“Ask her out” was what they said before the ToB Movement

I can remember the shock as I heard the answer to a question I put to Fr. John N. Felton, SJ. Fr. Felton, may God grant his soul to rest with a just repose, was a classics professor at Xavier University who used to say noon Mass at my old parish… In Latin, when he could, he made it easy enough to converse with him in Latin, but this discussion was in English.

His tone and cadence could not be mistaken for anything pedestrian. He had a unique way of emphasizing phrases that revealed his mind was ordered in Latin and Greek grammar constructions. Despite the friendliness, I always had a bit of reverence talking with him because he had a way of unraveling an argument with a single phrase. It was always a bit precarious therefore to seek his advice because he’d cause, with a phrase, whatever certainty I had in a conclusion to be gone as he’d point out something I overlooked. He was always rather easy going and had quite a casual demeanor, so his analytical edge was hidden under a soft and cushy surface.

One day, however, quite confused as I was at the time (this was twenty years ago) mostly because of an encounter with a Catholic gal who, it seemed at least, thought Josephite marriage should be the norm, I had a dilemma to solve regarding a new opportunity. I was at the Jesuit residence, talking to Fr. Felton about grad school and I took the moment: “Father, with all this talk about chastity today, and with the way things are, what should a guy do when he finds a woman totally arousing?”

Immediately, Fr. Felton responded, “Ask her out.

I was shocked by the obviousness. After a few moments, I had to get his reactions to further questions. I wanted to compare this to advice seemed to be given by one of his peers.

Long before the Theology of the Body “movement” there was another Jesuit priest in Cincinnati who had these questions and ones far more real than those touted as new (by followers of Christopher West) discussed in books and classes he’d conduct. Fr. Herbert Ratterman, SJ, may God grant his soul to rest, had penned a book long before I was born titled Charity, Sex, and the Young Man.

Fr. Ratterman had given me a copy of his book one time as if it was contraband. I remember him saying, “this book gets people today upset.” He stood by the advice in it, and I’m glad he did. He said that he didn’t think the topics in it were for mixed company. In this way, Fr. Ratterman showed a concern for modesty lacking in the ToB talks today. The book covered all the sorts of questions a young man’s mind will have, so you can see why he’d be cautious.

My understanding of the advice in that book, advice circulating in Catholic talks on the subject, and general curiousness lead me to push Fr. Felton. After all, Fr. Felton gave me no warnings on concupiscence, impurity, or any of the other things deemed “necessary” disclaimers to the zeitgeist of the time… His advice was straightforward: “ask her out.”

So I began to question Father Felton. I eventually give statements from Fr. Ratterman’s book. Fr. Felton then recognized what I was up to. He picked up his phone from his desk and pressed a button.

“Herbert, this is John. I have one of our pupils here and we have a question for you.”

He put the phone on speaker and asked, “if a young man following all the advice in your book on sex meets a lady that arouses him, what should he do?”
The voice on the phone stammered a little revealing that it really was Fr. Ratterman, asking “Is she married?”

Fr. Felton’s face shifted a little as if to acknowledge that was a fair oversight on his part. “No, Herbert.”

“Well, I suppose he should ask her out on a date. Bring her flowers.”

I was equally shocked again. They ended their call. Father Felton then began to point out to me that it was the Gnostics who thought the body was evil and its desires were all evil, but God made us this way, and without the delights, nobody would ever seek marriage.

God bless those priests – without that exchange, I might believe what the Theology of the Body movement purports when they claim that the Church misunderstood sexuality prior to their arrival. Hogwash. But yet, people believe they are receiving new secret knowledge in that movement that liberates them. More hogwash!
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To obtain a copy of Fr. Ratterman’s book, Charity, Sex, and the Young Man, order it from Roman Catholic Books at this link. The small and succinct book is still superior to the tomes I’ve seen handed around today.

Meanwhile, I have yet to start on Dr. Von Hildebrand’s book… Maybe tomorrow.


This article, “Ask her out” was what they said before the ToB Movement is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
https://bellarmineforum.org/2013/11/05/ask-her-out-was-what-they-said-before-the-tob-movement/
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

About John B. Manos

John B. Manos, Esq. is an attorney and chemical engineer. He has a dog, Fyo, and likes photography, astronomy, and dusty old books published by Benzinger Brothers. He is the President of the Bellarmine Forum.

    • JR,

      Give us a break. Yes, West may or may not use the word “misunderstood” but his whole self-justification is that JPII allegedly ushered in a “revolutionary”(West’s word) and “novel” understanding of sexuality, and that JPII, and then West taking up his mantle, rescued us from the largely puritanical, prudish, and Manichean attitudes that had been plaguing the Church. He has also said that there is a “Catholic sexual revolution.” He has said that the matter “will compel a dramatic development in thinking of virtually every major theme in the Creed.” He has also said: “We might even say that with John Paul II’s TOB, the Church, as a corporate person, has reached puberty—a new awakening of sorts regarding the meaning of the body and the communion of the sexes.(See Theology of the Body Explained, revised edition, 599, for that last one.) His works are generally diffused with a pre and post TOB supposition.

      And now, of course, you will tell us that West has never said such things, or they are taken out of context, etc., and ask for “proof.” In addition, he has tried to counter people like Von Hildebrand by referring to her as someone from a different generation with a different understanding. People also need to know- which many don’t seem to- that West and Hildebrand have personally met to discuss the issue, as people have also tried to claim that she has never even spoken with him, is misrepresenting him, only based her criticisms by looking at what others wrote….

      • Give “us” a break? Not sure who the “us” is.

        1. Please cite source for “revolutionary.”
        2. Please cite source for “novel”
        3. Please cite source for “Catholic revolution.”
        4. Please cite source for “creed” quote, which is actually Weigel’s, I think.

        This illustrates what I mean. One-word so-called “quotes” can be ripped utterly out of context or robbed of the necessary nuance one finds in context. As it is, you seem to try to support a criticism about the *Church* misunderstanding sexuality prior to TOB with these citations, and the evidence doesn’t actually corroborate the criticism.

        I don’t ask for much–just an actual citation in which, in context, someone actually says that the Church misunderstood sexuality before TOB.

    • Jim — I do think it fair to say that there were strong Jansenistic tendencies in 19th and 20th centuries, which folks like Bishop Sheen were teaching in response to. The whole personalist project of Woltya and Sheen and others was in response to a defective Enlightenment anthropology that assuredly affected on some level whole generations of Catholics. There is also no doubt in my mind that some Augustinian and patristic views of anthropology that held women and sexuality in less than a fully dignified and salutary status also contributed to some real issues that raised the need for a robust theological anthropology to address. That is just part of the development of doctrine, the Church ever finding ways to meet the contemporary challenges to the Gospel.

      All of that is merely a preface to understanding why West and his critics are even having these discussions.

  • Indeed! I think we are beginning to realize how fragile human sexuality is, with Japan’s failure to thrive (due to porn use, a condom manufacturer’s survey suggests). Desire is a good thing, and it can be extinguished. Jim’s comment makes me think you could afford another post about the Theology of the Body and its rather bizarre groupies.

  • I will only venture this comment. When one TOB’er mentioned to me that the dipping of the Easter Candle at the Easter Vigil into the newly blessed baptismal water was an image of the sexual act, the only response I could muster was–“You are a f***ing idiot.”

    That has sealed the deal for me on all of these people. BF and Mrs. von Hildebrand, keep doing what you’re doing!

    • JM–does one apparently misguided comment from a “TOB’er” *really* seal the deal on “all of these people”? Seems like the more charitable response would be to “test everything” and retain what is good…

      Are you aware, for example, of what the *real* and authentic history is regarding the use of the Paschal Candle in the Easter Vigil? If you’d like to know, let me know….

        • I’m glad to offer an all-too-brief description.
          According to Catholic tradition much more ancient than both the 1955 revision of the Easter Vigil and the additional amendments made post-Vatican II, the blessing of the baptismal font at the vigil included ritual and prayer that evoked the generative power of the font made possible through the Person of Jesus Christ.

          As such, the Paschal Candle is the ultimate *anti-phallus*, which is why West, for example, *never* used the term “phallus”—ever—in relation to the Candle. The Candle is the *Christ* Candle, representing the very Person of Jesus Christ, and obviously not a body part.

          Nonetheless, the imagery of the ancient Church in many places focused clearly upon the font as the “womb of the Church”.

          First, witness the inscription (abridged for space) found in the Baptistery of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, directly attributed to Pope St. Sixtus III (ca. 440 AD):
          “Here is born a people of noble race, destined for Heaven,the Spirit brings forth in the waters he has made fruitful. Mother Church conceives her offspring by the breath of God, and bears them virginally in this water…..…Let neither the number nor the kind of their sins terrify anyone; Once reborn in this water, they will be holy.”

          Now look at this abridged citation of phrases taken from the English Sarum Missal of 1526 (with an origin in the 11th Century):

          “… send forth the spirit of adoption, for the re-creation of the new people, whom the font of baptism brings forth for thee;…O God, whose Spirit moved upon the face of the waters at the very beginning of the world, so that even then nature conceived the power of the sanctification of water: “… through water didst signify a kind of regeneration…”

          “…Look down, we beseech thee, O Lord, upon the face of thy Church, and multiply thy acts of regeneration in her. ….May he fertilize this water prepared for the regeneration of man by the secret admixture of his light, that by a holy conception a heavenly offspring may come forth from the spotless womb of the divine font as a new creature, and may all who differ in sex or age be begotten by parent grace into one and the same infancy. ….
          ….[Here he shall breathe upon the font thrice in the form of a cross.] ….
          ….[Here he shall cause drops from the candle to fall into the font in the form of a cross, and then say:]
          “…Let the power of the Holy Ghost descend into this font, and into the fulness thereof, and make the whole substance of this water fruitful in regenerating power.
          ….[Here he shall dip the candle into the midst of the font, making the sign of the cross and then proceed:]
          …. [Here the candle shall be taken out of the font with these words:]
          “That every man that approacheth this sacrament of regeneration may be born again into a new infancy of true innocence.”
          ****
          And so we pray as we believe and we believe as we pray. Hope this helps clarify why the charge against West on this point is pretty egregiously false.

          • And the most unfortunate part about leaving a comment like this, which shows the clear liturgical context of such TOB commentary regarding the blessing of the baptismal font, is that such a comment largely is either ignored, parodied, or rejected outright in favor of a continuing false narrative that only serves to divide faithful Catholics unnecessarily and effectively bear false witness against anyone named in the false narrative.

            I ask people to pray that God would heal this blind spot and that we may instead strive for unity and peace among Catholics of good will and fellow workers in the apostolate.

          • Actually, the danger here is that this hardly represents an “authentic” and “true” history. First, your claim that West never attributes a phallic meaning to the candle, whether he uses the exact word phallic or not, is unbelievably false. He states, for example: “The baptismal font is the womb of the Church, from which many children will be born again. And the symbolism of that candle, that Christ candle being plunged into this baptismal font, is Christ the Bridegroom impregnating virginally, mystically of course, impregnating the Church, the Bride, from which these children will be born again, in Christopher West, “An Open Letter to a Concerned Listener.” He repeats this idea, among other places, in his recent book, Heaven’s Song, pg. 170-171. If he is not attributing a phallic meaning to the candle then how is there impregnation?!?

            Perhaps even more damning is the fact that fellow defenders of West, such as Janet Smith, Thomas Loya, and Sr. Lorraine Trouve, all explicitly concede this phallic attribution by West and have tried to defend him on it. Did these folks misrepresent West?? If so then blame them for perpetuating a “false narrative.” And please don’t deny this, for your credibility will be further destroyed, for references are available, e.g., Smith’s 2010 on-line essay, “A Call for Fair Treatment of West.”

            You only provide two examples, which hardly makes for any type of tradition. You also erroneously conclude that because the baptismal font is referred to as a womb, that this must mean the dipping of the candle is a symbol of intercourse, but that is your desired conclusion, not one that follows or that the text itself states. And certainly that is West’s conclusion as quoted above. There is also no translation source and it would be interesting to see the full text, in the original language. (Yes, I do think that you and West and others, e.g., Thomas Loya, can and have significantly misquoted and altered texts to try and claim a point; or simply provide generic references with no specifics, e.g., West’s citation of Christopher Derrick’s “Sex and Sacredness” in “Heaven’s song”, which provides zero mention of the paschal candle; yet we are told this is an authoritative source for this notion.

            As a final point you may also be aware that the liturgical reform after VII explicitly revised the text of blessing the font and candle to avoid any possible illusion to sexual imagery. (Schema of the liturgical Consilium, 112, 19.)

          • Responding to a Jim Russell post is almost never wise, but kudos to David for roasting him with actual research.

            He always wants it both ways. People are “misquoting” West, but, the West quote would be accurate anyway if he had said it.

            West “never said” it was a phallic symbol, but here is a series of excerpts which I hope to suggest that exact thing.

          • David writes:
            ****Actually, the danger here is that this hardly represents an “authentic” and “true” history. ****
            Really? Do you conclude that I invented both the prayer at the font *and* the Sarum Missal? Are these not true and authentic and historical?

            ****First, your claim that West never attributes a phallic meaning to the candle, whether he uses the exact word phallic or not, is unbelievably false.***

            Please define what you mean by the term “phallic meaning.” Let’s be direct. “Phallus” means penis. Please show me where West says that the Paschal Candle represents a penis.

            **** He states, for example: “The baptismal font is the womb of the Church, from which many children will be born again. And the symbolism of that candle, that Christ candle being plunged into this baptismal font, is Christ the Bridegroom impregnating virginally, mystically of course, impregnating the Church, the Bride, from which these children will be born again, in Christopher West, “An Open Letter to a Concerned Listener.” He repeats this idea, among other places, in his recent book, Heaven’s Song, pg. 170-171. If he is not attributing a phallic meaning to the candle then how is there impregnation?!? ****

            Well, David, how does one use a symbolic penis to “virginally” and “mystically” impregnate the Church? Really, you should read from the two citations again and ask Pope Sixtus and the author of the Sarum Missal of both “how is there impregnation?” or, in their terms, how is there “conception” and “fertilization” if *they* aren’t attributing a “phallic” meaning to the action??? BUT they aren’t of course, and neither was West.

            ****Perhaps even more damning is the fact that fellow defenders of West, such as Janet Smith, Thomas Loya, and Sr. Lorraine Trouve, all explicitly concede this phallic attribution by West and have tried to defend him on it. Did these folks misrepresent West?? ****

            They certainly would not intentionally misrepresent him, but please show me where any of them conceded that West had in mind that the Candle represented a penis and not the Person of Christ, and then I will concede that they have misunderstood him.

            ****If so then blame them for perpetuating a “false narrative.” And please don’t deny this, for your credibility will be further destroyed, for references are available, e.g., Smith’s 2010 on-line essay, “A Call for Fair Treatment of West.” ****

            I looked for the citation online and couldn’t locate it. Please cite it in your next comment.

            ****You only provide two examples, which hardly makes for any type of tradition.****
            Did you not see the part of the comment in which I say I *must* abridge this material for length? I also have a multi-thousand-word treatment of this subject—I can give you a pdf file of it.
            **** You also erroneously conclude that because the baptismal font is referred to as a womb, that this must mean the dipping of the candle is a symbol of intercourse, but that is your desired conclusion, not one that follows or that the text itself states.****j
            REALLY? That’s what I conclude? Where do I conclude this? Hard to believe since I really conclude the *opposite*. I conclude instead what the *Church* concluded in her prayer that accompanied the action.

            **** And certainly that is West’s conclusion as quoted above. ****
            No it’s not. The virginal conception the Church has liturgically associated with the baptismal font blessing is in *no* way “phallic” or merely symbolic of natural intercourse.
            ***There is also no translation source and it would be interesting to see the full text, in the original language.***
            David, the original language of the Sarum Missal is….English. Which is one reason I chose it as an example….as to the font prayer from the Lateran Basilica—maybe that’s a good idea. I’ll have to look for the Latin inscription.
            ****(Yes, I do think that you and West and others, e.g., Thomas Loya, can and have significantly misquoted and altered texts to try and claim a point; or simply provide generic references with no specifics, e.g., West’s citation of Christopher Derrick’s “Sex and Sacredness” in “Heaven’s song”, which provides zero mention of the paschal candle; yet we are told this is an authoritative source for this notion.****
            Where does West say it’s an “authoritative source”? Rather, in Appendix II (p. 141) of “At The Heart of the Gospel,” West just says: “I first learned of the nuptial significance of this ritual [blessing of baptismal waters at Easter Vigil] from a book published by Ignatius Press called “Sex and Sacredness.” Where does West say Derrick spoke of the Paschal Candle?

            ****As a final point you may also be aware that the liturgical reform after VII explicitly revised the text of blessing the font and candle to avoid any possible illusion to sexual imagery. (Schema of the liturgical Consilium, 112, 19.)****
            Yes, I’m fully aware of this—they appear to have done so rightly, since so many people apparently *have* mistaken the “generative” ancient language of the Church for references to “intercourse”, which of course is a mistake West does *not* make, but his critics do when commenting on his treatment of the ancient blessing.

  • JR,

    So, now that you have been provided with evidence of West’s phallic symbolism, you now claim that unless he uses the word penis you can’t impute that meaning to him?! That’s a logical fallacy, for one, an old bait and switch. If phallic is essentially a synonym for penile- by your own admission- then the use/inference of phallic can be taken to mean the other, so you don’t need to see the word penis. Most importantly, it seems West himself has never denied this, in reply to the attributions by David Schindler or Dawn Eden, for example. So if he himself didn’t repudiate it, that says something, and is quite strange at the least. If he has repudiated it, please reference this.

    As for quotes from others, many of Smith’s and Loya’s essays are no longer available on-line. Both deliberately removed some of them, which is interesting. But one can find some quotes in other articles. Let us recall that David Schindler [and Dawn Eden and others] had directly attributed “phallic symbolism” of the candle to West. Smith responded by saying: “When I heard West in his first series of talks claim that the submersion of the Easter Candle into the holy water font was sexual imagery used by the Church to show that, through baptism, spiritual children are born, I was appalled. Actually any reference to phallic symbols appalls me – I think mine may be a prudish response – and, in this context, I thought it was vulgar and irreverent.” She also says in reply to Schindler’s label of phallic: “I don’t in fact know why Schindler objects to West’s claim about the tradition of the Easter candle.” And also: “I wouldn’t use the example myself, but I don’t think it worthy of a wholesale attack or a wholesale defense; the issue is very overblown” http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/janet_smith_says_criticisms_of_west_unfair_and_unsubstantiated/
    As for Fr. Loya, I know he affirmed the phallic attribution in his exchanges with steve kellmeyer and Angelo Geiger, among others, for which I found some references:

    “Acknowledging the Paschal candle’s phallic imagery does not require a quote from a particular Father of the Church. It is only one example of the spousal character of the church’s entire liturgical life, from Bernini’s canopy over the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, designed to resemble a nuptial bed, to St. John Chrysostom reminding married couples that on the cross Christ united Himself with his Church in “spiritual intercourse,” to the liturgical texts of the Eastern churches that proclaim on Easter…” http://commonsensecatholicism.blogspot.com/2010/09/fr-thomas-loya-take-on-tob-christopher.html

    Loya also said: “Don’t stop with the Paschal candle. Every aspect of the Church’s theology and its expression in liturgy plays out of the spousal (‘sexual’) mystery.”

    Kellmeyer also quotes M. Waldstein as saying: “The womb is a vacant space, with an opening to its emptiness. The theology, the “language” of the womb, says that it is ordered to being filled with life, to being inseminated. To see the womb-like character of the baptismal font but not a complementary phallic element in the Church’s liturgical action is to see the womb (font) in a disintegrated, contraceptive, sterile, and useless way. This is not a Catholic (sacramental-mystical) view.” http://skellmeyer.blogspot.com/2010/09/when-attitude-meets-verisimilitude.html

    My point in regard to tradition is that the lateran inscription and a 16th century missal- 2 instances – hardly makes for a continuous, constant tradition. I know you’ll come back with another attempt to bait and switch or other tactics, as JVC has also confirmed, so I’ll probably reply no further.

    • ****Most importantly, it seems West himself has never denied this, in reply to the attributions by David Schindler or Dawn Eden, for example. So if he himself didn’t repudiate it, that says something, and is quite strange at the least. If he has repudiated it, please reference this. *****

      Gladly–footnote 74 (p. 169) of West’s “At the Heart of the Gospel”:

      “For the record, I have *never* used the word ‘phallic’ in reference to the paschal candle.”

      The whole second appendix of this books is titled “Baptism Is a Nuptial Mystery”–recommended reading.

      I will gladly challenge anyone–Loya, Smith, Waldstein, etc.–to clarify any statements that seem to reduce the “Christ Candle” to mere “phallus”–particularly since the “font-as-womb” imagery is *virginal* AND because of the absurdity of lowering the “wrong” end of the so-called “phallus” into the font. If lowering the candle in the water is supposed to echo *natural* intercourse and not *supernatural* regeneration, well, then, the Church has been doing it wrong for centuries–the *tip* of the candle–and not the base–should be “penetrating” the water, right? Even in places in which the drops of candle wax were made to fall in the water (which if viewed merely as “phallus” would be *very* evocative), the liturgy *never* reduces the Christ Candle (which I still say is the ultimate anti-phallus) to symbolizing a “thing”–the use of the Candle is always used to symbolize a *person*.

      And Christopher West simply never said anything different from this, regardless of whether any of his defenders believed he had.

      • Why the question of what a guy should do when he finds a woman *totally arousing* (like, totally dude) in the first place? We got married at the parish that Fr. Loya is pastor of and I’ll have you know the next morning, while Fr. Loya and I were having a telephone conversation, he actually asked an intrusive question about what *happened* on our *wedding night*? I was shocked. I found his “interest” perverse, not to mention sad, disappointing, unnerving and nauseating. So transparent – do you think he would have asked my husband a question like that? Slimy….slippery. The worst of it all is that he doesn’t “see” this kind of behavior or the primary motive that’s driving the behavior a problem. I think Fr. Loya, Christopher West and the like need to learn how to keep Theology of the Body within the context of The Redemption of the Body and Sacramentality of Marriage.

        • I’m not surprised to hear that. Loya has also had a web-site which contained semi-pornographic images, while he had to remove posts with such content on a certain blog, after complaints. It just confirms a point made on the “dark night” piece that preceded this: that popular and reductionist versions/distortions of TOB can be used as a cover to talk about sexual matters, or what might be more of the case, is that people already obsessed with sexual matters are attracted to it. It is no accident, for example, that C. West, by his own admission, has such issues in his past, and from a psychological point of view still may have the underlying tendencies, which still survive despite healing from the immediate problem. That is, someone with a problem, perhaps even an addiction, to porn or promiscuity, for example, might be healed of the behaviors, but in the absence of therapy or what have you, they often retain the underlying addictive/obsessive issues, which may remain dormant but resurface or are transferred to something else. A classic example is how former alcoholics or drug addicts usually transfer their tendencies to some other object, such as by taking up smoking.

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