The Personalist Project

There will be more to say about this response to his critics, but for now let me only highlight some of it and urge everyone to read it in full.

The pivotal question as I see it is this: What does the grace of redemption offer us in this life with regard to our disordered sexual tendencies? From there, the questions multiply: Is it possible to overcome the pull of lust within us? If not, what are we to do with our disordered desires? If so, to what degree can we be liberated from lust and how can we enter into this grace? Furthermore, what does it actually look like to live a life of ever deepening sexual redemption?

It is abundantly clear from both Catholic teaching and human experience that, so long as we are on earth, we will always have to battle with concupiscence - that disordering of our passions caused by original sin (see Catechism of the Catholic Church 405, 978, 1264, 1426). In some of my earliest lectures and tapes, I confess that I did not emphasize this important point clearly enough. The battle with concupiscence is fierce. Even the holiest saints can still recognize the pull of concupiscence within them. Yet, as John Paul II insisted, we “cannot stop at casting the ‘heart’ into a state of continual and irreversible suspicion due to the manifestations of the concupiscence of the flesh… Redemption is a truth, a reality, in the name of which man must feel himself called, and ‘called with effectiveness’” (TOB 46:4).

Many people seem to doubt this “effectiveness” and thus conclude that the freedom I hold out is beyond the realm of man’s possibilities. From one perspective, these critics are correct. “But what are the ‘concrete possibilities of man’?” John Paul II asks. “And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ” (Veritatis Splendor 103)? For those dominated by lust, what I hold out is impossible. But those who enter the “effectiveness” of redemption discover “another vision of man’s possibilities” (TOB 46:6).

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Comments (70)

Scott Johnston

#1, Oct 30, 2009 6:08pm

I saw this when it came out and I think it is quite good; overall I am very pleased with it.

It is, however, unfortunate that he is choosing only to address one specific issue—that of concupiscence. Other issues raised are of a serious nature and I don’t think can simply be scooped up tidily under this one specific response. It is good that West acknowledged a defect in regard to the way he spoke about concupiscence in his early talks. And it is also good that he does not make a claim to being the sole or the best interpreter of JPII’s TOB.

In regard to the specific content of what he did say, I do have one critique. West still seems too willing to be loose with his use of terms. Sometimes he uses, “liberation from concupiscence”; at others he speaks of being free from the “domination of concupiscence.”

The latter is a much better, and more accurate, way of putting it. West seems to take his cue from JPII in sometimes using the more compact phraseology, “liberation from concupiscence” in place of the more accurate usage. But I wish he would not do this.

Even great thinkers such as JPII do not always use language consistently in a manner that best represents their ideas to a contemporary audience. Simply because JPII tends to use various phrases to represent the same idea does not mean it is a good method to replicate this lack of consistency. West would do well to discipline his use of language so that when he speaks of this topic he does not use the vague and very potentially misleading phrase, “liberation from concupiscence,” (even though JPII used it—assuming this is not primarily a translation issue). Instead he should always speak of becoming free from the “domination of concupiscence.”

This may seem like nitpicking, but I see it as very significant. A person hearing simply, “liberation from concupiscence,” can be greatly mislead and might conceive of the interplay of grace and nature in a manner that is extremely problematic. It does not take much to inadvertently lead someone down a very warped path when it comes to this subject.

Anonymous

#2, Oct 31, 2009 7:06pm

Scott,

My concern with your position would be that CW would no longer be presenting JPII’s TOB but his own sanitized version.  If we believe that TOB is true, then don’t we need to teach TOB, as it was given to us?

One of the things that I have found interesting in all of this discussion and controversy about concupiscence is that basically people are saying that the Church teaches that everyone must have mastery over sexual concupiscence except for married people and there is no way that they can ever be free from it.  Think about it.  Single people and religious who are teachers, for example, are expected to have relationships with those of the opposite sex, sometimes quite intimate if the student has a need, and yet are expected to be in total control of any attraction that may arise.  Priests are expected to counsel women about all manner of issues and be in control of any desires that may manifest themselves from the relationship.  Any physical reaction is a mortal sin.

Married people, however, are told that it is basically impossible for sexual concupiscence to be overcome.  For many years wives were told that they had to be agreeable to their spouses’ desires no matter what the circumstances.

It seems to me that the Church labeling things such as masturbation and fornication and adultery as objectively evil and mortal sins is in essence stating that we have to gain mastery over sexual concupiscence.  If we can’t gain mastery over sexual concupiscence I don’t see how we can function effectively in the world.  We can’t always be running in fear from those of the opposite sex or we cannot be effective teachers or doctors or co-workers or anything else that requires interaction with other people.

I have not understood why we are told that we have to master our concupiscence in every other area except for the sexual realm.  Who has ever been told that they are incapable of mastering over-eating or drinking or whatever other disorder one may develop?  It seems to me that what happens in all of these other areas is that someone develops ways in which these disorders can be dealt with and corrected.  I’m thinking of AA, Weight Watchers, etc.  Is not TOB that in the sexual realm?  It seems to me that it is.

Anonymous

#3, Nov 1, 2009 3:44pm

Lauretta,

To your first point…“If we believe that TOB is true, then don‚Äôt we need to teach TOB, as it was given to us?”  I think we all agree it should be but not everyone believes CW is doing that.  Many at least believe he is in need of some correction. That’s what the discussion has been about.

To your second point…“One of the things that I have found interesting in all of this discussion and controversy about concupiscence is that basically people are saying that the Church teaches that everyone must have mastery over sexual concupiscence except for married people…”  Did I miss something?  I don’t recall that being argued by anyone.  I think we all know we’re all called to holiness, to perfection.

And then there’s “I have not understood why we are told that we have to master our concupiscence in every other area except for the sexual realm.”  I’ve seen no one say that we should “master” all areas except the sexual.  Again, did I miss something?

I think we all believe we can be free from the “domination of concupiscence.”  But do you believe we can “master” our concupiscence, sexual and otherwise, and have “liberation from concupiscence” or is it something we will always battle in this world to some degree.  I think we need to be precise with our words sometimes to be clear.

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Nov 1, 2009 4:18pm

Lauretta wrote:
“My concern with your position would be that CW would no longer be presenting JPII‚Äôs TOB but his own sanitized version.  If we believe that TOB is true, then don‚Äôt we need to teach TOB, as it was given to us?”

I can’t think that adjusting the Pope’s vocabulary to forestall confusion should be thought of as “sanitizing”.  Nor, no matter how essentially true and valid we find TOB to be, are we obliged to hand it on exactly as we received it.  It is not the Creed.  Every true Catholic thinker/teacher/preacher is aware that he speaks of things that are too high and deep and mysterious to be captured perfectly in human language.  And he also knows that if he cares about his message being received, he must adapt it in a measure to his audience.  (I don’t speak of adapting doctrine, but mode of teaching.)

I think too much anxiety about avoiding confusion and speaking very exactly (whether it comes from CW’s critics or defenders) DOES hinder our witness in the world.  We move and work too cautiously, instead of with a spirit of freedom, confidence and strength—like the saints.

Anonymous

#5, Nov 2, 2009 2:51pm

Tim and Katie,

In response to point one, I was speaking about Scott’s statement that CW should not use the term “liberation from concupiscence” even tho JPII himself used the term himself several times.  What if JPII said what he meant and meant what he said?  What if liberation from concupiscence is an important part of TOB and we weaken it by not talking about it clearly?

Concerning point two, several people who were criticizing CW said that we are not going to overcome sexual concupiscence but in very rare cases.  Alice von Hildebrand calls sex dangerous in her critique (I can give you a link if you would like) and here is a quote from Prof. Schindler: 

My response is that concupiscence dwells “objectively” in the body, and continues its “objective” presence in the body throughout the course of our infralapsarian existence; and that we should expect holiness to “trump” temptations or disordered tendencies in the area of sexuality exactly as often as we should expect holiness to “trump” the reality of having to undergo death.

Am I misunderstanding him or is he saying that we cannot overcome concupiscence in this area with grace?

To focus on just one disordered desire and one closely related to the sexual sphere—that of food.  Yes, we are expected to master our concupiscence toward food.  Some insurance companies are penalizing those who are obese and some companies will not hire you if you are too overweight.  They are expecting, and demanding, that you master concupiscence in this area.

I have no disordered desire for drink or drugs.  Can I not therefore be said to have mastered concupiscence in these areas?  I know of people who have no disordered desire for food in the way that I do, can they not be said to have mastered concupiscence toward food?  I have a fried who was nearly 100 pounds overweight but has lost it and kept it off for several years now.  I would say that she has mastered her concupiscence in this area.  She can eat in restaurants and go to the grocery store without having extreme anxiety over possibly eating uncontrollably.

Maybe what we are having is a misunderstanding of terminology.  I define liberation as it is used here as the ability to live my life without constant fear of being tempted to the point of falling every time I am confronted with whatever I have had a disordered desire for.  Say, in an extreme case, an alcoholic who has mastered his disorder to the degree that he can be with others who are drinking without being tempted himself, or, in a perfect scenario, to be able to take a drink himself and not overindulge.

I truly believe that it is possible to, with grace, master sexual concupiscence to the point that we do not use our spouses as objects for our own satisfaction, that we can be with those of the opposite sex and not be tempted to sin with them, to see immodestly dressed people and not be aroused by them, etc.  This, of course, can only happen if our hearts are transformed and we can begin to see others as God sees them and not as objects, but I do believe this is possible.

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Nov 2, 2009 3:58pm

“What if JPII said what he meant and meant what he said?  What if liberation from concupiscence is an important part of TOB and we weaken it by not talking about it clearly?”

To me what is clear is that when JP II used the term “liberation from concupiscence” he did NOT mean absolute liberation.  He did NOT mean that we are no longer subject to temptation, that we don’t have to be vigilant.  He meant the same thing he meant when he wrote “liberation from the domination of concupiscence.”  CW clarified in his statement that (pace some of his critics) he agrees with the Pope on that point, while acknowledging that he failed to emphasize it enough in his early writings and presentations.

“Concerning point two, several people who were criticizing CW said that we are not going to overcome sexual concupiscence but in very rare cases. Alice von Hildebrand calls sex dangerous in her critique (I can give you a link if you would like)”

I think this is mainly a matter of misunderstanding and miscommunication.  I know AvH well enough to know that her concern is to show that because of its unique role in human life, its unique power and depth, and its unique potential for misuse, sex “as such” is dangerous.  But she would not claim (I am sure) that spouses should beware of sexual relations because they can only rarely manage to overcome concupiscence.  She has said to me many times about the conjugal union: “Do you realize, it’s a sacrament?”  She wants to the spouses to live their conjugal lives “in front of God”, with profound reverence, and with a kind of holy fear and trembling over the mystery of it all.  In this I think she and CW are in large agreement with one another.

Prof. Schindler’s point I find inscrutable.

AvH (again I am sure from many years of close friendship with her and study of her husband’s thought) would reject the analogy between sex and appetites for food and drink, which cannot compare with the significance of sex in our moral and spiritual lives.  At the same time, I think she would agree with CW and JP II that persons CAN be “liberated from the domination of concupiscence”, and that this is the simple aim of Christian living, viz. “Transformation in Christ.”

“I truly believe that it is possible to, with grace, master sexual concupiscence to the point that we do not use our spouses as objects for our own satisfaction, that we can be with those of the opposite sex and not be tempted to sin with them, to see immodestly dressed people and not be aroused by them, etc.”

Here I agree with you whole-heartedly, Lauretta.  I will go so far as to say that I think anyone who DOESN’T believe this has not understood the mind of the Church on human sexuality.

Anonymous

#7, Nov 2, 2009 5:11pm

Katie you wrote “To me what is clear is that when JP II used the term ‘liberation from concupiscence’ he did NOT mean absolute liberation.  He did NOT mean that we are no longer subject to temptation, that we don‚Äôt have to be vigilant.  He meant the same thing he meant when he wrote ‘liberation from the domination of concupiscence.’  CW clarified in his statement that (pace some of his critics) he agrees with the Pope on that point, while acknowledging that he failed to emphasize it enough in his early writings and presentations.”

I wonder if the clarification has been sufficient although I’m sure you’d place the “blame” more on the shoulders of the listeners.  Having heard other West followers say the same type of things as Lauretta makes me think the clarifications are, at least, lacking.

“Must we always be precise and elaborate enough in our every word to eliminate all possible misunderstanding?” Obviously precision is sometimes very necessary lest we lead people to believe we can have absolute liberation from concupiscence.

“Anyone who listens to CW, hears the isolated phrase ‘liberation from concupiscence’, and uses it claim that CW thinks that we are safe from temptation, is someone not paying attention, or not very bright, or warped already, or bearing ill will.”  Well, not everyone is very bright hence the need to have people like CW explain to us what JPII meant. Some are warped.  I remember on a previous thread the charge that many are “damaged” sexually one way or another.  Some may be bearing ill will.  I have another option…maybe they’ve formed their opinions from earlier tapes and cd’s and haven’t heard the clarifications.  Or again, maybe the clarifications haven’t been strong enough.

Katie van Schaijik

#8, Nov 2, 2009 6:08pm

My point is that CW and all teachers of the faith, if we hope to be effective (i.e. fruitful) in our work, have to be content to be misunderstood.  We’re responsible for communicating faithfully what we have seen and understood.  We are not responsible to ensure that no one misunderstands us. 
If we discover from feedback that we have been unclear, we ought to clarify our meaning.  If we discover our teaching has been faulty, we ought to make course corrections.  This is exactly what CW has done. 
No Catholic teacher or preacher is bound to say nothing that obtuse or demented people or resentment-laden detractors might mis-apprehend.  If we were, we would make no headway in the world.
JP II’s TOB is ground-breaking.  It is (IMO) genuine development of doctrine.  It is not surprising that its coming entails some confusion on the part of the faithful.

Anonymous

#9, Nov 2, 2009 6:24pm

I guess that I never looked at the term liberation as something to be viewed as absolute.  I usually connect it more along the lines of a country being liberated.  The domination is over but of course you don’t dissolve your army because circumstances in the future often change your situation.

For me to be liberated from concupiscence means that I no longer have to be constantly on guard, fearful of any encounter lest I fall into sin.  I have the peace of knowing that with God I am in control of this area of my life and it does not control me.  Granted this must be a humble acknowledgment of victory and one cannot assume that a temptation will never arise that I might succumb to but that overall, I can be at peace within myself about this.

An example, I think, would be that of a couple dating or engaged.  If the couple has mastery over sexual concupiscence, they needn’t make sure that every moment spent together is in public and “supervised” so to speak.  They know that they can trust themselves to be alone together and not sin.

I made the correlation between sexual concupiscence and concupiscence for food because they are both things that are necessary for life so the desire for them both is strong.  Some spiritual writers say that they stem from the same source.

The last statement with which you agree is one I have heard many people in the Church disagree.  I spoke with a very prominent promoter of NFP one time over the phone about the possibility of NFP being used without serious reason to limit family size and he laughed and said that most of us have too much lust for that to be an issue.  Many chastity speakers talk as though it is impossible for couples to be alone together and not sin.  Many Christian parents think the same thing.

I think it is these attitudes that CW is trying to confront and dispute.  If we struggle seriously with these things, we need to acknowledge that we have a disorder that needs to be treated and prayerfully seek God’s grace to overcome it.  But first we need to KNOW that this disorder can be overcome.  That is why, I believe, we need to hear that liberation and mastery over sexual concupiscence is possible.

Anonymous

#10, Nov 2, 2009 6:41pm

“I guess that I never looked at the term liberation as something to be viewed as absolute.  I usually connect it more along the lines of a country being liberated.  The domination is over but of course you don‚Äôt dissolve your army because circumstances in the future often change your situation.”

I’m glad you clarified that point that you don’t believe in absolute liberation although your analogy has me a little puzzled.  I guess no analogy is perfect though.  I’ll think about it some more.

Katie van Schaijik

#11, Nov 2, 2009 7:08pm

Lauretta, what a great analogy!  You are exactly right.

About the analogy between sexual desire and the appetite for food, let me to quote the opening lines of DvH’s beautiful book (published in 1930!) “In Defense of Purity”.

“It is impossible to understand the virtue of human purity without first considering briefly the distinctive character and unique position of sex in human nature.  Among the activities and appetites of the human body, sex occupies a unique position.  When we consider eating, drinking, and sleep—indeed, bodily pleasure as a whole—we find this entire province of human experience characterized by a lack of depth…
Sex, on the other hand, contrasted with the other departments of bodily experience, is ESSENTIALLY deep.  Every manifestation of sex produces an effect which transcends the physical sphere and, in a fashion quite unlike the other bodily desires, involves the soul deeply in its passion.”

It was this insight of DvH’s (among related others) that made his work a pre-cursor to TOB.

I, too, have heard the kinds of things you have heard from many teachers and preachers.  I can only say again that—sincere and well-meaning as they may be—I think they have not yet understood the mind of the Church as it has developed in recent decades.

Anonymous

#12, Nov 2, 2009 7:31pm

Given DvH’s quote and that we have no absolute mastery over concupiscence, in addition for the need to be vigilant, where then does the topic of modesty and discretion come in?  Wouldn’t it be important to talk on these as well?  It would seem prudent lest we go too far the other direction. The issues of prudery and puritanism permeates CW’s teachings but where’s the line between prudery and modesty?  Some people I’ve met have a hard time knowing since he never speaks on modesty.  And oh how common it is to see one throw out the term “prude” to those who have discomfort with some things CW says.

Fr. Angelo had a wonderful article articulating his point on this.

http://maryvictrix.wordpress.com/2009...

Katie van Schaijik

#13, Nov 2, 2009 7:47pm

This is a good challenge, Tim.  I’ll try to do it some justice tomorrow.

Anonymous

#14, Nov 2, 2009 8:00pm

The first tape series that I heard from CW—done in the 90’s, I believe—has a section in which he mentions that he talked with his then fiance about clothing styles and the fact that some of her clothing choices might be viewed improperly by some males.  I think that modesty in dress is something that he has mentioned in just about every taped talk of his that I have heard.

Anonymous

#15, Nov 3, 2009 5:55am

I skimmed the article by Fr. Angelo and one of the things he mentioned was a “holy” bashfulness.  The first thing that came to my mind was whether, since they were naked without shame, Adam and Eve were not holy before Original Sin.  Also, are native peoples immodest because they wear little or no clothing in their villages?

How does one determine what is modest?  One gentleman I debated extensively on these issues says that for women to wear clothing below the knee is necessary for modesty.  Obviously Dr. AvH does not agree with that assessment since I have seen her knees on numerous occasions on EWTN programs!  Fr. Angelo considers breast-feeding in public as immodest while admitting that in other cultures it is done extensively.

Was St. Francis immodest when he ran naked through the streets?

I recall several years ago spending a couple of weeks in Venezuela living with a family
with whom we had become acquainted.  One day we went around town and I wore an outfit that came to my knees—trying to keep cool since it was extremely hot there in August!  I noticed that my hostess changed her clothing and wore a pair of shorter pants as well.  When we went walking I noticed that not another woman had short pants on—they were all full length.  However, they were extremely tight!  On the beach, their attire was little different from what we have in America.  But I did notice that in public women always wore long pants no matter the temperature.  I was probably considered there to be immodestly dressed.

From what I remember of TOB, CW style, modesty is necessary when there is the danger of being used.  He states that a model posing naked for artists is not immodest, nor are married people who are naked before each other.  He says that Adam and Eve before the Fall were modest in their nakedness because they had no fear of being used by another.

It seems to me that we would have to admit that modesty is a very subjective thing and varies extensively among cultures and times.  Would not the standard for modesty be that which was given us in the beginning by God?  I would think that anything else would be a human construct and the result of sin, not holiness.

Anonymous

#16, Nov 3, 2009 6:40am

Interesting because I’ve never heard him speak about modesty.  And I remember in a tape I recently listened to he said he never spoke on it.( I don’t know what year it was recorded.) His reason seemed to be that it wasn’t necessary- that it would take care of itself with a proper understanding of TOB.

I agree modesty is subjective and varies among cultures and times. That does not mean therefore all things go. Or does it?

“Would not the standard for modesty be that which was given us in the beginning by God?  I would think that anything else would be a human construct and the result of sin, not holiness. ”  Could you elaborate because the “standard” was nakedness, no?

I have heard there are some, or have been, in the name of TOB, that practice various degrees of Christian nudity even to the level of a “naked” Mass. Is it possible, in your opinion, that this is within the realm of modesty? In our country?

Maybe this is an extreme example but at least we’ll have some kind of line to start off with.

Katie van Schaijik

#17, Nov 3, 2009 8:23am

About vH’s term “holy bashfulness”: it’s not a very satisfying one.  Alice von Hildebrand mentioned to me several times this summer that she wishes we could come up with another.  It’s meant to capture an entirely positive sense of “shame”—one clearly recognized by JP II, but perhaps more fully developed in DvH.  It is a form of shame that is concerned not with protecting myself from objectification, but rather with a kind of awe-filled consciousness of special depth, intimacy, and sacredness.
 
It’s hard for us to imagine Adam and Eve’s state of mind before the Fall—what it meant to have perfect innocence.  But we know that it is an unattainable state in a post-fallen world.  Christian chastity and purity are different from original innocence.  Nor is the difference an entirely negative, regrettable one.  (“O happy fault”.)  Mysteriously, redemption (incomplete as it remains until the end) has exalted our sexuality, along with everything else human.

Anonymous

#18, Nov 4, 2009 5:52am

I have heard there are some, or have been, in the name of TOB, that practice various degrees of Christian nudity even to the level of a “naked” Mass. Is it possible, in your opinion, that this is within the realm of modesty? In our country?

I will begin with this comment, Tim, since it is the easiest!  No, I don’t think that this is a good idea in our country even if those attending were so thoroughly redeemed that they could understand correctly what they were participating in.  This leaves too much room for misinterpretation and scandal among the millions that would not understand.

I haven’t much time these days to ponder and study to give good replies so these are ideas that have come to me in the few minutes that I have had free to think about this.  We are building a house with our daughter and son-in-law and trying to beat the weather in Idaho, so not much free time!

Now on to the topic of modesty.  As for nakedness being the standard for modesty, what I mean is that in the beginning, at the creation of man, it was modest to be naked.  This is because before Original Sin, Adam and Eve had no reason to fear being used by the other and they could be totally open to the other.  I think they had great appreciation for each other’s sexuality and its marital meaning and that is why Adam cried with such joy, “At last this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!”

As far as the great dignity and sacredness of our bodies requiring that they be covered, I’m not so sure about that—in the fullness of truth, not in the lie-filled world in which we live, at any rate.  I believe that JPII called the Sistine Chapel the “sanctuary of the theology of the body” and had many of the loincloths which had been added after the original painting to be removed during the chapel’s restoration.  Much of our greatest art is of the naked human body.  What other sacred thing do we cover in this way?

I was thinking about the Eucharist in a period of sleeplessness last night.  When we want to honor the Eucharist in a special way we have exposition and processions.  It seems to me that the reception of Communion is a very intimate experience as well—some of our saints were in ecstasy for long periods of time after receiving Communion and yet that is done in a very public, communal way.

I have heard many people state that they are offended by CW telling people that they should stand in front of a mirror and learn to see what is truly there rather than recoil in shame.  To me that would be a good way to start understanding the language of the body—with our own bodies.  We should be able to look at ourselves and stop seeing our bodies in a Puritanical or pornified (how do you like my word?!) way and see it as God designed it to be—a revelation of Himself who is Love which is a total gift of self.  That is what we should see when we look in the mirror, not our wrinkles and sags and bags and imperfections!  We should then strive to see the same thing in our family members’ bodies and appreciate the great gifts that our bodies are.  Every woman’s body is an icon of receptivity—to life and to God—and every man’s body is an icon of the gift of life and self to another.  Our bodies reveal God to us just as every thing in creation, but they do it in a much more profound and glorified way.  We need to learn to see that revelation!

These are my own reflections so please do not judge TOB by what I am saying here.  This is what I have come to understand by studying this subject.  I could be all wrong!

Katie van Schaijik

#19, Nov 4, 2009 6:37am

“I have heard there are some, or have been, in the name of TOB, that practice various degrees of Christian nudity even to the level of a ‚Äúnaked‚Äù Mass. Is it possible, in your opinion, that this is within the realm of modesty? In our country?”

In my opinion this would be a grotesque distortion of TOB, and an unjustifiable practice for Christians.

About “holy bashfulness”, the key is that it is about sacredness, mystery and intimacy—i.e. more than simply dignity.

More later.  I am working out a longer thought on modesty.

Anonymous

#20, Nov 4, 2009 9:43am

So is your primary objection to a naked Mass that of scandal due to those who would not understand? Would a private Mass be within the realm of possibility for those “thoroughly redeemed?”  When one takes into account other things you say it becomes unclear.  Such as “As far as the great dignity and sacredness of our bodies requiring that they be covered, I‚Äôm not so sure about that” and the example of the Sistine Chapel with “Much of our greatest art is of the naked human body.  What other sacred thing do we cover in this way?”  (Also, there’s the comment about “exposing” the Eucharist but I don’t know what you meant by that exactly) Are these not arguments FOR the possibility of such a Mass?

The part about standing in front of the mirror…why are things usually worded that one either sees things properly or “recoils in shame.”  One accepts CW’s interpretation OR one’s a prude or full of shame, accepts a naked crucifix OR one’s a prude, etc. 

But beyond that, what do you mean by “understanding the language of the body”  and is it necessary to look at oneself in the mirror naked to come to that understanding? And how does one look at one’s body in a Puritanical way other than the most extreme examples?  I’m thinking along the lines of your “average” Christian. I’m sorry for all the questions but you throw these terms out there and I’d like to be clear on their meaning.

I know you don’t have much time so when it’s convenient.  I pray you beat the weather.

Anonymous

#21, Nov 4, 2009 9:46am

I know you’re working on a thought (and I need to run too)and maybe the answer to this is forthcoming but what makes it a “grotesque distortion of TOB, and an unjustifiable practice for Christians” if people can be thoroughly redeemed.

Katie van Schaijik

#22, Nov 4, 2009 10:54am

Tim, you seem to be confusing me with Lauretta.  I agree with her on many things, but I’m dialoguing with her too on others, and am, after all, my own person. :)  I know very little of CW’s work, so when I defend TOB I do it according to what I have learned through study of JP II and von Hildebrand plus my own reflection and moral experience. 

As I see it, the very notion of “a private nude Mass for those who are ‘thoroughly redeemed’” is risible—a travesty and an affront, revealing in those engaging in it either some perversion or some serious confusion.  It seems to me a kind of religious and moral insanity.

I leave open the possibility, though, that in HEAVEN we may not wear clothing.  In “The Great Divorce” (if memory serves), C.S. Lewis depicts some of the heavenly beings encountered by the protagonist as clothed and others not, showing at the same time that the difference is unimportant there.  Once we HAVE been thoroughly redeemed, then it seems that bodily adornment would be just that—adornment.  The question of modesty will have become moot.

The aim of TOB (in so far as it touches the question of sexuality) is the transformation of the erotic urge to use and be used by others into authentic, reciprocal, life-giving love and communion.  It is NOT about techniques for overcoming shame (which is not to say that in certain cases such techniques might not have legitimate therapeutic uses.)

Anonymous

#23, Nov 4, 2009 10:55am

No confusion, Katie.  I just replied in the wrong place.  Sorry.  But at least I learned a new word today- risible.  Thanks.

Anonymous

#24, Nov 4, 2009 10:57am

Hi Katie,

Do you know which book/writing of Dr. DvH and/or Dr. AvH was this term “holy bashfulness” used?

In Dr. DvH’s book “The Devastated Vineyard”, on pages 28-29 (in reference to what he wrote previously in his book “In Defense of Purity”) he uses the term “noble shame.”  Is this the same concept as “holy bashfulness”?

It seems to me that you and Dr. AvH are trying to turn this term into one which sounds more “positive”.  That, IMO, is a consistent trend in the Church since Vatican II (which IMO isn’t by any means essential to successfully promoting the faith), aimed primarily to be more receptive to modern culture.

Perhaps another way to term this would be “holy modesty”?  But, then that term today is far too often deemed as “negative” also, which typifies the sad state of affairs in our modern era….

Best regards, and God bless,

Steve B
Plano, TX

Katie van Schaijik

#25, Nov 4, 2009 10:59am

I believe it must be in In Defense of Purity.  But I think he uses it elsewhere too.  And I think you are right, yes, that “noble shame” and “holy bashfulness” are both means of expressing the same moral truth.
But we are certainly not trying to “turn a term” into something positive in the sense you seem to mean (though perhaps I misunderstand you.) 
DvH was a profound and sensitive thinker intent on elucidating reality as he found it.  And he found in the general phenomenon of “shame” a KIND of shame that was entirely positive, for which he preferred that a different term be used.  He wanted a different term to be used not because he wanted people to “think positively” (!), but because he thought the difference between what he meant by “shame” and what he meant by “holy bashfulness” was too great for them to be signified under the same term without confusion.
“Holy modesty” is somewhat different from “holy bashfulness”, which refers to an inward experience or spontaneous response to value.

Scott Johnston

#26, Nov 4, 2009 11:00am

“Prof. Schindler‚Äôs point I find inscrutable.”

Dear Katie, please read my personal blog post at
http://tinyurl.com/o6c4jb

I claim that after reading this you will no longer find his point inscrutable. Please let me know if I am wrong.

Here is a key section that coordinates with Schindler’s passage:

Concupiscence, not in itself the same as sin, is a result of the loss of the preternatural gifts (see above)—not a result of the loss of supernatural gifts. This loss is a consequence of original sin. Sanctifying grace (regained by Baptism and then strengthened by prayer, the sacraments, and charity) restores the loss of the supernatural gift of God’s life to man’s soul. However, sanctifying grace does not restore the preternatural gifts. Man still suffers. He still dies a physical death. And, he is tempted to sin because of concupiscence.

But please see the entire post.

Here is Schindler’s obscure passage with some comments of my own [but please see my blog post first]

My response is that concupiscence dwells “objectively” in the body [as it is a consequence of the loss of the preternatural gifts after the Fall], and continues its “objective” presence in the body throughout the course of our infralapsarian existence; and that we should expect holiness [a supernatural gift brought about by sanctifying grace; a different category of gift than preternatural gifts which were not restored by Christ] to “trump” temptations or disordered tendencies in the area of sexuality [which, again, are a result of the loss of preternatural gifts which were not restored by grace] exactly as often as we should expect holiness to “trump” the reality of having to undergo death. [holiness flows from the supernatural gift of sanctifying grace and it restores the supernatural gift that was originally lost in the Fall; holiness does not restore gifts of a different category; bodily death results from the loss of the preternatural gifts which we will not regain until the general resurrection, gifts which included bodily immortality as well as freedom from concupiscence]

Scott Johnston

#27, Nov 4, 2009 11:02am

“I have not understood why we are told that we have to master our concupiscence in every other area except for the sexual realm.” . . . “Is not TOB that in the sexual realm?”

Lauretta, with qualification, yes. But it is not the whole solution all by itself. The inappropriate attitude that you mention toward sexual temptations within married life is not helpful for leading married persons to increase in grace and grow in sanctity together. TOB is one aspect of the corrective to this.

Another aspect is simply much better basic catechesis on the fundamentals of the Catholic faith and Catholic spiritual life. This should include the very important reorientation of Catholic moral theology toward a virtue based understanding of the moral sphere undertaken by Fr. Pinckaers, OP, and others following him. This is to pull us away from the degeneration into legalism and nominalism that had crept into the practice of the faith in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the negative effects of which you describe.

So, correcting the legalistic, externally focused moral attitude you mention was a project begun quite a while before TOB came on the scene. One problem with what seems to be somewhat of a TOB subculture is that it tends to see itself as the only thing positive going on in the Church as far as presenting the moral teaching of the Church in a better and more understandable light. This not the case. TOB is a very helpful component of a larger endeavor of renewing the health and attractiveness of the moral teaching of the Church.

Also, Lauretta, from your comment above I’m not sure you are clear on what concupiscence is and is not in the way the Church uses that term (and I wouldn’t fault you for this as it is something rarely taught anymore at the parish level; and if it is, rarely taught well). Luther himself had a very serious fundamental misunderstanding of concupiscence. It was one of the keys that led him to revolt against the Church.

Please permit me to suggest that you take a look at my personal blog post
at http://tinyurl.com/q4t3ff

I think if you read this it should clear up any further questions you may still have about my view of West’s approach to concupiscence. If not, please ask!

If you would like more of the background theology laying the groundwork for understanding concupiscence, please also see
http://tinyurl.com/o6c4jb

God bless!

Anonymous

#28, Nov 4, 2009 11:02am

I forgot to tell you that I went to your blog post and read it quickly.  It was very good.  Thank you so much.  I want to reread it and will go to the other link when I have a few minutes to spare.  The roof must go on, you know!

Scott Johnston

#29, Nov 4, 2009 11:08am

Thanks for the feedback, Lauretta! I appreciate it.

Anonymous

#30, Nov 4, 2009 11:10am

Off topic, I’m afraid, but would this be the Schaan or Triesenberg Linde?

Katie van Schaijik

#31, Nov 4, 2009 11:10am

We were sort of meaning to capture the essence and convivial atmosphere of both those establishments.  Why do you ask?  Have you been there?  Were you ever a student at the IAP?

Anonymous

#32, Nov 4, 2009 11:11am

Yes, I was there. And both Lindes were wonderful places. Although I must admit, I had a preference for the Triesenberg Linde over the Schaan one. Loved the spaghetti carbonara in the Schaan Linde though.

Hey Katie, Mikal here, hope you and Jules are well! Stumbled across you through Linkedin!

Katie van Schaijik

#33, Nov 4, 2009 11:12am

The Triesenberg Linde was much friendlier and more charming.  What great times we had there!  And what fun to hear from you after all these years, Mikal.  I hope you’ll drop in often.

Scott Johnston

#34, Nov 4, 2009 11:16am

Lots of discussion here. I would like to contribute more later. (by the way, I am working mostly nights now, so if you see me commenting at strange hours, this is because I am partly on a night schedule now)

But Katie, to your point, I would say in some respects I agree with you. But, in my view, when it comes to certain terms and ideas that are especially fundamental (and “concupiscence” in regard to TOB surely is a very fundamental subject), it is not acceptable to be loose and inconsistent in preference for some ostensible goal of freedom or liberality. When it comes to very key ideas, lack of careful consistency does not promote freedom, but rather, confusion.

And I would note also a significant difference in this between a brief presentation to a popular audience and a lingering written exposition that covers many pages of text. The latter can allow for a greater variety of usages, presuming the reader is open enough to interpret the author in the context of all the author has written on a subject (i.e., that “liberation from concupiscence” of JPII has to be understood in harmony with what he wrote about being free of domination from concupiscence; as, for example, St. Paul, in speaking about the law, must be understood in light of all that he said about the law, not just grabbing one or two phrases in isolation). As one becomes familiar with an author it is clear that if one is going to summarize an idea from an author for a presentation to a popular audience certain terms or phrases if taken in isolation from the author’s own corpus would not serve well to encapsulate key ideas for those not already well-versed in the author’s thought. They assume too much on background to be taken properly. Other terms or phrases used by the same author to represent key ideas would serve better. One should be selective and then be consistent.

This is the case here. A careful reader of JPII knows (as West points out) that JPII, in using “liberation from concupiscence,” did not mean the complete removal of all temptation. The idea of becoming free from the domination of concupiscence is in fact what JPII meant, as he himself explained.

By insisting that when it comes to certain very fundamental ideas a popular speaker must be very careful and consistent in his use of terms does not mean I am for excessive scrupulosity in the use of all terms across the board. One can be exciting and dynamic and appropriately consistent at the same time.

I think that this clarity is very important on the subject of concupiscence because we live in a culture that does not, generally, understand the doctrine of original sin and its effects with much degree of clarity. This in turn produces a collapsing in popular culture of the very important distinction between the original state of holiness and justice before the fall, and the state of redemption after the fall. The latter is not a return to the former. Any use of terms that permits this confusion to be perpetuated can be more misleading than helpful.

I also have experienced from my own observation of audiences and preachers that if a presenter uses more than one term or phrase to represent an especially key idea, and one of those terms is somewhat vague, some audience members will hear only the vague term and completely miss the more accurate term. Then, using the vague term, they receive and interpret the message in a manner that is without doubt contrary to how the presenter wanted it to be received.

It is amazing how readily this can happen. But as any priest knows, it is very easy for people to hear something in your talk that you did not put there. One can only do so much to prevent this. But, being consistent with the use of the most key terms is one very important way to minimize being misunderstood.

A long, in-depth written treatment of a topic (like the TOB texts) can afford a certain variety and flexibility in terminology. But this must be restrained for the sake of clarity in the context of much shorter and less nuanced popular presentations.

Katie van Schaijik

#35, Nov 4, 2009 11:20am

Dear Scott, can nothing be granted to context?  Must we always be precise and elaborate enough in our every word to eliminate all possible misunderstanding?  How cumbersome and tiresome and pedantic that would be!  Who could stand to listen to us?!

Anyone who listens to CW, hears the isolated phrase “liberation from concupiscence”, and uses it claim that CW thinks that we are safe from temptation, is someone not paying attention, or not very bright, or warped already, or bearing ill will.

Anonymous

#36, Nov 4, 2009 11:23am

I agree with much of what you say about short presentations, Scott.  That is a concern I have had for quite some time about TOB being presented in such a manner.  There are so many layers of misunderstandings about our bodies and sexuality that I think it takes a lengthy process of learning and discussion and correction before we begin to understand this subject properly.

Katie van Schaijik

#37, Nov 4, 2009 11:27am

Context is about more than words in a treatise.
Suppose a man walks into a bar full of drunks and announces: “I have good news; you can be free of your addiction to alcohol!”  Is he to be faulted for not explaining at the same moment that they won’t be absolutely free; they’ll remain alcoholics their whole life?  Has he misled them?

More on this later too.

Scott Johnston

#38, Nov 4, 2009 11:30am

This would not be misleading. Addiction is far more than just temptation to misuse something. I can become free from an addiction even as I am still tempted.

Your example would be similar to saying, “You can be free of being dominated by lust!”

The meaning of addiction is already a significant step beyond mere temptation. It is, indeed, a form of being dominated. Using this term actually nicely fits with my caution to consistently prefer the language of being freed from the domination of concupiscence.

The man walking into the bar would be badly misleading people if he said, “You can be free of all temptation to drink alcohol.” This would be similar to the way that simply saying you can be free from concupiscence is likely to mislead some people quite seriously.

Katie van Schaijik

#39, Nov 4, 2009 11:34am

Does CW anywhere say anything like “You can be free of all temptation to sin sexually?” 
I’d be surprised. 
In the things I have heard and read by him, he takes pains NOT to say or teach that. 
My contention is only that it would be scrupulous and pedantic to insist that he always and everywhere use the term “liberation from the domination of concupiscence” because “liberation from concupiscence” or “freedom from lust” would be inconsistent and possibly misleading.

Scott Johnston

#40, Nov 4, 2009 12:03pm

“freedom from lust” is a good alternative for a shorter phrase. It is not the same meaning as “freedom from concupiscence.” Lust is a domination of sorts. It goes beyond the temptation or inclination to sin.

I think it is helpful in recognizing the potential problem with being satisfied to use “freedom from concupiscence” at a popular level by replacing “concupiscence” with “temptation.” They are not equivalent, but, concupiscence is a form of temptation. Would it be acceptable to say that we can be “liberated from temptation?”

Katie, you don’t imply that concupiscence (not itself sinful) and lust (a sin) are the same or close to the same thing, do you? Perhaps this is part of the problem. One can indeed become free from lust but not free from concupiscence. If a person does not clearly see the difference between the temptation or inclination to sin and sin itself (of which lust is one example), it would make sense that she would be puzzled about insisting on making a clear distinction between such things as “freedom from concupiscence,” and “freedom from lust.”

Katie van Schaijik

#41, Nov 4, 2009 12:24pm

My point is that “normal people” (including preachers and teachers) do not think and are not bound to talk like theologians or scholars.  I claim that a “normal person” hearing one of CW’s presentations would not take him to be claiming or teaching that we can be free of all temptation.  She would gather his meaning of the phrase “freedom from concupiscence” from the general context of the presentation and from her own background and experience.

Scott Johnston

#42, Nov 4, 2009 12:38pm

Katie, in his very response which you linked to above, CW writes,

But to those who cannot imagine freedom from concupiscence, such a way of seeing, living, talking, loving, and praying not only seems unusual - but improper, imprudent, dangerous, or even perverse.

What is a person to make of this when he also reads earlier in the same article,

It is abundantly clear from both Catholic teaching and human experience that, so long as we are on earth, we will always have to battle with concupiscence - that disordering of our passions caused by original sin. . . In some of my earliest lectures and tapes, I confess that I did not emphasize this important point clearly enough.

We all know here what CW means by this. But to someone unfamiliar with all this, the two quotes above seem to be contradictory. At the very least, how they fit together has got to seem very confusing.

Actually, I think the fault for this confusion lies not with CW, but with JPII. It seems that in the above CW is simply imitating JPII. So, I would argue that JPII’s use of the phrase “freedom from concupiscence” (if this is indeed a good translation from the original) was a poor usage and potentially very confusing. How is it true that so long as we are on earth (so the Church teaches), we must do battle with “concupiscence,” yet also, here in this life we should hope to attain freedom from “concupiscence”? Huh??? “Concupiscence,” in these two senses, is actually not the same thing. The same word is being used equivocally. I simply think it is much better not to equivocate and use other words for one of the two usages instead of using “concupiscence” in two different and seemingly contradictory ways. The term is obscure and unfamiliar enough for most people without adding this confusion on top of it.

And I feel I should affirm that I completely and fully support the substance of CW’s response article. Indeed, it is a horrible thing when a Christian does not realize that grace can truly make him a new man in Christ, freeing him from slavery to sin.

Katie van Schaijik

#43, Nov 4, 2009 1:00pm

I think “a normal person” is capable of intuitively recognizing two different senses of the same term.  Lauretta’s military analogy was spot on.  A political leader can say the withdrawal of an enemy army from our borders has eliminated the threat of war, and (in the same address!) say that we must remain vigilant against threats.
A “normal person” would not respond with “so which is it? I’m totally confused now.”

In one sense of the term concupiscence means the tendency to sin; in another it refers to a standing attitude or disposition in a given soul.

Anonymous

#44, Nov 4, 2009 1:01pm

While CW may never unequivocally say “You can be free of all temptation to sin sexually”, I agree with Scott that his message can be confusing and on the surface seem contradictory.  My church library has some of CW’s talks and the latest I listened to had one statement in it where he said we couldn’t get to the state of Adam and Eve before the Fall.  And yet there were several statements peppered throughout the talk that seemed to imply we could.

I’d like to listen to that talk with several people and discuss what THEY heard him say in the talk.  Would they agree with Katie that CW takes pains to be clear on this issue or would there be confusion?  I have to plan to do that.

Katie van Schaijik

#45, Nov 4, 2009 1:01pm

Shall we do it?  Jules and I would be happy to host a such a gathering at our house for interested people in the area.  Too bad Lauretta is too far away to join us.  (Didn’t you just mention Idaho, Lauretta?  Or was it Iowa?)

Anonymous

#46, Nov 4, 2009 1:01pm

That is very gracious of you and I think you too should try it and see what the results are.  But I am more of the “normal person, average joe” type and I am more concerned what these types of people hear, not necessarily the ones with theology and philosophy degrees.  No offense.  Considering many of CW’s presentations are to the “average joe” it would seem to be a more telling test.  What does the average Catholic hear who doesn’t have the extensive education that many of you have?

Katie van Schaijik

#47, Nov 5, 2009 5:56am

Don’t you think we can look to the general reception of CW’s work for that answer?  I mean, are there not huge numbers of people testifying that his work revitalized their faith or revolutionized their understanding of the Church’s moral teaching from something negative and condemnatory to something beautiful and challenging?  I have one 50-something friend.  A single guy, a businessman, who’s been involved with orthodox Catholic movements for years.  He took the week-long TOB course a year or so ago and was blown away.  He said to me, “My idea of Catholic sexual morality was basically a list of things that are not allowed.  This is GOOD NEWS!” 
My sense is that that is the “normal reaction” of “normal people” who go to TOB Institute with an open mind and heart.  I think that’s why Cardinal Rigali and so many other bishops are warmly encouraging it in their dioceses.
Clearly there are some who get some wrong headed notions along with the good news, whether from shortcomings in the presentations or their own limits and weaknesses or both.  Let all that be addressed in due course.
But I think it’s clear that if the general drift of CW’s work led people to imagine that they can be freed of all temptation to sin, we’d be seeing a lot more nuttiness among his followers and a lot less support from the likes of Michael Waldstein, Janet Smith, et al.

Anonymous

#48, Nov 5, 2009 1:53pm

There’s also a huge number of people that testify that Medjugorje and Father Jozo Zovko revitalized their faith.  Can one conclude from that alone that it’s beyond reproach?

I think gathering a diverse group of people, listening to some talks and asking some follow-up questions will give me a better idea how others are receiving CW’s message.  As for your friend, that’s great.  I’m glad for him.  But most don’t take a week long course.

Katie van Schaijik

#49, Nov 5, 2009 1:53pm

Tim, I have never said that CW is beyond reproach.  I don’t know anyone who has, though I have many good friends among his admirers as well as his critics. 
Widespread testimony of personal transformation is evidence, not proof, of his basic soundness.

Scott Johnston

#50, Nov 5, 2009 1:53pm

I do think that everyone benefits from clarity and consistency, even if it means modifying the way JPII used terms.

Hey, do you mean I am not a “normal person?”  ;) Hee Hee. That strikes me as a funny question.

I claim that a “normal person” hearing one of CW’s presentations would not take him to be claiming or teaching that we can be free of all temptation.

Perhaps you are right, Katie. My sense is obviously that this mistake might indeed be made by a “normal person.” In fact, if I recall, in the talk CW gave after Dr. Healy, he used the phrase in question (i.e. “freedom/liberation from concupiscence”) and this is in part what spurred my own question to him in the Q & A. I wanted to be clear what he meant. But, I grant you, in order to have this concern, a person has to already have a good understanding of concupiscence to begin with, which probably 99% of “normal people” do not have.

The phrase “freedom/liberation from temptation” would be even more serious, and I do not know of any instance (with my limited exposure) of CW using this phrase. We agree that what CW intends to convey is correct. The rub, of course, is whether a particular manner of conveying it is troublesome or not as to the way it is received by “regular Joe’s.”

Part of the background of my (perhaps seemingly anal) concern here is Luther and the horrible wound in the body of Christ opened up by the divisions that followed Luther. As I understand it, Luther did not adequately realize that concupiscence is itself not sin. His collapsing of concupiscence into the category of personal sin in part lead him to despair of ever becoming transformed from within—of becoming virtuous—of being sanctified—transformed by grace from within. Luther’s failure to distinguish between the temptation to sin, and sin, lead him to abandon hope for what grace can do in the interior of the human person.

There is a grave risk in presenting a topic in such a way that a person might think that grace completely removes all temptation to sin. I know that CW does not teach this or intend this. But I still think it is worth perhaps a tad little bit of extra care on this very fundamental point to be sure that there is the least possible chance of anyone coming away with this misunderstanding. It can cause much spiritual trouble.

How? A person with a seedy background, newly in love with the faith, Christ, and the Church, wants deeply to be made pure—to become new. If he gets the idea that he is not moving toward purity and virtue and sanctity if he merely still experiences temptation he may well be on a path to eventual despair. The revert or convert, especially, needs to know that he can indeed be making much progress in the spiritual life even as he still has concupiscence. Equating spiritual progress with not having concupiscence can lead a fragile novice in the spiritual life into disaster. Great pains should be taken to prevent even one person from such needless suffering.

Scott Johnston

#51, Nov 5, 2009 1:53pm

Don’t want to beat this particular horse too much more, here! And I hope I’m not arguing just for argument’s sake (heaven forbid).

I simply disagree (not in a foot-stomping, pounding-the-beer-mug-on-the-table sort of way; but in a friendly way) that many people would intuitively recognize the two different senses.

We recognize them. But we are fortunate to be able to bring more to the table given our particular backgrounds than most people. Perhaps we are too quick to use ourselves as templates for “normal people,” as we are not normal when it comes to our theological and philosophical educations. What is intuitive to us, I suggest, would not be for many others.

Katie van Schaijik

#52, Nov 5, 2009 1:53pm

I still think you’re thinking too “theologically”, Scott.  I think they understand it in just the same way an alcoholic can hear “you can be free from slavery to alcohol” and “you’ll always be an alcoholic” in the same talk without being confused. 
“Normal people” (in the sense of people who are not either warped or hyper-alert from theological training) naturally FEEL the difference between being dominated by eroticism and being susceptible to temptation.  Because we all have that experience, we get what he means without too much difficulty.  We can get it even when we’re totally uncatechized and still under that domination.

On the other hand, I don’t want to seem to be implying that anyone who HAS been confused by CW’s presentations “has a problem.”  To me it’s easy to believe that short-comings in his presentations over the years have led to some confusion on that score, which he does well to correct.  I just don’t think technical accuracy and verbal exactitude, no matter how unwieldy, is the answer.

Pedantry and excessive caution can get seriously in the way of our witness in the world, in my opinion.

Anonymous

#53, Nov 5, 2009 1:54pm

I hope to have a few minutes until my grandchildren wake up to jump in here for a minute.  Tim, I, too, am an average joe-ette! and have been trying, with my husband, to learn TOB for almost ten years now since we think it is so helpful in human relationships, especially marriage.  It is much more than that, I agree, in fact I think that it is a fairly good catechesis on most of the basic tenets of the faith.

Anyhow, as to your question about how people hear what CW says in his talks, we have presented his material to I’m sure over 100 people from teens to elderly people.  Of course, we were always adding and clarifying because we would present the talks over a series of several weeks and so could deal with the misconceptions as they came up.  The issue that you are all referring to as to people misunderstanding “liberation from concupiscence” was never much of an issue.  What most people picked up on was the fact that they had an inherently negative attitude toward the human body and the fact that lust toward your spouse was wrong.  The other major issue, of course, was contraception.

We had one group in which we were the youngsters(imagine that) and all of the couples who were in their sixties up to later seventies admitted that lust was a major issue in their marriages.

I have a question for all of you about concupiscence.  I understand what it is theologically pretty well, I think, but am not sure about its totality in the individual.  What I mean is whether the Church teaches that we all have disordered desires in every area of our lives.  From my own personal experience, I would have to say no.  I have not ever, in my fifty plus years had a disordered desire for drugs and alcohol.  Never.  It is not an issue for me at all.  No virtue there but I have no temptations in that area.  I truly believe that I have liberation from concupiscence in that area.  Watch, now I’ll become an alcoholic since I made such a bold statement!!

Also, my husband was talking with a man who had to undergo surgical castration for health reasons, possibly cancer.  His male co-workers were expressing their “compassion” for his plight—we are talking blue collar workers so you can imagine the gist of the conversation!—so my husband decided to speak with him about his situation.  Interestingly, the man said that it was not a cross since, unlike impotence, he had absolutely no desire to engage in the sexual act.  I bring this up because I want to know if this man could not be said to have liberation from sexual concupiscence.  He will never again have that disordered desire, not through grace and virtue, but still the disordered desire is gone.

Are you all familiar with CS Lewis’ work, The Great Divorce?  I think that is the book, any how.  He has a great section in there about lust.  It is wonderful and very applicable to the discussion, I believe.  I know of people who have struggled with lust their whole lives but after learning what healthy sexuality is, were able to make a firm decision to change and the bondage, to a great degree, disappeared.  Not that they don’t have temptations but the temptations are more external to them and not controlling their actions in the same way. 

Grandchildren are awake—more later!

Anonymous

#54, Nov 5, 2009 1:56pm

You said you presented his material and then added and clarified things.  My point is simply to have people listen and then ask them what they heard- not teach to them or clarify things.

Anonymous

#55, Nov 5, 2009 1:56pm

I don’t think that TOB is something that most people are able to hear a couple of talks and understand what is being said.  That is why we were clarifying and adding things because we had listened to and read about TOB a lot and so had already dealt with many things that we had misunderstood in the beginning.

I would assume that those who are giving talks to groups of people are hoping that the talks will pique the interest of their audience to go out and strive to learn more.  That is what happened to us.  We knew about TOB and I had tried reading it before it was compiled into one volume but found the text daunting.  Several years later, someone mentioned CW to us, we listened to a tape and became interested because of his zeal but also because we could hear in an academic explanation what we were going through in our own marriage.  Imagine our excitement seeing this understanding laid out in such a systematic fashion!

One thing that I have learned is that we all “hear” things through our own life experience filters.  If these filters are filled with wrong perceptions, even if we are hearing something that is correct, we will tend to distort it because of our tainted filtering system.  That is not the fault of the person speaking or the material he is presenting, but our own filters.  For me, it took accepting that my ideas were skewed and I needed to lay my opinions aside and listen with an open mind and heart to what was being said.

To me one of the big things that TOB does is change how we relate to others.  For many of us we relate to others from a position of fear—either of ourselves that we may fall into sin because of another or fear that another may entice us into sin.  Well, even more than that, fears of rejection, judgment, etc.  TOB, in my opinion, once it is understood, helps us to relate to others differently.  We can begin to see the great dignity of the other, and ourselves, which takes away a lot of the fear.  We learn the need to make a gift of self to the other and what that means in everyday life.  It is so much more than just about sex, as we define the term, but who we are as persons made in the image and likeness of God.

Scott Johnston

#56, Nov 7, 2009 3:49am

Lauretta, this last paragraph of yours is a great summary statement of the benefits of TOB! Well said!

It is right on target, I think, to emphasize the gradual healing and transformation that can take place within our personal relationships, how we relate to others, that TOB can facilitate.

In my case, after my conversion to Catholicism (and for the first time to a serious Christian faith as an adult), one of the first and most noticeable positive changes was a transformation in how I was able to relate to women. Not claiming total success here, but there was a huge difference that was incredibly freeing and life-enhancing. But, interestingly, this took place before I had any specific introduction to TOB. It was primarily, as I recall, through the Bible and the Catechism (and the example of the Saints) that my vision of what human life under grace is meant to be was radically reworked from my former default secular view into a vision that could hope (with the action of grace) for a radical interior reshaping of the heart, a genuine transformation such that a life of virtue, a life of Christ-like supernatural, indwelling virtues genuinely possessed by the individual as his own, could be had. In other words, I began to see that a freeing of one’s heart from a horribly depersonalizing enslavement to sin was possible through a life of grace! Specifically applying this to the realm of the relationship between the sexes with contemporary language is essentially what TOB does.

This post from my blog is related:
http://tinyurl.com/yf8egp5

There is a fundamental insight (hope, really) about what human life on this earth can become under grace, that, to me, is one of THE most important and freeing things about being Catholic. In the daily, practically lived experience of life, it is one of the most distinctive markers of a Catholic vs. non-Catholic approach to life. It is this beautiful Catholic understanding of what is possible by grace: the authentic, personal, interior freedom of the saint. This freedom being increasingly attained by concurring growth in both natural and supernatural virtues.

Katie van Schaijik

#57, Nov 7, 2009 4:27am

I agree with you, Scott.  On the other hand, I want to stress again how crucial and dramatic a development the encounter with TOB is for many, including for many cradle Catholics and many already-ardent converts.
I am a cradle Catholic whose personal religious life was awakened through evangelicals when I was 12, then deepened through Emmaus retreats in high school, then strengthened, illumined and matured through theology classes in Steubenville.  I had “a personal relationship with Jesus”: I wanted to live my life for God; I wanted to be a saint; and I was surrounded by friends, professors and priests who wanted the same.  Yet, even so, for me the discovery of JP II and Dietrich von Hildebrand’s philosophy of love when I was 20 was a moment of dramatic development in my moral, intellectual and religious life—involving a transformation even.
Since then 1) I have heard many similar testimonies, i.e. of people whose understanding of their Catholic lives was transformed through TOB and 2) I have met many devout Catholics whose approach to life and faith is conspicuously lacking the fundamental insights of that saving message.

Anonymous

#58, Nov 7, 2009 4:58am

I agree with both of you.  Someone who strives to live the fullness of the Catholic faith WILL come to the same realization that TOB brings us to.

I, too, am a convert, Scott, from atheism.  I converted at 19.  Sometimes, as one looking, in a certain sense, from the outside, it almost seems as tho cradle Catholics can be at somewhat of a disadvantage.  For many, it seems as tho “learning” about the truths of the faith as a child makes them less able to understand and incorporate the fullness of what is there.  Their understanding stays at a more childlike level.  For me, coming into the faith as a young adult, if someone said something to me that didn’t seem to make sense, I would question and read until I came to understand correctly what was being taught.

One of the things that is so appealing to me is the systematic way that TOB teaches.  It seems to tie all of the major tenets of the faith together in this flow that makes so much sense.  I understood the individual tenets of the faith but sometimes things seem disjointed to me and I didn’t see the connectedness in the same way that I do now.

I have some thoughts on Original Sin that I would like to share with you at some point, but am up against the clock since we are setting roof trusses and I am to be ready at the crack of dawn—and it is coming quickly!

Scott Johnston

#59, Nov 7, 2009 10:17am

There is no argument from me in opposition to how dramatically significant TOB can be for people. Hope I haven’t seemed to imply otherwise.

I simply mention that as great as it is, it is not necessarily critical for every Catholic to learn TOB in order to be able to embrace a transformed, virtue-oriented, body-respecting view of human sexuality. That being said, I would encourage anyone to study it. But the basic sacramental (created things as signs), Christ-imitating (love is to wholly give oneself in sacrifice), and virtue-based (empowered by grace for a new life) Catholic vision of life that underlies it can be acquired apart from specific exposure to TOB.

I wish we had texts of any of St. Dominic’s preaching (there are none). He, of course, preached against the Albigensian heresy, a twisting of Christianity that does not see the body as a part of God’s good plan for creation. He must have offered a corrective somehow to this negative view of the body. And he was especially reputed for his purity. A good number of his initial converts back to the true faith were women. And, interestingly, the first official religious community started by St. Dominic was what became the first community of Dominican nuns. The friars preachers were officially established several years later. Somehow he must have communicated a vision of God’s providence that offered a healing, holistic incorporation of the human body into it.

Scott Johnston

#60, Nov 7, 2009 10:21am

Lauretta, I will make a meager attempt later; probably post on it tomorrow. God bless your rafter raising!

Anonymous

#61, Nov 7, 2009 10:21am

Lauretta,

Your closing comment,

“It [TOB] is so much more than just about sex, as we define the term, but who we are as persons made in the image and likeness of God.”

struck a resonant chord for me wrt the litany of problems that I see in how TOB seems to be “promoted” by Christopher West.

One fundamental question I have (and it is directly related to the foundational principal on which The Personalist Project was founded) is this:

Why isn’t this teaching instead called “Theology of the PERSON ”?

Sorry that what follows is a bit of a rant, but I just was unable to be any more succinct.

The focus upon the human body should be merely an aspect of what is the “true” theology of human personhood; but, in my opinion CW and others who promote TOB seem to focus FAR too much on the human body itself, and FAR too little on the myriad of the other marvelous dimensions of the human person - particularly, on the myriad of dimensions even in which our sexuality which goes WAY beyond even our own bodies.  Perhaps CW does this much better in his actual TOB talks (I haven’t listened to one in probably over 15 years), but for whatever reasons he doesn’t seem to promote it much in what I have heard/read lately, if at all….

Here’s a telling observation that I just made, which I think will shed some light on the “problem” with how TOB seems to be promoted, particularly by CW.  I just finished listening for the 3rd time to CW’s talk given to TPP in June of 2008, and you know what was COMPLETELY missing from his talk?  NOT EVEN ONE TIME in his nearly 1 hour talk to TPP did CW mention the word “prayer”.  Sure, he mentioned the 3 phases of the journey of faith (purgative/illuminative/unitive); but, to not mention prayer (even in passing) was in my view an utterly glaring deficiency of his talk.  For a listener who doesn’t/didn’t already have a good personal prayer life, how would they know HOW to progress in the spiritual life???

In my view, the focus upon promoting a personal prayer life amongst the faithful MUST be done first and foremost, as well as hand-in-hand, with properly promoting the “Theology of the Person”. 

In his recent “The Theology of the Body Debate: The Pivotal Question” commentary on his web site, CW seems to think that an improved prayer life will be the result of being exposed to the TOB (see 2nd paragraph under his section “Mature Purity”); I contend that what is more needed is to promote personal prayer first (many Catholics don’t really know what a personal prayer life is).  Then, for most “normal people”, the spiritual light bulb will truly turn on and they will finally grasp that the fulfillment of our personhood comes primarily through our prayerful & personal relationship with God - and how establishing that will ultimately lead us into more fruitful relationships with others.

Granted, CW and other TOB advocates are primarily addressing the over-indulgence in the sexual realm out there in the secular culture, and the horrific impact that it has had even upon Christian believers.  So, in a sense, TOB advocates are merely addressing the worst aspect of our culture’s erroneous focus upon personhood.  However, I honestly believe that CW (and probably many other TOB advocates/promoters as well) is capitalizing upon the fact that “sex sells” (I don’t know whether it is a conscious decision or not) - and that seems more than a little bit disingenuous to me…. 

But, for CW to assertively promote (before emphasizing the much more basic need for a personal prayer life) that we need to “come to an ever greater awareness of the gratuitous beauty of the human body, of masculinity and femininity” goes just TOO far.  The human body is essentially just a symbol of the beauty of the entire human person (except in the biological sense, wrt procreation); sometimes, CWs emphasis seems to be more than a little too focused upon the symbol and not nearly enough on the other much more important aspects of personhood - as CW himself cautioned the audience in his TBB talk (at the 28:20 mark), we must “beware of false summits.”  In my view, excessive focus & emphasis upon the human body is DEFINITELY a false summit of what should be a more holistic “Theology of the Person” emphasis.  That is definitely how Dr. DvH emphasized his teachings on personhood after all.

Other things which bother me about the way in which TOB is promoted by CW are:

1) He de-emphasizes FAR too much the dangers of concupiscence - in many respects, CW merely gives it “lip service” - just barely enough emphasis to be sure that the TOB message sounds “orthodox enough” to folks who are somewhat skeptical.  CW’s recent “response” on his web site falls far short of a “mea culpa” in this regard - his focus clearly remains on promoting the “positive” elements of TOB, and he seems to show little indication of intending to make any significant changes for the future in how he plans to promote TOB.

2) He de-emphasizes the impact of sin in our world, in our families, and in our personal lives (IMO, the same pitfall that the Church as a whole has unfortunately fallen into since Vatican II).  To his credit, CW in his TPP talk did quite appropriately and commendably state that we all need to get to the point in our spiritual lives where “sin becomes repulsive to us” (29:45 mark).  However, at other places in his talk, CW undermines this point to an appreciable degree by saying things like “good is everywhere we look!” (43:30 mark) and “we can find God in everything; we can commune in/through Him in all things; created things cease to be a danger for us as they once were” (52:15 mark). NEITHER of these statements are remotely close to being accurate where grossly sinful behavior exists, especially in those things & places where sin is actually promoted (e.g. a red-light district in Amsterdam)....

CW was also recently a guest on Catholic Answers (Nov. 2, 2009), and I highly recommend anyone to listen to that archived broadcast on catholic.com.  In it, he does promote that prayer is critical to developing a proper emphasis in promoting the TOB teaching (35:50 mark).  CW also did state that a holistic education/teaching on human personhood is truly necessary also (42:00 mark). 

However, in that same show CW also said that “the body is the revelation of the person.”  I can’t say with enough emphasis how STRONGLY I disagree with that statement.  The human body is NOT at the core of who we are as persons, nor how we truly reveal ourselves; the body is merely the most powerful and instrumental way in which we can intimately SHARE the depth of who we are as a person with another.

CW also said in his recent Catholic Answers visit that “A lot of us are raised with such an emphasis on the dangers of sexuality - the ‘not yet’ aspect of our redemption - that we haven’t yet balanced it out properly with ‘the already’ of our redemption” (10:13 mark).  I contend that he is promoting TOB in a way which shifts the focus on human sexuality FAR too much in the opposite direction from the “puritanical”, which itself results in a non-balanced and incomplete view of human sexuality.

CW stated in his TBB talk that in the illuminative stage “we begin to see reality more and more as God made it to be” (26:15 mark).  That is absolutely true.  However, we ALSO need to see reality AS IT REALLY IS - i.e. the fallen state of our world, with sin being so rampant in it.  CW’s promotion of TOB seems to me to do VERY little in that regard….

The beauty of the Catholic faith is that it is a “both/and” system of belief.  Explaining better the traditional Catholic teachings on the reasons WHY the Church has taught against the dangers and errors of sexual sin as She has (including the errors of participating in unnatural sexual acts as “foreplay”!), IN ADDITION TO the beauty of the recent TOB teachings of Pope John Paul II, plus a FULLER elucidation on the myriad of beautiful dimensions of human personhood, are the ONLY ways that a comprehensive, balanced, and fully correct presentation of human personhood can ultimately be made.

Enough of my rant today.  Thanks Katie and Jules for the forum to do so!  ;-)

Take care, and God bless,

Steve B
Plano, TX

Anonymous

#62, Nov 7, 2009 11:58am

Just a brief follow-up….

In a nutshell, what I was trying to convey in my “rant” above is that TOB is far too much focusing merely on the SYMPTOM of the underlying diseased understanding of human PERSONHOOD that the culture as a whole has (and FAR too many Catholics and Christians have as well).

Getting to the root of that erroneous understanding of personhood, rather than dealing with the horrible symptoms and consequences of it, is what I think is more desperately needed today.

I don’t have a problem with CW and others using the emphasis on the human body as a way to “pack in the crowds”. 

However, once the audience has been garnered, the message REALLY needs to be more extensively about the “Theology of the PERSON ” rather than of the human body per se….

Take care, and God bless,

Steve B
Plano, TX

Anonymous

#63, Nov 7, 2009 8:05pm

Steve,

I really don’t relish trying to answer your very valid and deep questions personally because I have not kept up with my study of TOB the last three years and so am a little rusty at the task right now.  I would like to encourage you to read CW’s ‚ÄúTheology of the Body Explained‚Äù because the prologue has a beautiful in depth answer to your question about why a theology of the body.  I will just give you a few comments that may be of some help.

JPII makes a statement that is kind of the core of his teaching.  He states that:  ‚ÄúThe body, in fact, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible:  the spiritual and divine.  It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus to be a sign of it.‚Äù

This makes a lot of sense if one thinks about it.  Everything that we know about God we have received through a human body.  The Old Testament was given to us through human words, spoken and written. Then Christ came in a body to grace us with the fullness of revelation.  God chose to redeem us using a human body and in that act showed us the fullness of His love for us.

Unfortunately, however, much of human history has had man distorting the understanding of the body. We have discounted it as useless, we have distorted its meaning and labelled it as evil as in Manicheism, we have misused it as a recreational toy, etc. Today we are in desperate need to understand the sacredness of the body and its importance in our lives as Christians.

Concerning CW’s lack of discussion about prayer, I don’t believe that prayer is a topic that is frequently brought up by JPII in this particular teaching.  I just checked in the latest translation of TOB (that I am aware of) in its index of words and phrases and prayer is not listed.  I agree that prayer is essential in the Christian life but I also know that we need to understand what we need to pray for and about.  My husband is a deeply prayerful person and has even had a few mystical types of experiences, reads the Bible regularly but was still unable to make serious progress in certain areas of his life until he began to learn about TOB and got some really sound, strong spiritual direction in Confession.

I think that your comment about TOB promoters using the fact that ‚Äúsex sells‚Äù is totally off base.  The reason that many, many people find TOB compelling is that they are longing for love, in its true sense, and have not found it, even within their marriages.  They are hurt and wounded and long to be loved for the unique persons that they are and long to be able to love others but find all of that unattainable.  TOB provides a pathway, that if followed, can bring satisfaction to those longings.

You are upset about the discussion of the beauty of the human body and masculinity and femininity but it is necessary to understand all of this in the proper context.  We are created in the image and likeness of God.  Who is God?  God is love.  What is love?  Love is making a total gift of self to another.  That is what masculinity and femininity reveal, the giving and receiving of love. Because of that, the human body is beautiful since it is revealing, in a sense, God.  Also, if we can say that a flower or a bird or a rainbow is beautiful, why can we not also say that the human body is beautiful?  After all, it is also God’s creation, which I believe He called VERY good.

About concupiscence, I don’t believe that CW de-emphasizes its effect as much as he emphasizes the effect of the Redemption in assisting with concupiscence.  In listening to CW’s story about his life, he sounds like a man who has been an alcoholic and controlled by his addiction that has been able to get free from the chains of that addiction.  He glories in the freedom that he now has to relate to others in a healthy way without being overcome with unchaste thoughts and desires.  I know other men who have experienced that same gift and are extremely grateful for it.  Also, I would like to emphasize that much of what people attribute to CW is merely him quoting or paraphrasing JPII.  JPII is the one who first used the term ‚Äúliberation from concupiscence‚Äù.  A quote from JPII’s audience on July 21, 1982:

  The redemption of the body, however, expresses itself not only in the resurrection as a victory over death.  It is present also in the words of Christ addressed to ‘historical’ man, both when they confirm the principle of the indissolubility of marriage as a principle coming from the Creator himself, and when‚Äîin the Sermon on the Mount‚ÄîChrist invites us to overcome   concupiscence, even in the exclusively inner movements of the human heart.  About both of   these key statements one must say that they refer to human morality and have an ethical sense.    Here it is not a question of the eschatological hope of the resurrection, but of the hope of victory over sin, which can be called the hope of everyday…When it penetrates into daily life with the dimension of human morality, the redemption of the body helps man, above all, to discover the whole good in which he achieves the victory over sin and over concupiscence.

Your statement that CW de-emphasizes the effect of sin in the world I find very interesting.  I have heard many of his taped talks and in most of them he apologizes to women for the sins committed against them by men.  He mentions many examples of how people’s sins wound relationships and affect the course of the world.  I don’t have the time to go through his individual tapes to find the examples but there are many.  Of course we can find God in every created thing.  He made them all!  From listening to CW talk, it seems as though he is able to see beyond the sin to the PERSON created in the image and likeness of God, in which there is great goodness.  That is a virtue that we should all strive to attain.  I remember years ago walking one evening in downtown Calgary when some prostitutes came up to proposition my husband and all I could feel was deep sorrow for them.  That was before I knew anything of TOB‚Äîjust some plain old Catholic teaching.

I will end with a quote from JPII (Wednesday Audience February 4, 1981) to answer your comment about the body being a revelation of the person:

  The Pauline ‘description’ of the human body corresponds to the reality that constitutes the body; it is thus a ‘realistic’ description.  At the same time, the description weaves into its realism a very subtle thread of evaluation that gives it a deeply evangelical, Christian value.  It is certainly possible to ‘describe’ the human body, to express its truth with the objectivity proper to the natural sciences; but such a description‚Äîwith all its precision‚Äîcannot be adequate (that is, commensurate with its object), given the what is at issue is not only the body (understood as an organism in the ‘somatic’ sense) but also man who expresses himself by means of that body, and in this sense, I would say, ‘is’ that body.

Anonymous

#64, Nov 8, 2009 3:51pm

Lauretta,

Thanks SO much for your concerted effort in making what I am sure was a heart-felt reply, especially given your roofing time constraints there in Idaho!  I really do appreciate your desire to truly dialogue on this issue. 

Know that I am not challenging the TOB teaching in particular - what I am challenging, instead, is what I consider to be the somewhat distorted way in which Christopher West promotes it….

“I would like to encourage you to read CW‚Äôs ‘Theology of the Body Explained’ because the prologue has a beautiful in depth answer to your question about why a theology of the body.”

 

I will look into reading CW’s book, especially since it has been such a VERY long time since I have actually read any “official” TOB teaching of his.  Thank you for the book recommendation.

I agree wholeheartedly with what you quoted from Pope JPII that:

‚ÄúThe body, in fact, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible:  the spiritual and divine.”

Since we humans can’t communicate telepathically yet (well, at least us men can’t - LOL!), we have no other means of sharing who we are as persons except via our bodies.

However, what I am railing against wrt to how CW promotes the TOB teaching is not WHAT he promotes per se, but HOW he promotes it.  My challenge is that as he PROMOTES the TOB (i.e. outside of his actual or “official” teachings of it), to me he seems to be:

1)  over-emphasizing the human body, especially the sexual dimension of it,

2)  under-emphasizing the beauty and the mystery of femininity & masculinity,

3)  de-emphasizing the utterly serious impact of concupiscence on the human person,

4)  de-emphasizes the horrific negative impact that ALL sin (even venial sin) has for us personally and collectively (both in the Church, and for all of humanity).

“I think that your comment about TOB promoters using the fact that ‚Äúsex sells‚Äù is totally off base.”

 

Well, here we may just have to agree to disagree….

However, what I would contend is a clear-cut example of “sex sells” and (1) above comes directly from the talk that CW gave to TPP back in June 2008 - namely, when toward the end of his talk when he devotes SO much time and emphasis (and sometimes, in nearly-graphic ways) upon the sexual innuendo of the Hawaiian tour guide and “the coconut” story.  I mean, c’mon, I could even HEAR people gigling at the some of CW’s excessively-sexual innuendo & commentary.  CW could have EASILY conveyed the “beauty” of his Hawaiian tour guide without all the details of the crude and juvenile sexual innuendo.  CW needs to much more carefully promote the dignity of persons w/o succumbing to such crass and juvenile language and depictions….

Have you ever read any of Dr. DvH’s books on sexuality?  I have yet to read his “In Defense of Purity” book yet (it’s on my list of his books to add to my library), but in his other books he ALWAYS speaks of the sexual realm with utter dignity and the utmost reverence .  That reveals to me that there is a HUGE chasm between how CW promotes the TOB and how Dr. DvH would have promoted it if he were given the opportunity (and probably why his widow Dr. AvH objects to those kinds of CW’s promotional methods for the TOB).  CW, on the contrary, portrays human sexuality FAR too readily with crude and seemingly juvenile depictions.  And for what reason?  I think because he knows that “sex sells” and because he’s also trying to make it “entertaining”.  Both are VERY poor promotional methods in my estimation, which do not truly help the TOB cause.

“Today we are in desperate need to understand the sacredness of the body and its importance in our lives as Christians.”

I have NO argument whatsoever with you on that!

One of my own “soapbox issues” with the Catholic Church in particular is that She has utterly absconded Her duty to teach this very thing (and much of our faith) since Vatican II.  How often do most Catholics hear anything close to solid teaching of the faith, like TOB, from the pulpit?  Almost never!!!  We shouldn’t HAVE to search out this kind of catechesis all of our own effort!!!

“We are created in the image and likeness of God.  Who is God?  God is love.  What is love?  Love is making a total gift of self to another.  That is what masculinity and femininity reveal, the giving and receiving of love. Because of that, the human body is beautiful since it is revealing, in a sense, God.”

 

Again, you are preaching to the choir - I completely agree with you here.  But, what I don’t agree with is the “unveiling” of the beauty and mystery of femininity and masculinity, which I believe CW much-too-frequently does as he promotes the TOB teaching - e.g. the “coconut story”, the Pascal candle as a phallic image, the literal unveiling of the Blessed Mother, etc.

“Your statement that CW de-emphasizes the effect of sin in the world I find very interesting.  I have heard many of his taped talks and in most of them he apologizes to women for the sins committed against them by men.”

Again, perhaps in his “official” capacity of teaching the TOB, CW does this.  But, he certainly doesn’t when he promotes TOB. 

Why would he feel compelled in his TPP talk to emphasize Hawaiian coconut sexual innuendo, instead of maintaining a more focused perspective on how sexual sins have DEEPLY hurt women and humanity as a whole, as he does in his TOB talks?  Either he’s doing that out of extremely poor judgment, or else he’s at least subconsciously tapping into the fact that “sex sells”.

Perhaps CW feels “compelled” to use more crass and juvenile methods of promoting the TOB to the general public?  If we do ALL have such “longings of the heart” to find our inherent goodness as God created each of us (as the Catholic Church teaches we DO, via the natural law), then CW’s resorting to such crass methods seem to me to be instead a rather de-personalizing way to do so….

The complete lack of CW’s focus upon personal prayer is a show-stopper for me on embracing TOB, at least as he promotes it.  Yes, I agree with you that we do need to know WHAT to pray for (wake up Catholic Bishops!!!) , but that doesn’t detract from my point at all that CW and other TOB advocates MUST make BOTH of those things more explicitly clear in their TOB teachings….

Again, I do appreciate virtually all of what you advocate above wrt the TOB, and I will make the effort to read CW’s book that you recommend, so as to address some of the finer points I may not yet fully comprehend.  I do agree with both you, CW, and Pope JPII that the dignity of EACH person ALWAYS needs to be promoted and protected.

Lastly, however, I DON’T agree with you, JP II, nor CW that “good is everywhere we look!”  Cancer, natural disasters, and sexual decadence explicitly emphasize the opposite - that REAL evils ABOUND in our fallen world.  A serious shot of REALITY emphasis is desperately needed both by CW’s promotion of TOB, and by the Catholic Church too since Vatican II (btw, I am STILL a devoted Catholic).  This gross imbalance of pointing out the evil vs. the good in our world desperately needs to be corrected ASAP by TOB advocates and also by the Catholic Church.

However, I still stand by my assertion that what CW emphasizes in his promotion of the TOB definitely needs some re-vamping and/or the rectifying of some seriously misguided promotional methods. 

But, in conclusion, I still say that CW’s recent web site commentary ‚ÄúThe Theology of the Body Debate: The Pivotal Question‚Äù gives me no indication whatsoever that he has ANY serious plans to do so.  THAT is my skeptical conclusion from his web site “response”.

Take care, and God bless,

Steve B
Plano, TX

Katie van Schaijik

#65, Nov 8, 2009 4:46pm

Just back home from a lovely weekend in Steubenville visiting our daughter, Rose, who turns 18 today.

Steve asked the good question:

“Why isn‚Äôt this teaching instead called ‚ÄúTheology of the PERSON ‚Äù?”

My answer is because it isn’t the Theology of the Person, it the Theology of the Body.  JP II’s Theology of the Body is deeply informed and permeated by his philosophical personalism, but in this series of essays he was particularly concerned with the body and what it reveals about the nature and dignity of persons.

Steve goes on: “The focus upon the human body should be merely an aspect of what is the ‚Äútrue‚Äù theology of human personhood;”

Well, so it is. Who is saying it is anything else?  Christopher West does not set himself up as pope or priest or theologian or catechist.  He is nothing more and nothing other than a popularizer of a particular aspect of John Paul II’s legacy, which he has found to be a particularly powerful mode of appeal to our generation.

“However, I honestly believe that CW (and probably many other TOB advocates/promoters as well) is capitalizing upon the fact that ‚Äúsex sells‚Äù (I don‚Äôt know whether it is a conscious decision or not) - and that seems more than a little bit disingenuous to me‚Ķ”

There are two possible interpretations here, one of which is entirely benign and even more than benign, it is Christian seriousness pure and simple.  If CW sees that our society is particularly obsessed with sex and also particularly suffering and wounded in the area of sex, then there is nothing wrong with his deliberately speaking right to that.  Jules once pointed me to a passage in Augustine, which of course I can’t now find, where he talked about even going to the circus or using whatever appeal or fascination he could find to win a hearing from the crowd for the Gospel of Christ.

“in that same show CW also said that ‚Äúthe body is the revelation of the person.‚Äù”

This is straight out of JP II and a point with which DvH agrees.  The body reveals the person and the personal vocation; every portion of it “bespeaks” the person.  This insight is very closely tied to the incarnational principle so basic to our faith.  It entails no claim whatsoever that the body is the “core” of the person.  And (a key personalist point) the body/soul relation is emphatically NOT one of instrumentalization.  We do not USE our bodies, as JP II said.  Rather, “in a certain sense” we ARE our bodies. 
In saying this the Pope does not deny that our souls are the deeper and nobler part of our being, but rather that the union between the body and soul is so intimate that our body is in an important way inseparable from our identity as a given individual.

Steven, on the whole, I cannot help thinking you misjudge CW.  That you impute notions and motives to him that are not his.

But I honor you for sharing your views so forthrightly.  If this is ranting, the world could use more of it.

Katie van Schaijik

#66, Nov 8, 2009 5:16pm

This comment box is getting a bit unwieldy, isn’t it?  I am working on a new post on modesty, coming soon I hope.  Maybe we can restart there.

Meanwhile, in reply again to Steve:
I am in enthusiastic agreement with you that personalism in toto and not merely TOB is urgently needed in our culture.  I agree with you, too, that unless TOB is COMPLEMENTED by a deepening grasp of JP II’s wider personalism, it will tend to go astray.  Maybe we could draw an analogy with the charismatic renewal here?  Where its graces were followed up with a deeper-delving into the treasury of the Church and her patrimony, it bore untold fruit.  But where it failed in that respect, it drifted into heterodoxy and general flakiness.

But intend to “pack the crowds” sells CW short, IMO.  He’s not just trying to draw them in with some clever sales technique.  He’s addressing them in the area of their greatest need.

Anonymous

#67, Nov 8, 2009 8:34pm

We have used CW’s tapes for both marriage prep and to teach people about TOB and, at times, I have mentioned CW’s earthiness to people before they have watched the tapes to give them a heads up about the material.  We have almost never had anyone express dismay over his style and most people said they liked it.  Some men don’t like his aggressive way of confronting the issue of lust but most women seem to respond quite well to his teaching. 

One thing I think that happens for many people who have lived secular lives is that CW’s method makes them comfortable and they trust him because he seems like one of them.  I worry that if we speak in too lofty a manner with terminology and content, it will cause those whose lives have not been at all holy to feel such shame that they cannot hear the message that is being delivered.  CW is very honest about his life and people appreciate that since they have often been living lives worse than what CW describes.

Concerning goodness being everywhere, of course it is—God who is absolute goodness is everywhere even in the most difficult of scenarios.  My husband had cancer at 24, went through 10 months of horrible chemo which caused him to become sterile causing us to be able to have only one child when all I ever wanted to do was to be a mother.  Sounds pretty terrible doesn’t it?  We wouldn’t trade any of it because we would not be where we are today in our faith without those challenges.

Some of the complaints about CW’s teaching which aren’t original with him are getting rather tedious.  Here is a comment from Christopher Derrick in 1981:

And when it comes to our own spring-festival of resurrection and new life, we use a sexual symbolism as blatant as anything that ever featured in an archaic fertility-rite. (I wonder how many of us notice that we’re doing so, at however exalted a level of new meaning” It’s a shade less explicit than it used to be. We still have the cosmic marriage of male candle with female water. But the priest is no longer told to breathe upon the fruitful water in the form of the Greek letter psi, the archetypal yoni. The basic symbolism remains, even so, however piously we avert our attention from its natural meaning.)

The phallic imagery is not CW’s as this shows, nor are his explanations in Good News About Sex and Marriage of what is acceptable foreplay, at least according to Janet Smith.

It seems to me that much of what you are upset with is Catholic teaching when it is expressed in more depth.  I don’t believe that TOB is really saying anything that has not been understood in the past.  However, for whatever reason, we seem to have lost some of our understanding of these things in our Catholic culture and, I believe, that JPII is just bringing a lot of this understanding back to our awareness.

I do hope that you will read the book I recommended as well as the original text of TOB as written by JPII.  I am so appreciative of this teaching and believe that it is going to be key in the future to help people stop participating in the many evils with which, you so rightly acknowledge, the world is filled.

Anonymous

#68, Nov 8, 2009 8:34pm

Katie,

“unless TOB is COMPLEMENTED by a deepening grasp of JP II‚Äôs wider personalism, it will tend to go astray.”

BINGO!  You’re main point here is EXACTLY what I am after.

CW himself has said before - “more, there’s always more!” - and that applies SO much to what he is teaching.

What he has spoken about with TOB seems to me to fall SO far short of promoting human personhood than what is truly needed today. 

I’ve just been trying to reiterate that he needs to recognize that the world needs SO much more than merely a TOB - that it desperately needs a Theology of the Person.  Isn’t THAT the ultimate goal of The Personalist Project???

If you disagree with me in my assertion that at least part of what CW intends is to “pack the crowds”, then why did he revert to using a completely unnecessary & titillating depiction of his Hawaiian tour guide in his talk to TPP last year? 

To use depictions like that, and to make a concerted effort to do so, while completely ignoring to mention at all the utter need for personal prayer, to me it shows the glaring shortfalls in his TOB approach….

When you say “He‚Äôs addressing them in the area of their greatest need.” - you are absolutely right.  However, as I said before, he is addressing merely the SYMPTOM of their diseased understanding of Personhood, and is not getting to the core of the problem.  He’s immediately addressing the sickness and wounds of the “patients” who have been infected by the perversions of our culture - TOB is a spiritual “triage” I guess I would say. 

But, with CW’s particular way of presenting TOB, he’s not necessarily giving his audience quite enough spiritual “food” to set them on the right course to a truly healthy spiritual lifestyle. 

I am asserting that only by promoting personal prayer, and by delving more MUCH more into the more profound aspects of human personhood, can the needed “food” for the spiritual journey be conveyed as effectively as possible.

Sometime later today, I’ll post further comments to Lauretta below….

Take care, and God bless,

Steve B
Plano, TX

Katie van Schaijik

#69, Nov 9, 2009 5:13am

O dear.  The comment box is apparently overloaded.  Now when we try to post a reply mid-thread, it shows up here below.  Steve, the comment just above was meant to be reply to a question you posted much further up.  I’ll open a new Linde thread.  Let’s try to continue the discussion there.

Jules van Schaijik

#70, Nov 9, 2009 5:24am

I’ve noticed the problem. I don’t think it has anything to do with overload, however. In any case, I’ll try to fix it asap.

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