Thursday, September 30, 2010

Part III of Response to Dr. Smith: "Repression"

In her article on Dawn Eden's masters thesis, Dr. Janet Smith says the following:

She does not argue that it is false that there was at one time and may be even now in some places, a tendency to teach the Church’s teaching about sexuality in a repressive fashion. I believe it would be difficult to contest that claim and in fact Eden notes West’s characterization “no doubt resonates with certain members of his audience” (ET, 63).

Let me note that when some ancient texts and moral theology textbooks were translated into English the portions on sexual morality were left in Latin. (e.g., Chapter 10 of Book II of The Instructor by: Clement of Alexander: and Part VI, Chapt III of A Manual of Moral Theology by Rev. Thomas Slater, S.J.: That suggests some “repression” to me.

Not all teaching about sexual morality has been marked by repression and certainly such instruction was a misrepresentation of the Church’s magisterial teaching.
I noted this before in my previous response, but I would like to return to it for a fuller treatment.  As Steve Kellmeyer noted in his excellent analysis on this issue, there is nothing "repressive" about the fact that the universal language of the Church is used.  I would like to only point out a few more things.

As I noted in my previous response, let me again cite the preface to Fr. Slater's "A Manual of Moral Theology":

Here, however, we must ask the reader to bear in mind that manuals of moral theology are technical works intended to help the confessor and the parish priest in the discharge of their duties. They are as technical as the textbooks of the lawyer and the doctor. They are not intended for edification, nor do they hold up a high ideal of Christian perfection for the imitation of the faithful. They deal with what is of obligation under pain of sin; they are books of moral pathology. They are necessary for the Catholic priest to enable him to administer the sacrament of Penance and to fulfil his other duties ; they are intended to serve this purpose, and they should not be censured for not being what they were never intended to be. Ascetical and mystical literature which treats of the higher spiritual life is very abundant in the Catholic Church, and it should be consulted by those who desire to know the lofty ideals of life which the Catholic Church places before her children and encourages them to practise. Moral theology proposes to itself the humbler but still necessary task of defining what is right and what wrong in all the practical relations of the Christian life. This all, but more especially priests, should know.
Dr. Smith finds in these sources "tendency to teach the Church’s teaching about sexuality in a repressive fashion."  The author states that teaching the Catholic truth on morality is not his intended goal.  His intended goal is simply to point out, in a clear and precise manner, what is "right" and "wrong", so that priests may be better assisted in the confessional in assigning penance and sound spiritual advice.  For one who wants the "lofty ideals" about Catholic morality (including the truth about Catholic teaching on sexuality) the author recommends they go elsewhere.

This work certainly wasn't "repressing" the truth from the average lay Catholic, since it was never intended for the average lay Catholic to begin with.  A simple "fact check' in the preface would bear this out.  The work was not concerned much with presenting the Magesterium's truth about sexuality to an accessible audience, the audience was the parish priest who had a robust seminary training, which included understanding very complex and very technical concepts.  If the average individual went through Westlaw, they would understand few if any of the legal cases cited, and would draw few inferences of importance.  (Those they might draw would get them laughed out of a courtroom.)  To the trained lawyer who is skilled in understanding precedent and courtroom procedure, Westlaw can provide an inestimable benefit.  The same principle applies here.

Yet what of the fact that the teaching surrounding sexual morality is left in Latin?  This would be in a sense true, but incomplete.  The chapters Dr. Smith cites are dealing with something very specific:  sins against the 6th and 9th commandments.  Primarily, it deals with the sin of sexual impurity.  As noted before, this is not meant to give an in-depth teaching about sexual ethics, but rather simply pointing out what is wrong under pain of sin. 

One need not be an expert in Latin to figure out what the author is talking about.  The specific section Dr. Smith referenced is called "De Peccatis Consummatis contra Naturam."  In short, it is dealing with sins of sexual impurity that are contrary to nature.  Two of those sins are named as "De Sodomia" and "De Bestialitate."  Take one guess what those mean.  Does Dr. Smith really think Catholics need an in-depth presentation on why conjugal acts with animals are wrong?  Personally, I think that, in order to protect the modesty of pious ears, there should be as little talk about this as possible amongst faithful Catholics.  Speak about it as little as required, and no more.  About the only one who really needs to know how to handle these things when regards to the confessional is the priest.

Why is this?  I submit because we are dealing with something of the utmost sensitivity.   The manual also mentions that both bestiality and sodomy are punished severely under the Code of Canon Law. (The 1917 Code)  Whenever you cite the 1917 Code of Canon Law, expect there to be a healthy dose of Latin.  In the case Fr. Slater sites, canons 2357 and 2359 are mentioned, which outline specific penalties for individuals guilty of sins contrary to nature.

Ironically enough, for everything else that is not dealing with something contra naturam regarding purity, English is the language used.  The English talks about when a priest should or should not question a penitent regarding sins of impurity, mentions the intent of people engaging in these acts (as part of the measurement of the gravity of the sin)

Dr. Smith is an expert in classical languages.  One would have to think she at least read what she was citing.  This took but a few hours of fact checking.  As far as I'm aware, none of her supporters bothered to fact-check her on this.  Since Dr. Smith is an expert in classical languages, she should certainly know these circumstances.  In an essay over 6,000 words, one would think she would be able to spend a few hours fact-checking her work.  If a seminarian turned in something this shoddy, would Dr. Smith give him a passing grade?

What is the reader to make of this?  I do not think malicious intent is necessary.  Dr. Smith had a case of "Ready, Fire, Aim!"  So focused was she on refuting Miss Eden's thesis, she was looking for anything, anything, that might confirm her views. When doing this, people will frequently jettison discpline and fact-checking first, and to their peril.  So far, this is par for the course in those who have attempted to engage Miss Eden's thesis.  They have missed quotes, engaged in ad hominem, and engaged in anachronistic interpretation time and time again.  I repeat my call I made frequently at Sr. Lorraine's blog:  Let us focus on the evidence at hand in a calm and rational manner.  Let us reason together, and see who has the facts.

I think that's enough, and if my audience needs a shower after reading this, I completely understand.

To Part IV:  Where are we Now?

Return to Index

Dr. Janet Smith's "Response" Part II

After this lengthy tutorial in how to smear your opponent, Dr. Smith finally promises she will show how the evidence presented in Dawn Eden’s thesis is faulty.  It is good to know that in a near 6,000 word essay, it takes her around 2200 words to finally “engage” the thesis at hand.  Yet let us see where the evidence takes us.

 First we note that Dr. Smith again engages in poisoning the well.  She simply notes she will critique one, count it, one point Miss Eden made.  This will be representative of her whole thesis.  I offer a different alternative, the same one I offered to Sr. Lorraine.  The reason people are engaging the work only tangentially is because there are some things West says that cannot be explained away.  When the evidence is presented, West’s case collapses.

I begin to wonder however if Dr. Smith has actually even read the thesis, instead of just copying what those like Sr. Lorraine have said.  For example, Dr. Smith states:

Violating the “hermeneutic of continuity” is what Eden considers to be the most serious flaw in West’s work.  Oddly, she does not set aside any specific portion of her thesis to defend this charge. Her most direct engagement of the issue of “hermeneutic of continuity” is in her presentation of the first of ten “themes” she finds in West’s work, a section of only two pages at most.

Perhaps Dr. Smith missed the section Enabling an “Integral Vision of Man.”  This is the final section of her thesis before the conclusion, and it runs 10 pages.  After pointing out before where she thinks West went wrong, she then suggests how one can include other aspects, to give a more well-rounded analysis of Theology of the Body.  This includes:

1.)     Including greater talk about human suffering, something John Paul II himself admitted needs to be covered.  He himself simply lacked the time to do so.
2.)    In an attempt to present a balanced understanding of traditional Church teaching, reference statements where Catholics do not show prudery.  Acknowledge popular stereotypes only to show they are wrong.
3.)    Dawn Eden cites a Catholic apologist (Fr. Daniel Lord) from the pre-TOB times who wrote extensively about sexuality, and made statements quite in harmony with what John Paul II made in his general audiences.
4.)    Emphasize Church teaching about the avoidance of occasions of sin, even amongst the just (not just the one “bound by lust” as West argues in TOB Explained.  She cites with approval both Paul VI and John Paul II)
5.)    How to connect sexual desire within its rightful context of marriage, instead of making statements that are essentially identical to what secular liberals teach about sex.
6.)    That there are things more important to a marriage that grows in virtue than sex, and it would be good for West to mention them.
7.)    How the “Dark Night of the Body”, which at times involves a lack of sexual desire, can actually be one of the greatest opportunity of grace within marriage.

Other than that, she spent absolutely no time talking about the “hermeneutic of rupture” vs. the “hermeneutic of continuity.”

 She protests against the phrase “re-contextualize” by stressing that West isn’t advocating a “development” in doctrine, but rather in thought.  I think she doth protest too much.  When a certain school of thought calls for:

1.)   Interpreting even the Mass as sexual, including the idea that the Paschal Candle is a phallic symbol simulating sex
2.)  That Catholics who have been redeemed in Christ’s blood no longer need follow commands about occasions of sin.  (Or as West himself states in Theology of the Body Explained, it is only to the one “bound by lust” that Sirach’s admonitions apply to.  Interested readers are encouraged to check out the “TOB” section on this blog where I devote several articles to this concept)
3.)  Stops referring to God as Father and instead refers to God as a pathological stalker, as Dr. Smith advocated at the TOB Congress
4.)  Counsels people to start viewing heaven as the ultimate orgasm (As West does in Heaven’s Song)
5.)  Tells Catholics we must deeply ponder the size of the Blessed Virgin’s breasts
6.)  Tells Catholics that the reason The Vagina Monologues exist is essentially traditional notions of sexuality were filled with prudery

Call me crazy, but I would say they are guilty of sexualizing anything they can get their hands on.  Ironically, they cite nobody other than modern sources and John Paul II for this assertion.  Could it be that they are misinterpreting the late Pontiff?  Could it be that the way to avoid these misrepresentations is to cite the entirety of Catholic teaching throughout the ages? 

Dr. Smith then goes on to critique Miss Eden’s critique of Christopher West when he references the, in his eyes, that TOB allows us to "rediscover human existence."  Dr. Smith states the following:

I did find some interesting material there, however.  West quotes John Paul II as saying that “Since our creation as male and female is the ‘fundamental fact of human existence’ (Feb. 13, 1980), the theology of the body affords ‘the rediscovery of the meaning of the whole of existence, the meaning of life’ (Oct. 29, 1980).”
There’s only one problem with this.  Dr. Smith does not provide an actual quote.  If she did, it would be obvious this was not what John Paul II was saying.  When you quote what he actually says, you find something quite different:

1.    For a long time now, our Wednesday reflections have been centered on the following enunciation of Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt 5:27-28)....

6. Rereading it, this appeal contained in Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount cannot be an act detached from the context of concrete existence. It always means—though only in the dimension of the act to which it referred—the rediscovery of the meaning of the whole of existence, the meaning of life, which also contains that meaning of the body which here we call "nuptial.”

As is clear from the text, the “rediscovery of the meaning of the whole of existence” comes not from the entirety of the Theology of the Body.  Rather, it comes from understanding the words of the Sermon on the Mount, specifically the statements against “lust”.  Far from being all encompassing, the statement about having “lust in the heart” is limited “in the dimension of the act to which it is referred.” 

Why is this so?  When one looks at what lust really is, it goes directly contrary to everything we were called to be.  It runs contrary to everything contained in the Sermon on the Mount.  This is extremely deep stuff, but incredibly insightful.  It is clear that it is not saying that the Theology of the Body contains the rediscovery of the meaning of existence.  Mr. West may think the Pope said this.  Dr. Smith may think Mr. West is right.  Miss Eden was simply pointing out that Christopher West stated something John Paul II did not say.  Mr. West has a habit of doing this. (Except the time he stated that John Paul II flat out got it wrong in his exegesis on 1st Corinthians!)  From a technical standpoint, Miss Eden's arrow hits the center of the target.  John Paul II might or might not be talking about this elsewhere.  He doesn't do so here.

Next, Dr. Smith goes on to say that since sometimes texts regarding sexuality are left not translated from the Latin, this shows a bit of a “repressive” attitude.  Unfortunately, Dr. Smith had just enough rope to hang herself.

If one remembers from the first section, she made a big deal about Dawn Eden criticizing the judgment of two bishops who spoke favorably about Christopher West.  She stated, for the record:

To assert that one has found serious errors (Eden’s Thesis, 63, hereafter “ET”) that have escaped the notice of bishops who have a legitimate claim to be judges of the fidelity of an author’s work suggests that one is lacking in docility and humility.

            When discussing the moral theology manuals of time past, she states:

Part VI, Let me note that when some ancient texts and moral theology textbooks were translated into English the portions on sexual morality were left in Latin. (e.g., Chapter 10 of Book II of The Instructor by: Clement of Alexander: and Chapt III of A Manual of Moral Theology by Rev. Thomas Slater, S.J.: That suggests some “repression” to me.

I’m not here to comment on the accuracy or lack thereof of the statements in the Latin.  I am only here to note that Rev. Thomas Slater’s Theology Manual has a Nihil Obstat and an Imprimatur.  On what basis does Dr. Smith accuse Bishops Davis and Bodkin, men who have “legitimate claim to be judges of the fidelity of an authors work” of repression and general prudery?  Such an approach is “lacking in docility and humility” indeed.
Perhaps a more charitable interpretation is in order.  The audience of this work, as the preface states, is not the layman.  The work is not meant for edification.  As Father Slater states:

Here, however, we must ask the reader to bear in mind that manuals of moral theology are technical works intended to help the confessor and the parish priest in the discharge of their duties. They are as technical as the textbooks of the lawyer and the doctor.  They are not intended for edification, nor do they hold up a high ideal of Christian perfection for the imitation of the faithful. They deal with what is of obligation under pain of sin; they are books of moral pathology. They are necessary for the Catholic priest to enable him to administer the sacrament of Penance and to fulfil his other duties ; they are intended to serve this purpose, and they should not be censured for not being what they were never intended to be. Ascetical and mystical literature which treats of the higher spiritual life is very abundant in the Catholic Church, and it should be consulted by those who desire to know the lofty ideals of life which the Catholic Church places before her children and encourages them to practise. Moral theology proposes to itself the humbler but still necessary task of defining what is right and what wrong in all the practical relations of the Christian life. This all, but more especially priests, should know.

In short, is work was not something meant for the average lay faithful.  This was a very technical document meant to deal in a very specific context:  assisting priests in the confessional to deal with matters of moral theology.  That there is a lot still in Latin is not surprising when these are technical documents meant for people who are well-versed in Latin, as any priest during this time would be.  Include these facts, and it suddenly becomes a little bit different.

In the very limited sense she even attempts to critique Miss Eden’s thesis, Dr. Smith falls woefully short.  Perhaps she should get around to the Paschal Candle, West praising Hugh Heffner, West praising the Vagina Monologues, his faulty understanding of the "Two Bishops" (the story of the conversion of St. Pelagia), the problem of presenting Church teaching with modesty (as Paul VI commands), etc.  All of this was mentioned in the thesis, and nobody has even tried tackling these issues.  (Except Sr. Lorraine who seemed to imply that we should take the two bishops story as an allegory, when Christopher West certainly wasn't doing so!)

So far the main critiques of Miss Eden’s thesis have involved an author whose character assassinations were so wild Catholic Exchange removed them (Christina King), someone who says that West’s interpretations of things require absolutely no evidence (Fr. Loya), someone who admitted they didn’t have time to really critique the work (Sr. Lorraine) and now someone who spends 2200 words engaging in the most uncharitable of mud-slinging, and then spends the rest of her essay misquoting the Pope, and accusing two Bishop’s of engaging in prudery and repression, lacking the same docility and humility Dr. Smith lambastes Miss Eden about.  I will repeat my call:  Can we get some of our friends on the other side of the aisle to actually deal with the evidence presented?

To Part III  (Due to the sensitive nature of this post, reader discretion is advised.)

Return to Response Index

The Dawn Eden Thesis: On Dr. Janet Smith's "Response"

It appears that in the debate surrounding Dawn Eden’s Master’s thesis, the defenders of Christopher West have decided to call in the heavy artillery.  Dr. Janet Smith has issued a lengthy attack upon Dawn Eden (Dr. Smith admits the essay she wrote has absolutely nothing to do with fraternal correction!) as a person, and her thesis as a work.  Sadly, when the work is actually weighed and considered, it comes up woefully short.  Like most of the attacks so far, it is disjointed, full of ad hominem arguments, anachronistic interpretation, and the like.  The only difference now is there’s a PhD after the name.  Some may think I am departing from my relatively congenial tone I’ve had in this debate, and they are right.  Sometimes it just has to be called out for the shoddy work that it is.  Following Dr. Smith’s outline, I will divide the work as well.

             On Tone

            We see right off the bat that which is known as poisoning the well.  At least half the essay deals with no evidence Miss Eden cited, but simply “the tone” and how it is off putting.  It’s character assassination 101.  Before you move to the evidence (or in absence of evidence!) smear your opponent in the worst light possible.

            She starts off by painting Miss Eden as somebody who refuses to admit she got something wrong.  Prideful, close-minded!  Yet is this really the case?  Dr. Smith argues that of course Mr. West has taken his critic’s words to heart, as he has substantially revised his previous work.  The good doctor believes that Miss Eden should’ve been mentioning this in-depth in her thesis.

            Dr. Smith does not realize she is simply begging the question.  She failed to demonstrate where these supposed changes impact the points Miss Eden is critiquing.  Dr. Smith mentions one thing Mr. West changed his views on:  in previous works, Mr. West came awfully close to saying there was nothing wrong with sodomy if practiced in marriage, provided the “climax occurs the normal way.”  (As far as I’m aware, people like Dr. Gregory Popcak still hold this view.)  Now if Dawn Eden were to write in her thesis that West still believes this, Dr. Smith would have a perfect counter.  Yet if one wants to do a search on “sodomy” in Miss Eden’s thesis, it’s nowhere to be found.

            Some will counter “Dr. Smith never said it was” and they would be right.  Yet this little thought exercise was meant to prove a point.  The fact that West has revised his views in the past is irrelevant to the points raised in the thesis, which were based on the current edition of his books, his current articles, etc.  If anything, including the past revisions would speak ever stronger for Miss Eden's case.  In responding to her critics, Miss Eden could say something along the lines of:

While the reader may believe I am being overly harsh and sweeping in my criticisms of Christopher West, they should note that this is not without precedent.  According to Dr. Janet Smith at Sacred Heart Major Seminary (who is also one of West’s biggest defenders), “…he [Mr. West] substantially rewrote portions” of his opus Theology of the Body Explained.   If his work was flawed enough as it needed to be “substantially rewrote” before, who is to say that now is any different?

That places defenders of West already one step in the hole. They have to defend someone who is serially revising his published works.  While we all make mistakes shouldn’t this say perhaps we should be a little more careful before spouting off opinions in public as Catholic teaching?  In short, if Dr. Smith wants to mention where Mr. West has “corrected” himself in relation to Dawn Eden’s thesis, she is certainly welcome to.  Otherwise, she is arguing something that is irrelevant, and arguing it from silence at that.

            On Appeals to Authority

The next fallacy inherent in Dr. Smith’s work is that of the appeal to authority.  She is certainly correct that one must be careful when questioning those in authority, especially if they are Bishops.  Perhaps Dr. Smith does not realize this, but she implicitly does the same thing she claims Miss Eden is guilty of!  When discussing the rather rotten state of catechesis in the American Church, Dr. Smith states:

Does all criticism of “yesterday’s Church” foster resentment and is it thus wrong to criticize yesterday’s Church?  Who would deny that across the board, catechetical teaching in the US for several decades was seriously inadequate if not erroneous?

            Tell me dear reader, who was responsible for the “inadequate if not erroneous” catechesis if not ultimately the Bishops?  Did Dr. Smith write any of them in private before making this claim?  Elsewhere she states that a bishop has the “legitimate claim to be judges of the fidelity of an author’s work.”  Since last time I checked, she is no Bishop; she has essentially disqualified herself from this debate.  She cannot say whether or not West has gotten it right or not, as she is not a Bishop.

            This is of course absurd.  In the end, Rome has not (and almost certainly will not) pronounce with any definitive certainty on the writings of Christopher West.  As a result, Catholic thought can take a variety of opinions regarding the claims he makes.  They can be evaluated, accepted, or rejected.  Since nobody is calling anybody a heretic, it is really rather pointless to mention that Bishop’s have stated the work isn’t heretical.  Nobody said it was!  Or does Dr. Smith think an imprimatur and nihil obstat means complete agreement and perfect orthodoxy of a work?

            Furthermore, is it the assertion of Dr. Smith that Bishops are always right?  As she herself noted, some of them allowed things that were “erroneous” to be perpetuated throughout their dioceses, and did little if anything to stop it.  Church history teaches us that many times, Bishops have simply gotten it wrong, even some of those who were very good Bishops.  Pope Zozimus was an overall good Pope.  Yet he was wrong in his assessment of the sincerity of Pelagius.  When St. Augustine denounced Pelagius, Pelagius would say “even the Bishop of Rome accepts what I am saying!  I am no heretic!”  This did not deter the greatest of the Church Fathers.  Not only did he intensify his attacks on Pelagius, he wrote to the current pope, reminding him of Pope Innocent’s assessment, and why he believes that situation has not changed.  If a Bishop came forth and gave the same arguments against Mr. West that Dawn Eden gave, would that make any difference to Dr. Smith?  We all know the answer to that question.  Of course it wouldn’t, and Dr. Smith would be no less of a Catholic for writing in public that she thought the Bishop’s reasoning was flawed.  The argument from authority in this case means:  Ignore all evidence folks.  Chutzpah indeed Dr. Smith!

            After stating that Dawn Eden is close-minded, lacking in pride and humility, and someone who has made her remarks just so she could make a quick buck, Dr. Smith demonstrates to Dawn Eden what chutzpah really is:

Of course, substance is more important than tone, but if one takes an aggressive or ad hominem tone, one is less likely to earn a receptive hearing.  A bad tone can convey to the reader that the critic has a personal agenda against a particular author; that the critic has produced a polemic rather than a sober scholarly analysis.

            Let me get this straight, for the record.  Dr. Janet Smith believes that Dawn Eden has betrayed a negative bias in her work, and a personal agenda.  Failure to do this, in Dr. Smith’s own words, tells the reader that the critic is just interested in “firewood for burning.”  Let us recap.  Before any substance is dealt with, Dr: Smith says Miss Eden:
1.)   Lacks shame in admitting she is wrong.  (In the paragraph “Refusal to admit error)
2.)   Lacking in docility and humility, in essence, arrogant.  (“Teaching Authority”)
3.)  Full of Chutzpah
4.)  Orchestrated a marketing ploy to get rich by timing the release of her thesis with the holding of the TOB Congress, turning her from an obscure graduate student to someone flying around the country to give talks.
5.)  Whiny
6.)  Disrespects the intelligence of her readers (in other words, engages in intellectual dishonesty)

And then she cautions the reader about how it would seem as if Dawn Eden had an agenda, and we should recognize her axe to grind.  Subsequently, this should limit if not outright cancel anything Miss Eden says.  Physician, heal thyself!

Go to Part II

Return to Response Index

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Why the Incarnation Matters: Extra Elisha Nulla Salus

One of the things I have always found curious about the prophet Elijah is how much “unfinished business” he leaves. He destroyed all the priests of pagan worship in Samaria, encountered the presence of God on Mt. Horeb, worked miracles left and right, and yet there is more to do. Future Kings must be anointed. (Of which we will speak more of later.) In addition to these secular matters, God commands Elijah to anoint a successor, to finish the job he started. One can see a very interesting shadow of Christ here I believe. Even the greatest prophet in Israel (until that time) still had things to do. A successor would come who was even greater than Elijah! In the meantime, he chooses Elisha as his successor.

The choice of Elisha is again demonstrative of God’s supremacy. He is a herdsman, still under the authority of his father when God makes known to Elijah his successor. We know from our earlier study that it can be inferred that Elijah was a man of at least moderate nobility. (Being able to secure an audience with King Ahab to announce the drought.) God calls him because it is His will, not for any reason according to the standards of the world. When he is adopted by Elijah, Elisha becomes essentially his apprentice, traveling with Elijah for 8 years.

When Elijah is assumed into heaven, Elisha formally takes over, receiving a “double inheritance” from Elijah. While the terms might be confusing to us, it simply means that he received the fullness of Elijah’s ministry. He proves this by doing precisely what Elijah did in demonstrating power over the Jordan River, invoking God’s name to force the river to part. If we remember, the Israelites of this time worshipped the nature gods of the Phoenicians. By subjecting the water to his will, God demonstrates to Elisha that he will continue in his masters calling.

Like his predecessor, he continues the missionary nature of the prophetic ministry. When he meets several of “the prophets” (essentially minstrels of the time) he learns that their rivers are polluted. He does so by the most curious means; he pours salt into the waters.

In this instance and when Elisha commands rain to fall on the earth during before a battle to quench the thirst of soldiers, (2 Kings 3) the supremacy of Yahweh over the elemental forces of nature was demonstrated. With the salt, God takes simple matter from the earth and uses it to purify everything. One is reminded of the sacraments here, how a small wafer, a few drops of water, a smidgen of oil, how these are able to cleanse the souls of the faithful. We are that polluted water.

He continues working other miracles (in saving the estate of a woman, and then later raising her son) just as Elijah did, outside of Israel. When he finally returns to Samaria, he continues the prophetic ministry. He then displays the missionary character in a different way.

During this time, the rising power of Syria is in a state of constant war with the nations surrounding Israel. Even in times of peace, all parties involved are simply replenishing their forces, preparing for another war. One of the Syrian generals is a man by the name of Naaman. Known as a brave and valiant man, he is also diseased as a leper. (Not the leprosy we know of, but a debilitating skin disease nonetheless.) When he learns of a prophet in Samaria who could certainly cure him, he obtains permission to head there. Eventually, he meets with Elisha, and the prophet tells him “wash seven times in the Jordan.”

Namaan leaves angrily, and one can hardly blame him. In his tradition (and the traditions of various pagan peoples), prophets normally had their ministry followed by much extravagance. (Remember the minstrels in Israel, “prophets” known for the ecstasies, the prophets of Hadad who confronted Elijah with their elaborate dancing and cutting of themselves, etc.) Elisha doesn’t even offer to do anything. He simply tells him to wash in the waters, and not just any water, but the Jordan River. Why did Namaan waste all of this time, just to take a bath in what seems to him as some dirty backwater? (He displays his contempt in the Scriptures by mentioning several other waters which were obviously better.)

As he is leaving, his servants finally convince him to just do what the prophet says. He would have offered a thousand sacrifices had the prophet commanded him. Why not just take a dip in the river? As he does this, he is cured! Running back to Elisha, he gives one of the greatest statements of monotheism and faith in Yahweh to be found anywhere in the Scriptures. He immediately renounces his faith in Rimmon, the pagan god of Damascus.

What does this say about the nature of the Church and Jesus Christ, whose Incarnation we celebrate as Christians? Here you could see the roots of that ever controversial doctrine extra ecclesiam nulla salus: Outside the Church There is no Salvation. The sinner is called to God’s land, which is the Church. We are Namaan. The Church gives the waters of baptism, which clean. Left implied in the story is that any other water would not have cleansed Lamaan of his sickness, it would have made him feel good. Likewise, how many people in the world today accept false remedies to their problems? Whether it be promiscuity, drugs, alcohol, greed, pride, these may give the individual a certain euphoria, but they cannot heal the soul.

The Church asks instead for the simplest of things: Have a few drops of water poured on your head.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Why The Incarnation Matters: Elijah the Evangelist

When we consider the nature of Israel during Biblical times, we must remember that first and foremost, they were intended to possess a missionary character. Their purpose was to be God’s chosen people for several reasons. First, their personal example in holiness was meant to draw the nations back to God, as it had been in the beginning. Second, they were meant, as priests, to instruct the nations in the ways of God. We see this missionary character at its peak during the reign of King Solomon, when rulers from all around the world traveled to learn his wisdom, which was ultimately a gift from God.

With a few exceptions, the exact opposite of their calling happened. Rather than leading the world to God, they were led by the nations to serve false idols. Rather than instructing in wisdom, they were instructed in foolishness, as the very notion of serving dead pieces of wood was the height of absurdity.

If man was faithless however, God was still faithful. His people would serve their purpose one way or another.  We begin to see the recapturing of this missionary spirit during the times of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. They establish the path that is expounded upon by later prophets. In their own individual way, they begin paving the landscape for not only Jesus Christ, but the very missionary nature of His Church thousands of years later.

With Elijah, we note his missionary character during his exile by King Ahab when he is sent to Zarephath. The Book of Kings tells us Elijah is sent there, and “I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” When the Kingdom of Israel rejects Elijah’s message, God sends him to the nations represented by this Phoenician woman.

As a Phoenician, she worshipped the elements of nature like her people. As was noted in the last posting, Elijah causes a drought to fall upon the entire region as a way of showing God’s supremacy over the elements of nature. In addition to the drought, there is a massive famine throughout the land. When Elijah meets the widow, the famine has become so intense that she and her son are preparing one last meal before their death. They have essentially given up all hope.

If the drought showed God’s supremacy, Elijah would show God’s clemency. By taking care of God’s servant Elijah, he promises the woman that what little she has will not run out. Sure enough, that small bit of food and oil feeds them for years.

There is much to be said within this little story about the missionary character of the Church. Like the pagans of the story, the people of the nations today are losing hope. They have worshipped at the altar of sex, power, the passing things of this world, and they have provided no happiness. In the certain sense of the word, they are “widows.” They were called and made for union with God, and they have deserted Him. The widowhood of mankind is stranger though, for the widow is a widow by choice, choosing to treat the one they were called for union with as dead. They are truly alone in the world.

Like Elijah, the Church is sent to the widow, the man of today without God. The Church points out the intellectual and spiritual famine of this world and says “join us, bring us to your home, and you will survive this.” Yet the individual must provide their life towards God’s service. By giving up the last bit of food she had, the widow was taking a great risk, and yet still had nothing to lose. If she gives up the last bit of food and nothing happens, her death is certain. If she turns the man away, she dies anyway, except maybe with a little bit of the pain dulled out.

Is this not what the world does today? They take things that were originally given by God, and use them for their own selfish purposes. They don’t really bring healing; they just make it easier to cope. The sexually promiscuous person is never happy. I had a friend in this state, who told me she had to drink herself into a massive stupor to be able to sleep with anyone anymore. She knew it didn’t help or maker her happier, what it did was kill the pain for a brief amount of time, making the road to death easier.

Elijah challenges the woman to do different. Picking up on the previous column, he offers a second wager to the world. Don’t use what you have simply for the gratification of yourself; use it as a gift to others. Use your food to help save the lives of others. Everyone dies anyways; we might as well spend that time trying to enrich the lives of others. This act of selflessness ends up being her salvation. Through this one act, God provides her an endless supply of food and happiness. When the widow’s son dies, Elijah restores him. At this point, the widow recognizes the truth of God Elijah brings to her, and she begins to worship God.

The Church today tells the modern world: Following falsehood will lead you to death. There is no happiness in the religion of self. Only in serving others will you find life. Only in being a gift to others will you find true prosperity and happiness.

May we always have this zeal with the world, and everyday bring souls the source of true happiness and life.

Friday, September 24, 2010

For Those who Thought West Would Learn.....

So much for that idea!

At the end of the interview, he states his critics are "usually of the religious right."

It is really nice to know that Christopher West has now adopted the language of Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and a host of other organizations that are enclaves of Catholic thought.

This is what Christopher West has learned in his "sabbatical", which apparently wasn't a sabbatical at all.  If one is "taking a break" and fails to learn even the fundamental rules of charity, then one needs to take a longer break.

Does he mean "religious right" as in traditionalists?  Not sure if he's noticed, but this isn't 20 years ago anymore.  Not only are traditionalists no longer marginalized, but we are on the rise.  Good luck trying to tar us this time.

With every moment passing, he further discredits himself.  Maybe he forgets that John Paul II was one of the most prominent members of "the religious right" for decades.  Is it the assertion of Mr. West that his critics aren't a bunch of ignorant rubes who are really just a bunch of nutjobs?  As I said before, good luck.  You'll need it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Moving Back the Goalposts

I must say that I am a bit vexed lately in the debate surrounding Dawn Eden’s masters' thesis. The work itself is over 80 pages and contains a rather thorough critique of the interpretation Christopher West gives to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. We’ve seen a few months go by, and there has not been much of a response.

While there certainly has been a lot of energy, it has mainly been sound and fury signifying nothing. The most popular charge has been that of jealousy or a personal vendetta against Christopher West. There is no place for this in a serious discussion, so it shall be dismissed without evidence. Sister Marianne Lorraine Trouve has written a seemingly imposing critique of Miss Eden in which she thinks a far too simplistic reading is given towards the work of Mr. West. When you actually dive into the work of Sr. Lorraine, you don’t find much directly challenging Eden’s thesis. She attempts to find fault with the “themes” used, but for the most part leaves out the actual evidence to justify those themes that comes later in the thesis. She was upfront about this, citing time constraints as the reason she did not give a full treatment. The question naturally arises from those like myself: When criticizing those for not giving sufficient time to an issue, shouldn’t you give sufficient time in responding to them?

At least there was an attempt to interact with the evidence. One Christina King has joined this foray, and she does so by completely ignoring the evidence and simply attacking the integrity of those she disagrees with. Before we dive in too deep, a little word about Miss King.

Those who have visited this blog remember a previous post where I challenged her assertion that those faithful sons of the Church attending the Extraordinary Form are essentially Manicheans. The promised “part two” Miss King had made never really materialized. Catholic Exchange yanked the work once people protested that the work was nothing but character assassination, double standards, and red herrings. Miss King placed the article on her blog. After reading it, you can see why the article didn’t make the cut. Indeed, it is full of nothing but red herrings, character assassinations, and double standards, with a healthy side of weak argumentation. To let it stand in a very public forum would’ve done nothing but damage the credibility of those she agrees with. It was an act of mercy.

She has followed this up with a very lengthy “point by point response” where it appears she has not learned her lesson previously. If this is the best that can be done, Miss Eden must feel fairly confident in her thesis.

1.) On the TOB Institute

In her thesis, Dawn Eden stated that the TOB was founded to help promote the views of Christopher West. Since those exact words do not appear in their mission statement, Miss King calls this “false.” This is simply not serious argumentation. We know that Christopher West is a research fellow at the Institute, and his works there are heavily promoted. Since Miss King likes to promote it and has attended the Institute, perhaps she would be gracious to tell us how much of the material at the TOB Institute is based off the writings of Alice VonHildebrand, Dr. David Schindler, Fr. Jose Granados, or Mary Shivanandran, all distinguished prominent critics of Mr. West’s take on Theology of the Body? I’m going to make a guess she is free to correct me on: not much if any. West is the champion of the school of thought that the TOB Institute Explains. At their 1st Annual Congress, they pronounced the Church was ignorant of human sexuality from Trent until John Paul II, an increase in sex education in schools, and advised us to start referring to God as a “pathological stalker.” Perhaps Miss King is right; The TOB Institute is far worse than Mr. West and should not be viewed as promoting his worldview. Their worldview is simply crazy!

2.) One must attend the TOB Institute to really make a critique

This is another curious claim. It is akin to a certain Gnostic mentality. There is this “hidden knowledge” at the Institute that makes understanding West so much easier! Allow me to ask the following query of those who make this claim: show us the coursework. Show the reading material, coursework, and videos which would demonstrate Miss Eden incorrect. These kinds of claims only have merit when you can prove through the evidence something is missing. West has been the golden boy of the TOB Institute. If they didn’t want to get dragged into the discussion, perhaps they shouldn’t have been such ardent promoters of his vision and work.

3.) The “Two Bishops” and Occasions of Sin

It will be necessary to recap the story that Mr. West tells. Exhorting people to a “mature purity”, he asks:

Think about it: if the only thing that keeps a couple from having sex before marriage is the lack of opportunity, what does that say about the desire of their hearts? Are they free to choose the good? Are they free to love? ... As stated previously, if we chain our freedom to sin, with the same stroke we chain the freedom necessary to love.
Nobody doubts the accuracy of the quote Miss Eden made (which I am reproducing, which can be found in context and entirety in West’s book “Theology of the Body Explained”, page 274. This was in regards to a couple who agreed not to spend time all alone (at that particular point or until they were married, we do not know, West does not say) because they were finding it to be an occasion of sin. They might be acting “safe”, but they are not trusting Christ. He then gives us a story of what trusting in Christ really is:

The following story illustrates what mature Christian purity looks like. Two bishops walked out of a cathedral just as a scantily clad prostitute passed by. One bishop immediately turned away. The other bishop looked at her intently. The bishop who turned away exclaimed, “Brother bishop, what are you doing? Turn your eyes!” When the bishop turned around, he lamented with tears streaming down his face, “How tragic that such beauty is being sold to the lusts of men.” Which one of those bishops was vivified with the ethos of redemption? Which one had passed over from merely meeting the demands of the law to a superabounding fulfillment of the law….. [I]t is generally reported that upon seeing the half-naked Pelagia parading through the streets of Antioch while his brother bishops turned away, Bishop Nonnus looked upon her with love and great delight. She noticed his look of love and was eventually converted through his counsel and preaching. She is known as St. Pelagia of Antioch.

Sounds like it perfectly upholds what Mr. West is teaching right? That rather than “turning his eyes”, his look of love led to the conversion of a saint. The bishop who viewed it an occasion of sin and turned his eyes was merely “continent” while Bishop Nonnus was practicing virtue. There’s only one problem with this narrative: it didn’t happen that way. As recounted by Miss Eden in her thesis:

In a footnote, West cites Helen Waddell’s account of Nonnus and Pelagia in The Desert Fathers. However, the story she relates, translated from Eustochius’s Latin version of James the Deacon’s Greek account, differs from his own on many key points. Nonnus’s tears are not because “such beauty is being sold to the lusts of men.” Rather, the bishop feels ashamed upon witnessing the effort that the harlot puts into preparing her appearance for men, for he believes he has not put nearly so much effort into his appearance before God. Returning to his chamber, he flings himself upon the floor and repents to Christ: “for a single day’s adorning of a harlot is far beyond the adorning of my soul….. Pelagia, in Waddell’s account, does not notice that Nonnus looks at her on the street; her conversion comes about afterwards, when she hears him preach. Most significantly, when Pelagia then writes to the bishop and asks to see him, he agrees only on the condition that there be other bishops present. “[S]eek not to tempt my weakness,” he writes. (Eden’s thesis, pages 56-57)
Being blunt, West got caught playing what I like to call “Google Scholar.” Like the person who thinks they know the truth because they looked something up on Google, West found a source for this, and most likely didn’t bother to check the original source. The fact that the Bishop refuses to meet her alone ruins the point West tried to make. In the opinion of West, this bishop was going to stay “on the boat” rather than risking it for Christ’s sake “on the waters.” The Bishop acted with continence, but not virtue.

Miss King ignores all of this. She simply asserts that it is a valid analogy for a proper understanding of TOB, and doesn’t harm West’s case in any way. I certainly believe it is a valid analogy. This does not prove however that “risking it” is virtuous as opposed to “playing it safe.” She states that West is only talking about “love”, not matters of purity. Yet the original hypothetical couple, in West’s own words, agreed not to be alone at that particular time because it could lead to occasions of sin. This was harming their purity. West calls them to “risk it”, boldly trusting that Christ will transform their desires and to develop a “mature purity” which is beyond “turning your eyes” (continence) and being able to look upon a scantily clad woman (the occasion of sin) with love to lead to their strengthening (an occasion of grace.) In the assessment of West, their temptations to lust were interfering with their ability to love, which is true enough. The remedy proposed however was to stop playing it “safe” and be willing to risk it. If someone has an inclination towards sin, you don’t encourage them to overcome that sin by surrounding them in it. West “commends” this couple only in the sense of a back-handed compliment. “Sure, they are doing right I suppose, but they are not fulfilling their call!”

Miss King attempts a rather clever response. When she rightly notes that the Bishop did not “look” at St. Pelegia, it really means “did not look with lust” because:

When West shares that Pelagia does not notice that Nonnus “looks” at her, we must understand that is because Nonnus did NOT “look” at her. To “look” means in this parable and in the writings of concupiscence by John Paul II , of an objectification. “Look” in this context, means to transfer a “look” from the eyes to the heart. Nonnus did not “look” lustfully and in not “looking” thus, he did not allow lust to transfer to his heart. This is the whole point of the story.
There’s only one problem with this interpretation. This isn’t what West said. Once again, the Bishop who “turned his eyes” acted not with virtue, but mere continence. The Bishop who was willing to “risk it” looked upon her with love, not lust, and hence practiced virtue. Yet that same bishop who “looked” rightly, refused to meet her in private, because it would serve as a temptation to his weakness, and be an occasion of sin. The “looking” here is precisely that, he “looked” with his eyes. The story, being in historical basis, is not an allegory. It actually happened. She simply tries to spin it away by saying “this is what West is teaching.” If this is indeed what West is promoting, why the need to omit (being charitable) or alter (being polemical) certain key facts of the story?

That’s really all that can be said. Miss King returns to character assasination stating that those like Miss Eden defend the view that “marriage legitimizes a man's desire to use his wife for pleasure.” Of course, there is no citation for this. This is so because Miss Eden does not believe a husband may use his wife as a vehicle for his own gratification. Nowhere is this even implied. As a matter of fact, I have never, I repeat, never heard any critic of West say this or imply this. Such an attitude is deeply misogynistic and exploitative. Just like before, there is no evidence that backs up these assertions. She’s just flinging mud at the wall, hoping something sticks.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why the Incarnation Matters: Elijah's Wager

When we continue through the Old Testament during the years of the Kingdom, there is always certain sadness in my soul reading this narrative. We see once again a confirmation of God’s plan, and man’s rejection of that plan. After establishing David (and for a time Solomon) as King of a growing state meant to teach the nations of God, Israel is instead influenced by the nations. They go from great power to divided kingdoms, divided kingdoms to vassals, vassals to nothingness.

Each time this occurs, they are given ample opportunity to repent. In the case of the Kingdom of Judah, they sometimes do, although it is always very brief. Within one generation, they turn their backs on God again. God sends them the prophets during this time to provide them with another resource towards Him, and they reject (and in some cases) murder the prophets. The sins of the Kingdom of Israel were so grave the people are wiped off the face of the earth. (Becoming “The Lost Tribes of Israel”) Judah’s kingdom becomes so depraved in her sins, she is called “worse than Israel” by the prophets, and the glorious Temple is destroyed, and their fate is exile. I would like to spend the next few segments reflecting upon this period in Israel’s time, and what it ultimately means for our study.

When discussing the two Kingdoms, it is good to remember one thing. Neither are treated very favorably by the authors in the Scriptures. Of the 39 Kings of Israel and Judah after the split of the kingdom, 7 are spoken of with a general positive image. Out of those 7, only two or three are praised highly. In the Kingdom of Israel, every King is spoken of with greater or lesser contempt with the exception of two of them. (The best that can be said was they did evil “not as much as their fathers.”) Indeed, the writer of Kings can barely be bothered to mention them, since he gives the frequent retort “as for the rest of their works, are they not mentioned in the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?” In other words “don’t make me waste my time speaking of them beyond what is absolutely necessary.” For us, it is absolutely necessary to focus on the Kingdom of Israel. While an evil people led by mainly evil kings, some of the greatest events in Scripture happen in this Kingdom.

Let us offer a few passing notes on the Kingdom. First, we recognize that life as a King of Israel was a very dangerous job. Out of the 19 Kings, there are 9 different ruling dynasties. Since the kingdom existed for around 210 years, a “change in management” occurred roughly every 24 years. 9 of the kings were assassinated, 2 of them died early deaths not the result of natural causes. Jeroboam was promised a peaceful dynasty had he followed God’s will. Since he didn’t, the very opposite happened.

Following a series of civil wars and coup d’√©tat’s, Omri ascended to the throne of Israel. He brings not only political stability to the Northern Kingdom, but turns them into a regional power as well. Through his work and that of his son, he even manages to effectively control the Kingdom of Judah. (Via marriage alliance, and the fact that Israel was far stronger at the time, it can reasonably be deduced that Judah was essentially a vassal.) When he dies, it looks as if God’s plan has completely failed. Rather than a single kingdom set to bring about the light to the nations, the land is effectively ruled by a cruel pagan.

The cruelty of the Northern Kingdom intensifies under the leadership of Ahab. In addition to continuing the strengthening of the region begun by his father Omri, he married the Phoenician Jezebel, which led to an explosion of pagan worship within the lands, and the slaughter of many Jewish priests and prophets by Jezebel. In their place, worship of ba’al (meaning in Israeli culture a false god, in this case Hadad), the ancient regional god of rain, thunder, and lightning flourished. During this time, salvation history reaches another major event, the appearance of Elijah.

There is curiously little known about Elijah before this point. His name does not tell us much. (It simply means The Lord is God.) Unlike other major figures of the Scriptures, he is given no family background. We can infer he had to have been a man of at least medium importance (since he is introduced in the Scriptures as having an audience with the King), but little else is told.

I believe this to be by design. Just as the selection of David tended to defy the natural order, Elijah’s appearance is not based on nobility, talent, etc. He simply is there. He appears before the King, and delivers God’s message, and takes up the fight against pagan worship. While he may have lived in relative obscurity before, after this point we learn much about him. He enters the scene condemning the rampant paganism by pronouncing sentence upon the Kingdom of Israel, stating:

As the Lord the god of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word. (1 Kings 17:1)

The choice of a drought I always found to be a curious one. While the standard message “they would be forced to trust on God so it would rain again” holds true, I think the modern eye misses a deeper understanding. As previously noted, worship of Hadad flourished in the land of Samaria. (Israel) Since he was the god of storms, this was a direct challenge towards their deity. As was noted before with the story of the Golden Calf, man had perverted the natural order. The seasons, just like the beasts of the earth, were ultimately created for man’s purpose, not for man to worship.

While this can be looked at as an act of punishment, I believe it to also be an act of mercy. God wishes Israel to follow Him, yet He does not wish to leave them ignorant as to why. If they wish to follow an elemental spirit they believe controls the seasons, God will demonstrate that the seasons occur and change at His command only.

In addition to this challenge, Elijah further demonstrates God’s power. The pagan Israelites believed the gods of the land provided food and life in addition to the weather. Elijah proves otherwise, promising a woman that not only would she be able to live indefinitely on a paltry amount of food and drink, but restoring life to her son when he dies. One by one the people begin to believe in Elijah’s mission, turning to God. A definitive clash was inevitable. Elijah decides to strike “first blood” if you will.

Elijah at this point is Israel’s most wanted man (King Ahab refers to him as “you troubler of Israel”), hunted relentlessly. He is hiding in the town of Zarepeth because of Ahab. Ahab even threatens war with whoever amongst the surrounding nations is harboring him. Rather than continue in hiding, he ambushes Ahab personally. He decides to confront Ahab on his own terms. Elijah challenges all the pagan priests and prophets of the Ba’al to assemble at Mount Carmel where he would directly challenge paganism in Israel.

Like Joshua before him and many others, Elijah demands Israel stop sitting on the fence. This day, they will either serve the gods of the nations, or they will serve Yahweh. In Elijah’s challenge, he gives them a reason to follow Yahweh. He pronounces himself as but one man, and points out his foes are 450. He then demands two bulls be sacrificed, one by him, and one by the pagans. Whichever sacrifice was consumed by fire, that would be the true God.

The priests of Ba’al go first. They pray their incantations and chants, and nothing happens. They process around the altar as their religious rituals demand, and nothing happens. Several hours later, they are still doing it. Showing his sense of humor, Elijah mocks them to pray louder, for perhaps their god is sleeping. This only increased their efforts, as they began mutilating themselves, pleading with their deity to respond. A full day and a lot of shed blood later, the bull is still laying on the altar. Elijah has proven the impotence of the pagan gods. Now he wishes to show the power of the true God.

Continuing his flare for the dramatics, it was not enough to have fire immediately consume the bull. First, he builds a brand new altar (refusing to offer sacrifice on the altar of a pagan) and then digs a massive trench. Continuing, he douses the offering in so much water the entire trench is filled. In a certain symbolic sense with all the water, Elijah is not just having a bull consumed by fire, but the very thing the pagans proclaimed their god controlled. As there was still a massive drought occurring throughout the land, the apparent wasting of so much water would only be further insult to injury to the pagans. If he fails, not only has he condemned them further (as there is less water), if he succeeds, they are still condemned. After all this, he asks that God accept the sacrifice.

The response was as dramatic as the challenge itself. Not only does fire consume the sacrifice, but it consumes the altar, and evaporates all of the water surrounding the altar and the trench. The people firmly convinced at this very dramatic display of power of Yahweh, rally to Elijah and execute every single pagan priest in the land.

In this story we see once again that God could have chosen to destroy the kingdom. Rather than destroy, He gives the people even more proof that they should be following Him instead. Through the actions of Elijah, he wins the repentance of King Ahab himself. Such repentance was short-lived, for Ahab and Samaria.

Just like that, Elijah’s ministry on earth abruptly ends. Designating Elisha as his successor, he is taken to heaven with a massive escort of horses and chariots of flame. He who entered in obscurity leaves with a big bang.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fr: Thomas Loya: The take on TOB Christopher and myself have requires no evidence for belief

Okay, so I'm slightly spinning, but I'm really not that far off the mark.  Before I go too far into this, a little story.

I'm a big fan of the movie Gladiator.  The movie obviously is not historical (though ironically enough, an ex girlfriend of mine was furious at me for daring to suggest that the movie was a classic example of "never let the truth get in the way of a darn good story.")  There's one line where a leading commander of Rome's army says about the barbarians:  "People should know when they're conquered."  If this is really the best Fr. Loya can do, I would like to offer the good priest some advice:  people should realize when they've lost an argument.

After stating that it is clear that the Eastern Church looks at the paschal candle in a phallic sexual way (that the descent of the Paschal Candle into holy water 3 times is analogous to a husband penetrating his wife in coitus), we hear this gem, and trust me, boy is it ever a gem (bold is my emphasis):

"Acknowledging the Paschal candle’s phallic imagery does not require a quote from a particular Father of the Church.  It is only one example of the spousal character of the church’s entire liturgical life, from Bernini’s canopy over the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, designed to resemble a nuptial bed, to St. John Chrysostom reminding married couples that on the cross Christ united Himself with his Church in “spiritual intercourse,” to the liturgical texts of the Eastern churches that proclaim on Easter: “Christ emerges from the tomb like a bridegroom from the bridal chamber and fills the women with joy!” What Roman Catholics call “Holy Week,” Eastern churches call “The Week of the Bridegroom.”

I'll be honest, I saw that remark, and laughed for about 5 minutes straight.  That Catholic Exchange would actually allow this to be ran on their website is even more astounding.  When someone asserts that it is plainly obvious and that is challenged, you cannot respond by saying "it is plainly obvious!"  Fr. Loya states that the Easter candle is a phallic symbol because......  Fr. Loya says so.  Pay, pray, obey indeed.

He isn't done.  He talks about the Resurrection itself as apparently a sexual act.  For Christ leaves the empty tomb and "fills the women with joy."  I'm going to come up with a really wild idea.  Please, bear with me.  The "filling with joy" is not sexual, but rather they are ecstatic that they learn Him who was dead has risen.  That they are women and Christ is a man, in this narrow instance, is a pure coincidence.  This isn't referencing a sexual act.  While I hate to speak ill of a man of the cloth (and those who have followed my readings for years know that I have always been very measured in public statements about a priest), the good father is rapidly approaching blasphemy territory here.

Later he says that perhaps we should replace "phallic" with "spousal" if we feel uncomfortable.  that would be akin to stating I should replace "burger" with "pizza."  Phallic implies sexuality.  There's a lot more to spousal than sex.  Yet since words have meaning, if Fr. Loya is going to insist that this is still sexual, even if "spousal", yes, I will still feel uncomfortable when the Easter Vigil is compared to sex.  Why do I feel uncomfortable?  Because it's just plain wrong.

At the end, Fr. Loya states Christopher West, the fathers and mystics of the Church, and John Paul II are right, and their critics are wrong.  He has yet to show:

1.)  One Church Father who says the immersion of the candle in the waters is akin to sexual intercourse

2.)  He has yet to name one mystic who believes this.

3.)  He hasn't even tried to show where Pope John Paul II said this.

Simply stating it to be so, in praying that it will all go away, that won't work.  Note to Catholic Exchange, and to Christopher West:  find a better spokesman.  This is just getting to the point of parody. 

And Catholic Exchange, shame on you for running such shoddy work as evidence of something profound.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Death of the Catholic Male: The Roots of Human Nature

When we discuss what I term "the death of the Catholic male", we must discuss two things first.  We must look at the roots of human nature, and how that nature has been corrupted by the adversaries of truth.

The question concerning man's purpose has been one that has been disputed at great length throughout history by philosophers, theologians, commentators, etc.  While it is true enough to say that our ultimate purpose is to know, love, and serve God, I'd like to go off into a different area.  What kind of creature is man?

The world says sometimes that man is a "sexual" creature with reason.    Everything is to be defined by our sexuality, whether it be the act itself, who we are as men and women (in a purely rationalist way), etc.  Other times, man is a creature of utility.  The worth of man is defined based upon what he contributes to society.  Other times, we are viewed as economic creatures, and more importantly creatures of class.  Our dignity is based upon our social status, and what class we belong to.  (Whether it be the caste of nobility or the socialist theory.)

There is a hint of truth to all of these theories, but they are ultimately lacking.  The church responds by pointing out the fact that man was not only made in relation to God, but in relation to fellow man.  When the Earth was created, Adam was given dominion over all creation.  Yet this did not define man.  What defined him was his special creation in God's status.  There was a certain uniqueness that separated him from the animals, namely the endowment of human reason.

This in and of itself however still does not define man, or make him complete.  While God saw His creation as "very good", we also hear "it is not good for man to be alone."  Now many will see in this statement and what follows to be God's plan of the call to communion between man and female.  While certainly true, I think this ignores something just as important.  When God creates Eve, He creates another human from the rib of Adam, from his nature.  Eve would possess the exact same dignity and special status as Adam.  More importantly, every human being on the earth from this point onward would share a similar inherent dignity, with rights according to that dignity.  From this very small moment civilization and society are born.

Here we see the greatest separation from the animal kingdom.  Combined with reason, our relationships with other beings constitute something essential to human nature.  This is the first and fundamental truth of masculinity.  There are those who believe that the most desired trait is that of "independence."  We see this in concepts of the ubermensch  to the concept of the "independent woman" so rampant in today's feminist culture.  Each in it's own special way preaches an individual over and above the other, having no need of relationship.  For as Nietzsche says "What is the ape to man?"  So we are called to be in relation to others.  The "independent woman" is feminism's answer to Nietzsche.  She too may rise above the primitive concept of communion with others.  She can do everything herself, and has no need of anyone to support or help her, certainly not a man!

The Christian understanding rejects both for a variety of reasons.  One is ultimately our status as created creatures.  We cannot be the source of everything.  This fundamental limit even in our first parents (before the entrance of original sin) had dramatic ramifications for civilization.  Strong as Adam could become, there would always be certain things he was incapable of doing.  Even those things he could do, there would be some Eve was better at.  Likewise, in society there are always certain things that one person excels at, and another person excels at something else.  Only through relationships with others can man really achieve anything.

Flowing from these differences, structures naturally develop.  Yet the ultimate end of any structure was God.  This meant that our actions had to be done in accordance with His will ultimately, not ours.  The pursuit of power in a man can never bring about true fulfillment.  Therefore in the masculine nature, there is an inherent sense of obedience to something greater.  While both men and women possess this, it is something far more profound in the man.  When the Roman Centurion gives his humble prayer to Jesus, he then describes how his life is defined by nature of command, whether commanding others or himself being commanded.

The modern world rejects this idea.  Obedience is to be constantly challenged.  If one is to suffer obedience, it is only to be until they can rise past it.  It is one tool like many that are in place until they can be overcome.  If the part of submission is to be resisted (in men and women alike), that of being a Dominus is to be encouraged.  In Latin, Dominus means Lord or Master.  The secular concept teaches us to use (and abuse) everything for the fulfillment of the self.  Whether it be using another person to satisfy urges in lust, exploiting a worker to increase your bottom line, lying to accomplish a goal, society really doesn't condemn them with any strong moral voice, if they are condemned at all.  The weaklings deserve it!  That person exists to fulfill my urges, my "needs".  The worker should be lucky he has a job at all, the ends justify the means!  The byproducts of this mindset are crystal clear in the 20th century.  We saw the eugenics movement (those who are a burden to "society", meaning the self, should be "put down"), the horrors of communism (where millions were massacred under the guise of "advancing" society, which typically meant the ambitions of the ruler), and the modern-day child sacrifice of abortion (a child I did not plan holds me back, I cannot be held back by anything or anyone.)  All of the attempts to resolve the problems this mindset creates, from a secular standpoint, have been found wanting, since they are ultimately arbitrary.  Those standards which have been imposed by one individual can simply be changed at will by another individual once they assume power.

Only with the Christian Gospel (almost all of these tenants are also included within Judaism, being that we both rely on the Old Testament/Torah) contains a way out of these traps for society, and for masculinity.  By emphasizing our status as created beings, we recognize our ultimate limits, and that there is a standard to which in the end we are accountable to.  Alongside this we must emphasize the importance of the individual dignity inherent within each individual upon creation.  The first principle guides our relationship to the second.  We cannot do something to another simply because it is within our power to do so.  Since all humanity was created for each other mutually, we cannot obtain complete "independence" from another, nor is it desirable.

In future columns we will examine this understanding more in-depth, by analyzing from the perspective of truth the concepts I mentioned above.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Response to Wade St. Onge RE: TOB, West, and Related Issues

A blogger by the name of Wade St. Onge has written a rather comprehensive commentary on his thoughts regarding the entire fracas involving Christopher West, Dawn Eden, Alice Von Hildebrand, and Theology of the Body as a whole. In an ongoing discussion with Wade, he has asked me to reproduce some of those insights that I did in an email discussion with him over this weekend.

While I will reproduce a lot of the correspondence, I also hope to develop these even further. Though bound by current constraints in which I would like to write about, I hope to in future posts return to these manners. Overall, I think that his commentary is very long, but well worth the read. There are things he covers in this work which give a very fresh insight to this controversy.

While a lot of his commentary offers I believe brutal analysis into a lot of the misunderstandings Mr. West demonstrates, he begins with offering some praise. While I think there can be much to praise, I do have a few issues.

1.) On the “Prudish” Church

Wade begins by sympathizing with Mr. West’s claims of rampant “prudery” in the Church before Theology of the Body. He believes this is so in that he feels many priests spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with what we call traditionally “sins of the flesh.”

Let me begin by stating that arriving at a sufficient answer here is near impossible. There is no data to analyze. (Indeed, if there was, some priests would most likely be receiving a call and excommunication papers from Rome.) We are dealing primarily here with subjective experiences. What follows from me is purely speculative.

Let us ask ourselves however: what is “prudery?” This is constantly left undefined by Mr. West and his defenders. From now on, we should always ask them to define their terms. For Wade, it is the priests focusing too much on sexual sins in the confessional. It is a curious definition of “prudery” and I guess I would like him to elaborate on it further.

We do know that sins of the flesh claim an inordinate amount of souls. In the Old Testament, we know that one of the most serious sins facing the two kingdoms was that of the qdeshim (male cult prostitutes) by which Jews were drawn from the worship to Yahweh towards the worship of the pagan gods. Sins of this nature are not only particularly appealing (because of the pleasure they give) but also extremely hard to root out (given the fact that they represent objectification par excellence.) Sins of lust killed the 6 husbands of Sara, and it can be inferred the temptation of the “daughters of men” in Genesis led to the Nephilim, leading to the Great flood.

We also know that in today’s hyper-sexualized culture, these kinds of sins are of particular problem and risk. The Church in her wisdom in the confessional tries to deal with those sins. Granted, some priests might not do the best job, but we are dealing with something that is a very serious nature here, as I’m sure Wade would agree.

He anticipates this objection, thinking that this kind of mentality could lead to prudishness. Perhaps. That being said, orthodox spiritual instruction can also lead to scrupulosity in the untrained. The problem of prudery I submit comes from a zeal not tempered by prudence or humility. Far from a healthy sexuality, prudishness is an inordinate fear, an inability to have a healthy understanding of their spiritual growth/nature. Their sentiment in attempting to avoid occasions of sin is laudable, yet their zealousness leads to problems of their own. I think West doesn’t treat this seriously. Prudery is indeed a serious problem. Yet a simple change of intellect is normally not enough to combat this. This requires very careful spiritual guidance from a competent director.

West many times seems to downplay the noble intention of the people who suffer from this problem. He seems to treat Hugh Heffner and John Paul II on the same side of attempting to overthrow “Victorian prudery”, even if Heffner went about it the wrong way. Prudery, like scrupulosity, ultimately comes from something noble. In West’s attacks on prudery, he essentially treats prudery as the source of all problems in society. One can hardly be faulted for thinking Mr. West actually believes that if not for prudery, a healthy sexual ethic would exist in the minds of Christians. This is the height of naivet√©.

2.) On Analogies

One of the most heated areas of dispute in this entire fracas regards how many promoters of Christopher West’s employ certain analogies. Wade mentions one of them when Mr. West describes heaven as the “ultimate climax.” Dr. Janet Smith describes God as a stalker.

He believes that there is a sort of prudishness in why Catholics will call heaven “the heavenly Jerusalem” but not “the heavenly climax.” I believe Mr. West and those that make this statement ultimately confuse the purpose of symbolism. The marital embrace is meant to be a sign of something. It is to be a sign, with all the human limitations, of the deep intimate union we are called to in Christ Jesus. Once we are in heaven, such signs are no longer necessary. We will have that perfect mystical union.

So isn’t this the “ultimate climax?” Not exactly. A “climax” implies the end of an act and an exchange in a sexual act. In heaven, let us make this clear, there is not sex. Let me repeat: Heaven is not sexual. Silly as that sounds, we’ve got to establish that. Furthermore, once we reach that intimate union, there is no “climax.” Rather, once we are in heaven, that union is just beginning, and never ends. It is something so beyond the senses, there really is nothing to describe it.

Now some will certainly counter that the Bible and tradition is full of a “nuptial” or spousal language employed to demonstrate the relationship between Christ and His Church, and with every individual Christian. This is certainly true. Yet this is not sexual. There is a difference between an imagery of a marriage, and the imagery of sex. Sex exists as a symbol here on Earth. Sex will be gone in heaven, as it will no longer have a purpose. There will be no more procreation, nor there need for a sign of deeper union. I submit that is why the Bible lacks “sexual” language in describing heavenly union.

Yet if sex will not be there, marriage will. Not in the individual sense of two individuals marrying however, for “they are not married or given in marriage”. Instead, there will be one giant marriage of Christ and the Church, celebrated at the wedding feast of the Lamb. As any married couple will tell you (and I’m sure I’ll learn soon enough one of these days!) marriage is about far more than sex. When one begins the journey down the mystical road the spiritual writers speak of, they begin to experience a foretaste of this heavenly bliss. This is the reason people like St. John of the Cross employed spousal imagery.

Yet at the same time, we arrive at certain problems. We will not always experience that foretaste of union. This could lead someone to think they have done something wrong. Indeed, rather than bliss, there is a real dryness in their spirituality at that point. St. John of the Cross wrote the poem Dark Night of the Soul (along with the commentaries on it of The Ascent of Mt. Carmel and the far more famous book Dark Night of the Soul) to explain this phenomena. To him, this was not a sign of spiritual weakness. Rather, the soul was beginning to mature and prepare itself for that divine union. When a couple enters into an earthly marriage, they experience the same. Many times, there is not a fire of love and passion, but rather a very dry feeling in their relationship. This could be the way of beginning to look past their needs and desires, and instead being a gift to the other person. Archbishop Fulton Sheen captured this perfectly, even speaking of a “Dark Night of the Body” in marriage:

What the Dark Night of the Soul is to the spiritual life, the Dark Night of the Body is to marriage. Neither are permanent; both are occasions of purification for fresher insights into Love. If the fig tree of love is to bear fruit, it must be purged and dunged. Dryness in the spiritual life and in marriage are really actual graces. God’s finger is stirring the waters of the soul, creating discontent, that new efforts may be put forth. … There are two kinds of dryness: there is one which rots, which is the dryness of love without God; and there is also a dryness which ripens, and that is won when one grows through the fires and heat of sacrifice.
This line of thought is practically absent from the thought of Christopher West. I would even go as far to say that as long as this is not emphasized, his theology is not “nuptial” at all. One could even go towards saying it is but a shadow of the truth.

3.)  Briefly on Eros
Now some could say I am downplaying “eros”, treating it as a dirty thing. To do so is to have a misunderstanding of eros that is pretty common. In short, eros need not be “sexual” love, or even a love of physical attraction. eros is just as much about a love that is “creative” as it is sexual. Let’s take a small trip back through Greek mythology here.

In Greek lore, Eros was the god of fertility. The earliest conceptions of Eros, he embodied not only love but the creative aspect of nature which flows into society. Naturally, this was closely inclined with fertility. This kind of love no doubt comes from the One True God. Yet just like all things tainted by sin, man’s conception of Eros soon turned into mere passionate sexual love. Soon, in many cases love was dropped from the understanding altogether. Most Greeks certainly engaged in the erotic, but did so without love.

As God began preparing the intellectual landscape for His Son, you begin to see a heightening of eros. Plato comes along and reminds the Greeks that eros need not be sexual. In fact, the best eros is not sexual. Rather, it is a love of the created. In this case, one sees the beauty of another created figure, and simply loves them for that created beauty. The best eros however moves beyond that. The initial draw to the beauty of a person becomes something deeper. One becomes in love with what they truly represent, their highest values. Highest of all to Plato was wisdom. So in his eros, it ceases being about sex and sensual love, and turns into an appreciation of what makes that person special. It becomes a love of the uniqueness of the human person. From there, it becomes a longing for the completion that person provides. While this can be sexual and something physical, to limit this in Platonic thought would be foolish. That which is greatest for Plato to love was that which was eternal, beyond this physical world. There were some shortcomings of Plato, lacking the light of Christ of course. Yet I think one can see him laying out the intellectual landscape for something greater.

When Christ comes, He indeed shows us something even better. As great as eros was meant to be, Christ elevates agape above all else. Agape is that love which is the highest of all loves. The love that asks nothing in return and instead gives. Christ ultimately could have accomplished union with the people of God without His own sacrifice. He is God, He could have chosen differently. Instead, He takes on flesh in the Incarnation and God gives up His own life on the cross for those created to know, love, and serve Him. Eros no doubt led to this self-sacrificing love. Christ loved each one of us individually and longed for the deepest union possible with every human being. Yet Christ baptizes eros into true agape. That, my friends, is the “nuptial” and spousal imagery of the Scriptures. Now I want the reader to ask themselves a question: How much of this understanding of eros is really present in the thought of Christopher West? Is it entirely absent? Of course not. Yet is it more focusing on it as a mere sexual love? I would wager it is.

In the end, a misunderstanding of several basic concepts leads Mr. West to make analogies that really are ill-advised. (See my writings in the TOB section of this blog for some examples.)

There is more I could say to Wade, and I hope to do so in the future. For now, this will have to suffice.