Responding to the recent call of Cardinal Justin Rigali to spread the message of the Theology of the Body – Pope John Paul II's teachings on human sexuality – noted author Dawn Eden has made a free copy of her master's thesis, including a new preface and supporting material, available exclusively on CNA.
At the first annual Theology of the Body Congress in Pennsylvania, Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, exhorted the faithful to promote the work of the late Pontiff, describing his teaching on sexuality as the modern “curriculum of the Culture of Life.”
In support of Cardinal Rigali’s exhortation, Eden responded, “I have decided to make my master’s thesis available free of charge to all.”
Eden’s thesis—which gained public attention in June when she published her official defense on her blog—has sparked controversy among some Catholics, as it critically examines popular speaker Christopher West’s presentation of John Paul II’s teachings.
Among the assertions made by West that she faulted was his claim that the Church’s liturgy “is modeled on the union of spouses,” which he supports by saying the Easter Candle is “truly” intended to be a phallic symbol. Eden countered this by citing documentation from the Consilium—the body of experts charged with revising the liturgy following Vatican II—showing that theologians appointed by the Magisterium had rejected the phallic interpretation of the candle.
Eden’s thesis also asserted that West, in telling engaged couples that they should not marry until they attain a complete victory over lust, forgets that only the sacrament of matrimony can enable a couple to move from the imperfect virtue of continence into the perfect virtue of marital chastity. As a result, Eden claimed, he unwittingly promotes “a semi-Pelagian ideal of human-powered self-control.”
Author of the hit book “The Thrill of the Chaste,” Eden successfully defended her master’s thesis this past May 19 at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.
Speaking to CNA in a phone interview on August 9, Eden said, “My purpose in writing the thesis was to help the church's teachers give a more accurate and faithful presentation of the Theology of the Body.”
Eden noted that “the material created by Christopher West and promoted by the Theology of the Body Institute is very popular, and very heavily marketed to parishes and dioceses.”
“So, if there are errors in the millions of copies of materials” that are currently circulating, “there's no way that anyone could simply recall all of these because of certain errors here or there,” Eden said.
For that reason, the author explained, “I would hope that my thesis would help those who are teaching the Theology of the Body to better discern where there is a need to either correct or augment West's presentation to make it more perfectly faithful to Church teaching.”
Eden has faced criticism from supporters of West, some of whom have argued that her observations are unwarranted and divisive. However, the author clarified that her criticism of West's approach is offered in a spirit of “fraternal correction.”
“Christopher West has many gifts as a speaker and an author,” qualified Eden. “That's undeniable.”
"In his talks, Christopher West exudes true Christian joy – that is, the joy that rejoices in the truth – mixed with a lot of what Dr. Alice von Hildebrand has, I think, rightly called enthusiasm."
And yet, “if one makes a theological criticism of the presentation of the bringer of this joy, it can unfortunately be taken as an attack on the joy itself,” Eden noted. “And that's unfortunate.”
This misunderstanding has led the words of those who are attempting charitable, fraternal correction of West's presentation – such as Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, Dr. Mary Shivanandan and Dr. David Schindler – to be “misconstrued as personal attacks.”
In the preface to her thesis, Eden also noted that her work “is not about 'going after' Christopher West, or anyone.”
Rather, it “is about examining the work of an enormously popular author and speaker, who has been highly successful in reaching people with certain truths about the faith, and asking what boils down to a simple question: Is this presenter’s account of Catholic teachings entirely truthful, or does it contain, to paraphrase St. Thomas, the 'admixture' of errors?”
“This is an important question to ask respectfully with regard to any teacher of the faith who does not possess the charism of infallibility,” she underscored, “especially one who is marketing his presentation with the claim that it faithfully represents a work of the Magisterium.”
To view Eden's full thesis, click here: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/DawnEdenThesis.pdf