Thursday, June 18, 2009

Virgo redacta
Christopher West and the dangers of overanalogizing Mary

A guest post by FR. ANGELO MARY GEIGER F.I.

Our Lady of the Sign


Throughout the recent debate concerning the theology and methodology of Christopher West there has been considerable back and forth regarding the specific instances in which West might be taken as representing a line of thought out of step with Catholic tradition. Rather than answer all the specifics of the latest critiques of Prof. Schindler by Profs. Smith and Waldstein, I would like to focus on several examples of West that are often referred to in discussions and which I find poorly represented by him. The larger point of my focusing on these instances, I submit, is to illustrate how West undermines reverence by basing much of his unveiling on arguments not sufficiently based on fact.

I will take two of the best-known topics of West's writings and talks to make my point, though I allege there are more which I might illuminate at another time. They are 1) his reference to the paschal candle as a phallic symbol and the rites associate with it as a symbolic simulation of the conjugal act, 2) his penchant for unveiling the body of the Blessed Mother.

The “Phallacy” of the Candle

In The Everlasting Man G.K. Chesterton recalls a conversion he once had with a walking companion as they rested in the shadow of a church along the way. The companion asked: “Do you know why the spire of that church goes up like that?” When Chesterton had “expressed a respectable agnosticism,” the man went on: “Oh, the same as the obelisks; the Phallic Worship of antiquity!” After a moment of silence Chesterton replied: “Why, of course, . . . if it hadn’t been for phallic worship, they would have built the spire pointing downwards and standing on its own apex!” (p. 1, c. 8).

And that is basically my first point. We should all remember that the Paschal Candle is rather large, round and long, because, well, it’s a big candle. The size and shape are purely and perfectly functional as the candle in general is a masterpiece of engineering. In particular, this candle’s erectile contour is so prominent because it is to be the principle source of light and the focal point within the Church at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. The great Easter Praeconium weaves its verses around the candle proclaiming the candle’s obvious function with liturgical elegance. It is described as a “pillar of fire . . . shining to the honor of God,” because its purpose is to “dissipate the darkness of this night.” The Praeconium continues:

Let the morning star find its flame alight. That star, I mean, which knows no setting. He who returning from hell, serenely shone forth upon mankind.

And so the focus point of the Liturgy of Light is the Paschal Candle, because it is a functional instrument of light and its symbolism, very clearly, refers to the risen Christ. Easter is the beginning of an eternal day that is founded on the Resurrection of Christ. The vigil begins in darkness (death) and ends in light (life), at first that light comes only from Christ (the paschal candle) and then, after we have proclaimed: Lumen Christi! (Christ our Light), that light (life) is spread to the rest of us.

It seems, then, safe to assume, unless any phallic liturgical formularies can marshaled to the contrary, that the liturgy itself makes it clear that we are to understand the Paschal Candle to symbolize Christ, and its light, the Resurrection.

JPII Easter

In her latest piece Prof. Smith admits that she was originally uncomfortable with West’s assertion that the symbolism of the Paschal Candle is an illustration of the Church’s sexual liturgical imagery:

I was appalled. Actually any reference to phallic symbols appalls me – I think mine may be a prudish response – and, in this context, I thought it was vulgar and irreverent. Imagine my surprise to learn that liturgists and theologians from the early days of the Church have understood the Easter Candle just as West does. Recently a priest – one who is a great public apologist for orthodoxy – told me that he thinks many priests are acutely aware of the sexual symbolism of the Easter candle/holy water font imagery during the Easter liturgy. I was humbled when I realized my judgment had been based upon ignorance and prudery. I think giving a list of phrases that will shock without context invites people to make judgments based on ignorance and prudery. I don’t in fact know why Schindler objects to West’s claim about the tradition of the Easter candle.

I will say that when I first heard of this phallic reference from West, I was appalled also, and still am. But the great Prof. Smith now tells us that we should all feel ashamed of our prudery because there are nameless “liturgists and theologians from the early days of the Church,” who clearly understood the submersion of the Paschal Candle into the baptismal font during the rite of the blessing of baptismal water to be a symbolic simulation of the conjugal act. I know that West has been teaching this, at least since 1999, and at least since 2001 he has had to defend his use of this imagery. To this day I still have never heard the names of these early Christian “liturgists and theologians” or seen a reference in order to find the respective texts in support of this theory. I am willing to hear the names and read the texts, but until I do, I will just have to assume that there are none.

In his 2001 “An Open Letter to A Concerned Listener,” West refers the reader to Christopher Derrick’s Sex and Sacredness, without quotation or specific reference. One must just assume that Derrick actually argues for the symbolism West has adopted. However, in his latest book, Heaven's Song, he again defends his assertion regarding the Paschal Candle, but this time with a actual quote from Derrick’s book. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no mention of the Paschal Candle in the quotation (170-171). I, therefore, withhold shame over my prudery until some valid authority is found for this theory.

In regard to the symbolism of the baptismal font, which I suspect is the actual basis for West’s contention, there is some authority.  Saint Didymus of Alexandria, writes “the water of baptism is like a virginal womb, and the same Spirit who came down upon Mary, fills the sacred font.” Furthermore, the formulary of the vetus ordo of the Roman Rite during the blessing of the baptismal water reads:

May [the Spirit] by a secret mixture of His divine virtue render this water fruitful for the regeneration of men, to the end that a heavenly offspring, conceived by sanctification, may emerge from the immaculate womb of this divine font, reborn a new creature: and may all, however distinguished in body by sex or in time by age, be born into one same infancy by grace their mother.

When the candle is dipped thrice into the font the priest says each time: “May the virtue of the Holy Spirit descend into all the water of this font.” And after breathing three times on the water the priest says: “And make the whole substance of this water fruitful for regeneration.”

Note well, however, that the font’s womb symbolism when combined with the actual non-phallic symbolism of the paschal candle and the accompanying gesture is not tantamount to symbolic copulation. In fact, in the context of the above quotes and the received theological tradition, the symbolism of the font refers to the gestational womb, not female genitalia, as is the case when Elizabeth says to Our Lady: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Why is this so? Because the fundamental conception of baptism is that of rebirth. In Baptism we are born of water and the Holy Spirit (Jn. 2:5). As St. Thomas Aquinas says, reflecting the entire tradition:

This regeneration is effected by Baptism, for just as a man cannot live in the flesh unless he is born in the flesh, even so a man cannot have the spiritual life of grace unless he be born again spiritually (Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed, art. 10).

The prayers over the water reflect exactly this regenerational (rebirth) understanding.

In order to understand this symbolism with precision it is necessary to go further. There is a relationship between the Christ symbolism of the Paschal Candle and the invocations of the Holy Spirit over the water.

Bap Jordan

Christ (the Paschal Candle) descends into the water in order to make it holy just as He did in His baptism in the Jordan by St. John. Regeneration begins with the Incarnation and is extended to fallen man by the Incarnate Word as he establishes the sacramental system. But our rebirth actually begins earlier with the conception of Christ in the womb of Mary, where the Holy Spirit overshadows the Virgin and through His power She conceives the Son of God, who then later in the humanity He received from Her, sanctifies the waters of regeneration with His own body in the Jordan as the Holy Spirit hovers above. That virgin body of Christ will remain the incorruptible source of life, even when it is laid in the tomb for three days after His redemptive sacrifice. Our Lord rises incorrupt from the sealed tomb, just as He escaped from his Mother’s womb, without breaking the seal. Here is St. Peter Chrysologus (d. 450) on the subject:

Him whom sealed virginity had brought to this life, the sealed tomb would return to eternal life. It is characteristic of divinity to leave the Virgin sealed after birth; it is also characteristic of divinity to go out from the sealed tomb with the body (Sermo 75, 3: CCL, 24 A).

In a way that is exactly parallel to the virgin births of Christ (from the Virgin and from the tomb) we are also born not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn 1:13). In other words our regeneration takes place in a series of virgin births (or conceptions): the Incarnation; the Resurrection; our baptism.

Read the quote from Saint Didymus of Alexandria again: “the water of baptism is like a virginal womb, and the same Spirit who came down upon Mary, fills the sacred font.” Baptism is, in fact, parallel to the virginal conception of Jesus. The waters of baptism are plainly virginal.

Futhermore, in the Didache, a first century anonymous work that includes liturgical instructions to the early Church, we read:

Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm (c. 7).

The water of baptism is not some kind of bodily coital fluid. We are not inseminated by the warm waters of baptism. The water is “cold” and “living,” because through it we are washed clean of our sins and regenerated virginally. We enter the water dead and rise from it in new life. The Bride of Christ has been sanctified, cleansed by the laver of water in the word of life (Eph. 5:26). The womb imagery can only be taken so far, and certainly not so far as to suggest coitus.

resurrection-fra-angelico

Furthermore, West’s interpretation is also partly based on the repetition of the submersing of the candle in the font, suggesting that this is a simulation of copulation. But why really are their three submersions, rather than one? Because the imagery is baptismal. After all we are talking about the blessing of baptismal water in the baptismal font. We are baptized with a Trinitarian formula, and at the name of each of the three persons the catechumen is immersed in the water (or infused with it). The submersion is not a penetration, but a descent into death; the emersion is a resurrection to new life.

Know you not that all we who are baptized in Christ Jesus are baptized in his death? For we are buried together with him by baptism into death: that, as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life (Rm 6:3-4).

What is simulated in the Easter rite is not copulation, but the death and resurrection of Christ under the sign of the Blessed Trinity.

I would submit that the symbolism supported by my arguments is indisputably the primary liturgical reference. Is it hypothetically possible that there might be another layer? Certainly, but it would have to be consistent with what is primary, and I do not see how copulation can be reconciled with life conceived and born virginally. There is no question that the primary images associate with the rebirth of baptism and with the blessing of its waters are the virginal conception of Jesus, His baptism in the Jordan, and the Resurrection, all of which are virginal. Furthermore, the quote of St. Didymus, understood in the very context of the liturgical rites used to bless the water, indicates that the sanctification of the water is virginal. And the reference to the “Immaculate womb” of the font in the rite of blessing is clearly Marian and, therefore, virginal.

To suggest otherwise is to suggest that both the Church and the Blessed Mother are not virginal but, rather, sexually penetrated by the Holy Spirit. I know West would gasp and completely deny that he intends this, but regardless of what he intends that is what is objectively suggested by his interpretation of the imagery.

In any case, the contrary would have to be established by the evidence of a valid tradition developed over the ages. Certainly, the burden of proof is on West and not on those who are appalled by his use of phallic liturgical imagery. I am waiting, but I won’t hold my breath.

Shameless Nakedness


angelico_annunciation

As we have already noted there is a parallel between the virginal conception and birth of Jesus from Our Lady and the virginal conception of holiness in the Easter water. West has a penchant for unveiling feminine images and penetrating them with his interpretation of the Theology of the Body. In fact, he urges us also to unveil the Blessed Mother. We have already intimated this from his treatment of the Easter liturgy.

For years he has told a personal story of his own sexual transformation, of how he resolved a terrible temptation against chastity that he was experiencing during a time before the Blessed Sacrament by recalling all the pornographic images to which he had previously exposed himself and that he could still remember. He brought them up one by one and then asked the Lord to heal him of his twisted view of sexuality and to allow him to see the truth of the goodness of the body. When he was all done, he saw the Blessed Virgin Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus. He says at that moment he knew what he had always been looking for when he was using pornography.

In his 1999 “Naked without Shame” tapes, he suggests that this might have been a mystical experience. I mention this, even though in his more recent presentations he may not refer to any mystical phenomena, because I think it is telling. In any case, the presentation of the story, done in West’s imitable style, lends a sense of authority to the ideas he is promoting. I will not pass judgment on his personal experience, but I will question its revelation and use to discourage prudery among the average faithful Catholic.

This story sets the tone for many of the ways in which West unveils the Blessed Mother in the interests of being “fascinated” in a holy way with the human body and avoiding prudery (cf. Heaven’s Song, pp. 37-52). I would suggest this proclivity of his has nothing to do with the teaching of John Paul II, and finds no authority in the tradition of the Church.

I am well aware of the iconographical tradition of Maria Lactans (Mary Breastfeeding), such as the many images in Italy of Madonna delle Grazie. This is an old and venerable tradition that once was very widespread and continues in various parts of the world down to this day. Sandra Meisel’s excellent article on this subject is well worth the read. I just part company with her when she, like West, chides anyone who might be a bit squeamish about such images.

I would surmise that that these images became popular when it was common to see women breastfeeding. Living in the Philippines some years ago, I was at times shocked to see women breastfeed in public with little if any effort to cover up—sometimes even in Church! No one made anything of it. I admit I was scandalized.

In America men generally consider exposure of a woman’s bosom provocative, and I assert that men who are trying to live chastely find the such exposure inappropriate, not because they think the female body is evil, or because they have a sexual hang up, but because they find too much exposed flesh in that area, regardless of the context, sexually arousing. Period.

I have been a guy for my whole life and a priest for more than sixteen years. I know well enough how men think. Women can pooh-pooh this all they want, but there is really nothing more complicated, sub-conscious or deep and dark about it than plain old male libido.

I personally have no problem with Maria Lactans, if it is done without the Classical, Pre-Raphaelite or such-like voluptuousness. It was only due to the preponderance of such images that nudity in sacred art “with a beauty exciting to lust” was condemned by the Council of Trent:

Moreover, in the invocation of saints, the veneration of relics, and the sacred use of images, every superstition shall be removed, all filthy lucre be abolished; finally, all lasciviousness be avoided; in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust; nor the celebration of the saints, and the visitation of relics be by any perverted into revellings and drunkenness; as if festivals are celebrated to the honour of the saints by luxury and wantonness (Canons and Decrees, sess. 25).

Meisel refers in her article to the “decorous reforms of Trent,” in a not altogether favorable context, but admits that not all the images of Maria Lactans and Maria Gravida (Mary with Child) were destroyed subsequent to Trent. In fact, the council was able to distinguish the difference between the moral character of various visual images. Lust is not only a matter of interior disposition. There are in fact concrete non-subjective factors that excite lust.

In any case, I do not think, as West has suggested, that the image of Maria Lactans, however it is executed, needs to be used as a tool for the exorcism of prudishness, or that we should ask ourselves why it might make us uncomfortable and chide ourselves for having unresolved sexual tensions.

But my problem with West on this score runs considerably deeper than his attitude toward the image of Maria Lactans. In his latest book, Heaven’s Song, he has quite a bit on the Blessed Mother, which in my opinion, though I know he is sincere and well intentioned, is grossly irreverent and smacks of blasphemy.

Just as some things are just objectively immodest, some things are just objectively irreverent. As I have already shown in the section on the Paschal Candle, playing fast and loose with Christian symbolism can end by suggesting some pretty irreverent things, such as the loss of Our Lady’s virginity.

Our Lady is the Ark of the Covenant. A bit of advice of all Uzzah’s of the world: Don’t touch the Ark (cf. 1 Chronicles 13:10). Leave it behind the veil. God is not likely to strike anyone dead, but some things are too holy to be violated by our paltry eyes and hands. (And no that does not mean I think our eyes and hands are evil, just not worthy to unveil the Blessed Mother.)


Ark

Here again West invokes authority for his opinion, but in the convoluted way which seems to be somewhat habitual for him. He argues that some of the inspiration for John Paul II’s Theology of the Body was the given through the pope’s familiarity with the Marian writings of St. Louis de Montfort (78-79). In this context he analyses a particular passage of Treatise on True Devotion to Mary:

As St. Louis de Montfort put it, God sent his angel to Mary “in order to win her heart.” And on account of the “hidden delights” of his divine proposal, ‘she gave her consent.” At that moment, God poured a “chalice of ambrosia” into the womb of his virgin bride and opening to his “divine nectar,” she conceived God’s own Son. Such imagery would have given my wonderful but rather prudish grandmother cardiac arrest. For anyone experiencing palpitations de Montfort reminds us plainly: “These are the comparisons mad by the saints” (TD, nn. 252-253) (30).

This would be all well and good, except for one thing: St. Louis does not say what West claims he does. Here is the passage from True Devotion:

252. Chosen souls, slaves of Jesus in Mary, understand that after the Our Father, the Hail Mary is the most beautiful of all prayers. It is the perfect complement the most High God paid to Mary through his archangel in order to win her heart. So powerful was the effect of this greeting upon her, on account of its hidden delights, that despite her great humility, she gave her consent to the incarnation of the Word. If you say the Hail Mary properly, this compliment will infallibly earn you Mary’s good will.

253. When the Hail Mary is well said, that is, with attention, devotion and humility, it is, according to the saints, the enemy of Satan, putting him to flight; it is the hammer that crushes him, a source of holiness for souls, a joy to the angels and a sweet melody for the devout. It is the Canticle of the New Testament, a delight for Mary and glory for the most Blessed Trinity. The Hail Mary is dew falling from heaven to make the soul fruitful. It is a pure kiss of love we give to Mary. It is a crimson rose, a precious pearl that we offer to her. It is a chalice of ambrosia, a divine nectar that we offer her. These are comparisons made by the saints [emphasis mine].

St. Louis is speaking about the Hail Mary not the virginal conception of Jesus in Her womb. The “chalice of ambrosia” and “divine nectar” are not references to some kind of supernatural seminal fluid. They are references to the consoling character of the prayer of the Hail Mary. (BTW, West repeats the same argument in a web column as well, entitled “The Spousal Mystery of Christmas“).

This does not merit a line-by-line parsing. This coital imagery is suggested by West alone, not by the saint or by the pope, and so is proposed without real authority. Thus, no one should be brow beaten into feeling bad about their discomfort with it. What West claims is just not there. Perhaps he should have taken his poor grandmother more seriously.

Why is it that Christopher West argues for the existence coital imagery in the blessing of the baptismal font and in the Annunciation, doing so on the basis specious appeals to authority? I am not inquiring about his intentions, but I do see a pattern of thought which suggests to me that West is certain that John Paul II is clearly mandating that we become fascinated with the human body as a way of spiritual renewal. He then goes about and forces this interpretation on everything. As Prof. Schindler says:

In the end, West, in his disproportionate emphasis on sex, promotes a pansexualist tendency that ties all important human and indeed supernatural activity back to sex without the necessary dissimilitudo.

On the same page of Heaven’s Song where West misinterprets St. Louis, he makes his interpretation of the symbolic role of Mary in the Theology of the Body clearer:

With her freely given “yes”—and only with her freely given yes—the Heavenly Bridegroom rejoices to pour his eternal, immortal, invisible seed (his Word) within her, filling her “impregnating” her with divine life” (30).

I am not even sure who he is talking about here. Who is it that he is calling Bridegroom in the context of this insemination? Christ, (the Word) in the context of Ephesians 5? Surely, he is not going there. Christ certainly does not impregnate the Blessed Mother. So then the Holy Spirit must be the Bridegroom who impregnates Her with His Seed (the Word)? Is the fruit of Mary’s womb, then, the Word or what is conceived by the Word?

I have no gripe with referring to Mary as Spouse of the Holy Spirit, or even as Spouse of Christ. St. Francis of Assisi, for example is one of the first to speak of Mary as Spouse of the Holy Spirit:

Holy Virgin Mary, there is none like you among women born in the world. Daughter and handmaid of the heavenly Father, the almighty King, Mother of our most high Lord Jesus Christ, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit, pray for us to your most holy Son, our Lord and Master (Antiphon to the Office of the Passion).

And in another prayer he develops this idea:

. . . You are the Virgin made Church (Virgo facta Ecclesia), chosen by the most holy Father of heaven and consecrated by Him with His most holy beloved Son and the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. On you descended and in you still remains all the fullness of grace and every good. Hail, His Palace; hail, His Tabernacle; hail His House. Hail his Robe; hail, His Handmaid; hail, His Mother. And hail all you holy virtues, who by the grace and the light of the Holy Spirit, are infused into the hearts of the faithful, so that faithless no longer, they may be made faithful servants of God through you (Salutation of the Blessed Virgin).

Mary Francis Angels

Our Lady’s spousal relationship to the Holy Spirit is seen here in the context of the His mission of sanctification, the paradigm of which is the Annunciation, a virginal conception which illumines the meaning of our infusion (not impregnation) with grace and virtue in baptism. Our Lady is the Virgin made Church, and so the Church, along with its members, is virgin made. The Holy Spirit does not beget Christ. He is not His father.

St. Ephrem in the fourth century is the first to refer to Mary as the Spouse of Christ:

. . I am mother because of Your conception, and bride am I because of your chastity. Handmaiden and daughter of blood and water [am I] whom You redeemed
and baptized (quoted in Gambero, 117).

Here again this spousal attribution has nothing to do with begetting as is obvious from the reference to chastity.

These are venerable traditions. But they simply do not translate into the absurd and idea that Christ could be his own father or that the Holy Spirit is the father of Jesus.

The fact is that in the tradition of the Catholic Church the Holy Spirit is not referred to as the Father of Jesus. Our Lord has only one Father from whom He is eternally generated as Son. He has a Father in heaven, but no mother. And we say that on earth He is conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He has a Mother on earth, but no father. St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) writes:

The Son of God has no father and no mother. But how? Yes, he is without a father according to his earthly generation; he is without a mother according to his heavenly generation. For he had neither a father on earth nor a mother in heaven (Gambero, 179).

The Church is precise when she says that Mary conceives the Christ virginally through the power of the Holy Spirit. And this is why she avoids speaking of the Virgin’s impregnation. There is no supernatural insemination. There is no coital metaphor by which we come to better understand the virginal conception of Our Lord in Our Lady’s womb.

Again, because West artificially forces his particular view of TOB on everything he looks upon, he unwittingly insinuates that Our Lady is penetrated by the Holy Spirit and that there is some carnal insemination or physicality of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. I know full well that West does not intend this, but he jumps in where angels (and Fathers of the Church) fear to tread and then finds the implications of his assertions staring back at him. This is precisely why the Church does not use these metaphors in the way he does.

West rightly understands that analogy works two ways, both up and down (cf. Heaven’s Song, 132-133); however, I think he is confused when he suggests that the higher heavenly realities point downward. No, the earthly realities point upwards because they are visible signs of heavenly realities, and the truth of the heavenly realities, given to us through divine revelation, help to illumine the meaning of the earthly signs, but they are not signs themselves. In the case of the middle realities like the virginal conception, they are signs, yes, but they point up not down. There is no divine coitus that points down to the virginal conception, and Our Lady’s conception of Jesus does not point further down to the coition of the baptismal waters. In fact, the virginal conception, sans divine coitus, points up to the fulfillment of spousal love as it is realized in the unitive way and the beatific vision. And it illumines the signs below it without itself being a sign of lower things, by focusing our attention on the true meaning of earthly marital love, namely, the love of Christ for the Church and the love and obedience of the Church to Christ.

It is a responsibility of a theologian to be aware of the possible implications of his use of analogy, including those that he may not intend. For many who do not understand theology, they may not find all of this a big deal; however, Schindler points out what, early on in the history of an idea, might appear only to be a minor point, once clarified theologically, could turn out to be something that the magisterium has to deal with. He also says that the struggle over subtle distinctions is not merely an academic exercise, as is shown by the fact that “all of the most important matters involved in Church doctrines turn on just such subtle distinctions.” I submit that West fails to make some important subtle distinctions and errs by forcing coital interpretations where they don’t belong. The result is pansexualism.

Further on in Heaven’s Song West returns to the teaching of St. Louis about Our Lady in True Devotion, quoting phrases like “untold riches, beauties, rarities and delights” [of Mary’s Garden], “Mary’s virginal bosom,” “nourished with the milk of her grace,” “in the bosom of Mary [we are to] grow mature in enlightenment, in holiness, in experience and in wisdom,” “It is upon [Mary’s] breast that all good things come to me” (79, quoting TD 261, 264, 156, 216).

He then goes on, as he so often does, to admonish those of us who might be uncomfortable with this language. However, it is really not the language of the saint that I have a problem with, but the context and methodology in which it is being presented by West. Our Lady is both physical and spiritual mother; however, in reference to us, “poor banished children of Eve,” She is only a spiritual mother. Yes, of course Her physical maternity points up to Her spiritual maternity, and we can benefit by understanding the metaphors used by St. Louis, but he does not seem to be suggesting that we become fascinated with the Blessed Mother’s body as West asserts he does.

I am inclined to interpret West’s own experience of Maria Lactans, as an understanding that sexual desire finds its ultimate meaning in the union of the divine and human exemplified by the sign of the nursing Child at His Mother’s breast, and that West understands that the metaphorical nursing suggested by St. Louis is not a some kind of virtuous fulfillment of sexual desire. However, in the context of the issues I have raised here, it seems that West is his own worst enemy, because he seems hell-bent on placing coital imagery where it does not belong. And it certainly does not belong with the Ark of the Covenant. Hands off, please.

Don’t Touch that Veil

I just want to conclude by saying once again that I hope with Christopher West that all men, male and female, may through the comprehensive teaching of the Church experience the full effects of the redemption, including the redemption of the body. Like Janet Smith, I applaud West for his efforts at mining John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and pioneering its popular formulation. But at this point we need to be careful to distinguish between what comes from the magisterium and the saints, and what comes from West’s unanchored speculation. No matter how much novelty may sound like good news that does not equate it with the gospel or with the teaching of the Church. We just need to be crystal clear about that.

Pugin Veil1

Schindler was exactly correct when he said that the uneasiness of many individuals with the ethereal excursions of West “is a consequence not only or always of unconscious “Puritanism” on their part, but often simply of their spontaneous and authentic human and Catholic instincts.”

I have to admit, I rolled my eyes a bit as Professor Smith confessed her prudery over the Paschal Candle; and likewise, I was a bit surprised when Professor Healy admitted that he was taken aback when West suggested before an audience that a certain questioner might have some sexual hang ups, and then bent over backwards to defend West’s behavior. It’s like we have fallen under the spell of the prudery police.

Much can be done to avoid the extremes to which men, male and female, are prone to go in matters of sexuality, but the harping about prudery every time someone disagrees with West needs to stop. It is not helpful and, as I believe I have shown above, it simply is not accurate.

There is nothing wrong with leaving the body under the veil and only revealing it to one’s spouse when the two find themselves within the sanctuary of the nuptial garden. For this no one needs to feel guilty or damaged. It is not a matter of prudery, inspired by the Manichean demon. It is a matter of reverence, inspired by the Queen of Virgins.



Father Angelo Mary Geiger, a Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate, blogs at MaryVictrix.com.