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Friday, October 23, 2009

Don't Go West, Young Man

It is common knowledge that Protestants who hold to sola fide (faith alone) salvation have enormous problems with Scripture. Why? Because the only time the words "faith alone" appear in Scripture is in the letter of James (2:24), where James says "We are not saved by faith alone."

Yet, despite this problem, our Protestant brethren - with the best of intentions - hold that as long as you make a saving statement of faith, you will be saved, your life will change, all things will be different for you. Indeed, Luther held that, once you gained the perspective of Christ, you could no longer commit a sin that would damn you.

Chris West is now in similar straits and for similar reasons. His recent reply places him in direct and immediate contradiction to both Thomas Aquinas and his only non-scatalogical muse, Pope John Paul II. West says:
In the language of St. Thomas Aquinas, a person who can successfully restrain himself from sin is “continent” but not yet virtuous. Continence falls short of virtue since virtue presupposes a right desire, and this is lacking in the continent person (see Summa, Prima Secundae, q. 58, a. 3, ad 2).
Wow! Chris West even quotes the title in the Latin!
I wonder if West really knows any Latin?
But, more to the point, does Aquinas really say continence is not a virtue?
Well, let's look!
First Part of the Second Part (i.e., Prima Secundae)
Question 155
Article 1. Whether continence is a virtue?

Objection 1. It would seem that continence is not a virtue. (Readers of Aquinas already know the gig is up. Whenever a Thomistic objection holds to one position, it is a given that Thomas will demonstrate the opposite is the case).

On the contrary,
Every praiseworthy habit would seem to be a virtue. Now such is continence, for Andronicus says [De Affectibus] that "continence is a habit unconquered by pleasure." Therefore continence is a virtue. (See?)
That's gotta sting.

"But wait! Read on, Kellmeyer! Don't you realize that Aquinas contradicts himself just a paragraph later?"
I answer that, The word "continence" is taken by various people in two ways. For some understand continence to denote abstention from all venereal pleasure: thus the Apostle joins continence to chastity (Galatians 5:23). On this sense perfect continence is virginity in the first place, and widowhood in the second. Wherefore the same applies to continence understood thus, as to virginity which we have stated above (Question 152, Article 3) to be a virtue. Others, however, understand continence as signifying that whereby a man resists evil desires, which in him are vehement. On this sense the Philosopher takes continence (Ethic. vii, 7), and thus also it is used in the Conferences of the Fathers (Collat. xii, 10,11). 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.
Now, it is true that Aquinas distinguishes two forms of continence: the continence of venereal pleasure versus the continence of resisting the passions through the use of reason. The first is a virtue, the second... well, here's where it gets interesting. Aquinas points out that the Philosopher (Aristotle) didn't think the second was a virtue. But what does Aquinas himself, enlightened with the light of Christ through baptism in a way the Philosopher never was, what does our baptized, enlightened Aquinas say?
If, however, we take virtue in a broad sense, for any principle of commendable actions, we may say that continence is a virtue.
And, we would be remiss if we did not point out yet another reference from Aquinas:
First Part of the Second Part
Question 109
Article 10: Whether man possessed of grace needs the help of grace in order to perservere?

I answer that, Perseverance is taken in three ways. First, to signify a habit of the mind whereby a man stands steadfastly, lest he be moved by the assault of sadness from what is virtuous. And thus perseverance is to sadness as continence is to concupiscence and pleasure, as the Philosopher says. Secondly, perseverance may be called a habit whereby a man has the purpose of persevering in good until the end. And in both these ways perseverance is infused together with grace, even as are continence and the other virtues.
Now, THAT leaves a red mark. Quite painful.

"Wait, Kellmeyer!" comes the call. "You're cheating! West doesn't even refer to Question 155! Or Question 109, for that matter! He's telling us to look at Question 58, Article 3! That's where Aquinas contradicts himself and agrees with Chris West!"

Oh, yes, of course. My mistake. How stupid of me. I should look only where Chris points and nowhere else, lest I become confused. Let's go take a look at the question that is so much more on point to whether or not continence is a virtue.

In West's reference, Question 58, Aquinas asks "Whether virtue is adequately divided into moral and intellectual virtues?" That answer is certainly going to be more relevant to the question of whether or not continence is a virtue than anything Aquinas might have to say under the heading "Is continence a virtue?"

[Note: A reader pointed out that the original section below, which had originally observed that continency was not mentioned in Q 58, was based on an erroneous translation. After having found a correct translation, I modified the section below accordingly.]

So, when we turn to Question 58 we see... "continency is not a perfection of the sensitive appetite... so continency and perseverance are not perfections ... [or] virtues" and he uses the continent man as an example to demonstrate the lack of virtue in continence and perseverance.

"Ah! So Aquinas does contradict himself!"

Well, no.

Many people think Aquinas uses the word "continence" in two ways, but he doesn't. Rather, he uses the word "virtue" in two ways. For Thomas, "virtue" can mean "habit" or "virtue" can mean "perfection." The difference is one of duration. A good habit, continued long enough, will lead one to perfection. So a virtuous habit perfects the man who practices it.

However, even before the habit perfects the man, it is still a habit - a virtue.

When Thomas denies that continence and perseverance are virtues in Question 58, but affirms that continence and perseverance are both virtues just a little later in Question 109, and again in Q. 155, he is not contradicting himself. Rather, in Q. 58, he specifically says "continency and perseverance are, however, perfections of the rational faculty."

A continent persevering man displays a virtue of rationality, logic, intellect. The continent man knows when he is in danger, so he runs from it - that's virtuous. The only reason we can't call continence a virtue in the sense of final perfection is due to the fact that the man still has strong passions at all. But since it isn't the role of continence to regulate the passions, but only the reason, continence is not a full moral virtue - it cannot accomplish the perfection of the man on its own.

While continence perfects rationality (and virtues always perfect something), it can't touch the passions, it can't get at one piece that isn't yet perfected, because that's simply not the job of continence. And because it perfects part of man, but does not by itself completely perfect him, in that sense alone it is not a virtue.

Hmmm... is there anything here which may confirm this reading? Well, Aquinas does differentiate here between two kinds of virtue: moral and intellectual.

Why is this important? Well, because Aquinas told us in question 155 (not that Question 155 is relevant, of course, but humor me), that both Aristotle and the Fathers of the Church said of continence "yet it does not attain to the perfect nature of a moral virtue."

"See, Kellmeyer? That means continence is not a virtue at all!"

Well, no, not exactly. As I was saying, Aquinas points out in Question 58 that there are two kinds of virtues: moral and intellectual. Moral virtues perfect appetites, intellectual virtues perfect reason.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church names only four moral virtues: justice, fortitude, temperance and chastity (CCC #1807-1809, 2345).

However, the CCC goes on to list several other virtues: religion (2096), prudence (1806), solidarity (1942, 1948), truthfulness (2486), poverty (2833) and of course, faith, hope and love (theological virtues). None of these virtues are called "moral virtues." But they are all virtues, nonetheless. Indeed, CCC #2349 even says:
2349 "People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single." Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence (emphasis added):
There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses, the second that of widows, and the third that of virgins. We do not praise any one of them to the exclusion of the others. . . . This is what makes for the richness of the discipline of the Church.
So, according to the CCC, continence is a virtue - it is the lived virtue of chastity.

"No, you're wrong, Kellmeyer!" comes the reply. "What about all the John Paul II quotes that West supplies! John Paul II clearly contradicts Aquinas and the CCC, so JP II and West are right, and you are wrong! Continence is NOT a virtue!"

Oh, contraire, mon frere! Let's look at a what JP II actually says:
In keeping with what has already been said, today we will take up the analysis of the virtue of continence. Continence, which is part of the more general virtue of temperance. Continence consists in the capacity to dominate, control and direct drives of a sexual character (concupiscence of the flesh) and their consequences, in the psychosomatic subjectivity of man. Insofar as it is a constant disposition of the will, this capacity, merits being called a virtue. ...
"STOP IT! That's raising actual welts!"

Well, yes, it is.

"Why are you beating one of our own?"

"Are you alright Chris?... Don't worry, dear. I'll make the bad man go away..."

While someone ministers to Chris, let's consider the Pope's words again. John Paul II is simply quoting Aquinas here, without direct attribution to the Summa. Aquinas spends all of Question 155 Article 2 discussing how continence is part of the general virtue of temperance. There's no contradiction between Aquinas, who calls continence a virtue, the CCC, which calls continence a virtue, and Pope John Paul II, who calls continence a virtue.

"Kellmeyer, you are taking the Pope out of context. What about this passage, in which Pope John Paul II clearly tells us we can overcome concupiscence and be free of its effects?"
... In the light of these considerations it is easy to understand that continence is not limited to offering resistance to the concupiscence of the flesh. But through this resistance it is open likewise to those values, more profound and more mature, inherent in the spousal significance of the body in its femininity and masculinity, as well as in the authentic freedom of the gift in the reciprocal relations of the persons.
We are continuing the analysis of the virtue of continence (emphasis has been added by that lustful, evil Kellmeyer. West rightfully warns us that anyone who opposes his interpretations is lustful and evil; they have not yet become one of "the pure ones", i.e., the Catharii, or in modern parlance, a faithful Westian. Be WARNED!) in the light of the doctrine contained in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae. It is well to recall that the great classics of ethical (and anthropological) thought, both the pre-Christian ones and the Christian ones (St. Thomas Aquinas), see in the virtue of continence (Kellmeyer is so evil) not only the capacity to contain bodily and sensual reactions, but even more the capacity to control and guide man's whole sensual and emotive sphere. In the case under discussion, it is a question of the capacity to direct the line of excitement toward its correct development and also the line of emotion itself, orienting it toward the deepening and interior intensification of its pure and, in a certain sense, disinterested character. ...
.. The Encyclical Humanae Vitae devotes due attention to the biological aspect of the question, that is to say, to the rhythmic character of human fertility. In the light of the encyclical, this "periodicalness" can be called a providential index for a responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Nevertheless a question such as this one, which has such a profoundly personalistic and sacramental (theological) meaning, is not resolved only on this level. (See? Are you READING this Kellmeyer?)

The encyclical teaches responsible fatherhood and motherhood "as a proof of a mature conjugal love." Therefore it contains not only the answer to the concrete question that is asked in the sphere of the ethics of married life but, as already has been stated it also indicates a plan of conjugal spirituality, which we wish at least to outline. ...

If this salvific fear is directly associated with the negative function of continence (that is, to resistance with regard to concupiscence of the flesh), it is also manifested and to an ever greater degree as this virtue (grrr...) gradually matures as sensitivity filled with veneration for the essential values of the conjugal union: for the two meanings of the conjugal act (or, to use the terminology of the previous analyses, veneration for the interior truth of the mutual language of the body).

On the basis of a profound reference to these two essential values, that which signifies union of the couple is harmonized in the subject with that which signifies responsible fatherhood and motherhood. The gift of respect for what is created by God enables the apparent contradiction in this area to disappear and the difficulty arising from concupiscence to be gradually overcome, thanks to the maturity of the virtue and the power of the Holy Spirit's gift. (See, See? Concupiscence CAN be permanently overcome!)

6. If it is a question of the problem of so-called periodic continence (or recourse to natural methods), the gift of respect for the work of God helps, to the greatest extent, to reconcile human dignity with the natural cycles of fertility, that is, with the biological dimension of the femininity and masculinity of the couple. This dimension also has a significance of its own for the truth of the mutual language of the body in married life.
Well, no, that's not what the Pope is saying.

The problem here is partly one of perception. Years ago, a psychologist did a study in which a group of college students were told an expert, a Nobel prize winner, was going to give a lecture in his area of expertise and they were invited to attend. The lecture, given by an actor, was actually just a pile of gobbledy-gook and catch phrase. It made no coherent sense. Yet, when asked afterwards, all the students said the speech was incredibly profound and deeply insightful. It was certainly difficult material, and merited more profound meditation and study, but everyone affirmed they had definitely benefited as a result of hearing this brilliant man's lecture.

Perception. The students were told the speech had content and the speaker was an authority. They believed it. As a result, when they didn't understand what the lecturer said, they didn't attribute the fault to the lecturer or the material, but to themselves. They just weren't as bright as the "Nobel prize winner." If they just studied more, they would be fine. And they certainly were not going to let on that they didn't get it.

God bless John Paul II, but he was a long-winded man. He took very simple ideas and expressed them in highly complex, often needlessly technical language.

Chris West has built a career off of taking his personal theology, imposing it on John Paul II's obfuscating language, and claiming his "insights" are wonderful simplified versions of JP II's work, specially designed for the common man.

The passages above demonstrate the problem in spades.

The first two paragraphs with bolded remarks simply say "NFP is not just a biological action. You have to approach it with the right intention."

The next two paragraphs just say, "As long as you recognize and respect, as long as you are willing to embrace, the possibility of becoming a parent when you have sex, and you recognize that the physical union with your spouse is meant to be holy, you are ok. Don't be a glutton."

That is really all that is in there.

Chris West makes several references to JP II's writings.
He claims those references support his theology.

How far are you willing to trust a man who mis-directs you on Aquinas (see above), who misrepresents the writings of John the Stylite in order to twist the story of the bishops and the prostitute to his own liking, or who debases the writings of St. Louis de Montfort?

How much do you trust Chris West, a man who actively promotes a New Age spiritualist, a woman who lied about her Carmelite background, a woman whose community is associated with at least one attempted suicide, a woman who praised Buddhism for its corrective to "Christo-fascism"? West was enthralled by her, unable to leave his car as he listened again to her tape set.

Chris West advocates the pursuit of a new purity, a new Catharism. There are the enlightened, the Westians. Then there are the slobs, the rest of us who don't understand his special knowledge.

It is interesting to note that the Westian controversy over the propriety of anal sexual activity was also associated with the original Catharii. The term "bugger" is, according to the semi-reliable Wikipedia, derived from the fact that, like the Westians, the original Catharii also had fewer inhibitions about anal sex than unenlightened Catholics.

The rest of us, unenlightened, lustful, evil slobs that we are, do not have the purity of the Westians. That's our problem, really. We're prudes, snobs, Puritans, Manicheans, and we eat Cheetohs for breakfast. We disgust them. Worse, when we point out their errors, we abuse them. Swine like us shouldn't poke our noses into their pure knowledge, especially in public forums. We should strive to emulate them, pure and holy examples for us all. Don't pay attention to what the texts say - let them interpret the texts. The Westians will make it all clear.
I thought that continence arose from one's own powers, which I did not recognize in myself. I was foolish enough not to know . . . that no one can be continent unless you grant it. For you would surely have granted it if my inner groaning had reached your ears and I with firm faith had cast my cares on you. (St. Augustine, CCC 2520).
Priests face east when they celebrate the Mass because the Fathers have long held that Christ will come from the East at the Parousia. Priests don't face to the West because the West is associated with error, deception and, ultimately, condemnation. Take the advice of the Fathers. Don't go West, young man.


Terry Nelson said...

I couldn't wait to read what you had to say - very good!

Anonymous said...

Spanking Christopher West . . . nice Steve.

I bet those requests for speaking engagements are just rolling in.

Why don't you create your own Theology of the Body institute so that you can really discover how your acidic truth telling sells.

Steve, you lack charity. You are not interested in the truth, you are interested in destroying the person of Christopher West.

Know this.

You are destroying yourself.

How many up-coming speaking engagements do you have again???

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Anonymous, I'm just quoting Chris West, analyzing his arguments, and demonstrating that at best, he's woefully ignorant of Catholic theology in general and ignorant of TOB in particular. At worst, he's a self-serving liar.

I leave it up to you to choose which it is. Read what he wrote, contrast it to what Aquinas and JP II wrote, and draw your conclusions.

As for your fixation with my popularity, I readily admit that I am not as popular as Chris West; nor, for that matter, am I as popular as Dan Brown.

Both Chris and Dan have made millions from their respective renditions of Christian teaching. The great mass of people who know little to nothing about Christ have made both of them stars. Chris West, Dan Brown, Oprah - these people speak to their hearts.

Better, they appeal to the marvelous parish and diocesan staffs who have been so integral in passing on the unadulterated Catholic Faith in the United States for the last 40 years.

But, in fact, now that you mention it, I know very few orthodox Christians who make millions from teaching the Faith.

In fact, I'll be darned if I can name a single canonized saint who made millions of dollars from preaching the Faith. There are the Medjugorje seers, of course, but they aren't canonized saints, are they? Indeed, their whole message is coming into question in Rome. Hmmm...

So, I'm a poor, unpopular skank, evil, lustful, gluttonous, probably riddled with dozens of venereal diseases and burdened with dozens of illegitimate children, certainly bald, definitely with bad teeth, unquestionably steeped in my own sins... throwing out fully substantiated theological problems with Chris Westian heresy.

Mea culpa.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve,

How does it feel to be ignored by your contemporaries?

Headline Bistro has been the forum where the substance of the debate has taken place:

Why do you think your contribution to this debate is being IGNORED by serious mainstream Catholic theologians and commentators?

Could it be that they too recognize that your contributions are animated by more than a desire for the truth? Could it be that they too recognize that you are driven by an animus against the person of Christopher West that has seduced you to venture beyond the pale?

I think so.

To list you as a critic would be to participate and contribute to what is a sinful and shameful crusade against a person, more so than his ideas.

So they just ignore you with Christian charity, perhaps with the hope that you will get the message: there is a difference between sober debate of theological issues, and harassing attacks that seek to humiliate and target the person.

Or could it be that they just haven't been aware of your work?

No. They know your work, and it is worthy of being ignored for the unbalanced personal vendetta that it amounts to.

How's that speaking calendar of yours Steve? Need to hire an assistant to keep track of them all?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Anonymous, who told you I was writing for Headline Bistro? Wherever did you get that idea from, eh? :) ROTFL

Tell me, Chris, what are you going to do?

As you point out, people know what I write. Whether or not it gets passed along in "mainstream" Catholic forums is irrelevant to me. My analysis is spot on, other theologians know it and even now they are piling up against you.

I spoke out about you when Dr. Schindler was afraid to, but he finally spoke out in part because of concerns I helped make public.

The pewsitter is reading what I write - I get enough hits to know that's true.

I'm convinced at this point that you really aren't capable of teaching the Faith. Your background and worldview just keep you from making the proper connections. At some point, Cardinal Rigali is going to reign you in - even now, there are calls for it, and we both know it.

You made a fool of the Cardinal twice over now. Cardinals don't like that. Change is coming, my friend. Change is coming.

Anonymous said...

Can't find email address for Notes On The Culture Wars but you should report this:

N.J. Catholic Priest, Rev. Ed Hinds, Found Killed in His Clerical Robes in Church Rectory - ABC News

Investigators: NJ Priest Murdered Inside Church -

Enbrethiliel said...


This post is your best one yet, Steve! Keep them coming! =)

Anonymous said...

Very good analysis, Steve! God bless you!

Paul said...

Hi Steve, I'm sorry that angry "Anonymouse Cowards" as we call them in the nerd world choose to disagree with you, well, disagreeably! It seems they're simply showing the same lack of charity towards you that they claim you lack regarding West. May we all find the heart to forgive quick-fired insults and veiled threats.

I would like to counter your argument. It seems very clear that West intends to refer to continence as "signifying that whereby a man resists evil desires, which in him are vehement," i.e. Aquinas' second sense. He isn't "taking it in a broad sense" at all. According to your quote from Aquinas, continence as such cannot attain to the level of a virtue although it is outwardly virtuous. Perhaps we can agree that venereal pleasure does not equal lust because it does not need lust to exist (e.g. marital intercourse). Lust itself, concupiscence of the flesh, fits the category of an evil, vehement desire. Chastity is a virtue because it places the sensitive appetite of lust under the control of the intellect.

If there were no difference between continence and chastity, we would have no need for two terms. It is also unlikely that the CCC would use chastity when it means continence.

On another note, I would like to point out as kindly as I may, and as a brother in Christ, that sarcasm does not serve you well. In order to read many of your articles, I have to copy them into Notepad and erase your sarcasm and negative humor so that I can find the thread of reason without the weight of rhetoric. Sometimes I feel with a little humor in my heart that Plato would kick you out of the Academy! I've been there man. Sarcasm used to be my modus operandi until I realized that I was operating under the delusion that the only way I could get my point across was to stab someone on the mind with it. Other people thought it was hilarious that I could cut someone down to size with one well-placed strike. For some reason, they didn't laugh when I turned it on them. In truth, sarcasm is "the tearing of the flesh."

Thanks for taking the time to read my comment, and indeed, thanks for not being afraid to go against the flow of the culture!

Steve Kellmeyer said...


Thanks for the remarks. Read Q 155 carefully. Aquinas NEVER says it is not a virtue.

He says "In this way continence has something of the nature of a virtue," and follows by saying "it does not attain to the perfect nature of a moral virtue." It falls short of being a perfect moral virtue.

There are only four moral virtues, four virtues that perfect appetite. The rest of the virtues perfect intellect. Continence is not meant to perfect sexual appetite (which is the role of charity), but to regulate sexual appetite. Since the appetite for sex is not a sin, except in excess or mis-use, the regulation of this appetite is the firm habit of continence.

Chastity is living in a moral way for the sake of following God.

That's why continence is both distinguished from chastity and called the lived virtue of chastity. No one can be chaste unless they are continent. But, as Aquinas and Augustine point out elsewhere, the unbaptized person - having not the light of Christ - CAN be continent without being chaste.

Precisely because a person is unbaptized, that person will be continent, but will not use that continence to glorify God. That's virtuous, but it isn't Christian virtue, although it is still good, so Aquinas points out that it falls short of being a moral virtue in this sense.

As for the sarcasm, there is Biblical precedent in Paul. One of the reasons I use it so heavily with West is that West and his defenders keep insisting he's a poor, pitiful victim of evil, lustful persecuters.

Just read his latest "defense." He spends the whole middle of the screed essentially accusing anyone who disagrees with him of being an unenlightened slob filled with lust, and he, by implication, the persecuted saint in their midst.

I mock that kind of pride. It needs to be crucified. Thus, I make no apology for the tearing of the flesh in this instance, as the Fathers of the Church made none before me. I am not as good or as wise as them - perhaps I mis-use it. Perhaps it isn't something you like to watch (who likes to watch a crucifixion?), but the man is besotted with himself.

He hasn't listened to criticisms offered in kindness. What is left that he will listen to? Maybe if he gets tired of being mocked, he'll shut his heresies up in a box and quite spouting them. Maybe he'll show a little continence against his vehement desire to lead others into his own error.