.- Critically examining Christopher Westâs presentation of John Paul IIâs Theology of the Body, chastity speaker Dawn Eden has said that West conveys âelements of truth.â However, Westâs demand that couples have perfect chastity before marriage promotes a kind of âPuritanismâ that discourages Catholics from dating, courtship and continence.
Eden, the author of the book âThe Thrill of the Chaste,â gave her critique in a masterâs thesis at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. She delivered a speech on her thesis there on May 19, posting the speechâs text on her blog âThe Dawn Patrol.â
The chastity speaker explained that she chose the topic because it involves the promotion of the Catholic vision of marriage and family, issues âclose to my heart.â She said the subject was also âhighly topicalâ because of recent public debate about Westâs work conducted by Catholic theologians and scholars.
Her thesis tried to view the Theology of the Body through the âhermeneutic of continuity,â a view that sees the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council as continuous with the pre-Vatican II Church.
While West tries to undermine the idea that the Church has a negative view of sex, in Edenâs view he fuels another myth that the Church is fundamentally different after Vatican II. She cited Westâs comments that the Theology of the Body is ârevolutionaryâ because previous generations of Christians grew up under a ârepressive approachâ to sexual matters.
âHis praise of Pope John Paul II is predicated on the repeated assumption, sometimes explicit, that the pre-conciliar Church was stodgy and prudish,â Eden argued. âWhile he no doubt intends to promote charity and unity, his approach effectively encourages division and disdain for our past.â
Saying that West presents himself as the âdefinitive interpreterâ of John Paul IIâs teachings, she worried some of his promotional material implies that the Christian Creed is something to be viewed âin light of the theology of the body, rather than vice versa.â
Eden acknowledged certain âelements of truthâ in Westâs interpretations. The liturgy is spousal âin a certain senseâ and the sexual union of spouses can also be said to image Trinitarian love also âin a certain sense.â
However, she claimed West teaches that the true message of John Paul IIâs Theology of the Body is that sexual desire ânecessarily mediates desire for God.â He risks sexualizing Christianity rather than Christianizing sexuality, she warned.
In Edenâs view, Westâs upbringing in the Mother of God Community formed his view of a ânormativeâ Catholic upbringing. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the leaders of the Maryland-based group exercised âpuritanical controlâ over membersâ lives, including their dating.
In 1995 Cardinal James Hickey, the Archbishop of Washington, ordered reforms to correct its abuses. This came after West spent his late teens and early 20s living with his family in the Catholic community, which he later described as a âcult.â
Eden suggested that Westâs experiences bear on his interpretation of John Paul IIâs teachings on continence. Because in his upbringing engaged couples were barred from spending time alone together, she said it was understandable he wishes to show how Catholic teaching permits more latitude.
âUnfortunately, in his desire to counter puritanical attitudes, West ends up promoting an ideal that has the net effect of promoting Puritanism,â Eden argued. âWest says that not only must an engaged couple be continent, they must possess the virtue of perfect chastity prior to marriage. That is, they should have no fear of being alone together, because they should have no lust for one another.â
Eden noted Westâs comment in a 2009 talk that there is no âmagic trickâ and no âwaving at the wand at the altar, that suddenly makes your sexual behavior beautiful, true, good, lovely, and pure."
According to Eden, this is wrong because it implies that continence is an insufficient preparation for marriage and because it claims that the sacrament of marriage âin no way affects the development of virtue.â
Catholic teaching in fact recognizes that the grace of marriage is what enables couples to transform their âimperfect virtueâ of continence into the âperfect virtue of chastity,â explained Eden. She also quoted St. Paulâs words that all that is a required of an engaged couple is that they control themselves âin holiness and honor.â
âBy raising the bar so high, to the point where any feeling of lust is proof that one is not ready for marriage, West is effectively promoting the very angelism that he decries,â Eden commented. âIn an age when Catholicsâalong with singles in generalâare marrying later and later, such a misinterpretation of Church teaching has real pastoral implications.â
She said twice during her lectures someone has asked her why Catholics are so afraid to date. Others have told her some Catholics who study the Theology of the Body think they canât date before marriage.
âYoung Catholics who are told that they are not ready to marry until they have not only continence, but perfect chastity, are simply avoiding the rituals of courtship,â Eden commented.
By way of suggesting positive corrections, Eden noted that John Paul II said catechesis on the Theology of the Body is incomplete without addressing âthe problem of suffering and death.â A vision of married life should show both how spouses share in the Trinitarian communion and how they similarly share in Christâs sufferings on the Cross.