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This is the Faith

from Chapter 10, the Commandments of God

Catholic Attitude toward Sex

Whatever God made is good and, in itself, knowledge of it is good. The Sixth and Ninth Commandments have reference to man's instinct for self- or race-propagation, an instinct which has been implanted in man by God. "Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, made them male and female? And he said: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh?" (Matt. 19: 4-5). Therefore, sex and knowledge of sex are in themselves good and noble. Knowledge can and ought to co-exist with perfect innocence.

Man is made in the image and likeness of God. Just as God is Intellect, Freedom, and Love, so man is an intellectual being endowed with free will and the power to love. In God, love is a mighty, life-producing love. (He is Love Itself.) Throughout eternity, the Holy Spirit is begotten through the love of the Father and the Son. Man is so much the image of God that he too has the power to love with a life-producing love. By endowing man with the sex faculty, God has made it possible for him to co-operate in the very act by which the future citizens of Heaven come into being. He wills that they, His own companions for eternity, should be the result of the love of husband and wife.

Therefore, marriage is God's plan. The use of sex in marriage is God's plan. By it parents are privileged to share in that plan. Obviously, being parents means making a good deal of sacrifice. For the mother, the vary act of child-bearing is painful and sometimes dangerous; the subsequent education of the children is a task which calls for constant effort. For the father, the task of providing all the necessities of life for his children entails hard work and often much mental anxiety. To offset these and other hardships, God has attached intense pleasure to the use of sex.

There is a good parallel between the sexual instinct and that other important instinct of man, the instinct of self-preservation. To preserve his life, a man must eat. Therefore, God has attached to eating considerable pleasure. Otherwise what woman would spend so many hours in cooking food and making it attractive? Who would waste so much time at meals? Now, just as men and women would not readily eat if it were a painful activity, so they would with difficulty have intercourse unless there were the inducement of sexual pleasure.

Obviously, this sexual pleasure is not so much for the individual as for the race, and hence to use it simply and solely for the purpose of self-indulgence and self-gratification is contrary to the Will and designs of God and stultifies His purpose. It makes for the ruin and destruction of society. The virtue which checks, controls, and chastens the sexual instinct is called chastity.

Why be pure?

Leaving aside the analysis of our unaided reason regarding the role of sex in man's life, the revelation of Christ offers us other compelling motives for preserving holy purity. For example, the ultimate purpose of this life is to reach life eternal with God. Men are made for God, to live with God forever. Impurity means tampering with life at its very source; often, as in birth-prevention, impurity leads to the frustration of life and is responsible for empty places in Heaven throughout eternity.

Catholics regard the body as the dwelling place of hte soul - of an unspeakably precious, immortal soul - and the happy companion of that soul throughout eternity. It is also the special dwelling place of the most Holy Trinity on earth. Just as the Catholic Church is holy because it is the special dwelling place of God, so also is the human body holy for precisely the same reason. Moreover, St. Paul tells us that our bodies "are the members of Christ," that "we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones." (1 Cor. 6:15; Eph. 5:30). Impurity is the defiling of God's temple and of a member of Christ.

Perhaps you remember the story of Attila, who swore to stable his horses on the altar steps of St. Peter's at Rome. This he intended to be the greatest possible insult to Almighty God. During the French Revolution, crowds of lewd women danced on the altars of the churches of Paris; devout people turned sick at the sight.

The modern world looks upon sex as cheap, maudlin sentimentality; the modern romance portrays it as merely the selfish outlet for passion; the movie screen depicts it as pagan, pleasurable beastliness; supposedly learned men write to prove that sins against sex are not wrong at all; men and women in the street treat sex as a joke and waste, squander, spoil and soil this great and precious power God has given them. Countries which claim to be Christian are often content today to witness without protest the pagan parade of the human body, the shrine of immortal life, the dwelling place of God, the temple of the soul for the rest of eternity, as a bait on stage, screen or billboard to attract people. Such practices are revolting to one who fully understands God's purpose in putting the sexual instinct in man and who ponders the supernatural truths connected with it. "Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of a harlot? God forbid. Or know you not, that he who is joined to a harlot, is made one body? For they shall be, saith he, two in one flesh. But he who is joined to the Lord, is one spirit. Fly fornication. Every sin that a man doth, is without the body; but he that committeth fornication, sinneth against his own body. Or know you not, that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost, who is in you, whom you have from God; and you are not your own? For you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear God in your body." (1 Cor. 6:15-20). "Blessed are the clean of heart; for they shall see God." (Matt. 5:8)

Sins of impurity

Adultery, which is specifically forbidden by the Sixth Commandment, means sexual sin with another's wife or husband, or of a single person with a married person. It is an offense against the sanctity of married life and a crying injustice against a fellow human being. It violates the fidelity which man and wife pledge to each other. It is also a crime against society, often bringing in its wake dishonor, disgrace, dissensions, murder, poverty and the neglect of children.

In addition to adultery, the Sixth Commandment forbids all sins of impurity. St. Paul wrote: "For know this and understand, that no fornicator, or unclean, or covetous person (which is a serving of idols), hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." (Eph. 5:5). "Ambition was the sin of the Angels, avarice the sin of men, impurity the sin of the beast," St. Bernard used to say. The great Saints of God went to extraordinary lengths to preserve their purity. St. Benedict rolled in the briars; St. Francis of Assisi rolled in the snow; St. Bernard plunged into a pond.

Thus, the Sixth Commandment forbids immodesty in:

a) Looks: The eyes are the windows of the soul, and immodest looks, e.g., at pictures, scantily clothed people, etc., are dangerous and therefore are forbidden.
b) Words: "But now put you also all away: anger indignation, malice, blasphemy, filthy speech out of your mouth." (Col. 3:8). An immodest tongue is the devil's carriage because it carries souls to Hell for him. With our lips we are meant to praise God forever, for all eternity. How wrong it is, therefore, to defile them now by impure talk, which often involves the souls of others in sin!
c) Actions: Alone or with others.

It is obvious from what has been said that immodest dances, songs, books, pictures, plays, movies, TV shows and websites are all forbidden by the Sixth Commandment. The question is often asked about the morality of viewing nudity in art museums, or even in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. True art is never suggestive to impurity, objectively speaking. Hence, viewing true art is justified and edifying, so long as the viewer is spiritually mature enough to do so without turning such viewing into an occasion of sin.

Causes of impurity

The following are some of the causes of impurity, against which we must be on our guard at all times:

1. Pride. "Pride goeth before destruction: and the spirit is lifted up before a fall." (Proverbs 16:18).
2. Idleness. "Idleness hath taught much evil." (Ecclus. 33:29).
3. Bad books, bad entertainment, and bad company. "Evil communications corrupt good manners." (1 Cor. 15:33)
4. Immodesty of dress - a very common cause of impurity in these times of mixed swimming and sun-bathing, as well as the movies.
5. Excess in eating and drinking.
6. Failure of watchfulness over the senses. "Gaze not upon a maiden, lest her beauty be a stumbling block to thee." (Ecclus. 9:5). "Many have perished by the beauty of woman; and hereby lust is enkindled as a fire." (Ecclus. 9:9).


The remedies for impurity are principally: 1) frequent Confession and Holy Communion; 2) prayer, especially to Our Lady, and especially her Rosary; 3) mortification; 4) innocent occupation of the mind and body; 5) promptness in resisting the first attacks of temptation by turning away to something else; and also 6) the steadfast avoiding of any kind of danger to the virtue of purity, especially persons, places and literature that easily lead one into these sins.

Impure thoughts

The Ninth commandment forbids all willful consent to impure thoughts and desires and all willful pleasure in the irregular sexual promptings or motions of the flesh. That is, it forbids interior sins of thought and desire against the Sixth Commandment.

Many people find themselves tempted by bad thoughts. But temptation is not a sin. The sin occurs when the thoughts are deliberately encouraged. You may feel that the thought was in your mind for a long time, that you were taking pleasure in it, that you welcomed it and wanted it to go on. But did you recognize the thought as sinful and then, knowing it to be sinful, let it go on? Unless you did, there is no sin. No one commits a sin against purity in thought until he wants to enjoy bad thoughts.
Bad thoughts must almost be expected - until a person has taken himself firmly in hand and gained considerable virtue in this area. To dilly-dally with them may possibly, in some cases, be only a venial sin of nasty curiosity - depending on whether the will fully consents to entertain them further in the mind, in which case they would be mortally sinful. But definitely, deliberately to accept the thought and take pleasure in it is a mortal sin against purity.

Is every fully deliberate sin of impurity mortal? The answer is, "Yes, most definitely!" Here are the principles which help us to answer this:

1. To seek of set purpose and of full deliberation to arouse or excite or produce within ourselves sexual pleasure, whether complete or incomplete, outside the lawful use of marriage, is always a mortal sin. Or, should the pleasure come to us unsought in time of temptation, and then for us to seek to continue to prolong or gratify it is , again, always a mortal sin. In this sense, and only in this sense, is it true to say that every willful sin of impurity is mortal. It does not matter what you do, but if you do it for the above purpose, then it is a mortal sin. We say "complete or incomplete" because this pleasure within us is so powerful, vehement and impetuous in its operation - owing to our strong instinct and to our fallen nature - that we cannot promise to be able to check any fully deliberate act to produce or even prolong even the imcomplete pleasure; hence, it is a grave (i.e., mortal) sin, because we are putting ourselves in the proximate danger of sin when we say, foolishly, "I intend to go this far and no farther."
a) The guilty person must have as his direct and immediate purpose to produce or prolong sexual pleasure;
b) There must be full deliberation (i.e., advertence of the mind and consent of the will). A person could not commit a mortal sin when asleep or half-asleep, half-adverting or half-consenting.

2. To do something deliberately, of set purpose, to produce or prolong sexual pleasure, even for some reason other than for pleasure, yet something which the person foresees or knows from experience will or may produce it... such an action, when fully deliberate, is always a mortal sin.

There is mortal sin when what a person does is something which of its very nature is apt to excite sexual pleasure, and at the same time the person has no serious reason for so acting. And the same is true if, even granted he has such a reason, there is a real danger of his accepting (not merely feeling) the pleasure. For example, to look closely and for a time at one's own or another's nakedness, to let one's thoughts dwell on impure matters, to handle (not as a passing act) oneself or another indecently, to look fixedly at obscene pictures or to read obscene literature would be mortal sins.

There is a venial sin when what we do is something which of its nature is not likely to produce sexual pleasure, even if at the same time we act out of no good motive, but merely, e.g., out of levity, imprudence, curiosity, bravado, vanity or the like. For example, deliberate but only passing glances at a naked body, a passing glance at immodest pictures, reading unsavory paragraphs in a newspaper out of curiosity, touching oneself deliberately but only lightly or in a passing way, deliberately entertaining for a moment an immodest (not an impure) thought - these would be venial sins.

There is no sin at all when what we do is quite innocent or decent in itself, or even if it is something which of its very nature is very likely to arouse sexual pleasure, provided that we have an adequate and just reason for doing it and there is no real danger of our consenting to the pleasure aroused.

The following stages in temptation should be distinguished; we can compare them to someone at a door:
1) Temptation to sexual pleasure - the knock at the door;
2) Feeling the pleasure - the mind goes out to see who is there;
3) Taking the pleasure - "I want you; come in."

Taken from This is the Faith by TAN Books & Publishers, Inc.

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