Dr. Healy's talk was on "Dietrich von Hildebrand on Human Sexuality." West says at the beginning of his response that he composed his talk in advance, based on reading an advance copy of Dr. Healy's talk. So West is not speaking off the cuff when he says on the topic of moving from continence to virtue:
"St. Paul is so clear on this: 'We are called to freedom! Do not take up again a yoke of slavery.' In my travels, I run into all kinds of different perspectives on these things. What is appropriate, for example, for, say, a young engaged couple? They want to be chaste, they want to save themselves for marriage. What would be appropriate in terms of their affection for one another, what would be appropriate in terms of even their spending time together?First: Christopher West seems to think that avoiding near occasions of sin is not virtuous activity. Unfortunately, all the saints of the Church and all the manuals on morality say he is in error on this point. The conscious decision to avoid a near occasion of sin is, indeed, a virtue.
"And in some of the more extreme positions on these questions, which are open for conversation, I hear things like this: 'Well, you never better be alone together. Because you know what's gonna happen if you're alone together.'
"Okay. Take a good-hearted couple. If they know their weaknesses, if they know if they were alone together, they would engage in behavior that they shouldn't be engaging in, I will be the first to commend them for not being alone together. Christian, know thyself. But we must not call that virtue.
"Such a couple is continent, but they are not virtuous, in the true sense of the word, in the true Thomistic sense of the word.
"Think of it from this perspective: If the only thing that kept you from having sex before marriage was the fact that you didn't have the opportunity, what does that say about the desires of your heart? And then there is a real and present danger of justifying lust within the marriage.
"Here's the, the kind of visual that comes to me when I think this through: You get this good-hearted engaged couple, they have never been told about the progress of the Christian life, they've been dropped off at the curb of continence, and they think that's all they can expect. 'Okay, so I'll chain myself to this tree, and you chain yourself to that tree, so we can't get at one another.' What then does the honeymoon become?
"'Oh, now we are allowed to cut the chains loose!' [Makes a dramatic sound effect like a person ripping himself free.] Is that an act of love? Is that an act of purity?
"There is no magic trick on the wedding day that suddenly makes what you do that night an act of love. If you could not be alone together the day before you got married and not sin, there is no magic trick, there is no waving at the wand at the altar, that suddenly makes your sexual behavior beautiful, true, good, lovely, and pure.
"We must take up our cross and follow. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. This freedom is a real, living possibility if we are willing to undergo deep and painful purifications. ..."
Second: Christopher West seems completely unfamiliar with the theology of the sacrament of marriage. It is precisely the case that actions which are sinful prior to a sacrament can be pure afterward, simply because of the sacrament. Take, for instance, the reception of Eucharist. If I receive Christ while in a state of mortal sin, even if I am most sorrowful for that unconfessed sin, then I have just committed another mortal sin. If, however, I first receive the sacrament of reconciliation worthily, confessed my sin, received absolution, and then receive the Eucharist, that reception is not only NOT a sin, I actually grow in God's grace. Same action, quite different results, all because of the reception of a sacrament.
Similarly, no matter how much I love the woman, if I have sex with her before marriage, it is a sin, while if I have sex with her after having been bound to her in the sacrament of marriage, it is not a sin. St. Paul talks precisely about the power and beauty of the sacrament of marriage when he says, "it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (1 Cor 7:9). Indeed, to deny that sex is sanctified by marriage, which is precisely what these (apparently) carefully considered remarks by Chris West maintains, is a denial of Catholic sacramental theology.
Now, is it possible to have sex with my own wife in a lustful way? Sure. But the very fact that the couple has worked hard to avoid a near occasion of sin prior to their marriage means that they are trying to avoid precisely this sin of lust. As a result, it would be not only wrong, but actually perverse, to impute lust to them on the basis that they tried to avoid sin prior to marriage.
Grace, especially sacramental grace, the most powerful force in the universe, changes us. So, it is, in fact, the case that the divinizing graces of marriage do begin to work immediately upon the newly married couple, helping them to withstand concupiscence, turning us towards the "beautiful, true, good, lovely and pure." Indeed, it is precisely the sacraments' ability to "make us gods" (see CCC #460, 1988, 1999), that is, their ability to empower us to love as God alone loves that allows us to love with purity.
Third: West also seems unfamiliar with John Paul II's summary of the ancient Catholic teaching on the THREE ends of marriage in Love and Responsibility (p. 66), a teaching that simply draws on the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church:
"The Church, as has been mentioned previously, teaches, and has always taught, that the primary end of marriage is procreatio, but that it has a secondary end, defined in Latin terminology as mutuum adiutorium. Apart from these a tertiary aim is mentioned - remedium concupiscentiae. Marriage, objectively considered, must provide first of all the means of continuing existence, secondly a conjugal life for man and woman, and thirdly a legitimate orientation for desire. The ends of marriage, in the order mentioned, are incompatible with any subjectivist interpretation of the sexual urge, and therefore demand from man, as a person, objectivity in his thinking on sexual matters, and above all in his behaviour. This objectivity is the foundation of conjugal morality." (emphasis added).JPII goes on to point out that the ends are attained on the basis of a personalistic norm, that is, each of the three ends flow from love. But he specifically says that the ends themselves are not subjective, i.e., the ends are not personalistic. Indeed, he goes on to say, "By reason of the fact that they are persons a man and a woman must consciously seek to realize the aims of marriage according to the priority given above, because this order is objective, accessible to reason, and therefore binding on human persons." (p. 67, emphasis added)
He continues by pointing out, "The personalistic norm itself is not, of course, to be identified with any one of the aims of marriage: a norm is never an end, nor is an end a norm." (p. 68) It is worthwhile to read the whole section closely, something which Chris West shows no sign of ever having done.
Indeed, it is noteworthy that JPII's book, Love and Responsibility, and his own TOB audiences almost completely ignore both ends (1) and (3), focusing entirely on end (2). As a result of JPII's omission, most students of TOB, especially those who follow Chris West's rather outrageous version of JP II's teachings, don't have the necessary theological context to present a full and accurate teaching on sex and marriage.
This talk alone shows that West's idea of Hildebrandian purity is deeply flawed, colored heavily with his own memory of growing up in the Mother of God community. Compare his criticism of those who say an engaged couple shouldn't be alone together with these passages from the Washington Post's Mother of God exposés on the community, a community whose attitudes towards sexuality were so distorted that West himself told WaPo reporters "I feel like I have been raped":
Some former members say their marriages were arranged by Mother of God superiors and that they were manipulated into marrying partners they did not love.Personally, it is clear to me that the influence of the Mother of God cult upon Christopher West's psyche has fixated him on an understanding of human sexuality which is not in keeping with JP II's work or with the work of the Church as a whole.
Ex-members say they were told where to honeymoon, how to eat, dress and decorate their homes, and how to have sex. [Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/library/mog/mgod1.htm]
The control began with dating. "It was almost, like, 'Big Brother is watching,' " recalls ex-member Bonnie West [Christopher West's mother!!!]. Parents learned from their heads that their teenaged children were forbidden to date until the community's leaders judged them ready. Even then the community would try to control every step. Many parents say they were taught to distrust everything their own children said and were encouraged to mount a steady surveillance of the community's youngsters.
"We'd be reporting back and forth to other parents: 'We saw your girl talking to this boy,' " Stan Weightman recalls. "We'd be encouraged to look through their dresser drawers for things, to read diaries if they had any." Rick Herald recalls being asked by his head "about how you thought about certain girls, whether you fantasized about them, how far your sexual fantasies went." Roger Cavanaugh says he was asked questions about whether he masturbated, whether he fantasized about particular women and how many minutes it took for him and his wife to have sex." [Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/library/mog/mgod3.htm ]
So, what are we to make of Cardinal Rigali's recent statement of support for Christopher West? We must simply recall that bishops have frequently backed extremely erroneous teachers and teachings. Indeed, nearly every major heresy of the Church was started or actively supported by an ordained man or men. The ordained men who currently advise the TOB institute, a corporation Chris West created in order to create a low-tax revenue stream for promulgating his version of Catholicism, are obviously interested in not bringing scandal upon themselves. Thus, every member of West's board has a vested interest in painting West's statements in the best possible light, even if that judgement is not actually warranted by West's teachings.
Similarly, the theologically incoherent support West has received from people like Dr. Janet Smith or Dr. Michael Healy are not unusual. If even a Saint of the Church could erroneously support an anti-Pope (as St. Vincent of Ferrar did when he acted as advisor to anti-Pope Benedict XIII), then we should not be shocked to see Dr. Janet Smith led astray by the Mother of God community and its product, Christopher West.
Chris West and his supporters have, to date, refused to answer any of the charges brought against West's teachings. Instead, they have banded together into a mutual admiration society in the hopes that the whole controversy will go away.
As long as the cult background West marinated in for years continues to influence his teaching, the controversy will not go away.
Cardinal Rigali Backs Chris West
In Other News...
Bishop Eusebius Backs Musician Arius
Bishop John Backs Nestorius
Archbishop Cranmer Backs Henry VIII
Christopher West: "I Feel Like I Have Been Raped."
WaPo's Exposé on Christopher West's Cult Background: Mother of God Community
Dr. Mary Healy: Co-Chair, Mother of God Community
Sacred Heart Seminary Professor: Dr. Mary Healy
Sacred Heart Seminary Professor: Dr. Janet Smith
"I Sincerely Hope West's Cult of Personality Is Short-Lived"