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.