Humanae Vitae and the Mystical Call of Chastity

How do we understand chastity? For many, the very word implies restraint, and restraint is not exactly the most exciting thought. The Ancient Greeks thought of chastity as a subspecies of temperance,[1] and if there is one virtue more alien to today’s so-called “late capitalism,” it is probably temperance—and not just in matters sexual. For others, talk of chastity brings to mind purity rings and virginity pledges, almost as if chastity is defined primarily by sexual abstinence before marriage. Hence we often speak of being chaste before marriage, but hardly ever about being chaste in marriage. Yet it seems to me that the paradigm of Christian chastity is not, in fact, abstinence, but marital sexual union. This thought may well be what distinguishes an authentically Christian understanding of sex from mere social conservatism or prudishness. For chastity, as Elizabeth Anscombe wrote, “is simply the virtue whose topic is sex, just as courage is the virtue whose topic is danger and difficulty.”[2] But why, many would object, does sex need its own, dedicated virtue—does this not … Continue reading Humanae Vitae and the Mystical Call of Chastity