Thursday, March 8, 2012

Christopher West the Decontexualizer part 2

To quote Pope John Paul II (taking the words from the TOB quotes in this post), one can see that it is in the temperance of desires to concupiscence, and not in the desire itself, that the ethos of redemption takes place:


The ethos of redemption is realized in self-mastery, that is, in the continence of desires. In this behavior, the human heart remains bound to the value [the spousal meaning of the body], from which it would otherwise distance itself through desire, orienting itself toward mere concupiscence deprived of ethical value...On the ground of the ethos of redemption, an even deeper power and firmness confirms or restores the union with this value through an act of mastery. (TOB 49:5)


Christopher West defines this initial continence, ripped from the context of TOB, in terms in which it is at some point to be abandoned as "mature purity" takes its place, which is defined insofar that one can look where one couldn't look before, and that the desire one had in wanting to look before is now a desire transformed as a pure burnt offering to God in thanksgiving, which can be the burning of one's physical arousal.

Basically, the Westian disciple is convincing himself that as long as he is physically aroused, he is not consciously desiring to possess, and therefore does not fall under the admonition of Jesus that if you so much as look at a woman to desire her, you have already committed adultery with her in your heart.

In Theology of the Body Explained, there is recounted the stories in which West looked at women which caused him arousal/attraction, one of them while during Mass with West looking at her from behind (faceless body), and he transformed it into pure thanksgiving or some such.

In his book, Theology of the Body for beginners, West states:

Practically everyone begins the journey towards mature purity on the "negative " side. Unfortunately, many people stagnate at this stage thinking it is all they can expect. Keep going! Needless to say, I am far from being a perfect man, but I can attest to the fact that as we appropriate the gift of redemption in our lives, lust loses sway in our hearts. We come not only to understand, but to see and experience the body as a "theology," a sign of God's own mystery. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). If we understand what the Pope is holding out to us here, we can add: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God's mystery revealed through the body."


After stating purity in terms of two flipsides, the initial side being "negative", which, unless you flip to the "positive" you will "stagnate", which is the defining of purity in a dualistic format, West proceeds to say, "Keep going!" in that this "negative" purity has naught in it but coping mechanisms, and that one looks forward to some "new way of looking" that is defined foremost by its physical looking, by taking the "negative" side of purity and making it "positive".

But this is not how John Paul speaks of this initial purity. John Paul, contrarily, says that there is in the initial continence or purity a fundamental aligning with the value of the spousal meaning of the body, and thus the seed of the realization of the ethos of redemption - in this initial purity. He is not saying "Keep going!" to the person at the start as though it was sticks-ville; rather, he is saying, "Because of Christ, this starting point is already expectant with a value that contains the meaning of your very personal being. Thus, make it habitual." The new pure way of looking he refers to is in the context of two spouses, married, and this new pure way of looking is not specifically attributed to physical looking, but clearly has a conceptual connotation to it - indeed, I think a conceptual connotation over and above that of the purely physical.

The Westian disciple needs to be liberated from his animalistic, negative, dualist view of this initial purity. And to this end, we can take the declaration of Pope John Paul II:

Yet, already the first time, and all the more so later when he has gained the ability, man gradually experiences his own dignity and through temperance attests to his own self-dominion and demonstrates that he fulfills what is essentially personal in him. In addition, he gradually experiences the freedom of the gift, which is, on the one hand, the condition for, and, on the other hand, the subject's response to, the spousal value of the human body in its femininity and masculinity. Thus, the ethos of the redemption of the body is realized through self-dominion, through temperance of the "desires" when the human heart makes an alliance with this ethos...(TOB 49:6)


If you have been cloistered in the teachings of West, the structures of which seem to have been informed by his flipping the puritanical pancake of his upbringing in the Mother of God Community over from repression to indulgence, retaining the same spiritual righteous claims of the former, take heart, for Pope John Paul II gives one hope.

5 comments:

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Paul wrote:
***To quote Pope John Paul II …one can see that it is in the temperance of desires to concupiscence, and not in the desire itself, that the ethos of redemption takes place:***

Throughout all this, Paul, one must keep in mind the “what” of the “ethos of redemption”—the *body*. It’s sort of the whole point. “Several times already, we have called this ‘new’ ethos, which emerges from the perspective of Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, the ‘ethos of redemption’ and, more precisely, the ethos of redemption of the body.” ToB 49:2

***Christopher West defines this initial continence, …. and therefore does not fall under the admonition of Jesus that if you so much as look at a woman to desire her, you have already committed adultery with her in your heart.***

What is your source for this claim? Where does West “say” this? Rather, the claim is that we are called to constantly move past the concupiscent “look” and toward the fullness of the “ethos” of the redemption of the body:

“Our reflections follow the thread of the words Christ spoke in the Sermon on the Mount by which he referred back to the commandment ‘You shall not commit adultery’ and at the same time defined ‘concupiscence’ (the ‘concupiscent look’) as ‘adultery committed in the heart.’ It follows from these reflections that ‘ethos’ is connected with the discovery of a new order of values. It is necessary continually to rediscover the spousal meaning of the body and the true dignity of the gift in what is ‘erotic.’ This is the task of the human spirit, and it is by its nature an ethical task. If one does not assume this task, the very attraction of the senses and the passion of the body can stop at mere concupiscence, deprived of all ethical value, and man, male and female, does not experience that fullness of ‘eros,’ which implies the upward impulse of the human spirit toward what is true, good, and beautiful, so that what is ‘erotic’ also becomes true, good, and beautiful. It is, therefore, indispensable that ethos becom the constitutive form of eros.” ToB 48:1

Continued below…

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Continued from above…

***After stating purity in terms of two flipsides, …. which is the defining of purity in a dualistic format,…***

Paul, see ToB 48:1 above—the idea here is that the pursuit of the “ethos” is the rediscovery of the spousal meaning of the body and the true dignity of the gift of “eros”—this pursuit is accomplished when one moves from the “concupiscent look” to the “upward impulse” found in the “ethos.”

*** West proceeds to say, "Keep going!"…and that one looks forward to some "new way of looking" that is defined foremost by its physical looking...***

This is indeed what JPII is saying—“keep going”—It is necessary *continually* to rediscover the spousal meaning of the body and the true dignity of the gift in what is “erotic.” This absolutely has to do with “seeing” the *body* “rightly” as part of the ethos of redemption of the *body*. The ultimate spiritual goal is to *see* the redeemed body with a purity of heart, not look away. But this isn’t some bizarre command to go look at naked people, Paul. This is a fostering of purity of heart so that the person has the *capacity* to encounter the human person, expressed by the body, through the lens of the ethos of redemption *of* the body….

*** The new pure way of looking he refers to is in the context of two spouses, married, and this new pure way of looking is not specifically attributed to physical looking, but clearly has a conceptual connotation to it….over and above that of the purely physical.***

This is not what JPII is saying, Paul—the “ethos” he speaks of goes *beyond* the “married”, for the “spousal meaning of the body” is possessed by *every* male and female, before, during and after marriage. It’s inherent in masculinity and femininity. JPII says: “It is, therefore, a new ethos in a universal sense and extent. It is ‘new’ in relation to every human being, in a manner independent from any geographical longitude and latitude and from any historical situation.” ToB 49:1

And it definitely includes the “physical”, as it is an ethos of redemption of the *body*.

***The Westian disciple needs to be liberated from his animalistic, negative, dualist view of this initial purity.*****
There is no such “view” of this initial purity. Rather, *any* “initial” purity that moves us from the “concupiscent look” is part of the journey of the “upward impulse” mentioned above. It’s a continuum. But it definitely involves seeing rightly as the goal, rather than looking away.

God bless you, Paul.

Deacon Jim Russell

jvc said...

Shouldn't Deacon Jim be actually answering questions put to him in other posts before trying to start new arguments in new posts?

And how unhealthy is it for a 41 year old man with 11 children to spend his days trolling around the internet seeking to defend Chris West?

Does Deacon Jim seriously have nothing better to do? If this form of preaching is so necessary, why did you have a family?

Wade St. Onge said...

Paul, I pray that the Lord continue to bless you with the stamina to continue these daily blog postings. This has been one of the most blessed and fruitful Lents I have ever experienced thanks in large part to these articles.

Paul Stilwell said...

Thank you both Wade and jvc for your continued contributions in the comment boxes and for your prayers. Because of your contributions here this has likewise been fruitful for me - albeit with the grind of the daily postings...