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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Bishop, the Pope, and Chris West

When John Paul II wrote Love and Responsibility as archbishop of Krakow, he included a section with a fairly detailed discussion of the sexual act. It shocked a lot of the people he sent drafts of the manuscript to, but he included it anyway, despite warnings against the idea.

Today, Chris West and other TOB advocates point to this when they themselves engage shocking language.

Probably the most shocking passage in John Paul II's papal audiences on the theology of the body is his July 4, 1984 audience.

Many people have used this audience to argue that "sex is liturgical" or "sex is a sacrament." In fact, it should be noticed that JP II doesn't call sex a sacrament in this or any other audience, nor does he say sex is liturgical, although the uncareful reader could easily come away with either idea. Instead, he says conjugal life is a SIGN of the sacrament.

Furthermore, he says, "The spiritual maturity of this attraction is none other than the blossoming of the gift of fear - one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which St. Paul speaks of in First Thessalonians (cf. 1 Thes 4:4-7)."

He keeps insisting that the liturgy is what elevates marriage, and it does so through "chastity as a virtue and as a gift.In this way, through the virtue (of chastity) and still more through the gift (of chastity) the mutual attraction of masculinity and femininity spiritually matures...."

He ends the audience by pointing out that "the light of truth and beauty, expressed in liturgical language" is transferred to the body through chastity which he defines here as "the language of the practice of love, fidelity, and conjugal honesty," but even then notice how JPII hedges the ending: "conjugal life becomes in a certain sense liturgical." But only in "a certain sense."

In my first conversation with Chris West, lo!, these many years ago, Chris got rather upset when I referred to the phrase, "in a certain sense" as Pope John Paul II's favorite weasel words. But they are. When JP II wanted to say something that sounded shocking or odd without getting nailed for it, he used the phrase "in a certain sense." That kept him from violating the Magisterium while still allowing him to say things that sounded edgy.

So, does he say, as some like to assert, that sex is as important as the Mass for saving the world?
No, he doesn't.

Instead, he says that the liturgy empowers chastity in such a way that it has the capacity to transform "conjugal life" into something that is somewhat liturgical.

Or, to put it more simply, the liturgy is lived in chastity and chastity lifts marriage up towards the liturgy.

And when we remember that the whole series of talks is supposed to be commentary on Humanae Vitae, what he's really saying is "contraception is unchaste, so stop it."

But it isn't particularly shocking if said that simply, so JP II gussied it up with a lot of PhD talk.
As a result, uncareful readers have a greatly increased probability of totally misreading the audience. And they do.

Did John Paul II really mean to be edgy?

Well, remember, that he had taken a lot of hits for his Love and Responsibility as archbishop. Also, keep in mind that, as Pope, he cannot overcome the charism of his office. He can't mis-teach to the whole Church on matters of faith and morals. And, even the Pope is not impeccable. He is at best only infallible.

Now, the TOB teachings were certainly a matter of faith and morals.
But was he teaching to the whole Church? Well, that can be argued.

He certainly didn't invoke his full Petrine authority during the audiences.

Some would argue that the TOB teachings aren't infallible because Wednesday audiences are not normally considered a vehicle for infallible teachings. This argument ignores the fact that any communication CAN be the vehicle for infallible teachings. Heck, any time even you or I say "God is one Divine Nature in three Divine Persons," we have taught infallibly, even if it's just in an e-mail to our sainted aunt, because that particular doctrine is an infallible part of Church teaching. We don't have the charism by our office, as the Pope does, but we have the capacity to participate in the sensus fidelium simply by virtue of the gift of reason and our baptism.

So, "in a certain sense" every person has the capacity to teach infallibly, as long as what we teach accords with what the Church has always taught.

Now, the phrase "in a certain sense" is clearly meant to sharply limit the phrase it modifies.
JP II was a wordsmith in multiple languages - he knew darned well how to keep wiggle room alive in his phrasing as needed.

That particular phrase was a favorite of his in the Wednesday audiences, to an extent that's virtually unequalled in any of his other papal works.

I've read probably a third of his encyclicals, by no means all, but a fair number, and the only place you really find that phrase consistently is in the TOB audiences.

Remember, he had ALREADY shocked fellow churchmen with his Love and Responsibility, he KNEW it shocked his fellow churchmen, and he published it anyway, despite advice that he shouldn't. That was as archbishop. Archbishops can commit sins just like anybody else.

Was that chapter a sin? I don't know.
All I'm saying is that it didn't necessarily represent good judgement on his part.
Maybe it was a good idea, but just because Karol Wojtyla wrote it doesn't make it a good idea.

As a priest once remarked to St. Teresa of Avila, a man can go to hell by imitating the imperfections of the saints.

Now, once a bishop becomes a pope, the Holy Spirit is going to sharply curtail certain lapses in judgement that the bishop might previously have made. For instance, more than one bishop has become pope because the cardinals who elected him knew that he had always taught councils had greater authority than popes, that is, men have been elected Pope because they taught conciliarism. But invariably, as soon as the man got consecrated, his mind cleared and he stopped advocating conciliarism. You can't judge a pope's teachings by what he wrote when he was just bishop of Timbuktu. Or Krakow.

As an aside, a couple of years ago, right after Pope Benedict XVI got elected, John Allen of NCR came to town to give a talk on Benedict's attitude towards Islam. I asked him, "Pope Benedict hasn't said much of anything about Islam yet. Won't you have a short talk?" He replied, "Well, Cardinal Ratzinger has written quite extensively on the subject."

I didn't want to be rude, so I didn't point out that Cardinal Ratzinger's writings were not necessarily going to coincide with Pope Benedict's attitude. Before the talk started, I predicted to a friend that Allen, being a smart man, would say virtually nothing about Benedict and Islam during the talk, no matter the title for the evening. In fact, while he discussed Islam and he discussed Rome, John Allen never did discuss Benedict's attitude towards Islam, or even Cardinal Ratzinger's attitude, for that matter. But no one noticed (or they were too polite to notice) because John Allen is also a good wordsmith.

All of this is to note that when we get to the Wednesday audiences, they are not just a toned down version of Love and Responsibility. They are DIFFERENT. In the Wednesday audiences, he says he's giving us a "theology of sex" on at least one occasion, but he doesn't mean "sex" the verb, he means "sex" the noun, what we today incorrectly call "gender." And even in saying something as mundane as "liturgy empowers us to be chaste in marriage", which is really all the July 4 audience says, he recognizes that the converse is not going to be true in the full sense - conjugal life is never going to be fully liturgical, if only because the liturgy is participation in heaven and there is no sacrament of marriage, no conjugal life in the human married sense, in heaven.

He seems to WANT to make the connection go full bore both ways, heaven to earth and earth to heaven, but his office and his judgement prevents him from saying it. So, what he ends up saying is correct, as long as it is understand "in a certain sense."

And that's the difference between John Paul II and Chris West.

You might be able to argue that Chris West is just picking up where Karol Wojtyla left off.
I don't know that I would argue against that position very strongly.
I suspect that "in a certain sense" that is true.

I would just note two things:
a) Even as archbishop, Karol Wojtyla DID leave off there - he didn't continue into the territory that Chris West has so energetically entered,
b) John Paul II didn't go anywhere near where Karol Wojtyla went. In fact, JP II arguably began to walk away from some of Karol Wojtyla's work.

Too much stress is placed on Love and Responsibility.
Not enough stress is placed on the papal encyclicals.
The context for John Paul II's papal encyclicals is not Love and Responsibility, nor even the theology of the body Wednesday audiences. The context for John Paul II's papal encyclicals is 2000 years of Magisterial documents.

That's why the Catechism quotes writings of the Fathers and Doctors, other encyclicals and ecumenical councils. It doesn't quote from Love and Responsibility. Indeed, it doesn't even quote from the TOB Wednesday audiences. In fact, I can't recall a single encyclical or apostolic letter of Pope John Paul II that does make reference to his Wednesday TOB audiences. Not even his encyclical on human suffering, Salvifici Doloris, which is written and released while he's giving the TOB audiences, refers to them or is referred to by them.

Indeed, in his closing TOB audience, John Paul even notes that the TOB audiences are woefully inadequate because they don't address important themes like human suffering, but even in making this remark, he still refuses to refer even to his own document on human suffering. Instead, he keeps pointing us to Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio, and the latter doesn't reference the Wednesday audiences at all. This is all the more interesting given that Familiaris Consortio does reference Humanae Vitae eight times, and footnotes a Paul VI General Audience once (footnote 152).

Is it the case that John Paul II built his whole papacy around Love and Responsibility and/or the Wednesday Theology of the Body audiences? That assertion has been made by people who style themselves scholars, but it is remarkably difficult to find explicit evidence to back it up. Indeed, one might easily argue the reverse: that the whole of his papal teaching is walled off from those particular Wednesday audiences.

In any case, if we are going to use Love and Responsibility to justify how we address the subject of human sexuality, we have to remember that Love and Responsibility is not Magisterial - it is just some local bishop writing his thoughts on sex and marriage.

The local bishop ends up getting consecrated pope.

OK, but his prior writings didn't get consecrated with him.

Like the "conciliar" popes before him, we have to remember that some ideas may have gotten changed when the charism of his office cleared his mind.


John C. Hathaway said...

In a certain sense, I like what you've written here. There is much in the teaching of John Paul II that needs to be carefuly considered. And I like Benedict's emphasis on the difference between Pope and pre-Pope writings.
I haven't read extensively in either Love and Responsibility or TOB, but I know that passages in L&R are used by certain Catholics to push for a Malthusian approach to NFP, to say that not only is NFP a "valid option" but that it may be morally requisite in some circumstances.

That teaching isn't found anywhere in an official Vatican document; it's found in L&R.
OTOH, the preface to my edition of L&R, which unforrtunately got drenched with water, begins with the point that some say that book was a major reason Woytyla became Pope, so it should have a certain level of consideration.

In any case ,I don't know Christopher West's work very well, but I keep thinking that his critics are proving his point.

Also, you got the quotation wrong. St. Therese of Lisieux's confessors all told her she was free of mortal sin.

The anecdote you refer to was a story from Dorothy Day's autobiography. Dorothy Day expressed admiration for how St. Teresa of Avila had a sense of humor and loved to dance during community time, and some uptight priest (IIRC, she named him in her autobiography) said, "You can go to Hell by imitating the flaws of the saints."

There is a story about Bl. Pius IX, where a famous priest was disappointed that a promising theology student had gone off to become married (and start a major lay apostolate) instead of becoming a priest. "He fell into the trap," the priest wrote.

A few years later, he met Pius IX, who said, "Father, I must thank you for clearing up a misconception! All these years, I have been under the impression that Jesus established seven sacraments, but you inform me that Jesus established seven sacraments and a trap."

Sexual intercourse is not a sacrament, but marriage *is*. Sexual intercourse is an integral part of the sacrament of matrimony and the expression of its union.

So while it would be grossly inaccurate to refer to sex, as such, as a sacrament, it would be completely appropriate to refer to marital relations as a *sacramental*.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Some say the major reason he became Pope was that he was Polish. I don't really care what "some say."

I am happy to correct the details of the story, but the point stands.

Chris West emphasis is not John Paul II's.

JP II gave us TOB to make it clear that contraception is evil.

Chris West seems to think TOB is meant to treat sexual repression inflicted by our Christian upbringing.

Chris West's version of TOB is not JP II's TOB.

Jordanes said...

I haven't read extensively in either Love and Responsibility or TOB, but I know that passages in L&R are used by certain Catholics to push for a Malthusian approach to NFP, to say that not only is NFP a "valid option" but that it may be morally requisite in some circumstances. That teaching isn't found anywhere in an official Vatican document ***

But there is one official Vatican document, Humanae Vitae, that suggests something a little bit like that:

"With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time." (HV 10)

I suppose there might be times when NFP could be "morally requisite."

All that said, on the general point of Chris West and John Paul II, I think it's obvious that West and John Paul II have very, very different axes to grind in their discussions of the Theology of the Body. West really needs to lay off TotB -- his interest in it and promotion of it seems unhealthy or unbalanced.

John C. Hathaway said...

No, the point doesn't remain, because there was nothing wrong with St. Teresa of Avila dancing during community time, and Dorothy Day was right, not the priest.

The operative question is whether our "Christian upbringing," as it has come down, is *right*.
There used to be a lot of Catholics who thought couples should *only* engage in marital relations for the purpose of procreation, that marital relations during infertile times were off limits. This mentality was often taught as part of "Christian upbringing," and Gospel faith for many priests and laity, but not in any way based upon the authoritative teachings of the Church.

Secondly, the idea of a rejection of the body that avoids any interpersonal contact, treats the body as completely shameful, etc., is a heresy, and yet is often taugt as part of a "Christian upbringing."

West *may* go to another extreme in his teaching (from what I've heard or read of his, I don't see it), but he is definitely pointing out a very valid error, and his critics all seem to be making his point by their adoption of Gnosticism over Catholicism.

Did God make our bodies or not?
Did God make marriage a sacrament or not?

Or do we adopt the position of people like Fr. Bing Arellano, who preaches that it's almost impossible to get to Heaven if you're married.

John C. Hathaway said...


The operative word in the HV quotation is *and*: those who welcome children despite difficult circumstances *and* those who practice NFP are *both* engaging in responsible parenthood.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

John, on what basis do you say there was nothing wrong with Teresa of Avila dancing with castanets?

I'm not part of a centuries-old monastic community, I am not going to presume to judge the rules, habits or traditions of such a community. Dorothy Day was a nice lady and all, but she wasn't a saint, and her judgement means nothing.

However, since you like Teresa of Avila so much, perhaps you would like this quote from her: "Those seeking the life of the spirit should be cheerful and free, and not neglect recreation. Married people must act in conformity with their vocation--but their progress will of necessity be but the pace of a hen." --Teresa of Avila"

Since you yourself have said you are not really familiar with any of the TOB materials from JP II or Chris West or anyone else for that matter, your opinion is based in ignorance and only worthy of being ignored.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

While there is nothing objectively wrong with NFP, as the teaching of the Church for at least the last 150 years witnesses, it is also the case that the use of NFP is not a protection from sin.

It is possible to use NFP with a contraceptive mentality. Such use is sinful, as John Paul II himself pointed out.

Jordanes said...

The operative word in the HV quotation is *and*: those who welcome children despite difficult circumstances *and* those who practice NFP are *both* engaging in responsible parenthood. ***

True, though that does nothing to establish it is never the case that a particular couple might have circumstances in which NFP is "morally requisite" for them.

Jordanes said...

his critics all seem to be making his point by their adoption of Gnosticism over Catholicism. ***

Oh bruthurrr!! (Rolls eyes)

Don't recall where I read this, but it was something to the effect that some people have their own special way of signaling that they shouldn't be taken seriously. You can't possibly have read or understood much, if any, of the words of West's critics if you think any of them have adopted Gnosticism over Catholicism.

dcs said...

I think the quote from HV could be used to imply that the postponing of pregnancy could be morally requisite but it doesn't actually say that.

One might also argue that HV is tainted by contemporary fears of overpopulation. John Galvin argued this several years ago in a compelling article for The Latin Mass: