Thursday, July 22, 2010

Once again: Go ask Alice...

An essay from Dr. Alice von Hildebrand.
Rightly so, two prominent Catholic women have taken Christopher West to task for his interpretation of JPII'S Theology of the Body:  Dawn Eden and Dr. Alice von Hildebrand.  I discovered Dr. von Hildebrand's gracious essay this morning on CNA.
From the land of Entheo - (enthusiasm).
I very much appreciate the fact that Dr. von Hildebrand refers to West as a 'modern enthusiast' - ah - how well that characterizes so many in pop-Catholic culture these days.   Anyway, I'll let the Dr. talk...

It is a joy to praise a great book or author; it is a grief and duty to criticize a bad one. But it is especially difficult to criticize someone who has many talents, whose work has positive sides, but which also suffers from certain faults, calling for correction. Such is the case with Christopher West, with his popular presentation of John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.”
As gifted as he is—and as much as I appreciate all the good he has done for the Church—West’s work continues to fall short in many respects. He has sometimes misunderstood the authentic Catholic tradition; overlooked or disregarded essential aspects of it; and promoted a new form of religious “enthusiasm” which can best be described as wayward. Monsignor Ronald Knox, who critiqued this attitude so well in his book Enthusiasm, was a prophet, recognizing such outbursts as recurring phenomena in the history of the Church, characteristic of easily misguided movements for which we should always be on the watch.
Key to my concerns is West’s hyper-sexualized approach... ("Can I get an Amen!"  Sorry - couldn't resist!)  Key to my concerns is West’s hyper-sexualized approach to the Theology of the Body. The French have a wonderful word to capture the veiling of one’s intimate feelings, out of a proper sense of shame—pudeur, a “holy bashfulness,” so to speak. Seized as he is by what he regards as his calling to evangelize a new generation with this theology in “modern” ways they can supposedly better understand, West practically ignores the importance of pudeur, and, by his imprudence, winds up undermining his own message. - Read more here.

Anyway - Christopher West is a pig.  ("I know!" - My body language: quick shoulder hunch and cute mischeveous smile. - "Naw!  Just kidding - or am I?")   (I am really just kidding.)


  1. Let me preface my comment by saying that I've not read any TOB stuff - I'm aware of it, and recognize that it's deep and beyond my ken...

    ...I have this sense that the TOB was explained and unpacked much too quickly, given the nature of the Church and how teachings and disciplines have always developed slowly and over longer periods of time. Perhaps it's the Age of the Internet, or the sexual depraved world in which we live that is crying out for Truth, that precipitated the need to have JP II's talks taken apart and explained, lest they be misconstrued and misunderstood.

    But in the rush to get the info out there, to prevent the confusion and all - a lot of confusion resulted anyway.

    I'm reluctant to approach the TOB - not because I don't think it's important, or contains truth, or is/can be enlightening. It's because I'm not sure anyone has it down right yet. And who knows if anyone ever will. Yeah, I can read it for myself - but it would sure be nice to have reasonable confidence in any or all of the commentaries that one can choose from.

    So while the West's and Eden's and von Hildebrand's 'duke it out", I'll be content to pray a few more rosaries, read some St Francis de Sales and St Teresa of Avila, and wait for the kerfuffle to die down.

    Oh! And speaking of kerfuffle - check thou this out. It's kinda voyeuristic, but interesting nonetheless.

  2. Ok a little creepy... I was going to comment very similar to what Larry said... and then I see that I he posted what he did.

    So to avoid repetion let me say, I second what Larry has to say, and I have a few more tidbits.

    I too have not read or heard West in any substantial amount. That being said, I have read much about him. Knowing JPII and how he wrote and his philosophies, I too thought it was odd that some young American was able to so quickly pick up a collection of ideas and create this "industry out of it."

    It reminded me of thins like Purpose Driven Life, Osteen, Mars Hill, etc... A single idea that gets out of hand all Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors style.

    It wasnt the topic sex that maybe me doubtful, it was the fact that someone so young and so willing to get this message out there was both out there and quite loud about it. It became almost cultish. I was 25 when I went through RCIA and I remember hearing folks say: "wait until you are married!! Now that you are Catholic you will get to learn about Theology of the BODY!!!"

    It just seems too packaged and corporate. There is even a "Theology of the Body Institute" that he is a part of... As Larry said, I think ill stick to the tried and true, and once some of this has been put through the works... it might be something very worthwhile.

    That being said, I think West jumped at the first opportunity and became a "pioneer." Sex sells, Catholic Sex sells the same way. The problem with pioneers is that along with blazing new trails, they also brought things like smallpox.

    A final thought... we have hoardes of Catholics all in a frenzy over a belief that God directs us to think about sex in a hyper-actualized way, but folks wont believe in things like the Devil, Real Presence, or Purgatory.

    We have a long way to go...

  3. Larry - I was just kidding about CW being a pig. Anyway - Mark Shea seems to have a handle on this. LOL!

    Joe and Larry - thanks for your good comments - my thoughts go along these lines as well. Unfortunately I have no time right now to comment further.

  4. I read JPII's Theology of the Body over Lent...way too deep for me..especially since I have no formal educationin Philospohy....


  5. michael r.7:36 AM

    I don't know enough about West and his program with TOB, so I don't know whether her criticism is on target or not. I saw her on a program in the past year or so, and was not impressed at all. She came off as a very conservative reactionary. (Just my impression, folks.) I have a lot of respect for her and the work she did in the past, but it seems like she is held up largely because of the great position her late husband holds in philosophy and theology. (Didn't several popes refer to him as a Doctor of the Church?)

  6. Kenny2:24 PM

    Well that was an informative essay, thank you for posting it. It will give me something to do this evening. ;)

    I've read the TOB audiences, and it called to mind the writing of Rabbi Soloveitchik in 'The Lonely Man of Faith', interpreting Genesis 2. There is a covenental relationship with the other, and with God. And in harmony with the tensions inherent in Gensiss 1, (such as in the Letter to Artists,) we want to live nobly, triumphantly --- yet in humility and communion.

    I've also heard Christopher West speak, and at the time enjoyed his lectures. But... I never got in the writings that the focus of the Pope was sexual.

    Well. Thanks.

    Similarly Genesis


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