Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Theology of the Body: Janet Smith replies to Alice von Hildebrand

Janet Smith, "The Need to Read Carefully: A Response to Alice von Hildebrand's Critique of Christopher West" (Catholic Exchange, October 18, 2010). The treatment is thorough and erudite, and the tone is as gracious as the topic can be nasty (reader advisory). Certainly a must-read for anyone following the controversy involving Christopher West's interpretation of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body and treatment of human sexuality.

[Hat tip to J.S.]


Anonymous said...

"I have read and reread this section of her essay, and I have not been able to grasp the difficulty von Hildebrand finds in West’s comparison of pornography to junk food."

Surely the difficulty is obvious?

JM said...

Wow. She has calmed down a good deal here. If all the discussion is of the tone of the Smith we meet here and AvH earlier, maybe something good will come of the debate. I still think part of the problem with TOB is not the content but the marketing approach West and crew can use in propagating it, a slick take you can also see with some scripture material from Ascension Press. It is a trait copied form contemporary Evangelicalism. And it over-reaches and rings hollow. Marketing and religion make for an uneasy mixed marriage.

JM said...

I do have to add that this somehow still makes me wary as it reminds me of the Vatican II scenario: we are being told that nothing is taking place but a reassertion and reanimating of old truths, but they programme is encountered in a ton of verbage. And the result is a rather savaged liturgical scene accompanied by testimonies of life change. What exactly requires so much lengthy exposition in the perennial teaching about sex? What is so new, and how is it new? As Garrigou-Legrange asked prophetically, 'Where is the new theology taking us?' Smith is convincing about what West and TOB are NOT, but it is still difficult to find concise explanations of just what it IS. At least from the onlooker's chair.

Crowhill said...

I have been slightly surprised at the lack of response from conservative Catholics to the unbiblical, untraditional re-imagining of male headship in JPII's "theology of the body."

The responses to West that I've seen focus on rather odd issues -- mostly form over substance, IMO -- while the headship issue is a fundamental challenge to traditional Christianity.

Roger said...

I first would like to say that I have the utmost respect for Christopher West and Dr. Janet Smith. I have listened to Alice von Hildebrand during a conference earlier in the year at the Dietrich von Hildebrand Project in Rome and I must say I didn’t agree entirely with what she said. I have also read JPII Theology of the Body and believe it to be a remarkably excellent discussion on relationship of man and woman and the meaning of love. I’m a little confused at the point Dr. Smith makes about the remark AVH makes about CW in the article under “Blaming whom?” I understood CW saying he “inflicted pain on myself and others” as the result of his lack of teaching. In other words it sound to me that he is blaming his lack of being taught what is morally right for his improper inflicting of “pain on himself and others.” In this particular sin of a sexual nature would it not be something that would already be part of his created nature to understand it wrong, such as shame letting him know it’s wrong. I don’t believe you need to be taught adultery is wrong to know it’s wrong as well as certain other sins of a sexual nature. In this case I would have to respectfully disagree with Dr. Smith if this is in fact what is meant here.

Pertinacious Papist said...


I've been thinking about your comment since you first posted it, and I think you're on to something. The thing came to a head for me as I was listening to the homily of a widely-respected priest on the subject on Catholic Radio recently. He bent over backwards -- nearly in vociferous terms -- to attack the notion of any sort of inequality between husband and wife, stressing their equality before God as both created in God's image.

The problem here is that two different issues are being conflated. No sane exegete within the historic Catholic & Christian tradition ever questioned the fact that both male and female are created equality in the image of God. That almost goes without saying. But the excessive eagerness to sweep under the rug the possibility that the 'headship' texts could be saying anything more is curious. A clear incentive, of course, are the prevailing cultural winds of political correctness. It's inviting to be able to preach a viewpoint that coincides with what the surrounding culture celebrates as the correct view.

But equality of worth in the Catholic and Christian tradition has never meant identity of roles (Eph 5:22-24; Col 3:18; Tit 2:5; 1 Pe 3:1-7; 1 Cor 11:3).

This particular priest even denied that the word "submit" is never used biblically in reference to wives and husbands. Depending on how one translates "hypotassesthe" (literally, "being-placed-under"), as it appears in Colossians 3:18, for example, this is simply not true. One might use a different English term, but the meaning is unavoidable.

Traditional Catholic teaching clearly underscores the reality of male headship in the matrimonial relationship. That this must never be a tyrannical dictatorship should go without saying. But obsessing on that point to the exclusion of everything else leads to missing the core idea of "headship" and "submission," not only in respect of husband and wife, but many other relationships as well. E.g., http://www.bible.ca/marriage/submission-bible-patterns-submission-headship.htm.

Lots to ponder here.