CHAPTER XVII — THE FREEDOM OF PURITY (Q. 146-154)
THERE have been many good men and women in America who have lived their lives in cheerful innocence of the conditions by which they were surrounded. When they heard booming attacks upon a new paganism or ringing accusations of an abandonment of Christian ethics, they smiled; “excited Jeremiahs,” they said, “terrified at the recurrence of very human evils which no age has escaped.” They felt satisfied, mellow and very wise; for to the pure all things are pure, especially if the pure are a little on the slow side. But within these past few years the complacency has been supplanted by a horrified disbelief; these cheerfully innocent people have received a bad shock.
Modern concern about chastity: Its basis.
They are in the position of the Austrian shopkeeper who smiled at the thought of his country ever disappearing from the map of the world; and then, one morning he looked out his window to see company after company of German soldiers trampling on the kindly old heart of his beloved Vienna. Recently these cheerfully innocent people stepped out of their homes one fine morning and were promptly buried under an avalanche of facts. Studies reported the progress of unchastity and the diseases connected with unchastity: odd defenses of chastity appeared written in a tone that indicated chastity was definitely in need of defense. Inquiries had been made on the subject scientifically, very scientifically: college girls and boys had been interviewed, figures were tabulated, the opinion of women of all classes had been obtained on birth control and marriage; statistics had been gathered on the sale of sex-stimulating drugs to children and the manufacture and sale of contraceptives. One great magazine proved that this latest industry is now one of the great American industries and one of the greatest of rackets; it named names and went unchallenged.
After the first terrible shock of facing the facts, the naively innocent person cast about for some encouragement; and promptly found it. In this progressive twentieth century, it was a good thing to shelve Paul’s warning that these things should not so much as be mentioned among Christians. After all, an aroused public opinion has tremendous force. With the aid of that public opinion, the church will now get somewhere in its fight for purity. Everything is going to be all right; now it is not so much a question of arousing the public to the need of purity as it is of furnishing that aroused public with leadership to the goals of purity.
A little more profound consideration of all this talk about chastity and unchastity would have uncovered two worrisome facts. First of all no one seems to have anything very cheering to say about the present state of affairs. The reports which have been made can certainly cause no joy in heaven; and there can be little reason for their causing joy on earth. Of course there is no one who believes that these reports and statistics tell the whole story; rather they are a delicate insinuation of the corruption which has taken place in American morals. The story of unchastity is never easily come at, particularly for national publication
The second disillusioning fact is that, in all this uproar about chastity, the concern has been almost exclusively with the threat to the body and material happiness, not with the threat to the soul and eternal happiness. For the most part the considerations have been purely animal, the worry has whirled about a purely physical sun. In other words, there has been no real concern about chastity but simply the same, old, jittery concern about health that always haunts the mind of a man to whom death is oblivion.
Because the desire behind all this is not to be pure but rather to be healthy, we find no distinctly human — that is no distinctly moral — reason alleged in favor of chastity. The force behind the whole campaign is stark fear. It was not mere coincidence that a national campaign against venereal diseases synchronized with the excited discussion of unchastity. The coward is faced with an unpleasant choice: he must take chastity or physical misfortune. Neither is attractive; he might have to down the first as a preventive dose, but he reaches for it with the resigned lassitude of an invalid taking bitter medicine. Under these circumstances he will, of course, try every escape offered by mechanical and medical ingenuity before he takes the desperate step of embracing chastity. Chastity will be practised reluctantly and violated cautiously; and this is, I suppose, something of that lukewarmness that nauseated Christ Himself.
The implication is unescapable. We have missed the significance of purity for human life. Perhaps there is no more damning indictment of our age than that tragic oversight. As if in confirmation of the truth of the indictment, many of our intellectual leaders look upon chastity, particularly pre-marital chastity, as a thing against which nature protests vigorously in the form of natural punishments, abnormalities that border upon insanity, and seriously threaten the sanity of man. Purity is an attempt to thwart the natural, to trick it, confine it in an artificial frame. Catholics make a medieval hullabaloo about what is, at its worst, a human peccadillo.
Roots of freedom: Proximate and remote sources
We have missed the intimate interrelation between purity and humanity. In some mysterious way we have overlooked the obvious fact that since human life is a reasonable life and human activity is a rational activity, of course human passion is passion under reason. The name of this supreme passion under reason is purity. The attack on purity is an attack on the domain of reason; its defense in the name of purely physical considerations is itself an attack on the humanity and freedom of man.
The world of reason is a world where freedom holds sway and where physical force is helpless; it is a moral world. Because a man has a spiritual soul and thus an intellect and will stretching out to the infinite reaches of the universal good, there is no particular good that can overwhelm his appetite. He can take a particular good, or he can leave it alone; because he can see its goodness or, on second glance, he can see what of goodness it lacks. On the long shopping tour that makes up his life, he does not have to take what he can get for the pittance sense appetite gives him to spend; his wallet is choking and he has unlimited resources to call on. He is completely master of his shopping for only one thing exhausts his resources, that is, God Himself.
Internal and external
The key to the whole situation is spirituality. The proximate sources of man’s freedom are his soul, his intellect and his will; behind them stands the sole possible Author of spiritual substance, the infinitely powerful God. Because a man is spiritual he has liberty; because he is spiritual that liberty has eternal significance. That is, the use or the abuse of liberty is for eternity, for the spiritual, as incorruptible, exists for eternal ends.
A man’s will or intellect cannot be handcuffed. As long as he remains a spiritual being with reason in control, he can never be enslaved. He possesses an internal liberty much more important than any external, civic freedom; an emperor, after all, can be a slave to himself, while a slave can be completely master of himself, can be most free. External liberty is as perilous a thing as a heart worn on one’s sleeve; it can be lost, whereas internal liberty can only be surrendered. No force, intrigue, trickery can take it away from us. And this is precisely the liberty over which purity maintains such a jealous guard.
It is unfortunate that men and women today are inclined to look upon the fight for purity as a little abstract and academic. Like so many moral questions, it apparently has no immediate pertinence to individual life. A man instantly and vigorously resists an attack on his property, his children, his wife; but an attack on virtue is different. Here he considers himself off to one side, a spectator not greatly interested in the winner of the argument. The thing is important, for these questions have a profound personal significance for every individual. The drastic consequences of modern attacks on the spiritual soul, the intellect and the will of man, the bitter attacks on God, are much more serious than any physical attack on a man himself, his family or his property. This attack on the realm of the spiritual is not so much a matter of beating a man to the ground as of disemboweling him.
Surely what threatens the spiritual and rational in a man threatens his freedom, for it is precisely upon that spiritual foundation that he builds his claim to freedom. When the body, the sense appetite, and the world of the present take precedence over the soul, the will and the world of eternity, man is no longer free. He is a slave; that is, he is no longer a man.
In this material of temperance there are three serious threats to the sovereignty of man’s reason, The threats are extremely serious because the material is so extremely necessary that nature attaches to it the greatest sense rewards, lest its primary ends be overlooked or neglected. To take care of the possible sorties against his reason from this material, man is equipped with a garrison of virtues specially equipped for this kind of enemy and this type of warfare. There are only three in that garrison — abstinence, sobriety and chastity — but their fighting qualities more than make up for their numbers.
Still these three are not enemies of man’s nature, not even of his sensitive nature. They can be rightly understood only when they are seen as guardians and protectors of man and his nature. Their presence in a man has exactly the effect of a well-disciplined garrison in a stronghold of restless subjects. They prevent mob-rule within a man and turn the violently restless energies of his passions to the common good of the man himself. Understand, this is not a question of using these subjects as a tyrannous master might use slaves merely for his own end. Reason is not working against the passions; it allows, indeed, insists upon their attainment of their own proper ends. Those proper ends of the passions, with their rich contributions to the welfare of the whole man, are defeated and trampled underfoot by the rioting of the mob of undisciplined passions.
The garrison protecting freedom: From the abuse of food — abstinence; Its nature
If it were a virtue merely to abstain from food, then by implication, the taking of food would be sinful. It is this sort of absurdity that is somehow wrapped up in the defense and attack of the modern negative “protectors” of liberty. A man can and does refuse food; perhaps because he has no appetite or is starving himself to death. Neither case involves a question of abstinence; the whole point of the virtue is the note of reason it insists upon in the we of food. The man who gives up coffee as a penance, even though it makes life miserable for his family, is not an abstinent man; neither is the ascetical tyro who stays up night after night praying only to fall asleep over his work during the day. These things are unreasonable so they cannot be virtuous. The virtue of abstinence is in operation only when the bounds of reason are carefully observed; its precise work is to restrain man’s use of food to reasonable limits.
Its act — fasting; Purposes
Abstinence holds a man back from abusing food. Fasting, an act of abstinence, goes a step further and holds a man back from what might very well be eaten without any abuse whatever. Again we must insist that this is not a condemnation of food. Eating enough certainly cannot be anything but a cause of joy, except perhaps to a grateful beggar to whom the experience is astonishing in its novelty. To refuse to eat what is no more than enough, if it is to be virtuous must be reasonable; and it can be reasonable only because it is aimed at ends higher than its immediate purposes.
If I have a healthy appetite for a bit of steak, an entirely reasonable amount in entirely reasonable circumstances, yet I refuse to eat it, then I have some explaining to do. If the refusal was for no reason whatever it would be an act of insanity; if it proceeded from a conviction that food itself is evil and to be avoided, then it would be vicious; but if it is for some higher end, like training the soul or satisfying for sins, it might well be virtuous.
We get a realistically concrete view of the higher ends of fasting by looking back to the first week of any Lent. After a few days of highly successful mortification, we have a definite sense of satisfaction, of pride in ourselves, of highly human accomplishment. You see, we have been fully in control. That is the really solid basis of that sense of satisfaction and superiority over our old selves. We are being supereminently human and we know it. We are experiencing something of the joy of being human.
To recognize those high ends in detail no more is necessary than to see them. By fasting we let our appetites know beyond any doubt that reason is the head of this household; and by that very fact, we give our appetites invaluable practice in subjection. This practice is important, for it is always important for a man to be rational, to have his reason in control. Going up a step higher, fasting is clearly a kind of restitution. Every sin is a stolen pleasure, for every sin is at least an overindulgence of will; fasting sun renders a legitimate pleasure, thus both satisfying for the debt of sin and impressing us with the true nature of sin. We cannot fast very long and not realize that no one ever gets anything out of sin, not even a pickpocket or a bank robber; everything that apparently comes out of it must be given back, even though that restitution take all of an eternity.
Looking at fasting on a still higher plane, it is not hard to see in it a disposition to contemplation. In the old public school schedule, a singing class was held immediately after lunch. The schedule was good, however bad the singing might be; for surely it would not be as bad as the thinking turned out on a full stomach. Whatever the physical background may be, psychologically it is sure that full satisfaction of the appetite for food makes the mind dull; it is apt to act like a puppy, crawl off to some warm corner and go to sleep. Thus monastic fasts are not idle gestures of melancholy or of distaste for the pleasures of sense. The primary business of monastic life is always contemplation, and fasting is an excellent disposition for it. The evening meal in a Dominican House of Studies is usually light; from September to Easter it is extraordinarily light. It is not coincidence that the most fruitful periods of study are the morning (after a positively feather-weight breakfast) and the evening or, as far as that goes, the rest of the night. There may be elements of discomfort; but, after all, a monastery does not exist for comfort but for contemplation. The very discomfort becomes eminently reasonable as a means to the higher ends of truth.
From all this it might be erroneously gathered that fasting was the product of Christian asceticism. Nothing is further from the truth. The value of fasting as a means of satisfying for sin, controlling and elevating the mind has always been common knowledge among men; so much so that fasting was a common practice even among primitive peoples, so common as to justify Thomas’ statement — long before anthropology elbowed its way into the halls of science — that fasting is a command of the natural law precisely for these three reasons.
The natural law did not, of course, tell an Iroquois that he must fast on Friday, nor the African pygmy that he must observe the Ember Days; it said nothing to the Eskimo about Lent. The actual times for fasting are positive law’s determinations of the indeterminate general precept of natural law.
This explains the universal character of the Church’s insistence on fasting. It does, of course, recognize special impediments, such as exist in children, working men and beggars. But even here, the dispensation from the fast does not mean an excuse from mortification; otherwise it would hardly be a privilege, a favor done for an individual, rather it would be a tragic deprivation. St. Basil could not understand why anyone could not fast: the guest-list of the rich was incomplete without fasting, it was an old table-companion of the poor, to women it was as natural as breathing, to children it was like water to a young plant, while as for the old, why the long years had made it second nature to them.
With the purposes of fasting well understood, the fast days appointed by the Church take on new beauty Surely there is no more fitting time to satisfy for our sins and prepare our minds for the consideration of eternal things than in the days that prepare us for Christ’s death and resurrection; how can we better appreciate the great saints’ entry into heaven, the full meaning of the great feasts, than by preparing our minds to appreciate the splendid goals they hold before our eyes? But it is not enough to lift ourselves to the plane of the angels now and then; that is where we belong all of our lives. To bring this truth home, we are made to fast in each of the four seasons of the year and for three days as a symbol of the three months that make up the divisions of the year: we call those days Ember Days. During those days priests are ordained and all the major orders given; a fitting time in which to prepare ourselves to celebrate the birthdays of these other Christs.
Its opposite — gluttony; Its modes
The delicate fineness achieved by fasting is quickly perceived by a contrast with the effects of gluttony. It is much the same contrast as that between the perfectly conditioned dancer and the man who has let himself go to seed. On one side there are clean, hard muscles, moving rhythmically under perfect control with a grace that is almost fluid, the grace in motion that a woman so often possesses in repose. On the other side there is the puffy flabbiness, the disintegration, the softness of a man many years older than his age.
It is to be understood that gluttony is not merely a matter of pleasure in food nor of quantity; rather it is a desire for food or an enjoyment of it that surpasses the bounds of reason. lf we think of gluttony only in terms of quantity, we might well echo Augustine’s delightfully human confession: “Who is it, Lord, that does not eat a little more than necessary?” Gluttony must be thought of, not in terms of quantity, but in terms of reason. As a matter of fact, it can be committed — a sin of desire — on a desert island with no food to be had, or at a breakfast table buoyant under the airy weight of two pieces of toast. lt may be accomplished by the man who goes at his food too ardently or by the kitchen nuisance, the nibbler, who simply cannot wait for his food. The varieties of gluttony are really extraordinary: the gourmand, for instance, who gravely superintends every step of his food’s preparation; the dainty one to whom an undisguised piece of beef would be obscenity; the man who eats by the dollar sign, subsisting on a diet equivalent roughly to caviar and champagne. The real epicurean, sinning by a wholesale perversion on the side of quantity, is at present somewhat rare; at least there is little trace in modern records of architects designing a vomitorium as the logical companion of a dining-room.
In itself, gluttony is usually a venial sin. It is only when we make food our goal to the extent of turning our backs on God for it that it becomes a mortal sin. Certainly the man who would deliberately eat himself to death for the pleasure of his food has carried this sin to its extreme. This inherent lightness of the sin of gluttony may be puzzling by reason of its very close parallelism to contraception. Both are against nature in exactly the same way: by perversion of a faculty, using for an end that which is meant by nature as a means, deliberately frustrating (in the case of the epicureans) the end to which those means are ordained. The difference between the two is that gluttony does not impede the primary physical end of nature — the preservation of the species; nor does it, usually, seriously impede the secondary physical end of nature, the conservation of the individual’s own life. The sins against nature are not grievous simply because they are against nature; their gravity is in exact proportion to the impediment they place to the attainment of the ends of nature.
Its daughters: unseemly joy, scurrility, physical uncleanness, loquaciousness, dullness of mind
From this we might conclude that gluttony is a disgusting rather than a serious sin. It is disgusting; but it is also terribly dangerous. It is a capital sin and a list of its unlovely daughters explains a great deal of our disgust with it and all of its perils. Gluttony brings the animal in man so emphatically to the forefront as to give the impression that the mastery of reason had been done away with. Reason is drugged, heavy-eyed, sluggish, as contrasted with its alert vitality in the mortified man. With reason asleep or so nearly asleep, the rest of man runs wild: there is unseemly and riotous joy in the appetite, a loquaciousness in speech and a scurrility of action — all more or less out of control. The crowning touch of distastefulness, made proverbial in the spotted vest, is a physical uncleanness that goes unnoticed by the glutton.
From the abuse of drink — sobriety: Its nature
Overindulgence in food deprives a man of his mastery stealthily, little by little and day by day. But overindulgence in intoxicating drink has none of this cowardly finesse about it; it hits a man over the head and throws him helpless in a gutter. It represents a very special threat to reason and so must be mastered by a very special virtue, the virtue of sobriety. Sobriety and teetotalism are not synonymous terms; as a matter of fact, sobriety is not interested in total abstinence. Its interest is in the note of reason, the note of freedom and mastery that must shine forth from a man’s use of intoxicating liquors.
Its opposite — drunkenness
St. Thomas thought that this virtue was particularly necessary in youths, in women, in the old and in those who hold positions of honor. We confirm this contention again and again by our varying attitudes towards drunkards; to us, a drunken high school boy, a drunken mother or a drunken governor are all much more shocking sights than a drunken sailor. Why did St. Thomas pick out these particular classes and why are we so instinctively in agreement with him? Well, obviously, the old and those in authority should be those in whom reason is particularly flourishing; in youths and women, sobriety is more necessary because `>f the added inclination to concupiscence — in youths by reason of their very exuberance, in women (says St. Thomas) because they are so apt to let their heart rule their head.
This does not mean that a husband can get drunk with impunity while his wife commits the same act only under penalty of sin. Deliberate drunkenness is a mortal sin in anyone. It involves the deliberate loss of the use of reason for the sheer love of the drink. That is, drunkenness is a deliberately immoderate use, an unreasonable use, of intoxicating liquor with serious results to the mastery of man.
From the abuse of sex — chastity: Prudishness versus modesty in words
For the rest of this chapter I shall do what has not been done in any other part of this work and what shall not be done again in the two volumes that will complete it. I shall depart from the order and the actual material of St. Thomas. I believe the reasons I have for this procedure prove clearly that it is the wiser thing to do.
St. Thomas was the angel of the schools, relieved miraculously from all temptations against purity from the days of his young manhood; yet he could and did have a profound knowledge of impurity. In the course of his Summa he wrote a scientifically exhaustive treatise on purity and impurity designed especially for physicians of souls. Certainly Thomas with his angelic purity, saw the deep wisdom of Paul’s admonition against discussing these things, indeed, against even mentioning them; but he understood it with this very reasonable condition: that is, these things are not to be mentioned among Christians unless it is necessary and in precisely the way that such mention is necessary.
Yet in spite of the fact that Thomas observed the admonition of Paul and at the same time wrote a thoroughly scientific treatise on the subject, I am abandoning the order and the material of that treatise. I am quite sure I am not being prudish about this thing. Prudishness refuses to talk about these things for one of two reasons: either because it can think of nothing that can be said (an implicit condemnation of sex as evil) or because it can think of nothing that dare be said. In the first case, it shrinks from an unutterable evil; in the second it admits the evil but does no shrinking whatever, at least in private. Now Catholic doctrine is not prudish. It has much to say about sex, all of it good, much of it extremely beautiful; but what it has to say is said in the proper place.
Considerations for accurate knowledge of Catholic position on sex
The Church does give a detailed treatment to these subjects, but not from a lecture platform or in a book for general consumption. This is a matter for personal direction, or for a small group whose needs can be accurately and personally gauged. In this chapter, then, I shall not say all the Church has to say about sex; I shall give only the general truths, the foundations of the Catholic attitude toward sex, with no details and no illustrations. The rest of this chapter then, will not be a shock but a revelation of the beauty of the Catholic position; unless my exposition is very bad indeed.
The Catholic position on sex has frequently been misunderstood because men and women have been content to contrast the Church’s high esteem of virginity with its unrelenting, unconditional condemnation of lust. Both of these are facts; but the important thing is the reason behind these facts. All slander to the contrary, neither of these facts constitute a condemnation of sex, nor are they the product of an aversion to sex.
The consecration of matrimony
There is much less likelihood of mistaking the Catholic attitude if we consider the Catholic view of matrimony and the purposes of virginity as the means of arriving at the beauty of the Catholic doctrine. These two considerations emphasize the character of the Church as continuing the life of Christ. Its viewpoint is also divinely human; it, too, lifts men up to divine heights yet fights every encroachment on the humanity of man. The Church is a most human mother, not condemning food, drink, or any aspect or manifestation of man’s human love.
It is from the nature of love that the human character of sex is alone intelligible. From the work of the preceding volume and of this volume we should be thoroughly familiar with the notion of love. All benevolent love, all love of friendship, is defined as wishing good to another. In its last analysis it is no less than an attempt to identify the wills of the two friends; as far as is possible, we are one with our friend, his good is our good, his evil, our evil. In the case of high human love, men and women labor all their lives to make that love clear, to show that they have really and completely identified themselves with those they love. It is this desire to express the genuine character of love that is the force behind all sacrifice, all dedication, all surrender in love.
It is not surprising that when the Church, or Christ Himself, was seeking a fitting expression for the highest things a man can reach; both Christ and the Church should come back again and again to the same figure: the nun’s vows which dedicate her life to God make her the spouse of Christ; at Holy Communion the Catholic receives the bridegroom of his soul; the saint, scaling the last peak of heroic sanctity, is said to be mystically married to Christ; the Church itself is the spouse of Christ. This seems to be the only figure that even approximates these sublime things. Why? The reason is because matrimony and the acts proper to matrimony are the highest physical expressions of human love. We must always take love on faith. We try to make that love evident by clumsy words, by a kiss, and embrace; but only in heaven can we be sure of the mutual character of that love, for only in heaven shall we be privileged to see the very souls of others in the essence of God. Until such a time, we must build our lives on the signs of love.
Sex in human life has two outstanding purposes. One is the expression of love. It is something uniquely human, for only human passion can carry a message and has a message to carry; only human passion can have a meaning given it by the individual. It is a messenger; if its message is not authentic, it ceases to be human. It exists for a purpose and must never be considered apart from that purpose; with that purpose in mind, it can never be identified with anything else but the high holiness of human love. The second purpose, also uniquely human, gives human beings a share in the greatest work of God, a share in the procreation of the completely spiritual, the immortal soul that comes from God and goes to Him, the soul that was purchased by the blood of God and is destined to eternal citizenship in heaven.
When the Church insists that the marriage contract is a matter of strict justice, she is not replacing love by a heartless commercialism; she is merely insisting on a guarantee of the absolute minimum necessary for love. Surely the man who refuses the demands of justice to another cannot pretend to be wishing this other good. Marriage, then, is a consecration. Everything about it has the air of the sacred, everything. It is not something to be tolerated, to be smirked at, to be nonchalantly handled. The celebration of a marriage is always a fitting place for the presence of Christ, even when the provisions for that celebration are so inadequate as to demand a miracle to supplement them. It is divinely fitting that marriage should be a sacrament, one of those channels down which gushes the grace that is the life of the soul; for it is beautifully fitting that the highest expression of human love should be a means of that grace, by which it is possible for us to share in divine love.
Naturally the Catholic is indignant at the psychologists who see no difference between these human physical acts and the physical acts of the animals. Naturally he is disgusted with the brazen champions of license and selfish perversion; he does not look upon these people as slightly imprudent juveniles who have dragged dusty skeletons out of a dark closet; they are vandals, desecrators of most sacred things. Of course sex is a serious threat; but only because it is so necessary to nature that it carries with it the supreme sense pleasure. Its possible threat is not a reason for surrendering to it or for discarding it; but for protecting it with a virtue, the virtue of chastity. With that protection, sex becomes, not a threat to human life, but a means to eternal life.
The excellence of virginity
It is only with all this in mind that we can understand the Church’s attitude towards virginity. Virginity, as such, has nothing desirable about it: it might be a vicious fruit of the vice of insensibility; among the Jews it was a source of shame to a woman, and rightly so in view of each woman’s hope of mothering the Messiah. It has its special value in Christian thought, not for what it is but for what it aims at, not as an end but as a means. As has been said so often in this work, man’s goods can be summed up under three headings: external goods, goods of the body and goods of the soul. External goods are ordained to the body; the goods of the body are ordered to the soul; and the goods of the soul are ordered to God. To abstain from external goods for the sake of the body is reasonable; to abstain from corporal things for the good of the soul is eminently reasonable. It is because of this higher spiritual end that virginity has its privileged place in Christian thought.
Virginity has the same relation to purity that magnificence has to liberality; it carries the bank roll, purity handles the small change. For virginity is not the sun render of illegal pleasure for divine good; it is a gay discarding of perfectly legitimate pleasure for a more perfect and more direct surrender to God. Sacred as matrimony is, virginity is its superior. Here we approach the heroic; here the human is put aside for the divine, the body for the soul. Christ, choosing a virgin mother, taking a virgin disciple for His closest friend, or Paul championing virginity was not an enemy of love. Rather they recognized the truth so many ages have missed: the Christian virgin is head over heels in love. So true is this that the sacrifice of human love, this utter dedication to the divine, is demanded as the only adequate expression of the virgin’s love. The difference between the love of the virgin and the love of the wife is that the virgin rushes directly and immediately into the arms of God, while the wife goes to. Him through the holy, natural, and beautifully graduated steps of human love.
For all its bright’ young beauty, virginity is not the greatest of virtues. It reaches the heights of chastity, but those are not the supreme heights of virtue. Even among the virtues whose work is to sacrifice, virginity must take a low place: the martyr gives up his life, the religious gives up his will, the virgin merely surrenders the legitimate pleasures of the physical side of man.
The excuses for lust
Man heartily dislikes to have his sins wandering about the house of his soul naked, he must clothe them, even though the best he can offer is the shabby garments of sophistry. He is, after all, a rational animal to the very roots of his being; he may give up reason, but he cannot altogether do away with the appearance of reason even in his sins. As a result, every age has alleged its reasons for lust; though of course there are no reasons. In our own day, the variety of excuses is positively bewildering. There is, for instance, the psychological excuse that chastity injures a man, makes him neurotic in its fight against nature. The sophistry proceeds from an identification of human and animal nature. For the control of man’s passion is not an unnatural thing, even for those passions; as an integral part of man’s nature, they are fulfilled only in their obedience to the rule of man’s nature, to reason.
A little more subtle is the personality excuse. It argues that sex experience is necessary for a full development of personality, for an emotional richness that can be had in no other way. And this in contradiction to history: in spite of the splendor of Dominic’s apostolate, the beauty and depth of Thomas’ poems, the sweeping accomplishments of the tender maid of Sienna. When, please, should emotional richness be reached for? At ten’ or twelve, or sixteen, or thirty, or ninety? Why then? Less convincing (if possible) is the “wild-oats” excuse; early unchastity is necessary for later stability in chastity, though even modern psychologists have a great deal to say in direct contradiction, in their investigations of habit formation.
Then there is the supposedly unanswerable excuse of impossibility, the excuse that rests on facts, the sweepingly insulting excuse that judges all men and all women from subjective evidence. It is an insult to human nature when it argues from natural powers; it is an insult to God when it does not admit the effectiveness of His omnipotent help. Perhaps the climax of irrationality is reached in the spineless plea that personal impurity does no damage to anyone else. As a matter of fact its damage is widespread; not only does it damage the individual, but all those with whom he comes into contact by his sin, his future family, his wife, the society in which he lives, the soul of the individual and all the souls he will drag to hell along with himself. There is still one more excuse: the Christian standard of purity, we are told, is out of date, it is a relic of a medieval ethical system. The argument is based on the absurd proposition that human nature comes out in a different model from age to age; that its ends are not the same, that the steps by which it reaches those ends are not the same, and that the powers within a man by which he takes those steps are different from age to age.
A defense of impurity simply will not stand rational criticism from the point of view of experience, of history, of psychology, or of principle. Men and women of today realize this, at least vaguely. For, in spite of all the modern talk in defense of intemperance, in the concrete they are disgusted with those who carried these modern principles to their logical conclusion: the glutton, the drunkard, the libertine. These are the wrecks of humanity. Men and women today may be willing. to smile at the rocks upon which they have been wrecked; but they have little sympathy or understanding, certainly no love, for the hulks of men these principles produce and abandon.
Impossible dreams of a slave world: Moderation without a norm
It would seem that our modern world is cherishing an impossible dream. There is, regardless of the principles, a demand for moderation because of the disgust and distaste for the ultimate excess dictated by the principles. nut it is a moderation to be dictated by the individual and by social appearances; ultimately such a moderation is reducible either to satiety or to what the community will tolerate. For if there be no standard objective of the individual, the limit can be set only by this individual’s appetite or the appetite of his fellows; that is, by a satiety which becomes constantly harder to achieve.
Humanity without purity
These moderns expect to achieve moderation without a norm; they expect a man to be human without being pure, for they shrink in horror from the excesses of impurity, thereby emphasizing their demands for humanity in the actions and life of a man. Yet the control of reason, the control of virtue, by which alone such purity can be achieved, is lightly dismissed or violently ejected.
Allegedly, this modern campaign is based on a protective affection for men, aimed against the absurdity of taking peccadilloes seriously, or the tragedy of thwarting nature by artificial limitations. Actually it has come about through a depreciation of personal human ends. An individual must have personal ends if he is to live a personal life; and if he has such ends, he will face conflicts in attaining them. Moderation, purity, humanity, all imply severe conflicts; the lack of them means the absence of conflict through abject surrender. The modern conflict is rather a mass conflict; we are seeking mass ends rather than individual ends. This gives us the comforting anonymity of a crowd and the coward’s strength in the violence of a mob; but it also condemns us to personal oblivion, to being lost in the crowd. If we renounce the responsibility of personal, individual conflict, we must also renounce personal, individual ends.
Human ends and slave ideology
The underlying tragedy of this situation awakes real pity in any thinking observer. For the men and women of our day who are championing or practicing unchastity have not, for the most part, come to that state by any long process of neglect, corruption and self-indulgence. It is something that has been imposed upon them from above. They have not come to this condition of themselves; they have been led into it. This generation is a generation that has been betrayed, betrayed by its intellectual leaders, its teachers and its writers, those whose solemn responsibility it is to lead men, not into the depths of slavery, but to the heights of human freedom.
The modern pagan and purity; The Catholic and purity
This fact is one that must be seen by the Catholic; and it immediately abolishes any excuse he might have, or think he has, for joining the mass movement away from purity. The Catholic has not been betrayed. His leaders have insisted now, as always, upon the essentials of purity, its absolute necessity for human life. He has not been trapped, or coaxed, or threatened into a sacrifice of his humanity; rather every force has been brought to bear to make him realize more and more keenly the place of purity in human life. The modern pagan may have some excuse for his disregard for purity; in fact, it seems to me quite possible that many of them may escape a great deal of moral responsibility. But for a Catholic, there is no escape from these facts of life and his responsibility toward them.
Freedom and slavery
To the Catholic it has always been apparent that a man, to remain a man, must be free in the all-important sense of internal freedom. He may be beaten to earth by the might of a dictator; he might be sold into bondage by the greed of a usurer; but no force in heaven or on earth can throw his intellect and will into chains. The Catholic has known, and knows today, that there is no more serious threat to that internal freedom, that sovereignty by which the humanity of man is guaranteed, than the threat involved in the appeal of unreasonable pleasures. So the Catholic has known, and knows today, that purity and the demands of purity are not an infringement on his freedom, not a high fence enclosing his actions in a narrow, sterile field; rather they are the solid protectors, the solid guarantees of the freedom man must have, if he is to be a man.