Archive for the ‘The Cardinal Virtues’ Category


Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance – Benedict XVI

February 26, 2014
The Cardinal and Theological Virtues is a fresco by Raphael as part of his Stanza della Segnatura in the Palazzi Vaticani in Vatican City. It is 6.6m wide at the base. The cardinal virtues are personified as three women in a bucolic landscape, and the theological virtues by cupids. It was painted in 1511 as the fourth part, after the Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, The School of Athens and The Parnassus, of Raphael's commission to decorate with frescoes the rooms that are now known as the Stanze di Raffaello, in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. It is located in the Stanza della segnatura and allegorically presents fortitude, prudence and temperance.

The Cardinal and Theological Virtues is a fresco by Raphael as part of his Stanza della Segnatura in the Palazzi Vaticani in Vatican City. It is 6.6m wide at the base. The cardinal virtues are personified as three women in a bucolic landscape, and the theological virtues by cupids. It was painted in 1511 as the fourth part, after the Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, The School of Athens and The Parnassus, of Raphael’s commission to decorate with frescoes the rooms that are now known as the Stanze di Raffaello, in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. It is located in the Stanza della segnatura and allegorically presents fortitude, prudence and temperance.

Four virtues play a pivotal role in or lives and accordingly are called “cardinal”; all the others are grouped around them. They are: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. “If anyone loves righteousness, [Wisdom's] labors are virtues; for she teaches temperance and prudence, justice, and courage” (Wisdom 8:7). These virtues are praised under other names in many passages of Scripture.
(CCC 1805)

The human virtues are stable dispositions of the intellect and the will that govern our acts, order our passions, and guide our conduct in accordance with reason and faith. They can be grouped around the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.
(CCC 1834)

And if any one loves righteousness, her [Wisdom's] labors are virtues; for she teaches self-control and prudence, justice and courage.”
(Wisdom 8:7)

Human Virtues
Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good.

The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love.

CCCX804 The Cardinal Virtues
Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going” (Proverbs 14:15). “Keep sane and sober for your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7). Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle (St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II, 47, 2). It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.

Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15). “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven” (Colossians 4:1).

Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. “The Lord is my strength and my song” (Ps 118:14). “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: “Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart” (Sirach 5:2; cf. 37:27-3 1). Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: “Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites” (Sirach 18:30). In the New Testament it is called “moderation” or “sobriety.” We ought “to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world” (Titus 2:12).

To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only (God) (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence).
(St. Augustine, De moribus eccl. 1, 25, 46: PL 32, 1330-1331)

CCC 1806-1809
The Virtues and Grace
Human virtues acquired by education, by deliberate acts and by a perseverance ever-renewed in repeated efforts are purified and elevated by divine grace. With God’s help, they forge character and give facility in the practice of the good. The virtuous man is happy to practice them.
It is not easy for man, wounded by sin, to maintain moral balance. Christ’s gift of salvation offers us the grace necessary to persevere in the pursuit of the virtues. Everyone should always ask for this grace of light and strength, frequent the sacraments, cooperate with the Holy Spirit, and follow his calls to love what is good and shun evil.
CCC 1810-1811

The Wealth Of The People Of God
The person who has recognized Christ as Wisdom Incarnate and for his sake has left everything else becomes a “peacemaker,” both in the Christian community and in the world. In other words, he becomes a seed of the Kingdom of God that is already present and growing towards its full manifestation.

Therefore, in the perspective of the two words, “Wisdom-Christ,” the Word of God offers us a complete vision of man in history: fascinated by Wisdom, he seeks it and finds it in Christ, leaving everything for him and receiving in exchange the priceless gift of the Kingdom of God; and clothed in temperance, prudence, justice, and strength – the “cardinal” virtues — he lives the witness of charity in the Church.

One might wonder whether this perception of the human being can also constitute an ideal of life for the people of our time, especially for the young. That this is possible is shown by countless personal and community testimonies of Christian life which still constitute the wealth of the People of God, pilgrims through history.
Benedict XVI, Homily, May 6, 2006


Three Reading Selections from Josef Pieper’s The Four Cardinal Virtues

June 29, 2012

I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion.
(Proverbs 8:12)

 There are four primary moral virtues, which are called the cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. The word cardinal derives from the Latin cardo, meaning “hinge.” Consequently, these four virtues are called “cardinal” because all other virtues are categorized under them and hinge upon them. The Book of Wisdom of the Old Testament states, “For [wisdom] teaches temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude, and nothing in life is more useful for men than these” (8:7).

Prudence, the “mother” of all of the virtues, is the virtue by which a person recognizes his moral duty and the good means to accomplish it. Actually, prudence is part of the definition of goodness. A person can be prudent and good only simultaneously. No other virtue can contradict what is prudent. Therefore, what is prudent is substantially what is good, and prudence is the measure of justice, temperance and fortitude.

A prudent person looks at the concrete reality of a situation with a clear, honest objectivity; references and applies the moral truths (e.g the Ten Commandments or the teachings of the Church); makes a moral judgment; and then commands an action. Moreover, prudence also seeks to accomplish the action in a good way — doing what is good in a good way.

Clearly, prudence is essential for the formation and operation of one’s conscience. To be a prudent person, one must know God’s truth, just as to have a good conscience, one must know God’s truth. One cannot do what is good if one does not know the principles of truth and goodness. Josef Pieper comments below:


[From The Four Cardinal Virtues]
The structural framework of Western Christian metaphysics as a whole stands revealed, perhaps more plainly than in any other single ethical dictum, in the proposition that prudence is the foremost of the virtues. That structure is built thus: that Being precedes Truth, and that Truth precedes the Good. Indeed, the living fire at the heart of the dictum is the central mystery of Christian theology: that the Father begets the Eternal Word, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds out of the Father and the Word.

Since this is so, there is a larger significance in the fact that people today can respond to this assertion of the pre-eminence of prudence only with incomprehension and uneasiness. That they feel it as strange may well reveal a deeper-seated and more total estrangement. It may mean that they no longer feel the binding force of the Christian Western view of man. It may denote the beginning of an incomprehension of the fundamentals of Christian teaching in regard to the nature of reality.

“Doing the Truth”
[From From The Four Cardinal Virtues]
Prudence, then, is the mold and mother of all virtues, the circumspect and resolute shaping power of our minds which transforms knowledge of reality into realization of the good. It holds within itself the humility of silent, that is to say, of unbiased perception; the trueness-to-being of memory; the art of receiving counsel; alert, composed readiness for the unexpected. Prudence means the studied seriousness and, as it were, the filter of deliberation, and at the same time the brave boldness to make final decisions. It means purity, straightforwardness, candor, and simplicity of character; it means standing superior to the utilitarian complexities of mere “tactics”.

Prudence is, as Paul Claudel says, the “intelligent prow” of our nature which steers through the multiplicity of the finite world toward perfection.

In the virtue of prudence the ring of the active life is rounded out and closed, is completed and perfected; for man, drawing on his experience of reality, acts in and upon reality, thus realizing himself in decision and in act. The profundity of this concept is expressed in the strange statement of Thomas Aquinas that in prudence, the commanding virtue of the “conduct” of life, the happiness of active life is essentially comprised. Prudence is that illumination of moral existence which, according to one of the wisest books of the East, is a thing denied to every man who “looks at himself”.

There is a gloomy type of resoluteness, and a bright type. Prudence is the brightness of the resoluteness of that man who “does the truth” But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:21).  

The Prudence of Love
[From The Four Cardinal Virtues]
In the Summa theologica we learn that upon a higher plane of perfection — that is, the plane of charity — there is also a higher and extraordinary prudence which holds as nought all the things of this world.

Does this not run completely counter to all that the “universal teacher” has said elsewhere about the nature of the first cardinal virtue? Is holding created things as nought not the exact opposite of that reverent objectivity which in the concrete situation of concrete action must attempt to recognize the “measure” of that action?

Things are nought only before God, who created them and in whose hand they are as clay in the hand of the potter. By the superhuman force of grace-given love, however, man may become one with God to such an extent that he receives, so to speak, the capacity and the right to see created things from God’s point of view and to “relativize” them and see them as nought from God’s point of view, without at the same time repudiating them or doing injustice to their nature. Growth in love is the legitimate avenue and the one and only justification for “contempt for the world”.

Unlike this contempt which arises out of growth in love, all contempt for the world which springs from man’s own judgment and opinions, not from the supernatural love of God, is simple arrogance, hostile to the nature of being; it is a form of pride in that it refuses to recognize the ordinary obligations which are made visible to man in created things. Only that closer union with the being of God which is nourished by love raises the blessed man beyond immediate involvement in created things.

At this point in our argument we approach a limit. Beyond that limit only the experience of the saints can offer any valid knowledge, any valid comment. We would only remind our readers how intensely the great saints loved the ordinary and commonplace, and how anxious they were lest they might have been deceived into regarding their own hidden craving for the “extraordinary” as a “counsel” of the Holy Spirit of God.

But even in that higher and extraordinary form of prudence which holds the world in contempt, there reigns unrestrictedly the same fundamental attitude upon which ordinary prudence entirely depends: the fundamental attitude of justice toward the being of things and correspondence to reality.

The eye of perfected friendship with God is aware of deeper dimensions of reality, to which the eyes of the average man and the average Christian are not yet opened. To those who have this greater love of God the truth of real things is revealed more plainly and more brilliantly; above all, the supernatural reality of the Trinitarian God is made known to them more movingly and overwhelmingly.

Even supreme supernatural prudence, however, can have only the following aim: to make the more deeply felt truth of the reality of God and world the measure for will and action. Man can have no other standard and signpost than things as they are and the truth which makes manifest things as they are; and there can be no higher standard than the God who is and his truth.


Faithfulness – Dietrich von Hildebrand

May 1, 2012

Who do you know like this, a “traitor to themselves”? I’ve marked this off with the Cardinal Virtues as fortitude and faithfulness seem to run together.


AMONG THE ATTITUDES OF MAN WHICH ARE BASIC FOR HIS WHOLE MORAL LIFE, faithfulness is ranked next to reverence. One can speak of faithfulness in a narrow sense and in a large one. We have the narrow sense in mind when we speak of fidelity toward men, such as fidelity to a friend, marital fidelity, fidelity to one’s country or to oneself.

This type of fidelity throws into relief the other type. I refer here to the continuity which first gives to a man’s life its inner consistency, its inner unity. The building up of one’s personality is only possible if one holds firmly to those truths and values which one has already discovered.

The course of a man’s life contains a continual rhythmical replacement of one impression, one act, one decision by another and different impression, act or decision. We are unable to ponder over one thought for a long time and to keep our attention on one point for very long. Just as in the biological realm, hunger and satiety, fatigue and renewed strength succeed one another, so a certain rhythmical change is proper to the course of our spiritual life. Just as the various impressions which affect us give place to one another, and the stream of events offers to our mind a great variety of objects, so our attention cannot long remain focused on any one object with the same intensity.

A movement from one subject to another is therefore proper to our thought, as well as to our feeling and will. Even in the case of a very blissful experience, such as the long-desired meeting with a beloved person, we are unable to dwell permanently in this joyous experience. The rhythm of our inner life forces us to leave the full presence of a great joy and to turn our attention in another direction and to register different experiences.

But — and this must be stressed — the same man has different levels of depth. The psychical life of man is not restricted to the level on which this continual change unfolds itself; it is not restricted to the level of our express attention, of our present consciousness. While we proceed to another impression and give our attention to another mental object, the preceding impression or object does not vanish, but will, according to its significance, be retained in a deeper level, and will continue to live at that level. Memory is an expression of this capacity of the soul for super-actual life, and this continuity is seen in our capacity to remember, to connect past and present.

Above all we see this continuity in the super-actual survival of our attitudes toward the world, toward fundamental truths and values, which remain unchanged even though our present attention is turned in a completely different direction. Thus, for example, joy caused by some happy event continues to “live” in the depth of our souls and colors everything which we do, colors all our tasks of the moment, and colors our approach to all those things with which we are expressly concerned. So also our love for a beloved person remains living in the depth of our souls, even though we are occupied by work, and it constitutes a sort of background against which different events run their course.

Without this capacity for continuity, man would have no inner unity; he would be but a bundle of interwoven impressions and experiences. If one impression merely took the place of the preceding one, if the past should indiscriminately vanish, the inner life of man would be senseless and shallow; any building up, any development would be impossible. Above all there would be no personality.

Even though this capacity of retaining impressions and attitudes in a super-actual way, without which the individual life of a spiritual person is impossible, is a capacity common to every man, yet the degree to which a given individual possesses this inner continuous coherence is very different in each case. We say of many men that they live in the moment only; the present instant has such power over them that the past, even though its content be deeper and more important, vanishes before the insistent clamor of the present.

Men differ very much from each other in this regard. Some of them live exclusively on the exterior level of their present consciousness, so that one experience follows another without any relation to the one preceding. We could call such men “butterflies.” Others, on the contrary, also live in the deeper level of their being. In them nothing important is sacrificed because it is no longer present, but it becomes the unalterable possession of the man, according to its degree of importance, and the new meaningful experiences organically unite themselves with it. The last type alone can be said to have “personality.” Only in them can an inner spiritual plenitude be constituted.

How many people there are who are never lastingly influenced by great works of art, or by delight in beautiful landscapes, or by contact with great personalities. The momentary impression may be strong but it strikes no deep root in them; it is not firmly held in their super-actual life but disappears as soon as another impression makes its appearance. These men are like a sieve through which everything runs. Though they can be good, kindly and honest, they cleave to a childish, unconscious position; they have no depth. They elude one’s grasp, they are incapable of having deep relationships with other people because they are capable of no permanent relationship with anything. These men do not know responsibility because they know no lasting bond, because with them one day does not reach into the next one. Even though their impressions are strong, they do not penetrate down to the deepest level in which we find those attitudes which are over and above the changes of the moment.

These people honestly promise something one moment, and in the next it has completely disappeared from their memory. They make resolutions under a strong impression, but the next impression blows them away. They are so impressionable, that they are always held at the superficial level of their present consciousness. For these people, weight and value are not the preponderant factors determining their interest in things, but only the liveliness of the impression created by the actual presence of these things. What makes an impression upon them is the general advantage of “liveliness” which present impressions or situations have over those of the past.

There are two types of inconstant men. In the one, nothing ever truly penetrates to their deeper center. This deeper center, so to speak, remains void in them; they know only the strata of present consciousness. These men are at the same time superficial, deprived of profound life, and of any sort of inner “firmness.” They are like quicksand which yields without any resistance. If you seek in such men a permanent center upon which you can depend and rely, then you really snatch at the void. Of course, in a healthy man this is not absolutely and completely the case; a man who, in a literal sense, would be completely of this character would be a psychopath. But we often meet people whose lives, at least to a certain extent, unfold themselves in such a manner, although we could not therefore call them psychotic.

In the second type, we have to deal with men who actually do have deep impressions, in whose deeper strata much really does take root. Their deeper consciousness is therefore not void; they have created in themselves a firm, lasting center. But they are so imprisoned in the present moment that that which lies in their deeper strata is unable to carry its true weight; it cannot hold its ground against the power of the momentary impression. Only when the present, lively impression fades away, can the content of the deeper strata again come to light. Such men could, for example, very well nourish a deep, lasting love for another person, but a momentary situation, if it happens to be powerful, vivid and appealing, would capture them to such an extent that the beloved one would be almost forgotten. Then they say and do things which contradict the genuine and living love hidden in the depths of their souls.

Such people are continually in danger of becoming traitors to themselves or to others. For such persons, the one present, merely because he is present, has always the advantage over the absent. This is the case even when the absent person is, on the whole, dearer to them, and in the long run, plays a more important role. Suppose they have, for example, received a deep impression from a work of art: a lasting relation to this work of art has constituted itself in the depths of their souls. Nevertheless, new powerful impressions take hold of them to such an extent, that the prior impression is not firmly held in the new situation, and as a result one sees no trace of the first impression as long as the new one lasts. Later, when the immersing effect of the new situation has worn off, the old one, in itself deeper, re-enters into possession of its rightful place and authority.

In contradistinction to these two types, the persevering man holds on to everything which has revealed itself to him as a true genuine value. The advantage of liveliness which the present possesses over the past, has no power over his life when compared to the inner weight of deep truths which he has once recognized, and of values which he has once grasped. The importance of the role played by a given thing in his present consciousness is exclusively determined by the height of its value, and in no way by its mere presence.

Such men are, consequently, protected from the tyranny of fashion. A thing never makes a deep impression upon them merely because it is modern, because it is momentarily “in the air,” but only because it has a value, because it is beautiful, good and true. As a matter of fact, these persons consider that which is more important and has a higher value as itself the more “up to date.” Objects endowed with values never grow old for them, even if their concrete existence ceased long ago. The lives of these men are meaningfully integrated, and in their course reflects the objective gradation of values.

While the inconstant man is a prey to accidental impressions and situations, the constant man dominates his own impressions. Such men alone understand the sublime pre-eminence of values over any mere dimension of time, the unchanging and unfading character of values and truth. They understand that an important truth is not less interesting and less worthy of concern because we have known it for a long time. They understand, above all, that the obligation to respond to a good possessing a value is not limited to the moment in which it is grasped.

Only the man who is constant really grasps the demands of the world of values; only he is capable of the response to value which is due to objective values. A proper response to values is lasting, independent of the charm of novelty, and of the attractive force represented by the mere presence of a thing. He alone for whom values never lose their efficacy and charm, once they have been revealed to him, and who never lets a truth which he has grasped drop into oblivion will really do justice to the proper character of the world of truth and values; for he alone is capable of remaining faithful to objects possessing value.

This constancy or fidelity in the true sense of the world is, as we see, a fundamental moral attitude of man. It is a necessary consequence of all true understanding of values, and it is a component element of every true response to values, and consequently of the whole moral life. Only the constant response to values, the response which clings to a thing possessing a value, whether that thing is actually present or not, is a developed, a morally mature and fully conscious response to value. Only a man who responds in this way is truly morally awakened; he alone is reliable, he alone feels himself to be responsible for that which he has done in other situations, he alone is capable of a true contrition for previous misdeeds. In him alone all true obligations will dominate every situation of his life.

He alone will stand firm in trials. For the light of values will shine for him even in the humdrum situations of workaday life; yes, even at the moments of temptation. It is so because this man lives from the depth, and masters every moment from the depth. The more faithful, the more constant a man is, the richer and more substantial will he be, the more capable of becoming a vessel of moral values, a being in whom purity, justice, humility, love and goodness will dwell lastingly and will radiate from him to the world about him.

Were we to examine the different levels of life, we would find over and over again the basic significance of faithfulness in this larger sense. The basic attitude of constancy is a general presupposition for all spiritual growth of the person, and above all for every moral development and every moral progress. How can a man grow spiritually who does not firmly adhere to all the values which have been revealed to him, and for whom these values do not become a lasting possession? How could one who is dominated by short-lived momentary impressions ever succeed in a gradual development of his own moral structure?

When we have to deal with the type of radical inconstancy, we see that nothing at all reaches down into such a person’s deeper strata. Such men are inwardly dead; their personality lacks a lasting center. In men of the second type, there is lacking the possibility of a real formation of the course of life, for the values they once grasped, and which should be a permanent possession of their souls, have disappeared from their lives. They cannot therefore mold new impression by such values. What is the use of the best education if this contancy is missing? What is the use of the most pressing exhortations, of the most vivid revelation of values, if values once grasped remain either without any permanent roots or if they slumber in our souls?

As surprising as it may sound, inconstant people never change themselves. They retain the faults and features which they have inherited from their nature, but they acquire no moral values. Even though they really do for a moment recognize their faults, and form the best resolutions, their inconstancy prevents any lasting moral improvement.

Even when their will is good, education will have no lasting effect upon them. Not because they close themselves up, like the man who is victim of a cramping pride and to whom therefore the influence of values cannot penetrate, but because they give too much weight to every fleeting impression, and they are thus unable to retain what they have acquired.

All self-education presupposes this attitude of constancy. The constant man alone will be able to assimilate contradictory impressions, so as to draw that which is good out of each. He will learn from every situation of life and will grow in every situation, for in him the measure of genuine values remains alive; while the inconstant man yields now to one, now to another impression, and becomes so entirely a prey of each that in the depth of his soul everything passes on more or less without leaving a trace. This gradually withers his comprehension of values, and his susceptibility to their influence.

The constant man alone will prefer what is more important to what is less so, what is more valuable to the less, while the unstable person will at best respond indiscriminately to all values, recognizing no hierarchy in them. Nothing is, in fact, more important for moral growth, for the very moral life of a person, than consideration for the objective hierarchy of values, and the capacity to give priority to that which is objectively higher.

The fundamental attitude of fidelity is also the presupposition for reliability in every moral trial. How can he keep a promise or stand the test in a battle of ideas, who lives only in the present moment, in whom the past, present and future do not form significant unity? How can one rely upon such an inconstant person? The faithful man alone can inspire that confidence which forms the basis of any community. He alone possesses the high moral value of stability, reliability and trustworthiness.

But constancy is also a condition for any confidence on the part of the person himself and above all for heroic faith. The unstable man is not only undeserving of confidence, but he himself will be incapable of a firm, unshakable confidence either in other men, in truth, or in God Himself. For such a man lacks the strength to nourish his soul upon a value once discovered. Therefore when night and obscurity surround him, or when other strong impressions assail him, he loses faith. It is no accident that in Latin the word fides means both fidelity and faith. For constancy is an essential constituent of all capacity to believe, and consequently of all religion.

The eminent importance of faithfulness will stand out in a special way against the background of human relationships. (Here faithfulness is taken in its narrow sense, i.e. fidelity.) For what is love without fidelity? In the ultimate analysis, it is nothing but a lie. For the deepest meaning of every love, the inner “word” uttered in love is the interior orientation toward and giving of oneself to the beloved, a giving which knows no time limit. No fluctuation in the course of life can shatter it. Only a deep change in the beloved person can affect our love if it be true love. A man who would say: “I love you now, but how long it will last, I cannot tell,” does not truly love; he does not even suspect the very nature of love.

Faithfulness is so essentially one with love, that everyone, at least as long as he loves, must consider his devotion an undying devotion. This holds good for every love, for parental and filial love, for friendship and for spousal love. The deeper a love, the more it is pervaded by fidelity. It is precisely in this faithfulness that we find the specific moral splendor, the chaste beauty of love. The especially touching element of love, as expressed so uniquely in Beethoven’s Fide-ho, is essentially tied up with fidelity. The unalterable fidelity of a mother’s love, the victorious faithfulness of a friend, possess a specific moral beauty which touches the man whose heart is opened to values. Faithfulness is at the heart of every true and deep love. It is immanent to its very nature.

On the other hand, what is more base or more repulsive than outspoken unfaithfulness, that radical opposition to fidelity, which is far worse than mere inconstancy. What a heinous moral stain marks the traitor who by infidelity pierces the very heart which has confidently opened itself to him, and offers itself unprotected to him. He who is unfaithful in his basic attitudes is a Judas to the world of values.

There are people to whom fidelity appears in the light of a mere bourgeois virtue, a mere correctness, a technical loyalty. In the opinion of such people the man who is great, highly gifted and freed from “petty conventions,” has no concern with it. This is a senseless misunderstanding of the true nature of fidelity. It is true that too strong an emphasis on one’s own fidelity may create a painful impression. It is true that it is possible to give a certain harmless, good-natured cheap imitation of fidelity. The fact remains that true faithfulness is an indispensable element of all moral greatness, of all depth and strength of personality.

Fidelity is opposed to mere bourgeois loyalty, or to a pure clinging to habit. It would be an error to believe that fidelity is the mere result of a lazy temperament, and inconstancy the result of a spontaneous and vivacious one. No, this virtue is a free, meaningful response to the world of truth and of values, to the unchangeable and intrinsic importance, to the real demands, of that world. Without this basic attitude of fidelity, no culture, no progress in knowledge, no community, above all no moral personality, no moral growth, no substantial, inwardly unified spiritual life, no true love, are possible. This basic significance of fidelity, in the larger sense, must penetrate to the heart of every relationship, if it is not to be judged as a failure.


The Satiation Of The Spirit With Truth

January 22, 2010

Josef Pieper in 1981

The final consideration Josef Pieper brings to his discussion of St. Thomas on temperantia is a subtle distinction on the power of chastity.

We have spoken of the destructive power of unchastity and of the preserving, perfecting, fulfilling power of chastity. Something more must be added to this subject. Christians have always had a very dicey relationship with celebrating the sensual in life — particularly the appreciation of sensual beauty and the sexual. Christian doctrine does not exclude sensual enjoyment from the realm of the morally good (as against the merely “permissible”).

On the contrary, think of Jesus and the  account of a woman who performs an extravagant act on the beginning of the Passion narratives in Mark: “While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head.” This gesture wasting something as expensive as an entire jar of perfume — is sniffed at by the bystanders, who complain that, at the very least, the nard could have been sold and the money given to the poor.

But Jesus is having none of it: “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me.” Authentic religion, ultimate concern, can never be hemmed in by reason alone. Flowing from the deepest place in the heart, religion resists the strictures set for it by a fussily moralizing reason (on full display in those who complain about the woman’s extravagance). At the climax of his life, Jesus will give himself away totally, lavishly, unreasonably — and this is why the woman’s beautiful gesture is a sort of overture to the opera that will follow. And it is rooted in the sensual and the extravagance of man’s response to it. No Manichean response for Jesus.


Without chastity, not only is the satiation of the spirit with truth rendered impossible, but also actual sensual joy in what is sensually beautiful. That Christian doctrine does not exclude sensual enjoyment from the realm of the morally good (as against the merely “permissible”) does not need to be specifically stated. But that this enjoyment should be made possible only by the virtue of temperance and moderation — that, indeed, is a surprising thought.

Yet this is what we read in the Summa Theologica, in the first question of the tractate on temperance even if more between and behind the lines than in what is said directly. In the case of animals, it is said there, no pleasure is derived from the activity of the other senses, such as the eye and the ear, except as they affect the satisfaction of the drives of hunger and sex; only because of the promise of food is the lion “happy” when he spies a stag or hears his call. Man, by contrast, is able to enjoy what is seen or heard for the sensual “appropriateness” alone which appeals to the eye and the ear — by this, nothing else but sensual beauty is to be understood.

One frequently reads and hears that in intemperance man sinks to the level of the beast — a dictum to be used with caution, for intemperance (like temperance) is something exclusively human; neither angel nor animal can know it. But keeping this distinction in mind, the sentence becomes meaningful: unchaste lust has the tendency to relate the whole complex of the sensual world, and particularly of sensual beauty, to sexual pleasure exclusively. Therefore only a chaste sensuality can realize the specifically human faculty of perceiving sensual beauty, such as that of the human body, as beauty, and to enjoy it for its own sake, for its “sensual appropriateness,” undeterred and unsullied by the self-centered will to pleasure. It has been said that only the pure of heart can laugh freely and liberatingly. It is no less true that only those who look at the world with pure eyes can experience its beauty.

Unlike all other virtues, it has always been the strange fate of the virtue of temperance and moderation, especially in its aspect of chastity, not to be valued and practiced or scorned and ridiculed more or less at its face value, but to be overestimated and overvalued in a very specific sense. This is something altogether unique. There have, of course, always been theoretical discussions about the hierarchy of the virtues and one or the other has been shifted to a higher rank.

But the stubborn and really quite fanatical preference given to temperantia, especially to chastity, which runs through the whole history of Christian doctrine as a more or less hidden undercurrent or countercurrent, has a very special aspect. No one, at any rate, has attached to justice or prudence or to any of the three theological virtues such an emphatic and evidently not simply factual, but emotionally charged evaluation.

Of course, there would not be the slightest objection against such an evaluation per se — for strictly speaking, virtues as such cannot be overrated. But here we are speaking of an evaluation and over evaluation based on a false premise; of an evaluation, therefore, which implies a misunderstanding of what is supposedly valued so highly. And against this we must object strongly.

In the province of temperantia, as we have said before, it is man’s attitude toward creation which is decided, and most incisively. And the “wrong premise” upon which rest the over evaluation and erroneous value given to temperantia in general and chastity in particular amounts to this, namely, the explicit or implied opinion that the sensual reality of the whole of creation, and above all the non-spiritual element in man himself, is actually evil. To sum up: the “wrong premise” is an explicit, or, more often, an implicit, even unconscious and unintended, Manichaeism.

That man must eat, that he must sleep, that the origin of new human life is linked to the physical union of man and woman — all this, especially the last, appears, in this presumably ineradicable apprehension of the• world, as a necessary evil — perhaps not even a necessary one — something unworthy of God the Creator and of man as well. The specifically human task, or better still, the specifically Christian task, would consist in rising above this entire “lower” sphere and mounting by ascetic practice to a purely spiritual way of life.

Not only do fasting, vigils, and sexual continence take on a very special importance from this basic approach, but they move necessarily into the center of attention of the man striving for perfection. This evaluation, however, shares and indeed intensifies the errors of its origin; and despite all outward similarity, it has as little to do with the Christian evaluation of those three things as the heresies of the Manichees, the Montanists, and the Cathari have to do with the Catholic dogma that proclaims that created reality is good in all its spheres, and is not subject to the arbitrariness of human evaluation; indeed, it is the basis and the point of departure of all evaluation as well as of all realization of value.

That “wrong premise” with its effects on ethical doctrine is particularly evident in the Montanist writings of Tertullian, who, by reason of his ambiguous status as a quasi-Father of the Church (St. Thomas speaks of him only as a heretic: haeretints, Tertullianus nomine) has continued to this day as the ancestor and the chief witness of that erroneous evaluation of temperantia. One need only enumerate the subjects of his works: “On Modesty,” “On the Veiling of Virgins,” “On the Adornment of Women,” “On Fasting,” “Admonition to Chastity,” “Concerning Stage Plays,” or mention his rejection of second marriages after the death of wife or husband, in order to show that the realm of temperantia is very prominently under scrutiny.

For Tertullian, unchastity is to such a point the primal form of sin that according to him the sin of the angels was unchastity, and thus they fell from God; this is what he thought St. Paul had in mind when he said that women should veil themselves “because of the angels” (1 Corinthians 4, 10). To the same frame of reference belongs the cause of Tertullian’s separation from the Church only a few years after his baptism: he could neither comprehend nor condone the fact that Pope Callistus welcomed back into the ecclesiastical community those sinners against chastity who had done the required penance contritely.

Tertullian denounces the encyclical with which the Pope proclaims this measure as a blot upon the Church, fit to be read “in those dens of vice, beneath the signboards of the whorehouses rather than in the house of God. It is characteristic, also, that already with Tertullian the emphasis on external action appears which customarily and as if from inner necessity accompanies the erroneous evaluation of temperantia, and more especially of chastity: he calls for more obligatory fast days; for the veiling of women and girls; and he sees the hallmark of a Christian in his abstention from public entertainments.

Blindness only can deny that this Manichaean undervaluation of the sensual reality of creation (let us repeat: not as a formulated opinion, but as an inarticulate attitude) tinges and surreptitiously qualifies the current Christian notion of the virtue of temperance, and more especially of chastity. This becomes evident in innumerable small traits pertaining to the thinking and speaking habits of Christian folk, and also not infrequently in the accents and shadings of moral preaching

If, for example, one speaks with special emphasis of the defilement of unchastity, this implies a different and weightier blame than the defilement pertaining to any other sin. (Actually, the term “defilement” is almost never applied to other sins.) What is censured is not only the specific “vulgarity” inherent in any form of self-indulging pleasure; there is also almost always a persistently audible undertone suggesting the idea of contact with something in itself impure, with a reality defiling per se.

The current notion of the “Immaculate Conception” — current even among Christians — refers this immaculateness not so much to the person of the Virgin Mary as to the process of conception, of begetting (and often enough, as anyone can test, not to the conception of Mary, but to that of the Lord in the womb of His mother). Among people generally, this immaculateness is in any case not understood as it is understood by the Church and by theology, namely, as signifying that Mary was free from the stain of original sin from her mother’s womb.

The current popular notion, rather, is this: by a special grace of God, that conception remained free from the impurity and taint which naturally adheres to it, as to all begetting and conception. And even if this immaculateness is correctly referred to the person of the Virgin Mary herself, as in the appellation Mary “Immaculate,” we find on close listening that the concept has been totally deprived of its universal, inclusive significance, and has been limited to the province of chastity alone.

Something similar is true of the concept of purity, which, also viewed Biblically, is much broader in scope than chastity. For the average understanding it has become entirely natural to refer the beatitude “Blessed are the pure in heart” exclusively, or at any rate principally, to chastity, though neither the immediate Biblical meaning nor the interpretation of these words of the Lord in classical theology favors such restriction; Aquinas, for example, by no means assigns the beatitude of the pure in heart to the virtue of chastity, but to the supernatural virtue of faith.

Finally: Try to ascertain what the average Christian associates with the sentence: To the pure all things are pure. First, he will not readily imagine that this phrase is to be found in the New Testament (Titus 1,15) and that it only affirms what was said by Jesus Himself (Matthew 15, 10-20); On the contrary, the average Christian, such as we find him in every walk of life and on every educational level, would sooner have guessed at a non-Christian, liberal author. And it is scarcely ever thought of that aside from and indeed predating its misused liberal interpretation, this sentence has a sound and important Christian significance. Of course here again purity is confined to chastity, in evident contradiction to the sense of the context. And since the presumably Christian sense of the Biblical sentence is supposed to imply that even to the pure man not everything is pure, we find here again the effects of the notion of the essential impurity of the reality of being.

These misconceptions, which miss the actual Christian meaning of things — and examples of which could be multiplied — can only be partially attributed to ignorance. They propagate themselves, in the form of inarticulate opinions and attitudes, beneath and beyond and even in spite of formal instruction; as a rule, the average Christian we here have in mind will, after some concentration on the relevant article in his catechism, be able to give the “theoretically” correct answer. Decisive, however, are not so much the explicit words as the atmosphere in the province of moral education and teaching; and it must be admitted by even the most cautious judgment that this atmosphere is plainly not entirely free from the germs of Manichaeism.

And no cleansing can be effected by mere theoretical knowledge and cognition, or by instruction only. What is required is that the dogmatic truth of God the Creator and His works be wholly appropriated in humbly confident assent, and that this truth obtain the radiant and vivifying power which is the exclusive property of genuine vitality.

But the “world” exists not only as God’s creation. There is also the “world” which, as St. John the Apostle says, “lies in evil” and prevails in the “gratification of corrupt nature, gratification of the eyes, and the empty pomp of living” (1 John 22, 16); there is the kingdom of the “Prince of this world” (John 12, 31, Luke 4, 6); there is the world for which Christ the Lord did not want to pray (John 17, 9). There is not only the reality of creation, but also the perversion of the order of creation, which has taken on form in the activities of men and the objective “creations” which grow out of these. And this “world” also comes up for judgment in the sphere of temperantia, in a very specific sense. It is in that which aids and abets the self-indulging lust for pleasure that the inversion of the order of creation may most obtrusively be realized, filling the foreground of the “world” completely with its seductive call. (Though of course the core and substance of that world which lies in evil consists primarily in the realization of injustice and above all in the actual denial of faith, hope, and charity — a telling counterpart to the hierarchy of the virtues!)

From this point of view the evaluation and educational emphasis put on the virtue of temperance rightly achieves special significance. This sort of estimate of temperantia, however, has to be carefully distinguished from the previously mentioned “Manichaean” variety (not always an easy task, as the Manichaeans constantly adduce the valid arguments of the other side together with their own). Even the rigorist attitude of the Carthaginian Tertullian is partially conditioned by his constant experience of metropolitan life.

“It is bad to live in cities: there are too many lecherous people,” reads the beginning of the chapter on chastity in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. What Nietzsche asserts with hard-hitting precision was also known to Thomas, who formulates it more dispassionately and abstractly “There is not much sinning because of natural desires….

But the stimuli of desire which man’s cunning has devised are something else, and for the sake of these one sins very much.” Intemperance is enkindled above all by the seductive glamour of the stimuli provided in an artificial civilization, with which the dishonorable team of blind lust and calculated greed surround the province of sexuality. All training and self-discipline aiming at chastity will find itself constantly faced with this situation. The resulting “overemphasis” on temperantia is in a certain sense fully justified (even though, on the other hand, the ethics of the so-called “fight against public immorality” seem to be a precarious and debatable business — and not only because of their ineffectiveness). Even St. Thomas assigns to temperantia primacy before fortitude and justice — though in a circumscribed, non-actual sense — since it must be most often proven in the world. We say in a circumscribed, non-actual sense, for the hierarchy which is actually and essentially valid is of a different kind.

But first a comment is necessary to avoid facile misunderstandings. In these considerations it is not a question of minimizing the gravity of the sins against chastity. No attempt at palliation can lessen the fearful weight of the willful turning of man from God. But we must never lose sight of the fact that the essential nature of sin lies exclusively in this willful turning away from God. On the other hand, the opinion (again founded on Tertullian) that unchastity is the gravest of all sins seems to base the gravity of this sin not so much on the turning away from God as on the turning of man to the goods of the sensual world; or, more directly and revealingly expressed: on defilement by a reality presumed to be impure and evil in its essence. St. Thomas, however, states that even a disordered turning of man to a transitory good, if it does not include a turning away from God, cannot be a mortal sin.

But even the Summa once quotes the sentence of St. Isidore of Seville according to which the human race succumbs to the devil more through unchastity than in any other way. In the moral teaching of the last hundred years this thought has played a dominant role, to an extent where it is over refined to a definiteness of statement exceeding all human competence. How could a mere human being be able to know that — as a widely read theological writer of our times asserts – “there are ninety-nine people our of a hundred who will be damned for this very sin!” For St. Thomas, by contrast, the proposition of St. Isidore merely proved that in the sin of unchastity the compelling force of sensual desire is most, effective; this very fact, however, mitigates the gravity of the sin, “because the sin is more venial the more overwhelming the sensual passion that drives one to it.”

But let us return to the consideration of the hierarchy of the virtues and the place of temperantia in that hierarchy. Over and over again Thomas has raised the question of the hierarchy of the virtues. His reply is as follows: “Man’s good is rational good. But this good is possessed in its essence by prudence, which is the perfection of reason. But justice is the agent which makes this good real. It is the portion of justice to establish in all human affairs the order of reason. But the other virtues maintain and protect this good, insofar as they order the passions, lest these turn man away from rational good. In the hierarchy of these virtues fortitude has the first place. It is followed by temperance. That which concerns being is higher than that which concerns operation; and this again is higher than that which concerns maintenance and protection, inasmuch as only that which hinders is removed. Consequently, among the cardinal virtues prudence is the noblest; justice is the second, fortitude the third, temperantia the fourth.” “Justice and fortitude are higher virtues than temperance; but they are all exceeded by prudence and the theological virtues.”

Temperantia in its strict and ultimate sense is not “realization” of the good. Discipline, moderation, chastity, do not in themselves constitute the perfection of man. By preserving and defending order in man himself, temperantia creates the indispensable prerequisite for both the realization of actual good and the actual movement of man toward his goal. Without it, the stream of the innermost human will-to-be would overflow destructively beyond all bounds, it would lose its direction and never reach the sea of perfection. Yet temperantia is not itself the stream. But it is the shore, the banks, from whose solidity the stream receives the gift of straight unhindered course, of force, descent, and velocity.


St. Thomas on Chastity and Unchastity

January 21, 2010

Josef Pieper continues with his summary of St. Thomas’ thoughts on Chastity and Unchastity. As someone who has fallen and who has continued to fall despite his conversion, I find in the following some powerful tools for self-understanding. There was a time in my life when Unchastity had totally undone my powers of Prudence. Yet to all who may have observed me, I appeared greatly in control. The highlighted “This second mode of chastity is not the perfected virtue of temperance and moderation, but a strenuous control; and this mode of unchastity is not a consummate intemperance, but a mere lack of control. “ could be read as a kind of nonsense but not if you have lived it. Having lived it, I found those sentences truly profound.

IN CURRENT TREATISES OF chastity and unchastity, the air one breathes is not always bracing.

This state of affairs may have various causes, one of which is certainly this: in contradiction to the true grading and order of things, the realm of sex — again for many different reasons — has moved to the center of attention in the general moral consciousness. In addition to this, and despite all contrary statements of principle, a smoldering subterranean Manichaeism casts suspicion on everything pertaining to physical reproduction as being somehow impure, defiling, and beneath the true dignity of man. From all these and other hidden discords are brewed the oppressive mists of casuistry and distortion, of embarrassment and importunity, which frequently pervade discussions of chastity and unchastity.

On the other hand, it is a refreshing and emancipating experience to read the tractate on the same subject by Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, written with truly holy candor and concise cleanness. Then we realize with joy that we have the right (and more than the right!) to adhere to the principles taught by this “universal teacher” of the Church.

To begin with: for Thomas it is plainly self-evident — indeed so self-evident that it need hardly be mentioned even to those but moderately instructed (while it may still be well not to remain silent on this point) — that the sexual powers are not a “necessary evil” but really a good. With Aristotle, he says incisively that there is something divine in human seed.’ It is equally self-evident to Thomas’s thinking that, “like eating and drinking,” the fulfillment of the natural sexual urge and its accompanying pleasure are good and not in the least sinful, assuming, of course, that order and moderation are preserved. For the intrinsic purpose of sexual power, namely, that not only now but also in days to come the children of man may dwell upon the earth and in the Kingdom of God, is not merely a good, but, as Thomas says, “a surpassing good.” Indeed, complete asensuality, unfeelingly adverse to all sexual pleasure, which some would like to regard as “properly” perfect and ideal according to Christian doctrine, is described in the Summa Theologica not only as an imperfection but actually as a moral defect (vitium).

At this point, a deliberate digression is called for. The progenitive purpose of sexuality is not the sole and exclusive purpose of marriage. Yet marriage is the proper fulfillment of sexual power. Of the three goods of marriage — community of life, offspring, and sacramental blessing (fides, proles, sacramentum) — it is the mutually benevolent and inviolable community of life which, according to Aquinas, is the special benefit conferred on man “as man.” [Note that none of these “goods” is available to what is called “gay marriage”]

This affirmative position is clear to Thomas beyond any doubt because, more perhaps than any other Christian teacher, he takes seriously the fundamental thought of revelation, “Everything created by God is good,” and thinks it through to its conclusion. These words were used by the Apostle Paul in order to reprimand, with the same reference to creation, those “hypocritical liars” who carry a “torch in their conscience” and “forbid men to marry and to enjoy certain foods” (1 Timothy 4, 2f.). Heresy and hyper-asceticism are and always have been close neighbors. The Father of the Church, St. John Chrysostom, has expressed this with great emphasis; in a sermon he links the words of Scripture concerning “two in one flesh” to the physical union of the spouses and adds: “Why do you blush? Is it not pure? You are behaving like heretics!”

“The more necessary something is, the more the order of reason must be preserved in it. “For the very reason that sexual power is so noble and necessary a good, it needs the preserving and defending order of reason.

Chastity as a virtue, therefore, is constituted in its essence by this and nothing else, namely, that it realizes the order of reason in the province of sexuality. Unchastity as a sin, on the other hand, is in its essence the transgression and violation of the rational order in the province of sexuality.

There is something uncomfortable about the straightforward use of the terms “reason” and “the order of reason” for us modem Christians. But this mistrust, for which, by the way, there is ample cause and reason, must not prevent us from a frank inquiry into what Thomas would have us understand by “reason” and “the order of reason.”

Four facts have to be borne in mind if we wish to escape the danger of simply missing St. Thomas’s meaning, even before taking a position ourselves. We must consider that Thomas’s concept of “reason” and “the order of reason” is to be taken realistically, not idealistically; that it is free of all rationalistic restrictions; that it has none of the connotations of the ratio of the Enlightenment; and, finally, that it is not in the least spiritualistic.

  1. The concept “order of reason,” first of all, does not signify that something must agree with the imperative of an “absolute reason” detached from its object. Reason includes a reference to reality; indeed, it is itself this reference. “In accord with reason” is in this sense that which is right “in itself,” that which corresponds to reality itself. The order of reason accordingly signifies that something is disposed in accordance with the truth of real things.
  2. Secondly, ratio is not that reason which arbitrarily restricts itself to the province of purely natural cognition. Ratio here signifies — in its widest sense — man’s power to grasp reality. Now, man grasps reality not only in natural cognition but also — and this reality is a higher object of knowledge and the process of grasping it a higher process — by faith in the revelation of God. If therefore the Summa Theologica states that Christ is the chief Lord (principalis Dóminus), the first owner of our bodies, and that one who uses his body in a manner contrary to order, injures Christ the Lord Himself. Thomas is not of the opinion that this proposition exceeds the pattern of “mere” rational order, but rather that for Christian thought to be guided by divine revelation is the very highest form of “accord with reason” — this in spite of the fact that elsewhere Thomas knows how to distinguish sharply between natural and supernatural cognition. “The order of reason,” accordingly, is the order which corresponds to the reality made evident to man through faith and knowledge.
  3. Thirdly, the emphatic and ever recurrent stress on reason and the order of reason in works of Aquinas is obviously not to be understood in the sense which the Enlightenment has given to these terms. “To realize the order of reason in the province of sexuality” is a proposition which one most certainly would not want to understand as an incitement or permission to lift that which natural feeling and propriety surround and protect with the sheltering obscurity of concealment and silence into the crude and artificial light of a shallow “know-it-all” view. Rather, Thomas expressly co-ordinates modesty with chastity, whose function is to see to it that this silence and this obscurity are not destroyed either by shamelessness or uninhibited rationalizing, or spotlighted by the methods of “sexual instruction.” This, therefore, forms part of the “order of reason” too.
  4. Fourthly, the Thomistic concept of reason might be misinterpreted spiritualistically, a facile temptation to some. The proposition that “the essential and proper good of man is existence in accord with reason” could be read to mean: “Constant spiritual awareness is what distinguishes the specifically human condition; everything that clouds this awareness is unspiritual, consequently unworthy of the human condition, and therefore evil.” Applied to the province here under discussion such a spiritualistic interpretation might easily lead to the following conclusion: “In the act of procreation, reason is so overwhelmed by the abundance of pleasure that, as the philosopher says, spiritual cognition becomes impossible…thus there can be no act of begetting without sin.”
    Now this last sentence is actually to be found in the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas — but as an “objection,” that is, as an expressly confuted opinion, as a negation to which a clear affirmation is opposed. The affirmation is worded as follows: “As long as the sexual act itself corresponds to the rational order, the abundance of pleasure does not conflict with the proper mean of virtue…And even the fact that reason is unable to make a free act of cognition of spiritual things simultaneously with that pleasure does not prove that the sexual act conflicts with virtue. For it is not against virtue that the workings of reason sometimes are interrupted by something that takes place in accordance with reason: otherwise it would be contrary to virtue to sleep. Do we need any further explanation in order to show how much St. Thomas’s concept of reason has regard to the whole man — to body and soul, sensuality and spirituality?
    St. Thomas designates as “not in accord with reason” the opinion of some Fathers of the Church that “in Paradise the propagation of mankind would have taken place in some other manner, such as that of the angels”; indeed, St. Thomas says: The pleasure that accompanies intercourse must have been even stronger in Paradise — since mental awareness was unclouded and because of the greater delicacy of human nature and the higher sensitivity of the body. But enough of this.

Only on the basis of these four delimitations and refutations is our vision liberated so that we can see the true core of the proposition that chastity, by disciplining sexuality, realizes the order of reason.

The order of reason, however, implies, first, that the immanent purpose of sexual power be not perverted but fulfilled (in marriage, with its threefold “good”); second, that the inner structure of the moral person be kept intact; and, third, that justice between men be not infringed. What we are concerned with here is the purpose of sex as it was intended originally in the first creation, and ennobled by Christ in the New Creation; what we are concerned with is the existential structure of the moral person, as established in nature and in grace; what we are concerned with is order among men as guaranteed not merely by natural justice, but also by the higher justice of caritas, that is, supernatural love of God and man.

Chastity realizes in the province of sex the order which corresponds to the truth of the world and of man both as experienced and as revealed, and which accords with the twofold form of this truth — not that of unveiled evidence alone, but that of veiled evidence also — that is, of mystery.

It is not adultery only which touches upon the provinces of both temperantia and justice; rather, any unchastity has these two aspects: to be at once intemperance and injustice. St. Thomas relates the totality of all sins against chastity to the “commonweal” — taking this term in a very profound and far-reaching sense — and to justice as well; similarly, he relates all the Ten Commandments, not excepting the sixth and the ninth, to justice.

We have become used to see in adultery, and even more in adulterous desire and cupidity, as in sexual transgressions generally, almost exclusively the element of lust, neglecting almost completely the element of injustice. Yet it is very important that the collective moral consciousness of Christianity should again assign greater weight to this objective side of chastity, which is concerned with the commonweal and with justice, as against a view limited exclusively to the subjective factor. To restore the proper emphasis is evidently important not only because it corresponds to actual fact and truth, but also because the neglect or insufficient observation of the objective element of justice in chastity and its opposite derives from an erroneous conception of man and at the same time causes and perpetuates this error.

In this book, which treats of temperantia and not of the sixth commandment nor of marriage nor of the Christian idea of man as a whole, nor of justice, it is quite enough that this thought has been given emphatic expression.

Here, however, it is our purpose to consider chastity and unchastity expressly from the point of view of moderation and its opposite, being fully aware, at the same time, of the limitations inherent in the subject. We shall speak first not of its outward repercussions, but of its root in the inner man: of the disciplining of the sex urge by the spiritual directing power of reason, and also of the abdication of the spirit, which opens the way for sex to destroy the moral person.

In what way and why does unchastity destroy the structure of the person?

Unchastity most effectively falsifies and corrupts the virtue of prudence. All that conflicts with the virtue of prudence stems for the most part from unchastity; unchastity begets a blindness of spirit which practically excludes all understanding of the goods of the spirit; unchastity splits the power of decision; conversely, the virtue of chastity more than any other makes man capable and ready for contemplation.

All these propositions of St. Thomas do not refer to isolated effects and consequences; if the spirit is blinded by unchastity, it is not by a process similar to the wilting of a plant in a rainless period. This blindness is of the essence of unchastity itself, which is by its very nature destructive. It is not its outward effect and consequence, but its immanent essential property.

“The being of man in its essential significance consists in this: to be in accord with reason. If therefore a man keeps to what is in accord with reason, he is said ‘to keep himself in himself.’ Unchastity destroys in a very special manner this self-possession and this human “keeping of oneself in oneself.” Unchaste abandon and the self-surrender of the soul to the world of sensuality paralyzes the primordial powers of the moral person: the ability to perceive, in silence, the call of reality, and to make, in the retreat of this silence, the decision appropriate to the concrete situation of concrete action. This is the meaning inherent in all those propositions which speak of the falsification and corruption of prudence, of the blindness of the spirit, and of the splitting of the power of decision.

Now all this is not to be understood as if the corruptive effect of unchastity derived from the fact that the spirit turns to the “sensual” and “inferior” in general. On the contrary, such turning is altogether inevitable for any decision. It is indeed of the essence of the virtue of prudence that it face squarely all those concrete realities which surround man’s concrete actions. Accordingly, it is not the reference to the province of sexuality that produces the blindness and deafness brought about by unchastity; such an opinion would be Manichaean at bottom, and therefore anti-Christian.

Rather, the destructiveness lies in the fact that unchastity constricts man and thus renders him incapable of seeing objective reality. An unchaste man wants above all something for himself; he is distracted by an unobjective “interest”; his constantly strained will-to-pleasure prevents him from confronting reality with that selfless detachment which alone makes genuine knowledge possible. St. Thomas here uses the comparison of a lion who, at the sight of a stag, is unable to perceive anything but the anticipated meal. In an unchaste heart, attention is not merely fixed upon a certain track, but the “window” of the soul has lost its “transparency,” that is, its capacity for perceiving existence, as if a selfish interest had covered it, as it were, with a film of dust. (We cannot repeat too often: only he who is silent hears, only the invisible is transparent.)

This kind of interestedness is altogether selfish. The abandonment of an unchaste heart to the sensual world has nothing in common with the genuine dedication of a searcher for truth to the reality of being, of a lover to his beloved. Unchastity does not dedicate itself, it offers itself. It is selfishly intent upon the “prize,” upon the reward of illicit lust. “Chaste,” says St. Augustine, “is the heart that loves God without looking for reward.” One further comment: For anyone whose function it is to lead and counsel young people, it is extremely important to keep in mind and to make known that it is this selfishness which characterizes the inner nature of unchastity (as intemperance). Where the selfish motive is absent, we may speak of thoughtlessness, curiosity, or of impulses so completely natural that they lie outside the scope of moral judgment — but not of unchastity.

This perversion of a genuine process of knowing is all the more destructive the more immediately a given knowledge concerns man himself and the more it can be the foundation of moral decisions. Not only is the cognitive process thereby poisoned and perverted, but also the power of decision itself, and even more so; “most of all prudence,” says Aquinas. It is prudence, however, which, as the perfection of conscience, is the innermost source-region of the moral person. Prudence implies a transformation of the knowledge of truth into decisions corresponding to reality.

This transformation is achieved in three steps: deliberation, judgment, decision. Upon each of these three steps the destructive power of intemperance manifests itself: in place of deliberation guided by the truth of things, we find complete recklessness and inconsideration; a hasty judgment that will not wait until reason has weighed the pros and cons; and even if a correct decision were reached, it would always be endangered by the fickleness of a heart that abandons itself indiscriminately to the surging mass of sensual impressions. This is inevitable: if you do not move a knife in the plane of the thing to be cut, it cannot cut at all. So without a direct, innocent, and selfless vision of reality there can be no interior order of the moral person and no honest moral decision.

Chastity, on the other hand, renders one able to perceive reality and ready not only for the perception and thus also for decision corresponding to reality, but also for that highest mode of relating oneself to reality in which the purest dedication to knowledge and the most selfless dedication in love become one, namely, contemplation, in which man turns toward the divine Being and becomes aware of that truth which is at once the highest good.

To be open to the truth of real things and to live by the truth that one has grasped is the essence of the moral being. Only when we recognize this state of things can we likewise understand the depths to which the unchaste heart permits destruction to invade its very being.

This dark portrayal of the destructive force of unchastity applies in all its harshness only to unchastity as intemperantia, but not to unchastity as incontinentia; just as that which has been said of chastity is fully pertinent only to chastity as temperantia but not to chastity as continentia. This significant distinction must be briefly explained.

Because it is not always the same thing when two people do the same thing, a moral doctrine which regards only the actions of man but not his being, is always in danger of seeing only the sameness (or the difference) of the actions, and missing important differences (or samenesses) at a greater depth. Since, however, the moral theology of the universal teacher of the Church is a doctrine of virtue — that is, a doctrine of the being of man as the source of his actions — the difference between temperantia-intemperantia on the one hand and continentia-incontinentia on the other hand could not easily escape him.

Chastity as temperantia, or unchastity as intemperantia: This means that each, respectively, has become a deep-rooted basic attitude of man, and, as it were, a second nature to him. Chastity as continentia, or unchastity as incontinentia: This means that neither is necessarily based on what might be called a natural inclination of being; neither has as yet grown firm roots in the existential core of man. This second mode of chastity is not the perfected virtue of temperance and moderation, but a strenuous control; and this mode of unchastity is not a consummate intemperance, but a mere lack of control.

Chastity as control is only a tentative sketch; chastity as temperantia is perfected realization. The first is less perfect than the second, because by the former, the directing power of reason has been able to mold only the conscious will, but not yet the sensual urge, whereas by the latter will and urge are both stamped with “rational order.” In Thomas’s explicit opinion, the effort of self-control pertains only to the less perfect steps of the beginner, whereas real, perfected virtue, by the very nature of its concept, bears the joyous, radiant seal of ease, of effortlessness, of self-evident inclination.

On the other hand, unchastity in the form of lack of self-control is less pernicious, less sinful, than unchastity the form of actual intemperance. In the first case, as Aristotle and St. Thomas say, the best is not lost; the principle, the ground of being, subsists, namely, the right conception of the direction of will toward the true goal; and through this unblemished rightness even the sensual urge can be reintegrated again and again into its order: he who sins from lack of control is quick to repent; and repentance is the repudiation of sin. On the other hand, he who sins from a deep-rooted basic attitude of intemperance directs his will expressly toward sin; he does not repent easily; indeed, “he is happy to have sinned, because sinning has become ‘natural’ for him.” The merely uncontrolled can be “recalled” to order; actual intemperance, however, is not easily revocable. To sin from a basic attitude of one’s will is real malice; to sin in a gust of passion is weakness — infirmitas. One who is merely uncontrolled is not unchaste, even though he acts unchastely.

It is no doubt easy to see that to stress this difference is not to indulge in the pleasure of theoretical hair-splitting. Rather, it is an attempt to establish a contrast which acquires an immediately practical significance, both pedagogical and pastoral.

It is temperantia, the virtue that realizes the inner order of man in himself, which St. Thomas has in mind when — in contrast to justice, in whose province that which is “properly and in itself right” can and must be determined — speaking of “the other moral virtues which refer to the passions and in which right or wrong cannot be determined in the same fashion, because men vary in their attitudes toward the passions,” he says, “therefore it is necessary that what is right and reasonable in the passions should be determined with reference to ourselves, who are moved by the passions. But especially in the province of temperantia “we ourselves” have the choice of innumerable possibilities: for example, to desire halfheartedly or wholeheartedly, to tolerate, to let things take their course, to give in to pressure or to be carried away. “Who could determine,” writes the perceptive Thomas, H. D. Noble, in his commentary on the French edition of Aquinas — “who could determine when lack of control ends and when actual intemperance begins?”

St. Thomas says that the realization of temperantia varies too much according to individuals and periods to allow the establishment of hard and fast, universally valid commandments on temperantia. The whole realm of “unchaste thoughts, desires, words, looks, etc.,” which in the casuistic manuals occupies so much space, is treated ill the Summa Theologica in a single article not quite one page in length. It determines the general principle only, that it is not the accomplished sinful act alone that is sinful, but also the willing consent to the pleasure imagined and implicit in this act; for this willing consent is inconceivable without an attitude of acceptance toward the accomplished act itself; everything, therefore, which derives from such willing consent is likewise a sin.


St. Thomas on Temperance And Intemperance, Discipline And Dissoluteness

January 20, 2010

Josef Pieper

Josef Pieper in The Four Cardinal Virtues deals with Temperance last. This is the cardinal virtue under which chastity is subsumed and one that has occupied a great deal of my attention. Pieper went to Aquinas to consider the virtues because he felt that in Aquinas one encountered the most disciplined, dynamic and penetrating independent thinking — yet a kind of thinking that spoke less to the individual writer, meaning Thomas himself, than to a great tradition of wisdom itself. That wisdom shines through in this post and it is one I am presently reflecting greatly upon.

Temperance and Moderation
WHAT HAVE THE WORDS “temperance” and “moderation” come to mean in today’s parlance?

The meaning of “temperance” has dwindled miserably- to the crude significance of “temperateness in eating and drinking.” We may add that this term is applied chiefly, if not exclusively, to the designation of mere quantity, just as “intemperance” seems to indicate only excess. Needless to say, “temperance” limited to this meaning cannot even remotely hint at the true nature of temperantia, to say nothing of expressing its full content. Temperantia has a wider significance and a higher rank: it is a cardinal virtue, one of the four hinges on which swings the gate of life.

Nor does “moderation” correspond to the meaning and rank of temperantia. Moderation mainly relates to admonishing the wrathful to moderate their anger. Though the moderation of anger belongs to the realm of temperantia, it is only a part of it. If we leave the tepid atmosphere of a moral theology mistrustful of all passion to enter the more realistic and bracing climate of the Summa Theologica, we find, surprisingly, that the passio of anger is defended rather than condemned.

Further: the current concept of moderation is dangerously close to fear of any exuberance. We all know that the term “prudent moderation” tends to crop up when the love of truth or some other generous impulse threatens to take an extreme risk. This emasculated concept of moderation has no place in a doctrine which asserts that the love of God — fountainhead of all virtues — knows neither mean nor measure. “Moderation,” also, is too negative in its implication and signifies too exclusively restriction, curtailment, curbing, bridling, repression — all again in contradiction to the classic prototype of the fourth cardinal virtue.

A study of the linguistic meaning of the Greek term, sophrosyne, and of the Latin temperantia reveals a much wider range of significance. The original meaning of the Greek word embraces “directing reason” in the widest sense. And the Latin stays close to this far-ranging significance. In St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (12, 24f) we read: Deus temperavit corpus. “Thus God has established a harmony in the body, giving special honor to that which needed it most. There was to be no want of unity in the body; all the different parts of were to make each other’s welfare their common care” The primary and essential meaning of temperare, therefore, is this: to dispose various parts into one unified and ordered whole

Selfless Self-Preservation
AQUINAS SAYS THAT the second meaning of temperance is “serenity of the spirit” (quies animi).  It is obvious that this proposition does not imply a purely subjective state of mental calm or the tranquil satisfaction which is the by-product of an unassuming, leisurely life in a narrow circle. Nor does it mean a mere absence of irritation, or dispassionate equanimity. All this need not go deeper than the surface of the intellectual and spiritual life. What is meant is the serenity that fills the inmost recesses of the human being, and is the seal and fruit of order. The purpose and goal of temperantia is man’s inner order, from which alone this “serenity of spirit” can flow forth. “Temperance” signifies the realizing of this order within oneself.

Temperantia is distinguished from the other cardinal virtues by the fact that it refers exclusively to the active man himself. Prudence looks to all existent reality; justice to the fellow man; the man of fortitude relinquishes, in self-forgetfulness, his own possessions and his life. Temperance, on the other hand, aims at each man himself. Temperance implies that man should look to himself and his condition, that his vision and his will should be focused on himself. That notion that the primordial images of all things reside in God has been applied by Aquinas to the cardinal virtues also: the primordial divine mode of teniperantia, he states, is the “turning of the Divine Spirit to Itself.”

For man there are two modes of this turning toward the self: a selfless and a selfish one. Only the former makes for self-preservation; the latter is destructive. In modern psychology we find this thought: genuine self-preservation is the turning of man toward himself, with the essential stipulation, however, that in this movement he does not become fixed upon himself. (“Whoever fixes his eyes upon himself gives no light.”) Temperance is selfless self-preservation. intemperance is self-destruction through the selfish degradation of the powers which aim at self-preservation.

It is a commonplace though nonetheless mysterious truth that man’s inner order — unlike that of the crystal, the flower, or the animal — is not a simply given and self-evident reality, but rather that the same forces from which human existence derives its being can Upset that inner order to the point of destroying the spiritual and moral person. That this cleavage in human nature (provided we do not try to persuade ourselves that it does not exist) finds its explanation only in the acceptance by faith of the revealed truth of original sin, is too vast a subject to be discussed here. It seems necessary, however, to consider more closely the structure of that inner order and disorder.

Most difficult to grasp is the fact that it is indeed the essential human self that is capable of throwing itself into disorder to the point of self-destruction. For man is not really a battlefield of conflicting forces and impulses which conquer one another; and if we say that the sensuality “in us” gets the better of our reason, this is only a vague and metaphorical manner of speaking. Rather it is always our single self that is chaste or unchaste, temperate or intemperate, self-preserving or self-destructive. It is always the decisive center of the whole, indivisible person by which the inner order is upheld or upset. “It is not the good my will preserves, but the evil my will disapproves, that I find myself doing” (Romans 7:19).

Also, the very powers of the human being which most readily appear as the essential powers of self-preservation self-assertion, and self-fulfillment are at the same time the first to work the opposite: the self-destruction of the moral person. In the Summa Theologica we find the almost uncanny formulation: the powers whose ordering is the function of temperance “can most easily bring unrest to the spirit, because they belong to the essence of man.”

But how can it be that the very powers of self-preservation are so close to becoming destructive? How can it be that the man who seeks himself can miss himself in his very seeking? And how, on the other hand, can self-love be selfless?

A narrow gap of understanding is wedged open by a proposition of St. Thomas’s, which may confidently be called the basis of a metaphysical philosophy of active man. It states that to love God more than himself is in accordance with the natural being of man, as of every creature, and with his will as well.

Consequently, the offense against the love of God derives its self-destructive sharpness from the fact that it is likewise in conflict with the nature and the natural will of man himself. If he loves nothing so much as himself, man misses and perverts, with inner necessity, the purpose inherent in self-love as in all love: to preserve, to make real, to fulfill. This purpose is given only to selfless self-love, which seeks not itself blindly, but with open eyes endeavors to correspond to the true reality of God, the self, and the world.

The force of this metaphysical truth formulated by Aquinas strikes so deep that, in a sense, it becomes even nonsensical to desire the preservation of the inner order for its own sake and consequently to will even genuine self-preservation as such. (That the temperantia of the miser, who shuns debauchery because of its expense, is, as Aquinas says, no virtue, need hardly be mentioned.)

It is known how little, for example, a medical directive alone can do to establish true inner discipline; not unjustly has it been said of psychotherapy unrelated to either religion or metaphysics that it tends to produce an “anxiously fostered middle-class tranquility, poisoned by its triteness,” — a result which evidently has nothing to do with the essential serenity of genuine temperance. This failure is no accident, but rather an inevitable consequence. The discipline of temperance cannot be realized with a view to man alone.

The discipline of temperance, understood as selfless self-preservation, is the saving and defending realization of the inner order of man. For temperance not only preserves, it also defends: indeed, it preserves by defending. For since the first sin man has been not only capable of loving himself more than he loves God his Creator but, contrary to his own nature, inclined to do so. The discipline of temperance defends him against all selfish perversion of the inner order, through which alone the moral person exists and lives effectively.

Wherever forces of self-preservation, self-assertion, self-fulfillment, destroy the structure of man’s inner being, the discipline of temperance and the license of intemperance enter into play.

The natural urge toward sensual enjoyment, manifested in delight in food and drink and sexual pleasure, is the echo and mirror of man’s strongest natural forces of self-preservation. The basic forms of enjoyment correspond to these most primordial forces of being, which tend to preserve the individual man, as well as the whole race, in the existence for which he was created (Wisdom 1:14). But for the very reason that these forces are closely allied to the deepest human urge toward being, they exceed all other powers of mankind in their destructive violence once they degenerate into selfishness.

Therefore, we find here the actual province of temperantia: temperateness and chastity, intemperateness and unchastity, are the primordial forms of the discipline of temperance and the license of intemperance.

But we have not, as yet, fully explored the range of the concept of temperantia — in “humility,” the instinctive urge to self-assertion can also be made serviceable to genuine self-preservation, but it can likewise pervert and miss this purpose in “pride” — And if the natural desire of man to avenge an injustice which he has suffered and to restore his rights explodes in uncontrollable fury, it destroys that which can be preserved only by “gentleness” and “mildness.” Without rational self-restraint even the natural hunger for sense perception or for knowledge can degenerate into a destructive and pathological compulsive greed; this degradation Aquinas calls curiositas, the disciplined mode studiositas.

To sum up: chastity, continence, humility, gentleness, mildness, studiositas, are modes of realization of the discipline of temperance; unchastity, incontinence, pride, uninhibited wrath, curiositas, are forms of intemperance.

Why is it that one reacts with involuntary irritation to these terms which express the essence of temperance and intemperance, discipline and dissoluteness? Since it can hardly be caused by resistance to the good, this irritation must stem from the thick tangle of misinterpretations which covers and smothers each one of these concepts. This mesh of misinterpretations has its roots in a distortion and falsification of man’s ideal image which we can properly term demonic, all the more so since Christians and non-Christians alike regard them as characteristics of the Christian image of man. Worse, the root cause is not just a misconceived image of the good man, but a misconceived view of created reality. Temperantia is intimately related to the ordered structure of the being of man, in which all gradations of creation unite; as the history of heresy shows, it is quite particularly in the sphere of temperantia that the attitude toward creation and “the world” is most incisively decided.

The attempt to reconstitute the genuine and original meaning of temperantia and its various modes of realization must embrace a variety of tasks. It will have to go beyond the strict limits of the subject, in order to anchor the true image of this virtue in the fundamentals of Christian teaching concerning man and reality.


Mother Teresa of Calcutta: Temperance

January 15, 2010

Fr. Robert Barron looks at the Cardinal virtues and illustrates how a Saint elevates these virtues through grace. Following my post on Dawn Eden and living a chaste life, I wanted to explore more about Temperance which is the virtue that chastity belongs to. The best way to show these virtues is to do what Fr. Barron does here – illustrate them through the life of a Saint. He uses Mother Teresa to show us an example of elevated Temperance.

About The Cardinal Virtues
Prudence is the virtue that oversees and governs the moral life, and justice is the heart and soul of ethical activity. Fortitude is the excellence that allows one to do the prudent thing in the face of external threats, most especially the prospect of death. The fourth and final cardinal virtue — temperance — is that which enables one to overcome obstacles to goodness coming from within the structure of one’s own subjectivity. As such, it orders and renders peaceful the soul, producing what Aquinas calls quies animi, serenity of spirit. Josef Pieper comments that temperance is an attention to the self, but for the sake of selflessness, whereas intemperance is an inattentiveness to the self, conducing to self-destruction.

Unlike the inner order of a plant or animal, human ordo is not simply a natural given but rather an achievement of intellect, will, and discipline: “the discipline of temperance defends one against all selfish perversion of the inner order through which alone the moral person exists and lives effectively.” The perversion in question has to do with excessive exercise of the drives for self-preservation: hunger, thirst, and sexual desire. Precisely because these are so strong and primal, they tend rather naturally toward excess and distortion.

Thomas Aquinas, borrowing from Aristotle, says that temperance concerns the ordering of the sense of touch, since all three of these elemental desires are related ultimately to that most basic and perfect of the senses. Because we want so passionately to touch, to satisfy our longings for food, drink, and sexual pleasure, we will become quite easily twisted away from right moral action. Temperance is the virtue that monitors and limits this tendency.

The first dimension of temperance that Aquinas analyzes is chastity, the ordering of the sexual desire. Because the very words chastity and temperance have puritanical overtones, at least to our ears, it is most important to note that there is not a hint of Manichaeism in Thomas’s approach to sex. He never tires of reminding us — over and against some fairly weighty intellectual authorities — that sex in itself is nothing but good. One of his more remarkable comments is that the sexual pleasure of Adam and Eve in paradise, prior to the fall, was greater than that which we heirs of original sin experience.

Pieper reflects Thomas’s view quite closely when he observes that “heresy and hyperasceticism are and always have been close neighbors.” Thus chastity is not a flight from sex but an ordering of sexual desire so as to place it in the higher context of self-forgetting love. An intriguing implication of chastity is a deepened appreciation for the beautiful, for it removes desire from preoccupation with the sexual. Pieper comments, “Unchaste lust has the tendency to relate the whole complex of the sensual world, and particularly of sensual beauty, to sexual pleasure exclusively.” The rightly ordered and disciplined self is thus far more capable of taking in the dense objectivity of the aesthetic.

Next, Aquinas examines the second major aspect of temperance, the ordering of the desire for food and drink. The basic purpose of abstinence and fasting is to free the soul for a readier contemplation of higher things and a more prompt exercise of moral virtue. Thomas Merton once observed that our desires for food and drink are something like little children in their persistence and tendency to dominate. Unless and until they are disciplined, they will skew the functions of the soul — including reason itself — according to their purposes.

Now what happens when this moral virtue is invaded and elevated by grace? Chastity becomes radicalized into what Aquinas calls “virginity,” the willingness not only to order sexual desire but to eschew sexual relations altogether so as to realize a supernatural end. In Thomas’s own language, “It [virginity] is made praiseworthy only by its end and purpose, to the extent that it aims to make him who practices it free for things divine.” The love of God has so seized a person that she is willing to give up permanently and definitively an activity that the naturally chaste person would only discipline, in order that she might be utterly available to God.

And when ordinary abstinence is invaded by the divine life, it becomes the radical asceticism of the desert fathers, of St. Benedict, St. Francis, and Charles de Foucault. Obviously, no one can sensibly abstain absolutely from food and drink as one might from sex, but one can press and push the natural disciplining of sensual desire into a radical form — once again, for the sake of loving and serving God more fully. In the strict sense, temperance is not in itself a realization of the good but rather the necessary prerequisite to that realization. This remains true in regard to elevated temperance. Neither celibacy nor radical asceticism is sought for its own sake. Were that the case, each would be at best a rather peculiar form of ascetical athleticism, a test of endurance. They are, in point of fact, conditiones sine qua non for the achievement of a love that seeks to imitate, however inadequately, the unlimited love of God.

The saint I have chosen to illumine this virtue of elevated temperance is Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I realize that this might strike my reader as a strange choice. In her utterly generous gift of self on behalf of the poor and the dying, Mother Teresa seems to be, even more than Katharine Drexel (whom Fr. Barron had used to illustrate the cardinal virtue of Justice), the paragon of elevated justice.

Let me observe first that the virtues are mutually implicative and interdependent. In fact Thomas feels that it is next to impossible to have any one virtue in its integrity and not to have the others concomitantly. Thus it is not surprising that we should notice elevated justice, as well as courage and prudence, in someone marked by elevated temperance. Second, in her own accounts of her life and work, Mother Teresa put a constant emphasis on the utter necessity of asceticism and celibacy as conditions for the work that she and her sisters undertook. This protective and ordering virtue was, in a word, indispensable to the effecting of the justice that was the far more visible dimension of the life of Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa’s Birth and Early Years
Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born on August 26, 1910, in Skopje, Serbia, the youngest child of Nikola and Dranafile Bojaxhiu. Agnes’s father was a merchant and entrepreneur, trading in a variety of different goods and providing various services in Skopje, eventually becoming a prominent player in the town’s civic life. Her mother was a dedicated housewife and mother whose very traditional views of a woman’s role in the family would have a marked influence on her daughter. Nikola became involved in the political movement that eventually led to the independence of Albania from Serbia, and in the years just after World War I, he was active in bringing the province of Kosovo under the control of Albania.

In pursuit of this latter goal, one day he left with some friends to attend a political meeting in Belgrade. Though he  departed in seemingly perfect health he returned desperately ill from an internal hemorrhage, possibly the result of poisoning. Emergency surgery proved fruitless, and he died at the age of forty-five, leaving his wife and family in rather severe economic straits. In this regard, Mother Teresa’s story comes quite close to Edith Stein’s.

After an initial period of intense grief and psychological disorientation, Drana, Agnes’s mother, gathered herself and stabilized her family both emotionally and financially. But she was well aware of the law of the gift. Drana insisted that their family table be open to the poor, both in her extended family and in the town. She also cared for an old woman who had been abandoned by her family and the six children of a destitute widow. Agnes øften accompanied her on these missions of mercy, taking in the lesson that her goods, however meager, were meant to be shared.

Her Call to the Religious Life
‘When she was twelve, Agnes felt called to the religious life, though she had never, to that point in her life, so much as laid eyes on a nun. A key player in the shaping of her vocation was a young Croatian Jesuit priest, Fr. Jambrekovic, who had become her parish priest in 1925. He introduced the young people of the town to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and their challenge to orient one’s life radically toward the service of Jesus. When Agnes asked him to help her discern her call, he responded in the Ignatian spirit that joy is the compass by which one should steer one’s life. Both of these themes, the totality of dedication and the primacy of joy in the spiritual life, would remain central to Agnes to her last day. But perhaps Fr. Jambrekovic’s greatest impact on the future Mother Teresa came from his contagious enthusiasm for the missionary work undertaken by the Jesuit order throughout the world — especially in Bengal.

Inspired by his stories, Agnes applied at the age of eighteen to join the Loreto Sisters, the Irish branch of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which had a strong missionary presence in India. After an initial interview, Agnes was recommended to the mother general of the order, who accepted her and sent her to begin a postulancy at Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham, Ireland. There she commenced her study of English, the language in which she would operate, spiritually and practically, for the rest of her life, and there she endured her first of many culture shocks. But she had little time to adjust to her new environment, for she spent only six weeks in Ireland before setting sail for India. During her postulancy in Rathfarnham, Agnes took the name Sister Mary Teresa of the Child Jesus, devoting herself thereby to the recently canonized Therese of Lisieux. The spirituality of Therese — accepting one’s littleness before God, taking every moment as an opportunity for great love, being happily subject to the divine providence — would come to radically mark Mother Teresa.

Early Years in India
When she arrived in India, she was dazzled by its luxuriant natural beauty and shocked beyond words by its grinding poverty. Though she had associated with the poor in Skopje, nothing had prepared her for what she saw in India. We have this passage from the journal she kept at this time: “Many families live in the streets, along the city walls…Day and night they live out in the open on mats they have made from large palm leaves…They are virtually naked, wearing at best a ragged loincloth…. As we went along the street we chanced upon one family gathered around a dead relation, wrapped in worn red rags…It was a horrifying scene.” The conviction that service to such poor would necessarily involve a radical simplifying of her own life, a willingness to join them in their destitution, began to form in Sister Teresa’s mind.

After completing her novitiate in Darjeeling, Teresa made temporary vows and began teaching in the convent school there and working part time as an aide to the nursing staff at a small hospital. Here again she confronted the suffering face of India: “Many have come from a distance, walking for as much as three hours. What a state they are in! Their ears and feet are covered in sores. They have lumps and lesions on their backs. Many stay at home because they are too debilitated by tropical fever to come.”

Once a man arrived at the hospital with a bundle out of which protruded what appeared to be twigs. When Teresa looked more closely, she saw that they were the impossibly emaciated legs of a child, blind and on the point of death. The man told the young sister that if she didn’t take the boy, he would throw him to the jackals. Teresa’s journal takes up the story: “With much pity and love, I take the little one into my arms, and fold him in my apron. The child has found a second mother.” And then the passage from the Scripture dawned upon her: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matt. 18:5). This is the key to the mature practical spirituality of Mother Teresa: in serving the suffering and the poorest of the poor, one moves into the mystical ontology assumed by Matthew 25, the coinherence of Christ and the least of his brothers and sisters.

In Calcutta
From Darjeeling, Teresa was sent to Loreto Entaly, a school run by the Loreto Sisters in Calcutta. It was thus that she came to the city that would be her home and base for the rest of her life, a city that would, in many ways, define her and her ministry. At first, she was relatively isolated from the worst of Calcutta’s poverty, teaching courses in geography and English behind the high walls of the boarding school, which served orphans and girls from broken homes. But in time she began to make her way to St. Teresa’s primary school, some distance from Loreto Entaly, and there she came face to face with truly dire poverty. She taught outside, drawing figures and letters in the dirt, or inside a kind of stable, and the filthiness and destitution of the children filled her with anguish. But she discovered that her identification with these poorest of the poor, her willingness to live where they lived and do what they were compelled to do, brought great consolation to them: “Oh God,” she wrote, “how easy it is to spread happiness in that place.”

On May 24, 1937, Sister Teresa took the formal religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience for life and thereby became, as was the Loreto custom, “Mother Teresa.” Throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s, Mother Teresa worked at a furious pace, teaching, administering schools, visiting the sick, and making frequent forays into the poorest sections of Calcutta. Her frenetic activity led to a breakdown in her health, and her superiors decreed that she should spend three hours each afternoon resting in bed. When this did not prove sufficient, she was told to go on a kind of extended retreat, convalescing and praying at the hill station of Darjeeling where she had done her novitiate.

On September 10, 1946, while she was making her way on the dusty train to Darjeeling, Mother Teresa had an experience that would change her life. Though it is fair to say that Jesus had gotten into her boat many years before, when she accepted the call to religious life, on that train to Darjeeling he began to direct her life even more radically and completely. Though she would speak of it only sparingly, she specified that what she received during that train ride was “the call of God to be a Missionary of Charity” This was, she said, “the hidden treasure for me, for which I have sold all to purchase it. You remember in the Gospel, what the man did when he found the hidden treasure — he hid it. This is what I want to do for God.”

A New Order
When she got to Darjeeling, she commenced her formal retreat, and during that extended time of reflection and prayer, she received even more inspirations in regard to this new vocation. She scribbled down her thoughts on tiny slips of white paper, and when she returned to Calcutta, she gave these to Fr. Celeste Van Exem, a Belgian Jesuit priest who had become, somewhat against his will, her spiritual director. What he read on those bits of paper was an outline of the order that Mother Teresa would found: a new congregation dedicated to working in poverty and a spirit of joy with the poorest of the poor, free of any connection to hospitals, schools, or other institutions.

In a series of talks that Mother Teresa herself would give upon her return from Darjeeling, another defining dimension of the spirituality of her new order would become clear: thirst. In the narrative of the woman at the well, as we have seen, Jesus expresses his thirst in the presence of the Samaritan woman: “Give me a drink.” Mother Teresa interpreted this, along Augustinian lines, as God’s thirst for our faith and friendship. Accordingly, a principal work of her community would be to slake the thirst of Jesus for intimacy with human souls. Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink” (John 7:37). All human beings are thirsty, ultimately, for friendship with God, and thus Mother Teresa determined that a major work of her new order would be facilitating that relationship. The two motifs perfectly dovetail in the passage in chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus explicitly identifies himself with those who suffer: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink” (v. 35). The human thirst for God becomes God’s thirst for our love. This multivalent theological meditation on thirst would be expressed later in every house established by Mother Teresa’s congregation, with an image of the crucified Jesus and, next to him, the words “I thirst.”

Despite all of this spiritual inspiration, insight, and energy, Fr. Van Exem urged Mother Teresa to wait and to test her call. They would pray over the matter until January of the following year, and only if at that time both were convinced that this new congregation was congruent with God’s will would they present the idea to Ferdinand Perier, the archbishop of Calcutta. When January came, both the young nun and the young priest were persuaded that God desired this undertaking, and they accordingly contacted Perier. The gruff archbishop, however, was not at all in agreement. There were, he argued, already a number of women’s orders taking care of the poor; furthermore, it was highly irregular and more than a little spiritually dangerous for a nun to leave her congregation; and finally, it seemed impolitic during a time of intense Indian nationalism to found another order headed by a European. These were, to be sure, serious objections, but the archbishop’s opposition was also a classic example of the kind of testing that is de rigueur in such situations: if she persevered despite all obstacles and pressures, her vocation might be from God.

For over a year, Mother Teresa and Fr. Van Exem exorted, cajoled, and demanded, and the archbishop remained adamant. When he fell seriously ill, Mother Teresa informed him that if he got better, she would take his recovery as a sign from God that she should move forward with her plan. He did recover but did not give in. Time and again, he impatiently rebuffed Van Exem when the Jesuit came to beg on Teresa’s behalf. Secretly, however, the archbishop was intrigued by the idea and impressed by this prayerful, stubborn young nun. He thus consulted with experts in canon law to determine the feasibility of her proposal. In early 1948, convinced that her call was genuine, Perier gave permission for Mother Teresa to petition for permission to leave her Loreto community — but he insisted that she apply not for exclaustration, which would allow her to remain under vows, but for secularization, which would effectively and finally cut her off from Loreto. Once again he was testing her, seeing whether she would be able to trust totally in God’s providence.

Rome Says Yes
In her simple, unaffected style, Mother Teresa wrote the cardinal in charge of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in Rome, explaining her mission and asking permission to leave her community to commence this work among the poor. In April 1.948, a decree came from Rome, granting her a year to experiment with this new form of religious life, under the direction of Archbishop Perier. When Van Exem brought her the decree and explained it to her, Mother Teresa’s immediate response was “Father, can I go to the slums now?”

In preparation for leaving Loreto, Teresa bought three saris at a local bazaar: white garments, edged with blue stripes. They were the cheapest she could find, and the blue stripes appealed to hei, for blue is the color of the Virgin Mary. In time, of course, these would provide the model for the distinctive habit of the Missionaries of Charity. Under cover of night, so as to avoid a tearful leave-taking, she slipped away from the Loreto convent by taxi, holding only five rupees in her pocket and trusting utterly in God’s providence. She went first to the Holy Family Hospital in Patna, run by the Medical Mission Sisters, in order to acquire some basic medical know-how. After only a few weeks of instruction, she felt that she had sufficient training and was ready for her work. Returning to Calcutta, she began looking for suitable accommodations for herself and for those that would, she was convinced, eventually join her. Her first lodging was with the Little Sisters of the Poor, and from this small room she set out, on December 2, 1948, to work in the slum district of Motjhil.

A Home In the Slums For the Dying
Within a few weeks, she had established a school attended by dozens of children. Once more, she used the ground as a blackboard and sought to inculcate the rudiments of Bengali and English in her very young charges. When she had finished instructing the children for the day, she would take them with her on her rounds, visiting the sick and the destitute. Once she saw a woman lying on the street just outside a hospital that had refused her admittance. Mother Teresa petitioned on her behalf, but she was turned away, and the woman died on the open road. This experience convinced her to make a home for the dying, “a resting place,” as she put it, “for people going to heaven.”

These first several months of ministry in the slums were far from idyllic. Mother Teresa endured terrible bouts of loneliness, depression, and discouragement — and an accompanying desire to return to the relative stability and ease of Loreto. In her journal from this period, we find a powerful passage in which she recounts the struggle and the resolution: “Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the Cross…  The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home, I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health. Then the comfort of Loreto came to tempt me.” The temptation was toward self-indulgence (curvatus in se), and the solution was a radicalized temperance conducing toward freedom.

As we have seen, courage holds off the threats to moral rectitude that come from without, and temperance battles those that come from within. Accordingly, both virtues are oriented toward freedom. The radical moral form that Mother Teresa chose required, she saw, an equally radical modality of temperance, the very destitution of the poor she served. Clothed in that “poverty of the Cross,” she could be a “free nun.”

In early 1949, with the help of Fr. Van Exem, Mother Teresa moved into a room on the second floor of a home in east Calcutta. The furnishings consisted of a bench, which served as a bookshelf, a cardboard box for a table, a single chair, and a green almirah which served as a small altar. When one of her former colleagues among the Little Sisters of the Poor came to inspect the place, she commented, “Well, you are sure to have Jesus with you. They cannot say that you left Loreto to become rich!”

The third floor of the. home was a single long room, and Mother Teresa immediately envisioned it as a dormitory for the girls who would, she was sure, in time come to join her. And they came soon enough. In March of 1949, Subhasini Das, a Bengali girl who had been one of Mother Teresa’s pupils at the convent school of Entaly, moved into the sparsely furnished room, and she was joined in April by Magdalen Gomes, another former student whose fierce patriotic feelings Mother Teresa had managed to channel into a fierce love for the poor. In May of that same year a sixteen-year-old girl, the future Sister Margaret Mary, was taken on as a “boarder.”

At this early stage, these four women did not constitute a religious order but simply — to use the formal canonical terminology — a group of “pious women living together.” But Mother Teresa moved rapidly to form them in the rudiments of the religious life, for her goal was from the beginning to found a congregation. Thus, she brought them to a local parish for training in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius, which had had such an impact on her when she was very young, and she began to shape them, practically and theoretically, for work among the poorest of the poor.

A Franciscan Love Of Poverty
All this time, Archbishop Perier was watching over the development of this group with a fatherly care, for he was technically Mother Teresa’s religious superior. He urged her to formulate, with the help of Fr. Van Exem, a rule of life for her new community, and this she did, scribbling down her wishes in a little yellow notebook. Though they drew heavily from the rule of Loreto, which in turn was indebted to the constitutions of the Jesuits, Mother Teresa added special features dealing with poverty. For example, she carefully stipulated that “Missionaries of Charity” would own none of the buildings from which and in which they served the poor. Though this particular regulation was eventually deemed impractical, given the exigencies of both ecclesial and civil law, there remained in the rule much of the spirit of St. Francis, li poverello.

As the community increased in size, the sisters embodied this Franciscan love of poverty with a vengeance. Mother Teresa insisted that in order to understand those whom they served, they must live like them, and therefore all that the first Missionaries of Charity possessed was “their cotton saris, some coarse underwear, a pair of sandals, the crucifix they wore pinned to their left shoulder, a rosary, an umbrella to protect them against the monsoon rains, a metal bucket for washing, and a very thin palliasse to serve as a bed.” Since they were utterly dependent upon the generosity of others — much like the earliest Dominicans and Franciscans — the Missionaries of Charity often had trouble procuring even these simple staples. Once, they were short of shoes, and one of the sisters had to wear an old pair with red stiletto heels; another time, a sister was compelled to wear a habit made out of material that had been used to store wheat, so that through the thin fabric of her sari, across her behind, the words “not for resale” were clearly visible! One winter, they were short of shawls, and some of the sisters had to wear their bedclothes to attend Midnight Mass.

And there was a kind of poverty built into the very rhythm of their day. During the week the sisters rose at 4:40 a.m., and on Sundays at 4:15 a.m. They washed their faces with water drawn with empty milk tins out of a common tank; they brushed their teeth in ashes taken from the kitchen stove; and they scrubbed their bodies and their clothes with a small bar of soap, which had been divided into six. Between 5:15 and 6:45, they meditated, prayed, and attended Mass.

Then they ate a very basic breakfast (though Mother Teresa stipulated that they drink plenty of water in order not to tire in the intense heat) and were on the streets doing their work by 7:45. Just after noon, they returned to the mother house for prayers and ate a meal consisting of five ladles of bulgur wheat and a few bits of meat, if meat was available. After housework, they rested, at Mother Teresa’s insistence, for a half an hour, and then they did spiritual reading for an hour before returning to their pastoral work in the slums. At six, they gathered again at the mother house for dinner — usually a collation of rice and vegetables — and next engaged in whatever tasks of cleaning and sewing were necessary before recreation, evening prayer, and bed by ten o’clock. Mother Teresa called for a poverty that went beyond mere physical hardship and deprivation.

One rather aristocratic newcomer to the order “found the toilet dirty one day and hid herself away in disgust. Mother Teresa happened to pass by without seeing the Sister. She immediately rolled up her sleeves and took out a broom and cleaned the toilet herself,” manifesting to the reluctant novice the kind of spiritual simplicity called for by the community. Another time, a young member of the group won a gold medal for her medical studies, “and Mother Teresa directed her to surrender it to the student who had come in second.” The hoarding of honors would be just as detrimental to their work as the hoarding of food and drink. An essential aspect of the temperance and poverty of the Missionaries of Charity was an utter confidence in the efficacy of divine providence — and an accompanying abandonment of self-reliance and self-disposition. Once, when the sisters were completely without food for the evening meal, they resolved to pray. Suddenly, a knock came to the door and there stood a woman carrying some bags of rice — just enough, it turned out, to feed the community that night. She told the sisters that some inexplicable impulse had brought her to them.

Ignatius’ Spirit of Detachment
A spirituality of detachment — which Mother Teresa had learned from the exercises of Ignatius — was inculcated at all times. The sisters were instructed to pray special prayers while they put on each article of clothing at the beginning of the day. While they donned their habit, they prayed that this distinctive garb would remind them of their separation from the world and its vanities: “Let the world be nothing to me and I nothing to the world.” ‘While they girded their waist, they prayed for the purity of the Virgin Mary: “surrounded and protected by that absolute poverty which crowned all you did for Jesus.” As they put on their sandals, they prayed that they might have the detachment to follow Jesus wherever he prompted them to go.

Further, they were compelled to be detached from their own will through a strict obedience. Despite her affability and kindness, Mother Teresa exhibited toward her sisters a toughness that outsiders sometimes found off-putting, or at the very least surprising. She consistently acted out of the conviction that obedience was “to be prompt, simple, blind, and cheerful,” precisely because Jesus was obedient unto death.

Now all of this might strike us as a bit exaggerated, an asceticism bordering on puritanism. But we must recall the radicality of the love to which Mother Teresa was calling herself and her followers. To will the good of the poorest of the poor, the most destitute and alone, the most physically repulsive and spiritually hopeless, required, she discerned, a radicalized temperance. Charity to an extreme degree necessitated a self-control and detachment that went far beyond the natural forms of those virtues. Because it is ordered most directly to God, love is in itself unlimited, and hence when love invades the soul, it causes the natural virtues to participate in its infinity And so what we have already seen in regard to courage, prudence, and justice, we now see in regard to temperance: a natural virtue supernaturalized, a moderate ethical habit rendered immoderate.

Missionaries of Charity Growth
For the first ten years of its existence from 1949 to 1959 — the Missionaries of Charity continued to grow, but its work was restricted, by canon law to the confines of the diocese of Calcutta. When the period of probation was over, Mother Teresa was eager to extend her work throughout India, and almost immediately she received invitations to establish houses in Ranchi, Delhi, Jhansi, and Bombay In 1965, almost twenty years after she had her first inspiration to establish an order to work among the poorest of the poor, Mother Teresa received word from Rome that the Missionaries of Charity had been formally named a society of pontifical right.

For the public announcement of the decree in Calcutta, chairs and benches had to be borrowed so as to accommodate the visiting dignitaries; Mother Teresa squatted on the ground as she listened to the declaration. Following the formal establishment of the order, the Missionaries of Charity spread with amazing rapidity around the world. In late 1965, responding to an invitation from a local bishop, the community opened a house in Venezuela, where they worked among the millions of baptized Catholics who had fallen away from the practice of the faith and into extreme material Poverty In 1968, at the Prompting of the pope himself, Mother Teresa set up a house in Rome, taking, she was proud to say, the poorest quarters ever occupied by the Missionaries of Charity. Later that same year, they opened houses in Tabora, Tanzania, and in Melbourne, Australia. By the end of the 1970s, there were Missionaries of Charity establishments on all six continents, and by the close of the 1990s, there were more than five hundred houses around the world. When she was asked how far her work would spread, Mother Teresa said, “If there are poor on the moon, we shall go there too.”

Although she could hardly supervise each convent personally, she determined, as far as was able, to monitor her followers’ exercise of the virtue of poverty. Again and again, she insisted that fundraising on behalf of her work was against her wishes. “I don’t want the work to become a business but to remain a work of love,” she wrote her sisters. “I want you to have that complete confidence that God won’t let us down.” When Terence Cardinal Cooke of New York offered to pay each of the Missionaries of Charity in his archdiocese five hundred dollars a month, she retorted, “Do you think, Your Eminence, that God is going to become bankrupt in New York?” And when, especially in Western countries, her sisters were offered gifts of labor-saving devices such as washing machines, she insisted that they accept nothing but a glass of water by way of hospitality, since that was all that the poor could offer.

Her Later Years
For the remaining years of her life, Mother Teresa, though based in Calcutta, would travel widely, visiting her numerous establishments, in this regard calling to mind the lifestyle of Katharine Drexel, whose active career was coming to an end just as Mother Teresa’s was beginning. Like Mother Drexel, she would try to travel in the simplest, least expensive way, sometimes sleeping in a luggage rack of a third-class train car. When she traveled by plane, her baggage would consist of a small paper package wrapped in string and marked “Mother Teresa.” She accepted a number of prestigious prizes and honors during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985, using these occasions to raise the consciousness of the world concerning the plight of the poor and the responsibility of the wealthy nations. When she was invited by President Bill Clinton to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994, she dismayed her host by speaking vigorously against abortion, a mode of state-sanctioned abuse that, she argued, disproportionately affects the poor.

Throughout the 1 990s Mother Teresa’s health gradually deteriorated, and her travels became less frequent. In 1990, she tried to hand over direction of her order, but she was compelled by her community to take back the reins of authority. Finally, in early 1997, she insisted that her bad health precluded her continuing as superior, and a general chapter of the Missionaries of Charity elected as superior Sister Nirmala, a Hindu convert who had joined Mother Teresa in the early days and who had been head of the contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity. This transition seemed to please Mother Teresa, assuring her of a measure of institutional continuity in the community to which she had given her life. Throughout 1997, her condition steadily worsened, and she died on September 5 at the age of eighty-seven.

When it was displayed for public viewing, Mother Teresa’s body was, of course, clothed in the habit of the Missionaries of Charity, but it was left shoeless, revealing her remarkably misshapen feet. For many people, those gnarled feet bore the most eloquent witness to the hard years that she spent on behalf of the poorest of the poor.


Dawn Eden’s Reasons To Be Chaste (A Shorter List)

December 30, 2009

Dawn Eden

Dawn Eden has been an online force for Catholic bloggers for several years now and I have respected her efforts from afar. “Afar” because she often writes about relationship issues and chastity. This is her speaking to her conversion to Chastity:

As a late convert to chastity, I sometimes have a hard time explaining my vocation to people — and not just to those who think it’s bizarre to forgo premarital sex. There are Catholics of traditional upbringing who look at me as if they’d never met a 38-year-old woman who wasn’t either a mother or a nun. When I wrote on my blog about the response I gave to the Irish Times reporter, a male reader commented, “[T]hough there might be something to be said for ‘easing’ into the idea of a lifetime of singleness, at some point, I think that making an affirmative commitment to single lay celibacy would give that life the same focus and purpose that men and women living holy orders or marriage enjoy.”

I believe that a small but significant number of people share that reader’s perspective, in that they are uncomfortable with the idea of uncertainty. They can’t imagine themselves leading a chaste single life for an extended period of time, and so they feel uneasy at the idea that someone would choose a life lacking the “focus and purpose” of celibacy vows. To them, the idea of an unmarried person’s attempting to live chastely without consecrating their choice before God is the equivalent of a couple’s shacking up rather than making their union official. I feel as though they think I’m just playing at chastity.

When it comes to faith, God recognizes no mushy middle. On the one hand, the Bible is filled with exhortations to take a stand, perhaps most eloquently in Revelation 3, when Jesus tells the Laodicean church to be cold or hot — but not lukewarm. But on the other, the Bible makes clear that our life on Earth is an ongoing study in reconciliation. “I have been a stranger in a strange land,” said Moses, and God’s people have always been strangers among the worldly. The Lord wants us to rely solely upon Him for direction, as David writes in the 25th Psalm: “Mine eyes are ever toward the Lord; for he shall pluck my feet out of the net.”

In other words, as I see it, we are supposed to be absolutely certain of where we stand — but not so sure about where we’re going.

Through Jesus’ reconciling the world to himself, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5, we as Christians are given the “ministry of reconciliation.” This ministry is intended to be ongoing. It does not end when one lives under vows, regardless of the sense of closure such vows may provide.

A friend of mine, while training me to volunteer at a charity that helped homebound senior citizens, warned me not to assume that a healthy-looking client was able to take good care of himself. “Not all disabilities are visible,” she said.

In the same way, not all abilities are visible. It is impossible to tell from observing someone’s life what spiritual graces that person has received. “The world admires only spectacular sacrifice,” wrote St. Josemaria Escriva, “because it does not realize the value of sacrifice that is hidden and silent.”

Being a good twenty years older and having grown up in a much more innocent age where HIV-AIDS had not yet ravaged the dating landscape, my sexual coming of age was given over to the Playboy philosophy and learning how to become a sexual predator. I continued polishing my skills after separating from my wife in my late thirties. So my fascination with Dawn comes from wondering how my life could have been different had my conversion happened in my teens and I had learned about chastity earlier. I also spent my 20s and 30s in Japan which had a highly developed sexual predator culture that I smoothly adopted. It also gave me an excuse – I wasn’t being any different from any other Japanese man I knew. In fact, I partook of none of their sexist behaviors but used my skills to seduce my prey.

Chastity, Dawn tells us, “is often used to mean abstaining from sex, as if it were equivalent to celibacy. One remembers St. Augustine, grappling with his desires, crying out to God, “Give me chastity . . . but not yet!” According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ‘All Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life.’” Yet if being chaste were the same as being celibate Christ’s faithful wouldn’t be that great in number.

Chastity flows from the moral virtue of temperance which along with Prudence ( the ability to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time); Justice  (proper moderation between self-interest and the rights and needs of others) and Courage or Fortitude (the forbearance, endurance, and ability to confront fear and uncertainty, or intimidation) combine to comprise the Four Cardinal Virtues. You may note that all four do not come naturally and require not only an education in but a devotion to their practice. Needless to say they are not taught in school and form no basis for any practical outlook in our culture – outside of the Boy Scouts perhaps, which I had abandoned in my early teens.

Chastity helps us direct our sexuality and sexual desires toward authentic love and away from using persons as objects for sexual pleasure. Chastity is not, as I had imagined, a matter of repression of sexual feelings and temptations, but is the successful integration of the gift of sexuality within the whole person. To integrate the gift of sexuality means to make it subordinate to love and respect through the practice of chastity

Dawn Eden writes: “Part of chastity entails the proper ordering of sexual pleasure — which means engaging in it only within marriage. But more than that, it is really a way to look at all of one’s relationships so that they no longer become mere exchanges of commodities. It means experiencing others’ presence — not just what they do, but their existence itself — as a gift. A spouse is a particularly special reminder of that most perfect gift of self made by Jesus Christ.

While sex can bring pleasure, the jury is still out on whether it can bring joy…The Catholic Church believes that true joy comes from God. In that light, the only way a sexual relationship can bring such joy is if it is undertaken by a man and woman who have brought God into it through the sacrament of marriage.”

One of the great secular best sellers while I was growing up was “The Joy of Sex,” a 1972 best seller by the aptly named but now deceased Dr. Alex Comfort. That highly graphically illustrated book became the coffee-table Kama Sutra of the baby-boom generation. Its three versions sold more than 12 million copies and earned the good Doctor who morphed from a physician into poet, novelist, scientific researcher, anarchist and pacifist and author of 51 books over three million dollars, most of which he gave away to charities. Supposedly the actual work of churning its hymn to Sex and Freedom took only three weeks.

But this is the Freedom which counsels the satisfaction of appetites. It is hard to recall the Church’s definition of freedom, which was not the political license to follow our bellies or the philosophical encouragement to send our elders packing. Freedom was understood, rather, as a growing into the habits, the virtues, that allow us to fulfill our end as human beings without the impediments of vice.

As Dawn points out it is “in sacramental marriage, spouses’ commitment of unending love for one another emulates God’s unending love for them. As a result, their temporal feelings of sexual gratification are transformed — gaining a deep and fulfilling sense of spiritual permanence.” Had this been the Joy of the “Joy of Sex,” perhaps something good may have come out of it.

But in 1968 the median age of the United States was my own, 21 years old. The average age of the soldier in Vietnam was 19. There wasn’t much premium on wisdom and few could recognize it. As consumers the young drove the markets and if you could package stupidity and sell it as wisdom so much the better. And it came out during a perfect storm: when the birth control pill had removed some constraints to sex, and before AIDS added new ones.

When Dr. Comfort passed, the NY Times hunted about for a tribute to him and the book. They knew just where to look: ”Dr. Comfort’s ‘Joy of Sex’ was a landmark book that made an important contribution to human development and healthy sexuality,” said Joan Malin, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of New York City. ”The groundbreaking publication of this book took us from an era of silence and shame about sexuality to one of greater openness and discussion.”

Those folks are still with us and probably look on in horror at the phenomena of Dawn Eden.

But to get back to my summary here, Dawn tells us that beyond marital happiness, there are countless reasons why chastity is worth pursuing in the here and now.  I’ve distilled seven from the 10 and ½ she offered.

One (#1) she writes on is to find joy in unexpected places:

“Becoming chaste requires a conscious decision to change perspective…. The decision is that only after taking the focus off love, acquired or absent, that it is possible to see life’s blessings as the gifts they are….Relationships can no longer be viewed through the lens of entitlement: You accept the fact that love is too precious to be a thing “deserved,” as most of the broader culture seems to teach.

With this new vision, true love means being loved for who you are, not what you do. Likewise, there is a desire to share that same kind of unconditional love with others — not only a spouse, but also anyone else — because giving love is the only way to truly live.

Another (#2) is to experience true freedom:

True sexual freedom can exist only when the dignity of the human person is recognized. That is impossible in an environment that upholds works like Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, inviting people to reduce their self-image to their anatomy. Likewise, there is no dignity in a society that encourages touching another person’s body but not allowing that person to touch your heart.

The Church’s teachings on chastity enable us to discover, understand, and live out our liberty in Christ. G. K. Chesterton wrote nearly a century ago in Orthodoxy: “Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. . . . We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the center of the island; and their song had ceased.”

A third (#3) is to recognize that fornication is a mortal sin:

“If there’s a Heaven worth getting to, then it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Jesus said that sex outside of marriage separates us from Him.

The Catechism defines sin in two categories, venial and mortal, according to their gravity, particularly how they affect charity — that is, one’s ability to love God and thereby truly love others. “Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it,” but “mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him” (1854-55).

“Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself,” the Catechism adds. “It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back.”

The Catechism specifically mentions fornication — sex outside of marriage — as a sin, and the Church has traditionally taught that it is a mortal sin. This teaching can be traced to the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus said, “I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 9:28). If lustful looks are adulterous, how much worse is lustful physical contact?

St. Paul tells us that “fornicators” and other “unrighteous” “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Willful sin of any kind, including fornication, deprives one of heaven.

A friend of mine offers another sobering thought: If you have sex outside of marriage, what you’re really saying to your sex partner is, ‘I wish you hell.’”

A fourth (#4) is to build true intimacy, not forced or premature intimacy:

“Before taking marriage vows, the best way to practice for married love is by not having sex. That’s because most of marriage is not having sex. It’s a lesson that many couples learn too late.

Studies show that the top three reasons why couples divorce are communication problems, unhappiness, and incompatibility (see “Perceived Causes of Divorce,” Journal of Marriage and the Family, February 1985). These problems often arise because couples have not learned, before their marriage, to communicate effectively and to make sacrifices for the good of the other. A major reason for this is often that they have skipped steps to intimacy, using sex to create a false bond while failing to make necessary efforts to deepen their relationship.

Part of the pseudo-intimacy that sex can bring is caused by body chemistry. Numerous scientific studies, some of which are cited in Dr. Miriam Grossman’s Unprotected, have shown that the hormone oxytocin, which is released during sexual arousal, facilitates or fabricates a feeling of bonding, particularly in women.

Moreover, the nature of sex itself — being a complete physical self-giving — puts pressure on relationships where emotional intimacy has not been fully and deeply established.

For those who attempt to use sex as a shortcut to intimacy, the results are often painful. A study in the Journal of Sex Research found that college students in committed dating relationships often consented to unwanted sexual activity out of the belief that it was necessary for intimacy:

Approximately one quarter of the men and one half of the women who participated in this study reported consenting to unwanted sexual activity during a two-week period. This finding indicates that these experiences were not uncommon for our sample. . . . Participants typically reported consenting to unwanted sexual activity to satisfy a partner’s needs, to promote relationship intimacy, and to avoid relationship tension. Diminished intimacy and/or relationship discord may be a consequence of violating such an implicit contract.

So, popular culture’s ideal of sexual freedom, in practice, means making yourself available so that someone can emotionally pressure you into sex.

The fifth (#5) is to deepen your relationship with god

“Different stages of life bring different priorities. “He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord — how he may please the Lord,” writes St. Paul to the Corinthians. “But he who is married cares about the things of the world — how he may please his wife.”

Likewise, Paul writes, “The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world — how she may please her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).

The time that God gives for the single life is precious — and not merely because you have more freedom to do what you want to do when you want to do it. It’s precious because it provides a unique opportunity to bring all your spiritual graces into full flower — and to do so in ways that will bear fruit for the rest of your life.

It costs no money and often takes very little time to share God’s love with someone in need, yet the rewards are incalculable. In years to come, you may be very thankful that, when you were unmarried and in good health, you used your time to learn holiness.”

The sixth (#6) is to dramatically increase your odds of having a lasting marriage

Numerous studies suggest that if a couple has had sex before marriage, the pair is far more likely to get divorced. The divorce rate for couples who live together before marriage is nearly twice that of couples who do not cohabitate (see “The changing character of stepfamilies,” Demography 32; and “Cohabitation and Divorce in Canada,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 57).

Likewise, research by Robert Rector and Kirk Johnson shows that experimenting with one or more sex partners doesn’t prepare one for being able to maintain a committed relationship — just the opposite, in fact. The Heritage Foundation researchers, analyzing the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, found that for women 30 or older, those who were monogamous (only one sexual partner in a lifetime) were by far most likely to still be in a stable relationship (80 percent). Having sex with just one extra partner dropped that probability to 54 percent. Two extra partners brought it down to 44 percent. Who would have thought that the price of sleeping with even one partner would lead to divorce for almost half of those who had only one extra tryst?

And the last one (#7) she lists is to learn how to love others the way god loves you

“The hunger for love is so great that people often attach its name to emotions or impulses that are far inferior to the real thing.

As St. John wrote, God is love. In becoming man, He showed us how we are to love one another — fully, completely, and sacrificially, with nothing held back.

The key to love is chastity, because it is only through chastity that we can learn to love one another as God loves us. That kind of love does not depend upon what another does for us. We love others because God gave us the ability to do so, and it is in doing so that we fulfill our destiny as His children.”If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us” (1 John 4:12).

This love, as we have seen, can be experienced only when it is accepted as a gift, not as what one deserves. The beauty of it is that, to fully experience the gift of another, one must become a gift. “Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift,” writes Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love): “Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf John 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf John 19:34).”

Loving others as God loves them requires truth and integrity — qualities that are absent in sex outside of marriage.

In non-marital sex, your body says, “I give myself to you completely,” while your heart says, “nope,” “maybe,” or “hope so.” The dichotomy between what is done and what is felt is spiritually damaging, because what you do with your body affects your soul.

“The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine,” John Paul II says in the Theology of the Body. “It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus be a sign of it.”

That mystery has its source in the ultimate union — that of God and His Church in heaven. To the extent that you reflect God’s love, your body and soul are at heaven’s leading edge.

Living chastely means recognizing your true residence and living as though you are already there. The size of your home is determined by the size of your heart. As countless saints have discovered, it is truly living large.”

As you see Ms. Eden makes some powerful arguments. The full article with some interesting comments from readers is here. Her blog and all things Dawn is here. She no longer blogs but her posts are still there.


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