Friday, April 12, 2013

The Purpose of Chastity

Karee Santos has written a review of Christopher West's latest book Fill These Hearts.  Now I haven't read the book, so I won't comment too much on what is or isn't in it.  The comboxes got a little interesting  as I engaged Mrs. Santos on a few issues.  I'd like to use these things to springboard into another discussion.

One of the frequent criticisms of Christopher West is the fact that he really ignores a lot of important things when doing his standard talking points promo that he's been doing for over a decade now in every book or audio presentation he has given.  (A testament to his discipline and one of the reasons he has been able to become such a star.)  When talking about how to overcome impurity and live your life according to the way God designed, he never (or seldomly) mentions confession.  In a book about how to look at sexuality in a mature Catholic manner, he goes the majority of the book without mentioning chastity.  This doesn't mean he is wrong necessarily.  It does mean that "the ignorant and unstable" have twisted the teachings of John Paul II to come up with some pretty bizarre things. (See the TOB Channel on this blog.)

When pressed on this, Mrs. Santos responded:

A deservedly popular blogger voiced the complaint that Fill These Hearts "does not discuss chastity until page 127!" -- her implication being that chastity is, or should be, the main point of West's book. I respectfully disagree with that implication. I don't think that chastity is or should be the main point of West's book, because I don't think that sex is the main point of his book. True, he uses the ecstatic, nuptial, and even erotic language of the mystics whom he favors. But let's look beyond the sizzle to see what he's really saying. How do we achieve our desire based on God's design for our destiny? Primarily through prayer, the liturgy, and the Eucharist.  (Emphasis Mine)
It is times like these that Mrs. Santos is a lot closer to the "Anti-Westian" view than she might realize.  She tries to further this point by giving an analogy that I ultimately view as flawed:

Our destiny is immortality. Our destiny is heaven. Seen in this light, chastity is clearly not the end-point. It's the stepping stone. Without prayer, the liturgy, and the Eucharist, you may not be able to achieve chastity. You may not even see a reason to try. With prayer, the liturgy, the Eucharist, and the self-control inherent in chastity, you may be launched on a path to unending happiness.
I get what she is saying, but I think stepping stone is a poor choice of words.  Stepping stone implies that as you move past it, you no longer need to practice it.  Now I know that's not what Mrs. Santos is implying.  Yet that's the problem.  Many of the defenders of Christopher West (I try to avoid the phrase "Westian" except when I'm in angry troll mood) use precisely this language when talking about "turning your eyes" including... err Christopher West.  For West, once you reach "mature purity" you no longer have to worry about practicing custody of the eyes.  That is just for "the one bound by lust."  Mrs. Santos final sentence gets to the matter with far greater effect than the first.

I had a few ideas for what a proper analogy would be, but I'm coming up short.  Vehicle sounds nice.  Just as you use a vehicle to reach a destination, we use chastity to get to heaven.  Things like prayer, liturgy, and the Eucharist are the tools we use to keep the vehicle of chastity running at peak performance.  Yet this analogy has a limit:  we are still chaste when we are in heaven when we arrive at our destination.

Something for us to think about on both sides of the debate.


  1. Kevin, I don't mind the analogy of chastity as a vehicle, yet you raise an interesting point about whether we are still chaste when we are in heaven. Not all virtues exist in heaven. A common interpretation of St. Paul's Letter to the Corinthians states that hope and faith no longer exist in heaven since they are geared towards attaining the Beatific Vision and are no longer necessary in the full presence of God. Charity, on the other hand, remains. Chastity as integration of the person would still exist in heaven, but chastity as a moral virtue, formed by human effort, might not.

  2. Now I guess the question would be, where can we go on the Fathers who have touched on this subject? I've got no clue. It was an analogy I really liked, until it came smack up against this wall. I also think these kind of things are what creates a lot of heat in this debate, heat I prefer to bridge. If for no other reason than Amy would probably be defined as a "Westian"

    1. Amen to bridges. You will have to ask someone more educated than I for a quote to the Fathers on this subject. And please congratulate Amy on her most excellent and discerning judgment.


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