Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Schindler Responds to Smith and Waldstein

The dialogue between theologians, about Christopher West, continues with Dr. Schindler answering Smith and Waldstein. This is a much better article than his first one, in my opinion, because he gives specifics and has more clarity. A few snips that need to be answered in the West camp - not onle because West is not a theologian and will not be able to stand on the same theological footing of JPII's work as Schindler, but also because they are very important issues that need an answer. First
The purpose of my statement was thus to identify the objective pattern–order and emphasis–of West’s theology which in my opinion warrants such uneasiness. My hope in so doing was not to cause him to fail in his projects, but to help establish a horizon of objective concerns, awareness and discussion, which seem to me essential for any adequately conceived theology of love and of the body.
Then a longer snip:

What I reject, however, is not the Catholic position regarding concupiscence as Waldstein states it, but only his claim that that position can be unambiguously claimed also as West’s. Waldstein rightly says that “in the sexual sphere, true growth in virtue is possible; virtue can overcome the tendency to sin, though objective concupiscence and the consequent danger of sin remain real.” But understanding this in an appropriately Catholic way depends entirely on qualifying properly the sense in which true growth in virtue – under the transforming power of grace – does overcome the tendency to sin, relative to “objective concupiscence and the consequent danger to sin.”

There seem to me three issues regarding West’s understanding in this context, all of them involving just this question of qualification and emphasis. The first regards the emphasis placed on the subject’s intention and will, or the “heart,” in matters involving the sexual body and relations between men and women. He often stresses, for example, that the body is good and “the problem with lust is in your heart.” The question is whether, in stressing purity of heart, he gives sufficient weight to the continued objective presence in the body of the fomes peccati (the tendency to sin), however much mitigated by virtue and grace. Even saints do not escape the infralapsarian state of their existence.

The question, secondly, is whether, in treating the will immediately in relation to the transforming power of grace and the Gospel, he gives sufficient weight to the necessary mediating role of natural-human virtue.

The question, thirdly, is whether, in the matter of nakedness in the relations between spouses, he gives adequate weight to the distinction between modesty and shame. He suggests that the naked body in the spousal context is always “decent,” and that only an indecent look makes it indecent. But this misses the need for a reverence that takes us beyond the categories of decent and indecent: a reverence deriving from the mystery contained in the body whose unveiling requires a sensitivity to time and to place which is not simply a function of sin and hence shame. (For a discussion by West that I believe illustrates all three of the problems indicated here, see “Naked Without Shame,” 2nd ed, Tape #5.)

To be sure, there is an essential truth to be affirmed in West’s position as outlined on these three points. But this essential truth is secured in its authentic Catholic meaning only by being properly qualified. And the question is whether West’s (to me) one-sided emphasis in each case does not serve to overwhelm the subtle but crucial distinctions needed to safeguard that meaning in its integrity. (Lest one be tempted to think that subtle distinctions in this context are merely “academic” in Professor’s Smith’s sense of the term, we should recall that all of the most important matters involved in Church doctrines turn on just such subtle distinctions.)

Needless to say, ambiguity on the three points noted here can quickly slide one toward a dangerous imprudence in matters of sexuality.
There is even more in the article, which may lose a number of Catholics who don't quite have the philosophical/theological background to follow the debate.

I had lunch today with a student of Schindler, who is also critical of some of West's content. He will be guest-blogging on this issue for us soon. So, stay tuned readers.

I believe this is a healthy conversation for all involved and ultimately will benefit the Church greatly.


tour86rocker said...

I don't feel like Dr. Schindler was really explaining them away. Although, maybe he did once while he was flying way over my head.

Douglas Naaden said...

I really liked his (8) point. It really adds a much needed context for West's ToB.