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Chastity - A Guide for Teens and Young Adults

God's Law of Chastity

by Fr. Gerald Kelly

The practice of chastity is obligatory for all people, married and unmarried, but evidently the norms must be different for the two states. Married people are within the sacred limits of God's law and therefore practice the virtue of chastity according to their state of life when they confine their use of the generative faculty to the rights conferred upon them in the marriage contract. The present book is written for the unmarried; therefore we shall say no more about the practice of conjugal chastity but shall confine ourselves to a discussion of the Law of God as it concerns the unmarried.

There are many ways of discovering the law of God. The pagan has his reason to guide him; the Jew has his reason and the Old Testament; the non-Catholic Christian has his reason and his Bible; and the Catholic has not only his reason and the various sources of Divine Revelation, but also the teaching authority of the Church. Of these various ways, the easiest and at the same time the safest method -of learning God's will is to consult the teaching of the Church. It is easiest because there is no difficulty in finding it, and it is stated very clearly in terms that do not require a highly schooled mind to understand it; it is the safest because it is purified of the obscurity that is likely to hamper the mind of the individual who seeks after truth unaided.

It is the most logical thing in the world for one who professes faith in the Catholic Church as God's official interpreter in regard to Faith and Morals to consult the teaching of the Church before he launches off into any investigation of his own. Approaching the matter first from this Catholic point of view, we are beginning this chapter by stating the official teaching of the Catholic Church in regard to extramarital chastity.

Teaching of the Church

We know of no ecclesiastical document which more clearly or beautifully states the Church's teaching than the Encyclical on Christian Marriage by the late Pius XI. Here are the Pope's words on our present subject:

"Nor must we omit to remark that., since the duty entrusted to parents for the good of their children is of such high dignity and of such great importance, every use of the faculty given by God for the procreation of new life is the right and the privilege of the married state alone, by the law of God and of nature [italics ours], and must be confined absolutely within the sacred limits of that state."

In those words, the Holy Father simply stated what has been the teaching of the Church from the very beginning. The expression, "the law of God," refers to the will of God as expressly manifested in divine. revelation; the expression, "the law of nature," refers to the so-called natural law, that is, to the will of God as written in human nature itself and binding all people of all times. Chastity, therefore, is not a precept that is distinctively Catholic or distinctively Christian or Jewish, but it is distinctively human. According to Catholic teaching, it binds every human being, regardless of race or creed.

Sacred Scripture

For all Christians, even those who do not believe in the infallible teaching authority of the Catholic Church, the Sacred Scriptures contain strong arguments for chastity. Many texts of Scripture can be cited in this matter; we ore limiting ourselves here to the First Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter VI. This chapter is a particularly apt one for our purpose because it is substantially the same in all versions, Catholic and Protestant alike, and is frequently referred to in Protestant sources as a clinching argument for purity. Moreover, in this one chapter is contained an almost complete statement of the Christian doctrine on chastity, from both the negative and the positive points of view.

We say "almost complete," because nothing is said directly about impure thoughts and desires. However, these are clearly condemned by the Commandment, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife," and by the words of our Lord: "Whosoever shall look upon a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28).

In citing the text from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, we are following the Westminster version. In this translation, the pertinent section of the chapter begins as follows:

"Be not deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor effeminates [i. e. those given to self-abuse] nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor cheats, no drunkards, no railers, no robbers shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such some of you were; but ye have washed yourselves clean, but ye have been hallowed, but ye have been justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."

The foregoing words are taken from the 9th to the 11th verses. In verse 13, the Apostle continues:

"...But the body is not for impurity but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body; for God through his power hath raised the Lord, and us too shall he raise up. Know ye not that your bodies are members of Christ? Am I then to take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot I God forbid. Or know ye not that he that cleaveth to a harlot is one body with her? 'The two,' it is said, 'shall become one flesh.' But he that cleaveth to the Lord is one spirit with him. Flee from impurity. Every other sin that a man committeth is a thing outside the body; but the impure sinneth against his own body. Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is within you, whom ye have from God? And ye are not your own, for we have been bought at a price. Glorify God, then, in your body."

Concerning this chapter taken from the writings of St. Paul, we wish to make the following brief observations:

  1. This is the word of God. Now and then we find people who do not understand why the writings of St. Paul should have greater weight than those of St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas. It is rather difficult to understand such a mentality. The Letters of St. Paul form one of the principal sources of the Christian Revelation. They are as much the word of God as is the Old Testament or the Gospels. There is no comparison between these writings and those of a private individual, even though said individual be a great saint or doctor of the Church.

  2. St. Paul expressly mentions the sins of fornication (sexual relations between unmarried persons), adultery (sexual relations between a married and unmarried person, or between two married persons who are not mutually husband and wife), self-abuse (the solitary use of the generative faculty), and sodomy (impure acts between persons of the same sex); and then he gives a general condemnation of all impurity.

  3. He teaches that these things exclude from the Kingdom of Heaven; therefore they are serious sins.

  4. He implies that they are sins even for pagans, because the early Christians had to be washed of them in Baptism. In other words, they are against the Natural Law because that is the only law the pagans had.

  5. They are sinful because they are violations of one's own body; and in a Christian they have the added disfigurement that comes from making the member of Christ the member of a harlot, from defiling a body destined to rise with Christ in Glory, and from desecrating the living Temple of the Holy Spirit. What nobler concept of the body, and what stronger reprobation of impurity can be imagined!

The Argument From Reason

St. Paul and Pius XI both stated that the use of the sexual faculties outside of marriage is against the law of nature. Now the law of nature is simply the law of right reason, so we can confirm our arguments from the teaching of the Church and from Divine Revelation by looking for a moment at the conclusions which sound reason draws in regard to extra-marital sexual activity.

We know the law of God in regard to created things when we know the purpose that those things were created to serve. In the matter previously treated in this book, we have already seen that the natural purpose of generative activity is threefold: biological, psychological, and social. A word to recall the essential ideas of these three purposes will serve as the basis for the argument from reason.

From a biological point of view, sexual activity is essentially reproductive or generative. This terminology in not coined by the Church; it is found in any scientific textbook. It does not require extremely profound thought to see, for instance, that when a man uses his generative faculty the processes set in motion are those which naturally culminate in the expulsion of the male germ cell. Nor does it require more profound thought to see that the female processes are intended solely as an aid to the reception of the male germ cell and to give it the opportunity of seeking the female germ cell. This is procreative activity; it is the one thing that human parents voluntarily contribute to the production of new life. Sometimes new life results, sometimes it does not; but this depends on other circumstances, not on the act placed by the parents.

We have also seen that from the psychological point of view the use of the generative faculty in a human being is not intended as a merely animal act, but as the culmination and expression of a great love. We saw the build-up of friendship; how, according to the plan of nature, two hearts are blended into one desire for perfect self-consecration to each other, how this consecration is solemnly made in the marriage contract and after that is solemnly sealed by the conjugal relation. When this order is followed, sexual intercourse achieves its true psychological purpose; it is an act of love which is utterly self-giving, not for a day, or an hour, bat for life.

Furthermore, conjugal intercourse serves a great social purpose. Physical union is not only expressive of the mutual love of husband and wife, it is also designed to increase and perpetuate, that love. Thus it serves the very important purpose of providing for the proper rearing of children. Surely it is easy for us to see that children are not like animals. They come into the world weak and unable to care for themselves, and they remain more or less in that condition for a long period of time. Their minds need careful development; their characters need Arm but loving training. They have a natural craving for mother-love and father-love. God fashioned them thus, and He ordained that the mutual and enduring love of the parents should be, not merely for their own happiness and perfection, but also for the sake of their children. Thus we say that the purpose of marriage (and of the marital act) is not only the procreation of children, but also the education (that is, the full, proper, human development) of children. This is the foundation of true family life and, therefore, the foundation of progressive human society. We may call this the social purpose of the generative faculty.

There is scarcely need of dinning further on such evident truths. Nor should there be need of any prolonged exposition of the argument that flows from them, namely: all generative activity exercised outside of marriage defeats one or more of these natural purposes and is therefore morally wrong. Furthermore, since these purposes are of great importance, any act which goes contrary to them is seriously wrong.

Fornication defeats the social purpose of generative activity. The social purpose demands that sexual intercourse be limited to those who are united in the lasting bond of marriage, for only the married can provide for the proper education (as explained above) of the child. Fornication is also contrary to the psychological purpose of generative activity. The parties perform an act which implies a complete, mutual self-giving, yet they offer no real guarantee of lasting fidelity. That guarantee is contained only in the marriage contract. It is hardly necessary to observe that since fornication is wrong, then adultery is an even greater sin, for it contains all the sinfulness of fornication plus a violation of the marriage contract.

The solitary use of the generative faculty by seeking venereal pleasure through external acts or stimulating thoughts is wrong because it defeats even the biological purpose of the faculty. The generative processes are set in motion in such a way that they cannot result in procreation. And the same is true of impure acts with a person of the same sex and of artificial birth control. All these things defeat the most basic purpose of the generative faculty, reproduction, and for that reason they are styled unnatural; that is, they are even physically unnatural and would therefore be wrong even for married people.

Finally, still arguing only from reason, we can say that, just as fornication is wrong, so it is also wrong for unmarried people to indulge in the type of passionate and intimate caressing which is a natural preliminary to sexual union. And the fact that they do not intend to "go the limit" does not remove such actions from the realm of grave sin. For this type of sexual activity has the definite natural purpose of preparing the organs for union and of creating the desire for union, and the right to such acts belongs only to those who have a right to the complete act.


This brings to a close the argument from reason. It confirms what we saw to be the teaching of the Church and of divine Revelation. It shows us the Natural Law, a law which binds all persons under all circumstances. It provides for the minimum essentials of the well-being of the human race, and it admits of no exceptions and allows for no "extreme cases." Whenever men have been foolish enough to think (or think they think) that certain exceptions are permissible, moral chaos has been the result. We see that today in regard to divorce; that movement began with a few "extreme cases. " We see it also in regard to artificial birth prevention; it too began with a plea for "extreme cases." And, in another field, we see it in regard to the killing of the innocent. First the advocates of "mercy" wanted an occasional abortion "to save the life of the mother"; now they want it to save her reputation, to save her from hardship, and even to satisfy her whims. Already, they want to kill the sick "to keep them from suffering"; later very likely (as they are doing in some countries as we write this) they will want to kill the old and the sick to keep them from being a "burden to the state." Now they sterilize the "unfit," but there are already vague murmurings of a campaign that may bring these innocent people into the category of those who should be killed "out of mercy."

Once human beings seek one exception to the law of nature, they start down a steep precipice ending in general moral ruin. We cannot uphold the dignity of chaste wedlock unless at the same time we defend the absolute necessity and the high dignity of extra-marital chastity.

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