The canonization of Christopher West’s theology of the body

When I compare what Pope John Paul II said in his theology of the body lecture series to what Christopher West teaches on the same subject, the two are not at all the same. John Paul’s theology is deeply philosophical and scholarly; it is firmly based on an insightful interpretation of Sacred Scripture. West uses the term ‘theology of the body’ to promote the exaltation of sexuality above higher values, and to imbue all of Christianity with sexuality; it is the sexualization of theology. If West did not constantly claim that he is merely presenting the teaching of Pope John Paul II, I would not see any connection between the two theologies. I view John Paul’s lecture series as the antithesis of West’s theology, and as a strong rebuke of his position. West presents his own perverse version of the theology of the body, not the true theology of the body offered by Pope John Paul II.

But since West wraps his grave theological errors in the banner of ‘Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body’, his errors spread quickly and find wide acceptance. It is just as they say: sex sells.

Many Catholic teachers and members of the faithful have embraced West’s version of theology of the body, not the late Pope’s version. They use the name ‘Pope John Paul II’ and the term ‘theology of the body’, but little else from John Paul’s lecture series accompanies those words. His teachings under the Magisterium are utterly ignored. Even Pope John Paul II’s teachings on the basic principles of ethics — which ought to be fundamental and indispensable in matters pertaining to sexuality — find no place within West’s perverse theology. Christopher West is essentially teaching sexual ethics without the ethics. He is using a disordered misinterpretation of the private theology of a Pope to nullify magisterial teaching on sexual morality.

The situation is not likely to improve in the short term. In fact, I am very concerned that when Blessed John Paul is finally canonized, his Sainthood will be misused, just as his words have been misused, to make it seem as if West’s theology has also been canonized. Today, when West promotes his errors on the theology of the body, we can point out that the John Paul lecture series on that topic is his private theology. All are free to disagree. But once the Pontiff is canonized, West and his supporters will reply that it is not merely private theology, but the theology of a Saint. It will remain true that what West and others present is neither the teaching nor the opinion of John Paul, but their own distortions. Yet in the minds of all too many of the faithful, especially those who have little tolerance for theology if it is not oversimplified and entertaining, West’s theology will also seem to have been canonized.

I weep for the future of theology.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Biblical scholar

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2 Responses to The canonization of Christopher West’s theology of the body

  1. Marisa Alvarez Pasos says:

    This article confirms a certain concern I have had about the many ways of teaching the “Theology of the Body”.
    Bishop Jean Laffitte recently wrote an article related with this topic.
    I am not a theologian neither a philosopher, but perhaps we can do something to neutralize this tendency.
    The Theology of the Body concerns to every human being’s dignity and it could bring a great change to our lives, no matter how old we are, whether married, single, widow, for every human person. It is a remedy for so many illnesses that afflict our generation and it should be a joy and a dutie for each of us to communicate it.

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