As the last preserve of a civilized sexuality, the Church is being called to serve human civilization by teaching the virtue of chastity to those who know nothing about it. To the intolerant, often close-minded, sometimes even violent sexual barbarian, the Church must reach out, and thereby achieve, with the aid of God, a re-civilizing of sex. We will never have peace without justice, and we will never have justice without love, and we will never have love without chastity.
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - The Church, especially through her monastic institutions, is commonly regarded to have preserved Christian culture during its dissipation engendered by the Barbarian invasions. The insurgence of the pagan barbarian tribes with morals unenlightened by the truths of the Gospel, and their insertion into the delicate fabric of Roman civilization which had then been relatively Christianized, unraveled the existing institutions of civilization.
Things fell apart, the center did not hold, and, for a time, anarchy was loosed upon the world.
After this cultural destruction, the world had to be rebuilt from the ground up. "The Church," the historian Christopher Dawson wrote in his book The Formation of Christendom, which had preserved the seeds of Christian culture, "had to undertake the task of introducing the law of the Gospel and the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount among peoples who regarded homicide as the most honorable occupation and vengeance as synonymous with justice."
Those days and the victories achieved by the Church are long gone, but today Western culture faces a similar threat and the Catholic Church a similar challenge. Today, the Church and Western culture confront new barbarians, new pagans, and these are already within the gates our society, destroying the fabric of Western civilization.
But these barbarians are not Goths or Vandals.
These barbarians are sexual barbarians.
These sexual barbarians are the wild and unruly spawn of the sexual revolution. They have been schooled by their parents who grew up on the pill and abortion on demand, and have been raised largely in secular institutions where the knowledge of chastity is rare, and its practice even rarer.
These sexual barbarians in our midst--not always through their own fault--have grown up in a culture that views unchaste sex (so long as consensual) as a most honorable occupation, chastity as a false or unattainable virtue and its opposite as a virtue to be promoted (so long as rendered infertile), and abortion as synonymous with justice (it is a right no one may justly deny).
The only responsibility recognized by these sexual barbarians is to use technique: techniques that render sex infertile and can be learned in a few minutes. Unfortunately, by rendering sex infertile, the sexual barbarian spoils it and renders impossible an authentic sexual culture.
An infertile sexual culture is no sexual culture at all, but an anti-sexual culture. To expect to grow a healthy sexual culture based on sex rendered infertile is sort of like expecting the defeated Carthaginians to flourish after the Third Punic War when the victorious Roman general Scipio Aemilianus Africanus razed their capital Carthage, plowed over their fields, and sowed their soil with salt.
You simply cannot have good agriculture if your fields are rendered sterile with salt. And you cannot have a good sexual culture if your sex is rendered sterile by contraceptives, and, where contraceptives fail, abortions.
In a sort of repeat performance, the last bulwark against the sexual barbarians and the demise of a civilized sexual culture is the Church. No other Christian institution in the world has preserved, in any meaningful sense, a sexual culture. The mainstream Protestant bodies have all-but-capitulated to the sexual barbarians.
With respect to a sexual culture, things have fallen apart, the center has not held, and sexual anarchy is loosed upon the Western world.
Even the Church, where the wheat will always grow with the tares, is not immune to the dissolution of sexual mores in the greater society around her. After all, though she is not of the world, her members are in the world, and they are infected by the world's vices.
Consequently, the Church has suffered great internal injury and assault from these sexual barbarians--from pedophile priests, to Catholics who no longer uphold monogamous marriage but instead adopt the serial polygamy (divorce and remarriage) of their society, to married couples that--if the Guttmacher Institute is to be believed--contracept and perhaps even abort at equivalent rates to the population at large.
But these aberrations are not the fruit of the Church's value tree. These are the perverse and rotten fruits of the infertile sexual culture of the sexual barbarians and the sin of her unfaithful, even wicked members.
Though the Church is besieged, and though her own children are not always faithful to the calling of their baptism, the Church remains the last preserve of chastity, a virtue absolutely necessary for a healthy sexual culture. In fact, it is a virtue absolutely essential to justice, and to love.
The virtue of chastity may be said to be the classic curriculum of a healthy sexual civilization. As the last preserve of a civilized sexuality, the Church is being called to serve human civilization by teaching the virtue of chastity to those who know nothing about it. To the intolerant, often close-minded, sometimes even violent sexual barbarian, the Church must reach out, and thereby achieve, with the aid of God, a re-civilization of sex.
To be sure, chastity is a hard-earned virtue, which is to say it is not a facile technique learned in one minute, one day, one week, or even one year. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, chastity is a life-long "apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom." [CCC § 2339]. This hard-won freedom is gained when the human person controls, governs, and tempers his or her sexual passions, so as to culture and to civilize them, so that they are rightly ordered and so that he or she does not become enslaved to them.
Like all virtues, chastity is a habitus, a stable character trait, a personal excellence, one based upon truth, reason, and consonant with the moral law. This stable character trait or excellence rightly disposes a man or woman with regard to the rightful use of his or her body in the area of sex. Like all virtues, it is most commonly a blend of both acquired (natural or moral) virtue, and infused virtue (a gift of grace). This means that it requires grace along with personal effort or ascesis. [CCC §§ 2340, 2345] Jesus Christ, both God and man, is "the model for all chastity." [CCC § 2348] Mary, the most chaste mother, shows us that chastity is a fully human trait.
"Chastity is a difficult, long term matter; one must wait patiently for it to bear fruit, for the happiness of loving kindness which it must bring," wrote John Paul II in his book Love and Responsibility. "But at the same time, chastity is the sure way to happiness."
It is a sexual culture informed by chastity which Pope John Paul II called the culture of life, a culture inspired by the Gospel of Life. Its contrary--what is currently reigning among the sexual barbarians--is the culture of death, a culture based upon convenience, efficiency, technique, and pharmacology, but not virtue.
This task of re-introducing the virtue of chastity presents a tremendous pastoral and pedagogical challenge to the Church, but no greater a task is before her than the conversion of the barbarian hordes during the Dark Ages.
This task is an essential imperative, since without chastity we lose the sense of personhood, we will invariably misunderstand justice, and we will become unable authentically to love.
Without the virtue of chastity, we are not fully the persons we are intended to be. If we are unchaste, we "depersonalize" ourselves. The reason this happens is that, by being habitually unchaste, we become blind to the personal significance of the body, whether that body is our own or another's. We begin to think of the body--either our own or another's--as a tool or a commodity that we might use for pleasure's sake alone and so separate from our person. When we blind ourselves to the personal significance of the body, we also blind ourselves to the "spousal meaning of the body," as John Paul II put it.
Once we lose sight of the personal significance of the body and its spousal meaning, it is sort of like opening Pandora's box: all the evils associated with unchastity come flying out in a whirlwind of stinging and poisonous vices: lust, pornography, fornication, masturbation, contraception, prostitution, adultery, homosexual activity, rape, pedophilia, and finally, that most heinous offense of them all, abortion.
That's why chastity is less a virtue of saying "no" than a virtue of saying "yes." Of course, some paths must be said "no" to, but only so that right path may be said "yes" to. Chastity is a dedicated and constant disposition to say "yes" to the personal significance and spousal meaning of the body.
Without developing the virtue of chastity, we cannot love. This is because, as the Catechism puts it, "charity," or authentic love, "is the form of all the virtues." It is under charity or love's influence that "chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person."
In other words, we have to be schooled in chastity so as to be able to give the "gift of self" to another, whether in friendship or in marriage. Without chastity, we can never fully and totally give ourselves to others. Instead, we invariably lapse into our own shells of selfishness. [CCC § 2346] "Only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of true love," wrote John Paul II in his book Love and Responsibility.
"If you want peace, work for justice," Pope Paul VI famously stated in his message for the celebration of the Day of Peace in 1972. In his many great writings on human sexuality, first as Cardinal Wojtyla and then as Pope John Paul II, a great corollary was added to the Pauline principle.
As Professor Gregory R. Beabout summarized John Paul II's corollary: "If you want justice, work for chastity."
We will never have peace without justice, and we will never have justice without love, and we will never have love without chastity.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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