Monday, March 12, 2012

The Manichaean Bogeyman...

looked at himself naked in the mirror under order from Christopher West, and behold, the Manichaean Bogeyman saw that he was actually the mystery of God "enfleshed", but that it had just gotten "twisted up" and that it needed to be "untwisted".

At first I thought that the Westian ethos of "mature purity" went especially wrong because stating their terms of mature purity required a devaluation of ordinary measures (and extraordinary measures) of continence, like custody of the eyes and avoiding the near occasion of sin.

And I thought because Christopher West devalued these things as mechanisms to be eventually abandoned (though with the prospect that they may need to be employed every once and a while for the maturely pure initiate enlightened), he thus distorted what they truly are, and thus distorted what mature purity and union with God is.

And I thought there was in this distortion a resultant blinding with regards to reading the apparent dissimilitudes between a person's actions (such as St. Benedict throwing himself into thorn bushes) and that same person's level of purity and liberation in the ethos of redemption as translated (in a sort of pinnacle earthly instance, a word spoken) through those actions: the apparent dissimilitude between one's notion of the ethos of redemption and what it looks like in the lives of the saints.

In other words, I thought that Christopher West's ethos of "mature purity" rendered people completely inept at reading analogy; and completely inept at reading the greater text, the wider evocations inferred beneath the outstanding earthly instances of manifestations of soul-body union (like St. Francis of Assisi rolling in the snow), so that they read everything according to a reductive, de-incarnational, isolating Manichaean stricture that absolutizes the body as much as the old Manichaeans absolutized the body as nothing but evil. That in everything he interprets, the Westian lays the groundwork for the great naturist nudist version of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which will be for them the general resurrection happening now.

I have since abandoned this position - which was approximately 30 minutes ago. For I woke up this morning and I looked in the mirror. If only everyone in the world would look in the mirror the entire world would be converted.

I now see why St. Francis of Assisi rolled in the snow and why St. Benedict jumped into the thorn bushes as a response to the near occasion of lust: because they were beholden to this negative view of the body with regards to lust; they were living out the interpretation of suspicion.

This finally makes sense to me. And its logic extends similarly to other historical soul-body manifestations.

Likewise, the reason that St. Francis of Assisi kissed the leper was because he was still living in an age that was privy to the Manichaean ethos of hatred for the body; for it is quite apparent that in kissing the leper, he did not take precautions against guarding his body against contracting leprosy. Indeed, we can see in such a gesture the very manifestation of the very negative attitude that was ever inclined, before the Church reached puberty, to disavow all connections with the flesh by finding any way in which to distort the body - like by making it contract leprosy - as a way of becoming "holy".

Thus, also, St. Francis called his body "Brother Ass". This was a way of trying to divide the body from the spirit - and no wonder then that he kissed the leper.

His rolling in the snow (or St. Benedict's jumping into the thorns), his kissing the leper, and his calling his body "Brother Ass": thank you Christopher West for opening my eyes so that I see in them the Manichaean ethos of hatred of the body.


jvc said...

This is a little bit of the kind of meta study or commentary that I am talking about. Point out how West distorts some of the best examples of custody of the eyes, etc. and how Westian theology would suggest that each case is actually evidence of the Church's Manichean past.

A great follow up to that, and a great follow up post, would be to show why West is wrong in his assumptions that would lead to suggest that each instance of an example of Manichaeism in the Church's past.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Paul--I am grateful and in your debt.

Regarding the post here today, while you must know I disagree with the conclusions you are drawing, it's causing me to think about the level of contrast people are drawing between the concept of "mature purity" and the types of mortifications you are describing, even beyond "custody of the eyes".

I am going to be pondering whether there is a way to more directly "synthesize" these concepts such that you don't end up with the extreme contrast of a "mature purity" versus what others seem to conclude must be an "immature purity" that is "looking away", etc.

I think part of the apparent contradiction resides in the fact that JPII's TOB language arises from the "lustful look" concept from Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount. And I think JPII is really saying that grace allows us to see "rightly".

In this sense, to "see rightly" *is* to practice a genuine and sincere form of "custody of the eyes" I don't think it's merely "mature purity" versus "custody of the eyes" and the tradition of Catholic mortification.

I'd say that JPII unmistakably asserts that seeing rightly is *better* either than looking lustfully or even looking away--it seems a necessary conclusion to the theme he develops from Matthew.

Anyway, your post has been helpful despite our diverging views, causing me to consider ways to bring these apparent "extremes" together....

God bless you, and thanks for your prayers--you have mine as well.

Deacon Jim Russell

Wade St. Onge said...

There are a number of unanswered questions from previous posts I would like to re-present:

Wade St. Onge said...

From the Feb23 post:

1. Reconcile the following statements: “I see West and his students saying that ‘mature purity’ is akin to perfect contrition. For those who can attain it its great” and “I don't think anyone is making a case that ‘historic’ man is capable of *wholly* avoiding objectification in such circumstances [seeing a naked or provocatively dressed woman]”.

2. How does one reach such a state to view [beautiful, shapely women in bikinis at the beach] and by what means does a person reach such a status?

3. Would you allow Christopher West to see the numerous women of your family naked? Would you encourage them to? If not, why?

4. Responding to “it requires hard work to maintain one’s state of grace, including seeking to attain a ‘mature purity”, I added, “including continuing to practice custody of the eyes – something West would disagree with”. I was told, “your argument is with JP2, not West”. I asked for a citation.

Wade St. Onge said...

From the Feb25 post:

5. If your archbishop changed his mind on Christopher West and publicly rescinded his support for him, would you agree with his judgment or would you continue to believe West’s theology is sound?

6. What is your archbishop’s position on custody of the eyes?

7. Is your archbishop aware of Mr. West’s position on “custody of the eyes” as a “negative step” that is to “give way” to “looking rightly” which consists in looking at shapely women at beaches and “looking rightly” at Dr. Regis Martin’s wife as a more proper response than practicing custody of the eyes and looking away?

Wade St. Onge said...

From the Feb29 post:

8. Two of West’s most faithful listeners called practicing custody of the eyes an objectification of women. Please justify this position.

From the Mar 3 post:

9. Do men like Christopher West who have achieved “mature purity” generally continue to “look rightly” at naked and provocatively dressed women and only in rare cases feel the pull of concupiscence and decide at that point to practice custody of the eyes and "look away"?

10. Is there other reasons to practice custody of the eyes by looking away from provocatively dressed or naked women besides the man’s lust? In other words, if a man achieves “mature purity”, are there still other reasons why he should look away? If so, what are they?

11. "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.

12. 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?

13. Do you believe in the idea of “positive shame” – namely, that the body is beautiful and sacred enough that it should only be unveiled for the most special, rarest of occasions and to select people only, and therefore, custody of the eyes is still an important practice despite one’s level of purity?

14. Reconcile West’s belief in mature purity with the following statements from St. Alphonsus Liguori in his admonitions on practicing “mortification of the eyes”: Gaze not upon another’s beauty; for from looks arise evil imaginations, by which an impure fire is lighted up … ‘If,’ says St. Augustine, ‘our eyes should by chance fall upon others, let us take care never to fix them upon any one’ … The saints were particularly cautious not to look at persons of a different sex … Brother Roger, a Franciscan of singular purity, being once asked why he was so reserved in his intercourse with women, replied, that when men avoid the occasions of sin, God preserves them; but when they expose themselves to danger, they are justly abandoned by the Lord, and easily fall into some grievous transgressions”.

Anonymous said...

From the Mar7 post:

15. Should the Blessed Virgin Mary be painted and sculpted with large and ample breasts? If so, why? Do you then disagree with Dr. von Hildebrand when she treated this issue? (see the link above under the subheading “ANALOGY and MYSTERY”).

From the Mar. 9 post:

16. Do you agree with Dr. Kreeft’s position as outlined in his article, “Is there Sex in Heven?” Is there anything in that article you disagree with? If so or if not, why?

17. If it is true that two-thirds of what the Catholic Church has ever said on the subjects of sex and marriage have come from the pontificate of John Paul II, who would you account as being the best five writers from the other one-third, and specifically which works or treatments of these subjects would you specifically recommend?

18. Did the Catholic Church have a deficient understanding regarding sex and marriage before Vatican II? If so, why did this happen?

19. Did John Paul II and his writings, especially “Theology of the Body”, greatly increase our understanding of sex and marriage? If so, please provide specifics.

Enbrethiliel said...


When you were looking at yourself in the mirror this morning, did you happen to be . . .

Okay, I can't finish that sentence.

jvc said...

20. Did JPII change the teachings of the Church on sex and marriage? Did he reveal them in some way that had never been fully revealed before? If so, how? And why was this knowledge never revealed earlier?