Premarital sexual intercourse gives up the ideal of giving oneself as totally as possible to one's future spouse and so makes marital chastity and fidelity for a lifetime more difficult than it already is.

The great difficulty facing educators for motivating the young to preserve and control their sexual drives before marriage is giving them goals shot through with reasons why this is so necessary for choosing this behavior, and why it leads to persevering in a future marital state. St. Thomas helps the teacher by showing him or her why the marital conjugal act is morally good. However, it presupposes a great deal of self-possession in order to give oneself as totally as possible to one's spouse.

The Lack of Emotional Synthesis with Reason

The emotions and instincts within the human person are not in perfect correspondence with reason or with each other due to original sin and, quite often, personal sin, which adds to the inner disorder people find in themselves.

For reason to exercise proper influence in the sexual sphere requires special human effort and divine grace because the desire for pleasure is exceedingly strong, since sexual pleasure is deeply intense. Likewise, the fear of pain and great difficulty leads most people to avoid onerous tasks and even to be exceedingly fearful of death.1

What is Chastity?

The reasonable control over the sexual sphere called chastity is essential for growth in the other virtues. Without it, people are led, or rather lead themselves, on paths of self-indulgence or narcissism, and so use others as objects of pleasure rather than respecting the dignity of human persons for their own sake.

This reasonable control over the dynamism of sexuality has three phases: premarital chastity, marital chastity and postmarital or vidual chastity. Celibate or consecrated chastity of the priest or religious, whereby a person bypasses the normal way of growing in the love of God and neighbor through a deep attachment to another person is unique. Notwithstanding, without the virtue of chastity lived in the ordinary way, one easily becomes a slave to one's disordered emotions for any state of life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us of this fact when it teaches:

2339 Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. ''Man's dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.''

Lust the Enemy of Chastity

With this perfection, one becomes free to exercise restraint in many other fields of human life and also becomes self-possessed. These values then make ready the person for self-giving for the sake of others rather than self-taking for one's own exclusive sensual benefit.

The great enemy of chastity is lust, its immediate adversary, which is defined by the Catechism as ''...disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes'' (No. 2351).

Inordinate Parenting as a Cause for Lustful Actions

More often than not, sexual expression in youth is the yearning desire for affirmation and affection, which adolescents may not be receiving at home from their parents, especially the father if he begins to develop sexual feelings toward his daughters.

Often, home life is not based upon mutual trust but rather mutual manipulation, either from overly indulgent parents giving their offspring whatever they want materially and never correcting their faults, or excessively strict parents who rarely praise their children or rarely show them much affection.

Neither kind of parenting knows the art of modeling true virtue. As a consequence, the child becomes either a selfish, self-centered young person or one emotionally starved for reasonable affection from one's parents. This, too, is also self-regarding in an excessive way. Because of this, St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica teaches that inordinate or disordered self-love is the basis of all sin (ST I-II 77, 4).

It is also related to the queen of the vices, pride, which refuses to accept the limits God has placed within human nature and to follow the plan God has created in human nature (ST I-II 84, 2 ad 2). Lust is a kind of lieutenant of this queen of vices called pride (ST 162, 8).

The Place of Religion and Chastity

Where there is a strong prayer life and a home life of affirmation, that is, correction of faults as well as praise for actions well done, children feel good about themselves. That a home life shall so be characterized is a matter of justice to the children.

In such a home, trust reigns because the expectations are clear. Thus, when the onset of puberty occurs, and the trials of growing in chastity take place, they are met, more or less, with a measure of confidence in self to cooperate with the graces received from Jesus and also the external graces that come from the encouragement of the parents and religious praxis. The Catechism teaches the subject of chastity this way:

2343 Chastity has laws of growth which progress through stages marked by imperfection and too often by sin. ''Man . . . day by day builds himself up through his many free decisions; and so he knows, loves, and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth.''

We must say ''more or less'' in regard to the virtues because the effort of growing in all the virtues takes many years:

2342 Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life. The effort required can be more intense in certain periods, such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and adolescence.

Moreover, chastity becomes more or less successful as the young person begins to understand that his self-refraining from the sins of the flesh is meant to influence him and her as a future parent and spouse. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says so well:

1632 So that the ''I do'' of the spouses may be a free and responsible act and so that the marriage covenant may have solid and lasting human and Christian foundations, preparation for marriage is of prime importance.
The example and teaching given by parents and families remain the special form of this preparation.
The role of pastors and of the Christian community as the ''family of God'' is indispensable for the transmission of the human and Christian values of marriage and family, and much more so in our era when many young people experience broken homes which no longer sufficiently assure this initiation:
It is imperative to give suitable and timely instruction to young people, above all in the heart of their own families, about the dignity of married love, its role and its exercise, so that, having learned the value of chastity, they will be able at a suitable age to engage in honorable courtship and enter upon a marriage of their own.

As members of both sexes sacrifice their sexual urges toward each other or even toward themselves for their future marriages and possible children, they develop many other social abilities and skills. These range from choosing a wise spouse to becoming good teachers of their future children regarding growth in chastity and the other virtues. And, making wise choices for the good of one's spouse is what marital love is all about. Hence, the words of the Catechism are meant to be a foundation for this notion:

2337 Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man's belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.
The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.

When this integration occurs, then the remarkable words of St. John Chrysostom, a celibate bishop, are very poignant and beautiful:

I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us.... I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you [cited inCCC, No. 2365].

Chastity Effort: School of Matrimony

If St. Thomas Aquinas is correct in asserting that the deepest human friendship there is can be found in the state of matrimony,2 then the preparation of this friendship has to begin long before a couple meet and choose each other for this vocation. This school of true love begins in part, but not exclusively, with chastity at a certain age of discretion or the appropriate age of development in a particular culture:

2346 Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God's fidelity and loving kindness.
2347 The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends, who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality.
Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one's neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion.

Continence: A Quasi Virtue Leading Up to Chastity

In the present Code of Canon Law, among other documents of the magisterium, there appears the word continence, which seems to have lost its meaning for contemporary culture:

The evangelical counsel of chastity embraced for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, is a sign of the world to come, and a source of greater fruitfulness in an undivided heart. It involves the obligation of perfect continence observed in celibacy (Canon, No. 599).3

Likewise, the Code speaks of this with regard to clerics:

Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, and are therefore bound to celibacy. Celibacy is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can more easily remain close to Christ with an undivided heart, and can dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and their neighbor (Canon, No. 277.1).

In each canon, continence is described as perfect in the sense that it must be lived with a view to perpetual celibacy.

Similarly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church uses the phrase ''chastity in continence'' without explaining what continence is although suggesting that the two words ''chastity'' and ''continence'' (see CCC, Nos. 2349-50 and 2370) are not exactly the same reality. What, then, is continence?

To understand the distinction between the virtue of chastity and the imperfect virtue of continence, the theologian needs to look at St. Thomas. He explains what is involved here:

The term is taken in one of two senses by various authors. Some treat it as abstinence from all sex pleasures; thus St. Paul couples it with chastity. And in this sense virginity is the principal, and chaste widowhood the secondary form of perfect continence. Accordingly the same reasoning holds for continence as for virginity, which we have already shown to be a virtue.
Others, however, treat it as resistance to the crooked lusts that shake us. Thus Aristotle; thus also Cassian. In this sense continence has some of the quality of virtue, in that reason remains steadfast against the passions which would lead us astray. Nevertheless it does not achieve the full stature of a moral virtue, which so composes even the sensory appetite according to reason that powerful rebellious passions do not rear up [emphasis mine]. Thus Aristotle speaks of continence as being, not unalloyed virtue, but a sort of mixture which has some of the ingredients of virtue while yet in part falling short of virtue.
Nevertheless, broadly speaking and taking virtue to mean any ability to perform commendable deeds, we can allow that continence is a virtue.4

For continence to be a virtue in the broad sense, the key is for reason and will to be able to create a spirit of self-possession against a distorted desire or lust for sex (or even an inordinate desire for food and drink). These bodily desires (not willful desires flowing from a choice) still exist but are held in check by the will so that one does not become carried away by feelings, which often urges people to unreasonable satisfaction or delectation. These urges, however, are still present and often quite strongly. St. Thomas in many places of his Summas calls them ''first movements.''

Shame as a Motivator of Virtue

There is another ''semi-virtue'' of the Christian life according to Aquinas. It is called ''shame.'' He says:

Virtue can be taken in the strict and in a broad sense. Strictly speaking it spells a perfection ... and therefore a disposition short of this, even though it be good, does not achieve the character of a virtue. Now to be sensitive to share is not consistent with perfection, since it is an anxiety about possible disgrace; Damascene calls it the fear of doing something base ... A person complete with virtue, however, entertains no apprehensions about the disgraceful or base as something that he is likely to do and can scarcely avoid. The fear then is not properly speaking a virtue, but falls short of its perfection.
Nevertheless, generally speaking, it is good and praiseworthy since what is good in human acts and feelings is counted virtuous and praiseworthy, to be sensitive to shame is a virtue in the broad sense, and sometimes called a virtue, since it is a praiseworthy passion.5

Shame is also necessary for growing in continence since the fear of falling away from reason in the area of sex leads one to put reason into the desire for sex, in accord with the right time and state of life entered into.

Continence and shame work hand in hand to raise up human sexuality to the perfection of the virtue of chastity, but it is a slow process (barring a miraculous intervention by God as was the case with a few saints like St. Thomas himself). As the Catechism reminds us:

2337 Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man's belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.
The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.

Successful integration requires time for this virtue to become fixed in the desires of the human person. This is why the Catechism is realistic about growing in this virtue:

2342 Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life.[128] The effort required can be more intense in certain periods, such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and adolescence.
2343 Chastity has laws of growth which progress through stages marked by imperfection and too often by sin. ''Man ... day by day builds himself up through his many free decisions; and so he knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth.''
2344 Chastity represents an eminently personal task; it also involves a cultural effort, for there is ''an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society.'' Chastity presupposes respect for the rights of the person, in particular the right to receive information and an education that respect the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life.

This last number makes it quite clear that the society or the culture in which one lives has to make its contribution to helping individuals grow in the virtue of chastity. Without this contribution coming from families, churches and society, it is difficult to keep the populace interested in developing this virtue. If the culture thinks its efforts are not important, then growth in lust will be the ready result. TP

(Continued next month)

2 III SCG, ch. 123.

3 Codex Juris Canonici actuoritate Ioannis Pauli PP. II promulgatus (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1983), English translation from Code of Canon Law, E. Caparros, M. Thériault, J. Thorn (eds.), (Montréal: Wilson & Lafleur Limitée, 1993).

4 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Thomas Gilby, O.P. (ed. & tr.), vol. 44, Well-Tempered Passion, (New York: McGraw Hill Company, 1972).

5 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Thomas Gilby, O.P. (ed. & tr.), volume 43, Temperance, (New York: McGraw Hill Company, 1968).

FATHER COLE, O.P., is associate professor at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., and is the author of The Hidden Enemies of the Priesthood (Alba House, 2007. $22.95 pb, 1-800-343-2522).