe he does. For proof, one need only refer to his “bedtime prayers for children.”

12. Dr. Smith: “Alice von Hildebrand states that only West’s interpretation of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is controversial; that no one has objected to the Theology of the Body itself. I find it curious that von Hildebrand does not know that John Paul II’s Theology of the Body has been seriously questioned by both conservatives and liberals.

It has not been as controversial as West`s presentations, and that for a number of reasons that have already been stated in a number of places by a number of those critiquing West`s work.

13. Dr. Smith: “Von Hildebrand tells us that West recommends we should stand naked in front of a mirror so as to realize that our bodies need not be a source of shame (Where did he say this? What was the context?) Again this is not proposal he regularly makes; if he said it, it was likely said on the spur of the moment.

His “look at Joe. Now look at Joe`s body,” is a staple in his presentations. The same error is at root in both of these. And it is not enough to say that it is not a proposal he regularly makes, because it is one of those things that again, even though mentioned once, make a huge impact and remain vivid even after much of what he says is forgotten.

14. Dr. Smith: “I don’t agree that any man who looks upon a prostitute will experience sexual attraction, as von Hildebrand asserts. Many feel compassion and sorrow when looking at a prostitute. They see a wounded person rather than the physicality of a female. They may even see her inner beauty. Von Hildebrand implies that West thinks a saint would say, `I am beyond and above temptations of the flesh.` Does he think that? Why does she think so?

At this point, I will refer the reader to two very interesting blog articles recently, which together with the comments that follow (which I would say are even more valuable) show, I believe, that this is exactly the errors West`s listeners are coming away with. One is the original blog posting of an article Catholic Exchange ran by Dr. David Delaney recently on this issue (http://cosmos-liturgy-sex.com/2010/10/06/concupiscence-west-schindler-debat/) and one is by “Theology of the Body Explained” editor, Sr. Lorraine, who posted a link to a critique of Dawn Eden’s blog (http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/10/another-critique-of-edens-thesis.html). I believe Mr. West has seriously and perhaps dangerously misunderstood the Church’s teachings on “custody of the eyes” and the “gaze of purity” as these relate to “concupiscence” and “redemption.

15. Dr. Smith: “It is certainly true that anyone could experience severe temptations at some time; it is also true that Saints and truly virtuous people as well may be free from sexual and other temptations for a very long time. After all, asceticism and receiving the Sacraments do have a purpose and a good effect, don’t they? Virtue is real, isn’t it? Or are all attempts to discipline the flesh futile? This concept posed by West critics sounds more akin to Protestant theology’s “total depravity” doctrine than it does to Catholic teaching.

The problem is that West speaks little about asceticism. He speaks about offering up temptations in prayer and asking for the grace to continue to look and see purely instead of lustfully. St. JoseMaria Escriva spoke about Benedict throwing himself into the thornbush and Francis rolling around naked in the snow, and asks why we think we do not have to do the same. John Paul II used “the discipline” even into his old age. But yet, we hear nothing about these penances from West. His listeners do not leave realizing how essential practicing penance is (and not just abstaining from meat on Fridays and fasting every year on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday – which they do not hear about from West either).

16. Dr. Smith: “In their endorsement, Bishop Rhoades and Cardinal Rigali tell us they believe that West has a `particular charism` for the mission of promoting the Theology of the Body, and they state explicitly that he does so `with profound reverence for the mystery of human sexuality.` Von Hildebrand is questioning their judgment and, it seems, largely based on what she has heard about West’s work from others, rather than from direct experience.

I would question their judgment too. It would not be the first time that a theologian picked up on something that bishops were oblivious to. Read about Vatican II – it happened more as a rule than as an exception there. Dr. James Hitchcock has written extensively about this (http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02205.htm).

17. Dr. Smith: “Moreover, bishops have a special charism for ensuring fidelity in Church teaching and by extension for knowing who teaches reliably.

Why is it, then, that in my home country (Canada), we have been using, for over 40 years, the official children`s catechism, which is based on the Dutch Catechism, remains mandated for use in all Catholic schools? Is it not possible that our Canadian bishops have been as irresponsible and mistaken on this as Cardinal Rigali potentially is in his evaluation of West? Dr. Smith cited in her last article about how catechesis in America has been abhorrent over the past 40 years. But this seems to contradict what she states above here.

18. Dr. Smith: “Those of us defending him find that when we carefully go step by step through some critique and show that West did not say what a critic says he said, his critics respond, `Well, just because X has not shown that West is guilty of Y, does not mean he is not guilty of Y`.

The problem is that his defenders seem to only focus on those critiques that have the potential of ``doing more damage``, while other critiques, which might be much less prone to error and make much stronger cases, are ignored because they are having ``little impact on West`s apostolate``. It is a good strategy, but less honest if one is truly concerned about examining West`s work for potential errors.

19. Dr. Smith: “Upon careful examination of critics’ works, I have found the more “global” criticisms of West to be false; such as the view that he violates a “hermeneutic of continuity,” or that he doesn’t appreciate the power of concupiscence.

Regarding the former, I believe I made a strong case for this in Part IV.C.5-17 of my critique (http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2010/09/theology-of-body-debate-ii-critique-of.html).
Regarding the latter, I refer the reader back to the links I provided above under Point 14.

20. Dr. Smith: “I am pleased von Hildebrand acknowledges that West has `great oratorical talent` and `does much good.` I sincerely hope that those who want to get to know the “real” West will go to his work and read and hear what he says, as Bishop Rhoades and Cardinal Rigali have. I guarantee that they will meet a very different person from the one portrayed in von Hildebrand’s essay. Those who read and listen thoughtfully will encounter a man through whom God has touched thousands of persons with authentic Catholic teaching on the true meaning of human love in the divine plan.

One of the problems I have had with many defences of West is that they almost read like canonizations. For reasons I spoke of on my blog (http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2010/09/theology-of-body-debate-iii-conclusion.html), I find these out of place for a man whose “great work” has come at the expense of his family and the duties he has towards them. He admitted it himself when returning from sabbatical, when he spoke about the “lack of balance”. We Catholics are just as much caught up in the “cult of personality” as our secular counterparts, as much as we like to think otherwise, and we value a man for the work he does rather than who he is in God`s eyes. West is insignificant compared to the contemplative nuns in God`s purview, or even those holy Catholic janitors who scrub toilets for a living. Yet, if most Catholics were in a room where West was on one side and contemplative nuns on the other, they would flock to West. This proves how spiritually blind most Catholics really are to the supernatural realities about them.

I think the Gospels make it clear that “popular speakers” will be least in the kingdom of God (if they even get into the kingdom), because they often neglect the duties of their state in life (which is the key to sanctity) and because, in the process, they get “swelled heads” (and pride is the chief of all sins). Perhaps it was solely a humble desire to evangelize the world that led West to go on Nightline, but as one who pursued media engagements in the past in order to further the message of the Gospel, I know my motives were certainly mixed (and maybe less pure than pure). And when I was pursuing a possible national television appearance in 2007, it was my pride that led me to do and say something that brought me crashing down. It was probably no different than Mr. West. As I said in my blog piece, that is my biggest issue with Mr. West – he preaches about living the nuptial meaning of the body and then divides his body between his apostolate and his family so that he does not fully give himself to either. The tragic thing is that others, such as Steve Pokorny, want to emulate him, and make the same mistake – embracing marriage but also an apostolate. And thus, they are “divided”, as St. Paul says, rather than making a “complete gift” of themselves to the “Beloved”. Their very lives seem to belie the message they are trying to convey.

Part II: Reiteration of Selected Points from von Hildebrand

Now, I will reprint some portions of von Hildebrand`s essay that I believe make good points but that I believe still remain unaddressed after 17 months.


(1) I.3. Throughout all his Catholic writings, (Dietrich von Hildebrand) insists upon humility and reverence: humility because nobody, except the Blessed One among women, Mary, is safe; and reverence because of the depth and mystery of this sacred domain—a domain Dietrich always believed called for veiling. ... My general criticism of Christopher West is that he does not seem to grasp the delicacy, reverence, privacy, and sacredness of the sexual sphere. He also underestimates the effects of Original Sin on the human condition.


(2) III.4.d. A humble awareness of our fallen nature creates a strict moral obligation to fly from temptations. ... As Monsignor Knox points out, to believe a Christian, however faithful, can place himself in spiritual danger and never fall prey to it, is a common error among religious enthusiasts. ... But this is to commit the sin of presumption.


(3) I.5. Sex enthusiasts in the Church like West often speak about the “raging hormones” many feel growing up, but the solution they propose to cure it—stimulate people even more, with a hyper-sexualized presentation of Catholic teaching—can easily aggravate the situation.

(4) II.1.a. Dietrich would have vigorously opposed Popcak's so-called ”one rule”--that married couples “may do whatever they wish,” as long as they don’t use contraception, “both feel loved and respected,” and the marital act culminates within the woman. (p. 193). As another reviewer commented , this reduces marital love to a lowest common denominator, where “everything else can be left to the judgment of each couple. A variety of sexual positions, oral sex, sexual toys, and role playing are all judged permissible as long as couples follow the ‘one rule.’” (Catholicbookreviews.org, 2008). ... These ideas would have struck Dietrich von Hildebrand as abhorrent. It is precisely because the marital bed is sacred that one should approach acts within it with enormous reverence. Degrading and perverse sexual behavior-- even it is it done by a married couple, who do not practice contraception-- should be condemned, as an assault on human dignity. The “pornification” of marriage should be resisted as vigorously as the pornification of our culture. ... In this context, it is important for couples to avoid what Canon Jacques Leclerc calls “any corruption of love” in the marital bed. He writes: “There are many who believe that once they are married, they may do whatever they like.” But “they do not understand,” he continues, that “the search for every means of increasing pleasure can be a perversion.” He cautions: “Now, there are even among the most Christian young people many who know nothing of the moral aspect of the problem and have only the rudimentary idea that everything is forbidden outside marriage, but that within marriage everything is allowed. It is thus a good thing to remember that the morality of conjugal relations does not allow that pleasure should be sought by every means, but calls for a sexual life that is at the same time healthy, simple and normal.” (Marriage: A Great Sacrament, 1951, p. 88). These are sentiments which my husband, Dietrich von Hildebrand, would have thoroughly approved.

(5) III.4.b. Christopher West should know that we live in a society, which is radically materialistic, characterized by a cult of the body. Do we need encouragements to idolize what St Francis called "Brother Ass"? Christopher West puts too much emphasis on the body in a culture in which everything is body-centered.


(6) II.1.b-c. Analogy, in the AGE OF FAITH, was understood in a way that is completely different from our age of secularism, relativism, subjectivism and eroticism. Hence, 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. ... This false mentality of analogy was strongly opposed by Dietrich von Hildebrand, even though it was (and still is) countenanced by many contemporary writers. Chesterton, on the other hand, took my husband’s side. One day, Chesterton writes, he was taking a walk in the woods with a man whose “ . . . pointed beard gave him something of the look of Pan.` At one point this companion said to him: `Do you know why the spire of that church goes up like that?` I expressed a respectable agnosticism, and he answered in an off-hand way, `Oh, the same as the obelisks; the Phallic Worship of antiquity`. Then I looked across at him suddenly as he lay there leering above his goat-like beard; and for the moment I thought he was not Pan but the Devil. No mortal words can express the immense, the insane incongruity and unnatural perversion of thought involved in saying such a thing . . . (Everlasting Man, p. 152).” These words are a striking and prophetic rebuke to Christopher West’s efforts to employ “phallic symbolism to describe the Easter candle,” as Dr. David Schindler pointed out in his critique of West. Hugo Rahner has pointed out where these aberrant ideas about “phallic symbolism” came from: pagan mythology, not authentic Christianity. (See his book, Greek Myths and Christian Mystery, 1963)

(7) II.1.d. This defective attitude might explain why Christopher West also believes that after the Holy Virgin gave birth to our Savior, she ejected a bleeding placenta, just as his wife had done after delivering their son. ... This is a dogma of our faith, that she was a Virgin, prius ac posterius. The conception was miraculous; the delivery was miraculous. Any intrusion into this mystery would have been a source of grief to Dietrich von Hildebrand who, because he recited Vespers and Compline every day, knew Psalm 130 well: "I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me". ... For Christopher West to offer graphic, speculative details about the Virgin Birth—like the ejected bleeding placenta—underscores my point. The analogy of the Virgin Birth with the birth of West’s own son is mistaken. The latter, though obviously a great blessing, was not conceived, through God, by a Virgin; and it was not the product of a miraculous delivery. Further, to "tear the veil" away from Bethlehem, and to believe an imaginary, explicit description of it is a more powerful way of referring to the mystery of mysteries, is something that Dietrich von Hildebrand would, as I say, have fiercely contested. Between a normal birth, and the mystery of Bethlehem, lies an abyss which man - out of trembling reverence—should not traverse. Silent adoration is the only valid response to such a mystery.

(8) IV.4.2.a. Dietrich von Hildebrand, who came from a privileged cultural and artistic background, and had been acquainted with holy paintings since his earliest youth, would never have made remarks about the size of the Holy Virgin’s bosom, as West has, repeating with praise an exhortation for Catholics to “rediscover” Mary’s “abundant breasts” (Crisis magazine, March , 2002) To Dietrich’s mind, this would be an act of irreverence. Her breasts were sacred and the response to the sacred is awe and not a critical approach to the size of "the blessed breasts that sucked thee". True religious art has always understood this. ... One of the requirements of sacred art is that the artist succeeds in creating, through visible means, an atmosphere of sacredness. When Mary is represented, the crucial element is that the image inspires in the viewer a feeling of reverence; whether she is painted with “abundant breasts” is totally irrelevant—otherwise, most other icons would have to be discarded. It suffices for the faithful believer to be inspired by a work of art; he or she should never be titillated by it.

(9) Conc. When referring to mysteries (such as the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Eucharist) Dietrich’s choice of words invited his listeners to a trembling reverence and adoration. Christopher West's aforementioned remarks, in contrast,-- however well intended-- about the "bloodied membrane" that the Holy Virgin ejected after Christ's birth would strike Dietrich as close to blasphemy. Were he with us today, Dietrich would have surely quoted the Holy Office’s warning to West: “Theological works are being published in which the delicate question of Mary’s virginity ‘in partu’ is treated with a deplorable crudeness of expression and, what is more serious, in flagrant contradiction to the doctrinal tradition of the Church and to the sense of respect the faithful have.” (From the Holy Office monitum, July , 1960, reprinted in A Short Treatise on the Virgin Mary by Rene Laurentin, AMI Press, 1991, , pp. 318-329)


(10) I.3. It is simply false to claim that the Church has, until recently, been blind to the deep meaning and beauty of sex as God intended it: we need only turn to St. Francis de Sales to see how profoundly he understood the meaning that God gave to this sphere. He writes: “It is honorable to all, in all, and in everything, that is, in all its parts" (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 38). It is simply not true to claim that, until recently, the beauty and meaning of this sphere had been totally obscured by Puritanism and Manichaeism.

(11) III.3.a. Anyone who reads Christopher West’s books, or listens to his talks, cannot help but notice one thing: he is obsessed by puritanism. Indeed, one might believe, listening to him, that it is the one great danger of our time.

(12) III.3.a-b. One of the strange things happening today is that any hint that the intimate sphere should be marked by a caveat, tempts some people to accuse West’s critics of playing Cassandra, and of "being a dualist". The problem is that “dualism” can have a number of meanings, and not all of them are contrary to Catholic belief. ... From the very beginning, the Church—the "pillar of truth” has rejected Gnosticism and any form of Manichaeism. Nothing, however, is easier for man than to fall in his reason. The human mind, wounded by sin, has the uncanny tendency to go from one error to its (apparent) contradiction, while in fact errors are usually first cousins. ... Today, the condemned "dualism” just referred to, has become for some a kind of philosophical obsession. They detect "dualism" in the writings of thinkers who totally agree with them in rejecting a false dualism, but, in obsessing about this point, miss a larger one, and the necessary distinctions. ... It is tempting ... to angelize him, and discard the body. ... Some claim that the union of body and soul is for the benefit of the soul: without sense organs, man's mind would be condemned to blindness. It should, however, also be said that the union of body and soul is very much to the benefit of the body: for the soul “personifies” the body, that is, it clearly separates us from animals.


(13) I.5. It must be recognized: “happy talk” about sex and sexuality, even if it is wrapped in religious language, cannot communicate the full truth about God’s plan for human sexuality unless it includes the difficulties of living out an elevated moral life. ... Moreover, they consistently ignore the one successful remedy the Church has always called upon to address this malady: asceticism, the spirit of renunciation and sacrifice. ... Why does St. Paul teach us, “And they that are Christ’s, have crucified the flesh with the passions and lusts” (Galatians 5: 24)? Why did St. Benedict throw himself into a thorny bush? Why did St. Francis engage in self-mortification? Because, following Scripture, they believed that disciplining their bodily desires, was indispensable to overcoming temptation. ... If such measures are considered unnecessary and too “extreme” today, other forms of asceticism—an intense prayer life, frequent confession, modesty in dress and language, and avoiding all possible occasions of sin-- should not be considered so. ... it is sheer illusion to believe that moral perfection can be pursued without this purifying discipline.

(14) III.4.e. Why is asceticism so stressed in religious orders and in authentic Catholic tradition, be it hair shirts, abstinence, the discipline, or the limiting of one's sleep to a minimum? Is that ever mentioned by Christopher West? Does he not know that John Paul II himself engaged in acts of self-mortification? And yet, that fact might be of great importance to teach us how to love, and it is love, which is the key to sex.


(15) II.2.b. English does not distinguish between shame in the negative sense (response to what is ugly, disgusting, repulsive, filthy) and shame that is positive (in the sense of personal, private, intimate, mysterious). This lack of distinction certainly explains certain "simplifications" and “misunderstandings” about human sexuality which punctuate the work of Christopher West. ... After our first parents discovered they were naked, they were ashamed. This shame had a positive, instructive purpose, because it made them aware that they had stripped themselves of the beautiful “veil of innocence” God had given them, before they sinned. These profound truths should be embraced and highlighted by Christopher West, not minimized or ignored.

(16) III.4.a. Christopher West confuses "shame" in a negative sense (ugly, disgusting, repulsive, morally repugnant) with pudeur—the aforementioned French word which refers to the reverence we should have toward what is personal, mysterious, private, or sacred. ... Reverence and humility were always regarded as keys to maintaining our purity. The idea of trying to be “naked without shame” was never contemplated, and for good reasons.

Theology of the Body Debate: To Be Continued ...

REF: Quotation I

"A Holy Hour a day keeps the Devil away". (Wade St. Onge)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Abba's Little Girl's Little Girl ...

... by which I mean "Esther Bonds", daughter of "Patty Bonds".

Patty (aka "Abba's Little Girl") runs a blog that I am subscribed to. For those who do not know her story, all I will say is that it is incredible, even miraculous! She had quite a life and bore some heavy crosses, but through the grace of God, those trials have been transformed and have formed her into the strong and faithful woman she is today!

But the obstacles which she had to overcome were not limited to that. She also came from a very anti-Catholic background (her brother is "Dr. James White" - a famous Protestant apologist who has written extensively against the Catholic Church and has debated almost every well-known Catholic apologist in the last 20 years).

I heard Patty on the "Catholic Answers Live" radio program years ago, but only met her personally last year through her daughter, Esther.

At the beginning of the winter semester at Franciscan University of Steubenville, the weather was miserable. It had recently rained and then froze, meaning the campus sidewalks were like sheets of ice. Being from Canada, I was used to this, and knew how to walk without slipping. But many students who were new to campus and had come from the southern U.S. were not so prepared.

One evening, while I was leaving the dining hall, a young lady who was walking just behind me, shrieked and grabbed onto my coat sleeve. I immediately realized that she had slipped on the ice. I asked her where she was from. She said "Arizona". I chuckled, and after finding out she was new to campus, told her that God providentially placed in front of her a Canadian who was pretty solid on his feet to save her from falling. I offered to walk her to her dorm, but she decided she would brave it and make the icy trek by herself.

I saw her again the next week in the student union building, so I knew she had survived her walk home that night. A number of us students had gathered to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers continue their playoff run (Steubenville is 40 miles from Pittsburgh). We enjoyed each other's company, and I also got to meet her roommate, Maria (who I later called "Pink" because she was always wearing at least one article of clothing that was pink - in fact, she even has a pink Roethlisberger jersey!).

We gathered again for the Super Bowl, which pitted Arizona against Pittsburgh. Esther was just there to socialize - she didn't have a clue about football. But of course she was cheering for Arizona. I asked her at one point, "how many yards does it take to get a 'first down'". She paused for a few moments, and then answered, "um, five?" Later in the game, there was a big play and a reaction from the people watching and the announcers. Esther said, "what's going on?" I said, "Arizona just intercepted the football." Esther said, "is that good or bad?" I said, "it's good". She then let out a booming "WOO-HOO", and Pink, her friend Sarah, and myself (we were all sitting together) just lost it!

I had these three over to my place later in the semester as well for homemade lasagna, caesar salad, and apple pie. We had a good visit, and I got a good picture of Esther crawling on the floor (she was looking for something - we won't get into that right now!).

Esther and I ended up becoming good friends and we have shared some deep and profound conversations. We have also had some lighter exchanges. I remember one day in the dining hall when we were making each other laugh so hard (and we can both be pretty loud!) that everyone in the dining hall (200 + people), at one point or another, looked over at us. Good times!

She is young but very wise. Like her mother, she has had her fair share of suffering, and that has made her a stronger and more mature person.

Anyway, enough about memory lane. I hope you take the time to visit her blog!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chicago Churches

Coming soon!

Kansas City Churches

When I was a seminarian in St. Louis, I became very good friends with a classmate, (now Fr.) Matthew Cushing (or "Cush", as we called him to distinguish him from a second "Matthew" in our class), who was then studying for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas (but became a priest for the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky).

Since I lived so far away from my home in Canada, (Fr.) Matt invited me to come home with him on various breaks. His parents were (and are) great people and very hospitable. They raised eight children - including one priest and one religious sister.

During our 2003 Easter break, I decided to take in the Triduum according to "the old rite", the Missal of 1962. Fr.) Matt was friends with Fr. Philip Wolfe, FSSP, who was then the pastor of "St. Phillippine Duchesne Latin Mass Community". They met each other through their pro-life work, most specifically, in praying the rosary outside the abortion clinic on Saturday mornings.

The Masses/Services were held at "Blessed Sacrament Church".

I absolutely loved the community. It was made up of mostly young families and young adults. I absolutely loved the choir - most of them were young women and they sounded like angels.

Some time after leaving seminary, I applied to teach at "St. Padre Pio Academy", a new private school set up by many of the parishioners. I dreamed of moving down to Kansas City, teaching at the school, and joining the choir (they were certainly in need of more male voices!) I went down to KC, stayed with (Fr.) Matt and his parents, went for a tour and for the interview, and attended Mass at Blessed Sacrament on Sunday. When the choir sung "Credo IV", I knew this is where I wanted to move.

However, God had other plans, and the position went to a young lady from KC. I have not been back since, and at times I still have the desire to move down there.

During one of my visits, (Fr.) Matt and I went to an ordination at St. Peter Cathedral. It was a beautiful church (unfortunately, it is a little too small to be a cathedral). What I loved most was the seven stained-glass windows in the sanctuary which depicted different sacramental types from the Old Testament. There was the Sacrifice of Abel, Noah and the Flood, the Sacrifice of Melchisedek, the Sacrifice of Abraham (Isaac), the Parting of the Red Sea, and a couple others I cannot remember.

On weekdays, We went to "Our Lady of Good Counsel" for noon Mass. Msgr. Blacet was a very holy and humble priest who offered Mass devoutly (his daily Masses were about an hour long) and heard confessions for 45 minutes prior to every Mass. It was a very well-attended Mass, and many young people came. Coincidentally, it was also the church that (Fr.) Matt's parents were married in 50 years earlier.

Picture #1 from "Kansas City Dale" Flicker Account
Picture #2 from "St. Philippine Duchesne Community" Website
Picture #3 from "St. Peter Cathedral" Website
Picture #4,5,6 from "Kansas City Catholic" Blog

Friday, October 8, 2010

St. Louis Churches

Ah, this brings back memories! When I was a seminarian at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis (2002-2004), we were given the occasional "free weekend" where we were allowed to attend Sunday Mass elsewhere. On my free weekends, I almost always went to St. Agatha's for the Tridentine Mass.

I remember the first time I went there - I literally fell in love with that parish. It brought on a crisis in my vocational discernment which divided me on whether I would remain diocesan or join a traditional order. I remained, but in the end the point was moot anyway because I left the seminary.

Anyway, I was on the blog of photographer, Mark Scott Abeln, "Rome of the West", and these pictures took me fondly down memory lane. These were from his "St. Agatha" page. The pictures were taken after the Traditional Mass was moved to St. Francis de Sales Oratory and after St. Agatha became the new Polish parish following the schism at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church. Here she is:

Beautiful shot of the exterior at dusk.
It is right near the Budweiser plant - you can smell brew on your way to the church!

The interior, from the back.
It was gorgeous on Sunday morning: the church would let in so much sunlight.

The interior, from the freestanding altar.
You can tell this was taken after the move because this altar was not there before.
Fr. (now Msgr.) Ed Rice told us a funny story about how he was asked to say a Novus Ordo Mass there one Saturday evening, and how he did a double-take when he got there, and said,
"Where is the altar?" Celebrating ad orientam was a new experience for him!

A close-up of the sanctuary. It was radiant on Sunday mornings.

Beautiful St. Agatha

Now to our second church: St. Francis de Sales Oratory. When I was a seminarian there, it was a Latino parish. Every Sunday, myself and a classmate would serve Sunday Vespers for the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters (aka "The Pink Sisters" - their habits are pink) Fr. Ed Rice would usually treat us to dinner afterwards, and on our way home, we would always go by this big old beautiful church. One day, I asked my classmate to stop. I told him I just wanted to see if perchance we could get in for a look. Sure enough, one of the front doors opened for us (from the inside, it looked as though someone failed to lock it properly!). I walked around with my jaw dragging on the floor - it was the most beautiful church I had ever been in! It was just as it was before Vatican II - except they had added a little freestanding altar. But nothing had been removed or destroyed. It is called "the Cathedral of the South" [South St. Louis, that is]. I never did attend Mass there, and I would love to return to St. Louis to worship at the Tridentine Mass there.

The view of St. Francis while driving down I-44.

View from the front. She is tall!

View from the back. She is big!

Beautiful shots of the interior and sanctuary.

The high altar at night.

The sanctuary.

The altar and reredos, with reliquaries.

Side altar.

Stained-glass windows. They were (are) beautiful!

And now, for the "main attraction": the "Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis". I was blessed with many opportunities to worship at Mass and attend many events here, the most important of which was the episcopal installation of Archbishop Raymond Burke.

These beautiful churches are like a piece of heaven on earth. I wish I could worship at Mass every Sunday in such magnificent churches, and looking at St. Agatha's and St. Francis de Sales churches trigger a pain of the heart, an "ache" if you will, it simultaneously strikes me with a feeling of anticipation and excitement, because I know that in the next life, I will (God help me) dwell within such beauty forever and soak it in eternally.

Pictures 1 and 11 are from "Tradition for Tomorrow". Pictures 2, 3, 6 are taken from "Rome of the West". Pictures 4, 5, 9, 10 are also taken from "Rome of the West". Pictures 7 and 10 are likewise taken from "Rome of the West". Picture 8 is taken from the "Archdiocese of Washington" blog. Pictures 12-18 are also taken from "Rome of the West".

Thursday, October 7, 2010

REF: Isn't Life Beautiful?!

At one of my former jobs, I had the great pleasure of working with a young man named "Vladimir", whose family had emigrated from Russia. Vladimir was a young man with a bright future. He was pursuing his MBA and had big plans and the gifts to make them happen. He was intelligent, charismatic, very sociable, and athletic. He loved to work out and give others advice on how to get fit and stay healthy. But what I remember best about him was his great sense of humour. He could light a room on fire, and often did.

Vladimir was a man who I always described as being "full of life". Not only was he "full of life", but he also "loved life". One of his favourite sayings, which often concluded his frequent discussions regarding his plans and his experiences, was, "Isn't life beautiful?!"

Then one day, some time after I had quit that job, I received the news that Vladimir had had an asthmatic attack and died. My initial reaction was one of shock and sorrow. But shortly afterwards, I was struck (and still am) by the irony. Here was a man who was more full of "life" and had a greater "life" ahead of him to look forward to than anyone else I knew. And yet, it was his "life" that was taken from him.

There are many lessons I have taken from Vladimir's "life". First, his love for life helped me to appreciate life more. I realized how much I took for granted. By merely asking the rhetorical question, "isn't life beautiful?", this fact was brought to my attention when that fact is so easily forgotten or ignored. Second, I was reminded by how "backwards" this life really is. The poor are the richest, the ones who suffer are the most blessed, those who never give birth have the most children, etc. Finally, I was struck by how uncertain our futures are in this life, and that we must always seek to best to store up treasures in heaven and care more about the next life than this current one.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

TOB: Response to Dr. Janet Smith


I have followed the “Christopher West debate” from its beginning (Dr. Schindler’s critique) to the present (the most recent being the public release of Dawn Eden’s masters thesis and Dr. Janet Smith’s response). As someone who taught Theology of the Body for three years (at John Paul II Bible College in Radway, Alberta) and who made use of West’s work, I was very interested in arriving at the truth of this matter. For years, I had had my own criticisms of West, although that did not stop me from using him (and in fact, I still use him). However, as the debate unfolded, I found that many of my criticisms were justified, and I became consciously aware of other problems that I previously only had vague notions or impressions of.

When Dr. Michael Waldstein and Dr. Janet Smith issued their responses to Dr. Schindler’s critique, I was surprised to see that neither of them really responded to the actual substance of Schindler’s arguments (more about that later). As time went on and others entered the debate, I noticed that the critiques issued against West were not really being “engaged” by those defending West. Rather, they were largely responded to through
ad hominem attacks (“they are just ‘attacking’ him because they are ‘jealous’”), red herrings, and often enough, silence. This alone did more to convince me than the substance of any of the arguments made by either side.

When Ms. Eden publicly released her thesis, I read it and found it to be a solid though not flawless critique. I had my own issues with it which I mentioned briefly in my own critique of West (which can be found here:
http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2010/09/theology-of-body-debate-critique-and.html). I was aware that Dr. Janet Smith was planning on responding to it, and I was looking forward to reading it as I wanted to see if Ms. Eden’s thesis did have some serious problems that I did not see. As someone who falls more on the side of the “West critics” in this debate, I know that my bias might blind me to truths that “West supporters” may see clearly.

However, just like Dr. Smith’s response to Dr. Schindler, I believe that Dr. Smith, in her essay, “Engaging Dawn Eden’s Thesis”, once again largely failed to respond to the substance of Ms. Eden’s points. What follows is a point-by-point reply to Smith’s critique of Eden’s thesis (Smith’s revised critique, which is the one I decided to respond to, can be found here:
http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/sexuality/se0207.htm). I have reprinted Dr. Smith’s subtitles to make it easier for the reader to cross-reference Smith’s essay as he goes along. I too will use Dr. Smith’s abbreviation “ET” as short for “Eden’s Thesis”).

A. Response to Smith’s Preliminary Comments.

Dr. Smith begins by speaking about how Mr. West has been open to critical response and has changed accordingly, and how Mr. West is a good Christian man whose teaching has done a great deal of good for a great many people. No doubt, Mr. West has over the years changed portions of his writings and presentations in response to critical feedback. I do not think anyone can deny this. In fact, Eden herself states this (ET, Preface, ix). No doubt, Mr. West’s teaching has done a great deal of good. It has resulted in many conversions and has led many to a purer life. Once again, no one can deny this – it is quite evident. However, Dr. Smith also praises Ms. Eden for her desire to protect the Catholic faithful from distortions of Theology of the Body, and I too laud her for that. Now, whether or not Mr. West is guilty of that we will set aside for now.

Dr. Smith begins by saying that Ms. Eden’s thesis is “seriously flawed and may potentially do much harm”. Will it do any harm? Perhaps. However, Dr. Smith does not seem to say it will do “much harm” due to the fact that it is “seriously flawed”, even though Smith believes it is. Rather, Dr. Smith’s concern is that “some people have taken a mere glance at her thesis, and since they are predisposed to accept her conclusions, they are dazzled by the number of quotations and footnotes into thinking that she has provided a worthy critique West's work.” It logically follows that those who are already “predisposed to accept her conclusions” have obviously decided, before this thesis was published, they did not like West’s approach or presentation(s). If such people are using Eden’s thesis to pressure priests and organizations not to use West’s material, Eden herself should not be blamed for that. She can be blamed for putting out a “seriously flawed” thesis, but if people who didn’t like West before are going to use Eden’s “star power” to carry out what they have presumably wanted to do for years now, is that not the fault of those who oppose West and those priests who are unable to sift truth from error?

B. Response to Various Points

1. The Importance of Fair Analysis and Accurate Representation.

Dr. Smith states that “I am going to assess only one criticism that Eden makes of West: the claim that West’s view of the Theology of the Body as causing a ‘revolution’ is not faithful to a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’.” When I read this, I thought back to Dr. Waldstein’s response to Dr. Schindler’s critique (
http://www.catholicity.com/commentary/waldstein/06117.html). Dr. Waldstein too said he would only respond to “one” of Schindler’s criticisms, and by doing so he would demonstrate that the rest of Schindler’s charges were unfounded. As I have said elsewhere regarding Waldstein’s response, “He did not really respond to the substance of Schindler's argument, and when he addressed the first of his four points (on concupiscence), he states simply that, on the contrary, West is in fact on the mark, then goes on to ‘prove’ this by writing ‘a clear outline of the Catholic position in this matter’ (as Schindler described it in his response to Waldstein: http://www.headlinebistro.com/hb/en/news/schindler_response.html, II.7), with a short discussion on Jansenistic tendencies in recent Catholic history. None of this Schindler would disagree with, except for Waldstein’s simple assertion that ‘No, West does not contradict the Catholic teaching’.”

So when I read Dr. Smith saying she has found in Eden’s thesis “a distortion of what West said, a misreading of texts, and numerous irrelevant claims”, I thought back to Waldstein’s response. I was not sure if she would reply to the substance of Eden’s thesis, or if this response would be similar to that of Waldstein’s. The following is my evaluation of Smith’s critique of Eden’s thesis.

2. The Hermeneutic of Continuity.

I agree with Dr. Smith that for something that Ms. Eden considered to be “the most serious flaw in West’s work”, she did not spend a great deal of space defending this charge. She probably now regrets that. She should have done something similar to what I did in my own critique of West as found on my blog.

As I said on Sr. Lorraine’s blog (http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/09/putting-christopher-west-in-context.html), if before this thesis came out, someone was to give to those who have read or listened to Mr. West a true-false test that consisted of the “ten themes”, and if the question was, “according to Christopher West, [insert theme]”, most would answer “True” to most of them. In fact, I would have answered “True” to most if not all of them, and would still answer “True” to many if not most of them.

Dr. Smith criticises Ms. Eden for “bombard[ing] her readers with words that she seems to believe will shock them”, such as "all-encompassing," "recontextualize," "everything," "revolution," and "dramatic development." Two things must be said here. (1) West himself has used these or similar words to describe TOB, and once again, if this was a “true-false” question, I would answer “True” as well. He does give the impression that TOB is all this, even if he may not use these exact words. (2) West himself often “bombards [his] readers [or listeners] with words that [he believes] will shock them”. If he can be justified in doing so, I think Eden can as well.

West says it “isn’t just about sex and marriage”, but sometimes his inordinate focus on sexuality and marriage in his presentations can belie or contradict this. When we are told that St. Teresa of Avila appears as though she is experiencing orgasm in portraits depicting her in ecstasy, that the Easter candle is a phallic symbol of the sexual union between husband and wife, that the vagina is akin to “the holy of holies”, when the TOB Institute website features couples and families in 14 of its 15 pictures (only one of them is a picture of a priest; there are no religious sisters, no religious brothers, no single people), etc., many single people (actually, people in general, regardless of state) can think it really IS all about “sex and marriage”.

Certainly, Mr. West is better than most TOB presenters in that he makes it clear that TOB is for single people too, and that single people can live out TOB. However, this is heavily outweighed (and I would say “drowned out”) by his frequent exaltations of praise for sex and marriage. It is similar to what takes place at the annual “Family Life Conference” in Lac St. Anne, Alberta (which Mr. West spoke at a number of years ago, though that is beside the point). It is a difficult conference for single people because they see so many families and the teachings all focus on the beauty of marriage and parenthood. Religious and single life both get “short shrift”. Of course, the conference organizers stress that this is for everyone, and that happiness depends on holiness and not marital status, but that is not what most single people “experience” or what they “receive” and thus “take away” from it. It is quite possible – and in fact it happens frequently – that
the totality of the presentation does not line up with particular assertions that are made within those presentations.

In contrast to this, I spoke at length and very passionately about “single life” (I have actually developed a “theology of single life”) when I taught “Theology of the Body” at the Bible College. I found it interesting that the most common comment from students in the “most important thing I learned” section was that “single life is a ‘blessing’!” or similar such comments. This gave me a great deal of satisfaction, because most of my students were single, and I know how much young Catholics struggle with finding themselves single. I was very pleased that they were able to leave with this impression after I said so many glowing things about sex and marriage. Of course, it also helped that I spoke about celibacy in (even more) glowing terms, and that I stressed the superiority of celibacy (which West unfortunately does not “stress” even though he might at times “mention” it).

3. Recontextualize Everything.

On Sr. Lorraine’s blog, I also criticized Eden’s choice of words when she said “theologians and religious educators” would be “required” to “recontextualize” everything. However, I also pointed out that West often cites Weigel’s quote, and thus people do get the impression that in the future, this will be the case.

Regarding John Paul II’s quote: “Since our creation as male and female is the ‘fundamental fact of human existence’ (Feb. 13, 1980), the theology of the body affords ‘the rediscovery of the meaning of the whole of existence, the meaning of life’ (Oct. 29, 1980),” (from Christopher West’s article, “What is Theology of the Body and Why is it Changing So Many Lives?”
http://www.christopherwest.com/page.asp?ContentID=71), I would agree with this but would qualify it. Yes, the “theology of the body” does have this potential. But then again, so do many spiritual classics. So does Introduction to the Devout Life – which had me “reflecting [and praying] on the ‘three levels’” (original, historical, and eschatological man) and has personally helped me “rediscover the meaning of life” more than Theology of the Body has. So does the Catechism. So does the Bible. So does the Rosary. I am not saying Theology of the Body is not a great theological work, nor am I saying it has not had a great impact on the Church. What I am saying is that it is one of many works that have impacted, continue to impact, and have the potential to impact Christians. For some, it might be Theology of the Body. For others, it might be Scripture, or St. Augustine’s Confessions, or the Dialogues of St. Catherine, or the Little Flower’s Story of A Soul. As I said, some of these other works have done more for me than Theology of the Body. And in fact, it is not so much that “theology of the body” has done me wonders, but rather the Church’s centuries-old teachings on marriage, sexuality, and the human person that Theology of the Body presents. One can easily come away from West’s presentations believing that “Theology of the Body” is the most important Catholic work in the Church today, when in fact, that is not universally true, even if for some Catholics it might be.

4. Dramatic Development in the Creed.

Dr. Smith says that “West is hardly giving instructions to theologians and educators to ‘recontextualize everything’.” Dr. Smith is correct – in the particular quotation she is addressing here, he is not doing so. However, as I said, Weigel’s quotation is a staple in his presentation of Theology of the Body. It is quite easy to leave West’s presentations believing that the entire deposit of faith is going to be “recontextualized” in light of TOB.

I believe Eden cited the claim without indicating why she believes it is a false assessment
because the totality of her thesis seeks to make that case. It was not her purpose at this stage to make a point that she was attempting to make throughout her thesis and in a more direct way at other specific points in her thesis.

Dr. Smith says, “I am quite certain it doesn't mean that the Creed will change – it doesn't mean there will be a dramatic change in doctrine – or any change in doctrine, for that matter.” I do not think Ms. Eden, a Masters student in Theology, believes Weigel is saying this. This would clearly be heretical, and Ms. Eden knows Weigel is not a heretic, and she knows he is not ignorant enough to believe this could be possible. I think what Weigel means is clear, which is why Dr. Smith says that “careless readers” might misunderstand. With all due respect to Dr. Smith, it appears there was an attempt here to critique a point that should not have been critiqued, but that Dr. Smith believed needed to be critiqued, because the quotation is incriminating and must be dealt with. If a “careless reader” misconstrues anything, I would blame the “careless reader”. As for the rest of us “careful readers”, I do not see a problem here.

5. Imago Dei.

Dr. Smith says, “Eden seems to disapprove of West’s claim that it is a major development in Catholic thought to say that the
imago Dei is located ‘not only in the individual man or woman but also (in the pope's words) ‘through the communion…which man and woman form right from the beginning” (ET, 11). I do not think Eden disapproves of West’s claim that there has been a major development. I think Dr. Smith isolated this statement of hers from the broader context of her “first theme”. In that context, Eden’s concern is clear – she objects to what she perceives as an inordinate focus on this aspect. She expands on this later when she speaks about the primacy of the “filial” relationship with God over the “spousal” relationship in the section subtitled, “Nuptiality as key to sexual healing,” which begins on Page 32.

Once again, Dr. Smith, seeming to know that Eden may be making a solid point, qualifies her objection. This time, Smith’s criticism is that “it is difficult to know what point she is making.” She then goes back to speak of Eden’s “previous negative tone” and how that might confuse the reader. Smith goes on to set up a sort of “straw man” by showing that Cardinal Scola agrees with the idea that John Paul II’s locating the
Imago Dei in the communion of persons has been a major development in Catholic thought. But Eden would not disagree with Cardinal Scola – she would acknowledge that there has indeed been a development. Smith also uses somewhat of a red herring by stating that “a major development in ‘thought’ is not a major development in doctrine.” But Dr. Smith can “cover” these fallacies by saying that Eden has so confused the reader that Dr. Smith may have come to the wrong conclusion as to what Eden was actually trying to say! Let it be noted here that the substance of Eden’s point was not responded to by Smith.

6. Sex and Mystery.

Dr. Smith is correct in saying that Ms. Eden should have commented further on the texts she cited in her “ten themes”. As I said on Sr. Lorraine’s blog, “[Eden’s] middle section should evaluate the ‘ten themes’ [one by one] and show how West is wrong about them.” However, once again, the criticism of Eden is more about her style than the actual point she is attempting to make. Smith once again asks, “What does West mean?” In other words, Eden does not clearly lay out West’s position. However, Smith says nothing about whether or not that particular “theme” is wrong. Indeed, at the end of this paragraph, Smith admits that “Here, I would say is one place where West needs to continue to show caution in explaining how John Paul II uses the term ‘sex’” (Smith had explained earlier that John Paul II more often than not uses it as a “noun” and not as a “verb”).

7. Maturation in Thinking vs. Doctrinal Development

Once again, this section begins with a criticism of Eden’s “sceptical and even mocking tone” rather than the precise point Eden is trying to make. Smith continues with a criticism not of the substance of Eden’s point (namely, that West says the Church is maturing through time and has only reached “puberty”; ET, 12), but of the fact that she once again quoted West without explaining the quotation for the reader. Smith’s problem is that “[Eden] comments not at all on the passage cited and thus the reader cannot know what she finds objectionable about it or, of course, if she does find it objectionable. Again, the previous tone of her thesis suggests that she does.” Once again, Eden’s point goes unaddressed. But to the “careless reader”, it may seem that Smith has refuted this particular “theme”, and said reader may not pick up that Smith’s argument about Eden accusing West of claiming “doctrinal development” again is a “red herring”. In reality, all Smith has demonstrated is that Eden committed errors in method and style rather than substance, and that her thesis directors did a mediocre job at best.

8. True Dangers?

Dr. Smith says, “I would suggest to Eden that her readers (and even West’s audiences) would not find it hard to distinguish what West is saying from the views of someone like [“liberal” Catholic Paul] McHugh”. Certainly, the teachings of McHugh and West are like night and day. But then again, isn’t it possible for two people who are diametrically opposed regarding their beliefs to have certain commonalities? After all, if Mr. West can find “profound historical connections” between Pope John Paul II and Hugh Hefner (as he said on the
Nightline piece, http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=7527380), could we not find similarities between McHugh and West? Perhaps McHugh came to the wrong conclusions, just as Hefner did, but just as both Hefner and John Paul II were both attempting to redeem authentic sexuality from prudish Victorian morality, so too is it possible for both West and McHugh to both be reacting to what they perceive to be a “prudish Catholic Church”.

This is followed by another straw man, which Smith answers by stating that “West has no expectation that Church doctrine will or should change. He is a fierce defender of Church teaching
as it is.” Eden was not concerned about West “changing doctrine”; rather, her concern was that West has the tendency to divorce TOB from its interpretive keys – namely, what the Church has taught through Her Fathers, Doctors, and Popes in the centuries preceding 1965. My blog article gives an extensive treatment of this very issue (which I wish Eden had done more of).

9. Revolution.

I too believe West is correct in his belief that preconciliar Catholics were “often repressive”, and that some still are. However, I believe Eden’s concern is that West may have the tendency to paint with his “prudish brush” a lot of Saints and Church Fathers and Doctors who were not in fact prudish. I spoke about this on my blog as well.

I also agree with Dr. Smith about the sections that were left in Latin. I remember being told when I was in seminary about the days when the priests would lecture exclusively in English, then switch to Latin when it came time to discuss the Sixth Commandments, then go back to English when they concluded and moved to the Seventh. Smith says this “suggests some ‘repression’ to me”, and I would concur.

Dr. Smith goes on to say, “West’s work in promoting the
Theology of the Body is doing a lot to redress that problem in a very effective fashion.” Once again, I agree. But as Fr. Granados said in his critique, “one of the results of the sexual revolution is precisely the pansexualism that surrounds our society. We cannot respond with a different kind of pansexualism, with a sort of ‘Catholic sexual revolution,’ which in the end promotes a similar obsession with sex, even if ‘holy’” (http://www.headlinebistro.com/en/news/granados_west.html). In other words, we have to take care that when correcting prudery, we do not swing the pendulum to the opposite extreme.

Citing ET, 63, Dr. Smith states, “Eden faults West with using ‘frustration’ at previous repressive ways of teaching as a ‘starting point’ for catechesis on marriage and sex.” I believe this is another example of how Ms. Eden was at times careless in her formulations and use of terms and choice of words. I would not have called it a “starting point”.

However, if you continue to read and thus take in the fuller context, I believe Eden makes a good point. Citing ET, 64, Dr. Smith asks, “What evidence does Eden have that West’s teachings cause people to ‘resent’ yesterday’s Church?” I think there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from those who have read or listened to West. Just visit some of the comboxes where supporters of West have posted defences of him and criticisms of those who have critiqued him. Dr. Alice von Hildebrand is certainly seen by many of them as a pre-Vatican “prude” who has not really read John Paul II’s Theology of the Body – which they see as the “antidote” to “Catholic prudishness”.

Dr. Smith asks, “Does all criticism of ‘yesterday's Church’ foster resentment and is it thus wrong to criticize yesterday’s Church?” Smith then goes on to make what I would consider a blunder. She says: “Who would deny that across the board, catechetical teaching in the US for several decades was seriously inadequate if not erroneous? Bishops have lamented how poor catechesis has been (e.g., “
Archbishop Hughes outlines Deficiencies and a Plan of Action” [http://catholicparents.org/NCCBontexts.html]). Are they guilty of fostering resentment and setting up a hermeneutic of discontinuity?” In Smith’s analogy, she is equating “yesterday’s Church” with the “deficiencies” outlined by Archbishop Hughes. However, Archbishop Hughes is lamenting deficiencies in catechesis since Vatican II, not before Vatican II. This does not set up a “hermeneutic of discontinuity” because the “discontinuity” as Pope Benedict has discussed has come from priests, theologians, and teachers divorcing conciliar and post-conciliar teaching from pre-conciliar teaching. To answer Dr. Smith’s question, I would say, “No, it is not always wrong to criticize certain things about ‘yesterday’s church’. However, it is wrong and even dangerous to leave the impression that John Paul II through his Theology of the Body is finally freeing the Church from a centuries-long prudery that is even reflected in the writings of the Church Doctors such as St. Francis de Sales.”

10. The Importance of Tone.

I too noted in my blog one particular “put-down” in Ms. Eden’s thesis, and I agree that it seems to reveal a bias.

11. Refusal to Admit Error.

I too believe Ms. Eden is a bit hesitant to admit error when they are pointed out to her. However, as I said elsewhere, she may be concerned that if she admitted so much as one error, people might take that as “proof” that her whole thesis is incorrect.

12. Definitive Interpreter.

Smith quotes Eden as saying, “Christopher West presents himself as the definitive interpreter of the teachings of John Paul II.” Once again, Eden chooses her words poorly. However, even though “West has never claimed to be such”, as Smith rightly points out, it is practically true that at least in this country, Christopher West has become the
de facto interpreter or John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body”. What most people in this country know about TOB they have learned from West. Few of these have ever read John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” for themselves.

13. Teaching Authority.

Dr. Smith says that West’s “writings and presentations have been favourably reviewed both by bishops and top scholars.” However, what she fails to mention is that some “top scholars”, including many professors at his
alma mater, have not given him “favourable reviews” but rather the opposite. It must also be asked if there are some dioceses in which bishops have privately refused to allow Mr. West to speak in their dioceses?

Although I would agree with Dr. Smith that we must “be very cautious about questioning the judgment of loyal bishops”, I do not believe caution should absolutely keep us from questioning their judgment. For instance, a little more questioning of the “loyal bishop” who used to head the Archdiocese of Boston may have saved some children there from being victimized by pedophile priests. I said in my own blog piece that I did not fully trust the judgment of Cardinal Rigali myself, even though I recognized his gifts as a pastor and leader. Certainly, it is sometimes true that “to assert that one has found serious errors (Eden’s Thesis, 63, “ET”) that have escaped the notice of bishops who have a legitimate claim to be judges of the fidelity of an author’s work suggests that one is lacking in docility and humility.” But this is not always the case.

And once again, this is another fallacy. By saying Eden “lacks humility”, the issue is being deflected from the substance of her argument – namely, that some bishops may have been ignorant of some of these “finer theological points” that theologians such as Dr. Schindler are aware of because theological insight is the charism of theologians and not always that of bishops. It has been a long time, at least in this country, since bishops were chosen on the basis of their theological prowess or aptitude. And in fact, Dr. Smith seems to concede this when she says, “I would advise those with master’s degrees (really anyone) to be very cautious about questioning the judgment of loyal bishops” and to approach them privately rather than make it public. Yet, Smith still wants to leave the impression that by pitting herself against a number of “loyal bishops”, Eden has demonstrated that she is wrong and they are necessarily right. Once again, this is the impression the “careless reader” may take away from it.

Smith says, “Some may find that it smacks of real chutzpah that Eden took the opportunity of Cardinal Rigali’s address to the Theology of the Body conference calling for promotion of the Theology of the Body to ‘release’ a thesis accusing West of making errors in his presentation of Church teaching.” First of all, I think it is interesting that Smith said “some may find” rather than “I find”. It is as though she is accusing Eden of “chutzpah” but allowing herself the “out” of defending herself by saying, “
I didn’t say she had chutzpah; I said some might think that”. Secondly, and more to the point, although it is a bit audacious, Eden is indeed helping fulfill Rigali’s desire to see TOB “mined and proclaimed” (ET, Preface, xi).

14. Faulty Evidence.

I agree with Dr. Smith here. However, I believe that West has been responsible for some “strange ideas”, if for no other reason than he sometimes does not issue the proper caveats and clarifications.

15. Too Much Information.

Dr. Smith says that “Scholars need to respect the intelligence of their readers and not give them information they can be presumed to know.” Smith goes on to quote Eden’s clarification on what an episcopal blessing and an
imprimatur is and is not. Smith states that “it is doubtful that any of Eden’s readers ... need instruction ... that an imprimatur does not imply agreement with everything a presenter says.” I disagree with Dr. Smith here. There is a great deal of confusion with regards to what an imprimatur is and is not. One of the most common responses against West’s critics is that “his books have imprimaturs, so we shouldn’t question anything in them”. On one of Eden’s articles on “Headline Bistro” in which she critiqued West, Eden, Kevin Tierney, and Myself had to correct numerous misunderstandings regarding imprimaturs as given by West supporters. In fact, the conversation became a discussion of imprimaturs rather than Ms. Eden’s article. It can be found here: http://www.headlinebistro.com/hb/en/columnists/eden/082610.html.

16. Range of a Thesis.

I agree that Ms. Eden has bitten off more than she could chew in her thesis. Nonetheless, she does make many excellent and valid points.

However, Dr. Smith states that “it would have been best had [Eden] confined herself to critiquing West’s
Theology of the Body Explained. ... authors generally speak more freely in columns and with less precision. Their most considered thought is to be found in their more formal presentations.” However, as I pointed out on Sr. Lorraine’s blog, the problem with West is generally in his “popular presentations” where he “speaks freely” and with “less precision” and not in his more “considered thought” as found in TOB Explained. Most who listen to West will never read his TOB Explained and thus have their “misunderstandings” clarified.

C. Response to Smith’s Concluding Remarks.

Dr. Smith states that in her opinion, “nothing in Eden's thesis, gives me any reason to believe that West is claiming some discontinuity of the TOB with Church teaching.” I do not think West is “claiming” a discontinuity either – in fact, he often quotes St. Augustine, St. Bernard, St. Louis de Montfort, St. Teresa, and other Saints from our Tradition. However, as I stated on my blog, West “cherry-picks” these Saints as well as the Tradition as a whole. West certainly believes his teaching is in “continuity” with our Tradition. However, as I stated on my blog, his thinking does not seem to be permeated by the preconciliar sources, even if he uses a number of “proof-texts” from our Tradition.

Dr. Smith says that “Those who have concerns with the work of Christopher West should publish in respectable journals so that there is some hope that the work will need to respect standards of fairness.” And yet, when Dr. Schindler offered “Communio” as a forum with which to discuss this issue, West refused.


Following the release of Dr. Smith’s initial essay (
http://tob.catholicexchange.com/2010/09/29/2345/), Dr. Gerard Nadal of “Coming Home” responded in the combox by asking, “is it at all possible to put together a day, or weekend of reconciliation, both academic and personal, to discuss openly and academically the differences and seek consensus, as well as take time to break bread with one another?” I think this is an excellent suggestion and is really the only way I see this issue getting resolved.

Dr. Janet Smith and I have exchanged private emails regarding this debate over the past month or so, ever since I contacted her and referred her to my blog article that I had just published. All of our exchanges have been very cordial, respectful, and fruitful – we found much common ground. In our exchanges, my previous impression of Dr. Smith as a beautiful woman of God who had a profound gift for teaching and a sharp mind was confirmed. Although we are on “opposite sides” of this debate, our ability to approach each other charitably has enabled us to do some bridge-building. We need more of this. And I believe Dr. Nadal’s suggestion is a way to achieve this.

In his next comment, Dr. Nadal went on to give his reasoning for his suggestion: “I’m a firm believer that once you sit down to a table filled with pasta, great meats, good wine and followed by great coffee and italian pastry, you can’t quite go at someone in print with anything sharper than a butter knife. ... I honestly believe that the TOB community’s scholars and speakers need to come together over good food and wine, as a family, and look one another in the eye. ... Harsh words are easily written when we have no personal relationship with the object of our ire. Telephone calls and private emails tend to become the means of communication when airing differences between people who fellowship regularly, and tend to be characterized more by loving forbearance.”

One of the things I said to Dr. Smith when her critique was still “in the works” was that this was going to be a never-ending cycle. Eden would not be the last to critique West, I said. And when another critique is inevitably published, she or others will feel compelled to respond. After the response, the “critics” would reply. After this, another critique would be issued, and the cycle will continue. However, I said, these exchanges would not bring the two sides together but rather continue to reinforce the chasm or even further polarize the two sides. What would help bring the two sides closer together is the suggestion made by Dr. Nadal and for the excellent reasons he gives.

We have in the Church “principles for dialogue”. Vatican II, in its “Decree on Ecumenism”,
Unitatis Redintegratio, gives three chief principles for ecumenical dialogue. Although the Council had in mind “Catholics” and “Protestants” or “Catholics” and “Orthodox”, these principles also hold true for any two groups, including “West supporters” and “West critics”. We have seen the excellent progress made by certain ecumenical dialogue groups over the past 45 years. Catholics and various Protestant bodies have come together to issue “joint agreements”, such as “Catholics and Evangelicals Together” and the “Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on Justification”. Could we not do the same with this Theology of the Body debate?

I would recommend a five-day “mini-conference” between the key members in this debate. It would be held in a retreat-type atmosphere where they would gather at times for common prayer, for meals, and for socials. They would have certain “committees” with representatives from both sides working together on certain issues that have been sources of disagreement. They would also gather as a “large group” (with all present) to deliberate upon the agreements, disagreements, and resolutions arrived at in the committees. After the conference, I would recommend that the group be reconvened after all members had time to reflect upon what was discussed at the conference. There can be a second conference, shorter in length, where some final resolutions are made and a statement of agreement (and areas of continued disagreement) is issued. After this, I believe Dr. Nadal makes another excellent suggestion: “ perhaps a regular meeting of the principal members of the field could facilitate minor corrections as the need should arise, and also serve as a forum for ideas, encouragement, and renewed strength.” And get this: Dr. Nadal has even offered to send the wine!

I wish all my Christian brothers and sisters on both sides of this debate Godspeed and many blessings as we move forward, hopefully in Christian charity. I pray that we all keep the end in mind: for all eternity, we will all be in heaven together feasting at the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb”, and this present argument will all be water under the bridge.

In Cordibus Iesus et Mariae,

Wade St. Onge