Monday, August 9, 2010

Part 2 (Pulled from running on Catholic Exchange) Defending the Theology of The Body Institute

The goal of anyone teaching TOB should be that one day those that they teach would grow enough to consume the words of Pope John Paul II themselves and not just another person’s interpretation of it.

Perhaps Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand uses an antiquated language. By this I only mean that it's beauty can be lost on the modern everyday John or Jane Doe. This may be why she finds the words of the average layperson to be vulgar or crude. In a sense, she is right; there is a more noble and beautiful language that can and should be used when possible. However, if the reality is that most persons do not read or understand the language she feels is best suited to communicate TOB, then the results would be that no matter how eloquent a person’s language, it will fall on deaf ears, it will be throwing pearls of wisdom to swine.

For example, I consider Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand a scholar. I consider myself an average person of intellect, but definitely not a scholar. In Dr. Von Hildebrand’s latest essay, she chastises Mr. West for his comments in his column “Born of a Woman” (Dec 8 2006). In fact, she claims him to have a “defective attitude.” This surprises me since she is a philosopher. What I discerned from his article was that when a woman gives birth she experiences what Mary herself did at Bethlehem “physically.” As a mother, I know that means a lot of things including our water breaking, the cervix must thin and efface, etc.

The mystery of God’s birth into the world is magnified by contemplating the birth because of the truth that is revealed in that physical experience. We are a relational beings and God is a relationship of persons. By meditating on Christ’s birth through the body of a woman and being awestruck by the truth and love revealed to us about God the Father (revealed through Motherhood), God the son (revealed through the infant of God made flesh), and God the Holy Spirit (through Mary’s yes, her receptivity as woman, allowed the Holy Spirit to overshadow her and fill her womb with life), we enter more deeply into it’s mystery.

Was it then wrong of me to contemplate that Christ’s humanity was a demonstration of the Trinity through Mary’s Motherhood and subsequent birth? When I read his article, I then meditated on the birth of my own children and understood in my own smallness that “God the Father in His Glory, united Himself through the Holy Spirit to the dust of the earth, mankind in Mary’s yes. So as St. Bernard said, God made the body that made His body and in so doing, God had a bellybutton, God had sweat, tears, blood, urine, hair and yes, there was a placenta, because this is God’s design for bringing life to be.”

This communicated to me how God does not desire to be far away, He desires to be close and intimate and a part of all of our life experiences. As Caryll Houselander says in “The Reed of God,” Christ is living out his life in every living person. He is just at different stages. So here, Mr. West entered into the mystery of Christ the infant, nourished by a womb, by a placenta and then by the breast of his mother. Was this somehow wrong?

When reading Dr. Hildebrand’s reaction to this article by Mr. West, it seemed that her response was to elevate God so high and far away from us all it is as if she places Him on a pedal stool to be looked at and adored but never ever touched and never talked about but instead “Silent adoration is the only valid response to such a mystery” are her words to us in her latest essay condemning what she clearly cannot understand.

I do have a couple final thoughts for anyone interested in my simple observations. Why is the Theology of The Body Institute being tauted as the mouthpiece for Mr. West? One get’s the feeling of a witchhunt (I say this because if you follow the blogs of those that are opposed to the Institute, they surf the internet on any and all information about persons associated with the Theology of The Body Institute and then post it on their blogs to paint the person in a negative light)

The Theology of The Body Institute has somehow been labeled as a place in which Mr. West’s views on TOB are being projected onto the world. (see Dawn Eden's Blog here

In her speech defending her essay she states:

I am here tonight to defend my master's thesis, which is a critique of Christopher West's presentation of Pope John Paul II's theology of the body. By "Christopher West's presentation," I mean not only his own personal presentation, but also, more generally, the presentation he promotes through the Theology of the Body Institute, which trains priests and lay catechists to teach his particular interpretation of John Paul II.

On her blog she has this posted:

"...the Theology of the Body Institute, which was founded to promote West's presentation.."

This is at best an opinion and at worst a false allegation.

The mission statement of the Theology of The Body Institute is this

"The Theology of the Body Institute exists to promote the revolutionary teaching of Pope John Paul II on the divine meaning of the human body and human sexuality."

Furthermore, while she may know what Mr. West's books and tapes say, she does not know what the Institute teaches. Why? Because she has never attended any of the Institute's courses.

I have attended ALL of the courses that she would have been able to attend she is not on my roster. As for previous TOB 1 courses, I used my class rosters to contact attendees, her name is not on their rosters either.

Perhaps she should modify her essay to say that she has no first hand knowledge of what the Institute teaches.

Another proof that the Institute was created to promote the Teaching of Pope John Paul 11's Theology of The Body and not of Mr. West's "teachings" is that he only teaches 2 of the 5 offered courses and other instructors have been teaching those this past year. Further proof? The books used to teach the course are not Mr. West's books but rather the books used are Theology of The Body by Pope John Paul II as well as Love and Responsiblity and of course their student manuals. The student manuals are filled with quotes from Saints, previous and current Pope(s)and the Catechism of The Catholic Church – all approved resources. If she had attended any of the courses, she would have known that, notice there is no critique of the manuals used in the courses to "train" the attendees.

Secondly, Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand acknowledges Dawn Eden, stating “her in-depth knowledge of the work of Christopher West has been crucial to me.” If one is going to write an essay critiquing another person, then I would suggest that said writer should use the original person as it’s source and not the “in-depth knowledge” of an entirely separate person. The first rule of any scientific theory is that you must control the variables. For someone who as never attended any of the courses taught by the Theology of The Body Institute, it would seem any comments she would have about the Institute would be of only her own opinion and interpretations of what she had either heard or read about from someone else. The courses are not taped and there are no video's of the courses so again, she would not have any first hand knowledge of what goes on at the Theology of The Body Institute. That being said, I am not sure how this merits source material for Dr. Von Hildebrand.

If I have any opinion on the essay by Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand it would be this; They both love the Church very much. They both have a gift to share with the world. They both understand and communicate the Truth revealed by Pope John Paul ll in Theology of The Body. However, they just speak a different language. I agree with Heidi Hess Saxon, they are different parts of the body of Christ and each serve a unique purpose in the Church. Don't take my word for it, check the Imprimatur at the beginning of his books, or perhaps ask the bishops that are on the board for the Institute:

The following bishops have also joined our Episcopal Board:

His Eminence George Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney

Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila, Bishop of Fargo

Most Reverend Robert Baker, Bishop of Birmingham

Most Reverend John M. Dougherty, D.D., V.G. Auxiliary Bishop of Scranton

Most Reverend Victor Galeone, Bishop of Saint Augustine

Most Reverend Alfred C. Hughes, Archbishop of New Orleans

Most Reverend William E. Lori, Bishop of Bridgeport

Most Reverend John Myers, Archbishop of Newark

Most Reverend Joseph F. Naumann, Archbishop of Kansas City

Most Reverend Kevin C. Rhoades, Bishop of Harrisburg

Dr. Von Hildebrand states clearly in her source material that she has not studied all of the writings of Mr. West herself. Instead she uses the opinions of another person's critique. I propose that if she or her source had attended a course offered by the Theology of The Body Institute personally, she may have found something beautiful within his approach and could have perhaps entered into a dialogue. I agree with Heidi Hess Saxton's comments on that Surely, the best course of action would be for a dialogue with Mr. West rather than what comes off feeling like a public denouncement of him and the Theology of The Body Institute.

I am grateful for both of the Drs. Von Hildebrands beautiful and articulate language to help me go deeper. I am also grateful to Mr. West. He is like a fisherman, he goes out into the world and catches the fish that are swimming in our current culture and we the church with all our rich resources are the net.

I suspect many will be led to read Dietrich Von Hildebrand because of their conversions through Mr. West evangelistic work sharing TOB with the world.
So I will end with what we should all be praying for.

I pray that Mr. West, will receive enlightenment from the Holy Spirit so that the language he uses can elevate the message and magnify the truths within Theology of The Body so that his work can be fruitful and pleasing to the Lord. In the end, that is all that matters. If his work is pleasing to God, not to scholars or to men, but God.

On a personal note to Christopher West; Thank you so much for your yes, I can now listen to the music of forever and imagine my bridegroom singing to me and His song fills me with peace, excitement, joy and love. Amen


Kevin said...

I think you as well misunderstand what Dr. Von Hildebrand was trying to say.

The Virgin Birth is primarily a miraculous event. Not only does Mary give birth the the Savior yet remain a virgin, yet her virginal integrity is completely maintained in the act. While we cannot know precisely what happened, we do know that it was in a very real way different from "normal" births.

How is it different? Some mysteries are so profound, words fail to do them justice. that was simply her point. When Aquinas wrote in Adore te Devote about how God and man could die on a cross, he doesn't try to give a full length understanding of how. He just acknowledges that it happened, and falls on his knees in adoration. While we should never forget that Mary (and Jesus for that Matter) were both fully human, we can run a risk of really diminishing God's miracles if we aren't careful with our analogies. The Immaculate (and Virginal) conception can be obscured when it is acted as if the Holy Spirit "impregnated" her the way a husband does a wife. The Virgin Birth can be reduced to just another natural birth, by a woman who happened to be a virgin.

These dangers are real, and have occurred throughout history. Why we need to tread very carefully. It isn't the language of the philosopher or scholar, I am neither. said...

Beautifully stated. I agree and see your interpretation of this event and how it can be understood in terms of it's profound mystery. You are right that analogies can break down.

While I agree analogies are not perfect, it would be a great loss no one ever wrote about these mysteries and shared their insights with us.

To say that "silent adoration" is the only proper response is to say that we should not be discussing or writing about the virgin birth and this is the only contention I had.

I apologize for being unable to see how meditating on the virgin birth could some how diminish God's miracle. The fact that the Holy Spirit is not physical, as a husband is physical, would seem to me prevent anyone from extrapulating the event of her Immaculate Conception as less of a miracle.

I also do not see how someone who understands that the Holy Spirit is pure spirit could some how think Mary was impregnated in the way in which a husband impregnates his wife, which is physical. Am I not understanding your point here?

While I agree we must be careful with our analogies so that we do not some how diminish God's miracles, I am not making the connection with what you are trying to tell me in your argument.

Could you please expound so that I can understand? Thank you.