The Personalist Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments (103)

Jules van Schaijik

#1, Jun 21, 2009 8:09am

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

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

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

Bill Drennen

#2, Jun 22, 2009 6:44am


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

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

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

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

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

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



#3, Jun 22, 2009 7:09am


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

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


#4, Jun 22, 2009 8:58am


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

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

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

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

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

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

Katie van Schaijik

#5, Jun 22, 2009 9:04am

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

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Jun 22, 2009 10:31am

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


#7, Jun 22, 2009 11:16am


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

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

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

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

Katie van Schaijik

#8, Jun 22, 2009 1:36pm

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

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

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

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

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

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


#9, Jun 22, 2009 2:26pm


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

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

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

Katie van Schaijik

#10, Jun 23, 2009 10:42pm

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

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


#11, Jun 24, 2009 5:03am

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

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

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

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

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

Katie van Schaijik

#12, Jun 24, 2009 5:54am

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


#13, Jun 24, 2009 6:08am


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


#14, Jun 24, 2009 7:38am


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

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

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

Katie van Schaijik

#15, Jun 24, 2009 3:18pm

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


#16, Jun 24, 2009 3:46pm

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

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

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

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

Katie van Schaijik

#17, Jun 24, 2009 3:55pm

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

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

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

Your idea of marriage seems to be rather disembodied.

Katie van Schaijik

#18, Jun 24, 2009 5:24pm

From the catechism:

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


#19, Jun 24, 2009 6:12pm


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

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

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

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

Katie van Schaijik

#20, Jun 25, 2009 5:46am

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

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

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

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

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


#21, Jun 25, 2009 6:19am


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

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

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

Here is Pius XI in Casti Canubii:

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

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

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

Again, my apologies for my lack of generosity.

Katie van Schaijik

#22, Jun 25, 2009 10:03am

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

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

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

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


#23, Jun 25, 2009 10:15am

Thanks Katie,

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

God bless you.


#24, Jun 29, 2009 8:19am

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

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

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

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

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

Katie van Schaijik

#25, Aug 23, 2009 12:13am

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

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

Josef Seifert

#26, Aug 23, 2009 4:43am

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

Katie van Schaijik

#27, Aug 23, 2009 6:16am

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


#28, Aug 23, 2009 8:23am

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

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


#29, Aug 23, 2009 10:27am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


#30, Aug 23, 2009 1:51pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josef Seifert

#31, Aug 23, 2009 6:49pm

Dear Lauretta,

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


#32, Aug 23, 2009 8:09pm


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am all eyes and ears.

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

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

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

Josef Seifert

#33, Aug 24, 2009 7:06am

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

Katie van Schaijik

#34, Aug 24, 2009 1:43pm

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

Bill Drennen

#35, Aug 24, 2009 4:52pm


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

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


Katie van Schaijik

#36, Aug 25, 2009 5:40am

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


#37, Aug 25, 2009 6:02am


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

Katie van Schaijik

#38, Aug 25, 2009 6:23am

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

Bill Drennen

#39, Aug 25, 2009 7:18am

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


#40, Aug 25, 2009 7:32am

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


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


#41, Aug 25, 2009 8:32am

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Drennen

#42, Aug 25, 2009 9:40am


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

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


#43, Aug 25, 2009 10:00am


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

Katie van Schaijik

#44, Aug 25, 2009 10:45am

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

Bill Drennen

#45, Aug 25, 2009 10:49am

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


#46, Aug 25, 2009 10:54am

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


#47, Aug 25, 2009 1:28pm


Glad to see you back.

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

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

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

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


#48, Aug 25, 2009 1:48pm

Thank you for your comments.  I agree totally that the Baptismal font as womb is not a reference to genitalia just as the Easter candle as a phallic symbol is not a reference to genitalia.  That is why I said that they are symbols because of what they do, not because of their shape.

I do appreciate your concern for Tradition.  We have had too many theological and liturgical innovations thrust upon us in recent decades.  That being said, however, I cannot reject a development or deepening or restoration of a truth or an understanding of our faith because I haven’t seen it explained exactly that way in the past.  One of the “teachings” of the Church that was very disturbing to me as I began to learn about Catholicism was its “teaching” on limbo for unbaptized babies.  I was told this by Catholics who had been raised in all parts of the US so had to assume that it was pretty universally taught and, therefore, was a fact.  I could never be at peace with it, however, and was, oh, so relieved to read in then Bishop Ratzinger’s book “Introduction to Christianity” that it was mere theological speculation and something that he would reject.  Amazing how something as important and potentially troubling to people was allowed to be taught for years when it was not even doctrine.  Now, this Easter candle idea, which as far as I can see, has way less potential effects on people’s faith and lives is creating such controversy!

I need to ask what you mean by “paternal principle”.  My understanding is that we call God Father because he gives us life.  I interpret that to be a paternal principle.  Is that wrong?  That is what I was referring to when I said that there was a phallic aspect to Christ’s conception.  The Blessed Mother received the life that was given—generated—by the Holy Spirit.

And to your last statement, why should we feel shame?  Should not our response to the nakedness of Jesus and Mary, if we truly understood what that meant, be more of a joy similar to that which we experience when we see a young toddler running around naked?  Should we not see in their nakedness the same innocence and purity and trust that a child exhibits?  Should we not see the beauty of the pinnacle of God’s creation in the Blessed Mother’s body—clothed or unclothed?  Are we not projecting our own brokenness onto them by insisting that they be clothed?  Are they not the New Adam and the New Eve who, before Original Sin, were naked without shame and are not the original Adam and Eve often portrayed as naked in the Garden of Eden?


#49, Aug 25, 2009 1:58pm


A phallic symbol is a visible representation of a penis and that is exactly what West claims the candle to be, just as he claims that the baptismal font is a visible representation of a vagina because it is concave.  He also claims that the repeated penetration of the baptismal font by the candle is a simulation of the sex act.  This is wholly absent from the liturgical meaning and is not a development of doctrine.  It is an invention without basis in the patristic or magisterial teaching of the Church.

If you base your argument on what these articles do, rather than on their shape and action then you are even worse off, because neither the virginal conception, nor the baptism in the Jordan nor the resurrection, which are symbolized by the liturgical action are inseminations/impregnations.

Limbo is a is way of explaining what happens to the unbaptized who have not yet reached the age of reason, since revelation does not directly tell us what has happened to them and because there is the problem of their inability to even desire the grace of baptism.  Regardless of what the catechism does or does not say about limbo at this time, it does not tell us that unbaptized children are in heaven, but that we entertain the hope that they are.  I don’t think development in this matter is comparable to the Paschal Candle which is an invention made up out of whole cloth.

I would recommend the reading of Newman’s Essay on the Development of Doctrine in order to understand better the difference between a development of doctrine and its corruption.

The Father is the paternal principle, of course.  He is the Father of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.  But the human nature of Christ is not generated by means of a paternal principle.  Our Lady conceives virginally without insemination through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Father does not personally generate the conception of Jesus in His Mother’s womb and neither does the Holy Spirit.  In fact, we do not say that the incarnation is generated at all, but that Jesus is conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Our Lord is conceived without father by virtue of an unprecedented miracle.  The fathers say Jesus has Father in heaven and no mother, and Mother on earth and no father.  This is the way the Church has always taught.  I am not making it up.

There certainly is no phallic reference in the conception of Jesus because phalli symbolize penises, which reference is neither appropriate nor justified in regard to the conception of Jesus.  I think you would really benefit from examining the seven notes of Newman on the development of doctrine.

In reference to the nakedness of Jesus and Mary, all I can do is refer you to Von Hildebrand’s remarks on shame so eloquently given here by Josef.

Josef Seifert

#50, Aug 25, 2009 5:11pm


Dear Father Geiger, I find your last replies on the Easter candle and the baptismal font, as well on the limbo, very deep theologically, very charitable and very true.

Dear Lauretta, I do not want to add much to this reply of Father to your remarks but simply share them and you may consider them my own reply as well. Only some thoughts on a topic Father only briefly touches.

As to the nakedness and original innocence, we obviously no longer live in paradise and therefore modesty in clothing is part of the virtue of chastity. Your implication that it would be improper to represent Mary and Jesus with clothes on because they alone, more than Adam and Eve, were “naked without shame!” in virtue of their perfect innocence seems incorrect to me:
Never in the Gospel do we hear that Christ, Mary, the Apostles or the Prophets of old walked around naked. Christ even when he appears in his transfigured heavenly beauty on the mount Tabor, appears “in clothes whiter than snow,” and not naked. His nakedness in the passion and on the cross was part of the deep humiliation and passion he took upon himself for us.
Besides, while Christ was more than fully embodying the “original innocence” and redeemed beauty of the body, our mere beginning to understand the magnificent message of TOB, a part of which refers to a wonderful interpretation of sexuality and the spousal meaning of the body, does not put us back into the world of original innocence yet (even though the nakedness of the spouses in a deep and redeemed mutual spousal love may to some extent embody this seeing the body through the eyes of love that drives shame away, and restore original innocence - at least to the extent that body and soul again become a pure and wonderful gift the spouses make to each other.).
Still another point on shame: while shame and modesty have much to do with sin and our fallen nature, I do not think that feelings of shame in disclosing our nakedness are ONLY related to the danger that our bodies might be looked at with lustfulness and irreverence. I think there is also something in the intimacy of the human body and even more of the conjugal act that makes the public exposure of the marital act before the eyes of third persons, even a Saint, wrong and shameless.
As far as the idea that all Saints in heaven will be naked as our first parents were in paradise, I would say: If that be so and if we would be graced in heaven with the gift of seeing the blessed virgin and Jesus and all other Saints in the whole beauty of their bodies disclosed without any clothes, this would be completely different from a kind of “religious nudism” and “nudist religious art” that would rest on a misunderstanding of TOB. Presenting Mary and Jesus naked in our Churches on earth would not be an adequate interpretation of such a “heavenly nakedness” in paradise.
If there is such a heavenly “universal nakedness,” this will be radically different - not only because of the beauty and supernatural “spiritualization” of the risen bodies but also because we will see everything in the eyes of God and His infinite and perfect love.

Further, there is no evidence of a “heavenly nakedness” in Holy Scripture, where the uncountable multitudes of Saints in heaven are described by the Prophets and Apocalypse as wearing white robes or beautifully colored robes and jewels, Mary is describes as being clothed with the sun, etc.
Even the angels in paradise are described by the Bible as “wearing clothes.” Look at this astonishingly beautiful description of the original beauty of Lucifer in Paradise from Ezechiel and the moving exhortation of God to us that we ought to lament the fall of such a great angel (which shows how God loves forever the beautiful angel Lucifer as he created and intended him)
“Son of man, take up a lamentation for the king of Tyre, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD-.  “You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.  You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: The sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold.  The workmanship of your timbrets and pipes was prepared for you on the day you were created.  You were the anointed cherub who covers; I established you; you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones.  You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.  By the abundance of your trading you became filled with violence within, and you sinned; therefore I cast you as a profane thing out of the mountain of God; and I destroyed you, 0 covering cherub, from the midst of the fiery stones Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor; I cast you to the ground, I laid you before kings, that they might gaze at you….. (Ezekiel 28:12-17)
Compare also Isaiah 14.
I found a beautiful passage on this mystery of the white clothes and being clothed by the sun in Pope John Paul II. At any rate, neither will the clothes if they continue in heaven hide from us the whole beauty of the risen bodies nor will the eventual appearing of the risen bodies without clothes in any ways be lacking in modesty. Thus I propose we venerate this heavenly Jerusalem as a great mystery, letting ourselves be surprised by the joys of heaven which no eye has seen, no ear heard and which has not entered yet into any human heart. In any case, heaven will be perfectly pure and not prudish but perfectly and exuberantly beautiful.


#51, Aug 25, 2009 9:32pm

Your last paragraph was beautiful.  Thank you. 

I think that a lot of what I understand TOB to be teaching is exactly what you stated in that paragraph and that it is possible in this life to begin to see glimmers of that here and now. This is particularly important to strive for in the area of our relationship with the opposite sex.  We can see the devastation all around us from that relationship being lived out in very unhealthy ways.  We could be so much more for one another if we could just get past some of these distorted ways of seeing and relating to one another.

I am saddened to see these harsh debates going on about TOB because I have seen and experienced myself the good that it does in peoples’ lives.  There may be a few that misunderstand and distort the teaching by promoting nudist colonies, etc. but that is not the majority that I see.  I see couples struggling with trying to relate to one another developing an intimacy and concern for the other; other couples who have been brainwashed by the culture into an anti-life mentality becoming open to life and experiencing the joy of children. 

Christopher’s method of teaching is one which secular people can relate to and understand.  They don’t seem to interpret him the same way that he is by some on these sites.  I just hope that all of this can be worked out through such forums as this rather than in the news media because I think that if parishes etc. start rejecting Christopher’s teaching we will experience a great loss.

Josef Seifert

#52, Aug 26, 2009 5:39am

Dear Lauretta,
Thank you for your kind reply. I agree with you fully on the very singular value of JPII’s theology of the body and I agree with you as well that it would be a pity if C. West were impeded to spread this wonderful contribution so necessary for our time. I believe that none of us intends this (certainly not I) and in my last reply to Frangelo I refer to a very splendid passage from West’s book and sent Father the link.
Far from wishing to keep C.West from exercising his mission I only hope that his apostolate will gain from a number of justified criticisms (I find most of those on the Personalist page not so harsh as you) and that he will only improve his great mission by taking into his speeches and writings any grain of truth he finds in these criticisms, without losing his enthusiasm for “translating” the often difficult thoughts of JPII for much wider audiences.
I find it wonderful that you got so much from it and so many other persons as well and I cooperate here in Chile with two groups of delightful and very young people who are enthusiastic disciples of the TOB, retranslated Love and Responsibility into Spanish and spread its message and that of TOB.
Kind regards and much success with your mission in getting this message across to many persons and with living it,



#53, Aug 26, 2009 6:59am

Thank you, Joseph, for all of the wonderful information and insights that you have contributed.  They have been very helpful for my understanding of things.

I’m not sure how you meant the statement about harshness but I will respond to both possibilities!  If I have been harsh, I apologize to all that I have treated in such a manner—I can tend to sound brusque when I am trying to get a point across without meaning to be that way.  The comments by others on this site have certainly not been harsh—particularly compared to the comments that I have read on other sites.  However, it isn’t always harshness that causes problems.  I know of parishes and individuals who are now hesitant to continue using or begin using CW materials because these concerns have been broached in a public forum.  This greatly concerns me because his is almost the only teaching on TOB that is easily understood by the common lay person.  I would hate to see his work halted because of minor issues since I truly have not seen those areas of disagreement cause the people we have worked with to form wrong assertions about the subject.

How interesting it must be for you to be working with people from another culture in this area.  It would be fun to compare the reactions of those from different cultures to see how much the cultural influence has affected people’s perception of things!  The people of Chile are blessed to have you sharing your wisdom with them!


#54, Aug 26, 2009 7:20am

Thank you, Josef.  Yours is a very beautiful reflection.  What is the text of JP II to which you refer?

Josef Seifert

#55, Aug 26, 2009 7:45am


Dear Fr Angelo,

thank you for your words. I had actually a passage of John Paul II in mind from a beautiful section of Christopher West's book. In this book Christopher West, George Weigel - 2003 - Religion - 530 páginas C West quotes Saint Ignatius of Antiochia and Saint Paul and speaks of the Saints in heaven being “clothed in the light of God” which seems to be a beautiful thought, and Pope John Paul seems to say that their bodies will be seen purely in the light of God “as the glory of the human body before God”.

“They shall have no need of woven raiment,” says Ignatius of Antioch, “for they shall be clothed in eternal light.“14 John Paul II describes purity as “the glory of the human body before God….

On this topic Pope John Paul II has also written a beautiful line in the speech he gave when the renovation of the Sixtine Chapel was completed:

It seems that Michelangelo, in his own way, allowed himself to be guided by the evocative words of the Book of Genesis which, as regards the creation of the human being, male and female, reveals: “The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame” (Gn 2:25). The Sistine Chapel is precisely - if one may say so - the sanctuary of the theology of the human body. In witnessing to the beauty of man created by God as male and female, it also expresses in a certain way, the hope of a world transfigured, the world inaugurated by the Risen Christ, and even before by Christ on Mount Tabor. We know that the Transfiguration is one of the main sources of Eastern devotion; it is an eloquent book for mystics, just as for St Francis Christ crucified contemplated on the mountain of La Verna was an open book.
If we are dazzled as we contemplate the Last Judgement by its splendour and its terror, admiring on the one hand the glorified bodies and on the other those condemned to eternal damnation, we understand too that the whole composition is deeply penetrated by a unique light and by a single artistic logic: the light and the logic of faith that the Church proclaims, confessing: “We believe in one God… maker of heaven and earth, of all things seen and unseen”. On the basis of this logic in the context of the light that comes from God, the human body also keeps its splendour and its dignity. If it is removed from this dimension, it becomes in some way an object, which depreciates very easily, since only before the eyes of God can the human body remain naked and unclothed, and keep its splendour and its beauty intact.

I refer particularly to the last sentences of this text that I find very profound.



#56, Aug 26, 2009 8:56am

Very beautiful, Joseph.  Thank you.

Josef Seifert

#57, Aug 26, 2009 9:32am

Thank you. I am happy we agree on so many points and texts. HOPE TO MEET YOU SOON IN PERSON


#58, Aug 26, 2009 10:53am


I would be honored.  Would you, perhaps be coming this way some time soon?  Unless God shows me otherwise I don’t think I will be going to Chile in the foreseeable future.


#59, Aug 26, 2009 11:41am


I am quite interested in understanding better the Church’s explanation of the conception of Christ.  In the Catechism it states:  “The Holy Spirit, ‘the Lord, the giver of Life,’ is sent to sanctify the womb of the Virgin Mary and divinely fecundate it, causing her to conceive the eternal Son of the Father in a humanity drawn from her own.”

First I looked up fecundate which means: to make fruitful or productive; to fertilize.  When I combined that definition with the statement “a humanity drawn from her own”, I concluded that the Holy Spirit took the Blessed Mother’s ovum and miraculously fertilized it.  Is that wrong?  I always assumed that Christ had His mother’s DNA and that statement in the Catechism would seem to support that.  Is this an OK assumption? 

My final comment on phallic-ism!  My daughter, who was an English lit major said that in her classes she was told that phallic images are not always representations of penises but that they could have a generic meaning similar to the one I quoted from the dictionary earlier.


#60, Aug 26, 2009 12:04pm


What you say of the fecundation of the Blessed Virgin is true.  A Virgin, by definition cannot conceive except by loosing her virginity, unless God intervenes by miracle.  The miracle is not an insemination or any kind of process whatsoever.  A miracle by definition is instantaneous, that is, without natural process, and unexplainable by natural causes.  So yes, the Virgin is made fruitful (fecundated) by the Holy Spirit, and yes Our Lord is biologically related to Our Lady; however, neither the Holy Spirit nor the Father generate or father Jesus, nor do they inseminate the Blessed Virgin.  The language of the Church is very specific and telling both in terms of what it does say and in what it is unwilling to say.

Part of the meaning of consecrated virginity, especially in its archetype of Our Lady’s virginity is that the earthly pleasure of marriage is forgone in view of union with God, which is not a sexual union.  It is not an eternal climax.  Sexual union and climax point up to Divine Union.  That is the proper use of analogy.  But it is confusing and inverted to project upwards, in an anthropomorphic way, the attributes of this world onto that of heaven.  Sexual union is a sign of the fulfillment, but not the fulfillment itself.

Furthermore, the Virginity of the Blessed Mother is itself a sign and is not not typified by lesser things that might introduce confusion into the sign.  Thus, things like the Arc of the Covenant and the Burning Bush are appropriate signs of the virginal maternity, but symbols of male and female genitalia are not, precisely because the conception of Jesus is not by way of intercourse and insemination, but by way of virginity and miracle.

I am no expert on phallic symbols, but, as I have already mentioned, what we are discussing here is West’s use of phallic symbology and in this case, he is certainly saying that the Easter Candle is a symbol of a penis.

Bill Drennen

#61, Aug 26, 2009 4:08pm

Thank you father,

I love this clarity. It is why I did not like the misuse of the sexual analogy but did not have this clear way of explaining it.

On the side, I have an interest in miracles from the engineer’s perspective. I know what I am about to say is in danger of serious folly, presuming to fit God into an equation, but I will proceed nonetheless and risk the lightning bolts. Here I go; others feel free to dive for cover:

I happen to be under the seemingly foolish delusion that one day in heaven I will understand the miracles that were preformed here on earth and even have equations to describe them. I base this on 2 ideas I consider to be true and beyond doubt.

1’st is the fact that any force that impinges upon the physical world must necessarily have a physical model to describe the observed behavior.

2’nd is my platonic belief in mathematics, shared by Einstein himself who said that reality exists independent from anything we can measure. Mathematics then, far from being an exact representation of reality is really only a model. It is a language of observed phenomenon that evolves.

The church defines a miracle as not “natural” but in reality nature as we experience it, itself does not have a perfectly accurate set of laws that are always explained by an equation. There remain many “miracles” of science such as the mystery of the unified force theory still without any good model or the warping of gravity relative to time and space or the origins of black holes ect.

Ultimately one could say that since God is the origin and source of the universe, his actions in the physical world must be explainable by the ultimate mathematical function which solves every equation.

The church in its definition is attempting to distinguish between nature operating on it’s own as we experience it every day, and God’s intervention into nature. In reality however, we may discover that God’s intervention is intimately joined to his universe, he is holding it in existence and provides that missing function solving the unified force theory and every other unsolved theory. The universe is all the time a miracle second by second and there really is no “natural” un-miraculous happening.

What really is “natural” if everything is a miracle?


#62, Aug 26, 2009 4:20pm


I guess the question that underscores the problem you are dealing with is creation ex nihilo, which means bringing something into existence without preexisting matter and without secondary or instrumental causes.  In effect God’s intellect and will are one.  What is intelligible to God is given existence merely by the act of His will.  Miracles concerning things which already exist are similar.  That is why they are miracles.

Bill Drennen

#63, Aug 26, 2009 4:26pm

I don’t think so Father. The only similarity is that we do not understand it physically. In the first case the miracle is beyond nature and God makes nature whatever he wants to make it. But in the second case where he has already made a natural world with causes and effects, he then chooses to affect that world in a new way where the cause may be a mystery but the effect is measurable by the same principles of that nature he created.

I can create a sculpture out of clay and one out of marble. If I had the ability to magically alter the clay or the marble statue without a chisel, the changes to the statues will still be described by the principles of their medium only without knowing the cause or the source.

May all inquiry be blessed this day in the spirit of St. Augustine.


#64, Aug 26, 2009 5:23pm


Yes, in the spirit of St. Augustine, we can have a charitable and enlightening discussion on this topic.

My understanding is that the middle instance which you propose is indeed possible, but that when the Church identifies a true miracle it is seeking what can only be explained by direct supernatural causality and not by natural.  This is why “instantaneous” is one of the qualities of a true miracle, insofar as there is no process, no intermediate states and no instrumental causality. 

I am sure you would agree that God is capable of acting in this fashion, even on things already existing.  Certainly the effect is “measurable by the same principles of that nature he created,” but the cause would not only be mysterious, but unmeasurable, because not finite and not producing incremental states or dependent on created instrumental causes.

Otherwise, the transformation would not be truly miraculous, only its process hidden to us at this time, and not fundamentally undiscoverable by man, since, if as you say it would “still be described by principles of [its] own medium, then those principles would be those of science and mathematics.  If that were true, then, it would seem, that neither would their be anything fundamentally preventing man from replicating the process, in which case the transformation would be by definition not a miracle.

Or do I misunderstand you?

Bill Drennen

#65, Aug 26, 2009 5:31pm

Father, I follow and agree up to a point here but have trouble with your last paragraph.

Is it not true that what may be “fundamentally undiscoverable by man” on this earth, may in the next world be understood?

Also, we know that science and math as we discover it and define it by our models is always changing and that which we discover is bounded by the parameters of that sphere of discovery. Classical physics does not apply to the quantum level without modification and quantum physics can not be applied outside its boundaries. This is only 1 example. As we learn new things to explain new phenomenon outside our understanding we conceive of new models to describe them. It is not so much a reach to imagine we will do so in heaven with all we discover.

So then we are not bound by the principles of any one medium in our ability to understand phenomenon.

As far as man replicating phenomenon he observes, it is not the same thing at all for man to understand and for man to have the power to cause an occurrence.

Beyond all this I think I am questioning the dividing line the church describes between what is natural and what is miraculous. Both definitions, I am sure can be stretched to the point that the lines become blurred. What is natural is really miraculous and visa versa.

I do however, in all this on this day of Augustine, have the sneaking suspicion that there is a small child out there wanting to ask me why I am trying to count the grains of sand on the beach.


#66, Aug 26, 2009 6:30pm


Certainly you agree that God can give existence or whatever transformation to already existing creatures simply by willing it, though he never wills, nor can he, a metaphysical absurdity.  Beyond that it is an interesting question as to whether, when God intervenes into the existing universe, that intervention can be measured by the laws which He has created.  I would surmise that might be the case up to a point, but that even while there might be a blur, there is nevertheless some demarcation between what can be accomplished by nature and what it beyond it, between what is knowable to the finite mind and what is not.


#67, Aug 26, 2009 7:31pm

These comments are telling: “for those who understand TOB”; “if we truly understood what that meant”—- that would be a major problem with presenting nude images of our Blessed Mother & Christ at any age or stage.  How many Catholics fall into these categories? Don’t we need to have regard/charity for the millions who aren’t formed w/regards to TOB? 

RE: interesting factoid regarding the sexuality of breasts.  I was reading about an anthropologist in Africa. She said that the African men could not understand American men’s fixation on breasts - those are for children!  It was the female thigh that they found enticing.


#68, Aug 26, 2009 7:58pm

Hi Katie,

Thanks for the questions.  I did not mean to imply that we should necessarily go out and replace all of our images of Jesus and Mary with nudes but that if we understood correctly what their nudity means, we would not be offended if we saw it.

As I was thinking about it, however, I thought of several things that we do as Catholics that are quite offensive to millions of people.  Our use of statues many perceive as a breaking of one of the Commandments.  Our praying of the rosary is deemed to be vain repetition which is spoken against in Scripture.  And, then, probably the most problematic of all, the crucifix itself.  To non-Christians, it is obscene that we hang an instrument of torture and death on our walls and around our necks.  Try to think of that without the knowledge that Christianity brings to it.  It seems pretty unbelievable that anyone would ever do it.

For myself, it was years before I began to appreciate nudes in art.  I was offended by them frankly.  I have a friend who was teaching Greek literature to a few high school students and the text books she used had some photos of nude statues on the cover.  She took stickers and covered all of the genitalia on every book before she gave them to the students.

I guess what I am trying to say is that if something is true and beautiful, I don’t know if we should not portray it because some won’t understand it.  We would be greatly impoverished if we took out everything from our faith that others don’t understand.

Concerning breast-feeding, I was reading on a secular web site about the subject and they were quite adamant that it was not a sexual thing and placed the blame for that perception on our culture—citing the comments from an anthropologist as well.  My daughter said that her friends have told her that their husbands perceive a nursing breast to be quite different than when it is exposed in a different manner.  I also double-checked with my husband and he assured me that he is quite aware of the difference between sexual attraction and the attraction of a breast-feeding mother and child!

Bill Drennen

#69, Aug 27, 2009 4:31am

Well everyone knows that American men set the standard! African men I have to place down a lower tier along with European men in the awareness scale (excluding Jules, of course).

Seriously, I think in these observations men are speaking in a much more narrow definition of sexual interest then I am speaking of. Breasts express the very essence of womanhood and are inherently sexually beautiful. I contend that any man who fails to recognize this is truly blind.

One can claim they do not prefer Mozart but only by betraying their ignorance. The beauty of Mozart is objective and universal. Failure of appreciation is only due to an inability to see the truth.

Katie van Schaijik

#70, Aug 27, 2009 5:22am

In that broad sense, Bill, “sexually beautiful” would be entirely unproblematic.  We had been speaking of breasts as “sexually arousing”—so that men who are concerned about staying chaste should avoid seeing them.  And, by implication, women should take care to be extremely discrete when nursing their babies.
I do think there is a very large element of cultural conditioning at play here.
Personally, I cannot wish American men were as indifferent to the beauty of breasts as the African men mentioned above.  But I do regret the unfamiliarity with nursing that makes it difficult for so many American men to see breasts as anything BUT “sex objects.”

Bill Drennen

#71, Aug 27, 2009 6:02am

yes we agree, but I painted with a broad brush on purpose because the difficulty is that it is not so easy to differentiate between beautiful and arousing sexually for men. So I think the key is to see, not the “object” but the person and in this way our natural interest (which again painting with a broad brush I will call arousal)in the beautiful we experience becomes an experience of the person and is pure.

In theory this is anyway, not saying I am so good at it. I may be one who needs to turn away but it’s still helpful to understand how it is supposed to work, the goal being purity in relation to beauty and not hiding from it.


#72, Aug 27, 2009 6:24am

Very fruitful discussion.  I would just like to repeat for good measure, if I may that all these considerations about breastfeeding are perfectly legitimate.  I think the bottom line is that one should not assume anything about anyone’s response to a woman breastfeeding.  It certainly is not prudery for a man to look away from a woman breastfeeding if he finds her semi-nakedness sexually arousing.


#73, Aug 27, 2009 7:18am

I’m sure that you have all heard quite enough from me but I would like to add a comment about this topic and the whole issue of sexual attraction.  It is very true that one is not necessarily a prude if one is aroused by the sight of any part of the body of someone of the opposite sex.  I would like to posit, however, that it is possible, through prayer and an honest examination of oneself, to gain mastery over this to a greater degree than one currently experiences.  I say this in all charity and mean no judgment on anyone.  I only bring it up because being aroused by the opposite sex when it is not your spouse is a barrier that can often prevent one from helping someone in need.  If you have to distance yourself from someone because of this excessive attraction, you cannot be present for that person in the way that they may need.  There are times when we are hurting and need the counsel or comfort from another and if we have not mastered our sexual desires, we cannot often offer that counsel or comfort.

As a woman, it has been a source of great sadness, and at times frustration, to find so few men capable of true friendship.  I enjoy men’s company, talking and joking with them, but there are so few, married or single, Christian or not, who have enough mastery of self to not inappropriate and unsolicited advances.  This is what TOB has helped us to see as a beautiful possibility and, in my husband’s case a reality.  He is so appreciative of the freedom he now has in this area—freedom to be a friend to women and to help them in their time of need.  A beautiful grace if we seek and strive for it.


#74, Aug 27, 2009 9:03am


I agree that self-mastery, a more exalted view of sexuality and spontaneous and personal charity for everyone, including someone on might find sexually arousing, should be the goal of chastity education.

Bill Drennen

#75, Aug 27, 2009 9:07am

It is not only for the sake of the other but more fundamentally for the sake of ourselves that we must learn this. Imagine, if you will, our perspective as men, we find ourselves as mere mortals walking this world inhabited by goddesses of beauty and seek friendship with them?

I am blessed in my case that one of the most beautiful of these has given herself to me for the last 20 years so that I may begin my feeble steps towards a worthiness to be in such company!


#76, Aug 27, 2009 9:35am

That is very true, Bill.  My husband will attest to that necessity for one’s own well being.  This was something that he struggled with for years and felt a lot of guilt and shame personally and it affected our relationship as well.  It was not until he received very forthright and concrete counsel from a confessor and began to read CW’s work that he was able to make progress in this area.  He is so grateful to CW for showing him that attraction and arousal are not things to be ashamed of but possibly—depending on the situation—something merely in need of purification through God’s grace.  He made the comment this morning as well that for him the mastery of self that was the most difficult was in his own home.

I believe that this is such a difficult thing for men today since our culture proclaims so powerfully that no self control is necessary.  Masturbation is promoted as a healthy thing—even by such reputable people as Dr. Dobson, fornication is promoted for the young, contraception is promoted for married couples and those who follow the Church’s teaching are susceptible to feeling deprived or burdened in relation to those who are contracepting.  Not to mention the lack of modesty that is everywhere they look!  I do have great compassion for men striving in this area and will be one of their most faithful advocates!

Katie van Schaijik

#77, Aug 27, 2009 10:50am

I agree with your last line, Father, though with this qualification:
I think it would not be wrong to detect or an element of prudery in a culture that conditions men to respond that way, or to wish that it were not so, or to claim that if a man’s self-mastery were what it ought to be and can be under grace, it would not be so (granting fully that a given man who finds himself having to look away may be farther along in self-mastery than another given man who doesn’t have to look away because he happens to be less sensitive.)  Would you agree?


#78, Aug 27, 2009 10:53am

I believe that the real reactions of individual men are generally beyond outside analysis, and it would seem to me that a personalist approach would be to presume the best.

I also believe that various reactions, including, sometimes, the reaction of men to women breastfeeding can be prudish, but, no, I would not assume that the one who sees no need to look away is generally further along in self-mastery. I don’t think we can know that about individual persons, generally.

I understand what you are saying and probably agree more with you than is reflected here; however, while I do think prudery is a problem, I also think we are giving it too much credit.

I do not know this (perhaps others can verify), but I would assume that the paucity of breastfeeding women in American up to late, has had little if nothing to do with prudery, but with the convenience of bottle feeding.  I would also submit that it is a lack a familiarity of the average man, more than anything else, that makes the prospect of watching a woman breastfeeding alluring in an arousing way. 

In terms of the way religious men react to this, very often they are countering years of habitual lustful thoughts and looks within a culture that has no conscience for such things and in which women are taught to expose themselves continually.  Yes, this can lead to exaggeration and excessive fear and a lack of spontaneous self-mastery, but I do not think the answer to the problem is another form of reactionism, which is contrived and assumes to see prudery where there are other explanations.

I believe that catechesis and prayer, and yes, including a enthusiastic examination of TOB along with all the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality within the framework of a hermeneutic of continuity (not discontinuity) will help men find a balance.  But I do not believe that telling men that they are not very advanced if they intuit the need to look away, or encouraging them to constantly examine themselves on the way they react to various occasions, or contriving solutions like looking at oneself naked or learning to be comfortable with Maria Lactans will be the solution because they are based on an assumption which is false, namely, that such reactions are by definition prudery.

I think this is important because while we contrive to organize ourselves against a shame which is disordered and which hides a subtle preoccupation with lust, we run the risk of stamping out that beautiful, humble and wholesome shame which is directed toward the good of the person, the mystery of personhood and the true “mysticism” of sexuality.  In my opinion this seems to be totally underestimated by the presentation of West.

Katie van Schaijik

#79, Aug 27, 2009 10:57am

Dear Father, with respect, I believe you misread my last comment, or at least parts of it.  I agree that the real reactions of individual men are generally beyond analysis.  That’s why I framed the issue in terms of general culture.  In my parenthesis I tried to make clear that I realize that a given man who looks away may be further along in self-mastery than one who, from insensitivity, doesn’t need to look away. 
My earlier point was rather a man (be he ever so naturally libidinous) who has achieved PERFECT self-mastery would not need to look away.  I believe this, and it is I think at least part of the truth behind Lauretta’s position (which I share to a large degree.)  In other words, I can lament prudishness and/or “unchecked passion” in our society without accusing particular men of being guilty of it in a given case because they choose to avert their eyes from a nursing mother.  And I can also look forward to the day when a better society-wide respect for the beauty and dignity and meaningfulness of the maternal body does not have such an effect on men—NOT because they are insensitive to its beauty, but because, as Bill said, they see and revere it in right relation to everything else.
Further, I am not so concerned with the CAUSE of the paucity of breast-feeding in American culture as with the effect it has had in preventing so many men from being able to be around it without awkwardness and/or impurity.  Among other things, that state of affairs adds to the difficulties and burdens of modern day motherhood.  I’ve nursed 5 babies and I know whereof I speak.


#80, Aug 27, 2009 11:01am


I see your point.  I apologize for my misreading.  I would generally agree that there is largely an imbalance in modern society and that where prudery exists it is usually a reaction against our pornified culture.

Perhaps we are splitting hairs; however, I am not sure that perfect self-mastery is achievable, except is rare instances.  The sexual impulse is a complex, spontaneous and extraordinarily volatile thing.  For instance, you may have a man who is very much in control of himself and who is able with relative ease to sublimate his own natural reactions to women by means of his high regard for them and by means of his spirituality.  But sometimes, for such a man, it is not only or even principally the way a woman may be dressed or exposed that becomes an issue.  It might be precisely because of his high regard for her, or because he perceives her as virtuous or modest that he becomes aroused.

And I am not suggesting that such a man have no contact with such a woman.  I only suggest that the interior and unresolved tension that exists in such a situation is neither prudery, nor necessarily a deficit in the redemption of the body.  It is simply the state of homo viator.

In any case, I admit that I agree with you and Lauretta more than in this context I am able or willing to express.  The reason is because I think it necessary to defend that other kind of shame of which Josef spoke, and to point out what I think are West’s contrived attacks on prudery.

I guess I am less inclined to speculate on what a better world in this regard might look like, though I am sure it would be more modest, more respectful, more joyful, more spontaneous less scrupulous, less fearful and less guilty.


#81, Aug 27, 2009 4:04pm

Thank you very much, Father for your honesty.


#82, Aug 27, 2009 4:13pm


You are most welcome.

Katie van Schaijik

#83, Aug 27, 2009 9:02pm

“where prudery exists it is usually a reaction against our pornified culture.”

Here we don’t agree.  I think prudery or prudishness clearly pre-dated our pornographic culture.  It masquerades as modesty (which is NOT to suggest that there is no such thing as true modesty.)  It is really and truly present today and really and truly is doing harm, really and truly is hindering Catholic couples from living their married vocation in all its plentitude, really and truly is weakening our witness in the world, etc.  I would not go as far as CW seems to go in suggesting that pornography is nothing other than a response to prudishness. (There’s too much of it to be found elsewhere in the world.)  Nor would I think for a minute that its “evil” is on a par with the evils of promiscuity.  But I DO agree with CW (as I shall try to show in my forthcoming reply to your article) that debased and out-of-control sexuality IS, often, the result of negative views of sexuality coupled with repression, and that the key to the cure for the malaise we now suffer is restoring a right understanding of the beauty and goodness of sexuality in the Catholic vision—especially by showing how it is related to our vocation as dignity as persons called to give ourselves in love.

Perfection of virtue must be achievable under grace, since it is commanded of us.  But I’m sure we agree that it would be a terrible mistake ever on this earth to be confident that we’ve achieved it, or ever to imagine we are beyond the reach of temptation.
I guess I see “homo viator” and “deficit in the redemption of the body” as more or less the same thing.

With your last line, I sympathize completely.  Maranatha.


#84, Aug 28, 2009 5:03am


Perhaps I should not have used the word “usually.”  I don’t know if the comparison is accurate.  I really don’t disagree with anything you have said.

Essentially what I meant is that often times those who are most prudish are not the one’s who have lived chastely and modestly their whole life, but those who carry a great deal of baggage and either are living double lives or are still struggling against lust in a very burdened way.

Are there times when prudery is the cause of sexual sins?  I am sure that it is not uncommon; however, I would suggest that the cause and effect relationship is reciprocal and very often the prudery is the result of an interior struggle that may be Manichean or Jansenist, or it may just be, as I think it very often is, scrupulosity and a bit of spiritual pompousness.

Yes, the problem has always existed.  In my last post on the subject, to which you linked, I showed that historically even before the sexual revolution there was awareness of the problem and approaches to the solution similar to that of TOB.

My reason for this tenacity, is not to disagree with anything you just wrote, but to caution against contrived arguments, artificial crusades and the assertion that TOB is really about a new and holy fixation on sexuality. 

I am afraid I have to fight for the veil.  It cannot be surrendered no matter how sex-saturated our society is.  Their is merit to that shame which is really just humility.  There is nothing wrong with it.  I should not be disparaged, and I think we loose a great deal if we discount it.


#85, Aug 28, 2009 6:29am


I accidentally hit the link to stop email notification in the last message I opened.  I hope by commenting again with the notification box checked that correct my mistake.

Katie van Schaijik

#86, Aug 28, 2009 7:28am

Did it work?


#87, Aug 28, 2009 1:47pm

Yes, Thank you.

I will jump in here later, when I get a chance.

Rhett Segall

#88, Aug 29, 2009 4:52am

I thought the following quote from Fr. Andrew Greely, sociologist and theologian, relevant to the discussion.  Greely does not give the source of his assertion but I think he is a careful writer. The copyright is 1973.

  “The central symbol of Christianity is the combination of the cross and resurrection.  Jesus who died now lives. How can that symbol possibly shed any light on the complexities and ambiguities of human sexual relationships?
    I am afraid that one must say that it ought to be obvious how the cross and resurrection are pertinent to human sexuality. That it is not obvious comments not on the ineffectiveness of the symbol but on our own prudery and fear.  The Christians of early Rome, who transferred the pagan spring fertility rite of plunging the candle into water, had no such difficulties. They knew that the lighted candle represented the penis and that water represented a vagina and a womb; and they knew, too, that their pagan friends and neighbors performed this rite in order to guarantee the fertility of their fields, their animals, and their wives. The early Christians thought that when Christ rose from the dead, he consummated his union with his bride, the church.  If the resurrection looked like a sexual symbol then, and does not look like one to us, the reason, perhaps, is that they had a much clearer realization than we do that life presumes fertility.” (Andrew Greely: Sexual Intimacy, 1973, pp. 194-195)

    Whether Greely is right about the early Christians’ perspective on the Easter Ritual, I have my doubts. Seeing the Easter Ritual along the lines of the pagan perspective does violence, I believe, to the sursum corda of the Liturgy and distorts what DvH would call the immanent logos of the situation. By the same token, in presenting sex in such a crass manner it harms our human sensitivity to its mystery. Along the lines of phenomenology I think the only proof for this is the inherent clarity of the assertions.


#89, Aug 29, 2009 5:35am

How interesting!  Thanks for sharing this.  It would certainly be nice if someone would show the sources for this from the early Christian tradition.  I found his statement that people in the past had a much clearer realization that life presumes fertility.  An understanding that we immersed in this culture of death that we have sadly lost.


#90, Aug 29, 2009 5:37am

Is anyone aware that Father Andrew Greeley is a writer of soft-core pornography?  I find it really rich that he is commenting on “prudery and fear.”

He is also a fairly well-known dissenter.  He claims to be a sociologist, not a theologian, which is true enough.  But, for example, when he discusses contraception, he gives all the sociological reasons why Catholics do not believe and few, if any, of the theological reasons why they should and concludes by saying that the bishops

Don’t seem to comprehend that if you still have the appeal of warm and intense community you may be able to recapture your credibility when you try to teach sexual ethics.  However, if you are an eithical teacher without a community that listens, are you still Catholic (The Catholic Myth 105)

Greeley, it seems would be more concerned about whether statistics show that the faithful want and are helped by phallic symbols than whether they are part of God’s revelation.  I don’t want this to an ad hominem attack; however, since all we have to gone on is his word, I think his track record counts.

And isn’t interesting that again, as always, no sources are given for this very “obvious” and supposedly ancient teaching?

Rhett Segall

#91, Aug 29, 2009 5:57am

I’ve read some of Greely’s novels and do not see them as “soft porn”. I think Greely has an eroticism in his novels. By that I mean an emphasis on sexual love, not lustful desire. He uses this sexual love as a metaphor for God’s passoniate interest in human beings.
Be that as it may, my point was that the sexual imagery of the paschal candle was promoted way before CW and I used Fr. Greely as an example. I also stated I find the imagery distorting the richer spiritual imagery of the Easter Liturgy.

Katie van Schaijik

#92, Aug 29, 2009 6:19am

I haven’t read any of his books, so perhaps I am out of bounds even mentioning that I am with Fr. Angelo on this one.  CAN it be fitting for a priest to write detailed “sex scenes”?  In any case, anyone who accepts contraception has, ipso facto (if that’s the word I want), a distorted understanding of human sexuality.

Rhett Segall

#93, Aug 29, 2009 6:25am

It is a wonder that Greely writes the novels he does. But then the Song of Songs, surely erotic literature, is a wonder. So is Ezekiel chapter 16.
However, I think neither the Song of Songs nor Ezekiel 16 is pornographic and both are perfectly appropriate in context.

I am reminder here of a story I think connected with the painter Jean Ingres.The story may be apocryphal, but the point is on target:
Ingres was painting a nude who was perfectly unself conscious. Suddenly from the balcony above it became evident there were some people staring. The model became very embarassed and immediately covered herself. The onlooker presence changed the meaning of the occasion which was immediately intuited by the model.


#94, Aug 29, 2009 6:34am

I finally had a few minutes to read some of the sources that have been discussed here and found this one quite interesting:

Then along came the church, rejecting the cult of Venus as it actually existed, but only to correct and confirm it at a higher level. From being what Mircea Eliade calls a hierophany, Venus would now be promoted into an actual sacrament, a presence and a mode of action of the One, the Dying God or Mortal-Immortal of whom the old paganisms could only dream. Her holiness was thus to become greater, not less, and would make itself felt throughout our very incarnational, even carnal, faith and worship. A Catholic cannot recite his creeds without mentioning begetting and conception and birth. He cannot say the “Hail Mary” without mentioning the female generative tract, or the “Te Deum” with-out praising his Lord for seeing there nothing of the daemonic, nothing to abhor. 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.)

This is a quote from:

I presume Christopher Derrick is a fairly reliable source since he is an author used often by Ignatius Press.  Sure would be nice if some of these references would cite their sources but I have to admit that this phallic imagery seems to be quite well-known among numerous people in academia.

Katie van Schaijik

#95, Aug 29, 2009 7:27am

I really do think we need some credible ancient sources.  Otherwise it could turn out to be a case of everyone simply relying on what they’ve heard others say about the tradition.


#96, Aug 29, 2009 10:07am

I will concede the source as belonging to Christopher Derrick.  Elsewhere, I expressed doubt that even he made an explicit reference to this, as West quotes him without making reference to this passage.

Even so I would agree with Katie.  I have heard West also refer to the Easter Liturgy as a fertility rite.  I do not know the context of Derrick’s remarks; however, it is often suggested in that the our practices have been adapted from ancient cultures.  There is no question that the Church has baptized certain practices, but there is usually evidence of this from the historical record or from the teaching of the Church, though Derrick here does not seem to be suggesting that the practice was adapted from more ancient pagan customs.  Rather, he is directing our attention to similarities, which would mean he would have to be even be more dependent on patristic sources.


#97, Aug 29, 2009 10:49am

I understand and agree with the desire for a written source for things but can not that in a sense be a denial of Oral Tradition?  I looked up the history of the Immaculate Conception and found this:

Don’t seem to be overwhelming, explicit pronouncements in our history to support the Immaculate Conception but it was implicitly understood from the beginning. 

Also, if you were Christopher West and you read Christopher Derrick’s article (knowing him to be a reputable source) in a public forum such as America magazine with no seeming disagreements from others about Derrick’s assertions, would you necessarily research it further or would you just trust him to be reliable about this and go from there?  Particularly if you had been told the same thing from other seemingly reputable sources. 

I think we have been shown enough different current sources to assume that this was a fairly well-known idea in the Church and may be an implicit understanding that has just been passed down over the years.

And, no matter whether it is true or not, I believe that these prior very public assertions about phallic imagery should absolve CW of any blame for presenting it yet again.

Katie van Schaijik

#98, Aug 29, 2009 11:05am

Immaculate Conception is not really comparable, I think, since it is a question of doctrine, not symbolism.  In any case, it has been definitively pronounced true by the Church.
I agree, as I’ve said elsewhere, that I see nothing wrong with people passing on what they’ve heard from reputable sources.  If I read in Greg Popcak’s book that he learned of the erotic symbolism of the Easter liturgy in a theology class in seminary; if I read Janet Smith (a moral theologian teaching at a seminary) saying that she has learned from liturgists of such a tradition, if I read Christopher Derrick saying the same, etc., then I think I should not be faulted for presuming it’s true.
But, on the other hand, if the claim is challenged publicly by likewise reputable Catholic scholars, then (especially if I have a teaching capacity) I ought to go back to my sources.  If it turns out that they’re all relying on one another and no real tradition can be found, then I think I ought at the very least stop teaching that there is such a tradition.


#99, Aug 29, 2009 11:18am

The reason I posted the link about the Immaculate Conception was to show that it really doesn’t take a lot of written accounts for the Church to still proclaim something as true.  As the reference noted, some of the understanding was only implicitly mentioned but the implicit references were still considered valid as justifications for the teaching.

I am very ignorant of history—of the world and of the Church—but I was wondering if most of the people in the early Church had some knowledge of Greek mythology and rituals, when they saw the ritual of the Paschal candle and the Baptismal water, they may have automatically applied that analogy to the act.  Then there would not have been a need to write about it because everyone knew what it meant already.  Some of the people such as Christopher Derrick certainly seem to imply that.


#100, Aug 29, 2009 1:41pm


Actually, there is plenty of patristic testimony for the Immaculate Conception, though, of course the term is not used.  St. Augustine says, for example, that sin should never be mentioned in connection with the Blessed Virgin.  In the East “All Holy” is used in reference to Her quite frequently.  Furthermore, the Church argues that the doctrine is fundamentally scriptural (cf. Genesis 3:15 and Luke 1:28).

None of this is true of the candle invention.

As I mentioned before, the notes of Newman are helpful here.  Consistency with the original type is essential, as well as internal logic with the ancient tradition, and an intimation of the development already present at an early stage.  In other words, if something just appears suddenly on the horizon in the 21st century it is not a development of doctrine.  In this case, in particular, it certainly is not comparable to the case of the Immaculate Conception.


#101, Aug 30, 2009 3:17am

I’d like to thank Katie for this fruitful discussion.  I think I have gone the distance on this one. 

I will just conclude by saying that I believe West should give more credit for the natural and wholesome shame which seeks to veil that which is holy rather than expose it continuously.  I would hope West would not continue to confuse that virtuous intuition with prudery.  The best way to counter real instances of prudery is to make sure we don’t engage in reactionary measures.

In addition, I hope that the question of whether John Paul II mandated a holy fascination with the body and sexuality is resolved on the basis of a real analysis of the corpus of TOB in the context of tradition and not merely by means of one man’s interpretation of John Paul II’s writings.

More than that I wish Christopher West well and further success in his mission.  I am sure a man with his talents and insights can continue to popularize the Church’s teaching on chastity, while contextualizing his presentation more consistently with the tradition.

I look forward to commenting here on the Linde again.  Thanks everyone for your contributions.


#102, Aug 30, 2009 5:54am


I’m sorry that you are leaving this posting.  Your comments have been most interesting and fruitful.  I wanted to comment on this assessment you gave:

“Essentially what I meant is that often times those who are most prudish are not the one’s who have lived chastely and modestly their whole life, but those who carry a great deal of baggage and either are living double lives or are still struggling against lust in a very burdened way.

Are there times when prudery is the cause of sexual sins?  I am sure that it is not uncommon; however, I would suggest that the cause and effect relationship is reciprocal and very often the prudery is the result of an interior struggle that may be Manichean or Jansenist, or it may just be, as I think it very often is, scrupulosity and a bit of spiritual pompousness.”

I agree wholeheartedly with this.  That has been my husband’s and my experience, as well, with presenting CW’s material.  I have been surprised at those who seemed to have an innocence and purity about them listen to his talks and very calmly assess and ponder them, coming back to the discussion with very profound insights.

The most reactionary were those who, as you said, had a lot of baggage and were still struggling with lust, etc.  I was surprised because I thought it would be the opposite and that those who were truly pure would be uncomfortable while those more “experienced” so to speak would be more comfortable with the teaching!  I learned not to try to pre-judge people and their responses!

Thanks so much for your time and insight.


#103, Aug 30, 2009 7:23am


This is the last time, really, that I will post.  What you said is not at all what I meant.  Reaction against overexposed sexuality is not prudery.  Period.

We really do not know what people have in their past, because most people are not inclined to share those things.  If we think we know who is really pure and who is not, then that is a problem.  A large part of my argument is that West and others assume to know much more than they really do.

God bless you.

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