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Christian Chastity and the Pro-Life Movement

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

For many people the subject of our present conference must seem strange. What connection is there between chastity and the pro-life movement? There is more than a connection. There is the dependence of a building on its foundations. Chastity is the foundation of the pro-life movement.

You can call it the pro-life movement; you can use the name; you can create a huge organization to protect innocent human life. But this movement is only as authentic, only as stable, only as effective as the meaning of Christian chastity is clear and the virtue of chastity is faithfully practiced by the people. Without chastity, the pro-life movement is so much rhetoric, or worse, it is a pious or, if you wish, political dream.

My plan for this conference is to answer the following questions:

  • What is Christian chastity?

  • Why is Christian chastity essential to the pro-life movement?

  • How are we Catholics to advance the pro-life movement through the practice and promotion of Christian chastity?

What is Christian Chastity?

Christian chastity is the worship of God by respecting the use of our powers of procreation according to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

It is imperative that we modify the word "chastity" by calling it "Christian chastity." In the Roman Empire, before the coming of Christ, castitas was part of the Latin vocabulary. It simply meant abstention from unlawful intercourse, where the pagan culture of the day determined what was unlawful intercourse. Concubinage and polygamy, divorce and the right to remarry were commonplace. In fact, marriage among the Romans was essentially cohabitation.

Even in pre-Christian Judaism, a plurality of wives was a recognized feature of Jewish culture. It was assumed to be necessary for the survival of the family and to provide male children. Concubinage with slave women was practiced for the same reason. Thus female slaves were considered the property of their master.

It is worth stating these obvious facts if we are to understand the meaning of Christian chastity. As a society becomes de-Christianized, it becomes paganized.

Moreover, we must stress the fact that Christian chastity is a very positive virtue. As believers in Christ, we recognize that our powers of reproduction have been given to us by God. We believe that God became man, who as the God-man, taught us how to use these powers according to His divine will. We are therefore ready to use these powers or not use them, as God wants us to. More surprising still, we are even willing to sacrifice the use of these powers where no sin is involved.

Under the guidance of the Church, we therefore believe that chastity is a virtue to be practiced by every human being, from childhood to old age, in every state of life. As Catholics, we further believe that marital chastity is the God-given enjoyment of marital relations. Marital unchastity is another name for marital infidelity and for contraceptive intercourse.

As Catholics, we believe that pre-marital chastity is the abstinence from sexual experience because this is the manifest will of God.

In a word, Christian chastity declares that no one has a right to fully deliberate sexual pleasure except two married people between themselves, when they engage in marital relations between themselves, in order to foster their mutual love which they leave open for the conception of new human life.

On these terms, Christian chastity is not the prohibition of something evil but the recognition of something very sacred. It is sacred because Christian chastity is the practice of the selfless charity proclaimed to the world by Jesus Christ. It is sacred because Christian chastity is a sublime form of divine worship. Our will commands our body to conform to the will of God.


Essential to the Pro-Life Movement

We begin with a simple declarative sentence. Christian chastity is necessary for the pro-life movement because without chastity there cannot be selfless charity, or even the most fundamental practice of justice towards other people.

As history proves, unchastity is the seed-bed of unkindness, of uncharity, of injustice, and even of cruelty.

Can anyone doubt that the most difficult virtue we have to practice in life in unselfish love. Unchastity is selfish self-love. Thus masturbation is selfish. Fornication is selfish. Contraception is selfish. Homosexuality is selfish. Adultery is selfish.

What is at the root of legalized homicide, whether as abortion, infanticide, or so-called euthanasia? It is selfish self-love. How can this criminal self-love be mastered? Only by the practice of chastity.

We return to where we began. The pro-life movement will be only as effective as the practice of Christian chastity is restored in now homicidal societies.

It is no coincidence, but profoundly true, that the first two capital sins are pride and lust. They go together as cause and effect, and they work mutually.

Pride leads to lust and lust leads to pride. Pride is at the root of the murder of innocent human beings. God punishes the proud by depriving them of the control of their set passions.

Lust, in turn, feeds selfish pride. The more lustful people become the more selfish and cruel towards others, not excluding the murder of helpless innocent children in their mothers' womb.

There is no hope for the pro-life movement except by the restoration of chastity.

In a country like ours, marital infidelity has become a national plague; and contraception has become an accepted norm of behavior; fornication has become the theme of so much of our fiction, masked as literature, and is now the staple diet of the mass media; in one state after another. Sex education is teaching the children that homophobia is a psychological disorder and homosexuality is just another way of life to which some people have a natural orientation.

In our country, then, is it any wonder that the pro-death movement has become so entrenched, and the crime of willful homicide has become not only legalized, but I dare say, legislated.

Our Catholic understanding of the pro-life movement sees what the unbelieving world in which we live cannot comprehend. The sixth and ninth commandments of the Decalogue are intimately and necessarily related to the fifth commandment. The sixth commandment forbids the use of one's body for sexual pleasure outside the sanctity of marriage. The ninth commandment forbids the indulgence of internal thoughts, desires and emotions deliberately aroused or deliberately enjoyed outside the hallowed precincts of matrimony. It is not, as some are telling us, that, because the Church considers the body pleasure she forbids "sexual activity" outside of marriage. It is because marriage is so holy. The history of the human race shows that there is an inevitable relationship between the sixth and ninth commandments, and the fifth, "Thou shalt not kill."

Only a chaste society respects human life. When God became man He made sure that He would be conceived by a virgin Mother. During His visible stay on earth, Jesus lived an unstained, virginal life. Christ elevated the chastity of the Decalogue to sublime heights never before known in the history of man.

We ask, why did Christ elevate the sixth and ninth commandments to the sublimest forms of chastity? It was to insure that the fifth commandment would not only observe the law of justice in not taking innocent human life.

Christ knew human nature too well not to know that justice is not enough. He therefore gave His followers what He called the New Commandment. They are to practice selfless and even heroic charity. They are to be willing to sacrifice their own lives out of love for one another.


Sex Perversion and Cruelty

The sexual drive is so powerful that nothing but selfless generosity, inspired by divine grace, can curb its imperious drive to use others for one's own gratification. Unchastity is inspired by an egoism that borders on self-idolatry. The urge to sexual pleasure, unless controlled, is not satisfied with venereal satisfaction. It wants the pleasure of enjoying the pain of its victims as witnessed by the crimes in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps.

One of my Jesuit confreres, with whom I studied in Rome, was one of the few survivors of four and a half years at Auschwitz. He told me that, without exception the Nazi troopers, both men and women, who extorted the most horrendous suffering from their prison victims, were sexual perverts. They derived what may be called diabolical pleasure from subjecting the prisoners to the most inhuman sufferings. Killing these victims in the gas chambers and then burning their bodies in furnaces was only the end point of the most cruel infliction of pain on their enslaved victims. As my Jesuit companion told me, the sex mania of their Nazi jailers drove them to the limit of demonic mysticism in enjoying the agony of those whom we casually say were exterminated by the agents of Hitler.

Another example of the relationship between unchastity and cruelty is the feminist movement in our country. This is clearly explained in Sexual Suicide, which I do not recommend as a book for general reading but which is very clear in explaining how sex indulgence contributes to the crime of abortion. Thus we are told:

The Playboy philosophers want to abolish the "genital tyranny" and "finally and unanswerably break the connection between sexual intercourse and reproduction." Like the feminist writers, the male chauvinists fantasize polymorphously aggressive women, free of inhibitions and fixations. And also like the feminists, the male chauvinists do not like to envisage their women dependent, or - God forbid - pregnant. Playboy is an eager support of both the equal rights amendment and abortion on demand (p. 31).

One book after another supports the same theory. Feminist women and male chauvinists have by now written volumes on separating sexual pleasure from the burdens of pregnancy. Abortion, for them, is the logical solution.

Anyone who doubts the causal dependence of the pro-life movement on the practice of Christian chastity is simply out of touch with the reality of our age.

Copyright © 2003 Inter Mirifica






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