Chastity a Reconciliation of the Senses

10-29-2023Weekly Reflection

Vatican commentator “Vaticanista” Sandro Magister wrote on October 25: At the Vatican the synod is heading into its final phase, which then again is not final, given that it will be reconvened in a year and only afterward will the pope, on his own, decide what conclusions to draw from it, at the tail end of a debate about which little or nothing is known, protected as it is by secrecy. But meanwhile there is also a synod “outside the walls,” of which the book … is a voice, on a topic, chastity, that has almost become a taboo for those in the Church who are calling for a “paradigm shift” in the Catholic doctrine on sexuality, led by that cardinal JeanClaude Hollerich whom Francis has put at the helm of the synod.

“Paradigm-shift “ to be blunt is a euphemism for those who reject the Church’s teachings on sexuality and think they have the power to overrule the Scriptures and what has been handed down by the Apostles on questions of sexual morality in order to accommodate homosexual activity and conform the Church to the LGBTQ agenda. Sadly this includes a number of bishops who are violating their ordination oaths to uphold Catholic teaching. Neither the Pope, nor these bishops have the power to change Catholic teaching in this regard. Hence it is refreshing to read that a bishop speaks positively of the virtue of chastity which brings order into human sexuality out of the disorder caused by lust and sexual sins. The bishop in question is Bishop Erik Trondheim, the bishop of Trondheim Norway. He describes chastity in his book Chastity Reconciliation of the Senses.

The book has been described this way: At a time when religion is in decline in the Western world and when it often seems that the senses have run riot, Erik Varden shows that chastity, the single minded direction of the senses, is a loveable quality and one that affects and beautifies humankind. The terms sexuality and wholeness indicate that to be sexual is to exist in a state of incompleteness longing to be restored. Wholeness points to a healing embrace that we desire so greatly. In Biblical language, chastity is a function of simplicity of sight. We are no longer torn apart by our passions and our desires; indeed they may reach their fulfillment. Body and spirit, male and female, order and disorder, passion and death can move from creative tension to a new kind of wholeness. Varden's text is enriched by a wide range of references to scripture, literature, music, painting and sculpture.

Bishop Varden is not the only bishop explaining the meaning of Catholic teaching and the meaning of the virtue of chastity. Back in 2022 a Catholic news agency reported remarks of Cardinal Wilm Eijk the Cardinal-Archbishop of Utrecht in Holland with the headline: Dutch Cardinal: Chastity is not ridiculous. The lead paragraph begins this way:

"Chastity does not limit freedom but gives inner freedom to make difficult choices in life, for example, concerning sexual abstinence." In a time where ethical views on marriage and sexuality are shifting, he defends the traditional doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church concerning these issues. The traditional teaching about sexuality is that it only belongs to one man and one woman within the bond of matrimony.

The real issue in this regard is the amount of clergy and laity who reject Catholic teaching in order to accommodate homosexual activity and the secular world thus rejecting the natural order of creation and Catholic teaching contained in Scripture and Apostolic tradition about the meaning of sexuality: that it is ordered to the procreation and rearing of children and the unity of a man and a woman in lifelong union.

Modern secular society rejects that order and claims to have the ability to change that order and creation itself to accommodate any sexual expression and even to re-define who and what a human being is in the claim to create the superman in an ideology called transhumanism. Hence the notion that human beings are themselves gods and can do what they want. The notion of blessing homosexual activities being promoted by certain churchmen carries with it the blasphemous claim that God blesses sin and that God rejects His own order of creation.

It is not just homosexual activity that is disordered but all sexuality is in some degree disordered as a result of original sin and lust and this includes fornication, adultery, and the various other sexual sins. Chastity is the healing of that disorder through the power of grace, coming through the sacraments, especially the healing sacraments of Confession and the Holy Eucharist. All human beings struggle with this, including great saints, like St. Augustine who is very candid about it in his Confessions. Here is a sample of Bishop Varden’s remarks on Chastity:

Holiness, life everlasting, configuration to Christ, the resurrection of the body: these notions do not feature much, now, in people’s thinking about relationships and sexuality. We have become alienated from the mindset that brought about the soaring verticality of the twelfth century’s cathedrals, houses holding the whole of life while elevating it.

Was not a proposal recently made to fit a swimming pool on the rebuilt roof of Notre Dame de Paris? It seemed to me apt. It would symbolically have re-established the dome of water that sealed earth off from heaven on the first day of creation, before God’s Image was manifest in it (cf. Genesis 1.7). It would have cancelled, again symbolically, the piercing of the firmament at Jesus’ Baptism, which portended a new way of being human. Whatever fragment of mystery might remain within the church itself would have been performed beneath the splashing of bodies striving to perfect their form. The parable would have been significant.

Once the supernatural thrust has gone from Christianity, what remains? Well-meaning sentiment and a set of commandments found to be crushing, the finality of change they were meant to serve having been summarily dismissed. Understandably, a movement will then be afoot to consign these to the archives. For what will be the point of them? Become this-worldly, the Church accommodates the world and makes herself reasonably comfortable within it. Her prescriptions and proscriptions alike will reflect and be shaped by current “mores.”

This calls for on-going flexibility, for secular society’s “mores” change quickly, also in the sphere of liberal reflection on sex. Certain views propounded as liberating and prophetic well within living memory – regarding, for example, the sexuality of children – are now rightly seen as abhorrent. Yet new prophets are readily anointed, new theories put forward for experimentation in an area that touches us at our most intimate. It is time to effect a “Sursum corda”, (Latin for “Lift up your hearts.”) to correct an inward-looking, horizontalizing (navel-gazing) trend in order to recover the transcendental (uplifting) dimension of embodied intimacy, part and parcel of the universal call to holiness. Of course we should reach out to and engage those estranged by Christian teaching, those who feel ostracized or consider they are being held to an impossible standard. At the same time we cannot forget that this situation is far from new.

In the early centuries of our era, there was colossal strain between worldly and Christian moral values, not least concerning chastity. This was so not because Christians were better – most of us, now as then, live mediocre lives – but because they had a different sense of what life is about. Those were the centuries of the subtle christological controversies. Relentlessly, the Church fought to articulate who Jesus Christ is: “God from God” yet “born of the Virgin Mary”; fully human, fully divine. On this basis she went on to make sense of what it means to be a human being and to show how a humane social order might come about. (emphasis added) (Note: Christology is the theology, thinking in faith about Jesus Christ)Today, Christology is in eclipse. We still affirm that “God became man.” But we largely deploy an inverted hermeneutic, (interpretation) projecting an image of “God” that issues from our garment-of-skin sense of what man is. The result is caricatural. The divine is reduced to our measure. The fact that many contemporaries reject this counterfeit “God” is in many ways an indication of their good sense.