Editor's note: The following commentary by Steve Kellmeyer is in response to yesterday's post "Theology of the bawdy." In that post, I spotlighted an article by Father Thomas J. Loya on Catholic Exchange that I said represented a stream of Theology of the Body catechesis that "goes well beyond what [John Paul II] actually said." Today, I received an e-mail from a Catholic Exchange staffer welcoming a dialogue on this subject and inviting me and others to comment on Father Loya's original article. I responded to him with an invitation to guest-post here. In the meantime, Kellmeyer, who writes and lectures on TOB, offers his thoughts below.
One of the most telling criticisms I have ever heard of the Theology of the Body was that it could not be a complete teaching since you can't talk about the body without discussing suffering. Pain, suffering, etc. is never mentioned in John Paul's Wednesday audiences delivering his TOB catechesis. He devoted an entire encyclical to it (Salvifici Doloris) and he lived it, but the Wednesday audiences don't mention it. I have included this perfectly correct criticism of the Wednesday audiences into many of my talks.
Another problem I have with the Wednesday audiences is the nearly complete absence of reference to family or children. The Wednesday audiences are almost entirely about the Bridegroom-Bride relationship but without reference to its life-giving ability. Humanae Vitae spoke of family more in a dozen pages than the Wednesday audiences did in five years. Sex divorced from children and the body divorced from suffering ... those audiences are not complete.
I just got off the phone moments ago with a friend in Colorado who teaches FertilityCare. She mentioned that a prominent TOB speaker is now talking about the "erotic ritual" of the Easter Vigil, because the Easter candle is plunged into the baptismal font during the ceremony and the ancient Christians are united in referring to the baptismal font as "the womb of the Church."
Calling liturgy "erotic" is absurd.
We have to understand that everything we know about God we know only via analogy. Thus, marital communion is analogous to the intimate communion we experience with God in heaven, but it isn't the same thing. So calling liturgy "erotic" is looking at it from exactly the wrong perspective. Heaven is not erotic, rather, eros is an analog - and a poor one at that—to describe what heaven is about. The intimate communion between a husband and wife is as dust and ashes when compared to the intimate communion God offers us through the divine liturgy precisely because God's love is not only intimate, but self-sacrificial.
Liturgy lifts us up into heaven, not vice versa. Liturgy is participation in heaven - the Mass, especially, is direct participation in the eternal offering the Son makes of Himself to the Father in the Temple not made with hands (cf. Hebrews). Liturgy is about God's self-sacrifice.
Self-sacrificing love is not eros, i.e., erotic love, it is agape love. Agape is the word the New Testament uses to describe the relationship between Jesus and the beloved disciple. In Scripture, it refers to self-sacrificing love, giving love to all--both friend and enemy. It is used in Matthew 22:39, "Love your neighbor as yourself," and in John 15:12, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you," and in 1 John 4:8, "God is love." It is total commitment or self-sacrificial love for the thing loved. Even the Greek version of the Septuagint uses agape, not eros, to describe the love between the man and the woman. Eros doesn't appear in Scripture at all.
So the phrase "erotic liturgy," at least as that TOB speaker uses it, is simply a contradiction in terms.
It implies that God is intimate with us in liturgy in a way that Christ specifically denies, "In heaven, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven."
Christ is the Bridegroom, He saves us through marrying us into Himself, but the marriage between us and Himself is at best a dim analogue to the marriage between two human persons, male and female. That kind of marriage doesn't happen in heaven or, therefore, in the liturgy.
It seems to me that a basic confusion is present here. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church were faced with a pagan society at least as debauched as ours, but they never descended to the kind of descriptions being used by TOB promoters today. They named the sexual sins, told Christians to avoid them and pretty much left it at that.
TOB promoters fall into these kinds of basic errors because they were never well-formed in the Faith. Either they never read the Fathers and the Scriptures or, if they did, they forgot what they learned. Weigel mistakenly thought JP II's teaching was radically new - because he himself was not well-formed in the Faith, he didn't realize that JP II's teaching was really just a synthesis of everything the Fathers ever taught about Scripture. As a result, all the TOB promoters fall into the trap of asserting that JP II's TOB is radical and new. It is neither.
But because they don't realize this, they don't ground the TOB teaching in the ancient writings as they should, and as JP II did through his footnotes. Instead, they go winging off into space, making stuff up as they go along, and often-times deriding earlier expressions of the same teaching as though these earlier expressions were somehow erroneous because they don't realize that those earlier teachings are actually foundational - the very skeleton and structure of what JP II was trying to say. They follow the hermeneutic of discontinuity which is so often promoted by the "Spirit of Vatican II" crowd, instead of emphasizing the hermeneutic of continuity that both JP II and Benedict XVI insist on.
In short, they are corrupting JP II's teaching, turning it into just one more heretical post-Vatican II attempt to corrupt the Church's eternal teaching. That's the real problem here.
I think we are seeing the errors of insufficient catechesis: men and women completely unfamiliar with the writings of the ancient Christians taking instead Oprah and Dr. Ruth as their models.
John Paul II famously failed to begin his Theology of the Body catechesis with the Trinity, as all the previous generations of great teachers had. Although he approached the discussions from an essentially Trinitarian perspective, his emulators have not.
We end up with misguided interpretations because the interpreters aren't grounded in anything substantive.
The children are pulverizing the teaching because they are children. They aren't spiritually mature, so they have the kind of bathroom discussions that children will have.
And the saddest part is, they really think they are being faithful.
Steve Kellmeyer is the author of Sex and the Sacred City.