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Monday, September 21, 2009

Chris and the Cult

Below is a quote from Christopher West's response to Dr. Michael Healy's talk at the Personalist Project event. It perfectly illustrates the point Alice von Hildebrand made in her CNA interview about how West fails to understand the inflammability of sexual passion. He sounds truly Manichean in his claim that an engaged couple is not virtuous unless they are capable of being alone together the day before their wedding without sinning.

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?

"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. ..."
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.

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.
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 ]
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.

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.

Further Reading:
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"

105 comments:

Johnnyjoe said...

Steve,

I have followed your writings for many years, and have many of your books, but my brother, you have jumped off into the deep end of the pool and are floundering.

You pound out suspicion and innuendo where there is none to be found, and you are rapidly loosing all credibility - for what appears to be professional jealousy.

Christopher West is not the demon you relish in making him out to be; and you should spend some serious time in front of the Blessed Sacrament praying for the peace of heart that will keep you from continuing to spread this calumny.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Johnyjoe,

It ain't just me that say this. I've had bishops tell me quietly that they will never have Chris West in their dioceses because they don't trust him.

His own instructors have renounced him. Most of the theologians I know have serious concerns about him. The number of serious theologians I know of who support him can be counted on the fingers of two hands.

The only people who are not in on the secret is the general public.

Brendan said...

West's words copied here alone are enough to turn my stomach. At this point anyone who still defends him at all is a dimwit. I said it.

Thank you, Steve, for the thoughtful commentary. You shed sane light on what is becoming a frightful cult in itself.

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

I'm not pro or con Chris West -- I have not deeply studied the TOB discourses -- but I just wanted to share my viewpoint.

Chris said: "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."

You responded: "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."

I would argue that Chris is saying that a couple that avoids contact prior to marriage simply because they are afraid that it will inevitably result in a lustful act of illicit sexual relations cannot expect that their first sexual act as husband and wife will necessarily be an act of utter purity. If the couple does not enter the sexual act with the right grace-filled mindset, they risk simply giving into lust as husband and wife, rather than having, for lack of a better phrase, "holy sex".

It's not guaranteed either way that they will act in purity or in lustfulness. Chris is trying to get people to realize to guard against lust, that it is not simply something that affects people outside of marriage and is nullified by the marital bond.

Just my take on the matter.

Kevin said...

I'm not one to suggest that dating couples should, say, vacation together alone. But for heavens sake, spending NO time alone together? That's crazy talk. If spending no time alone together is the only way for you to avoid fornication, then frankly neither of you should be courting in the first place. If you really can't control yourself, you can't make a marriage vow with a reasonable expectation of being faithful to your spouse.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Jeffrey,

I don't dispute that this may have been his point.

The problem is, assuming that is what he meant, he expressed it in such a confused way that he invites heretical misunderstandings amongst his listeners.

He explicitly said that avoidance of sin is not a virtue. He may have meant something entirely different, but his words are heretical.

He explicitly denied that anything important took place on the day vows were exchanged. He may have meant something entirely orthodox, but his words are heretical.

The Catholic Faith is careful about how She words things precisely because this kind of mis-wording leads to enormous spiritual problems down the road for everyone involved.

Chris is not careful, he is not orthodox in his phrasing. It isn't a question of "prudery." It's a question of heresy.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Kevin,

The concept of the chaperone has ancient usage in the Church. The idea that couples should spend significant amounts of time alone is no older than the automobile.

Given the current 50% divorce rate, 1 in 3 abortion rate and rampaging STD rate, are you really sure you want to defend the level of "couple being alone" that has only been available for roughly a century? Especially given the fruits we have reaped from it?

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

"He explicitly said that avoidance of sin is not a virtue."

I agree that he belittles avoiding near occasions of sin. To use contrition as an analogy, he over-emphasizes "perfect contrition" to the point of making "imperfect contrition" seem like nothing. He has a point that a courting couple should be able to be pure TOGETHER and not only APART, but he words it poorly.

"He explicitly denied that anything important took place on the day vows were exchanged."

"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."

He is not denying "that anything important [takes] place" at the exchange of wedding vows. He has done nothing of the sort. He simply said that the act of exchanging vows -- yes, the sacrament of Holy Matrimony -- does not, in and of itself, extinguish lust in the man and woman.

Johnnyjoe said...

Steve,

I note with interest that your response to my pointing out that you are practicing calumny - a sin - is to say "I'm not the only one doing it!", and "I've got secret knowledge that it's really true, so it really isn't calumny."

Back off the Christopher-is-Evil-Koolaid, captain, and move ON for God's sake.

Your logic is so faulty that for me to dissect it properly would stuff your com box, but let me leave you with this thought.

Christopher West is calling couples to a radical change of heart. To go deep into their fears and suppositions about human sexuality and be transformed by the gospel and JPII's deep reflection on same. You don't like the way he presents the material, and from that you spread calumny about him as a person.

It's flat wrong, and you should stop it.

Take exception to his style if you like - many do, but to impune him PERSONALLY is a sin. Period.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Jeff,

I'm glad you recognize the problem in his description of avoiding near occasions of sin.

The Church recognizes that a man and a woman marry in part because they feel a strong physical attraction for one another. However, the Church ALSO recognizes that the physical is REAL, it has a REAL capability of overwhelming the spiritual. Well-formed Catholics know this is possible.

Thus, the statement "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" is simply false. The overwhelming physical attraction that can lead to sex (and sin) the day before can and will lead to sex (and virtue) the day after.

The marriage vows effect a REAL change in the substance of the man and the woman. Emotional or physical actions that were sin the day before ARE NOT sin anymore. The refusal to be alone together the day before is a recognition of THESE REALITIES.

West makes fun of them. That's profaning the sacred.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Johnnyjoe,

I note with interest that Cardinal Rigali's response to Dr. Schindler's pointing out that West is practicing profanation - a sin - is to say "I'm not the only one praising him!", and "As a Cardinal, I've got secret knowledge that he's really ok, so West really isn't profaning."

Sauce for the goose, big guy.

BTW, I like that whole "poisoning the well" bit where you say there are so many errors you can't fit them in the combox. You remind me of the Healy combo, the "philosophers" who couldn't even defend themselves, much less each other. They liked to pull the same trick. Check out "Philosopher, Healy Thyself" if you want to read THAT exchange.

In fact, your comments are so inane that I strongly suspect you're just one of the Healy's playing at being a man. Go troll somewhere else, fishboy.

Columcille said...

Steve,

I agree with Johnnyjoe. I have gained much from your work (especially Designed to Fail), however, I have tracked your coverage of Christopher West and it is really sad and a black mark on your career.

Perhaps it is professional jealousy, however, I sense that it is a personal vendetta that you are waging against Christopher West.

When was the last time you had a personal conversation with him? Tell us about it. Was it cordial, did you argue with him? Did you find joy and fraternity with someone else who is fighting the good fight?

I suspect that you started an argument with him and he said something that stung you and you have yet to forgive.

This is the context that makes your actions make sense. Otherwise, the only other explanation is that you are simply a crank, which I don't think is the case.

What is apparent is that your attacks on West are personal, unbalanced and interpret West's comments with an acidic eye that ignores the obvious meaning of his words in favor of the most bizarre reading.

The fact that "bishops" confide in you that they won't allow West into their diocese is proof of nothing as your own reporting on Rigali's statement gives evidence. The reality is, Rigali has the ecclesial authority over West's apostolate and he has given approbation. Rigali is the competent authority here, not you, and not "some bishops." Implying that Rigali is a supporter of heresy, as you do, is more evidence that you need to spend more time in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

The point that West is making in the quote is that the interiority of the couple is what is most important, not simply the conformity to rules on dating before marriage. One may conform to the rules (of not being alone together), but not have an interior transformation and this can be disastrous for the marriage. Purity, chastity and modesty are interior qualities developed through the grace of God. If you don't have them, marriage will not give them to you by some act of magic.

This is his central point by any fair reading. He is NOT saying that the near avoidance of sin is never a virtuous act. He is NOT rejecting the grace of the sacrament of marriage. He is pointing out the necessity of developing an interiority, through God's grace, that does not desire to lust. That is the point.

You read him unfairly and your anger blinds you to the wackiness of your claims that he has a cult background that has impaired his work.

Steve, I have to level with you. As someone who organizes Catholic speakers to come to a major Archdiocese, I have recommended your work to many people. However, I would be very very reluctant to invite you to come and speak because of your acidic tone, and your crusade against West speaks of there being something not right with you.

Have your speaking engagements been growing or contracting Steve?

Where is the peace, the charity and joy?

Steve, you are a very intelligent man who has studied the truth. However, what good is knowledge of the truth if you have no love?

I pray that my comments might open your conscience, rather than empty your spleen.

MariaG said...

I'd like for you to name the Bishops who you claim would not have him in their diocese. If you KNOW this, reveal it. You haven't held anything else back and you certainly don't have respect for the Princes of the Church, so why not?

Kevin said...

Steve, where are you going to find a chaperone if the couple meets eachother at college?

Honestly, anybody who thinks they need a chaperone should not be dating. They are saying, "I can't control myself."

Johnnyjoe said...

Steve,

Columcille said, in so much more of an eloquent way, what I was too tired last night to put into words.

His use of the word "vendetta" seemed most appropriate, and this animus is clouding your judgment and jeopardising your own reputation and career.

Your attacks on Christopher West, and now extended to Cardinal Rigali, are "argumentum ad personam" - ad hominem abusive - and they rent the Body of Christ and are in error by fact and by innuendo.

Get some spiritual direction - get before the Blessed Sacrament and be quiet enough to listen to the Lord - and quit perpetrating this calumny.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

"Purity, chastity and modesty are interior qualities developed through the grace of God. If you don't have them, marriage will not give them to you by some act of magic."

Dude, you just screwed up sacramental theology. You just denied that marriage gives anyone grace. That's heresy.

Baptism INFUSES the graces of Faith, Hope and Charity. The sacrament DOES INDEED give them to you by an act of God (not magic). Marriage, being a sacrament, DOES infuse the recipients with the SAME graces.

You are teaching PROTESTANT HERESY, a theology that says we are cloaked by an alien righteousness that does NOT transform us. You are teaching the condemned heresy Chris West spewed into your head.

CATHOLIC theology, insists that sacraments ARE transformative, they DO CREATE interior transformations.

What the couple is NOT capable of doing prior to the valid exchange of vows they are NOW CAPABLE of doing BECAUSE they received the grace of marriage.

Like West, you know neither Scripture nor the power of God.

As for my naming bishops, if they wanted their names in the public sphere as opposing Chris West, they would say so themselves. This isn't my information to give out.

But if you want to know who they are, just map Chris West's talks and see where he HASN'T spoken. Bishops and their staffs are in the business of bringing in popular speakers. You'll be pretty safe in concluding that the dioceses where he hasn't been in the last ten years don't want him in.

For the record, Rigali doesn't have the ecclesial authority because West isn't in his diocese. His own bishop in Harrisburg has the ecclesial authority. Rigali wrote the letter because he's the biggest gun on the advisory board.

Even if Rigali were the competent authority in terms of canon law, that doesn't mean his judgement in this matter is competent. It's a prudential judgement, there is no exercise of infallibility here. It's essentially just one more "nihil obstat", and we've already seen that Chaput erroneously gave West an N.O. on "Good News."

N.O.'s are not worth the paper they are written on. As with the letter from Rigali, they are primarily marketing tools used by publishers to promote books to gullible Catholics. They can be both given and withheld in error. Every Catholic publisher knows this, none of us talk about it publicly because to do so ruins the marketing effect of the N.O.

Ladies and Gents, I have had private conversations with Christopher West on numerous occasions, both alone and in front of witnesses. In the beginning, I thought he was a fabulous teacher who just mis-spoke occasionally. My understanding changed for the worse after every conversation with him.

On one occasion, I had a conversation with Chris outside a church where he spoke, with the people who invited him standing fifty feet away. On that occasion, at which diocesan officials had been present (and were horrified by his presentation), I confronted him about the errors in his presentation - just he and I in hearing range.

He got so angry that anyone would dare to critique him that he began shoving me. *The people who invited him in* apologized to ME for his behaviour and swore they would never bring him back in. The diocesan officials swore he was never coming back. He has never been back.

Every other conversation I've had with West has ended in pretty much the same way. He does NOT take critique well. No matter how gently you try to correct anything he says, if he sees you as a subordinate, he won't listen.

Why do you think Dr. Schindler, his own teacher and a man whose institution profits greatly from West's notoriety, would publicly come out AGAINST West? The move is INSANE... unless Schindler has serious concerns about West.

I have a personal vendetta against Catholics spewing Protestant heresy. So, in that sense, yes, I have a personal vendetta against Chris West until such times as he stops spewing Protestant heresy.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Kevin,

You're right - at college you won't find chaperones. Anymore.

Why do you think the college hookup scene is so rife, my friend? Check out this link
.

Catholic men and women are not benefiting from the new lack of chaperones.

Colleges, especially Catholic colleges, used to have
1) very low populations - until after World War II, colleges served no more than 2% of the population. Most people never went beyond high school.

2) single-sex dorms. Indeed, single-sex colleges were the rule. You didn't meet the other sex on campus, certainly not in your dorm, much less your dorm room.

3) The colleges saw themselves as "in loco parentis" and provided CHAPERONED dances and socials, when such events were provided, precisely in order to cut down on sexual activity.

4) It is only with the rapid rise and spread of the automobile that young couples began to get involved in unchaperoned activity alone. Ask any sociologist - the rise of the automobile coincides with the rise of sexual promiscuity because all the social norms were removed.

5) Chris West's cult experiences in the MoG community seriously screwed up his understanding of what a proper chaperone is meant to do.

6) As a result, Chris West developed the heretical theory that concupiscence can be abolished simply by thinking TOB thoughts. Now, if baptism doesn't abolish concupiscense, thinking nice thoughts won't, but Chris wouldn't accept that. In his early career, nearly every prominent theologian I know of privately corrected him (if you can think of the names of three speakers on the circuit, odds are at least one of them tried to correct him).

After years of doors closing in his face because of his explicit endorsement of this idea, he no longer teaches this explicitly. Instead, he teaches it by subterfuge, as he does here. As long as he describes the EFFECTS of no longer being affected by concupiscence and doesn't mention the word itself, people like Rigali give him a pass. So, as with the Semi-Arians, he hasn't changed his theology, he's just changed his terminology.

Kevin said...

Steve, its fine to criticise things that aren't going to change, but I don't see you offering any constructive suggestions. The facts are: We have automobiles. We go to gender-mixed colleges. Chaperones are not available. Expecting young people to date without ever being alone together is a little insane. You sound like one of those people that don't think women should wear pants.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Kevin,

My constructive suggestion is to return to chaperones.

It won't change if people don't change it. It won't change if people make fun of the idea, as Chris West does. Parents have to start building the expectation of chaperones into the children, as the ancients did.

Mocking the idea that a near occasion of sin should be avoided simply encourages people into near occasions of sin.

West plays both sides of the street - he puts in one throw-away line applauding the idea that near occasions of sin should be avoided, so he has somewhere to run and hide when he needs, but he spends the rest of the talk mocking the idea that near occasions of sin should be avoided.

This is Semi-Arian rhetorical technique.

Kevin said...

Steve, your response to Columcille completely misses the point. How many couples do you know who were not practicing "Purity, chastity and modesty" before marriage, but suddenly began to practice them the instant they were married?

That's just not how grace works.

If I were to interpret your argument to be saying that people shouldn't try to practice those virtues before marriage, you would get pretty upset, and rightly so. But that would be as bad a mis-characterization of your position as you make of West's.

Seeing both sides of a coin isn't always semi-arian rhetoric. Sometimes it's nuance.

Kevin said...

"Like West, you know neither Scripture nor the power of God."

This kind of belligerancy puts your accusation of West shoving you in an interesting light.

Sadly, most people can be provoked by words to lash out. It's never justified, but sometimes it is understandable.

Columcille said...

So spleen it is. . .

Steve, if West shoved you, that's battery. You can call the police and have him arrested, especially if there are witnesses. If he shoves you every time you meet, then it is a pattern and you can get a restraining order.

I'm not surprised by your account of what happened between you and Chris. Without knowing anything about this, I could see that something like this had happened simply by tracking your reporting on Christopher. It is obvious from your reporting.

How did I know this?

Because your reporting reveals an animus that is personal, malicious and unbalanced.

Further, I have met you both and I would ask you: What EXACTLY did you say to West before he shoved you?

Steve, your style is agressive, acidic, sarcastic and you have one tool in your box - to dissect each word a person says and throw it back at them crying "heresy."

Your love of dissection is greater than your love of persons. That's a problem. Whatever constructive critique you may have is lost for failure to love.

I doubt your innocence in all this is as you portray because your style is so confrontational and often mean spirited, Steve.

Steve, why don't you initiate a canonical suit against West for heresy? Then you will either be vindicated by the proper authorities, or West will be.

Either way, you will know, and so will we, and regardless of the outcome everyone will know how much your war against Christopher West is a sign of your character.

Either way, you lose.

That's my point Steve, you are losing.

Even if what you say is true about West's theology, even if it is heresy that he teaches, your crusade violates the principle of Charity in Truth in favor of Maliciousness in Truth. As such, you lose.

In my own view, I think you interpret West's work in the worse possible light and attack that in an unbalanced way to wage a personal vendetta against him. The fact that I guessed that you had an altercation with him is some proof that my assessment is on target.

If this is true, then you lose even more so because you are posing as the defender of Christian doctrine, while being an unforgiving malicious hypocrite.

Remember, it is what comes out of the HEART that defiles a man, not what comes out of his HEAD.

My point to you Steve (which you missed), is that you are hurting yourself and the Church by what you are doing.

If you are serious about West preaching heresy, then take a canonical action and be done with it.

But again, be warned. Either way, you lose.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Kevin,

"How many couples do you know who were not practicing "Purity, chastity and modesty" before marriage, but suddenly began to practice them the instant they were married?"

You're right - that's NOT how grace works. Grace works transforms who we are, but it takes awhile for us to catch up with our new capabilities.

So, there are two ways to answer your question.

First, a one year old has all the power in his legs, all the nerves, all the muscles, all the bone strength necessary to walk unimpeded. But he has to practice how to USE that power. That's why he falls down a lot - he has muscle concupiscence, the tendency to WANT to fall down, even though he has the power to stand.

Similarly, the grace of marriage instantly provides all the power to live out all the virtues but it takes a while to learn how to use that new power.

And this is part of the second point. The way I live out a virtue is going to be DIFFERENT depending on what graces I have available. If I am unmarried and have not the graces of marriage, then I will live out purity, chastity and modesty differently than when I am married.

Precisely because the unmarried man has less power, less grace, he CAN'T expect to be pure, modest and chaste in a room alone with his beloved in the same way that he will be able to when he IS married to her.

Indeed, what is impure the night before the wedding becomes pure the night after the wedding. What is immodest the night before becomes modest. What is unchaste becomes chaste.

The grace of marriage TRANSFORMS the acts, empowers the actors to do what was IMPOSSIBLE before.

West takes none of these things into account. He assumes, nay, he insists that the actors have power prior to marriage they manifestly DO NOT HAVE.

He mocks them for recognizing their weaknesses, chastises them for exercising chastity, claims their attempts at purity are really a sign of their underlying impurity.

Like snow-covered dunghills, the unmarried lovers who choose to remain apart LOOK pure on the outside, says West, but on the inside they are really filled with charnel and dust!

He's telling all of these young men and women that not only should, they be able to remain alone in a bedroom prior to marriage, but that anyone who advises them against doing so is the real sinner.

This turns 2000 years of spiritual and moral counsel from the Church on its head.

It denies the power of grace received in the sacrament of marriage, asserting instead that such graces are really unnecessary because the lovers should ALREADY HAVE THEM.

This man is denying the sacraments of the Church. He's denying the fallen nature of man. He's essentially an Adamite. He has, on numerous occasions, advocated various kinds of public nudity on at least a theoretical level and sometimes a practical level as being consistent with Catholic theology. Indeed, I know of at least one television show in which he discussed with Catholic theologians this very point. The show never aired because it was deemed too scandalous.

The ABC Nightline interview was not an aberration and ABC did not mis-characterize him. They actually reported his views with complete accuracy. I was actually shocked by how accurate they were. I didn't expect it from a secular news media source.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Kevin and Columcille,

Has it ever occurred to either of you that perhaps my reporting on him is a RESULT of the interactions I've had with him since 1999?

As you both admit, you know nothing of the situation. So I really appreciate you presenting your opinions on the matter, under the pretense that these opinions are informed.

And if I am reading him unfairly, then what do you say of his instructors?

At least three different instructors at the place where he was taught TOB have all repudiated him.

You can ad hominem me, and fail to engage any of the theological points I've brought out, but how do you plan on doing the same to the faculty that taught him?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Oh, I also find it interesting, Columcille, that you and Johnnyjoe (same person perhaps) don't have any personal links.

Anonymous assaults - very touching. :)

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Columcille,

You suggest I take out a canonical lawsuit against West. Perhaps I should. Perhaps I shall.

Columcille, in turn, I suggest that if you are going to cast aspersions on my character, you tell us all exactly who you are, give us your real name and your real connection to Chris West.

Let's get out from behind the mask, shall we?

Kevin said...

Steve,

I think one of the central problems here is that you are equivocating between prudence and chastity. It is the distinction between the two that West is trying to point out. Avoiding the near occassion of sin is not the same thing as having the virtue against which the temptation to sin tends. Having the prudence to avoid the near occassions of sins against chastity, for instance, is not the same thing as being chaste. West is arguing that avoiding the near occasion of sin is only a stop-gap measure to protect us while we work to cooperate with grace to the point that we are truly chaste. Once we are chaste, it is no longer necessary. (There's always the possibility of sin, but if that alone meant we must avoid the situation, we could never leave the house!)

Furthermore, it goes too far to say that an unmarried man "CAN'T expect to be pure, modest and chaste in a room alone with his beloved in the same way that he will be able to when he IS married to her." Now, I'm tempted to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that the phrase "in the same way" is meant to restrict this comment to situations such as, for instance, nudity, but this isn't warranted by your following comments: "West ... assumes, nay, he insists that the actors have power prior to marriage they manifestly DO NOT HAVE." Clearly this is a reference to West's discussion of the mere fact of being alone together and nothing more.

So in your view, it is "IMPOSSIBLE" for young people to be alone together and remain chaste?

Really?

Even after baptism?

Everyone?

Tell me, would it be possible for young saints Francis and Clare to be alone together and remain chaste? Inquiring minds want to know.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Kevin,

You are setting the virtues in opposition to one another. That's not how it works.

It is not the case that once I am chaste, I no longer need to be prudent. The virtues are not something we capture, like a bird in a cage. They are constantly lived out, we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, they are constantly in danger of being lost.

The virtues are habits of action. Like any muscle, the virtue requires constant exercise and require constant vigilance to exercise them. EVERY TIME we fail to exercise them, our ability to use the grace God supplies through them weakens. EVERY ACT is a moral act.

So part of the virtue of chastity is prudence. Part of the virtue of prudence is chastity. The young people who separate themselves are being BOTH prudent AND chaste.

It is virtually impossible to exercise one virtue to the exclusion of the others. Like the Persons of the Trinity, virtues can be distinguished, but they can never be separated.

So, the exercise of virtue is not an either-or situation.

But, insofar as you have followed Chris West, you have gained the erroneous idea that it is, haven't you?

Are you beginning to see the problem?

Kevin said...

"As you both admit, you know nothing of the situation. So I really appreciate you presenting your opinions on the matter, under the pretense that these opinions are informed."

I've offered no such pretense. I've just noted two things you reveal in this conversation seem to go together nicely: You're a belligerent jerk to everyone who disagrees with you, and you once provoked a guy you manifestly hate to shove you.

"And if I am reading him unfairly, then what do you say of his instructors? ... You can ad hominem me, and fail to engage any of the theological points I've brought out, but how do you plan on doing the same to the faculty that taught him?"

If I come accross them on the internet, I might discuss the topic with them as well. I'm certainly not going to defer to their opinions because they happen to be professors. I've known too many professors.

And if they want to convince me of anything, the first they have to do is characterize their interpretation of West's views in a way that isn't wildly at odds with what the guy actually says. You might try that as well.

West: "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."

Kellmeyer: "You are teaching PROTESTANT HERESY, a theology that says we are cloaked by an alien righteousness that does NOT transform us. You are teaching the condemned heresy Chris West spewed into your head."

Kevin said...

"It is not the case that once I am chaste, I no longer need to be prudent."

Well sure, but what is prudent when you are unchaste may be unnecessary when you are chaste. If you have a prediliction to shoplift bubblegum, it would be prudent for you to avoid the bubblegum aisle of the store. If you overcome that compulsion to the degree that you are confident it is not a likely possibility, going to great lengths to avoid the bubblegum aisle become pointless. It's no longer prudence. Prudence hasn't changed. You have.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

"what is prudent when you are unchaste"

I don't even know what that means.
If you are unchaste, by definition you are imprudent.

You can't hold a prudent thought in your head while being unchaste with your body.

You may have been unchaste with your body IN THE PAST, still haven't confessed the sin, but through the work of actual graces you have returned to some semblance of sanity and are NOW trying to be both prudent and chaste.

You continue to hold virtues in opposition to one another, because that's what Chris West has taught you to do. The very idea is absurd.

And, as for your quotes of West, to say that Chris West has said some things which are orthodox is not to say that EVERYTHING he has said is orthodox.

Even Nestorius (a bishop) and Arius (a priest) manifestly got SOME things right, or they never would have been ordained.

Indeed, it is precisely BECAUSE they got some things right that they were so dangerous. Heresy works best when it is liberally admixed with orthodoxy. It's much harder to detect the heresy that way.

Chris West is dangerous not because he gets 20% of everything wrong, but because he gets 80% right. He's orthodox at least 80% of the time. That's why the man frightens me. He's good enough to be really, really dangerous.

Kevin said...

I think it should be obvious to any interested reader exactly what I meant.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Kevin,

You're right, it's clear what you meant. That's the problem.

You have an either-or understanding of virtues.

Take your bubble-gum example. The ability to ignore the bubble-gum means that you have increased your abilities in the virtue of prudence and restraint.

It doesn't mean you don't need those virtues, it means you are growing in their power. The unmarried person grows in chastity and prudence by AVOIDING near occasions of being unchaste, not by pursuing them.

He CAN'T grow in virtue by repeatedly and deliberately putting himself in a situation that's really only proper to a married person.

Find me a saint of the Church who says you need to pursue near occasions of sin, or even not to worry about them, in order to grow in grace, and I'll agree with you.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Oh, Kevin, funny you should bring up Francis and Clare.

First, to answer your question, they were both under religious vows, which gave them graces to maintain their virtues.

But, I heard Christopher West specifically call out St. Francis as an example NOT to follow because he threw himself into a rose bush in order to quiet his concupiscence. West claimed that this was a "disordered understanding of the theology of the body."

Now, that was one of the major statements that set all the diocesan officials off, got me pushed around by him, and got him a "non gratis" in the diocese.

So I'm very glad that you brought those two into the conversation.

Anonymous said...

This all boils down to asking WHY is it prudent to avoid certain situations. It is prudent because of the likelihood that you will give in to temptation and sin. It isn't the mere possibility of sin that makes avoidance prudent, but the degree of likelihood. (The possibility exists always and everywhere.) Obviously some judgment is involved, and there is a grey area where it is unclear if the likelihood of sinning is large enough to warrant avoiding the situation. A big part of assessing the likelihood of sin is to take stock of your character. We never achieve perfection in this life, but we move towards perfection as we conform ourselves to Christ.

That said, it seems perfectly obvious that as our hearts are more conformed to Christ, it becomes less and less likely that being a single person alone with a person of the opposite sex would lead to sin. At a certain point, it is no longer required by prudence to avoid the situation. And of course, some people have a longer journey to get to that point than others, depending on many things such as their personality and their history.

You say that being alone with the person you are courting is "a situation that's really only proper to a married person." That's begging the question. If it is improper, it is because the couple should avoid the near occasion of sin. (That's the only reason that's been offered in this conversation, anyway.) If it is the near occasion of sin, that is because it is a situation in which it is likely that the couple will actually sin (meaning a sin distinct from the alleged sin of being alone together.) And that all hangs, of course, on how likely it is, in reality, that they will sin. As with any case, the couple themselves are called to make a judgment about that likelihood. Note that this is not "pursuing near occasions of sin", it is evaluating whether one exists. So I repeat, you are begging the question. If I wanted to pursue a near occasion of sin, I would first have to determine that one existed, and then pursue it.

Finally, you may judge, in your best estimation, that any unmarried couple being alone together is pretty much always a near occasion of sin. Fine, I happen to disagree. But I don't think that there is any point in this conversation where an honest reading of what I've written can support the accusations of heresy that you have been making. Your interpretation of me as "hold[ing] virtues in opposition to one another" and promoting pursuing occasions of sin is just not supported. You're too quick to attack without understanding what the person means.

Anonymous said...

That anonymous post and this one is by "Kevin". The log-in seems to be malfunctioning right now.

Patrick said...

I am amazed that people claim an error in the principle of Charity in Truth for pointing out comments that are clearly out of line with Catholic teaching. It would be one thing if it was an educational moment for someone who doesn't understand what they are saying because they don't have the background, but if West really didn't understand what his words were implying, he needs a job outside of any educational activities. This is the theological arena where wording means everything.

Kevin said...

Patrick, obviously your amazement is caused by your belief that West was "clearly out of line with Catholic teaching." But in fact that is what is being disputed.

Matheus said...

I for one am unacquainted with the TOB and with both Steve's and West's approach to it, but I can't help finding really strange that West's cheerleaders here have to resort to mob-lynching against Steve offering no rational argument for it, as if Christopher West were a kind of "Ferris Bueller" of Catholic celebrities everyone is supposed to like and agree with.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Obviously, it is not a sin to simply be together in the same room alone.

However, all the tinder necessary for sin is present.

Now, Kevin, I agree that you have made yourself much more clear in your last post. But you must agree that your first few stabs at it were not clear - I can't read minds, all I can do is go by what is printed on the page.

Chris West has been giving talks for a long, long time. He hasn't gotten any clearer in his presentations over that time. His wording, his failure to appreciate or provide nuance, this is what is killing him.

Nestorius didn't MEAN to be a heretic. He thought he was right - indeed, both he and Arius caused the emperor to call the councils which deposed and condemned both of them. Good intent is not enough. The WORDS have to be correct.

Never has anyone been judged before an ecumenical council on their INTENT. They are always judged on their WORDS. Their WORDS are burned (when their works are burned), even when the heretics are not (which was most of the time - they usually just got banished).

West's WORDS are heretical.
His intent is beside the point.

Johnnyjoe said...

Steve,

It should be obvious by his lucid and penetrating writing that Columcille is NOT me. My comments are mere croaking in comparison.

You have been warned, and you continue your obstinance at the peril of your own soul. I'm sure the next step is to start bitching about those "Novus Ordo" katholics.

I don't have a "URL" because I don't have a website. Are my criticisms less credible because I don't have a website?

As it were, it is a sad thing, really.

As Columcille observed, even if you are "right", you lose - I just pray it isn't your soul.

"By their fruits we shall know them.", sayeth the Lord, and you are throwing CALUMNY around, friend, and that ain't FRUIT.

I have challenged you on this point in every post of mine, and in every response you have avoided it. You are twisting West's words to fit your plan, and now you are so deep into this project, to turn back appears nearly impossible. You have drunk deeply from the bitter cup of self-righteousness, and the devil thus has you by the short hairs.

It is a broad and easy road to declare yourself a greater authority than the Church leadership. You hold much more in common with Luther than with Aquinas, and as long as you resist any humble self assessment about your motivations, you will continue down a destructive path.

Since you take not fraternal correction (but only redouble your efforts at the challenge), I will offer my Peace to you. This vendetta will end as all vendettas end - in the death of a soul. May God take the time to get your attention before you cause any further rents in the Body of Christ.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Johnnyjoe,

Have you considered the possibility that the "fruit" here originates with Christopher West?

This drama is centered around West, not me. I'm not the one who went on Nightline and claimed Hefner and JP II were both neat-o.

I don't have Alice von Hildebrand breathing down my neck.

I haven't been publicly repudiated for bad theology by the people who gave me my MA in theology.

It ain't me that's brought out these fruits - these are the fruits of Christopher West's teachings.

Buy a clue.

Kevin said...

Steve,

On the contrary, intent is nearly everything. Words just do not have one specific meaning. For one thing, there aren't nearly enough of them for that kind of rigor. Nevertheless we can hope to communicate clearly if both parties do their job. That means the listener needs to be asking "how can I understand the speaker in a way that makes sense?" This is especially necessary when the listener is not the intended audience of the speaker.

Chris West does not aim his presentation at theologians. He is communicating to common people that have a lot of misconceptions about very basic ideas about chastity. One of the things he is always trying to drive home is that we should be trying and striving to become truly chaste in our minds and hearts, which involves having a positive outlook on sexuality. You can't just say this once and expect it to stick. You've got to say it a thousand times in a thousand ways before people start to really get it.

When I read his comments specifically about spending time alone together, it is obvious that he is fighting against poor catechesis that says:

1) Sex is bad!
2) You can't expect to have self control!
3) Don't think about it!
4) Run away!

West's message is perfectly clear to everyone who hears him ... unless you're a theologian who expects him to be speaking to and for theologians. But I want to emphasise that that expectation is unreasonable. He is saying things that are true, using language that people understand. If the ideas that a common person takes away from his presentation are true, a theologian has no right to demand he change the way he says things. Truths are more important than words, and nobody owns the english language.

What he is saying in this particular instance is: Don't think that avoiding occasions of sin is the highest form of chastity. The fact that you must avoid being alone together in order to avoid sin means that something is deeply wrong. You are called to a greater holiness. If you strive for it, undergoing "deep and painful purifications", you can actually be transformed so that being alone together is no longer a near occasion of sin.

None of the heretical readings you have offered are warranted. He's not saying to pursue occasions of sin. If he seems flippant on that point it is because he knows it's a concept that everybody is familiar with. He is trying to get them to see beyond that familiar idea, to greater things. He's not denying the grace of the sacrament of marriage. You yourself agreed that marriage doesn't mean an instantaneous change in what people are capable of. That's exactly what he was getting at when he said there is no waving of a magic wand. If people aren't striving to be truly chaste before marriage, when they are baptised and have access to the Eucharist and Confession, they're probably not going to get much from the grace of marriage, are they?

Chris West is addressing people whose catechesis on chastity is basically the crude 4 points I listed above. His goal is to penetrate that thinking with better ideas, in a way that propells people into seeking and striving for holiness. If you surveyed people coming out of one of his talks, using language they could understand, I don't think they would agree with your interpretations.

dcs said...

Being alone together will be a near occasion of sin for some, but not a near occasion of sin for others.

The problem with West, as I see it, is that he believes that ALL should be able to reach the point at which it is not a near occasion of sin.

That simply won't happen in the wayfaring state. Not everyone can become "virtuous" in the Westian sense of the word.

I find West's use of "Thomistic" ironic since St. Thomas, so the story goes, chased away a prostitute with a log from the fire (she had been sent by his family to tempt him).

Kevin said...

dcs, I flat disagree. Everyone is called to sainthood.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Kevin,

Everyone is called to sainthood, but not everyone is called to what West's version of sanctity. St. Paul had a thorn in his side that God would not remove, for He showed forth His strength in Paul's weakness. West would do well to remember that.

As for the Westian canon of four-fold action, running away IS self-control. It takes strength to run away from a near occasion of sin.

West keeps pushing this meme that all Catholics thought "sex is bad!" prior to the JP II enlightenment. He's flat wrong.

West's message IS perfectly clear. It's also heretical. That's why he's a problem.

You're a perfect example - you're a big fan, and you keep getting the theology wrong: sacramental, virtue, sin, you name it. All because you parrot West.

"The fact that you must avoid being alone together in order to avoid sin means that something is deeply wrong." No, that's simply erroneous Westian teaching.

"If people aren't striving to be truly chaste before marriage, when they are baptised and have access to the Eucharist and Confession, they're probably not going to get much from the grace of marriage, are they?"

Avoiding near occasions of sin is "striving to be chaste."

West mocks that form of chastity.
Sure, he throws up a fig leaf in favor so he has a rock to hide behind, but like every scorpion, he spends most of his time stinging us with his mockery. He scuttles back under the rock of the first sentence when anyone calls him on it.

I've talked with people coming out of his talks - a lot of them. About 30% become his disciples, about 30% think he's evil, and the rest just laugh at him. His "special TOB knowledge" has EXACTLY the same success rate at bringing people to NFP as non-TOB programs.

I know.
I have worked with people who have done both kinds of programs.

Everyone talks about the "enormous fruits" West brings to the table, but all I've seen him sow is dissension among Catholics, as per the percentages above. His spiel is no more effective than any other delivery of the real Catholic teaching on sex and marriage.

Brendan said...

After following this, I must retract my dismissive remark above about defenders of West.

I realize now lots of people for lots of reasons are influenced by the popular culture and by heretics like West.

No-one is too smart to be persuaded into error, just as no-one is so transcendentally chaste to be immune to temptation in courtship.

To enter an occasion of mortal sin is in fact a mortal sin in itself. There is no merit in entering one in order to exercise or demonstrate this fictional "Westian" transcendental chastity.

That sort of confidence is foolishness, according to the Church and all the Saints. To flee such situations is the only wise, chaste, and prudent act.

To assert that an occasion of sin is only one for those who engage in sin when they enter it is to promote a game of craps with the souls of men and the Blood of Christ.

Kevin said...

Steve, you're not even trying to understand what I'm saying. All you're trying to do is find the worst possible interpretation of it so you can continue your attack.

Mamie Farish said...

Hi Steve, I appreciate your background info for understanding Cardinal Rigali's recent statement of support for Christopher West. It is interesting to note that theologians do duke it out with one another. Since I'm not a theologian, I find this discussion boring. As a catechist, I'm looking for "simple." Given that, I believe that TOB will remain the discussion for theologians, but for us catechists, we will be looking for easier ways to convey the TOB teachings. For example, the TOB for Teens is a 12-week study. This is way too much for a high school CCD program, unless students are already enrolled in a Catholic high school. There is too much to teach, we need something simple that can be integrated in existing Catholic religious curricula. I believe that West is a passing phenomenon. Time is passing for the TOB gurus; it's now time for catechists & parents to convey this information to their children. Thanks, for all you do, keeping us informed. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Steve Kellmeyer,

Thank you for posting "Chris and the Cult". This is the first time I have read anything of yours and I'm impressed by your feisty defence of the truth. Keep up
the good fight. You're on the side of the angels.

Re Anonymous 11:21 AM, September 23, 2009:

"That said, it seems perfectly obvious that as our hearts are more conformed to Christ, it becomes less and less likely that being a single person alone with a person of the opposite sex would lead to sin. At a certain point, it is no longer required by
prudence to avoid the situation."

Certain saints in the Church who are renowned as spiritual advisers because of their deep knowledge of the human heart would disagree with you (and CW). They have noted that it is precisely at the point where the heart begins to make
significant progress in conforming to Christ that some of the severest temptations in relation to the opposite sex can occur.

As well, the attitude of believing oneself no longer in danger of temptation is essentially one of presumption. As Chesterton has illustrated so well in his Fr. Brown stories the Catholic position is to realise that anyone can be capable of any sin but for the grace of God. It is a non-catholic position to assume that simply by being a 'good' Christian one will no longer commit sins. Here are two examples from Chesterton:

1) 'I am a man,' answered Father Brown gravely; 'and therefore have all devils in my heart.

2) “Can it cure the one spiritual disease?” asked Father Brown, with a serious curiosity.
“And what is the one spiritual disease?” asked Flambeau, smiling.
“Oh, thinking one is quite well,” said his friend.

Kevin said...

Anonymous commenter,

Like I said at the very beginning, I'm not suggesting that unmarried couples vacation together alone. I'm not even suggesting they be alone together in a bedroom. (INdeed, why would they?) What I'm saying is that the judgment of what situations are near occasions of sin is based on an evaluation of the likelihood of a sin occuring. If a person pursuing holiness is being attacked with great temptations like what you describe, it is completely appropriate to make boundaries that recognize that. The "severity" of a temptation is probably a measure quite similar to the likelihood of sinning, although there may be slight differences between those two ideas.

I'm not promoting an attitude of presumption. I'm not suggesting people take big risks to prove themselves or to practice fighting temptation. I'm saying that the determination of whether a near occasion of sin exists is up to the couple to make, perhaps with the help of a spiritual director, and futhermore that it is completely plausible and unsurprising that some mature Christian couples should find no temptation in being alone together under the right circumstances.

I will go even farther than that. If you can honestly say that spending any time alone together would lead to sin, you are not prepared to be discerning marriage. What does it say about your self-control? What if after getting married, some woman at work takes a liking to you and your wife knows about it? Can you expect her to trust you if you couldn't even handle spending a little time with her without a chaperone? Man up and take some responsibility for yourself, for goodness sake.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

"If you can honestly say that spending any time alone together would lead to sin, you are not prepared to be discerning marriage. What does it say about your self-control?"

Compare Kevin's remarks to Scripture, ""But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." 1 Cor 7:9

Kevin, your position is very much in accordance with Chris West, but it is very much against Scripture and the teaching of the Church.

As I pointed out in the essay, and as JP II insisted, the third reason for sex in marriage is the quieting of concupiscence.

Do I say that two unmarried members of the opposite sex alone in a room will NECESSARILY engage in sin?
No, of course not.

Do I say that it CAN BE, and for two young people who like each other a lot, probably IS a near occasion of sin? Yes, of course.

Is a near occasion of sin the SAME as sin? No, of course not - that's why we have two different phrases.

Is it foolish and dangerous to confuse the two? Yes - that's why Chris West is foolish and dangerous.

Dymphna said...

Wait aminute....Christopher West grew up in a cult? So, how much of TOB is a reaction to MOG and how much of it is really what JPII said?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Excellent question, Dymphna, excellent question.

Kevin said...

This conversation is unbelievable!

"Do I say that two unmarried members of the opposite sex alone in a room will NECESSARILY engage in sin?
No, of course not.

Do I say that it CAN BE, and for two young people who like each other a lot, probably IS a near occasion of sin? Yes, of course.

Is a near occasion of sin the SAME as sin? No, of course not - that's why we have two different phrases.
"

There is nothing in that quote that I disagree with, or that I've even hinted at disagreeing with. You seem to be deliberately avoiding the only relevant question:

Can it be that for two young people who like each other a lot, being alone together is not an occasion of sin?

I answer yes, and for a mature Christian couple, being alone together under the right circumstances is very likely not an occasion of sin.

You don't have to argue that being alone together is sometimes an occasion of sin (even when no sin takes place) -- I already agree!

You don't have to argue that for some people, being alone together would always be an occasion of sin -- I already agree!

Do I need to draw you a venn diagram or something??

Kevin said...

Beyond the mere possibility of couples spending time alone together in a situation that is not the near occasion of sin, we also seem to disagree on whether this is a realistic possibility that people should work towards. I think it will become clear how absurd this is if you compare it to other situations.

For some, being around folks who swear and cuss is a near occasion of sin because such language is very contagious. Should we not work towards having the self control not to be influenced by such language? Should we have the expectation of not being influenced by bad language, at least some day?

For some, following the political news every day is a near occasion of sin because they tend to react with anger and hatred to ideas they disagree with. Should those people not work towards having the self control to calmly keep themselves well informed about politics? Should they have the expectation of one day being able to pleasantly discuss politics with those on the "other side of the aisle"?

For some people, walking by the ice cream in the grocery store might be a severe temptation to buy some chocolate ice cream, which they know would cause them to overeat. (If you think I'm being flippant, ask a few married women whether they prefer chocolate to sex.) Should they not try to develop the self control to pass by the ice cream without giving in? Should they have the expectation of one day being able to do so?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Is it theoretically possible that two unmarried young people who love each other can occupy the same room alone together and it not be a near occasion of sin?

An occasion of sin is near if the danger is "certain and probable." If both parties are very aware of the danger and actively seeking to avoid the sin, then the physical proximity, by itself, won't be a near occasion of sin.

But you should now see the issue. In order for it NOT to be a near occasion of sin, there has to be within both parties a MENTAL recognition of, and refusal to engage in, the sinful possibilities that the physical proximity raise.

In short, even in this situation, both parties must MENTALLY flee the near occasion of sin through their awareness of the danger and their moment-to-moment choices.

Whether one exercises self-control through (1) the mental discipline of PHYSICALLY avoiding the scene or (2) the mental discipline of refusing to act on the possibilities as you remain in the scene, in either case, mental discipline is being exercised and virtue is being displayed.

This isn't an either-or situation.

West treats it as if it is.
His words mock the first virtuous act as NOT virtuous and NOT worthy of emulation while he simultaneously endorses the second way to display virtue.

Unfortunately, according to sacramental theology (the theology of the created thing, i.e., the theology of the body), you must practice in your body what you want to accomplish in your will.

Put another way, it is nigh unto impossible to manage the second kind of virtue without having practiced the first kind.

So, is it POSSIBLE to show adoration to the Blessed Sacrament without kneeling? Sure. But is it BETTER to kneel? Sure.

Is it POSSIBLE to receive Jesus in a holy fashion through reception in the hand? Sure. Is it easier to to do via reception on the tongue? Sure.

Kevin said...

Obviously there is some virtue in chosing to avoid the near occasion of sin. I don't think West would deny that either. But I think he wants to say that this exercise of virtue is is some sense trivial in comparison to the greater heights of virtue that would make avoiding being alone together unnecessary. The more fully we have internalized chastity, the more natural it is to simply chose not to sin, rather than going through the rigamarole of finding a chaperone every time we spend time with someone we are courting.

So when he says "We must not call that virtue", a more exact phrasing for a philosophically inclined audience would be "We must not think that's all there is to virtue", or else "We must not think that the ability to avoid such a situation means that we are completely virtuous."

Now, this may seem to be a bit of sophism at first, but consider it to be like a kid playing Tee-ball. Yes, he might be swinging the bat and connecting with the ball, but if we are promoting baseball skills, it's perfectly reasonable for us to say "We must not call that hitting." Because ultimately, what you want to be able to do is hit the ball when it is thrown by a pitcher, which is a much harder skill that requires more work to develop.

Also I would suggest you protest too much when you continuously claim that West "mocks" the practice of avoiding being alone together. You are trying to add insinuation to his words that is not there. He is not belittling anyone. Your abrasive and hostile language in this entire discussion kind of disqualifies you from making that kind of plead, anyway.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Kevin,

Christopher West DID deny it. "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."

You are PUTTING WORDS IN WEST'S MOUTH in order to excuse what he actually said.

Thomas RAN from sin. When the prostitute was placed in his prison room, he chased her out of the room with a fiery brand, slammed the door on her, inscribed a cross on the door with the charcoal from the brand, THEN prayed to God for deliverance from this temptation.

According to Chris West, St. Thomas did NOT display virtue right then. Instead, I suppose, St. Thomas should have sat down with her and discussed her profession or discoursed on the acceptability of anal intercourse as foreplay.

Christopher West asserted a stinking heresy. That's not hostility, that's an accurate assessment of his statements.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Oh, and Kevin, have you noticed that "Johnnyjoe" and "Circumcille" (who are probably the same person) disappeared right when I asked them two questions:

Who are you?
What is your relation to Chris West?

They were Chris' troll(s). I strongly suspect one of them was one of the Healy's.

These people set you up to argue with me and are now leaving you out to dry. This is typical cult tactics - divide and conquer.

He's the product of a cult. He knows how to play this game. How long do you want to play it?

Brendan said...

I am the one who said deliberately entering an occasion of sin is a sin.

It is. We have a different word for it because it is not the same thing. To deliberately enter a near occasion of sin is not to commit that sin but to commit the sin of presumption, as you yourself say, Steve.

It would be nonsensical to equate them as synonymous, because they are not, but it is still an offense. If it were not, then it would not be wrong. It would be morally neutral, and it clearly is not.

I wish I had a source to reference better than myself. I learned it from a priest whom I trust to know these things.

Kevin said...

I suspect those two decided early on that you aren't worth arguing with. They may have been right. I've almost stopped a couple times, but I find I don't mind making things a little clearer for people who happen upon your site.

Now, am I putting word into West's mouth? No, I don't think so. The fact is, I read his words and it never occurs to me that he would be suggesting that there is NOTHING virtuous about avoiding the near occasion of sin. He's making another point entirely. I realize this may be counter-intuitive, but when somebody is speaking english and their language takes the form "a is b", they don't necessarily mean it to be taken in the absolute sense, the way a logician means it. Language is a complex and subtle thing. The important thing is whether his meaning is being successfully conveyed to his listeners. I continue to believe that if you surveyed people coming out of his talks, asking them "Does Chris West teach that there is nothing at all virtuous about avoiding the near occasion of sin?" they would answer a resounding "No."

It is important to recognize also that somebody who says "I agree with Chris West" is in a much better position to explain what West is all about than somebody who says "I think West is poisonous heretic". If those two people disagree on some matter of truth, either one may be right, but if they disagree on what West's message is, it seems reasonable to give the benefit of the doubt to the supporter. I get the feeling that if Chris West himself were to come here and try to explain what he meant, you'd still tell him he meant something else.

One last thing. I am obviously a fellow who likes a good debate. But I find myself somewhat convicted by the good example of Columcille & Johnnyjohn, who I suspect perceived early on that this comment thread is simply unhealthy. Accusing them of "cult tactics" because they give up trying to argue with you is, wow, pretty paranoid and demented, now that I think about it. Maybe you need some R&R. I don't think continuing this discussion is good for you, and I think I will do the right thing and end it.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Brendan is correct - deliberately entering an occasion for sin is a sin.

Kevin, as far as your remark:
"It is important to recognize also that somebody who says "I agree with Arius" is in a much better position to explain what Arius is all about than somebody who says "I think Arius is poisonous heretic".

The Church disagrees with your assessment.

You seem to think that we can't believe what someone says. I think we can.

You haven't been tracking what West has been doing and saying for the last ten years.

As a professional speaker, that was and is part of what I have to do - keep track of what prominent Catholics are saying and doing.

In the last ten years, I see no evidence Chris West has ever changed his mind. He has just changed his tactics.

ben in denver said...

This is a very interesting discusion.

Considering the remarks that have come from Kevin, I think it may be important to remind him that catholic moral theology has traditionally recognized 4 natural virtues: temperence, prudence, justice and fortitude, and 3 theological virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity.

St. Thomas Aquinas treats chastity under the heading of temperance. When Steve says the virtues do not act against one another, what he means is that your virture of prudence assists you in being temperate, as do your other virtues. The virtues comliment one another.

It seems that it is not clear to some here that prudence is properly speaking a virtue In some places Kevin seems to be speaking of it as a faculty or a power or a tool, and not a virtue properly speaking. For that matter it is a virtue on a higher order than chastity--if want to speak "in the true Thomistic sense"

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Thank you, Ben in Denver. You've summed up the situation nicely.

JWilson said...

Steve,

I am a bit shocked by your harsh critique of CW. I find your presentation of evidence very lacking. You seem to be trying very hard to find something wrong with his work by cherry picking a few of his sentences. There is a lot of twisting going on here.

You are both sons of the Church. I invite you to re-examine your motives.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

JWilson,

I haven't presented all the evidence, just what's present in one talk on one night. If you want all the evidence, we would have to walk through a lot of his talks on a lot of different nights.

Why don't you take CW's statements before the Blessed Sacrament? Ask God if it's really the case that running away from a near occasion of sin is not a virtue.

See what He says.

JWilson said...

Steve,

Take CW's words before the blessed sacrament? I sure have. It was CW's teachings on TOB that led my wife an I to become Catholic. TOB, as taught to me through CW, convinced me wadding in the tiber was not enough to live a full life in Christ.


Running from sin not a virtue? Of course this is the correct action for one to take who cannot control themselves. Having listened to CW talk for HOURS, I would say he agrees 100%. I strongly feel you cherry picked this virtue quote out of context to shred him. A faithful Catholic man who must sprint from the private presence of his beloved and faithful fiancée is not one whom we can declare has grown fully in temperance. This is not the fullness of what God calls us to. This groom-to-be should not lift his nose in triumph, arms at hips, and declare he has matured in virtue because he did not do anything 'dirty'. Yet, it is just this attitude CW is condemning here. It is the same attitude that took me in the spiritual gutter in my college days. Coming from a Puritanical response to unchastity we sometimes forget God's will for us to see the situation without lust or disgust, but beauty. If you really need me to explain this more, let me know.

The rigidity of the fine toothed comb you are raking over CW is baffling. There is the CW I have met and heard and there is the CW you are presenting in tiny snippits. They are not the same. I will go with what I know.

You make me feel like I am back to my days of yore when I had to debate Protestant fundamentalist over calling men father. I invite you to avoid dragging peoples' names through the mud and attaching heretical terms to them until you are fully ready to provide very strong evidence.

That being said, can we meet for coffee some time? I am buddies with Dav. Palm. that you work with.

JWilson said...

"
Why don't you take CW's statements before the Blessed Sacrament? Ask God if it's really the case that running away from a near occasion of sin is not a virtue.

See what He says."

Because to take that interpretation of one passage from CW to the blessed sacrament is to go unprepared, for CW's intent is much different from what you are trying to make him say.

Patrick said...

You have missed the larger discussion point here. Good intentions do not stop someone from making heretical statements. Those statements should be challenged if not correct so that those who do not have a theological background are not misled. If you know of someone, who should know better as a teacher of the faith, making these types of statements even occasionally you should be questioning either their competency or their intent. As has been stated in the thread, a man who teaches 80% accurately, whether well-intentioned or not, is more dangerous than someone who is easily called out by making 100% heretical statements.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

"This groom-to-be should not lift his nose in triumph, arms at hips, and declare he has matured in virtue because he did not do anything 'dirty'."

So, running away from a near occasion of sin is not virtue nor is it a maturing in virtue... you agree with that?

So, is such a person ready to marry or should he wait until he has better self-control?

JWilson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JWilson said...

"So, running away from a near occasion of sin is not virtue nor is it a maturing in virtue... you agree with that?"

No I do not. A virtuous person will run from sin. However, such a person has not yet been fully perfected in virtue, especially if they only hold to a dualist view of sexuality.

"So, is such a person ready to marry or should he wait until he has better self-control?"

hmmm. not sure on this one. A person with a perverted (contemporary) view of sexuality may need further marital preparation if they see sex as something either dirty and 'pornish' or that the honeymoon bed is an opportunity to try every self-indulgent act they have ever heard of on late night cable. Such attitudes can harm a young marriage.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Well, JWilson, Chris West disagrees with you: "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."


Chris West specifically says you are wrong. It is NOT virtuous to run away. Continence is NOT virtue.

"[Not if they see] sex as something either dirty and 'pornish' or that the honeymoon bed is an opportunity to try every self-indulgent act"

Again, Chris West says you are simply wrong. In his "Good News" he explicitly says anal sex as foreplay is perfectly acceptable, there's nothing wrong with pretty much anything you want to do as long as the semen ends up in the vagina.

So, you are out of step with Chris West on that as well. Hmmm...

You agree with the premises of my concerns about West, you apparently just don't like the conclusion - that he's a heretic.

Ok. But remember, Chris West is the one who says you are wrong. You have a prudish understanding of sex or you would realize that anal sex as foreplay is morally acceptable. Freedom in Christ, and all that. Dr. Janet Smith would chastise you for attacking West's presentation by disagreeing with him.

Shame on you.

JWilson said...

Steve,

I respect you a lot. I gave your Inquisition talk, bought in Colorado Springs by a buddy of mine in CUF, to my Ex-catholic boss who loved it.

I am a bit upset by your position.

Could you please watch the following video clips from CW and pinpoint some of the areas of concern from them? I fear the two of you will agree with each other once an understanding is met, but you will miss his meaning if you only read some of his writings.

Here are two:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnDJDT0TSbE&feature=PlayList&p=12F7503C9E023660

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqRKvNX4IKU&feature=channel_page




Please point out any place you have a hesitation with him in these clips.

JWilson said...

Steve,

At this point there seems to be a disconnect between you, me and CW on the terms virtue and continence/incontinence. I hope you and I can agree that a couple who believe their only defense against fornication is avoidance of ever being alone still have a way to develop in holiness.

That is my point. That is CW's point. You seem to really be trying hard to not see this, and to find ways to confuse the message trying to be sent from CW.


"In his "Good News" he explicitly says anal sex as foreplay is perfectly acceptable, there's nothing wrong with pretty much anything you want to do as long as the semen ends up in the vagina."

A quote you are twisting out of context. Please copy the entire text here with page number. If memory serves, I believe he has stated such activities are not explicitly against church teachings, but still might not be a good idea.

"So, you are out of step with Chris West on that as well. Hmmm..."

No. You simply are cherry picking again out of context. Please refer to the video clips I linked.

"You agree with the premises of my concerns about West, you apparently just don't like the conclusion - that he's a heretic."

Not quite. I have no concerns about West. The two of you agree on more than you realize, but seem to express it in two different ways. I hold to the hope that this is true. However, Johnnyjoe's comment seems to be a more reasonable conclusion:

"You pound out suspicion and innuendo where there is none to be found, and you are rapidly loosing all credibility - for what appears to be professional jealousy."



"Ok. But remember, Chris West is the one who says you are wrong."

No, it is your twisted version of CW that says I am wrong, not the real CW. Call no man father.

"Dr. Janet Smith would chastise you for attacking West's presentation by disagreeing with him."

"No, it is your twisted version of CW that says I am wrong, not the real CW."


"Shame on you."

I don't think so. :)

Steve Kellmeyer said...

JWilson,

"I hope you and I can agree that a couple who believe their only defense against fornication is avoidance of ever being alone still have a way to develop in holiness"

Well, as a matter of fact, I don't know that I agree. If they are contemplating marriage, then they are undoubtedly contemplating sex. You don't marry someone you don't want to have sex with.

The whole point of marriage is that it's a vocation. If marriage is your vocation from God, that means you aren't complete until you are married.

So, it may be that this couple has, indeed, grown as far as they can in holiness given the graces they are meant to have (marriage) versus the graces they actually have in their hands right now (lack of marriage graces).

Chris West doesn't seem to account for the grace of vocation, or any sacramental grace, for that matter.

But, you say this is your point.
Alright.

Then, you say this is CW's point.
There is nothing in his statement which indicates your supposition is correct.

If he had said the couple displayed virtue, I might grant you the point. But he denied that they displayed virtue.

There's no way to get from what HE SAID to what YOU SAY he must have meant.

He didn't qualify it later, he didn't modify it, he kept saying it over and over. They didn't display virtue. Continence is not a virtue.

"I believe he has stated such activities [anal foreplay/sex]are not explicitly against church teachings, but still might not be a good idea."

He says something along that line in the 2nd edition of the book, but in the first edition he's FINE with anal foreplay. He released a 2nd edition precisely because the 1st edition was getting so much heat on that point. You can't get a copy of the first edition anymore.

Furthermore, anal foreplay IS against church teachings. Smith and Waldstein have argued they aren't, but they have provided ZERO proof of their contention, while all the manuals inveigh against anal sex of any kind.

I have constantly said that 80% of what West says is fine. It's the 20% that's the problem.

Look, this is how West plays the game.

1) If anyone says West is wrong, Westians reply that there is no proof of that.

2) When you quote a sentence that is clearly erroneous, Westians reply that the passage is taken out of context.

3) When the entire passage is supplied (as I gave above), Westians reply that CW meant something orthodox or his nuances are not being appreciated.

4) When you demonstrate that there is no way to give the entire passage either an orthodox or a "nuanced" meaning, Westians point to something else West said and say, "Well, this other passage is orthodox, so there clearly can't be problem with the passage we are discussing."

Now, this last is a logical fallacy, but I'll let that pass.

Westians never deal with what is actually said. Never.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

In his clip "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqRKvNX4IKU&feature=channel_page", West points out that Hugh Hefner grew up in a cult-like atmosphere that might have seriously distorted his worldview. You say that's cool and great that West is so insightful on Hefner.

I point out that Chris West grew up in an ACTUAL cult that seriously distorted his worldview on sexuality, to the point that he claims to have been raped by it, and you cry "FOUL!"

Or take another example.

He holds up a blank sheet, says it holds "a beautiful painting", crumples it, then says Hugh Hefner tried to rescue that crumpled, beautiful painting out of the trash. Now, all Hefner ever did was take pictures of naked women.

So, West is implying this "beautiful picture" is a picture of a naked woman. He's saying we should all be able to look at naked women without any problem. That's a problem.

He then goes on to talk about our bodies being holy. All fine and good. But he ends by making the implicit claim that because of Christ, we should be able to see naked bodies without the problems of concupiscence, which is the same implicit claim he started with when he pulled the blank-Hefner-sheet out of the trash.

This whole schtick, from the blank sheet to the end is PRECISELY the argument that got his taped television program shelved. Back in the late 1990's, West made the self-same argument to two of the most renowned popular theologians in the Catholic world today - he said that if he properly implemented TOB, he should be able to look at their naked wives without a problem.

Both of theologians jumped down his throat pointing out that he was thereby denying the Catholic doctrine on concupiscence. The organization taping the program canned the interview because West was obviously expressing heterodox views.

All West has done in this video is change his language so his flawed understanding of concupiscence isn't as obvious. As far as his doctrine goes, he hasn't changed a damned thing. It's still there in his presentation.

The Arians and the semi-Pelagians used to pull the same crap.

JWilson said...

"I point out that Chris West grew up in an ACTUAL cult that seriously distorted his worldview on sexuality, to the point that he claims to have been raped by it, and you cry "FOUL!""

Steve, I have never commented on West's upbringing. You are putting words in my mouth.


"So, West is implying this "beautiful picture" is a picture of a naked woman. He's saying we should all be able to look at naked women without any problem. That's a problem."

No, that is not what West is doing. West is reminding us that the original nakedness and sexuality of humanity is good, true and beautiful. He is preaching to a Puritanical/Manichean crowd I grew up with. For people like me, we were raised thinking sexual pleasure was something dirty and bad that you got to get to do once you got married.

"But he ends by making the implicit claim that because of Christ, we should be able to see naked bodies without the problems of concupiscence, which is the same implicit claim he started with when he pulled the blank-Hefner-sheet out of the trash."

I disagree with your interpretation of CW here again. Nakedness is beautiful. The way the Cistine Chapel portrays this is beautiful. The way Playboy portrays nakedness is twisted. With the eyes of Christ, we should be able to see the beauty of nakedness as Michaelangelo portrayed it, not the Hefner way. Also, CW is not denying that some born again saints may see the Cistine Chapel and lust, but I believe he agrees we should realize there is a beauty beyond such disordered passion.


"taped television program shelved.. late 1990's, ...renowned popular theologians in the Catholic world .... he said that if he properly implemented TOB...
Both of theologians jumped down his throat ...
The Arians and the semi-Pelagians used to pull the same crap."


Steve, this is an interesting anecdote that I find is missing any teeth. Saints have been dismissed by even bishops before.

"Furthermore, anal foreplay IS against church teachings."

Prove it. Show me the link to the magisterial document. Tell me the paragraph number in the catechism. I am under the impression such teaching has never been codified.


"Westians never deal with what is actually said. Never."

We Westians, like the Athanasiusians and the Thomists, ask that you look at the whole picture to first seek to understand before condemning, especially by going to extremes to pick apart any wording you can.


"3) When the entire passage is supplied (as I gave above), Westians reply that CW meant something orthodox or his nuances are not being appreciated."

The guy has published perhaps close to 1000 pages? You copy and paste half of one and now you have presented the full CW? Come on Steve.

Call no man father. Over and over.

Let me try again to portray to you how I see CW's message of TOB. People like me grew up with the options of seeing sexuality as a nihistic free for all or that it is a dirty act that we undergo for some good reason. The Hefners of the world profess sexuality is a recreational activity. The Puritans avoided it, sweeping the issue under the rug. The truth is in a third way. Sexuality is beautiful. Our [mine and others] version of it has become damaged. Christ shows us there is a pure and beautiful way. This is the message of TOB. This is the message of CW. CW is not a proper theologian. He is a speaker and a spiritual author who is teaching to a set audience that is not the larger theological body of the church. If you read him as a strict theologian, I can understand how one might be taken back. However, if you read him from the target audience perspective, you get a different view than the one you are condemning through your blog. See him from this view, and I think you will find your accusations of heresy assuaged.

++ PAX

Anonymous said...

Thank you Steve. Everything you say is right. I have attended West's talks and left appalled and embarrassed. He has not spoken in MY diocese, however - I have one of those faithful John Paul II bishops.

I appreciate those people who have returned to the church because they were finally told by CW that sex wasn't bad, but he was merely the occasion of their return, not the cause. I appreciate those people who in their own goodness of heart can pull out the beauty and truth about sex, nakedness, etc. from the morass that CW pours out. But again - that reflects those good people, not CW.

David Schindler is arguably the greatest American theologian. Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus, requested Schindler's article for the Knights website. As a commentator pointed out on another site, the #1 reason for CW's problems is his lack of understanding of the 4th Lateran Council's "greater dissimilitude" statement: that when we say things about God that we also say about people, we must always remember that the dissimilarity in that language is greater than the similarity, and this turns on CW's view of the sexual act as being like what goes on between the creature or the Church, and God. Anderson (an intellectual giant himself) believed it was necessary to get this information out.

But instead most people just make the same mistake over and over: it is good to get TOB info out; CW is doing that; therefore CW is good.

Wrong. He is getting it out badly. Yes, some on this site came back to the Church after hearing CW. But IMAGINE if someone were doing t BETTER and MORE FAITHFULLY and could speak in faithful dioceses - how many MORE would be helped!

Instead, CW has cornered the market with his very lucrative snake oil, and he will attack anyone who threatens his business plan.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

"He is preaching to a Puritanical/Manichean crowd I grew up with."

JWilson, as I indicated above, you are simply ignoring West's plain words and reading into them whatever you want. He's a Rohrschach for you. You impute to him whatever good motives you wish you had.

Unfortunately, his very words convict him.

Everyone keeps talking about West's address of Puritanism or Manicheanism.

(A) Prove it. Quote someone besides a Westian who holds to that view. It's absolutely a violation of the history to make the statement.

(B) The charge could equally be made that West is:

(i) an Adamite who insists that people can walk around publicly in the nude without a problem,

(ii) a Gnostic who possesses a "secret knowledge" whose possession will allow you to avoid sin and become one of the Cathari (the pure ones) such as he is,

(iii) a Lutheran, who insists that if you just have saving TOB thoughts, you can look at pornography a hundred times a day and still be saved, and who denies that marriage, while holy, actually brings sacramental grace.

As for problems with anal sex, not only can we point to Summa Theologica, 2a2ae, q154, a1, 207.
(with a summary provided at: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=16458), we can point out that Catholic morality is never at odds with nature. Since anal sex, even anal foreplay, involves extremely unhygenic and therefore dangerous sexual practice, especially in reference to the female, it is forbidden simply on those grounds alone.

That West or Smith or anyone else even attempts to justify it is ludicrous on its face, as even Slate pointed out (http://www.slate.com/id/2220217/).

We DO agree on one thing: "CW is not a proper theologian."

AMEN, AMEN, I SAY AGAIN, AMEN!

If West is not a proper theologian, and we both agree he is not, then he is not an Athanasian or a Thomist either. He's just a stinking heretic, in the tradition of Arius, Pelagius, Luther and all the rest - getting some of the Faith right so as to better achieve his goals with the other heretical 20%.

Randy said...

I think you are right about many of the points you make about CW. I do think the heart of what he says is right and you have cherry-picked a few errors here and there. It is a good thing to do whan done charitably. Your tone does not feel very charitable to me. I hope your heart is not as hateful as it seems from your post.

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.

I do object to making your opinion more important than the bishops. Every pro-abortion Catholic can find theologians who agree with him. The Catholic faith is defined by the bishops and popes. It is not defined by you.

I do not doubt that West gets a few things wrong. I also do not doubt that he wants to communicate the ideas of John Paul II as accurately as possible. As Catholics we need to explain to this world why we feel God's sexual morality is logical and beautiful. He is one on the few to make that case rather than just making rules.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Randy,

I've explained exactly how Chris West is distorting Catholic teaching on virtue, the sacrament of marriage, concupiscence and pornography.

In none of those cases did I refer to my opinion. I referred to the constant teaching on virtue, the sacrament of marriage, concupiscence and pornography.

Chris West's words do not follow the teachings of the Church.

The only way you can force them into the Church's mold is to read Chris West's "intentions" into the words.

I am unable to read minds, so I have not the skill to read his unspoken intentions. I can only read his words.

Thus, the only one bringing "opinions" to the table is the Westians.

Chris West is not the only one making the Church's case. Nor, for that matter, is he the only one distorting the Church's case.

He is, however, the only one distorting the Church's case while pretending to present the Church's case.

His teaching is popular because most people embrace a distorted understanding to begin with, and Chris West's distortions feed their own misunderstandings of what sex SHOULD mean as opposed to what John Paul II and the Church actually TAUGHT about its meaning.

Columcille said...

"Chris West's Success Evangelizing Government Employees?"

This is the headline that Steve wrote on CultureWarNotes as a link to a story about a government employee who wasted over 300 days consuming pornography at work.

The story has nothing to do with Christoper West. Nothing at all.

Rather it is yet another example of Steve Kellmeyer prosecuting his personal vendetta against Christopher West. Fraternal joy, charity, forgiveness, constructive action, all of these have been set aflame before the idol of Steve's vindictive personality and blind rage.

Well done Steve.

How does that joyless acidic vindictive spirit play in the market place, eh?

I bet speaking invitations are pouring in. Just can't keep the phone on the hook, eh?

The people just can't get enough of your distinctive style of bitterness, private inquisition, with the cherry of Catholic doctrine on top. What a winning combination.

I've told you before that you are hurting your reputation as a Catholic presenter, and gaining one as a Catholic hypocrite.

Previously I've shared with you that Truth is impotent without Charity. Now it seems that you have even rejected the standards of truth in waging your war against the person of Christopher West with this latest headline attack.

Like I said, I organize Catholic speakers to come to a major urban diocese. Most of the speakers I talk to have filled calendars with speaking engagements.

Steve, I would not invite you to come and speak and I would recommend the same to others.

Why?

Because you lack charity.

I see from your calendar of speaking engagements that you have a total of 3 events scheduled for the entire year.

Steve, I would get up from your computer, go into the other room and take a look contemplative look at your wife and children and then ask yourself if they are worth sacrificing at the altar of your personal vendetta against Christopher West.

Your war is hurting them because it is hurting your ability to draw speaking engagements.

By the way, your war is also hurting the Church.

Spend a day away from your computer and go to an adoration chapel.

Randy said...

I've explained exactly how Chris West is distorting Catholic teaching on virtue, the sacrament of marriage, concupiscence and pornography

I read that. I said you points are mostly valid. They are minor and nitpicky but it is good to get the details right.

The only way you can force them into the Church's mold is to read Chris West's "intentions" into the words.

Chris is not a man of few words. His intentions are clear if you listen to him talk long enough. Does he get everything right? Who does? But to accuse him of distorting the teaching of the church is just not accurate.

Chris West is not the only one making the Church's case. Nor, for that matter, is he the only one distorting the Church's case.

He is, however, the only one distorting the Church's case while pretending to present the Church's case.


You don't get out much. Almost every Catholic University has many professors who pretend to be teaching the Catholic faith when they are not. This is the rule not the exception. Most Catholic educators teach that contraception, homosexuality, abortion, masturbation, etc. are all OK.

Chris accepts the churches teachings. He explains them well. Would I defend all his analogies and sweeping statements? No. He does over-state things sometimes. This is why critiques are good. But you need to remember that he is one of us.

His teaching is popular because most people embrace a distorted understanding to begin with, and Chris West's distortions feed their own misunderstandings of what sex SHOULD mean as opposed to what John Paul II and the Church actually TAUGHT about its meaning.

This makes me wonder if you ever listen to him. To say Chris West gets it wrong is to say John Paul II gets it wrong. The talks I have heard from Chris West are nothing but a string of quotes from John Paul.

Larry said...

I'm a very late comer to this conversation, and the invective is pretty surprising. I'll state at the beginning that I am no expert on TOB, nor am I very familiar with the work of Christoper West. I do know that some very learned people that are far more educated on this subject than I will ever be have some very serious concerns about West's work. There are also a number who seem to think his work is wonderful. However, being a guy with a job and wife and six kids and trying to grow in the Grace of God, I tend to be pretty conservative and stick to the classics of theology, from Acquinas to a Kempis. This discussion encourages me to stay away from West - whether Steve K. is right or wrong on these specific issues, enough good people have come out against West that I don't see a need to pursue his particular form of theology when so many lasting, proven sources are available. I don't know that West offers anything of such great value as to run the risk of exposing myself or my family to faulty Catholic theology.

I will say this - I sure hate to see comments telling Steve to go look in the mirror and see what he's doing to his family by arguing for what he thinks is right, and with what to me is a very reasonable critique. That's a pretty low shot, and not terribly "charitable." I don't see any evidence of professional jealosy at all, and to assign such a prurient motive to Steve is to denounce him on nothing more than a baseless ad hominem. It does seem somewhat strange that some of West's defenders certainly seem to take any critique of him, even one stingingly presented, as a personal affront. I've seen this other places, and leads to some questions as to their motives.

sewmelody said...

This is the first time I've come across Kellmeyer's critique of West's work . I am not a theologian but I am married to one and I am accustomed to this type of writing: One theologian discussing, dissecting, weighing the words of another. I did not see any ad hominem but only a serious discussion of the public theology of West. For those of you who have not had the opportunity to spend time in academic circles I assure you that this is entirely normal! And expected. Particularly for very public theologians who have a great responsibility to ensure that EVERY word is precise and true.

A man who publicly advances a theological position should expect and welcome an academic challenge. He should also have (or develop) a very thick skin because heated debate is a part of his chosen profession.

I was sorry that I afterward stepped into the muck and grime of this comment board. Much of the discussion here does not follow in the tradition of true academic debate (although it pretends to). There was no personal attack in the original post; it addresses the theology of West, who is a PUBLIC teacher and aught to expect be held accountable in this way.

But the attacks against the author are clearly personal.

Also, after reading most of the comments here I am a little stunned by a running idea that goes something like this: The MATURE Christian will not struggle with virtue as others do.

I have to say that the longer I live the more I realize that virtue never ceases to be an intense struggle. It changes but it does not stop. It is the reason that great Christian men and women have fallen after a lifetime of faithfulness. It never ceases to be a battle and I object to any efforts that contrive to take our eyes off that ball.

I avoid being alone with men other than my husband (not including family members). I don't accept rides home with them. I do not have them to my home without other adults in company. I do not spend unnecessary long periods of time on the phone with them. I do not develop internet relationships with them. I do not listen to Chris West talks in mixed company.

Is this because I have no self-control? Or because I am attracted to everything that moves? NO. It is because I have an excellent knowledge of human nature (being human after all) and do not wish to even cultivate the opportunity for an eye and heart that does not see only my husband; or present any man with a similar trial to his virtue.

This is not my particular weakness, but sanctity of my marriage covenant is that important to me.

It is the same with my Lord. As a Christian, the only thing I am supposed to fear is separation from Him. How many of the saints have told us to flee from sin?! I hope to never be led to a place of false security where I let down my guard enough to believe that "I am now strong enough".

Most of you writing and commenting are men. West is a man. God bless all of your intentions but your perspectives are skewed by that. You haven't spent your lives being pursued and cajoled and ogled over like a woman has. You haven't sat next to a man of remarkable reputation and virtue and watched him succumb to his baser desires to look or touch or speak in ways to make a woman blush. You might be surprised by how many solid Catholic men (single and married) struggle with control of their eyes, words and hands.

Or maybe you wouldn't really be very surprised.

God-fearing, Catholic men are not immune to this difficulty. They are just more ashamed afterwards than their pagan counterparts.

To say that a young man would have the mature control that older men struggle to have is a difficulty. It fails to take into account an intense biological fact that has no release in the security of marriage.

Protecting the virtue and purity of his beloved should be his primary goal. If this requires spending most of his precious time with her in public and semi-public places, he should not hesitate to do so. Love requires it. It is a sacrificial love that will blossom so sweetly in the grace of Marriage!

TomE said...

These are the most comments I've ever seen under one of Steve's blogposts. No offense, Steve, but it's usually dullsville. Maybe West is the hot ticket, cause after all, Jerry Springer would drool over all of this hot action! Maybe your next book should be over the (not so) subtle heresies of West. What say we take THAT in front of the Blessed Sacrament? ;-)

Also glad to see the Blessed Sacrament is so popular. You couldn't get this many altar calls at a Billy Graham sermon even when he WAS in hie heyday, even though the rallying cry seems to be, "Leave Brittany ALLOONNNE!!"

Kumbaya, everyone.

Patrick said...

I'm still trying to figure out when the theological accuracy of an argument boiled down to the "American Idol" effect in that the person with the most followers automatically wins.

tour86rocker said...

"Now, is it possible to have sex with my own wife in a lustful way? Sure."

This is West's whole point, and you just agreed with him, Steve. I like West's quote, that the opposite of love isn't hate, but USE. Exploitation. Given the divorce rate in this country, I'm confident that he's right about the prevalence of sexual exploitation in marriage.

I'm with Johnnyjoe. I'm also perfectly fine with critiquing West. It's hard to dismiss it when someone's words or actions raise a red flag, but you're not even reading the words you quote. I'm confident that West has renounced previous errant positions. I'm satisfied with the second edition of his book.

tour86rocker said...

"First: Christopher West seems to think that avoiding near occasions of sin is not virtuous activity."

False. He said that ONE method of avoiding sin is INADVISABLE as a way of growing virtue. The Church does not teach that EVERY method of avoiding sin is virtuous. It follows that some methods are merely neutral. West does not appear to demonize this method of avoidance, but I do believe he reveals it as ultimately null instead of efficacious.

Merely avoiding being alone would be as ineffective as chopping off the head of a weed whose roots will merely regenerate the whole plant.

His whole point is to get at the ROOT, to dispel lust. That's something we must ALL root out if we want a thriving marriage one day! This is not an imagined interpretation, I am not imagining what he secretly thinks. I listen to the Naked Without Shame series at least twice a year. His beliefs are clearly not what you allege.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Tourrocker,

Well, if that was West's ONLY point, I wouldn't have a problem with him.

The problem is, it ISN'T his whole point.

JP II pointed out that it is possible to lust after even your spouse. He is also the one who pointed out that the opposite of love is not hate, but use.

So the points you like are the points everyone agrees with. Great.

The points that are problematic are the points that Chris makes on his own - that avoiding near occasion of sin is "not virtue."

His words, not mine, not JP II's.

I'm glad you're confident of West's fidelity and renunciation of earlier errors. Oddly enough, I've never heard him renounce or even acknowledge his earlier errors. Or his current ones, for that matter.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Tour86rocker,

First, tell me, what is your real name and your association with Chris West?

Circumcille refuses to answer the question as does Johnnyjoe. Perhaps you will?

Second, you apparently didn't read the article or listen to Chris West: "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."

That's not saying "it's inadvisable," that is refusing to acknowledge it as virtue.

Third, whether he called it inadvisable, as you insist, or denied it was virtue, as the plain meaning of his words insist, in either case, his teaching directly contradicts 2000 years of moral teaching by the Catholic Church, which tells us we are SUPPOSED to fly from near occasions of sin.

Fourth, which "Naked Without Shame" series would that be? The first one, which he had to redo because of the numerous theological errors, but continued to sell because he didn't want to lose a dollar on inventory?

Fifth, it is virtuous to fly from sin. Period. If you disagree, please identify the saint who agrees with you and the writing in which they agree with you. Saying it is not virtue is most certainly a perversion of Catholic teaching.

Sixth, I want to thank you for publicly demonstrating, as the other Westians have, exactly how West is perverting your understanding of the Christian Faith, particularly in regards to what constitutes virtue.

I could not demonstrate how skewed West's teachings are without your input. I really value it. Please continue to contribute. Thanks.

JWilson said...

Steve,
"Fifth, it is virtuous to fly from sin. Period. If you disagree, please identify the saint who agrees with you and the writing in which they agree with you. Saying it is not virtue is most certainly a perversion of Catholic teaching."

I will take your Pepsi challenge. Here is th Summa (my emphasis added) 2nd part of the 2nd part Q155, Whether Continence is a Virtue?:
In this way continence has something of the nature of a virtue, in so far, to wit, as the reason stands firm in opposition to the passions, lest it be led astray by them: yet it does not attain to the perfect nature of a moral virtue, by which even the sensitive appetite is subject to reason so that vehement passions contrary to reason do not arise in the sensitive appetite. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 9) that "continence is not a virtue but a mixture," inasmuch as it has something of virtue, and somewhat falls short of virtue.

Did you catch that Steve? In some ways, depending on the perspective of the speaker, continence (fleeing an occasion of sin) somewhat falls short of being a virtue. St. Thomas Aquinas answers, in accordance with a number of other saints, that when a man resists temptation that is vehement, that man is not completely virtuous. Did you catch that Steve?

Yes, TA does conclude that continence (fleeing sin) can be considered a virtue using the broadest sense of the term depending on the deffinition.

You said, "Saying it is not virtue is most certainly a perversion of Catholic teaching." You have tossed out words like heretic, Manichean, Lutheran, Adamite etc. for teaching something like... Aquinas. Then, you quoted the Summa for me. Is the Summa a perversion of Catholic teaching? You seem to say yes. The Latin Church, in our praise of the Summa, seems to agree that those who are only continent are not fully virtuous yet. The Summa, which you quote from, seems to declare continence falls short of a full moral virtue, but may be called a virtue in a very broadest sense of the word.

Even CW in his talk at the Personalist Project explained that this division between virtue and continence needs to be discussed and that he hoped it could get hammered out in the Q&A, so that there would not be any misunderstandings. He specifically says:
In the language of St. Thomas Aquinas, such a person is continent but he is not yet virtuous, "Continence falls short of being virtue since virtue presuposes a right desire." This is lacking in any of us when we want to over indugle in a disordered passion. Infused virtue demands that my passion itself be rightly ordered. The Catechism makes this very clear. Human virtues order our passions. Only one that knows how to fast knows how to feast.

Are you catching all this Steve? CW does not claim we should not run from sin. He commends it along with Aquinas.

Here is a final summary from CW at the Personalist Project talk from which you pulled snippits:
"In the first stage of spiritual development, we learn how to restrain ourselves from sin, with the help of the grace of God strengthening our will. And so we are strenthened to act against our disordered passions... Example... Maybe it is that email you just received enticing you to look at internet pornography. We must make a firm decision of the will to act against the disorder of our passion.
...
Sometimes, our Christian formation only takes us to the purgative and makes us think we are not virtuous because we flee from sin. This is good and we should flee, however the one who must flee is not fully formed yet, but is only continent and not yet fully virtuous. If a continent person thinks this is all they can hope for in life, then they are not fully informed of the faith, for they are destined to develop so much more. If we end up calling mere continence a full 'virtue', then we are selling ourselves short and are resting, hand on hips, on shaky ground. We will have watered down what is actually virtue. Grace affords so much more."

Steve Kellmeyer said...

JWilson,

The problem here is that neither you nor West know how to read Aquinas.

You have to read ALL of the work, not just the parts you want to cherry-pick out and impose a meaning on.

If you step back a couple of questions, you'll notice how Aquinas defines chastity:

"I answer that, Chastity takes its name from the fact that reason "chastises" concupiscence, which, like a child, needs curbing, as the Philosopher states (Ethic. iii, 12). Now the essence of human virtue consists in being something moderated by reason, as shown above (I-II, 64, 1). Therefore it is evident that chastity is a virtue.

Reply to Objection 1. Chastity does indeed reside in the soul as its subject, though its matter is in the body. For it belongs to chastity that a man make moderate use of bodily members in accordance with the judgment of his reason and the choice of his will.

Reply to Objection 3. As Augustine says (Contra Julian. iv, 3), "it is impossible to have any true virtue unless one be truly just; nor is it possible to be just unless one live by faith." Whence he argues that in unbelievers there is neither true chastity, nor any other virtue, because, to wit, they are not referred to the due end, and as he adds (Contra Julian. iv, 3) "virtues are distinguished from vices not by their functions," i.e. their acts, "but by their ends."

Reply to Objection 4. Chastity is a virtue in so far as it works in accordance with reason, but in so far as it delights in its act, it is reckoned among the fruits.


Now, we have been assuming that the couple in question are CHRISTIANS, and thus capable of true virtue.

If you want to argue that Christopher West was only talking about the unbaptized, sure, you can talk about continence, or even chastity, not being a true virtue.

But, West was talking about two baptized Christian Catholics who attempt to "chastise their concupiscence" by the use of reason.

Did you catch that JWilson: "Now the essence of human virtue consists in being something moderated by reason."

Note virtue isn't moderated by desire - it doesn't matter what the will wants or what concupiscence tends us towards. What matters is what rule reason imposes.

So, in order to be virtuous, I don't have to have ordered passions, I just have to impose reason on the passions with the right purpose.

What is the right purpose? The due end of reason is the exercise of faith, which is trust in the Persons of the Godhead. Such trust necessarily entails an abhorrence of sin, for sin is the distrust that God really knows the good or really intends me to be joined to the Good and orders all things so that I will be so joined.

So, when two baptized persons flee a near occasion of sin, that is, when they impose their reason on their concupiscence and chastise it, they are displaying true virtue: the virtue of chastity. They recognize their concupiscence for what it is, they impose a reasonable chastisement upon said concupiscence, and they display a chaste continence thereby.

Westians are under the impression that virtue is a power or faculty. Virtue is neither a power nor a faculty. Virtue is a habit. That's why Aquinas discusses virtues under habits in the first part of the second part.

To set Aquinas in opposition to Scripture by claiming that flight from sin is not virtuous is not only a distortion of Aquinas, but of the scripture he explicates, "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body." (1 Cor 6:18).

Furthermore, you should take a look at the second part of the second part, q. 154, p 4, whether kisses, touches, etc. are mortal sin. Aquinas points out that they are, if done for the pleasure of the thing.

JWilson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Kellmeyer said...

JWilson,

Your question on continence is important. Note the codicil that Thomas places in his assessment of continence: "[it is a ]virtue, in so far, to wit, as the reason stands firm in opposition to the passions..."

Now, the whole reason a betrothed man and a woman would avoid being alone is precisely because they are exercising their reason so as to stand firm in opposition to the passions they feel. According to Thomas, then, they ARE displaying a virtue.

Before we go ANY further, we must recall that West denied continence was a virtue "in the Thomistic sense." But here we have Thomas saying continence IS a virtue. So West is simply wrong on this point. He denies what Thomas affirms: continence is a virtue.

Now, is continence a MORAL VIRTUE? Well, the Catechism of the Catholic Church only identifies four virtues as "moral virtues": the cardinal virtues of fortitude, justice, temperance and chastity (CCC 1807,1808,1809,2345).

Not even the virtues of prudence or religion are called "moral virtues." Thus, it isn't real surprising to see Aquinas refrain from calling continence a "moral virtue."

Justice is morality towards others, temperance is morality towards yourself, fortitude is the refusal to allow your morality to be swayed, chastity integrates all the previously named virtues as a united whole within the person.

That's why continence is not, technically speaking, a full-fledged moral virtue. There's no unique place for it to fill in the moral sphere.After all, what other aspect of morality needs to be covered? The above four already cover every relationship in the moral sphere.

But just because it isn't a full moral virtue doesn't mean it isn't a virtue at all. That's the basic mistake West make.

He's not really well-read in theology, he doesn't have a sense for the boundaries of good theology, so he keeps making basic mistakes, even after ten years of doing this stuff.

That's what makes the man dangerous. He's really good at marketing, but he really doesn't have a clue when it comes to theology.

JWilson said...

Steve,

Thanks for the lesson on the Summa. I believe you are much more educated on it than I. Honestly.

However, you said, "The problem here is that neither you nor West know how to read Aquinas.

You have to read ALL of the work, not just the parts you want to cherry-pick out and impose a meaning on."

2nd part of the 2nd part Q155, Whether Continence is a Virtue?:
In this way continence has something of the nature of a virtue, in so far, to wit, as the reason stands firm in opposition to the passions, lest it be led astray by them: yet it does not attain to the perfect nature of a moral virtue, by which even the sensitive appetite is subject to reason so that vehement passions contrary to reason do not arise in the sensitive appetite. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 9) that "continence is not a virtue but a mixture," inasmuch as it has something of virtue, and somewhat falls short of virtue.

The text here seems to show Aquinas thought that continence was in some ways just short of a virtue.

Before we move on to a handful of other errors of us heretics, can we agree that TA serves as a saint who allows for a definition of continence where it is not necessarily a virtue?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

JWilson,

No, as my comment above indicates (a response to one you deleted), Aquinas DOES call continence a virtue. West is wrong to say continence is not a virtue, Aquinas does not agree with him.

Aquinas simply doesn't call continence a MORAL VIRTUE. But, given that out of all the virtues discussed in the CCC, only four virtues are specifically called "moral virtues," it's not a real surprise to see that the virtue of continence is not a moral virtue.

Heck, if the virtues of religion and prudence don't rise to the level of moral virtue, why should continence? All three are certainly virtues, as Aquinas testifies, they just aren't moral virtues.

Randy said...

Heck, if the virtues of religion and prudence don't rise to the level of moral virtue, why should continence? All three are certainly virtues, as Aquinas testifies, they just aren't moral virtues.

OK, so West says something is not a virtue when he should have said it is not a MORAL virtue.

So, in order to be virtuous, I don't have to have ordered passions, I just have to impose reason on the passions with the right purpose.

I can see West's thinking here. If you avoid the situation then you have avoided the passions. You have not imposed reason on your passions. You have just prevented those passions from being inflamed and so needing to have reason imposed on them.

I can see you point too. The choice to avoid arousing the passion actually involves another lesser passion. Like the passion to spend time with your girlfriend. You are imposing reason on that lesser passion. So you have been somewhat virtuous but have not reached the height of virtue.

This is good to know. It just does not make me less interesting in listening to West.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Randy,

I should correct a mistake I made in the response you quote. When I said, "I don't have to have ordered passions, I just have to impose reason on my passions" that was technically erroneous.

By the very fact that I impose reason on my passions, I order them. My apologies for having mis-represented the facts.

Choice is always an imposition of reason, but the choice to indulge my passions is the choice to NOT order those passions. In that case, I use reason to be unreasonable.

BTW, it should be noted that one of Chris West's favorite stories, of St. Pelagia, the prostitute, and St. Nonnus, the bishop who converted her, shows something Chris always leaves out.

According to John the Stylite, St. Nonnus refused to meet the prostitute alone.

He replied that he could not receive a visit from her alone, as he was only a weak man, liable to temptation, but that he was willing to see her in the presence of his brother bishops. When Pelagia had received this letter she hastened to the church of St Julian, where St Xonnus received her with his colleagues.

So, even the man Chris holds up for us to emulate refused to stay in the same room with a beautiful woman alone. Yet, according to Chris, this saint was not exhibiting virtue.

West is inconsistent. He mis-represents history and theology to push his own highly idiosyncratic point of view.

Anonymous said...

+JMJ+
I have to agree with Johnnyjoe here. And by the way, he doesn't go by Chris; He goes by Christopher.

The Scripture passage that comes to mind is when people are casting out demons and the disciples ask Jesus what they should do about it, and he said anyone who is not against us is for us...

A closer study of the work of Christopher West, and the countless testimonies of those whose lives have been touched, whose marriages and wounds are beginning to be healed by the Holy Spirit working through the spreading of John Paul II's message of hope is what we should be focusing on.

Also, it's easier to attack someone when you don't know them personally. If you have issues with him and his teachings, perhaps you should see if you can arrange a chat with him. I assure you, his heart is in the right place. The joy, peace, and healing I and thousands of other Mary Magdalenes are experiencing cannot be of anything but the Holy Spirit.

God bless you in your search for truth.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Anonymous,

I've talked with Chris personally, several times. He isn't as nice in person as you would think.

I'm sure God has sent you His grace of healing. But West's teachings have not healed 'countless' couples - assuming they have healed any, the numbers are most assuredly finite.

Further, the fact that God touches your heart with grace does not mean Chris West's teachings are decent or good. God writes straight with crooked lines -He can use even great evil to heal hearts.

For example, the photos of aborted fetuses in front of an abortion clinic might cause a potential client to turn away from abortion. Does that mean the abortion of those children was good? Of course not. It means God was able to use even evil to bring about good.

Is some of what Chris West teaches evil? Insofar as it contradicts Church teaching, of course it is.

Athanasius said...

"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.

In this sense, West is actually correct, he just doesn't know why he is correct. If the only reason you don't have sex with your girlfriend or fiance is the opportunity, you are not gaining any virtue. The problem for West is he doesn't understand what virtue is with respect to the 6th and 9th commandments. The solution is not spending more time with your future spouse alone, it is developing more virtue, denying yourself venereal pleasure with respect to those things that are due matter, such as food and drink, thus training your concupiscent appetites to deny that which is good, so in marriage you will have the ability to deny yourself, and thus be enabled to deny desires with respect to other women.

I think we can debate whether it is good for a couple to spend any meaningful time alone, but I think it is clear you should not "lots of time" alone because it is clearly an occasion of sin. If we took West's moral principles and his teleology to its correct conclusion, a man could not be considered virtuous unless he could sleep in the same bed with a woman to whom he was not married without engaging in relations.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Precisely, Athanasius!

Indeed, this was Mahatma Gandhi's position - after he gave up relations with his wife, he took to sleeping in a bed with the young, nubile women among his followers, in order to demonstrate to himself his chaste virtues, testing them and strengthening them.

Of course, this course of action has not been advocated by the saints.