This is what happens:
For those keeping score, one remembers that a constant refrain from critics of Christopher West's interpretation of Theology of the Body is that it did not give sufficient weight to the greater Catholic tradition. Without those clear safeguards, ideas would begin floating around that have absolutely no basis within Catholic tradition. This article showcases this in spades. Without the benefit of tradition, people are twisting Pope John Paul II to say things that the good pontiff would have found absolutely abhorrent. That Catholic Exchange would run this is even more saddening. In the comments section of the article, Senior Editor Mary Kochan defended running this article by stating:
This is not my opinion and I don’t feel compelled to defend it. When Steve Pokorny put this article in, he put it in under the CE Editors name — our author field is glitchy and he might have been having trouble with it. I did not even realize that he had done that until this morning and so I fixed it.... But I think it is better for this article to be here and be brought to light and argued against so well, then for it to be isolated on some TOB site where they only discuss it among themselves.
While I am sure that myself, dcs, Wade St. Onge and others are only too happy to point out the errors of this article, some things you should never have to point out on a Catholic site. Popes in times past condemned some thoughts as "offensive to pious ears." Offensive is not a strong enough word. Many times people believe that we are interpreting Mr. West and his defenders wrong, they really don't believe the crazy things we attribute to them. If that's the case, how does one explain this work? Let us see why.
Mr. Simons begins his article by retelling a story. Now we have no clue if it's accurate or not, but such need not concern us, only his ideas contained therein matter. Allegedly, a question was asked of Mr. West that if one saw his friends wife naked, what should he do? Should he turn his eyes? West allegedly stated that what was most important was that the individual not lust. This is central to Mr. West's doctrine of "mature purity" which posits that as one begins to understand the Theology of the Body and apply it to their lives, they are able to overcome situations others would find an occasion of sin.
This sounds harmless enough, and could even be defended on a certain level. It goes past that point when Mr. Simons says the following:
But West was pointing out that what was required was that the man not lust, whether or not he looks away.
With all due respect to Mr. Simons, why is this even under dispute? The answer is we should do both. We should both turn away our gaze, and not lust. Put simply, a man does not have the right to see a woman naked not his wife under normal circumstances. Nudity between two people implies a certain intimacy. Vulnerability is implied. They see you in a state everyone else does not. If that intimacy is not there, it is an invasion of that person's intimacy, privacy and dignity to see them in the state only their spouse should see them in.
This is the core of modesty. Even if there were no lust, we would still keep ourselves covered. It is fitting that we be covered, as an external manifestation of the inward dignity we are called to possess. In heaven, we possess that dignity in the fullest. We are not "naked without shame" in heaven. Instead, we are clothed in white robes. To defend his truly absurd pet idea, Mr. Simons demonstrates that "a little learning is a dangerous thing." He has proven his ability to cite historical examples, but not understand them. Let us see how this is the case when he states:
If it were wrong for a man to look at a friend’s naked wife, then the early Church would never have demanded that men, women and children be baptized naked in each other’s presence.
When one looks at the early Church, one indeed does find that people were baptized in the nude. Yet if one actually comprehends what was occurring, Mr. Simons should take no comfort in the real story. As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, there existed the office of the "deaconess" in the Early Church. Her roles were as follows:
“There can be no doubt that in their first institution the deaconesses were intended to discharge those same charitable offices, connected with the temporal well being of their poorer fellow Christians, which were performed for the men by the deacons. But in one particular, viz., the instruction and baptism of catechumens, their duties involved service of a more spiritual kind. The universal prevalence of baptism by immersion and the anointing of the whole body which preceded it, rendered it a matter of propriety that in this ceremony the functions of the deacons should be discharged by women. The Didascalia Apostolorum (III, 12; see Funk, Didascalia, etc., I, 208) explicitly direct that the deaconesses are to perform this function. It is probable that this was the starting point for the intervention of women in many other ritual observances even in the sanctuary. The Apostolic Constitutions expressly attribute to them the duty of guarding the doors and maintaining order amongst those of their own sex in the church, and they also (II, c. 26) assign to them the office of acting as intermediaries between the clergy and the women of the congregation; but on the other hand, it is laid down (Const. Apost., VIII, 27) that “the deaconess gives no blessing, she fulfills no function of priest or deacon”, and there can be no doubt that the extravagances permitted in some places, especially in the churches of Syria and Asia, were in contravention of the canons generally accepted. We hear of them presiding over assemblies of women, reading the Epistle and Gospel, distributing the Blessed Eucharist to nuns, lighting the candles, burning incense in the thuribles, adorning the sanctuary, and anointing the sick (see Hefele-LeClercq, II, 448). All these things must be regarded as abuses which ecclesiastical legislation was not long in repressing.” (H/T DCS and Steve Kellmeyer)
Women were not baptized by men when they were naked. This was done out of a sense of "propriety", or, if you prefer the modern term, modesty. Mr. Simons seems to imply that this attitude of respecting modesty is being "suspicious" of the heart, and Manichean. (If one remembers, Mr. West's editor stated this outright when attributing this attitude to the Spiritual Master St. Frances De Sales). Since under certain circumstances a layperson can baptize, this makes sense.
Now as the sacramental theology behind baptism developed, baptismal garb started to become more common. This was done not to "repress" nudity, but to signify the purity the person has at the moment of baptism. At the moment of baptism, all of their sins are washed away. They also wear white to remind them, and everyone present, that they are called to be pure like the saints in heaven are pure. There was not some hidden sexual agenda behind the manner of baptism. It smacks of impiety and offensiveness to even suggest such.
Mr. Simons continues this lack of wisdom when he states:
If it were wrong for a man to look at a naked woman, John Paul II would not have celebrated Mass with almost totally naked women participating. Nor would he have condoned nude models posing for life art students, male doctors delivering babies, or nudity in general where the climate and culture allowed for it. Men all over the world are able to see naked women and not lust. Why can’t we?
If there is one thing the audience will notice, nowhere does Mr. Simons actually cite John Paul II to justify these views. If one actually reads John Paul II, they will find something entirely different. Forgive me for quoting the Pontiff at length, but this needs to be said:
We tried to understand the difference between the situation—and the state—of original innocence, in which "they were both naked, and were not ashamed" (Gn 2:25), and, subsequently, between the situation—and the state—of sinfulness. In that state there arose between man and woman, together with shame, the specific necessity of privacy with regard to their own bodies.
In the heart of man, subject to lust, this necessity serves, even indirectly, to ensure the gift and the possibility of mutual donation. This necessity also forms man's way of acting as "an object of culture," in the widest meaning of the term. If culture shows an explicit tendency to cover the nakedness of the human body, it certainly does so not only for climatic reasons, but also in relation to the process of growth of man's personal sensitivity. The anonymous nakedness of the man-object contrasts with the progress of the truly human culture of morals. It is probably possible to confirm this also in the life of so-called primitive populations. The process of refining personal human sensitivity is certainly a factor and fruit of culture.
Beyond the need of shame, that is, of the privacy of one's own body (on which the biblical sources give such precise information in Genesis 3), there is a deeper norm. This norm is the gift, directed toward the very depths of the personal subject or toward the other person—especially in the man-woman relationship according to the perennial norms regulating the mutual donation. In this way, in the processes of human culture understood in the wide sense, we note—even in man's state of hereditary sinfulness—quite an explicit continuity of the nuptial meaning of the body in its masculinity and femininity. That original shame, known already from the first chapters of the Bible, is a permanent element of culture and morals. It belongs to the genesis of the ethos of the human body. (General Audience April 22)
The Pontiff notes here that as culture advances, the covering of the individual becomes necessary, not just for climatic reasons, but to protect and highlight the individuals dignity. Indeed, it is one of the sure signs of advanced civilization that a society protects the nuptial meaning of the body by covering nudity. So in the theoretical case of Mr. Simons, we could simply answer, with John Paul II, that the culture in which this occurred is not advanced in the realm of understanding the need to protect and promote the nuptial meaning of the body. Such might be politically incorrect to say so, but it is nonetheless true.
Mr. Simons next example is in regards to an artist. Certainly if an artist can draw nude models, that means we are called to look upon a naked person just as they do, right? Wrong, according to John Paul II. When speaking about nudity in art, the Pontiff states:
The artistic objectivation [sic] of the human body in its male and female nakedness, in order to make it first of all a model and then the subject of the work of art, is always to a certain extent a going outside of this original and, for the body, its specific configuration of interpersonal donation. In a way, that constitutes an uprooting of the human body from this configuration and its transfer to the dimension of artistic objectivation—the specific dimension of the work of art or of the reproduction typical of the film and photographic techniques of our time.
In each of these dimensions—and in a different way in each one—the human body loses that deeply subjective meaning of the gift. It becomes an object destined for the knowledge of many. This happens in such a way that those who look at the body, assimilate or even, in a way, take possession of what evidently exists, of what in fact should exist essentially at the level of a gift, made by the person to the person, not just in the image but in the living man. Actually, that "taking possession" already happens at another level—that is, at the level of the object of the transfiguration or artistic reproduction. However it is impossible not to perceive that from the point of view of the ethos of the body, deeply understood, a problem arises here. This is a very delicate problem, which has its levels of intensity according to various motives and circumstances both as regards artistic activity and as regards knowledge of the work of art or of its reproduction. The fact that this problem is raised does not mean that the human body, in its nakedness, cannot become a subject of works of art—but only that this problem is not purely aesthetic, nor morally indifferent.
When an artist portrays someone in the nude, there will always, by nature, be a certain objectification of the person. One has to approach the subject detached. You know nothing of the person, nor is such knowledge relevant to the task at hand. Sometimes, this may indeed be required, but one should always tread carefully, and make sure that the limits of shame are not crossed.
Yet the Pope's point is that we are not meant to look at such a person all the time this way. We cannot reduce people to their bodies. The same goes for situations with medical examinations. (Indeed, the Pope mentions these as "special circumstances.") A doctor is not looking to understand the meaning of a woman's naked body when he is operating on her. No, he must approach the woman as detached as possible to save her life. Does Mr. Simons think this is how individuals should treat each other?
Bad as the article has been so far, Mr. Simons plunges the nose of the plane right into the gutter next:
The professor would have had to look at his friend’s naked wife if she were a model in an art class he was enrolled in, or if she was his patient and he were an M.D., or if they were vacationing at a nude beach and were chatting with each other. As long as he looked with love, he needn’t be worried about lust, which is a violation of love.
Note well what is said here. Mr. Simons finds no problem with nudism. If they had "mature purity", there's nothing wrong with being on a nude beach having friendly conversation! This is where we have come ladies and gentleman. He has taken Christopher West's views about "mature purity" to their logical, if logically absurd, conclusion. If the only reason modesty in appearance exists is to protect from lust, then the removal of lust should make modesty in appearance frivolous. Since Mr. West applauds the "bishop who did not turn his eyes" (in a horribly distorted story on St. Nonus) from a "half-naked prostitute", and since we are called to have a "holy fascination" with the naked body, then what is wrong with nudism?
Cardinal Ciriaci, at the behest of Pope Pius XII, stated the following when talking about modesty:
"Everyone knows that during the summer months particularly, things are seen here and there which are certain to prove offensive to anyone who has retained some respect and regard for Christian virtue and human modesty . On the beaches, in country resorts, almost everywhere, on the streets of cities and towns, in private and public places, and, indeed, often in buildings dedicated to God, an unworthy and indecent mode of dress has prevailed. Because of this, the young particularly, whose minds are easily bent towards vice, are exposed to the extreme danger of losing their innocence, which is, by far, the most beautiful adornment of mind and body. Feminine adornment, if it can be called adornment, feminine clothing, 'if that can be called clothing which contains nothing to protect either the body or modesty.' (Seneca) are at times of such a nature that they seem to serve lewdness rather than modesty . What we are discussing here is obviously most serious, since it vitally concerns not only Christian virtue but also the health and vigor of human society . Well did not the ancient poet say of this matter: 'Vice necessarily follows upon public nudity' (Ennius)."
In giving a speech on athletics and gymnastics, Pius XII said the following:
"There is, moreover, in sports and gymnastics, in rhythm and dance, a certain nudism which is neither necessary nor proper. Not without reason did an impartial observer remark some decades ago: 'What is of interest to the masses in this field is not the beauty of the nude, but the nudity of beauty.' The religious and moral sense places its veto on such a manner of practicing gymnastics and sports. In a word, gymnastics should not command and dominate, but serve and help. This is their duty and in this do they find their justification."
When speaking about certain people's nudism in Goa, India, a member of the Pontifical Council for Migrants (under John Paul II), stated that:
There should be an intensive educational programme through talks and audio-visuals to conscientise people against the evils of drug addiction, nudism, etc.
Near the end of the article, Mr. Simons bemoans the plight of the women at Franciscan University of Stuebenville. Allegedly, men were so afraid of lusting, that they "turned their eyes" merely at the sight of a woman. Having made several visits to Stuebenville over the past 10 years, I find this highly unlikely. He then looks to give counsel to those college men, as well as all of us men:
But back to the women on campus: these women needed the men to be their brothers in Christ. In the men turning away, the women felt that their beauty, something they had no control over, had become a curse from God. They felt that there was something very wrong about the way God had made them because the men would look away when they would pass by on the walkways. They felt that they weren’t women, but problems for men instead. Is this love? Is this the behavior of a gentleman?...... If men were taught to really see all women as persons of equal dignity, they would not lust and they would not look away. They would look with love and see God revealed through his artistry.
Of course, if we think that the only option is to look away since lust is the normal response of a man to a woman (aren’t we really just animals after all?), then we will never embark on the journey to purity of heart. If it isn’t possible to be pure, why break our backs trying? It is so much easier to lust or look away. Of course we can’t blame ourselves for our problems. It is really the women. The women that God put on this Earth with us. And isn’t it ultimately all of His fault? We wouldn’t sin if it weren’t normal. But Christ calls us to so much more. He tells us that in the beginning it wasn’t so. Yes, yes, we’ve heard that all before. We know all about concupiscence and that is why we have to look away now.
I find it interesting that in the entire essay, he only mentions concupiscence once, and only to dismiss it. Much is talked about having a "perpetual suspicion" when it comes to lust. Allow me to propose an alternative. I say this knowing full well that it is highly likely that it doesn't go down the way Mr. Simons describes it.
Why are we so quick to attribute lust to these men? What of women? Are they free from struggling over lust? Certainly not! There could be a thousand reasons why they weren't checking the ladies out. Or maybe, just maybe, these Catholic men have manners. It isn't polite to stare. When one stares, you are objectifying someone. Whether or not someone is lusting in their heart during this, it's still wrong to just sit there and stare. When I see an attractive woman, I do not stare at her. I might glance, she might glance back, but you don't stare. Doing so makes you a creep. Mr. Simons claims to be against objectifying women. Yet the remedy is to stare at the woman when you notice she is attractive, hoping to see God's artistry. Ever wonder how the woman feels? Or how her boyfriend feels at you gawking at her?
Notice something here? It's all about the individual. Never about the responsibility towards the other. It is selfishness. What we have here is a self-serving rationalization to gawk at a woman. It is the very opposite of the gift. Yet like so many popular presentations by certain speakers on the Theology of the Body, they promote the precise opposite of what John Paul II intended. This is what happens when you depart from tradition.