The Personalist Project

The next question had to do with the definition of prudishness. Both Healy and West were asked to give concrete examples, and thereby clarify their meaning.

On prudisness (opens in a small popup window)

By the way, some discussions on prudishness have already taken place in the Linde. Clicking the appropriate tag above will lead to those.

Comments (24)


#1, Jun 26, 2009 6:14am


West says at the end:

So, uh, I understand the sensitivity, and I’m not here to condemn you for it in the least. I would encourage you, like I encourage everyone, just take that, whatever it is, a discomfort, a pain, a fear, whatever it might be, I don’t know—say, ‘Lord, shine your light upon it and show me what this is and why I feel this way.

I believe CW honestly believes that this discomfort is prudery and he tries to handle the person’s question as delicately as possible.  Nevertheless, I do not agree with him.

Our difficulies with sexuality are complex:  some of it is our pornographic culture; some of it is reactionary; some of it is the effects of original sin; some of it is the effects of our own sins, or the sins of others who have affected us; some of it is ordinary shame; some of it is disordered shame; some of it is reverence for the mystery.  Throughout it all, sexuality is part of our psyche in a way that few things are.  It is tied up with our personhood.  It is extraordinarily beautiful, but it is also extraordinarily powerful, dangerous, and in the face of it we are vulnerable—all of us.  I really do not think West understands the problem as clearly as he thinks he does, especially when it is in reference to practical applications and individual persons.

I believe he would do well to end the crusade against prudery.  I am not saying prudery is not a problem, only that such problems are complex.  Personally, I believe that what is really neglected is the cultivation of the virtue of prudence, which governs matters where our councils are not certain and about which good men can disagree.  Everyone is struggling to find balance.  I do not think this thematic preoccupation with sexuality is balanced.  I do not agree that the new evangelization is tantamount Chris West’s version of TOB.

I have read and listened to a considerable amount of his presentation, and I honestly see a pattern that goes beyond the defense of the redemption of the body and the victory of grace over lust (the pearl of John Paul II’s teaching, as West calls it in the clip on your “concupiscence” post).  In one of my own post’s I quote West’s Heaven’s Song

And the more we experience a “real and deep victory” over lust, the more we experience that same sense of wonder and fascination at the human sexual-body that is present in the verses of the Song of Songs—and experience very different from the mere arousal of lust.  It is not possible to return to the state of original innocence, but it is possible for love to win in its battle with lust (42).

This is confusing to me, since West rightly defends the redemption of the body in terms of the victory of love over lust, but in the context of his presentations, including this one, he actually argues for more than that, namely, a “holy fascination” with our bodies, including the body of the Blessed Mother.  I do not believe I am taking him out of context.  Heaven’s Song is pretty clear.  The tenor of his presentations is pretty clear.

In one instance his unveiled language is defended as a means to evangelize a hyper-sexualized culture; however, Heaven’s Song which is as unveiled as anything he has produced, is proposed as an advanced study, not suitable for those who have not been adequately prepared.  Is this really about the victory of love over lust, or has sexuality become the locus of the faith?  I do not mean to offend.  This is an honest question.

Is it, perhaps, not his intention to advocate for a “holy fascination” with the body?  If it is not, then IMO he needs to reconsider the way he handles his material.  He should stop using “shock” tactics, and then questioning the audience about their discomfort, or assuming that people are uncomfortable with some of his presentations and/or positions because there is something wrong with them.  He should back off from using poorly grounded illustrations of his positions and should do more to integrate his catechesis into a hermeneutic of continuity.

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Jun 26, 2009 10:01am

I am truly not very familiar at all with CW’s work.  I have heard of it for years from many friends, including admirers and critics, and admirers who have criticisms.  Based on what I’d heard from them, I formed an expectation that were I to study his work, I would be one of them too—that is to say, an admirer with criticisms.  My admiration would be based on his great success in reaching large numbers of hurting people with the good news about human sexuality.  My criticisms (I expected) would be along lines similar to yours, viz. “He over-emphasizes sexuality, almost as if it were the locus of the religious life, and he is inappropriately explicit in his presentations, in a way that tends to obscure the reality and interfere with the mystery of it.”  Another friend of my, who is likewise a great admirer of CW’s work, put it this way: “One reason for his popularity—just one reason—may be that without meaning to, he justifies concupiscence.”  That is, a person who has concupiscent tendencies might enjoy CW’s work for the wrong reasons.  He may finds it gives him permission to dwell on sex and sexual imagery in ways that he shouldn’t.  This could be true.  If it is true, I hope that CW will keep improving his work until it’s no longer true.

The talk he gave for the Personalist Project is the only talk of his I have heard.  Nor have I read his books and articles.
That talk, together with the meetings I had with him prior to it, impressed me in two ways.  I was impressed by the depth of Christian seriousness that emanates from him personally, including a sense of his deep suffering—suffering for souls drowning in filth and suffering the pain of harsh attacks from fellow Catholics.  And I was impressed by his charisma—his exceptional gift for connecting with people, touching their hearts and opening their minds to truth, which seemed clearly to come from God.
These two things struck me so powerfully that almost by themselves they qualified my criticisms (which remain) and gave me pause in offering them.
I know that in the presence of very charismatic personalities there is the danger of sort of falling under a spell, so that we lose the ability to think critically and become mere fans and cheerleaders rather than independent thinkers.  We have to be on guard against that possibility.  Critical thinking is the task of all adults, and philosophers especially.
On the other hand, I want to have a proper sense of humility in front of a gift of God.  CW seems to me to have been given a mission and exceptional gifts for carrying it out.  We (as a Church) should be helping and encouraging him, not hindering him, not dragging him down with heavy-handed analyses of what he’s doing wrong.

Now, obviously, his being gifted by God doesn’t mean he’s above criticism.  It would be disastrous if either he or anyone else thought that.  But perhaps it does mean that we have much to learn from him.  He may be seeing and experiencing and understanding things that the rest of us don’t see and experience and understand. This, anyway, is what I have been thinking about and considering since I heard him speak.  And I’ve been thinking about specifically with regard to the question of prudishness.  I am wondering whether there isn’t a lot more of it in us than I had previously thought possible, and, if yes, whether it isn’t a lot more harmful (especially in terms of our being able to DEAL as Christians in the culture in which we find ourselves) than I’d realized before.
So, even while I share many of your concerns, I can’t say I agree that the virtue of prudence is the remedy for the situation we find ourselves in.  It’s too general.  It doesn’t address directly enough the overwhelming tide of pornography in our culture.

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Jun 26, 2009 1:15pm

I should add though, by way of a more direct response to your post, that, as sponsor of the evening, I felt uncomfortable with CW’s response to that question.  It seemed to me not to allow enough for the possibility that there is an entirely legitimate response of discomfort with explicitness.  It seemed to me to put the questioner in an impossible position.

As to the “thematic preoccupation with sexuality”—which I grant has real problems and dangers attached—would you allow for the possibility that it is his mission?  Some Catholics have a mission to serve the poor, some to youth work, some to sacred music, some to the intellectual life, some to art, and so on.  And each mission can incline us toward certain hazards.  I know people who serve the poor who have a habit of speaking disdainfully about the not-poor.  I’ve known many conspicuously immature youth leaders.  I’ve known Catholic intellectuals who tend to be academic in the negative sense.  I’ve known artists who speak as if art is the only thing anyone should have any interest in. Shouldn’t we expect that someone whose mission it is to bring the message of the Church high regard for human sexuality to those who are most deceived and damaged in that area might tend from time to time to exaggerate its place in human life?


#4, Jun 27, 2009 6:36am


Thanks for this engaging discussion.

Re your first comment:

I essentially agree with you on everything.

I personally have known libidinous men, who were studying TOB, and my opinion was that that was the last thing they should be doing—not that they (and their wives) would not benefit from a more exalted view of sexuality, but because it was just another excuse to think and talk about their favorite subject.  TOB does not cure every disease.

My point about prudence is both general and particular.  Generally, prudence is a neglected virtue.  People think it means caution when it is no such thing.  It is the application of right reason to action in the particular, especially where our councils are not certain.  Prudence is a master virtue and is operative where there are no rules—indeed, where there can be no rules—to solve the problem, because the solution is dependent on unique particular circumstances.  I think a deficit in prudence is a very real and significant problem in Catholic life.

In particular with respect to prudery vs. bodily redemption situations are complicated and personal.  Of course, there are general principles that don’t change, but causal relationships for both problems and solutions require the ability to practice prudence.

I have dealt with prudery and with the penchant for insisting on rules for every manner of conduct, for insisting on uniformity, which results in a lack of fraternal charity, courtesy and hospitality, and I will tell you, this is precisely why I resist West’s crusade against prudery—not because I do not oppose it, but because he proposes to know too much about what real concrete solutions will look like.  If he is hesitant to tell women what they should and should not be wearing, then he should also be hesitant to suggest prudery when someone is uncomfortable with his own applications.  And I assert without hesitancy that many of his applications are precisely that, his and not JPII’s.

In fact, uniformity is not a solution in either direction.  Catholics can think for themselves for the most part.  This is why I will also resist any attempt to quell discussion on this matter.  Dissent from Church teaching is unacceptable; however, good faith disagreements, vigorous debate and the broadmindedness to allow intellectual independence and prudential differences is absolutely necessary for Catholic life.

I realize, this poses a difficulty for him since is forte is popular catechesis and he needs to be practical.  I would give him the same advise I would give to a prude:  be more broadminded in the true sense of Catholic liberality.

Re your second comment:

Yes, I would expect that, but in regard to artists being obsessed with art, they are unlikely to convince anyone else but artists or those similarly disposed, but with respect to sexuality, which is so closely linked with personhood, with drives that we do not completely understand and are so powerful and difficult to manage, such an exaggeration is far more dangerous.

When it is said that TOB is “good news, “that can mean more than one thing.  It may be the good news that God tells, or it may be the good news we want to hear.  The two are not necessarily the same thing.

Katie van Schaijik

#5, Jun 27, 2009 6:54am

I just wrote a reply to your recent comment over at the Dawn Patrol and then lost it in a connection blip.  I hope to find time later in the day to give this the attention it deserves.  But I am packing for a trip north to New Hampshire tomorrow and have many loose ends in the practical realm to tie up before I go.

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Jun 27, 2009 2:39pm

About prudence:
My masters thesis was to have been on Newman’s idea of the “illative sense,” which I see as a personalist re-interpretation and deepening of the classical understanding of the virtue of prudence.  It is a great and under-appreciated virtue.  But it does not have the blockbuster appeal of the Theology of the Body, nor does directly address the “sex crisis” facing our generation.  JP II could have given years of papal audiences to the theme of prudence, but he didn’t.  He gave it to the theme of conjugal love.
I have so much to say I’m bursting.  But I will stop here and attend to the tedious things that need attending.

Katie van Schaijik

#7, Jun 27, 2009 2:43pm

My mind is all abuzz.  This afternoon I had a conversation with the very friend who had earlier said (cautiously, and qualifying it with his general admiration) that he thinks one reason for CW’s popularity might be that he justifies concupiscence.  Said this friend today, “I don’t think that anymore.”  He now thinks just what I have been thinking since the talks on June 3, and what I think Michael Healy has also been thinking.  Jules too.  Namely, Christopher West is on to something.  In the course of his work among wounded souls and among “normal Catholics”, he has uncovered a corrosive vein of what he calls prudishness that is hindering marriages and hindering our witness in the world.  It is perhaps not prudishness as your comments up till now seem to define it, viz., as a hatred of the body or a belief that sex is evil.  I think rather it has much more to do with fear.  It is FEAR of sexuality.  Fear of its power to arouse and fascinate us.  Fear of its ability to make us lose control over ourselves.  Fear of its sheer, dynamic, overwhelming physicality.
We disguise the fear as “reverence” and “modesty”, but really, it’s fear.  (I don’t mean that there’s no such thing as reverence and modesty, but rather that what often passes for those things isn’t.)


#8, Jun 27, 2009 4:31pm


Regarding prudence, what I am saying is that we need to bepracticing prudence specifically with respect to the sex crisis.  Prudence is where the rubber hits the road. 

Though I would agree that a practical catechesis needs to be formed in respect to chastity.  In fact, in my mind there remain some pretty fundamental questions concerning the correct interpretation of Theology of the Body.

I think prudishness is less than half the story.  Cure prudishness and you still have, as you say, the power of sexuality to dominate us.  Reverence is a kind of fear.  There is nothing wrong with it.  The whole question is what is inordinate fear.  I don’t think West and I would place the threshold in the same place.

Relative to this, I have been reflecting on masculinity a great deal.  Boys have a need to separate themselves from femininity (their mothers) to some extent in the process of growing up.  Manhood is a process of separation from certain comforts in the interest of wife, family, society, church.  The return to femininity through marriage is generally only secure when the man has found an identity separate from femininity.  I think we are speaking here of the relative balance of eros and agape, and, I believe, that men have a greater need to control eros than perhaps women.  It is not about repression.  It is about mastery, wholesome domination ordered to the good of others, the subordination of eros to sacrificial love (agape) seen as prowess, militancy and martyrdom.  I don’t want to go to far afield but, I believe there is abundant evidence for the feminization of the Church that has led to a vastly disproportion defection on the part of men. 

Nuptialism is important, essential and central, but something has happened to the militancy of the Church.  Whether its contemporary culture or popular catechesis, I think in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with prudery, we have tilted too far to the side of eros.  I think men should fear sexuality, not only reverentially, and certainly not prudishly, but as Beowulf feared being eaten by Grendel or his mother, in view of maintaining his identity as a man who is willing to subordinate everything to the common good. 

In order for men to be men they cannot loose themselves in femininity.  What I am saying is not anti-nuptial, on the contrary, what I am talking about is Ephesians 5.

Some of these ideas come from Leon Podles book, The Church Impotent.  I don’t agree with him on every point, but I do think he has identified some real problems.

Katie van Schaijik

#9, Jun 28, 2009 4:07am

Father, in haste as I head out the door—
Now it sounds as if you oppose not only what you call CW’s “crusade against prudery”, but also the Theology of the Body itself.  You seem to want Christopher West not just to adjust his presentation, but to stop doing what he’s doing.  Or do I misunderstand you?

Katie van Schaijik

#10, Jun 28, 2009 4:14am

To add to my question.
You seem to be saying something along these lines (please do correct me if I’ve misunderstood!):
“Since the whole area of sex is so complex and problematic, and since the dangers involved are so great, we should basically not focus on it.  When it comes up, as it now and then will and should in the right context, we should stress the virtue of prudence.”


#11, Jun 28, 2009 5:03am


No, that is not at all what I meant. Thank you for asking.  I want to be clear.

West has said things like this in the past (I don’t know if he still does, but these statements seem consistent with his approach as it stands today):  “TOB is not a sideline of the gospel; it is the gospel.  This is the new evangelization, and it is the core of John Paul II’s whole pontificate.”

Theology of the body is both about eros and agape, but in both cases the holy father uses the veiled language of philosophy, so it generally does not become a fascination with physiology and the rest.

I do believe West is too focused on the carnal aspects of eros.  I also believe that the complexities I spoke of lend themselves to a greater broadmindedness, both on the part of those who are inclined to prudery and those who are inclined to unveiling.

I think extremism is not linear but three dimensional.  One polarity is pornograph/prudery, but another polarity, in my view is eros/agape.  I think while West may have found the balance in the first, he has not in the second.  And again, this criticism is not a critique of JPII.


#12, Jun 28, 2009 6:47am

Re the quote from memory that I gave in my last comment of West.  That seems to me to be an excessive focus on the matter.  At least, I believe the burden of proof is on him.  I have never seen this taught anywhere by the magisterium.

Katie van Schaijik

#13, Jun 29, 2009 9:33am

I think that quote-from-memory, properly understood, is defensible.  I speak as someone whose familiarity with JP II did not come through Christopher West, nor even through TOB.  I first read Love and Responsibility in a philosophy course on the Nature of Love 22 years ago.  Thereafter what I learned of Wojtyla’s thought was mainly from the vantage point of his personalist ethics.  My professors were two of the world’s foremost (if you ask me) JP II scholars and interpreters, namely, Rocco Buttiglione and John F. Crosby.  Damian Fedoryka with his close study of Wojtyla and his profound explications of his “hermaneutics of the gift” has also been a significant influence.  (I owe immeasurably much to Professor Seifert too, but it happens that my grasp of Wojtyla’s thought came through others.  Seifert gave me von Hildebrand, plus his own great metaphysics and epistemology.)
This is of course an immense topic—hardly something that can be adequately handled in a comment box.  But let me at least try to sketch out my meaning.

KW’s ethical personalism (pace my friend Michael Waldstein’s intro. to TOB) was shaped by the dialogue between Kant and Scheler.  His wrestling with these two great antagonists led, as he said, to a “partial acceptation” of Kant’s personalistic norm (it was partial in that he didn’t accept Kant’s general metaphysics), namely, that a person is an end in himself, never to be used as a mere means. This insight into the nature and dignity of persons can be said to be THE basic ethical datum of the modern period.  The Church made it her own in Vatican II.  Persons are SUBJECTS, not mere objects.  They possess themselves; they determine themselves in freedom; they find themselves by making a gift of themselves, in love, to others.

This vision of the person invites a new look at Eden and what happened there.  Adam and Eve were made in God’s image.  Not just in themselves, but even more completely in their total, life-giving communion of love with one another—a love in which both were accepted and received as subjects.

According to St. Edith Stein, there is a patristic tradition that maintains that the original sin was likely a disordered sexual union—a “union” that was in fact a dissolution.  In that act, rather than loving each other, Adam and Eve objectified each other, USED each other, degraded each other.  And in so doing, sex became dis-related from life and love; death and misery entered the world.  A rift opened between God and man, man and woman, men and the created order.  Note the punishments: The man becomes domineering, brutal; the woman becomes dependent, slavish. 
This hermaneutic—the master/slave hermaneutic, the use and abuse hermaneutic— has crippled the human race ever since. 
It was reversed on calvary.
The damage it did is being repaired through the sacramental life of the Church unleashed at Pentacost, including MARRIAGE, where LOVE (not just agape, but spousal love) is restored between man and woman.  In married love, men and women no long use and abuse, dominate and grovel to each other, rather they put themselves at each other’s service, they bind themselves absolutely to love.  Sex becomes again a life-force, and an icon of the Holy Trinity.
Once we see this, we see that this same dynamic reaches into all interpersonal relations.  What are sins but abuses, offenses against the dignity of persons—our own or someone else’s?  Persons are made for love.  Love is the only adequate response to another person.  We are called to love, called to serve, called to give ourselves, called to union. 

I’ll stop for now, hoping I’ve said enough to let you get my drift.


#14, Jun 29, 2009 1:51pm


I’m confused by what you said in the above post:

“... a person is an end in himself, never to be used as a mere means.”


I understand the latter clause, but not the former.

The reason for my confusion stems from two quotes I have read by St. Augustine and by Dr. DvH:

St. Augustine: “You have made us, O God, for yourself, and our hearts shall have no rest, until they rest with you.”


Dr. DvH (from “The Devastated Vineyard” - page 122 - Chapter 14, The Sacred Humanity of Jesus):

“Human nature is ontologically characterized by being the image of God, inasmuch as it is a conscious being, a person.”

“But the ontological structure of man is not characterized solely by his being a person.”


These quotes seem to me (despite my woeful lack of education in Personalism, and Philosophy in general) to indicate that Personalism itself MUST fall short of being capable of providing an adequate answer in-and-of-itself to the meaning of our human existence - i.e. that I am NOT truly an end in myself, but that my true end or purpose is in God.

Can you (or Jules, or anyone else who is highly educated in Philosophy) comment on my confusion, and how The Personalist Project “officially” aims to overcome this seemingly inherent inadequacy of Personalistic Philosophy?


Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum,

Steve B


#15, Jun 29, 2009 5:58pm

Again, what a wonderful exchange the two of you are having!  I would once again like to offer a few comments from my perspective.

My husband and I have studied CW’s work quite a lot.  We have listened to at least six of his video presentations numerous times—I even transcribed one whole set for a study group we were having.  Word for word!  We have read his first TOB Explained, Good News About Sex and Marriage, Intro to TOB—have Heaven’s Song but not read it yet.  We have also listened to several others who present TOB—Fr. Loya, Fr. Hogan, Fr. Landry, Katrina Zeno, etc.  and tapes from several conferences.  We have not read the entirety of JPII’s TOB but have read excerpts from throughout the work.  We were attracted to TOB because when we first heard of it, it seemed to be saying much of what we had experienced and learned through our own struggles in marriage.

We were impressed with the consistency of the message from all of those we had listened to concerning TOB.  Each presenter had his or her own emphasis but the overall message seemed very consistent which made us feel comfortable that the correct understanding was being presented by these people.  It seemed to us that CW’s emphasis was more on the issues of prudery and mastery over concupiscence—aren’t those in conflict with each other?!—but that when his whole teaching was understood, you could see how TOB applied in many, most, areas of Catholic teaching.

When we first began listening to CW, I was taken aback by his manner of presentation—not shocked, but uncomfortable.  However, I thought that this was an important subject, so I kept listening and reading, over and over and over again.  As my discomfort with his forthright presentation subsided, I began to see a much deeper and broader message.  I could see how, if understood properly, this teaching could, as George Weigel expressed, affect our understanding of almost every aspect of the Creed.

Also, as I began to incorporate this teaching into myself, I began to see how I had developed some unhealthy attitudes toward things sexual.  CW’s method of presentation made these ideas of mine quite glaring in relation to the beautiful picture he painted of an authentic understanding of sexuality. 

We, my husband and I, were so taken with this teaching after we began to understand it, that we desired to share it with others.  We took Christopher’s tapes and books and began presenting them to groups and, at the same time, were asked to develop a marriage prep program at the largest parish in our diocese using TOB.

Interestingly, the group that has seemed to have the most resistance and objection to CW’s method of presentation have been middle-aged married couples.  The young people preparing for marriage love it, especially if they have gone through a few difficult relationships and experienced the hurt that comes from their breakdown.  They could see clearly how living the gift of self that this teaching so emphasizes could make ahuge difference in relationships.  Older married couples also seemed to quickly grasp the basics of the teaching and looked back with regret on their own marriages realizing how much they had missed by not knowing, and living, this beautiful teaching.  They admitted that much of their relationship had been dominated by lust.

Those that seemed to have the most difficulty were also the ones that would be labeled as orthodox or traditional Catholics.  A surprise for us was that some people, however, who seemed to have a purity or an innocence to them were not offended to the same degree that some others were.  It puzzled us at first because we would be almost embarrassed to present this teaching to those who manifested that aura of purity but they were often quite receptive and could immediately see the beauty of the teaching. 

As we came to know more about the people who seemed to be having the most difficulty with CW, we came to discern somewhat of a common thread among most of them.  We learned that many of these people had, in their past, bought into the lies of the culture and lived immoral lives when they were young.  They came to have deep regrets, began to strive to be “good” Catholics, and to be very orthodox—became zealous promoters of the faith.  They developed an attitude about sexuality that would probably be considered repressive rather than a mastery of self as Father mentioned earlier.  One man expressed this very well, I thought.  He was learning TOB so that he could be a mentor for engaged couples.  He would come to our classes and comment that he felt like he was coming to a Sexaholics Anonymous class.  He did not miss the point that CW was getting across that lust was bad and needed to be overcome.  At one point, this gentleman made the comment that this wouldn’t be a big issue if he didn’t have to sleep next to his wife every night.  This was a couple that had been practicing NFP for many years.  I thought it was so sad that his struggle was still this difficult after nearly 20 years of marriage and several children.  The barrier that lack of mastery of self puts in a relationship is tragic to me. 

I think that Katie has grasped the problem very well—fear.  There is a fear among many who are striving to be good Catholics to examine this area of their lives, precisely because they know its power and the damage that results from lack of control in this area.  However, rather than mastery of self, all they knew to do was repress and they are afraid to open that door again and risk the possibility of being subject to the strength of that power overcoming them once again.  As a couple, they have come to somewhat of an uneasy peace in their relationship in the area of sexuality and don’t want to risk that and fear what they might see if they really examined it.

I have read people who react with horror to the idea of bringing their pornographic ideas to Christ in adoration or Mass or wherever.  First of all, God knows that those thoughts are there so we should have no fear of presenting them to Him and asking Him for help in overcoming those perversions.  What is trying to hide them going to accomplish? 

I agree totally that some use this teaching as an excuse to indulge their concupiscence.  I know of one man that this would definitely apply to.  However, I don’t think that is a reason to not teach it or really alter the method of teaching because it is so effective for many.  To me that would be similar to saying that we cannot teach what the Church says in her social teaching because many use that as a cover or excuse for activism rather than deepening their personal relationship with God.

I do think, however, that TOB is much better understood when taught by someone in a setting in which there can be a back and forth conversation taking place over a period of several weeks between those learning the teaching and those who already understand it.  It takes time to begin to understand what is being said and we are often headed in a wrong direction because of our own prior misconceptions.  My husband and I were able to accomplish this through our own back and forth discussion but it took us several of years of study doing it that way.  If we had had someone who already had the knowledge that we could have talked with who could have corrected our wrong ideas, then it would have taken much less time.

Having only met CW once, briefly, and only seeing him present his material live once, I cannot make a very knowledgeable judgment about him personally, but I, too, was struck by his ability to enter deeply into conversation with others and really seem to understand their hurts and struggles.  He seems to have the ability to “be fully present” to others even in the midst of a busy conference and understand at a very personal level what they are saying to him.  And, he was very open to being approached at a moment’s notice with whatever someone had the need to talk with him about.  That was in marked contrast with some other popular Catholic speakers I’ve met who could seem to be much more aloof when approached about much less intimate things than CW is.

To me, it seems that in order for most to truly understand what CW is saying, one needs to do much more than listen to or read his materials once.  Because of his method of presentation, he tends to bring to the surface many of our wrong ideas about sexuality and those ideas are coloring how we understand what he is saying.  It is only after we begin to recognize that disorder within ourselves and begin to correct those wrong ideas, that we can then begin to see the truth and depth of what CW is trying to teach in TOB.

My husband says that the more he studies and strives to live TOB, the more he realizes that it applies to every aspect of his life—even to taking out the garbage!  He says that it demands a gift of self that demands a death to self that demands a carrying of the cross and that this applies to every action and every relationship.

What CW is teaching is not all about sexuality but he does talk about that and as a consequence, that is all that some people hear because of their prior attitudes about that area.  Most of what my husband and I have learned about TOB has come from CW and we do not believe at all that it is all about sex as the world defines it.  We see how masculinity and femininity, receptivity and giving of self, apply to most everything but that is not sex as most would define it.

I have gone on long enough and once again want to express my gratitude for this forum and all that I am learning from it!


#16, Jun 29, 2009 6:05pm


I appreciate your comment.  My objections have nothing to do with what “type” of people have problems.  All that you say may be true; however, I have tried to provided arguments from reason and tradition.


#17, Jun 29, 2009 9:32pm


I understand your method and appreciate it very much.  However, that way of explaining truth has lost its effectiveness for many of the young people today—even many in my generation of Baby Boomers no longer relate well to an objective way of explaining truth.

From what I understand that is one of the reasons that Pope John Paul developed the TOB.  He understood that the world today has a much more subjective view of reality rather than an objective view.  That is what will make TOB very valuable in the future and why it is more than just an idea to be put on a shelf.  There are those who think that TOB is the equivalent of Augustine’s and Aquinas’s developments of a philosophical method to explain the faith.

If one looks at what the statistics are for Catholics today, the Church has been in a mess for awhile.  The fact that more Catholics get abortions than average, the sky high divorce rate among Catholics, the widespread use of contraceptives and cohabitation before marriage, the clergy sex abuse scandal, etc. are signs that the Church’s teaching has lost its effectiveness.  We are in critical need of a way of presenting the Church’s truth in all its beauty that will resonate with the people of today.  I sincerely believe that TOB when it is understood and implemented well has the capacity to do that.  Watching the excitement of people as they come to understand the Church’s teaching and how valuable it is to them personally is a joy to behold.  We taught religious education to teens for many years but the subjective method of TOB reaches them in a way that nothing else that we tried ever did. 

I hope that you will take the time to study TOB deeply and use its methodology to instruct others in the faith and see if it has the effect I am stating.


#18, Jun 30, 2009 4:49am


I don’t think the context of the memory quote had anything specifically to do with personalism per se, but with redemption of the body.  In any case, it seems to me that West’s presentation of TOB tends toward specialization, and takes the point of view that prior to TOB the Church was in big trouble.  I think in time this will be shown to be an over-sell and the Theology of the Body will take it’s rightful place in the body of theology.

Katie van Schaijik

#19, Jun 30, 2009 6:20am

I don’t think it’s redemption of the body, but rather, as CW puts it, the victory of love over lust, which could also be expressed as the victory of love over unlove, or the redemption of persons.  Human sexuality is at the core of it (and the popular point of entry)  but it is not limited to sexuality, which CW knows very well.
I think it’s a mistake to conceive of him as doing “popular catechesis”.  He is much more an evangelist than a catechist. He is not attempting a systematic presentation of the tradition, but communicating the good news out of his own personal experience and ardor.

And I tend to agree with Lauretta.  Properly understood—that is, in its full personalist context—TOB is the Church’s answer to the crisis of the modern world. 

As Tom Howard once said of another friendly bet between Catholics, “Let’s check with each other after the last trump, and if I’m right, you can buy me a celestial beer at some heavenly kiosk.” :)


#20, Jun 30, 2009 6:23am


The following quote is from West’s 1999 Naked Without Shame tape series.  He may have modified his opinion, but my review of the material he continues to produce, including his new book, seems to reflect this perspective:

And this is the redemption of the body, the untwisting of what Satan’s lies have twisted.  And this is what we can experience in our very bodies if we allow Christ to transform us.  And our Holy Father says that this always means “the rediscovery of the meaning of the whole of existence [of] the meaning of life.”  “This, . . .in fact,” this redemption, this transformation of our sexual desires into the power to love as God loves, this redemption of our bodies so that we see the body as God intended it to be as the revelation of his own mystery, this, in fact, “is the perspective of the whole Gospel, of the whole teaching, in fact, of the whole mission of [Jesus] Christ.”

These are words of the Vicar of Christ himself.  This is not just one little side stroke here in the gospel message.  This is the gospel message, that Christ has come to restore God’s original plan of life and love.

This is good news!  It doesn’t matter what’s in your life.  It doesn’t matter what pain you’ve known, what suffering you’ve known, what weaknesses you have, what sinful patterns have been in your life.  It doesn’t matter!  Christ came to save you and nothing, nothing, goes deeper than the cross!  The human heart no matter how distorted it is, is deeper than lust! And Christ’s words reactivate that deeper heritage and give it real power in man’s life!
This is good news!  We have this good news to bring to the world!  This is the gospel!  This is the new evangelization!  Yes! (Tape 3, side B, last fifth of the tape).

One can always say that I am taking this out of context, but I believe there is a convergence of evidence in my favor.  In fact, if you review the passages of TOB that West quotes (46.6, 49.3), I believe that it is he who is stretching the context.  For example when JPII says that it always means “the rediscovery of the meaning of the whole of existence,” etc. the specific it to which the pope refers is the “[r]ereading [of] this appeal contained in Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount” (viz. Matt 5:27-28), not the redemption of the body or personalism in a wide context.  In fact, West omits a significant qualifying phrase with which the Holy Father sets off (with em dashes) his meaning from a universalist interpretation:  “even if only in the dimension of the act to which it refers. . .”  I admit that this is fairly opaque, but that is precisely my point:  this is Phd not popular language.

West’s case relative to the second quote is stronger, insofar as the Holy Father suggests that Matt. 5:27-28 has the perspective, not of the old covenant, but of the realization of redemption and “precisely the redemption of the body” which refers back to the way it was in the beginning.  But it is one thing for a Phd to say, in precise language, that this particular verse has the “perspective<i> of the whole gospel,” it is another for an apologist to say that it the transformation of our sexual desires in order to love as God loves is the whole gospel and <i>the new evangelization, especially when it includes dubious suggestions like that of the paschal candle, the unveiling of the Blessed Mother and the suggestion that there is something wrong with us because we cannot handle looking at Our Lord on the Cross without loin cloth.

I would agree with your last statement that we will have to see how this plays out.  Meanwhile, I will follow Schindler’s recommendation to pay more attention to West’s subjects than predicates.


#21, Jun 30, 2009 11:16am

Sorry, I did not close the italics properly around “perspective” in the second to the last paragraph.

Katie van Schaijik

#22, Jul 1, 2009 8:48am

I don’t have any objection to that passage from CW.  I think it’s true.  He doesn’t speak with the exactitude of a theologian or philosopher, but, as I read him, he speaks truth.  And he speaks it in a way that appeals very concretely to our generation.

We are made for love.  Human persons are incarnated in a body.  Our bodies are meant to share in our redemption.  Instead, since the fall we have tended to use our bodies not to love, but to use; not to serve but to dominate others. 
As JP II says, “In a certain sense, I am my body.”  It is in and through our bodies that our vocation to give ourselves in love is lived—in marriage, in celibacy, childbirth, in work, in suffering…

Maybe you can clarify for me what you think is wrong with that passage.

Katie van Schaijik

#23, Jul 1, 2009 1:01pm

Yesterday I got a note from someone urging me to write more on the topic of courtship.  This led me to re-read an article I wrote years ago.  Here is a paragraph that seems to me relevant to this discussion:

“Just last night, reading George Weigel’s biography of John Paul II, I was struck by this line: “Love, for Karol Wojtyla, was the truth at the very core of the human condition…” (p.101) Similarly, he saw it as the core of authentic courtship. In the experience of falling in love, Wojtyla shows, the meaning of the universe is mysteriously revealed, and with it the lover’s personal vocation: to give myself in love to this other, and to receive the gift of his love for me.”


#24, Aug 21, 2009 12:11pm

What profound and beautiful comments, Katie.  Sometimes I think that we can get so caught up in all of the technical details about the faith that we can forget the profundity of some of the most simple aspects, such as the statement, “God is love”. Three simple words but the depth and centrality of that statement to all that we believe!  How grateful I am to JPII for bringing us back to that simple but profound truth and helping us to reflect on all that means for us.

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