frangelo • Aug 23, 2009 - 10:49 pm


I have said we should not presume to strip Christ and enter into the causality of his humiliation any more than we already have by our sins.  Perhaps there are exceptions.  I certainly subscribe to John Paul II’s assessment of the use of nudity in art.  However, what I most take exception to with respect to West’s presentation on this matter is his assertion that somehow we would be better off if we were able to expose Our Lord; that somehow we are missing out on the revelation and that if we were purer we would desire to have that loincloth gone.  The implication being that there is that Manichean demon lurking in our psyches and preventing us from embracing the revelation of Our Lord’s nakedness.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why the natural and normal shame that seeks to cover one’s eyes when the most holy and private parts of the body are openly exposed is interpreted as prudery; or especially, why a reverential attitude with respect to the body of the Lord would not somehow have a special precedence.  At the very least, I would have to say that it is the peculiarity of the argument for stripping Our Lord coalescing with the other arguments I have critiqued, all of which are aimed at overcoming prudery, which seem to me to be extraordinarily contrived and off the mark of ordinary religious sensibilities.  And when objections like these are brought forward, we are told to look into our hearts and ask ourselves why we have this problem.  Again this makes no sense to me at all.  I don’t know how else to express it.

I would certainly agree with both you and Joseph on the Song of Songs and that the human dimension of spousal love and even carnal love is not to be overlooked, as it sometimes has.  But what is argued by West in this regard is something more, as I have already stated, and that is a singular penchant for unveiling and for asserting our need to be preoccupied and fixated on the carnal and erotic.

Katie has linked to my most recent post concerning Father Loya’s defense of West, in which I talk about the nuptial analogies of the liturgy, such as the cross as the marriage bed.  None of this do I deny or minimize; however, the liturgy in which these realities are memorialized is not a stripping but a veiling with momentary glimpses within the sacred times and spaces of the redemptive mystery.  It is not a systematic removal of every article of clothing.  I am not suggesting that married people do not enjoy and celebrate their nuptial union in the experience of each other’s body.  Of course they should, but that does not mean that we need to focus on carnality and sexuality at every turn in order to get at the truth of our faith.  This idea is totally foreign to the tradition, and as far as I can see it is also foreign to the Theology of the Body.

Just one other thing to further illustrate my point:  There is a YouTube video of West taking a gentleman from an audience and standing him up in front of everyone and then saying:  “Everyone, look at Paul’s body.”  A few people look uncomfortable and others snicker, so he goes on to ask them why they react in that way.  The question is rhetorical because he answers for them.  He says that they are uncomfortable with the body.  He says that if he had said “Look at Paul” no one would have reacted, but because he said “Look at Paul’s body,” everyone got a bit nervous.

This is an exact illustration of why I have a problem with West’s crusade and with his methodology.  He is so convinced that prudery is the demon plaguing all of us that he sees this demon everywhere, and then he uses a completely specious argument to prove his point. 

He would be the first one to say that we should not depersonalize anyone, but that is precisely what he does when he says “Look at Paul’s body.” The problem people have with that language has nothing to do with prudery; it has to do with the way the imperative objectifies the person of Paul and the way in which this language is used to manipulate the audience.

If you say to me “Look at Paul,” I will look and see his body, or better I will see him with his body, and I will have no problem looking at him (which is to see his body).  But if you say to me, “Look at Paul’s Body,” I will say “What the heck are you saying and what are you trying to accomplish?”  The whole thing is absurd. 

And then I am supposed to feel bad because I am a prude?  No.  It does not wash.

His repeated insistence on these points, including the candle interpretation and his assertion that if we were really prepared we would want to strip Jesus, is just off the mark.  Again, I don’t know how else to say it.

As far as the origin of the candle interpretation, Janet Smith has as much said she does not know where it comes from but that she was told by priests that that’s the way they see it and that it was taught by the fathers.  Frankly, I would think that if this same statement has been repeated for ten years and defended against objections with a vague patristic reference over and over again, and still we have no name of a particular father and no text to which we can refer then it is probably because it does not exist.  I can’t imagine as a preacher and teacher being challenged for years on a particular point and not making an effort to come up with specifics. 

I am all eyes and ears.

I know I probably sound arrogant.  I am very aware of my limitations and of the delicacy of human feelings and reputations.  I don’t walk lightly.  But on an intellectual level, that is, on a level of principle and truth, I find all of this very problematic.  There are personalist considerations to be made hear as well; however in all honestly, I don’t think it would serve anyone for me to mince words.

Finally, in passing, I just want to clarify that I have never criticized the use of the image of Maria Lactans and that was not my specific point of contention with West.  I would agree with Josef on this point. 

My reference to West’s use of St. Louis’  language about Our Lady breastfeeding Our Lord had to do with the way in which West suggests that we are to learn something about how we should be more comfortable with eroticism by thinking about the saint’s words.  First of all, the context of the saint’s meditation is completely different from that in which West refers to it.  Secondly, while I believe a balanced person will have no problem following the analogy and even appreciating the natural and physical relationship of mother and child, I don’t see why anyone should be seeing prudery when a man has a problem relating to a woman’s body the way a nursing child relates to its mother’s body.  Again, I just find this kind of argumentation strange and contrived.

Josef Seifert • Aug 24, 2009 - 12:09 am

Dear Father Geiger,
I find this a very fine and balanced statement and agree with every point you say and can only hope that C West with his good intentions will come to see this. By the way both Max Scheler and Wojtyla have written very deep things about the meaning of sexual shame and intimacy and have distinguished it sharply from prudishness that we discussed amply before.
Legitimate sexual shame and least of all reverence and purity should be confused with prudery.
Wheras Wojtyìa stresses especially the aspect of shame as protecting the body from irreverent and impure, depersonalizing looks and attitudes, I find a very helpful point in this context the distinction Hildebrand makes in his In Defense of Purity, 7th ed. Purity. The Mystery of Christian Sexuality (Steubenville, Ohio: The Franciscan University Press, 1989) and elsewhere between shame of something ugly or evil and the shame of something beautiful but so intimate that it belongs to the personal mystery of persons. This is the authentic sense of positive sexual shame which does hide from others those mysteries of love and of the body which only spousal love ought to see or unveil because of its beauty and depth and intimacy. Also in the religious life there are feelings, thoughts or experiences of Saints so sublime that they did not wish to expose them to everybody.
I believe that it is this kind of shame in its highest form which is at stake in the context of not only genuine sexual but religious shame in front of the intimacy of Christ’s or Mary’s bodies and the deeper reason for the clothing on crucifixes or on Mary.
This shame is noble and just as opposite to prudishness (which regards the beauty of the body ugly) as it is to the shame we will and ought to feel when we are seen to perform impure acts or watch porno movies or to act in bad immoral and dishonest ways.
And we should feel also shame over our and even over other person’s shamelessness. Also this shame of ugly and impure acts is not a sign of prudery but of purity and of recognizing the intimate and mysterious aspects of sexuality.
And also for this reason I find any comparisons between Hefner and TOB so painful because the absence of the good shame of the beauty and mystery of sex as well as of the shame that is adequate to our own or the impurity depicted in Playboy is nothing good simply because opposed to prudery nor is it one step towards the TOB but it is its antithesis. And this demeaning of the body and shamelessness ought to be an object of a good shame that is a value response to this impurity and desecration of sex.
Still different is the nakedness that neither is the gift of spousal love nor meant to evoke impurity and glorify it as Playboy, but the nakedness of humiliating a person by tearing his clothes off and exposing him or her to abuse or derision.
The nakedness of Christ in the passion is precisely such a humiliation because it violated any authentic sexual shame and reverence. And for this very reason it is part of his passion caused by acts of cruel and impure men!
While we should preserve some of the truth of this humiliation in the religious imagery, and do not have to show, as some crucifixion scenes in the byzantine tradition, Christ fully clothed in a king’s ornate, we ought never to perpetrate in our art or thought the same kind of shamelessness and humiliation which the torturers of Christ have committed against our Lord and we should experience this unsuited nakedness of Christ not as something we should all do or like but as a cause of his suffering.
This comes out well in the movie THE PASSION and much more so in Clemens Brentano’s wonderfully worded script of Katharina Emmerich’s visions of Christ’s passion where this nakedness of Jesus and his exposure to the disrespectful and impure looks of the soldiers and their derision and impurity is described as one of the most shuddering aspects of his passion.

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 24, 2009 - 11:06 am

While I have come to agree with some of Fr. Angelo’s concerns and criticisms, I still have several thoughts in defense of CW that I’d like eventually to articulate and add to this good conversation. 
Both Jules and I look forward eagerly to the end of a long, difficult summer and the return of quiet that come with the children being happily settled back in school.
Meanwhile, thanks to all for their illuminating contributions here.

Bill Drennen • Aug 24, 2009 - 5:43 pm


I agree with Fr. Geiger in general that the idea of the candle being a phallic symbol is a silly one. That is my best word. Not heterodox or out of step, only silly, in very much the way Chesterton said in the very appropriate quote, ““Why, of course, . . . if it hadn’t been for phallic worship, they would have built the spire pointing downwards and standing on its own apex!”

This sums it up very well. This argument has nothing to do with being prudes or being orthodox, only having common sense vs. getting carried away with nonsense!


Katie van Schaijik • Aug 25, 2009 - 2:00 pm

Would Fr. Angelo say it was a silly idea?  Perhaps.  I wouldn’t.  It may be unfounded in the tradition.  It may be problematic; it may be confusing or misleading, or ill-conceived for other reasons.  But I don’t find it silly.

frangelo • Aug 25, 2009 - 2:45 pm


I think I have called it silly, but I also consider it dangerous.  I really do think there is a tendency to justify what amounts to a fixation on sex.

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 25, 2009 - 2:54 pm

I see what you mean, Father.  Perhaps it does carry that danger.  But, as I shall try to say in my still-forthcoming reply to your latest (good and helpful) critique of CW, my sense of his work is not that he is trying to justify a fixation with sex, but rather that he is trying to convert an already-existing fascination with sex into a longing for and commitment to self-giving love. 
But more later—though I must say some days it seems as if I will never again muster the mental leisure and concentration to work out a thought beyond a blog post.

Bill Drennen • Aug 25, 2009 - 5:48 pm

yes Katie, but He should not do that by seeing sex in things that are not really there. I think Chesterton’s quote shows how silly it really is. Would our candles be big, short and fat if not for the phallic symbolism? In his lens he sees everything sexual from the original sin to the final coming and all the symbols and fixtures in between.

frangelo • Aug 24, 2009 - 8:52 pm

Thank you, Josef.  You described the different kinds of shame in a very precise way and I think the distinctions are not only helpful, but necessary accurately assessing the nature of real prudery.


Nice to make contact again.  I would be most interested in hearing what you think.

Lauretta • Aug 25, 2009 - 10:02 am

OK, I’m back!  Didn’t do any of the research that I wanted to do, but I have been pondering this whole issue for the past two days.  First of all, I would like to repeat that I have not heard CW mention anything about Easter candles or the Blessed Mother’s naked body in any of the 6 or 8 tape series of his that we own.  And I have listened to all of them numerous times since we have presented them to groups of people.  I don’t know where he is supposedly making these statements but it is not in the teaching that he is marketing for sale.

Back now to what seems to be those two main themes of discussion.  First, the Easter candle.  I reviewed your reasons for rejecting the phallic symbolism of the Easter candle, Joseph, and it seems to me that most of your objections break down if we accept the Baptismal font as a womb.  Are we not “isolating a part of the FE-male body from the whole context of human love and thus precisely fail to express that unity of spirit and body and deep meaning”?  If we accept the font as a womb, which the Church does, the symbol is incomplete without that which complements it.  The font is a womb, is it not, because it is receiving and bearing life—spiritual life? (It is not because it is shaped like a womb!)  This life has to be received from somewhere—the font or womb does not generate it on its own.  What have we used to symbolize that which gives life to this water?  The Easter candle which symbolizes Christ.  I contend that in that aspect, it is not the LIGHT of Christ that we are symbolizing but His GIVING OF LIFE to his bride, the Church.  According to the dictionary, phallus means “an image or model of the penis, symbolizing the generative power of nature”.  So, during that act of placing the candle in the font of water, are we not symbolizing the life that Christ gives(generates) to the water—and to the Church?  Is it not then phallic according to the dictionary?  It is phallic because it is generating life—not because of its shape!

If we have a healthy understanding of the marital act and see in it the beautiful self-gift of one to another which then generates new life, I fail to see why it would be a negative thing to have it symbolized in the liturgy.  I’m not saying that is what is happening in the ritual of the Easter candle because I agree that Christ’s gift and Mary’s fruitfulness was virginal, but IF it were part of our liturgy at some point, it should be a beautiful thing to experience, not something vulgar.  And, if we maintain that definition of phallic, then Christ’s virginal conception still had a phallic aspect to it—life was given to and generated in His mother’s womb by a source outside of herself.

I was also thinking about portraying Christ and His mother naked.  This sounds shocking and disrespectful but if we take what JPII taught in TOB and applied it, then for those who understand this teaching, it would be the appropriate manner of portraying them.  Why?  They are the two human persons in all of history that are “naked without shame”.  Their nakedness would not have been shameful for them because of the purity they possessed in not being subject to Original Sin.  Just as the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was full of signs that the indigenous people saw and understood, for those who understand TOB, a naked body, particularly that of Christ and His mother would be full of meaning.  It would seem that clothing them could, in a sense, be taking away some of their dignity and specialness since they alone possess this lack of shame.  And, does not JPII state that nakedness is only wrong if the person intends to bring about concupiscence in others?

And, just a short comment about breast-feeding.  I can guarantee you that my grandsons are not going to have a problem seeing a woman breast-feeding her baby.  They have grown up with this in their home since their mother nurses all of her children and they see it several times a day.  It will not have a sexual connotation to them because they have seen its true meaning in their home from the time they can remember.  This is only an issue, I firmly believe, in cultures where women stopped breast-feeding their children.
If men had seen their mothers, aunts, neighbors breast-feeding when they were children, they would never sexualize it.

Bill Drennen • Aug 25, 2009 - 11:18 am


Your obviously a girl so you would not know. Beleive me it is not true. No amount of pre exposure will convince a young man that he is not attracted to a mothers breast. We are designed to be attrected to them. If a man is not there is something wrong with him.

I beleive what you say that not responding in lust is possible to condition but do not say there will be no sexual attraction. There should be a normal and healthy sexual attraction.

Lauretta • Aug 25, 2009 - 12:32 pm


Oh, oh, I need to let my husband know that he has something wrong with him!  He has told me on numerous occasions that a breast-feeding mother’s breast has never been a sight of sexual attraction for him.  He is attracted by the beauty of the act but not sexually.  He has been attracted to females in a sexual way—both in lust and in mere appreciation—probably nearly every day but never toward a breast-feeding mother.  Those are his assertions, not mine!

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 25, 2009 - 1:40 pm

I, too, have heard normal, healthy married Catholic men say that they do not find the sight of a breast or part of a breast of a nursing mother sexually stimulating.  Socially awkward, maybe, if they’re not used to it.

Bill Drennen • Aug 25, 2009 - 5:28 pm

More then just the beauty of the act I suspect. Both mother and baby are also beautiful physicaly and breast feeding is a very sexual activity.

frangelo • Aug 25, 2009 - 5:58 pm

My only point in all this was just to mention that if a man finds the sight of a woman breastfeeding sexually arousing he should not be called a prude for choosing not to look.  I can guarantee you, that there are many normal men who fit that category.

frangelo • Aug 25, 2009 - 10:23 am


Glad to see you back.

The patristic reference to the womb is not a reference to genitalia as I have already made clear many times.  To suggest that it is does violence to the patristic texts.  Again, this is another example of using a text for a purpose it was never intended to be used.

The phallus/candle argument is an empty box, because it is an invention, pure and simple.  The Church simply does not teach it, nor has it ever.

Suggesting that there is a phallic dimension to the virginal conception of Christ is to invert the use of analogy.  The phallic as generative principle points up to the divine first principle, but virginal conception is not a “sign” of the phallic.  And again, neither the Holy Spirit, nor the Father are the paternal principle in the conception of Jesus.  Our Lord is conceived without seed and without Father.  The contrary is simply not what the Church teaches.

I am not sure why the lack of shame on the Part of Jesus and Mary ought to mandate their stripping before the eyes of those whose proper response ought to be that of shame.

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