WADE ST. ONGE

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

TOB: The Silence that Speaks Volumes

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One of the great paradoxes that amaze me is how often people say more by what they don’t say than in what they do say. In the Theology of the Body debate, what struck me most was not what West’s defenders said, but what they failed or refused to respond to. It was as though they were practicing Lincoln’s dictum: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt”. This can be seen in the exchanges I had with two of Christopher West’s main defenders – Dr. Janet Smith and Sr. Lorraine.

When West's disciples James J. Simons and Lauretta seemed to be professing and advocating West’s doctrine of “mature purity” and the “pure gaze of love” in the combox of Dr. David Delaney’s article about the need to continue to practice custody of the eyes regardless of one’s level of purity, I had to repeatedly bring up the issue because it was met with silence and remind Sr. Lorraine and Dr. Smith that they had not responded. In the end, when pressed for a clear answer, Sr. Lorraine responded, but dodged the issue and was careful not to commit herself to a clear position and avoid making a clear judgment upon West’s position.

In post #46, Dr. Smith, critiquing Dr. Delaney’s article, stated: “Delaney spends some time discussing what behavior West thinks possible for those who have achieved ‘mature purity.’ He seems to acknowledge that West is not advising imprudent behavior. Yet, he tells us that West believes that ‘mature purity’ means that ‘Rather than turning away from temptations, it is an achievement in which one no longer need turn away.’ Delaney gives us no passages where West says this. He certainly doesn’t say this in his presabbatical statement”.

In post #49, I replied with the following: “What Dr. Smith is saying West ‘does not’ believe is something one of his most avid listeners ‘does’ believe he is saying. ‘James’, on Sr. Lorraine’s blog, who has heard West over 100 times, does not seem to have these same distinctions in his mind that West has in his”. [This was the same James who would write an article which bordered on advocating Christian nudism - something Sr. Lorraine and Dr. Smith never responded to and remained silent on, both here and when it was brought to their attention afterwards in other comboxes].

In post #59, I substantiated this from West's own works: “I am currently reading my notes for Presentation #4 in West’s revised [DVD] ‘An Introduction to the Theology of the Body’. According to my notes (some of this is word for word, some of it is paraphrased), West asks, ‘Do we stare at the sidewalks for the rest of our lives?’ No, he says, this is merely the ‘purgative stage’. We must get to the ‘illuminative stage’, which is where ‘we begin to see things through God’s eyes’. ‘Christ’s words are an invitation to look at the body ‘purely’. We become more and more filled with love, making it safe’. He then says, ‘the goal is the virtue of purity: an ever greater awareness of the gratuitous beauty of the human body’. He concludes with a quote from St. John Climacus: ‘someone at the sight of a beautiful body should feel impelled to glorify the Creator and be filled with Love’ (No caveats issued here) [Wade: The full context of the quote (Step 15: On Incorruptible Purity and Chastity) from St. John's The Ladder of Divine Ascent proves more against West's position than for it, but that is for another post]. I think he ended this presentation with the ‘story of the two bishops’ as well ... Bishop Nonnus was ‘virtuous’ for ‘staring intently’ at a ‘beautiful half-naked prostitute’, while the other bishop was merely ‘continent’. West rhetorically asks his audience, ‘Which bishop has experienced the ethos of the redemption of the body?’ This is what the audience takes from this: ‘I want to be able to stare at a woman for an extended period of time like ‘the virtuous bishop’ did and not lust’. And that is the goal they strive for and what they set out to do and ‘practice’ attaining”.

In post #67, I asked for a response. In post #68, Sr. Lorraine responded to another poster, but did not tackle my challenge. In post #75, I once again asked for a response to these previous posts. Diane of Te Deum Laudamus also called attention to this in a couple of her posts, reprinting things I had written earlier and asking for a response.

Finally, in post #76, Sr. Lorraine responded: “Hello Wade, In regard to your comment about James and Lauretta’s posts, if James says that in his case the sight of naked people in various contexts has not led him to lust, then we have to take him at his word. Maybe his experience is not typical. In one of his comments he does quote the place where West says he’s not recommending that men look for opportunities to ‘test’ their purity by looking at scantily clad women. From reading his comments, I got the sense that he was basing them largely on his own experience. If other people react to such situations differently, then they should turn away. He also said he’s not recommending nude beaches. In any case, I think that Lauretta’s point brings out the ways that West has tried to help his audiences deal with lust. To see the person is an effective way, because lust depersonalizes people into objects. I think he has the same goal and goes about it in a different way. Perhaps I’m not clear as to exactly what your position is. Are you saying it’s always wrong to look at an exposed or partially exposed body? But wouldn’t it depend on the context? I think we would agree that in medical situations it is certainly necessary. So it’s not something that’s intrinsically evil. It would also depend on a person’s own tendencies and how well they can control them”.

Notice how this dodges the issue: namely, whether West teaches that we no longer need to practice custody of the eyes once we attain “mature purity”.

So in post #78, I respond,
(1) “Sr. Lorraine ... you say, Perhaps I’m not clear as to exactly what your position is. Are you saying it’s always wrong to look at an exposed or partially exposed body?Not exactly. What I am saying is that no matter how pure we are, we need to still practice ‘custody of the eyes’ ... Maybe [James’] case is ‘not typical’, but West leads his listeners to believe that it ‘can’ and ‘should’ and even ‘will’ be ‘typical’ if we would only ‘practice’ the teachings of ‘Theology of the Body’. But does this harmonize with the Catholic Tradition?
(2) You say, ‘In one of his comments he does quote the place where West says he’s not recommending that men look for opportunities to ‘test’ their purity by looking at scantily clad women’. But Sister, West is more specific than this. Look at the quote from West that James reprinted on Post #12 in your blog combox: ‘I am not suggesting the average man should look for opportunities to ‘test’ his purity by gazing upon scantily clad women. Indeed, the large majority of men must heed the Old Testament admonition to ‘turn away your eyes.’ But John Paul II is calling men to so much more.’ This is what Christopher West is saying: The ‘average men’ (i.e. like the ‘continent but not yet virtuous’ bishop) should not gaze upon scantily-clad women. The ‘large majority’ of men are like that bishop and thus should practice custody of the eyes. ‘But’ John Paul II is calling us to ‘much more’ because we *can* and *should* become like the ‘virtuous bishop’ and lovingly and confidently continue to gaze at a scantily-clad woman without lusting. I believe this quote shows that it is not a simple misunderstanding, but that West is teaching this ‘explicitly’.
(3) Also, Sister Lorraine, how would you respond to my notes on Mr. West’s lecture ... Do you agree that this can easily lead West’s listeners to a position that both Lauretta and James take?

Sr. Lorraine responded in post #79 but did not really address the point. She said, “I agree with your saying that we need to both see the person and exercise continence. But I think somehow we’re talking past each other because there are other aspects to this whole question”. She goes on to quote Sirach’s admonition to “turn away your eyes from a shapely woman”, and says that this “retains its value”. However, the point John Paul II makes in his treatment of Sirach is that “Sirach does not represent the highest aspect of ethos. So a crucial question here is just what that transformation of ethos entails and how that bears on all of this?” At this point it appears Sr. Lorraine will address post #78. Instead, she ends up avoiding the issue by juxtaposing ethic and ethos, or legalism and interior transformation. She tells us that for Sirach, a woman “appears more often as an occasion of sin or as a downright seducer of whom to beware”, whereas in the Sermon on the Mount, “Jesus transforms that ethos because he makes it more a matter of the person’s interior heart”. She then goes on to quote John Paul: “The look expresses what is in the heart.” In other words, Sr. Lorraine says, “who we are is how we look”. Concluding, she says: “I think that’s the key point, the transformation of the heart. It’s the difference between a lustful look that comes out of a lustful heart, and [a pure look] that comes out of a pure heart”. Finally, she gets to the issue, but although she seems to contradict West, she makes a statement that is equivocal enough to be interpreted in a way agreeable to West’s position: “Yes, at times a person with a pure heart may need to look away if a temptation arises. But that’s very different from someone whose heart is already given over to lust, and is seeking an outlet for that desire by ogling women”. On the one hand, she seems to agree with me that custody of the eyes is not completely indispensible for the man of mature purity because he may have to look away (although he may not have to). However, on the other hand, she could be speaking hypothetically. She could be saying, in harmony with West, that “a man of mature purity would have to look away if a temptation arises, but a man who has achieved mature purity, by definition, will not experience temptation – he will have the ‘pure gaze of love’.”

Because Sr. Lorraine took an equivocal position, I formulated directed questions in order to force her to take a clear position. I will reproduce selections from post #84, which included my directed questions, with selections from post #90 directly underneath each, which consist of Sr. Lorraine’s responses. Notice again she responds equivocally:

5. John Paul II does speak about “a pure way of looking at others” and the “capability of respecting the spousal meaning of the body”. But you (and West) make the leap to, “He doesn’t say looking away from others, but looking at them.” That is where I disagree, at least with the implication you are both drawing.
5. I think John Paul in speaking of looking at others means that we gradually grow to that point of having greater purity of heart. My quoting of him earlier in that regard was meant to emphasize that, and not to deny the need to look away at times.

7. Now, with that in mind, I would argue that the man who attains “mature purity” will “continue” to practice custody of the eyes, and therefore, very seldom will his gaze ever dwell for a lengthy period of time on a beautiful woman.
7. yes, agreed that practicing custody of the eyes should be done as needed.

8. “Mature purity” is “not enough” to guarantee a man will never lust if he stares at a beautiful woman, and that is because of (a) concupiscence and because of (b) the devil. In fact, the longer he continues to stare, the greater the possibility that his eyes and his mind will begin to turn towards her sexual value, he will get aroused, and he will be tempted and perhaps sin. Thus, if there is no need to stare at such a woman, a man should not stare.
8. yes, agreed, don’t stare if there’s no need

Notice what Sr. Lorraine does. In the 7th point, she says “yes” following my statement that the man who attains “mature purity” will continue to practice custody of the eyes, but then qualifies it: "yes, agreed that practicing custody of the eyes should be done as needed”. But that is not what I said. That was her way of framing what I said so she could agree with my position but also allow herself the necessary “wiggle room” to agree with West. She can say, if asked by West, “all I said was that custody of the eyes should be done as needed. I didn’t say the man who has attained mature purity would have to regularly practice custody of the eyes rather than look with the pure gaze of love”. But if asked by me, she can say, “Wade, I said ‘yes’ when you asked if I agree with your 7th point”. She does the same thing with the 8th point – she says “yes” to my position, but then said that what she “agrees” with was that we “[not] stare if there’s no need”. That is beside my point. Of course we should not stare if there is “no need” (and in hindsight, I wish I would have just omitted that last sentence, as it provided an "out"), but that does not answer the question of what a man who has attained “mature purity” should do when he sees a provocatively-dressed woman, and why he should take that action.

In post #93, I gave it one last crack. I said, “I think we need to discuss: ‘how far does the transformation of ethos go in this life?’ I think for this answer, we must look to the lives of the saints. I do not know of any examples of saints who stopped practicing continence or ever claimed total victory over concupiscence (they remained ‘on their guard’ until death)”.
In post #95, I gave some concession and stated: “Sr. Lorraine, we are in substantial agreement. However, based on what they have said, James and Lauretta would not agree (or would not have agreed) with some of what we agreed on. ... It seems apparent to me that West’s audience is leaving with misunderstandings ... I will once again refer you back to the notes I took of his DVD recording ... I will once again ask the question: ‘Why is Mr. West’s listeners leaving his presentations with these misunderstandings? Why do they not have the distinctions Sr. Lorraine and I agreed on straight in their minds?’

However, Sr. Lorraine did not give a response to these posts, so that is where our conversation on this issue ended. I never did get a clear answer from Sr. Lorraine as to whether she agreed with West’s position as outlined in Post #59 or whether she disagreed with any of his understandings.

Dr. Smith, for her part, did not equivocate. In fact, most of the time she was quite clear. However, she used a different strategy in her defense of West. The main responses – and one might even argue the “official” responses – given to (a) Dawn Eden’s thesis – “Towards a Climate of Chastity: Bringing Catechesis on the Theology of the Body Into the Hermeneutic of Continuity”, and (b) Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s essay – “Dietrich von Hildebrand, Catholic Philosopher, and Christopher West, Modern Enthusiast: Two Very Different Approaches to Love, Marriage, and Sex”, were authored by Dr. Janet Smith in her respective articles, “Engaging Dawn Eden’s Thesis”, and “The Need to Read Carefully” – both of which I responded to (here and here).

In the combox of my response to Dr. Smith’s critique of Dr. von Hildebrand, “dcs” aptly described her approach: “It seems as though West's defenders believe it is enough to answer just a couple of points from each of West’s detractors, and that will suffice to dismiss their work even though substantial points are left unanswered. I had not read Dr. von Hildebrand's essay in full for some time so I had forgotten just how many substantial arguments she made against West's work. (And if one followed the reasoning of West's defenders, the fact that Dr. von Hildebrand has brought a number of flaws in West's approach to light is sufficient to reject West's work in toto.)

It is a similar approach to that of Dr. Waldstein in his response to Dr. Schindler’s critique, as I described in my response to Dr. Smith’s critique of Ms. Eden’s thesis: “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. 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, 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’.

In fact, when Dr. Waldstein and Dr. Smith issued their responses to Dr. Schindler’s critique, what caught my attention was that neither of them really responded to the actual substance of Schindler’s arguments. Dr. Smith would do the same in her rebuttals to the critiques of Ms. Eden and Dr. von Hildebrand. In fairness, when I pointed this out to Dr. Smith, she countered with what she said from the beginning – namely, that Dr. Schindler did not substantiate his points with citations from West’s work and therefore neither West nor his defenders had the obligation to respond. [Of course, when I did later substantiate some of his points and make some of my own with actual citations from West's work, which included the notes from his DVD series I reprinted in the combox of Dr. Delaney's article (Post #59), there was no response, and still has not been].

Kevin Tierney of Common Sense Catholicism, in his response to Dr. Smith’s critique of Ms. Eden’s thesis, describes this strategy of dismantling the flaws found in style and tone and nitpicking the weakest argument without touching the substance of the main (and stronger) arguments and the thesis as a whole:

At least half the essay deals with no evidence Miss Eden cited, but simply ‘the tone’ and how it is off putting ... Before any substance is dealt with, Dr: Smith says Miss Eden: (1) Lacks shame in admitting she is wrong. (In the paragraph “Refusal to admit error); (2) Lacking in docility and humility, in essence, arrogant (“Teaching Authority”); (3) Full of Chutzpah; (4) Orchestrated a marketing ploy to get rich by timing the release of her thesis with the holding of the TOB Congress, turning her from an obscure graduate student to someone flying around the country to give talks; (5) Whiny; (6) Disrespects the intelligence of her readers (in other words, engages in intellectual dishonesty). ... [The implication is that] this should limit if not outright cancel anything Miss Eden says”.

He continues: “In a near 6,000 word essay, it takes her around 2200 words to finally ‘engage’ the thesis at hand. ... [But] Dr. Smith again engages in poisoning the well. She simply notes she will critique one, count it, one point Miss Eden made. This will be representative of her whole thesis. I offer a different alternative, the same one I offered to Sr. Lorraine. The reason people are engaging the work only tangentially is because there are some things West says that cannot be explained away. When the evidence is presented, West’s case collapses”.

Mr. Tierney then goes on to demonstrate how Dr. Smith’s critique fails to convincingly dismantle even the one point she attempted to tackle. (This can also be seen in my own response to Dr. Smith’s critique of Ms. Eden’s thesis).

In the end, Mr. Tierney points out the issues Dr. Smith failed to respond to, including West's "faulty understanding of the 'Two Bishops' (the story of the conversion of St. Pelagia)" and the need for "presenting Church teaching with modesty (as Paul VI commands)", to which I would add the primacy of filiality over sexuality – one of the strongest arguments against West and one that Dr. Schindler also pointed out in his critiques].

He then goes on to say: "So far the main critiques of Miss Eden’s thesis have involved an author whose character assassinations were so wild Catholic Exchange removed them (Christina King), someone who says that West’s interpretations of things require absolutely no evidence (Fr. Loya), someone who admitted they didn’t have time to really critique the work (Sr. Lorraine) and now someone who spends 2200 words engaging in the most uncharitable of mud-slinging ... I will repeat my call: Can we get some of our friends on the other side of the aisle to actually deal with the evidence presented?

The reference Mr. Tierney made to Fr. Loya is another excellent example of the failure to cite evidence. This begun when Dr. Smith defended Christopher West’s phallic interpretation of the submersion of the Easter candle into the baptismal font. In his defense, she wrote:

When I heard West in his first series of talks claim that the submersion of the Easter Candle into the holy water font was sexual imagery used by the Church to show that, through baptism, spiritual children are born, I was appalled. Actually any reference to phallic symbols appalls me – I think mine may be a prudish response – and, in this context, I thought it was vulgar and irreverent. Imagine my surprise to learn that liturgists and theologians from the early days of the Church have understood the Easter Candle just as West does”.

However, after repeated demands to actually cite a single “liturgist or theologian from the early days of the Church” or “Church Father” were all met with silence, West supporter, Fr. Thomas Loya, finally decided to take a shot at it. Once again, Mr. Tierney explains:

After stating that it is clear that the Eastern Church looks at the paschal candle in a phallic sexual way (that the descent of the Paschal Candle into holy water 3 times is analogous to a husband penetrating his wife in coitus), we hear [from Fr. Thomas Loya] this gem (bold is my emphasis):

Acknowledging the Paschal candle’s phallic imagery does not require a quote from a particular Father of the Church. It is only one example of the spousal character of the church’s entire liturgical life’.

Fr. Loya states Christopher West, the fathers and mystics of the Church, and John Paul II are right, and their critics are wrong. (1) He has yet to show One Church Father who says the immersion of the candle in the waters is akin to sexual intercourse; (2) He has yet to name one mystic who believes this; (3) He hasn't even tried to show where Pope John Paul II said this”.

Just as Dr. Smith did with Ms. Eden's thesis, so did she do with Dr. von Hildebrand’s essay. In my response to Dr. Smith’s critique, I stated the following:

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.

I will give a sample of those arguments from Dr. von Hildebrand that did not receive a response from Dr. Smith nor any of West’s defenders:

REVERENCE
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 [Holy Sex]). 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”.

ANALOGY and MYSTERY
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.

ASCETICISM AND SUFFERING
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?
I.5. “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 ... It is sheer illusion to believe that moral perfection can be pursued without this purifying discipline”.

SHAME
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)”.
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”.

Just as with Ms. Eden, Dr. von Hildebrand made excellent points which still have not been acknowledged. There still has been no attempt from West’s defenders to acknowledge what Ms. Eden and Dr. von Hildebrand got right and bring it to bear on West's theology and teaching.

Still, Dr. Janet Smith declares, “Sister Lorraine and I have answered many of Eden's 'charges' against West and shown that they don't stick. I will soon have a piece out on Alice von Hildebrand's critique. It fares no better”.

Of course, she, along with other West defenders, left substantial portions unanswered from not only Ms. Eden and Dr. von Hildebrand, but also myself. As I said also in my response to Dr. Smith’s critique of Dr. von Hildebrand’s essay: “[West’s] 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”.

To see how effective these strategies are, you need only read what West’s supporters have to say about the critiques. Scott Maentz, in a combox following an article he had written, mentioned Dr. Smith’s “intelligent” critique of Ms. Eden's "contentious" thesis repeatedly. However, when challenged by Mr. Tierney, Mr. Maentz, to his credit, did visit Mr. Tierney’s blog. However, rather than respond to any of the excellent points Mr. Tierney made on his blog, Mr. Maentz made an ad hominem attack on Mr. Tierney’s air of “intellectual superiority” and gave a speech about what true Christianity is vis-a-vis intellectual pride and phariseeism. Of course, a West supporter reading it would have taken Mr. Maentz’ ad hominem attack to be a sufficient refutation of everything Mr. Tierney wrote on his blog, just as Mr. Maentz took Dr. Smith’s responses to Ms. Eden and Dr. von Hildebrand to be sufficient even though she did not respond to most of their main points.

As I said when I first withdrew from this debate out of frustration: “I have … been given no response to Sr. Lorraine's critique of Dawn Eden’s ‘Ten Themes’ nor have I received a response to my challenge to ‘James’ that even if we have 'conquered' lust, we are still well advised to turn our eyes from a beautiful woman lest God withdraws that grace in the face of our self-confidence and the license we have given ourselves to look due to our perceived ‘high degree of mastery over lust’ (to which I received enthusiastic feedback from certain ‘West critics’ who thanked me for putting into words the very concern and objection they have had for some time but could not quite formulate or put a finger on). The only response given by a supporter of West was a commenter who did not say a word about my argument, but went on to praise James and speak about how s/he was going to print his material off and run with it, and finished off with an ad hominem attack … The issues are being deflected with the charges of ‘jealously’, ‘impure motives’, ‘fighting fellow soldiers’, [lacking charity], etc. To me, when I see ad hominem attacks, red herrings, and finally silence (when others have been ‘called on’ these fallacies) dominating a discussion of issues, it is usually indicative that the other has no substantial response to the issues raised”. The response - or non-response - given by Mr. Maentz to Mr. Tierney after reading the latter's blog provide a textbook example of this.

Monday, February 13, 2012

TOB: West, Fanaticism, and Tradition

“Fanaticism” is defined as “the character, spirit, or conduct of a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics”. [1] The latest discussions I have had with defenders of Christopher West’s theology have made me realize that there is a widespread religious “fanaticism” toward him and his work that results in some bizarre and untenably absurd interpretations of the sources of Catholic Tradition. A single example should suffice.

We’ll begin by playing the “Sesame Street” game
: “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things doesn’t belong, can you tell which thing is not like the other?”

Ready? Here goes ...

“To defend his purity, Saint Francis of Assisi rolled in the snow, Saint Benedict threw himself into a thornbush, Saint Bernard plunged into an icy pond, and John Paul II prayed for the grace to look at provocative women without lusting”.

Now, both West’s critics and defenders would choose the last one, and they would be right. But in the new pedagogical approach I was trained in when pursuing my education degree, it was not enough to get the right answer; you had to explain why it was the right answer. On that count, West’s defenders would fail – or at least those I have been dialoguing with lately would.

West’s critics would say that the last one does not belong because it is not a Catholic response to our tendency to lust. West’s defenders, on the other hand, would say that the last one doesn’t belong because it is the ideal response to our tendency to lust.

As I stated in my last article, “The ‘Smoking Guns’ of West’s Theology”, West believes and teaches that when we grow enough in chastity, we should dispense with practicing “custody of the eyes” which is merely an initial “negative” step for those in the “purgative stage” of purity, and should instead look upon women and their God-given beauty with the “pure gaze of love”. [2]

However, the Catholic Tradition considers “custody of the eyes” indispensible regardless of how much one grows in chastity – and in fact, as Catholic psychotherapist Marshall Fightlin points out, “growth in the virtue of chastity ... is marked, not by a decreased need for custody of the eyes, but by increased ease in the habit of custody of the eyes”. [3] Genevieve S. Kineke explains the reason for the need to practice custody of the eyes: “[men] are naturally hard-wired to act on certain stimuli”. [4] This is corroborated by Doctor St. Alphonsus Liguori – the greatest moral theologian in Church history, who wrote that “a deliberate glance at a person of a different sex often enkindles an infernal spark, which consumes the soul”. [5] As Dr. Hahn told West during their argument on the set of “Franciscan University Presents”, there is no way to know one has ever achieved such a state of “mature purity” that looking at a provocative woman would not cause concupiscence to flare up and overtake him. [6] Once again, St. Alphonsus agrees: “Brother Roger, a Franciscan of singular purity, being once asked why he was so reserved in his intercourse with women, replied, that when men avoid the occasions of sin, God preserves them; but when they expose themselves to danger, they are justly abandoned by the Lord, and easily fall into some grievous transgressions”. [7] At the very least, “custody of the eyes” is the proper response because there still exists a “positive” sense of “shame”. Dietrich von Hildebrand, in his In Defense of Purity, taught that “positive shame” is not a “protection from lust” but rather concerns privacy and intimacy that must be protected even apart from any danger of lust. According to von Hildebrand, the “unveiling” of the body is such an intimate and personal act (like a secret) that it should be shared only with those closest to us, such as our spouses or our parents when growing up. [8]

To prove the Catholic position, I began to look for Magisterial support. I found this from the encyclical Sacra Virginitas written by Pope Pius XII:
It should be noted, as indeed the Fathers and Doctors of the Church teach, that we can more easily struggle against and repress the wiles of evil and the enticements of the passions if we do not struggle directly against them, but rather flee from them as best we may. For the preserving of chastity, according to the teaching of Jerome, flight is more effective than open warfare: 'Therefore I flee, lest I be overcome.' Flight must be understood in this sense, that not only do we diligently avoid occasion of sin, but especially that in struggles of this kind we lift our minds and hearts to God ... Flight and alert vigilance, by which we carefully avoid the occasions of sin, have always been considered by holy men and women as the most effective method of combat in this matter”. [9]

Pius XII goes on to directly contradict, almost prophetically, the position held by West: “Today however it does not seem that everybody holds the same opinion. Some indeed claim that all Christians, and the clergy in particular, should not be ‘separated from the world’ as in the past, but should be ‘close to the world;’ therefore they should ‘take the risk’ and put their chastity to the test in order to show whether or not they have the strength to resist; therefore, they say, let young clerics see everything so that they may accustom themselves to gaze at everything with equanimity, and thus render themselves immune to all temptations. For this reason they readily grant young clerics the liberty to turn their eyes in any direction without the slightest concern for modesty; they may attend motion pictures, even those forbidden by ecclesiastical censorship; they may peruse even obscene periodicals; they may read novels which are listed in the Index of forbidden books or prohibited by the Natural Law. ... But it is easily seen that this method of educating and training the clergy to acquire the sanctity proper to their calling is wrong and harmful. For he that loveth danger shall perish in it;’ [Ecclus 3:27] most appropriate in this connection is the admonition of Augustine: ‘Do not say that you have a chaste mind if your eyes are unchaste, because an unchaste eye betrays an unchaste heart.’” [10]

The text could not be clearer – unless one has a fanatic devotion to West. In that case, West must be right – there can be no other possibility, and thus he must be defended regardless of what the Tradition says. But being the “orthodox Catholics” they are, those with such fanatic devotion know they cannot contradict the Tradition lest they be guilty of heresy. Therefore, what then happens is this: the Tradition gets twisted and a false synthesis is created so that they can say that both are true. In other words, West is teaching in continuity with the Tradition.

The display of mental gymnastics by Deacon Jim Russell [his words are in RED] illustrates this perfectly. [11] Unwilling to acknowledge that West might contradict Pius XII, Russell draws upon secular psychology and uses the idea of the “fight vs. flight” response that humans instinctually react with when facing a dangerous situation. Russell does not reference the Catholic Tradition; he does not attempt to research and find what the Doctors and Fathers of the Church have taught, or what previous Popes have written on the subject. Rather, in his vain attempt at finding anything in the Tradition, he borrows an idea and its corresponding phraseology from secular psychology and arbitrarily assigns to the “fight” aspect West’s idea of “the pure gaze of love” and to the “flight” response the Catholic admonition of practicing “custody of the eyes”.

Deacon Jim says: “
What is the larger context of this papal quote? You are attempting to use the quote to assert that he supports the notion that the *only* answer to temptation is *flight*, not ‘fight’. But that's not what the Holy Father says.” Deacon Jim goes on to cite paragraphs 57 and 58 of Sacra Virginitas, and continues: “[Pius XII] says, clearly, ‘that we can MORE EASILY struggle against and repress the wiles of evil and the enticements of the passions if we do not struggle directly against them, but rather flee from them as best we may.’ You seem to gloss over the phrase ‘more easily struggle,’ Wade. Firstly, ‘struggle’? So, the Holy Father *does* see this as a ‘fight’, doesn't he? Secondly, he is asserting that the ‘more easy’ way to ‘fight’ is to flee. Notice, Wade, he never says that the *only* way to fight is to flee. And neither do you, and neither does Liguori, and neither does Catholic Tradition. And neither does West. What you are looking for, but will never find, is support from Catholic Tradition that the *only* legitimate response to temptation is ‘flight’, not ‘fight’ … The Pius quote is by no means the magic bullet that makes your case. Pius doesn’t eliminate the idea of direct struggle anywhere in this quote”. Deacon Jim then went on to quote paragraph 48, and commented: “Hmmmm....stirring on his *soldiers* to the prize of.... *purity*.....’let him who can’.....FIGHT, conquer and receive his reward.’ Pope Pius using St. Jerome. Soldiers. Purity. Fight. Conquer. He then exclaimed,CATHOLIC TRADITION”. [12]

I simply responded by saying, “what a display of mental gymnastics”, pointed out he did not respond to the quotations I posted from St. Alphonsus, and appealed to the reader to decide for himself whether any of this made sense. [13] But Deacon Jim challenged me: “
Will you be able to respond respectfully with something other than saying it's ‘mental gymnastics’ to put #54 of "Sacra Virginitas" in context with #s 48, 57 and 58?” [14]

I knew it was a lost cause with Deacon Jim at this point, and I figured with few exceptions the readers would agree with me, so I was not going to bother to respond. But Kevin O’Brien took up the challenge. Because Kevin deleted some of these previous posts from Deacon Jim as he was in the process of banning him for a second time from his blog, [15] he had to re-post or summarize some of what Deacon Jim wrote and then proceed to give commentary:

“Here’s
a taste of what Deacon Jim was doing in the comments I deleted. He was claiming that paragraph 48 of the papal document in question encourages ‘fighting’ rather than ‘fleeing’ temptation, which in the context of our discussion on West means ‘staring at a naked lady other than your wife’ rather than ‘averting your eyes’. … This is a prime example of a terrible misreading. Pope Pius and St. Jerome are talking about commiting oneself by vow to lifelong virginity. They’re saying that such a commitment will challenge one’s powers to remain pure and to avoid temptation. They are exhorting consecrated virgins and lifelong celibates to fight for their purity. In no sense is St. Jerome encouraging someone to ‘fight and conquer’ by engaging temptation by staring at naked bodies. Deacon Jim is arguing that Wade's position ‘flight is better than fight’ when encountering sexual temptation is contradicted by his misreading of this paragraph, and that his misreading of this paragraph amounts to proof of West’s errors in Catholic Tradition. To turn around the words of this simple paragraph is not the kind of thing I will let a clergyman get away with on this blog.” [16]

After reprinting paragraph 48 for his blog readers, Kevin continues: “And now Deacon Jim is saying that paragraphs 57 & 58 of ‘Sacra Virginitas’ support his position that ‘fighting’ is better than ‘fleeing’, meaning in the context of this debate that engaging in near occasions of sin is better than shunning them”. He then reprinted the paragraphs and appealed to the reader, just as I did: “Judge for yourself if Pius is encouraging us to engage occasions of sin or to flee from them”. [17]

Concluding, Kevin says: “The argument here is not merely ‘fighting’ by ‘resisting temptation’, the context is your equivocation on what this ‘fight’ consists of. This ‘fight’ does not consist of deliberately engaging near occasions of sin. It does not consist of testing your mettle or the ‘maturity’ of your ‘purity’ by openly gazing on naked women. That is what this argument is about, but you keep trying to slither around and twist the terms”. [18]

Although I did not respond to Deacon Jim, I will now respond simply to show how contorted his defence of West is and how futile was his attempt at reconciling West with the Tradition.

Deacon Jim begins with the idea of “fight”. “Firstly, ‘struggle’? So, the Holy Father *does* see this as a ‘fight’, doesn't he? Yes he does. And what kind of “struggle” is Pius XII talking about? “Fleeing”. It is a “fight by means of flight”. That is precisely what Pius XII states: “*Flight* and alert vigilance, by which we carefully avoid the occasions of sin, have always been considered by holy men and women as the most effective method of *combat* in this matter”. In short, “flight” is the best way to “fight”. From here, we can see the absurdity of his next point.

Secondly, he is asserting that the ‘more easy’ way to ‘fight’ is to flee. Notice, Wade, he never says that the *only* way to fight is to flee … [Pius XII] says, clearly, ‘that we can MORE EASILY struggle against and repress the wiles of evil and the enticements of the passions if we do not struggle directly against them, but rather flee from them as best we may.’ You seem to gloss over the phrase ‘more easily struggle,’ Wade”. Hard as it is to believe, Deacon Jim is actually making this argument in all seriousness and seems to actually believe this is the correct interpretation. Deacon Jim would have us believe that Pius XII is actually teaching West’s doctrine of mature purity because the Pontiff is saying that it is not necessarily “best” to “flee” but that it is “easier” and thus advisable for those who have not attained “mature purity”. This is impossible when looking at it in the immediate context. After the Holy Father speaks about “flight [being] more effective than open warfare [fight]” and making it clear he is speaking of practicing “custody of the eyes” (something Deacon Jim agrees Pope Pius is teaching here), the Holy Father goes on to contrast this and juxtapose it with the erroneous alternative of “accustom[ing] themselves to gaze at everything with equanimity, and thus render themselves immune to all temptations”. In other words, the Holy Father contrasts practicing “custody of the eyes” or “flight” with Deacon Jim’s idea of “fight”, which is West’s doctrine of mature purity and the practice of the “pure gaze of love”.

Of course, Deacon Jim mischaracterizes my position: “You are attempting to use the quote to assert that he supports the notion that the *only* answer to temptation is *flight*, not ‘fight’. But that's not what the Holy Father says … What you are looking for, but will never find, is support from Catholic Tradition that the *only* legitimate response to temptation is ‘flight’, not ‘fight’”. If Deacon Jim would have been reading the comments in Kevin’s previous post with a view to learning my position and considering it honestly and fairly, he would have realized that I believe that the answer is both fight and flight – but in the sense of fighting by fleeing. [19]

After Deacon Jim was banned from Kevin’s blog, he sent me a private message with a quote from Theology of the Body: “I
n mature purity, man enjoys the fruits of victory over concupiscence”. [20] Deacon Jim asked, “Wade, what do you think this means?” I did not reply to him privately, but I re-posted the email on Kevin’s blog and commented, “Thanks to one non-contextualized quotation from John Paul II, we can not only dispense with everything that all of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church taught with regards to custody of the eyes, but we can re-define the scriptural and patristic notion of ‘spiritual warfare’ to mean that we continue to look upon scantily-clad women rather than looking away because the latter can in no way be classified as ‘fighting temptation’.” [21] That is indeed what Deacon Jim was trying to do: namely, absolutize one quotation from John Paul II in order to support the doctrine of mature purity and twist the rest of the Tradition to “support” this misinterpretation. This is the kind of eisegesis we are used to seeing from Protestants when they try to reconcile John 6 with their belief in the symbolic Eucharist: beginning with the position that the doctrine of the symbolic Eucharist must be correct, the rest of Scripture has to be twisted to support it.

Besides the strange attempts at reconciling the irreconcilable as with Deacon Jim, there is another response: namely, the knee-jerk reactions with a feeble attempt to defend the indefensible without having the necessary knowledge to even make a reasonable case. Here is what Pamela said in my article on “The ‘Smoking Guns’ of West’s Theology”:

I PRAISE St. Francis for jumping in a thorn bush at the SAME time I praise someone who says it is a holy and noble goal to reach a point in one's spirituality when one is not tempted by the naked body....a darn necessity these days in our culture or we're ALL doomed! ... It was an exhaustive hit piece on Christopher West, but nothing outside of gross speculation and personal opinions....or the odd use of random quotes from comment boxes??? What?! And your analysis of ‘Seminary’ was so bad ... I'm sorry. All vocations begin as a seed??? Nuns or Engaged Couples don't attend a seminary and THEY have vocations too! ... You DON'T ‘get it’ and for that I'm so sorry :( I'm ashamed that the National Catholic Register linked me to this article on my Kindle. They WILL be hearing from me. I want to go on but I think it's a lost cause ... all will be revealed someday! God bless”. [22]

This rant is more notable for what it fails to say than what it does say. Two of the most glaring omissions were these: there was no attempt to engage what St. Alphonsus said about “custody of the eyes” which clearly contradict West, and there was no comment on how West was looking young women he just met in the eyes, calling them by name, and telling them they were “beautiful women”.

She makes the same argument Deacon Jim made: namely, that it is better to “fight” (i.e. look “rightly” at provocative women) than “flee” (i.e. practice custody of the eyes). She also makes the same argument I have heard other disciples of West make: namely, that due to our immodest culture, we can no longer rely on practicing "custody of the eyes" but must instead learn to "look rightly" upon women regardless of their state of dress. This displays ignorance of the immodesty of previous cultures the Church has been called to evangelize and also ignores pertinent excerpts from the treatment of "mortification of the eyes" by St. Alphonsus, especially examples he gave of how the saints practiced custody of the eyes.

I asked her two questions and issued one challenge:

(1) Are you saying that St. Francis and St. Benedict and St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Augustine did not reach "mature purity" but that many today who have put the principles of Theology of the Body into practice have?

(2) If my analysis of West's definition of seminary was bad, then please correct me: why did the Fathers of the Council of Trent use the term "seminary" to identify schools in which priests would be trained? Educate me and all my readers on why the Church calls it a "seminary".

(3) I gave more than random quotes from comment boxes. I gave quotations from one of the 33 Doctors of the Church and the greatest moral theologian in Church history, St. Alphonsus Liguori. If you can achieve a synthesis between what St. Alphonsus writes in his chapter on "mortification of the eyes" and Christopher West's doctrine of mature purity, I would be happy to read it. [23]

I have yet to hear back from her. But I extend the questions and issue the challenge to any other defenders of West who feel they can give an adequate response.

Now, to come full circle: The quotation I used for the “Sesame Street” game was taken from St. Josemaria Escriva in his book, The Way. After stating, “To defend his purity, Saint Francis of Assisi rolled in the snow, Saint Benedict threw himself into a thorn bush, Saint Bernard plunged into an icy pond”, he asked, “You..., what have you done?” [24] Christopher West would respond, “I prayed for the grace to look upon women with the pure gaze of love and not lust”. I don't think
St. Josemaria would be too impressed with that answer.


1. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/fanaticism

2. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2012/02/tob-smoking-guns-of-wests-theology.html, C7

3. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2010/12/tob-debate-summary-of-west-errors.html, Exhibit #4

4. http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH, Comment #37

5. http://www.cathinfo.com/catholic.php?a=topic&t=14334

6. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2012/02/tob-smoking-guns-of-wests-theology.html, A1

7. http://www.cathinfo.com/catholic.php?a=topic&t=14334

8. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2010/12/tob-debate-summary-of-west-errors.html, Exhibit #3

9. Pope Pius XII, encyclical letter Sacra Virginitas [1954], 54 http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_25031954_sacra-virginitas_en.html

10. Ibid., 55

11. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/west-breast-chest-sex.html; http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/pope-pius-xii-contradicts-christopher.html

12. http://www.freezepage.com/1328711465TPESDDUUFN, Comments #6, 8

13. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/pope-pius-xii-contradicts-christopher.html, Comment #5

14. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/pope-pius-xii-contradicts-christopher.html, Comment #6

15. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/pope-pius-xii-contradicts-christopher.html, Comment #18

16. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/pope-pius-xii-contradicts-christopher.html, Comment #13

17. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/pope-pius-xii-contradicts-christopher.html, Comment #14

18. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/pope-pius-xii-contradicts-christopher.html, Comment #18

19. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/west-breast-chest-sex.html, Comment #75

20. http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2tb57.htm, Paragraph #7

21. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/pope-pius-xii-contradicts-christopher.html, Comment #23

22. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2012/02/tob-smoking-guns-of-wests-theology.html, Comment #8

23. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2012/02/tob-smoking-guns-of-wests-theology.html, Comments #9, 10, 11

24. St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, #143 http://www.escrivaworks.org/book/the_way-point-143.htm

Friday, February 10, 2012

TOB "Smoking Guns" of West's Theology

Many who followed (or attempted to follow) the Theology of the Body debate that ensued after Dr. David Schindler went public with concerns about the theology of his former pupil, Christopher West, following the latter’s appearance on “Nightline”, were not sure how to sift through all the arguments on both sides and come to a conclusion. Some who may have become leery of his theology or who may have leaned in that direction have since forgotten about the criticisms and changed their minds back. This is understandable considering the support and praise he receives all around us in the orthodox Catholic circles and most especially among bishops (most of whom are as unfamiliar with the content of his teaching as much as his critics are accused of being) and big-name Catholic speakers. Sheer numbers seem to influence most of us.

Even I myself begin to question whether or not my criticisms are valid. However, when I begin to think of the evidence on both sides, my mind often goes back to a few things that confirm my initial position. There are, I believe, some “red flags” that taken together sift through all the many voices and arguments and make a clear case against Dr. Janet Smith’s judgment that the theology of Christopher West is “perfectly sound”. What makes it even more convincing is that most of these have never been responded to or given substantial justification by West or any of West's most prominent defenders.

This is something I was intending to write over a year ago at the “height” of the debate. Thanks to the discussion that broke out after Kevin O’Brien wrote a series of articles on his blog, I was reminded and motivated to finally write it.


A. “Mature Purity” (including West’s doctrines of “Shameless Nakedness” and “The Pure Gaze of Love”).

1. The argument between Dr. Scott Hahn and Christopher West on the set of “Franciscan University Presents” which turned Dr. Hahn into a “closet critic” of West and his theology after West disagreed with Hahn when Hahn said the proper response if he was to see his colleague's naked wife's would be to turn his eyes away.


When Christopher West was a guest on EWTN’s “Franciscan University Presents” a few years ago, Dr. Scott Hahn, who is a regular on the program, got into an argument with him on this very issue. James Simons was in the audience when the program was recorded, and in his article in defense of West, entitled “Should We Look Away or Not Lust?”, he recounts the exchange:

During a university TV interview of Christopher West [actually, a panel discussion on “Franciscan University Presents”] a professor [Dr. Scott Hahn] told West that if he were to see a friend’s wife [the friend being fellow panellist Dr. Regis Martin] naked, it would be his responsibility to look away. West responded, ‘No, it would be to not lust.’ [Hahn] and West took turns repeating themselves until the moderator called for a break in the program.” [1] Drawing upon other accounts, this exchange began when West began speaking about his doctrine of “mature purity”, whereby when we grow enough in chastity, we should dispense with practicing “custody of the eyes” which is merely an initial “negative” step for those in the “purgative stage” of purity, and should instead look upon women and their God-given beauty with the “pure gaze of love”. Considering how contrary this is to the Catholic Tradition (as will be shown later), Hahn objected and told West we could never be sure we were in that state and that we would remain in that state if we gazed. During the commercial break, Hahn had some sharp words for West.

That day, Dr. Scott Hahn became a closet-critic of Christopher West and his understanding of theology of the body, and remains so to this day. In and of itself this is not telling – Hahn could be wrong and West right. But those on both sides of this debate fully flesh-out their positions and attempt to defend their own and critique the other, it becomes quite clear that Hahn represents the orthodox position while West’s position is novel and contradicts the Catholic Tradition.

2. Long-time disciple of Christopher West borders on advocating Christian nudism and other long-time disciples defend him.

James J. Simons, who by his own admission listened to West over 100 times, [2] provided, in the aforementioned article, an apologia for nudism. Simons argued that it is right to baptize people naked in front of an entire church so everyone can see them and it is right for women to read in church topless. He chided men for not being able to look at naked women and not lust, and chided Dr. Scott Hahn for saying that if he saw his colleague’s wife naked the proper response would be to turn his eyes away. He said we should see the naked body as simply a naked body and nothing more, and that to look away when seeing a naked body is actually an objectification of women. [3] Terri Kimmel, who attributes the beginning of her conversion to the listening of West’s presentation of Theology of the Body, [4] defended Simons’ arguments in the combox. [5] “Lauretta”, who has also listened to West over 100 times, [6] likewise defended James and professed the same “doctrine of mature purity”. [7]

It cannot be argued that both James and Lauretta have misunderstood West in the over 100 times they listened to him. Rather, it becomes clear, when listening to and reading West, especially pages 169-172 of the original edition of Theology of the Body Explained, that they have understood him perfectly well. They have just taken his teachings, which he never fully fleshes out and which always masterfully couches in orthodoxy and connects to Magisterial documents, to their logical ends and stated explicitly what West is careful not to present publicly.

Genevieve S. Kineke, author of The Authentic Catholic Woman, which she asked Christopher West to wrote the foreword for, [8] seemed to begin to recognize the problems with West’s theology only when seeing its logical conclusions fleshed out by his disciples: “I am reading this with absolute astonishment, as though enough parsing of texts and clever citations are cause to abandon all common sense … ‘Pride goeth before a fall …’ and I believe only pride could cause a man to think he was beyond temptation in this realm, especially since he’s naturally hard-wired to act on certain stimuli – Saint Francis knew this well, and humbly heaved himself into the thorn bushes rather than taking any chances”. [9] This article made Ms. Kineke realize something may be seriously wrong with West’s theology, and after presumably scrutinizing more carefully the debate surrounding West’s work, continues to offer objections to his errors. [10]

3. The work and writings of West disciple, Father Thomas Loya, including the use of erotic images on the homepage of his TOB website and his advice to Christian men that they “check women out”.

Loya is a faithful supporter of and believer in the theology of Christopher West, something West acknowledges and which seems to be mutual. [11]

Anyone well-grounded in the Catholic Tradition as it concerns purity and modesty will consider the erotic images on Loya’s Theology of the Body website, “Tabor Life”, [12] to be proof enough. The fact that the reader has to be warned at this point that clicking on the website may be an occasion of sin should be a red flag in itself.

For further confirmation, Loya’s advice in the first step of his “See-Pray-Pass On” technique for chastity provides it: “Alright Look at her!! That’s right, look at her!! Look at her butt, her breasts, but don’t stop there. Look at every aspect of her magnificent femininity! Take her in completely and say, ‘How many are your works, O Lord, in wisdom you have made them all!’ (Psalm 103)”. After all, “A true freedom in the Spirit, a true, lasting and integrated purity of heart comes not from ‘looking away’ from the human body. Rather it is in learning to look ‘at’ the human body with the eyes of God, with the deep soul of true Catholicism and the sacramental worldview”. [13] Anyone for whom this may be scandalous should be told at this point: this is not Catholic and is even more scandalous and dangerous because it is being taught by a priest whose work is recommended by Christopher West, whose word of approval is accepted without question by his most devoted disciples.


B. Overemphasis on Sex (or Sexualizing Christianity)

4. The novelty of Christopher West’s “Bedtime Prayers for Children” wherein “sexuality” and “the body” become central themes over our “personhood” and our “souls” even in one’s personal prayer.


This is the bedtime prayer Christopher West has taught his children to pray every night: “Thank you Jesus for making Mommy to be a woman. Thank you for making Daddy to be a man. Thank you for bringing Mommy and Daddy into the Sacrament of Marriage. Thank you for bringing [insert name(s) of children here] into the world through Mommy and Daddy’s love. Help our boys grow into strong men ready to give away their bodies in love. Help our girls grow into strong women ready to give away their bodies in love. If they are called into the Sacrament of Marriage, please prepare them for their future spouse. If they are called to give themselves entirely to Jesus and the Church as a priest or religious, please prepare their hearts for that. Amen”. [14]

In every sentence, “sexuality” is central. It goes from the mother’s “femininity” to the father’s “masculinity”, then to the marital bond, to procreation through sexual intercourse, then to the “bodies” of the male children and to the “bodies” of the female children, to their future “marriages” or their future as celibates (which is the only thing here not strictly sexual). None of the religious saints ever taught their spiritual children to pray with so much focus on sexuality, gender, and bodies. They focused on “persons” and “souls”. Clearly, these prayers demonstrate West’s inordinate preoccupation and even obsession with sexuality and the body. West seems to feel the need to sexualize everything, including even a child’s bedtime prayers.

5. “Song of Songs” as the favourite of all 73 books of the Bible, including the Gospels.
Ask West what his favourite book of the Bible is, and you are certain to hear, “Song of Songs”, just like the many students at Steubenville who are enthusiastic fans and disciples of West. This is usually justified by an appeal to the (false) belief that many of the Saints considered it their favourite too. Perhaps a few mystics may choose this book to be their favourite, but these were all celibates who allegorized it to a point where the focus was strictly on the “spiritual sense” of the soul’s relationship with God to the veritable exclusion of its “literal sense” of sexual qualities manifested in the body and bodily sexual union. That is why even those who West believes might have thought it to be their favourite due to the fact they wrote commentaries on it probably did not consider it their favourite but rather the most apt description of their relationship to God. Chances are they received more spiritual nourishment from the Gospels than the Song of Songs.

Origen warned that only the “spiritually mature” should read Song of Songs and also continued the Jewish admonition that it should be read by no one under the age of 30. This is why.

6. It is called the “seminary” because it is where priests are prepared to “inseminate” the Church.

West asks: “Where does a man go to train to be a priest? The seminary. What is he learning to do in the seminary? Where do we get that word, ‘seminary’? He is learning how to ‘inseminate’. Who is he learning to inseminate? The Church, with his spiritual seed”. [15] It is true that the word “seminary” comes from the Latin word "semen", which simply means "seed". However, this is not why "seminary" was given a name based on the word "semen". Rather, it was because vocations begin as a “seed” and need to be nurtured and grown and raised to full maturity before that vocation is ready to “blossom” and be exposed to the world in such a way that it will survive and effectively thrive. But because West is disposed to connect everything with sex or give a sexual interpretation to everything, he commits this error.


C. Hermeneutic of Discontinuity.

7. Doctors and Fathers of the Church dismissed as being wrong and accused of having “Manichaean tendencies” when it is shown they contradict West’s teachings and it being said of Popes they “just don’t get it” when shown to contradict West.


Responding to Lauretta’s statement that “the marital embrace is the highest expression of self-gift”, I quoted from St. Francis de Sales’ classic on lay spirituality, Introduction to the Devout Life and asked how what West teaches harmonizes with it: “Married people ought not to keep their affections fixed on the sensual pleasures of their vocation, but ought afterwards to wash their hearts to purify them as soon as possible, so that they may then with a calm mind devote themselves to other purer and higher activities” [16]. I asked, “if the marital act is the ‘highest expression of self-gift’, how can St. Francis say there are ‘activities’ in the married vocation that are ‘higher’ and ‘purer’ than sexual union?” [17] Christopher West’s editor, Sr. Lorraine, responded: “Well, Wade, it seems to me that the quote from St Francis de Sales perhaps has a bit of the attitude of suspicion, as John Paul might call it … Even some of the saints had traces of Manichaean attitudes” [18]. Later, when challenged on it, she defended her initial position, and added: “You can find plenty of other statements from various saints to the same effect … They too were affected by negative attitudes toward the body that have always been present to some extent. To maintain otherwise is just simply not true”. [19] Kevin Tierney did an excellent job of showing that in fact de Sales was not Manichaean but perfectly in line with Catholic theology and doctrine. [20]

Another example is that of Deacon Jim Russell, who was defending West’s doctrine of mature purity. According to Christopher West, one who achieves a state of “mature purity” should dispense with practicing “custody of the eyes”, which is merely an initial “negative” step for those in the “purgative stage” of purity, and should instead look upon women and their God-given beauty with the “pure gaze of love”. [21] But when it was pointed out to Deacon Jim Russell that Pius XII, in his encyclical Sacra Virginitas, stated that it was the teaching of both the Fathers and Doctors of the Church that it was better to “flee” temptations rather than fight them directly, [22] Deacon Jim actually said it was “apparent” that Pius XII just “didn’t quite get” it. [23] I also pointed out that when Pius XII mentioned that it was the teaching of the Church Fathers and Doctors, he footnoted The True Spouse of Jesus Christ by St. Alphonsus Liguori, who in the history of the Church is to moral theology what St. Thomas Aquinas was to systematic theology. In the chapter on “mortification of the eyes”, St. Alphonsus says, among other things, the following: “Gaze not upon another’s beauty; for from looks arise evil imaginations, by which an impure fire is lighted up … ‘If,’ says St. Augustine, ‘our eyes should by chance fall upon others, let us take care never to fix them upon any one’ … The saints were particularly cautious not to look at persons of a different sex … Brother Roger, a Franciscan of singular purity, being once asked why he was so reserved in his intercourse with women, replied, that when men avoid the occasions of sin, God preserves them; but when they expose themselves to danger, they are justly abandoned by the Lord, and easily fall into some grievous transgressions” [24] [this last excerpt contradicted Deacon Jim’s profession that men who asked for the grace to be able to “look rightly” at provocatively dressed women would receive the grace to “see purely”] [25]. Conveniently, Deacon Jim did not respond to what St. Alphonsus said, even after he was asked twice to do so. Were he or West to be probed on this, St. Alphonsus would no doubt also have to be accused of Manichaean attitudes because his teaching clearly contradicts West’s. For his part, Deacon Jim emailed me afterwards, and, continuing to ignore what St. Alphonsus wrote, cited this quote from John Paul II: “In mature purity, man enjoys the fruits of victory over concupiscence”. I was asked, “Wade, what do you think this means?” I replied, “Thanks to one non-contextualized quotation from John Paul II, we can not only dispense with everything that all of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church taught with regards to custody of the eyes, but we can re-define the scriptural and patristic notion of ‘spiritual warfare’ to mean that we continue to look upon scantily-clad women rather than looking away because the latter can in no way be classified as ‘fighting temptation’” [26] [previously Deacon Jim said that to turn one’s eyes rather than remain looking would be “fleeing” instead of “fighting” – the latter being the a different though complementary approach that the Lord recommends to us – according to Deacon Jim] [27]

Commenting on this, Thomas Leith, a longtime acquaintance of mine, who previously was unfamiliar with the specifics of West's doctrine of mature purity, [28] stated: "If he's saying that unavoidable near occasions of sin present an opportunity to practice virtue, he's right. If he's saying this does not at least begin with keeping custody of the eyes, he wrong. Very wrong. Stupidly wrong. ... If he's advising [this] he should be stripped of his EWTN Rock Star status as Fr. Corapi was and denounced as a heretic; then every bit of media he ever produced should be consigned to the Memory Hole." [29]

8. St. Francis of Assisi rolling in the rosebush when experiencing temptations of the flesh and the Saints using long-standing and praiseworthy ascetic practices such as self-flagellation did so from a disordered view of the body and were lacking in their understanding of a true Catholic theology of the body.

If corroborated, this would clearly show West is misinterpreting and misunderstanding Theology of the Body. According to Steve Kellmeyer, “West has, on numerous occasions, publicly said that anyone who mortifies the flesh in this fashion [self-flagellation] does not really understand the Theology of the Body. He has mocked the saints who have undertaken physical mortifications, especially self-inflicted physical mortification, as not fully understanding the theology of the body. According to West, such individuals showed their spiritual immaturity, their failure to plumb the full richness of Christian teaching, when they did these things”. [30] In the past Kellmeyer has said that West cites as one example of this “misunderstanding of the Theology of the Body” the example of how St. Francis threw himself into a thorn bush when temptations against chastity flared up – something the saint has been praised for throughout the history of the Church and in the hagiography. But considering how the author of Theology of the Body himself practiced self-flagellation, West is certainly misinterpreting.


D. Personal Issues.

9. Christopher West telling young women he just met that they are “beautiful”.
When Christopher West came here to Saskatoon for a Theology of the Body Conference, a meeting was arranged between him and a class of attendees from a local post-secondary institution that runs a one-year program of formation. When introducing himself to the females, West would ask their name. When the young woman would say, “I’m Jane”, West would look her in the eye and say, “Jane, you are a very beautiful woman”. He introduced himself to the next woman, and did the same thing, saying, “you’re a beautiful woman too”. Now, if I was to do that with young Catholic women I just met, I would be labeled as “creepy” and shunned and maybe even slapped out, and rightfully so. But Christopher West is allowed to get away with it because he is Christopher West. Nonetheless, the behaviour is indeed creepy and indicative of deeper problems – with him personally and with his theology and sense of modesty (which would exclude statements such as this).

As "Julia" (who I have email contact with) says in the comment box at Fr. Angelo's website: "So far, no one has ... asked the question, 'If West puts so much energy into unveiling sexuality by relentlessly promoting 'nakedness without shame', what effect does that have on his private life?' According to West, the way we think about sexuality deeply affects the way we behave. I, for one, will not be surprised to someday hear that West’s very questionable teachings have been taken to their logical conclusion and translated into seriously questionable actions. With his kind of thinking, it’s only a matter of time". [31]


E. Miscellaneous

10. West criticizing “flat-chested” images of Mary in art while encouraging Catholics to “rediscover Mary’s ... abundant breasts”.

This is a quotation taken from Dr. Schindler's initial critique of West, which Schindler pulled from the March, 2002 edition of Crisis Magazine. I would hope that this argument and these statements by West are so prima facie wrong that it need not require commentary from me, but no doubt some defenders of West will even provide an apologia for this. When they do, I will respond at length. For now, Dr. von Hildebrand's response to this should be sufficient:

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 ... 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.


Summary:

So we have the following: Dr. Scott Hahn becomes a “closet critic” of Christopher West after West lays out his theology of “mature purity” and tells Dr. Hahn he is wrong to “look away” if he sees his colleague’s wife naked; a long-time disciple of Christopher West borders on advocating Christian nudism and other long-time disciples defend him; the work and writings of West disciple, Father Thomas Loya, including the use of erotic images on the homepage of his TOB website and his advice to Christian men that they “check women out”; the novelty of Christopher West’s “Bedtime Prayers for Children” wherein “sexuality” and “the body” become central themes over our “personhood” and our “souls” even in one’s personal prayer; “Song of Songs” as the favourite of all 73 books of the Bible, including the Gospels; that “seminaries” are called what they are because it is where priests are prepared to “inseminate” the Church; Doctors and Fathers of the Church are dismissed as being wrong and accused of having “Manichaean tendencies” when it is shown they contradict West’s teachings and it being said of Popes they “just don’t get it” when shown to contradict West; St. Francis of Assisi rolling in the rosebush when experiencing temptations of the flesh and the Saints using long-standing and praiseworthy ascetic practices such as self-flagellation are considered to have done so due to ignorance of a true theology of the body; West telling young women he just met that they are “beautiful” women; and saying that painting Mary flat-chested is a prudish act and that she should be physically represented as having "abundant [large] breasts".

These are not the kinds of ideas one comes up with when receiving a good formation and catechesis on modesty and purity from the rich sources of our Catholic Tradition and then reading and interpreting Theology of the Body in the light of that Tradition; rather, these are the kinds of ideas one gets when one has been formed by and has learned from the post-sexual revolution secular world and then reads Theology of the Body without first immersing themselves in the Catholic Tradition and allow that Tradition to correct and reform previous ideas and behaviours. Theology of the Body alone is not sufficient for this considering its specific focus and its limitations, which John Paul II admitted in his last Wednesday audience.


Conclusion:

I still believe West does more good than harm as I have stated many times. He will be here in Saskatoon for "Fill These Hearts" on the same day I will be leading a retreat on "the single life", and when I was asked by the organizers of West's event if we could work together and help promote each other's events, I enthusiastically agreed - and not just for my sake but for the sake of those also who will benefit from West.

However, harm is still being done, and therefore it is important that West acknowledge his errors and correct them. Unfortunately, it appears he is certain that his misunderstandings of the theology of John Paul II, some of which are quite serious, are true to the late Holy Father. It appears he has become even more certain, buoyed as he is by the many bishops and respected Catholic speakers and theologians who enthusiastically endorse his work. I have attempted to contribute to this discussion in the hopes it would have some impact. However, I have done all I can do. There are more pressing matters, such as the completion and publication of my manuscripts, which I believe to be very timely and will be, God willing, an important contribution to the life of the Church and the world. These I must focus on instead.


1. James J. Simons: “Should We Look Away or Not Lust?” http://catholicexchange.com/2010/11/01/140186/
[Note: Catholic Exchange has since replaced it with another article. You can see the original at: http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH]
2. http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/09/concupiscence-and-two-bishops.html, Comment #4
3. http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH
4. http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH, Comment #26
5. http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH, Comments #8, 9, 12, 14, 16, 17, 26, 27, 28, 32, 45, 51, 52, 56
6. http://cosmos-liturgy-sex.com/2010/10/06/concupiscence-west-schindler-debat/, Comment #61[Note: blog no longer online. Original can be found at: http://www.freezepage.com/1287860618NCCZQRDRCO]
7. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2010/12/tob-debate-summary-of-west-errors.html, Exhibit #4
8. http://www.amazon.ca/Authentic-Catholic-Woman-Genevieve-Kineke/dp/0867167688
9. http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH, Comment # 37, 88
10. http://catholiclane.com/christopher-west-refines-his-answers-but-questions-remain/, Comment #1
11. http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/archive/ldn/2009/oct/09102209
12. http://www.taborlife.org/
13. http://maryvictrix.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/theology-of-the-body-and-the-mystical-magical-train/
14. http://www.saltriverproductions.com/_blog/Chuck%27s_Blog/post/Christopher_West%E2%80%99s_Bedtime_Prayer_for_Kids/
15. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59hZz6U9uZ0 Minutes 0:52-1.23
16. Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 39: “The Sanctity of the Marriage Bed”.
17. http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/10/janet-smith-responds-to-alice-von.html, Comment #24
18. http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/10/janet-smith-responds-to-alice-von.html, Comment #25
19. http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/10/janet-smith-responds-to-alice-von.html, Comment #126
20. http://commonsensecatholicism.blogspot.com/2010/10/hermeneutic-of-suspicion.html
21. This was substantiated in the main body of my letter to Cardinal Rigali. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2012/02/letter-to-cardinal-rigali-regarding.html
22. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/pope-pius-xii-contradicts-christopher.html
23. http://www.freezepage.com/1328707607DFPGWWPSTS, Comment #3[I had to reproduce a snapshot of the page taken earlier because these comments were later removed by the moderator]
24. http://www.cathinfo.com/catholic.php?a=topic&t=14334
25. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/west-breast-chest-sex.html, Comment #78
26. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/west-and-his-followers-misquoting-john.html
27. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/pope-pius-xii-contradicts-christopher.html, Comments #13 and #18
28. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/west-and-his-followers-misquoting-john.html, Comments #3, 8, 11
29. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/west-and-his-followers-misquoting-john.html
, Comment #13
30. http://skellmeyer.blogspot.com/2009/11/discipline.html
31. http://maryvictrix.wordpress.com/2009/10/30/a-response-to-christopher-west/, Comment #4