Category Archives: Catholic Morality

“The Christian Meaning of Human Sexuality” by Paul M. Quay, S.J.

Full text here. PDF



Dawn Eden “The Thrill of the Chaste” CWR Blog — 4 February 2015

    Dawn Eden’s explication of chastity is both traditional and contemporary

A new, Catholic edition of “The Thrill of the Chaste” follows in a venerable tradition that includes works by Fr. Gerald Kelly, William E. May, and Fr. Benedict Groeschel

An older generation in the United States was brought up on Modern Youth and Chastity by Gerald Kelly, S.J. and his collaborators. The work was originally entitled Chastity and Catholic Youth and published by The Queen’s Work, Inc. of St. Louis. The first copyright was 1941 and by 1947 it was in its seventh printing. In 1970 there was Charity and Sex and the Young Man by Herbert Raterman.

Later a small book reflecting morals and read widely by young people was John Powell’s 1972 Why Am I Afraid to Love? For those focusing on orthodox Catholic morals after the publication of Humanae vitae in 1968, there was William E. May’s 1982 Sex, Marriage, and Chastity: Reflections of a Catholic Layman, Spouse, and Parent followed in 1985 by Benedict Groeschel’s The Courage to be Chaste. In an age of dissent perhaps Groeschel’s writing did not get the attention it deserved.

“The Thrill of the Chaste (Catholic Edition): Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On”, by Dawn Eden (Ave Maria Press, 2015)

Chastity fell out of fashion culturally in Western Europe and North America during the secularizing of morals in the Nineteen Sixties. Seeking competent popularizing in the Catholic tradition became more difficult than in 1933 when Vincent McNabb, OP published his commentary on Casti Connubii: Encyclical Letter of His Holiness Pope Pius XI. On Christian Marriage: In View of the Present Conditions, Needs, Errors and Vices that Affect the Family and Society (Sheed and Ward). Casti Connubii had been promulgated in 1930. The generation born since Father Groeschel’s writing now has Dawn Eden, a doctoral student at the University of St. Mary of the Lake (Mundelein Seminary) in Chicago. She has attracted public attention “fighting for orthodoxy” against competitors in this field, one of whom was the subject of her master’s thesis. Her work in chastity-education is self-consciously conformed to the most venerable of Church tradition and it fills a need. The 2015 edition of The Thrill of the Chaste (Catholic Edition): Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On is accessible to the average reader. Since it does not target academics, there is no mention of the classical notion of spiritual marriage (see Dyan Elliott’s Spiritual Marriage, 1995 reissue) nor any reference to those who practiced perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom (Jacques and Raïssa Maritain; Robert and Mary Rosera Joyce – see their New Dynamics in Sexual Love: A Revolutionary Approach to Marriage and Celibacy, 1970). Dawn Eden’s doctrinal orthodoxy is beyond reproach, but her writing technique of “self disclosure” may hinder her from appealing to the older generation who require “the theology of the veil.” Younger readers influenced by secularism and the therapeutic culture (well described in 1966 by Philip Rieff’s The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud), can connect. Criticisms from various quarters may stimulate Dawn Eden to produce for us yet a third edition in the future. Perhaps her doctoral studies will figure into that production. Meanwhile we hope the lost or misguided out there in the readership will discover “the thrill of the chaste,” responding both to Dawn Eden and to God’s grace.

Father Paul M. Quay on file and on Kindle: “The Q-Source”

TheChristianMeaningOfHumanSexualityProduct Details

The Christian Meaning Of Human Sexuality

by Fr. Paul Quay S.J. (Feb 16, 2011)

From a friend:

Even though… John Paul II’s Theology of Human Love,  called the Theology of the Body,  has such wide circulation, Father Quay’s book adds another facet to  the diamond (using the late  Father Richard Hogan’s terminology)  which is Christ.

Given our culture’s strong push to separate sex from procreation it is important to utilize all good means to counter with an integral vision of the human person,  as Fr. Quay’s book does. JP begins by going back to the beginning in Eden,  but by holding out the integral vision  at the beginning, he unintentionally but actually lays a guilt trip on those who do not correspond now,  while Quay begins by facing humanity as it is,  even in its fallen state, but points out what is still present despite the fall and builds on that.   The goal and the theology are the same, but the approach is different, and more attractive, to many.

John B. Manos on “The Father of Lies”

The Two Standards: Truth Incarnate or The Father of Lies.

by John B. Manos Posted on May 23, 2013 • 23 Comments
John M. DeJak liked this post

Alternate Title:

Liars are children of the devil by imitation.

two standards - truth and lies
Recently, I saw a disgusting sight on Kevin O’Brien’s blog as people reacted to a post wherein Kevin exhorted people to tell the truth (he gives more examples in his post about this article). The comments are horrid and remind one that no matter how pious and clean the outside, like the Pharisees, it’s what one believes and does from the inside that matters. There is a side discussion going on there wherein they are parsing a Chesterton quote on whether one can deceive — the discussion seems to be missing the terms “open mental reservation” versus “closed mental reservations.” I’ll leave that part of the discussion for another day.  Chesterton himself was referring to “Jesuitry” which was a misnomer for an error of the day that attributed Voltaire’s justification of lying as if the Jesuits taught it — this has never been the case as it was always the case that “The end does not justify the means.”  Back to the matter of telling the truth:

I’ve been working on the question of why nobody in the Church talks about telling the truth anymore, especially since I posted the Theology of the Body (ToB) in One Paragraph noting that one sure path to chastity is telling the truth (but you’ll never hear that from the ToB people — despite the fact that about 10% of JPII’s ToB talks were precisely on telling the truth). That’s because chastity is a mirror of inside and out — it is to the body what telling the truth is to the mind. It is here — the inconsistency between what is spoken and what is held in the mind where we see it:

Lies are hypocrisy of speech. Telling the truth is a matter of speaking all that one holds in one’s mind. Lying is saying something contradictory to the truth held in one’s mind. Lying therefore sows error in the minds of others. Error, recall, is synonymous with evil and sin (see here).

Jesus warned the Pharisees of duplicity, clearly stating the problem: “whited sepulchers, which indeed are beautiful on the outside but full of dead mens bones.” Liars are by the words they use to project false reality, making themselves different on the outside than they are on the inside. Such duplicity is abhorrent to God, and it’s unreal to see anyone attack someone for saying that lying in wrong.

Nevertheless, because nobody talks about the basic duty to tell the truth, I’ve compiled some motivational catechesis below. It goes without saying that God does not lie — He is truth. Thus, lying is not of God. It’s that simple. Yet, since people need to be reminded, here is a mini-catechism on truth.

1. The liar is like the devil and displeasing to God.

He who forfeits the confidence of his fellow-men causes a great deal of harm and is capable of committing all manner of evil [sub sinful or erroneous] deeds.

The liar resembles the devil, for the devil is a liar and the father thereof (John viii. 44). Remember how the serpent in paradise lied to Eve. Liars are children of the devil, not by nature, but by imitation. The liar is displeasing to God. God is truth itself, and therefore He abhors the liar. Our Lord did not speak as sharply of any one as of the Pharisees. And why? Because they were hypocrites (Matt. xxiii. 27).

Liars and Pharisees Are the only ones not Repented in the Gospels.  From every class of sinners He gave an example of one who was saved; e.g., Zacheus among usurers, the good thief among highwaymen, Magdalen and the Samaritan at Jacob’s well among profligate women, Saul among persecutors of the Church, but not one single individual among liars and hypocrites did He mention as having sought and found pardon.

Many a time God punished liars severely: witness Ananias and his wife Saphira, who for their falsehood fell dead at St. Peter’s feet (Acts v.) and Giezi, the servant of Eliseus, who was struck with leprosy for his lies and avarice (4 Kings V.). “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. xii. 22).

The liar forfeits the trust of his fellow-men. The shepherd who cried “Wolf” when no wolf was near, found he was not believed when his flock was really attacked; his comrades had been so often deceived that they did not heed his cries. A liar is not trusted when he speaks the truth; he is hated by God and man.

Liars often do a great deal of harm. The spies who went to view the Promised Land deceived the Israelites by their false report, and alarmed them so that they blasphemed God, wanted to stone the two spies who spoke the truth, and clamored to return to Egypt. See what mischief those men wrought: God declared His intention to destroy the people (Numb. xiii.). Jacob deceived his father and obtained his blessing fraudulently; his brother Esau threatened to kill him and Jacob was obliged to take to flight. “He that hath no guard on his speech shall meet with evils” (Prov. xiii. 3).

The liar falls into many other sins. “Show me a liar and I will show you a thief.” Where you find hypocrisy, you find cheating and all manner of evil practices. A liar cannot possibly be God-fearing. The Holy Spirit will flee from the deceitful (Wisd. i. 5). All the piety and devotion of one whose words serve to conceal, not to express his thoughts, is a mere sham; do not associate with such a one, lest he corrupt you with his ungodly ways. “Lying men are without honor” (Eccles./Sirach xx. 28). “The just shall hate a lying word ” (Prov. xiii. 5).

2. The pernicious habit of lying leads a man into mortal sin and to eternal perdition.

Lying is in itself a venial sin; but it can easily become a mortal sin if it is the means of doing great harm, or causing great scandal. He who indulges the habit of lying runs no small risk of losing his soul, for God withdraws His grace from those who deceive their neighbor. “The mouth that belieth killeth the soul” (Wisd. i. 11).

A thief is not so bad as a liar, for the thief can give back what he has stolen, whereas the liar cannot restore his neighbor’s good name, of which he has robbed him. 
“A thief is better than a man that is always lying; but both of them shall inherit destruction” (Eccles. xx. 27). A lie is a foul blot in a man (v. 26).

The soul of the liar is like a counterfeit coin, stamped with the devil’s effigy; when at the Last Day, the Judge shall ask: “Whose image is this?” the answer will be “the devil’s;” and He will then say: “Render unto the devil the things that are his” (St. Thomas Aquinas).  (!)

The Lord will destroy all that speak a lie (Ps. v. 7). Liars shall have their portion in the lake burning with fire (Apoc. xxi. 8). Our Lord uttered a terrible denunciation of the Pharisees because of their hypocrisy (Matt, xxiii. 13).

Lying is consequently forbidden, even if it may be the means of effecting much good.

St. Augustine says it is just as wrong to tell a lie for your neighbor’s advantage as to steal for the good of the poor. Not even to save one’s own life or the life of another, is a falsehood justifiable. St. Anthimus, Bishop of Nicomedia, would not allow the soldiers who were sent to arrest him, and who were enjoying his hospitality, to save him by a lie; he preferred to suffer martyrdom. We must not do evil that there may come good (Rom. iii. 8). The end does not justify the means, even if seems like it could.

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Dr. Edward N. Peters: A Primer on Church teaching regarding ‘same-sex marriage’

In the Light of the Law

A primer on Church teaching regarding ‘same-sex marriage’

No matter which way the US Supreme Court rules in the “gay marriage” cases before it the international debate over the definition of marriage will continue because that debate is, at root, about matters beyond a civil court’s competence, things like the nature of human beings and the fundamental good of society. Because we Catholics are and will surely remain major participants in such a debate we should be clear among ourselves as to what our Church teaches in this area. I offer as a primer (I stress, primer) toward such better understanding my position on the following points.

1. The Catholic Church teaches, through its ordinary magisterium and with infallible certainty, that marriage exists only between one man and one woman. CDF, “Considerations” (2003) passim; CCC 1601-1608; CCEO (1990) 776; 1983 CIC 1055 § 1; Rite of Marriage (1969) n. 2; Vatican II, Gaudium et spes (1965) 48; Pius XI, Casti connubii (1930) 6, 20, 23; Leo XIII, Arcanum (1880) 5, 24; Matthew XIX: 4-6; and Genesis II: 21-24. There is no evidence of ecclesiastical authority eversupporting any other definition of marriage.

1. Note. It is possible that this teaching is proposed as an object of belief(credenda, per Canon 750 § 1, doubt or denial of which assertion would be heresy under Canon 751 and thus sanctionable under Canon 1364 § 1); at a minimum, however, the Church proposes the man-woman assertion as necessarily to be held(tenenda) in order “to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith” (Canon 750 § 2), rendering those who “obstinately reject” the assertion liable to “a just penalty” if, having been duly admonished, they refuse to retract (Canon 1371, 2º).

2. The Catholic Church has the right and duty “always and everywhere to announce moral principles, even about the social order, and to render judgment concerning any human affairs insofar as the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls requires it.” 1983 CIC 747 § 2; CCC 2246.

3. Catholics who promote “same-sex marriage” act contrary to Canon 209 § 1 and should not approach for holy Communion per Canon 916. Depending on the facts of the case, they also risk having holy Communion withheld from them under Canon 915, being rebuked under Canon 1339 § 2, and/or being sanctioned under Canon 1369 for gravely injuring good morals.

3. Note. The situation of Catholic politicians lending support to “same-sex marriage” is to be assessed as above, with special attention being paid to the heightened responsibility that civil servants have to protect the common good. CDF, “Considerations” (2003) 10; CCC 2235-2237, 2244; 1983 CIC 1326 § 1, 2.

4. The Catholic Church would regard any attempt by persons of the same sex to marry, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof, as null. CCC 1603; 1983 CIC 1055 § 1.

5. Catholics who attempt a “same-sex marriage” act contrary to Canon 209 § 1 and should not approach for holy Communion per Canon 916. Depending on the facts of the case, they also risk having holy Communion withheld from them under Canon 915, being rebuked under Canon 1339 § 2, and/or being sanctioned under Canon 1379 for simulation of a sacrament. Moreover, Catholics who assist others toward attempting a “same-sex marriage” cooperate in the bad act of those others, which cooperation is liable to moral assessment in accord with the usual principles applicable to cooperation with evil and, under certain facts, according to the canonical principles applying to cooperation in crime per Canon 1329 and/or scandal per Canon 1339 § 2, etc.

5. Note. Catholics who have attempted a “same-sex marriage” or who have assisted another toward a “same-sex marriage” can be reconciled morally under the usual conditions by sacramental Confession (Canon 959) or by a ‘perfect act of contrition’ per CCC 1452; they can be reconciled canonically, if necessary, in accord with applicable law.

+ + +

Additum: Scholion on the phrase “homosexual unions” as envisioned in CDF’s “Considerations” (2003).

Some are wondering whether the 2003 CDF document requires Catholic opposition toany civil attempt to accord same-sex couples, qua couples, any, let alone many, of the rights of married couples. I think the CDF document does not make such a demand on Catholic consciences.

Consider: having thoroughly and completely and correctly rejected the claim that same-sex couples can marry, the CDF document, to underscore, I suggest, its rejection of that claim,  would not even countenance use of the phrase “same-sex marriage” or “gay marriage” or “homosexual marriage”, and instead referred exclusively to “homosexual unions”. Now, however, a decade further into this debate, the distinction between “same-sex, or gay, or homosexual marriage” and “same-sex, or gay, or homosexual unions” is more commonly recognized, with the latter category (“unions”), insofar as it limits itself to civil consequences for certain living arrangements and does not attempt to redefine marriage itself, being a possibility to be assessed in accord with prudence, while the former category (“marriage”) is, as a matter of principle, to be universally and indeed vigorously rejected.

In short, notwithstanding the 2003 CDF language, civilly sanctioned “homosexualunions”, as that term is understood today, might or might not be objectionable depending on the terms of such recognition, but civilly sanctioned “homosexualmarriage” can never be supported by Catholics in good conscience.

Salvo sapientiorum iudicio.

‘clothed in grace’—Dawn Eden on Christopher West [from “Inside the Vatican” April 2012]

In His Own Image:

Christopher West Reshapes Ratzinger’s Critique of iconoclasm

By Dawn Eden

Christopher West in At the Heart of the Gospel maintains that, in the wake of the sexual revolution, Pope John Paul II’s message to the Church and world was that “we must learn how to venerate the body as an icon of the divine mystery.” To that end, he asserts that promoting the New Evangelization requires combating iconoclasm, which he says Cardinal Ratzinger called “the summation of all heresies” because it leads us to “deny, devalue, neglect, or otherwise reject human sexuality as an icon of the divine.” These claims are foundational to the larger argument West makes in the book, which is that the New Evangelization, rather than throwing out all that is evil in our pornographic culture, should “overcome evil by ‘filling in the void’ it leaves or by ‘untwisting the good’ that it distorts.”

But did John Paul really call us all to “venerate the body”? Did the future Pope Benedict XVI really term iconoclasm the summation of all heresies, and did he do so for the same reason as West? If not, does West’s advice that the Church “descend into the culture” still stand as an answer to the evil of pornography? To answer those questions fairly, it is necessary to look at each of West’s assertions in context, along with the sources he cites.

West: Body reveals “divine mystery”

West’s description of what he says is John Paul’s call to “venerate the body” occurs in a section on the need to avoid the extremes of “idolatry” and “iconoclasm” with regard to the body:

How should Christians respond to the secular world’s “cult of the body”—with a de-emphasis on the body and a new emphasis on “the spirit”? If so, one might have expected John Paul II to respond to the sexual revolution by offering the Church and the world an extended “theology of the spirit.” But, instead, he gave us an in-depth theology of the body. Why? Can we not recognize in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body—a gift bequeathed the Church at the end of the second millennium—that the Successor of Peter was applying the critical lessons bequeathed the Church at the end of the first millennium in the iconoclastic crisis? To the world he was saying: we mustn’t worship the body. To believers he was saying: we mustn’t reject the body. To both he was saying: we must learn how to venerate the body as an icon of the divine mystery. [At the Heart of the Gospel, 184-185]

No source is given for this distillation of John Paul’s message, but West later quotes an address from the late pope’s Catecheses on Human Love (which West calls the Theology of the Body) that mentions “veneration” of the “divine mystery” in connection with sexuality: “[As] John Paul says, we should be ‘full of veneration for the essential values of conjugal union … of the conjugal act.’ For it ‘bears in itself the sign of the divine mystery of creation and redemption’” (At the Heart of the Gospel, 234). So it appears that West takes his original claim of John Paul’s exhortation to “venerate the body” from that same catechesis.
John Paul’s original words appear in his November 14, 1984 Wednesday audience, in which he comments on what Humanae Vitae shows us with regard to the gift of fear:

The gifts of the Holy Spirit, and especially the gift of respect for what is sacred, seem to have a fundamental significance here. This gift sustains and develops in the married couple a particular sensitivity to everything in their vocation and life that bears the sign of the mystery of creation and redemption: a sensitivity to everything that is a created reflection of God’s wisdom and love. Therefore that gift seems to introduce the man and woman to a specially profound respect for the two inseparable meanings of the conjugal act, which the encyclical speaks of in relation to the Sacrament of Marriage (Humanae Vitae 12). …

Respect for the twofold meaning of the conjugal act in marriage, which results from the gift of respect for God’s creation, is manifested also as a salvific fear. It is a fear of violating or degrading what bears in itself the sign of the divine mystery of creation and redemption. …

If this salvific fear is directly associated with the negative function of continence (that is, to resistance with regard to concupiscence of the flesh), it is also manifested—and to an ever greater degree as this virtue gradually matures—as sensitivity filled with veneration for the essential values of the conjugal union: for the two meanings of the conjugal act (or, to use the terminology of the previous analyses, veneration for the interior truth of the mutual language of the body).

Two things are clear: First, John Paul is not calling his listeners to “venerate the body.” He is speaking of the need for spouses to venerate “the essential values” of marriage and “the interior truth of the mutual language of the body.” It is an interior truth that is encapsulated in “the two meanings of the conjugal act,” the unitive and the procreative (Humanae Vitae 12). Second, with regard to the “divine mystery,” the body is not an icon, neither is the conjugal act. Rather, “the conjugal act in marriage … bears in itself the sign of the divine mystery of creation and redemption”—”bears in itself” not as a icon that is to be the object of one’s gaze, but as a sign in which one participates.
Simply put, there is no way in which a theology of “body as icon” can be derived from John Paul’s words. And this is for a simple reason: an icon cannot be a mere body. A icon’s power lies in its drawing the viewer’s attention to a face.

John Paul II: Face reveals the person

Nowhere in At the Heart of the Gospel does West mention the importance of the face for John Paul II—yet it is central to the theology of the late pope. In his Catecheses on Human Love, every time John Paul speaks of the nuptial meaning of the glorified body in union with God, he always describes this union in the scriptural phrase “face to face” (Ex 33:11, I Cor 13:11). In that phrase, he finds the biblical foundation for his personalistic understanding of communion—an understanding inspired in part by Emmanuel Levinas’s “philosophy of the face” (see John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 210).
For John Paul, the communion of persons is experienced in “intersubjectivity.” By this, he means that each member of a communion of persons—whether it be the Holy Trinity, the communion of saints, or spouses—retains his own individual “I” even as he unites himself to the other person’s “Thou.”

The nuptial, or spousal, meaning of the body, refers to the manner in which the body of the human person points to the person’s destiny of communion with God, who himself is a communion of persons. Through God, this same nuptial meaning of the body is directed towards entering into communion with all who are in Christ.

John Paul does say that the conjugal act is the earthly sign of the nuptial meaning of the body, because it represents man and woman’s mutual self-gift on every level—the levels of their shared humanity, their created sexuality, and their procreative ability. But he does not say that the way spouses experience this nuptial meaning on earth is the way we will experience in heaven. For John Paul, our spousal union with God in heaven is not to be envisioned as a union of bodies. It is to be envisioned as a union of persons—and the primary way we experience another person, in heaven and on earth, is not through the “body.” It is through the face. That is why, in his Wednesday audience of March 24, 1982, John Paul II cites the human being who “freely chooses continence for the kingdom of heaven” as the model for “the risen man”: “In him there will be revealed, I would say, the absolute and eternal nuptial meaning of the glorified body in union with God himself through the ‘face to face’ vision of him, and glorified also through the union of a perfect intersubjectivity.”

Ratzinger’s true Spirit

Given, then, that no human body (apart from that of Christ) is, precisely as body, an icon to be venerated, where does that leave West’s claim that the New Evangelization must combat “iconoclasm”? Again, his claim deserves to be read in context:

Much is at stake in the way we choose to respond to our culture’s idolatrous worship of sex. If we lean too far in the other direction, we will eventually fall into a black hole that robs us of everything Christ and his Church offer us. For iconoclasm is ‘the summation of all heresies’ as Cardinal Ratzinger observes. …

… But why the summation of all heresies? Because the antichrist is the one who denies Christ come in the flesh (see 1 Jn 4:2-3), and this is what iconoclasm does: it denies the Incarnation. [At the Heart of the Gospel, 164]

The first thing to note about the quote West adopts on iconoclasm as the “summation of all heresies” is that Ratzinger, in using that phrase in The Spirit of the Liturgy, does not voice it as his own opinion. He is summarizing the doctrine of the Church from the Second Council of Nicea onward. This may seem like a minor point, but it reflects West’s consistent efforts to portray himself not merely as a catechist passing on the traditions of the faith, but as a privileged interpreter of the present pope.

More importantly, there is a fundamental difference between Ratzinger’s theology of icons and West’s theology of the human body as icon. The human body is literal and historic—it is this person’s mortal body. Ratzinger, by contrast, is writing about icons of Christ—those based on acheiropoieta (miraculous images)—that were not intended to literally look like Christ’s body, or like any body. Literalism, Ratzinger writes, is precisely what an icon does not convey: “In the icon it is not the facial features that count (though icons essentially adhere to the appearance of the acheiropoietos). No, what matters is the new kind of seeing. The icon is supposed to originate from an opening up of the inner senses, from a facilitation of sight that gets beyond the surface of the empirical and perceives Christ, as the later theology of icons puts it, in the light of Tabor” (Spirit of the Liturgy, 121).

West quotes Ratzinger on the “new kind of seeing” several times, but omits the future pope’s conclusion that this seeing “teaches us to see Christ, not ‘according to the flesh,’ but according to the Spirit (cf. 2 Cor 5:16).” Yet it is just this point that is key to the future popes’s account of the Church’s teaching that iconoclasm is “the summation of all heresies.” Ratzinger writes:
It is the Holy Spirit who makes us capable of seeing, he whose work is always to move us toward Christ. … This seeing, which teaches us to see Christ, not “according to the flesh”, but according to the Spirit (cf. 2 Cor 5:16), grants us also a glimpse of the Father Himself.

Only when we have understood this interior orientation of the icon can we rightly understand why the Second Council of Nicaea and all the following councils concerned with icons regard it as a confession of faith in the Incarnation and iconoclasm as a denial of the Incarnation, as the summation of all heresies. The Incarnation means, in the first place, that the invisible God enters into the visible world, so that we, who are bound to matter, can know Him. In this sense, the way to the Incarnation was already being prepared in all that God said and did in history for man’s salvation. But this descent of God is intended to draw us into a movement of ascent. The Incarnation is aimed at man’s transformation through the Cross and to the new corporeality of the Resurrection. God seeks us where we are, not so that we stay there, but so that we may come to be where He is, so that we may get beyond ourselves. That is why to reduce the visible appearance of Christ to a “historical Jesus”, belonging to the past, misses the point of His visible appearance, misses the point of the Incarnation. [Spirit of the Liturgy, 122-123]

In this light, West, in claiming that the body is an icon to be venerated, is not merely confusing the body of a human person with the body of Jesus. By claiming that the human body in its present, mortal form is an icon, he is reducing it to the “historical Jesus,” effectively erasing its eschatological meaning. In other words, he is doing exactly that to which he objects: making the body an idol.

Given West’s apparent interest in The Spirit of the Liturgy, it is strange that At the Heart of the Gospel omits any reference to the part of the Ratzinger book that deals explicitly with the theology of the body. Perhaps it is because the “theology of clothing” posited by Ratzinger differs radically from West’s single-minded focus on the eschatological sign-value of nakedness. Discussing the meaning of priestly vestments in light of the hope that St. Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 5, the future pope writes:

[St. Paul’s] hope is to be not “unclothed,” but “further clothed,” to receive the “heavenly house”—the definitive body—as a new garment. … Thus the theology of clothing becomes a theology of the body. … The liturgical vestment carries this message in itself. It is a “further clothing,” not an “unclothing,” and the liturgy guides us on the way to this “further clothing,” on the way to the body’s salvation in the risen body of Jesus Christ, which is the new “house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor 5:1). The Body of Christ, which we receive in the Eucharist, to which we are united in the Eucharist (“one Body with him,” cf. 1 Cor. 6:12-20), saves us from “nakedness,” from the bareness in which we cannot stand before him. [Spirit of the Liturgy, 218]

Our true goal, then, is not to be “naked without shame,” but, rather, to be clothed in grace.

Truth uprooted

One of John Paul II’s observations in his Catecheses on Human Love was, in essence, that pornography (or “pornovision” as he called it, to distinguish it from obscene writings) does the same thing to the human person that a reductivist understanding of the “historical Jesus” does to Christ. He said that, in the pornographic image, the nuptial meaning of the body is “uprooted.” What should be the image of a person instead “becomes, through social communication, an object and what is more, in a way, an anonymous object” (April 29, 1981).

Eleven years later, as cable TV and home video exacerbated pornography’s poisonous effects on the family, John Paul sharpened his language, declaring unequivocally that pornography is “opposed to the truth about the human person”:

Pornography is immoral and ultimately anti-social precisely because it is opposed to the truth about the human person, made in the image and likeness of God (Cf. Gen. 1:26-27). By its very nature, pornography denies the genuine meaning of human sexuality as a God-given gift intended to open individuals to love and to sharing in the creative work of God through responsible procreation. By reducing the body to an instrument for the gratification of the senses, pornography frustrates authentic moral growth and undermines the development of mature and healthy relationships. It leads inexorably to the exploitation of individuals, especially those who are most vulnerable, as is so tragically evident in the case of child pornography. [“Address to the Members of the Religious Alliance Against Pornography,” January 30, 1992]

In contrast to the late pope’s account of pornography as depersonalizing, West’s univocal understanding of body-as-icon leads to the profoundly disturbing inference that the venerable icon of the human body is present even in pornographic depictions. His description of the pornographic culture’s “body-centeredness” as a “cheap substitute” implies that he believes the pornographic image is simply an impoverished version of the human person—an image that should not be destroyed, but should rather be completed by a mystical Christian worldview:

Some warn that talking so insistently about the theology of our bodies places too much emphasis on the body in a culture in which everything is body-centered. I certainly do not claim that I’ve got the balance just right, but when I hear statements like this I find myself thinking—Isn’t Christianity also, in its own way, body-centered? Indeed, the body of Christ is the very center of our worship, the source and summit of our faith. The body-centeredness of the culture is simply a cheap substitute for the body-centeredness we’re all created for and long for. A pornographic culture has fixated itself on the sign (the body in its sexuality and call to union) and failed to see that to which the sign points: the mystical reality of “nuptial union” with the divine consummated in the Eucharist. [At the Heart of the Gospel, 163]

Does West really believe that the images on which our pornographic culture is fixated are signs of the body in its sexuality and call to union? And does he really believe that, if users of pornography were to look rightly at these very same images, the images would lead the users to union with Christ? Whether or not he intends such an interpretation, it is uncomfortably easy to see how a pornography user might find in his words an apologia for looking at naked people other than his spouse. Much to the detriment of contemporary Catholic culture, examples of this reading of West are not difficult to find.
Marc Barnes, the 18-year-old author of the popular blog Bad Catholic (, who calls At the Heart of the Gospel “awesome,” asserts in a November 2011 blog post titled, “The Best Porn in the World,” that the answer to pornography was to promote images of the Virgin Mary breastfeeding.

“To be clear,” Barnes wrote, ”I believe that the cure for the addiction so many have to the illicit viewing naked women is in fact … naked women. … The naked woman is made in God’s image, and thus the accurate portrayal of her is always an experience of God. After all, since beauty comes from the Creator, anything beautiful speaks his name.”

Barnes concludes by musing that if a pornography addict looks at artistic images of naked women, such as the Virgin breastfeeding, or at Botticelli’s Venus, “the words of our late Pope may arise unbidden in the addict’s consciousness, that the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little” (

In fact, John Paul II never said such a thing. Barnes is borrowing the words of Christopher West (Theology of the Body Explained, revised edition [2007], 290).

Along similar lines, Father Thomas J. Loya, a Byzantine Catholic priest whom West quotes admiringly in At the Heart of the Gospel, writes, “We must never, ever look at pornography. But since we are immersed in a pornified world and surrounded by various degrees of soft porn our only way out is to fight fire with fire. We have to learn to see through the lens of the theology of the body. In terms of some practical advice I suggest a three-part technique that I call, ‘see—pray—and pass on’” (“More About Pornography and TOB,”, March 31, 2010, no longer online; removed Loya’s columns following reader complaints).

Loya explains elsewhere how to implement this technique: “Alright Look at her!! That’s right, look at her!! Look at her butt, her breasts, but don’t stop there. Look at every aspect of her magnificent femininity! Take her in completely and say, ‘How many are your works, O Lord, in wisdom you have made them all!’ (Psalm 103)” (“Letter to ‘John’—Part 1 of 2,”, February 15, 2010).

When a pastor of the Church is advising a man fighting lust to “completely” take in a woman’s body, we are a long way away from advising penitents to avoid the near occasion of sin.

The baby in the bathwater

In At the Heart of the Gospel, West recommends a similarly novel approach to spiritual combat. “Philosophically speaking, evil does not ‘exist,’” he notes. Arguing that every evil contains a good, he advises “suffering evil” rather than “wagging fingers at it”:

Since human nature is not totally corrupted (see CCC 405), neither is culture at large. Evil is not creative. It can only take what God has made—all of which is good—and twist it, distort it, or deprive it of its fullness. … Philosophically speaking, evil does not “exist”. …

As we let the fundamental truth about good and evil sink in more and more deeply, it changes our whole approach to evil. We overcome it not by categorically “throwing it out.” Why not? Because there is always a baby in that bathwater. [At the Heart of the Gospel, 186]

Already, before West has even finished his thought, he is deeply in conflict with John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, with its magisterial exposition on the Church’s historical teaching regarding “acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed ‘intrinsically evil’ (intrinsece malum).” Such acts, John Paul writes, are evil “always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances.” Quoting Gaudium et Spes 27, he adds that intrinsically evil acts include “whatever violates the integrity of the human person” (Veritatis Splendor 80).

There is, then, no “baby in that bathwater” as far as intrinsic evils are concerned. West, however, ignores this, as he continues:

We overcome evil with good, as Scripture says (see Rom 12:21). That is, we overcome evil by “filling in the void” it leaves or by “untwisting the good” that it distorts. … As we learn to rest in this truth, we are no longer rankled by evil. We see it for what it is, and we are “at ease” with ourselves and the world— not because we have turned a blind eye to evil, but because we are confident in the divine plan to overcome evil with good. We can maintain an interior peace even in the face of great evil because we know how to “let God be God” in dealing with evil, and we know how to participate effectively in his redemptive plan. We ultimately conquer evil not by wagging fingers at it, but by “suffering it” in union with Christ. That is, we conquer evil by mercy. [At the Heart of the Gospel, 186]

A generous reading of West’s claim that evil is to be suffered rather than thrown out is that he would never intend his words to be used to support pornography. However, he uses those very same words in a January 2012 online audio interview promoting At the Heart of the Gospel—and this time there is no question about what he means:

[We] need to be discerning, we need to recognize that all sin is, is a twisting of something good. … All the devil can do is take what God created, all of which is very good, and twist it, distort it, and mock it. And in the New Evangelization, we have to be willing to look for the good that is present even behind what is evil. …

The way we overcome evil is not just by taking that evil and throwing it out the window, so to speak. Why? Because there’s always a baby in that bathwater. There’s always something good behind the evil that we have to reclaim, that we have to take back. On this topic, we could look at pornography, for example. Pornography is a great evil. It is destroying marriages, it is destroying families, it is wreaking havoc in our culture. And yet, we must not overreact. There is something good behind it. What is good behind it? The human body in its nakedness. Behold, it is very good! [“IP#135 Christopher West—The Heart of the Gospel on Inside the Pages,”

It appears that Marc Barnes and Father Thomas J. Loya, far from misinterpreting West, are in fact his star pupils. If West’s novel approach to moral theology becomes the norm, parishes, Catholic colleges, and RCIA classes worldwide can expect to see much more of what Barnes so artfully calls “The Best Porn in the World.”

Dr. William E. May : “Standing With Peter: Reflections of a Lay Moral Theologian on God’s Loving Providence”

William E. May
Standing With Peter:
Reflections of a Lay Moral Theologian on God’s Loving Providence
Requiem Press:  Bethune,  South Carolina,  2006
ISBN-10: 0-97-88687-0-6
ISBN-13: 978-0-9788687-0-3
92 pages, paperback
by Reverend Brian Van Hove,  S.J., Ph.D.
Alma, Michigan

Dr. William E. May was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He celebrated his 80th birthday on 27 May 2008. In Chapter One of these autobiographical reminiscences he wrote about his early years in St. Louis where he had a happy childhood. He loved the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet who taught him, and the diocesan priests who served at St. Margaret of Scotland and at St. Luke the Evangelist. He tells about his early dream to become a Maryknoll missionary in China, a dream never realized. May definitely had a positive childhood in “Catholic St. Louis” and his memories of Catholic institutions were a source of joy for him.

In Standing With Peter we also learn about seminary life in Washington, D.C. Archbishop Ritter in 1948 sent William May to the Sulpician Seminary or Theological College as a Basselin Foundation scholar. The foundation had been set up by Theodore Basselin decades earlier to train seminarians in philosophy, English and public speaking. During those fine years May met a number of fellow students who went on to become well known in the story of American ecclesiastical life ― among them were Joseph Bernardin, Christopher Huntington and Jude Patrick Dougherty.

In 1954 May left the seminary and subsequently worked for two Catholic publishing houses, first the Newman Press in Westminster, Maryland, and then for the Bruce Publishing Company in Milwaukee; Bruce (formerly “Bruss”) was the largest Catholic publishing house of the era.

He left Maryland for Milwaukee in the hope of finding a young Catholic woman, and met Patricia Ann Keck, a St. Louisan, on 13 December 1957. They met at a pre-Christmas dance sponsored by the Catholic Alumni of Milwaukee, a group of graduates from Catholic colleges around the country. Bill and “Pat”, as he called her, married on 4 October 1958 at St. Mary’s Church in Mount Vernon, Illinois. Eventually they had seven children. William May earned a doctorate in philosophy from Marquette University in 1968, but continued in the profession of book editor until entering academic life at The Catholic University of American in the fall of 1971.

Since then May has been professor of “Christian ethics” or moral theology. To his regret, in a moment of weakness in 1968 he signed the protest against Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae vitae”. Though he inwardly repented of this act, by 1971 he had not yet made a formal public retraction, and he wrote that this probably made him a more favorable candidate to be hired at CUA. Charles Curran, the mastermind of the dissent movement among the American Catholic academics, was then teaching in the CUA Theology Department.

William E. May spent the rest of his academic career after 1971 promoting and defending the morality of the Church, with special reference to the teaching on contraception and abortion. In 1978 he was instrumental in founding The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. In 1986 Pope John Paul II appointed him to the International Theological Commission, and in 1991 to the present he has taught moral theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family inWashington, D.C. In 2008 he directed the successful doctoral dissertation of Father James G. Knapp, S.J., a faculty member of Saint Louis University High School.

Given his defense of “Humanae vitae” over a long career, and his high profile position at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America, St. Louisan Dr. “Bill” May was pleased at the announcement that in 2008 a symposium entitled “The Legacy of Humanae Vitae: 40 Years”, co-sponsored by Saint Louis University’s School of Nursing and the Office of Natural Family Planning of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, was held on July 25 and 26.

The final chapter and the concluding reflections of Standing with Peter carry the title “The Battle Over Contraception and Its Significance”. May succinctly explained the dualistic understanding of the human person which is explicit in the contraceptive act, and how it is philosophically incompatible with a Catholic theology of the body.

Published in the St. Louis Review, vol. 67, no. 22 (30 May 2008): 14.