IT WILL BE IMPORTANT TO EXAMINE THE VIRTUE OF CHASTITY in the context of the present book since it is this virtue which safeguards man from adultery.
In the present chapter we shall consider first the function of chastity in the light of Original Sin, then offer a brief summary of the Church’s teaching on the nature of this virtue, thereafter her teaching on perfect chastity taken from Sacra Virginitas (Pius XII 1954), and conclude with some of the central elements of a pontifical document on education in chastity.
1. Chastity and Original Sin
In the Introduction we observed that Original Sin deprived man of both (absolutely) supernatural and preternatural gifts. The preternatural gifts that he lost were the gifts of integrity comprising infused knowledge, the possibility of neither suffering nor dying, and the control of reason over the lower faculties of the soul and body. The loss of this control resulted in four evils: ignorantia – the difficulty of knowing the truth, malitia – the weakening of the power of the will, infirmitas – the recoiling before the struggle for the good, and concupiscentia in its narrow sense – the desire of the satisfaction of the senses against the judgement of reason. Now each of these evils attacks one of the four faculties of the soul: The first evil attacks the understanding, the second evil attacks the will, the third evil attacks the irascible power (vis irascibilis), and the fourth evil attacks desire (vis concupiscibilis). The exercise of the four moral, or cardinal, virtues namely prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, with the assistance of sacraments and prayer, combats these four moral evils and heals the four wounded faculties of the soul.
Now the particular focus of concupiscentia, or concupiscence in its narrow sense, is the satisfaction of the sense of touch, and above all the pleasures of eating, drinking, and sexuality. It is the function of temperance to preserve moderation, particularly in the realm of the senses and above all in the pleasures and the respective acts of eating, drinking and sexuality (cf. Summa II 2 141. 4). Temperance in the domain of sexuality is called ‘chastity’.
Now the virtue of chastity has two degrees: imperfect and perfect. In imperfect chastity, the use of temperance and moderation is partial, regulating the pleasures and acts within its scope according to the divine precepts; in perfect chastity the use of temperance and moderation amounts to total abstinence, even where such pleasures are licit – that is to say within marriage.
The motivation for the virtue of chastity may be natural or supernatural. The natural motivation may comprise obedience to the Natural Law, the respect of human dignity, or any of the many advantages resulting from such total and persevering fidelity, amongst which may be numbered the victory over contrary inclinations and the control of the will over the senses. The supernatural motivation is the hope of the resurrection of the body in Heaven, the example and teaching of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the supernatural respect due to the body consecrated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and by the reception of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
The Fathers of the Church, in their preference for perfect chastity over marriage (while not deprecating the latter), enumerate the obligations, cares, and pains inherent 128
For this whole section see the Encyclopédie Catholique 1927 259 to family life. St. Thomas specifies three ways in which perfect chastity is superior to marriage: it is a divine rather than a human good, a good of the soul rather than a good of the body, and involves a contemplative rather than an active form of life.
Imperfect chastity may be practised in three distinct states of life: first, prior to marriage, avoiding what is forbidden but without renouncing the hope or possibility of marriage; second, during marriage, regulating what is licit according to the moral law; third, subsequent to marriage where the widow(er) avoids what is forbidden, as before marriage.
The state of perfect chastity, when undertaken for supernatural motives, corresponds to the ‘Counsel of Chastity’ expressed by Our Lord in Mt. XIX 11-12: ‘All men take not this word, but they to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who were born so from their mother’s womb: and there are eunuchs who were made so by man: and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven. He that can take, let him take it.’
Let us now compare the virtue and state of perfect chastity with the virtue and state of virginity (that is to say the virtue of virginity considered as a special virtue and the state which it characterizes). The essential difference between the former and the latter is that it is possible for a person who has sinned gravely against purity (per actum luxuriae consummatae seu pollutionis graviter peccaminosae129) and who has later repented, to enjoy the former virtue and state, but not the latter. In other words the virtue and state of virginity (in distinction to the virtue and state of perfect chastity) are irreparably lost by sins against purity (although not by an act of violation or by medical intervention).
Otherwise the virtue of perfect chastity is equivalent to the virtue of virginity; and the state of perfect chastity (or the counsel of chastity) is equivalent to the state of virginity. This virtue and this state require a firm and unshakable resolution to refrain permanently from all carnal acts and pleasures, so that, since this form of resolution is normally only expressed by a vow, one may conclude with St. Thomas in effect that virginitas secundum quod est virtus importat propositum voto firmatum integritatis perpetuo colendae (Summa II II 152 a 3): virginity as a virtue requires a resolution established by a vow of perpetually cultivating integrity. (We remark in passing that it is also possible to make a vow of imperfect chastity.)
Two virtues complementary, or connected, to chastity are those of modesty and abstinence. Modesty (or pudicitia) comprises the discretion and reserve in the use of marriage and in everything which may serve to express it (Summa II II 151 a 4). Abstinence is that form of temperance which relates to taste. It strengthens the control of the soul over the senses, which leads to a greater spiritual energy for the maintenance of chastity (Summa II II 151 3).
3. Perfect Chastity
Let us conclude this section with a fuller description of that perfect chastity which is consecrated to God (or sacred virginity) as presented in the encyclical Sacra Viginitas by Pope Pius XII (1954). It is according to that pontiff ‘without doubt among the most precious treasures which the Founder of the Church has left in heritage to the society which He established’ (1). It is distinguished from other forms of chastity by being assumed by a perpetual vow (or promise), whether public or private (6, 11, 16), and by its primary purpose: ‘to aim only at the divine, to turn thereto the whole mind and soul; to want to please God in everything, to think of Him continually, to consecrate body and soul completely to Him’ (15), whereas the heart of married persons is ‘divided’ (24 cf. 1 Cor. VII.33). To this end it frees men from the ‘grave duties and obligations’ of marriage (20) and from temporal cares (22). Sacred ministers in particular must cultivate perfect chastity, or purity, not least on account of their service of the altar (23). Sacred virginity is in fact superior to the married state (32) and this in virtue of its primary purpose (24 cf. St. Thomas Summa II II q 152, a 3-4). Was it not Our Lord Himself who counsels it for the Kingdom of Heaven? (10 cf. Mt. XIX 10-12); and the Apostle who declares: ‘for I would that all men were even as myself… But I say to the unmarried and to widows: it is good for them if they so continue, even as I?’ (24 cf. 1 Cor. VII 7-8).
The elements of self-mastery, love, and holiness, are particularly marked in the virtue of perfect chastity. In regard to the first element: ‘a chastity dedicated to God demands strong and noble souls, souls ready to do battle and conquer’ (49) and ‘a constant vigilance and struggle’. In the words of St. John Chrysostom: ‘The root and the flower, too, of virginity is a crucified life’. ‘For virginity, according to Ambrose, is a sacrificial offering, and the virgin an oblation of modesty, a victim of chastity’. (ibid.)
The love of one who is perfectly chaste is directed towards Christ. The Fathers of the Church considered perfect chastity as a form of spiritual marriage to Christ (17) and as an exclusive love of Christ. As the consecration of virgins puts it: ‘The Kingdom of this earth and all worldly trappings I have valued as worthless for Love of Our Lord Jesus Christ, whom I have seen, loved, believed, and preferred above all else’. (18) Yet there is more to perfect chastity than the ‘bonds of affection’, as Pius XII goes on to declare, for this ‘burning love for Christ’ impels the virgin to the imitation of Christ’s virtues, way of life, and self- sacrifice. In this way virgins ‘follow the Lamb wherever He goes’ Apocalypse (XIV 4) (19 quoting St. Augustine and St. Bonaventure). The self-sacrifice that these virgins practice, whether in works of mercy or in the contemplative life, is, like the self-sacrifice of Christ, offered for the salvation of others and for the good of the Church (43). If Christ is the immediate object of their love, the Church is, then, its mediate object.
Virginity consecrated to Christ, lastly, bears abundant fruits of sanctity. Such souls, in the words of St. Cyprian, are ‘the equals of the angels of God.’ The purity of their love touches others, it witnesses to a good greater than the pleasures of sense, to the mastery of the spirit over the body (with divine assistance), to ‘the perfect virginity of their Mother the Church and the sanctity of her intimate union with Christ.’ In fact: ‘The greatest glory of virgins is undoubtedly to be the loving images of the perfect integrity of the union between the Church and her divine Spouse.’ Having disdained the bodily union of man and woman they desire the mystery it enshrines (28-31).
Pius XII notes towards the end of the encyclical that ‘the eminent way to protect and nourish an unsullied and perfect chastity…is solid and fervent devotion to the Virgin Mother of God.’ He quotes St. Augustine to the effect that ‘the dignity of virginity began with the Mother of the Lord’ and St. Ambrose’s exhortation to virgins: ‘Let Mary’s life be for you like the portrayal of virginity, for from her, as through from a mirror, is reflected the beauty of chastity and the ideal of virtue…Her grace was so great that it not only preserved in her the grace of virginity, but bestowed the grace of chastity upon those on whom she gazed.’
4. Education in Chastity
In November 1995 the Pontifical Council for the Family produced a document entitled ‘The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality’ (TMHS) for the purpose of providing ‘Guidelines for Education within the Family’ in the area of sexuality. [The significance of the phrase ‘Truth and Meaning’ here is explained in chapter 5.] The document opens with a description of a state of affairs similar to that which it has been attempted to describe in chapter six: ‘Society and the mass media most of the time provide depersonalized, recreational, and often pessimistic information…influenced by a distorted individualistic concept of freedom, in an ambience lacking the basic values of life, human love, and the family.’(1) It describes how the school carries out programmes of sex education in place of the family, sometimes to the deformation of consciences. In face of the sexual decadence of the present age what is urgently required is an authentic education in sexuality, not simply as a biological phenomenon, but in its moral context; in short, an education in chastity: ‘that spiritual energy capable of defending love from the perils of selfishness and aggressiveness, and able to advance it to its full realization’(4).
With regard to education in all the social virtues, parents have the primary responsibility for their children. ‘The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to find an adequate substitute. It is therefore the duty of parents to create a family atmosphere inspired by love and devotion to God and their fellow-men which will promote an integrated, personal, and social education of their children. The family is therefore the principal school of the social virtues which are necessary to every society’ (23).
‘Much of the formation in the home is indirect, incarnated in a loving and tender atmosphere, for it arises from the presence and example of parents whose love is pure and generous’ (149). The object of the parents’ love is God, the children, and each other (52): ‘The Christian family is capable of offering an atmosphere permeated with that love for God that makes an authentic reciprocal gift possible… nothing moves us to love more than knowing that we are loved… The self-giving that inspires the love of husband and wife for each other is the model and norm’ for the love of other members of the family for each other and for those outside the family. In particular: ‘In a family where love reigns, this gift [of human sexuality] is always understood as part of the call to self-giving in love for God and for others.’ More concretely (20): ‘Parents are well aware that living conjugal chastity themselves is the most valid premise for educating their children in chaste love and in holiness of life’; (73): ‘The objective of the parents’ educational task is to pass on to their children the conviction that chastity in one’s state of life is possible and that chastity beings joy.’
The TMHS shows how chastity engenders those qualities which are necessary for love: ‘Chastity makes the personality harmonious. It matures it and fills it with inner peace. This purity of mind and body helps develop true self- respect and at the same time makes one capable of respecting others, because it makes one see in them persons to reverence’(17); ‘The love for chastity, which parents help to form, favours mutual respect between man and woman and provides a capacity for compassion, tolerance, generosity, and above all a spirit of sacrifice, without which love cannot endure’(31).
Chastity is an elevated virtue: it is a gift of the Holy Spirit and preserves high human values. With respect to the former point (21): ‘In order to live chastely, man and woman need the continuous illumination of the Holy Spirit…the interior order of married life, which enables the ‘manifestations of affection’ to develop according to their right proportion and meaning, is a fruit not only of the virtue which the couple practise, but also of the gifts of the Holy Spirit with which they co-operate.’ With respect to the latter point: (105) ‘The moral order of sexuality involves such high values of human life that every direct violation of this order is objectively serious.’
Chastity is elevated but it is also a ‘delicate matter’ (48): the elements which it involves: ‘physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects… as well as the first signs of freedom, the influence of social models, natural modesty, and strong tendencies inherent in a human being’s bodily nature… are converted to an awareness, albeit implicit, of the dignity of the human person, called to collaborate with God, and, at the same time, marked by fragility.’
In view of the above considerations it is clear that specific information about sexuality should be given only with the greatest care and sensitivity. There are four general principles for the giving of this information:
1) It must be individual and personal; (65): ‘Each child is a unique and unrepeatable person and must receive individualized formation’; (66): ‘the most intimate aspects, whether biological or emotional, should be communicated in a personalized dialogue’; (67): ‘experience shows that this dialogue works out better when the parent… is of the same sex as the child or young person.’
2) It must be of a moral nature; (68): ‘The moral dimension must always be part of their explanations. Parents should stress that Christians are called to live the gift of sexuality according to the plan of God who is love… They must insist on the positive value of chastity and its capacity to generate true love for other persons;’ (69): they must correct bad habits with ‘adequate, valid and convincing grounds’.
3) [We note here that in their work of education the parents must explain to their children that the primary purpose of sexuality (and marriage in which it belongs) is procreation.] It ‘must be provided in the broadest context of education for love’ (70) – love for God and love for neighbour. The means for growing in this love and for overcoming difficulties are: (71) ‘Discipline of the senses and the mind, watchfulness and prudence in avoiding occasions of sin, the observance of modesty, moderation in recreation, wholesome pursuits, assiduous prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Young people especially should foster devotion to the Immaculate Mother of God.’ To this list is added (at 55) ‘an attitude of sacrifice with regard to one’s whims’ (which together with modesty have been called by Christian tradition ‘the younger sisters of chastity’) and (at 57) a respect for privacy: ‘If children or young people see that their legitimate privacy is respected, then they will know that they are expected to show the same attitude towards others’.
It is particularly in adolescence that parents must endeavour to strengthen their children’s faith (102): ‘highlighting the inestimable value of prayer and frequent fruitful recourse to the sacraments for a chaste life, especially personal confession.’ They must encourage a detachment from the mass media and attachment to positive models; they must have recourse to specialists in the case of deviant behaviour. The objective of the parents’ educational task is, as noted above, to show that ‘chastity… is possible and that chastity brings joy’ (73). God’s help is never lacking if each person makes the necessary commitment to respond to His Grace (74). As St. Augustine writes in the Confessions (6,11,20): ‘No-one can be continent unless You grant it. For You would surely have granted it if my inner groaning had reached Your ears and I with firm faith had cast my cares on You’.
(4) It must be given ‘with great delicacy, but clearly and at the right time’ (75), first seeking light from the Lord in prayer’. Pope Pius XII130 emphasises the importance of modesty here: ‘Modesty will moreover suggest and provide suitable words for parents and educators by which the youthful conscience will be formed in matters of chastity… In this matter just temperance and moderation must be used.’
There are in fact four stages of development which parents should bear in mind when giving their children education in love: the years of innocence, puberty, adolescence, and the growth towards adulthood.
In their task of education (150): ‘May parents always place their trust in God through prayer to the Holy Spirit, the gentle Paraclete and Giver of all good gifts. May they seek the powerful intercession and protection of Mary Immaculate, the Virgin Mother of fair love and model of faithful purity. Let them also invoke St. Joseph, her just and chaste spouse, following his example of fidelity and purity of heart. May parents constantly rely on the love which they offer their own children … [which] must be aimed towards eternity, towards the unending happiness promised by Our Lord Jesus Christ to those who follow Him: ‘Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.’
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.