Sexuality in History: Lust is Bad, Chastity is Difficult

If you’ve been mostly following along with this blog so far, we have made it through the second of six major parts of Theology of the Body. That’s about 40% of the audiences. Recall that the work is in two major parts – the first is a theological study of human sexuality, and the second a study of marriage. The study of sexuality is divided into three parts – sexuality “in the beginning,” as God intended it before sin, sexuality and concupiscence, and, coming up next, sexuality in light of the redemption and Heaven. (More detailed outline here. Summary of the first part here. List of all previous blog posts here.)

Since this part focused on original sin and concupiscence, it was primarily about chastity and unchastity, purity and impurity, lust and respect and “rediscovering” the spousal meaning of the body. What did we learn over the past 14 months? (It took JPII a year to give the same section of audiences, so my timing is appropriate, right?)

What Has TOB Said So Far?

Here is a review of the development of this section. Each section has a key scriptural passage, with many supporting ones. The key passage for this section:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.     ~Matthew 5:27-28

In this Sermon on the Mount and in his other dialogues in the gospels, Christ expands the scope of ethics. In the Old Testament external actions and observances were important; for Christians, the interior thoughts and movements of the heart and mind are just as important. God is perpetually calling and inviting us back to the truth and the joy of our creation.

We start at the very origin of sin. Adam and Eve sinned because they did not trust God, or that his commandment was in their best interest. After original sin came original shame.  Even marriage, which is supposed to be a covenant of mutual love, respect and communion now falls short. Men now see women as objects to be used for sexual gratification, women reciprocate, and everyone is using everyone else.

We fast-forward from Adam and Eve to the marriage scene of the Old Testament. In the historical and legislative books, we see that polygamy takes hold, primarily out of a need and desire for abundant procreation. In the prophets, we see marriage as an analogy for the relationship between God and his people, and adultery representing idolatry. The wisdom literature reminded men of the consuming nature of lust and impropriety.

Jesus reminds the people of his time, and us, that legality is not always decisive for morality. (How relevant for our own times – is all legal marriage good and moral? Respectful of personal dignity and the purpose of marriage?) Even your legal wife cannot become an object for your own gratification.

The human heart, including its sexuality, is not really bad or evil, even after original sin. When sexual attraction leads to authentic personal communion, it is good, truly human, and noble. The process of transforming our own sexuality is difficult and at times painful, but it is the only road to a true and good sexuality. This type of transformation is possible because of the redemption of Jesus Christ. Purity brings such dignity to the body that it gives glory to God. The Holy Spirit gives the gift of particular reverence for the body.

So, there you have it. A history of human sexuality in 23 audiences, reduced to 9 blog posts, then reduced to one. We follow Adam and Eve to the Old Testament to the gospels to the New Testament and briefly consider later ideas as well.

What Does TOB Teach Us?

All of this is an effort in anthropology – we are trying to learn the truth about man. The truth we have just summarized is also ethical. These ethical truths are “as normative as the truth contained in the commandment, ‘You shall not commit adultery.'” The requirement to avoid lust is just as definitive as the requirement to avoid committing adultery! The teachings presented by Christ and represented by John Paul show us the path toward purity of heart. Purity is possible even given the unchangeable reality of original sin and concupiscence.

In addition to being ethical, TOB is pedagogical. It tells us what is required of us, it explains why it is required, and it shows us how to carry out these requirements. God has given the human body to us as a task. (JPII repeats this many times.) One of your personal jobs on this earth is to master your own body and to be a bodily person – to work using your body, to create using your body, and to really be masculine or feminine. This task is more difficult because of original sin, but it is still important and it is still possible.

Science has a lot to tell us about the human body, and about sex in a biological sense. This knowledge is good and useful, but not in isolation. A purely biological focus on the human body will lead to treating it is an object to manipulate rather than as the substance of a unique person; we lose the dignity of the body. (Doesn’t that sound oddly like the description of objectification that comes through lust?) For a spiritually mature person, biological knowledge can aid in knowing the spousal meaning of the body, but for an immature person, it does rather the opposite.

So we have ethics of the body, pedagogy of the body to help us fulfill them, and finally, a spirituality of the body. The body should be a sign of the spirit, and we should exprience it that way. We cannot communicate with other people except through our bodies – our voices, our eyes, our gestures, our presence. With greater spiritual maturity comes a greater ability to do that, to experience the body as a sign of a person, and so come to experience the spousal meaning of the body.

What Else Should We Know? (Humanae Vitae)

John Paul lists two magisterial documents in particular as necessary to know: The section of Gaudium et Spes about the family (Part II, Chapter 1), and Humanae Vitae. Christ’s words speak to all men of all times, but the words of the Church apply them to particular circumstances. In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI teaches us how to fulfill the commandment of Christ to purity of heart, and how not to fulfill it. He warns us that contraception will make men more likely to see their wives, and the bodies of their wives, as objects and less likely to see them as beloved companions. Remember that connection between objectification through science and objectification through lust? Contraception brings both of these together. The practice of periodic abstinence (NFP), on the other hand, helps man and woman develop mastery over their sexual impulses – it helps to develop temperance, and so develop a more mature sexuality and an appreciation of the spousal meaning of the body. This teaching will not be adequately understood without an understanding of Theology of the Body.

The next post is a very interesting “appendix” about the human body in the arts. After that, we will move on to the third part – sexuality in light of redemption and our eternal destiny.

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