Thursday, September 16, 2010

A point by point rebuttal to Dawn Eden's Thesis

Thank you Sister Lorraine for the incredible gift of time and energy you have dedicated to uncovering errors as well as revealing a better language for those of us who are trying to bring Theology of The Body to the world as well as learn to live through our own fiat.

I am so very grateful for you providing a forum on your blog for those of us who are looking for worthwhile discussion on this subject and I am sure that our labor will bear fruit for ages to come.

It seems there are many who, no matter how you try to encourage them to see truth, will refuse to see it. For those readers that are truly interested in discovering truth and helping others to discern where there is either error or confusion in all of this, I would like to make an observation. I have seen on many blogs that people are taking Ms. Dawn Eden's thesis at face value. The end result is that Mr. Christopher West's work is being impugned as well as the work of the Theology of The Body Institute.

It seems that the reason this is occurring is that people are not evaluating what they are reading critically. One way this can be remedied is by printing out Ms. Dawn Eden's thesis and then reading through her points line by line. If they use a copy of “Theology of The Body Explained” by Mr. Christopher West to read his words in full context as well as “Theology of The Body” Pope John Paul II (the revised edition has the necessary citations to make looking up exact areas referenced an option). In doing this, the reader will be able to see where Mr. West was or was not in error in his teaching on TOB based on JP2's original masterpiece.

It is a slower process than just reading something, making assumptions and then blogging about it but I believe it makes for more worthwhile discussions that are rooted in truth. For those dedicated to the truth and not merely slandering one another, it is worth it. I have actually found some areas where Mr. West could have used different words to express himself which I will provide later on.

In regard to your statement “My main point that I hoped to make clear is that Dawn's critique is not a fair and impartial one. It is incomplete and her bias is obvious from the way she writes in her thesis”. Is well substantiated. In fact, for anyone who looks up the footnotes will notice right away that many sentences quoting West are taken from multiple sources strung together. There has also been instances where her own opinion within the footnote which re-contextualizes the footnoted statement. The result is the addition of her bias, her comments are threaded throughout the thesis but they come across as if she is bringing to light errors in West's presentation.

Since I have already shared these with Ms. Eden personally and since I have also told her that I will continue to dialogue with her, let me share some examples;

FALSE: "The Theology of the Body Institute was founded to promote West's presentation".(see it here:

TRUTH: The Theology of The Body was founded in 2004 by David Savage,with the cooperation of speaker and author Christopher West and Matthew Pinto, founder of Ascension Press and

 FALSE: "The Theology of the Body Institute was founded to promote West's presentation".(see it here:

TRUTH: The mission of Theology of the Body Institute is to educate and train men and women to understand, live and promote the Theology of the Body.
FALSE:"At the time I wrote my thesis, West and the Theology of the Body Institute, which was founded to promote his presentation of the theology of the body” (emphasis mine) shared as fact by Dawn Eden's in her thesis "Toward a Climate of Chastity" 3rd paragraph under"Preface to the Third Edition
FALSE ACCUSATION: "..the Theology of the Body Institute, which West founded and directs" (emphasis mine) page four of Dawn's Thesis. She actually uses afoot note from a Zenit article (found here: to support this claim.
TRUTH: Dawn Eden sites the above article as a foot note to prove the validity of her statement. When I went to the actual article and read what it said, this is the quote I found from Cardinal Justin Rigali:
"We are convinced that John Paul II's Theology of the Body is a treasure for the Church, indeed a gift of the Holy Spirit for our time."Yet, its scholarly language needs to be 'translated' into more accessible categories if the average person is to benefit from it."To do this is the specific mission of the Theology of the Body Institute, and we believe that Christopher West, the Institute's popular lecturer and spokesman, has been given a particular charism to carry out this mission." No where in the article is there a reference that the Theology of The Body Institute was founded by West and under the direction of West.
TRUTH: Christopher West is simply the Institute's popular lecturer and spokesman, not the founder and director who founded the Institute to promote "his" interpretations of TOB to priest and layperson. This is an untrue statement in the thesis, the footnoted source used to prove this statement as a truth does not support the statement and it should be rephrased or retracted.
FALSE ACCUSATION: "you just have to know Christopher West to understand him" from Dawn Eden's thesis.
TRUTH: If Ms. Eden is going to write a Thesis which equates the Theology of The Body Institute and it's teachings with Mr. West and his teachings as well as say that Mr. West teaches a different Theology of The Body than that of what is presented in John Paul II's writings, then she must have accurate knowledge and proof of this.
Ms. Eden would have had to attended or viewed lectures, writings or video presentations from the Institute in which to base her material on. This is not the case. Ms. Dawn Eden has not attended any courses taught at the Theology of The Body Institute.
Ms. Eden has not viewed any video or listened to any taped presentations from the Institute as they are not recorded.

Ms. Eden has not read through the course materials as the manuals are not available to the public. They are available to course attendees only if she had some how gotten a hold of a manual, most of the course is lecture form with references to the manuals so this view would be incomplete.
Therefore Ms. Eden would not know what is or is not being taught there unless she has attended the courses. It is my assertion that Ms. Eden did not have any of this information to use when compiling her thesis and therefore her thesis would be lacking necessary information to prove most of her points.
I have attended 4 of the 5 courses given by the Theology of The Body Institute and Ms. Eden was not present in any of them. I have contacted past course attendees and facilitators and have confirmation that Ms. Eden has never attended a course taught at the Institute. Therefore, Ms. Eden can not know what is being taught there.
I purpose that in her 4th edition to her thesis that she exclude any references to the Theology of The Body Institute until she attends a course. Until then, she does not have sufficient knowledge to substantiate her claims. The courses are very inexpensive and there are scholarships available. Food and shelter, which is a cost of the retreat center and unrelated to the Institute in any way, are the most substantial cost but still very inexpensive for what you receive.

FALSE; “West condemns those who seek to avoid occasions of sin”. Ms. Eden states on page 43 of her thesis: "At a time when Catholic young adults overwhelmingly ignore Church teachings on premarital chastity (if they are aware of them at all), West's urging engaged couples to "accept the risk" rather than "lock up (their) freedom"107 lends credence to Schindler's concern that his "ambiguity" could lead to "dangerous imprudence in matters of sexuality."
TRUTH: Mr. West is merely stating that occasions of being alone do not and should not all be occasions of sin just because a couple would be alone.  If being alone always equates an occasion of sin, then the couple may not have their desires properly ordered. They may not love one another but merely desire one another.  (This will be part of my argument of lust in the heart later).

FALSE: Footnote 107 is used to support Ms. Eden's comment that West condemns those who seek occasions of sin and encourages engaged couples to “accept risk”.

TRUTH: Footnote #107 refers to TOB Explained, revised edition, 275 and reads as follows: "A couple who choose not to be alone together in order to avoid sexual temptation should be commended.  (This does not sound like West is condemning them.)  They should also be aware that they are called by Christ to a much deeper freedom". 

As for the comment of "accepting the risk" or "locking up freedom" West was not talking about risking sexual purity, rather this is the proper quote:

 "We are called to set our eyes on Christ, get out of the boat, and walk on water.  Many Christians, it seems, stay in the boat for fear of sinking if they were to get out.  This may seem like a "safer" approach.  We can't sink if we never leave the boat.  But neither can we walk on water. The truth of human life does not reside in the boat! It can only be found on the water amidst the wind and the waves-in the drama of putting faith to the test and learning to walk with our eyes set on the Lord.  Learning to love always involves risk.  (notice West is referring to love when he says risk is involved).  "There is nothing "safe" about it.  But it is better to get out of the boat and accept the risk of sinking than to lock up our freedom and throw away the key.  As with Peter, Christ says, "Come!" Yes, we might sink.  If we do, we have a merciful Savior ready to save us, as did Peter."
Clearly West was talking about Love, he was talking about growing in faith and true charity, not about placing our selves into occasions of sinful temptation.  Surely West did not mean that Christ was saying "Come!, go ahead and tempt sin.  West was referring to the risk of our hearts, the risk that we open them to love more purely. Her quote of "West's urging engaged couples to "accept the risk" is unfounded and the footnote used there seems to site her own opinion, rather than actual facts of what West was writing as the source in which to back up her claim.

 Her source is not a sound source. Anyone not taking the time to look up these things would believe them at their face value and this is the danger in her thesis.

If someone can provide a direct quote, in context please, in which West is urging engaged couples to accept the risk of occasions that they know would be sinful for them, please send them over to me as I would like to see evidence to this false accusation.

FALSE: On page 7 of Dawn's intro of 3rd edition to her thesis she says of West “He asserts that, because the human body is inherently holy and decent, the need for women to dress modestly exists only because many men are impure. Those who are tempted by the sight of immodestly dressed women have failed to make the effort to attain mature purity.”

TRUTH: West is speaking of lust in the heart not carnal concupiscence. There needs to be a language we can all agree on to understand that John Paul II spoke of different kinds of lust. He also spoke of “carnal concupiscence.

Page 107 of JP2's TOB 1/2 way down the page:
"It must be deduced from this that the "adultery in the heart", committed by the man when he "looks at a woman lustfully," means a quite definite interior act. "  He later goes on to say (same page bottom)
The pope also mentions that Christ uses the words "looks" to draw our attention to the eyes since the sense of sight is highlighted.  (Relevant to my point coming up)
If you go to JP2's TOB page 156 "Interpreting the Concept of Concupiscence"  in the first paragraph it says "Lust of the eyes is defined specifically as "adultery committed in the heart".  HERE IS WHERE IT IS CRUCIAL TO MATURE PURITY; "The moral evaluation of lust (looking lustfully), which Christ called adultery committed in the heart, seems to depend above all on the personal dignity itself of man and of woman.  This holds true both for those who are not united in marriage, and-perhaps even more-for those who are husband and wife." 

The pope goes on to say (bottom of same page 156) "Christ did not stress that it is "another man's wife," or a woman who is not his own wife, but says generically, a woman."
The reason this is important is that many people begin to believe that marriage has a 3rd purpose, which is relief of concupiscence. This is not an error in and of itself, however, when we begin to think that "relief" means that marriage legitimizes a desire to use his wife for pleasure, rather than burn and lust outside of marriage, then we have veered off course. It is my opinion that our understanding of marriage being a relief is better translated as remedy. In this way, we understand the marriage can heal lust of the heart as we become tranformed by grace. Although carnal concupiscence is something we will live with and fight against until our deaths, the concupiscence that tends to turn our hearts so that we "look" on others with lust, can be healed to that of being able to "look" with eyes of love. (Forgive me for not wording this correctly in a previous post on Sr. Lorraines blog. I have corrected my words for it was wrong of me to assume that this is what Ms. Eden believes. I thank Kevin for pointing this error out as he graciously did, for it was definitely worded to seem I was intending an attack on Miss Eden's character and I certainly did not mean to do this. I apologize with all my heart publicly and I will do so again privately to Ms. Eden).

Defenders of marriage being a “relief of concupiscence” often quote the tribunal on marriage from The council of Trent that refers to the marriage act being a "remedy for concupiscence" but John Paul II teaches us that remedy is meant to mean a healing and we should not mistake remedy to mean a relief.

To read what Christopher West's take is on this in his OWN words please go to Page 199 of TOB explained last paragraph under the subheading of "Concupiscence Habitually Threatens Love". West talks about how the Pope adds the word "almost" in the comment that "the human body has almost lost the power of expressing this love in which the human person becomes a gift" and then West goes on in pages 201-202 to use a much better analogy than the one in Dawn's Thesis  (page 40 of her Thesis). 

FALSE: If you look at Dawn's Thesis at the bottom of page 40 (3rd edition) at footnote # 93 Dawn say's here; “ West adds a footnote here: “See CCC, nos. 1768, 1770, 1775, 1968, 1972.” The sections of the Catechism that he cites concern the need to order the movements of the sense towards virtue, and the grace given by the New Law to enable the faithful to act virtuously. They do not, however, condemn those who seek to avoid occasions of sin, nor do they suggest that the proper way of enacting one's freedom in Christ is to risk occasions of sin" (emphasis mine as she as inserted her opinion in the footnote as a source).

TRUTH: West has never condemned those who seek to avoid occasions that they believe could be sinful to them and has never taught this. Her footnote to back up her claim does NOT PROVE her allegation. What is does do is declare her opinion and then she uses her own opinion as a source in the footnote to make a comment about something West has not said or done. 

FALSE: On page 42 of Ms. Eden's thesis says in regard of the account of Nonnus and Pelagia in The Desert Fathers, that the original story counters West's implications that casting a look of “mature purity” upon a “scantily clad prostitute” may cause her to notice the loving gaze and so discover God's love. Ms. Eden states in her thesis that not only does Pelagia not notice that Nonnus “looks” at her, but her conversion comes after wards.

TRUTH: John Paul II writes in TOB that “looking with the eyes” translates as “lust in the heart”. He goes into great detail educating us all that adultery or use of another person can happen in the heart without a physical action. When West shares that Pelagia does not notice that Nonnus “looks” at her, we must understand that is because Nonnus did NOT “look” at her. To “look” means in this parable and in the writings of concupiscence by John Paul II , of an objectification. “Look” in this context, means to transfer a “look” from the eyes to the heart. Nonnus did not “look” lustfully and in not “looking” thus, he did not allow lust to transfer to his heart. This is the whole point of the story.
FALSE: Ms. Eden goes on to say: “Most significantly, when Pelagia then writes to the Bishop and asks to see him, she agrees only on the condition that there be other Bishops present.” This is offers, is deliberately omitted by West because it would mean that St. Nonnus was insufficiently virtuous.
TRUTH: This demonstrates that one can, through mature purity, grow in love so that lust of the eyes, transferred to the heart, which is concupiscence from original sin, is different than carnal concupiscence or concupiscence of the flesh. The Bishop realized that “looking” upon her as he meets her on the street, and “looking” upon her in love is much different, then agreeing to meet her alone. He is acknowledging carnal concupiscence, something that West has never taught can be overcome.

FALSE: Ms. Eden also says that Nonnus's tears are not because “such beauty is being sold to the lusts of men, bur rather the bishop feels ashamed that the prostitute puts more efforts into her physical appearance than he puts into his spiritual appearance (soul) for God (this para-phrasing is mine).
TRUTH: This points to how beautifully this story relates to Theology of The Body. The Bishop is understanding the connection between the body and the soul! He weeps because he sees the connection between them. He is “seeing” her person in the moment that he discovers that her physical should match his spiritual. He is seeing a nugget of truth that is revealed in Theology of The Body.

FALSE: On page 44 of Dawns Thesis she says that “West emphasizes that a couple must advance beyond mere continence prior to marriage”. Then she claims West “chastizes” John Paul's instruction on growth in continence.

TRUTH: West talks about how just because a man and woman get married does not mean that their will not be guilt or even judgment from God for using the other person or even for committing adultery.  In the TOB, Pope John Paul II talks about adultery going from something that can occur physically between unmarried individuals (forgive my paraphrasing here) to something that can take place in a person's heart, a married person's heart and for their own spouse.  Lust can occur inside of marriage the Pope teaches us.  West shares that marriage is not a magic wand that suddenly makes an act of intercourse free from a person's desire to use another or to lust.  If God calls us to love then how can a man love his wife if he uses her?  In love and responsibility the Pope teaches us the opposite of love is not hate but use. How can two persons enter into the sacrament of Holy Matrimony if they do not LOVE each other? This is what West is alluding to.
This whole idea that marriage legitimatizes sex is not the full light of what I have just said it becomes so wrong.  I have seen how a man can grow in love to such a degree that he starts to step outside of himself and the marital embrace becomes not just a physical act of pleasure or use for pleasure but it becomes about entering into the other person and a mysterious moment that seems to make you both hover outside of your own self. 

 Before I go further, let me clarify that if two people know that they are not entering into the call to love the way they should but desire to grow in this way, that marriage and the marital act will be a means in which to heal them in this area, even if they struggled with the desire to "use" one another previous to the marriage.  The hearts acknowledgment of this "pull" and the hearts desire to heal it will be given grace through that marriage and the marital embrace.  However, if a couple desires to use one another for pleasure and they have a mentality of "I can't wait until we are married" because it is some how a magic wand that will make the sex act okay, this is a grave error and this is What West is speaking about.
I would say that any person's who diliberatly avoid all occasion of being alone together simply because they think being alone would make it an occasion of sin are missing the point of their love.  If just being alone together, constitutes an occasion of sin, then I would say the TOB would say that no love exists between these two persons and then West would be correct in saying that they should not marry.  
Here is an example: 
Lets say an engaged couple desired to go to adoration together, but seeing that this would place them alone together, they decide not to "risk" it for they believe they are being holy and pious by avoiding this "occasion" of sin, because after all, it would not be good to be alone together, regardless of where it was.  
Well, that would mean that the occasion of sin would be that they would desire an intimacy that would be sinful outside of marriage or provide an opportunity to be intimate in a way that they feel is not appropriate.  Well, this would make them no better than an animal.  Animals can not control themselves, they are ruled by instict or the body without a will or intellect to discern and choose.  However, we are not animals, we have the ability to discern what is good and impose that will on the flesh and choose the better good for sake of love. This is the freedom that Christ offers us.
When we love, truly love with mature purity, we can be in occasions of being alone without them having to be occasions of sin.  West never teaches that a couple MUST put themselves in occasions of sin, but rather occasions of being alone do not constitute occasions of sin.  This is key to where I see the misunderstanding. 
If a couple knew for a fact that a certain scenario would be an occasion of sin, then of course the couple should avoid that occasion.  Sadly, if being in adoration together would incite lust, then the couple should not be alone together, but a marriage would not legitimize their union of lust.... Just because they are married God will not sit back in heaven and say...yes my son, now that you have married her in church, have at her for her body is for you to use for pleasure, it is okay now because you are married, in fact have at it with my blessings.  This is how birth control has made it's way into marriage, by people misunderstanding the church’s teaching on the marital embrace.  There are people that think that marriage is a remedy for those who can not or think they do not have to control or heal their concupiscence, better to have sex with a wife than to burn right?
WRONG.  Remedy is not the same as relief.  Remedy is meant to be understood as a way of healing. 
 These are just SOME of the many errors I have found and a good place to begin.


Sr. Lorraine said...

Thank you, Christina, for this post and also for all your other comments.
One thing that especially struck me here was the beautiful way you used that aspect of the story of the two bishops (the way the bishop shed tears because he realized he didn't care for his soul as much as the woman cared about her appearance). It's a great application of TOB.

The discussion about lust and purity of heart seems to be the core of the issue.

Thank you for all the work you have done here.

Kevin said...

An interesting story and application indeed...... with just one problem:

It wasn't what West said. If this really just taught what West said, why are certain clear facts either omitted or altered? (Depending on how charitable you want to be.)

With all due respect, it just sounds like another layer is being added. We cannot take the words as they are written, but must search for some hidden interpretation.