See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. - James 5:7

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Are the biggest proponents of Christopher West's version of Theology of the Body married Deacons?



What?  Just thinking out loud here.

My title for this post is meant to be provocative - but I have nothing to add to it, right now.  Of course, many lay people love the Westian version of TOB, so my other question is:  Is TOB THE conclusive, definitive, theological-dogmatic work on human sexuality?  Is it infallible teaching?  (Not exactly.)  To be sure, I'm not at all trying to discredit the Holy Father's teaching, but I really have to question some of those who interpret it, and 'teach' it. 

That said, a priest will always get my attention when it comes to teaching on faith and morals, much more so than a layman or even a deacon could.  No offense to married deacons intended, just stating a fact - I'm much more interested in what a moral theologian who happens to be a priest has to say.  A friend sent me a link to something Fr. Gregory Gresko, OSB, a monk/priest, moral theologian, wrote concerning "how a flawed interpretation of Blessed John Paul II's seminal work on human sexuality can lead to a fundamentally wrong understanding of sex."  It's very good.
In his column, the avid blogger, scholar and chaplain of the Blessed John Paul II Shrine in Washington, D.C., examines Christopher West's newest book, “At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization.”

Fr. Gresko begins by calling West's definition of lust problematic, as the author describes it in his new book as a “disorder of the heart.”

While this is certainly true, Fr. Gresko says West falls short in his interpretation by failing to clearly define what is meant by “heart” and whether or not he fully takes into account human concupiscence – or “the tendency to sin.”
Fr. Gresko says West claims that “a more complete spousal understanding of the 'body' provides the key to rectifying the sinful diseases of the 'heart.'”

But such an attitude, he writes, overlooks a humans tendency towards sin, which is “objectively present in the body” even after Baptism.

The priest points out in his column that even the most virtuous saints “had to wage battle daily” against sin. Therefore, assuming that lust or other disorders of the heart can be completely removed from the spousal act, as West seems to suggest, is false. - CNA
"When the Church tells people publicly what sexual actions they can get away with without sinning, many people will push the envelope."

In his CNA column, Fr. Gresko affirms the Holy Father's work, writing:  "Among the greatest works of his Pontificate is his Catecheses on Human Love (Cat.), also known as “Theology of the Body”, profoundly beautiful but theologically complex teachings on human love that at times have been subject to misinterpretation."  The column then goes on to critique the difficulties one encounters in Christopher West's interpretation.  Some highlights:
Use of “Sexual” Terminology
West insists on using “sexual” language throughout his work in an attempt to communicate more easily the truths of John Paul II’s often complex teaching to his readers. To West’s credit, in a few places he emphasizes that his use of such terminology always is intended to mean an integrated sexuality, that is, one that respects the unitive and generative aspects of human sexuality within the confines of marriage. However, in his insistence of utilizing the language of “sex”, he risks both threatening the reverence that is due before the mystery of sexuality as well as reducing John Paul’s Catecheses to being solely about sexuality, evidencing a separation between John Paul II’s work and his own. The Catecheses are far broader in scope than sexuality in addressing numerous other themes of theological thought and inquiry.
Interpersonal communion
John Paul II speaks of communion as interpersonal, that is, as person to person. This theological and anthropological approach springs from his great treatise on sexual ethics, Love and Responsibility, in which – writing as Karol Cardinal Wojtyla -- he explains how our regard for another human being always must value the other as a person, one who is a unity of body and soul, in a manner consistent with what he termed the personalistic norm. This argument is fundamental for understanding the full scope of the Catecheses. Such interpersonal communion by its nature is most intimately a face-to-face encounter. John Paul II, to my understanding, never refers to this communion as being merely between bodies. In West’s discussion, perhaps unintentionally, the body is overemphasized to the point that it appears idolized. It is crucial to highlight in discussions of bodiliness that we are talking about the body of a person. Indeed, the body manifests the person. John Paul’s use of such personalistic terminology is very specific, as was also clear in Love and Responsibility, protecting his theology from being reduced to the level of a mere bodily sexuality. Of course, sexuality is a main aspect of the Catecheses, that goes without saying. However, it is always the sexuality of persons, body and soul, never intended to be reduced to the bodily aspect alone. In conjugal union, the entire being of the person, body and soul, grows in communion and enters into the mystery of the Divine Communion of Persons.
Mature purity
Such purity involves one spouse’s ability to see the other spouse’s body in purity. Spouses certainly should not be seeking to look at other persons’ naked bodies (except when necessary to care for their children or when medically required, with the obvious complete respect for human dignity that is due). However, West argues that mature purity at a virtuous level signifies being able to look at any body and maintaining perfect chastity; if he has to look away, West states that he is merely continent but not virtuous, although admitting that the vast majority of persons would find themselves in such a position. If discussions on the virtue of chastity, or “mature purity”, attempt to look at any body with the hope of seeing the other with pure eyes, West’s theological presentation is under serious threat of becoming an apologia for pornography, which is precisely the separation of the body from the person. West spends much time talking about the importance of loving others’ bodies properly, but what is missing from the discussion is the greatest need to love other persons most, encountering them as integrated bodies and souls, with virginal innocence. Loving persons accordingly is consonant with Karol Cardinal Wojtyla’s articulation of the personalistic norm in Love and Responsibility, without reducing the person to mere bodiliness. - Full article here.
Good stuff, huh?

36 comments:

  1. I confess, I am a marrid deacon. However, I do not agree with Christopher West's interpretation of ToB, and I think many people out there have misinterpreted BPJII's presentations of his ToB.

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  2. So, what 'corrective' works (audio/video/published) are available to us who are interested? I have read a lot of criticism of Mr. West's presentation of TOTB but have never seen available the material needed to get the 'authentic' interpretation. If there are such materials out there please post the sources so we may purchase them.

    ENQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW!

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    1. Follow the links to Fr. Gresko.

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  3. Terry,

    I read the introductory article at CNA, then I read the entire column by Fr. Gresko, start to finish. Couldn't put it down. He really made things easy to understand and was completely dispassionate in his critique.

    I agree with him under the section on conjugal chastity when he signals the need for the Magisterium to step in to ensure the proper understanding of JPII's teachings are offered. He had an extensive discussion on the whole issue of, "marital sodomy".

    I was also glad to see him point out what seems like a "mysticism of sex."



    I would encourage people to read the full column - not just the introductory article.

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    1. I hope people read the complete entry as well. I think his work is right on the money - it's the best I've read so far, outside of Dawn Eden and Fr. Angelo Geiger.

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    2. Anonymous5:33 AM

      Wonderful article by Fr. Gresko (I originally thought George Weigel had written it).
      Diane, I too agree with this, that you said: "that I agree with him under the section on conjugal chastity when he signals the need for the Magisterium to step in to ensure the proper understanding of JPII's teachings are offered. He had an extensive discussion on the whole issue of, 'marital sodomy'."

      SF

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    3. Thanks SF - I forgot to acknowledge you sent it to me. I too agree with Diane's comment.

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  4. My wish is that the TOB would be put on a high bookshelf in a far corner and forgotten.

    Any work that is directed toward the common man and is incomprehensible as the TOB is, is nothing but trouble.

    That said, of what little I have read of Christopher West and the criticisms of him, West appears to have a much better traditional understanding.

    And with that said, West should do the world a favor by doing something useful as opposed to going around causing conflicts and confusion.

    When it comes down to it, sex is pretty damn basic and straightforward and we don't a book on the subject. Especially one titled Theology of the Body. A name a I find unseemly.

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    1. Once again - I completely agree with you.

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    2. I don't think it's good to hide conflict. Conflict is goodie that it means we are about to grow as the Mystical Body, in our understanding of something. It's an opportunity for collective growth that can be squandered when we suppress discussion. Things end up "tabled" for another generation to have to deal with it. I think there has been suppression, despite the many exchanges. Too much emotionalism has veiled the true arguments. That is why I think a theological analysis by the Holy See is warranted. Get the controversial books, audio and video presentations out of the emotional realm and into an objective environment. What will emerge from this is nothing short of a pearl.

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    3. Pardon the auto-corrections by iPhone. Oy!!!

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  5. Looking for alternatives? Pick up any and everything by Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand.

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  6. Does West talk about technique?

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  7. Never trust anybody who spends their whole life talking about sex. Whether it's the obvious creep in the alley or the well dressed smiling guy standing on the stage in the parish hall giving yet another talk about sacred sex, it's all bent wrong.

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  8. I read the full article and it doesn't appear that Weigel wrote ""When the Church tells people publicly what sexual actions they can get away with without sinning, many people will push the envelope."

    Fr. Gresko did in the paragraph entitled "Conjugal chastity".

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    1. Thanks Patrick - I fixed it.

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  9. "My wish is that the TOB would be put on a high bookshelf in a far corner and forgotten."

    Because of false interpretations?

    Throwing away the TOB is not the solution.

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    1. No, that's not why he wishes that to happen. Read his comment again - his concern has nothing to do with misinterpretation and everything to do with inaccessibility.

      Not saying I agree with him, but let's be fair, hear him out (rather than tune him out after the provocative first sentence), and not shoot down strawmen.

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  10. And, actually, it doesn't need to be "interpreted" at all (JPII's teaching I mean). It itself is an interpretation of a facet of the truth, or of many. It needs to be distilled and explained, perhaps, more clearly.

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  11. I also wish that TOB would be forgotten. It is not dogma. It's John Paul II's hobby essentially that has been hijacked by possible con men. TOB is not the 8th sacrament. Feel free to ignore it.

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  12. Terry, to answer your question, Yes with qualification: to wit, the married deacons who were ordained young are the biggest fans of TOB.

    In general, the married deacons who counted down the days until their 31st birthday so they could join the formation program in time to be ordained as soon as canon law allows (minimum age 35), are the ones who want to mix religion and sex - it is why they became married clerics in the first place rather than celibate priests.

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  13. "John Paul II's hobby"?

    No, it isn't dogma, but it is the teaching of a Pope delivered to the People of God during his Wednesday audiences and was meant to be catechesis. It has the authority of Papal teaching, at least.

    What's all bent wrong is playing the "it's not infallible" card.

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    1. The Wednesday addresses were written before he became Pope. Wednesday audiences are not magisterial, but, for the sake of argument, are you suggesting that the grace of infallibility applies retroactively to the writings of a Pope before he assumes office?

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  14. Wade,

    Let's be fair: you *know* that "married deacons who were ordained young are the biggest fans of TOB," that they "want to mix religion and sex - it is why they became married clerics in the first place rather than celibate priests."

    You're able to judge them?

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    1. Not definitively. But I can attain a fairly high degree of certitude.

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  15. "are you suggesting that the grace of infallibility applies retroactively to the writings of a Pope before he assumes office?"

    No, I'm suggesting that there is reverence due to the teachings of Pope, even if they are not infallible. Not infallible does not or should not mean that we're free to ignore it.

    Also, if something is written at a separate time from when it is presented or being taught, I'd think that the charism to teach is no less effective and relevant. Clearly, JPII thought that the material was worthy of our attention since it was delieved to the People of God for years precisely as a teaching. He wasn't doing this in private or on his 'free time' as if it was a hobby. It was purposely presented to us by virute of his office as a teacher, just like Pope Benedict today will often teach us about prayer each Wednesday. We owe that kind of teaching due reverence, even if it is not infallible.

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    1. We also owe it to the great Doctors and Fathers and Popes and Councils in our Church's Tradition to interpret JP2 in light of them and make the former our chief resources and the latter merely a supplement. Clearly, the opposite has happened.

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    2. Bingo, Wade St. Onge!

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  16. I think a couple generations ought to pass without further comment on TOB, and then perhaps more objective eyes and hearts will better be able to interpret or 'unpack' Blessed JP II's words. We're too close to the source still (in terms of years) for there to be dispassionate interpretation, in my humble opinion.

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    1. Is it "too close" because it means we need to look at the substance of what he is saying and measure it against something objective, and that may upset people close to us if critics are right?

      I don't think something like 'marital sodomy' and things such as 'mysticism of sex' (as Fr. Gresko called it) is something that needs to be put off for future generations to deal with. That's called passing the buck.

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  17. JPII never said you must believe in TOB in order to be Catholic. Therefore, there's no sin in ignoring it.

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  18. I submit the following from Rev. Robert A. Connor, a priest, not a layman or a deacon, or a married deacon:

    "So also the texts of the Magisterium that are ordinary and not extraordinary as qualified by the note of infallibility, as in the case of TOB. The texts of the TOB and the theological anthropology found therein are anchored in the faith-consciousness of the Church that depends on the two fundamental foci of the Trinity and Christology (to be presented below). To trivialize them as John Paul II’s private lucubrations that stand on their own rational merits after presenting them for five yours as ordinary magisterium with the characteristics calling for the adherence of mind and will, is not understand the meaning of revelation, faith, Church and Magisterium."

    The full article where this is further developed:

    http://robertaconnor.blogspot.com/2008/03/magisterium-and-theology-of-body-tob.html

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    1. Here is something from Connor's protege, Fr. Schu, who happens to be from my parish in Mpls and who returns there when he is visiting his mother:

      "8. What weight does this carry in the magisterial teachings of the Church? Is it infallible?

      No, but it certainly does have a high weight of authority within the Church. It wasn’t arranged as an encyclical, but it was given as a series of Wednesday audiences. To help see what the weight is, one question you have to ask is “Who is the intended audience of this Theology of the Body?” I think it is safe to say it wasn’t just those Catholics who happened to be there for that particular Wednesday audience in Paul VI’s Hall or St. Peter’s Square. The audience for these events was intended to be the universal Church, and it’s very clear from the nature of the teachings that John Paul II was speaking to Catholics everywhere.

      Another way you can determine the weight of the teaching is by looking at the subject matter. And the subject matter here is catechesis. Catechesis is one of the most important things a Bishop can do. Here we have the Bishop of Rome, of the Universal Church, speaking to all Catholics on catechesis. And another question you can ask is what is the subject of that catechesis? Here the subject is Marriage and Family, which is one of the central teachings of the Church. So within the Church’s ordinary universal magisterium, this has a pretty solid weight in Church teachings. It all builds up to that great defense of Humanae Vitae, which says every act of conjugal act of love between husband and wife must be open to new life." - Source: http://www.regnumchristi.org/english/articulos/articulo.phtml?se=364&ca=197&te=782&id=29056

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  19. I appreciate you sharing that - thanks, Terry.

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  20. Hello, Terry--

    Full disclosure: I'm a "married deacon".

    But what on earth is a "Westian"??

    God bless you,

    Deacon JR

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  21. Hi, Terry--

    I realize I forgot to help answer the question posed in the title of this post.

    The answer is, in my view, "no."

    Actually the "biggest" proponents of West's work are the Cardinals and Archbishops and Bishops and Seminary Rectors and Priests who seem quite comfortable publicly endorsing his work, both written and spoken.

    For almost twenty years.

    Some of us "married deacons" are only now catching up with them.... :-)

    God bless you,

    Deacon JR

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