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Chastity and Unchastity


When one reads what has been written about chastity, the air one breathes is not always bracing. Many reasons account for this. First, one can see that the order of precedence in the value of things has been distorted. Thus, the realm of sex has moved to the centre of attention of moral consciousness. In addition, a hidden manichaeism casts suspicion on everything concerning physical reproduction as something impure, defiling and below the true dignity of man. Consequently, as Pieper points out, there is, in most treatises on chastity, an oppressing air of mystery, of mixture of bashfulness and unhealthy curiosity.

By contrast, the opposite attitude has set in. In fact, in the present period, the corruption of morals has increased and a most serious indication of this corruption is the unbridled exaltation of sex. Just to give a sample there is an author advocating what he calls the new recreational sex in contrast, he says, to the old procreational sex, which he terms no longer functional. Things have reached such a level that we are not surprised when John Paul II affirmed in the United States that the recovery of the virtue of chastity is a most urgent need for contemporary society. We should appreciate the gravity of this statement in its full perspective, perhaps, recall the strange paradox by which sex, which is at the origin of life giving, of a culture of life, finds itself at the foundation of a culture of death.

Moreover, through the means of social communication and through public entertainment, this corruption has reached the point of invading the field of education and of infecting the general mentality. In one of his Broadcast Talks, C.S Lewis made the point very clearly: We 've been told, till one is sick of hearing it that sexual desire is in the same state as any of other natural desires and that if only we give up the silly old Victorian idea of hushing it up, everything in the garden will be lovely. It's just not true. They'll tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess. If hushing it up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it hasn’t.

For Aquinas, however, and the great Christian masters, the most evident and natural thing is that sexual powers are not a necessary evil, but really a good thing. Following Aristotle, he says incisively that there is something divine in the human seed. For the intrinsic purpose of sexual power, namely, that not only now but in days to come the children may dwell upon the earth and in the kingdom of God, is not only a good but a surpassing good. A participation in the creative power of God, as Blessed Escrivá would say centuries later. It is therefore self-evident for Aquinas that the fulfilment of the natural sexual urge and its accompanying pleasure are good, if the corresponding order and measure are preserved


In fact, there are principles and norms in the domain of sexual ethics which do not owe their origin to a certain type of culture. They proceed from the knowledge of the divine law and of human nature. They cannot therefore be considered as having become out of date or doubtful, under the pretext that a new cultural situation has arisen. The more necessary something is, the more the order of reason must be preserved in it. Being so noble and necessary the sexual impulse needs especially the protection and defense of reason. Chastity is in fact the virtue that realizes the order of reason in the realm of sexuality" and disposes it in accordance to the truth of things.

One should, however, be careful so that the concept of reason is not understood in a false spiritualistic manner. Because if it is assumed that what properly defines man is constant spiritual awareness, anything that clouds it would be considered as unspiritual and evil. St. Thomas, however, says with great clarity: A complete lack of sensuality, contrary to all sexual pleasure which some would regard as properly perfect and the ideal Christian doctrine, is not only a deficiency but even a moral defect. This affirmative evaluation of sexuality is logical and clear to Aquinas beyond any doubt, because he takes seriously the fundamental thought of revelation that everything created by God is good.

Screwtape, Lewis fictional devil, gives, as it were, the testimony from the enemy's view. His words are worth being recorded: Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and satisfying form, we are in a sense, on the Enemy ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is his invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is encourage the humans to take their pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which he has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula... to get the man's soul and give him nothing in return… that is what really gladdens our Father's heart.

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A word of caution, however, may be needed here. To bring the order of reason, the light of truth, into the sometimes murky field of sexuality does not mean to lift the veil of propriety. This is the attitude that protects human sex from the light of a flippant or inconsiderate probing. This is why the sentiment of modesty or decency is part and parcel of the virtue of chastity, against the onslaught of shamelessness and unhibited rationalization. In this light, the exclusive right of parents to instruct their children about the facts of life should be upheld. It should be defended against the anonymity and crudity of the so-called sexual instruction in the schools

We can now say that chastity realizes in the province of sex the order that corresponds to the truth of the world and of man as experienced and revealed. This order may be described in very simple terms: Either marriage with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence " This means, first, that the immanent purpose of sexuality should not be perverted but fulfilled in marriage, where its three ends or goods are achieved, secondly, the inner structure of the human person should be kept intact and, thirdly, justice between men may not be violated.

For the pagan world, the Jewish-Christian approach to chastity must have been quite a tall order. Yet, the quarrel, as Anscombe suggests, is far greater between Christianity and the present-day heathen, post-Christian morality that has sprung up because of contraception. In one word, she says, Christianity taught that men ought to be as chaste as pagans thought honest women ought to be; the contraceptive morality teaches that women need to be as little chaste as pagans thought men need be.

This fundamental order was introduced in the sexual realm at the beginning, with the first creation, and later ennobled by Christ. According to it, only chastity can bring men closer to the double reality implicit in the faculty of generation that goes beyond the instinct, the very source of being and the mystery of life. One can choose, of course, to engage in a form of sexual activity that lacks all the constitutive elements of personal integrity. This form of activity, when chosen, goes under the name of masturbation. Its essential features are not only found in the solitary act. They also characterize casual promiscuous sexual relations, such as fornication or adultery often is and homosexual activity usual is. What we have then is the use of two bodies as instruments instead of one.

Generation, of course, is not the only end of sexual life and of the conjugal union. However, this life and this union are only good within marriage, within order. By order here we mean the truth of being in its dynamism. To alter that order, out of inordinate self-love, always entails grievous consequences: blindness of spirit, abortion and the crime of passion. The lecherous man does not give himself: on the contrary, he absorbs.

An unchaste man wants above all something for himself. He is distracted by an illusory, unreal interest. His strained obsession prevents him from approaching reality with serenity and deprives him of authentic knowledge. In an unchaste heart, the angle of vision is fixed upon a certain track. Moreover, the window of the soul loses its transparency, covered by the dust of his selfish interest. Unchastity is intent upon the prize, the reward of illicit lust. The essence of unchastity is in selfishness. One can see now why faults against the virtue of chastity are not worse than those against any other virtue, but they are more destructive. Any unchastity, and not only adultery, has these two aspects to be at once intemperance and injustice.

The mere mentioning of all these terms: humility, chastity, meekness, sobriety, as Pieper pointedly suggests, brings a somehow negative attitude, an almost involuntary feeling of irritation, as when confronted with something cumbersome and unpleasant though not necessarily challenging. It is important to note down this remark. It shows that here, more than in other fields of human endeavour, one finds a fundamental distortion of man's ideal image, of the truth about man. The root cause may not simply be a misconceived image of the good man but of the whole created reality as well.

Temperance, in fact, has something to say about the ordered structure of the being of man, in whom all degrees of being in creation are summed up. As the history of heresies shows, the way temperance and chastity are understood decides the attitude adopted towards creation and the world outside us. The roots of the virtue called temperance thus go to the very foundations of Christian teaching about things and about man.

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