Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Christopher West the Decontexualizer - part 1, I guess

In the first chapter of his latest book, At the Heart of the Gospel, Christopher West refers to a Lenten homily given by Father Raniero Cantalamessa in March of 2011 to Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia, entitled: The Two Faces of Love: Eros and Agape

In referring to this homily he begins by quoting Father Cantalamessa thus:

He observed that love "suffers from ill-fated separation not only in the mentality of the secularized world, but also in that of the opposite side, among believers...Simplifying the situation to the greatest extent," he said, "we can articulate it thus: In the world we find eros without agape; among believers we often find agape without eros." The former “is a body without a soul” and is well understood “propagated as it is in a hammering way” by the secular media. The latter— agape without eros—“is a soul without a body”; it’s a “cold love” in which “the component linked to affectivity and the heart is systematically denied or repressed.” Either way, by separating eros and agape, we distort the truth of love and rupture our own humanity. For the “human being is not an angel, that is, a pure spirit; he is a soul and body substantially united: everything he does, including loving, must reflect this structure”.


After some paragraphs, West pretty well forgets about Fr. Cantalamessa's cautionary qualifier, "Simplifying the situation to the greatest extent", and leaves the reader with the non-negotiable hostage situation that the reality really is that greatest extent simplification. But not Cantalamessa's simplification - oh no. West reduces Cantalamessa's simplification even further.

But before getting to that, here is what Fr. Cantalamessa had to say about agape without eros in full (with my emphasis on the key words):

This distinction having been made, agape without eros seems to us a "cold love," a loving "with the tip of the hairs" without the participation of the whole being, more by imposition of the will than by an intimate outburst of the heart, a descent into a pre-constituted mold, rather than to create for oneself something unrepeatable, as unrepeatable is every human being before God. The acts of love addressed to God are like those of certain poor lovers who write to the beloved letters copied from a handbook.

If worldly love is a body without a soul, religious love practiced that way is a soul without a body. The human being is not an angel, that is, a pure spirit; he is soul and body substantially united: everything he does, including loving, must reflect this structure. If the component linked to affectivity and the heart is systematically denied or repressed, the result will be double: either one goes on in a tired way, out of a sense of duty, to defend one's image, or more or less licit compensations are sought, to the point of the very painful cases that are afflicting the Church. It cannot be ignored that at the root of many moral deviations of consecrated souls there is a distorted and contorted conception of love.


Cantalamessa states what agape without eros is like. In the second paragraph, in the part that I emphasized, he is saying that if this is persisted in, in a systematic way, which would obviously entail repression and denial in order to continue in such a vein, it will lead to some really bad things.

See how West takes that and turns it into:

...it’s a “cold love” in which “the component linked to affectivity and the heart is systematically denied or repressed.”


In other words, Chris West takes what can be considered a strong caution by Cantalamessa to those prone to agape without eros, removes the actual point of the sentence, and turns it into the very attribute of every instance of agape without eros. Which is unjust. Note the tone in the first paragraph of Cantalamessa's likening of agape without eros. He uses the words, "seems to us" and "more by" and "are like those" and puts certain descriptors in quotations. His audience is made up of consecrated religious, in whom, Cantalamessa says, agape without eros is particularly often found. But West cut that part out at the beginning. Cantalamessa's words run:

Love suffers from ill-fated separation not only in the mentality of the secularized world, but also in that of the opposite side, among believers and in particular among consecrated souls. (italics mine)


Among believers and the consecrated in particular. That just brings in another level that West doesn't need to deal with.

But anyways, a few sentences after the "systematically denied and repressed" sentence-out-of-context, Chris West writes:

The systematic repression of eros [So now it's official.] in the name of “holiness” ultimately stems from a widespread theological vision of man that splits body and soul in order to “free” love from (what many consider) the “unflattering” and “unholy” realities of bodiliness. [What happened to those secularists who were only too happy to remove eros from agape?]


Leap frog anyone?

Nowhere in that homily does Cantalmessa talk about agape as "holiness".

Some sentences later he continues in the same evermore simplistic vein:

We can and must reclaim the essential link between eros and agape, between sexuality and spirituality, between body and soul. This is the essential cure for what ails the modern world.


Just as agape suddenly became "holiness" (holiness sought at the expense of hating the body - oh wait, the body? What happened to Cantalamessa's "affectivity" and the "heart" and, well, eros?) so now agape becomes "spirituality".

Oh! Memo just in: eros is now sexuality. Hey, slow poke! Now it's the body.

Look, I know the words can be spoken of as being in the same families, so to speak, but to use them so interchangeably and in the span of such little space...well, that's the work of someone using a lot of sleight of hand.

9 comments:

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Your point seems to be that West is deliberately performing some "sleight-of-hand" here because of some perceived change in vocabulary.

Well, let's hear it then--what is the purpose of this "sleight-of-hand"??? What is West seeking to accomplish by this so-called "shifting" vocabulary?

Deacon Jim Russell

jvc said...

Sounds like a pretty representative sample of West's writing.

He spends a little bit of time seeming to reject the culture, and then goes after his real target: faithful Catholics who reject his indeed "revolutionary" pansexual understanding of our relationship with God.

I've said it elsewhere: West's obsession with Manicheaism is his Moby Dick. He sees it everywhere and his entire life is devoted to taking it down. Sooner or later, perhaps he and his supporters will realize that they have become the very whale that they claim to want to take down.

Kevin O'Brien said...

The problem is that there is indeed a challege regarding eros and agape in all of our lives. But what West really seems to ignore is that eros is much more than mere "sexuality". Eros is passionate affective love, a love of attraction, a love from the heart, which is much more than sexual attraction, much more than biology, much more than the body.

In preaching the liberation of love, West is actually taking Eros and reducing it. He is far from liberating it.

Paul Stilwell said...

"Well, let's hear it then--what is the purpose of this "sleight-of-hand"??? What is West seeking to accomplish by this so-called "shifting" vocabulary?"

I refer to the two comments following yours. Their answers are spot on.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Paul, for goodness sake, can't you just deal with the actual text that you personally quote yourself instead of pointing to other people's words (which don't even address the text directly) and saying they're "spot on"???

You seem to be asserting that West is somehow misrepresenting Cantalamesa and then you never explain where the misrepresentation is.

So, where's the misrepresentation? Or is the so-called "sleight-of-hand" something else entirely?

If you can't articulate your own point yourself, why even bother posting the quote from West?

Deacon Jim Russell

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Paul--on some of your posts, you appear to be publishing only some of my comments and responses and not publishing others.

I do not want to be part of a conversation in which only pieces of what I have to say are being published. Now, if I am wrong about this (and if it's just a matter of your having time to sift through and then publish them), then I will have no problem continuing a conversation.

I really can and will discuss these issues with you--but only if the field of discourse is genuinely level.

If you are interested in an honest discussion, you know how to reach me.

If I have misunderstood the reason only some of my comments are being published, then let me know and I'll return to commenting further.

Deacon Jim Russell

Paul Stilwell said...

Wrong. I deleted one - I repeat, one - of your comments from being published, because it was little more than a bunch of bombastic ad hominem against Wade.

Paul Stilwell said...

Of course, the fact that I've allowed every single other one your comments, it's not to say they were all about "honest discussion".

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Paul--then thanks for the accommodation; if you think there is anything else I should respond to, drop me a line.

Deacon Jim Russell