The Virtue of Chastity

What is most needed both in the Church and in the culture, is an appreciation of the virtue of chastity. The Catholic priest-psychologist Adrian van Kaam writes that chastity is “love purified” of all that is self-aggrandizing “and disrespectful of concerns of others.”[1] Chastity is that virtue that refuses to exploit for one’s own advantage the weakness of others. What we need to foster then is a respectful and appreciative acceptance of human limitations, both those of our neighbors’ and our own.

In the text below, I explain more fully what I mean by chastity. It is from my monograph for the Acton Institute, The Cure for Consumerism (Grand Rapids, MI: Acton Institute, 2015), 130-131.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

[1] Adrian van Kaam, Formation of the Human Heart (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1986), 47.divider-37709_960_720Although often overlooked today, St. Paul encourages all Christians to remain unmarried. Like St. John Climacus’ discussion of poverty, the apostle counsels celibacy in the service of both practical and spiritual freedom: “But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord— how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world— how he may please his wife” (1 Cor. 7: 32– 33). Nevertheless, just as not all Christians are called to material poverty, not all Christians are called to celibacy. “[E]ach one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.… [A]s God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk” (7: 7, 17). Akin to poverty, the key to chastity is not whether the person is married or not. Rather, within the tradition of the Church the virtue “of chastity … is the basis of the inner unity of the human personality, which should always be in the state of harmony between its mental and bodily powers” (Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, 10.6). Sin, such as fornication and adultery, “inevitably ruins the harmony and integrity of one’s life, damaging heavily one’s spiritual health.” Likewise, the absence of chastity “dulls the spiritual vision and hardens the heart, making it incapable of true love.” While the synod fathers are speaking here of sexual morality, it is not much of a leap to see that the same vices that make the “happiness of full-blooded family life … unattainable” also foster consumerism and disrupt the virtuous functioning of the economic order. “Sins against chastity,” they write,

also lead to negative social consequences. In the situation of a spiritual crisis of the human society, the mass media and the products of the so-called mass culture sometimes become instruments of moral corruption by praising sexual laxity, all kinds of sexual perversion and other sinful passions. Pornography, which is the exploitation of the sexual drive for commercial, political or ideological purposes, contributes to the suppression of the spiritual and moral principles, thus reducing man to an animal motivated by instinct alone. (Basis, 10.6)

Avarice and sexual immorality both result in unwholesome forms of consumption that hinder rather than foster human flourishing and Christlike holiness. With only minor changes, the synod fathers’ condemnation of “pornography and fornication” are equally applicable to avarice. Just as “the Church does not at all call to abhor the body or sexual intimacy as such,” it does not condemn wealth or property. Instead, in the sexual and economic aspects of our lives, what is rejected is “the tendency to turn chaste and appropriate relations”— and economic activity—“as God has designed them” into occasions “of humiliating exploitation,” characterized by “egoistic, impersonal, loveless and perverted pleasure” that is “completely divorced from personal and spiritual communion, selflessness and all-round responsibility” for my neighbor (Basis, 10.6).