By Alex Bush

June 9, 2009 ( – The ongoing debate over Christopher West’s take on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body continued today as Dr. David Schindler responded to Dr. Janet Smith’s and Dr. Michael Waldstein’s criticisms of his first article.

In that article Schindler had highlighted what he believes to be a number of problems with West’s theology, specifically West’s view on modesty and concupiscence. Smith and Waldstein subsequently responded, defending West for his work. The whole controversy was originally ignited by an ABC Nightline segment on West that provoked a renewed discussion about the Theology of the Body.

Schindler stated that he responded to Smith and Waldstein because he believes the problems that he sees in West’s work bear “profoundly on how the theology of the body, and of human sexuality, is properly to be understood.”

“I have no desire to see [West’s] 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,” Schindler said.

Schindler says that he places the crux of his concerns about West’s teaching on his understanding of how the growth in virtue overcomes the tendency to sin, without neglecting concupiscence.

In his original article Schindler had written that he has asked West whether or not he believes that sexual temptation can be completely extinguished through holiness, rather than simply subdued and controlled.  West responded, according to Schindler, that “he refused to limit the power of Christ to transform us.”

According to Schindler, West appears to be saying that “if we could just get over our prudishness and sin-induced guilt … we would be ready simply to dispense with clothes and look at others in their nakedness.”

John Paul Meenan, Professor of Theology and Natural Science at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy in Barry’s Bay, Ontario, explained to (LSN) what concupiscence is, and what virtue is capable is doing in regards to concupiscence. His description suggests that, from the view of Catholic theology, West may be overstating his case.

First, to explain properly what concupiscence is, Meenan identified the “three powers within man that pertain to his moral life: his passions, his will and his intellect.” Meenan explained that before the Fall, these three powers were in harmony, meaning that in a moral situation, one “would recognize the right thing to do (by his intellect), he would want to do it (by his will), and he would enjoy doing it (by his passions). That is why ‘work’ (of any sort) before the Fall was pleasurable.”

However, after Original Sin, Meenan explained, that the “harmony within man was disrupted.”

Meenan said that “man first rebelled with his intellect (by pride), deciding for himself ‘right and wrong’.”

“This intellectual choice coincided with a movement of the will against God, and then the passions followed. It is because the intellect and will no longer obey God that the passions no longer obey the intellect and will,” he explained. “This disorder within the passions is what is termed ‘concupiscence.’”

Secondly, Meenan explained that concupiscence is “unconquerable (in this life), although its effects can be mitigated by virtue and grace.”

Meenan continued, saying that “the Council of Trent declared that no one (without a special kind of grace, like the Virgin) can escape venial sin in this life; hence the need for constant and regular recourse to the sacraments, as well as a constant and regular vigilance over occasions of sin, especially in those realms of our life most prey to disorder.”

Schindler argued in his recent response that West not only struck an imbalance between virtue and concupiscence, by overemphasizing the ability of virtue to mitigate the effects of concupiscence, but that he also neglects “the sense in which the Church’s Marian mystery, and also the feminine dimension, are central for the theology of the body.”

“Mary reveals to us most profoundly the ‘original’ meaning of body that needs to remain present within sexual-marital love,” Schindler said. He pressed on, saying that in Mary’s fiat, “we discover the contemplative meaning of the body (Mary “pondered these things in her heart”).”

He said that “Women have a naturally more profound sense of mystery [than men] and thus of what is entailed in the unveiling of the body,” and that, because of this sense, women have “a different idea of the meaning and significance of nakedness itself.”

Schindler concludes that if a theology of the body “does not sufficiently integrate a Marian and feminine dimension in these ways” then it “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,” he said.

Meenan told LSN that he agreed with Schindler on this point, saying that “even within marriage, for example, nakedness, sexual thoughts and sexual activity should be controlled.”

“I’m not one to advocate some kind of Manichaeism, but I believe the world has gone too far the other side,” he said, saying that a couple can easily “fall into lust, by allowing their passions to dominate their reason and will (thus leading to a dis-integration of the sexuality).”

Meenan concluded saying that “West’s writings may help married couples rediscover the ‘joy of sex’, and the pleasures proper to the marital state.” However, he holds that “some elements of his lectures would be better discussed in a more intimate context, instead of in large lecture halls filled with impressionable (and unmarried) young people, still trying to discover their vocations in an already sex-drenched world.”

Related Coverage:

Prominent Theologians Defend Christopher West and Theology of the Body

Christopher West Controversy Fuels Debate about the Problem of Modesty