There are good commentaries here and here.
I'll be including a review of all this in Issue 12 of Second Spring, where the theme will be Theology of the Body.
Because of the importance of David Schindler's response to West's defence I will append it here, even though it is quite long:
Response to Profs. Smith and Waldstein Regarding Christopher West
by David Schindler
Provost/Dean and Gagnon Professor of Fundamental Theology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family
I appreciate the not unexpected personal testimony on behalf of Christopher West by my former Notre Dame colleagues, Janet Smith and Michael Waldstein. Both of these Catholic professors are justly well- respected for their work on behalf of embryonic human life and the family, and Waldstein also for his fine translation of John Paul II's discourses on the theology of the body.
The differences between Smith-Waldstein and myself with respect to the propriety of my statement regarding West's work seem to me to stem most of all from our differences with respect to the nature and seriousness of (possible) problems embodied in that work. I will first respond regarding "methodological" issues (I), and then return to the substance of the issues raised in my posted statement (II).
I. (1) I am surprised by the weight Professor Waldstein gives to the Nightline interview. As emphasized in the opening sentences of my statement, West's Nightline appearance was the occasion but not the reason for my statement, whose purpose was to "address West's theology as a whole." Indeed, the statement was one I had considered making in some forum for a long time - hence my reference to West's comments (sensationalized to be sure by the Nightline editors) "as the latest in a long list of statements and actions." In this light readers presumably can see that Waldstein's charging me with an "act of injustice" for accepting "ABC's spin at face value" and using it against West is without warrant.
As many people are aware, West was a student of mine some ten years ago; also, we exchanged substantial correspondence regarding his work in its early years; and I've listened to some of his tapes, watched some of his videos, and read some of his writings. Over the years, I've also had innumerable questions and comments (mostly unsolicited), brought to me by those who have attended his lectures and workshops, and indeed by representatives of diocesan offices, usually by virtue of my position as Dean of the John Paul II Institute in Washington.
(2) Waldstein's and Smith's repeated insistence on the need for substantiation on my part in terms specifically of West's written work is puzzling-because disproportionate. Good Aristotelians that they are, they know that not all evidence comes in the form of written documents. This is certainly true in the present case. West is not primarily an author of books, but a public lecturer, a publisher of tapes and videos, and a director of an institute offering study programs. He has also appeared, not against his will, on national television.
Massively more people thus have heard West than have read him (he has sold one million books and three million tapes, for example). Not surprisingly in this context, much evidence undergirding criticism of West has come via the many people who have encountered West in these different forums, and who have then brought their concerns to me. What one rightly does in such a context is pay attention to the character and number of incidents, to the consistency of what is reported, and to the credibility of those reporting, assessing all of this in terms of its correspondence with one's own direct knowledge and experience - all sound Aristotelian methodology.
Waldstein and Smith seem to assume that a given criticism, insofar as it lacks explicit justification in terms of some recent published text of West, is thereby without warrant. As a result, they tend repeatedly to demand evidence where it would have been more reasonable simply to have addressed the substance of the issues on their own intrinsic terms.
(3) Consistent with the foregoing, Waldstein and Smith both insist that my arguments should have been made in a different forum, developed in slower, scholarly fashion, and finally published in an appropriate journal, rather than using the media to create a firestorm. Needless to say, this would be the proper way of proceeding in normal circumstances. But Waldstein and Smith fail, again, to take sufficiently into account the implications of the fact that West is a popular public figure. As I said in my posted comments, I decided to put forward a public statement only with much reluctance. I did so only because it has seemed to me in the present situation that the great numbers of people who have experienced some uneasiness in their encounters with West's work - not only as edited in the Nightline interview, but also and primarily in his lectures, tapes, videos, and workshops - need to know that this uneasiness has an objective foundation in the work of West itself: it is a consequence not only or always of unconscious "Puritanism" on their part, but often simply of their spontaneous and authentic human and Catholic instincts.
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.
(4) Regarding Waldstein: what he dismisses as "a few anecdotes" and "snippets of texts" in fact indicate a pattern in the order and emphasis of West's theology over the years, and they have all been verified (and there are more), though of course I recognize that West would surely want to give them a different interpretation. This pattern is outlined in my four criticisms. I suspect Waldstein knows that his reference to "a few anecdotes" and "snippets" amounts to a rhetorical dismissal that begs the answers to what are scarcely impertinent questions. Does he see no pattern? Does he think that the statements and actions cited are isolated incidents or inoffensive matters, bearing no implications relative to my four criticisms? That the statements and actions did not take place? Assuming the accuracy of what is reported in the examples, what interpretation would Waldstein give them, and (how) would he defend them?
(5) In response to Smith: first, with respect to the examples of West's language that I characterized as vulgar, I would reaffirm that some things just ought not to be talked about in a public setting, on the grounds not of prudishness but of simple human decorum and respect for others. This is not a matter simply of identifying euphemisms to replace vulgar language, nor simply of avoiding mention of acts that may be immoral. Smith herself indicates a personal sensitivity with respect to public speech about sexual matters, but then affirms that West's style can appeal to those who have been formed by our culture, suffused as it is by sexual content.
My own view is that the habit of communication of the dominant culture, which knows no discreet activities that ought not to be fully exposed, and no mysteries that ought not to be fully unveiled, is precisely what needs to be called into question, by both the form and the content of an authentically Christian-human response. To be sure, this does not mean that things which ought not to be talked about publicly should not be addressed in private - for example, if a personal question needs to be clarified or if counseling is warranted.
(6) Smith appears to think that theological errors can be serious only insofar as there has been some explicit magisterial definition pertinent to the matters under discussion. But this misconstrues the dynamics of doctrinal development and magisterial definition in history. Magisterial definition normally occurs as a later but integral part of the process of clarification, undertaken for the sake of the unity of the Church. Magisterial clarification, in other words, normally presupposes the theological discussion that uncovers the errors in the first place, even as it then judges regarding the latter.
The point is that determining whether theological error exists and the extent of its significance is rightly accomplished only by first assessing the issues on their own merits. In this context, Professor Smith's referring to reputable scholars who have disagreed with me in other matters and of authorities testifying to West's orthodoxy serves mostly to beg, and not answer, the substance of the issues I have raised. In a word, whether or in what sense my criticisms raise significant issues can only be determined by giving an account in terms of the issues themselves.
Let me turn, then, to the content of the issues raised.
II. (7) Professor Waldstein addresses one of these issues. Asserting that my criticism of West in the matter of concupiscence "misses the target," Waldstein provides what seems to me a clear outline of the Catholic position in this matter. He then gives his personal testimony that the position he outlines is the one that West himself "highlights in his writings and presentations." Waldstein concludes by suggesting that, in my critique of West, I "sound almost as if" I deny the Catholic position.
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.
(8) The second question raised in my statement concerns the matter of what is termed analogy. The burden of the issue is twofold: first, the body introduces something genuinely new into the meaning of love. The soul and the body, of course, are unified in the human person, and the body thus shares in love as love's sign and expression. But love has its roots most basically in the soul, and ultimately in God. Sex and gender do not, properly speaking, exist in persons who are not embodied - angels and God - but rather indicate the new form that love takes when it takes form in the human-embodied person. On the one hand, love always transcends, is always something other and more than, sexuality. On the other hand, sexuality, as sign and expression of love, really does reveal in an essential way the meaning of love.
In a word, what is proper to the love that begins in the spirit and ultimately in God is revealed in the body in a new and different way, in the sexual difference. It is this unity coincident with (ever-greater) difference (maior dissimilitudo ) that is termed analogy.
Second, regarding the human body itself. John Paul II says that the body in its "original solitude" is "substantially prior" to the body in its "original unity" and hence in its sexual difference (see Man and Woman He Created Them, p. 157; General Audience, 7 November 1979). This means that the body in its most original sense is made for God. The body, we may say, bears what is first a filial relation to God. As a creature (hence child) of God, I bear a basic relation to or capacity for God, and only consequently, though simultaneously, inside this relation, do I bear a capacity for another human being. Indeed, this filial relation is rightly understood as a "virginal" relation - bearing a different shape in the celibate and married states - because it involves the whole of my being in relation to the whole God.
It is crucial to understand that this original filial relation to God retains its priority within the relation between spouses, though the filial and spousal relations are "circumincessive" within each other: that is, they each illuminate the inner meaning of the other, in their own distinct ways. In the terms of Joseph Ratzinger, filial love is the "content" (Inhalt), and spousal love the "consequence" (Folge) of the imago Dei. The two loves, united in the human being's single imaging of God, nevertheless bear an order that accords filial love absolute priority within this unity. Or, to put it differently, filial love and spousal love bear a mutual but asymmetrical relation within what is always the unified content of the human being's imaging of God.
The overarching point here, then, is that sexual love as understood in the work of John Pope II must be inserted within a love between spouses that itself takes its most radical meaning from filial relation to God. Sexual-spousal love participates in this more original filial relation to God as its sign and expression, but does so only as consequent to and distinct from this more original filial relation.
At least three consequences follow from the above, in summary: first, sexually differentiated love must be approached most basically in terms of the love of God in its infinite difference as revealed in Jesus Christ and his Eucharist, and indeed as revealed in the natural order of things created by God. Secondly, the filial love proper to the body in its original solitude establishes the primacy of the virginal state already in the natural order, and thus indicates that there is a virginal fruitfulness that takes priority over marital-sexual fruitfulness, though each of these forms of fruitfulness illumines and enhances the inner meaning of the other. Thirdly, filial-"virginal" love for God entails love for all of his creatures, who bear a unity within their common relation to God-a hierarchical unity, that is, with man at the pinnacle, as microcosm, as Maximus the Confessor taught. Theology of the body, in other words, entails a view of sexually differentiated love that opens intrinsically to even as it needs illumination by an anthropology and a cosmology-in a word, an ontology-of love.
These three points suggest the comprehensive meaning of the theology of the body and indeed sexually differentiated spousal love. This love retains an essential, analogically-conceived place in our understanding of love, human and divine. The point is simply that it does so only as always qualified by and integrated in light of the differences introduced in each of these points.
Of course, this does not mean that one must address all these different senses of love on every occasion, or that one cannot legitimately devote sustained specific attention to any one of them. The point is simply that one must address each of them only in light of its analogically differentiated integration with the others. One must always be clear that the theology of the body is not synonymous with a theology of sexuality.
(9) The third of my criticisms meant to indicate the sense in which the Church's Marian mystery, and also the feminine dimension, are central for the theology of the body. After Christ, Mary reveals to us most profoundly the "original" meaning of body that needs to remain present within sexual-marital love. In her fiat, we discover the contemplative meaning of the body (Mary "pondered these things in her heart"). In this light, contrary to what is assumed in the dominant culture, women have a naturally more profound sense (than do men) of the implicit, and of interiority or of what develops slowly-organically and from within. Women have a naturally more profound sense of mystery and thus of what is entailed in the unveiling of the body-for example, an organic in contrast to mechanical sense of time, and consequently a different idea of the meaning and significance of nakedness itself.
A theology of the body which does not sufficiently integrate a Marian and feminine dimension in these ways, cannot but default into what becomes a one-sided and distorted male approach that treats the body too explicitly and too reductively as the object of a look (even if a "pure" one). The result is a tendency, for example, to conflate modesty with prudishness or guilt-induced shame, with a consequent displacement of modesty in its true meaning as an enhancement of genuine bodily beauty.
I have returned at some length to these issues because I believe they bear profoundly on how the theology of the body, and of human sexuality, is properly to be understood. Except for the purpose of responding to Waldstein on West in the matter of concupiscence, I have stated the issues in their own terms and without reference to West. To be sure, I believe each of the issues poses significant questions with respect to West's theology of the body. But I also want to emphasize again in conclusion what I said at the outset: I have no desire to see his project fail. My intention in this and my earlier statement has been to say enough only to identify problematic tendencies, which seem to me serious. My intention, in other words, has been to lift a horizon of objective concerns into relief, for the purpose of inviting reflection by all those involved or interested in West's project.
Here, then, is the main point I wish to stress in conclusion. None of those involved in this discussion, myself emphatically included, question the depth of West's faithful love for the Church and indeed for humanity. Regarding the issues I have raised, it seems to me that what we-all of us-need to do is to ponder them reflectively. Given the nature of what is at stake, and the vast and varied forms of West's work, these issues have no hope of being resolved through an endless to-and-fro of citation/example and counter-citation/example. The issues will be resolved not by a call to arms, but only by inviting all involved to patient reflection.
Some persons have suggested to me in this context that we hold a conference to discuss matters. My response is that conferences surely have their place. Regarding such events, nevertheless, it needs to be said that one of the great problems of our time, in our culture and indeed also in our Church, is not that we do not have enough dialogue, but that on the contrary we have too much dialogue of the wrong sort. Conferences allow persons to gather together and reassure each other of their mutual good intentions, and this can be helpful; and they also often enable verbal agreements to be reached. The verbal agreements reached in such settings, however, are almost always premature: more the result of strategic management than the fruit of living transformation through genuine and sustained thinking. Only the latter kinds of agreements suffice in the present case.
The theology of the body-or anthropology of love-is of crucial significance for the Church and indeed for humanity, in light of the great gift of John Paul II and Benedict XVI as interpreters of the Second Vatican Council. Service to the Church and humanity in connection with this anthropology is a matter above all of communicating in its integrity the truth about the nature and destiny of the human being before God. The condition sine qua non for realizing such service is sustained thought linked with prayerful patience, and these of their essence take time. Above all in this context, we need to see that the issues implicit in this anthropology have to be pondered for their own sake, in light of the whole of human experience illumined by the whole of the faith, and guided in a special way by both the life and thought of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Defense of our own positions matters only in terms of the always anterior need for accountability to the integrity of truth for its own sake.
It is somewhat ironic that, simultaneous with the exchanges regarding the work of Christopher West, Michael Waldstein and I are in the process of discussing in the pages of Communio various questions pertinent to the theology of the body. I posed some questions to him, and he has replied with some challenging questions of his own. I am deeply grateful for his questions, which have made me think about significant aspects of things that I had not thought through sufficiently before. He has prompted me to re-think my position in important ways. I believe there are still differences between us, and indeed that these differences are not insignificant: that in fact they reach to the heart of what it means to be a creature, a gift ex nihilo from God. But I trust he agrees that the discussion has been, and will continue to be, fruitful.
I mention this discussion only because, if it seemed appropriate, I would like to offer West the pages of Communio for his reflections on the matters that have been engaged. To be sure, he may want to reformulate the issues in his own way, but I believe both of us agree regarding the spirit which alone would make such an exchange into the kind of fruitful service we both want. I would only emphasize in this connection, to all those who have followed the present discussion, that this exchange, needless to say, would have to take time.