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).
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
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
TOB: Response to Dr. Janet Smith