The Life of Virtue – Chastity

The Life of Virtue – Chastity

When chastity is spoken of in these times most people simply associate it with the edict of ‘not having sex outside of marriage’. Whilst this is not wholly untrue there is a lot more to chastity than one, or even a list, of prohibited actions. Chastity is above all a way of living our lives aright before God in accordance with right reason, living according to the example and teachings of Christ and being courageous enough to separate ourselves from the crowd and not bow to the mores of secular society.

Chastity has as its Latin root the adjective castus, meaning pure and we must remember that this purity for which we aim is not only bodily but it must stem from a purity of the heart and mind. We must strive to be pure as God is pure. This is why in striving for the virtue of chastity we must be aware that it really is an attitude to life, an approach that should govern not simply our physical actions but our thoughts and our words the very way we live before God and our neighbour.

Thomas Aquinas identifies for us two ways in which we can view chastity, the first he terms ‘properly’ and the second ‘metaphorically’ (Summa theologiae II.II 151, 2). The former relates to chastity as “a special virtue having a special matter, namely the concupiscences relating to venereal pleasures” and we can thus identify lust as the vice contrary to chastity. The second approach states that the “spiritual union of the mind with certain things conduces to a pleasure which is the matter of a spiritual chastity.” In other words, the human mind delights in a union with the things of God but when we stray and unite our minds to sinful pleasures we commit, in effect, spiritual fornication.

Society, of course, increasingly makes the possibility of straying sinfully in our minds all the easier. We are daily faced with a barrage of propaganda on a whole host of issues – particularly ‘lifestyle’ issues – which would draw us away from the example of Christ. To stray in thought is often a precursor to straying in deed. It is certain then that we must be watchful and brace ourselves against the many temptations which daily cross our paths. We must be mindful of the words of St Paul, “but among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:3).

As the Church teaches, “the virtue of chastity comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance, which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason” (Catechism of the Catholic Church §2341). Self-mastery over our unruly passions is vital if we are to be truly free and fulfilled and the choice is clear, “either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy” (CCC §2339). This is no easy thing and we must all learn to persevere. If we fall we must try to pick ourselves up again as quickly as we can and seek God’s forgiveness. His mercy is abundant and we must put all our trust in Him because without Him we can make little progress. As Aquinas states “chastity consists principally in charity and the other theological virtues, whereby the human mind is united to God” (Summa theologiae II.II 151, 2). Charity then, the love of God for us and our love for Him must be our guide: if we can unite ourselves to Christ in prayer and persevere in this, His grace will allow us to flourish and to cultivate this most important virtue of chastity

Graham Hunt OP