Sunday, March 1, 2009
Chapter 5: Celibacy vs Virtue ~The fourth characteristic of Virtue is the proper place of Sex
Chapter 5: Celibacy vs Virtue
During the Middle Ages, celibacy was taught as being a higher way of life, especially for those monks and nuns who devoted their lives to God in this way. One proponent of this doctrine was St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the most prolific and influential writers of Early Christianity, born in 354 AD, just before the fall of Rome. Among the many things he is remembered for, was his prayer 'da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo', or simply, “[God] Grant me chastity and continence, but not quite yet". As funny as that is to read now, St. Augustine was quite in ernest. He was a Gnostic Christian, until he was 32 and converted to Catholicism. But until that time he spent a lot of effort sowing his wild oats, indulging frequently and with vigor sleeping with anyone he could. He had a concubine (whose name we do not know) with whom he had a child, Adeodatus. His mother, Monica, had opposed a marriage with the concubine as it would interfere with his career. His mother persuaded him to get rid of her, and move to Milan, so he could make a better career. She also set him up with a marriage into a prominent family, whose rank and means would further his career. He abandoned his concubine now that it was inconvenient (his fiancee's family insisted on it) for a society wife, half his age, his mother had set up with him. But as the society wife was two years too young, he took up in the meantime with someone else.
Both as a Gnostic1 Christian and a Catholic believed in chastity, but struggled with lust. He finally came to associate sexual desire with our fallen nature. It was not the sex act itself, but rather the feelings associated with it, and the degree with which relationships and family interfered with his career.
He tried to quit, but found himself unable to stop. Even after his conversion to Catholicism, he struggled between lust and sexual anorexia. But God is not a glutton for either punishment or asceticism. Augustine avoided marriage because it would have interfered with his work and sex because he had a guilt complex. But none of that was a good thing. This was not an oscillation between virtue and vice because neither of these was virtue. While his celibacy was not fornication, neither was it anything good. It was still a sex obsession.
You can not oscillate between virtue and vice any more than you can easily go from bodybuilder to frail old man, and back again. And if any have done that, it has taken years to recover what they lost.
Later, he advocated celibacy as a higher way of life. But was this celibacy a form of virtue? No, not at all. You can not any more easily change yourself from a bodybuilder to scrawny wimpy nerd and back. Nor could you change from a accomplished mathematician to a village idiot, and back. Thus virtue is not only what we do or do not do, but is a statement of what our soul is truly like. It is an aspect of our nature. Christ must change our natures, or when it comes down to willpower vs. desires, desires will win.
What this illustrates, is that the opposite of immorality is not abstinence. Nor is the opposite of pornography, modesty. Abstinence and modesty are both merely a lack of sin. And while that is important, we need something more substantial. The true opposite of these, is the service we perform in the Temple and the ordinances performed there and the living covenants we have made there, particularly those that seal us as families. Why is the Temple and family, the spiritual opposite? Because the qualities necessary for, and engendered by one, are the polar opposite of what composes the other.
Temple service is just that, service and that service is a selfless and vital act of love, for people that for the most part, we will never even meet in this life. It releases them from a spiritual bondage. It strengthens us against the World and our own carnal natures. The entire focus of the temple is Eternity. It brings us a greater measure of the Spirit of God and brings us closer to God than we could otherwise be.
While on the other hand, immorality in its myriad forms, separates us from God. It focuses inordinately on the moment. We can not have his Spirit while we unrepentantly indulge in this sin. It is among the greatest expressions of worldliness and the most potent re-enforcers of our carnal nature. It is a spiritual bondage. It is the opposite of love and service, as it neither benefits others, nor is done with that in mind.
Further, one is destructive of the foundations of family happiness and futurity and is among the greatest of sins, while the other is the means for its eternal existence and exaltation and is among the greatest forms of service.
Was this celibacy merely neutral? While it is true, that it was intended as a way to become closer to God, it was anything but neutral on the subject of sex or family. Jerome, for instance, counseled married couples to divorce so they could devote themselves to God, even going so far as to say that marriage was an invention of Satan. "How many there are who, by consent between themselves, cancel the debt of their marriage, eunuchs of their own accord through the desire of the kingdom of heaven."
Augustine for his part, was not quite as extreme, but scarcely less obsessed. He considered that any kind of sexual feeling or action, not matter how natural or innocent, was sin. Married couples could have sex, but only if it was for children. He even considered an erect penis to be a symbol of the inner man's rebellion against God.
Origen felt so strongly about it, he castrated himself. St. Ambrose wrote, “The ministerial office must be kept pure and unspotted and must not be defiled by coitus (sex)." (St. Ambrose, "Duties of Clergy" 1, 258). Iranaeus (d. 202) taught that sexual copulating was the reason Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, and that it was by never having sex, that Jesus redeemed the world. (St. Iranaeus, "Against Heresies" 5, 19, 1)
These were not minor figures or people on the fringe or rare opinions. They were the leading men and popular opinion-makers of their day. But in all of this, the family (and often by extension, women) were denigrated as a sinful result of the Fall, and something to be avoided. The ultimate goal was a life of uninterrupted and exclusive philosophical contemplation of God. Family was considered an evil to be avoided because it drew one's attention away from God. Origen considered the distractions of domestic and economic life to be an unmixed evil. (Origen, Contra Celsum I, 9-10, in PG 11:672-75.) They sought a quiet unattached life free of all financial and social obligations.
Considering that men like these wrote voluminous books on this, we could spend a very long time discussing this, but this is enough for us to ask, Is there a relationship between celibacy and these very unhealthy opinions about sex and family? And was any of this virtuous? Can this be considered to be what the Bible taught?
Although this did have its origins in some misinterpreted verses in the New Testament, some by Paul for instance, it is certainly not scriptural. It is plainly taught that children are an heritage of the Lord and blessed is the man that has his quiver full of them.
But when the Early Church Fathers (as they are called) preferred the unattached life of a philosopher over the hassles of marriage and family, they made a significant error. The stated goal was to spend all of one's time drawing near to God, to more completely worship Him. But can we worship God without trying to be like Him? Do we not all strive to be more Christ-like and Godly people? How can we best do that?
Above all things, God is the Father. He is our original parent. If we wish to become more Godly and like Him, we must learn the life lessons that spring from the kind of life He leads. The kind of life lessons that are learned from being without responsibility, without necessary concerns for others, without personal inconvenience, and above all, without sacrifice, teach us the wrong lessons to learn. But no amount of church service in addition to such a life, can teach us, or help transform us, to become a mother or father.
And the longer it is put off, the longer it will be before we can be taught by service in this very essential way. Not that all of us, of course, have all of the opportunities for dating and marriage that we would like. I would scarcely condemn those without opportunity. What I refer to by way of condemnation, are those who prefer the single life, and who do not actively seek to change their single status. Not all of us may even have an opportunity in this life, but all of us should have honestly sought it with all our heart.
Thus, virtue has everything to do with the doctrine of the family, which, by extension means the sealing power of the priesthood is its ideal.
Virtue is what benefits and perpetuates the family, it is the proper relationship between men and women – hence those who avoid marriage, (even single mothers and fathers, who are too busy with their children to date are included here) may be not disobeying the law of chastity in so many ways, but until a couple is eternally sealed, the law has not been fulfilled completely and the blessing is unreceived.
The rest of the chapter coming later!