By Jacek Pulikowski,
Love One Another! 4/2004 → Christian family
We often speak of the need to remain “chaste before marriage.” Fostering chastity is a beautiful and altogether positive idea that contributes not only to good and productive marriages but also to the successful living out of other vocations. It stands in opposition to the dirt of this world and encourages youth to swim against the current, for only in this way can we attain the source of Love that is God (cf. John Paul II’s “Roman Triptych”).
Unfortunately, many people in speaking of chastity trivialize it by limiting it strictly to the avoidance of sexual intercourse before marriage. True, even this is a good thing, but the attitude of young couples, whose understanding of the matter is limited in this way, is not necessarily a good and edifying one. To cite an example: I once met a student couple (I was preparing them for marriage) who would not engage in intercourse on principle, and yet who practiced petting to the point of bringing on orgasm. One would call this mutual masturbation. In this they saw nothing inappropriate or sinful. After all, they were not sleeping with each other; and besides, they “loved each other” and would soon – in five months to be exact – be getting married.” I recall the long discussion we had into the early hours of the morning debating the question “why not.” In the end, they came round and decided on a path of true chastity by resolving to refrain from all activity that aroused them sexually, since this amounted to lust and not love. I know that they were successful in this and entered marriage with the right attitude (please do not say this could not have happened, since I know this for a fact, and one does not debate facts).
But let us turn to the question of chastity within marriage, which hardly anyone talks about. In a way, considering how shallow our understanding of chastity tends to be, this is quite understandable. Since sex is “not permitted” before marriage and “permitted” after marriage, there is nothing to discuss. Note, however, that sex is “not proper” to the state of chastity outside of marriage, whereas it is “proper” – indeed, one may say, necessarily proper – to that of marital purity. Sex is a constitutive element of conjugal purity. Needless to say, it must be “chaste” or “pure” sex; that is, it must be in accordance with nature or –to put it in another way – in accordance with the design and plan of the Creator. Whoever thinks that everything in permissible within marriage is gravely mistaken. Of course we are permitted to do whatever builds up communion, serves the good and enhances love in its true sense, but we are not permitted to do things that destroy love. We must not “pollute” the marital relationship, that is, transgress against conjugal chastity. We know from experience that purity in marriage, profoundly understood and truly lived out, plays a fundamental role in the success of a marriage, its duration and the couple’s lifelong (to say nothing of eternal) happiness. I am willing to bet that purity constitutes the most important condition of marital happiness and that its destruction always contributes to the ruin of a marriage. Indeed, the experience of marriage clinics confirms that sexual impurity, i.e. lack of chastity in the sexual relations of the couple almost always accompanies the break-up of a marriage.
So let us try to define marital purity. We can speak of purity in a broader sense, embracing the entire marital reality, or we can speak of it in a narrower sense, focussing on the sexual domain. The word “pure” means unmixed, unadulterated or unpolluted – as nature intended it to be. (This is what we mean when we speak of “pure water” or “pure air.”) Purity entails functioning in full accordance with the nature of a thing (i.e. in the role that the Creator destined for it); it also entails the happiest effect. Thus, in order to seriously consider the essence of purity in marriage we must know what the nature of marriage is. What is marriage meant to be?
To begin with, marriage is a vocation, one (indeed the commonest) way of achieving holiness and salvation. A marriage ought to be an enduring, lifelong, faithful and exclusive community of two loving persons, a man and a woman (i.e. husband and wife). It is a community of persons built on love (i.e. a mutual concern for the other’s good). Since our greatest good is holiness and salvation, marriage ought to be a shared path to holiness.
The other purpose of marriage (after holiness) is the bearing and rearing of children. A marriage ought to be open to the transmission of life; in fact, it ought to feel an obligation in this area. It should be ready to accept and raise every child that is conceived, even when this occurs unexpectedly and requires great labor and sacrifice. In the transmission of life a marriage needs to be guided by prudence and generosity: prudence in order to be able to assure every conceived child conditions of development that are worthy of a human being, and generosity in order to be courageous enough to accept a larger number of offspring, despite the labor necessarily entailed in raising a larger family. In a word, a marriage ought to be responsible in the matter of transmitting of life.
Although Church teaching makes use of the term “responsible parenthood,” the world has done everything in its power to contradict the Church, to undermine responsible parenthood, deform it, redefine it, and even make mock of it. Thus the world has given rise to that gruesome curiosity known as “birth control,” which in the name of so-called “responsibility” promotes the killing of a conceived child should “suitable” conditions of raising the child be lacking or the child show promise of less than perfect health after birth. Likewise, it promotes on a massive scale, also under the slogan of “responsibility,” the destruction of our health in the area of fertility. (No one would deny that fertility is an integral element of our health.) The gigantic engine that is the worldwide contraceptive industry, whose aim is the destruction of our health in the holistic sense, justifies its actions by appealing to a warped sense of responsibility in favor of life. Considering the contraceptive pill acts as a latent abortifacient, this is indeed a peculiar form of “responsibility” as far as the conceived child is concerned. The thought of eliminating a disease by liquidating the patient is a gruesome idea indeed. And yet prenatal examinations are not infrequently carried out with the express purpose of discovering health defects, which then allows one to “legally” (in accordance with the law of the land, though hardly natural) pass a death sentence on an utterly defenseless and innocent child. When one also considers that this is done by appealing to a sense of responsibility toward future generations, it makes one’s hair stand on end. “Before long only healthy children will be born here” a certain professor in charge of a maternity clinic recently announced. Sounds beautiful, only what he means is: “We will track down every ‘defective’ child and murder it before it is born!” I suspect there is little point in carrying on a discussion there about the wicked and degenerate ideas being spread throughout the world. Examining the positive principles contained in Church teaching is a much more useful exercise.
The Church teaches that salvation is the primary and most important aim of human existence on earth. Consequently, the primary aim of marriage is to lead the married couple to holiness. Everything that causes them to stray from this path deserves to be called impurity. This is a very broad view of chastity and we will not occupy ourselves with it for the moment.
The second purpose of marriage is parenthood, i.e. bearing and raising children. Responsible parenthood and the actions directly connected with it in the area of sexuality mark out the boundaries of marital purity understood in the narrower sense. This is the ordinary meaning of chastity, and it is this that we will consider. Chastity in marriage, then, is determined by every action that contributes to the transmission of life in love, actions that are in accordance with nature, that is, in accordance with the Creator’s plan. These actions are also in accordance with the teaching of the Church, who best reads and interprets the Creator’s plan. Any action that contradicts the nature of sexuality wreaks harm on marital chastity.
Let us then, without further ado, go to the heart of the matter. Sexual relations have an indivisible, twofold purpose: the unity of the couple and transmission of life – parenthood. To act against this purpose means to act without purpose and to one’s harm. Thus, no desire for unity, no matter how strong, can justify sexual union outside of marriage, for only marriage can guarantee the necessary conditions of raising a child. To tell it as it is, sex outside of marriage is always impure, sinful and harmful to the couple and their relationship. Likewise, even the most sincere desire of “having” a child cannot justify actions that strike a blow at marital unity. To such actions belongs every act of sexual union outside of marriage (whether done for the sake of enjoying illicit pleasure or that of “making a baby” and having “something” of one’s own). Artificial insemination and recourse to in vitro fertilization also eliminate the element of conjugal unity. Every child has the right to be conceived as a result of a loving act of its parents. The human dignity of the conceived child demands this. The child is entitled to have its parents participate in its conception as co-creators (or procreators) with God the Creator. It is a awesome thing to contemplate the defenselessness of God, who partakes in the act of creating each child, even when the parents conduct themselves unworthily and sinfully. Needless to say, sexual acts that strike a blow at the unitive dimension (adultery, rape) as well as acts employing fertility-thwarting measures (contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization) are also blatantly impure acts. Unchaste also are intentional acts of depositing the semen outside of the place intended for it by nature (i.e. the wife’s vagina opened to receive the semen of her husband).
In short, sexual intercourse (even though pleasure is written into its very nature) may not become a recreational playground removed from the context of parenthood; nor (even though a child may be conceived naturally as a result) may it become a “child production site.” Thus marital impurity can be of two kinds – the result of destroyed unity and/or destroyed fertility.
Sexuality and fertility represents a beautiful gift offered to man for his cultivation. It is the clear intention of the Creator that this gift be used for the purpose of building up marital unity (communion) and the transmission of life in love. Every other use of this gift leads to the unhappiness of impurity.
The spread of a new conception of fertility (contraception) in opposition to that of the Creator has caused untold pain and suffering throughout the world. It holds that sex is for recreation and fertility represents an obstacle, an indisposition that must be effectively removed and eliminated.
The clear goal of any form of contraception is to thwart fertility. Contraception also shatters unity. Studies and statistics confirm this. Marriages that avail themselves of the “benefits” of contraception end up in divorce more than those that do not resort to these measures. Marital chastity is impossible to those who practice contraceptive sex. More than that: couples who actively oppose God’s conception of sexuality and fertility, who go against their natures are, of necessity, unhappy. Unhappy because they cannot enjoy the fullness of happiness that God prepares for them here on earth. (The subject of the contraceptive mentality and its effects on marriage, the family and the world is a hard and painful one, and we will discuss it in a future article.)
The only way of enjoying a chaste marriage is to conform sexual activity to the nature that the Creator inscribed in creation. The nature of sexuality and fertility is now so well understood that every responsible married couple is capable of achieving mastery over the sexual element. Every unharnessed element (fire, water, etc.) becomes a destructive force; but when embraced by human reason it becomes a great, salutary and beneficial force. Human sexuality and fertility can be a powerful force that both builds up marital unity and fosters the transmission of life in love and responsible parenthood. Only two things are needed: reason – to discover and recognize the days when sexual relations can lead to conception and when they do not; and willpower – to be able to refrain from sex when its results could be at variance with the couple’s current procreative plans.
I know that many will protest here and plead special cases. I am aware of all those hurt people out there who have been duped and misled by the barefaced propaganda descending on them from every quarter about the supposed benefits of contraception. But I am convinced (and this is not arrogance or lack of modesty on my part but the result of my conviction in the Creator’s wisdom) that life is unable to produce a single individual case that would force me to retract any of the statements that appear above in bold print. I am ready to reason the point, trusting in the light that the discussion might cast on a range of individual subtleties.
By raising the subject of chastity within marriage, I wish to oppose the wave of filth inundating the world. The idea of pre-marital chastity as fostered by the Movement of Pure Hearts and similar movements is broadening in scope. As a husband I pose the question, must chastity be reserved for the young? It seems quite natural, and even obvious, that the Movement of Pure Hearts should have its continuation in marriage. After all, chastity before marriage is not an end in itself, and the very phrase “before marriage” indicates that it is a preparation for chastity within marriage. The editors of Love One Another Magazine thus propose to broaden the scope of the Movement of Pure Hearts to include married couples as well. What do our readers think? Perhaps we could together come up with a name, terms of reference, principles, and a declaration of adherence? We await your letters!