Saturday, March 3, 2012

Christopher West's Anti-Purity

Christopher West's idea of "mature purity" is actually that of an anti-purity.

How imperative is it, in the Sermon on the Mount, to pay attention to Christ's connection of the man's looking at a woman with lust to his having committed adultery with her in his heart.

Christ's words do not necessarily equate lust in terms of "desiring to possess", as though that's what leads your eyes. He defines it in terms in which you have already born the seed of adultery through your lustful fascinated gaze, and thus already committed adultery with her in your heart. He extends the definition outward - even as he is getting to the heart of the sin.

Could we not say, blessed is the man who, exercising self-dominion, turns his eyes away from a woman, for he has shown reverence for her and her body in his heart? When the man no longer experiences this custody as "negative", but experiences such custody in the fullness of "relation to the other subject, who is originally and perennially co-called" - that is man attaining mature purity:

"Purity of heart is explained, in the end, by the relation to the other subject, who is originally and perennially "co-called."" (TOB 49:7)

West's is an anti-purity because he defines his in refusing to recognize that custody of the eyes is relational. And what he does define as being relational is focalized in the gaze of the one gazing at another. (Read that sentence a second time.) And that is, in fact, a self-perpetuated inversion; it is an anti-purity which is impure.

For purity is ultimately relational, and simply relational. Purity in its maturity retains the same "practices" as those with which it started, but more and more in life "according to the Spirit". You do not end with your own impervious purity defined in its victory by being able to gaze at what, before, you lusted after. That is akin to the great manifestation of impurity called masturbation. It's "purity" looking at itself. It is "purity" that is impurity as humility looking in the mirror is pride.

In TOB, John Paul II defines mature purity in Pauline terms of "life according to the Spirit", in which the gift of the Holy Spirit, called Piety, realizes the charismatic dimension of purity in the specific choices one makes in the sphere of moral purity. The "desires" of the Holy Spirit are stronger than the desires of the concupiscence (TOB 51:6), and "In this struggle between good and evil, man proves to be stronger thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, who, working within the human spirit, causes its desires to bear fruit in the good." (TOB 51:6)

Note that nowhere in any of this do you see the removal of "antithesis"; nowhere in any of this do you see a putting aside of what West cheaply terms "coping mechanisms".

Before this though, there is purity in its general sense - purity that is defined in that it is the opposite of dirty: "When we say "purity" and "pure", in the first meaning of these terms we indicate the opposite of dirty." (TOB 50:2)

This would be purity in its moral (ethical) sense. And it is not to be isolated solely to that of the sexual sphere at all. This is another area in which Christopher West is exemplified as being sexually obsessed, and is another key to understanding why his ideas of purity are hopeless.

In TOB, John Paul II writes:

When we speak about purity in the moral sense, that is, about the virtue of purity, we are using an analogy according to which moral evil is compared with being dirty. Certainly this analogy entered and became part of the realm of ethical concepts from earliest times. Christ takes it up and confirms it in all its extension. "What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what makes a man unclean." Here Christ speaks about every moral evil, every sin, that is, about the violations of the various commandments, and he lists "evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, blasphemy" without limiting himself to a particular kind of sin. It follows that the concept of "purity" and of "impurity" in the moral sense is a rather general concept, not a specific one: thus, every moral good is a manifestation of purity and every moral evil a manifestation of impurity. The statement in Matthew 15:18-20 does not restrict purity to only one sector of morality, such as the one connected with the commandment "You shall not commit adultery" and "You shall not desire your neighbor's wife," that is, the one that concerns the reciprocal relations between man and woman connected with the body and the corresponding concupiscence. (TOB, 50:4)

The purity that comes before the "mature purity" of life "according to the Spirit" is not only the antithesis to what is sexually impure. Though it includes the sexual sphere, moral purity (that is, what is clean by dint of opposition to and avoidance of what is unclean) is not to be reduced to the sexual sphere. That would be a rather negative thing to do to reduce it that - eh, Christopher West?

Isn't that beautiful: "Thus, every moral good is a manifestation of purity".

You mean I don't have to be enslaved to some pan-sexual cyclic programming whereby my purity is forever defined by dint of reduction to the sexual? Thanks be to God!

If every moral good is a manifestation of purity, then what would these moral goods be?

They are these: "Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-mastery."

Self-mastery. But what about that "negative" term that West pins on this manifestation of purity that is a moral good called self-mastery? Pope John Paul II simply was not referring to custody of the eyes as a negative purity in an objective sense. He was not saying it is objectively a negative purity. For behold:

The ethos of redemption contains in every context--and directly in the sphere of the concupiscence of the flesh--the imperative of self-mastery, the necessity of immediate continence and habitual temperance. (TOB 49:4)

Yet, temperance and continence do not mean--if one may put it this way--being left hanging in the void: neither in the void of values nor in the void of the subject. 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, 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. The value in question is that of the body's spousal meaning, the value of a transparent sign by which the Creator--together with the perennial reciprocal attraction of man and woman through masculinity and femininity--has written into the heart of both the gift of communion, that is, the mysterious reality of his image and likeness. This is the value that is at stake in the act of self-dominion and temperance to which Christ calls us in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28). (TOB 49:5)

John Paul continues right after this - and pay attention here - with these words:

This act can give the impression that one is left hanging "in the void of the subject." It can give this impression particularly when one has to decide to perform it for the first time or, even more so, when one has created a contrary habit, when one has habituated oneself to yield to the concupiscence of the flesh. 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...when the deepest layers of his potentiality acquire a voice, layers that the concupiscence of the flesh would not allow to show themselves. These layers cannot emerge when the human heart is fixed in permanent suspicion, as is the case in Freudian hermeneutics. They also cannot manifest themselves if the Manichaean "anti-value" is dominant in consciousness. The ethos of redemption, by contrast, is based on a strict alliance with these layers. (TOB 49:6)

Custody of the eyes, which comes under self-dominion and temperance and continence, is not what hides the "deepest layers of his potentiality". It is the concupiscence of the flesh that hides his deepest layers. Self-dominion causes an alliance with those deepest layers of his potentiality. Freudian hermeneutics and Manichaean anti-values are not aversion of the eyes, are not custody of the eyes, are not temperance, are not self-dominion.

Oh, and I do not apologize for the extended quotes. Frankly, if you're going to quote from TOB, you need a lot of context. All italics in TOB quotes are Pope John Paul II's.


Deacon Jim Russell said...

This should help.

"At the Heart of the Gospel," Christopher West (2012), p. 68:

"Of course, even those with a mature purity can still slip and fall. Growth in virtue is not simply a steady uphill climb. This means no one could ever claim in this life that he or she is entirely beyond the need for ‘custody of the eyes.’ Our adversary is always on the prowl like a lion in search of someone to devour (see 1 Pt 5:8). As I wrote in ‘Theology of the Body for Beginners’:
"Let me emphasize—if this isn’t clear enough already—that the ‘positive’ approach to purity I’m outlining with the Pope’s help does not provide a license to ‘push the envelope.’ The person who uses anything in this book as an excuse to indulge his (or her) lusts isn’t seeking purity. Honest people know their limits. They know what situations would make them stumble and avoid them with the seriousness Christ demands of us. ‘If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out…if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off’ (Mt 5:29-30. Modern adaptation: ‘If your computer causes you to sin, throw it away. If your TV causes you to sin, get rid of it.’ (Theology of the Body for Beginners, p. 48)."

God bless,

Deacon Jim Russell

jvc said...

Wait, that is supposed to help, Deacon Jim? The insinuation from West is still that perhaps, for some people, watching nudity would not be a problem. This fundamentally denies human nature, which is the entire point that Father Angelo was trying to make by talking about "male libido."

I don't see how your quote from West is supposed to rectify anything.

By the way, how much of West's new book is simply his quoting of his old books? Yeesh.

Paul Stilwell said...

In the same Theology of Body for Beginners West also states earlier on:

"Doubters respond, "Impossible! The naked body will always arouse lust." For the person dominated by lust, this is true. But, applying one of the Pope's boldest declarations of redemption, "of which man are we speaking of? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ's redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of lust""

Paul Stilwell said...

And he hasn't changed what he means by "mature purity".

"Can still slip and fall."

Yes, especially when you put yourself into the occasion of sin, and actually sin through your eyes.

jvc said...

More and more, passages like this remind me or make me think that West denies positive shame. He really seems to think that there is nothing special about the human form, the human body. There can be nothing so special or intimate that it could only be unveiled to the smallest number of person's imaginable: the spouse, a single person.

Wade St. Onge said...

West says: "This means no one could ever claim in this life that he or she is entirely beyond the need for 'custody of the eyes'".

Later, West specifies: "The ‘positive’ approach to purity I’m outlining with the Pope’s help does not provide a license to ‘push the envelope.’ The person who uses anything in this book as an excuse to indulge his (or her) lusts isn’t seeking purity. Honest people know their limits. They know what situations would make them stumble and avoid them with the seriousness Christ demands of us.".

So, in other words, the man of mature purity will not always look at provocatively dressed women with the "pure gaze of love" - just most of the time. Once in a while, he will feel the pull of concupiscence and have to "look away". Well, at least he seems to be getting a little closer to the true Catholic position on concupiscence. We should rejoice for that.

Jvc pretty much pegged it right - West lacks any understanding of positive shame, or more to the point conflates it with "prudishness", and these quotes prove it. There is only one reason to look away: the man's lust. Why? Because there is no positive shame, and as a result, the only reason women veil themselves is to protect them from the 'lustful look' of the man who has not experienced the 'ethos of redemption'".

You can see, then, how Christopher West is a Christian nudist at heart. It is undeniable. Dr. Hahn proved it on the set of "Franciscan University Presents". (Letter to Cardinal Rigali:

Wade St. Onge said...

Regarding Paul's quote of Christopher West, I don't think the quote from Deacon Jim shows a "retraction" so much as an attempted "clarification". I don't think he has changed his views on this much, if any. The fact he stated his "new view" then referenced an old quote proves this.

Once again, West tries to have it both ways. As I wrote to Cardinal Rigali, West has "an overconfidence in the ability for grace to overcome the pull of concupiscence in this life, to the point where there no longer exist any occasions of sin. [Refer to] West's 'The Theology of the Body Debate: The Pivotal Question', where although he confesses the Catholic teaching, goes on to take the substance out of it". (Letter,

He knows he needs to state the need for "custody of the eyes" because the Christian Tradition demands it. But then he goes on to state that the only reason to practice it is to avoid lusting for the man who has not experience the "ethos of redemption", and the story of the two bishops encapsulates his view. This story (which is central to his doctrine of "mature purity" and the consequential "pure gaze of love"), combined with what he has said in numerous places and numerous times elsewhere, affirms his belief that the most devoted followers of Theology of the Body (and all that entails) will be able to continue to look with the "pure gaze of love" - and that is indeed what they practice. So, in other words, West confesses the need for the man of mature purity to practice custody of the eyes - but qualifies it by specifying that it is only on an "as-needed" basis if one feels the pull of concupiscence (once again, see the absence of "positive shame" in West's theology), but in practice, few of West's disciples ever practice "custody of the eyes" because of the nature of the "subtle impurity" that I spoke of in my letter to Cardinal Rigali (Attachment #5,

Wade St. Onge said...

Further to your last point, jvc, I think Fr. Angelo's (still unanswered) questions to Fr. Thomas Loya and Christopher West demonstrates that West is indeed a nudist at heart because he lacks any sense of positive shame.

Fr. Angelo:

(1) "Would it ever be appropriate for the conjugal act to be performed in the presence of an audience for the purpose of fostering a Catholic and integrated view of marriage and sexuality? Let us hypothetically establish that this would be arranged among close friends, all of whom are well-versed in TOB and intend only to exalt God’s intentions for marriage and sexuality. If this would not be appropriate, please tell me why.

(2) "Would nudism ever be appropriate among those who have advanced in the Theology of the Body, say, at a Mass in order better express the unity of the languages of the body and the liturgy? If not, would this only be because of the danger of participation by someone not properly prepared or, perhaps, because of the possibility of misunderstanding. Or, on the other hand, would this violate some fundamental moral principle or otherwise be contrary to Catholic orthodoxy and orthopraxy? If so, why?"

(section "Looking for Answers", paragraphs 2 and 3:

You can see why West wouldn't answer them. If he was to apply his theology to the hypothetical situations, he would be forced to come out and admit he was a nudist, or go through some Deacon-Jim-like intellectual contortions to avoid the charge of heresy.

jvc said...

Wade, great comments.

I don't say the following to sound cute, and I admit that I am a non-theologian.

Given that West denies positive shame, which seems to have at its core the idea that the body is beautiful and sacred enough that it should only be unveiled for the most special, rarest of occasions (i.e. for a spouse, who alone can fully offer his own love and attention), it would seem to me that West really is either unintentionally or intentionally a Manichean.

Does it not lie at the heart of pornography the belief that our bodies are cheap, utilitarian props that can be opened up to anyone to view and to use? How does it fundamentally differ to believe that anyone, namely a non-spouse, can also view a naked person owing to his or her communal character rather than his or her private character?

And will West and/or folks like Deacon Jim ever answer the questions that Father Angelo just put to him?

Wade St. Onge said...

West is not a classic Manichaean ("spirit good, body bad", as he puts it), but ultimately he makes the same essential error the Manichaeans make - namely, fail to keep the body and soul in proper tension. Whereas the Manichaean exalts the soul and denigrates the body, West so exalts the body as to give it a sort of equality with the soul - something that is at odds with the Catholic Tradition. When you hear West's disciples saying things like "Me and my body are the SAME THING", (
you know it's a case of West so stressing and emphasizing the body that the soul is ignored and forgotten. In fact, if you compare how often West says "body" to how often he says "soul", it would not surprise me if the ratio would be something like 10 to 1. Even his bedtime prayers for children has the word "body" twice without once speaking of the "soul".
(See attachment #6 at:
All of this is unprecented in the Catholic Tradition, which is why, if pressed on it, West would say that the reason for this is that almost all the Fathers and Doctors of the Church were tainted by Manichaeism - something West's editor Sr. Lorraine explicitly stated about St. Francis de Sales.
(See comment #25, at:

West also makes the essential error that pornographers make: namely, to take what is meant to be private and what is only appropriate in the private sphere and expose it for public viewing. His doctrine of mature purity and the "pure gaze of love" and the nudism it naturally and logically supports.

JVC: "Will West and/or folks like Deacon Jim ever answer the questions that Father Angelo just put to him?"

No, because it would be a Luther-Eck moment. Just as Luther had to concede that the logical implications of his teachings was to deny the authority of all the Councils and in fact the entire Church and prop himself up as the final arbiter of truth, so too would West have to concede, if he was led along this path of questioning, that all the Fathers and Doctors of the Church who contradict his doctrines were all tainted by Manichaeism, whereas he is not.

As I said before, West and his defenders are practicing Lincoln's dictum: "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt". It is why no one - not a single defender of West - took me up on my challenge to them to synthesize St. Alphonsus' teaching on "mortification of the eyes" and West's doctrine of mature purity and the pure gaze of love.
(See Pamela's combox comment and my second reply to her:
Nor will they try. Why? Because a synthesis is not possible when there is contradiction, and West's defenders do not dare say St. Alphonsus was tainted by Manichaeism too after already saying that St. Francis de Sales was. That is two doctors of the Church - and one of them is the greatest moral theologian in Church history. You see what I mean about it being a "Luther-Eck" moment?

Deacon Jim Russell said...

****It is why no one - not a single defender of West - took me up on my challenge to them to synthesize St. Alphonsus' teaching on "mortification of the eyes" and West's doctrine of mature purity and the pure gaze of love. *****

Actually, Wade, I *did* accept that challenge in several replies to you, which to date you have ignored.

I repeat the acceptance of that challenge, under the fundamental conditions that an ongoing exchange on that subject would be respectful, charitable, genuinely Christian, and would reflect our willingness to *listen* to each another in order to better understand each other's perspective. And that we would pray for one another in the course of the conversation. And that we would avoid any temptation to misrepresent what the other person actually says.

Deacon Jim Russell

rosaMaria said...

Only children are very pure, and the sweet, Blessed Virgin Mary. I believe after puberty we all need custody of the eyes. Thanks for posting this. RosaMaria..

Wade St. Onge said...

Too late, Deacon Jim. I have no interest in conversing privately with you - and for good reason.

That said, I found your attempt to reconcile West and Pius XII rather entertaining
and I'd actually like to see you try the same with St. Alphonsus. It would no doubt provide me with sufficient material for another blog post.

But Deacon Jim, you're going to have to do it on the blogs (other than mine).

Deacon Jim Russell said...

God bless you, Wade--I wish you much peace and enlightenment during this Lenten Season.

Deacon Jim Russell

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim, please don't condenscendingly tell me you will pray for my "enlightenment".

jvc said...

The longer this goes on, the more I see the humor in it. How much more gnostic can we get, what with praying for enlightenment and all? Enlightenment of a special kind, of course, with the secret knowledge that enables 'the pure gaze of love'!

Deacon Jim Russell said...

In the life of the Church, Lent is the season of "purification and enlightenment." My prayers for you are not condescending. I ask you to pray for my peace, purification and enlightenment as well.

I hope you will pray for me. Jesus calls us to pray for one another. I continue to pray for you, and if you have any particular intentions you'd like prayer for, just let me know.

Deacon Jim Russell