The Theology of the Body as Realized Eschatology

9 05 2009


Incarnation, Desire, and the Rise of Pop Catholicism

Trying to write an extended critique of Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body is like hitting a Jello Mold with a sledge hammer. After long hours of reflection, study, and yes, reading the original text carefully and openly, I some time ago concluded, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, that there is no there there. In its original form, one sees the summit of Wojtyla’s muddledness: swimming in the outdated phenomenology of early last century, he seeks to wow the reader with an unconvincing prose from which anything, from the sober reflections of neo-scholastics, to the ravings of hip “TOB” apologists, can spring. Some can say it is a continuation of Aquinas’ “turn to matter” against “Augustinian” Platonism, others can say that it is completely revolutionary, overturning the old fuddy-duddy, sexual prudishness of the pre-Vatican II church. Some say it helps them in their married life, others say it helps them their consecrated religious life. Still others use it as a banner against the broad, “anti-human” tendencies of modern-day society. Such an ideology is either what its advocates say it is, a “theological time bomb” set to go off some time this century, or it is a bunch of hot air. I have concluded the latter, and I will explain why.

First of all, however, I will have to explain why I decided to write this essay now. At first, I was resigned to leave well enough alone. After all, what do I care about what these pop Catholics think? I try to steer clear of them anyway. I should have known, however, that one advocate of conservative American “theo-pop”, Christopher West, would finally break out of the obscurity of Catholic conferences and make it into the “big time”. After all, the idea that the Church has gotten sex wrong for so long and that Catholicism sees sex as good for your spirituality is, well, sexy. The secular media was bound to gobble this stuff up, and it looks like ABC News has taken the bait. West has risen to the occasion, providing a schtick that can get the desired air time for this advocate of a Catholic Kama Sutra. For those who aren’t going to watch the video, West says that his two personal heroes are John Paul II and Hugh Hefner. No, I am not making this up! It’s right there. He says that these two disparate figures both did their part to take sexuality out of the darkness of repression and bring it into the enlightened state of openess that it enjoys today.

Of the advocates of the theology of the body, some will no doubt fully endorse West’s exaggerations. They will resort to the spirit of antinomianism at the heart of much of the post-Vatican II Catholic ethos. They feel that all of those nuns wrapping children on the knuckles, the Latin Mass, and all of the other rules and regulations prevented the “New Springtime” in the Church where people can do things out of “love” and not obligation. Other, more sane people will admit that the rhetoric of West and his ilk is excessive, but will affirm that the message of the theology of the body is too important to give in to the naysayers. They tend to cite such figures as Aquinas, St. John of the Cross, Dietrich von Hildebrand and others as predecessors of this new turn to the body in Christian thought, and see Catholicism’s future rising or falling on its success.

But now we should turn to the text itself. For those of you not familiar with the original texts that sparked the “theology of the body”, a brief introduction is in order. John Paul II began to give a series of weekly catecheses on the theme of human love and its role in salvation between the years 1979 and 1984. He focused on certain passages of Scripture, such as Matthew 19: 3-8, Ephesians 5: 21-33, and the beginning of the Book of Genesis, to create a personalist theory of why human beings are here and what constitutes their fulfillment in God. For Wojtyla, man being made as both male and female is a reflection of being made in the image and likeness of God; man is not made to be alone, but in communion with woman, and is to offer himself as a “gift” fully to her, and her to him. That communion is disrupted in the Fall, and from being an image of God, male-female relations are warped by the objectification of people as sexual objects. Christ comes to restore the communion of human beings, bringing into existence the Church as the nuptial image of union between God and man. From all of these very lofty principles, the late Pontiff ultimately sought to develop a personalist apologia for the Catholic Church’s opposition to artificial contraception. For Wojtyla, these forms of birth control violate the mutal giving of the couple to each other as “self-gift” and thus violate the rules of the “nuptial language of the body”. The pill and other methods are wrong since they prevent us from realizing the life-giving image of God in our intimate marital relationships.

For those hearing all of this for the first time, you will wonder why I am so opposed to such a poetic approach to human intimacy. You may also be wondering how one can go from these relatively sane, mystical reflections to the Catholic apotheosis of Hugh Hefner. My first reservation, one that offends the general sensus catholicus, is that the text itself lacks any sort of quotations from the saints or Fathers of the Church. Except for some very elliptical citations of St. John of the Cross and St. Thomas Aquinas, there is very little resort to tradition in order to find out what the mind of the Church has been through the centuries regarding sexuality. For example, St. Augustine, at the beginning of the twelfth book of his treatise on the Trinity, explicitly excludes the idea of man’s divided sexual nature representing the image and likeness of God in us. He is not alone among the Fathers to do this either. I will admit that the lack of citations may have to do with the format: catechetical sermons often do not allow one to provide proof texts to back up one’s reasoning. Many, like Christopher West, would say that John Paul II’s ideas were so revolutionary that they were providing a new insight only insinuated in tradition but never explicitly worked out. All the same, my sense in reading the whole text was that I was experiencing the spectacle of “Karol and his Bible”: one couldn’t help but think that this pseudo-phenomenologist was just pulling things out of thin air.

To give the reader a taste of what I faced in reading the text, I will cite a somewhat random paragraph in the fifty-ninth catechesis, dated April 8th, 1981:

Precisely here, it becomes clear that the theology of the body, which we are drawing from those key texts of Christ’s words, becomes the fundamental method of pedagogy or of man’s education from the point of view of the body in the full consideration of its masculinity and femininity. This pedagogy can be understood under the aspect of a specific spirituality of the body; in fact, the body in its masculinity or femininity is given as a task to the human spirit… and, through an adequate maturity of the spirit, [the body] too becomes a sign of the person, of which the person is conscious, and an authentic “matter” of the communion of persons. In other words, through spiritual maturity, man discovers the spousal meaning that is proper to the body.

In order to cut through this rather abstract language, it may be necessary to get a little crude. After reading the nearly five hundred pages of text, I was never quite clear what the “spousal meaning of the body” was. Is it the fact that in men and women, tab A goes into slot B and makes babies? What does such a realization have to do with “spiritual maturity? How does such an understanding differ from what came before, and where does the idea of the “sacred Catholic orgasm” enter into all of this? If you look at the text, it doesn’t. But out of such banal ideas as “the body reveals us as a person” (if I ever get those glasses in the mail that allow me to see souls, I will let the reader know) can come whatever suits your fancy. Convoluted abstraction has a way of making even the craziest ideas seem sane.

Aside from the problems of clarity, however, are some very prominent errors that have arisen in Catholic thought which I have labeled “the resort to realized eschatology”. The main characteristic of this ideological paradigm is to accentuate the goodness of human life as already transformed by the Incarnation of Christ and diminish the importance of the problem of evil within the human condition. For John Paul II and his defenders, human sexuality may have been infected by concupiscience in the Fall, but not enough to limit the importance of it as a symbol of the love of God. For those of us of more of a Platonic/Dionysian bent, we would counter that symbols never adequately represent what they aim to realize on this side of death. In the case of human sexuality, the Church has always sought to be cautious in openly discussing it precisely because sex is dangerous. In Ignatian spirituality (which I don’t like, but still preserves aspects of ancient thought) it is said that sexual sins are the only ones in which the agere contra is impossible. Man’s will to reproduce is too powerful to take on sexual sin by any other method than distraction from the cause of temptation. In the end, our sexuality is too entwined with our animal nature to serve as an image of God on this side of death. As in the case of West, such symbolism will always degenerate into the common, titillating vulgarity that appeals to our base, fallen nature. The best “nuptial language of the body”, then, is often total silence.

The theology of the body also abuses the philosophical idea of man as incarnate spirit. Pace Aquinas and other modern thinkers, our senses often veil just as much as they reveal. Our level of knowledge of spiritual realities in this fallen world is limited by the wounds of original sin, and even though certain images, nuptial or otherwise, aide us in attaining higher, intuitive levels of knowledge, we cannot become overly attached to these corporeal forms. After all, this body, these eyes, and this brain will decay and be incinerated at the end of the world when Christ comes to judge this age by fire. The body that shall rise incorruptible will and will not be the same as it is now. All of the analogies that we come up with here, no matter how eloquent and seemingly appropriate, are still viewing all of these things, “through a glass, darkly”.

In closing, I will say that attempts by Catholic thinkers to be “more sexual” than this already over-sexed society will not end well. As is the case in all of tradition, what will win the day will not be the highly marketable theoretical constructs of such pop theologians as Christopher West, but the wisdom of our Catholic patrimony as it has been passed down through the ages. That patrimony can be at times “overly legalistic”, “constricting”, and “prudish”, but it grew the Church for almost two millenia, and I don’t see how we need to re-invent the wheel when it comes to the Catholic approach to human intimate love. People don’t need to be told that giving their partner an orgasm is a spiritual duty. They need to be told to unconditionally love their neighbor for the love of God, to devote themselves to their duty, and to prepare for death. The things of this world are indeed passing, and it is hoped that one day all people will nail their old lives to the Cross in order to rise again with Christ. Orgasm or no orgasm.

[Footnote: It seems that West has tried to backtrack on his comments regarding Hugh Hefner, though I find it far from convincing. More like a guy who was caught with his pants down, to use West’s own penchant for gutter analogies.]



48 responses

26 12 2012
The Body as Deep Mud, a Donkey, and the Hinge of Salvation « Sancrucensis

[…] body: if the body is a meaningless product of chance and necessity, then what does it matter, as Arturo Vasquz would say, which tab goes into which slot?) Coming into the world the Son of David knocks at the door of […]

14 05 2011

I came to this old post in the process of tracing back previous references from your “Phyllis et Aristotles” post, and I just want to say that it’s really very, very good. I know there were some hoo-hahs about TOB a few months ago, but I hadn’t read your more systematic discussions of it, and I really want to compliment you on this. It seems that any post about TOB brings–interesting–posters out of the woodworks, but anyway, keep up the good work.

14 04 2010
James Dominic James

I’ve been thinking about you, Mar. I love you and I want to tell you some hot stuff.

Good news! Non-dualists can be aware of the truth of non-dualist anthropology without experiencing a loss of motivation to use sex well and so flourish as virtuous humans. What a relief! So denial of dualism need not be taken to be an indicator of dissolute glandular chaos. Doesn’t the glorious harmony of grace and nature just fill you with gratitude toward God? And the gratitude itself is a gift from God, since God is primary causality making to be all secondary causality, including what is back behind a moment’s realization of felt gratitude toward God. God makes the world in part by making humans to play god. Humans playing god well is Divine Providence. And when humans play god well in Christ by the Holy Spirit they move creation toward its culmination, and that’s going to be super-hot! Full-on throbbing with a finite creature’s particpation in the Infinite Bliss that is God. St. Paul tells us that we are groaning for it. Mmm. Isn’t that awesome?

Another great piece of news to share: From it being the case that nothing less than the torturing of Christ did redeem our nature, it does not follow that nothing less than the torturing of Christ could redeem our nature.

13 04 2010

Yes, the Church teaches that the body is inherently good because God made it and He saw that it was good. But the Church also teaches about the Fall and the world, the flesh and the Devil. The inherent good in man has been so affected by the Fall that nothing less than the the torturing of the Sacred Body of Jesus Christ to death could redeem man’s fallen nature.

According to the Gospel if you want to be a follower of Christ you too have to ‘take up your Cross’ and not use the excuse of an ‘inherently good’ body to pander to its every whim. There is nothing dualistic about that.

2 03 2010

“The Church”, as seen in light of the three pillars (Scripture, Tradition, and the Universial Magisterium), maintains that the body is “inherently good.” We were created as body soul unions in the image and likeness of God. We will be reunited with our bodies at the final judgement just like Christ after the Resurrection. The Chruch renounces the philosophy of Duelism 🙂

13 02 2010

I have recently stumbled upon the TOB discussions around the internet, because I just heard about it recently and was immediately skeptical about it. Granted, I am not a Catholic, nor do I subscribe to any religion (although I spent a few years in Christian school). Anyway, I find that TOB seems to turn 2000 years of Christian doctrine about our physical nature completely on its head-yes, I have been exposed to the “spirit good, flesh evil” theology. Here’s my proposal to the Church: pick a consistent, honest, workable position on human sexuality and STICK WITH IT!! I am not religious, like I said, but I hate dishonesty and double-mindedness. The Church should state with finality and authority that the flesh (and everything that goes with it) is either inherently evil or inherently good. I hazard a guess in that if the Church leadership, and the Pope, had their backs to the wall, they would choose the former.

14 12 2009

West is now trying to tie TOB in with the message of Fatima.

Of course, there’s no mention of modesty, sins of the flesh,and fashions. You know, the kinda stuff that is causing souls to fall into HELL like snowflakes?

Here’s Randy Engel on TOB

14 12 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Salvation through sex: the new Catholic tantra.

14 12 2009

You brood of vipers!

Just remember how Christ was continually misunderstood. You pharisees remain stuck in your hardened hearts!

29 07 2009
Roman Pytel

Wojtyla never was granted a Roman doctorate for his thesis. He would present it on his return to Poland at the Jagiellonian University, where he successfully graduated to Doctor of Divinity. (John Cornwell, The Pontiff in Winter. Triumph and Conflict in the Reign of John Paul II Doubleday 2004, p. 30)

Few human beings got as close to the mind and heart of Wojtyla, before he became Pope, as the phenomenologist Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka. She said: “To have written (as he has) about love and sex is to know very little about it. I was truly astounded when I read Love and Responsibility. I thought he obviously does not know what he is talking about. How can he write about such things? The answer is he doesn’t have experience of that sort.” The book, originally published in 1960, reads at times like field notes on a study of human sex practices by an anthropologist from Mars – a mishmash of ethics, anatomy, physiology, fertility charts, clinical descriptions of female orgasm, and abstract analysis of relationship and emotions gleaned from his contact with the young. It is like an essay on the phenomenology of color by a color-blind physiologist. (45) (John Cornwell, The Pontiff in Winter. Triumph and Conflict in the Reign of John Paul II Doubleday 2004, p. 30)

26 07 2009
Sam Urfer

Death Bredon is Eastern Orthodox, not even Catholic. And what he is referring to is that Christ summarized the Law and the Prophets with 1. Love God, 2. Love others. Augustine just said “Love, and do what you will”. This has nothing to do with the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite as propagated by Pope Paul VI. It’s pretty straightforward Christianity.

26 07 2009

Christ reduced the 10 Commandments to 2?!?! Seriously?!?! Is this what the novus ordo teaches these days? Is it any wonder that Sunday mass has become optional, adultery expected and life or death a choice or right? I shudder to think of the implications this has when the next generation comes to fruition. The faith is greatly perverted, indeed!!!

25 07 2009

I see that in the introduction of the new English edition pictured above that the translator Waldstein attacks Dr. G.C. Dilsaver, a highly respected Catholic Thomistic psychologist and writer, for holding that TOB was a private teaching. If you read Dr. Dilsaver’s essay on Patriarchal Hierarchy that Waldenstein refers to then if John Paul’s TOB are not the writings of a private theologian you would have to conclude that we had a pope who formally contradicts definitive Church teachings! As such, I think Dr. Dilsaver is being more charitable to JP II in the long-run than the ilk of Waldstein who want to imbue these questionable works with papal authority.

19 07 2009

Satanic processional cross? This is what i don’t like about traditionalists, theyre frilly 19th-century aesthetes. And their views on modern art and architecture amount to vulgar and unforgiveable philistinism. Modern churches usually are ugly … but rarely are they quite as ugly as 19th century Polish-style eclectic confections with gaudy plaster reredos and the like. I have no problem with those churches, I just know better that to pretend they are beautiful.

19 07 2009

Pope Benedict XVI has much better liturgical tatse than did Pope John Paul II with his twisted Satantic looking processional cross, and penchant for plain “Protestant” all white vestments, etc.

17 07 2009

I am feeling more and more confident in the possibility that the ongoing scholarly anlaysis of Pope John Paul II’s non-infallible declarations (for those of you who don’t know, that’s most of what he said) are going to reveal opinions that will be difficult to reconcile with Sacred Tradition.

16 07 2009
Randy Engel

Based on a two-year study of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (, I reached the following conclusions:
• TOB, which was an invention of Karol Józef Wojtyla, known to history as Pope John Paul II, has no foundation in Scripture or Tradition.
• TOB presents a novel interpretation of the essential nature of Original Sin which is not in accord with the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.
• In TOB we find the sexualization of Scripture, both the Old and New Testament, and the spiritualization of sex in line with the Gnostic and Manichean traditions. Indeed, to the extent that the Theology of the Body has rejected the traditional doctrine of the Church on marriage which holds that the primary end of marriage is procreation and the education of children, and to the extent that it has emphasized the relational and the transcendent aspects of conjugal sex at the expense of procreation, it can be rightly described as a new form of Manichaeism.
• TOB denies a fundamental premise of the Faith – the fragility of human nature and its tendency towards sin, which is confirmed by the entire history of mankind and everyone’s individual experience.
• TOB is not Catholic because it promotes the sensuous over the spiritual.

The Catholic antidote to TOB is provided by Saint Paul in 1 Cor. 9:27; 1 Cor. 11:32; and Heb. 12:6.

Randy Engel, author
“John Paul II and the Theology of the Body – A Study in Modernism”

16 07 2009

The guy who wrote the article is not even close to understanding it. It is not written for the skeptic but for the faithful.

15 07 2009
David Werling

This absolutely hits it on the head:

“They will resort to the spirit of antinomianism at the heart of much of the post-Vatican II Catholic ethos. They feel that all of those nuns wrapping children on the knuckles, the Latin Mass, and all of the other rules and regulations prevented the “New Springtime” in the Church where people can do things out of “love” and not obligation.”

This wraps up everyone from George Weigel to Christopher West, and explains the intractable position of those who wag fingers at the disobedience of SSPXers but gush over the Medjugorje seers. Things, though, are starting to come undone for them, as more and more mainstream pew sitters are defecting toward “Catholic” pro-abortion and pro-Obamaism (a brand of materialistic socialism).

The fundamental principles inherent in the neo-conservatism of the New-Springtimers is not adequate because it does not take into serious enough consideration the grave evil that remains in the world, and man’s propensity to do evil because of concupiscence. Absent is any understanding of the classic dictum of Catholic spirituality: distrust of Self, complete dependence on God. Obligation is needed because the Self can not be trusted.

Great article!

15 07 2009

It’s so refreshing to hear someone else say “hold on a minute…” Not too long ago, such a critique would never see the light of day.

A worthwhile discussion of TOB and Mr. West heard on The Voice of Catholic Radio

Immaculata, what is your source for that Angelicum story? That’s amazing!

7 07 2009

Already in the 50s, when Wojtyla was getting his doctorate in theology, his dissertation director, the eminent Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange (perhaps THE greatest theologian of the 20th century) wrote on his dissertation: “You write a lot, but you don’t say much.” Fr. Garrigou knew *garbage* when he saw it.

8 06 2009
On the relationship between Church and Power « Reditus: A Chronicle of Aesthetic Christianity

[…] while the rest of us think in terms of seconds. Of course all of this might be related to the realized eschatology and magisterial positivism of the Catholic right: the only thing that matters is the here and now, […]

25 05 2009
Bob Moran

As a somewhat ambivalent supporter of West, I have to admit that I agree with much of what you say. The problem is that no one in my wide circle of well educated orthodox Catholic friends are talking about your ideas. What we get from the pulpit is either nothing or support for gay unions (Churches of St Paul the Apostle, St Francis Xavier, St Joseph). Your ideas have been around for a long time. Why are you not able to popularize them? Many of our gay and gay friendly clergy preach the idea that personal sanctity is what counts, even as they continue to practice and justify sinful sexual activities.

25 05 2009
Bob Moran

One of the best responses to the whole West episode. Silence is no longer an option! Catholics of the last of couple of generations have been so neglected and misled by the clergy and the culture that voices like West’s are desperately needed. When was the last time you heard a sermon from the pulpit on Sunday (when masturbating teenagers are on their way to Communion) that promoted chastity or the Church’s teachings on sexuality?

24 05 2009

St. Paul implies otherwise

What do You mean? (1 Timothy 2:15; Ephesians 5:22-25; Colossians 3:18).

24 05 2009
Death Bredon


St. Paul implies otherwise. He think otherwise requires a decidedly Manichean exegesis. So, I renew my jibe — but not against Arturo.

24 05 2009

The sacrificial aspect of union is found in child-birth. Other self-giving aspects of marriage are obedience to one’s husband and taking care of and providing for one’s wife and children.

23 05 2009
Death Bredon

Fair enough. I retract my Manichee jibe. Mea Cupla.

That sexual relations between husband and wife are not necessarily sanctified or sanctifying seems fairly obvious. Indeed, sacramentally valid marriage hardly guarantees a reciprocity of love and self-surrender in every consummation. To the extent that West’s message fudges this, then it’s both trite and trivial.

But, when the proper self-sacrificial conditions are present (when spouse cooperate with the previent grace of their sacramental union, sex acts are not to be despised or relegated to a merely utilitarian role. To the contrary, they play a positive role in sanctification that knows no substitute for those called to the “white martyrdom” of matrimony; just as celibacy plays a unique, sanctifying role for those called to “black martyrdom” of monasticism.

23 05 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Just a few more thoughts on the original post if I may be permitted.

I have seen it written that theology of the body, to paraphrase Chesterton, is not something that was tried and found wanting, but was found wanting and never tried. Well, if one wants to equate Christianity with the muddled phenomenological theories of one Pope, that of course it up to him, but I find it fairly unbelievable. Theology of the body is no more a doctrine than John of the Cross’ dark night of the soul or St. Louis de Monfort’s total consecration to the Virgin Mary. They are things based on pious ideas that may or may not be misguided. Only time will tell. To think that theology of the body is some great development that has made Catholic consciousness emerge out of a darkness of puritanism is profoundly delusional. To think we are different, or to think that the definition of marriage has changed to the point that every lay person must become a mini-mystic to get married plays into the hands of those who would advocate the idea of the dissolubility of marriage in general. They are far from helping the argument, to the contrary.

To those who say that I am being overly pessimistic, that we must “transfigure” the human sexual act in spite of itself, I can only cite a full time theologian who is much smarter than I, whose essay was pointed out to me just today. Although he seems to be criticizing Christopher West, I see his critique as applying to the theology of the body movement in general:

First, West misconstrues the meaning of concupiscence, stressing purity of intention one-sidedly when talking about problems of lust.

When I first pointed this problem out to him several years ago, his response was that he refused to limit the power of Christ to transform us. My response is that concupiscence dwells “objectively” in the body, and continues its “objective” presence in the body throughout the course of our infralapsarian existence; and that we should expect holiness to “trump” temptations or disordered tendencies in the area of sexuality exactly as often as we should expect holiness to “trump” the reality of having to undergo death.

Second, West has an inadequate notion of analogy. He conceives love in a reductive bodily-sexual sense, then reads the Christian mysteries as though they were somehow ever-greater and more perfect realizations of what he emphasizes as key in our own experience, namely, sex.

But sex is not even the most important part of human love, let alone the key to the Christian mysteries–the Eucharist, for example. Missing in West’s work is an adequate idea of the radical discontinuity (maior dissimilitudo ) between the divine love revealed by God–and indeed the (supernatural) love to which we are called–and sexual love or intercourse. To be sure, the spousal love between man and woman is central in man’s imaging of God, and the gendered body and sexual relations are an integral sign and expression of spousal love, which also includes what John Paul II calls all the other manifestations of affection. However, as Joseph Ratzinger says, it is only because man has a capacity for God that he also has a capacity for another human being. The former indicates the “content,” the latter the “consequence,” of man’s likeness to God.

In the end, West, in his disproportionate emphasis on sex, promotes a pansexualist tendency that ties all important human and indeed supernatural activity back to sex without the necessary dissimilitudo.

West often tends to treat resistance to the content of his lectures, for example during the question periods, as matters of resistance to the Holy Spirit (to the Spirit now speaking in and through West’s “charism”), urging questioners to pray to overcome the fear induced in them by their bad theological-spiritual formation. Well-balanced persons have spoken of how West makes them feel a sense of guilt, of resistance to the Holy Spirit, if they experience uneasiness about what he is saying.

The other aspect of the criticism is that people who criticize the theology of the body are being Manicheans, refusing to let sex into “our spiritual lives”, something that they see as desirable and conducive to the growth of holiness of the laity. In order to be truly “Catholic” and “incarnational”, sex has to be a source of sanctification.

Again, I believe this charge itself is spurious, and for reasons outlined quite thoroughly above. The other aspect of this is another critique that I have touched on only indirectly, and I call it the change from talking about sin to talking about pathology. It is one thing to say that homosexuals, people who are sexually abnormal, can’t have sex, or won’t have sex (again, Wojtyla’s weakest talks are the ones in which he addresses celibacy) may or may not be sinning; it is another thing to say that they are not realizing the image and likeness of God as it is meant to be expressed in the nuptial mystery of the body. Sex is a delicate issue for even many good Catholics, and to apotheosize the heterosexual sex act as being some paradigmatic spiritual event can be profoundly alienating to those who stand outside of it, unable to find fulfillment in those acts due to physical, psychological, or personal circumstances. The neglected truth that such “pessimistic” voices in the Church such as St. Augustine and the Fathers of the Desert were expressing in being so harsh on the sexual act even in marriage is that all acts of human love have the potential of becoming disordered and thus falling short of the love and glory due to God.

Though such views are admittedly extreme, there is also a potential of hope in them as well. In the Christian mystery, there is no “normal”; no safe haven in which all of our actions are inherently good. There is potentially sin at the table, in a job well done, and yes, even in the chaste bedroom of marriage. The Catholic way is not to incarnate the Kingdom in a theoretical construct of normalcy, but to admit that we are all sinners and struggle with that fact. The solution to the problem of sins against purity in our society is not more sex, or telling people the meaning of sex, or telling people that “really good sex” is the sex that the Catholic Church approves of. It lies in repentance, love, and self-sacrifice in the context of our imperfect and struggling lives. That is the most inclusive, popular, and traditional response of the Church to these questions.

18 05 2009

Death Bredon,

This is interesting. Could you refer me to a specific work which studies the history and developments of fasting disciplines in the earlier centuries of the Church? Much appreciated.

18 05 2009
Additional thoughts on Wojtyla’s theology of the body « Reditus: A Chronicle of Aesthetic Christianity

[…] writing my essay on the theology of the body last week, some lingering ideas have been on my mind. I add them here as an appendix to what I […]

15 05 2009
Christopher West under the microscope « Stony Creek Digest

[…] Vasquez, the author of an eclectic blog titled Reditus, is an exception. In an article titled “Theology of the Body as Realized Eschatology”, he traces the problem to the late Pope John Paul II himself, which suggests that it may be unfair […]

13 05 2009

And what did You find out from Your little study, Mr. Muerte? 🙂 (Come on, don’t be shy, spit it all out…) 8)

13 05 2009

Thanks for the link to Ms.Von Hildebrand’s response. I agree with her assessment.

Whenever I hear ToB zealots, the word “glib” comes to mind, even though I agree with 99% of what they say. Glib in the way they handle tradition and glib in the way they handle sexuality in particular.

Main Entry: glib
Part of Speech: adjective
Definition: slick, smooth-talking
Synonyms: artful, articulate, easy, eloquent, facile, fast-talking, flip, fluent, garrulous, hot-air, insincere, loquacious, plausible, quick, ready, silver-tongued, slippery, smooth operator, smooth-spoken, smooth-tongued, suave, talkative, urbane, vocal, vocative, voluble

13 05 2009
Death Bredon

Dear Lucian,

As a matter of fact, I have read and digested all entire Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers series — bought the series from CBD some years ago for a song.

But more to the point, I have studied the development of fasting disciplines in both the Eastern and Western Church. And I assure you that the program of the either of the two popular Eastern typicons is not even close to according to any known practice regarding fasting in the Church of the first three centuries.

13 05 2009

Not according the unanimous witness of the pre-Nicene Fathers

Dear Death,

Santa Muerte, 😀

please forgive my skepticism, but I honestly doubt that You’ve ever heard that line before, let alone read all the pre-Nicene Fathers in a few days, just to be able to say something in response.

That again, I’m not here to persuade You of our religion, merely to inform You (or anyone else) of its tenets (which tenets aren’t really convert-winning, let alone “sexxy”, as You might’ve guessed by now already).

We must redeem the body, redeem sexuality

Indeed we must do that, and the way to do that is by begeting children and rasing them as good Christians (1 Timothy 2:15).

13 05 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Just thought I would post this. Here is an excerpt:

Dr. von Hildebrand said she knew the “gist” of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and believed it was “very indebted” to her husband Dietrich von Hildebrand’s 1927 book “In Defense of Purity.” She said there is obviously an “abysmal difference” between the views shared by her husband and John Paul II and those presented by Christopher West.

Reporting that she had seen CNA’s follow-up interview with West, Dr. Von Hildebrand was very critical of the speaker…

This is “very troubling” because what she calls the “intimate sphere” is something “very mysterious, very profound, something that has a direct relationship with God.”

“My feeling is that his vocabulary and his way of approaching it totally lacks reverence.”

“Reverence is the key to purity,” she told CNA.” The intimate sphere “is not a topic of public discussion” but is “extremely serious.”

“It seems to me that his presentation, his vocabulary, the vulgarity of things that he uses are things that simply indicate that even though he might have good intentions he has derailed and is doing a lot of harm.”

She said people should not forget that we have been “profoundly affected” by original sin.

“To my mind the conflict between man and woman can only be healed by striving for holiness,” she said. “There are many things Christopher West does not mention.”

I would take it a step further, and say that it is also the original text of TOB that is at fault. But it is so vague that I think like many things coming after Vatican II (and Vatican II itself for that matter), it should be consigned to the dustbin of history.

12 05 2009
Death Bredon

Hold the presses — I just realized the big problem: TOB “as realized eschatology.”

That’s just horse hockey. First, because our Lord has already told us there is no taking of wives in the Kingdom Come. Second, because the Ancient Church always understood matrimony as “white” martyrdom. It is a way of self-sacrifice, ascesis, and discipline in the metaxy of our travail. Enjoy the honeymoon, because the long haul is not pretty.

Indeed, the whole reason St. Paul had to remind us that we do not own our on bodies, but rather our spouses, is precisely because matrimonial duty is not always as “sexy” as that ever so sexy “TV Sex” that deludes us all. Without true, self-sacrificing, Christian love, all human sexuality eventually becomes a chore — which explains the astronomical divorce rate non-traditional, nominally Christian lands.

12 05 2009
Death Bredon

Ah, Arturo, you sound like the new young curmudgeon. Next your going to tell me that the DaVinci Code is pure fiction. 😉

12 05 2009
Death Bredon

“When the Bridegroom will be taken away means now, between Ascension and the second-coming.”

Not according the unanimous witness of the pre-Nicene Fathers. Even Pachomius, that Father of austere asceticism, resisted attempts to stretch the 40-hour fast to cover all of the newly minted Holy Week.

* * * * * * *

“And the Jews did fast twice a week, but on Mondays and Thursdays”

Only the narrow Pharisee party. And this sort of extra, routinized fasting for fasting’s sake was precisely what Christ Jesus stood against. Note that in Acts, irregular periods of voluntary prayer and fasting are undertaken according to spiritual need, not a schedule.

12 05 2009
Arturo Vasquez

The comments above by others would have us think that “I didn’t get it”. Well, there’s nothing I can really do to argue with that point. That is why I gave my own summary of what I think the theology of the body means. So far, no one has come forward to correct me. Only to say: “you need to read the new translation” (I did), “you need to study what Christopher West has actually said” (I have), or, “you don’t realize the full gravity of the situation that we are in” (I do, but I would disagree with the nature of it). In all these criticisms, I see my point being proven: people tell me that I am wrong, that I don’t get it, but they can’t tell me what is correct. That is because we are talking about something vague, amorphous, and I have argued, fundamentally useless.

People are concerned that modern man is just “not going to buy” the old ways anymore. But if the only alternative is Wojtyla’s pop mysticism for the masses, then I would argue that this in no way ameliorates the situation. It is worse because it presents a fundamentally elitist approach to these questions: turning the solution into a bunch of absurd propositions that only a certain class of Catholic intellectuals and their “counter-cultural” allies buy into. Sex does not lead to union with God; if anything, it is abstinence, even within marriage, that leads man closer to God, and that has been the mind of the Universal Church through the centuries. There is no way to “channel” sexuality, to “transfigure” it to the point that we return to being naked without shame. That is just not going to happen on this side of death. Our bodies are a gift, but they are a very, very problematic gift.

If you don’t think that the “old way” is going to work, that doesn’t mean that we are smart enough to make a “new way”. Just because there is a problem, doesn’t mean that there is anyone around smart enough to fix it. The “old way” (asceticism, frequenting the sacraments, etc.) is what works because it depends on God to fix the problem, with our cooperation.

As for what Christopher West actually said, yes, the media can sensationalize things, but what West “actually said” is equally foolish. I quote from one article cited above:

“We must redeem the body, redeem sexuality,” he remarked. “That’s what I mean by ‘completing the sexual revolution.’ Only Christians can do that because of the work won through the bodily death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

He added that Pope John Paul II “rescued” sex both from the “fearful Puritanism” in which many Christians are raised, but also from “the pornographic distortion of sex that is rampant in our culture.”

West said a hunger for the true understanding of the human body and sexuality is implanted by God, but charged that Christians have placed themselves on a “starvation diet” that leads other hungry people to the “fast food” of pornography.

Really, I could go on all night, but where does he get this stuff, anyway? What type of white-bread, facile history of the world is this man reading? How can he have the gall to impose the neuroses of the white suburban male on the rest of history, saying that the entire Catholic world was sunk in the depth of puritanism and had to be rescued by his superhero, JPII? I really don’t think I should waste my time with this stuff. It really refutes itself. And it says a lot about the abysmal state of Catholic intellectual culture that such theories are taken seriously.

(And just to clarify in one comment, I am a Roman Catholic by profession and practice.)

11 05 2009

When the Bridegroom will be taken away means now, between Ascension and the second-coming. (And the Jews did fast twice a week, but on Mondays and Thursdays). While Christ was with them on earth, they did not fast (Matthew 9:15; Mark 2:19-20; Luke 5:34-35). My article was written as a response to a Priest’s article (convert from Lutheranism), entitled “Why not Orthodox?”, which itself was a response to another Priest’s article [from ‘Pontifications’, convert from Anglicanism], entitled “Why not Catholic?”. The idea is that Orthodoxy is first and foremost a path and a way of life… not membership or subscription (whether mental or otherwise).

11 05 2009
James III

May we be one flock with one shepherd inside the same fold with one heart and one way of thinking!

That video is a sensationalist representation of Christopher West’s “preaching.” Please actually read his works before judging him, his presentation, or even the West’s Theology on the Body. Please ask disconfirming questions especially of the main stream media.

As for there not being there in the Theology of the Body; First make sure you are reading the newest translation which harmonizes what used to be many translations from a multitude.

Second when you say “we (Easterners) would counter that symbols never adequately represent what they aim to realize on this side of death. In the case of human sexuality, the Church has always sought to be cautious in openly discussing it precisely because sex is dangerous..” this position is articulated in almost the exact same way by both John Paul II (Chapter one of “Love and Responsibility” and the tracts on Mythology and Christopher West in every talk I have heard and read.

On the whole I very much accept this post as truly Christian.

We must pray for unity and clarity of each others’. that is East and West, positions. I beg you to be more honest in your critiques, and to keep open your heart.

Please pray for me that I may become one with Christ with you!

10 05 2009
Death Bredon


Of course, when Moses and St. Paul were referring to times of fasting, they those were the 6 or so generally mandatory days of Jewish fasting.

And just as Christ reduced the 10 commandments to 2; he also expressly reduced 6 days of generally mandatory fasting to 2 days — “when the bridegroom will be taken away” (Mark 2:20).

The latter rule was followed religiously by the undivided, apostolic Church for the better of 4 centuries! The faith is greatly perverted when the monastic typicon, which is inherently voluntary as few are called to the cell, is applied more-or-less as an expectation or even vague guide-line for the laity.

10 05 2009

Well, here’s the Orthodox ‘sex-schedule’ for anyone interested. 🙂

10 05 2009
Matt Pinto

Hi Arturo,

I’m skipping out to mass now and will respond in detail later, but just to clarify. I was at the full interview with West and ABC. He did not say Hefner was his hero. That was the segments host who said it. West would absolutely reject that idea. I work closely with him. ABC widdled down many hours of video to 7 minutes. Although they operated, I think, in good faith, they just didn’t allow for the proper context (that West gave) on several points.

– Matt

10 05 2009

Sometimes I think there is a thing as being so right in one’s analysis, that it’s possible to miss the point entirely. Perhaps I’m just fulfilling the role of the counter-argument foil mentioned in your earlier paragraphs, but, oh well, I think this might just be the case here. You’re so right, you’re wrong.

As opaque as JPII can be. As annoying as West can be in his delivery of the message. As much as you can dislike the packaging of the cottage industry, and of course a sexier Catholic church is going to be completely taken out of context and sensationalized, no matter, what, etc…There is a deep, deep pastoral need for the understanding of sex as an exchange of persons (not fluids) among the laity, particularly the young who have been abused by the free love of their parent’s generation.

A need that may not have existed before Vatican II. A need that may not have needed to be communicated before 1963.

Of course pornography has existed since men can pain pictures. Of course contraception has existed since men could mix herbs. But, at least in advanced industrial nations, I don’t think there’s ever been a generation that has been as exposed and completely detached from the procreative truth of human sexuality as we are.

The problem is deep, and it’s everywhere in the pews. Addiction to pornography is everywhere. Everywhere: priest, married men, engaged men, 10 year old boys, and now even many women. And of course, the self-abuse, the destruction of marriage, and the slide into more deviant forms of sexual expression, which become more mainstream as formerly stigmatized appetites become topics at the lunch table.

(I could point to multiple episodes involving S&M in CSI, or what about the Matrix Trilogy for that matter.)

I’ve got my own issues with aspects of TOB. But now that I’m a parent of several young girls who will go to school with classmates who will be on the pill from the age of 11 onward (just after they get their Gardasil shot), I can overlook its deficiencies and use it’s very positive message about human sexuality to counter act some of the poison of this culture.

In the end TOB and its messangers may not help the situation, for the reasons that you say here. But they certinaly aren’t going to make it worse.

Silence may have worked before. But silence is no longer an option. If TOB doesn’t work, then on to plan B. My daughters deserve more.

9 05 2009
Death Bredon

Perhaps I am missing your critique here — is it the flowery rhetorical form of delivery or the substance of the message? I mean, St. Paul himself admonished his flock that they have a moral to “give it up” to their spouses. So, unless you are arguing for Ambrose and Augustine’s innovative injection of manichaeanism sexual attitudes in the Germanic-Latin Christian West (at long last expressly thrown off in the English-Speaking West by Cranmer’s more succinct and eloquent TOB in the marriage service of the Book of Common Prayer), what is your point? That JPII killed a lot of trees and spilled a lot of ink to state the obvious, apostolic position? Or that praising Heff is taking matter too far (which is true)?

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