Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Christopher West the Decontextualizer, part 4

Taking off from post part 3, which went into the following passage from Christopher West's Theology of the Body Explained,


True to their name, these books contain great wisdom. They reveal an intimate knowledge of the human heart and even develop a specific moral psychology. In this way, the Wisdom books "are close to that call of Christ to the 'heart' that Matthew has handed down to us." Even so, John Paul says that with the "one-sided" admonitions that often make woman out to be "a downright seducer of whom to be aware," the Wisdom texts do not change man's ethos in any fundamental way. "For such a transformation it is necessary to wait until the Sermon on the Mount." For example, whereas the Wisdom texts offer understandable admonitions such as "Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman" (Sir 9:8), John Paul says that in the Sermon on the Mount Christ invites us "to a pure way of looking at others, capable of respecting the spousal meaning of the body." (West, Theology of the Body Explained, page 168.)

I would like to point readers to this excellent post by Kevin Tierney at Common Sense Catholicism, which looks into the historical context and meaning of the particular Wisdom texts that West cuts from and uses out of context to forward his malformed interpretation of the Theology of the Body - namely, his teaching of "mature purity".

Kevin cites the paragraph that follows the paragraph quoted above (with some of the third paragraph) from page 168 of Theology of the Body Explained,

As experience attests, the battle with lust remains fierce. For the man bound by lust, "Turn away your eyes" retains all its wisdom. Christ, however, "speaks in the context of human experience and simultaneously in the context of human salvation." In the new ethos, these "two contexts are in a certain way superimposed upon and pervade one another." This means that, although we all experience lust, we can also experience a real transformation of our hearts through the salvation Christ offers us. As the Catechism teaches, "In the Sermon on the Mount...the spirit of the Lord gives new form to our desires, those inner movements that animate our lives."

….The man whose heart has been transformed and vivified by the Spirit of the Lord need not merely “cope” with lust by turning his eyes away from a woman.” (West, Theology of the Body Explained, page 168.)


He shows how West uses that single line "Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman" to make it mean,

"One, that Sirach was only writing for the unregenerate. Two, that the regenerate is not bound by this advice."


I touched on some of the context of the Wisdom texts in part 3, but Kevin went into it already in more depth in his post.

***

Going back to the first paragraph from pg. 168 of Theology of the Body Explained, quoted above and which was the subject of part 3, you may recall how West uses that butchered piece of the Wisdom texts to introduce his teaching of "mature purity", misrepresenting what the ethos of purity and morality was before Christ, and misrepresenting the ethos of redemption and fulfillment of the law in the Sermon on the Mount. West quotes from Veritatis Splendor after quoting the butchered piece from the Wisdom texts (the Veritatis Splendor words in my bold):

For example, whereas the Wisdom texts offer understandable admonitions such as "Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman" (Sir 9:8), John Paul says that in the Sermon on the Mount Christ invites us "to a pure way of looking at others, capable of respecting the spousal meaning of the body."


Let's take a look at the full context of the words which Christopher West pulled from Veritatis Splendor. The words are from section 15:

15. In the "Sermon on the Mount,'' the magna charta of Gospel morality, Jesus says: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them'' (Mt 5:17). Christ is the key to the Scriptures: "You search the Scriptures...; and it is they that bear witness to me'' (Jn 5:39). Christ is the centre of the economy of salvation, the recapitulation of the Old and New Testaments, of the promises of the Law and of their fulfilment in the Gospel; he is the living and eternal link between the Old and the New Covenants. Commenting on Paul's statement that "Christ is the end of the law'' (Rom 10:4), Saint Ambrose writes: "end not in the sense of a deficiency, but in the sense of the fullness of the Law: a fullness which is achieved in Christ (plenitudo legis in Christo est), since he came not to abolish the Law but to bring it to fulfilment. In the same way that there is an Old Testament, but all truth is in the New Testament, so it is for the Law: what was given through Moses is a figure of the true law. Therefore, the Mosaic Law is an image of the truth.''

Jesus brings God's commandments to fulfilment, particularly the commandment of love of neighbour, by interiorizing their demands and by bringing out their fullest meaning. Love of neighbour springs from a loving heart which, precisely because it loves, is ready to live out the loftiest challenges. Jesus shows that the commandments must not be understood as a minimum limit not to be gone beyond, but rather as a path involving a moral and spiritual journey towards perfection, at the heart of which is love (cf. Col 3:14). Thus the commandment "You shall not murder'' becomes a call to an attentive love which protects and promotes the life of one's neighbour. The precept prohibiting adultery becomes an invitation to a pure way of looking at others, capable of respecting the spousal meaning of the body: "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment'. But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment... You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'. But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart'' (Mt 5:21-22,27-28). Jesus himself is the living "fulfilment'' of the Law inasmuch as he fulfils its authentic meaning by the total gift of himself: he himself becomes a living and personal Law, who invites people to follow him; through the Spirit, he gives the grace to share his own life and love and provides the strength to bear witness to that love in personal choices and actions (cf. Jn 13:34- 35). --Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II (all italics John Paul's)



To that end, I would just like to quote Wade from From the Ivory Tower to what John Paul II was speaking about in the section of Veritatis Splendor which Christopher West quotes from and which he uses out of context to his own ends (and I hope Wade doesn't mind me quoting him here in full from a piece of correspondence, as I find its articulation better than anything I could write):

In truth, Veritatis Splendor was talking about how the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, as Dr. Hahn taught me, "interiorized" and "intensified" all the Commandments. It is not enough just to "follow the rules" as the rich young man did (Luke 18:18-23). One must do so from the motive of "love". That is, after all, the whole teaching of the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:40). For it is possible to follow all the rules merely out of a sense of obligation and from the motive of "religious pride" of doing one's "religious duty", just as the Pharisees did, and not out of love from a truly converted heart.

Veritatis Splendor and the Wednesday audience were saying the same thing. Following the rule not to commit adultery is not enough. Veritatis Splendor 15 in context reads: "Jesus shows that the commandments must not be understood as a minimum limit not to be gone beyond, but rather as a path involving a moral and spiritual journey towards perfection, at the heart of which is love (cf. Col 3:14). Thus the commandment 'You shall not murder' becomes a call to an attentive love which protects and promotes the life of one's neighbour. The precept prohibiting adultery becomes an invitation to a pure way of looking at others, capable of respecting the spousal meaning of the body".

In other words, consistent with what JP2 says in his Wednesday audience, the admonition from Sirach to "turn your gaze from a shapely woman" is not enough, because you could still see women as "sexual objects", or as JP2 said in his audience, "a seducer of whom to beware". However, to truly fulfill the commandment, your heart must be transformed so that you see women as "fellow human beings and sisters in Christ created in the image and likeness of God". You must see them as "people" and not "sex objects". She is not to be seen as a "seducer" or a "whore" or a "skank" or a "b****" or any other word. She is supposed to be seen positively, as a "sister", as a "person" just like you, albeit one that may have gone down some dark and twisted paths and who may have some behaviours in need of correcting. But a sister and a person nonetheless. The one whose heart is not converted will look at people who are difficult to respect and their first impression of her is: "oh, there's that b****" (de-personalization). But the one who loves will look at that person and say, "oh, there's Julie. It must be terrible when you are so angry all the time. God, please give her the grace of conversion and help her to heal so that we can be together in heaven". This is what JP2 is talking about.

Of course, that says nothing of what you should do with your gaze. For that we turn to the Tradition (in whose light all of this must be interpreted in, as always). And what does the Tradition say? Yes, practice "custody of the eyes". Why? Because if you see women as fellow human beings and sisters in Christ created in the image and likeness of God, don't let your gaze linger too long lest biology takes over, you get aroused, and you begin to objectify her or desire her sexually.


And that points right back to what Kevin was saying as well.

10 comments:

Wade St. Onge said...

Paul, I don't mind at all. On the contrary, I feel honoured.

jvc said...

Wade, we gotta do something about your British spelling...

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Hey, Paul--just wanting to double-check. Am I being *completely* prevented from commenting, or are you just selectively refusing comments?

If I have no chance of having comments published, then I won't be needing to read your posts as diligently as I have been.

God bless you,

Deacon Jim Russell

Wade St. Onge said...

Especially since I'm trying to get published in the U.S.

Paul Stilwell said...

Deacon Jim,

Just selectively refusing comments.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Stilwell, now you're just playing the bloggian version of cat and mouse. ;-)

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Paul--as I have no desire to become part of a...twisted?...public record further marred by censorship, I shall bow out now.

God bless you,

Deacon Jim Russell

Paul Stilwell said...

LOL!

I wish I could bow out of this Lenten penance. Ahhhhh! But my load was just made lighter.

But so much for taking up that chance!

Signed,

The Big Bad Mean Manichaean Censor Man

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

"Censorship"? Really? LOL!!!

Wade St. Onge said...

"I have no desire to become part of a...twisted?...public record"

Nor any desire to answer the other 19 questions that were previously ignored and that we were intending on continuing to ask until they were answered.

I think that was more to the point as the twisted public record already existed long before this Lenten exercise began at this blog.