Adding to the current debate on how to best present the teachings of John Paul II's Theology of the Body, Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand provided CNA with her latest essay contrasting the approach of her late husband, noted philosopher Dietrich Von Hildebrand, with the methods of the popular speaker Christopher West.
With the start of the first U.S. Theology of the Body Congress being just over a week away, Alice Von Hildebrand explained to CNA her intent in writing the essay, titled “Dietrich Von Hildebrand, Catholic Philosopher, and Christopher West, Modern Enthusiast: Two Very Different Approaches to Love, Marriage and Sex.”
“I started working on this article last September, at the request of several friends who were seriously concerned about some of the formulations of Christopher West and questioning whether he could truly be called a disciple of John Paul II, whose writings never evoked negative responses from Catholics,” Von Hildebrand told CNA.
Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand, a noted philosopher herself, wrote “Man and Woman: A Divine Invention,” which was recently released by Sapientia Press and is a continuing dialogue on her previous work, “The Privilege of Being a Woman.” She also has contributed to the efforts of the Von Hildebrand Legacy Project, a non-profit group dedicated to promoting and republishing the writings of her late husband.
Speaking on the effects her husband's works have had in shaping her latest essay, Von Hildebrand said, “My late husband's book: In Defense of Purity (which I read when I was nineteen, and had a profound influence on my life), is so deeply rooted in the sacred tradition of our beloved Holy Church, that it occurred to me that a parallel study of his thoughts and the presentation of Christopher West, might be enlightening.”
Despite “the incontestable merits of West's presentation” of the Theology of the Body, “for which we owe him gratitude,” she said that West “at times, lose sight of the 'golden chain of tradition.'”
In her 36-page essay, which she provided exclusively to CNA, Dr. Von Hildebrand explains that there are two main concerns she has with West's approach to presenting the teachings of Venerable John Paul II on human sexuality.
The first is that West “erroneously” assumes “that John Paul II has initiated a 'revolution' in Catholic teaching” in the concept of the Theology of the Body. The second concern is that West uses “loose” and what could be viewed as crude and graphic language in describing what she calls the “intimate sphere” of human sexuality.
On her first contention, Von Hildebrand wrote that “my husband would not refer to the Theology of the Body as 'a revolution'” in the way that West does, adding that West often criticizes the Catholic Church for having had what he describes as a "puritanical approach" to its teachings on human sexuality.
The philosopher noted, however, that each “age in the Church sheds particular light on some facets of the divine message,” and the Theology of the Body, properly understood, “can be seen as an example of that.”
When the Theology of the Body is presented as a radical revolution, it is twisted into something John Paul II never intended, she explained.
Contrasting the difference between West's “loose” language in discussing human sexuality and the approach of her late husband, the philosopher said that “Dietrich Von Hildebrand carefully chose the words he used when referring to the mysteries of our faith or to things that are intimate and sacred.”
“With his many talents, Christopher West has much to offer the Church,” Von Hildebrand affirmed in her concluding remarks. Yet, “I believe he will only fulfill his potential if he presents the Theology of the Body according to the traditions of the Church – reverently and with humility – and liberate himself from the wayward 'enthusiasms' of our time,” she said.
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