Sunday, October 3, 2010

The "West Wars": It would be merciful for the Holy See to enter...

I have been following the "West Wars" for some time without saying much.  In my humble opinion, it would be merciful for the Holy See to step in.  It would be a relief for someone from "outside" to facilitate dialogue amongst the "warring" parties on the "inside", or to simply solicit the primary arguments from the key defenders and critics and examine them, ultimately providing clarification on certain points.  This could truly be fruitful for courses and catechetics on "theology of the body" around the world.  I think there are some things that need to be carefully looked at by a team of theologians  who have no prior involvement, or stake in it.

Visible magma is only a fraction of what lies beneath!
The public war over Christopher West's interpretation and presentation of Pope John Paul II's, "theology of the body" (ToB) is escalating, with each side digging in their heals.  Note, that what you see on the surface publicly is nothing in contrast to what has likely been bubbling below the surface for many years.  Before a volcano blows, there is considerable pressure below the surface.  The magma we see flowing out is only a fraction of what is contained deeper down. This war on the interpretation and presentation of theology of the body is not about the now infamous Nightline invertivew.  That was merely a catalyst which set into motion the eruption, and subsequent lava flow.  Rather, what I am seeing is a deep set of philisophical and theological differences of opinion by well-respected people who uphold the Church's teaching on things like contraception. 

Good fruits alone?
What I have also observed in the "West Wars" is something common in other spheres.  People who are supportive feel West is being "attacked".  And, because there are good fruits cited by couples, such as mentioned previously - ending the use of contraception, they seem to feel that critiquing his "brand" of ToB is a threat to this.  Fruits, however, are often lower down the ladder of discernment.  An objective look at content and mode of delivery comes well before examining "good fruits".  Case in point: A baby is a good fruit because God does not create bad fruit.  But, if the baby came into existence through rape, then we have an example of a good fruit which stemmed from a bad act. 

I have seen some serious questions raised that I feel have been talked around, such as the one involving the Easter Candle as a phallic symbol. I have not seen any of West's supporters yet actually respond to the quote attributed to Fr. Hugo Rahner as explained by Dawn here (see related footnotes on page 30 of the 3rd revision of her thesis)....emphasis mine in bold:

Hugo Rahner’s words, although written several years before the revision of the liturgy, neatly summarize the theology behind the Consilium’s revision: “What we witness here [in the candle immersion] is a symbol of Christ crucified giving to the water the illuminating power of the Spirit[,] and those who insist on seeing a phallic symbol in the candle appear to be completely oblivious to what not only the Roman, but all other liturgies have to declare on this particular point, of what, in point of fact, they declare with considerable emphasis. It is that the baptismal font is immaculatus uterus, and that, like Mary, the Church bears her children solely by the power of the Spirit."
[Note: on April 23, 2011, Sr. Lorraine, who serves as an editor on some of Christopher West's works, has provided an indepth look at the subject above in a post entitled: The Wood in the Water -- What Does the Easter Candle Symbolize?.  She goes deeper into Rahner's works and concludes the Paschal candle should not be looked upon as a "phallic symbol"]
Ordinary Catholics in the pew who have read some books or have been to some conferences using West's material can offer little else but testimonials in this debate.  Such testimonials, while helpful in some ways, are never a true and full measure of whether something is fully in harmony with the teachings or the mind of the Church. 

Then there are the bishops.  While Cardinal Justin Rigali and Bishop Kevin Rhoades have been publicly supportive of Christopher West's interpretation and approach this past year, it seems reasonable to wonder whether there is similar support across the board among all of our bishops when there is disunity at every other level.  If reputable theologians, philosophers, professors, priests, and a chunk of the laity are divided, and with all but two bishops silent on the matter thus far, what are we to think?  Let's not jump to conclusions: Their silence does not tell us whether they are supportive, critical, or unaware.  

I, for one, do not think it would be prudent for bishops to be opposing one another publicly.  It becomes even more confusing for the faithful, and causes them to side with this bishop or that one, when the bishops should speak with one voice - one that is in harmony with truth.  Further, polling bishops is not a good measure of truth.  We can only pray that our shepherds are looking personally into the concerns raised, and if they cannot agree with one another, then invite the Holy See to examine the matter and offer the necessary clarifications to end their private differences and the public debate among the flock. More than likely, the only signs we might see would be dioceses dropping the West content and switching to another "brand".

We should pray that the bishops look past the current wave of enthusiasm and look at the concerns.

Prime Example of Disunity: The Sodomy Issue
We ought to assume good intentions on both sides.  However, there cannot possibly be two versions of any one truth.  North cannot be south, and up cannot be down.  Truth isn't dynamic and moving about over time, but static and timeless.  It can take time to arrive at truth, and some end up on detours along the way.  For example, I am perplexed at what seems like different understandings of what theologians and professors feel constitutes sodomy in this debate . I would like to raise a basic question:  At what point does foreplay end, if not when the man is adequately prepared for coitus?    Similarly, I find that not all theologians seem to agree on whether ejaculation is required to make it an act of sodomy or not.

This issue is one primary reason I think it would be merciful for the Holy See to get involved.  All sides seem to be citing various Church documents, and St. Thomas Aquinas to make their argument.  The "theology of the body" debate has exposed issues like this which can, and out to  be, clarified and taught with consistency by all theologians, confessors, apologists, catechists and chastity speakers around the world.  Right now, the one consistent thing I've seen is inconsistency on the matter, and by a good many well respected people. 

Now, I leave you with the latest set of public exchanges.  The comboxes are lively as we would expect.

Dr. Janet E. Smith critiques Dawn Eden's thesis;
and, Dawn Eden critiques Dr. Smith's critique

The comboxes in these linked articles are lively as we would expect. There are interesting debates there and more may be learned there.

Catholic News Agency hosted the master's thesis of Dawn Eden which was a critique (here is the lead-in article, with the thesis at the bottom in PDF form). 

On September 30, 2010, Dr. Janet E. Smith published a critique of the thesis at Catholic Exchange

There is further commentary on Dr. Smith's piece at Catholic News Agency...

On October 1, 2010, Dawn Eden's response was published at Catholic News Agency.

Note:  It is very late, and I had intended to put a number of links in this post for reference.  I will try to come back and edit these in when I have time.

I am also continuing my temporary shut down of the combox so that I am not tied to the computer looking to moderate them. 

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