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Saturday, May 23, 2009



I am totally in agreement with Mr. Schindler.


I have no formal training in any of this so I eagerly look forward to more discussion to follow. That said, I've always believed that it will take at least a century for the TOB to truly unfold. The charity in which Dr Schindler's remarks are grounded and [God willing] the humility with which they will be received will go a long way towards making the discussion fruitful and genuinely kind. I've been grieved to see how many have their knives out for Mr West, when in actuality (as Dr Schindler notes) he has acted with the best of intentions.

In all, the entire body of knowledge will benefit by analysing how the popular culture both frees us to discuss such things and yet sandbags us in confused alleys. There is an urgency to the topic, but not to the degree that we settle for anything less than a proper understanding in God's own time.


It seems clear that West indeed sexualizes Christianity rather than Christianizing sexuality.


He complains about "the disproportionate emphasis on sex". But John Paul opened a TOB school on every continent. So at least at those schools you are going to get that emphasis. It is not the whole picture except by stretching the analogy pretty far. Still sex is a big part of today's spiritual problem. We need to talk about it to deal with it. Schindler might not be comfortable with that but JPII certainly was.


Randy, those schools are not TOB they are Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family and their teaching encompass much more than TOB, big difference!

A Fellow Sinner

I believe the passage below from St. Paul is one we could all benefit from praying over when it comes down to it. In all things our mantra should be (and I believe this is CW's) "He must increase, I must decrease."

"Brothers, I could not talk to you as spiritual people, but as fleshly people, as infants in Christ. I fed you milk, not solid food, because you were unable to take it. Indeed, you are still not able, even now, for you are still of the flesh. While there is jealousy and rivalry among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving in an ordinary human way? Whenever someone says, "I belong to Paul," and another, "I belong to Apollos," are you not merely human? What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, just as the Lord assigned each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor. For we are God's co-workers; you are God's field, God's building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire (itself) will test the quality of each one's work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someone's work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy. Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God, for it is written: "He catches the wise in their own ruses," and again: "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain." So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you, Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God."
- 1 Corinthians 3


"Sex is a big part of today's spiritual problem."


"it will take at least a century for the TOB to truly unfold."

Double huh? despite echoing Weigel.

The more TOB and West are looked at, the more it all seems a huge chasing after the culture to be relevant, and surprising.

"Sex is not even the most important part of human love, let alone the key to the Christian mysteries."

Boom. That cuts West off at the legs, unfortunately.


Joe: you've got it backwards. The Church never chases after the culture to be relevant but is available to answer the burning questions of the day. In the past, those questions involved such things as the Trinity, the Blessed Mother, and the hypostatic union. Each unfolded according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the previous actions of the Magisterium. Today's generation questions the very notion: "male and female He made them," which was blindingly obvious before this. Or was it? Given two thousand years of Christian theology (which includes anthropology) we should be able to answer this question with more than "double duh." To go deeper means we don't have to rely on stereotypes or truisms, but God's own "Because..."

To follow your argument, one assumes you find "Love and Responsibility" a waste of time, and indeed, the entire response to the questions on the meaning of the family. Surely, you don't mean that.

Robert Miller

I must confess that I am a TOTB neophyte.

But I am old enough to know a lot about how we got into a mess where abortion is considered sacred, homosexuality is the "third rail" in culture and politics, and no one really cares anymore about divorce. It's the "sexual revolution", stupid. And you almost have to be a Baby Boomer not to see the moral, personal, social, economic, demographic, etc., etc., devastation it has wrought (what euphemizers like to call the "culture of death" or the "culture of greed").

To the extent that anyone leads anyone to believe that the Church embraces the "values" of the sexual revolution, he is inviting that condemnation the Lord extended to those who scandalize His little ones.


"The Church never chases after the culture to be relevant..."

This is a joke?

Mark Brumley

Interesting observations from Prof. Schindler.

Deacon Harold

When Dr. Alice von Hildebrand (as well as Dr. Mary Shivanandan and Fr. Jose Granados) spoke out against West's approach to TOB (, she criticized West's approach as "vulgar" and "irreverent.” Dr. von Hildebrand also implied that West's presentation of TOB is dangerous because it ignores natural law and intimacy with God as basic tenets.

Without attempting to read Christopher West's mind or necessarily defend his approach, I believe he is trying to make the TOB relevant by engaging people who are totally immersed in and consumed by secular culture, and who don't understand or care about the Bible, concupiscence, and original sin. In doing so, he interprets TOB utilizing language and examples that he believes the culture will understand, eventually resulting in the "a-ha!" moment of realization that the TOB is a good thing. This is where the rub is.

Having seen and heard a number of West's presentations, he truly does have an excellent grasp on the anthropology that infuses the TOB. However, I would agree that his tendency to sometimes overemphasize sexuality within TOB (as presented by his critics) obscures the proper emphasis of communion with God as the fundamental element of human existence.

That being said, I think Dr. Schindler, as well as Dr. von Hildebrand, Dr. Shivanandan, and Fr. Granados all make very valid points that West should take seriously. I believe he will learn and grow from this experience.

Daniel G. Fink

I'm trying to think with the Church and wrap my arms around Professor Schindler's cautions and criticisms. Having been to more than one TOB seminar, as well as being in possession of much written material regarding the TOB, I'm now being asked to temper my enthusiasm.

Some of Professor Schindler's points strike a chord immediately. Dr. von Hildebrand has spoken of the "feminine mystery", and natural modesty which I want to understand even better. I never thought to contrast it with "shame", perhaps because that was a theme of Pope John Paul II's with regard to Adam and Eve's covering their nakedness due to the Fall.

I also find sympathy for criticisms regarding style. I am personally uneasy with the implications I sense from West at times, that the Church was clueless about the truth of our sexuality until Pope John Paul II's visible role in the Church. I would rather maintain that generally the Holy Spirit guided the Church in ways proper to the place and time in which She found herself challenged by a given culture.

However, I'm finding it difficult to sift through the criticism that West is "preoccupied" with "pansexualism". Pope John Paul II devoted roughly his first 5 years of Wednesday audiences to the basic theme of the "nuptial meaning of the body" based upon the exegesis of Genesis 1-3, God's initial communication to man regarding the "primordial sacrament". This would be the foundation for the Pope's preeminent teaching to the Church that through the family, one achieves the "communion of persons" which images and participates in the communion of Persons in the Trinity. Negatively, the distortion of total self-giving love (contraception, destroys this participation (thus the interpretation of "Humanae Vitae", the TOB).

If this is a failure to comprehend the idea that there is a radical "discontinuity" between supernatural love and sexual love, then I'm at a loss to grasp how any of the sacraments effect God's grace to us, empowering us to participate in the divine nature (2 Pt 1:4).

Sarkis bin Yusif

First, I think Christopher West should be congratulated for his efforts to help us understand the Theology of the Body. Secondly, as Mr. Brumley alluded to, any criticism, if accepted with graciousness, will only serve to help Mr. West elaborate more clearly and correctly his understanding of this issue and help him to articulate it better in popular language.
Those who write about sex and sexuality from an ecclesial perspective are usually intellectuals, academicians and professors who approach the subject so abstractly in convoluted, scholastic language; a prime example of this would be John Paul II himself in his Wednesday talks on the Theology of the Body. We see, read and hear of all kinds of books, articles and lectures about the subject of sex and sexuality by Church people, but very rarely do we have a person capable of putting it all into common, simple, relevant idiom for youth or for the common folk like the poor or those who are not highly educated. In fact, the Church has failed miserably in making a convincing case of the truth of its sexual teaching because she still doesn't know how to present its beauty plainly, clearly, and dynamically so as to pierce the hearts of youth and transform the culture. Dr. Schindler, Dr. von Hildebrand, Dr. Shivanandan and Fr. Granados may be good for academicians and scholars, but ask youth or the common people if they understand their writings, and most would run the other way! We need true pastors who "walk" with "the people" and the youth, who hear their questions and yearnings without immediately censuring and judging; pastors who seek to understand their own sexuality in their own relationships and in light of the Gospel and live it according to the Good News and thereby be ready to "give the reasons for their hope" in clear, understandable speech. Mr. West is one of the few who have attempted this and he should be encouraged even with some critical feedback. All power to you, Mr. West!

Mark Brumley

This is a fascinating discussion. To some degree the differences between West and those critics who support the TOB can be accounted for in terms of the differences between precise theological formulations and popular presentations. To some degree but not entirely. Even after the difference between precise formalution and popular presentation is taken into account there seem to remain some basic differences in understanding. It seems helpful to have some public discussion and debate about these things. Let's have more of it.


The word "relevant" keeps coming up. Better to focus on truth, whether it's "relevant" or not (it always is).


It is interesting. I do think people are being generally unfair to Chis West. I think he is the one who is stating things more precisely because JPII has given us a language to do that with. We have much of the Hugh Hefner philosphy in the church. The notion that the Catholic sexual ethic is to hard and should be largely discarded. We have much of a new Gnosticism in the church. The idea that less sex is synonymous with a holier life. But those philosophies are being expressed in drips and drabs. People know they are heresies but they still buy them on some level. So when James Akin says "I don't know anyone who thinks like that" he misses the point. Very few would embrace what West describes in those terms. But they do bring in the same ideas by the back door.

Is West perfect? No. But he gets it. He gets our need to be moral and our need to be sexual. We know our sexuality runs deep. Getting sex right is vital. You can say it isn't the center but many sexual sins are mortal sins. If you are bound up in a mortal sin that is sexual then it is the center for you. Look around at the world you live in. There are many, many people for whom that is true.


There is a true beauty to the nuptial meaning of the body and the giving of oneself totally to a spouse, in this marriage reflects Christ's relationship to the Church. But, the analogy of Christ's relationship to the Church and the nuptial meaning of the body extends to all of the spiritual life and the universal call to holiness. IMO, JP II's TOB and his anthropology are focused toward this end of man which includes the procreative and unitive aspects of the marital act.

The problem with West lies in his overemphasis on sex to the detriment of the other aspects. Randy is right, sexuality runs deep but charity and love run even deeper, and that is the holiness we are called to in the spiritual life. Vanier's Man and Woman: He Created Them is an excellent compliment to TOB, he deals with the psychological effects of a lack of love and how can hinder sexual maturity and lead to sin. It is love that can purify the human frailties due to sin Like Dr. Schindler states, sex is not the most important aspect of human love, the marital act is important, but in itself is not apart from charity.

Dr. Schindler is one of the leading theologians in the English speaking world, his words should be heeded!

Mark Brumley

So when James Akin says "I don't know anyone who thinks like that" he misses the point. Very few would embrace what West describes in those terms. But they do bring in the same ideas by the back door.

Randy, I really don't see this new Gnosticism in the Church when it comes to sex. Sorry, but I don't encounter it. Which is not to say that there aren't Catholics "with issues" when it comes to sex. I just don't see the main problems being anything like a sexual Gnosticism, unless you mean by that a divorcing of body and person.

The teeange girls who come to mass wearing strapless tops and miniskirts are not in need of looking at their naked bodies in the mirror to overcome an alleged sense of shame. In fact, they could use some sense of shame.


"I believe he is trying to make the TOB relevant by engaging people who are totally immersed in and consumed by secular culture, and who don't understand or care about the Bible, concupiscence, and original sin..."

Is this what is called the "pearls before swine" approach?

"...In doing so, he interprets TOB utilizing language and examples that he believes the culture will understand, eventually resulting in the "a-ha!" moment of realization that the TOB is a good thing."

Is the TOB a means to an end or an end in itself?

Peter McCabe

First of all Carl and Mark your analysis on this blog is excellent. This is the first place I come to see what's happening in the world, really......and for the record, I recently purchased the "Death of a Pope" as a result of my reading your posts. (so hopefully you can keep doing what you are doing)

With regards to the Christopher West discussion, I appreciate Dr. Schindler's comments and particularly his recognition of Christopher's good intention and love for the Church.

Mark, I agree that this is a worthwhile discussion to have.

I'd like to add this point to the discussion.

jtpring said: "It seems clear that West indeed sexualizes Christianity rather than Christianizing sexuality."

I am not a theologian, but it seems to me that this is an area that Christiopher West has got it RIGHT and some of his critics have it wrong.

Sexuality is not in need of being Christianized. Sexuality is created by God. It is our fallen nature which is in need of redemption, not the reality that God made us male and female. How can Divine Revelation be in need of "Christianization"?

I think discussions about proper recognition and emphasis of concupiscence are important, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. And of course TOB is not an end in itself.


I don't think West says sex is the most important aspect of human love. That is just a straw man. West talks about self-sacrifice and self-donation as being central to love. Sex needs to be about complete self-donation. Like the passion of Christ. A total, unlimited, unprotected gift of self. That is connected with other aspects of love that also involve self-sacrifice. But that does not mean sex is the most important aspect.

Charity and love can run deep. But they don't get abused like sex does. Our society seems to have perverted sex and that has led to a perversion of charity.

If you don't think sex is important than don't bother with TOB. There are lots of books about topics you consider holy enough.


As for the teenage girls who come to mass in strapless tops and miniskirts. Ask them what they understand about the catholic view of sex. I bet most will have an understanding that the church just wishes they were just not sexual at all. That is what I meant by gnostic. Maybe the term is not right. I know there were a few early heresies that said the body was bad and the church condemned them. To say that isn't out there seems quite strange. I know when I showed the West DVD's at my parish there were a lot of hands that went up when he asked if that was the take-home message they got from their Catholic formation.

Many of these people have declared the Catholic sexual teaching to be too difficult and unrealistic. But that is mostly because they misunderstand what it is. So the idea that God loves your body can be quite revolutionary. Once you get there then you can explain why we still do need to be modest. Not before God but before man. So they get the right kind of shame. A shame about letting anyone look at their body who might not look with the love and respect that it is due.

Rich Leonardi

If not West, then who?

In other words, can anyone suggest a reliable guide to TOB?

I believe Fr. Granados has written a book with Carl Anderson, but I know nothing about it.

Mark Brumley

Randy, you must attend a different church from the one I attend.

People who want to do something that's wrong will often say things to justify their position. That doesn't make them so.

I just don't see all these uptight Catholic parents and schools teaching young people to be ashamed of their bodies, etc. Maybe there are certain very conservative schools where that happens. Maybe that was common 50 years ago. Maybe. But I doubt it's widespread today.


Fr. Wade Menezes of The Fathers of Mercy has recently gotten some good attention for his popularization of TOB. Knowing The Fathers of Mercy, I am confident that his presentations are more prudent while still hitting the mark.

Ed Peters

Janet Smith has a powerful reply to Schindler at Headline Bistro:


I loved Dr. Smith's insights! What a relief to read such rational and clear analysis of the controversy!


Janet Smith barely touched on the controversy and simply asked Schiindler to make a clarification. To say that her reply is "powerful" is laughable when we take into account what is really the issue here. For those who actually want a little more on Schindler's criticism of the popular interpretation of TOB, see his latest article on Communio where he criticizes Michael Waldstein's introduction in his great translation.

The problem with Schindler is that he is coming from a great deal of theological knowledge that people do not yet have and people who do are not accustomed to the theological debates these days won't fully understand the issues.

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