Sunday, February 5, 2012

West! Breast! Chest! Sex!


First, let's take a quick look at how Christopher West is arguing against his critics in his newest book.







West is referring to a post by Father Angelo Mary Geiger on Dawn Eden's blog.


To begin with, note how West throws around John Paul II. My friends, Blessed John Paul's lectures that are popularly called the "theology of the body" are about love, not sex. For West to imply that Fr. Geiger is a prude or a dirty old man because he's not as sexually redeemed as John Paul II calls us to be is simply nutty.


But beyond that, the problem here is what West is implying and what happens if you follow his implications.


We see here West using language that implies much more than it expresses. It is hard to know which side of his mouth West is talking out of. Thus, I think we should respond to either of the two arguments regarding concupisence that seem to be couched in West's response to Fr. Geiger.



  • If West is saying that a married man, when he makes love to his wife, should try to cooperate with God's grace, asking God to turn his tendency towards lust into something holy, something expressive of charity and analagous to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, I concur heartily - provided the other tenets of Catholic teaching hold, that the marital act should be expressive of love and open to the possibility of procreation.


  • On the other hand, if West is saying that a man should seek or expect God to obliterate his concupiscence when it comes to looking at naked women, even breastfeeding women, West is fooling himself and us. Now, in the case of breastfeeding women, one could say, "Well, get over it, bud. My baby's hungry." And in such a case, or in such a culture where breastfeeding is open, indeed a man should either avert his eyes or pray for the grace to overcome his concupiscence in this situation.


But look at the sly trick used at the end of the above quotations. Fr. Geiger is saying, "My libido is fallen and therefore I will avoid occasions where my libidio may lead me to sin and lead me to objectify women." West charges Fr. Geiger with doing exactly the opposite. He's saying that if Fr. Geiger averts his eyes so as not to lust, the priest is by that very act justifying "his lustful libido to the detriment of the object of that libido."


Huh?!? "I won't look at this naked woman because my heart may grow to lust after her, and I respect and love her too much to objectify her in such a way" becomes "I won't look at this naked woman so that I can objectify her with my lust."



Beware, my friends. Beware.



This is all touchy-feely 1970's nonsense that seeks to "normalize and even justify" "lustful libido" - precisely the things West accuses his critics - in this case, an ordained priest - of doing. I had my fill of it in the 70's. It begins with mutual back-rubs in acting class, with accusations that you're a prude if you're not comfortable with nudity, with the implication, eventually made explicit, that through promiscuous and even perverse sex we "grow" as "persons".


Now, I challenge my readers to examine the quoted passage above and fail to see how West is utterly inverting not only the case made by an ordained priest but also inverting the 2,000 year moral authority of the Church.

81 comments:

Deacon Jim Russell said...

"Now, I challenge my readers to examine the quoted passage above and fail to see how West is utterly inverting not only the case made by an ordained priest but also inverting the 2,000 year moral authority of the Church."

Well, Kevin, I respectfully accept the challenge.

1. The passage does not invert the 2,000 year moral authority of the Church.

2. The "case" made by the "ordained priest" (why is the fact that he is a priest important? West does not ID the source, just looks on the merits of the assertion made by the commenter) is not "inverted" per se, but is reasonably argued against and used as an illustration regarding a "created good" (a nursing mom) being objectified by an observer in whom resides the disordered appetite--the "location" of the concern should be the *observer* and not the nursing mom.

3. There is no "sly trick" here--respectfully, I think West, very clearly, is expressing the truth that the "locus" of lust is often times definitely not in the "object" but in the "subject"--a nursing mom is not where "lust" resides.

Kevin--may I focus a question on the "pole-dancer" silhouette you employ in a previous post--can you look at that without venial lust? (I ask seriously, because I find the illustration verrrry difficult to view without confronting disordered appetite.)

Do you wish to argue for the continued use of that image, or do you think it more prudent to scrub it, being that it is an objectification of woman?

God bless,

Jim R

Kevin O'Brien said...

The inverstion here, Deacon Jim, is at the end, where West argues that in practising custody of the eyes, the priest is in fact objectifying a woman and affirming his lust.

The silhouette remains, as it doesn't bother me. Maybe I've attained mature purity of libido! This is why I did not post an actual photo of a pole dancer - which would have been more problematic.

I do not, therefore, deny that the sin is in the heart of the beholder, not in the body itself. But I do indeed deny that averting one's eyes is an affront to the woman. It is just the opposite.

I also added a more recent post.

frangelo said...

Kevin, Thanks for this post.

Christopher West confuses something inherently capable of causing sexual arousal, namely a woman's naked breasts, which I was referring to, with the attribution of sexual motives to ostensibly non-sexual experiences. This misuse of terminology, in this case, "freudian," is the stock and trade of West.

Leave off for a moment, whether a woman breast-feeding should or should not be considered sexual for the average man. For West, if I suggest that it is spontaneous and normal for a man to be aroused by a woman's nakedness then I am freudian. At best, I think that is a stretch.

Notice, that I do not suggest that there is anything substantially wrong with male libido or with a man's reaction to a woman's body. The effects of original sin are not the key issue here. The question is whether it is pleasing to God for a man to be deliberately aroused in respect to the body of a woman who is not his wife.

By its very nature the "language of the body" irrespective of attempts to practice modesty, will leave men and women with an experience of pleasure that is at least liminally sexual. I am not suggesting that this is something that should be treated as evil in itself. Nor am I arguing that modesty is purely objective (relative to veiling of a woman's body), but West does argue that modesty is mostly subjective (relative to a man's intentions). He denies the obvious as a result of his ideology.

I do not argue that we go on a crusade against breast-feeding. But I do not believe that West has this all figured out and that he can judge the "maturity" of a person's sexual virtue or separate the prudes from the spiritually mature by analyzing their response to a beast-feeding woman.

If Puritanism very easily takes the form of an authoritarian ideology, this theologizing of a new dispensation attempts to produce cookie-cutter solutions to realities that are far too complex to unravel precisely because they are personal and they are spiritual.

Anonymous said...

"For years he has told a personal story of his own sexual transformation, of how he resolved a terrible temptation against chastity that he was experiencing during a time before the Blessed Sacrament by recalling all the pornographic images to which he had previously exposed himself and that he could still remember. He brought them up one by one and then asked the Lord to heal him of his twisted view of sexuality and to allow him to see the truth of the goodness of the body. When he was all done, he saw the Blessed Virgin Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus. He says at that moment he knew what he had always been looking for when he was using pornography.

"In his 1999 'Naked without Shame' tapes, he suggests that this might have been a mystical experience. I mention this, even though in his more recent presentations he may not refer to any mystical phenomena, because I think it is telling. In any case, the presentation of the story, done in West’s imitable style, lends a sense of authority to the ideas he is promoting. I will not pass judgment on his personal experience, but I will question its revelation and use to discourage prudery among the average faithful Catholic."

http://dawneden.blogspot.com/2009/06/virgo-redacta-christopher-west-and.html'

The Fathers of the East would call what happened to Christopher West in the chapel "prelest" (in Russian.)

No Spiritual Director would have a person recall pornographic images in one's mind in any kind of prayer. The Canons at St. Francis de Sales wouldn't mention lust by name in their sermons on the 7 Capital Sins to call attention to this all pervading sin.

Dr. Eric

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Kevin--I just don't see that West is saying that "custody of the eyes" is an act of "objectification of the woman."

Rather, West is saying that, when someone says that lusty libido is "just the way it is," they "normalize" or "justify" the lust as sort of the starting point, if you will, of all such activity, even such that the man will think that it's justifiable to have disordered lust satisfied in marital relations.

Do you see the distinction? This section of text makes no assertion whatever that custody of the eyes objectifies the woman. There is no inversion.

You must read fast--I can't keep up with your posts and haven't yet got my copy of the new book to see in toto. But I will catch up!

God bless,

Jim R

Kevin O'Brien said...

Deacon Jim,

I'll grant you West is ambiguous here. He's ambiguous everywhere.

I think, though, you and I would agree on this:

If a man is on a bus and sees a woman breastfeeding, he should

A) avert his eyes if seeing this provokes his lust

B) if he can not avert his eyes, he should pray for either an abatement of his lust or a transformation of it.

In no case, however, should a man say, "I will stare at this naked breast because not to do so would be a sign of sexual immaturity."

And that choice is one interpretation of what West is saying, an impression that he is not careful enough to avoid making.

And as Fr. Geiger points out in his comment above, the "language of the body" objectively produces arousal in certain situations - apart from original sin and its effects.

West seems to be implying that anything other than engaging these quite natural feelings (whether they remain mere arousals or pass into actual lust) is wrong. See my post on West confusing Puritanism with restraint. As Fr. Geiger says, a prudent avoidance of mere arousal is far from "Freudian".

frangelo said...

Deacon Jim Russell,

My comments on libido were taken out of context. I am not saying that libido is inherently wicked, nor am I saying that a sexual response to nakedness is inherently wicked. I am saying that such a response to a woman's naked breasts is plain old libido, and in and of itself there is nothing wrong with it.

But on the level of actual experience, there is original sin and there is the issue of whether we are talking about the language of the body simply speaking, or the conscious choice to nurture such a response in respect to the body of a woman that is not one's wife.

That a man has a sexual response to a woman's naked breasts is normal, that he nurtures such a response toward a woman not his wife is inappropriate.

When I say that there are certain kinds of exposure the average man ought to consider "inappropriate" I can appreciate how West, given his particular preoccupations, would accuse me of inferring that the woman is to blame. But the question here is not about blame at all. It is true that many men will confer an intentionality to the woman whom they find provocative when there may be no intention at all to provoke. But that also is not the issue. A man could find the purest and virgin provocative in the right circumstances. It is not about blame.

Modesty is not purely subjective. It is also objective. That a man responds sexually to a woman's nakedness is normal and not essentially a function of lust. But this experience in actuality cannot be extracted from the effects of original sin or be considered apart from the issue of whether the woman is one's spouse or not.

If you say that virtuous men should have no sexual response relative to a woman's nakedness unless they will to do so, and then only in respect to their wives, then I say that the vast majority of men, including the vast majority of chaste men will simply laugh.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Deacon Jim, having re-read West's quote, I see your point.

Fr. Geiger is arguing that male libido is not necessarily sinful, but that in any event it doesn't take much to trigger it.

West is saying that male libido is inextricably bound up with concupiscence, and therefore it is incumbent upon men to ask God to redeem or transform it.

It is elsewhere that West suggests how this transformation is to take place - by engaging in situations that provoke this libido.

And whether Fr. Geiger or West is right in their analysis of sexual arousal, what I object to is West's counsel to men and women: engage your libidio in provocative situations that its concupiscence might be redeemed. Do not avert your eyes, for that is Puritanical and part of the world view that "normalizes" lust.

This line of reasoning is plainly absurd, and quite dangerous.

Anonymous said...

Note that here West is the true Manichean, as he accuses any viewing of a woman's nakedness as lustful.

It seems to me that Father Angelo is contended that such an event can lead to lust, which is the real error.

Anonymous said...

West's assault on Father Angelo, a priest, disgusts me. How on Earth can his supporters allow him to repeatedly accuse a Catholic priest as being willingly and actively lustful and be okay with it?

Kevin O'Brien said...

I'm starting to see where the miscommunication is in these comments and with West.

I re-read West's quote in the post again and came up with this ...

1. West says Fr. Geiger is wrong to see breast feeding "through any other lens but concupiscence", with West thereby implying that one may gaze on naked flesh without concupiscence being engaged.

2. West contradicts himself at the same time by saying that "plain old male libido" is "dark and riddled with selfishness, with lust," thereby implying that one may not gaze on naked flesh without concupiscence being engaged.

3. West goes on to say that this is what's wrong with guys who simply accept lust as normative and then go on to objectify even their wives with their lust.

None of this is rational, as 1 and 2 contradict one another and 3 does not follow from either 1 or 2.

The problem is West does not directly attack Fr. Geiger in so many words (other than with the bizarre and unexplained "Freudian" moniker).

He uses Fr. Geiger as a springboard to attack a straw man who's a bit of a wife beater and who's never read JP2.

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim: "Kevin--I just don't see that West is saying that "custody of the eyes" is an act of "objectification of the woman."

Au contraire, that is exactly what he implies and what his followers come away with. I refer you again to my blog, specifically the letter to Cardinal Rigali, Attachment #4. Lauretta, who has listened to West over 100 times, says the following: "It seems to me that the whole custody of the eyes – at least looking away – is tending to keep the woman or girl at the level of object. If you turn away are you not denying her personhood and acknowledging that she is an object to be feared?"

That attachment is an "eye-opener" (pun originally not intended because my eyes didn't "catch" it at first - another pun not originally intended). I wish it had "opened the eyes" of the Cardinal.

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim: "A 'created good' (a nursing mom) being objectified by an observer in whom resides the disordered appetite".

And because the appetite is disordered, as it is in fallen man (and always will be in this life), there will always be a need for modesty in dress. To argue otherwise would lead to the heresy of Christian naturism - which actually is exactly what the implications of West's teaching ends up. Please see Attachment #1 in my letter to Cardinal Rigali - that is exactly where James J. Simons, who has listened to West over 100 times, has ended up. And Terri Kimmel and Lauretta both ended up defending his position.

Therefore, when you say: "The 'location' of the concern should be the *observer* and not the nursing mom", you are wrong. The location of concern should be *both*, even though West, due to his belief that "mature purity" enables man to look upon women in any state of dress with the "pure gaze", would say the onus is completely on the man.

"There is no 'sly trick' here". Maybe not intentionally, but he often does give "lip service" to the Catholic teaching while taking the substance out of it. Once again, see my letter to Cardinal Rigali.

Wade St. Onge said...

With regards to the pole dancer, I agree with you, Deacon Jim - Kevin should remove the image. I find it a temptation to lust when viewing it, and I find I "avert my gaze". West would say that is because I have not achieved "mature purity". The problem with that is that no Saint, Doctor, or Father in the history of the Church would agree with him.

Wade St. Onge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deacon Jim Russell said...

Dear Fr. Angelo--you wrote:

"My comments on libido were taken out of context. I am not saying that libido is inherently wicked, nor am I saying that a sexual response to nakedness is inherently wicked. I am saying that such a response to a woman's naked breasts is plain old libido, and in and of itself there is nothing wrong with it."

I think I understand part of the confusion and why you believe you were taken out of context. Correct me if I'm wrong, but are your comments intended to be directed toward sexual response at its *biological* or physical level? It seems that perhaps that is your point.

But plese note that the term "libido" is indeed not merely a physical or biological term--it originates exactly with Freud himself and with psychoanalysis.

As such, even though you appear not to have meant it in its "Freudian" context, that's how West perceived it, I'd suggest, based on how he argued against your comment. And in its Freudian context libido is far from a morally neutral and merely biological (akin to "arousal") concept, right?

So, as I see it, West shouldn't be taken to task for making an anti-Freudian argument against your comment which he took to be a Freudian argument based on your use of a Freudian term--libido.

Part of the miscommunication seems to have to do with the use of that term, as I see it.

Hope this helps.

Deacon Jim R

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Hi, Wade--saw your comments and just want to suggest that there is a danger in using quotes that are not from West himself (but from those who study him) to determine what West is really after.

Having said that, though, my first thought regarding Lauretta's "custody of the eyes" comment is that I don't think it is intended in any "absolute" sense that negates the use of "custody of the eyes" for those who *should* use it.

But, supposing it is an "absolute" statement, in one sense, she is correct--one who averts eyes does so with a certain fear of objectification of a "subject" (the person observed).

Just as we would both agree that the silhouetted pole dancer is *not* something we should be looking at, it's largely because viewing raises within us a fear of objectifying woman.

I don't want to spend a lot time analyzing quotes from West's students, frankly, (as I'm interested in West himself) but this much occurs to me.

Another interesting point to ponder is the "WWJD" factor--in any sense does Jesus "look away" from us in our nakedness? In our imitation of Christ, do we have the ultimate goal of "seeing rightly" such that it is at least *possible* for us someday at some time to not have to rely on custody of the eyes in certain encounters?

I think back to John 8 and wonder how the woman caught in the act of adultery was thrust before the people--fully clothed or perhaps not? If not, I'd suggest that maybe John 8 shows Jesus engaging in *both* an initial "custody of the eyes" (when he goes to the ground to draw/write while possibly others around are staring lustfully at the woman) and an eventually looking at her "rightly" when the two are left alone and he lovingly tells her to sin no more.

Just a thought that mabye Jesus gives example of both in their proper context.

God bless,

Jim R

dcs said...

I don't think that Fr. Angelo is imputing bad motives to the breastfeeding woman as West claims in his response. So I assert that this particular response of West to one of his critics is not a response at all.

Does West really not cite the source? Or is the source cited elsewhere?

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim: "I just want to suggest that there is a danger in using quotes that are not from West himself (but from those who study him) to determine what West is really after."

I disagree. Deacon Jim, answer me this: how do 4 people who have listened to West dozens of times (Lauretta, James J. Simons, Terri Kimmel, and Chip Awalt) come away with the exact same understandings? How does that happen unless West is teaching it or if that is the logical conclusions and implications of his teaching?

...

Deacon Jim: "Having said that, though, my first thought regarding Lauretta's 'custody of the eyes' comment is that I don't think it is intended in any 'absolute' sense that negates the use of 'custody of the eyes' for those who *should* use it".

You seem to be arguing West's position: namely, that custody of the eyes is simply a "negative" response for those who have not yet attained "mature purity".

...

Deacon Jim: "I don't want to spend a lot time analyzing quotes from West's students, frankly, (as I'm interested in West himself)"

Then read Theology of the Body Explained, Pages 169-172, and you'll see West saying exactly what Lauretta was saying.

...

Deacon Jim: "Does Jesus 'look away' from us in our nakedness? In our imitation of Christ, do we have the ultimate goal of 'seeing rightly' such that it is at least *possible* for us someday at some time to not have to rely on custody of the eyes in certain encounters?"

Did Jesus practice custody of the eyes around scantily clad women? Yes, he probably did. Why? Because the saints practiced it, and the Saints imitated Christ.

...

Deacon Jim: "I think back to John 8 and wonder how the woman caught in the act of adultery was thrust before the people--fully clothed or perhaps not?"

The only time I've ever heard it suggested that the woman caught in adultery was naked was from a disciple of West.

I can see in your post, Deacon Jim, the influence of West's theology. You speak much the same as Lauretta, Terri Kimmel, Chip Awalt, and James J. Simons (whose article and the critical responses following I encourage you to read, if nothing else).

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Hi, Wade--I will do my best to reply to you in the detail your comments deserve. I will also defer to Kevin if he thinks the "weight" of our exchange may get too lengthy for comboxing--we could take this to private e-mail at some point if that's preferable, though I like the idea of people being able to (hopefully) benefit from further public conversation.


God bless, and more in a little while!

Deacon Jim R.

Wade St. Onge said...

Sounds good, Deacon Jim.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Deacon Jim, I don't think Fr. Geiger used the term "libido" in his original post from which West was quoting.

At any rate, I believe "libido" is indeed morally neutral for Freud. For Freud, the term meant sexual drive, and it was sublminated into nearly everything we did in life. Jung, on the other hand, asserted that "libido" was simply psychic energy, or impulse or attraction to any thing, a force which included sexual desire, but was more than just that.

Fr. Geiger's view of "Language of the Body" is a much more inclusive concept than mere sexual desire, though his point here seems to be that sexual desire in and of itself is not necessarily sinful.

Kevin O'Brien said...

DCS, this quote is from a footnote to West's book, and he does not cite the source.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Kevin--Fr. does use the term:

"I have been a guy for my whole life and a priest for more than sixteen years. I know well enough how men think. Women can pooh-pooh this all they want, but there is really nothing more complicated, sub-conscious or deep and dark about it than plain old male libido."

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Kevin--I think you're right that for Freud "libido" is morally neutral--but that's part of West's point, I think. A Catholic really can't say "plain old male libido" (in Freudian context) and say it's morally neutral.

Fr. seemed to be arguing less from psychoanalysis and more from man's physical/biological makeup, but the use of the term "libido" is a bit of a game-changer and is, I think, why West proposed an anti-Freudian argument to the comment.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Deacon Jim, I think the conversation between you and Wade is very much on point and quite interesting. I encourage you both to continue it here.

Let me say that (whether He did or not) Jesus would not have had to avert his eyes from a naked woman becaus Jesus was without both sin and the inclination to sin (concupiscence). I know of know saint on earth who had the same nature, our Blessed Mother excepted. This is why, while under certain conditions (love making between spouses) we must engage our sexual desire, in almost all other conditions in life it is quite foolish deliberately to engage it, for obvious reasons. If God's grace will sanctify our libidos, praise God! But that is an issue for married people only. For others, sublimation or avoidance is the only way.

But aside from Jesus and Mary, all saints have been very clear-headed on this score, knowing that you just don't mess with sex. For example, when the prostitute entered the cell of St. Thomas Aquinas, he did not engage her in a discussion. He grabbed a torch and chased her out.

Really the quotation I began all of this with at my original post sums it up. "All healthy men, ancient and modern, know there is a certain fury in sex that we cannot afford to inflame, and that a certain mystery and awe must ever surround it if we are to remain sane.”

Anyway, feel free to keep the discussion moving.

Sam Schmitt said...

I simply don't see West saying or even implying that we shold embrace near occasions of sin. He does not advocate looking at pornography.

He's asking how do we overcome the lust that is fed by porn? There are two possibilities: (1) Bury this lust, supress it, refuse to confront it, but simply reject it, or (2) struggle to redeem it, to transform it, to redeem it.

Now, your objection seems to be that (2) is nonsense - there is nothing to be redeemed in lust. This seems to be the crux of the issue.

Lust, West says, is twisted desire. But the original desire is not evil, only the twisting of it. He is not advocating giving in to the twisted desire, and he recognizes that this side of the Fall, we will never be free of concupiscence. However, he thinks that (1) above ultimately creates more problems than it solves because it just buries the desire instead of dealing with it.

It also, if in a subtle way, makes the point that our sexual desire is somehow "bad," since the solution to it is to supress and deny it. You seem to take West's point here as tantamount to denying concupiscence or advocating giving into our sexual desires when they present themslves, since they are "good." This certainly does not follow.

Let's take another sin, pride. Pride is defined as the disordered desire for our own excellence. Now, we should desire our own excellence - God certainly does. The sin of pride does not consists in this, but in the disordered desire for the same. The underlying desire is good.

The remedy for pride does not lie in giving up on ourselves, in being resigned to our own defects and sins and thinking we will never be any better, as if this were some kind of "humility." This, in fact, is a subtle form of pride.

Now of course, it can be fiendishly difficult to tell the difference between these two attitudes - the disordered aspect of our desire for excellence can be a very tricky thing. But one can be proud by being falsely humble as much as in being arrogant.

West, I believe is trying to do a similar analysis of lust, which is even trickier than pride. He asserts that sexual desire is good, just like the desire for our own excellence is at base good, even though it can be almost impossible to separate the good from the disorder.

The redemption of a proud and arrogant person does not lie in his becooming a doormat, but in chanelling that drive for excellence, disordered in his pride, to the glory of God. Look at St. Paul. God transformed the zeal he had for the law (which was basically pride) into zeal for his glory.

I do not see West saying that men should stare at naked women. He knows that this can excite lust, which is not good. However, his point is - what can be done about this? If we simply "give up" and resign ourselves to "plain old male libido," this is like the proud man who has given up on the pursuit of excellence in the name of "humility." West says that the ideal is for a man to pursue excellence humbly - anything else falls short.

It is in this way that he is taking Fr. Geiger to task - not for averting his eyes from the woman, but for seeing the solution to his lust in simply "not looking." One must go deeper than this if one is to really "untwist" the desire. Part of the good news of TOB is that we can begin on this road, though we will not get to the end of it until heaven.

I have heard many tapes by West where he goes out of his way to make clear that we will not oversome lust completely, we will not be fully redeemed until heaven. But we must have the hope that we can move in that direction in this life, and not simply resign ourselves to thinking we will always be overcome by our lusts.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Hi, Wade—you wrote: “You seem to be arguing West's position: namely, that custody of the eyes is simply a "negative" response for those who have not yet attained "mature purity".”

Wade, I think that, objectively speaking, “custody of the eyes” is a “negative” response (not negative as in “bad” because it is the *proper* and good response when one fears loss of control). Think of it as analogous to the distinction between imperfect and perfect contrition. “Imperfect” contrition—sorrow for sin arising from fear of eternal punishment for it—is totally sufficient for a valid Confession. It’s a totally useful, helpful, and necessary aspect of the Sacrament. But *perfect* contrition—sorrow for sin arising from pure love of God—is even better and *more* than sufficient so to speak for the Sacrament of Confession.
Likewise, I see West and his students saying that “mature purity” is akin to perfect contrition. For those who can attain it, it’s great. In this sense it’s “positive” whereas “custody of the eyes” is “negative”. Custody of the eyes arises from the fear of sin (just as imperfect contrition arises from the fear of hell, let’s say). “Mature purity” is then the “positive” of that negative—it arises from response to grace and love of God.

You wrote:
“Then read Theology of the Body Explained, Pages 169-172, and you'll see West saying exactly what Lauretta was saying.”
I have the revised edition of TOB Explained and looked there—right edition? I didn’t see a problem in those pages…

You wrote: “Did Jesus practice custody of the eyes around scantily clad women? Yes, he probably did. Why? Because the saints practiced it, and the Saints imitated Christ.”

While I agree that Jesus *would* in certain circumstances practice custody of the eyes, I’d see your assertion as somewhat backwards, since we can’t always deduce WWJD from the saints (e.g., self-mortification on the part of the Saints doesn’t mean that Jesus practices fleshly self-mortification, since He was not concupiscent and they were, right?)

You wrote: “The only time I've ever heard it suggested that the woman caught in adultery was naked was from a disciple of West.”

My suggestion was “fully clothed or perhaps not?” The context of the pericope is what raises the question—we’re told she was caught in the “very act” of adultery and then brought to Jesus. Whether (re-)clothed or not, Jesus’ peculiar response—looking to the ground to draw/write—seems a potential act of custody of the eyes.

But, Wade, let me ask your opinion—does Jesus “need” to practice custody of the eyes any more than He “needs” to practice self-mortification? A “full” imitation of Christ is, therefore, the pursuit of grace such that we can see all others with the “eyes of Christ”—this pursuit is a lifelong project, of course, and probably most of us will remain in need of custody of the eyes and many or most times when confronted by certain situations.

You wrote: “I can see in your post, Deacon Jim, the influence of West's theology. You speak much the same as Lauretta, Terri Kimmel, Chip Awalt, and James J. Simons (whose article and the critical responses following I encourage you to read, if nothing else).”

I’m extrapolating more from my root reaction to Aquinas than from West. And more from the “objections to West” than from West directly. Trying to grasp hold of whatever theological inconsistency you might be seeing, but I can’t yet see it….

What I think is true at this point is that, foundationally, West has always been on solid theological ground, but “presentationally” so to speak he tried to oversell the “mature purity” concept. But, I think recent evidence suggests he should be given a charitable benefit of the doubt regarding his present and future apostolate.

God bless,

Deacon Jim Russell

Anonymous said...

So it seems that Jim is suggesting that we too can become divine in this lifetime. How unique. I think I have heard of something like this before. Something about an apple and a garden.

Still no word on whether Jim feels bad about West's trashing of a Catholic priest. I guess if it is beneficial to his agenda, anything is permissible.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Thank you, Sam, for a very lucid comment.

I agree that this is what West is saying on the surface. But there are implications in this teaching that his followers pick up on and follow to their detriment (see Wade St. Onge's comments and his blog) and there are problematic areas where West is less than kosher.

In fact, the whole technique of "behold! the naked body!" is bunk. This is not a technique for redeeming lust, but for rationalizing it.

I mean, everything you (and West) say I would concur with except that nasty little implication that avoiding occasions of sin is less noble than jumping in with both feet and hoping God redeems you.

And indeed, Sam, we do want God to redeem our sexual desire from lust. But when should a man engage his sexual desire in the hope that it will be redeemed? Only when married. West is never clear on this. West himself in his Q & A's looks at the girls in his audience and says to them as they ask him questions, "You are beautiful. I can see God's glory in you." Sam, this is a tawdry pick-up line.

See my post "West Contradcits Bl. John Paul II". JP is very clear that there are strict limits that we must honor regarding sex, and it is these limits that West in his otherwise orthodox presentation blurs and fudges.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Deacon Jim, you write 'What I think is true at this point is that, foundationally, West has always been on solid theological ground, but “presentationally” so to speak he tried to oversell the “mature purity” concept. But, I think recent evidence suggests he should be given a charitable benefit of the doubt regarding his present and future apostolate.'

On the contrary. Recent evidence makes me more concerned.

I would say his presentation indicates a mistake in his theology - the presentation is not cut off from the theology. The over-sell is not just rhetorical but foundational. But either way, whether I'm right or you are, I would like West to articulate this better.

Most specifically, he should address when a man is called to engage his sexual desire. We all agree that sexual desire should be redeemed of lust. But should a man engage his sexual desire in any occasions other than with his wife? West is very vague on this.

Also, I think both you and West are tending to "immanentize the eschaton". No saint on this earth, regardless of how much he or she cooperates with God's grace, is sanctified to the point of Jesus or Mary. West implies that one can be sanctified on earth to such an extent that one can engage one's sexual desire with "mature purity" even outside the marital act. He implies this in his presentations, it appears to be a core mistake in his underlying theology, and judging from the firestorm of concern from a variety of theologians in recent years, it would appear that it is incumbent upon West to clarify this.

But he has not.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Dear Anonymous--you wrote:

"So it seems that Jim is suggesting that we too can become divine in this lifetime. How unique. I think I have heard of something like this before. Something about an apple and a garden."

Are you suggesting that you do not "partake of the divine nature"? Ah, well, in any case, let me be clear--in this life we become "divinized" (to the extent we respond to God's grace) to quote an esteemed late professor of mine. As I said before, this is a "project" that reaches finality only when we die. There's all sorts of temptation and potential for being "un-divinized" as well.

Do you believe God gives each soul sufficient grace not only for salvation but also sufficient grace to avoid choosing sin?

Anonymous, you wrote: "Still no word on whether Jim feels bad about West's trashing of a Catholic priest. I guess if it is beneficial to his agenda, anything is permissible."

Well, I do actually feel bad about the miscommunication that obviously exists in that situation--I've done what I could to express why I think it occurred.

God bless you, Anonymous. Hope you find dialogue fruitful.

Deacon Jim Russell

frangelo said...

Deacon Jim Russell @ February 6, 2012 5:11 AM

Fair point, but libido also means simply "sex drive," which is indicated by my complete sentence, quoted in toto by West:

"I have been a guy for my whole life and a priest for more than sixteen years. I know well enough how men think. Women can pooh-pooh this all they want, but there is really nothing more complicated, sub-conscious or deep and dark about it than plain old male libido."

What is unclear about "there is really nothing more complicated, sub-conscious or deep and dark about it"? It seems to me that I am pretty clearly denying anything freudian. In fact, it is my point that it is perfectly normal for a man to be aroused by a woman's nakedness. How is that subscribing sexual motives to a non-sexual experience?

Notice also that my commentary overall is about the men's reaction, not the about the women's action. I don't imply anything in fact about the woman's motive, only that objective exposure provokes a reaction in men. That is all.

Furthermore, there is the larger context of the post from which the section West quotes is taken. That is important as well. Kevin links to it in the body of the post.

Does West think that every experience of male arousal is a function of Freudian libido? Is he saying that such experience is inherently selfish? Is a chaste man supposed to become aroused in respect to his wife only when he wills to do so, as a matter of pure choice?

As for whether I am speaking of sexual response as a biological reaction, remember that the integrity of human nature prior to the fall was a preternatural gift, not simply a function of unfallen nature. Either before or after the fall, such responses are never purely biological. They are complex. But I am certainly not inferring that there is anything wrong or inherently lustful about a sexual response in a man to a woman's sexuality.

If I am wrong and the elect are supposed to have no sexual responses to nakedness unless they will to do so, why don't the elect just practice nudism in as an expression of embracing the Theology of the Body? Is that what West is implying they ought to do?

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Dear Fr.--

Here are some things that I think are clear in what West says in his footnote on your comment:

1. He perceives your comment to lean in a Freudian direction.
2. He interprets your comment to be in reference to arousal/libido as a manifestation of disordered appetite (concupiscence).

Based on your clarification, that's inaccurate, as you are speaking of something that you see as "non-concupiscent"--something that is a result of *nature* but not "wounded nature", correct?

This actually illustrates well the challenge of "implication" versus "inference"--West "infers" concupiscent "libido", but you do not "imply" it.

So, Fr., I'm not trying to say West fully understood you, but to the extent that he viewed concupiscence as being part of your understanding of "libido," his counterargument is sound.

But your clarifications raise another potentially provocative but important question to ask:

Insofar as you seem to assert that sexual arousal is a consequence of *nature* rather than "wounded nature," what would you assert relative to Adam and Eve before the fall--they were "naked and without shame", right?

So, before the fall, I ask seriously, if nudity causes sexual arousal apart from concupiscence, are you saying that naked Adam and Eve both coexisted in a near-constant state of sexual arousal, kept in check by their gift integrity?

I hope you see my point--and maybe why West didn't quite 'get' the argument you were making. It's really hard, for me as well, to think our being sexually aroused exists *apart* from concupiscence.

Keeping in mind that concupiscence is NOT sin itself, but "inclination" to sin, I think the more acceptable answer to the Adam/Eve thing is that the gift of integrity is what *keeps* one from getting sexually aroused at the sight of someone naked. And it's the disorder of concupiscence that actually *allows* sexual arousal to come over us without willing it when now, after the fall, we encounter nudity.

In this view, then, West is quite correct is presuming the presence of concupiscence in your original example, as it would seem fundamental to the Catholic view of nature and wounded nature.

God bless,

Deacon Jim Russell

Anonymous said...

Jim believes that he can totally overcome sin in this life.

Jim believes he can become divine in this life.

Jim, you are a heretic.

And your refusal to disavow West's nasty comments about Father Angelo makes you a weak excuse for a man.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Kevin, I know you may consider removing "anonymous's" latest post, but I don't mind addressing it:

Anonymous says: "Jim believes that he can totally overcome sin in this life."

Jim says: You don't have to talk about Jim as though he's not here. He is. He says, "no, I do not believe I can totally overcome sin in this life, because I've already proven that I cannot."

Anonymous says: "Jim believes he can become divine in this life."

Jim says: Jim believes he can "partake of the divine nature" in this life.

Anonymous says: "Jim, you are a heretic."

Jim says: Why does that remind me so much of Star Trek's Dr. McCoy? Anonymous, if you *are* Dr. McCoy, please remember that the correct line in the script is "Daxxxit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a heretic!"

Anonymous says: "And your refusal to disavow West's nasty comments about Father Angelo makes you a weak excuse for a man."

Jim says: Actually lots of *other* things make me a weak excuse for a man, but that ain't one of them...

Seriously, Anon, we don't have to be personally antagonistic--just offer a charitable contribution to the conversation as others are doing. I will be glad to reply.

God bless,

Deacon Jim Russell

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Dear Anonymous--thank you for being especially attentive to my contributions in the comboxes.

God bless,

Deacon Jim Russell

Kevin O'Brien said...

Deacon Jim, when you say that you believe you can "partake of the divine nature" in this life, what do you mean?

Do you mean that grace is a foretaste of heaven and that baptism has remade us as adopted sons of Christ? Or do you mean you are or can be "divinized" and can reach a level of "mature purity" that enables you freely to look at naked women who are not your wife?

This appropriation of the Divine Nature is where West fudges. It becomes for him and his supporters an excuse. In West's worldview the Divine Nature of which we partake makes us elite and illumined and licensed to do things the lowly unredeemed would call "sins".

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Kevin: "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature."

2 Peter 1:3-4

Grace is the sharing of the divine life--grace alone saves us and is the means by which we "escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion."

Kevin, in your last post you mention that West gives "license" to commit sin--which sins do you think West permits?

God bless,

Jim R

Deacon Jim Russell said...

BTW, Kevin--proof that God does have a sense of humor:

I just opened for the first time to the first Chapter of West's new book and there already in the third paragraph--"partakers of the divine nature"...

Anonymous is apparently right; I must be a Westian and just didn't know it!

Jim R

jvc said...

Deacon Jim,

Don't be shy. Tell us how the quote from Peter directly relates. Tell us how it means that we can completely overcome concupiscence. Tell us how it means we can overcome it in this lifetime.

And then be sure to tell us how we will know that we have overcome it and what it will permit us to do, and how in our enlightened states we will know what we may now do. Show your work!

Deacon Jim Russell said...

JVC writes: "Don't be shy. Tell us how the quote from Peter directly relates. Tell us how it means that we can completely overcome concupiscence. Tell us how it means we can overcome it in this lifetime."

Hi, JVC--actually I am rather shy, but didn't think it showed in the umpteen comments I've already made! The passage from 2 Peter is the source of the phrase "partakers of the divine nature" which is what we do when we respond and act according to the grace God gives us. Since that grace is never lacking we always have the opportunity to "overcome concupiscence" when temptation comes via our disordered appetites. But who said anything about "completely" overcoming it? West doesn't. But can a virtuous person habitually responding to God's grace "fetter" concupiscence on a consistent basis? Based on my reading of *Aquinas*--not West--I would say so. Based on my reading of Aquinas and understanding of West, I think both concur that this is a lifetime project.

Hope this helps, and God bless you,

Deacon Jim Russell

Wade St. Onge said...

Sam Schmitt, please read the link found under Attachment #1 and read Attachment #4 of my letter to Cardinal Rigali, which can be found on my blog. You will see there that West is indeed teaching what you say he is not.

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim,

What I meant by saying West believes "custody of the eyes" is a "negative response" is that he believes it to be only the "first step" on the path to holiness. The "final goal" is that we no longer have to practice "custody of the eyes" because we can look upon a naked woman and not lust. This is a dangerous teaching and one that is contrary to the Catholic Tradition.

....

Deacon Jim: "I see West and his students saying that 'mature purity' is akin to perfect contrition. For those who can attain it, it’s great'".

Let me ask you this: for those who attain it, would it be appropriate for them to visit nude beaches? And when they see a scantily clad stripper or escort pass by, should they seek to look upon her with love or should they look away just in case lust rises up in their hearts?

Once again, Deacon Jim, you should really read the Simons article. These issues you now raise have already been dealt with in the second round of the Theology of the Body debate that took place after Dawn Eden published her thesis.

.....

As for the quotation from TOB Explained, I think I was citing from the original edition. It is the section that surrounds and includes the story of the two bishops, whatever pages that might be in the revised edition.

....

Jesus was subject to temptation. Are you saying Jesus did not practice mortification? He fasted for 40 days and nights.

And I think the Saints are a much better guide for "WWJD". I just gave a talk on this. I said that if you ask two different people "WWJD?", you often get two different answers. I said the solution is to look at the lives of the Saints. Scripture doesn't say "imitate Christ" but rather "imitate the Saints as they imitate Christ" (1Corinthians 11:1). Jesus never experienced a difficult pregnancy in which he was told they either had to save his life or the life of the child, but St. Gianna did.

....

Deacon Jim, you are a bit "behind the eight ball" because you were not involved in the second round of these debates. There we established that in certain circumstances, such as a doctor treating a patient, God gives the grace to overcome lustful urges when looking at the naked body.

....

Jesus, as fully human, needed to practice custody of the eyes and mortification.

....

Deacon Jim: "I’m extrapolating more from my root reaction to Aquinas than from West."

I know for a fact that there must be some good Dominican scholars in St. Louis (I used to study at Kenrick). It would be interesting if you could round one up and we could ask him/them to evaluate West's teaching in light of Thomas.

....

Deacon Jim: "What I think is true at this point is that, foundationally, West has always been on solid theological ground, but 'presentationally' so to speak he tried to oversell the 'mature purity' concept."

That is what I used to think until I got into it. Please see the letter to Cardinal Rigali regarding the theological argument between West and Dr. Hahn.

....

Deacon Jim: "But, I think recent evidence suggests he should be given a charitable benefit of the doubt regarding his present and future apostolate".

Only if he comes out and clarifies his teaching and corrects his misguided followers, which critics have been asking him to do for close to 3 years now. Until he does, he does not deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Dear Fr. Angelo (and anyone else who might care to comment):

I think the most salient point of the day, relative to your concerns over West's taking your comments out of context, has to do with whether concupiscence, from a Catholic perspective, is actually the *cause* of any un-willed sexual arousal found in human nature (see my Adam/Eve question above).

If indeed the Catholic view of human nature is that un-willed sexual arousal is not merely a biological phenomenon but a result of disordered appetite, then wouldn't West be correct in replying the way he did to your comments?

God bless,

Deacon Jim Russell

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim,

I noticed you failed to answer a couple questions. In the second round of these debates, West's supporters did the same, and so I would re-ask the questions until they were answered.

Question #1: "How do 4 people who have listened to West dozens of times (Lauretta, James J. Simons, Terri Kimmel, and Chip Awalt) come away with the exact same understandings? How does that happen unless West is teaching it or if that is the logical conclusions and implications of his teaching?"

....

Question #2: "Do you mean that grace is a foretaste of heaven and that baptism has remade us as adopted sons of Christ? Or do you mean you are or can be 'divinized' and can reach a level of 'mature purity' that enables you freely to look at naked women who are not your wife?"

Kevin O'Brien said...

Deacon Jim, are you really arguing from Summa iii 27 that the "fettering" of concupiscence in the case of the Blessed Virgin - a singular grace of God - is attainable by your or me in this lifetime?

You said your reading of Aquinas and not West leads you to hold that concupisence can be, for all practical purposes, overcome by fallen men during the course of their mortal lives. Surely there must be more in Aquinas than what amounts to his speculation on an utterly unique event in history - the Immaculate Conception.

Where else, then, does Aquinas imply that sanctification involves the complete fettering of concupiscence, the special case of the Virgin aside, for whom this "fettering" (if indeed that term fits) was a wholly singular gift.

Also, I understand the orthodoxy of your claim that we are partakers in the Divine Nature. I have no beef with that. I was asking what you understood that to mean - specifically, does that mean that the Divine Will overtakes our will so that we become either unable to sin or immune to the tempations brought about during near occasions of sin? Wade repeated my question above, and that's one of the ones you didn't answer.

Yes, we are partakers in the Divine Nature - but what does that mean (according to you) in regard to the issues we're discussing?

jvc said...

Deacon Jim writes: "But who said anything about "completely" overcoming it?"

Previous Deacon Jim...

Deacon Jim: "I see West and his students saying that 'mature purity' is akin to perfect contrition. For those who can attain it, it’s great'".

This is talking out of both sides of your mouth.

This is a cronic problem with Westians. Make an overstatement and then peal back to claim that West is just stating regular old established doctrine.

Please enlightened us unwashed masses about how we may too attain mature purity so as to see breasts and not have an occasion of sin.

Has West achieved this? Have you achieved this? Is there any Saint you can mention who has achieved this? How did they accomplish such a task?

frangelo said...

Deacon Jim @ February 6, 2012 10:43 AM

Deacon,

You follow me pretty well. I would just reiterate that I am not suggesting that sexual arousal can be considered apart of the issue of concupiscence in the actual experience, but disordered concupiscence is not the constitutive explanation for sexual desire. If it was, then all sexual desire would be in se disordered. But we all know, or at least should know that this is not the case.

I am simply saying that arousal in the presence of nakedness or even the subtle excitement of sexual desire is not in itself an in se disordered response simply because it is a sexual response to physical stimuli. I don't think this is rocket science.

Do you think that all sexual desire and pleasure is in itself disordered simply because it is sexual desire and pleasure? Do you think that a truly virtuous man should find no pleasure or desire in the apprehension of a woman's sexual values because such pleasure and desire is per se disordered qua sexual pleasure and desire? Do you believe that a man will only find such pleasure in the apprehension of such values either a) a because he is virtuous and he only experiences such pleasure in regard to his wife and then only because he wills to do so, or b) because he concedes to disordered concupiscence.

In my own estimation, such an experience would not in any way exclude the influence of concupiscence, but it would almost never if at all occur simply because a man willed it to happen. (What you suggest in reference to Adam and Eve before the fall, may be the exception).

So why am I to be blamed for insisting that there is an objective component to modesty which has nothing to do with the intentions of either the man or the woman?

The ironic thing here is that West's crusade against prudery and Manichaeism is in se a defense of sexual pleasure and desire. However much West argues that his defense of the language of the body extends well beyond raw sexuality, which in fact it does, he nevertheless argues for a holy preoccupation with the body precisely for its sexual values, because sex, considered both as the differentiation of male and female as well as the conjugal act are theological signs. He is fascinated with the body precisely because it is capable of the conjugal union and because the concomitant desire and pleasure which points to desire for God and union with Him. Indeed the body is a holy thing. Sex and sexuality are holy things.

I would like to know how we are to have such a fascination with the body, particularly in respect to members of the opposite sex to whom we are not married without experiencing disordered affections.

We have natural desires which in and of themselves are fine and normal, but which we almost never, if at all, experience without the influence of concupiscence. And even when we have the highest conceivable dominion over concupiscence, we do not have such control so as to render the natural desire null and void. Hence the veiling of the body in a reasonable manner is simply consistent with reality.

I understand what prudery is. I have no problem with the fact that women breastfeed. I have seen disordered reactions in this regard. I am not advocating promulgating all kinds of rules about modesty. But I am totally against pretending that modesty is mostly if not almost entirely subjective. This is plain nonsense.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Kevin--the principle that "concupiscence is not repressed except by grace" is found in the Summa, Supplement, Question 42, Article 3.

One illustration of that principle is the exceptional case Aquinas references regarding Mary.

I have at some point already asserted that I don't believe (nor do I think West believes) that the concept of "mature purity" involves some sort of static existence in which one has definitively risen "above" the experience of disordered appetites.

A parallel here is the "once saved always saved" argument--there is no such equivalent regarding concupiscence.

Rather, I believe West's approach is one that is along the lines of growth in holiness according to developing good habits and virtues, which *predisposes* one to continue growth in holiness and virtue, provided one continues responding to the grace God gives to do so.

But this is by no means an abolition of concupiscence as our wounded human nature persists with disordered appetites. Rather, grace "represses" or "fetters" (to use Aquinas' terms) concupiscence.

Consider a saint whose virtue is in a particular area--say "prudence". The saint is known to have responded to God's grace and developed a "habit" of virtue in this area.

We wouldn't consider challenging this saint by saying something like "Do you *really* think you've completely overcome recklessness by your pursuit of habitual prudence? Don't you know you could still fall at any time?" That would sound absurd.

The critique of West's assertions regarding "mature purity" seem similar to me. West would seem to want people to seek the virtue of "mature purity" by making it a habit, but this in no way means that, "once maturely pure, always maturely pure."

That's how I see it anyway. Theologically his view seems on target and does not go into the realm of anything quasi-gnostic, unless one sees the pursuit of (and attempt to maintain) virtuous habits as being a gnostic thing.

I know you and Wade are asking for replies to specific questions--I will do my best to hit those in the morning as time permits. For now, be assured that I don't think West is asserting there is any such thing as a state of "immunity" from sin or from concupiscence.

God bless,

Jim R

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim,

Here are the three pertinent questions:

....

Question #1: "How do 4 people who have listened to West dozens of times (Lauretta, James J. Simons, Terri Kimmel, and Chip Awalt) come away with the exact same understandings? How does that happen unless West is teaching it or if that is the logical conclusions and implications of his teaching?"

....

Question #2: "Do you mean that grace is a foretaste of heaven and that baptism has remade us as adopted sons of Christ? Or do you mean you are or can be 'divinized' and can reach a level of 'mature purity' that enables you freely to look at naked women who are not your wife?"

....

Question #3: "For those who attain 'mature purity', would it be appropriate for them to visit nude beaches? And when they see a scantily clad stripper or escort pass by, should they seek to look upon her with love or should they look away just in case lust rises up in their hearts?"

Wade St. Onge said...

And Deacon Jim, please do read the Simons article and our critiques (Attachments #1a and #1b).

Wade St. Onge said...

BTW, Deacon Jim, I disagree with your parallel between West's "mature purity" and the Protestants' "once saved, always saved".

West indeed believes, as you say, that mature purity can be "lost" unlike Protestants who believe it cannot be.

However, West believes that when a man IS in the state of mature purity, although he could someday lose it, while he is in the state of "mature purity", he can look upon women regardless of their state of dress and not have to worry at all that he might lust because he knows he can and will look at her with the "pure gaze of love".

Regardless, your answer to our questions will clear up any misunderstandings.

Wade St. Onge said...

Actually, I would like to make that:

Question #4: "When a man IS in the state of mature purity, although he could someday lose it, while he is in the state of 'mature purity', can he look upon women regardless of their state of dress and not have to worry at all that he might lust because he knows he can and will look at her with the 'pure gaze of love'?"

Deacon Jim Russell said...

A response to Wade’s 4:38 p.m. 2/6 post:

Wade wrote:
What I meant by saying West believes "custody of the eyes" is a "negative response" is that he believes it to be only the "first step" on the path to holiness. The "final goal" is that we no longer have to practice "custody of the eyes" because we can look upon a naked woman and not lust. This is a dangerous teaching and one that is contrary to the Catholic Tradition.
But Wade, how can you actually make an assertion that it’s “contrary to the Catholic Tradition” to seek the kind of virtue that makes us “not lust” when we see human nakedness, particularly when there are all sorts of examples in which seeing nakedness clearly does *not* make us lust? In particular, let’s consider images of nudity intended to provoke lust, such as the “soft” porn on the magazine covers in the supermarkets. You would seem to say that, on first glance, once I recognize the image for what it is, my *only* option is to look at something else? What if I choose instead to keep looking at the woman—at her face—and offer a prayer that she be drawn to Christ and stop objectifying herself?
Please explain how I contradict Catholic Tradition when I do this—and this is a concrete example of something I’ve done.

You asked: “Let me ask you this: for those who attain it, would it be appropriate for them to visit nude beaches? And when they see a scantily clad stripper or escort pass by, should they seek to look upon her with love or should they look away just in case lust rises up in their hearts?”
Wade, like any other moral choice, object, intention, and circumstance determines whether “visiting a nude beach” is appropriate. You and I can imagine examples in which it would be laudatory to be at a nude beach (e.g., you’re rushing to the aid of a brother or sister who lived there and is injured and dying). But if “voyeurism”, so to speak, is your intention, if you’re seeking out nudity so as to “test” your “mature purity”, then of course it’s not appropriate.
Regarding your second question, see above. But, also, keep in mind that what *will* rise up—consistently—is *concupiscence* (not sure if your use of “lust” in your sentence means the sin or if it means concupiscence). At some level our disordered appetite affords us the only “lens” through which we can see. But this is *not* sin itself. It’s the “precursor” to whatever moral choice we make in that moment. BUT, with the help of grace, we can move our will to “see rightly” despite our weak vision. In this context grace is like the pair of glasses that corrects weak vision—it’s up to us, in each and every moment—either to wear them, or not.

You wrote: “Once again, Deacon Jim, you should really read the Simons article. These issues you now raise have already been dealt with in the second round of the Theology of the Body debate that took place after Dawn Eden published her thesis.”
I read the article.
You wrote: “Jesus was subject to temptation. Are you saying Jesus did not practice mortification? He fasted for 40 days and nights.”
I think you’re helping me make my point on this one—Yes, Jesus fasted and prayed and probably practiced other forms of “mortification” before the *biggest* mortification ever—His Passion and Death. But *not* to curb personal concupiscence. So why did He do those things? Out of perfect love. In our imitation of Him, that, too, is the ultimate goal of self-mortification *and* custody of the eyes. Those practices do not exist merely for the sake of curbing concupiscence, though that is an “initial step” toward their ultimate purpose—to express love, self-gift. So whatever we do in the scenarios we’re discussing, whether “looking away” or using grace to allow us to see the person being objectified, our ultimate goal is to make our response an act of love rather than an act done out of fear of concupiscence.

Continued…

Deacon Jim Russell said...

….from last note….

You wrote: “Deacon Jim, you are a bit "behind the eight ball" because you were not involved in the second round of these debates. There we established that in certain circumstances, such as a doctor treating a patient, God gives the grace to overcome lustful urges when looking at the naked body.”

Wow—Wade, to me this is a breathtaking statement. I’m “behind the eight-ball” because at some point others have already established that God *only* gives “grace to overcome lustful urges when looking at the naked body” in *certain* circumstances, but God doesn’t give us that grace in *all* circumstances???

I mean, really—this is the fruit of past discussion? That God apparently gives necessary grace in, say, NON-sexual settings, but in sexual settings we don’t get that grace?

You wrote: “That is what I used to think until I got into it. Please see the letter to Cardinal Rigali regarding the theological argument between West and Dr. Hahn.”
Have read it.
Seriously, Wade, go back to the “eight-ball” comment—you *really* believe that God *selectively* provides grace to overcome lust only in “certain” situations?

Respectfully, to me, *that* seems to be the dangerous teaching that is contrary to Catholic Tradition….

God bless,

Deacon Jim Russell

Deacon Jim Russell said...

A response to Wade’s 4:45 p.m. 2/6 comment and following:

You wrote: Question #1: "How do 4 people who have listened to West dozens of times (Lauretta, James J. Simons, Terri Kimmel, and Chip Awalt) come away with the exact same understandings? How does that happen unless West is teaching it or if that is the logical conclusions and implications of his teaching?"


They come away with the exact same understandings because they have listened to West dozens of times. West is teaching it. That’s my best guess. But, for the sake of critiquing West, it would be advisable to take a much larger sample. That should yield a better result than just four.


Question #2: "Do you mean that grace is a foretaste of heaven and that baptism has remade us as adopted sons of Christ? Or do you mean you are or can be 'divinized' and can reach a level of 'mature purity' that enables you freely to look at naked women who are not your wife?"


Grace is a foretaste of heaven and baptism has remade us. And, grace will permit us to respond non-lustfully to beholding a naked woman, wife or not. But we have to will to *act* on that grace. And no one is “free” to seek out naked women to look at….


Question 3—already answered


Question #4: "When a man IS in the state of mature purity, although he could someday lose it, while he is in the state of 'mature purity', can he look upon women regardless of their state of dress and not have to worry at all that he might lust because he knows he can and will look at her with the 'pure gaze of love'?"


No. He has to know first whether he is in fear of succumbing to his disordered appetites. If he has habituated himself to the virtue of purity and is responding to the grace God gives him in that moment, and is not in fear of commiting sin because he wills love under the influence of grace, he can proceed to “see rightly” and engage the person *as* a person, not an object.



God bless,

Deacon Jim Russell

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim: "Wade, how can you actually make an assertion that it’s 'contrary to the Catholic Tradition' to seek the kind of virtue that makes us 'not lust' when we see human nakedness?"

Because not a single Doctor, Father, or Saint in the history of the Church believed concupiscence could ever be overcome to such a degree that we should look upon a scantily clad women with the "pure gaze of love" rather than practice "custody of the eyes" and look away.

....

Deacon Jim: "What if I choose instead to keep looking at the woman—at her face—and offer a prayer that she be drawn to Christ and stop objectifying herself?"

That's fine, as long as you can be confident that merely looking at her face will not lead you to lust. But the more of her body you see and the longer you expose yourself to it, the more likely you are to end up lusting. As an aside, I don't think it's necessary to look at her face because men, wired as we are, will have that image clearly in our minds when we offer a prayer for her. So I wouldn't advise even looking at her face too long if it is "soft porn".

....

"Yes, Jesus fasted and prayed and probably practiced other forms of 'mortification' ... But *not* to curb personal concupiscence. So why did He do those things? Out of perfect love."

Jesus was in a state similar to Adam before the Fall. But Adam sinned. Therefore, Christ could have too. Christ experienced "temptation" (Luke 4:2a). Christ "grew in wisdom" (Luke 2:52) and "learned 'obedience' through what He suffered (Hebrews 5:8), including his "fasts". Therefore, his penance was of spiritual benefit to Him personally and not just done out of love (though that was true too). We must remember that although Jesus was God, he was also "fully" man.

....

Deacon Jim: "God *only* gives 'grace to overcome lustful urges when looking at the naked body' in *certain* circumstances, but God doesn’t give us that grace in *all* circumstances???"

So are you saying you disagree with Alice von Hildebrand when she says: "There are situations in which a priest can find himself in dangerous situation 'without being endangered': for example when a slightly clad prostitute is struck by a car, and calls for help. It is the duty of a priest to respond to this call: God will give him the grace to concentrate exclusively on his mission, bringing the dying person to God. Professional grace is also given to doctors: otherwise, no doctor should accept operating on a very beautiful female body because, instead of operating on a sick patient, he would be preoccupied with sexual fantasies."

Normally, however, as von Hildebrand says, "a humble awareness of our fallen nature creates a strict moral obligation to fly from temptations. Never, absolutely never would a saint say, 'I am beyond and above temptations of the flesh'".

Now this is me speaking: "Pride goes before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). If we look upon a woman and seek to see her with "mature purity" rather than practice "custody of the eyes" in disobedience to the Church's long-standing admonition, no, the grace will not be there.

Von Hildebrand is properly representing here what is the common belief of the Church Doctors. Deacon Jim, you react with utter disbelief and astonishment at this, as though you have never heard any of this before. It was standard fare before the catechetical crisis that followed Vatican II (maybe that explains it).

....

What did you think of the Simons article? Do you agree with everything he said? If not, on what points do you disagree?

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim: "Wade, how can you actually make an assertion that it’s 'contrary to the Catholic Tradition' to seek the kind of virtue that makes us 'not lust' when we see human nakedness?"

Because not a single Doctor, Father, or Saint in the history of the Church believed concupiscence could ever be overcome to such a degree that we should look upon a scantily clad women with the "pure gaze of love" rather than practice "custody of the eyes" and look away.

....

Deacon Jim: "What if I choose instead to keep looking at the woman—at her face—and offer a prayer that she be drawn to Christ and stop objectifying herself?"

That's fine, as long as you can be confident that merely looking at her face will not lead you to lust. But the more of her body you see (including her face) and the longer you expose yourself to it, the more likely you are to end up lusting. As an aside, I don't think it's necessary to look at her face because men, wired as we are, will have that image clearly impressed in our minds when we offer a prayer for her. So I wouldn't advise even looking at her face too long - especially if it is "soft porn".

....

Deacon Jim: "Yes, Jesus fasted and prayed and probably practiced other forms of 'mortification' ... But *not* to curb personal concupiscence. So why did He do those things? Out of perfect love."

Jesus was in a state similar to Adam before the Fall. But Adam sinned. Therefore, Christ could have too. Christ experienced "temptation" (Luke 4:2a). Christ "grew in wisdom" (Luke 2:52) and "learned 'obedience' through what He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8), including his "fasting". Therefore, his penance was of spiritual benefit to Him personally as well and not just done out of love (though that was true too). We must remember that although Jesus was God, he was also "fully" man.

....

Deacon Jim: "God *only* gives 'grace to overcome lustful urges when looking at the naked body' in *certain* circumstances, but God doesn’t give us that grace in *all* circumstances??? ... You *really* believe that God *selectively* provides grace to overcome lust only in 'certain' situations?"

So you are saying you disagree with Alice von Hildebrand when she says: "There are situations in which a priest can find himself in dangerous situation 'without being endangered': for example when a slightly clad prostitute is struck by a car, and calls for help. It is the duty of a priest to respond to this call: God will give him the grace to concentrate exclusively on his mission, bringing the dying person to God. Professional grace is also given to doctors: otherwise, no doctor should accept operating on a very beautiful female body because, instead of operating on a sick patient, he would be preoccupied with sexual fantasies."

Normally, however, as von Hildebrand says, "a humble awareness of our fallen nature creates a strict moral obligation to fly from temptations. Never, absolutely never would a saint say, 'I am beyond and above temptations of the flesh'".

Now this is me speaking: "Pride goes before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). If we look upon a woman and strive to see her with "mature purity" rather than practice "custody of the eyes" in disobedience to the Church's long-standing admonition, no, the grace will not be there.

Von Hildebrand is properly representing here what is the common belief of the Church Doctors. Deacon Jim, you react with utter disbelief and astonishment at this, as though you have never heard any of this before. It was standard fare before the catechetical crisis that followed Vatican II (maybe that explains it).

....

What did you think of the Simons article? Do you agree with everything he said? If not, on what points do you disagree?

Wade St. Onge said...

Answer #1. So you agree that Lauretta et.al. are accurately representing West's teachings. As for "broad sample", I have yet to meet a single avid-West-listener who painted a different picture.

Answer #2. Okay, but for those who have achieved "mature purity", will "grace permit [them] to respond non-lustfully" if they continue to look in admiration of her God-given beauty?

Answer #3a. Let's assume the man who has achieved "mature purity" wants to go to the nude beach because he just wants to catch a few rays and play a little beach volleyball and the nude beach is the only one around. Would it be appropriate for him to go?

Question #3b: "What *will* rise up—consistently—is *concupiscence* ... At some level our disordered appetite affords us the only 'lens' through which we can see. But this is *not* sin itself. It’s the “precursor” to whatever moral choice we make in that moment. BUT, with the help of grace, we can move our will to 'see rightly' despite our weak vision. In this context grace is like the pair of glasses that corrects weak vision—it’s up to us, in each and every moment—either to wear them, or not".

That is a good explanation as to what goes on inside us when we are in that situation, but you kind of "skirted around" the issue. I will ask again: "When men who have achieved 'mature purity' see a scantily clad stripper or escort pass by, should they seek to look upon her with love or should they look away just in case they may end up lusting?” In short, should the man of mature purity practice "custody of the eyes" by looking away? "Yes" or "No" would be sufficient.

Answer #4. You answered this both ways. You began by saying 'no' but then argued 'yes' because you argued that under the right circumstances he could continue to look. You also shifted a bit - the man of "mature purity", by West's definition, has "mastery" over his disordered appetites through "habituation" so he is not in danger of succumbing to them. So, in other words, you are truly answering this question with a "Yes, he can continue to look at a scantily clad stripper".

This is the kind of hedging that West engages in.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Hi, Wade. Our conversation is getting even more interesting, and I continue to pursue it as respectfully as possible.

You wrote: “Because not a single Doctor, Father, or Saint in the history of the Church believed concupiscence could ever be overcome to such a degree that we should look upon a scantily clad women with the "pure gaze of love" rather than practice "custody of the eyes" and look away.”

But there is little or no specificity in that statement—it doesn’t take into account the numerous potential examples in which “looking away” is neither possible nor laudable. You already agree that in the history of the Church it is admitted that God gives sufficient grace in “certain circumstances” to control concupiscence. So this remains a bit of a straw-man argument, because when specific cases are examined, the Doctors, Fathers, and Saints all leave *plenty* of room for “looking upon scantily clad women” (e.g. doctors, artists perhaps) without sinning because one acts on the grace necessary to avoid sin.

You wrote: “Jesus was in a state similar to Adam before the Fall. But Adam sinned. Therefore, Christ could have too. ... "
Wade, I think this is a clear mis-step on your part—you assert that Jesus Christ could have *sinned*?? The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity was capable of committing sin? Could you elaborate on how this would be possible, please?

For my part, I respond that Jesus Christ was clearly beset by external temptation, but, as He is *God*, claiming that He could have sinned is clearly foolhardy.

You wrote: “So are you saying you disagree with Alice von Hildebrand when she says: ….”

No, I’m saying I agree *mightily* with what she states. God gives us grace when needed, *and* no one is above temptation, not even Jesus Christ.

But what I am asking of you is a lucid explanation as to why you (or perhaps von Hildebrand) would ever think that God does *not* provide the grace necessary to overcome *all* circumstances of temptation???

You wrote: “Now this is me speaking: "Pride goes before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). If we look upon a woman and seek to see her with "mature purity" rather than practice "custody of the eyes" in disobedience to the Church's long-standing admonition, no, the grace will not be there.”

Wade, come on. That’s contradictory on its face when compared with what you’ve already said. You’ve already said that such grace is available under “certain” circumstances. Now you say that God will *withhold* grace from someone seeking it simply because they seek to engage a person *as* a person and not an object??

So you are really asserting that God plays “favorites” when it comes to grace? He clearly favors medical professionals but not those who might have studied JP II’s Theology of the Body???

You wrote: “Von Hildebrand is properly representing here what is the common belief of the Church Doctors. Deacon Jim, you react with utter disbelief and astonishment at this, as though you have never heard any of this before. It was standard fare before the catechetical crisis that followed Vatican II (maybe that explains it).”

Wade—no doubt “custody of the eyes” and looking away is common teaching. Common sense in many or most cases, probably, too. My “astonishment” is in the further consideration of the common teaching which you have claimed is the result of the “second round” conversation I was not part of relative to ToB: namely, that God gives grace to one special group but seems to withhold it from another group. That seems ludicrous.

The “common teaching” on “custody of the eyes” is “common-sensical” not because of what *God* does or doesn’t do, but because of what *we* do or do not do.

I am quite confident no Doctor of the Church would conclude two things you seem to have concluded in your presentation thus far: 1) that Jesus could have sinned and 2) that God plays favorites with His grace.

God bless—this continues to be a tremendously helpful discussion.

Deacon Jim Russell

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Wade wrote: “Answer #2. Okay, but for those who have achieved "mature purity", will "grace permit [them] to respond non-lustfully" if they continue to look in admiration of her God-given beauty?”

Yup, as long as their will is being engaged under the influence of grace.

You wrote: “Answer #3a. Let's assume the man who has achieved "mature purity" wants to go to the nude beach because he just wants to catch a few rays and play a little beach volleyball and the nude beach is the only one around. Would it be appropriate for him to go?”

Nope. Normal social interaction, at least from a Scriptural vantage, is not really possible in a “nudist” environment—modesty remains a virtue for everyone, even for those who have excellent virtuous habits when it comes to purity.


You wrote: Question #3b: That is a good explanation as to what goes on inside us when we are in that situation, but you kind of "skirted around" the issue. I will ask again: "When men who have achieved 'mature purity' see a scantily clad stripper or escort pass by, should they seek to look upon her with love or should they look away just in case they may end up lusting?” In short, should the man of mature purity practice "custody of the eyes" by looking away? "Yes" or "No" would be sufficient.

“Have you stopped beating your wife?” Answering “yes” or “no” would be sufficient…..

I’ll stand by my original answer, thanks… :-)

You wrote: “Answer #4. You answered this both ways. You began by saying 'no' but then argued 'yes' because you argued that under the right circumstances he could continue to look. You also shifted a bit - the man of "mature purity", by West's definition, has "mastery" over his disordered appetites through "habituation" so he is not in danger of succumbing to them. So, in other words, you are truly answering this question with a "Yes, he can continue to look at a scantily clad stripper". This is the kind of hedging that West engages in.”

Respectfully, this is not hedging—it’s trying to make the best of a rather defective question. Not all questions are created equal, as my example above illustrates.

You asked me: “Question #4: "When a man IS in the state of mature purity, although he could someday lose it, while he is in the state of 'mature purity', can he look upon women regardless of their state of dress and not have to worry at all that he might lust because he knows he can and will look at her with the 'pure gaze of love'?"

Elaborating on my “no,” I say “No, it’s not true that one does ‘not have to worry AT ALL.’” Rather, He has to know first whether he is in fear of succumbing to his disordered appetites. If he has habituated himself to the virtue of purity and is responding to the grace God gives him in that moment, and is not in fear of commiting sin because he wills love under the influence of grace, he can proceed to “see rightly” and engage the person *as* a person, not an object.

This isn’t hedging—it’s taking an imprecise question and attempting to give it the kind of answer it should have if it were asked more precisely.

God bless,

Deacon Jim Russell

jvc said...

Is the good Deacon going to ever enlighten us unwashed rubes about how we too can become enlightened and pure enough to see a naked woman without any fear of lust?

I suspect that the solution has something to do with buying more books by West and spending thousands on his conferences. Spiritual reading and a rigorous prayer life?

Not so much.

Kevin said...

Deacon Russell,

When answering the issue about nudist colonies (this isn't an academic question, Catholic Exchange TOB writers were promoting them based on an "authentic understanding" of TOB), you start by saying that social interaction would be impossible in such scenarios.

I think you mean more, so I'm going to attempt to lead it out of you. :) Is modesty simply a socially conditioned issue? In other words, if we were able to communicate with social grace in a nudist colony, would it be okay?

I would tend to view it as JPII did. (And I think you would as well.) Covering up nakedness, while it has an element of protecting from shame, also has an element of the person coming to a heightened understanding of who they are as a person, and how clothing has an aspect of bestowing dignity as well. In short, it is not by mistake that the more civilized a people become, previous forays of nudism begin to lapse.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Hi, Kevin (not O'Brien)--you wrote:

"I think you mean more, so I'm going to attempt to lead it out of you. :) Is modesty simply a socially conditioned issue? In other words, if we were able to communicate with social grace in a nudist colony, would it be okay?"

To start, here's what I wrote above: Normal social interaction, at least from a Scriptural vantage, is not really possible in a “nudist” environment. And what I mean by "from a Scriptural vantage is that there is a reason Adam/Eve got fig leaves after the fall. There is a passage in St. Paul wherein he articulates it well regarding how/why we treat certain members of the body differently in terms of their being exposed or not.

So, the virtue of modesty is more than social and is not mere social conditioning. I think this is the arena in which Catholic Tradition is very strong, a la Dietrich/Alice von Hildebrand's work on purity.

The idea of defending nudism on the basis of ToB is deeply flawed. After all, if I imagine myself trying to "see rightly" after being, say, unceremoniously dropped into the midst of a group of nudists, my first thought would be to charitably ask them to uphold their *own* dignity by getting properly dressed, or I'd have to leave....

My hope would also be that anyone who is a serious student of ToB would receive correction if they have ever promoted the acceptability of nudism. It's definitely a mis-application of both West and ToB, in my opinion.

God bless,

Deacon Jim Russell

dcs said...

Jesus was in a state similar to Adam before the Fall. But Adam sinned. Therefore, Christ could have too. Christ experienced "temptation" (Luke 4:2a). Christ "grew in wisdom" (Luke 2:52) and "learned 'obedience' through what He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8), including his "fasting". Therefore, his penance was of spiritual benefit to Him personally as well and not just done out of love (though that was true too). We must remember that although Jesus was God, he was also "fully" man.

It would be better to say that Jesus is "truly" man rather than Jesus is "fully" man. And Deacon Russell is correct to point out your error in asserting that Our Lord could have sinned. It is true that He was tempted exteriorly but He was never subject to interior temptation as we are.

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim, I agree that this conversation is continuing to be both interesting and fruitful.

....

You say it is illogical for me (and the Church Doctors) to assert that in some cases, such as a doctor operating on a naked woman, God gives the grace to focus on what God is calling them to do and thus avoid lusting, but then say you agree with Alice von Hildebrand. That is impossible because that is precisely von Hildebrand's argument.

This is what Alice von Hildebrand states: "Avoiding the Occasion of Sin: A humble awareness of our fallen nature creates a strict moral obligation to fly from temptations. Never, absolutely never would a saint say, 'I am beyond and above temptations of the flesh'. Never would a saint declare that, were he to see a naked woman, his acquaintance with the Theology of the Body would guarantee that he wouldn’t be subject to temptation. As Monsignor Knox points out, to believe a Christian, however faithful, can place himself in spiritual danger and never fall prey to it, is a common error among religious enthusiasts. The Beghards come to mind: Thus these enthusiasts 'looked upon decency and modesty as marks of inward corruption, as the characters of a soul that was still under the dominion of the sensual, animal, and lascivious spirit, and that was not really united to the divine nature. This was the account they themselves gave of their promiscuous lodging, and the nudism practiced in their assemblies.' (Enthusiasm, 1950, p. 125) ... But this is to commit the sin of presumption. It must be remarked, however, that there are situations in which a priest can find himself in dangerous situation 'without being endangered': for example when a slightly clad prostitute is struck by a car, and calls for help. It is the duty of a priest to respond to this call: God will give him the grace to concentrate exclusively on his mission, bringing the dying person to God. Professional grace is also given to doctors: otherwise, no doctor should accept operating on a very beautiful female body because, instead of operating on a sick patient, he would be preoccupied with sexual fantasies".

Dr. VH goes a lot further than just: "God gives us grace when needed, *and* no one is above temptation, not even Jesus Christ". She also states that the Saints, when encountering a nude woman, would practice custody of the eyes and look away rather than continue to "gaze with love on her God-given beauty and see the person within". That is clear by her statement, especially the first four sentences. There is no way you can read it any other way.

So in conclusion, two things:

(1) This is exactly what I was saying (and if I wasn't, please point out to me where I misrepresented Dr. VH)

(2) This contradicts your answer to Question #3. If you do not think so, please demonstrate how they are in harmony.

....

The possibility that Christ could have sinned was certainly clearly a misstep on my part. Time to review the notes from my Christology class. But my point remains: Christ practiced fasting not only as an example of love but also because it helped Him grow spiritually. Do you agree? If not, how do you explain the Scripture that reads, "Christ learned obedience through what He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8)?

....

Deacon Jim: "No doubt 'custody of the eyes' and looking away is common teaching. Common sense in many or most cases, probably, too".

But West considers "custody of the eyes" a negative step that the "man of mature purity" can dispense with. That is novel in the Church's Tradition. As Dr. VH said, none of the Saints ever believed they could dispense with "custody of the eyes" and look with "the pure gaze of love on a woman's God given beauty" without danger of lusting.

Wade St. Onge said...

Answer #3a: "Nope. Normal social interaction, at least from a Scriptural vantage, is not really possible in a 'nudist' environment—modesty remains a virtue for everyone, even for those who have excellent virtuous habits when it comes to purity".

(a) But why does modesty remain a virtue if everyone had excellent virtuous habits when it comes to purity? Please explain.


(b) Deacon Jim: "There is a reason Adam/Eve got fig leaves after the fall". Please explain to us why that was? West and von Hildebrand have different ideas on that. I would like to hear your explanation.

(c) Also, how does it "uphold [our] dignity by getting properly dressed?"

....

I will ask this again without forcing you to a "Yes/No" answer (clearly you do not want to go there - and I do not blame you): "When men who have achieved 'mature purity' see a scantily clad stripper or escort pass by, should they seek to look upon her with love or should they look away just in case they may end up lusting?”

In short, do you agree with Dr. Scott Hahn or do you agree with Christopher West in their argument as recounted by James J. Simons in his article?

....

Question #4 was poorly worded. I'll pull it and simply stick with Question #3 as it is better worded and along the same lines.

Nonetheless, you answered:

Deacon Jim: "He has to know first whether he is in fear of succumbing to his disordered appetites. If he has habituated himself to the virtue of purity and is responding to the grace God gives him in that moment, and is not in fear of committing sin because he wills love under the influence of grace, he can proceed to 'see rightly' and engage the person *as* a person, not an object".

So in other words, you agree with West over Hahn: he shouldn't "look away" but continue to look and "not lust".

....

I would like to hear your feedback with regards to Simons' argument. Do you agree with him? Disagree? If so or if not, why? I take it by this statement of yours that you disagree with him: "The idea of defending nudism on the basis of ToB is deeply flawed", because that is precisely what Simons does.

Deacon Jim: "My hope would also be that anyone who is a serious student of ToB would receive correction if they have ever promoted the acceptability of nudism. It's definitely a mis-application of both West and ToB, in my opinion".

Then Why has West not yet corrected James J. Simons? The article was sent to the bishop of Christopher West and reported to all the bishops on the Theology of the Body Institute advisory board. In fact, West knows Mr. Simons personally. I would suggest that the reason West has not come out to publicly correct this "misunderstanding" is because it is not a misunderstanding at all. West's theology clearly ends in "Christian nudism" - if we all achieved "mature purity", it would be most appropriate to dispense with clothing entirely. I think I demonstrated this clearly in my letter to Cardinal Rigali.

It is a misapplication of TOB, but not of West. Simons listened to West over 100 times and wrote what he did - essentially, an apologia for Christian naturism.

Wade St. Onge said...

This is the argument that I cannot fully do justice right now:

Deacon Jim: "What I am asking of you is a lucid explanation as to why you (or perhaps von Hildebrand) would ever think that God does *not* provide the grace necessary to overcome *all* circumstances of temptation???"

Deacon Jim: "That’s contradictory on its face when compared with what you’ve already said. You’ve already said that such grace is available under 'certain' circumstances. Now you say that God will *withhold* grace from someone seeking it simply because they seek to engage a person *as* a person and not an object??"

But I will return to it because it is a key objection to my position.

....

For now, I'll just respond to your mischaracterization of my position:

"Deacon Jim: "God plays favorites with His grace".

This is no more God playing favourites with His grace than Him calling some to the higher call of celibacy and not others.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Hi, Wade—you wrote: “You say it is illogical for me (and the Church Doctors) to assert that in some cases, such as a doctor operating on a naked woman, God gives the grace to focus on what God is calling them to do and thus avoid lusting, but then say you agree with Alice von Hildebrand. That is impossible because that is precisely von Hildebrand's argument.”

Let me put it this way—if von Hildebrand’s statements mean that she believes God withholds grace from someone who *asks* for it, who *desires* it when confronting a situation of temptation, then I would disagree with her. I would also disagree with her if she were to strictly interpret her words “fly from” (temptations) as to exclude the concept of “fighting” (temptations). Our “strict moral obligation” includes both “fight” and “flight.”

I *agree* with her—as I’m sure West does—that “acquaintance with” ToB cannot “guarantee” someone won’t be “subject to temptation.” My experience and my view is that seeing a shapely attractive woman—naked or fully clothed—is *always* a moment of temptation because that’s how our disordered appetites behave (as an aside: we’re spending a lotta time on naked/nude when sexual temptations run much deeper than that). The question we face each and every time is “fight or flight” so to speak.

Now, where I apparently will *disagree* with her is in the concept “professional grace”; I don’t think that term is in the CCC, is it? Again, if by this she means that those who practice medicine are entitled to a grace of “vocation” that for some reason is not among our vocational “sacraments” and is also *not* accessible to all the faithful who would ask for a similar grace, I would disagree.

Wade wrote:The possibility that Christ could have sinned was certainly clearly a misstep on my part. Time to review the notes from my Christology class. But my point remains: Christ practiced fasting not only as an example of love but also because it helped Him grow spiritually. Do you agree? If not, how do you explain the Scripture that reads, "Christ learned obedience through what He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8)?

Ask yourself: Is it possible for *God* to “grow spiritually”? Because the Person of Christ is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, isn’t it impossible for that Divine Person to use the mortification of his human Body to “grow spiritually”?

Wade wrote: But West considers "custody of the eyes" a negative step that the "man of mature purity" can dispense with. That is novel in the Church's Tradition. As Dr. VH said, none of the Saints ever believed they could dispense with "custody of the eyes" and look with "the pure gaze of love on a woman's God given beauty" without danger of lusting.”

And I guess what I’m saying, regardless of whether West would agree, is that the “danger of lusting” is the temptation itself, which is what me must confront each and every time the occasion presents itself. I read West as asserting that “fight” is a more difficult but more laudatory response than is “flight.” I don’t think the concept of “fighting” temptation is so very novel…Jesus, for example, does not “flee” Satan in the desert, He *contends* with Satan.

I see you’ve contributed more posts, so I will proceed to them now.

God bless,

Deacon Jim Russell

Kevin said...

I think the problem with this discussion, it is centered around lust, and the confines of lust.

There's more to it than that. Man is meant to be dominated by lust. And while it may be a temptation, it by no means need rule over ones life.

So now what I've been trying to drive at: for one who has reached "mature purity", should he still be seeking out such things? For example, at Mass, should a man, next to his wife, be focusing on another woman's beauty to the point where everything basically fades to the background? West suggested this.

He stated that the way to find true freedom was not "on the boat", but rather "in the water." Translated into the sexual realm, that does indeed sound like the way to free yourself from lust is to go seek opportunities to test yourself.

Yet shouldn't the reedemed man avoid these things (to the best of his ability), not out of lust, but because he has something far better than those things?

Shouldn't we avoid "turning our eyes on a shapely woman" because the shape of her tells us nothing about who she is, and besides, the people Sirach was writing to were already married?

That's my problem with West and many of his defenders. For all of his talk about "freedom from lust", he is still bound by its confines. As for a reason why, who knows. Personally, I think it is because West's view of sexuality comes first from Freud (hence his admiration from a distance of Hugh Hefner), and then he tries to reconcile Freud and JPII, something John Paul II basically stated was impossible.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Wade wrote: “(a) But why does modesty remain a virtue if everyone had excellent virtuous habits when it comes to purity? Please explain.”

Because personal modesty is an essential aspect of personal “purity”—modesty is especially a form of charity toward one’s neighbor so that you do not become an occasion of sin to another.

Wade wrote: "Please explain to us why that was? West and von Hildebrand have different ideas on that. I would like to hear your explanation.”

My thought, here and now, would be that, despite A & E still being spouses, having thrown each other under the bus previously, they now experience the wound of concupiscence and shame and the rupture of the intimacy of original justice. Their wounded natures are no longer capable of “embodying” the pure and perfect intimacy they had before the fall—they clothe themselves as acts of self-defense, knowing that the other is capable of doing them harm, despite their ongoing spousal union. This is by no mean the *only* aspect of this, but I hope it helps.

You wrote: (c) Also, how does it "uphold [our] dignity by getting properly dressed?"
See above answer re modesty….

You wrote: I will ask this again without forcing you to a "Yes/No" answer (clearly you do not want to go there - and I do not blame you):....


I don’t see how one could ever create a “rule” about such a thing—which is why I find the question virtually un-answerable. The key is always to “avoid lust,” right? Whether JPII’s “mature purity” describes your state, or not, avoid lust. Those who do have a virtuous habit of avoiding lust don’t have anything to “prove” by looking, per se, unless the idea is that looking “rightly” at the person might trigger some sort of positive response in her as to her own dignity.

Wade wrote: “In short, do you agree with Dr. Scott Hahn or do you agree with Christopher West in their argument as recounted by James J. Simons in his article? “

I think that since both are apparently guitar players, they should duel musically with Fat Strats at twenty paces. The winner can be declared right.

I guess my view is that, based on what I’ve already said, they’re both “right”—one said “flight” and the other said “fight”, basically. Both are ways to avoid lust, which is the key.


Wade wrote: I would like to hear your feedback with regards to Simons' argument....I take it by this statement of yours that you disagree with him: "The idea of defending nudism on the basis of ToB is deeply flawed", because that is precisely what Simons does.

Then he’s making a deeply flawed argument.

Wade wrote: Then Why has West not yet corrected James J. Simons?.... I would suggest that the reason West has not come out to publicly correct this "misunderstanding" is because it is not a misunderstanding at all. West's theology clearly ends in "Christian nudism" - if we all achieved "mature purity", it would be most appropriate to dispense with clothing entirely. I think I demonstrated this clearly in my letter to Cardinal Rigali.

Wade, I thought “mature purity” was a JPII term. Isn’t it? Re corrections of Simons, if you have an email for him, send it to me privately and I’ll offer him some correction and ask why West hasn’t (there are lots of possible reasons besides “West wants us all to be nudists…”).

I have to confess that if the point of your letter to the Cardinal (whom I’m partial to, as he ordained me), was to explain how West is seeking Christian nudism, it’s probably no wonder that you haven’t heard back. Not trying to be funny here, either; it just seems like a claim that is very unrealistic.

The last comment you made was: “This is no more God playing favourites with His grace than Him calling some to the higher call of celibacy and not others.”

Well, I will look forward to any rational explanation of why med school students get special grace to fight concupiscence while ToB students don’t…..

God bless,

Deacon Jim Russell

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Hey, Wade--a point of order, please.

I just looked again at what is, I think, the piece by Simons (nov 1 2010--"should we look away or not lust"?) in which you state he advocates for Christian nudism.

Is that the right piece? I see no advocacy for Christian nudism in that piece....

can you give me a link to the text in which you find Simons advocating for Christian nudism?

God bless,

Deacon Jim Russell

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim: "If von Hildebrand’s statements mean that she believes God withholds grace from someone who *asks* for it, who *desires* it when confronting a situation of temptation, then I would disagree with her".

If someone is presented with an occasion of sin - namely, encountering a provocatively-dressed woman - God will give him the grace to resist the temptation if he asks for it. Where von Hildebrand and West disagree is that von Hildebrand says that grace will empower and prompt the person tempted to practice custody of the eyes by looking away, while West would say grace will empower and prompt the person tempted to be able to continue to look upon her with love and not lust.

....

Deacon Jim: "I *agree* with her—as I’m sure West does—that “acquaintance with” ToB cannot 'guarantee' someone won’t be 'subject to temptation.'"

I knew you would focus on that poorly-worded rhetorical argument, so I prepared for it, although I wanted to wait until you said it before responding. She did not mean to say reading TOB would empower someone to look with "mature purity". She meant to say that not a single saint believed in this novelty, derived from West's misunderstanding of TOB, that one should "stay and fight" by attempting to "see rightly" rather than "flee" by "looking away".

The problem with discussing these issues with you is becoming more and more clear. One of them is that you cannot follow the logical structure of a sustained argument and get the overall "gist". You miss the forest for the trees. I think it's pretty clear what von Hildebrand was saying. But you get caught up in her rhetorical comment about reading TOB and you lose or miss out on her overall point: namely, regardless of how much one has attained "mature purity", the proper response when encountering a provocatively-dressed woman is to practice custody of the eyes by looking away.

....

"My experience and my view is that seeing a shapely attractive woman—naked or fully clothed—is *always* a moment of temptation because that’s how our disordered appetites behave ... The question we face each and every time is 'fight or flight' so to speak".

And that is the crux of the issue. West says we should "fight by continuing to look but adjust our vision so we see the person". Von Hildebrand says "flight by practicing custody of the eyes and looking away" from the temptation.

....

Deacon Jim: "I read West as asserting that 'fight' is a more difficult but more laudatory response than is 'flight'".

And you read him correctly. Now, this is where von Hildebrand and Hahn object because it is where West (and yourself) contradicts the Tradition.

Sure Jesus fought, but how did He fight? Did He always remain in the presence of the temptation? Or did He flee it? The Tradition says that with regards to many issues, the best way to "fight" is through "flight" because of our concupiscent nature. That is why the Church has always admonished us, and continues to admonish us, to "avoid the occasions of sin".

Wade St. Onge said...

This is where I am going to begin citing the Tradition, Deacon Jim, to see how what you and West teach stand up to the Tradition.

Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", paragraphs 54 and 55: "It should be noted, as indeed the Fathers and Doctors of the Church teach, that we can more easily struggle against and repress the wiles of evil and the enticements of the passions if we do not struggle directly against them, but rather flee from them as best we may. For the preserving of chastity, according to the teaching of Jerome, flight is more effective than open warfare: 'Therefore I flee, lest I be overcome.' ... Flight and alert vigilance, by which we carefully avoid the occasions of sin, have always been considered by holy men and women as the most effective method of combat in this matter; today however it does not seem that everybody holds the same opinion".

This clearly contradicts West. Now, you disagreed with Dr. VH before and agreed with West. Who will you side with this time: West or the Holy Father?

Wade St. Onge said...

(a) “Personal modesty is an essential aspect of personal ‘purity’—modesty is especially a form of charity toward one’s neighbor so that you do not become an occasion of sin to another”.

This is where von Hildebrand and West disagree as well. West says that the point of modesty is “protection from the lustful look of the other” as West would say. However, von Hildebrand would say this is only one form of shame – namely, “negative shame”. But there is a “positive shame” that exists apart from the threat of lust insofar as the naked body is something so intimate, like a secret, that it should only be shared with one’s spouse. This was spelled out in my letter to Cardinal Rigali.

....

(b) “Despite Adam & Eve still being spouses ... they now experience the wound of concupiscence and shame and the rupture of the intimacy of original justice. Their wounded natures are no longer capable of ‘embodying’ the pure and perfect intimacy they had before the fall”.

And just like Adam and Eve, all of us, except Jesus and Mary, still experience the would of concupiscence and shame and the rupture of the intimacy of original justice. West believes that in this life, we can grow in “mature purity” to a point where men can and should look upon naked women as purely as Adam looked upon Eve.

....

(c) “I don’t see how one could ever create a ‘rule’ about such a thing—which is why I find the question virtually un-answerable.”

Actually, the Church does have a rule: practice custody of the eyes and look away.

Deacon Jim: “ The key is always to ‘avoid lust,’ right? Whether JPII’s ‘mature purity’ describes your state, or not, avoid lust.”

That is what West said too. So in other words, no, you agree with West and not with Hahn.

Deacon Jim: “I guess my view is that, based on what I’ve already said, they’re both ‘right’—one said ‘flight’ and the other said ‘fight’, basically. Both are ways to avoid lust, which is the key”.

Not exactly. Here is the other frustrating thing about discussing this with you – you are always qualifying and equivocating to avoid taking a side.

Hahn said the response is “always flight”. West said “flight only if you have to, but it would be best to fight”. Translation: Hahn said “always look away” and West said, “only look away if you have to, but it’s best to fearlessly look upon her with love”.

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim: “ I see no advocacy for Christian nudism in that piece”.

Simons says that it is right to baptize people naked in front of an entire church so everyone can see them naked and it is right for women to read in church topless. Simons chides us for not being able to look at naked women and not lust. Simons chides Dr. Scott Hahn for saying that he might not be able to look at his colleague’s wife naked and not lust. Simons says we should see the naked body as simply a naked body and nothing more, and that to look away when seeing a naked body is actually an objectification of women.

Perhaps this is not an advocacy of “nudism” per se, but that is where it logically ends up.

Once again, I think you are missing the forest for the trees. All the responders caught it, including Genevieve S. Kineke (who I quoted in my letter to Cardinal Rigali), whose book on femininity West wrote a foreword to (before she read this article and began to have second thoughts about his theology).

....

Deacon Jim: “I thought ‘mature purity’ was a JPII term. Isn’t it?”

Yes, but JP2 would say that even when one has achieved “mature purity”, he should continue to practice custody of the eyes and look away (something his predecessor, John XXIII, was well known for). West disagrees.

....

Miscellaneous:

Is it possible for God to grow spiritually? Considering Jesus Christ had a human soul, yes. "Wisdom" is a spiritual capacity because the beasts do not have it. "Obedience" is a spiritual response because it requires free will which the beasts do not have. Christ "*grew* in wisdom" (Luke 2:52) and "*learned* obedience" (Hebrews 5:8). Scripture explicitly states Jesus Christ can "grow". Do you have an alternate explanation?

If Jesus can grow in His human body, He can grow in His human soul.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Wade--won't have time for much else tonight, but let me at least address this--you wrote:

"If someone is presented with an occasion of sin - namely, encountering a provocatively-dressed woman - God will give him the grace to resist the temptation if he asks for it. Where von Hildebrand and West disagree is that von Hildebrand says that grace will empower and prompt the person tempted to practice custody of the eyes by looking away, while West would say grace will empower and prompt the person tempted to be able to continue to look upon her with love and not lust."

You've accused me of equivocation, while this remains an equivocation of your own.

You have already said, as has von Hildebrand, that God gives "professional grace" to doctors so that they don't *have* to look away. So we already *know* and agree that God gives men the grace necessary to be able to "look with love and not lust" upon someone who is naked.

The thing that you've asserted, that still remains unexplained by you, is why God gives such grace to a med student who asks for it, but apparently *won't* give that grace to a ToB student who asks for it.

So, you can't have it both ways. If God gives us all the grace we need to overcome temptation when we ask for it, then that grace *can't* be limited to the use of custody of the eyes, because you've already said that "professionals" are graced to be able to look with love and not lust and not look away.

God bless,

Deacon Jim Russell

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim: "Why God gives such grace to a med student who asks for it, but apparently *won't* give that grace to a ToB student who asks for it".

If a TOB student encountered a wounded scantily-clad prostitute who needed first aid, God would give them the same grace He gave the med student.

Due to the fall, viewing the naked body quickly becomes an occasion to sin and can often lead to lust. Because of this, God admonishes us that, as a rule, we should look away lest we end up lusting.

However, there are some situations where looking at the naked body is "unavoidable" - such as the cases cited by von Hildebrand. In these cases, God gives what could be called "situational graces" which only makes sense.

Simply encountering a scantily-clad woman on the bus, however, does not put us into a situation where we need to look upon her. We have the choice to look away. And that is what God has instructed us to do.

Christ said to the Apostles: "But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you" (Matthew 10:19-20). When in certain situations where it is imperative we say just the right things, the grace to do it is there. At other times, the grace isn't. Look how many other times in the Gospels St. Peter put his foot in his mouth (and look at Galatians 2 where the post-Pentecost Peter was still doing it).

Also, keep in mind Dr. VH says the doctor is given the grace to 'focus on his professional responsibilities', meaning that the Lord will enable him to focus so intently on the task at hand that he won't really notice the body or if he does he won't be focusing much on its sexual desirability and thus focus on it "lustfully". She doesn`t say just because he is operating on her that he can stare at her naked body and not lust. If he does begin to take his focus a little off the task at hand and focus a little too much on her naked body, yes he will lust.

Why doesn't God give us all the grace when we ask for it to be able to gaze upon a naked body and not lust? I suppose He could - just like He could have all redeemed by merely speaking the word. There are reasons for the mysterious ways of Divine Providence - including the reason God admonishes us to practice custody of the eyes by looking away and gives us the grace to do so instead of giving us the grace to look with "mature purity" on the naked body. This is the way all the Doctors and Fathers of the Church understood it, and that is where you are going to have your biggest challenge in defending West: namely, dealing with the quote from Pius XII. Or did he not see the absurdity that doctors have the grace to operate on nude patients but the Saints did not have the grace to look upon scantily-clad women and continue to gaze and not lust? You are about to pit yourself against the entire Tradition of the Catholic Church here - do you really want to take that step?

Kevin O'Brien said...

Deacon Jim,

You can't be serious. You can't be saying that God will give me the grace to stare at a naked lady to "behold! the body" because He will give an EMT the grace to deal with a naked burn victim.

I am amazed that Wade responded with such measured patience to this.

Personally, my patience is running out. To reason as you have in defense of staring at naked bodies is utterly astonishing.

Wade has given us a quote from a pope that sums up quite well Church Teaching on custody of the eyes. You may ignore that if you will, or you may equivocate about it, but there it stands.

I suggest we move on.

I don't think this is cute any more.

Kevin said...

I just want an answer:

Where in Catholic tradition is there a seperation between "mature purity" and "custody of the eyes" that West creates in his writings. Or that once one has reached "mature purity" custody of the eyes is no longer relevant? (West specifically says that the injunction to turn away your eyes is only for the one bound by lust.)

It is a genuine "theological novum" and it is central to his theology. Like the Paschal Candle, he claims that the Churches tradition supports this, but there's absolutely no evidence of it.