Thursday, September 30, 2010

Continuing the conversation with Dawn Eden

This time, it's Professor Janet Smith. The most serious "charge" Eden makes in  her well-publicized thesis--it seems to be the one thing that unsettles the largest number of more conservative thinkers--is that, according to West, the Theology of the Body is so "revolutionary" that it marks a real break with the past, with tradition. In more formal terms, it violates the hermeneutic of continuity. (Them's fighting words if you're an orthodox theologian!)
In her very lengthy critique of the thesis (as a Professor, Dr. Smith has had to wade through many a Master's thesis, so she critiques this one as if it were another work coming across her desk), Smith zeroes in on this most weighty point. That passage (from the middle of Smith's response) will follow here; please go to Catholic Exchange for her Part 1 and for the rest of the critique.

[Eden] states the theme in this way: “The Theology of the Body is an all-encompassing theology that requires theologians and religious educators to recontextualize ‘everything’ about Christian faith and life” (ET, 11). She explains further by stating, “It isn’t just about sex and marriage;” it is a “revolution” that “will lead to a dramatic development of thinking about the Creed.”  (Eden notes that this quotation came from George Weigel’s Witness to Hope, 343). There is a striking set of words linked here: “all-encompassing,” “recontextualize,” “everything,” “revolution,” and “dramatic development.” Eden bombards her readers with words that she seems to believe will shock them.  Surely, there can be no hermeneutic of continuity if such radical claims are being made.
But does West say such things and, if so, where, and what does he mean?  The merit of Eden’s thesis over against some of the other pieces against him is that it provides readers with sources where they can go to verify her charges.  Unfortunately, as I have stated, when one goes to the sources or even reads carefully what Eden has stated, one rarely draws the same conclusions that she does. I was hoping to find where West says what she states the first theme to be.  Eden doesn’t lead us to any passages that state that the Theology of the Body is an “all-encompassing” theology; she only notes that West said it “isn’t just about sex and marriage.” (ET, 11) I would have thought Eden would be pleased that West says the Theology of the Body “isn’t just about sex and marriage,” because elsewhere she accuses him of presenting the Theology of the Body as though it were only about sex and marriage. He can’t win!
Recontextualizing Everything
Eden does acknowledge that the word “recontextualize” is hers, but she does not acknowledge that none of the words in her first theme belong to West.  (ET, 11, footnote, 25)  That is, he does not say that “theologians and religious educators” must do anything in respect to “everything about Christian faith and life.” In reference to the word “everything,” she refers us to an essay by West, entitled “What is the Theology of the Body and Why is it Changing So Many Lives?” The word “everything” does not appear in that essay.  I did find some interesting material there, however.  West quotes John Paul II as saying that “Since our creation as male and female is the ‘fundamental fact of human existence’ (Feb. 13, 1980), the theology of the body affords ‘the rediscovery of the meaning of the whole of existence, the meaning of life’ (Oct. 29, 1980).” This certainly is a sweeping claim, but it is John Paul II’s claim, not West’s.  West follows John Paul II in understanding that the Theology of the Body will allow us to “rediscover” the meaning of existence and life.  This rediscovery is a kind of revolution but it is in no way a revolution that involves any change in doctrine.  It is a reappropriation of the deepest roots of the faith.  There is no discontinuity here.
When Sister Marianne Lorraine TrouvĂ© (who is providing an excellent critical commentary of Eden’s thesis on her blog) also pointed out Eden’s error regarding the “everything to change” assertion, Eden thanks her for pointing out the error and notes: “The source should have been listed as West’s article ‘The Pope’s Theology of the Body.’ (Catholic Education Resource Center; [accessed February 5, 2010]).”  I invite others to read that piece and see if West is claiming that “everything about Christian faith and life” must be “recontextualized.”  Again, I think those who go to the source will find a wonderful article disclosing the treasures of the Theology of the Body.
A search for “everything” in the source that Eden provides, leads us to these paragraphs:
According to John Paul, by reflecting on these three levels [Original Man, Historical Man, Eschatological Man] of “experiencing” the body, sexuality, and marriage, we discover the very structure and deepest reality of human identity – we find our place in the cosmos and even penetrate the mystery of the Trinitarian God. How is this so through contemplating the body, sex, and marriage? As John Paul shows us, the question of sexuality and marriage is not a peripheral issue. In fact, he says the call to “nuptial love” inscribed in our bodies is “the fundamental element of human existence in the world” (General Audience 1/16/80). In light of Ephesians 5, he even says that the ultimate truth about the “great mystery” of marriage “is in a certain sense the central theme of the whole of revelation, its central reality” (General Audience 9/8/82).
This is to say that everything God wants to tell us on earth about who he is, the meaning of life, the reason he created us, how we are to live, as well as our ultimate destiny, is contained somehow in the meaning of the human body and the call of male and female to become “one body” in marriage. How? Pointing always to the Scriptures, the Holy Father reminds us that the Christian mystery itself is a mystery about marriage – the marriage between Christ and the Church. Yes, God’s plan from all eternity is to draw us into the closest communion with himself – to “marry” us! Jesus took on a body so we could become “one body” with him (which we do in the Eucharist)  (my emphasis). [i]
West is hardly giving instructions to theologians and educators to “recontextualize everything.”  Rather, he is simply pointing out that the Holy Father is directing us to contemplate the mystery of the body, of marriage, and the relationship of Christ and his Church.  We see no “revolution” here, no calls for “doctrinal development.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reporting from the Book Launch

Sr Lorraine writes about the Book Launch:

Last evening we had a book launch at Boston College for Women, Sex, and the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching.

This project brought together a group of talented women who are experts in their field. Most of them have written books on the subject matter of their respective chapters. They know what they’re talking about.

They cover the material in a unique way, from a pro-woman perspective rooted in Catholic teaching. They show that these teachings of the Church, which are so controversial today, are in fact pro-woman. To this end they not only discuss doctrine and moral teachings, but do so in a way that takes into account solid data from sociology and other fields. The book, then, is not just theoretical, but it shows what happens in a society when sexual morality breaks down on a massive scale. The end result hurts people.

This book complements other titles that Pauline Books & Media has published in this area, especially those concerning the theology of the body. Pope John Paul often spoke of the spousal meaning of the body, a meaning which he defined as “the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and—through this gift—fulfills the very meaning of his or her being and existence.” And quoting the text from Gaudium et Spes that he used so often, human persons cannot fully find themselves except through a sincere gift of self.” (TOB 15:1; p. 185).

The book also includes a chapter explaining Catholic doctrine concerning the ordination of only men to the priesthood. That chapter is written by Sr Sara Butler, one of the foremost experts in the field who explains this teaching lucidly and succinctly.

Snoring Scholar reviews "The Human Person"

Thanks, Sarah!

Recently, I dubbed The Human Person According to John Paul II, by J. Brian Bransfield, “one of the best books I’ve read in a lonnnng time (maybe ever).” It’s time to support that statement with a few reasons why you should not only pick it up and read it, but also buy it for your parish library and your best friend.
This book is approachable. The most compelling reason I have for wanting to stand from my rooftop and trumpet to everyone I know that they should read this book is that it’s approachable AND that it makes the whole idea behind Theology of the Body (republished in an expanded form recently as Man and Woman He Created Them), John Paul II’s great masterpiece (which is also online), approachable.
TOB is a HUGE undertaking to read and an even bigger undertaking to understand and unpack. I’ve read a host of other authors who have tried it, and who have done well. But this is the first book that I felt like I could hand to my friends, my husband, and my pastor with absolutely no compunction. It’s one of the only books I have purchased after receiving a review copy, and one of an even smaller number that I know I’ll be buying again.
There’s heavy, deep stuff in this book, because that’s the topic, but it’s written in a way that makes you comfortable. My husband thought, for the first two-thirds of the book, that I was reading a novel, and his eyebrows were lost in his hairline for a day or two when he found out it was nonfiction.

Read the rest here

Friday, September 17, 2010

Weigel Interview: TOB?

The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II -- The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the LegacyGeorge Weigel just released a new book that is a sequel to Witness to Hope, his biography of John Paul. There’s an interview here:
From the interview:
"[John Paul's TOB writings] have changed the discussion of sexual morality in the Catholic Church, and they’re beginning to do so in the world. Believe it or not, a group of Columbia students self-organized an outdoor discussion of John Paul’s books on sexual ethics at Rockefeller Center recently. No one could have imagined any such thing happening in, say, 1978, when he was elected."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Where does TOB belong?

Applying theology of the body to societal problems

A deeper understanding of our bodies' physical and spiritual dimensions can shed light on the harmful, distorted views of society

By Emily Stimpson - Our Sunday Visitor, 9/26/2010

The theology of the body is not just a theology for Marriage Encounter weekends, Pre-Cana classes or high school classrooms. It’s also a theology for the public square.
Of course, Pope John Paul II’s collection of teachings has a lot to say about sex and sexuality. When it comes to communicating the Church’s understanding of marital love and intimacy to contemporary culture, the theology of the body has been a game-changer, helping countless people grasp for the first time the sacredness and power of giving one’s body to another.
But it’s not called the theology of the body (as opposed to the “theology of sex”) for nothing. Pope John Paul II’s teachings are, at their heart, not a sex-ed curriculum, but rather an anthropology of what it means to be a human person. They are a prism through which Catholics can view themselves and the world rightly.
That’s why the theology of the body has something to say about what happens outside, as well as inside, couples’ bedrooms. It is, at its most basic, not just a guide for how we are to love, but also for how we are to live.
And, when properly understood, it sheds light on the root causes of some of our culture’s most pressing social concerns: the spread of pornography, the rise in out-of-wedlock births, the culture of divorce, support for abortion and embryo-destructive procedures, and the push for same-sex marriage.

Read the rest:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

TOB critique

Sr. Lorraine is one of the Theology of the Body specialists in the Pauline editorial department, so she was quite interested when author and convert-blogger Dawn Eden made her Master's Thesis on Christopher West's ten key themes available. That thesis has gotten a lot of publicity, and has also contributed to some less-than-charitable characterizations of West and his work.
Is Eden on the right track? Is Christopher West promoting his own (off-base) understanding of the Theology of the Body more than offering a reasonably popularized version of Pope John Paul's teaching?
Sister Lorraine offers a point by point critique. Given her vast experience working with West (especially on his revised "Theology of the Body Explained") and Dr. Waldstein (in the critical translation of the Pope's texts), Sister Lorraine should be given a hearing.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Book Review: The Human Person in the Thought of John Paul II

Book Explores What It Means to be Human in Light of 
Theology of the Body

WASHINGTON—“What does it mean to be human?” A new book by the priest who spearheads the evangelization and catechetical efforts of the U.S. bishops explores this question by drawing on the teachings of Pope John Paul II in his theology of the body. In The Human Person: According to John Paul II, published by Pauline Books and Media, Father J. Brian Bransfield examines the vision of humanity expressed by Pope John Paul II and uses it as the basis for a moral theology that offers practical guidance and support in living the Christian life.

Father Bransfield writes about the challenges raised by three social revolutions of the 20th Century – the industrial, sexual and technological revolutions – and how Pope John Paul’s theology of the body responded to the resulting societal shifts. These shifts, Father Bransfield observes, have led to a disregard for women, the spread of cohabitation, the rise in divorce and the growing trend of fatherlessness. John Paul II challenged all of these trends. Father Bransfield shows how Christians today can overcome the negative consequences of these shifts through living the teaching of the theology of the body as an essential element of the new evangelization proclaimed by Pope John Paul II.

Father J. Brian Bransfield is a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He currently serves as the Assistant General Secretary and Executive Director of the Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Father Bransfield holds a doctorate in moral theology from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington.
This review dated June 10, 2010;

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Answering the tough TOB questions

What does the Church have against women? That's what many in our culture seem to wonder, deep down. And the new "Women, Sex and the Church" can help. Editor Erica Bachiochi "argues that her previous status as a feminist who viewed the Church as almost evil should lend even more credibility to the work. After all, it is far more convincing for some to hear from someone who ‘saw the light’ than it is coming from someone who never thought otherwise."

Read the rest of the review here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New online study starting soon!

Love and ResponsibilityOur Theology of the Body class will resume on the 2nd Saturday of the month, beginning in just 10 days. Instead of going through the tome of John Paul's Wednesday talks ("the" source of the Theology of the Body),  we will be studying Karol Wojtyla's earlier work, "Love and Responsibility." People who think that the Theology of the Body was just the Pope's after-the-fact attempt to justify the Church's teachings in the widely-scorned encyclical "Humanae Vitae" will be surprised to see that "Love and Responsiblity," first published in Polish in 1960, is the real precursor to the Theology of the Body. Wojtyla had a new book ready for the publisher when he was elected Pope; circumstances being what they were, he had to adapt his manuscript to a new format of Wednesday talks.
The new year-long study can offer you a better sense of where the Pope is coming from in the Theology of the Body, which may be his most enduring charismatic gift to the Church.

Basic class info:
Meet here* at the bookstore or online every 2nd Saturday of the month, 10:30 US Central Time (GMT-6).
Text: Love and Responsibility

Spread the Word!

*172 N Michigan Avenue, Chicago (one block north of Millennium Park--make it a downtown day!).