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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Catholic Blizzards

For over 25 years (1950-1976), Josef Pieper was professor of philosophical anthropology at the University of Munster. As professor emeritus, he continued to lecture at the university for another 20 years past that. For over 60 years, he taught Plato and Thomistic philosophy and theology. He was awarded the Balzan Prize in philosophy, and the Ehrenring. His 1966 classic, The Four Cardinal Virtues, was actually a compilation of earlier essays written in the 1950s. This book is so thorough, clear and concise that it is considered a standard text in both undergraduate and graduate theology and philosophy programs.

Why do I mention Pieper? Because Josef Pieper described Chris West's teachings as Manichean long before Chris West was ever born.

I have documented elsewhere how both John Paul II and Thomas Aquinas both directly contradict Chris West's cult teachings and pseudo-Catholic theology. But, rather than acknowledging that he is wrong, Chris continues to mis-represent both John Paul II and Thomas, insisting that the clear words of the Pope and the Angelic Doctor do not mean what they say.

For instance, although both Pope John Paul II and the Angelic Doctor describe continence as a virtue, West insists it is not. In order to make his case, he studiously avoids the passages in which both men specifically name continence a virtue, instead pointing his acolytes towards passages which have little or nothing to do with the virtue at all.

West insists that sex is the means by which everything is spiritualized, and he further insists that there can be no real virtue without this spiritualization. Josef Pieper was aware of this tendency in Catholic thought, and he had very specific things to say about it:

In The Four Cardinal Virtues, Pieper devotes an entire section to a discussion of the two forms of chastity. In it, he differentiates between chastity as temperentia and chastity as continentia.

As we already know, and Pieper explains, the perfected virtue of temperance and moderation is chastity (temperentia). In temperentia, the sensual appetite is in the habit of directing itself towards the good. In contrast, the unperfected virtue of chastity (continentia) is "not yet a natural inclination of being, neither has as yet grown firm roots in the existential core of man. This second mode of chastity is not the perfected virtue of temperance and moderation, but a strenuous control... the first is less perfect than the second, because by the former, the directing power of reason has been able to mold only the conscious will, but not yet the sensual urge, whereas by the latter will and urge are both stamped with 'rational order'(Summa Theologica II, II 155, 4 ad3)."

Pieper goes on to note that unchastity through mere lack of control is actually less pernicious than unchastity through temperentia. The merely uncontrolled can be recalled to order and repentance is quick, whereas the solidified disposition that is temperentia is hard to change and represents real malice. According to Pieper, who is summarizing Aquinas, "One who is merely uncontrolled is not unchaste, even though he acts unchastely." (italics in original, cf. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 7, 9, 1151a).

Now, if that were all Pieper had to say, I wouldn't bother to make this post. While that alone would be a direct attack on West's idea that continence is not a virtue, the fact that West
(a) is wrong on this point and
(b) refuses to discuss any of the erroneous positions he holds with anyone capable of refuting him
is not exactly news.

But there is more.
Josef Pieper isn't done.
The whole discussion of how the two forms of chastity get distorted just ticks Pieper off.
He has a soapbox, and he climbs on it just a few pages later.
This is page 167 of the 1966 edition of his work:
"Unlike all other virtues, it has always been the strange fate of the virtue of temperance and moderation, especially in its aspect of chastity, not to be valued and practiced or scorned and ridiculed more or less at its face value, but to be overestimated and overvalued in a very specific sense. This is something altogether unique. There have, of course, always been theoretical discussions about the hierarchy of the virtues, and one or the other has been shifted to a higher rank. But the stubborn and really quite fanatical preference given to temperentia, especially to chastity, which runs through the whole history of Christian doctrine as a more or less hidden undercurrent or counter current, has a very special aspect. No one, at any rate, has attached to justice or prudence or to any of the three theological virtues such an emphatic and evidently not simply factual, but emotionally charged evaluation.
Of course, there would not be the slightest objection against such an evaluation per se - for strictly speaking, virtues as such cannot be overrated. But here we are speaking of an evaluation and overevalutation based on a false premise; of an evaluation, therefore, which implies a misunderstanding of what is supposedly valued so highly. And against this we must object strongly.
In the province of temperentia as we have said before, it is man's attitude toward creation which is decided, and most incisively. And the 'wrong premise' upon which rest the overevaluation and erroneous values given to temperentia in general and chastity in particular amounts to this, namely, the explicit or implied opinion that the sensual reality of the whole of creation, and above all the nonspiritual element in man himself, is actually evil. To sum up: the 'wrong premise' is an explicit, or more often, an implicit, even unconscious and unintended, Manichaeism."
Although Pieper is directing his anger towards people like Tertullian, it is clear from the passage that if we were to give him Chris West's assertion that mere continence is not a virtue, he would undoubtedly send West to join Tertullian.

After all, West has clearly demonstrated a "stubborn and really quite fanatical preference given to temperentia."

Pieper goes on in this section to explain in greater detail why West is so wrong to do this (p. 168).
Nearly every word can be applied to our good friend, Chris:
"[The erroneous idea concerning] The specifically human task, or better still, the specifically Christian task, would consist in rising above this entire 'lower' sphere and mounting by ascetic practice [for West, we rise above this lower sphere through sex, but sensuality and perverse asceticism are really two sides of the same coin. Indeed, Pieper follows Aquinas example in discussing fasting and sensuous touch in adjoining sections.], to a purely spiritual way of life. Not only do fasting, vigils and sexual continence [or in West's case, sex, sex, and sex] take on a very special importance from this basic approach, but they move necessarily into the center of attention of the man striving for perfection. This evaluation, however shares and indeed intensifies the errors of its original; and despite all outward similarity, it has as little to do with the Christian evaluation of those three things [or that one thing] as the heresies of the Manichees, the Montanists, and the Cathari have to do with the Catholic dogma that proclaims that created reality is good in all its spheres, and is not subject to the arbitrariness of human evaluation; indeed, it is the basis and the point of departure of all evaluations as well as of all realization of value. " (cf. II, II, 130, 1, cf also II, II, 133, 1, Car. 1 - plus a quote from Thomas which indicates this attitude is a sin. Emphasis added)
Now, in order to quiet the West cultists ahead of time, if you read the rest of the section on chastity and unchastity, it's pretty clear that Pieper is no prude. He footnotes Malachi about there being something divine being in human seed, and points out that Thomas forbids a man from fasting to the extent that it interferes with his virility (yes, he even provides the necessary Thomistic footnotes).

Josef Pieper was teaching TOB long before JP II wrote a word, and he did it better, in the sense that he's a lot easier to read (and a lot tougher to distort). In fact, it would be absurd to believe that John Paul II would have been unfamiliar with, or uninfluenced by, one of the leading Thomists in Europe, a man who was teaching just a few hundred miles from Krakow.

So, we can now add to the long list of unanswered problems with the Chris West cult, the problem of Manicheanism masquerading as Catholic Faith.

West, of course, will respond as he always has - with silence.

When the original charges were leveled against him by his own teachers, he remained quiet while directing his shills to argue that this was a discussion more suited to the journals.

Months later, when he finally held a public interview on Al Kresta, his only response to his critics was to say that only ivory-tower academics who publish in journals had a problem with his teachings.

Likewise, his shills began by insisting that his former teachers' did not adequately substantiate their charges against West.

Yet, when they were asked to substantiate their own assertions that West's teachings were grounded in the ancient teaching of the Church, his supporters suddenly... disappeared.

Chris West has very few cards, but he plays them skillfully. Thousands of Catholics have been talked into sending him millions of dollars to promote a quasi-Catholic Faith, while West and his acolytes reap the monetary rewards.

He's the Al Gore of Catholic theology.
How long will it be before the blizzard hits?

1 comment:

Sean said...


I have read a few things about Chris West on your blog. Obviously there are a number of things to cause concern. I'm disturbed that so many Catholic speakers have become "professional" Catholics who set up foundations or institutes to handle the cash or fees.

There is a popular speaker Matthew Kelly who is "marketing" a Catholic product line as one of many business services he offers as a consultant. Are you familiar with Mr. Kelly? Something seems wrong with this. It seems too Protestant or gospel of prosperity like. They seem like "spiritual" entrepreneurs looking to make money selling to the Church. Doesn't look like Jesus' "business model".

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this.

Thank you,