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Thursday, June 30, 2022


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You're right that fantasizing about an illicit sexual act while having sex with one's spouse would be a sin against chastity.  I basically agree with you that chasity is a difficult virtue to practice consistently, rare to practice perfectly with any consistency.

But I think I would go a little further than the point that you concede: I would say that it's not just being married that helps one avoid unchastity, but having sexual relations with one's spouse that helps one avoid unchastity.  And I so I would go even further and say having sexual relations with one's spouse is, for many people, an important part of becoming more chaste.  Maybe it's right to say that one can't "copulate one's way to chastity" because (A) so few people "achieve" chastity, i. e., are perfect or very nearly perfect in this virtue, (so we should not say "...to chastity") and (B) because one shouldn't give the impression that just having a lot of sex with one's spouse is going to solve one's problems (so we shouldn't say "copulate one's way...".  If we are thinking in Catholic terms, I think there are very many who are helped by having sexual relations with their spouse to (A) consistently and habitually avoid mortal sins against chastity and (B) to find joy in a life that includes these good habits. What I have in mind is that marital relations are not just a "safety valve" for sexual desire--rather, marital intercourse can help restructure the desires of those engaged in it in a positive way.

There is another issue perhaps lurking behind this, which is that concupisence can be meant in two ways.  Philosophers often use it to mean simply the desire for or love of sensible goods.  Taken in this sense, concupiscence is not bad, and in fact it is good for us.  Theologians often use it to mean a disordered desire for or attachment to sensible goods, in which case it is a bad thing.  (There are similar equivocations by English speakers about the word 'politics'--sometimes we use it to mean something that is good for us according to our nature, sometimes we use it to mean a disordered version of that same thing). So we can equivocate on remedium concupiscentiae--does it remedy, that is heal and make good, concupiscence? Or does it help to heal us of this disease called concupiscence?  That depends on which meaning of concupiscence we are thinking of.

To be "chaste" is simply to engage in only morally licit sexual behaviour; if you have a voracious sexual appetite, but only indulge it with your wife, then, by the lights of the Church, anyway, and ceteris paribus, you are chaste.

"Concupiscence" is just the inclination to engage in illicit (sexual) behaviour.

One cannot copulate oneself into chastity: St. Paul's point is that one can marry oneself into chastity.

John writes,

>>I would say that it's not just being married that helps one avoid unchastity, but having sexual relations with one's spouse that helps one avoid unchastity.<<

I agree. What I said above is consistent with your point.

>>And I so I would go even further and say having sexual relations with one's spouse is, for many people, an important part of becoming more chaste.<<

If you mean the more sex, the more chaste, then I disagree. I refer you to Dietrich von Hildebrand, In Defense of Purity, Part III, Ch. 1, "The Intrinsic Dangers of Sex."

John D writes,

>>"Concupiscence" is just the inclination to engage in illicit (sexual) behaviour.<<

This definition is too narrow. Cath.Encycl: "in its strict and specific acceptation, [concupiscence is a] desire of the lower appetite contrary to reason."

I agree with BV, concupiscence concerns the sensible appetites generally, and only the sensible appetites. An inclination to over-indulge in cheeseburgers and beer would be an example of concupiscence as the word is used by Catholic theologians, something we might all do well to remember tomorrow. But as I understand it, a disordered inclination to pop one's neighbor on the nose or to proclaim one's greatness would not be concupiscence, as these do not concern sensible appetites. It is the clause "contrary to reason" that distinguishes the Catholic theological definition from a somewhat more broad one that I have seen elsewhere.

More generally, what I think both BF and John D seem to underrate is the way that sexual activity within a healthy marriage can restructure one's sexual desires in a positive way. Marriage doesn't merely provide a safety valve where one can satisfy one's nearly static and fairly generic desire to "get off", but in a licit way. The married man will often find over time that desires for disordered kinds of sexual activity decrease, or even come to seem unappealing, as a result of his sexual relationship with his beloved wife. It's not just that he is getting enough action, in the crude parlance of our times, that he doesn't need any more, but that he is even mildly repulsed by the idea of a one-night stand, an indulgence in pornography, or various other degradations toward which he might once have been drawn. And note that this may well persist even during a period when he cannot have intercourse with his wife, for whatever reason that might me. But having sexual relations with his wife is part of this transformation.

But of course it is not so simple as "more sex, more chastity".

Hi Bill,

I used the parenthetical "sexual" simply to capture the topic the current conversation, not to circumscribe or limit the definition of "concupiscence".

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