Alice von Hildebrand Critiques Christopher West
If the above title sounds a little "inside baseball" to you, a (very, very, very brief) explanation. Alice von Hildebrand is a Catholic philosopher and theologian, and also the widow of Dietrich von Hildebrand, a prominent philosopher and moral theologian active in the anti-Nazi resistance, whose ethical analysis was greatly admired by Pope John Paul II. Christopher West is an American writer and popular lecturer known mainly for his exegesis of John Paul's "Theology of the Body," a look a human sexuality and sexual morality. Thus a critique by the redoubtable Alice von Hildebrand, even a polite one, is noteworthy. A sample:
Christopher West is convinced that prior to Theology of the Body—which he terms a “revolution”—Catholic teaching had presented "sex" as essentially dirty, betraying the true Christian understanding of sex. This is a thought Dietrich von Hildebrand would have strongly rejected. Accidental errors should never be identified with the Church’s essential teaching. Every epoch has its dangers, which need to be addressed, but always in a way which remains faithful to Catholic tradition.
Dietrich understood this principle well, when he challenged certain excesses (notfundamental truths) of Catholic teaching regarding marriage. Early in his days as a Catholic, he noticed a weakness: the whole emphasis was on procreation; the unitive dimension of marriage was either not mentioned, or not properly highlighted. Procreation was often given too much prominence because, in paganism, sensual pleasure had absolute and complete priority. Dietrich’s work on marriage helped redress the balance, by acknowledging (and fully supporting) the traditional teaching on procreation, while rediscovering the importance of love between spouses. This is an example of what we might call the “pedagogical” mission of the Church. She must constantly “sense” what Catholic truth needs to be highlighted, at a given time, and adjust the emphasis on Her holy teaching accordingly, but never fall prey to the fashions of the times, and remain faithful to the sacred deposit of faith.
Fixated, as he is, on the supposed plague of “Puritanism,” West promotes defective ideas to fight it. He recommends, for example, that we should stand naked in front of a mirror until we truly liberate ourselves from any feelings of “shame.” This is a piece of advice at which Dietrich von Hildebrand would have recoiled. Let me mention some reasons....
James Martin, SJ