Katie van Schaijik

Fr. Geiger’s latest on the West debate

Jun. 20, 2009, at 8:38pm

Yesterday a friend sent me Fr. Angelo Geiger’s latest guest post at the Dawn Patrol on the controversy surrounding Christopher West. I have less sympathy with it than I did with his first piece. I think he is unfair to West and his defenders.
For instance, in his first paragraph he identifies part of the debate as being over whether CW’s approach is “out of step with Catholic tradition.” I find this an unhelpfully ambiguous phrase. It seems clearly meant to indicate unsoundness. But there are ways of being “out of step” with the tradition that are thoroughly legitimate. Wasn’t Joan of Arc’s taking on the role of a soldier rather out of keeping with tradition? Couldn’t Dietrich von Hildebrand’s emphasis on love as the meaning of marriage be seen as in some sense novel? Doesn’t Mass in the vernacular represent a certain break with the past? Don’t many people dismiss the charismatic renewal as a whole on the grounds that it is unlike what we are used to in the Church?

In other words, to show that a person’s methodology or “line of thought” is heterodox and “dangerous” (as David Schindler implied of CW’s), it is not enough to show that it is new or unusual or “out of step” with the tradition; you have to show (it seems to me) that it is incompatible with the tradition. I don’t think either Schindler or Fr. Geiger comes close to doing that.

Even if we grant that the Easter candle is primarily meant to symbolize the light of Christ; even if we acknowledge that its form follows its function, why should that preclude the possibility that it may have other connotations as well? If the conjugal union is an icon of the Holy Trinity and the source of new life in the world, why should we be startled or offended by the idea of phallic symbols? Why should we see them as in themselves vulgar or prurient? Does noticing a phallic aspect in a thing mean we are dirty-minded? Is sex something dirty? I think anyone who thinks so DOES (sorry) betray an element of prudishness.

Then there is Fr. Geiger’s strange treatment of Janet Smith. He “rolled his eyes” as she “confessed” to her prudery and says that “she tells us we should all be ashamed if we don’t like the idea of the Easter candle being a phallic symbol.” Where does she tell us anything of the kind? Why must he twist and belittle her remarks? What is wrong in her saying that she has felt challenged by this discussion to consider whether her own reaction might not be somewhat prudish?

Then, I dislike intensely his derisive-sounding use of the term “copulation” in reference to liturgical symbolism. Here I am with Damian Fedoryka. Among persons there is no morally indifferent physical act. There is only either the marital embrace or sexual sin. Hence the dousing of the Easter candle in the holy water font, if it has sexual connotations, would be a symbol of self-giving, procreative spousal love, not “copulation.” Copulating is for animals.

Finally, Fr. Geiger seems to take it for granted it that his own reaction against the idea of sexual imagery intertwined with liturgy and prayers is the normal, natural and right one for all Catholics. But I’d like to know how he can be sure of that. Is it not at least possible that CW is right that we are all much more under the influence of prudishness than we realize; that we are missing a depth dimension in a lot of liturgical symbolism because of it; that we are lacking altogether an adequate appreciation of the centrality and greatness of human sexuality in God’s plan of salvation for the world? Or, if you think that goes too far, what about this: Isn’t it possible that some people are just much more sexually charged and alert than others, so that they notice “signs and symbols” that others miss? And if so, isn’t it great that they find those signs and symbols in their religious life, and not separated from it?

Jules van Schaijik • Jun 21, 2009 - 12:09 pm

Regarding Fr. Geiger’s seeming assumption that his personal reactions to sexual imagery are the normal and right ones for Catholics, I found his remarks about breastfeeding women (as seen in art or in real life) particularly striking. While he realizes that in other cultures it is quite common for women to breastfeed in public “with little if any effort to cover up” and that there is an “old and venerable tradition” depicting the Blessed Virgin breastfeeding Jesus, he does not hesitate to “assert that men who are trying to live chastely find… such exposure inappropriate, not because they think the female body is evil, or because they have a sexual hang up, but because they find too much exposed flesh in that area, regardless of the context, sexually arousing. Period.”

Fr. Geiger bases this assertion not just on his own experience, but on what he takes to be that of American men in general. Still, one would think that his knowledge of other Catholic cultures and traditions would lead him to qualify this statement. He may even want to reconsider (in part) his evaluation of CW. Is it really so far-fetched to think that our “squeamishness” when it comes to images of Mary breastfeeding may have a lot to do with the puritanical influence (widely acknowledged) in American culture?

One more thing: I would like to know what Fr. Geiger means by adding “regardless of the context”. Isn’t context all-important for evaluating the decency and appropriateness of “exposed flesh”? Does a women bare her breast to breastfeed her baby? to draw attention to herself? to shock or arouse a bystander? to please her husband? to have it examined by a doctor? to have it painted by an artist? It seems to me that the context is very relevant, not just to the moral question, but also to the arousal factor.

Bill Drennen • Aug 25, 2009 - 9:40 am


If Americans are judged as being prudish then many Europeans seem to me to be in serious denial, irresponsible about their sexuality, or both!

But let’s define what we mean by arousal and also remember what JPII says in the TOTB.

The sight of a woman’s breast is designed by it’s nature to stimulate arousal and this is natural and good. Any man who denies this I question their sanity or the normal functioning of their sexuality. By arousal here I mean, we are naturally drawn to or interested in the beauty. It excites our attention like not many other things does, not even a beautiful mountain seen. This is quite natural when we consider that woman is the crown of creation and most perfectly reflects the temple of God.

The problem is not arousal but rather how we handle our arousal due to concupiscence. Recall that JPII says that in the beginning there was no division between our arousal and our desire to bless the other. Our desires were in unity and directed towards the other.

Many European men act like they are back in the garden when they are not. I’m not accusing them of lust but certainly of denial and irresponsibility to think and act as though it is no problem whatsoever when their society proves otherwise.

You are right that context means a lot. French men walking on the beach with topless girls is a lot different then a mother breastfeeding but French men treat them the same and I don’t believe they are truly disinterested for one second! On second thought, maybe they are really that confused and that explains their population decline!


frangelo • Jun 22, 2009 - 10:44 am


Your observations are worth consideration.  I could have less to devalue context.  My point is that context and subjectivity is not everything. 

My primary point in mentioning Maria Lactans and breastfeeding, was to question the penchant of some to point the prudery finger every time someone suggests that a little more covering would be nice.  I certainly did not deny the existence of prudery in America.  Specifically, in regard to American men and breastfeeding, the relative unfamiliarity of a breast being exposed in that context, and the great familiarity of that flesh being exposed in others, is a factor that has little or nothing to do with hatred of the body or a devalued view of sex.

frangelo • Jun 22, 2009 - 11:09 am


I believe I did show that the phallic symbolism of the Paschal Candle is incompatible with Catholic tradition:  The primary symbolism has nothing to do with coital imagery and such imagery is incompatible with the virginal connotations of the primary symbolism. Please review and consider what I had to say about the Annunciation, Baptism of Our Lord, the Resurrection and our baptism.  Also consider the use of analogy and that signs point up and the heavenly realities, while they illumine the signs, are not signs themselves.

But of course, the readers will have to be the ones to judge whether my arguments are convincing or not.  They were not convincing to you.  I respect your dissent on the matter.

However, what I meant by being “out of step with the tradition” is made precisely clear by my critique.  West’s interpretation has absolutely no basis in the tradition.  If the contrary is so, I would like to see some evidence.

Not only did I show that the phallic interpretation of the Paschal Candle is incompatible with the tradition, it is just not there, unless you want to make it up.  The fact is that over the years, the fathers of the Church have been invoked by West, et al. as the source for this belief.  This is simple not true.

I ordinarily would not use the word “copulation,” in a context such as this, but since the “conjugal act” imagery is simply not in the Easter rite, the physical simulation seems to me to be vacated of any significance re conjugal act.  But my use of the word was still a faux pas, since the symbolism has nothing to do with the conjugal act,  so neither would it have anything to do with copulation.

Again, I am sure my reaction is normal because the interpretation of the liturgical imagery has no basis in tradition, contrary to what is claimed.  Until now, no one has offered any evidence contrary to that which I have presented.

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 22, 2009 - 12:58 pm

Dear Fr. Angelo,
thank you for weighing in here!
I have re-read your article, more carefully this time.  I think you raise important points for consideration.  If you are right that “there is absolutely no basis in tradition” for CW’s interpretation of the symbolism of the Easter candle, then I think retractions and adjustments or clarifications on CW and JS’s part may be in order.  (Though, to my way of thinking, that wouldn’t yet prove that he’s wrong; only that he oughtn’t to have claimed a basis in tradition for his thinking.)
My own point was partly hypothetical, viz. “Since the Church has elevated the conjugal union to the level of a sacrament, and since it is the concrete mode of collaboration between God and men for the creation of new persons; since it is recognized as the most perfect earthly icon of the Holy Trinity, then why should we be startled or disturbed IF it turns out to be true that there is phallic imagery in the Easter candle?”
I said elsewhere that I myself had never thought of the Easter candle that way; I am not attached to the notion.  But neither am I disturbed or off put by it.  To me, the thought that it may be in there just adds a new layer of symbolic wealth to the Church’s liturgy.  I am not convinced by your arguments that the one set of images precludes the other. 
Further, while I agree with you and Schindler that CW’s emphasis on sex can come across as problematically excessive, I think it’s important to keep in mind, as we evaluate his work, that he is not a professional theologian.  His task is not to interpret the tradition in a comprehensive, scholarly way.  Rather, he has seen something, grasped something, experienced something personally that he wants to share with others, because he thinks it is urgently needed in our day.
If it is true, as I for one believe, that JP II’s work in TOB represents a true development of Catholic teaching, then we should expect—should we not?— that it will be accompanied by developments in our way of speaking about and approaching these mysteries.

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 22, 2009 - 1:04 pm

One more point, I’d like to add, Father.  I do wish you would see it not as “coital” but as “conjugal” or “nuptial” or “spousal” imagery.  Just as “copulation” is too animal; “coital” is too clinical.  It could just as well describe what happens between a prostitute and her client as what happens between a husband and wife.

frangelo • Jun 22, 2009 - 2:31 pm


Thanks for your response.  I guess I am raising a question of methodology.  One would think that imagery such as this, which the presenter knows is shocking for some, would not be used unless it was first established to be actually anchored to something solid.  In fact, that claim has been made over and over, but without—to my knowledge—substantiation.  Now that it has seriously been called into question, negative arguments, namely, those that show it cannot be excluded as a possibility, are being used to defend it. 

Furthermore, those of us who doubt the legitimacy of the usage are being told that our doubt makes us suspect of prudery.  After a while it is a bit tiresome, especially when so little evidence is being marshaled to support the usage. 

Shame and reverence, as you know, are not the same thing as prudery.  Likewise, doubt about this alleged imagery in the liturgy is not the same thing sexual repression, unless you can establish the contrary independently.

I chose not to use the words “conjugal” or “nuptial,” because I think this liturgical interpretation is null and void.  I know of no other instance in which Christians would think it appropriate to simulate the conjugal act by way of gesture.  We would ordinarily call such a simulation pornographic, not nuptial.  Hence, I deliberately chose to use the word coital to describe it.  Again, perhaps the contrary can be proven, but I would be looking for positive evidence to that effect, not just a lack of condemnation.

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 22, 2009 - 3:16 pm

About methodology: I expect CW feels he is acting freely—with the freedom we have in Christ—in interpreting JP II TOB as he sees it, trusting that the Church will set him straight if it turns out he’s off.

It’s good that he’s being pressed to substantiate his reference to traditions about phallic symbols in the liturgy.  To my mind, if he can’t produce evidence that there really is such a tradition, the claim that it is rooted in the tradition would have to be rescinded.  And his notions on that score would certainly be on more tenuous ground. 
But I don’t think—do you?—that the dearth of a tradition about it by itself would suffice to show that it’s false or irreverent imagery.  Don’t traditions start somewhere?  (I ask sincerely, not flippantly.)  Might it not be the case that JP II’s work in the area of human sexuality is throwing new light on old things, so that we see an aspect of them that had previously escaped us?

Here is what I think about a blanket prudery charge in response to critics: It’s unjust.  Like you said in your first article, it can be manipulative.  On the other hand, I don’t want to exclude the possibility that CW (because of his work in the field, so to speak) has become acutely conscious of the problem of prudery—conscious of it in a “discernment of spirits” way.

To me this is not just a personal question, but a Church and culture question.  I am opening myself to the possibility that our witness and effectiveness in combatting the evil of sexual promiscuity in our society may be seriously hindered by an inordinate timidity and skittishness about sexual matters on the part of most Catholics.

I will have to think more about your last paragraph.  Is it so that any gesture, however discrete and reverent, that symbolizes the marital act is pornographic?  I don’t understand why it should be so.

Finally, between “positive evidence” in the sense of a scholarly tradition and “lack of condemnation” there is surely some middle ground.  For instance, there is the inherent meaningfulness of such symbolism and its apparent efficacy in reaching people and helping them transform their thinking from a pornographic to a religious conception of human sexuality.

frangelo • Jun 22, 2009 - 5:36 pm


I would say that the use of such imagery, along with the penchant for seeing the like elsewhere without sufficient basis, as I indicate in my essay, seems to suggest that Schindler’s contention of pansexualism is not without basis.  I think there will have to be a thoughtful response on the part of CW.

It seems to me that the problem with prudery is not dissimilar with the problem of a lustful culture. Both are driven by unchecked passion.  I think good judgment, i.e., prudence and common sense are the only remedies.  I would think organic development, learning from mistakes, a hermeneutic of continuity are the way forward, not artificial constructions designed for apologetical purposes.

I don’t think there can be “inherent meaningfulness” when the interpretation of a sign does more to confuse than to enlighten.  I don’t see a basis for it, and no one has provided one.  And I don’t think the symbolism is discrete, since we are being told we need to see the Paschal Candle being plunged into the holy water font as symbolizing (I say simulating) the conjugal (your word, not mine) act.  We are told to look and see it as I have described or be known as a prude.  When else do we do something like this and call it reverent?

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 22, 2009 - 6:26 pm

I too look forward to more from CW.  And I do share some of Schindler’s concerns.  But I liked Janet Smith’s response to Schindler too. 

“Artificial constructions” are of course no solution to prudery.  But it may be that a heightened sense of the beauty and greatness and centrality of human sexuality in God’s design IS.  That’s my best interpretation of what CW is doing and why he is so effective.

Lauretta • Jun 24, 2009 - 2:42 am

What about the fact that the term impregnate is used to explain what is happening to the water in the font which is a womb?  Why would it be so out of place to then have a phallic symbol as a sign of the one who is generating the life in the water?  I understand your concern about the virginal aspect of Christ’s conception but is that what is taking place here?

And even if it were, did not God give us our masculinity and femininity and the conjugal act to participate in and be a sign of His creative action even though that is not the way that God Himself created the first man and woman? Is not the love between spouses, which includes the conjugal act, to be a sign of the love of God for His people, even though God does not love us in that same physical manner?

What of the Eastern Church’s understanding that the Cross is the bed upon which the marriage of Christ and His Bride is consummated?

It seems to me that if we believe that our faith is all about the marriage between Christ and His Bride, there is going to be a lot of “sexual” symbolism with much that we do in our worship.

I remember being totally awed after reading then Cardinal Ratzinger’s book, “The Spirit of the Liturgy” and learning of all of the cosmic imagery that was part of the Mass.  Might there not be so much more if we but have the eyes and heart to see and understand it?

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 24, 2009 - 9:03 am

I would make the point even more strongly.  Spousal love doesn’t just “include” the conjugal act.  Spousal love is consummated, embodied, concentrated and “distilled” in that mysterious, persons-uniting, life-generating exchange.  Lived rightly and before God, it is a sacrament.  A source of divine grace in the world.

frangelo • Jun 24, 2009 - 9:54 am


As I have already mentioned, as far as I know the term “impregnation” is not, nor has it ever been used in reference to what is happening to the water in the font.  The language of the Church in this regard is parallel to that which is used to describe the conception of Our Lord in the Blessed Mother’s womb.

The Paschal Candle is a symbol of Christ.  That is clearly the reason for the presence of a candle in the Easter liturgy and for the way in which it is used.  If there are other meanings, they would have to be seen in conjunction with the perennial usage of the Church.  It seems to me that saying the primary Christ symbol in the Easter liturgy is also a phallic symbol is at the very least, putting it charitably, novel and unprecedented.  Christ and phallus is the same thing?  Really?  Since when and how do you know?

Some justification by means of sound theological method (re development of doctrine) would have to be shown.  Catholic liturgical life is not such that good faith speculation is sufficient justification for novel interpretations.  The liturgy is the common patrimony of the Church.  Even the pope does not see himself free to invent.

I have no problem with nuptial imagery, but as the commenter on my post from the Eastern rite remarked when such language is used, almost as soon as we comprehend the sign, we move away from the image to the thing it signifies.

It seems to me that an operating presumption here is that since sex is such a great good, then the more it is unveiled in a “holy” way, the more we affirm and celebrate that goodness.  The fact is that the holiness of sex is such that it is celebrated within a sanctuary between spouses, and unveiling takes place within that context.  That mystery is experienced as such by spouses and in that context the bodily union is a sign of higher things.  Conjugal union is by its very nature veiled.  Spouses reserve their union for their own exclusive experience.  The sign of that union was meant to be experienced in this fashion.  I have read TOB and am not aware of anything that suggests that on a psychological level we need to be tearing down the veil, let alone that we should be using genital imagery in the liturgy.

In this context, I think CW’s recent statement that he fears the critique of his approach may provoke a backlash against JP II’s TOB, misses the point of the critique entirely.  This is not about what JP II has said.  This is about what CW has said.

The attention of the sacred liturgy is not the conjugal union, but what it signifies.  And again, I am not aware of a single instance in which at any time, let alone in the sacred liturgy, it would be considered reverent or even appropriate and moral to simulate the conjugal act by way of visual gesture.

Again, if I am wrong, please show me some evidence.  I think it is entirely inappropriate that we should be making up our own liturgical symbolism.

frangelo • Jun 24, 2009 - 10:08 am


You came very close to saying, and might be interpreted as saying, that the conjugal act is a sacrament.  If you mean generically, as anything good can be said to have sacramental qualities, then fine; however, the context of your remarks seem to indicate that you equate conjugal love, conjugal act and the sacrament of marriage.

There is no question that marriage is consummated by way of the conjugal act and that among all the natural signs that have immediate supernatural significance the marital one-flesh union is preeminent.  But it is not a sacrament. 

I surmise you did not mean to say that.  But don’t you think this speculative defense of sexual liturgical imagery is pushing the envelope a bit?

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 24, 2009 - 11:38 am

Dear Father, I speak under correction, and if I am wrong I would be grateful to be set straight.  But this is how I have understood the teaching of the Church on marriage.  The sacrament of marriage is plainly more than “just” the conjugal union, but I understand it (the sacrament) to be, as it were, embodied and enacted in that total exchange of selves.  To me it is very significant that marriage is the only one of the seven sacraments not ministered by a priest, but by the couple, to each other, and that it “happens” not at Mass, but at home, in the sanctuary of their bedroom (so that if it is not consummated, there is no marriage).
But please do show me if you think I am wrong!

frangelo • Jun 24, 2009 - 7:18 pm

The conjugal act is the use of the marriage already contracted and the sign and consolidation of the union.  I don’t think John Paul II teaches that the conjugal union considered in itself is the highest expression of the nuptial reality.

Dissolutions by way of non-consummation can be granted by the pope alone and are not granted only by virtue of non-consummation, but for a just cause (canon 1142).  In other words, marriages are valid by way of the administration of the sacrament through the exchange of vows, and all marriages so contracted are presumed valid, regardless of consummation, until proven otherwise.  Non-consummation itself does not indicate invalidity.  When there is invalidity associated with non-consummation, it is generally associated with intentions that are incompatible with matrimonial consent and the ends of marriage.  There is always a reason for non-consummation and that reason is the just cause for which the dissolution is granted, namely, incompatibility with the ends of marriage.

Otherwise, why would we consider a virginal marriage, as that of Mary and Joseph, to be a true marriage?

I have never heard anyone claim that the sacrament of marriage is contracted apart from the exchange of vows in the bedroom.

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 24, 2009 - 7:46 pm

“Consummation” seems to me a much more significant moral reality than “consolidation” or “sign”. And it is the term chosen used by the Church.  The bodily self-giving is, I claim again, in a crucial sense, the enactment (an enactment repeated across the life of the marriage) of the vows exchanged on the altar.  The marriage bed itself is a kind of altar.

I have always understood that an unconsummated marriage is an uncompleted marriage, except in very extraordinary cases.  (Mary and Joseph’s marriage is the most extraordinary case imaginable.) 

Marriage IS the covenanted, absolute, indissoluble exchange of selves, “so that the two become one flesh.”

Your idea of marriage seems to be rather disembodied.

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 24, 2009 - 7:55 pm

From the catechism:

1640 Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom.

frangelo • Jun 24, 2009 - 9:24 pm


Your quote from the catechism concerns indissolubility, not the essence of the sacrament.  And as I already pointed out, the petrine privilege is granted in view of a just cause.  A marriage is not invalidated ipso facto by non-consummation, but by factors that indicate non-consummation to be incompatible with matrimonial consent and the ends of marriage. Dissolution because of it is not a simple annulment; only the pope can grant it.  I will try and find more on this in the documents of the Church.  I will get back to with more specifics.

If you think my view of marriage is disembodied, would that mean you view the conjugal act as the essence of marriage?  Do you think virginity, then, is disembodied?  How, according to your view, could virginity, even in the case of Mary and Joseph, be consistent with the ends of marriage and with matrimonial consent?  Are you suggesting that Mary and Joseph did not enter into a “covenanted, absolute, indissoluble exchange of selves.”

Please remember that I argue this point not to minimize the importance of the conjugal union, but because phallic symbolism is being alleged of the liturgy without evidence, and because you came so close to saying that sex is a sacrament, which seems to have no basis.  With all due respect, I am in the curious position of arguing from this point of view because of what I consider to be your unwarranted positions.

I am open to a reasoned reformation of my ideas if arguments are based on evidence from the teaching of the Church.

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 24, 2009 - 10:12 pm

Father, I emphatically did NOT say (or come close to saying) “sex is a sacrament”.  MARRIAGE is a sacrament, and marriage is (as I understand it) embodied and enacted and consummated in the conjugal union.  Adultery is sex.  Prostitution involves sex.  Nothing holy or sacramental about those things.

Nor did I say that an unconsummated marriage is automatically “invalidated”.  I rather said it is “not complete”.  And I claim, based on my reading of JP II and Dietrich von Hildebrand, that its “not completeness” is not limited to “ends” but involves essence.  I don’t say that the conjugal union is THE essence of marriage, but I do say it is OF the essence of marriage.

Mary and Joseph’s marriage is an exceptional one, just as her conception was exceptional and her motherhood exceptional.

I will return the compliment of your frankness by saying that I find you ungenerous with your interlocutors.  I can hardly be said to have “taken a position” regarding the phallic symbolism of the liturgy.  I have only said that I don’t see why it should be seen as startling or offensive, considering the high regard the Church has for the conjugal union.  Lauretta, too, as I read her, has mainly expressed an openness to the idea.  Both of us, and others here, have also expressed an openness to being mistaken in what we believe and a desire to learn more from those who know more than we do.

If ordinary Catholics like her and me (not theologians, not liturgists) discover through JP II new depths of meaning in marriage, in the human body, in God’s cosmic plan for the “unification of persons”; if through that the marital embrace is newly seen by us as fraught with religious mystery and power; and if we then hear from trustworthy Catholics better read than we are that there are theologians, priests and liturgists who have spoken of the conjugal symbolism of the liturgy, is it strange and perverse in us to find such symbolism beautiful and meaningful?  Is it fair to take us to task for “making things up” about the liturgy, or “inventing” our own symbolism or being pansexualists?

frangelo • Jun 25, 2009 - 9:46 am


You certainly have been open to revision of your thought and gracious. I apologize for mis-characterizing your considerations and those of Lauretta as held convictions.  I just think that such novel liturgical ideas should be adequately established before they are introduced to popular catechesis. But that is not a criticism of you.

I don’t wish to belabor the point—I do understand what you have expressed—however,we do have significantly different understandings of what is appropriate and helpful to the living of the faith and Christian marriage.  I would submit that it is not the difference between an exalted view of sexuality and prudery.  I will leave it at that.

Just FYI, dissolution for non-consummation is not a decree of nullity for a marriage that never existed, but the dissolution of a valid but not consummated marriage, ordinarily where the interests of faith are involved and the petitioner wishes to pursue a truly Christian marriage.  The granting of such a dissolution is exceptional and reserved to the pope alone. Hence, it is called the petrine privilege.

Here is Pius XI in Casti Canubii:

And if this stability seems to be open to exception, however rare the exception may be, as in the case of certain natural marriages between unbelievers, or amongst Christians in the case of those marriages which though valid have not been consummated, that exception does not depend on the will of men nor on that of any merely human power, but on divine law, of which the only guardian and interpreter is the Church of Christ. However, not even this power can ever affect for any cause whatsoever a Christian marriage which is valid and has been consummated, for as it is plain that here the marriage contract has its full completion, so, by the will of God, there is also the greatest firmness and indissolubility which may not be destroyed by any human authority (35).

So you are right, consummated marriages are fully complete; however, the sacrament is administered validly by the couple in the exchange of vows at the altar, not in the consummation in the bedroom.

In any case, these facts must lead the way to understanding the validity and beauty also of the virginal marriage of St. Joseph and Our Lady, While exceptional such a marriage is not something different from a valid marriage in keeping with the ends of marriage and matrimonial consent.

Again, my apologies for my lack of generosity.

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 25, 2009 - 10:19 am

Dear Father, thank you for your graciousness in the face of my ungraciousness.  Thank you too for the helpful information. My ideas of marriage may need to be adjusted.
I agree with you entirely that those who claim a tradition of phallic symbolism in the Easter liturgy ought to produce evidence of it or cease teaching it.  I agree with you, too, that there is a danger in the TOB movement of an exaggerated emphasis on sex.  One of the Personalist Project’s key aims is to make JP II’s personalism (which extends far beyond TOB) better known, partly to facilitate a more adequate understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of TOB—one that puts it in full context.

The quotation from Casti Canubii is clarifying.  The question remaining for me is whether in JP II’s work on the theology of marriage we don’t have a development of doctrine that importantly affects our understanding of the sacrament—I mean specifically, I guess, the relation between sex and the sacrament. 
But I feel I am out of my depth here.  Perhaps others who have studied it will weigh in and throw light.

I am almost embarrassed to say “apologies accepted”, since it makes more of the “wrong” than it deserves. 
Anyway,  I offer a friendly virtual handshake, and with it my renewed gratitude for your valuable and generous contributions to our site.  I hope you’ll drop in and comment often!

Speaking of which, if you’re not too tired of the topic to carry on, I’d be interested in your response to the audio clip of CW’s response to the question on prudishness.  (It’s in a separate Linde post.)  There he comes closest to the problem you have pointed out elsewhere of seeming to suggest that anyone who is uncomfortable with his explicitness may have a hangup.

frangelo • Jun 25, 2009 - 2:03 pm

Thanks Katie,

I will try to listen to the clip later and let you know what I think.

God bless you.

Lauretta • Jun 25, 2009 - 2:15 pm

I’m sorry to be so remiss in not responding to the comments here but I have been busy with caring for grandchildren and, since, I only had one child myself, don’t know the technique of doing many things while caring for children.  They take my whole focus!

I believe the first thing that we were discussing that I needed to respond to was concerning the use of the term impregnate in relation to the baptismal font water.  I believe that I may have stated before that both Karl Rahner and A.G. Martimort use this term in that context.  I presume they are valid sources to trust.

Next, concerning the phallic imagery of the Easter candle, Mary Birmingham in her Word and Worship workbooks states that analogy in all three of her workbooks.  These are put out by Paulist Press and I believe used by some parishes.  If this idea is not correct, one would hope that the bishop under whose authority these are being published would have them corrected.  And if one gets false information from a source such as this, I would think the blame would lie with the publisher and the bishop whose responsibility it is to oversee these matters, not the person that may be passing this information on, whether in a formal teaching manner or just by word of mouth.

And, finally, the issue of what constitutes a Sacramental marriage.  It would seem that there is a difference between a valid marriage and a Sacramental marriage.  I know that my husband and I were told by our bishop that our marriage was valid but not Sacramental because I was not baptized at the time of our wedding.  He said that it became Sacramental at the time of my baptism.  I don’t understand how a valid but unconsummated marriage can be a Sacrament since Casti Conubii states that it can be dissolved.  How do you undo a Sacrament?

I am very much enjoying these discussions and am learning much from them, so thank you both!

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 29, 2009 - 12:19 pm

Lauretta, I like this last thought of yours very much.  It inclines me to think my earlier thought was valid, namely that it is right to speak of the conjugal union as a sacrament and a source of divine grace in the world.  Since it is the most complete expression of human love and at the same time a miraculous collaboration between the spouses and God in the coming-to-be of new persons, destined for eternal life with Him, it strikes me as “fitting” (even while being uninventibly and unimaginably great and awe-inspiring)  that it should be so. 
It seems to me further that if it IS true it is a truth that has been grossly neglected in Catholic teaching and ethos.

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed that Fr. Angelo and I have been carrying on our discussion under the post containing the audio clip of the “what is prudery?” question at the PP lecture.  It would be fun to see you there too.

Josef Seifert • Aug 23, 2009 - 3:48 am

Josef Seifert • Aug 23, 2009 - 4:13 am

Regarding this question and the extended interesting discussion between C. West, Father Geiger, Katie von Schaijik, and others, I must say that I sympathize with Fr. Angelo and others who find it disturbing to see the Easter Candle interpreted as a phallic symbol and this for several reasons, quite apart from the argument that it contradicts the tradition:
1. First, precisely because I agree with the many deep things Katie says about the beauty and depth of sexuality in marriage and also the need for a “theology of the body,” I think pure “phallic symbols” or depiction of “phalluses” (for example, in a horrible performance of Wagner’s Tristan in Bayreuth and in many pagan sculptures) as such isolate a part of the male body from the whole context of human love and thus precisely fail to express that unity of spirit and body and deep meaning we all Hildebrandians, Wojtylians, and personalists want to insist on and which is the center of the TOB. Precisely if we think of the loving sexual union of the spouses as a deep image of God’s love for us, as this is evident in the Song of Songs and many of Christ’s parables, and see the divine Bridegroom’s love for us symbolized in the Easter Candle, then we should consider that neither spousal love nor all these divine supernatural mysteries are phalluses and therefore images of it, and in particular the Easter Candle, are not “phallic symbols.”
2. Secondly, it seems to me evident that, as the richest interpretation of the Easter candle and Easter light, the magnificent Exsultet in the Easter night, has it, the Easter Candle symbolizes that new light of God which illuminates us, the light of our redemption, the light of grace that dispels the darkness of sin, the light of truth that shines into the darkness of errors, and also the light of divine love that made us from enemies of God estranged from him, into his bride, etc., and none of this (and also not the divine bridegroom) is “a phallus” and hence the Easter candle not a “phallic symbol.”
3. Thirdly, I think to see the Easter Candle, inasmuch as it is an image of Christ who, like his mother Mary, lived a perfectly virginal life, as a phallic symbol (which from antiquity on is rather a symbol of isolated sexual pleasure and Dionysian sex-orgies of the sort Hefner might like us to engage in) and even to refer to Playboy in this context, is to gravely mislead our fantasy into changing the holy sacred imagery of the Easter Candle: from one of the pure flame of divine love and of the risen transfigured Christ and his virginal mother the love between whom incorporates the redeemed Church (and also its true image, spousal love that expresses itself also in the sexual union of the spouses), into a kind of sex symbol, which might have a place in Muslim religion that has a carnal vision of heaven but misreads the Easter celebration in reference to Christ (who, while His is the archetype of spousal love, tells us that in heaven we will not even marry and get married and hence also for this reason is precisely not symbolized by an isolated “phallic sex- symbol.”)
4. Fourthly, the over-ample use Freudian psychoanalysis makes of vaginal and phallic symbols and the explanation of all spiritual things, not only of spousal love, from below, from libido and sexuality, instead, as Hildebrand and Wojtyla insist, on the reverse, explaining sexuality in the light of spousal love and spiritual love which gives it its beauty and without which it would be ugly, should not be in any way part of our Christian spirituality and hence it seems to be doubly problematic and disturbing when the holiest of holiest loves and mysteries is interpreted this way.
Therefore, notwithstanding my agreement with so many good things Jules and Katie and others say in their statements, I agree with those who feel disturbed by this interpretation of the Easter liturgy, not for prudish reasons, I trust. Therefore I think that in the defense of the theology of the body and in our explanation of the Easter Candle we should discard the idea that it is a “phallic symbol.”

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 23, 2009 - 8:43 am

Dear Josef,  I am persuaded.  Between Fr. Geiger’s claim that there really is no such tradition and the convincing reasons you give here against the idea, I find myself agreeing that the Easter candle should not be considered a phallic symbol, and that that claim should be removed from the presentation of TOB>
I wonder where CW and others got the idea, which seems to be rather widespread.  I read in a book by Greg Popcak that he had been taught it in a theology or spirituality class.  Janet Smith also wrote that she had been told by a priest friend that there is such a tradition.
It would be good for all concerned to have this definitively clarified without going so far as David Schindler did—I mean implying the CW is dangerous and beyond the pale of orthodoxy.

Lauretta • Aug 23, 2009 - 10:16 am

I agree with you, Katie.  If this has been taught to several people by someone before CW then we ought to be focusing on them and their teaching this rather than CW.  If he did not originate it, then we should not be upset with him personally. 

Concerning Joseph’s comments, I don’t quite understand why if the phallic symbol has been used negatively in the past, that would preclude us from using it in a “Christian” sense now.  My understanding has been that we have taken many pagan symbols and feast days etc. and infused them with the light of Christ to change their meaning and then use them in the Church.  Is not the name of our holiest season of the year, Easter, not the name of a pagan goddess?

frangelo • Aug 23, 2009 - 12:23 pm

I very much agree with the line of reasoning of Josef and find it complementary to my own.  I very much appreciate his enlightening contribution.

I would like to further add some context.  I spent the time to research the question (the better part of a work day) because the standing criticism of those who found West’s methodology troubling was that they did not provide evidence and were taking him out of context. 

I have researched other questions for the same reason, such as his interpretation of St. Louis de Montfort’s references to Maria Lactans and his interpretation of the saint’s praise for the Haily Mary (which he erroneous interprets as an analysis of the virginal conception).  What I have found is a methodology that isolates and stretches certain elements of Catholic tradition and presents as them as evidence for his own ideas in a way that clearly was never intended by the author.  This is a real problem for which he should take responsibility.

I am not upset with him nor do I think he has made these mistakes in a dishonest way; however, I do think he should be held accountable for what he says, especially when he is the acknowledged authority on TOB in the United States.  For instance, he has been teaching that the Paschal Candle is a phallic symbol for at least ten years and has been invoking the fathers of the Church as his authority.  He has also made reference to Christopher Derrick as supporting his view.  Yet no text from any author to my knowledge has ever been marshaled to support this assertion.  I took me less than a day to do some research on the topic, which up to this point, no one has even attempted to refute.

I am sorry.  No one else is to be held responsible for this kind of theological methodology other than the one who uses it.  If West is going to be the spokesman for the TOB movement in the United States, then the responsibility lies with him.

This is not about a lynching or the destruction of anyone’s reputation.  It is about the correct understanding of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and about seeing to it that those who have made themselves responsible for its transition are held to the same standards that we would expect of anyone who have made themselves the spokesman or point man for a movement.

I am very concerned about all this, not so much because of the individual erroneous interpretations, but because they are being used to argue for something more significant that is clearly not a part of the tradition, viz. the assertion that prudery needs to be counteracted by a more enlightened fascination with human anatomy, with sexuality and specifically with the sexual act itself; that this is something that we should be focused on and that we need to promote this fascination among others.

Lauretta • Aug 23, 2009 - 2:27 pm

I was reflecting on this subject during Mass this morning and had a few more questions/comments.

If, in fact, it is inappropriate to use a part of a person’s physical anatomy to symbolize a spiritual reality as Mr. Seifert alleges, then it is inappropriate to refer to the Baptismal font as a womb as well.  The statue behind the Chair of St. Peter of Mary nursing Christ is inappropriate.  The Sistine Chapel should be remodeled because Michelangelo used the naked human body to symbolize all sorts of things.  Michelangelo also sculpted a crucifix with a naked corpus which I assume is wrong as well.

I will again repeat a quote from a footnote in TOB about the Song of Songs:  “Some readers of the Song of Songs have jumped immediately to reading a disincarnate love into its words.  The have forgotten the lovers or have petrified them into pretence, into an intellectual key,...they have multiplied the most minute allegorical correspondences in every sentence, word, or image….This is not the right way.  he who does not believe in the human love of the spouses, he who must ask forgiveness for the body, does not have the right to rise higher…With the affirmation of human love, by contrast, it is possible to discover the revelation of God in it.”

Did not God create human sexuality to be a revelation of His love for us?  Why, then is it inappropriate to use the physical, carnal parts of our sexuality as symbols for God’s love?

Father, you have stated that it would be inappropriate to have a naked corpus on our crucifixes because it is a humiliating thing.  I propose that the crucifixion itself was the most profound humiliation and His nakedness would not have increased that humiliation by any discernible amount.  We should be much more shocked at seeing the CRUCIFIX and what that means than whether or not Christ’s body is naked.  The crucifixion is the shocking thing and if we are not shocked every time we look at it, I believe we have ceased to see its meaning.

We Christians have taken one of the most humiliating forms of execution known in history and use it as a SYMBOL of God’s love for us.  Protestants and non-Christians are disgusted by this and chastise us for it all of the time.  It seems to me that it is much less difficult to understand the phallic imagery as a symbol of live-giving love than that of a crucifixion!

I am a convert so maybe I have a little different view of things than those who are raised as Catholics.  You have always seen a body hanging from a cross and are used to it.  I was not, it was shocking.  It would have been no more shocking to me if the corpus had been naked.

As far as CW using the Easter candle phallic imagery in his teaching, I have at least six sets of his tapes and either my husband and I sleep through that part each time or he does not use it as a regular part of his teaching.  Why don’t people contact Janet Smith and Greg Popcak and ask them if they would be willing to cite their sources for this understanding?  The fact that they were aware of it from sources other than CW should prove that he is not the source of the idea.  I cited an example from a book on the readings in the liturgy in a earlier thread to show that this idea has been around for awhile before CW began teaching it.

On another blog, an Eastern rite Catholic said that much of this was commonly understood in their tradition and that TOB was only stating what they already knew.  He stated that the Cross was looked at by their churches as the marriage bed of Christ and the Church.  Is that not a pretty PHYSICAL image that would automatically bring up the thought of the marital act?

I have more that I want to add, but need to do some research and since I have visitors, do not have the time right now.  I realize as well, that I am rambling and will take more time to organize my thoughts more succinctly!

Josef Seifert • Aug 23, 2009 - 5:51 pm

Dear Lauretta,

I am glad to see how active you are in this discussion and fully agree with you that the conjugal act and spousal love are present in the Song of Songs and countless other Biblical passages including Christ’s parable of the heavenly wedding feast and also in the Church Father’s calling the Cross Christ’s Wedding bed with the Church. I believe that I stated this clearly enough in my text and that you could not draw the conclusion that we disagreed on this issue.
I equally agree with Pope John Paul II and Hildebrand that the Song of Songs is not a purely analogous spiritual symbolic work and is not only in the Bible for the deep spiritual analogies that can be drawn from it such as Saint John of the Cross does in his magnificent poems and spiritual explanations he gives to his similar spiritual love songs, but that these biblical texts are also a revelation of the god-given magnificent beauty and depth of spousal love including the sexual meaning of the body in the conjugal act that is called to express, fulfill and consummate this love.
I have written myself on this and find the TOB one of the greatest achievements in marriage theology and Hildebrand’s philosophy of spousal love and sexuality one of the immortal contributions to this topic in the last century.
But this spousal meaning of the body and its presentation in the Bible is precisely wholly different from a “phallic symbol”; it is a presentation of spousal LOVE which gives sexuality its true meaning and makes it a profound image of the heavenly wedding feast. Therefore it is the opposite to any isolation of the phallus from the person or a kind of glorification of sex per se, which, if divorced from love, loses all its beauty and becomes part of sins of lustfulness that are, as all kinds of pornography and sexual crimes, one of the most saddening sins through which God is offended and the deepest opposite to the true spousal meaning of the body.  I recommend you to read on the three entirely different “faces” of sexuality Dietrich von Hildebrand: In Defense of Purity, 7th ed.: Purity. The Mystery of Christian Sexuality (Steubenville, Ohio: The Franciscan University Press, 1989).
Our deep agreement on the beauty of spousal love and sexuality in its context does not alter, however, the four reasons (which I do not want to repeat here because you do not discuss them) – besides Fr Angelo’s (fifth) argument from the tradition – why I find it inappropriate to call the Easter Candle a phallic symbol.
As to the Sixtine chapel, I find it one of the greatest masterworks and regard it, like Pope John Paul II, as a sort of theology of the body in painting.
As far as images of the cross are concerned, on which Christ is completely naked, one would have to see them to judge their character better and certainly Michelangelo’s sculpture of the completely naked body is very impressive. By the way, the theme of the naked and humiliated suffering body of Christ is certainly neither sex let alone a “phallic symbol” but the mystery wonderfully described in Katharina Emmerich’s Passion of Christ and visions of the passion of Christ’s allowing the most shameful and shameless humiliation of his body as part of his deepest passion. Also the Maria lactans is no vagina symbol and I do not plan to remove the statues or Sixtine Chapel if I become Pope.
For the rest, however, I believe that the mystery of Christ’s body is such that the tradition of medieval and later paintings to cover part of his body are more discrete and appropriate as an expression of the unique reverence we owe to Christ’s body as God-Man and that in this and Mary’s and also other Saints’ case the presentation of their completely naked bodies would in some way at least greatly risk a loss of the unique awe and special feelings of modesty and shame we owe to the mystery of their most holy bodies. Moreover, it is in general a law of art that the presentation of the naked human body should in some ways present a “generalized” human body and that therefore portraits which depict the individual as such, for example of the naked Napoleon, are embarrassing and shameless rather than beautiful, as Dietrich von Hildebrand explains very well in his Aesthetics and already Adolf von Hildebrand, his father and famous sculptor, explained in his Problem of Form.
As to the Maria lactans paintings I do not find them disturbing except if their artistic quality or spirit radiates instead of the marveling at the mystery of “the blessed breasts that fed our Lord” and in general the beauty of the female breasts and the beauty of their feeding a baby a spirit of shamelessness or grossness that is so widespread today.

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