It may seem at times that when a pastor dares to add a snippet in his sermon about dressing appropriately for Mass, or a paragraph in the Sunday bulletin on what attire is considered respectable for the Holy Sacrifice, it doesn’t usually go down well. Some parishioners may complain, or a visitor may become angry, the Bishop may even be called. But a pastor giving proper guidelines to his sheep on what the Church deems appropriate wear for THE Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not new, nor is it something the Church has ever condemned. In fact, it has been a longstanding tradition to guide the faithful in appropriate wear, and has been so for hundreds of years. And it is a part of the job of the pastor to guide his flock in all things moral, especially when it comes to the Mass.
The Church has always taught the importance of Christians dressing properly, specifically for inside the Church in front of God Himself truly Present in the Eucharist. There are numerous Saints, Doctors and Fathers of the Church, Popes and holy priests that have spoken on this very topic. Though because of the volume of information on this subject, we will only be focusing on the 19th to 21st centuries here, and focusing mostly on Bishops, Cardinals and so on. Not priests or saints.
The Outlines of the Dress Code which we can see is still promoted even today, we can trace back to Pope Benedict XV.
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Dublin cable reports state that war has been declared on the “Gladneck” by Irish women and a League of St. Brigid has been established, with the warm approval of the authorities of the Church, to combat immodest fashions. The convents and boarding schools are to be constituted headquarters for the new league, and thousands of young women missionaries are annually to carry on the fight in their home districts. All members of the new league will be required to sign the following pledge :
“For the glory of God and the honor of Erin, I promise to avoid in my own person all impropriety in the manner of dress, and to, maintain and hand down the traditional and proverbial purity and modesty of Irish womanhood.”
A certain recurring column in the Franciscan Herald. This one in particular was published in, April, 1920. Here are some excerpts:
“We deck the House of God with; lights and flowers; we line the Tabernacle with fair embroidered satins, that it may be more worthy the Divine Tenant; but that part of us that becomes a living tabernacle in Holy Communion is prepared with indifference — all too often with downright slovenliness.
I do not advocate fads or fancies, nor have I any desire to inculcate harrowing novelties, but this point. I think, is nothing of that kind. I remember that in my own little girl days, a good Franciscan priest who taught us our catechism in the convent school that I frequented, used to bring up that very subject. He urged upon us to prepare our souls with all diligence for the reception of our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion, and also to prepare our bodies in a neat and seemly manner — not indeed in the height of fashion, but in attire that would be pleasing to the Lover that came to our hearts; pleasing in neatness and care according to the circumstances of each. When we think of it, such a system would go far toward remedying the evils into which the art of dress has fallen. Dress to please the divine Lover, and it will follow that we please all others worthy of being pleased.
I do not wish to harp on the subject of neatness, but it seems advisable to bring it up once more for the simple reason that we can not look well without a firm foundation of good grooming. It is better to own but one gown which is kept spotless, and wear it with neat and becomingly dressed hair, carefully brushed shoes, immaculate teeth, and nails, than to have ten gowns with buttons missing and the accompaniment of unkempt hair, run-over heels, and so on.
Let’s all resolve to pay some attention to our grooming between this and next month’s talk. I’ll warrant it won’t make us one whit less zealous in the pursuit of our soul’s salvation. My private opinion would have it that we’ll be a little better for the attempt. It stands to reason that anything done for the purpose of pleasing God is bound to brighten up these souls of ours a little.
About the Spring Fashions A word or two may not be amiss concerning the spring fashions of 1920. We are met on all sides by the assurance that fashion has turned from the lengthening skirts of last fall, and that we must wear our skirts something like fifteen or twenty inches from the ground. Also that we must have our sleeves cut midway between elbow and shoulder, even in street gowns.
Now it seems as if a warning in this regard should be unnecessary. Still, there are some young readers who may want to know what this department thinks of the fashions that make extremely short skirts and sleeves obligatory. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to read over the “Four Points” in this connection, but if more is needed, it isn’t hard to express my opinion. That type of gown is not only extreme and immodest but inartistic and absurd as well — heinous crimes, all according to Agnes Modesta. Let us be careful to note that there are conservative fashions even in this season, and set our faces staunchly in the direction of decency and good taste.”
Concerning dressing decently as Catholics, many have asked the question “What is so sinful about women’s shoulders!?” This is a perfectly valid question and we felt it deserved to be addressed in its very own post.
Temples of the Holy Spirit
“Do you not know, says St. Paul, that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, the members of the Mystical Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ”
First of all, shoulders are not sinful, just as the marital embrace, breasts, legs, ankles etc are not sinful. God made them, and He made them good. What makes something “sinful” is,
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) defines SIN as, ” an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law (St. Augustine, Faust 22:PL 42, 418). It is an offense against God. It rises up against God in a disobedience contrary to the obedience of Christ. Sin is an act contrary to reason. It wounds man’s nature and injures human solidarity. The root of all sins lies in man’s heart. The kinds and the gravity of sins are determined principally by their objects. To choose deliberately – that is, both knowing it and willing it – something gravely contrary to the divine law and to the ultimate end of man is to commit a mortal sin. This destroys in us the charity without which eternal beatitude is impossible. Unrepented, it brings eternal death.” (CCC 1871-74)
In every sinful act two things must be considered, the substance of the act and the want of rectitude or conformity (St. Thomas, I-II, Q. lxxii, a. 1). (CatholicAnswers) So, to make something sinful, it would be:
Perverting something from its God-given purpose: Like masturbation, Sex outside of marriage, unnatural marital relations between husband and wife, adultery…
Being in itself an evil act: Murder, stealing, vanity, pride…
The marital act, for example is not sinful when it is used how God ordained it: between husband and wife. But it can be perverted from its God-ordained use: masturbation, pornography, adultery, used outside of marriage, unnatural instances and so on. But this does not mean that the marital act, when proper, can be viewed by others, or spoken of crassly / in the wrong situations and so on. There is a right way and a wrong way of doing things.
Just as there is a right and wrong way of dressing in public. Pope Pius XII spoke on May 22nd, 1941, “Fashion itself isn’t bad. It arises spontaneously from human sociability, following the impulse which inclines to put oneself in harmony with one’s fellows and with the habits of the people among whom have lived. God does not ask you to live outside your time, to remain indifferent to the demands of fashion to the point of making yourself ridiculous by dressing yourself against the common tastes and customs of your contemporaries, without ever worrying about this. that they like. Thus, the angelic Saint Thomas Aquinas affirms that in the external things which man makes use of there is no vice, but that vice comes from man who uses it immoderately in relation to the uses of those with whom he lives, distinguishing himself in a strange way from others”
On November 8, 1957, Pope Pius presented the still-valid principles of modesty in dress.
Clothing fulfills three necessary requirements: hygiene, decency and adornment. These are “so deeply rooted in nature that they cannot be disregarded or contradicted without provoking hostility and prejudice.”
Hygiene pertains mostly to “the climate, its variations, and other external factors” (e.g. discomfort, illness). Decency involves the “proper consideration for the sensitivity of others to objects that are unsightly, or, above all, as a defense of moral honesty and a shield against disordered sensuality.” Adornment is legitimate and “responds to the innate need, more greatly felt by woman, to enhance the beauty and dignity of the person with the same means that are suitable to satisfy the other two purposes.”
Fashion “has achieved an indisputable importance in public life, whether as an aesthetic expression of customs, or as an interpretation of public demand and a focal point of substantial economic interests.
“The rapidity of change (in styles) is further stimulated by a kind of silent competition, not really new, between the ‘elite’ who wish to assert their own personality with original forms of clothing, and the public who immediately convert them to their own use with more or less good imitations.”
The Pontiff then isolated the difficulty with fashion. “The problem of fashion consists in the harmonious reconciliation of a person’s exterior ornamentation with the interior of a quiet and modest spirit.” Like other material objects, fashion can become an undue attachment–even perhaps an addiction–for some persons. The Church “does not censure or condemn styles when they are meant for the proper decorum and ornamentation of the body, but she never fails to warn the faithful against being casily led astray by them.” (Monsignor Charles M. Mangan)
Bare Arms / Serious Importance of Modesty in Dress Held by the Church
The problem that arose concerning women wearing sleeveless dresses and shirts to Mass arose in 1925. Many Bishops exhorted their priests to post a sign on the doors of the Churches to make sure women knew what was considered appropriate in the House of God. Their main concern, aside from the rising Vanity, Pride, Materialism that was becoming so fashionable was “bare arms” and “Décolleté / Décolletage” which is ” the upper part of a woman’s torso, comprising her neck, shoulders, back and chest, that is exposed by the neckline of her clothing. However, the term is most commonly applied to a neckline that reveals or emphasizes cleavage.”
In the Pastoral Letter of His Eminence Cardinal Luçon, Archbishop of Reims, the clergy and the faithful of his diocese, a scathing account is written concerning the seriousness of indecent dress at Mass, where he specifically mentions “bare arms” and low cut dresses, “There is at least one point on which we see ourselves as certain to encounter a unanimous obedience: that nobody will afford to appear to church with these unseemly fashion, that is to say, low-cut dress or bare arms. If there is one place where the frivolous fashions and nudity are particularly displaced, is not it the House of God?” he concluded, “
We strongly urge women and girls of our diocese to observe in their clothes the rules of Christian modesty.
They should absolutely abstain from appearing at the church, especially in the public offices and during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, cut dresses and bare arms.
They will not be admitted to in Confession nor the Holy Table.
And will be, this pastoral letter with the command which terminates, read and published in the main advocates of Mass in churches and chapels of our diocese on Sunday that following receipt.”
And in July, 1925, Mgr Besson bishop of Lausanne, ordered a letter to be read at all Masses in churches and chapels of the diocese that was very similar. He then also spoke to parents, concerning the upbringing of their children, “You have a moral duty to raise them and maintain them in modesty. You have to dress them with reserve and in particular require that the dresses of your girls cover their arms and down below their knees.“
Cardinal-Vicar of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pompili on 24 September 1928 issued Guidelines to help Catholic women with regard to Fashion – and what they could consider to be Modest and proper for Mass (and so on). “A dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers’ breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows, and scarcely reaches beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent materials are improper.” There has been a concession with regard to sleeve length, because of market conditions.
Brother Raymond-Marie Rouleau, Archbishop of Quebec, wrote in 1930: (loosely translated from French) “In order to determine precisely what is to be considered what is appropriate, (or) improper attire to be worn by the person assisting at Mass…We take the following rule to the letter of His Eminence Cardinal Vicar [ Basilio Pompilj ] addressed on 24 September 1928 to all higher schools of sponsorships and girls in the city of Rome..We hope that all the girls and women of our diocese will be a duty to comply with these provisions and to set an example of Christian modesty with the submission to the will of the Vicar of Jesus Christ. It goes without saying that sanctions brought by the Sacred Congregation must be applied with equal prudence and firmness , to stop immediately and as effectively as possible the scourge of immodesty.”
In 1945, Cardinal Jean-Marie Rodrigue Villeneuve likewise, told those in his diocese ” The priests will not let people enter churches who are not dressed properly. Those who have sleeveless dresses, too low cut or too short, must put on a cloak before crossing the threshold of our temples.” While the Bishops Synod of Quebec stated, “What if we ask what is a modest and decent outfit for a Christian, it is understood that this is the one that covers the chest and arms non-transparent fabrics, coming down at least mid-leg, and whose cup a suitable extent protects modesty hiding body lines “(Cardinal Rouleau, December 8, 1930 . Mandements of Bishops of Quebec , vol. XIII, Supplement 45 [in fact: 36]).
Church Dress Code: Still A Practice Today
The standard of bare arms being improper for Mass and in Church still exists to this day; we can see it being enforced in the Vatican. In particular, the Papal Audience Dress code states that women must cover their shoulders.
Pope Pius XII condemned the idea that a sin such as wearing an immodest fashion is acceptable (i.e. not sinful) if it is customary at a given time and/or place. The principle of majority is no rule of conduct. (There are many evil practices that are widely accepted.) “Yet, no matter how broad and changeable the relative morals of styles may be, there is always an absolute norm to be kept after having heard the admonition of conscience warning against approaching danger: style must never be a proximate occasion of sin.” (An ADDRESS of Pope Pius XII to a Congress of the “Latin Union of High Fashion” November 8, 1957.)
Concerning the seriousness of modesty and purity, St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests cried, “Oh God, how many souls does this sin drag down to Hell! . . . . No, my dear brethren, this beautiful virtue is not known to those worldly and corrupt girls who make so many preparations and take so many cares to draw the eyes of the world towards themselves, who by their affected and indecent dress announce publicly that they are evil instruments which Hell makes use of to ruin souls- those souls which cost so much in labours and tears and torments to Jesus Christ! . . . .” Now he wasn’t one to mince words! Yet he had thousands and thousands flock to Mass and Confession because of it!
In 2016, Fr. Carmelo Arada of Manila Archdiocese Commission on Liturgy said certain decorum must always be observed for liturgical functions.“Going to Mass in the parish and going to Mass in the malls must be celebrated with the same disposition, including the attire. Dress properly,” said the priest. He called for the observance of the proper dress code during mass. “Male Catholics are also discouraged from wearing caps, basketball jerseys, tank tops or jersey shorts, and shorts while women are urged to refrain from wearing spaghetti-strap tops or tank tops, short skirts, skimpy shorts or sleeveless shirts with plunging necklines during Mass.” Which is the same dress code the Archdiocese of Manila had laid down back in 2007.
Fr. Dominic in a homily on EWTN spoke, “Many people come to Church dressed like they are ready to go to the beach. You should not come to Church dressed in shorts, miniskirts, swimsuits, bikinis, tank-tops, dresses above the knees, bare shoulders, bare arms, low cut dresses, sleeveless shirts, very tight fitting clothing, etc. If you come to EWTN or the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, AL and you are not dressed properly don’t expect to get out of your car because we have a dress code here. And don’t even dare to come into the Chapel before our Lord. If you do, hopefully you will be caught by our security guards and asked to put on more clothing. We must return to having a holy fear for God and for His true Presence in the Eucharist and for being in His house. How can we expect to grow in the spiritual life if we are dressed like we don’t care? How dare we approach the Holy Eucharist dressed like we are going to the beach.”
However, all this aside, what we wear to swim, or what we wear in our own homes is certainly a little less “standardized.” (see video below) Though we must never forget our proper role as Catholics; children of God and heirs of Heaven. And our duty to be holy examples to others, especially those under our care. When it comes to bare shoulders, it is more or less not much of an issue outside of Church. But of course then we are faced with the questions, “How thick must our strap be? Two inches? Spaghetti straps? How wide can our sleeves be? Does it even matter at all?” For we know that when we are wearing sleeveless shirts / dresses then the showing of our bra / breast can become an issue when there are large, gaping holes.. We recommend sleeveless shirts / dresses that do not show our bra, and cut close to under our arms, just so that we need not worry about our chest showing when we bend down or lift our arms.
Conclusion / Final Notes
The Catholic Church isn’t dumb; we are not expected to wear old fashioned or ugly clothing, covering our bodies likened to Sharia Law! Pope Pius XII actually calls us to follow the fashion, but with prudence! He called it an act of charity! He has even said that Fashion and Modesty go together.
We are called to look to these guidelines for the sole reason that we know without a doubt that our dress (and, remember we must be modest in our looks, thoughts, words and actions also!) will never be a source of scandal or sin to others.
It’s not “two more inches and you are sinning!” but rather “here is a Standard that will make it easier for you to be able to build a wardrobe around, without having to worry about Modesty at all!” And even if some willfully dress immodestly, it is never our place to hate those people, or treat them badly! Never! We are called to be examples, and to tell the truth when it is charitably necessary (if people don’t know what is modesty they cannot dress modestly), but we are not called to judge if a person is purposefully dressing sinfully to make men lust after them! Most people have no idea anymore! And then need our prayers, our charitable information when possible, and most of all … our example It would be really easy to believe that we could dress how we think is modest, but as mentioned before; something are more difficult than others when it comes to temptation. It is up to both genders to dress modestly, be pure in heart and mind, “flee thou youthful desires, and pursue justice, faith, charity, and peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” [2 Timothy 2:22]
If we tried to “cover up” parts of ourselves that were a “stumbling block” or “temptation” for others it would be impossible. As even the mere thought of a person can bring about temptation. It is up to us to fight these temptations, yet not making it harder for our Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
Few “dress codes” have been made by some Christians that have proven to make no sense at all concerning “inches” and “situational outfits”. Is Original Sin merely situational? Prudence and common sense calls us as Catholics to follow a moral guideline, not our feelings, as most Catholic issues. As the Catholic Church has so very much pointed out the importance of Modesty in dress, as well as other areas, we should at least adhere to the seriousness, and the importance.
We must always remember WHY we are trying to dress with decency and modesty:
Because we are temples of the Holy Spirit
Because we are children of God and heirs of Heaven
Because it honors God
Because it allows us to become good examples for Christ, as well as keeps us pure
THOSE who have had the misfortune to give bad example, and to wound or cause the perdition of souls by scandal, must take care to repair all in this world, if they would not be subjected to the most terrible expiation in the other. It was not in vain that Jesus Christ cried out, Woe to the world because of scandals! Woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh! (Matt. 18:7)
Hear what Father Rossignoli relates in his Merveilles du Purgatoire. A painter of great skill and otherwise exemplary life had once made a painting not at all conformable to the strict rules of Christian modesty. It was one of those paintings which, under the pretext of being works of art, are found in the best families, and the sight of which causes the loss of so many souls.
True art is an inspiration from Heaven, which elevates the soul to God; profane art, which appeals to the senses only, which presents to the eye nothing but the beauties of flesh and blood, is but an inspiration of the evil spirit; his works, brilliant though they may be, are not works of art, and the name is falsely attributed to them.
They are the infamous productions of a corrupt imagination.
The artist of whom we speak had allowed himself to be misled in this point by bad example. Soon, however, renouncing this pernicious style, he confined himself to the production of religious pictures, or at least of those which were perfectly irreproachable. Finally, he was painting a large picture in the convent of the discalced Carmelites, when he was attacked by a mortal malady.
Feeling that he was about to die, he asked the Prior to allow him to be interred in the church of the monastery, and bequeathed to the community his earnings, which amounted to a considerable sum of money, charging them to have Masses said for the repose of his soul. He died in pious sentiments, and a few days passed, when a Religious who had stayed in the choir after Matins saw him appear in the midst of flames and sighing piteously.
“What!” said the Religious, “have you to endure such pain, after leading so good a life and dying so holy a death?” “Alas!” replied he, “it is on account of the immodest picture that I painted some years ago. When I appeared before the tribunal of the Sovereign Judge, a crowd of accusers came to give evidence against me. They declared that they had been excited to improper thoughts and evil desires by a picture, the work of my hand. In consequence of those bad thoughts some were in Purgatory, others in Hell. The latter cried for vengeance, saying that, having been the cause of their eternal perdition, I deserved, at least, the same punishment. Then the Blessed Virgin and the saints whom I had glorified by my pictures took up my defence. They represented to the Judge that that unfortunate painting had been the work of youth, and of which I had repented; that I had repaired it afterwards by religious objects which had been a source of edification to souls.
“In consideration of these and other reasons, the Sovereign Judge declared that, on account of my repentance and my good works, I should be exempt from damnation; but at the same time, He condemned me to these flames until that picture should be burned, so that it could no longer scandalise any one.“
Then the poor sufferer implored the Religious to take measures to have the painting destroyed “I beg of you,” he added, “go in my name to such a person, proprietor of the picture; tell him in what a condition I am for having yielded to his entreaties to paint it, and conjure him to make a sacrifice of it. If he refuses, woe to him! To prove that this is not an illusion, and to punish him for his own fault, tell him that before long he will lose his two children. Should he refuse to obey Him who has created us both, he will pay for it by a premature death.”
The Religious delayed not to do what the poor soul asked of him, and went to the owner of the picture. The latter, on hearing these things, seized the painting and cast it into the fire. Nevertheless, according to the words of the deceased, he lost his two children in less than a month. The remainder of his days he passed in penance, for having ordered and kept that immodest picture in his house.
If such are the consequences of an immodest picture, what, then, will be the punishment of the still more disastrous scandals resulting from bad books, bad papers, bad schools, and bad conversations?
Vae mundo a scandalis! Vae homini illi per quem scandalum venit! — “Woe to the world because of scandals! Woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh!
Scandal makes great ravages in souls by the seduction of innocence. Ah! those accursed seducers! They shall render to God a terrible account of the blood of their victims.
Regarding his interview on Nightline, Christopher West says that his remarks were taken out of context. In some sense, this is surely true. However, the comments as aired are the latest in a long list of statements and actions not inconsistent with the context set by the Nightline editors.
Though occasioned by West’s Nightline appearance, the present statement addresses his theology as a whole.
Let me stress that I agree with those who vigorously defend West’s intention of fidelity to the Church. Certainly he has had positive results in drawing many Catholics into a deeper understanding of their faith. As for myself, I do not initiate anything about West in my classes, but only respond when asked a question. Then I begin by emphasizing West’s intention of orthodoxy. As I have often put it, “he would throw himself in front of a bus for the Church.” It is important to understand, however, that good will is not synonymous with sound thought; and I must say, not without reluctance, that West’s work seems to me to misrepresent in significant ways the thought of John Paul II.
The following examples have been verified by persons directly involved or by things written by West himself (and I regret the necessary adoption of West’s own language).
West’s work has involved suggesting that a man and woman bless their genitals before making love; blessing the ovaries of women in his classes; advising young men in college and the seminary to look at their naked bodies in the mirror daily in order to overcome shame; using phallic symbolism to describe the Easter candle; criticizing “flat-chested” images of Mary in art while encouraging Catholics to “rediscover Mary’s … abundant breasts” (Crisis, March 2002); referring to the “bloodied membrane” of the placenta as a “tabernacle” (Colorado Catholic Herald, 12/22/06); stating that, while “there are some important health and aesthetic considerations that can’t be overlooked,” “there’s nothing inherently wrong with anal penetration as foreplay to normal intercourse,” (Good News About Sex and Marriage, 1st ed., emphasis in original), though qualifying this in the revised edition and stressing the subjective dangers of lust in such activity; and, on Nightline, praising Hugh Hefner for helping rescue sex from prudish Victorian attitudes, saying that there are “very profound historical connections between Hefner and John Paul II,” while emphasizing that John Paul II took the sexual revolution further and in the right direction.
I offer these examples not merely because they are vulgar and in bad taste, not to mention sometimes bordering on the just plain silly, but because they indicate a disordered approach to human sexuality. An objective distortion in approaching sexuality does not cease to be such simply because it is theologized. West to be sure will point toward the “orthodox” intentions and context of the examples, but my criticism bears on the substance of his preoccupation as reflected in the examples. (As a Thomist friend of mine used to say: pay attention to a man’s subjects, not his predicates.)
What, then, are the objections to West’s theology?
First, West misconstrues the meaning of concupiscence, stressing purity of intention one-sidedly when talking about problems of lust.
When I first pointed this problem out to him several years ago, his response was that he refused to limit the power of Christ to transform us. My response is that concupiscence dwells “objectively” in the body, and continues its “objective” presence in the body throughout the course of our infralapsarian existence; and that we should expect holiness to “trump” temptations or disordered tendencies in the area of sexuality exactly as often as we should expect holiness to “trump” the reality of having to undergo death.
Second, West has an inadequate notion of analogy. He conceives love in a reductive bodily-sexual sense, then reads the Christian mysteries as though they were somehow ever-greater and more perfect realizations of what he emphasizes as key in our own experience, namely, sex.
But sex is not even the most important part of human love, let alone the key to the Christian mysteries–the Eucharist, for example. Missing in West’s work is an adequate idea of the radical discontinuity (maior dissimilitudo) between the divine love revealed by God–and indeed the (supernatural) love to which we are called–and sexual love or intercourse. To be sure, the spousal love between man and woman is central in man’s imaging of God, and the gendered body and sexual relations are an integral sign and expression of spousal love, which also includes what John Paul II calls all the other manifestations of affection. However, as Joseph Ratzinger says, it is only because man has a capacity for God that he also has a capacity for another human being. The former indicates the “content,” the latter the “consequence,” of man’s likeness to God.
In the end, West, in his disproportionate emphasis on sex, promotes a pansexualist tendency that ties all important human and indeed supernatural activity back to sex without the necessary dissimilitudo.
Third, West’s treatment of shame and reverence is marred by a too-male vision of things–not only too much maleness but distorted maleness. If we could just get over our prudishness and sin-induced guilt, he seems to think, we would be ready simply to dispense with clothes and look at others in their nakedness. He has no discernible sense of the difference between what might be a feminine as distinct from masculine sense of unveiling. He (thus) lacks a reverence for the body entailing a modesty not reducible simply to shame, or again a patient reverence presupposing the “veiledness” proper to what essentially contains mystery. His work is preoccupied with what is external to the detriment of the interiority proper to persons. In this context, we can say that West’s theology ultimately lacks a Marian dimension: not in the sense that he fails to make references to Mary, but because his work is not adequately formed, in method or content, in Mary’s archetypal feminine-human sensibility.
Fourth, a style of preaching is not merely a matter of “style”–a difference in personality or taste. It is always-also a matter of theology itself. West often tends to treat resistance to the content of his lectures, for example during the question periods, as matters of resistance to the Holy Spirit (to the Spirit now speaking in and through West’s “charism”), urging questioners to pray to overcome the fear induced in them by their bad theological-spiritual formation. Well-balanced persons have spoken of how West makes them feel a sense of guilt, of resistance to the Holy Spirit, if they experience uneasiness about what he is saying.
Pope Benedict XVI’s sacramental “style,” integrated within the objectivity of a larger truth that always first calls ourselves into question even as we preach to others, provides a helpful lesson here.
Regarding Hefner: West fails to see that Hefner at root does not correct but misconceives and then only continues the error of America’s Puritan Protestantism. For both Puritanism and Hefner, the body is merely a tool, though to be manipulated differently: by the former exclusively for reproducing children and by Hefner for pleasure. It is not only Puritanism but also Hefner that fails to understand properly the body and bodily desires in their natural meaning as good.
In sum, West’s work provides a paradigm of what is most often criticized today in connection with John Paul II’s theology of the body–and rightly criticized, insofar as that theology is identified with West’s interpretation: namely, that it is too much about sex and too romantic.
West presents a problem for the Church, not because he lacks orthodox intentions, but because his unquestionably orthodox intentions render his theology, a priori, all the more credible. His work often deflects people from the beauty and depth of what is the authentic meaning of John Paul II’s anthropology of love, and thus of what was wrought in and through the Second Vatican Council. It is scarcely the first time in the history of the Church that abundant good will did not suffice to make one’s theology and vision of reality altogether true.
West has worked tirelessly on behalf of the Church. However, if his work is to bear the Catholic fruit he so ardently desires, he needs to subject basic aspects of his theology to renewed reflection.
David L. Schindler Provost/Dean and Gagnon Professor of Fundamental Theology Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family The Catholic University of America Washington, D.C.
Christopher West at a recent Theology of theBody road show in Hawaii.
(Posted 07/01/09 www.RemnantNewspaper.com) Christopher West’s appearance on Nightline, during which he praised Hugh Hefner and asserted that John Paul II advanced the sexual revolution “in the right direction,” is but the latest in a long series of scandals arising from West’s promotion of “John Paul II’s Theology of the Body” (TOB). [Caveat: I am forced to quote some of that scandalous material here—not for the sake of multiplying scandal, but rather to demonstrate its existence as a warning to Catholics to keep themselves and their children away from this man’s morally offensive presentations, and those of his fellow “experts” in TOB.]
Based on his rendering of John Paul’s 129 deeply obscure audience addresses filled with the Pope’s clearly personal “reflections” and “meditations” as a private doctor, West has turned TOB into a veritable branded product, complete with a Christopher West logo, which he markets in every conceivable venue with all the fervor and conviction of the late TV pitchman for OxiClean. And the marketing pays off big: a million books and three million audios sold. Yet another success story in Neo-Catholic Land.
TOB, West exclaims, “has already begun a ‘sexual counter-revolution’ that’s changing lives around the world. The ‘fire’ is spreading and in due time we can expect global repercussions.” Not impressed? Wait, there’s more!: “Brace yourself! If we take in what the Holy Father is saying in his Theology of the Body, we will never view ourselves, view others, view the Church, the Sacraments, grace, God, heaven, marriage, the celibate vocation…we will never view the world the same way again.”
Oh come off it, will you?
The brilliant David L. Schindler, for one, has had quite enough of West, who was one of his students ten years ago at the John Paul II Institute. After the Nightline appearance, Schindler wrote a subdued and (in my view) overly respectful but devastating critique of West’s “work,” including this catalogue of some of the countless examples of his former pupil’s notorious gutter-mouth at work (which I have separated into bullet points for easy reading). The following are not to seen by children:
· suggesting that a man and woman bless their genitals before making love;
· blessing the ovaries of women in his classes;
· advising young men in college and the seminary to look at their naked bodies in the mirror daily in order to overcome shame;
· using phallic symbolism to describe the Easter candle;
· criticizing “flat-chested” images of Mary in art while encouraging Catholics to “rediscover Mary’s … abundant breasts” (Crisis, March 2002);
· referring to the “bloodied membrane” of the placenta as a “tabernacle” (Colorado Catholic Herald, 12/22/06);
· stating that, while “there are some important health and aesthetic considerations that can’t be overlooked,” “there’s nothing inherently wrong with anal penetration as foreplay to normal intercourse,” (Good News About Sex and Marriage, 1st ed., emphasis in original), though qualifying this in the revised edition and stressing the subjective dangers of lust in such activity;
· and, on Nightline, praising Hugh Hefner for helping rescue sex from prudish Victorian attitudes, saying that there are “very profound historical connections between Hefner and John Paul II,” while emphasizing that John Paul II took the sexual revolution further and in the right direction.
Predictably enough, Janet Smith, the doyenne of neo-Catholicism, rushed to West’s defense against Schindler. “I want to add my voice to those who are enthusiastic about the West/Theology of the Body phenomenon,” she writes. In Neo-Catholic Land, you see, one must always applaud and defend the latest “phenomenon,” for phenomena and movements, rather than traditional Roman Catholic doctrine, dogma and liturgy, are what neo-Catholicism is all about—first and foremost the meta-phenomenon of Vatican II.
But what can one say in the face of the damning evidence Schindler presents? One can only cavil about “context” and offer, as Smith does, the lame excuse that “it is important to keep in mind… who West’s audience is. It is largely the sexually wounded and confused who have been shaped by our promiscuous and licentious culture.”
Poppycock. Smith knows quite well that West is not speaking to little groups of sexually abused people in hushed tones in the privacy of their homes or in small meeting halls. He shoots his big mouth off and struts the stage in front of cameras and large audiences of well-adjusted Catholics, including parents who have had to flee the room in horror with their children. He plies his trade on his website, on EWTN, on YouTube, on network radio and television. He wants the whole world to hear his “message,” and millions have.
Schindler, in a terribly difficult position because he is criticizing one of his own students, nevertheless has the integrity and the concern for souls to declare that West’s statements “indicate a disordered approach to human sexuality. An objective distortion in approaching sexuality does not cease to be such simply because it is theologized.” Spot on.
The necessary implication of Schindler’s assessment is that West himself is inflicting a form of sexual abuse on his listeners. And indeed he is. Running amuck with the all-but-impenetrable ambiguities of the original audience addresses, which he has no authority to interpret for anyone, West has turned the Pope’s “reflections” into the neo-Catholic novelty I explored in EWTN: A Network Gone Wrong: the “sexualization” of Roman Catholicism by elevating the physical aspect of marital relations to the level of a quasi-sacrament.
“Sex is holy,” West assures us, along with a host of neo-Catholic TOB apostles vying for the pulpit on EWTN and elsewhere. These include the equally foul-mouthed Gregory Popcak, whose work is heartily endorsed by West. Popcak’s utterances have included the filthy and blasphemous suggestion on EWTN (“The Abundant Life,” broadcast of November 15, 2001) that married couples pray a “Lover’s Prayer,” in which they “say something like ‘Lord, help me to kiss her with your lips. Help me to touch her with your hands and to love her with your undying passion….”
According to Popcak the answer to Deepak Chopra’s question “Does God have orgasms?” is “Absolutely yes. My own faith tradition teaches that God is a lover and that the cosmological orgasm physicists refer to as the Big Bang… is the model for human sexuality. Who wouldn’t give their eyeteeth for a night like that with their beloved?”
West gleefully offers the following disgusting endorsement of Popcak’s book “Holy Sex”:
Think of this book as Thomas Aquinas meets Dr. Ruth and enjoy…. Popcak goes right between the sheets, shall we say, providing a very frank, honest, and practical discussion of the sexual joys and challenges of the marriage bed…. Give Holy Sex a prayerful read and you will be on your way, as the good doctor puts it in classic Popcak-style, to “a toe-curling, eye-popping, mind blowing, deeply spiritual, and profoundly sacramental sexuality.”
“Dr. Ruth,” in case anyone doesn’t know, is Ruth Westheimer, the Jewish TV “sex therapist” whose presentations are so sexually explicit that not even West would dare quote them. Yet West is delighted by a book that (so he claims) somehow combines her obscene approach with the teaching of the Angelic Doctor.
At any rate, the Magisterium has used a number of terms to describe the sexual act, but “holy” has never been one of them. The physical act involved in reproduction (as distinguished from the soul infused at conception) can no more be holy than eating a good meal can be holy. Both are bodily goods, but goodness and holiness are two different things—a distinction that has been lost in the general conflation of grace and nature in post-conciliar thinking.
Further, the sexual act involves a dark mystery to which West is apparently oblivious. As Pope Pius XI observes in Casti Connubii, a classic statement of traditional Catholic teaching on human sexuality: “the very natural process of generating life has become the way of death by which original sin is passed on to posterity…” (Casti Connubii, n. 14).
The sexual act, while of course not evil in itself, is nevertheless by the divine command an instrument for the transmission of death itself and the corruption of human nature on account of Adam’s transgression, even though it also results in the creation of an immortal soul. Then, of course, the sexual act is fraught with our inherited concupiscence. Hence as John Paul II himself admitted in his audience address of October 10, 1980: “Man can commit this adultery in the heart also with regard to his own wife, if he treats her only as an object to satisfy instinct.” (There is nothing new here, as the Church has always spoken of the right use of the marital privilege, and the avoidance of a lustful abuse of it.) For these reasons alone, any attempt to declare the sex act “holy” is offensive to pious ears at best.
And if “sex is holy” (as opposed to being a mere bodily good) why does the Catholic mind reel in horror at the thought of Our Lord or Our Lady engaging in even legitimate nuptial relations? Why is the celibate state exemplified by Christ Himself and the very Mother of God higher than the married state according to Sacred Scripture and all of Tradition? Why will there be no “holy sex” of any kind in heaven, if holy it is? The answer is that the sexual act is a lowly and passing thing of this world to which a penalty must attach because of original sin, and that in the divine plan it will never be anything but an ephemeral aspect of earthly existence having no part whatsoever in the life eternal of the blessed.
But the answer to the problem of Christopher West is really much more basic than all this. Has our sensus catholicus been so dulled, our standard of decency so abased by forty years of novelty in the Church and depravity in the culture, that we cannot muster enough outrage to declare that someone who says the things that West says is simply a vulgar pig who should be silenced by ecclesiastical authority for the good of souls?
As for the “theology of the body,” I see no duty to pay it any mind in the absence of a binding Magisterial pronouncement on what, if any, binding doctrinal content is to be found in 129 talks filled with such tentative expressions as “It can be said,” “we can think,” “can convince us,” “seems to confirm this,” “it can be affirmed,” “it is admittedly not possible to amplify this implication too much,” and “we are trying to penetrate the specific meaning of these words and these chapters.”
As even TOB enthusiast George Weigel has written: “A small, even microscopic percentage of the world’s Catholics even know that a ‘theology of the body’ exists. Why? The density of John Paul’s material is one factor; a secondary literature capable of ‘translating’ John Paul’s thought into more accessible categories and vocabulary is badly needed.” (Witness to Hope, p. 343).
I rather doubt that theological truths of momentous importance for the Church and the world were left unspoken for nearly 2,000 years, only to emerge suddenly in “John Paul’s thought” by way of little-known addresses so “dense” they need to be “translated” by “secondary literature.” Yet the lay “translators” of TOB preposterously “interpret” a series of opaque commentaries as nothing less than the hope of the world in our time, the implication being—and this is classic neo-Catholicism—that the Church’s teaching on marriage and procreation before Vatican II was all pretty much worthless.
The Magisterium does not teach by “secondary literature” written by “translators.” It teaches by unequivocal pronouncements of Popes and Councils concerning what Catholics must believe. No such pronouncements have been forthcoming on this nebulous subject.
Much less does the Magisterium teach through the likes of Christopher West, the self-anointed lay prophet of a novel theology he seems to think is the Church’s only claim to credibility concerning marriage and procreation. As one tribute to him explains:
Christopher West was not always a spokesperson for the teaching of the Pope and the Catholic Church…. A very passionate but not exactly chaste young man of 21, Christopher nearly left the Catholic Church because what he considered the repressed and antiquated teaching of the Church against contraception. But before checking out of the Church of his youth, West decided to allow the Church a chance to explain herself…. [H]e read Pope John Paul II’s 129 Wednesday audiences on the theology of the body. “They changed the way I see the whole universe,” said West. “I knew then that I would spend the rest of my life studying the pope’s theology of the body and making it accessible to others.”
We see here the essence of neo-Catholic arrogance and selective deference to the Church: the sadly deficient Church was given a chance to explain herself and—lo and behold!—the Church restored her claim to allegiance with the novel remarks of John Paul II, which this layman will now “make accessible” to the world.
And this from a man who finds deep meaning in rock music and the movie Spiderman III (which he admits has occupied his thoughts for several years), publicly brags about his own rock drumming, and pounds his chest to the beat of a U2 song while belting out “DEE-SIIIII-RE!” to illustrate one of his excruciatingly sophomoric “theology” lectures.
In a video available on his website, West expresses sympathy for Katy Perry, the rock star whose lesbian-tinged hit “I Kissed a Girl” represents, according to him, an example of how rock music explores themes “from the depths of the human heart…” whereas “saccharine Christian music” is “afraid to go there.” West contends that because Perry was “raised in a Christian home” in a “repressive Christian atmosphere” in which “her parents forbade her to listen to anything but Christian music,” she just had to turn to rock and roll to express how “deeply wounded” she is. West admits he is “only guessing” about Perry’s “repressive” upbringing, but this does not prevent him from calumniating her parents on the World Wide Web.
To appreciate how “deeply wounded” poor Katy is, West suggests watching her video on YouTube in which she is “in bed with one guy, thinking about this other guy” or another video in which “she is cutting herself with this knife, blood is all over her cleavage.” We must not condemn this sort of thing mindlessly, he insists, but rather try to understand its meaning concerning the wounding of Perry’s soul by her Puritanical upbringing. “I am sick and tired of this Puritanical BS that passes for Christianity!” he declares to his worldwide audience.
And this is the man who peddles the product called “John Paul II’s Theology of the Body”® to audiences filled with impressionable young Catholics. Have good Catholics completely lost their minds? Even if there were bona fide Catholic doctrine to be found in the “theology of the body,” could the situation in the Church have become so parlous that we would have to learn it from an oversexed man-child with a dirty mouth?
No matter what his intentions, Christopher West’s “mission” is but another sign of the apocalyptic decline of our time in the midst of the worst crisis in Church history. West deserves prayers for his conversion and repentance no less than the public condemnation his scandals require. And may God bless Dr. Schindler for having the courage to speak out against this wildly popular false prophet who was once his student.
There was another fault I had when wide awake, which Mama doesn’t mention in her letters, and this was an excessive self-love. I will give only two examples of this in order not to prolong the recital. One day, Mama said: “Little Therese, if you kiss the ground I’ll give you a sou.” A sou was a fortune at the time and to get it I didn’t have to lower my dignity too much, my little frame didn’t put much of a distance between my lips and the ground. And still my pride revolted at the thought of “kissing the ground”; so standing up straight, I said to Mama: “Oh! no, little Mother, I would prefer not to have the sou!”
Another time we had to go to Grogny to Mme. Monnier’s home. Mama told Marie to dress me in my Sky-blue frock with the lace trimmings but not to leave my arms bare lest the Sun burn them. I allowed myself to be dressed with the indifference a child of my age should really have, but I thought within myself that I would look much more pretty with my arms bare.
Vigilance of Parents
With a nature such as my own, had I been reared by Parents without virtue or even if I had been spoiled by the maid, Louise, as Celine was, I would have become very bad and perhaps have even been lost.
I was six or seven years old when Papa brought us to Trouville. Never will I forget the impression the sea made upon me; I couldn’t take my eyes off it since its majesty, the roaring of its waves, everything spoke to my soul of God’s grandeur and power. I recall during the walk on the seashore a man and a woman were looking at me as I ran ahead of Papa. They came and asked him if I were his little daughter and said I was a very pretty little girl. Papa said, “Yes,” but I noticed the sign he made to them not to pay me any compliments. It was the first time I’d heard it said I was pretty and this pleased me as I didn’t think I was. You always took great care, Mother, to allow me to come in contact with nothing that could destroy my innocence, and you saw it, too, that I heard nothing capable of giving rise to vanity in my heart. As I listened to what you and Marie said, and as you had never directed any compliments to me, I gave no great importance to the words or admiring glances of this woman.
The World and Worldliness
God gave me the grace of knowing the world just enough to despise it and separate myself from it. I can say it was during my stay at Alencon that I made my first entrance into the world. Everything was joy and happiness around me; I was entertained, coddled and admired; in a word, my life during those two weeks was strewn only with flowers. I must admit this type of life had its charms for me. Wisdom is right in saying: “The bewitching of vanity overturns the innocent mind!” At the age of ten the heart allows itself to be easily dazzled, and I consider it a great grace not to have remained at Alencon. The friends we had there were too worldly; they knew too well how to ally the joys of this earth to the service of God. They didn’t think about death enough, and yet death had paid its visit to a great number of those whom I knew, the young, the rich, the happy! I love to return in spirit to the enchanting places where they lived, wondering where these people are, what became of their houses and gardens where I saw them enjoy life’s luxuries? And I see that all is vanity and vexation of spirit under the sun, that the only good is to love God with all one’s heart and to be poor in spirit here on earth.
With my nose in the book, I heard everything that was said around me and even those things it would have been better for me not to hear because vanity slips so easily into the heart. One lady said I had pretty hair; another, when she was leaving, believing she was not overheard, asked who the very beautiful young girl was. These words, all the more flattering since they were not spoken in my presence, left in my soul a pleasurable impression that showed me clearly how much I was filled with self-love. Oh! how I pity souls that are lost! It is so easy to go astray on the flowery paths of the world. Undoubtedly, for a soul a little advanced spiritually, the sweetness which the world offers is mixed with bitterness, and the immense void of the desires cannot be filled by the praises of an instant. However, if my heart had not been raised to God from the dawn of reason, if the world had smiled on me from my entrance into life, what would have become of me? O my dear Mother, with what gratitude I sing the Mercies of the Lord! Did He not, according to the words of Wisdom: “…drawn me from the world before my spirit was corrupted by its malice and before its deceitful appearances had seduced my soul?” The Blessed Virgin, too, watched over her little flower and, not wanting her to be tarnished by contact with worldly things, drew her to her mountain before she blossomed.
Possessions and Worldly Honors
During the course of the whole trip, we were lodged in princely hotels; never had I been surrounded with so much luxury. There’s no mistake about it: riches don’t bring happiness, for I would have been much happier under that thatched roof with the hope of Carmel in the offing, than in the midst of these sumptuous dwellings, these marble staircases, and silk tapestries, and all the while bitterness in my heart! Ah! I really felt it: joy isn’t found in the material objects surrounding us but in the inner recesses of the soul. One can possess joy in a prison cell as well as in a palace. The proof of this: I am happier in Carmel even in the midst of interior and exterior trials than in the world surrounded by the comforts of life, and even the sweetness of the paternal hearth!
We at OfficialCatholicModesty.com could not agree more with this lady who wrote a letter to the Editor objecting to the crude and terrible lack of charity and just plain mean way Marion Horvatt dissected pro lifers and how they dressed, using them as “examples” of vanity and vulgarity.. when truly these are young people laying their lives on the line for the precious unborn. There are few things as nasty and decidedly un-Christian as this.
Below is the Letter to the Editor written by Julia Howell.
Objection to the Article ‘Three Photos Tell the Story: Good Ideas Fit with Good Customs’
Letter to the Editor of The Remnant
I am writing in protest at Marion Horvatt’s article “3 Photos Tell the Story” (15th Dec 2002) in which she saw fit to criticise the appearance of those taking part in a pro-life rally.
I was appalled by the bitterness and lack of Christian charity shown by Dr Horvatt. How dare she criticise women on a pro-life demonstration! A demonstration is not the time when a woman’s elegance is of any real relevance to the issue. I took part in a Rescue in London in the late eighties when I was a student at London University in which Joan Andrews also took part. As we were being carried away by policemen I was glad that I was wearing trousers.
Horvatt cites a letter Cardinal Siri written in 1960, but the voice of one Cardinal is not the voice of the Church. There is a great danger in traditionalists setting themselves up as arbitrators of Catholic teaching. Some traditionalists carry this argument to an extreme, in saying that women should not go to University because, among many other things, their education would, apparently, make it difficult for them to obey their husbands. (SSPX website for Canada). While asking what it would actually say of Catholic teaching if it were indeed true that the success of a marriage can only be built on the ignorance of women, I also ask wheredoes that leave Ms. Horvatt with her PhD, if this is the type of extreme thinking that she adopts?
In our cold climate I regularly wear trousers as a way of keeping warm. I can assure Ms. Horvatt that my gender has never been called into question. Those who distort the issue into a question of gender identifiction gratuitously insult women. If one morning I suggested to my husband that he wear a pair of my trousershe would give me the most weird look imaginable! If I went into a local men’s store and asked to be measured for a pair of trousers, they would direct me to the women’s store where I would find WOMEN’S trousers.
If women wearing trousers is women cross-dressing, then men shaving is men imitating women. Dr. Horvatt cannot have it both ways. A blanket condemnation of trousers is out of proportion, and is turning young people away from the traditional movement since it does not reflect reality.
However, what alarms me the most about Dr. Horvatt’s article is her distinct lack of charity. One of the women’s crimes in the top photo is that she is “not as pretty” and is shorter and fatter than the woman on her right.
The poor young man who’s spending his free time at a pro life demo is accused of vanity since Dr. Horvatt speculates “his sleeves are rolled under for vanity’s sake (to give an even tan on his arms).” Horvatt does seem possessed of quite a fertile imagination when it comes to the people’s motives for what they are wearing, and she always imparts uncharitable motives to them.
No, that’s not quite true. The women from the 1972 demonstration calling for divorce is Italy is praised for her “well-coiffed hair..pulled back into what would be an elegant twist or roll. Her outfit is distinguished by tasteful jewellery that reflects a desire to appear distinguished and noble.” The poor young pro-lifers and other Catholic demonstrators way of being and walking is later contrasted with the pro-divorce woman’s “Catholic way of being and walking”.
So women who are pro-divorce Horvatt sees fit to praise with the adjective “Catholic” and the pro-lifers of 2002 are described as “vulgar”. What sort of twisted values are these? Perhaps instead of spending so much time analysing photographs Dr. Horvatt should spend some time reading the Bible where Our Lord in his life on earth condemns the Pharisees more than any other single thing and the Our Lord in the Divine Mercy apparitions (which are accepted by the Conciliar Church and traditionalists alike) condemns those who lack mercy.
No one escapes Dr. Horvatt’s arrogant and obsessive censure! She comments on one young lady’s “not so elegant legs”. She also condemns this young woman for drinking “straight from a gallon jug container.” I advise Horvatt never to go on the Chartres Pilgrimage. I can only speak for the one organised by the SSPX , not that organised by the SSPeter so enthusiastically promoted by the Remnant, but I can assure Horvatt that, horror of horrors, women actually drink from wine bottles, and yes, wear trousers…
Horvatt ends her article with a warning that “I hope these photos will serve as a warning to traditionalists…”. Sadly, it is not the photos which serve as the warning but her article, which shows that we are becoming those “ugly traditionalists” which I recall the editor, some issues ago, was