Love, Chastity, and the Angelic Warfare Confraternity
As human beings, we all experience sexual desires. But culturally, we have come to believe that we should be able to satisfy all desires — sexual or otherwise — right away. In 2015, a study found that the average age of first exposure to pornographic material is 13.5 and the youngest age was 5. Sex is everywhere, used to sell everything from cars to cheeseburgers. Which makes it hard to live a chaste life.
The idea of dating as moving towards something has been replaced with hookup culture. Sex has become understood as a recreational activity. How do we bring people to an understanding of what it means to be a chaste and loving person?
Chastity brings sexual appetite into harmony with reason. It isn’t renunciation of our sexuality, but reasonable use of it. And like all virtues, it requires practice. The difficulty comes not only in the intensity of our appetite, but also the total lack of support we find culturally.
Why is culture overrun with sexual sin? Some ancient Greek philosophers believed they had an answer: Enslavement to sexuality dulls the senses. Thomas Aquinas described the daughters of unchastity as follows:
- Blindness of mind. Hinders our ability to see either the big picture or the small details. Like a horse with blinders, we become focused on the one thing where lust the jockey wants us to go.
- Rashness. Running through a forest in the dark and assuming you won’t get hurt.
- Inconstancy. Chastity puts sexual desires in accord with reason; lust doesn’t. Even though we may know the right thing to do, we aren’t able to do it Serious inability to choose and do the right thing.
- Excessive love of the world. Inordinate love of one’s self, instead of God and neighbor. Hatred of God from being told not to do these lustful things. Despair and abhorrence of the future, instead of longing for the beatific vision.
(Aside: At Aquinas’ time, virtues and vices were personified as women in art and literature, hence the metaphor of a vice’s daughters.)
How do we combat lust? How do we help people realize the beauty of chastity?
Integrity. Prevents us being a house divided. We’re drawn in multiple directions and those around us. Integrity is being of one mind and heart. “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”
Joy. An experience of the whole person united. Happiness is fleeting, but accessible as a fragmented person. Joy isn’t, but lasts. A person with integrity knows not to sacrifice joy for happiness. Passions of the flesh remain in the mind, but aren’t in control like the jockey on the horse.
Courage and fortitude. Face difficulties that stand in the way. Things and people will try to mislead and misguide us. Today when people claim that “to be chaste is a waste”, we stand up and recognize that chastity does have a deeper meaning. Courage helps us not sacrifice for the easier path or to satisfy our friends.
Temperance. Serenity of spirit. Not just moderation, not just avoiding excess. We’re able to control appetites for the good of the whole person. Growth and struggle in one area aids growth in others. “The quiet place we find amid a storm of passion.”
Modesty. Not just how we dress. Being ordered in language and behavior. A healthy self of self, neither boasting nor self deprecating. Treating others with the utmost respect. Rather than drawing attention to self, letting true personality and action stand/speak for themselves.
Self denial leads to self discipline, and results in self control and self possession. When we truly possess ourselves, we can truly give ourselves to a spouse, or to a child, or to a member of our religious community, or to God.
The Angelic Warfare Confraternity is a fellowship of men and women. It was started by St. Thomas Aquinas. He decided to join the Order of Preachers at about age 18. His family was against it — the Dominicans were still a young order at the time, and his family wanted him to join an established order instead. The Dominicans sent him to Paris, where he would be farther from his family’s influence, but he was kidnapped by his brothers along the way. They hired a courtesan to seduce him, hoping to change his mind about living a celibate life, but he chased her out of his room. Afterwards, Aquinas had a vision of an angel girding him with a cord — this last part of the story was unknown to others until his deathbed. As wearing such a cord became common, people touched their cord to the one Aquinas had worn.
“True love longs to give itself to the beloved.” Because the heart of chastity really is love, the chaste man or woman is willing to do this — all of us are called to be the kind of people who give of ourselves and forgo the easy path. The role of a spouse — and in fact the role of all of us — is to help the other become a saint.
We can trust reason because God has made us reasonable beings. As we grow in virtue, our sense of reason aligns more and more with God’s will.
Emotions aren’t sin — action on that emotion can be. Lust is attraction beyond reason. (Like how wrath is anger beyond reason.) Attraction is a natural part of self, it serves a valuable function of drawing couples together.