Monday, October 18, 2010

Janet Smith responds to Alice von Hildebrand

Dr Smith's essay is here. It is an excellent response to von Hildebrand. The tone is wonderfully respectful, and Smith offers much good explanation and background concerning the various issues in von Hildebrand's essay on Christopher West. Don't miss it!


Wade St. Onge said...

Thanks for posting the link, Sr. Lorraine.

I am hoping to add more links on my blog shortly, including this one and of course a link to yours.

I would like to reprint here, if you don't mind, what I posted on Catholic Exchange. It will follow ...

Wade St. Onge said...

Thank you, Professor Smith, for this response to Dr. von Hildebrand. I just re-read von Hildebrand’s essay recently, and I too noticed some errors in her piece similar to those you picked out here.

However, I also noticed some excellent points in von Hildebrand’s essay that I believe remain valid and applicable. These are points you did not address here, which makes sense considering your focus was on that which she had wrong.

There have been two very interesting blog articles recently, which together with the comments that follow (which I would say are even more valuable) show, I believe, that the problems run deeper than what you speak of here. I believe Mr. West has seriously and perhaps dangerously misunderstood the Church’s teachings on “custody of the eyes” and the “gaze of purity” as these relate to “concupiscence” and “redemption”.

One is the original blog posting of an article Catholic Exchange ran by Dr. David Delaney recently on this issue ( and one is by “Theology of the Body Explained” editor, Sr. Lorraine, who posted a link to a critique of Dawn Eden’s blog (

I doubt I will respond to this particular piece, Dr. Smith, as I did your critique of Ms. Eden, because I agree with much of what you say here. However, what I will probably do is highlight some points in von Hildebrand’s essay that I believe are solid and that bear repeating and which I also believe demand a response.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Thanks, Wade, for posting your comments.

Lauretta said...

I don't seem to be able to register at Catholic Exchange. Have been trying for over a year without success. So, I will direct my thanks to Dr. Smith here, hoping that she will receive the message. My husband and I so appreciate her articles and the wisdom she shares. Also in this instance, the courage she shows to confront this issue that has become so polemical. We are very anxious for this to be resolved so that the beauty that is the teaching of TOB can continue to touch those hearts so very wounded by this sick culture. The wounds are many and deep in so many people. We have to get this resolved to make sure that the truth is being proclaimed as widely as possible and not hindered by any dissembling among those who should be united in faith.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Thank you, Lauretta, for those thoughts. I'm sure Dr Smith will appreciate them!

Kevin said...

While the essay was indeed of a far better tone (except for the part where she insinuated Alice Von Hildebrand's words in the essay were really not her own), I think in the comments section, an insightful statement is made, her response to dcs.

I didn't find anything in that which said "The tone is wonderfully respectful."

And Lauretta, I still think we are united in faith, at least we should be. In the end, we all are "on the same team." I for one think this discussion is a good thing, as it is in the end causing people to really delve into TOB, as well as Mr. West (and his critics) and look for ways to give a more accurate presentation. As his defenders are so apt to remind us, we few critics are basically irrelevant. :)

Lauretta said...

I was hoping to be able to post something I found on Catholic Exchange which I believe could be pertinent to the discussion over there but cannot due to the difficulties I mentioned earlier. If someone thought it was useful, they could post it over there. I found it on the CUF website. It is written by Fr. Roger Landry. It is as follows:

"6) Christian marriage is meant to be a sign to the world of the love that exists in the marriage between Christ and the Church. The essential truths about Christian marriage all derive from the truth about the marriage between Christ and His Bride. Because Christ will never divorce His Bride, Christian marriage is indissoluble. Because Christ is always faithful, human spouses are called to the same fidelity. And because the marriage between the divine Bridegroom and the Church produces abundant fruit in acts of love, so Christian couples are called to be fruitful, literally “making love.” That’s why the Holy Father says that the greatest help for Christian couples to be faithful to their vocation to image the love of God is to come to Christ in the Eucharist. If you ever go to the ancient basilicas of Rome, like St. Peter’s, you’ll see a huge baldachino over the main altar. There are normally canopies over beds. The reason why there is a canopy over the main altar is because the altar is the marriage bed where the marital union between Christ and the Church is consummated. What happens when a marriage is consummated? The bride literally takes within herself the flesh and blood of the husband, they become one flesh, and that one-flesh union is capable of giving new life. So in the Eucharist, we, the Bride of Christ, receive within us the flesh and blood of the divine Bridegroom, Jesus. We become one with him and are called to bear fruit in acts of love with Him the whole day long. For Christian married couples to be faithful and especially for them to grow as Christ calls them, they need to come as often as possible to THIS marriage bed (the altar), where they will receive within the Lord’s own strength and love so that they might love each other as Christ loves the Church, as Christ loves them."

Kevin said...

There's only one problem with that Lauretta.....

The baldachino never had ANYTHING to do with sexuality, or even nuptiality for that matter.

Instead, it was always connected to the presence of royalty, even when placed over a bed. It was not for the "marriage bed" but rather was in the context of the "private bedroom" which during that time in Europe was where monarchs entertained and received their most private guests. The baldachino over the bed was meant to signify that even if in a "bedroom", they were still in the presence of royalty, and to act accordingly.

Whatever one thinks of Steve Kellmeyer, he definitively debunked this idea here:

In regards to the rest of the quote, nobody is denying that the marital embrace should be infused with Christian love, and isn't purified by the sacraments. Or that there isn't a certain spiritual aspect of it. (The marital embrace is in and of itself a "natural" act, but the grace of the sacrament of matrimony, as well as frequent confession and communion, can and many times does indeed purify this to something higher.)

Kevin said...

I think where we all stop holding hands is some of us think West reduces nuptial love to either the marital embrace entirely, most of the time, or primarily. None of these statements are true.

Mary and Joseph had the "spousal meaning" of the body par excellence, and there was no sex.

The marital embrace can indeed teach us, but that teaching is limited by a host of factors.

Kevin said...

Just as an FYI Lauretta....

Would the canopy over the Pope's "throne" here signify the canopy over the marriage bed?

I might be sounding facetious, but I mean it sincerely. I think instances like this prove an alterantive, and far more likely meaning. This one also avoids a lot of the questions I'd wager of the way West and Loya interpret it. For one, as even Fr. Loya concedes, there is absolutely no historical evidence amongst liturgists for this connotation, it just "is"

Lauretta said...

Kevin, thanks for the comments. I have something I found about the baldachino but I will post it later. I would like to discuss the other parts of the homily I posted, the parts I consider the most important.
I have come to understand that every created thing has something to teach us about God, that's why he created it. Some things, like mosquitos, I struggle to see the sign, but that's another subject!
Marriage is a sign, a sign of the fidelity of God, of His fruitful love, of His gift of self within the Trinity and to mankind. It symbolizes much more as well, but those are some of the key things. Many things that we do within marriage are signs of these realities. Making dinner for my husband is a sign of a gift of self for another. Taking out the garbage, going to work and bringing home money for our needs, are all ways that my husband can manifest his gift of self.
But, the clearest and fullest sign of God's love is within the marital embrace. Within that act we see a total gift of self, a total trust of the other to do one no harm, and fruitfulness, among other things. The marital embrace is that which separates marriage from every other type of relationship as well. This is unique to married people.
The Catechism says this:
1617 The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so the speak the nuptial bath which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist. Christian marriage in its turn becomes an efficacious sign, the sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church.
What makes Christ's love spousal? Spousal love has the character of gift--a giving of oneself for another. Christ manifested this love in its fullest form on the Cross. That is the love that we are to manifest in our marriages as well, particularly in the marital embrace. Yes, Mary and Joseph manifested spousal love without the marital embrace but that is unique in history. As far as I know there has never been another virginal conception (I'm so proud I didn't say immaculate!) in history so I am assuming that God wants us to continue to partake of the marital embrace as a revelation of His love.
I have come to understand the reception of Communion as a nuptial act as well. I offer myself to Christ in union with the gifts and Christ gives Himself to me in Communion, an act that, if I am disposed properly , I will receive His love and it will produce the fruit of divine life within me. To me, the whole of Mass is nuptial, in that it is a giving and receiving of fruitful love. I learned this at a conference from a very orthodox Jesuit before I had ever studied TOB.
For me the whole idea of the Paschal candle being a phallic symbol is just another manifestation of the nuptial character of the Mass. I don’t take it literally but I see what the sign means—a spousal act giving life to the water in the font that is a womb. To me the Mass is a very intimate time with Christ.
Sometimes the way I hear people protesting about some of these explanations reminds me of our secular culture. Our culture has separated sex from marriage and s it sounds at times to me that some in the Church want to separate marriage from sex!

Lauretta said...

This is what I found about the baldachino:

Jewish Tradition of the Chuppa

Preceding our tradition and closely related to the baldacchino is the Chuppa. This is the cloth canopy that was erected over the Ark of the Covenant but is also consider a constituent part of the Jewish betrothal and marriage rites. The rich symbolism that we share with our Jewish brethern can be seen in the following:
The chuppah represents a Jewish home symbolized by the cloth canopy and the four poles. Just as a chuppah is open on all four sides, so was the tent of Abraham open for hospitality. Thus, the chuppah represents hospitality to one’s guests. This “home” initially lacks furniture as a reminder that the basis of a Jewish home is the people within it, not the possessions. In a spiritual sense, the covering of the chuppah represents the presence of God over the covenant of marriage. As the kippah served as a reminder of the Creator above all, (also a symbol of separation from God), so the chuppah was erected to signify that the ceremony and institution of marriage has divine origins.
The “chuppah” may also represent the tent of Abraham, which was open on four sides. Hospitality is considered a cornerstone of the Jewish home.
Before going under the chuppah the groom covers the bride’s face with a veil, known as the badeken (in Yiddish). The origin of this tradition is in the dispute of what exactly is the chuppah. There are opinions that the chuppah means covering the bride’s face, and that by this covering the couple is to be married. Thus, some insist that the marriage witnesses also see this act of covering, as it is a formal part of the wedding.
The groom enters the chuppah first to represent his ownership of the home on behalf of the couple. When the bride then enters the chuppah it is as though the groom is providing her with shelter or clothing, and he thus publicly demonstrates his new responsibilities toward her.[3]

The article goes on the explain the secular meaning in the way in which you described it, Kevin.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Lauretta, thank you for your beautiful reflections on spousal love above.

林翊娟 said...

IS VERY GOOD..............................

Kevin said...


Nobody is doubting the "spousal" analogy. What myself and others object to is the reducing of that analogy to primarily or even majorly "sex."

When you state:

"But, the clearest and fullest sign of God's love is within the marital embrace. Within that act we see a total gift of self, a total trust of the other to do one no harm, and fruitfulness, among other things. The marital embrace is that which separates marriage from every other type of relationship as well. This is unique to married people. "

With all due respect, you make a statement that has no bearing in Catholic teaching, or in TOB. As JP II pointed out, the true living of the "spousal meaning of the body" occured within the Holy Family. They did not engage in the marital embrace.

I would say that it is not the "fullest" sign, since that would imply Mary and Joseph did not live to the "fullest" this meaning.

When critics snidely say "theology of the bawdy" or "theology from the waist down", while being crass, that's basically the point they are making. Sex becomes the epitome of marriage.

This is not to denigrate the marital embrace or "seperate marriage from sex." It is simply pointing out there are higher realities of nuptiality. While the marital embrace is good, there are things far higher, and a far stronger lifelong expression of self-donation and being a "gift."

Kevin said...


Mr. Kellmeyer dealt with the chuppah as well. Beautiful tradition, but not sexual. :) (though i'm not sure which you are saying when you cite that comment or not. Could you clarify?)

Lauretta said...

Yes, Kevin, I should have specified that I meant as people living the normal married life, the marital embrace is the highest expression of self-gift.

I guess I don't quite understand all the emphasis on the Holy Family's life. Yes, it is a higher expression of spousal love but is that what we are called to? If so, why doesn't the Church just tell us that we are to have no sexual activity ever as Catholics? Why isn't that what the Church teaches about marriage? We could be educated to understand that marriage means living a life of mutual abstinence but we are not. Why?

I have to assume that the marital embrace is a more obvious sign to the world of the expression of God's love than is celibacy, otherwise why would the majority of people be called to marriage? Isn't that why we are here--to manifest God's love in the world?

Maybe I am defining "sexual" in a way different than you are. To me the Mass is very "sexual" in that it is a manifestation of the total gift of self of Christ(masculine) and our reception of this gift(feminine), which culminates in fruitfulness. All of that to me is sexual, it is the "fuller" expression of that which the marital embrace is revealing. But even while it is a fuller expression, its meaning, I believe, is more veiled--it is not as easy to understand for the average person.

If the Church wants people to stop seeing "sexual" images in the liturgy, then it might be good to stop using terms such as marriage and womb in explaining the liturgy.

Sr. Lorraine said...

The Holy Family was a very unique situation--a one and only situation never to be repeated in the history of the human race. It's true that in the Holy Family we find the highest expression of the spousal meaning of the body. But Mary and Joseph lived both vocations--marriage and celibacy--in a unique way because that was their particular vocation.

The vocation of others to married life is lived out in the normal order of things.
The vocation to celibacy, as John Paul points out in his TOB, is not for everyone: "the Church is convinced that these words [of Christ about celibacy] do not express a commandment that is binding for all, but a counsel that regards only some persons." Marriage is the ordinary way of sanctification for most people.

Certainly it's not Catholic teaching that marriage is only about sex. But to speak about marriage as if sex is somewhat peripheral to it isn't accurate either.In TOB, John Paul went to great lengths to spell out the correct understanding. It took him 600 pages, so it's a little hard to do it in a comment box! What he said about Ephesians 5 is especially pertinent, and also what he says about the sacramental sign of marriage in TOB 103-107.

Kevin said...

Sister and Lauretta,

Perhaps I can clarify a bit here, and ask a few questions of my own.

Why the emphasis on the Holy Family? Because they understood what being "man and woman he created them" was par excellence. If that's the case, I'm going to want to follow that example, as best as I can. Obviously there are some differences, but the principles outlined by the life they lived are available to all.

Nobody expects their family to re-create the Holy Family. Yet their self-donation (when one thinks about the immense sacrifice Joseph underwent during the flight to Egypt, the sorrows both suffered with events surrounding Jesus' life, etc), these can and should be pursued by the "normal" couple

Since that union was not sexual (in the verb sense), there is something that, good as the marital embrace can be for couples, there is a far greater "gift". Of course, spouses continue to give the marital embrace as gift, just there are higher things.

Forgive me, but I almost feel as if this is being treated as a zero-sum game here. either the marital embrace is the epitome of marriage, or it's something on the periphery, pointless, etc.

When one says the marital embrace is the fullest, the highest for anyone not Mary and Joseph, those statements simply aren't true. I suppose those old people not pumped up on Cialis are denied their ability to give the fullest expression of "gift." on the contrary, many times they can be the greatest expression of the spousal meaning of the body and the "gift."

Or when Fulton Sheen spoke of the "dark night of the body" and how the aridity of the marital embrace should be a great blessing, how does Lauretta reconcile those statements with what she says?

Lauretta said...

You are right, dcs, and that laying down of one's life for another is what St. Paul says husbands are to do for their wives. He says that this relationship between husband and wife is a great foreshadowing of Christ and the Church. Not any relationship between two people or even between a man and a woman but between two married people. What is the one thing that distinguishes marriage from every other relationship? Is it not the marital embrace?

Why is the Church fighting so hard to keep marriage legally defined as something that can only occur between one man and one woman if the marital embrace isn't central? Homosexuals are capable of living under one roof and caring for each other as your older couple, Kevin. So, why can't homosexuals get married if it is just that kind of solicitous care for another that is required?

As soon as you say marriage, you are implying something sexual, both masculinity and femininity, as well as the marital embrace. In fact, according to canon law, one can't get married if they are not capable of the marital embrace. To me that makes it pretty central to what marriage is.

Before I can answer your last question, Kevin, I would need to read what Bishop Sheen was referring to. Can you give me the source? I have some of his books, and I believe I have Three to Get Married, if that is where it is located. Unless I have given it away of course! I can tell you what I think it might mean just from what you have said but I would prefer to know the context.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Lauretta, you're right that the marital embrace is central to marriage. In the TOB talks 103-107, Pope John Paul discusses the sign of marriage. While it is not limited to the marital embrace and includes other elements, the conjugal union is certainly central to it.

The sign of marriage, as JP says, is a sign "with manifold contents." He says, "The essential truth of the sign will remain organically linked with the ethos of conjugal conduct. Into this truth of the sign, and consequently into the ethos of conjugal conduct, there is inserted, in a future-related perspective, the procreative meaning of the body, that is, fatherhood and motherhood." (TOB 105:6)

Marriage is concerned with the spousal meaning of the body especially as it relates to the procreative meaning of the body in bringing forth children. That is not the case with celibacy. That is why the state should not allow homosexuals to "marry," because their union of its nature is not ordered to children. So it is of no more interest to the state than is any other friendship between adults.

Kevin said...


Once again, nobody is downplaying the marital embrace. In the words of the President: LET ME BE PERFECTLY CLEAR, nobody is downplaying the marital embrace.

It really depends on what you mean by "central." Is a marriage less a marriage when couples cannot "come together frequently"? Are they not living the "spousal meaning of the body?"

When we say there are things greater, we simply are pointing out that two becoming "one flesh" is not limited to the marital embrace. Granted, it's a very visible readily available sign, but there are other aspects I would say that go far deeper. What about the every moment of self-sacrificial love spouses are called to?

Kevin said...

And one more.

Lauretta, the citation is indeed from "Three to Get Married" where Archbishop Sheen says the following:

"What the Dark Night of the Soul is to the spiritual life, the Dark Night of the Body is to
marriage. Neither are permanent; both are occasions of purification for fresher insights into
Love. If the fig tree of love is to bear fruit, it must be purged and dunged. Dryness in the
spiritual life and in marriage are really actual graces. God’s finger is stirring the waters of
the soul, creating discontent, that new efforts may be put forth. … There are two kinds of
dryness: there is one which rots, which is the dryness of love without God; and there is also
a dryness which ripens, and that is won when one grows through the fires and heat of

Page 183. He also speaks about "the intimacy which at first was so desirable, now becomes at times a burden" in the context of that passage.

Miss Eden cited this in her thesis. Should give it a read. ;)

Wade St. Onge said...

Lauretta, you say: "as people living the normal married life, the marital embrace is the highest expression of self-gift."

How does this harmonize with St. Francis de Sales when he says, "Married people ought not to keep their affections fixed on the sensual pleasures of their vocation, but ought afterwards to wash their hearts to purify them as soon as possible, so that they may then with a calm mind devote themselves to other purer and higher activities. (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 39: “The Sanctity of the Marriage Bed”)

If the marital act is the "highest expression of self-gift", how can St. Francis say there are "activities" in the married vocation that are "higher" and "purer" than sexual union?

Sr. Lorraine said...

Well, Wade,it seems to me that the quote from St Francis de Sales perhaps has a bit of the attitude of suspicion, as John Paul might call it. Perhaps the saint was thinking that even in marriage concupiscent desire can enter in, as John Paul also says. De Sales might have been looking at it from that angle.
But when he says "wash their hearts to purify them" he seems to imply that they were somehow made impure by conjugal union. But authentic conjugal union marked by love is not an impure activity, so why would they need to be thereafter purified? Even some of the saints had traces of Manichaean attitudes, as probably most of us do still have them in some ways.

Lauretta said...

Sister Lorraine, thank you so much for your comments and insights. They help me gauge whether or not I am getting off base in my comments. And I will ask again for you to please correct me if you see that I am misrepresenting anything concerning Church teaching.

Lauretta said...

Kevin, from what I understand, those moments of self-sacrificing love that occur every day are to reach their culmination, their consummation in the marital embrace. To engage in the marital embrace without those acts of daily sacrifice would to me make a mockery of the marital embrace.

Thank you so much for posting the quote from Bishop Sheen. I am getting old so I have experienced the joys and consolations as well as the dry times in both my relationship with God and with my husband. The dry times are very painful but I have come to understand that I need them because there is much in me that needs purification. And I can say that I am making a much greater sacrifice of self(loving) when I experience no consolation than when I do. One learns the truth of that old saying: emotions are great companions but poor guides!

Lauretta said...

Wade, you guys are wonderful because you keep bringing up these quotes that I have not heard before and I have to see if and how TOB can be applied.

I don't know what St. Francis meant by that quote but I can tell you what I understand TOB to say. From what I understand, the marital embrace, like so many things in the faith, is a sign. The sensual pleasure (which is a good thing, it is not bad in any way) accompanying the marital embrace is to be a sign to us of the ecstatic joy that we will experience in union with God. So, I would agree that we are not to stay at the level of enjoying sensual pleasure but allow it to bring us to the deeper reality of the joy of union with God. It should foster in us deep thankfulness to God for creating us and loving us as He does. The sensual pleasure is meant to be an incentive, a power to deepen our relationship with God. It should lead us to prayer. John Paul II said something to the effect that the reverence for Christ that is spoken of in Ephesians is the mature form of the mutual attraction of the sexes. Hope that makes sense.

Wade St. Onge said...

That is a possible interpretation, Lauretta. But in the context I am not sure it would be a valid one.

Sr. Lorraine has a more likely interpretation. No doubt, the Saints and even Doctors have been "tainted" by certain movements or heresies as well.

However, I think we must be very careful in judging the Saints to be wrong and ourselves right on the basis of their being "tainted" by this or that movement, considering we are also "tainted" by certain movements, which today consist of "self-pleasure", "over-indulgence", and "hedoism" (as well as others).

You may be right, Sister. But I think we have to be very careful and do a lot of "homework" before we dismiss something stated by a Doctor of the basis that they were "tainted" by a movement. I would have to be presented with a strong and compelling case before coming to that conclusion. I would not base it strictly on the idea that Theology of the Body seems to indicate that. I would need more sources than just the Wednesday Audiences.

Kevin said...

Yes, I am very reluctant to call one of the greatest spiritual masters of the Church tainted, corrupted, etc.

I think far more likely is that St. Frances says as good as the marital embrace is, there are things far higher, and those striving for the devout life should be focused on those.

Of what good is the marital embrace if afterwards, you heart is not purified and focused on self-donation to your spouse? While this should no doubt be the case, man has a sinful inclination, especially in these areas. The good doctor is calling people towards this.

Viewing De Sales as tainted by a scrupolisity I think does grave violence to the text, and to his character. While in theory it might be true, as Wade said (and I will say with a little more frankness), you better back it up with a mountain of evidence before even insinuating it. :)

Indulging in a bit of grandstanding here, I think quotes like these leave West and company confused, and for good reason. When compared with the spiritual masters of the Church, there is little comparison with West's as I call it "christianized indulgence" and the life of self-denial/donation the spiritual masters call us to.

Lauretta said...

Kevin, did you not read what I posted? Did I come off as confused? I'm sorry if I did, but I did not feel confused when I posted! What part of my comment did you think manifested "christianized indulgence"? If, as I stated, the sensual pleasure of the marital embrace is a sign of the joy of union with God, why would we want to deny it or denigrate it? Would that not in a sense be saying that we need to deny the joys of heaven then, if we have to deny the sign? I guess I am confused at your response.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Kevin, the doctors of the Church were not infallible. In making them doctors of the Church, the Church is not saying that everything they ever wrote is perfect.
If that were the case, what of St. Thomas saying that Mary was not conceived free of sin but was sanctified in the womb?
Or of St Augustine's opinion that unbaptized children all go to hell?
Or the many anti-Jewish remarks in the writings of John Chrysostom?
We have to read them with great respect, and also with an awareness of how to interpret their texts. They lived in a different era.
At this point, I am going to put comment moderation back on and I may not post all comments. This is getting tedious. said...


I posted your comments on Catholic Exchange because they are so very beautiful.

You truly have a purity to your insights which are refreshing.

I am so grateful for them.

Unfortunately Kevin keeps quoting Steve Kellmeyer as a source, I would be careful with that. Although he is extremely knowledgeable, his opinion is very tainted with hatred towards Mr. West and now Dr. Janet Smith.

I keep hearing tone is important to everyone..well...his tone his beyond being a "meaner" as my 6 year old would say and borderlines vehement poison.

Stick with quotes from Saints and Church documents.

Wade St. Onge said...

Actually, I was thinking about the comments of the three of you (Sr. Lorraine, Lauretta, Kevin) on the bus (of all places) today, and I would like to attempt a synthesis. Please let me know what you think.

I think on a "natural" level, the marital embrace is the "highest" (natural) expression of self-gift.

However, on a "supernatural" level, those everyday opportunities in the marriage that challenge us to practice "agape" and love as Christ loved the Church are "greater" than the marital act.

This would make sense considering in heaven there is no sexual union.

This would also make sense of what De Sales was saying.

This also lines up with what Kevin says when he speaks of many things within marriage being "greater" than sexual union.

This also makes sense when we consider that the Holy Family perfectly lived the "nuptial meaning of the body" - their call was a celibate and thus "supernatural" one.

Remember that "sexual union" is a natural "sign" of the greater "reality" of God's love.

Now, that is not to say that the marital embrace is devoid of grace. However, I would say that although on a "natural" level it fosters union most intensely, on a "supernatural" level, it is perhaps the weakest among the many things that make up the marital relationship.

It is like the two are "inversely proportional" - the less the "eros" and the greater the "agape", the greater the opportunity for grace. Something to that effect.

This would also speak to Dietrich von Hildebrand's point in "In Defense of Purity", when he speaks about the dangers inherent in sexual union, such as the "swamping" of the spirit by the intensity of the carnal pleasure (I will get back to you with a page number later).

What do you think?

I actually think this might line up with what West teaches.

Lauretta said...

Good thoughts, Wade. My ideas on this would be where the line between natural and supernatural rests. Just my opinion, but from what I understand, the supernatural is our union with God. Everything that we do as a couple, physically, for one another is at the level of the natural, of sign. It is when our relationship draws us up to enter into that divine love between us and God that it becomes supernatural.

As I said in an earlier post, the marital embrace is to be the culmination, the consummation of all the acts of self-sacrifice and love that we do for one another throughout the day. All of those acts are still "signs", that is a natural expression, of the love of God for man.

Christopher talks frequently about the necessity of moving from the sign to the reality. In other words, our marital relationship should draw us ultimately to the worship of and union with God.

Pope Benedict also talks about the connectedness of eros and agape as well, but I will have to leave that to someone else to explain since I have been negligent in not studying his writing on this.

But, thanks so much, Wade, for this discussion. This is the level at which we should be talking, not personalities or who is winning. We should be striving to understand the teaching itself and how it applies to our lives.

Lauretta said...

Thank you, Christina, for your kind comments. I was so intrigued by Wade's thoughts that I neglected to acknowledge yours! Thank you, again.

Sr. Lorraine said...

I've been going back and forth in my mind about the comments. I don't wish to engage in debate because I find it rather tedious. But if others wish to debate, I decided to leave comment moderation off for now. I did have it on for a while and didn't publish all comments that were left. I apologize if I have offended anyone by not publishing their comments. Thank you for your understanding.

Lauretta said...

Thank you, Sister Lorraine. I can understand your dilemma. We get rather uncharitable and unfocused at times. Sometimes I think it would be more appropriate for those of us to debate these things on our own blogs. I know both Kevin and Wade have blogs but I appreciate your input so I like to be here as well!

Sr. Lorraine said...

Thanks, Lauretta. Actually I didn't mean to imply that anyone was uncharitable, because that's not the case. Everyone has been very kind and has been discussing the issues.

And it's fine with me if people would like to debate things here. If I can add something once in a while I will, but in general I don't have enough time to respond to everything. That's what I meant by saying it can get a little tedious for me. I do think that everyone's contributions have made for a good discussion even if we don't agree on some points.

dcs said...

I actually think this might line up with what West teaches.

The problem is that West does not seem to teach that the marital embrace is just "natural." For example,

"When the Church’s sacramental view of the body is taken seriously, we understand that sexual union is not only a biological process, but a profound theological process – “a great mystery that refers to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:31-32)." (


"The often disputed sexual moral teachings of the Church become lucid when seen through this lens. Like all sacramental realities, if sexual union (as the consummate expression of the sacrament of marriage) is truly to communicate God’s life and love, then it must accurately symbolize it." (

So he does not see the marital act as something that is simply natural. (Admittedly, he does not seem to go as far as Dr. Popcak who claims that a couple renews their vows whenever they engaged in the marital act and claims further that the Church actually teaches this!!)

Now if West & Co. stop claiming that sex is sacramental, and stop claiming that the marital embrace is akin to Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, then maybe we can get somewhere.

Lauretta said...

dcs, I found this while doing a search on the topic of our discussion:

The book is:
Sex and Virtue: An Introduction to Sexual Ethics by John Grabowski

This is a link to a readable copy of the book:

John Grabowski was just appointed to the Pontifical Council for the Family last year so I assume he is highly regarded. The pertinent parts seem to start on page 43 from my quick skimming.

Kevin said...

A few things:

"Unfortunately Kevin keeps quoting Steve Kellmeyer as a source, I would be careful with that. Although he is extremely knowledgeable, his opinion is very tainted with hatred towards Mr. West and now Dr. Janet Smith.

On this instance, Mr. Kellmeyer cited everything with references. People are free to fact-check. Could he be considered as a "hostile witness?" No doubt. Yet that is why you check the evidence.

"(Admittedly, he does not seem to go as far as Dr. Popcak who claims that a couple renews their vows whenever they engaged in the marital act and claims further that the Church actually teaches this!!)"

Renew vows might be a bit too strong a terminology, but I honestly think the idea isn't as far off as one might initially expect. In truth, every act spouses engage in is a way of re-affirming the vow they made to each other. Now will every act be this? Of course not, we are sinful. St Frances De Sales talks about how with the exchange of rings, a man should never look at another woman the same way he does his wife. Yet does that mean everyone will? No, but that's the standard we are called to.

So in a sense, when spouses engage in the marital embrace, they are re-affirming and even strengthening (though not on the level of sacramental grace) their committment to one another, or at least it should be that way.

As far as what Wade says, with a few caveats, I think he nails it. One thing we need to remember about grace is that it not only restores us, but elevates us. (Think of the magnificient offertory prayer in the extraordinary form where the water and wine are mixed.)

We do indeed use the things of this world to heighten our union with God. In this sense, we certainly are not Manichean. :) I simply assert that there are things more central than the marital embrace in a marriage which lead not only to a deeper union between spouses, but a deeper union between them and God.

Kevin said...

And no offense taken Sister. :)

However, I do think the De Sales issue is extremely pertinent to the overall discussion.

I think it highlights the original point of Miss Eden's thesis: Christopher West and many who defend him, in my opinion, do not place a high enough regard for the great masters of previous times who wrote about these issues. This leads them to make what I view as several mistakes, and a misleading understanding of the Churches teaching in these manners.

Hopefully everyone involved (including myself) can continue to reflect on that fidelity to the "remembrance of former things" as the great Qoheleth of Ecclesiastes calls us to.

Lauretta said...

Kevin, according to St. Bonaventure it is in the marital embrace that we image the relationship between Christ and the Church. That is why it is more central to marriage than other aspects, no matter how loving or sacrificial they may be.

Did you read the link I posted last night? He talks directly about the sacramental character of the marital embrace.

One of the things that I think has happened is that we have been so influenced by Protestantism that we no longer have a sense of what the Church believes in her fullness about many things but particularly about grace and sexual things.

I was raised as an unbaptized atheist and I can tell you for a fact that we heathens were capable of more than what some here have stated is possible about concupiscence. One of my ongoing frustrations as a Catholic is people's assertion about the impotence of grace. Those ideas seem to me to be much more Protestant than Catholic.

dcs said...


I think it is quite a stretch to go, as Dr. Grabowski does, from St. Paul's discussion of the marriage debt to claiming that he regarded the marital embrace as the essence of marriage. St. Paul does not say that, and "one flesh" does not refer strictly to the marital act. I do agree that the marital embrace is unitive, but I don't think we can go from that to saying that it is sacramental. That something can be a means of grace in marriage does not mean that it is sacramental. It is not the essence of marriage and it is not integral to the sacrament. Yes, an unconsummated marriage can be dissolved, but it does not follow that the marriage in question is not sacramental. The sacrament is confected when the spouses consent to the marriage and hand over the rights to their bodies.

Lauretta said...

Dcs, that is your opinion! This is a man highly respected enough to be on the Pontifical Council--just recently appointed, as a matter of fact. He also wrote the forward to the first copy of TOB published in 1997. You can certainly argue with me because I have no credentials. But, when you discount the works of those who do have credentials, I think you are on the verge of the Protestant heresy of personal infallibility.

Kevin said...

" But, when you discount the works of those who do have credentials, I think you are on the verge of the Protestant heresy of personal infallibility.

Why? You, Dr. Smith and others certainly discount the works of David Schindler, or Dawn Eden for that matter, who has a masters degree.

What list of credentials is sufficient?

"Kevin, according to St. Bonaventure it is in the marital embrace that we image the relationship between Christ and the Church. That is why it is more central to marriage than other aspects, no matter how loving or sacrificial they may be.

Did you read the link I posted last night? He talks directly about the sacramental character of the marital embrace.

I have no problem with the idea of "sacramental character." Sacramentum simply means "oath" in its most basic form. There is a strengthening and renewing of that initial oath in the marital embrace, nobody denies this.

As far as St. Bonaventure, can you supply a direct reference where he says "That is why it is more central to marriage than other aspects, no matter how loving or sacrificial they may be."

This would seem to imply that those no longer engaging in marital relations are not living a fullness of marriage (viagara and cialis anyone?) or that those engaged in Josephite or even celibate marriages (such as St. William the Confessor) were somehow not true marriages, or deficient ones.

I don't think St. Bonaventure is saying that at all. :)

Wade St. Onge said...

Lauretta, what about Hugo Rahner, the one who dismissed the phallic interpretation of the Easter candle? He was "highly respected" enough to be on "Consilium", the Vatican group appointed by Pope Paul VI to carry out the liturgical reform. That is a higher position than Grabowski has. Yet, you disagree with Rahner.

It looks to me like you are trying to have it both ways, and that you are just as guilty of dcs as verging on the "Protestant heresy of personal infallibility". To see what I am talking about, I refer the reader to the latest few comments at "Catholic Exchange", where you criticized the "Vatican" for certain liturgical changes Rome itself made.

Wade St. Onge said...

And Lauretta, did you know Dr. David Schindler was appointed by John Paul II to be a consultant for the Pontifical Council for the Laity? And that he is in charge of a theological journal (Communio) that was co-founded by our current Pope? When you pit these "credentials" against those of Grabowski, I do not see how you can say what you said above, unless you are operating from a bias.

Lauretta said...

Kevin and Wade,

The things that I take issue with Dr. Schindler, et al, are not of the same character as these other issues.

His concern, it seems to me, rests primarily with Christopher's method of presentation that he is concerned may be leading some into error. The issue of concupiscence is one in which equally qualified people are in disagreement on.

St. Bonaventure states this: "…the union of sexes alone is its (marriage’s) consummation; for then only do the parties become one flesh and one body, and in this only is the union between Christ and ourselves fully signified.."

I stated that the marital embrace is more central because if the reason we have marriage is to reveal to the world the love of Christ for his Bride and, St. Bonaventure, among others, state that the marital embrace is where the union between Christ and ourselves(his Bride) is most fully signified, then the marital embrace is more central to revealing that truth than other aspects of marriage, good as they may be. I'm not sure that was a lucid sentence, but hopefully you get the idea. It's like math, if a=b and b=c then a=c.

Kevin, you stated that no one is denying that the marital embrace is a renewal of vows or that it is sacramental, yet that is exactly what dcs was saying a few posts earlier. It is he I was responding to about all of this.

And, Wade, yes, I did question the prudence of some of the changes made to the liturgy in the wake of Vatican II just as Pope Benedict himself has done. I have read a number of his books in which he voices his concerns, so I think I'm in good company there!

I think the conversations that have been conducted about this whole TOB issue is a clear sign that many have lost the understanding of the marital action that is taking place between Bridegroom and Bride in the liturgy, due in no small part I believe to some of the aforementioned changes to the liturgy after Vatican II.

I haven't been able to find the direct quote yet but one book I was reading paraphrased that St. Bonaventure stated that when spouses recite their vows they are with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and when they consummate their marriage they are with Christ on the Cross, something that dcs denies. said...


What does St. Francis mean when he says that a couple must "wash and purify their hearts" after they engage in the marital embrace and then say as quickly as possible so that they may be on to bigger and better things...(I am paraphrasing).

To me He is implying that there is something not clean or holy about the sexual union...even so far as to say they must get clean after so they can do something of value...

To me, this is definite "spirit good, body bad" thinking.

What are all of your thoughts...?

dcs said...

But, when you discount the works of those who do have credentials, I think you are on the verge of the Protestant heresy of personal infallibility.

That heresy is more properly applied to those who discount the opinions of those who are in authority (popes, bishops, priests). It does not really apply to people who discount the opinions of those with credentials.

Ultimately, my issue with the "sex is sacramental" crowd is that they just assume that it is true. It is theological speculation, nothing more.

dcs said...

To me He is implying that there is something not clean or holy about the sexual union...even so far as to say they must get clean after so they can do something of value...

No, I think he is simply saying that the marital embrace can provoke carnal passions that are inimical to prayer and spiritual things. It is from these passions that our hearts must be cleansed, not from the marital act itself. Does not St. Paul recommend periodic abstinence to married couples so that they might better devote themselves to prayer (1 Cor 7:5)?

Wade St. Onge said...

Lauretta, yes, the marital embrace is the greatest "sign". But it is a "sign", a "natural" sign that is strictly earthly.

And what is it a "sign" of? The love of the Trinity. And the love of the Trinity is lived out in "reality" (not only as a natural sign) in the manifold aspects of marriage.

If you re-read my post wherein I attempted a synthesis, you will see I was in agreement about the "sign" value of the marital embrace. But I would say that many other aspects of love in the marriage are greater than "signs" - they are actual "realities".

Remember, there is no sexual union in heaven, but husbands and wives will still show each other love in heaven as they do outside the marriage bed. Do you see what I am saying?

Wade St. Onge said...

Christina, if you go back and read my critique of West on my blog, where I cite this passage, you will see it is in line with the Church's Traditional teachings.

You see what we are saying about divorcing TOB from the Tradition? We quote Church Doctors and there is confusion and a tendency to see them as "Manichaean" because what they say does not line up with your understanding or interpretation of TOB.

Lauretta said...

dcs, I totally agree with what you said concerning St. Francis and the need for purification. That is right on. The marital embrace, and its accompanying pleasure, are to ultimately lead us to love of and union with God.

Wade, I still think that the line between natural and supernatural is not where you are putting it. We remain at the level of natural even if we are expressing agape toward our spouse. Pope Benedict says that we must always blend agape with eros, I believe, even at the natural level.

We enter the realm of supernatural when we give up the sign--earthly marriage--to enter directly into the heavenly marriage. The acts of charity that we do for others, even when motivated by agape, are still natural expressions of love. They become supernatural when they are directed toward God himself.

Lauretta said...

I thought you might be interested in an excerpt of a writing from Fr. Hardon.

"I think there is some explanation for this unwarranted connection between sex and sin in the Manichaean virus that first infected the stream of Christianity in the third and fourth centuries, that became a major heresy in Europe, as Albigenseanism in the thirteenth century, that re-entered Western society under Calvin and Jansenius, and that still deeply affects large segments of Euro-American culture today.

My purpose in the present conference is not to disprove Manichaean dualism, which postulates that matter, and therefore the human body, is evil. I wish rather to show that, as Catholic Christianity understands the body and the functions of the organs of reproduction, sex is a creature that, in God’s providence, is intended to help mankind reach not only their eternal destiny but to become holy. It is not as though we can be saved in spite of sex, but sex is a divinely instituted means of achieving our salvation, in fact our sanctification."

Wade St. Onge said...

Explain to me, Lauretta, this: why does the celibate, who is an "eschatological sign", love those he serves in all the ways married couples love each other, except for one - sexual union?

Lauretta said...

My understanding, Wade, is that it depends on who you are married to. A married person is married to another human, therefore his life is lived at the level of sign--a sign of the heavenly marriage that is to come. A priest or religious has decided to forego the sign and live at the supernatural level of entering directly into the heavenly marriage. Therefore, his life is lived at the supernatural level. From what I understand those who were married and then forego the rights of marriage, do so to enter into the heavenly marriage. I assume then that their lives then take on a supernatural character. I could be wrong on that.

We should be expressing no less agape type love in the marital embrace than we do in any other interaction with our spouse. Eros does not negate agape. They enrich each other.

Sr. Lorraine said...

What an interesting conversation has been going on! Thanks to all of you! I was doing fall cleaning today so I just tuned in now.
Wade had an interesting point earlier about the synthesis he came to on the bus.
Lauretta, I think we could say that the vocation to continence for the kingdom is also a sign of the heavenly kingdom. You're on to something there, but the difficulty is that the life of grace is the supernatural life, and that's common to all the baptized. So perhaps rather than say continence is supernatural, we could say it more directly anticipates the heavenly kingdom.
I have to go back and reread what JP says in TOB on this.
I was thinking about the difference between the way married people love each other, and how celibates love the people they're called to serve.
Outside of the obvious difference of sex, I think there is also a closer attachment to family members that is entirely right and proper. There are bonds of closeness within the family that are not really replicated in the way celibates love other people. I'm thinking of a certain type of exclusivity. While married people love others too, their love for their spouses is of a different order.There's probably a better way to say that but I hope the point is clear.

Lauretta said...

You are right, Sister Lorraine, and I felt that conflict when I was writing but couldn't quite get it all sorted through. The only way I could come up with to explain it was from the perspective of who our spouse is, a human or God! I guess from TOB language, we would say that married people live at the historical man level while priests and religious live at the level of eschalalogical man. I look forward to hearing what your research uncovers.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Lauretta, I also agree with you in thinking that DCS goes too far in denying that the marital embrace is sacramental.
The Catholic Catechism in 1626-27 says that the consent is the indispensable element that "makes the marriage." The consent consists in the marriage vows, , and "This consent that binds the spouses to each other finds its fulfillment in the two 'becoming one flesh.'" Here the phrase "one flesh" clearly refers to the marital embrace.

Canon law (1055) also says "The matrimonial by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament."

Canon 1061 refers to the "conjugal act which is per se suitable for the generation of children, to which marriage is ordered by its very nature and by which the spouses become one flesh."

Pope John Paul says in TOB 103:2 (speaking of the words of consent) "which is a sacramental sign in virtue of its content.... However, this sacramental word is, of itself, only a sign of the coming to be of marriage. And the coming to be of marriage is distinct from its consummation, so much so that without this consummation, marriage is not yet constituted in its full reality. The observation that a marriage is juridically contracted but not consummated corresponds to the observation that it has not been fully constituted as a marriage. In fact, the words themselves, 'I take you...' do not only refer to a determinate reality, but they can only be fulfilled by the copula conjugale (conjugal intercourse.) This reality (the copula conjugale,) moreover, has been defined from the very beginning by institution of the Creator. " A man will leave his father and mother... (Gen 2:24)."

So you have Canon law saying that marriage by its nature is ordered to procreation, which requires the conjugal act, and Pope John Paul saying that marriage isn't fully constituted as a marriage without the conjugal act. And since marriage is a sacrament, the conjugal act is certainly part of the sacramental nature of marriage.

Why would anyone want to deny that anyway?

Sr. Lorraine said...

Also, Lauretta, I looked at Grabowski's book and it's quite good. He makes a good point in saying that Vatican II recovered (that is, drawing from Catholic tradition) the idea of covenant in the theology of marriage.

Kevin said...

""…the union of sexes alone is its (marriage’s) consummation; for then only do the parties become one flesh and one body, and in this only is the union between Christ and ourselves fully signified.."

All I see in this statement is St. Bonaventure's idea that the marital embrace consumates a marriage, and there's a deep mystical aspect to that consumation.

Nothing really problematic there.

Yet does something that happens for a moment take precedence over something which is to happen every waking moment? When a couple gets older and the marital embrace becomes far less frequent (if it occurs at all!), is there marriage somehow less expressive of what marriage signifies?

Or is it more often the case that many people look to the love embodied in those marriages as a model?

I think, and DCS can speak for himself, that we are seeing a difference in terminology here. And I think the terms used are sloppy.

If one is saying that the marital embrace provides sacramental grace, like say when we receive the Eucharist, well that is plain silly. I think at times, many supporters of West get absolutely sloppy and seem to be implying that.

Now if one states that in the marital embrace that it is a sacramentum in the classic (i.e. ancient) sense of the term, of course. It is an action that signifies an oath.

The Roman legion would under a sacramentum to his commander, and pledge absolutely unswerving loyalty to his general. So much so, the mere appearance of disloyalty was punishable by death. Every one of his actions was meant to reinforce that sacramentum . This is where the concept really comes from in latin.

Now in this case, the marital embrace is obviously a sign of this undying love and fidelity of every moment of your life. Such a pledging of love and loyalty is obviously going to strengthen the bonds between spouses when performed from this disposition. One could say the graces from the sacraments are even fortified in such an embrace.

I think one could even say that JPII was getting near this when he talked about marriage as the "primordial sacrament." This was elevated and purified even higher by Christ and His Incarnation.

I don't think dcs would take issue with anything I just wrote there, but I'll let him speak for himself.

Kevin said...

To me He is implying that there is something not clean or holy about the sexual union...even so far as to say they must get clean after so they can do something of value...

To me, this is definite "spirit good, body bad" thinking.

What are all of your thoughts...?"

Only if St. Paul in 1st Corinthians 7 says the same thing.

Christina, I actually wrote a pretty in-depth commentary on the passage in question as a result of this discussion over at my blog. You already know the link, but for those that don't :)

Lauretta said...

Kevin said:
"If one is saying that the marital embrace provides sacramental grace, like say when we receive the Eucharist, well that is plain silly. I think at times, many supporters of West get absolutely sloppy and seem to be implying that."

I don't know if this answers your comment, but it seems somewhat applicable to your statement. This is from Fr. Hardon:

Since the origins of Christianity, the Church has uniformly held that Christian marriage is holy. It is moreover not only sacred because instituted by God as the Author of nature and human society. It is a sacrament because instituted by the Son of God as the Author of grace and of the supernatural society which is the Church.

But marriage is not only holy in its origins. It is also holy in its purpose. This purpose is to sanctify husband and wife and, through them, the children they may bring into the world. Since sex is an essential part of marriage, it stands to reason (and faith) that the experience of sex is also part of the sanctifying purpose of marriage.

Since all the faithful are called to holiness, it is only to be expected that the married faithful are to become holy too. Their experience of sex within marriage must be one of the divinely-appointed means of becoming holy.

How so? How is the experience of sex sanctifying? It is sanctifying as joy, as charity, as restraint and as generosity.

Sexual experience is sanctifying as joy because the intense satisfaction associated with the marital act is intended by God to be enjoyed. Enjoyment is sanctifying insofar as the pleasure experience is accepted with gratitude from the Almighty and received from Him as a gift of His bounty.

After all, we are sanctified by every conscious act we perform according to the will of God. The more noble the act, the more it contributes to our sanctification. Who would doubt that marital intercourse is a noble action, or that properly performed it is pleasing to God. What pleases God sanctifies man, which means that by their “coming together,” as the biblical phrase has it, husband and wife grow in the divine life in their souls through the loving union of their bodies.

The last sentence seems to be particularly pertinent. Isn't divine life sacramental grace?

dcs said...

Well, I think there are a couple of issues with saying that the marital embrace is sacramental. If we say that it is sacramental because it is ordered to the generation of offspring and the unity of the spouses (two of the ends of marriage), then what of things like giving birth and educating one's children? The primary end of marriage is the begetting and raising of children after all.

Second, if the marital embrace is sacramental then why does St. Francis de Sales say that we should purify our hearts afterwards and turn our attention to higher things? And why does St. Paul recommend periodic abstinence to couples to devote themselves to prayer? And why does St. Thomas say that the marital embrace is forbidden during sacred times? If it is truly sacramental then married couples should engage in it every day and never observe periods of moderation (such as during penitential times), and they should never be concerned with purifying their hearts since the marital embrace has already lifted them up to God.

Now, I do agree with Kevin that in the broad sense (as in strengthening an oath), one can call the marital embrace "sacramental." But I don't think aficionados of the idea have this broad sense in mind.

Wade St. Onge said...

I think, in line with the Catholic Tradition, that sexual union IS a source of grace, but that abstinence from sexual union is a GREATER source of grace. We must keep in mind that there are literally hundreds of ways for grace to grow within a marriage - sexual union is one, but abstinence is another (and higher one).

Lauretta said...

Wow, dcs, I am impressed. I didn't think ANYONE argued with anything that Fr. Hardon said!!

Lauretta said...

This is what Fr. Hardon said about that, Wade:

Sexual experience is sanctifying as restraint because in every marriage sometimes, and in some marriages many times, the married couple must sublimate their natural desire for intercourse and express their mutual affection in other ways.

No two marriages are the same in this respect. But, given the normal differences between the sexes and the additional differences of mood, and temperament and state of health and attitude of mind—married people are to expect that each must often practice sexual self-restraint in a hundred different ways—if their love is to be promoted and not injured by marital intercourse. Whatever patience, prudence and forebearance this calls for is immensely sanctifying. After all, where there is true love between the spouses, they know it is fostered by mutual restraint and injured by selfish indulgence, no matter how the selfishness is popularly named.

I don't know if abstinence would be classified as higher within marriage since it is in the marital embrace that we more fully enter into God's creative action of bringing new human life into the world. Now maybe if a couple chose to forego the marital embrace permanently and mutually enter into the heavenly marriage, then it might be considered higher. I don't know about that.

dcs said...

Wow, dcs, I am impressed. I didn't think ANYONE argued with anything that Fr. Hardon said!!

I don't think I am. The fact that a thing is a possible source of grace or an opportunity to grow in charity does not at all imply that that thing is sacramental. As Wade mentioned, abstinence from the marital embrace is also a possible source of grace (as long as it is done by mutual consent). And St. Paul recommends it so that couples can devote themselves to prayer (1 Cor 7:5). Does this mean that abstinence is also sacramental since it contributes to our sanctification? There are many things in marriage that contribute to our sanctification and we can say that the marital act is the greatest of the natural things. But the fact that a thing helps us to be holy does not mean that it is sacramental.

Yes, the marriage act is ordered to the ends of marriage. But so are other things. When my wife sits with our children and teaches them catechism, is that sacramental?

Sr. Lorraine said...

I think that the covenant theology of marriage can shed some light on this. This morning at Mass this thought came to me during the consecration, while the priest was saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood,etc." At the Last Supper, Christ instituted the New Covenant in his blood. But the next day he consummated that through his suffering and death on the cross. There's two aspects to the covenant, the words that establish it, and some action or deed to ratify it.

In marriage the words of consent establish the covenant, and the consummation of the one-flesh union ratifies it. I found some good insights into this in John Kippley's book "Sex and the Marriage Covenant." He develops this covenant theology of marriage, and his core statement of this is: "Sexual intercourse is intended by God to be at last implicitly a renewal of the marriage covenant."

There are certain parallels between the Eucharist and marriage. Every action Christ did was redemptive. But it was his death and resurrection above all that worked our redemption.

In marriage spouses share all aspects of their lives. But as Lauretta said before, the conjugal act is unique. For one thing, as Kippley says, "It is a unique sign of their marital commitment. Of all the things they do as a married couple, this (along with its preparatory actions) is the only action that is morally right only for married couples. There are, indeed, many other acts they do with each other that reflect their marriage covenant--common meals, financial sharing, common living quarters, and literally hundreds of little acts of kindness, but these could also be practiced if one were living with a relative or even a very close friend. Both the Bible and the Catholic Church make it clear that sexual intercourse is intended by God to be a unique expression of love--that of marital love and commitment." (p. 9)

So the conjugal act plays a unique role as the renewal of the marriage covenant. I think that to say it is not sacramental would make about as much sense as saying that the renewal of the New Covenant through Christ's sacrificial offering through the Mass is not sacramental.

From this it doesn't follow that spouses should engage in it every day as DCS says above, anymore than Catholics have to receive the Eucharist every day. Any good thing has to be done with respect to a person's circumstances.

And while the good actions we do in the state of grace can be a means to grow further in grace, that does not make them sacramental. What makes something sacramental is the unique sign value, and the conjugal act is the unique sign of the renewal of the marriage covenant.

Wade St. Onge said...

Lauretta: "I don't know if abstinence would be classified as higher within marriage since it is in the marital embrace that we more fully enter into God's creative action of bringing new human life into the world. Now maybe if a couple chose to forego the marital embrace permanently and mutually enter into the heavenly marriage, then it might be considered higher. I don't know about that."

So after the wife becomes barren, does the marital embrace cease to become the "higher" path for married people?

Josephite marriages in the Catholic Tradition have always been held in higher regard than "normal" marriages, just as continence (abstaining from sex) has always been held as "superior" to sexual activity.

St. Patrick encouraged the Irish to embrace permanent continence in their marriages as the higher path: "How did it come to pass in Ireland that those who never had a knowledge of God, but until now always worshipped idols and things impure, have now been made a people of the Lord, and are called sons of God, that the sons and daughters of the kings of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ? Among others, a blessed Irishwoman of noble birth, beautiful, full-grown, whom I had baptized, came to us after some days for a particular reason: she told us that she had received a message from a messenger of God, and he admonished her to be a virgin of Christ and draw near to God. Thanks be to God, on the sixth day after this she most laudably and eagerly chose what all virgins of Christ do. Not that their fathers agree with them: no — they often ever suffer persecution and undeserved reproaches from their parents; and yet their number is ever increasing. How many have been reborn there so as to be of our kind, I do not know – not to mention widows and those who practice continence."

Those who "practice continence", as is clear from the context, must be married women, because he speaks of virgins and widows earlier. "Continence", when used by patristics, almost always means married people abstaining from sex.

Paragraph 9

Wade St. Onge said...
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Wade St. Onge said...

I think that is a good explanation, Sister.

I was thinking of sharing this link earlier with Lauretta. I will do it now. I have drawn some parallels between marriage and liturgy that I used to present to my students in my TOB classes.

I doubt Kevin will like it, but I think it is valid.

Anyway, I also used to say this to my students about the place of the marital act: "What if a priest consecrated the host and chalice, said the Our Father, and then put the Eucharist back in the tabernacle instead of consuming or distributing Communion. You would say something was missing, incomplete, right? Well, that is what it is like when a married couple does not consummate their union - something is missing, it is incomplete".

Now, where the analogy breaks down is that those in a non-consummated marriage have still received the grace of the sacrament of matrimony, while those attending the aforementioned Mass, although they will receive the graces of their participation in Mass, do not receive the grace of the Holy Eucharist per se.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Thank you, Wade, for pointing this out. This is a very good analysis! Very helpful.

Just yesterday I started reading Kippley's "Sex and the Marriage Covenant" and in one chapter he also deals with parallels between the Eucharist and marriage. You seem to be thinking along the same lines as he.

Lauretta said...

Thanks, Wade, for the link to your posting. Isn't it wonderful how so much of our life as Christians is connected? The more I learn about the faith the more I see an interconnected path onto which everything, properly understood, fits. The faith isn't a bunch of disconnectd ideas but they all, from creation, to sin, to redemption, to the eschaton are all part of a beautiful picture.

Kevin said...

"I doubt Kevin will like it, but I think it is valid."

And why wouldn't I like it? :)

I've never denied the spousal imagery of Mass. Only a fool would. Matter of fact, I've written about it extensively in the past in my liturgical commentaries.

What I would deny is that the liturgy and its rites is "sexual" in the verb as West teaches, and Lauretta seems to think is self-evident. There's absolutely no historical precedent for this, as even Fr. Loya admits.

Kevin said...

And also, I don't like the idea that St. Frances De Sales can be dismissed as a man with Manichean tendencies without evidence simply for stating what I believe is self-evident: good as the marital embrace may be, there are things higher.

Okay, rage off :)

dcs said...

@Wade, I think where your analogy breaks down is that I don't think we can make a comparison between receiving Holy Communion and engaging in the marital embrace. The Church teaches, for example, that abstinence from the marital embrace can be a source of grace. (In this sense the embrace is more like ordinary food than Divine Food.) However, I don't believe the Church teaches (though there are theologians who have) that abstaining from Holy Communion is a source of grace. I understand that St. Pius X forbade theologians to teach that there were spiritual benefits to receiving Holy Communion infrequently. So one could say that someone who advocates infrequent (say 3-4 times per year) is not teaching with the mind of the Church. But one could not say the same about someone who advocates infrequent sex, moderation, abstinence during sacred times, etc. It is almost as though the marriage act is the opposite of receiving Communion.

Wade St. Onge said...

Thank you, Sr. Lorraine! There is a "Part II" to it, and I hope to get it up soon.

You are right, dcs. Actually, funny enough, I made this point on CAF (I think it was) when I was debating these issues there. Or maybe I said it on one of these blogs where we have been debating TOB. Someone actually said to me that saying we can have too much sex is like saying we can have too much of the Eucharist. I responded to her just as you did here.

Kevin said...

For the most part I think Wade isn't far off, but I don't think one could call the marital embrace the "source" of marriage.

I would say the liturgy is the "source" of the Christian life because every act of the Christian not only springs forth from, but is made possible by the Eucharistic Sacrifice. It is the summit because something that is liturgical is ultimately the highest something one can offer.

One could say maybe the marital embrace is the "summitt" in that it symbolizes, in a certain way, the total and complete gift of self between spouses. Yet to say that every act in marriage springs forth and is made possible by the marital embrace..... lot shakier ground.

Not to say a tenative case cannot be made (with certain qualifications), just that it's a lot more difficult, and I'm not sure how much probitive value there is.

So I don't "dislike" your analysis. I do think it needs a lot more fleshing out to avoid certain pitfalls.

Then again, this is only part one. So I'll reserve judgement as a whole until I see more. :)

Maybe if I have time tomorrow (Mass and Benediction tonight) I will shoot you an email with my thoughts on how such a link could be made. Anyone else want a sample? My answers might surprise. ;)

Wade St. Onge said...

That would be great, Kevin. This whole TOB debate has made me reflect upon my own views on TOB and some of what I have taught and make refinements.

Of course, you are correct - it cannot be the "source and summit" in the same way the liturgy is, but I believe you are correct when you say it is the source and summit at least "symbolically" if not in reality. We always must remember that sexual union is still a "sign", not the "reality". Fornication, rape, and other sexual sins prove this - sex of itself is not enough; it requires the loving response of each spouse, their "living sacrifices" outside the marriage bed.

Wow, we're coming up with some good stuff here! said...


I really liked your analogy of the priest not consumming the Eucharist as an example.

Your last comment...I would have to say that if we look for the sexual union to be a free and total gift of self that is inside of a faithful covenant of marriage and is open to life or fruitful, then rape or fornication etc are not sexual unions at all. The word union signifies this as well. I am just making the point that I loved where you were going with this when you said we must remember that sex itself is not enough, it requires the loving response of each spouse. Where it seemed to then turn is when you added their "living sacrifices" outside of the marriage bed and I wanted to point out their "living sacrifices" must occur inside of the marriage bed as well. Thus contraception is not a loving response as are other things.

dcs said...

I wanted to point out their "living sacrifices" must occur inside of the marriage bed as well.

Like when one spouse renders the debt to the other even though he or she might not feel like it?

Sorry, I couldn't resist. :)

Kevin said...


I guess in the end, this will tell whether or not you'll have to square off against me: :)

While anyone should agree that conjugal life should be liturgical (as JPII said), is liturgical life conjugal (as West said, taking it further than JPII and drawing the ire of his critics?)

For the former, there is a lot of stuff you could put forth to give insight.

For the latter, such usage is incredibly limited, if there is any. (I am skeptical but open to answers.)

Consider my insight some boundaries I think you need to establish. here's another one:

1.) The Eucharistic Sacrifice is not a mere sign of what is going on in heaven. In the Mass, heaven and earth are joined. What is occuring on the altar on earth inside time is occuring, in a mircalous fashion, in the heavenly sanctuary as well. (Hebrews 9, personally I feel the most beautiful chapter of the New Testament.)

The marital embrace is an imperfect sign on earth (as is all marriage) of the full heavenly reality of Trinitarian love and self-donation.

I don't think you deny this (whether West fully understands the import of this is another question of course), but it's wise to keep that in mind when you write.

Wade St. Onge said...


Let's call it "sexual intercourse" instead.

I think you divorced my last post from the posts that came before it. You have to follow the development of the thread carefully to properly understand what I meant by this last post.

I am trying to say that every physical act we were designed to make is a way for God to reveal "through our bodies" something about the spiritual.

Sexual union is one of them. So is a handshake. So is a dance.

However, these physical signs, although in themselves accurately revealing the spiritual truths they were designed to reflect, are only authentic expressions of the person to the degree that person is living truthfully what is signified.

A handshake physically expresses goodwill. But I can shake my enemy's hand (and I have before), and this gesture will be a lie. What matters is not my shaking hands, but the goodwill I express and live out when we are not shaking hands, even if the expression of shaking hands also contributes to goodwill.

Sexual intercourse physically expresses union. But a man can have casual sex with a woman he meets at the bar and this act will be a lie. What matters is not the physical act of sex, but the union expressed and lived out when the couple is not having sex, even if the sexual act also contributes to union.

Lauretta said...

Interesting comments here. I think a distinguishment needs to be made between sexual intercourse and the marital embrace. The two are not one and the same necessarily. The marital embrace is sexual intercourse but sexual intercourse is not always the marital embrace. The marital embrace is a free, total, faithful, fruitful union of a husband and wife and, yes, it involves the actions that the couple do throughout the day. If we don't treat each other well during the day then we can be lying with our bodies if we try to come together in the marital embrace.

Wade St. Onge said...

Lauretta, the difference between "sexual intercourse" and the "marital embrace", however, is not that anything different is going on physically. It is not "visible". The difference, rather, is only seen "invisibly", in the dispositions and of the persons towards each other.

Lauretta said...

Within marriage, Wade, that is definitely true. But rape, fornication, adultery all have visible signs to show the lie of the act.

Wade St. Onge said...

But the physical act itself, the "body language", which is an entry of the male into the female, says "I love you", even though in a rape the bodies are lying. That is why it is a lie: because the "body", entry of the male into the female, says, "I love you, I am yours", when in reality, that is not the case. Do you see what I am saying? I am talking about considering the physical act qua physical act, without reference to the persons or the meaning, just as we can look at the inherent meaning of kneeling, the meaning God gave it (submission) before we begin to talk about whether or not someone's particular act of kneeling really does line up with the truth or with his inner intentions.

Kevin or dcs, I am sure you see what I'm trying to say. Can I explain it in a better way? Help me out here.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Well, that's an interesting thought, Wade. But I'm not sure about it, since I think it can only have meaning as a personal act.
A body can't say "I love you," only persons can. The point of TOB is that we are embodied persons.
This example might seem to be getting a little too close to separating the person from the body.
There's also the point about the marriage covenant. Kippley says that sexual intercourse is meant to be a renewal of the marriage covenant. When there is no marriage covenant the act is a lie.

Wade St. Onge said...

I am having a hard time explaining myself properly.

The Pope says that the "body" has a "language", and that if that "language" is spoken (e.g. sexual intercourse) but does harmonize with the dispositions of the "person" (e.g. contraceptive sex), then the language the body speaks, "I am totally yours, including my fertility" is a lie.

I am speaking of the body qua body for the sake of explaining things. I am speaking "in the abstract" so to speak. Does that make sense? Sorry if I am not clear.

Kevin said...

You people and your philosophy.

When one commits the acts mentioned, it is not as a "gift." It is for the gratification of the self.

Seeking out gratification for the self (above all else) is always selfish, and while not always a sin, is not an attitude one should have. One should take pleasures as they are, as a gift.

The acts mentioned are a betrayal of what we are ultimately called to do. They violate not only the woman's nature, but a man's as well.

Sex is something that occurs naturally. In the beasts, we call it copulation. In persons, it is a "gift". Outside of marriage, it is an improperly used gift. While the body isn't evil, we certainly can use our bodies for evil. To violate such a intimate and private manner is so far removed from the marital embrace!

The marital embrace is a natural act which is meant to be fortified by the grace of the sacrament of marriage and the oath between spouses.

Am i getting any closer to what you are saying Wade? LOL

Lauretta said...

I think I understand what you mean, Wade. Just as with a kiss on the cheek, one cannot discern from looking at the act of kissing whether it is a sign of affection or a sign of betrayal. The physical movements involved in kissing look identical. Is that what you mean?

Wade St. Onge said...

Sorry, Kevin, I don't think we're on the same wavelength [sigh].

Lauretta's getting pretty close. I would just add that physical acts such as "kissing" was created by God to reveal something when us humans engaged in those acts.

Y'all can just forget what I have been trying to say if you like - I kind of went off on a tangent, anyway. It has nothing to do with "Janet Smith Responds to Alice von Hildebrand" lol.

Brian said...

Maybe an Aristotelian concept would help here. Form and matter. Certain actions could be said to have a certain matter capable of being informed with the form of love. But they can also be stamped with the wrong form, a lying form if you will.

'Matter' means that the actions are a kind of raw material for symbolizing the love of a man and woman. They are structurally disposed for that kind of expression. Or to use a language metaphor, they are like a grammar of love capable of being 'spoken'.

However, this predisposition is still something interior. I don't think you could say that it is something that's part of the physical structure of the act qua the physical. It's an interior matter and can become an interior sign.

That's what I think, anyway.

Brian said...

Also, I'm a bit confused with dcs' claim that sex has nothing to do with the cross.

It actually has a lot to do with the cross.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that the cross is the moral form of sex. It is the model which turns an act of sex into making love.

Sex is stamped through and through with the mystery of life and death, a mystery that is revealed in all its fullness in the Church.

Brian Killian said...


Lauretta said...

I agree, Brian. The Cross is the fullest sign of love that we have and is our model for comparing all our actions that we think are acts of love.

dcs said...


St. Bonaventure states this: "…the union of sexes alone is its (marriage’s) consummation; for then only do the parties become one flesh and one body, and in this only is the union between Christ and ourselves fully signified.."

Could you possibly cite where St. Bonaventure writes this? A quick search of Google doesn't reveal anything other than this comment thread.

dcs said...


Also, I'm a bit confused with dcs' claim that sex has nothing to do with the cross.

It actually has a lot to do with the cross.

That's not exactly what I said, but maybe you could cite a spiritual writer (not a modern popularizer) who teaches this? I'd be very interested to read it -- it would help me to understand where people are getting this notion that married sex is akin to Christ's sacrifice in more than a broad sense of being an act of love.

Brian Killian said...


How about St. Paul? He *is* referring to sex in Ephesians 5.

I'm not sure if sex is related to the cross in anything "more than a broad sense of being an act of love."

In my own thinking about this, I believe that what Scripture, for example, reveals about the mystery of the cross also has a nuptial dimension to it such that the married couple might derive some useful guidance for how to approach the marital act. In fact, I like to think of it as a '5th sense' of the Bible.

Christ's cross sheds a light on the marriage bed. We (married folk) can find this nuptial light coming from anything that pertains to the Eucharist on the basis of it being analogous to marriage (especially the marital act).

So, for example, St. Paul's discourse on the Eucharist and the proper disposition for receiving it (those who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat condemnation on themselves)yields interesting light on the disposition that the couple should have in making love and the dangers of lust.

Jesus words about how no one takes his life from him, but he lays it down freely reveals to the husband that he is to be in control of himself when making love in order for it to take on the form of a gift or sacrifice.

In this way, when we pursue the nuptial analogy in Scripture we read the mystery of the cross as a moral allegory that sheds light on how to make love.

Thus Ephesians 5 sheds light on the mystery of the Church while that same mystery also illuminates the nuptial mystery that spouses participate in through sex (among other things).

That's how the cross is the form of sex. And that's my vision. I don't know if it's shared by CW or anyone else. I haven't read JPII's TOB because it puts me to sleep. I'm just a married guy meditating on the nuptial analogy and my own intuitions and experience.

Sr. Lorraine said...


The Bonaventure quote is from the Breviloquium, chapter 13, on the Integrity of Matrimony, n. 3:

"Now, a consent regarding the future is not a true consent, but merely the promise of a consent to come; and actual consent without intercourse does not produce complete union, since the parties are not yet one flesh. Therefore, the words concerning the future [ie., the betrothal] are the inception of marriage, and the words concerning the present [ie. the marriage vows] are its ratification, but the union of sexes alone is its consummation; for then only do the parties become one flesh and one body, and in this only is the union between Christ and ourselves fully signified."
Source: The Works of St. Bonaventure, II, The Breviloquium,
published in 1962 by St. Anthony Guild Press.

Also, on the other thread I left a comment for you. When you referred to page 44 of Eden's thesis, where is that found? I have the PDF of the third version (pg. 58)

dcs said...

The Bonaventure quote is from the Breviloquium, chapter 13, on the Integrity of Matrimony

Ah, OK, I think I understand now. Since a marriage becomes indissoluable at its consummation, it is only once consummation has occurred that a marriage truly becomes a sign of Christ's relationship to His Church.

I do not think that he is saying that this happens each time a married couple comes together.

Brian Killian said...



It doesn't refer strictly to sex, but everything else it does refer to is expressed in that image of 'one flesh'. It's precisely the sexual image of the unity of the two spouses that is the most appropriate and commensurate image of that whole life of love.

In the same way, St. Paul sees that that same sexual image of 'one flesh' is the least inadequate image to represent the whole relationship of Christ and his Church.

Sr. Lorraine said...

DCS said:
I do not think that he is saying that this happens each time a married couple comes together.

Bonaventure's quote continues: "Then indeed is the body of the one fully surrendered to that of the other, in virtue of each one's respective power toward the procreation of offspring. Thus there are three goods in matrimony: the sacrament, consisting in the indissoluble bond; faithfulness, in the fulfillment of the conjugal duty; and offspring, in the effect proceeding from both."

He seems to be talking about the ongoing effects of marriage as well, even though he discusses how it comes to be. To limit his meaning only to the wedding night seems rather minimalistic. In the covenant theology of marriage, each act of conjugal union is meant to be at least implicitly a renewal of the marriage covenant.

Why do you seem to want to limit its meaning? Where are you coming from with this? I'm only asking because I'd like to understand your point of view better.

Sr. Lorraine said...

DCS, in the Bonaventure quote, keep in mind that he is speaking of marriage itself as a sacrament. When the theologians spoke of the three goods of marriage--offspring, fidelity, the sacrament--they were using the Latin "sacramentum" in the sense of being a sign. It's not that the specific sign of marriage is separated from the goods of offspring and fidelity as if those two other things are not part of the sacrament as a whole.

The book "What God Has Joined--The Sacramentality of Marriage" by Fr. Peter Elliott has a long chapter on the history of the "quest for the sign"--that is, how the Fathers and theologians through the centuries tried to understand it. It's a bit complex. In Bonaventure's time, teachers like him and Aquinas were still working out the theology of the sacrament.

Here's something interesting from St. Robert Bellarmine. He considered "Marriage as a sacrament in two ways, not only as a contract entered into by mutual consent but also as a lived union. With inspired insight he compared this second way of considering Marraige to the second way in which the Eucharist is a sacrament, the permanence of the Real Presence effected by transubstantiation. Thus married Christians 'sacramentalize' the 'great mystery not only in the consent which establishes married life but in their very lives themselves. This is the key to further understanding the continuing grace of the sacrament (the res tantum) and, as such, these words of St Robert were taken up over three centuries later by Pope Pius XI"(in Casti Connubii). (Elliot, p. 106)

So it's not such a cut and dried thing. If you look through Catholic tradition you will find much about how all of married life is sacramental, including the marital embrace.

Sr. Lorraine said...

DCS, I don't know who you are or anything about you. So please forgive me if this is off base, but on the basis of what you just said, I wonder if you realize how important it is to remember your wife's birthday, or your wedding anniversary, and to often tell your wife that you love her. Maybe you always do those things; I don't know.

But I'm only saying that because you seem to reduce everything to the same level of significance. Some things are more special than others. Some days are more special than others. And some actions, like the marital embrace, are more special in a marriage, or should be, than a lot of other things. Why that is, should be self-evident. If you don't see why the marital embrace is sacramental, then it's probably not really a matter of theology but of masculine psychology.

Maybe I'm being sexist, but I think sometimes men just don't get it. I mean they don't get what things are special to a woman. Ask your wife and see what she tells you!

Wade St. Onge said...

I just found this quote from St. Thomas Aquinas, Lauretta: "Matrimony is 'holier' without carnal intercourse. ... Therefore carnal intercourse is not necessary for the sacrament." (Supplementum, Q.42, A.3).

This answers both issues we had: namely, (a) the "sacramental nature" of the marital act, and (b) that Josephite marriages are "higher"

Kevin said...

And this is why I offered exegesis of what "sacramentum" means, where it came from in the Latin. :)

There are two ways in which the phrase is used. Both are visible signs of greater invisible realities. Yet one actually provides real grace.

The other can strengthen that grace which already exists, lead to growth in virtue on a natural level, etc. Yet they are not to be equated.

That is ultiamtely what I think DCS is concerned with. People treat the marital embrace like receiving Holy Communion, as if the type of grace received is identical. It's clearly not. While on a certain level grace is grace (it infuses with the soul and elevates human nature towards the divine), there are differing degrees and kinds of grace.

It is probably why, at least litrugically, the Eucharistic was referred to as a "mysterium" or one of the derivatives often in the Mass, to show how the Eucharistic Sacrifice was a "sacramentum" of the highest nature. (This terminology appears frequently in the Secret in the Extraordinary Form, and the Prayer Over the Gifts in the ordinary form, if you are looking at the Latin that is.)

I think the problem is, people see "sacrament" and try to force onto it a meaning that wasn't always so in the Latin.

The marital embrace is not ipso facto more "sacramental" than other aspects of marriage. It can be. And it might indeed be for his wife. Personally, I think we should stop bringing in personalities, and just stick to the facts.

And this is ultimately my problem with this entire debate. We have those like West, and now it appears Sister, stating for everyone what is and isn't highest spiritually in a manner far more dogmatic than the spiritual masters.

Lauretta said...

Wade, wouldn't that have to be qualified? If a couple is abstaining because they aren't getting along, they don't like each other at all, staying together just because, etc., wouldn't their abstinence mean much LESS than the marital embrace?

On the other hand, if a couple mutually chose to forego the GOOD of the marital embrace to enter into the BETTER of the marriage of heaven, then yes, I would say that it is higher.

Kevin, I think that one needs to understand that reading the spiritual masters is very similar to reading the Bible. We have to be careful to understand the context in which they wrote, including the cultural influences of the time, and read it in conjunction with the whole of the faith. A doctor who performed abortions where I formerly lived used a statement by St. Thomas to confirm the rightness of what he was doing. St. Thomas was wrong about when a baby received a soul, I believe that was the issue, and was used by this doctor to salve his conscience.

If we believe the Church is what she is, we don't have to, ourselves, go back through everything that was written by everyone concerning a certain issue to know what is right. The Church is supposed to be doing that before putting out statements on things so that they are in continuity with the faith. We have to be ready to accept that there are developments in thinking about certain things as the Church enters more and more deeply into the great mysteries of faith. We have to allow the Church to lead us more deeply down the path of faith and not stop ourselves because "that was not what I was taught or that's not what so and so said". Trust the teaching authority of the Church, the Pope and the bishops and priests in union with him. The Pope is the only one that we have the guarantee the Holy Spirit is keeping free from error!

Kevin said...

"Wade, wouldn't that have to be qualified? If a couple is abstaining because they aren't getting along, they don't like each other at all, staying together just because, etc., wouldn't their abstinence mean much LESS than the marital embrace? "

This all depends. Let's say they weren't getting along, and they decided that maybe they were focusing too much on the temporal, and not what should be the eternal characteristics of their marriage (or long-term if that analogy is too much.) In such a case, it could be an opportunity for great grace, as Archbishop Sheen says.

Which just sorta makes Wade's point, and weakens yours. The marital embrace, good as it is, isn't the epitome of marriage.

As far as understanding the context, I completely agree. That's why I went to the context when Sr. Lorraine accused the spiritual master and doctor of the Church St. Frances De Sales of having Manichean tendencies or "suspicions" of the body.

"If we believe the Church is what she is, we don't have to, ourselves, go back through everything that was written by everyone concerning a certain issue to know what is right. "

All well and true, but we should never forget that wisdom of the Ancients. When we have someone coming along that is giving a message that either flat out contradicts, or at least confuses a pretty consistent message of 2,000 years (as I believe West, Sr. Lorraine, and yourself sometimes do) then I think we as Catholics should be pointing to that tradition.

While indeed we should "trust the Church", "the Church" includes the popes, councils, bishops and Doctors of over 2,000 years. I really don't see what the problem everyone has with Dawn Eden's thesis. You just conceded her central point.

I am more than willing to accept development of doctrine (as Sister is aware, I outlined to her where I think TOB actually was a substantial development in Church thinking throughout the centuries), yet this must be proven and asserted. Christopher West is not the Church. Anything he says must be tested against not only what John Paul II says (which both sides are doing) but against what the Church has taught everywhere and anywhere for all time (which one side basically refuses to do or even think is neccessary).

I submit the reason is because West's views CANNOT be harmonized with tradition, and hence the indication that they think the Church was wrong and in darkness for 500 years. Fr. Loya simply had the guts to admit it.

Lauretta said...

Kevin, what I meant was that if a couple was abstaining out of resentment toward one another--it had absolutely nothing to do with anything spiritual or a desire to better their relationship. That kind of abstaining. I don't think that is higher than the marital embrace.

As far as everything tying in with Tradition, I don't think that is anything any of us have the competence to discern. That is for the Magisterium of the Church. I heard many people say that Pope John Paul II's statements on capital punishment were a break with Tradition when he wrote the encyclical and that it wasn't binding since it was "just" in an encyclical. Then the Church amended the Catechism to incorporate that teaching. Of course then some said that the Catechism wasn't infallible. The same with some of the ecumenical issues and evolution, etc. It can go on and on and on.

I choose to think with the Church--where she is right now--and right now the only things I have heard from anyone who has the possibility of being part of Magisterial teaching is Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Rhoades(Is that correct?) I have heard no other public statements from anyone with teaching authority about this subject. Theologians haggle about things all the time. I just tend to ignore them until they finally come to a conclusion about something, which can take decades. I watch carefully, however, what the Church as a whole is saying and doing. I will continue to do so.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Lauretta, that is a very wise course of action.

Kevin said...

"I choose to think with the Church--where she is right now--and right now the only things I have heard from anyone who has the possibility of being part of Magisterial teaching is Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Rhoades(Is that correct?) I have heard no other public statements from anyone with teaching authority about this subject. Theologians haggle about things all the time. I just tend to ignore them until they finally come to a conclusion about something, which can take decades. I watch carefully, however, what the Church as a whole is saying and doing. I will continue to do so."

We may not have the competence to rule on anything magesterially. Yet if someone is going to come in and join this discussion, they should be willing to consider all sources.

The Church "where she is today", is the same as "where she was yesterday" and "where she will always be" in regards to the truth.

If you were stating that, based on JPII, the Church now says the death penalty is wrong and immoral, I would be right in correcting you with an appeal to tradition, as well as JPII's actual words. Stating that you are with the Church "where she is today" won't cut it, because the church isn't there today

Since the Bishop's haven't opined in any authoritative fashion (neither Cardinal Rigali or Bishop Rhodes have even come close), then the discussion is free to continue. If you think these sources in tradition were wrong, then just say so.

I for one state that both JPII and the other sources are correct. There is no disharmony between them.

Lauretta said...

Yes, Kevin, the truth is always the same but it is often expressed in ways that sound different because of the need to address the issues of the day. Plus, a deepening of our understanding of things can at times sound contradictory, such as the death penalty issue. JPII, and now the Catechism, state that is is almost unnecessary in our modern culture, since not exercising that right is more in keeping with the dignity and salvation of the person. That sounds fairly different from what was said in the past. At least some people seem to think so since they are arguing about it. The Church has intervened numerous times in the past few years on this issue, and is doing so right now in the case of Hussein's assistant.

I think that, concerning the issue at hand, we are in a state of transition in understanding the place of the marital embrace in our lives. Is it a holy thing or not? Is something that is holy and intimate something that should be discussed candidly in public? We are trying to find the balance.

To me, two very intimate things are Christ's crucifixion and the reception of the Eucharist. Two things that are very public and have been discussed in minute detail at various times. I would say that saints experiencing ecstacy during Communion would be quite similar to that which happens within the marital embrace but they were commanded to write about it at times. I would think that the saints could have looked at that as an invasion of a very intimate moment for them and they would not want to speak of it. I am merely speculating here now since I have not experienced ecstacy up to this point but I think it might apply!

Lots of things to ponder and discuss but not things to condemn others for in my opinion.

Lauretta said...

Thank you, Sister Lorraine!

Wade St. Onge said...

Lauretta, you say: "I think that one needs to understand that reading the spiritual masters is very similar to reading the Bible. We have to be careful to understand the context in which they wrote, including the cultural influences of the time, and read it in conjunction with the whole of the faith."

If you replace "spiritual masters" with "Christopher West", I would say this is precisely how Kevin, dcs, and myself approach it.

Kevin said...

"We're getting way off topic, but I will simply say Lauretta, you misunderstand the difference between the prudential order, and the teaching order.

Now back on topic, this is still instructive. We cited sources which CLEARLY contradict what West is teaching, and these are venerable sources, from tradition.

You say "I follow the Church of today" Our point is that along with every other age "The Church of Today" does not teach this stuff. West either misunderstood some points, or just imagined something out of thin air in others, seeing what he wanted to see.

That's why tradition is so important. It is through tradition we are given tools to understand the difficulties of the present."

Lauretta said...

Kevin, I can't take the quotes that you guys give from the past and apply them with any degree of accuracy since I know nothing of the magisterial teaching of the time nor of the cultural setting. Different aspects of a subject are emphasized depending on the truth that is being challenged. If one is fighting polygamy, one would emphasize certain things, if one is fighting dualist ideas of sexual expression being bad, one emphasizes another aspect of the truth about marriage. I would need to know all of that to know if any of the quotes are valid for any given situation.

Most of the things that I have heard people complain about regarding Christopher are either misunderstandings--primarily due to the conditioning our culture has on us or things that there is not total agreement on among scholars.

The reference to anal sex, for example. People are calling Dr. Smith an out and out liar for saying that the opinion given in Christopher's book is what priests are taught to counsel couples. She works in a seminary--I would assume that she knows what she is talking about in this instance.

I gave what I thought was a quite plausible explanation of the compatibility of Christopher's teaching with what St. Francis said but you ignored it to focus on Sister's comment. Do you just like to argue? I did not accuse St. Francis of Manicheaen tendencies but you left the impression that all of us "Westians", as you call us, think that was the case.

Often what happens is that these conversations cease to be discussions and debates and devolve into people who just want to argue and disagree with everything that the other "side" says.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Lauretta, thank you for your comments and attempt to have a good conversation and discussion. It is hard because sometimes the desire to debate can take over. I have to admire the way you attempt to seek a deeper understanding of the truth and don't get discouraged when others seem to want to focus on points of debate.

Lauretta said...

Thank you, Sister Lorraine. It's because I care deeply about this. I know intimately of the pain when there is disorder in marriage and I know the healing that can take place when one understands the truth and lives it.

Lauretta said...

Kevin, your opinion of Dr. Smith is obviously in opposition to the opinion of her bishop, who employs her. She has been HIGHLY respected for years for her beautiful teaching against contraception, which has caused many to embrace the Church's teaching in this area.

Oh, to make your search easier, my comment about St. Francis was the third comment I posted after Sister Lorraine commented about him. I made three separate comments in a row and the pertinent one is the last one.

Sr. Lorraine said...

This comment is from Kevin. I'm reposting the relevant part but deleted some ad hominems against Dr Smith. Let's keep things at the level of ideas and not question people's competencies. Thanks.

Kevin said:

I don't really use the term "Westian." I tend to say "Defenders of Mr. West" or something of the sort.

As far as the comment, there's 130 comments here. Sr. Lorraine stated St. Frances had "Manichean tendencies" as I noted quite clearly on my blog, and in the other thread here. Yet do you disagree with Sisters assessment, that St. France De Sales has a bit of "suspicion of the body?"

In regards to your various comments (I will look for the one later, as I have business today):

1.) No matter the emphasis, the truth remains the same. Those quotes provided by St. Frances and the like are a repeat of the consistent tradition of the Catholic Church, from St. Paul's statements on the matter up until today.

Yet I would like to propose an alternative question. Do you know all the relevant magisterial emphasis "today?" Where does one go for this? While we should indeed "trust the Church", it is the assertion of myself and others that West is not teaching in these aspects what the Church teaches.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Kevin, how can you be so sure that your own understanding of the faith is THE Church's tradition? What concerns me about your statements is that you seem to be setting yourself up as a self-appointed guardian of orthodoxy, confident that your own understanding is the correct one and those who disagree are somehow outside the hermeneutic of continuity.

In reality, the Church's tradition is not so narrow as you seem to think. There is room within it for a variety of theological approaches, and that has always been so. There have been many different "schools" of theology, which approach divine revelation from different perspectives. St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure, for example, were not always in agreement. But they're both doctors of the Church.

We don't have to take every statement from a saint, like Francis de Sales, and say it's perfect. I still maintain that his statement that couples need to purify themselves after the conjugal act does at least hint of a Manichean attitude. And you can find plenty of other statements from various saints to the same effect. And that's only to say that they too were affected by negative attitudes toward the body that have always been present to some extent. To maintain otherwise is just simply not true.

Sr. Lorraine said...

I'm putting comment moderation back on. Some comments were starting to impugn the integrity and work of some good Catholic scholars. Various moral questions involve complex issues. Without an adequate explanation and understanding of all the issues, to leave these things in a comment box can only cause confusion. I will not post any further comments like the ones I deleted.

Kevin said...

"Kevin, how can you be so sure that your own understanding of the faith is THE Church's tradition? What concerns me about your statements is that you seem to be setting yourself up as a self-appointed guardian of orthodoxy, confident that your own understanding is the correct one and those who disagree are somehow outside the hermeneutic of continuity."

I am no guardian, self-appointed or otherwise. Yet I strive to do my best to always operate within a framework of tradition. While sometimes things aren't clear, they can be reconciled through that recourse. Whenever I have stated something, I have always attempted to have recourse to Church teaching, and those whose orthodoxy and orthopraxy are unassailable. And I have always asked my friends across the way to attempt to do the same, so we can remain in the realm of ideas. St Frances' counsel is true not because he is a doctor of the Church, but because it is in complete harmony with the greater Catholic spiritual tradition, the Scriptures, etc. I believe all this can be easily demonstrated.

In regards to your statement about St. Frances De Sales, I would only say we should be very careful in what we accuse a doctor of the Church of, especially one who was one of the great spiritual masters. An easy recourse to the context I argue obliterates any idea of "suspicion" or "Manichean tendencies." I would only offer a slight bit of protest:

Why are we so quick to judge a spiritual master of the Church, unable to defend himself from quite serious charges (heretical tendencies is a very serious charge, as the Manichean belief is a heresy let us remember), yet willing to offer countless qualifications for those you are more inclined to agree with, asking for appeals to context, charitable interpretation, etc. I strive my best to provide those, but why is the same not done to one of Christianity's greatest minds?

Sr. Lorraine said...

Kevin, St Francis de Sales is already in heaven and praying for us. His position as a doctor of the Church is known. We can't harm him.
But as far as people who are alive and teaching now, we have to be more careful because if charges are not true, we run the risk of damaging their reputation unjustly and committing the sin of slander or calumny.

I'm really just saying that we run greater risk of doing damage to living people than to those who are already canonized. That's why we have to be especially careful.

In my initial feedback to Ms. Eden, I suggested to her that it would have been better to take some themes from TOB and work to find the best interpretation and understanding of those themes. If that involved criticizing C. West's specific ideas on those things, that would have been fine and within the ambit of scholarly research. But the way she went about it put his whole work under question. In our soundbite culture, some people took away the quick message that CW was not reliable in anything. And that's just not the case.

Kevin said...


If only people would say in public the balanced statement you just gave. :)

I don't think it was a sweeping indictment of West's work, but it is fair to say she could have been more clear.

In RE: De Sales being in heaven and we can't hurt him, true enough. Yet we can cause scandal to the brethren when there need be none, or there is an easy alternative.

I think in your desire to defend West, you (and those of my friends across the way) don't give our forefathers (who were far more knowledgeable about this stuff than most are willing to give them credit for) enough weight.

It essentially proves the entire point of the thesis, as I have said before. West's views on several manners very well may be in a "heremenutic of continuity", but far too many of his apologists and devotees, in my assesment, either don't try, or just don't care.

Either way, I do think this was an insightful exchange. as it's falling off the page now, will have to wait for the next interesting discussion. :)